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America’s left puts Putin to shame when it comes to disinformation

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America's left puts Putin to shame when it comes to disinformation

Why do the Russians need to bother spreading disinformation when our own ­domestic sources do a much better job at it?

We just went through a four-year national obsession with Kremlin disinformation. It supposedly swayed the 2016 election. It was “sowing divisions” in American society. It accounted for the discovery of Hunter Biden’s laptop during the 2020 election.

Social-media companies were excoriated for allegedly letting Russian disinfo poison their networks and the American mind.

There was nothing that some Russian operators — spending a pittance — couldn’t do. The former Time magazine managing editor and Obama State Department official Richard Stengel wrote a book titled “Information Wars: How We Lost the Global Battle Against Disinformation and What We Can Do About It.” According to Stengel, the Russians had mounted “an unprecedented attack against the very foundation of our democracy.”

The Russians were amateurs, though. If they really knew what they were doing, they would spread rank lies about election ­reforms passed by a US state, make the deceptions so pervasive that the president of the United States would casually repeat them, unjustifiably dredge up memories of a terrible period of repression in America, relentlessly racialize the debate and intimidate corporate America into thoughtlessly entering the partisan fight and discrediting itself with a significant segment of the population.

No, Russian trolls operating somewhere in St. Petersburg didn’t undertake this highly successful information operation against the Georgia election law — Stacey Abrams and her allies in media and politics did.

If the Russians had the requisite skill, they would spread the false story that a talented American governor had sold out his citizens by letting a campaign contribution distort his distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, suppressing all facts to the contrary and stoking yet more conspiratorial thinking about the governor among his political opponents.

The Russians couldn’t pull this off — yet “60 Minutes” did, in a laughably dishonest report over the weekend about Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis using the most popular grocery-story chain in the Sunshine State to get the vaccine in the arms of Floridians.

If the Russians were devious enough, they would take a God-awful mass shooting, ignore all the evidence about the perpetrator’s motives to define it as a crime driven by racial hatred and undermine faith in the local police and FBI when they presented the facts.

The Russians couldn’t manage this, either — but a veritable army of media commentators and progressive politicians could. They ­insisted against the available evidence that the Atlanta spa shooter must have been driven by hatred of Asians, while Democratic senators openly dissented from the FBI ­director’s statement that the shooting wasn’t a hate crime.

If the Russians had the power or know-how, they would spin a story of US law enforcement as a racist occupying force that should be resisted in “largely peaceful” protests all over the country, putting the cops on their back-foot and creating an environment of spiraling disorder and violence in some of the most iconic US cities.

Of course, the Russians also had nothing to do with this — Black Lives Matter and the media did all the hard work and have largely managed to ignore the rising tide of crime that is undoing one of the signal domestic accomplishments of the last several decades.

None of this is to dismiss the pernicious influence of Russian ­information operations and cyber strikes, especially overseas, or to minimize the hideousness of the Putin regime. But it is galling to see the same people who sounded the klaxons about the Russians undermining faith in the American system for years themselves spread — or at least casually accept — progressives narratives based on poisonous lies about our country.

The Russians are never going to stop running their information campaigns against the West, which date back to the Soviet Union. But they must occasionally be tempted to stand back in envy and awe at all that the US promoters of woke narratives have been able to accomplish without them.

Twitter: @RichLowry

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Opinion

New Yorkers with chronic illness need deliverance from this unfair insurer practice

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New Yorkers with chronic illness need deliverance from this unfair insurer practice

Imagine you have scheduled an MRI or another important treatment vital to your health care and are told it isn’t covered by your insurance until the deductible is met. You point out that you already satisfied the deductible for costly prescriptions, in part through financial assistance from the drug manufacturer. But then learn that assistance doesn’t count.

Welcome to the murky world of “copay-accumulator programs.” First introduced in 2018, this scheme has been used by too many insurers and pharmacy-benefit managers to ensure that only a patient’s own payments count towards deductibles and maximum annual out-of-pocket costs.

For millions of Americans living with chronic diseases, this practice is unfair and harmful. Over 70 percent of respondents to a recent National MS Society survey, for example, reported that they have relied on copay assistance to maintain access to medications essential to managing this chronic disease. There is no cure, and the specific symptoms, progress and severity of MS in any one person are unpredictable.

