• Is Everyone in Texas Dead Yet? (Why I Rarely Wear a Mask)

    March 19, 2021 // 1 Comment »


    Texas governor Greg Abbott announced residents will no longer be required to wear face masks and encouraged businesses to reopen at full capacity. Some 15 other states — Alaska, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, and Tennessee — also do not have mask orders in place. Still more states have thrown off almost all restrictions.

    Criticism of the Texas decision (there are not enough votes in the other states to warrant much criticism) was swift.  Joe “Unity” Biden called the unmasking the result of Neanderthal thinking. No less than photogenic loser Beto O’Rourke said the unmandate is a “death warrant” and “Abbott is killing the people of Texas.”

    We’ve seen this all before. About a year ago when Florida reopened its beaches for Spring Break everyone was gonna die. The Republican convention was to be a superspreader event, as was the Super Bowl, and some motorcycle rally (here’s a complete list of all superspreader events to include dinner parties for five.) Each new variant of the virus is the end of us, each expansion of dining options a death sentence. Everyone is gonna die. Except they don’t. It works the other way, too. Places proclaimed the Gold Standard for COVID precautions end up with their own upticks. The numbers from place to place should be as dramatically different as the measures implemented and they are not.

    As for Texas, the problem is again everyone there and in those other unmasked states is not dead. And in states with the most draconian rules and lockdowns (looking at you New York) people are still dying in healthy numbers. This all used to be the former president’s fault, but inconveniently more than one-fifth of all the COVID-19 deaths occurred since Biden took office. New York leads the nation in virus hospitalizations per one million people. If it were a country, New York would have been the worst performing country in the world at handling COVID, and that’s despite NY’s fraudulent undercounting. In late November, right before New York’s winter spike, Governor Cuo­mo trumpeted mask compliance was 98 percent. Seven out of 10 states with the highest number of COVID deaths per capita have mask mandates. California, formerly an example of the positive impacts of viral fascism, had among the worst winters in the world.

    A year’s worth of data (science!) from the four largest states shows lockdowns had little effect other than to drive taxpayers out. Making the pro-lockdown argument even weaker was that the same thing happened with several heavy lockdown nations (most notably the UK) suffering at least as badly, if not worse, than everyone else did. We’re left with something that too many people refuse to consider: it is possible lockdowns and masks have very little effect on COVID. Waves come and go, seemingly independent of what we do or don’t do. Nature finds a way.

     

    I’ve conducted my own sort-of research. In the last year, one of my relatives who is a medical professional was exposed to COVID. She tests negative regularly. I see her in person whenever I can, hug her, we eat together unmasked as a baby’s behind.  And we live in NYC, ground zero, again, this time for COVID. I use public transportation.  Until when the company was forced to shut down by the government, in my day job I worked with people from all over, including enough Chinese from China to fill a Seuss book. In the last few months I was hospitalized twice (heart, not COVID) and saw doctors as an outpatient multiple times.  I went to the gym until it the government closed it. I ate in restaurants and shopped until the government closed them. I stayed in a hotel and drove a rental car in two different states. I attended what the media would have called a superspreader event if it hadn’t been organized by Democrats. I wear a mask only when the hassle factor from the scolds, Karens, and COVID cops rises to the point I can’t get whatever I’m doing done.

    I took two long airplane trips. No one had any idea if anyone was infected because the only check was a questionnaire and a temp with no medical training with a temp gun. Waiting a few minutes to board we were aggressively kept six feet apart (while the A/C and ventilation was moving air six feet away toward me) before sitting down for hours zero feet apart. Once at altitude, we were encouraged to spread out but only within our paid for cabin; the nearly empty business and first class sections stayed nearly empty and we all concentrated in the same cabin and used the same toilets. Drinks and then meals were served to the whole cabin at once, meaning everyone removed their masks to breathe recycled air in and out for the same 40 minutes. In the scrum to get off the plane we were literally pressed against each other. I haven’t heard from the airline through its contact notification system that anyone got sick.

