Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Where Is It More Dangerous To Visit-- Yemen Or Florida?


Die For Me by Nancy Ohanian

On Sunday, Washington Post media critic noted that the Trump regime and it's congressional enablers are making a concerted effort to "normalize" deaths from the pandemic. No need to shut down the economy because a few old people are dying. It's like the flu or car crashes, they claim. That's not true. Today, as cases spike in states reopening early, the U.S. will likely pass 82,000 COVID-19 deaths. "Consider the way news outlets and pundits," wrote Sullivan, "have adopted the language of 'reopening the country' from politicians, making it a constant in headlines, cable panel discussions and radio reports. This terminology presents a false choice. 'It’s binary, it’s all-or-nothing, now-or-never, and it doesn’t allow for rational discussion of how to keep people safe,' [Catherine] Lutz told me by phone. 'It promotes the idea of open is good, closed is bad-- so do you want something bad or good?' Even worse, it conflates what’s good for the economy with what’s good for the citizens of the country."
Then there’s Trump’s latest trope: “We have to be warriors. We can’t keep our country closed down for years.” Rather than encouraging Americans to think in a more nuanced way about how to prevent coronavirus deaths while helping the millions who are suffering financial disaster, the language implies a brutal and necessary trade-off.

Lutz and [Anne] Fernandez see an even more insidious (never directly stated) sales pitch just beneath the surface: That it’s okay for “Grandma” to die, along with the other members of society, who in former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly’s crass terms, “were on their last legs anyway.”

Media critic and New York University professor Jay Rosen sees a strategy of normalizing the coronavirus as key to Trump’s attempt to save his political skin before November’s presidential election, as he described in a widely read essay last week:
“The plan is to have no plan, to let daily deaths between one and three thousand become a normal thing, and then to create massive confusion about who is responsible,” he wrote.
The media’s role in Trump’s plan-without-a-plan? Well, he’s counting on us to regurgitate and magnify his message-- and in doing so, make people begin to shrug off the daily horrors as inevitable. When journalists repeat the rhetoric about the necessity of widespread “reopening” or when they become inured to the continuing death count, they do his work for him.

But there’s another way.

The media can find ways to point out the loaded language and its political purpose. (In a smart story, my colleague David Nakamura explained how Trump’s “warrior” rhetoric is both a way to suggest that “it is no longer just medical workers on the front lines who must respond” but all Americans-- and a way to cast himself as a wartime leader.)

We can report on alternative strategies to the flailing, premature attempts to return to life as we knew it. We can emphasize what the scientists and medical professionals are saying.

And, above all, we can keep making the deaths and suffering personal, more than mere numbers.

Tell the stories of those who died. And, as Fernandez put it, “keep highlighting the abnormalities”-- the ways that the virus has so cruelly upended our standards of what is acceptable.

It’s not normal to lose multiple members of one family, or for family members not to be able to see each other when one of them is dying. We shouldn’t grow desensitized to it.

When Lutz teaches her anthropology classes, she urges students to avoid normalizing the costs of war, for example, and to challenge presumptions. She calls it “questioning the question.”

In the case of the coronavirus, the flawed question that demands questioning is the one that asks how many deaths are okay to restore the economy. Or as Ron Johnson (R-WI) downplayed it, the “risk we accept so we can move around.”

That dichotomy closes off a nuanced discussion of other options-- such as providing adequate financial help to unemployed people, rather than forcing them to put their lives at risk by going back to work too soon.

Human lives aren’t just numbers. What’s good for Wall Street isn’t necessarily what’s good for most Americans.

