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Get Ready For Increased Media Coverage of the XBB 1.5 Variant

The latest sequel, or more accurately, the newest Omicron variant, is XBB.1.5. The first samples of the new subvariant were found last October in New York state.

Andy Bloom

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When Hollywood tells stories about mass murderers, it gives them names like Jason or Freddy Krueger. Hollywood wouldn’t come up with names like Covid-19, SARS-2, or the Corona Virus. And it certainly wouldn’t name anybody in its sequels, Omicron. Let alone BA.1 or BQ.1.1.

But those are the names we’ve come to learn in a three-year worldwide pandemic that has killed nearly seven million people and caused almost three-quarters of a billion infections. 

It’s baaaack. The latest sequel, or more accurately, the newest Omicron variant, is XBB.1.5. The first samples of the new subvariant were found last October in New York state. Since then, it has spread rapidly in the Northeast.

If you haven’t noticed the coverage of XBB.1.5 yet, you will shortly. What should responsible media members report?

Let me be clear about a few things before continuing. 

  • I am not a doctor or clinician. I have no medical training.
  • I am NOT an anti-vaxer. I am fully vaccinated against Covid, as is my entire family.
  • I am not trying to make a political point for or against Covid vaccines. Individuals should make their own informed decisions based on consultation with their doctor. 
  • I am only concerned with facts and data. I believe in science.

The White House COVID response coordinator, Dr. Ashish Jha, fired off a series of Tweets last week. He Tweeted XBB.1.5 went from “4% of sequences to 40% in just a few weeks.”

CDC data for the week ending January 7 projects that 27.6% of new cases are XBB.1.5, compared to 18.3% the prior week. In the Northeast, the figure rises to 72%. One thing experts agree on is that this is a highly contagious variant of Omicron. 

In his series of Tweets, Jha adds: That XBB.1.5 may be more inherently contagious. That is a reoccurring theme in news reports quoting other doctors, scientists and researchers share.

If there’s good news about this variant, it’s that the early data suggests that for most people, it will not be as deadly as the original COVID-19 strain. The variant is not causing increases in hospitalizations or deaths. What it may lack in its ability to kill younger, healthy people, it makes up for in transmissibility.

A USA Today article states the variant “is so contagious that even people who’ve avoided it so far are getting infected, and the roughly 80% of Americans who’ve already been infected are likely to catch it again.” It quotes Paula Cannon, a virologist at the University of Southern California, saying, “it’s crazy infectious.”

Two additional quotes from Cannon in USA Today are worth noting:

“All the things that have protected you for the past couple of years, I don’t think, are going to protect you against this new crop of variants.” Cannon also said, “Essentially, everyone in the country is at risk for infection now, even if they’re super careful, up to date on vaccines (emphasis mine), or have caught it before.”

Most experts are instructing everybody to get a booster of the new bivalent shot. A new advertising campaign is about to begin urging people to get boosted. 

The media needs to report on the bivalent booster, its effectiveness, and who should get it because of the XBB.1.5 variant.

Right now, nobody knows how effective the bivalent booster will be against XBB.1.5. Despite the claims that the booster will protect people, the answer is less evident in the published studies. There are several factors that individuals should consider.

Again, I am not an anti-vaxer. I am fully vaccinated, as is my family. It was an easy decision to make at the time because the mortality and hospitalization rates of the initial COVID-19 virus were quite high. Further, hospitals were filled beyond capacity, lowering the chances of getting adequate medical treatment if contracting the virus. At that time, trusting that the vaccines were sufficiently tested and didn’t have significant side effects were worth the risk.

Each mutation of the original has proven less deadly, which is one factor that makes it less imperative to get the bivalent vaccine – except for people with higher risk factors.

Dr. Jha Tweeted, “If you had an infection before July OR Your last vaccine was before the bivalent update in September, Your protection against an XBB.1.5 infection is probably not that great.” No doubt that’s true, but will the vaccine help protect against the latest variant?

Jha adds that “All the evidence (the tests) says that they (the vaccines) should work just fine.” Most experts agree. They also concur when Jha states “that it (XBB.1.5) may be more immune evasive than other Omicron variants.”

