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Tag: covid 19 deaths

Let’s Mock The Idiots Who Think Vaccines Are More Dangerous Than Covid-19

Reprinted with permission from DC Report

The arrival of effective Covid vaccines has revealed a grave failure in American education. Tens of millions of Americans, the ones who say they will never get vaccinated because there's no need or because they don't trust the vaccines, somehow made it through years of mandatory schooling without learning numbers.

That they failed grammar school 'rithmetic is obvious if you ask two questions:

  1. How many unvaccinated Americans has Covid killed?
  2. How many vaccinated Americans has Covid killed?

The answers: 577,000 and 74.

That's 7,800 unvaccinated people dying for each one who was vaccinated.

And what of infectious cases? The latest Centers for Disease Control and Prevention count is 32,472,201 Americans infected of whom just 5,800 were vaccinated. Only 396 of those vaccinated yet sick required hospitalization.

No vaccine is totally effective, especially not at first. When I was a boy in the 1950s, about 160,000 people a year, mostly children, contracted polio. More than a thousand died each year. Then we got the polio vaccines. First came the dead virus Salk vaccine in 1955, and then in 1961 the much more effective Sabin vaccine, which used a weakened but living poliovirus.

Back then some polio cases were associated with vaccination, mostly because one manufacturer had poor quality controls. That's an argument for rigorous regulation and inspection backed up by severe punishments like prison time for owners and managers who play cheapskates on safety. It's not an argument for avoiding vaccines.

The polio vaccines worked although the United States approved the Sabin vaccine only after the Soviet Union allowed it to be administered to children in then-Communist Russia.

Parents today have no idea about the universal pre-1955 fear among parents that their babies would end up in iron lungs or worse. The last time a new polio case originated in America was 1979.

Few Deaths Among Vaccinated

As for the current pandemic, death is rare among people who are fully vaccinated. That means up to two shots and two weeks out from the date of the last shot. Covid deaths will become even rarer going forward, provided that vaccination becomes near-universal.

And yet 10s of millions of Americans believe—with absolutely no basis in verifiable fact—that the Covid vaccines are riskier than going without.

Rampant innumeracy helps explain the insane news that almost one in five healthcare workers doesn't plan to get vaccinated, as The Washington Post reported in March. Almost a third of Massachusetts State Police have not been vaccinated, and say they don't plan to be, either.

Ditto for thousands of healthcare workers in North Carolina hospitals. To persuade all state employees to get vaccinated, Maryland pays $100 but does not punish those who refuse.

Consider what a friend paraphrased this week: A doorman at her Manhattan apartment said he thought his risk was higher if he got vaccinated.

Here's the other side of the story if tens of millions never get vaccinated:

The coronavirus will keep spreading to new human hosts. It randomly will mutate until a new variant proves even more infectious than the viruses circulating now, which will likely spark another pandemic, putting us all back into lockdown.

Virus Runs Rampant

Oh wait, that's already happening with pernicious new variants in Brazil, Britain, and South Africa. Look at the contagion gone wild in India where a lack of beds, supplies, and oxygen means hospitals turn away people.

Sorry, you're just going to die because Prime Minister Narendra Modi failed to prepare for a pandemic even after seeing Donald Trump's lethally incompetent pandemic mismanagement in America.

Now imagine a new coronavirus variant with characteristics like MERS, the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome. In the past decade, it's only infected about 2,600 people—a third of them died. MERS is still around. It's just been contained, which is what vaccination is supposed to do with Covid.

A mutated virus that kills not fewer than two percent of those infected, as with Covid, but 33 percent of those infected, would devastate American society for decades.

It would mean death on the scale of the recurring Black Death pandemics that ravaged Europe for three centuries killing a third of the populace. Had that been the mortality rate for Covid, more than 11 million Americans would be dead.

Viruses don't respect borders, beliefs or governments. They operate on the same principle as cancer cells—growth for the sake of growth, even though they kill the host and thus their own colonies.

Thoughtless as the coronavirus is, it moves around the globe efficiently, carried to every corner of Earth by human hosts in jetliners. And that means we need universal global vaccination because people in India are dying from this virus and its variants are a threat to people in Indiana.

Wealthy Nations Need To Step Up

At two shots per person that's close to 16 billion doses, though it may well be that half as many will do the trick because we don't all live in packed modern urban areas.

That will cost a fortune and yet we as Americans have a direct interest, just as do residents of other wealthy countries, in paying to vaccinate people in poor countries because it's for our own well-being, our own protection.

This global cost brings us back to innumeracy. How did tens of millions of our fellow Americans get high school diplomas without grasping simple issues about numbers?

Students, which of these is more? 577,000 or 74?

Aw, gee, teacher, I can't tell the difference.

How do people like the quarter of New York City cops who have not been vaccinated even get hired for a job that requires critical thinking skills, while distinguishing between 577,000 and 74 is pretty basic? (This may help explain why we have so many bad shootings by police; too little emphasis during hiring on critical mental skills.)

Surely the public schools—as well as private and parochial schools that are supposed to meet government standards— are failing to teach about numbers and about the basics of science in a meaningful way.

Stupid Republican

We have numerous members of Congress, Republicans all it turns out, who are proudly anti-science or scientific illiterates. They are so ill-informed they don't know the difference between "climate" and "weather" and evidently don't want to learn, either.

Such ignorance is found across America. Some people moronically believe that science is just another religion.

Then there are the fools who teach the absurd notion that people and dinosaurs coexisted.

Innumeracy would be less common but for a decision by PBS more than four decades ago to cancel The Electric Company, the daily kids show about numbers and their relationships. It lasted for only 780 episodes over six seasons.

The Electric Company died because there were no puppets, toys and related merch to sell to kids, unlike Sesame Street, which lasted 51 seasons on public television before moving to HBO, making it unavailable to millions of children whose parents can't afford the pay-TV service.

