Tag Archives: COVID

It Goes WAY Beyond Hypocrisy

While I am on a rant against insanity, can you stand one more diatribe about anti-vaccination, anti-mask hysterics?

There are a number of theories about the motivation of these truly horrible people. (Not everyone who is unvaccinated falls within that category, of course–I’m focusing on the “activists” who are promulgating lies about the vaccines and threatening school board members.)

Paul Krugman recently opined that much refusal is political, pointing to the strong negative correlation between Trump’s share of a county’s vote and vaccinations. As of July, 86 percent of self-identified Democrats said they had had a vaccine shot, but only 54 percent of Republicans did.

He also pointed out that peddlers of quack medicine and right-wing extremists cater to more or less the same audience.

That is, Americans willing to believe that Barack Obama was born in Kenya and that Italian satellites were used to switch votes to Joe Biden are also the kind of people willing to believe that medical elites are lying to them and that they can solve their health problems by ignoring professional advice and buying patent medicines instead.

And those peddlers are making money. Horse dewormer, anyone?

But it’s the sheer lunacy–the extreme cognitive dissonance–that drives me up a wall. 

  • “We don’t  know what’s in it.” There’s a meme going around Facebook, enumerating all of the things Americans ingest without the slightest idea “what’s in it.” Everything from hotdogs to McNuggets to horse dewormer.
  • “Bill Gates has placed a chip in the vaccine to track people”–usually uttered by people carrying cell phones equipped with such chips…
  • “I have a right to control my own body”. This is a particular favorite of mine, coming as it does mostly from men who adamantly refuse to extend a similar right to pregnant women. Or people who disagree with them.
  • “Requiring masks is government overreach.” If the government can’t require a piece of cloth over your nose and mouth, why can it require that you cover your genitals in public? I want to see these “constitutional scholars” at the grocery, shopping naked. (I bet the men have teeny weenies.)
  • Speaking of overreach–these also tend to be the people who want government to drug test poor folks on welfare…
  • “I’m rejecting vaccines because I trust God.” If they truly trusted God, why do so many of them own/carry guns? Do they lock their doors? Buy eyeglasses and/or hearing aids? For that matter, why do they check into hospitals when they’re gasping for breath?
  • Speaking of individual liberty–government mandates seat belts, imposes speed limits, enforces smoking ordinances and issues multiple other rules to protect public safety. According to Hobbes, the original purpose of government was to remove us from the state of nature, in which there is “no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” Government is supposed to keep the strong from hurting the weak, the predatory from taking advantage of the helpless, and the stupid and/or selfish from spreading a deadly disease.

The hypocrisy is stunning. Republicans are suing businesses that require masks. Florida’s insane Governor is fining businesses that require vaccinations. These are the same  Republicans who insist that businesses have a right to refuse service to LGBTQ customers… 

I could go on and on…If COVID is a hoax, why ingest bleach or dewormer to treat it?

Many Republicans encouraging vaccine resistance know better. They just want to hurt Joe Biden politically. Biden promised to defeat the virus, and they’re determined to keep him from delivering on that promise. If lots of their own voters get sick and die as a result–well, them’s the breaks…

Former Republican and sane person David Frum made an interesting point in a recent issue of The Atlantic.

As cases uptick again, as people who have done the right thing face the consequences of other people doing the wrong thing, the question occurs: Does Biden’s America have a breaking point? Biden’s America produces 70 percent of the country’s wealth—and then sees that wealth transferred to support Trump’s America. Which is fine; that’s what citizens of one nation do for one another. Something else they do for one another: take rational health-care precautions during a pandemic. That reciprocal part of the bargain is not being upheld…

In the end, the unvaccinated person himself or herself has decided to inflict a preventable and unjustifiable harm upon family, friends, neighbors, community, country, and planet.

Will Blue America ever decide it’s had enough of being put medically at risk by people and places whose bills it pays? Check yourself: Have you?

I certainly have.

 

 

 

May I Quote You?

As regular readers have probably noticed, the subject-matter with which I engage here is generally prompted by something I’ve read or seen. I do try very hard not to rely on lengthy quotations in these daily blogs–instead, I try to distill the message being conveyed, and to add my own observations/analyses/pontifications.

But sometimes I encounter writing that absolutely begs to be quoted, an argument framed  so perfectly that an attempt to rephrase would be less effective. That’s the case with this essay from The Week, titled “The Republican Pandemic Response Is Breaking My Brain,” by Ryan Cooper. So with your indulgence, I will share more quotes than usual, beginning with his sub-head “Give me horse paste or give me death?”

Cooper began with a recitation of what sentient Americans know: despite the availability of an effective vaccine, the pandemic is getting much worse, especially in several states governed by Republicans.