People will have to weigh these dualities when considering whether to get additional vaccines. Although each mutation has become less deadly, each variant gets better at evading immunities. 

The New England Journal of Medicine published the most recent study on the efficacy of vaccines on COVID-19 and Omicron subvariants. 

Neutralization against BA.2.75.2, BQ.1.1, and XBB from mRNA Bivalent Booster/

The key paragraph:

“neutralization titers against BA.1 and BA.5 that were 4 times as low as that against WA1/2020 and neutralization titers against BA.2.75.2, BQ.1.1, and XBB that were 12 to 26 times as low as that against WA1/2020.”

A picture is worth a thousand words:

ChartDescription automatically generated

The graphs show that receiving additional vaccines are more effective against all strains. However, the added bivalent booster appears to be less effective against the XBB variant than the two doses against the original COVID-19 virus. 

Although it should provide some additional protection for a few months, the next variant is likely right around the corner. People have to consider how often they are willing to get another booster.

As people weigh the benefits and risks, they should consider the possible side effects. The process of bringing new treatments to market in the U.S. is stringent – far more difficult here than in any other country. 

Most drugs go through multiple years of clinical trials. COVID vaccines received approval through emergency measures with much lower clinical trial thresholds than usual. 

Pharmaceutical companies must include a disclaimer with ”possible” side effects for every new medication released and advertised. The copy often says, “up to and including death.” However, after lengthy clinical studies, the risks are considered minimal. COVID vaccines are the only medication not required to include a disclaimer about possible side effects.

Thus far, there’s no evidence of widespread adverse side effects or substantiating claims made by anti-vaxers. However, sometimes it takes years for side effects to manifest fully. 

In the coming days, media coverage of the XBB.1.5 variant will increase. There will be enormous pressure on the press to tell people they must get an additional booster and also to mask up again. 

As the media reports on the latest phase of the pandemic, it should be honest about the data on XBB.1.5. and the bivalent vaccine. For some, it will make sense to get the jab again. When weighing all the factors, others may decide it’s not necessary. Let’s give people all the data and respect their informed, science-based decisions.

And that is not misinformation.

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Bob Bellin

    January 10, 2023 at 6:45 pm

    Misinformation
    “Each mutation of the original has proven less deadly”. Not true. Death rates are lower because of vaccination and acquired immunity due to prior infection. Most Americans have been vaccinated, infected or both.
    Misinformation:” “As people weigh the benefits and risks, they should consider the possible side effects”. You go on to say, “Thus far, there’s no evidence of widespread adverse side effects or substantiating claims made by anti-vaxers.” So what, exactly, are the risks to consider? Why would anyone not pull into a Walgreens every 6 months and get a free shot that takes less than 3seconds to administer that will undoubtedly provide some protection against a serious outcome? Because we don’t know how this virus will evolve, or whether the next variant will be more severe, why not get all the protection that’s available?

    I don’t understand how the right has decided to politicize the vaccine. I don’t understand how articles like this can even mention informed, science based decisions when they don’t do that themselves. Yes, the media should be honest – non physician, heal thyself. I also don’t understand why conservatives who think the vaccine/boosters are nearly useless blocked more funding to develop better ones.

  2. Andy Bloom

    January 11, 2023 at 2:50 pm

    FROM THE AUTHOR
    Bob,
    I really should answer you with just one paragraph. Here’s all that really needs to be said:
    Bring the graphs I took from NEJM to your doctor for review. Ask this question: Is the new bivalent vaccine AS EFFECTIVE against XBB.1.5 as the original vaccine was against the original Covid-19 virus?

    But, knowing you as I do, I took two hours to write a detailed point by point response, so here it is:

    What you don’t know is that what I write about medical issues is previously discussed, then reviewed for accuracy by somebody who is an MD, Ph.D., and academic researcher whom I have known for a long time. They have sterling credentials. My long relationship with this person has taught me to trust their judgment. After having this person review my column again post-publication as well as the answers I am about to provide, they concluded:

    “Science is a moving target. We make the best choices given the available data. Your position that the initial vaccine was clearly the proper response at the time but is now more of a personal choice is entirely defensible. If someone wants to take a new vaccine every three months, that’s their choice, but the benefit-to-risk ratio is not as clear as it was at the beginning of the pandemic. That’s the point of your article and a very defensible point.”