If only someone had created the Sign family of puppets—Equals, Plus, Minus, and all their symbolic cousins. Then maybe the total numbers from puppet sales would have multiplied into enough funds to cover production costs, adding up to a positive product, namely more Americans learning their numbers and relationships between numbers.

There are, of course, other factors influencing those saying no to vaccination.

Religious Foolishness

Some hold mystical beliefs, like the Ohio woman on CNN who said she would never get infected nor would those around her because she was "covered in the blood of Jesus Christ." Some anti-mask and anti-social distancing pastors insisted that Covid was no danger, punishment for fornication, or other nonsense—only to die from the disease.

Then there are the lies posed as questions by Tucker Carlson of Fox, who falsely says officials won't answer questions about vaccination, questions that have been answered without hesitation both broadly and in fine detail. Some Trumpers see vaccination as supporting President Joe Biden, oblivious that Donald Trump and Melania got vaccinated in secret even though he had the disease and recovered.

And then there are the crazy and incoherent QAnon-type conspiracy theorists who spread the silly lie that Big Brother plants tracking agents in the vaccine. Can we recognize and discuss mass paranoia, per the many DCReport essays by Dr. Bandy X. Lee?

In California, Orange County Supervisor Don Wagner asked Dr. Clayton Chau, the county's chief public health officer, about trackers in the vaccines. Dr. Chau laughed openly.

Later Wagner said that laughing was what he wanted because he was trying to persuade some constituents that the idea of a tracker in the vaccines is loony.

Taking the supervisor at his word, I think he's on to something. The smart response to anyone who says the vaccine is riskier than not is to laugh—loudly, openly and heartily. That's not taking away their free speech; it's using our free speech to respond with the derision their idiocy deserves.

We have good reason to mock and shame these people by calling them out for what they are: stupid, uneducated fools; children posing as adults; selfish little spirits who care only about themselves and not their neighbors.

We should make them social pariahs because they are endangering us all by needlessly increasing the risk of a new pandemic or a deadly future wave of the current Covid crisis.

Far-Right Prime Minister Culpable For India’s Pandemic Disaster

This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

India has become the new global epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic, with daily infections surpassing 300,000 per day and the official death toll—likely a massive underestimate—nearing a quarter of a million people. Hospitals are being overrun with patients, and the crisis is exacerbated by a devastating shortage of oxygen. The Indian judiciary has gone as far as threatening capital punishment for anyone caught trying to divert shipments of oxygen from around the country to affected areas. There have been dozens of deaths documented directly tied to a lack of oxygen.

Only a few months ago, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was basking in the glow of success at beating the virus and scientific experts were confounded as to why COVID-19 infections and related deaths were falling. India had access to two vaccines, a homegrown one developed by Bharat Biotech, and the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine that was being mass-produced at Indian facilities. Mask wearing was reportedly nearly universal, and the Wall Street Journal hailed India's "proven pandemic strategy."

So, what happened?

Amandeep Sandhu, a journalist and novelist based in Bangalore, author of Bravado to Fear to Abandonment: Mental Health and the COVID-19 Lockdown, had a one-word explanation for me: "complacency." In an interview, he issued a scathing critique of the Modi government, saying it suffered from "arrogance, policy paralysis, and no efforts to learn from the past year." A government with a religious fundamentalist ideology that has taken aim at minority groups and elevated a form of fascist Hindu supremacy has failed its people spectacularly.

Sandhu cited how Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has retained a majority stranglehold on Indian politics for decades, sponsored massive in-person rallies this spring to shore up votes for state elections. Modi's Twitter feed is replete with videos of his speeches in early April (here, here, and here for example) where he boasted of "euphoric" crowds packed together like sardines with nary a mask in sight cheering him on. The phenomenon was not unlike Donald Trump's political rallies in the United States last year, which were often marked by increased rates of infection in the weeks following.

Modi also encouraged millions of Hindus to attend the Kumbh Mela festival that takes place every 12 years. This largest religious pilgrimage on earth involves masses of devotees submerging themselves in the Ganges River. A whopping 3.5 million people attended this year, even as rates of infection had begun to rise and public health experts warned of the potentially dire consequences.

A year ago, government leaders denounced a far smaller gathering by a Muslim organization called Tablighi Jamaat which was linked to the spread of the virus. A BPJ member of the legislative assembly from the state of Karnataka went as far as encouraging the lynching of Muslims over the gathering and said, "Spreading COVID-19 is also like terrorism, and all those who are spreading the virus are traitors." This year, no such pronouncements were aimed at the Hindu gathering that was many orders of magnitude larger.

Modi has also refused to negotiate with tens of thousands of poor farmers who began a mass occupation on the outskirts of the capital New Delhi last year in protest of new harsh privatization farm laws. While the number of farmers protesting declined during the annual spring harvest as they returned to pick crops on their farms, an estimated 15,000 still remain, and according to Sandhu, many more are ready to return if needed.

"What choice do the farmers have at this point?" asked Sandhu. "The farm laws will kill them in the next few years, and, heaven forbid, if the virus comes, it will kill them quickly. So, death is on both sides. What do they do?" And so, the farmers continue to protest, although, according to Sandhu, their outdoor occupation has not been linked to the spread of COVID-19 yet. Instead, farmers fear that the Modi government will use the pandemic as a tool to force them to end their protests.

Like Trump, Modi has gone out of his way to ensure he receives credit for combating the virus, launching a relief fund last year called PM Cares that has collected massive amounts of donations. And just like Trump, he has been opaque about disseminating and managing the fund. One activist called the PM Cares fund "a blatant scam."

In spite of being the world's largest manufacturer of COVID-19 vaccines, India has exported far more doses to other nations than were deployed internally. Modi has been accused of engaging in "vaccine diplomacy," giving away millions of vaccines to other nations to shore up his international support. Sandhu said that although he didn't hold India's vaccine exports against the Modi government given that the pandemic is a global disaster, what he does object to is how the privatization of Indian health care has kept vaccines out of the reach of the poorest Indians.