At the same time, conservative elites are doing their level best to spread the virus as much as possible, even as COVID-19 is killing conservatives by the thousands. It’s willful, malign negligence on a mind-boggling scale…

Yet Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is still in a ferocious dispute with his state’s school districts about mask mandates, as his state’s pediatric ICU beds are swamped. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott recently issued an (almost certainly unconstitutional) order banning any institution receiving public funds from requiring vaccines. South Dakota recently held the Sturgis motorcycle rally again with the furious support of Gov. Kristi Noem — despite the fact that the state is trailing in vaccination and last year the rally created a pandemic charnel house. Unsurprisingly, cases there are once again shooting through the roof.

Cooper writes that the story currently breaking his brain is the “recent plague of conservatives poisoning themselves with veterinary deworming paste.”

As Jef Rouner explains at Houston Press, the formula is simple and lucrative: raise fear, uncertainty, and doubt about the vaccines with complicated but false arguments that are hard for a layman to untangle, launder extreme claims by interviewing total lunatics, all while recommending unproven miracle remedies the shadowy Big Pharma conspiracy is supposedly suppressing. Then when you get in trouble for spreading antivaccine lies during a global pandemic, scream that you’re being “censored” to get more attention, and watch the subscription numbers jump.

Cooper goes through the reasons sane people would not consume a deworming paste (somehow, he omits noting the inconsistency of “curing” a disease these people insist is a hoax) and points out that deworming paste is “flying off the shelves, some doctor in Arkansas is giving it to prisoners, and calls to poison control centers are skyrocketing across the South. Facebook groups are full of stories of poisoned people suffering severe diarrhea and expelling “rope worms,” which turn out to be almost certainly shreds of intestinal lining.”

Ugh.

The horse paste saga is a perfect window into the conservative mindset that is currently the biggest force fueling the pandemic. The core behavior here is muleheaded, selfish spitefulness, adhered to even at great personal risk. “Freedom” for movement conservatives is entirely one-directional: They get to spray virus fog whenever and wherever they want, and they also get to force you or your kids to not wear a mask.

Because that behavior is so monstrous, there is a large incentive to make up comforting lies about how the pandemic is exaggerated or fake, or the vaccines don’t work — much facilitated by the fact that consuming right-wing media for very long tends to turn your brain into horse paste. Some right-wing voices pushing this line actually believe it, as shown by the lamented dead above. But others are just cynical — Abbott recently came down with COVID, but it turns out he had not only been vaccinated but also had already gotten a booster shot, and was getting daily tests, so had a very mild case.

Finally, because the financial engine of the conservative media complex is tricking gullible retired people into buying brain pills and reverse mortgages, conservatives are easy pickings for cynical and/or deluded grifters hawking snake oil remedies when they do contract COVID after coughing into each other’s face at the Cheesecake Factory to own the libs.

Yet another wave of completely pointless death seems to be motivating a lot of people to finally get vaccinated — but thus far the procrastinators, not the ideological, hard core antivaxxers. Even when Donald Trump tried to argue for the vaccine at a rally in Alabama recently, he was booed. It seems the pandemic will keep burning out of control until just about every conservative vaccine refusenik has gotten COVID. Another few months ought to do it.

We need a cure for crazy. Probably not a vaccine…

COVID Facts And Fictions

Okay–you are all probably as tired of discussing COVID and the insanity of anti-vaxxers as I am, but my cousin the cardiologist has written an important summary of the issues, and maybe–just maybe–sharing considered information from a medical professional might trigger productive discussion.

Yeah, I know. Dreaming…

As Mort says, as a member of the conventional medical/scientific community, he grieves at the number of needless deaths that have occurred, and he agrees with the Surgeon General about the need to understand and counter the large amounts of disinformation  flooding social media. He proceeds by offering facts about the vaccines–their efficacy, a history of their development, where they can be accessed, the fact that they’re free, and much more…He’s compiled a very useful, one-stop overview of most of the questions people have. You should click through to see the entire compilation.

Undoubtedly the most important part of his message, however, has to do with safety. With his permission, I am quoting that section at length.

Even before the vaccines were given emergency use authorization, the FDA reviewed months of safety data on tens of thousands of participants in vaccine trials. Since then, regulators have tracked people who received a vaccine in the real world, because it’s possible that very rare side effects might emerge once millions of people receive a shot.

In the U.S., more than half of adults are now fully vaccinated, and even more have received at least one dose. With more than 300 million doses of vaccine administered and an intense safety monitoring program that’s able to track even extremely rare side effects, researchers have been able to track vaccinated people for months, and are confident that the COVID-19 vaccines currently authorized for use by the FDA are safe.