    Now, let me address the issues in your comments. You write that I am wrong about each mutation becoming less deadly.

    Where did you get that from? I’m not sure that even Dr. Fauci has made any such claim.
    The data will support that the ratio of people with serious complications (i.e., hospitalizations, ventilator support, and death) divided by the number of people with active infections is lower now than at the beginning of the pandemic. This result may be a combination of less virulent viruses, natural defenses, and vaccines.

    Going back to my medical expert for clarification, they report there is evidence to suggest the virus is more likely to stay in the nasal cavities than in the lungs. This could help explain why the variants are simultaneously more infectious and less virulent. To determine, with certainty, the extent the variants are weakening vs. the degree natural immunity and vaccines have helped, we would need to expose a control group of people who previously had no exposure to Covid to the latest variant and then determine their death rates.

    You also criticize what I wrote about the side effects of the vaccines – even when I say there is no evidence of widespread adverse side effects… You write: “So what, exactly, are the risks to consider? Why would anyone not pull into a Walgreens every 6 months and get a free shot that takes less than 3 seconds to administer that will undoubtedly provide some protection against a serious outcome? Because we don’t know how this virus will evolve, or whether the next variant will be more severe, why not get all the protection that’s available?”

    I should have been more specific and stated that there are no SERIOUS side effects THUS FAR. However, even if it’s just a sore arm and a general feeling of malaise, the vaccine is widely known to have short-term side effects.

    Nobody can say with certainty what the long-term implications may be. Everything appears safe until it is not. Numerous products were on the market for years before discovering adverse side effects.

    Lawsuits over Oxycodone painkillers, Nexium acid reflux medicine, Sudafed nasal decongestant with pseudoephedrine, and Johnson and Johnson Baby Powder come to mind.

    The vaccines we’re discussing haven’t gone through standard clinical testing protocols. If you’re positive that there’s no chance of any negative side effects, why not expand that three-second Walgreens run into 15 minutes and get a few aspirins and a couple of every supplement they offer because you can’t have too much protection, right?

    Even if you don’t pay when you get vaccinated, you are misinformed if you believe the shots are “free.”

    You wrote: “I don’t understand how the right has decided to politicize the vaccine. I don’t understand how articles like this can even mention informed, science based decisions when they don’t do that themselves. Yes, the media should be honest – non physician, heal thyself. I also don’t understand why conservatives who think the vaccine/boosters are nearly useless blocked more funding to develop better ones.”

    I did my best to be clear that this was not a political issue. I also was not writing to make arguments for or against vaccines. I used data from the most recent study published in “The New England Journal of Medicine” (NEJM). And yes, a physician reviewed every word I wrote, including my data analysis.

    Again, bring the graphs from the NEJM study to your doctor. Ask them if the data shows that the bivalent vaccine is AS EFFECTIVE against XBB.1.5 as the original vaccine is against the original Covid-19 virus.

    You also don’t know: My father spent his entire career doing medical research. He was on the team that produced the artificial kidney. He spent the latter part of his career working on a protocol to help MS patients get out of their wheelchairs. If you believe I’ve done anything in my life designed to block funding for medical research, you don’t know me as well as you presume.

    Finally, this is not religion for me. It is science. I wrote the column to help media members understand how to inform their audiences. There are reasons to get the latest booster and for some people to skip this one. If you believe getting an additional jab will benefit you, I don’t judge you.

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BNM Writers

The Lost Radio Art of Building a Community Around Your On-Air Product

Your media outlet needs to develop a closer bond with your audience and make them (and you) part of a shared community.

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A photo of a crowd

How well do you know your radio audience? Wait, that goes the other way, too: How well does your audience know you? And are they your audience, or something more than that?

It’s something to consider in an era when media has become overcrowded and audiences are scattered among many platforms. Is your constituency passive – they listen, watch, or read, but don’t feel any particular loyalty or fealty to you – or is it a real community with a strong two-way connection to you and your brand?

I’ll defer to Seth Resler, who has been promoting the importance of community for radio, as to specifics on why community is important (and the missing element in radio marketing). It does occur to me that radio used to be able to do this, and do it better than any other medium. Great personalities and stations were able to create bonds with their listeners that today’s media just doesn’t do as well anymore.