    The experience was not that different from using the NYC subway, which never shut down throughout the COVID emergency. But there was no need; a recent study shows riding in a poorly ventilated metal tube with often unmasked strangers and no social distancing demonstrated no correlation between NYC subway ridership and COVID spikes. If you weren’t going to get sick that way, you are not going to get sick in most others. The lifesaving precautions were mostly health theatre, stopping infections that never were going to happen the same as TSA stopped terror acts that never existed outside some kid’s Facebook.

    My experience of not dying from COVID is not unique. It is shared by some 327,500,000 Americans.

    Someone will post a quickly Googled document saying all this is wrong. Maybe. But it seems the questions around the value of masks and lockdowns are worth at least some discussion instead of being dismissed as Neanderthal. Follow the science we are told, even as the decisions which control our lives are made by self-serving politicians and not scientists. We have 50 different “solutions” to the same problem. They can’t all be correct, yet we assume one variety is and the other is not, even when faced with contrary data.

     

    Live TV tickers count COVID deaths. Yet we ignore the deadly psychological effect the “solutions” have on our society. While there exists room for discussion on some topics, here’s one that is both indisputable and unconscionable: kids are dying because of what we are doing.

    Suicide is now the second-leading cause of death for those ages 10 to 24. Since the pandemic began, the CDC reports the proportion of pediatric emergency room visits for mental health increased 31 percent. Reasons include isolation from friends and family, and the effects of parental stress and economic hardship. Government for the most part controls those factors, making conditions worse for children while providing ambiguous protection against the virus. Schools in many areas have been closed for a year, even though the political guidance finally matches what doctors have long been saying: if schools follow basic public health precautions, there is very low spread of COVID.

    A peer-reviewed study found “social distance and security measures have affected the relationship among people and their perception of empathy toward others.” That science (!) concludes “a careful evaluation of the potential benefits of the quarantine is needed, taking into account the high psychological costs.” The WHO found “economic and social disruption caused by the pandemic is devastating, with tens of millions of people are at risk of falling into extreme poverty.” In the United States, that poverty risk is fully government-made, based on sweeping non-science based decisions to unemploy people by decree, and make them subject to surviving on unemployment payouts and stimulus check handouts. As for the future, the National Institutes of Health warns “the impact of long-term school closure is yet to be seen.” The American Academy of Pediatrics and Children’s Hospital Association acknowledges “an escalating crisis.” Other studies speak of a “lost generation.” Domestic violence is up. Drug overdoses are up. Crime is up. Academic performance has tanked. Our elderly die alone, unvisitable, in solitary confinement.

    Our nation has been suckered into ignoring a tormenting real public mental health crisis in favor of slapped together efforts at social distancing based on as much political as scientific factors (the mayor of NYC is more concerned about “racial equity” in locating vaccination centers then in how many shots can be administered.) False heroes and villains are created to buttress the argument. No one is allowed to seek the calculus, the balance, of prudent protections versus recognizing the cure is worse than the disease. We are literally destroying our society believing we are saving it. Too many are convinced there is zero doubt there is a significant positive result from taking away basic freedoms.

    It’s troubling when people decide I must be making a political statement, or am a QAnon member, unmasked. You wear a mask, or hang garlic on your belt if you wish. I’ll get vaccinated when politicians make it easier to get an appointment than front row Springsteen tickets. I do not want to die this year. I don’t want to kill you. But I keep thinking critically and asking questions at a time when I fear too many have either stopped.

    COVID solutions and lockdowns have not lead to limits on death. They have tanked the economy and brutalized the people. There is a lot more going on here than inconvenience over wearing a mask. The answers, rationale thinking and vaccinations, are elusive.

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Biden, Democracy

    Propaganda and the Coronavirus

    March 9, 2020 // 30 Comments »


     
    “Um, is it Colonel Vindman in the Russian Tea room with the coronavirus?”

    “Very funny. Now everyone settle down. Welcome back to Propaganda and the Death of Media 101 in case you’re in the wrong class, and its, um, March 15, 2024. Now we were discussing the role of propaganda and the media in trying to influence the re-election of Donald Trump by tying his leadership to a global pandemic. Propaganda in these cases seeks to diminish people’s view of a leader’s competence. The ultimate goal is to get you to vote him out.