According to Sandhu, the "vaccine has been put on the open market with limited provision from the government to inoculate citizens." In other words, poor Indians have to wait far longer to obtain the vaccine compared to wealthier Indians who can walk into a private clinic and purchase a dose. Sandhu asked, "how will India's poor afford the vaccine? If they can't, we as a society, and the world at large, remain vulnerable. The vaccine must be free for all."

Now, as the Indian government flounders under international scrutiny with hundreds of thousands of new infections emerging each day, Modi, who is as prolific on Twitter as Trump had been before he was banished from the platform, appears more concerned about his image than about his country. His administration found time amid the crisis to demand that Twitter remove tweets critical of his handling of the pandemic—and the social media company complied.

It's not just Twitter that is validating Modi. Right-wing supporters of Indian origin in the U.S. routinely donate millions of dollars to float the Modi government's fascist educational programs and nationalist groups. Indeed, some groups like the Houston-based Sewa International are considered the U.S. arm of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), which is the parent organization of the BJP. Sewa International, taking advantage of international concern over India's coronavirus crisis, is seeking to raise $10 million for oxygen concentrators and other medical supplies. But, in 2004, the organization was implicated in a scam where it diverted funding from the British public intended for earthquake relief toward the building of ideological Hindu supremacist schools. More recently, the group was caught restricting funding for flood victims in Kerala to Hindus only.

President Joe Biden's administration has also faced criticism for embracing the BJP and its authoritarianism, continuing a trend from the previous administration. Biden appointed Sri Preston Kulkarni, an Indian American with ties to the RSS, to a key position in AmeriCorps. Kulkarni ran a failed campaign for a congressional seat representing Texas with funding help from Ramesh Bhutada, who is now the director of Sewa International.

The Biden administration has been under pressure for months to waive intellectual property rights for COVID-19 vaccines, weighing the need for pharmaceutical corporations to reap profits against the lives of millions. Now, with India's devastating crisis, Biden once again considered the option ahead of a World Trade Organization meeting on April 30. But by the time the waived patents are put to use, hundreds of thousands more will have died.

In the meantime, Indians continue dying in numbers so large that the capital New Delhi glows at night from the fires of mass cremations. As the hashtag #ResignModi began trending to new heights, Sandhu summarized succinctly that "the government has failed on all accounts."

Why We Forgot Past Pandemics — And Must Remember This One

Reprinted with permission from TomDispatch

The second Moderna shot made me sick — as predicted. A 24-hour touch of what an alarmed immune system feels like left me all the more grateful for my good fortune in avoiding the real thing and for being alive at a time when science had devised a 95 percent effective vaccine in record time.

To distract myself from the fever as I tried to sleep, I visualized strands of synthetic messenger RNA floating into my cells to produce the alien spike protein that attracted my warrior T-cells. I drifted off envisioning an epic micro-battle underway in my blood and had a series of weird nightmares. At about 2 a.m., I woke up sweating, disoriented, and fixated on a grim image from one of the studies I had consulted while writing my own upcoming book, Virus: Vaccinations, the CDC, and the Hijacking of America's Response to the Pandemic, on the Covid-19 chaos of our moment. In his Vaccine: The Controversial Story of Medicine's Greatest Lifesaver, Arthur Allen described how, in the days of ignorance — not so very long ago — doctors prescribed "hot air baths" for the feverish victims of deadly epidemics of smallpox or yellow fever, clamping them under woolen covers in closed rooms with the windows shut.

Mildly claustrophobic in the best of times, my mind then scrabbled to other forms of medical persecution I'd recently learned about. In the American colonies of the early 18th century, for example, whether or not to take the Jenner cowpox vaccine was a matter of religious concern. Puritans were taught that they would interfere with God's will if they altered disease outcomes. To expiate that sin, or more likely out of sheer ignorance, medical doctors of the day decreed that the vaccine would only work after weeks of purging, including ingesting mercury, which besides making people drool and have diarrhea, also loosened their teeth. "Inoculation meant three weeks of daily vomiting, purges, sweats, fevers," Allen wrote.

To clear my thoughts, to forget, I opened my window, let in the winter air, and breathed deep. I then leaned out into the clean black sky of the pandemic months, the starlight brighter since the jets stopped flying and we ceased driving, as well as burning so much coal.

Silence. An inkling of what the world might be like without us.

Chilled, I lay back down and wondered: What will the future think of us in this time? Will people recoil in horror as I had just done in recalling, in feverish technicolor, the medically ignorant generations that came before us?

The Glorious Dead

When America reached the half-million-dead mark from Covid-19 at the end of February, reports compared the number to our war dead. The pandemic had by then killed more Americans than had died in World War I, World War II, and the Vietnam War combined — and it wasn't done with us yet. But the Covid dead had not marched into battle. They had gone off to their jobs as bus drivers and nurses and store clerks, or hugged a grandchild, or been too close to a health-care worker who arrived at a nursing home via the subway.

Every November 11, on Veterans Day, our world still remembers and celebrates the moment World War I officially ended. But the last great pandemic, the influenza epidemic of 1918-1920 that became known as "the Spanish flu" (though it wasn't faintly Spain's fault, since it probably began in the United States), which infected half a billion people on a far less populated planet, killing an estimated 50 million to 100 million of them — including more soldiers than were slaughtered in that monumental war — fell into a collective memory hole.

When it was over, our grandparents and great-grandparents turned away and didn't look back. They simply dropped it from memory. Donald Trump's grandfather's death from the Spanish flu in 1919 changed the fortunes of his family forever, yet Trump never spoke of it — even while confronting a similar natural disaster. Such a forgetting wasn't just Trumpian aberrance; it was a cultural phenomenon.