From Jean Shepherd’s “Night People” to Howard Stern’s legion of fans, teens picking sides in the Top 40 battles of yore (were you a KHJ Boss Radio listener or a KRLA die-hard? WABC All-Americans or WMCA Good Guys? WLS or Super CFL?)… even in those pre-social media days, there was a connection that was more than just passive or background listening. It’s why there’s (perhaps too much) nostalgia for those days, especially among the Facebook commentators who want radio to be just like that today. Those days are over.

But community building isn’t, and all you need to know is “Swiftie” or “Bey Hive” to understand what a rabid fan base can do for you. Media in general doesn’t get fans like that anymore, but it should be taking cues from how fans behave online. DJs and hosts should be celebrities, not anonymous one-name interchangeable plug-and-play voice trackers.

Events you create should be big deals clearly identified with your brand (look at D.C., where the “HFStival” is returning even though WHFS as a radio station is long gone from the market). Got a newspaper? Create and promote social media accounts and aggressively promote them as the best local forum on every topic, like local restaurants, local politics, local everything. Ideally, you should make your identity synonymous with your audience and your locality. Your name should mean something more than just “a radio station” or “a newspaper” or “a website.” Think big, then think bigger.

Here’s an example of something someone should be doing: Right now, we’ve entered Hurricane Season in these parts, and as I write this, it’s pouring. The local TV stations in West Palm and Miami all compete to be identified as “the weather station,” promoting their meteorologists being “most accurate” and “number one for weather.”

Great, but it just ends there with the marketing. They could have Facebook groups, and Instagram posts, and Zoom open meetings where people can ask questions and get answers, and report conditions in real-time. Some do have hurricane preparation events, but they could be more than just a card table and canopy with brochures and a station employee there to meet and greet. They all have apps, and that helps, but there’s no interactivity.

As a local resident, do I know who to trust most on the weather? Do I feel loyalty to any of the stations? Not really. There’s no community. So I just turn on the TV and whichever channel I happen to land upon first is what I’ll watch for weather updates. They’re basically the same. Radio?

I couldn’t tell you which station is the go-to for anything. A lot of them just simulcast TV news coverage in emergencies anyway. I haven’t met anyone here who’s a real fan of any local radio station, though that may be a function of the number of new arrivals here, mostly from Long Island; they’re all more likely to say they listen(ed) to 1010 WINS for news anyway.

TL;DR: Your media outlet needs to develop a closer bond with your audience and make them (and you) part of a shared community. Turn fans into family. Ask Seth Resler for more. We have too many ex-New Yorkers here. Ranger Suarez for NL Cy Young. Okay, that wasn’t in here, but still.

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Steve Cochran Isn’t Looking in the Rear View Mirror After WLS-AM 890 Exit

“(WLS) and I were never a natural fit. But I believe — and I believe they believed — that we could do something and deliver something … everybody wasn’t rowing the boat in the same direction, but I’m good.”

Garrett Searight

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A photo of Steve Cochran
(Photo: Steve Cochran)

There’s a longstanding adage in the radio business: “You haven’t really been in radio until you’ve been fired.” Steve Cochran has embodied the mantra 11 times after exiting Chicago news/talk station WLS-AM 890 last Friday.

After a two-year run in mornings on the Cumulus-owned station, the two sides went their separate ways in what Cochran said was an amicable parting.

“I liked those people a lot. They’re good people. We just have a disagreement on what show should be on there,” he said. “The signs aren’t hard to figure out. It was not contentious. I’ve certainly had ugly ones. This was not it. We just simply disagree on how to do the best show in in Chicago. And frankly, I felt like I was doing not just that, but the best show in the country. And the last sane talk show in the country.”

That sentiment — “the last sane talk show in the country” — is something Cochran had shared on the air during his stint with the station.

When asked what that exactly meant to him, Steve Cochran noted that it includes two separate issues. One is the business side of radio which affects companies like iHeartMedia, Audacy, and Cumulus. He believes some of the larger radio operators are solely focused on stock price, which in turn affects the on-air programming.

But maybe more importantly is the political polarization that has enveloped the talk radio space that Cochran has become most disillusioned with.

