Two years ago, the NYPD was frog-marching Thomas Frieden, Obama’s former CDC boss, with his hands cuffed behind his back after he was charged with third-degree sexual abuse and forcible touching.
Frieden had been accused of groping a female friend, but was shortly released without bail on his own recognizance, pled guilty to disorderly conduct, and had the charged sealed and dismissed. And that shouldn’t have been surprising. Not only had Frieden headed New York City’s Health Department for seven years, going to war against fat and big sodas, but he had remained a close Bloomberg ally. And the billionaire was a major funder of Vital Strategies, Frieden’s public health organization.
Now Governor Cuomo has announced that New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut will be launching a tri-state contact tracing program.
“Mike Bloomberg has volunteered to help us develop the program,” Cuomo, whose policies may have killed over 5,000 nursing home residents, tweeted. “It will be expensive, challenging & require an army of tracers.”
Bloomberg’s presence means that Vital Strategies and Frieden will be at the center of the undertaking. Before going on to run the CDC under Obama, Frieden had served as the Director of Global Health for Bloomberg Philanthropies even while working as Bloomberg’s Health Commissioner.
When Frieden was arrested for allegedly groping a woman’s buttocks, Vital Strategies CEO Jose Luis Castro had eagerly come to his defense.
“I have known and worked closely with Dr. Frieden for nearly 30 years and have seen firsthand that he has the highest ethical standards both personally and professionally,” Castro insisted. “In all of my experiences with him, there have never been any concerns or reports of inappropriate conduct.”
That is to say, Frieden had stayed above the waist with Castro when both men had worked at New York City’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, and now at the helm of Vital Strategies.
Both Frieden and Castro had started out small, Frieden as a community organizer at Vanderbilt, and Castro, who had a BA in Political Science from Pace and an MPA in administration from UPenn, as a lecturer on political science at Pace. Both had traveled the same road through New York’s Department of Health, the World Health Organization, and then Bloomberg’s billion-dollar philanthropic empires.
Should either man have a major role in contact tracing millions of people in the tri-state area?
Both officials had been tasked with fighting tuberculosis. During Frieden’s tenure as New York’s director of the Bureau of Tuberculosis Control, the Health Department announced that it would detain patients who didn’t voluntarily complete treatment for tuberculosis on Roosevelt Island, the former home of the infamous Blackwell’s Penitentiary, where they would remain for up to a year under guard on the island.
Frieden said at the time that he had no idea how many patients would require long-term detention. Previously, 50 people had been detained with average stretches in the medical joint of over a month.
Back then, I was in high school. I had tested positive for TB with a skin test. I later learned that TB skin tests have such a high false positive rate that they’re highly dubious. But nonetheless, I was prescribed a high dose of antibiotics. I remember feeling weak and collapsing on the couch every evening after taking them, unable to get homework done or even stay awake for more than an hour after being dosed.
I never finished the endless course of treatment, but didn’t end up under guard at Blackwell’s either.
Frieden left New York City’s battle with tuberculosis, which his own department’s numbers showed was largely coming from third world immigrants, to work for WHO. Castro continued serving as the Director of Operations for the Bureau for another two years. Frieden returned as Bloomberg’s Commish to wage war on soda and fat, before heading off to mismanage infectious disease policy on a national level.
In 2009, Frieden co-authored a paper calling for food taxes to fight obesity. Poor people would not stop drinking soda or eating fatty foods unless they were forced to. “Only heftier taxes will significantly reduce consumption,” his paper had insisted.
At the CDC, Frieden’s moment in the sun came when the Ebola crisis found his organization unprepared. The CDC and Frieden had falsely claimed that asymptomatic people with the virus could not transmit the disease. That had real life consequences when a nurse with Ebola who had a fever, asked the CDC if it was okay for her to fly. And she was told that there was no problem. “She did not vomit, she was not bleeding, so the level of risk to people around her would be extremely low,” Frieden insisted.
The CDC boss had viewed trans fats as a major threat, but had opposed travel bans, claiming that it’s “simply not feasible to build a wall”. Unless it’s around TB patients on Roosevelt Island.
At one press conference, the CDC boss argued that, “If you’re a member of the traveling public and are healthy, should you be worried that you might have gotten it by sitting next to someone. The answer is no. Second if you’re sick, and you may have Ebola should you get on a bus, the answer to that is also no. You might become ill; you might have a problem that exposes someone around you.”
You can’t catch Ebola from someone on a bus. But you might infect someone with Ebola on a bus.
Frieden’s Ebola response was such a mess that even CNN ran an op-ed, titled, “Why CDC chief must go”.
But in public service, you only fail upward. Two years after being arrested for groping a woman and after botching the response to the country’s biggest virus threat before the coronavirus, Frieden is back.
So much for both the #MeToo movement and best practices.
But it’s not about your record, but about which billionaires are funding your operation. Vital Strategies is funded by Bloomberg, Bill Gates, and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg.
What are Frieden’s views on the coronavirus?
“We can learn from China’s response. It’s extraordinarily proactive,” Frieden said, in praise of the totalitarian Communist dictatorship’s contact tracing program.
Setting aside Frieden’s alleged misconduct, this is a very troubling view from a point man in a contact tracing effort that will cover three states. China’s contact tracing app was used to control where anyone could go by assigning them a color code. Anyone going out had to scan their code at establishments.
What exactly does Frieden think we can learn from the abuses of the People’s Republic of China? And how will he put those lessons to use in building the surveillance machine overseeing 32 million people?
Frieden’s career shows a bias toward coercive measures, from forcible detention to soda taxes, to, allegedly, touching a woman without her consent. Coercive public health measures belong in Communist dictatorships. They have no place in a free nation like the United States of America.
The expert class, which has failed at dealing with actual crises, has raised its ambitions from controlling what Americans eat to controlling whether they can leave the house. New York and New Jersey’s decision to hand over control to Bloomberg and his coercive crony is a bad solution for all Americans.