How NY's COVID Healthcare Firings May Cause Patient Deaths, No Plan to Rescue the Remaining American Citizens in Afghanistan, R. Kelly (My Former Neighbor) Convicted (The Five for 09/25/21)

Hey, welcome to The Five.

If you’re new, after hearing my conversation with Vance Crowe on his podcast, welcome!

The Five publishes twice per week:

Tuesdays—hard news

Fridays—culture & commentary

Let’s dive in.

[one]

Kicking off today with the first of two stories about how unintended consequences are rapidly shaping the world around us.

The first comes from New York, where hospitals are set to lose up to 14% of nursing staffs due to a statewide COVID vaccine mandate.

The Washington Post reports:

Thousands of unvaccinated hospital employees in New York are likely to lose their jobs with a statewide vaccine mandate kicking in Monday night at midnight, the first major test of such rules for health-care workers nationwide.

Several hospitals have warned that the requirement, announced in August, is already causing staff shortages that will force them to curtail patient care. Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) has called such issues “completely avoidable” and said she is prepared to activate the National Guard or recruit health-care workers from elsewhere to fill the gaps.

On Monday, Hochul delivered a final plea to unvaccinated health workers ahead of the deadline. “Please do the right thing,” she said at an event in New York City.

New York’s experience will be watched closely throughout the country. It is one of six states — with Colorado, Maine, Oregon, Rhode Island and Washington — to announce that health-care workers must be vaccinated against the coronavirus or face termination. It also instituted the earliest deadline nationwide.

Despite New York Governor Kathy Hochul’s declaration that she’ll call in the National Guard if need be, the grim reality is health care in the state will almost certainly be measurably worse, as of today.

From NPR:

Erie County Medical Center Corporation in Buffalo anticipates that roughly 10% of its workforce (some 400 workers) may not get vaccinated by Monday, according to AP, and is prepared to potentially suspend elective inpatient surgeries, reduce hours at outpatient clinics and temporarily stop accepting ICU transfers.

Earlier this year, one of my relatives was forced to delay outpatient surgery for early stage cancer due to testing positive for COVID, despite being completely asymptomatic and fully vaccinated. My relative’s request for a re-test, to rule out a false positive, was denied with no explanation, and the surgery was delayed.

I can assume this type of procedure will be considered “elective” as New York runs short of doctors and nurses, but it doesn’t feel “elective” if you’re the one with cancer.

Similarly, “common” operations, such as back surgery and ACL repair, may be considered “elective” but when delayed, leave patients in debilitating pain.

Finally, human error is the third leading cause of death in hospitals, so as staffing is stretched thin, it’s likely mistakes stemming from overwork and exhaustion will claim more lives in hospitals in New York and other states with a vaccine mandate healthcare worker shortage.

In other words, if you live in one of these states, I highly recommend you don’t get injured, get cancer or get in a serious car accident.

If that recommendation seems unfair, because you can’t directly control those things…welcome to the world of unintended consequences.

[two]

When asked if raising prices on corporations would result in higher prices for consumers, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki blamed “corporate greed” in a video clip widely circulated on Twitter:

“The President’s commitment remains to not raise taxes on anyone making less than $400,000 per year. There are some who argue that, in the past, have argued that companies have passed on these costs to consumers.


I’m not sure if that’s the argument being made in the report. We feel that’s absurd and unfair and the American people would not stand for that.

Psaki’s perspective is interesting here, because if the average American citizen could change consumer prices by “not standing” for something, those complaints would have stopped inflation from reaching a 20 year high and gas prices wouldn’t be up 30% in nine months. Nearly everyone I know feels anger over the rapid increase in the prices of necessary goods and services (mainly food and fuel), but the emotion hasn’t changed economic reality.

If we raise taxes on businesses, those companies will almost certainly delay pay increases for their workers or raise prices on consumers.

But what about Psaki’s reasoning, that companies can just “eat the cost.” If they do, that likely means less product innovation and less new hiring, reducing opportunities for job seekers and improving the lives of consumers.

If you want to increase business taxes, expect some unwanted side effects.

If you increase the regulation on what it takes to work in health care (i.e. a mandatory COVID vaccine), expect there to be less doctors and nurses.

That doesn’t mean I believe in no taxes, and no regulation whatsoever.

And I’m not going to prescribe a “magic solution” here.

Much of modern government is about the question of “how much is too much.”

How much of a tax increase is too much? In my opinion, “too much” is obvious in business taxes when the lives of middle and working class Americans get worse.

The healthcare question is more complicated, and I don’t have the training to dive deep into science topics…but if you’re laying in a hospital bed in New York in debilitating pain right now…my guess is there’s a pain level high enough that nearly anyone would happily go under the knife at the hands of un-vaccinated doctors and nurses, just to make the pain stop.

[three]

According to Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn), the U.S. Government has no idea how many Americans are still stranded in Afghanistan, and there’s no plan to evacuate them.

From video on the Senate floor captured by C-SPAN:

I want to look forward in respect to Americans and our Afghan allies.

After our withdrawal it was left to an unofficial network of veterans, NGO’s, some government officials…to try to airlift on a makeshift, ad hoc basis, the Americans and Afghan allies still there.

They have targets on their back. Their situation has become increasingly urgent and desperate.