     

    For those of you in the back holding up those tattered Bernie signs, God rest his soul, let’s start with the question of whether the media engaged in propaganda at all. Contrast the sense of panic in 2020 whipped into place with how things played out in 2009 under Obama. The first cases of the swine flu, H1N1, appeared in April 2009. By the time Obama finally declared a national emergency that fall, the CDC reported 50 million Americans, one in six people, had been infected and 10,000 Americans had died. In the early months of the disease, Obama had no Secretary of Health and Human Services or appointees in any of the Department’s 19 key posts. No Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, no Surgeon General, no CDC Director. The gap at CDC was particularly important, as in the early days of the crisis only they could test for the virus; states weren’t enabled until later. DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano, not a medical doctor, lead the federal effort.

    The first real H1N1 cases appeared in Mexico. The border was not sealed, Mexicans were not forbidden to enter the U.S. Though CDC recommended against travel there, the primary danger cited was kidnapping for ransom. Yet 66 percent of Americans, supported by the media, thought the president was protecting them. Some 4,000 Americans were dead before a vaccine was first distributed.

    The emergency proclamation it took Obama seven months to declare was issued by Trump within 30 days of the current virus being found abroad. He announced a temporary suspension of entry into the U.S. of foreign nationals who pose a risk for the transmission of the coronavirus (CNN criticized “the travel ban could stigmatize countries and ethnicities.”) And yes, Trump encouraged everyone to wash their hands.

    Anybody here remember the media freaking out over Obama’s initial response, which was hand washing was pretty much what was needed? Anyone who did the reading find evidence of national panic throughout the crisis? No. Why did the media cover essentially the identical story so very differently for two presidents? The question is the answer.

     

    Look at the timing in 2020; the crisis came when the media decided it was time for a crisis. Though the virus dominated headlines in Asia since mid-January, American media first relegated the story to the business news. In late February the main “Trump” story was Russiagate II, the revelation (which quickly fell apart) the Russians were meddling again in the election. The Democratic debate at the end of February invoked Putin many times. The virus barely came up.

    Then the NYT sent up the Bat Signal for the new crisis on February 26, the day after the Democratic debate, with an article titled “Let’s Call It Trumpvirus” (subtlety is not required for propaganda.) An effort was born overnight to blame Trump personally for the virus, and essentially declare his chances of reelection done. The critical change was not anything to do with the virus itself, simply with the decision by the media to elevate the story from the business section to the front page. Even a week after that, with American sanity in a tailspin, only two Americans had died, and about half the known U.S. cases arrived with the evacuees from Japan. Of course the numbers quickly went up (that’s why we use the expression “going viral” for your Instagram blowups, kids) but imagine what a graph of actual cases would look like versus a graph measuring panic.

     

    You’ll see in your textbooks another example which shows how propaganda works, the reporting of initial problems with the CDC coronavirus test kits. One typical headline claimed “The U.S. Badly Bungled Coronavirus Testing.” But the problems were old news almost as the stories were written; 15,000 testing kits were released within 48 hours of that story with plans to send out an additional 50,000. Each kit can test 700-800 patient samples.

    The follow-on stories screamed about Trump funding cuts to the CDC, most of which were actually only proposed. Then the stories were merged — Trump cut CDC funding and thus not enough kits were available. Not only were both pieces largely untrue individually (few cuts were made, kits were available), the merging of the two was grossly false. Instead of examining these things for lessons learned in the midst of an unfolding crisis, the media treated them as new bits to mock Trump with, like late night comedians trolling the news for material for their monologue.

    No room was left for people making errors in novel decisions under time pressure, just the jump to “Trump incompetence” instead of doing the real work of looking into the questions. The problem with the testing kits was a highly technical one involving chemical reagents and factory contamination. CDC is a massive institution. Who if anyone there made any “bungled” decisions? Would they have likely made a better decision with different funding? If so, then Congress can act and drop some money on that office. If not, move on, there is work to do. It is how the media acts when they seek to fix the blame, not the problem.