“This is not a secret: I’ve leaned right most of my life, but I’ve voted right and left depending on the candidate — the way I think everybody ought to,” said Cochran. “Because the far right and the far left, as I’ve said a million times, will kill the country. And I just wanted to drive the middle. I still think you could monetize the middle, but you have to have a company that’s willing to really invest in that.

“They held up their end of the bargain and they didn’t tell me how to do the show. And I held up mine and told him that I would be hard on Trump, but I would also be hard on any Democrats that deserved it. I pound on the mayor of Chicago, who’s a disaster, and the Democratic machine in Chicago, which is also a disaster, over and over again. We got good response from a lot of people that said, ‘Look, you’re fair. I don’t always agree, but I appreciate it.'”

He continued by noting that welcoming each side of the political aisle to talk radio needs to be much more prevalent than it has become, stating “Unless we get back to talking to each other, we’re done and everything in politics now is about not doing that.”

Steve Cochran admitted that he might not have been the best fit for WLS — and vice versa — but was interested in giving the position a test run after more than 15 years at crosstown rival WGN.

He called the relationship “a joint experiment”, before noting that that the proposed mission of the Cumulus-owned outlet to be “the most conservative station in America,” in the words of former colleague John Howell, wasn’t the perfect situation for him at this stage of his career.

After more than 40 years in the industry, and being 63 years old, it’s logical question to wonder what the future holds for Steve Cochran.

And he revealed he has the same thoughts.

“I will miss being on the radio. I don’t know that I’ll ever be on the radio again, and that’s a very weird thing to say after 43 years,” he shared. “I just think radio is still the greatest medium.”

As much as he questions his potential future on the air, Cochran questions if radio entities will be able to shift their focus away from AM radio to a more easily accessible distribution platform for younger audiences.

“The mistake these companies have made in regards to AM talk radio — and I said this to Cumulus — is stop calling it AM. When you say ‘AM,’ it sounds like an antique store. And it’s a natural turnoff to anybody under the age of probably 45.

“So in talk radio, AM should be treated like every other content platform. It’s just another content platform. It should have as much of the same opportunities and revenue streams as well. Cameras in studio, a video guy, social media people to monetize all of that,” he said. “I think the companies who are gonna win this — the remaining companies that may feel like they’re stuck with these big AMs — will figure out a way to treat them like content platforms and not like ‘Grandma’s down on the corner, the light’s on so I guess she’s ok.'”

If his morning show at WLS-AM 890 really was his last radio hurrah, Steve Cochran is content with that.

“When I left (WGN) — that was not my call, or my desire, though I hated the way the company was being run at that point, and still being run, frankly, it’s half the radio station once was. And (WLS) and I were never a natural fit, but I really believed — and I believe they believed — that we could do something and deliver something,” Cochran said. “But it involved a lot of promotion, a lot of focus, and everybody wasn’t rowing the boat the same way.

“So I came back, I had my say, and I think I’m better at this than I’ve ever been. I’d like to be able to do it somewhere, but for the time being, and maybe fully, I’m gonna do it in podcast form.”

His podcast — Live From My Office — has published more than 350 episodes since its launch. In addition to his podcast, Cochran continues to be a stand-up comedian in the Windy City, with a set scheduled for Friday night at the Raue Center for the Arts.

It would be easy for him to view the departure from the venerable Chicago station as a sad note. However, Cochran reiterated that he had no bad things to say about management in Chicago or the company, and noted that they stuck to everything the two sides agreed upon before the “joint experiment.”

“I didn’t get notes or direction or censorship or editing by WLS in Chicago or by Cumulus and I respect that. That was our agreement going in, and they honored it,” Steve Cochran shared. “But I have considerations for sponsors and consideration for the framework of things when I’m working for somebody else. So I don’t have to worry about that stuff anymore. That’s a bit of the freedom, but that’s just a small piece of it ’cause I never felt restricted at WLS.”

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BNM Writers

How Hunter Biden Talk Should Be Handled By News Media Members

I have some points that you may not have considered, and this could be useful for your show! 