That virus, unlike Covid-19, mainly killed young healthy people. But there are eerie, even uncanny, similarities between the American experience of that pandemic and this one. In the summer of 1919, just after the third deadly wave, American cities erupted in race riots. As with the summer of 2020, the 1919 riots were sparked by an incident in the Midwest: a Chicago mob stoned a black teenager who dared to swim off a Lake Michigan beach whites had unofficially declared whites-only. The boy drowned and, in the ensuing week of rioting, 23 blacks and 15 whites died. The riots spread across the country to Washington, D.C., and cities in Nebraska, Tennessee, Arkansas, and Texas, with Black veterans who had served in World War I returning home to second-class treatment and an increase in Ku Klux Klan lynchings.

As today, there were similar controversies then over the wearing of masks and not gathering in significant numbers to celebrate Thanksgiving. As in 2020-2021, so in 1918-1919, frontline medics were traumatized. The virus killed within hours or a few days in a particularly lurid way. People bled from their noses, mouths, and ears, then drowned in the fluid that so copiously built up in their lungs. The mattresses on which they perished were soaked in blood and other bodily fluids.

Doctors and nurses could do nothing but bear witness to the suffering, much like the front-liners in Wuhan and then New York City in the coronavirus pandemic's early days. Unlike today, perhaps because it was wartime and any display of weakness was considered bad, the newspapers of the time also barely covered the suffering of individuals, according to Alex Navarro, editor-in-chief of the University of Michigan'sInfluenza Encyclopedia about the 1918 pandemic. Strangely enough, even medical books in the following years barely covered the virus.

Medical anthropologist Martha Louise Lincoln believes the tendency to look forward — and away from disaster — is also an American trait. "Collectively, we obviously wrongly shared a feeling that Americans would be fine," Lincoln said of the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic. "I think that's in part because of the way we're conditioned to remember history… Even though American history is full of painful losses, we don't take them in."

Guardian columnist Jonathan Freedland argues that pandemic forgetting is a human response to seemingly pointless loss, as opposed to a soldier's death. "A mass illness does not invite that kind of remembering," he wrote. "The bereaved cannot console themselves that the dead made a sacrifice for some higher cause, or even that they were victims of an epic moral event, because they did not and were not."

Instead, to die of Covid-19 is just rotten luck, something for all of us to forget.

Who Will Ask Rich Men To Sacrifice?

Given the absence of dead heroes and a certain all-American resistance to pointless tragedy, there are other reasons we, as Americans, might not look back to 2020 and this year as well. For one thing, pandemic profiteering was so gross and widespread that to consider it closely, even in retrospect, might lead to demands for wholesale change that no one in authority, no one in this (or possibly any other recent U.S. government) would be prepared or motivated to undertake.

In just the pandemic year 2020, this country's billionaires managed to add at least a trillion dollars to their already sizable wealth in a land of ever more grotesque inequality. Amazon's Jeff Bezos alone packed in another $70 billion that year, while so many other Americans were locked down and draining savings or unemployment funds. The CEOs of the companies that produced the medical milestone mRNA vaccines reaped hundreds of millions of dollars in profits by timing stock moves to press releases about vaccine efficacy.

No one today dares ask such rich men to sacrifice for the rest of us or for the rest of the world.

The pandemic might, of course, have offered an opportunity for the government and corporate leaders to reconsider the shareholder model of for-profit medicine. Instead, taxpayer money continued to flow in staggering quantities to a small group of capitalists with almost no strings attached and little transparency.

A nation brought to its knees may not have the resources, let alone the will, to accurately remember how it all happened. Congress is now investigating some of the Trump administration's pandemic deals. The House Select Committee on the Coronavirus Crisis has uncovered clear evidence of its attempts to cook and politicize data. And Senator Elizabeth Warren led somewhat fruitful efforts to expose deals between the Trump administration and a small number of health-care companies. But sorting through the chaos of capitalist mischief as the pandemic hit, all those no-bid contracts cut without agency oversight, with nothing more than a White House stamp of approval affixed to them, will undoubtedly prove an Augean stables of a task.

In addition, looking too closely at the tsunami of money poured into Big Pharma that ultimately did produce effective vaccines could well seem churlish in retrospect. The very success of the vaccines may blunt the memory of that other overwhelming effect of the pandemic, which was to blow a hole in America's already faded reputation as a health-care leader and as a society in which equality (financial or otherwise) meant anything at all.

Forgetting might prove all too comfortable, even if remembering could prompt a rebalancing of priorities from, for instance, the military-industrial complex, which has received somewhere between 40 percent and 70 percent of the U.S. discretionary budget over the last half century, to public health, which got three percent to six percent of that budget in those same years.

The Most Medically Protected Generation

For most Americans, the history of the 1918 flu shares space in that ever-larger tomb of oblivion with the history of other diseases of our great-grandparents' time that vaccines have now eradicated.

Until the 20th century, very few people survived childhood without either witnessing or actually suffering from the agonies inflicted by infectious diseases. Parents routinely lost children to disease; people regularly died at home. Survivors — our great-grandparents — were intimately acquainted with the sights, smells, and sounds associated with the stages of death.

Viewed from above, vaccines are a massive success story. They've been helping us live longer and in states of safety that would have been unimaginable little more than a century ago. In 1900, U.S. life expectancy was 46 years for men and 48 for women. Someone born in 2019 can expect to live to between 75 and 80 years old, although due to health inequities, lifespans vary depending on race, ethnicity, and gender.

The scale of change has been dramatic, but it can be hard to see. We belong to the most medically protected generation in human history and that protection has made us both complacent and risk averse.

The history of 20th-century vaccine developments has long seesawed between remarkable advances in medical science and conspiracy theories and distrust engendered by its accidents or failures. Almost every new vaccine has been accompanied by reports of risks, side effects, and sometimes terrible accidents, at least one involving tens of thousands of sickened people.

Children, however, are now successfully jabbed with serums that create antibodies to hepatitis B, measles, mumps, rubella, diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis — all diseases that well into the 20th century spread through communities, killing babies or permanently damaging health. A number of those are diseases that today's parents can barely pronounce, let alone remember.