     

    The propaganda surrounding how the government initially handled the coronavirus was also obvious in the false “who is in charge” question the media asked. The vice president was given the role heading up the task force. This is the kind of thing VPs do, bring gravitas, make sure a whole of government approach has the bureaucratic firepower it needs, and so on. The propaganda instead hyper-focused on Mike Pence’s “disbelief in science,” itself more of a chanted mantra than anything established by fact. For “proof” the stories settled on Pence supposedly creating an HIV epidemic while governor of Indiana. The reality is much different. Pence took office opposed to needle exchanges. When dirty needles shared among opioid users in rural Scott County, Indiana were linked to 71 cases of HIV transmission, Pence responded to the new information (sad to see people die, but 71 deaths is all it was and many would have died from their drugs soon enough) by changing his policy and authorizing needle exchange in Scott and four other counties. The reality seems much closer to seeing an ideological stance changed by science than the opposite.


    Pence said at the time “I’m going to put the lives of the people of Indiana first. It’s a commitment to law and order, but it’s a commitment to compassion.”

    Meanwhile, the media largely ignored those Pence chose for the taskforce. One was Dr. Deborah Birx, a career medical professional nominated by Obama in 2014 as the U.S. global AIDS coordinator. She also served as head of the global HIV/AIDS division at CDC, was an immunology researcher at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, and an Army colonel. You want to inspire confidence you profile Dr. Brix; you want to sow discord you misrepresent Mike Pence’s decisions years ago.

     

    There’s so many more examples, but our class time is short. Here are a few.

     

    You can report on the elimination of Obama’s pandemic czar but leave out that the position was just a coordination job on the National Security Council with no real power. It sounds scary (one outlet called it sabotage) to see that job go, but in fact the coordination duties within NSC were reassigned to others.

    You can focus on every coronavirus case as proof efforts are failing while ignoring providing perspective by reminding 12,000 people died, with over 13 million infected, from the regular influenza (the one with the vaccine) between October 2019 and February 2020.

    You can focus on time will take to develop a full-on vaccine and ignore the treatments already now in human testing trials.

    You can purposefully confuse accelerating public health measures already underway with America’s lack of universal individual health care. We have plenty of the former, not enough of the latter. But the pandemic is not a solid argument for the latter as it is a problem of public health policy. That’s why even countries with good, free care systems are suffering the virus. Medicare for All would not have changed anything in 2020.

    You can cover the virus as you did Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. Everyone was gonna die there until they didn’t. You can follow the now-standard Trump propaganda template: say he won’t do enough, then say what he does isn’t being done fast enough, predict everything will collapse (with Katrina references) and then move on to a new crisis as the reality of the response takes hold.

    You can report on panic selling on Wall Street, or explain how global supply chain problems are not caused by the virus, but by traders’ reaction to the unknowns of the virus. China’s factories closed because the government enforced social isolation, not because the workers were dead. Soon enough Apple products flowed back into our greedy hands, and the stock market found its way back to a new normal.

    You can report store closings, but not their reopenings. By March 1 Starbucks had reopened 85 percent of its stores in China. Apple, over 50 percent. You can emphasize how many Chinese factories were closed in February, or report on their reopenings in March.

    You can misrepresent the use of words like hoax to make the president appear weak.

    You can ignore the drop off in cases inside China. Only a few days after the first cases appeared in the U.S., new ones inside China dropped to 200.

    You can avoid reporting how viruses follow a bell curve. Case counts first rise quickly, the virus claims the “easy” deaths among the elderly, and then environmental factors (viruses must live inside a host; they have limited life outside on surfaces`, typically less and less as temperatures climb. This is why you can’t catch HIV from a toilet seat) and public health measures kick in. Treatment emerges and the virus fades. You can explain to calm people where they are in what looks like a 10-12 week cycle to or you can ignore it to stoke fear of the unknown.

    The bell curve template is clearly illustrated by a look-back to how HIV/AIDS went from a massive public health crisis in America to a manageable problem. As the virus became known, panic took hold. False reporting outran reality. But the bell curve took over; the virus’ transmission became well understood, better testing protocols developed, excellent preventive medicines became available, and treatment regimes now exist which ensure long lives in remission. Knowns displace unknowns. None of this is to minimize the suffering enroute to the current state, but to show there is an established path even for a virus far more deadly than corona.

    Class concluded.

    “Hey professor, is all this gonna be on the test?”

    “No, but it may influence an election. And don’t forget to wash your hands before lunch, something is going around.”
      

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Biden, Democracy