Yet the news media too often absorbs these concepts, and spits them back at the public as if there were no alternatives.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

Monday morning, The Post published a Florida Man essay by Ben Terris and Josh Dawsey, Does Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis Know What He's Doing? We're About To Find Out. "Florida Man," they wrote, "is devil-may-care and slightly oafish, beloved but not admired, newsworthy above all. Florida Man-- christened as a meme in the previous decade but perhaps as old as the state itself-- is the guy who straddles an alligator cage, in defiance of conventional wisdom, and hollers, 'Watch this!' Gov. Ron DeSantis is a certain kind of Florida Man. Not because he wore jean shorts and flip-flops to his first day of classes at Yale or because he recently put a surgical mask on upside-down at a news conference, although both those things did happen. Fact is, DeSantis has a reputation for being smart and strategic. But as he begins to end Florida’s stay-at-home order while the covid-19 pandemic continues to rip through the United States, it’s hard not to imagine the governor standing astride the alligator cage, hollering at the rest of the country to check out what’s about to happen."

A little over a week ago, just as DeSantis was rushing to make Florida the first state to reopen, the state was reporting 1,722 cases per million. Since then, the numbers have crept up steadily and today stand at 1,890 per million-- 40,596 cases. The numbers aren't pretty... but look suspiciously low.
“I think there has been a lot that’s been done to promote fear, to drive hysteria,” ​he said at a recent news conference announcing the phased reopening of his state. “​I think people should know that the worst-case scenario thinking has not proven to be true.”

Is this Florida Man on to something? People cringed at his initial response to the coronavirus, as he let spring breakers party on in March even as the epidemiological forecasts were prompting other governors to essentially close their states for business. Even President Trump suggested to DeSantis that he might want to close the beaches in a March phone call, but the governor did not heed his concerns, people familiar with the call say.

But now, after a month of staying home, with Florida much better off than many of the models predicted, the governor is feeling bold. He has been getting credit for how he has handled the crisis from people such as Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, who has praised the state’s covid tracking website on national television, and pointed to Florida’s early targeted testing of vulnerable communities in an Oval Office news conference. He has been traveling around Florida on what, at times, looks like a victory tour, missing only a giant banner that says: “They said we would be the next Italy, but they were wrong.”

Still, it’s unclear exactly how well the state has fared. Questions have been raised about whether the DeSantis administration is trying to suppress information. The state government refused to identify nursing homes with covid-19 infections until threatened with a lawsuit. The state also blocked medical examiners from making public their own fatality counts and released a list of those deaths last week only after redacting key information. What’s more, experts believe the number of cases and deaths is an undercount nationwide because of limited testing, especially in the early weeks of the pandemic. Unlike some states that include “probable” covid-19 deaths in their daily tallies, Florida counts only people who had lab-confirmed tests. And with untold thousands infected, DeSantis-- like the other governors beginning to open up their states-- is taking a risk not just with his own political future but with the lives of his constituents.

Watch this!

...[DeSantis] has had something of a direct line to the president, often to the chagrin of Trump’s protective White House staff. He pushed a prescription drug importation policy to Trump that some White House advisers consider dangerous and unworkable but that the president embraced. Last year, officials say, DeSantis asked Trump to appear at an event and announced the president’s participation before White House staff members were made aware of the plans. And, in late March, DeSantis called the president and complained about New Yorkers flooding into his state and infecting Floridians with the coronavirus. Trump tweeted that he was “looking at” quarantining the tri-state area, only-- according to a senior White House aide-- to be talked out of the idea by Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff, Marc Short, public health experts and other officials who said it would be impossible to enforce.

...He helped start the House Freedom Caucus, a group of rabble-rousing conservatives who were hellbent on overthrowing their own leadership for being, in their eyes, too squishy. And by the time he decided to run for governor, he decided to do it as a full-throated supporter of Trump and all that he stood for.

That decision paid off.

He entered the race as a relative unknown, but after a flight with the president to a rally in Pensacola, he got the boost he needed to run away with the Republican nomination.

“He was actively pitching the president on his candidacy,” said Gaetz, who was on the plane. “And the president looked over at me and said: Well is he going to win?”

Gaetz said if the president endorsed then yes, he would. And so, he did.

DeSantis has been referred to as a "Mini Trump," and sitting beside him in the Oval Office at the end of April, the governor looked as if he could be the president's large adult son: that same aging baseball player's build, the manspread engulfing their plush yellow chairs, both sets of hands appearing to play an invisible accordion as they spoke.