Remembering Is The Way Forward

The catastrophe of the Spanish flu globally and in this country (where perhaps 675,000 Americans were estimated to have died from it) had, until Covid-19 came along, been dropped in a remarkable manner from American memory and history. It lacked memorial plaques or a day of remembrance, though it did leave a modest mark on literature. Pale Horse, Pale Rider, Katherine Anne Porter's elegiac short story, for instance, focused on how the flu extinguished a brief wartime love affair between two young people in New York City.

We are very likely to overcome the virus at some point in the not-too-distant future. As hard as it might be to imagine right now, the menace that shut down the world will, in the coming years, undoubtedly be brought to heel by vaccines on a planetary scale.

And in this, we've been very, very lucky. Covid-19 is relatively benign compared with an emergent virus with the death rates of a MERS or Ebola or even, it seems, that 1918 flu. As a species, we will survive this one. It's been bad — it still is, with cases and hospitalizations remaining on the rise in parts of this country — but it could have been so much worse. Sociologist and writer Zeynep Tufekci has termed it "a starter pandemic." There's probably worse ahead in a planet that's under incredible stress in so many different ways.

Under the circumstances, it's important that we not drop this pandemic from memory as we did the 1918 one. We should remember this moment and what it feels like because the number of pathogens waiting to jump from mammals to us is believed to be alarmingly large. Worse yet, modern human activity has made us potentially more, not less, vulnerable to another pandemic. A University of Liverpool study published in February 2021 found at least 40 times more mammal species could be infected with coronavirus strains than were previously known. Such a virus could easily recombine with any of them and then be passed on to humanity, a fact researchers deemed an immediate public health threat.

In reality, we may be entering a new "era of pandemics." So suggests a study produced during an "urgent virtual workshop" convened in October 2020 by the United Nations Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (ISPBES) to investigate the links between the risk of pandemics and the degradation of nature. Due to climate change, intense agriculture, unsustainable trade, the misuse of land, and nature-disrupting production and consumption habits, more than five new infectious diseases emerge in people every year, any one of which could potentially spark a pandemic.

That ISPBES study predicted that "future pandemics will emerge more often, spread more rapidly, do more damage to the world economy, and kill more people than Covid-19, unless there is a transformative change in the global approach to dealing with infectious diseases."

Is our species capable of such a change? My inner misanthrope says no, but certainly the odds improve if we don't delete this pandemic from history like the last one. This, after all, is the first pandemic in which the Internet enabled us to bear witness not only to the panic, illness, and deaths around us, but to the suffering of our entire species in every part of the globe in real time. Because of that alone, it will be difficult to evade the memory of this collective experience and, with it, the reminder that we are all made of the same vulnerable stuff.

Nina Burleigh is a journalist of American politics and the author of six previous books. Her seventh, Virus: Vaccinations, the CDC, and the Hijacking of America's Response to the Pandemic (Seven Stories Press, to be published May 18th) is a real-life thriller that delves into the official malfeasance behind America's pandemic chaos and the triumph of science in an era of conspiracy theories and contempt for experts.

Press Ignores Blockbuster Study Of Trump Policies That Cost 400K Lives

Reprinted with permission from Press Run

Trump's deliberate failure to protect the American public from the Covid-19 pandemic led to hundreds of thousands of unnecessary deaths — nearly half a million fatalities, according to a new study that's being ignored by the news media. It's the same press corps that's been demanding Trump receive more Covid "credit."

If Trump had shown leadership and used his bully pulpit to advocate Americans wear a mask, if he had issued a national mask mandate, had strenuously urged people to social distance themselves, hadn't demanded the U.S. economy "re-open" too soon, and if he had overseen a robust national testing program, America would be a stronger country today, the news study confirms.

The U.S. Covid death toll, which is expected to plateau at 670,000 at the pandemic's conclusion, would have topped out at less than 300,000 if we'd had coherent leadership, according to estimates from Andrew Atkeson, economics professor at University of California, Los Angeles. The new findings came from a study released last week at a conference sponsored by the Brookings Institute, the well-respected public policy think tank.

Atkeson's study did not mention Trump by name, but the ramifications surrounding the Republican's deliberate Covid sabotage remain inescapable. Fact: Trump spread more deliberate lies about Covid to a larger audience than anyone else on the planet, according to a study from Cornell University. "When it gets a little warmer, it miraculously goes away," he once predicted.

It's not just that Trump refused to provide national leadership in a time of crisis. He actively and purposely made everything worse, starting 12 months ago when he downplayed the risks by making misleading and false proclamations. ("Anybody who wants a test will get a test.") Trump actively contradicted established science and willfully endangered Americans. He virtually silenced the government's public health experts, while accusing hospital workers of stealing pandemic medical supplies, and lying to governors about national testing shortages.

From the moment he gave the stand down order for the virus invasion, to recklessly touting a miracle cure, through the embarrassing vaccine rollout, Trump's carelessness cost lives. At his daily pandemic briefings, Trump lied nonstop, unfurling a multitude of falsehoods about the virus, the government's response, and his own previous comments on the crisis.

That directly led to hundreds of thousands of American deaths, yet we never saw a parade of "Trump Lies about Pandemic" headlines, as the press remained intimidated by the GOP madman.

The new Brookings conference study, which estimates 400,000 Americans died unnecessarily on Trump's watch, has been mostly ignored by the mainstream media since its release several days ago. Reuters has been among the very few national outlets to give the findings any coverage. (Former White House coronavirus response coordinator Deborah Birx made news recently when she said U.S. Covid deaths could have been "decreased" after the first 100,000 fatalities, but Birx news coverage ignored the Atkeson findings.)

Note that the disturbing new Covid study comes in the wake of the Beltway media's bizarre, public push in recent weeks to get President Joe Biden to "credit" Trump for all the hard work he did on Covid, and specifically on the vaccination rollout. An annoyed ABC News announced that, "Despite calls for national unity and bipartisanship, President Joe Biden and his top aides have declined to give the Trump administration credit on the nation's COVID-19 vaccine rollout." The Washington Post insisted Biden's vaccine success was simply built "on the Trump team's work."