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A photo of Hunter Biden appearing on Fox News
(Photo: Fox News)

The surviving first son — Hunter Biden — was convicted of 3 felonies over his gun buy after lying that he was not a drug addict. I am not going to joke about addiction. It truly is a horrible infliction affecting people in families all over the world and the First Family. But stick with me here. I have some points that you may not have considered, and this could be useful for your show! 

Hunter Biden was raised by an absent father. Sen. Joe Biden has often told the story about taking Amtrak home every night to be at home for his kids. Do you know what would have been better? Raising the kids in Washington DC. Arriving at midnight on a train is not parenting. It is virtue signaling about a commitment to fatherhood. Fatherhood is about being there for your children.

My old man was often on the road when I was a kid. It was necessary for his career as a Sales Manager. I know that if my dad could have been home for dinner every night, he would have done so. Hunter Biden’s mother was killed in a car wreck. It is a terrible thing. While Joe Biden has told that story often as a ploy for sympathy, Hunter Biden was not a prop. He didn’t choose to be raised by a political family. His lack of connection to his father was obviously a part of his addiction. Many of the addicted are hiding from pain and that pain is often familial.

Hunter learned early that the Biden name made things easier. Hunter went to Georgetown and then to Yale Law. I have no idea what Hunter’s qualifications were, but both of those institutions love bragging that a Senator’s son attended. Hunter graduated and Yale Law ain’t no summer picnic. Obviously, graduating from both institutions is an honor.

Hunter started on the grift immediately to cash in on his father’s name. Took a consulting gig with MDNA bank that had donated over $200k to his father’s campaigns. When I was in school and had started my first radio job, my full-time gig was with a hotel. I did the night audit. My dad called me and suggested that I call his fraternity brother who owned several large hotels. I told my father that I wanted to make it on my own. I didn’t want a job from a friend.

Just as a note, I was close to my parents and still hold them in high esteem. (They are no longer with us.) I decided to make my own way. I have this belief that it is not Republican or Democratic, it is reality. There amazing people are elected to Congress. The problem with Senators and Representatives is that they see the massive amount spent in the District of Columbia.

I believe that nearly all Congress can be corrupted by the cash. Hunter Biden just saw a way to cash in. It was raw greed based purely on connections to his father. There are adult children of elected officials who are cashing in because of connections to their lawmaker parents. It is dirty, it is wrong, and it is totally immoral.

Hunter Biden just joined the party. Sadly, Hunter’s father did not stop it. Joe Biden encouraged it. Nearly every member of the Biden family has cashed in on “The Big Guy.” It is dirty and the person guilty is Joe Biden. Joe Biden, who’s claimed he’s “Blue Collar Joe”, owns three homes. I had a friend point out that Joe had a book deal. My retort? Who purchased the books? My thinking is that lobbyists and big donors were at the center of it.

Joe Biden was greedy. Not because of a product, service, or company that he founded. It was because Joe Biden used his power as a U.S. Senator to become stinking rich. I love Delaware. They have The Waffle House! Imagine a strung-out Hunter Biden ordering the All-Star Special! By the way, the pork chops and eggs are amazing at The Waffle House. This is from personal experience.

Hunter cashed in on daddy. It was a family thing. But President Joe Biden chose public service as his career. Joe Biden could have stopped the Biden family scam at any moment. Why didn’t the President stop it? It was greed.

Hunter Biden and his Uncle James (Jimmy) Biden started a hedge fund that was financed by Allen Stanford. Stanford was convicted of a Ponzi Scheme and will get freedom in 2103. The Biden family made big bucks off this. Google Allen Stanford, Hunter Biden, and James Biden. I’ll tell you two people who didn’t have to return any money. Hunter and James Biden.

Hunter Biden may be the most ethical of the Biden family. He needed crack, booze, hookers to mask his personal pain. Hunter is obviously an adult and can make his own decisions. There are children from very functional families who just implode in life. There are children from impoverished families who have risen above their circumstances.

Hunter Biden is an emotional wreck. His father and stepmother have been enablers. His wives and girlfriends have allowed this behavior. But there was no chance for Hunter. He was wrecked by a dysfunctional family and a greedy dad.

I feel sorry for him. Hunter’s fall has more to do by his father than anything else. Beau Biden was the favored son. Hunter was the Prince Harry of the USA. Hunter deserves sympathy and perhaps some crack.

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