I know the uncertainty. I found out 31 years ago this month that I have MS. A neurologist, reviewing the report of my first-ever MRI exam, said it was a mild case and could remain that way forever — or change without warning.

My symptoms suddenly changed in 2003, and another neurologist, looking at my second MRI exam films, told me that the disease had advanced and prescribed one of the self-injection drugs to manage its further progression. The Mount Sinai Hospital MS Center is part of my family. Regular visits for routine exams, annual MRIs and taking a disease-modifying therapy, or DMT, to help manage the symptoms have allowed me to continue living the best life I can while living with MS.

Last year, the median cost of the more than 20 DMTs available was $91,835 a year. The oral medication I take costs $100,000. Expensive drugs account for approximately 75 percent of the cost of managing MS. Visits to doctors, bloodwork, MRIs and other medical-care necessities add to the financial burden.

Forgoing any of the treatments, especially the regimen of prescribed medications, could severely worsen my condition. Still, a National MS Society survey found that 40 percent of people who take a DMT were forced to alter or stop taking their medication due to the prohibitive cost. Interrupting one’s medication regimen can have unknown, deleterious ramifications.

That’s why it’s up to individual states to end accumulator programs, especially since an effort to regulate them failed in Congress. New York lawmakers can do the right thing and show leadership by adopting legislation this year.

Assemblyman Richard N. Gottfried and Sen. Gustavo Rivera, the chairmen of the health committees in the Assembly and state Senate, respectively, have introduced bills that would require an insurance policy that provides coverage for prescription drugs to “apply any third-party payments, financial assistance, discount, voucher or other price-reduction instrument for out-of-pocket expenses” to the insured’s deductible, copayment, coinsurance or out-of-pocket maximum.

These bills would safeguard access to life-saving treatments for those living with MS or other expensive chronic diseases, including arthritis and respiratory illnesses, among many others

When drug companies offer financial assistance programs, patients apply for them to alleviate the burdens associated with the exorbitant prices. Many people living with chronic illness are responsible for thousands of dollars in out-of-pocket costs. Copay accumulators unnecessarily prolong the period to cross the deductible threshold, meanwhile jeopardizing access to other medical treatments.

To date, six states — Virginia, West Virginia, Illinois, Arizona, Kentucky and Georgia — have passed legislation to compel insurers to count drug-manufacturer assistance toward deductibles. The Empire State should join them.

Insured New Yorkers shouldn’t have to dig deep into their health-insurance policies to find previously unknown terms and costs. Transparency is vital in health care. Both the Assembly and Senate should move expeditiously to pass, and Gov. Cuomo sign into law, legislation that will ban copay accumulator programs in our state.

Kenneth Bandler, a public relations executive, is a member of the board of trustees of the MS Society, Greater New York City-Long Island chapter.

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Opinion

Europe’s vax disaster shows Trump, UK’s BoJo got biggest COVID challenge right

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Europe's vax disaster shows Trump, UK's BoJo got biggest COVID challenge right

In the race to save lives from the novel coronavirus, the United States and Britain are winning. A stunning 47 percent of UK residents and 36 percent of US residents have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Compare that with the European Union, where only 15 percent of the population has gotten at least one jab. 

America and Britain are ahead thanks to the brash nationalism of UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and former President Donald Trump — the very quality that drew the ire of the trans-Atlantic elite. The political import is especially ironic in the American case: While our blue-check Twitterati were busy using Europe as a supposed exemplar to bash Trump, the 45th president was getting things done.  

The United States is now vaccinating as many as 4 million people a day, and President Joe Biden has announced that vaccines are plentiful enough that all adults will be eligible by May 1. It’s a remarkable achievement. 

Biden gets some credit for distributing the shots, but Trump is responsible for producing  vaccines in record time and guaranteeing that America had first dibs on the supply. The current president claims he inherited a mess. In fact, he inherited a miracle — Trump’s Operation Warp Speed. 

In the spring of 2020, Trump put America at the front of the line for whatever vaccines would ultimately be produced. He had the foresight to contract with not one or two, but six different vaccine companies for a total of 800 million doses. Not all six companies’ vaccines would actually be approved and put into use, but he went for all six, because failure was not an option.

Operation Warp Speed paid firms to manufacture the vaccines before clinical trials proved they were safe and worked. Companies couldn’t take that risk on their own. It was a bold strategy, and it worked. 