Under Trump, the U.S. vaccine rollout was seen as a national embarrassment. Under Biden, it's become a model for the world, with possibly 200 million shots being administered by the time of Biden's 100th day in office.

Instead of trying to make sure Trump gets his due for something he doesn't deserve, the D.C. press ought to be documenting his criminal negligence and the stunning indifference he showed to human suffering all through 2020.

Why were news consumers recently fed two weeks of Beltway news coverage about the fact Biden's first formal press conference was slightly late coming, yet there's been almost no coverage of how Trump's deliberate neglect led to nearly half-a-million deaths? How can that chasm of coverage inequity possibly be explained or reconciled?

Is it possible the press doesn't want to accurately label Trump a stone-cold Covid killer because they're anxious for his return to the political stage? If so, it's in their interest to portray him as a mainstream political player, not somebody who consciously turned his back on the country while a year-long public health crisis spun out of control.

All through the pandemic, the political press remained reluctant to address the bigger, darker questions about Trump and why an American president seemed willing to watch the country crumble and decay on his watch — why a president would wage war on his own people the way Trump did. The press preferred to explain the staggering Trump failures as him being "distracted," or not fully engaged in the once-in-a-century crisis.

We now know the staggering toll for his neglect — 400,000 dead Americans. That's more than perished in World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War, combined. The press can't keep looking away from Trump's criminality.

Researchers: Trump’s Mishandling Of Pandemic Cost 400K American Lives

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

From the beginning, it was clear that Donald Trump was handling the COVID-19 pandemic poorly … where "poorly" can be read as any synonym for "in the worst way possible." Trump disbanded agencies meant to deal with pandemics, ignored the outbreak long after it was a clear threat to the nation, failed to make tests available, failed to provide national standards for social distancing, failed to create a national system of testing and case management, promoted phony cures, discouraged the use of masks, undercut health officials, and even encouraged his supporters to engage in armed insurrection against governors who were trying to take effective action. And that's just a select list of ways Trump screwed this thing up, down, and sideways.

That Trump failed massively was obvious. But while it was nice to fantasize about how much better things might have gone under a President Hillary Clinton, it's not really been possible to put a number to just how much of the disaster in the U.S. comes down to Trump's mishandling.

As Reuters reports, a conference at the Brookings Institute this past week included the introduction of a series of research papers on the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States. The conclusion of those researchers: "The United States … could have avoided nearly 400,000 deaths with a more effective health strategy ..." And it could have done so while spending billions of dollars less.

The researchers aren't actually claiming that Trump is responsible for over four out of every five deaths, because they're projecting that 400,000 lives saved against an expected total for the pandemic—which they believe will end up being around 670,000 lives lost. Had Trump taken prompt action, they believe the total would have been under 300,000.

What would have made this difference? All the things Trump failed to do: mandating mask use, enforcing social distancing, and a program of uniform testing. As one of the researchers pointed out, the way the the rules were put in place—with each state adopting its own regulations, and a tendency to drop those regulation at the first sign of improvement—was a system that was almost purpose-built to drive the caseload ever higher, while making the public more and more frustrated with both state and federal action.

The other major finding of the research is that by not addressing the pandemic quickly and consistently, the end cost is enormously higher in dollars, as well as lives. The American Rescue Plan, recently passed through Congress without Republican help, is just the latest of three massive attempts to stabilize an economy rocked by the pandemic and its secondary effects. The total tab on those attempts is now in excess of $5 trillion.

Had the scope of the pandemic been reduced at the outset, its price tag in terms of the national debt would have been much lower, and bills like the American Rescue Plan may not have been necessary. If there had been an adequate medical response to the pandemic—say, a national program of testing and case management—that might have been paired with a financial program that paid people who were forced to be away from work in isolation or quarantine. The impact on both individuals and companies might have been reduced, at huge savings.

Researchers reported that the big spending bills that were produced did what they intended. They shored up incomes, propped up spending, and helped to both buffer the nation against lost jobs and shuttered businesses. But some programs, such as the Payroll Protection Plan, got decidedly mixed reviews. Which isn't hard to understand, considering the number of issues that have surfaced since the secrecy began to fall away from who got PPP payments. (Note: Daily Kos obtained a loan through the Payroll Protection Plan Act.)

The other big finding on the economic front wasn't just that the cost of the reacting to the pandemic was much higher than the cost of getting out in front of COVID-19. The cost of every dollar spent on stimulus was less effective than had that same dollar gone to a project such as improving infrastructure or addressing climate change. The dollars that pass into those programs are expected to generate both more jobs, more spending, and more long term benefits that the checks mailed out as stimulus.

Which makes it nice that President Biden has made it clear—infrastructure is up next. And it's getting more than a week.

Mainstream Media Hype Of Gov. DeSantis Ignores Harsh Facts

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters

Gov. Ron DeSantis is continuing his state's defiant response to the coronavirus pandemic by not only refusing to impose public restrictions, but even seeking to crack down on local governments which attempt to take such basic measures as mask mandates. In doing so, the Florida Republican has an ally in Fox News — the network that frequently undermined public health efforts and even now is trafficking in dangerous anti-vaccine theories — and also in mainstream media outlets, which are making some key mistakes in attempting to cover him.

On Thursday, DeSantis held a "public health roundtable" event featuring hand-picked supporters of his policies including Dr. Scott Atlas, a radiologist and frequent Fox News guest who also advised DeSantis last year. At the event, Atlas reportedly called contact tracing of infected individuals a "completely wrong strategy," and declared there was "no evidence that a mask mandate has worked."

Notably, Atlas had previously joined former President Donald Trump's team of medical advisers — after many appearances on Fox in which he frequently spoke out against most advice from virologists and epidemiologists on how the country should have dealt with the pandemic. The Washington Post had reported that during his time at the White House, Atlas advocated for a dangerous "herd immunity" strategy of simply allowing the virus to spread, and he had also "shot down attempts by Birx and Fauci to expand testing … and advanced fringe theories, such as that social distancing and mask-wearing were meaningless and would not have changed the course of the virus."