For the vast majority of people, side effects have been similar to those from other vaccines, like the shingles vaccine, though they have been more common and severe than they are with the typical flu shot. These side effects include fever, headaches, feeling run-down, and soreness in the arm. These are more common after the second shot than the first, and generally go away within a few days. A few rare side effects have been detected, now that millions of vaccine doses have been administered.

After receiving the J&J vaccine, a very small number of people—primarily women younger than 50—have developed a type of rare but serious blood clot. In women between 18 and 49, there have been about 7 cases per million vaccinations, and the FDA and CDC still recommend this vaccine. Similar rare blood clots have been observed with the Astrazeneca vaccine in Europe. In July, the CDC also announced that the agency had detected preliminary reports of about 100 cases of Guillain-Barré syndrome, a neurological disorder, among 12.8 million people who received the J&J vaccine. Most were men, many of them 50 and older. Another concern is that early data suggest that this vaccine may not be quite as effective as the other vaccines against the delta variant of the virus.

After receiving either the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines, a small number of people have had a severe allergic reaction, called anaphylaxis, which can occur after any type of vaccination. These have occurred in about two to five people per million vaccinated, and while serious, they are treatable—this is why people are asked to stick around for 15 to 30 minutes after getting a shot.

The CDC is currently investigating higher than normal rates of suspected myocarditis (heart inflammation) in adolescents and young adults who have received the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines. These incidents are rare, and in 81 percent of suspected cases with a known outcome, patients have fully recovered. Any longer-term side effect is extremely unlikely, according to the CDC. Typically, any vaccine side effects would emerge during these first two months after immunization. Moreover, it’s difficult to clearly link any adverse health events that occur after two months with a vaccination. But regulators will continue to monitor vaccine trial participants for two years to see how long immunity lasts and note any adverse events.

Initial reports of several severe but treatable potentially life-threatening allergic reactions called anaphylaxis raised concern about whether the vaccines would be safe for people with severe allergies. There were 71 cases of anaphylaxis reported after the first 18 million vaccine doses were administered in the U.S. That works out to 2.8 cases of anaphylaxis per 1 million people vaccinated with the Moderna vaccine and 5 cases per 1 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine, with no reported deaths linked to anaphylaxis. The risks of dying from COVID-19 are much worse—about 16,500 people per 1 million diagnosed with COVID-19 will die. Now, the only people being told to avoid the vaccine are those allergic to vaccine ingredients such as polyethylene glycol or the related substance polysorbate.

Of course, the most dangerous allergy is the allergy to science and fact that apparently afflicts a significant percentage of the American population.

Share his post with any non-vaccinated folks for whom facts might still be persuasive…

Gravity Makes Stuff Fall Down…

Academic studies often rigorously test a thesis that many people consider obvious. (There are good reasons for testing such assumptions, but such research gives ammunition to a lot of anti-academic critics.) Juanita Jean recently reported on a study conducted by scholars at Johns Hopkins and the University of South Carolina that confirmed something arguably as obvious as “gravity makes stuff fall down”: COVID  has spread more rapidly in states with Republican Governors.

As the researchers politely put it,

Governors’ party affiliation may have contributed to a range of policy decisions that, together, influenced the spread of the virus.  These findings underscore the need for state policy actions that are guided by public health considerations rather than by partisan politics.

Ya think? The research confirmed that states with Republican Governors had both higher case rates and higher death rates.

One of the most depressing aspects of this incredibly depressing pandemic has been the number of people who have rejected medical science and demonstrated their utter lack of concern for other human beings. The sheer number of such people, and their belligerent refusal to take even the most reasonable steps to avoid infecting others, has been unsettling, to put it mildly.

As reprehensible as these individual actions have been, the decision to pander to them–to politicize a medical pandemic in order to curry favor with unreasonable voters–is worse.

Other studies have found evidence that Republican governors in 2020 were broadly less strict than their Democrat counterparts in setting policies on mask-wearing, social distancing, and other pandemic-related measures. The researchers say that those studies, along with the links they found between Republican governorship and greater COVID-19 impact, are consistent with the idea that the political polarization of the COVID-19 response has contributed to less effective COVID-19 policies and worse case-related statistics in some states.

“Despite a more coordinated federal response this year, governors still play a key role in the pandemic response,” says Benjamin-Neelon. “As we’re seeing, several states have lifted mask requirements even though we have yet to make substantial progress in controlling the spread of the virus.”

Florida is a good example of a state that has flouted medical advice in order to curry favor with a Republican base unwilling to accept constraints on dangerous behaviors.