Trump insisted he would have vaccines ready by the end of 2020, a goal naysayers like government virus guru Anthony Fauci said was impossible. Thousands of column inches and many more tweets mocked Trump’s optimism. Before the novel-coronavirus vaccines, the fastest ever vaccine development — for mumps in the 1960s — took four years.

Johnson, like Trump, showed the pluck to partner with the drug companies early and lock in Britain’s future vaccine supply. Meanwhile, the European Union dithered over what to buy and at what price. By the time the Brussels bureaucrats contracted with vaccine developers, 105 days after Johnson signed his deals, it was slim pickings.  That’s largely why the European nations lack supply now.

Looking back, French President Emannuel Macron admits, “We didn’t shoot for the stars. That should be a lesson. We were wrong to lack ambition, to lack the madness . . . to say: ‘It’s possible, let’s do it.’ ”

Now EU countries are so desperate for supply that Hungary has bought 5 million doses from the Chinese state-owned company Sinopharm for a whopping $36 a dose, probably the highest price in the world. Amazing, since China refused to publish clinical data proving the vaccine works. Now there are signs it’s far less effective than the Chinese implied.

Britain has plenty of supply, and Johnson regards that as a vindication of Brexit and proof of the “innovative genius and commercial might of the private sector.” Spoken like his sometime-buddy Trump.

Yet the enemies of both men have tried to rewrite history, with Biden going so far as to claim, “When I came into office, the prior administration had contracted for not nearly enough vaccine to cover adults in America. We rectified that.”

Sorry, even the left-leaning Kaiser Health News rates that “mostly false.” Without the contracts giving the US first dibs on supply, America would have been left high and dry like the Europeans. Worse, the vaccines might never have been produced. Trump’s intervention made warp-speed vaccine development less risky for the companies doing it.  

That’s crucial, because this is not the last pandemic. Trump’s Operation Warp Speed is a model to follow next time. 

In 2019, before COVID struck, Trump’s Council of Economic Advisors warned that a flu pandemic could cost 500,000 American lives, but emerging technologies could make it possible to develop a vaccine against an invading disease in a matter of months, instead of years — provided government could reduce the financial risks.  

That advice was prescient, and Trump took it. The rest is history.

Betsy McCaughey is a former lieutenant governor of New York.

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Opinion

Woke CEOs’ foolhardy bid to shape voting laws

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Woke CEOs' foolhardy bid to shape voting laws

More than 120 CEOs and other corporate leaders met on Zoom over the weekend to discuss how to exert pressure to influence legislation around the country. The media would be reporting it as a vast scandal if the agenda were right wing but these are woke executives.

Yale School of Management prof Jeffrey Sonnenfeld organized the gabfest along with the Coalition for Inclusive Capitalism and the Leadership Now Project, to plot ways to foil some of the 350-plus voting bills before lawmakers in dozens of states. The attendees reportedly included Walmart CEO Doug McMillon, Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank, General Motors CEO Mary Barra, LinkedIn CEO Reid Hoffman and the chief execs of American, Delta and United airlines.

Merck CEO Kenneth Frazier and former American Express CEO Kenneth Chenault urged the group to make a public denunciation of legislation that supposedly discriminates and restricts voting access, with some calling laws like the one Georgia just passed “racist.” Several attendees even called their posturing “critical to democracy.”

Afterward, organizers announced: “CEOs who participated . . . indicated they will re-evaluate donations to candidates supporting bills that restrict voting rights and many would reconsider investments in states which act upon such proposals.”

Plainly, they’ve ignored the pile of poop that Major League Baseball and others just stepped in with their anti-Georgia moves. (The new law leaves the Peach State with more-liberal voting laws than New York or Delaware, for starters, as well as Colorado, which somehow won the All-Star Game.)

Worse, they showed no sense of how unseemly the whole thing is — a project to push duly elected officials into catering to woke opinion.

Contra the organizers’ claims, this isn’t moving “to shore up American democracy,” and anyone running a company should have the common sense to see that. Maybe most CEOs were just paying lip service to win political-correctness points, but it surely at least annoys roughly half their customers.

We’re not sure which is worse: if the CEOs simply calculated that they had to posture left to please the current powers that be in Washington or if they’re fools enough to think that making their company take a side in America’s red-blue battles is somehow moral, their duties to their shareholders be damned.

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