Much like Atlas' path to the White House, DeSantis also built his career on Fox News. As Politico explained in 2018, "DeSantis' cultivation of his Fox relationship made all the difference" in his upset victory in the Republican primary for governor that year. He then returned to the network in 2020 to build up a positive image at a time when the pandemic was ravaging his state, after he had reopened far earlier than elsewhere.

Now, he's relying on Fox and other media outlets to promote his handling of the public health crisis, while downplaying the costs of his decisions.

Fox News Pumping Up DeSantis

The Fox-DeSantis relationship continues into the present, as well. DeSantis appeared this past Saturday with Fox News host Jeanine Pirro, who asked him about his state's pandemic response: "New York is still a mess, and you got it right. How did you do it?"


Meanwhile, Fox's purported "news side" has also helped to spread a pro-DeSantis message.

On Monday's edition of Special Report with Bret Baier, the anchor used a misleading statistic, during a discussion with Fox senior analyst Brit Hume. "Cases in California 33,500,000, a little bit more than that as of March 15, deaths 55,000," Baier said. "Florida cases there, you see them, 1.9 million, deaths 32,000."


This statistic was also repeated on Fox News @ Night with Shannon Bream, in a discussion between the anchor and two right-wing guests, Florida Republican Party Vice Chair Christian Ziegler and Fox News contributor Marc Thiessen.

Baier and Ziegler only gave the raw numbers of cases and deaths in each state, along with an on-screen graphic that presented those numbers, seeming to give the impression that Florida had done a far better job than California. But in fact, California has nearly twice the population of Florida — making a raw-numbers comparison virtually useless without adjusting for that difference, an error that was quickly notedon social media.

When adjusted for population, Florida really has more cases and deaths per capita in comparison to California, with 151 deaths per 100,000 people in Florida compared to 140 in California. Also quite concerning, Florida has had a substantially higher number of cases in the past week, 141.3 cases per 100,000 people compared to just 47.6 in California.

Mainstream Outlets Bungling DeSantis Story, Too

CNN has run a segment this week by the network's chief national affairs correspondent, Jeff Zeleny, which begins with a clip of DeSantis triumphantly declaring that "it's booming here because you can live like a human being."

But both the segment and an accompanying text article by Zeleny fail their audiences by putting all of Desantis' own seemingly positive framing up front, such as a lede sentence declaring that he is "standing unabashedly tall among the nation's governors on the front lines of the coronavirus fight."


It is not until nearly three minutes into the video segment, and many paragraphs into the text piece, that certain caveats start to really become visible — as well as the hidden underside of DeSantis' preferred storyline:

  • It is not until the 16th paragraph that readers actually learn that experts believe "comparing one state to another is complicated and often counterproductive," with factors such as Florida's humidity or New York City's population density presenting very different pictures.
  • In the 20th paragraph, readers learn that DeSantis has been "locked in one fight after another with the state's media over transparency on Covid statistics and other issues." For example, the Miami Herald explained this month that Florida state government had "spent a year stonewalling, obfuscating and evading requests for information about such vital matters as the number of COVID deaths recorded by [medical] examiners' offices, details about contact tracing to see where transmission was occurring and which eldercare facilities had seen outbreaks among staff and residents."
  • And then, in the 25th paragraph, readers learn of a possible scandal about DeSantis allegedly giving his top donors privileged access to vaccinations by placing "invitation-only" clinics in their upscale communities. The Miami Herald also reported on this story, describing one such example: "Ocean Reef Club is an ultra-exclusive neighborhood that is arguably one of the highest-security private communities in the nation. … It's also home to many wealthy donors to the Florida Republican Party and GOP candidates, including Gov. Ron DeSantis."

The New York Times has also attempted a seemingly more balanced piece — though it begins with the wistful, dream-like headline 'I'd Much Rather Be in Florida.' The sub-headline then explains the real issue: "Floridians are out and about and pandemic restrictions have been lifted. There's just one problem: The virus never went away."

The article's lead paragraph is also quite blunt about the real cost of the state's decision to just play down the dangers: "Other than New York, no big city in the United States has been struggling with more coronavirus cases in recent weeks than Miami. But you would hardly know that if you lived here." The Times also explains that Florida's economy isn't exactly "booming," either, with tourism having fallen and the state government facing a $2.7 billion deficit that "will need an injection of federal stimulus money."

That headline, however, is immediately problematic — not only because most people do not click past headlines — but because the Times then leaves itself vulnerable to being twisted around by right-wing media outlets. And indeed, both Fox News and PJ Media have now cited that turn of phrase to claim that DeSantis is receiving a positive reappraisal.

Politico, meanwhile, is presenting a triumphalist, near-perfect image for DeSantis, with a post on Thursday night, "How Ron DeSantis won the pandemic," along with a full-length magazine profile touting his presidential hopes for 2024.

"He was right," the profile begins. "Ron DeSantis, the governor of Florida, has been saying as much for weeks — in partisan speeches, on conservative cable, at often out-of-the-way vaccine sites around the state in quick-hit appearances as spartan as they are scripted."

Deep into the article, one finally learns: "Mayors say DeSantis didn't make the hard decisions—they did. He shunted the onus as well as the political peril, they contend, by making them enforce rules he wouldn't and hasn't," and only toward the very end is it noted that Miami's Republican mayor is one of those critics, and "hasn't been able to get him on the phone for months."

Gov. DeSantis Deserves Credit — For The Best Covid-19  Data Cover-Up

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

On Thursday, America was graced with a gloating op-ed from Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in The Wall Street Journal explaining how "the elites"—meaning, apparently, everyone who ever took a biology course in high school—were so, so wrong when they tried to slow down the spread of COVID-19 and he was absolutely right to encourage parties on the beach. On the same day, Politico staffer Michael Kruse added a coat of finest boot polish with a second editorial insisting that DeSantis "won the pandemic" because "Florida has fared no worse … than other states."