The news conference, billed as impromptu but with accompanying posters and charts, came one day before DeSantis announced his phased plan to turn on the Florida economy. It felt, as all of Trump’s news conferences feel these days, a little like a campaign rally.

“He’s done a spectacular job in Florida,” Trump said, his gaze flicking between the gathered reporters and the governor. “He’s going to be opening up large portions, and ultimately pretty quickly because he’s got great numbers in all of Florida.”

“What have the results been?” DeSantis asked himself. “You look at some of the most draconian orders that have been issued in some of these states and compare to Florida in terms of our hospitalizations per 100,000, in terms of our fatalities per 100,000. You name it, Florida’s done better.”

I guess DeSantis was counting on no one checking. But it's a flat out lie. Florida's suspicious 80 deaths per million, is worse than 23 states-- so close to the median. States both big and small are doing better, from California (69), North Carolina (54) and Texas (39) to Arizona (74), Wisconsin (69), Oregon (30) and Montana (15). Florida is exactly tied with Alabama. And now that DeSantis has rushed into opening up for business again, Florida's rate is rising steadily.
In a strange twist, while the coronavirus has been bad for nearly everyone in the world, it has been good for the reputation of many of the country’s governors: New York’s Andrew M. Cuomo, Kentucky’s Andy Beshear, California’s Gavin Newsom and Ohio’s Mike DeWine, to name a few.

Not, however, DeSantis.

After his campaign for governor, which he won against the liberal Andrew Gillum by the slimmest of margins, DeSantis surprised a lot of people. He left behind his conservative attack dog persona for something more moderate-- funneling money into environmental protection, supporting medical marijuana initiatives, hiring liberals into his administration-- and became one of the most popular governors in the country.

Almost completely unknown just a few years prior, now there was talk about DeSantis someday, perhaps soon, seeking higher office. He became close with Trump’s campaign manager, Parscale, who now talks to DeSantis more than he does any other governor.

Between March 1, when the governor announced the first two cases of coronavirus in Florida, and April 1 when, despite his reluctance, he issued a statewide stay-at-home order, DeSantis’s poll numbers tumbled like the stock market.

The dithering didn’t seem to help, nor did the fact that the state seemed completely unprepared to deal with an economic collapse. The $77 million website built in the previous administration, has done such a terrible job processing all the claims for unemployment that DeSantis has ordered an investigation as to why.

“This was something that we knew about before the crisis,” said Democratic state Sen. Annette Taddeo. “It could have been fixed, and now we are one of the worst places in the country to be unemployed.”

But whether by good planning, or good luck, Florida seems to have avoided the worst-case scenarios. A [completely discredited and worthless] model developed by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington was predicting nearly 7,000 deaths in the state by August-- though that number would fluctuate depending on the level of social distancing. Currently, there have been fewer than 2,000 reported deaths so far. Hospitals have not been overrun. And there is a large surplus of ventilators sitting unused. On May 7, the state got back 20,000 tests and found only 358 people, less than two percent, tested positive.

To DeSantis’s credit, even while keeping the state open, he did take some early actions that probably kept the virus from spreading: upping the state’s ability to administer coronavirus tests, limiting who could visit nursing homes and putting a pause on nonessential hospital procedures. Florida now has 13 drive-through testing facilities, 10 walk-up sites, and even an RV that can drive to vulnerable communities, such as nursing homes, and conduct testing on site.

The state may have also benefited from more localized actions: mayors shutting down beaches in their cities before it was mandated statewide, Disney World closing in the middle of March.

Now, what happens next, as DeSantis begins reopening the state, may determine whether the governor becomes a national star-- perhaps even a presidential candidate in a post-Trump world-- or another overconfident Florida Man entering a cage only to find himself face to face with a beast that he may or may not understand.

He’s not flinging open the gates willy-nilly. The reopening will be phased, “methodical” and based on data, the governor says. It’s an approach that even some Democrats in the state will admit has been thoughtful.

“I think he could have been a little more expeditious early on,” said Rep. Charlie Crist, the former Republican governor of the state who is now a Democrat serving in Congress. “But I think he’s been a quick study.”