I have been frustrated by the lack of someone in charge, someone in authority. A point person. We need an evacuation Czar, someone who will provide a plan and supervise actions so we can get the remaining Americans out of Afghanistan.

We don’t have an estimate on the number, because nobody is in charge right now.

There’s been a fair bit of criticism of the media over the manhunt for Social Media Influencer Gabby Petito’s killer, (rightly) pointing out that an untold number of (often minority) average folks, many from lower economic situations, receive no news coverage.

However, a wider lens reveals that Petito was one person, and her alleged killer, fiancée Brian Laundrie, isn’t likely an immediate danger to anyone else.

An alleged killer being captured to face a trial is very important, but it pales in comparison to the importance of helping at least 100 Americans and an untold number of Afghans with Special Immigration Visas exit the country before they’re tortured and executed.

The stranded Americans in Afghanistan story is…more or less dead.

And because of the lack of public pressure, next to nothing is happening to rescue those who are trapped behind enemy lines.

[four]

Lt. Col. Stuart Scheller, who went viral for criticizing the pullout from Afghanistan, is currently being held in military prison.

The New York Post reports:

The US Marine Corps officer who was relieved of his command for chastising his bosses over the botched Afghan withdrawal has landed in military lockup, his father said.

In a video that went viral on Facebook last month, Lt. Col. Stuart Scheller ripped into military leadership following the devastating suicide bombing at the Kabul airport, which killed 13 US service members and scores of Afghans.

Following the impassioned spiel, Lt. Col. Scheller announced he was resigning his commission and walking away from a $2 million pension after 17 years of service.

He later announced that he was ordered to undergo a mental health screening.

Now, his father told Task & Purpose that the officer is currently in the brig.

“All our son did is ask the questions that everybody was asking themselves, but they were too scared to speak out loud,” Stu Scheller Sr. told the news outlet.

“He was asking for accountability. In fact, I think he even asked for an apology that we made mistakes, but they couldn’t do that, which is mind-blowing,” the elder Scheller said, adding that his son is due to appear before a military hearing on Thursday.

Observations:

A. Whether or not you agree with Scheller, there’s no doubt he took a moral stand at a tremendous personal cost (a $2 million pension).

B. As reported in story #3, there’s not much public interest even in the American civilians trapped in Afghanistan, so the possibility that any senior level military officials will be held to account for the fall of Afghanistan…are slim to none.

C. Which means the only person who may face prison time over the botched U.S. pullout from Afghanistan…is not any leader who made a tactical or ethical error resulting in military and civilian deaths…but a serviceman who uploaded a video to Facebook.

There’s often a huge gap between “can” and “should.”

The military can imprison Scheller, from a legal standpoint.

But should a man serve time behind bars for…a social media post?

The answer to that question will likely be decided by the public outcry (or lack of public outcry) to this story.

Scheller should have planned ahead and built a career as a social media influencer…he’d be getting a lot more public support right now.

[five]

R&B singer R. Kelly is heading to prison, after beating a case for similar charges back in 2008.

Oddly enough, this is a story I was close to (quite literally).

The New York Post reports:

A New York jury on Monday found R&B singer R. Kelly guilty on all charges in his trial on racketeering and sex trafficking charges. Kelly, whose real name is Robert Sylvester Kelly, could face decades in prison.

Kelly, 54, was accused by multiple witnesses of targeting, grooming and exploiting young women and men "for his own sexual gratification" and running a "sex cult" by trafficking people across state lines. He also allegedly bribed a government worker to help him marry late R&B singer Aaliyah when she was 15 years old. 

"Today's verdict brings an end to Robert Kelly's decade-long reign of terror over many vulnerable girls, boys and young women," Pete Fitzhugh, Special Agent in Charge for Homeland Security investigations in New York, said Monday after the verdict was announced. "With this verdict, it is my sincere hope that it will also begin the healing process for these brave survivors."

The jury in Brooklyn federal court began deliberations on Friday, September 24, after hearing from 50 witnesses throughout the trial, only five of whom testified for the defense. Accusers testified that Kelly controlled their day-to-day lives, including when they could use the restroom, and forced them to complete sexual acts. 

From 2013-2015, I lived and worked just minutes from R. Kelly’s mansion in the south suburbs of Chicago, and had an odd habit of running into the R&B star at the gym, at Wendy’s (he and I both ate too much Wendy’s during that time period, apparently).

I would nod and say hello as I would to anyone, but had no interest in interacting with a (then, alleged) sex criminal.

As I got to know more local police (due to my work in media) I heard whisperings and rumors that a network of officials (and possibly a few bad officers) were protecting Kelly.

Those rumors were reinforced when I became a regular at a local cigar lounge, where a network of prominent businessmen gathered after work for a “pipe and a pint” to borrow a C.S. Lewis phrase.

Again, I was told that a local network of individuals in government and places of power protected Kelly’s (then alleged) sex cult.

Can I prove any of this?

No.

But the circumstantial evidence points to the rumors being true. It’s unlikely Kelly could run a sex cult in the suburbs of Chicago (brazenly, after bein charged with the same crimes and getting off on a technicality in 2008) without at least a handful of collaborators holding local office.

I suppose this is the end of the Kelly story. He’ll go to prison, and the world will move on.

But there are almost certainly co-conspirators around Olympia Fields, IL who are just as guilty, but will never see a jail cell.

Me saying it won’t change that reality…but it should be said all the same.

Until the next one,

-sth