DeSantis is not just taking a victory lap over a course paved with 32,000 dead Floridians, he's doing so at a time when his state is still logging 5,000 new cases of COVID-19 a day (second highest in the nation). That's over twice the level Florida was reporting last fall right before it experienced the sharpest surge of the whole pandemic. So yes, lauding DeSantis is premature. Yes, it's hideously ugly and insensitive—not just to the families of the dead, but to the hundreds of thousands of Floridians left with long-term damage from COVID-19.

But there is something that really should be earning DeSantis the admiration of Republicans everywhere. Becauseli while New York nursing home numbers may be getting national attention, the truth is we have not a #$%ing clue about what actually happened in Florida. That's because no one, in no other state, has done more to cover up the facts of the pandemic than Ron DeSantis.

Going into the pandemic, Florida had a system that mirrored that of many states. At the county level, medical examiners tallied both the numbers and the cause of death. This information was both made available to the public and sent to the state. By no coincidence at all, one of DeSantis' first moves during the pandemic was to stop county officials from making these numbers public. Starting in March 2020, county medical examiners were forbidden from revealing the numbers or cause of death, and instead told to report their information only to the state.

If this sounds like it wouldn't make much difference, in April there was a strange spike in "pneumonia deaths" in Florida—a spike that existed nowhere else. The official Florida site blamed these deaths, when they were given any cause at all, on flu. This was happening at a point when flu numbers were already way down in other states, but COVID-19 deaths were on the rise. Right from the beginning, to believe DeSantis means that Florida was having an absolutely unique experience in which COVID-19 was less deadly than anywhere else in the nation, but they were plagued by a mysterious, unconnected rash of respiratory illness.

And then there was just how those Florida numbers on COVID-19 were getting to the public. Data scientist Dr. Rebekah Jones was hired to create a dashboard for the state where the official numbers could be displayed. But in May, Jones was fired from that position after she was told to "manually change data to drum up support for the plan to reopen." At that time, when "only" 2,000 people had died in Florida, DeSantis was already taking a victory lap around the state, claiming to have defeated the coronavirus without making spring breakers set down a single Heineken.

By then, the state's medical examiners were up in arms over the differences between what they were seeing and what the state was reporting. They called the DeSantis numbers "a sham" and pointed out that the number of respiratory deaths the state was shoveling into the pneumonia category, with no mention of COVID-19, was the highest in at least five years. As the South Florida Sun Sentinel reported, the sharp increase in pneumonia deaths "alters the fundamental narrative of the coronavirus outbreak in Florida: This pandemic started earlier and has been broader, deadlier and more rampant than previously known." When the Miami Herald managed to get their hands on data from medical examiners, they found it "riddled with holes."

It also became clear that not only was Florida not taking any responsibility for tourists who came there, shared coronavirus on the beach, and returned home to deliver their virus souvenir to family and friends, it wasn't counting the people who died in Florida if they were from out of state. That didn't just include those who dropped in for a few weeks, it included "snowbirds" who spend a good part of the year at Florida homes. People who lived in Florida, got sick in Florida, and died in Florida did not show up on Florida's dashboard unless they were also official residents of Florida—and even then, the odds that they might have been left off seem high.

By June, Jones was tweeting out claims that that DeSantis' government was covering up increasing hospitalization rates and had manually deleted at least 1,200 cases of COVID-19 in order to artificially meet guidelines that allowed for more rapid reopening in advance of the July 4 holiday. Jones then created her own website to give Florida a better idea of what was actually happening, including showing available hospital beds and ICU beds—information that DeSantis had stripped from the official site.

Almost immediately, Jones came under attack with claims that she had "illegally accessed" data—data that should have been public in the first place. She was repeatedly harassed by state officials and her attempts to provide more accurate data were blocked by a tightening of security around data that DeSantis, unlike every previous administration, claimed to be private. This culminated in a Dec. 7 raid on Jones' home by Florida state police who carried off the computers used for her alternative data site. The action was egregious enough that, as the Tampa Bay Times reported, a lifelong Republican attorney who had been appointed to a judicial nominating commission by DeSantis resigned his position, saying that he want to call attention to how Florida was blocking "public access to truthful data."

The truth about Florida is … we don't know the truth about Florida. We do know that DeSantis has behaved recklessly and irresponsibly, that he has defied medical advice, used authoritarian tactics to hide information, and sold vaccine access to the highest bidder while denying vaccine to communities of color.

But even if the information that is currently out there were perfectly accurate … how is it a "win?" Yes, "Florida has fared no worse" than some other states … if by that Politico means those states that were unfortunate enough to be caught in the blast of the initial surge at a time when there were neither available tests nor information about how to treat COVID-19. Florida is squarely in the middle of the list of states on both deaths by population and cases by population. If it's done better than about half the states, it's done worse than the others. That includes running a worse rate of both deaths and cases than California. Just looking up the Atlantic coast, the rate of deaths in Florida is 27% higher than in Virginia and 36% higher than in North Carolina. Hell, it's 180% higher than in Maine.

What exactly is supposed to represent a "win" here? Is DeSantis supposed to be given accolades because Florida didn't slip beneath the sea under the weight of all the dead bodies? Republicans aren't just ready to hand DeSantis a participation trophy, they're trying to turn it into a blue ribbon.

Disturbing Evidence Shows Officials ‘Deflated' Covid-19 Death Statistics To Spur Reopening

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

The United States passed a grim milestone this week when researchers at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore reported that the country's coronavirus death count had reached 100,000. But the number of COVID-19 fatalities and infections, many experts believe, is even worse than what is being reported. And journalists Darius Tahir and Adam Cancryn, in Politico, report that the number of deaths and new infections is being "deflated" at a time when President Donald Trump is pushing for states to reopen their economies sooner rather than later.

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