Still, one way to look at the better-than-expected numbers is as proof that mitigation efforts are working and that any loosening could lead to more outbreaks.

“I’m worried about opening things up again,” said Cindy Prins, an epidemiologist from the University of Florida. Prins said it’s possible that the gains made by staying at home can easily be undone by people — suffering from “stay-at-home fatigue”-- looking for any hint that it’s okay to go back to business as usual.

“Personally,” she said, “I want people to feel uncomfortable.”

That’s not how DeSantis has sees it. When asked last week if he’d personally bring his young family to a restaurant in the current climate, DeSantis didn’t hesitate.

“One hundred percent comfortable,” he said.

If you've been watching the Chris Martsenson podcasts that I've been posting every weekday since late February, you already know the first easy step in tackling this pandemic is for everyone to wear a mask. Yep... that simple. He often uses Czechia as an example. DeSantis may brag, bizarrely, about his state's 40,982 cases and 1,908 cases per million, but Czechia, which slapped masks on everyone as soon as the pandemic started knocking on their door, has far better numbers. With 8,123 cases, their caseload per million is just 759 (far less than half of Florida's 1,908) and their death rate per million is 26, less than a third of Florida's. Masks are not mandatory in Florida and even in many places where they are mandatory, there is no enforcement whatsoever and many people-- particularly Republicans-- just refuse to wear them.

Last week, in an essay for Vanity Fair David Duncan pointed out that if 80% of Americans wore masks, infections would plummet. He points to a scientific study and wrote that "If you’re wondering whether to wear or not to wear, consider this. The day before yesterday, 21 people died of COVID-19 in Japan. In the United States, 2,129 died. Comparing overall death rates for the two countries offers an even starker point of comparison with total U.S. deaths now at a staggering 76,032 and Japan’s fatalities at 577. Japan’s population is about 38% of the U.S., but even adjusting for population, the Japanese death rate is a mere 2% of America’s.

This comes despite Japan having no lockdown, still-active subways, and many businesses that have remained open-- reportedly including karaoke bars, although Japanese citizens and industries are practicing social distancing where they can. Nor have the Japanese broadly embraced contact tracing, a practice by which health authorities identify someone who has been infected and then attempt to identify everyone that person might have interacted with-- and potentially infected. So how does Japan do it?
“One reason is that nearly everyone there is wearing a mask,” said De Kai, an American computer scientist with joint appointments at UC Berkeley’s International Computer Science Institute and at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. He is also the chief architect of an in-depth study, set to be released in the coming days, that suggests that every one of us should be wearing a mask-- whether surgical or homemade, scarf or bandana-- like they do in Japan and other countries, mostly in East Asia. This formula applies to President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence (occasional mask refuseniks) as well as every other official who routinely interacts with people in public settings. Among the findings of their research paper, which the team plans to submit to a major journal: If 80% of a closed population were to don a mask, COVID-19 infection rates would statistically drop to approximately one twelfth the number of infections-- compared to a live-virus population in which no one wore masks.

The mask debate, of course, has been raging for weeks in the States and globally. Pro-maskers assert that the widespread use of face coverings can diminish the spread of COVID-19. Some anti-maskers, including various politicians and public health officials, have insisted that there is no proof of the efficacy of face guards. According to some activists, a blanket mask mandate places a limit on individual liberty and even one’s right to free speech. (Pro-mask advocates are fighting back with #masks4all and #wearafuckingmask Twitter campaigns).
And if you want the proof, take a look at the video above.

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At 10:05 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Comparing the dangers of visiting Florida versus Yemen is like comparing oranges and dates. Short of risking death, there is little to compare between them that makes any sense. An active war zone, Yemen already is quite a different category than is Florida.

No sane person has any reason to go to either place. Therefore, anyone who goes to either place qualifies for a Darwin Award.

At 2:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Florida can't bitch. They elected that pos. They always elect a pos. Like DWS.

If you are black, it isn't even close. FL is worse to visit.


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