As the Guardian previously reported, Governor Ron DeSantis and his administration ‘suppressed facts’ and ‘dispensed dangerous misinformation’-it was the third US state to record a million coronavirus cases. An investigation found that, especially in the run-up to the presidential election, the DeSantis administration lied about the extent and dangers of the pandemic. (In fact, the Florida department of health’s county-level spokespeople simply stopped issuing public statements about Covid-19 between September and the  November election.)

After the election, headlines like this one from the Orlando Sentinel accused the Governor of being missing in action in the fight against COVID, reporting that “Cases are surging, people are waiting hours to get tested and Ron DeSantis doesn’t appear up to the job.” That disinterest in public health characterizes much of the GOP base that applauded the lack of a vigorous state response to the pandemic.

More recently, NPR reported on accusations that DeSantis was “playing politics” with COVID. Not only did the Governor “open” the state more quickly than epidemiologists thought safe, vaccine distribution was originally limited to areas populated by DeSantis voters and donors.

DeSantis certainly isn’t the only Governor who has routinely elevated political goals over duty. It should be obvious that when elected officials take their cues from the subset of voters who prioritize being able to do whatever they want whenever they want, rather than from medical science, public health suffers.

These days, as the research demonstrated, that subset and those Governors are Republicans.

 

 

A Depressing Analysis

Despite overwhelming relief at the victory of the Biden/Harris ticket, those of us horrified by Donald Trump and his enablers are still coming to terms with the fact that some 70 million people voted for four more years of the disaster we’ve just experienced.

Unlike those Republicans who continue to insist that up is down and Trump was somehow cheated out of a win, we live in the real world. We recognize that those 70 million votes were cast. The question is: why?  Trump’s hardcore base is demonstrably racist, but surely, America isn’t home to seventy million racists willing to dispense with functional governance so long as dark-skinned people and “foreign elements” are kept in their place.

Will Wilkinson considered that question in a recent column in the New York Times. He identified three factors that made the election difficult for the Democrats: partisan polarization, obscured by the inaccurate polling; the strength of what he labeled the “juiced” pre-Covid-19 economy; and the success of Mr. Trump’s denialist, open-everything-up nonresponse to the pandemic.

How could a president responsible for one of the gravest failures of governance in American history nevertheless maintain such rock-solid support? Democracy’s throw-the-bums-out feedback mechanism gets gummed up when the electorate disagrees about the identity of the bums, what did and didn’t occur on their watch and who deserves what share of the credit or blame.

When party affiliation becomes a central source of meaning and self-definition, reality itself becomes contested and verifiable facts turn into hot-button controversies. Elections can’t render an authoritative verdict on the performance of incumbents when partisans in a closely divided electorate tell wildly inconsistent stories about one another and the world they share.

Wilkinson looked at Trump’s war of words against governors and mayors — especially Democratic ones — who refused to risk their citizens’ lives by allowing economic and social activity to resume, and to Republican messaging that defined the contrast between the parties’ approaches to the pandemic as a battle between individual freedom and over-reaching government.

The Republican message couldn’t have been clearer: Workers should be able to show up, clock in, earn a normal paycheck, pay the rent and feed their kids. Democrats were telling the same workers that we need to listen to science, reopening is premature, and the economy can’t be fully restored until we beat the virus. Correct! But how does that help when rent was due last week?

Make no mistake, it was unforgivably cruel of Republicans to force blue-collar and service workers to risk death for grocery money. Yet their disinformation campaign persuaded many millions of Americans that the risk was minimal and that Democrats were keeping their workplaces and schools closed, their customers and kids at home, and their wallets empty and cupboards bare for bogus reasons.

Democrats fell into the trap Republicans set with their dogged refusal to do anything about the uncontained pandemic. Wilkinson concluded that the “spell of polarization” turns every issue into a clash of political identities. As a result, “real” Republicans largely dismissed the pandemic as a hoax, a dismissal that conveniently excused the President’s manifest failure to deal with it.

This rings true to me–so far as it goes. But political polarization alone does not and cannot explain why millions of Americans chose to occupy an alternate reality and to dismiss evidence that was staring them in the face.

Constructing a world where the deaths of one’s neighbors are attributed to something–anything– other than COVID, a world in which a President’s too-obvious-to-ignore lack of competence is a sign that he’s being hobbled by the “deep state,”a world  in which that President’s lack of humanity is explained away as “telling it like it is,” a world where science is “elitist” and warnings from doctors are politically-motivated efforts to diminish the President–such a  world requires a media infrastructure.

There are multitudes of alternate reality purveyors:  websites and cable channels and talk radio hosts willing to confirm the accuracy of your preferred “facts” and the superiority of your chosen tribe.  Trump will go, but that media infrastructure will stay.

I think I need a drink.