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“Liberia Says ‘Thank You'”: If Anyone Is Looking For A Reason To Be Proud Of Our Country And This President, There You Have It!

Being a consumer of American media can sometimes be compared to reading a gripping mystery/adventure novel and just when you get to the height of the suspense, someone takes the book away and hands you a new one to start reading. No one ever writes the last chapter.

It’s like we get to the part where the villain has his hostage tied to the tracks and the train is approaching. Then we cut away to the next story. That is why too many Americans think the world is going to hell in a hand basket (see CPAC).

Now…I know that very few real life stories come to a clear THE END. But occasionally we get an approximation of something like that. Today I’d like to write about one of those.

This week Liberia’s President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf expressed her country’s gratitude for the role the United States played in combating Ebola.

Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf paid emotional tribute to the American people on Thursday as the United States formally wound up its successful five-month mission to combat the west African nation’s Ebola outbreak.

With Liberia now in recovery from the worst outbreak of the deadly virus in history, the visiting Sirleaf thanked the United States for coming to the region’s aid in its hour of need.

“America responded, you did not run from Liberia,” Sirleaf told US lawmakers in Washington, expressing the “profound gratitude” of Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.

The American public has moved on from the hysteria created by the Ebola epidemic only a few months ago. So this kind of news won’t get much attention. But if anyone is looking for a reason to be proud of our country and this President, there you have it!

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, February 28, 2015

March 4, 2015 Posted by | American Exceptionalism, Communicable Diseases, Ebola | , , , , | Leave a comment

“Highly Situational Principles”: How The Vaccine Controversy Shows The Limits Of GOP Libertarianism

As a demonstration that anything can become political and you never know what issue is going to take over a campaign, every potential presidential candidate is now thinking very carefully about what they should say on the topic of childhood immunizations. Chris Christie kicked things off when he answered a question about a spreading measles outbreak with some comments about parental choice that he sort-of walked back, but the real news came when Rand Paul — a graduate of Duke University medical school, which I’m fairly certain is a real thing — gave an interview to CNBC in which he said, “I’ve heard of many tragic cases of walking, talking, normal children who wound up with profound mental disorders after vaccines.”

Needless to say, this is utterly bogus. What Paul should have noted was that this question has been studied exhaustively, and there is no evidence whatsoever that vaccines cause autism or any other “mental disorder.”

But if you thought that every GOP candidate would be rushing to pander to people’s fears about big government forcing them to stick needles in their kids, you’d be wrong. In fact, the ones we’ve heard from so far have been clearly pro-vaccine. And this shows just where the limits of libertarianism within the Republican Party are.

As the New York Times noted this morning, Mike Huckabee has in the past advocated that vaccines be widely used, and specifically dismissed the debunked connection to autism, while Rick Perry has also touted his administration’s efforts to increase vaccination. You’ll recall that Perry was criticized by his Republican opponents in 2012 for mandating that girls in Texas public schools receive the HPV vaccine (though he eventually reversed himself when he was convinced by other Texas conservatives that giving a 10-year-old girl a shot to prevent her from getting cervical cancer after she becomes an adult would obviously turn her into a sex maniac). Ben Carson also made clear that mandatory vaccination is critical to preventing disease, no matter what religious or philosophical objections people might have. John Boehner too said that every child should be vaccinated.

While there are a few candidates we haven’t yet heard from, it may be surprising that Paul isn’t getting more company; indeed, he’s probably surprised, given how much Republicans have talked about individual liberty in the last few years. Paul doesn’t deny that there are risks to not vaccinating children, but he says that it’s a matter of personal freedom: parents, not the government, should make the choice. However, it turns out that other Republicans don’t agree. In this case they believe that the welfare of the community trumps the individual’s right to decide.

What that tells us is that the broader Republican commitment to libertarian principles is highly situational. Libertarians laud themselves for their philosophical consistency (though Rand Paul is a quasi-libertarian at most), but ordinary conservatives are picking and choosing based on who’s getting what and who’s paying what. In the case of something like guns, where there’s an analogous situation (individuals want to make a choice that potentially endangers others), conservatives see the gun owner getting a benefit, and one many of them enjoy. When they say that companies should be released from environmental regulations, they’re thinking about people and organizations they admire getting the benefit of unconstrained market freedom, and the cost (environmental degradation) is something they’re only marginally concerned about.

But in the case of vaccines, the beneficiaries are a bunch of wackos and conspiracy theorists who are gaining nothing more than the ability to endanger their own children, at the cost of endangering everybody else’s children. And I’m guessing it also matters that a lot of the vaccine truthers who get attention are liberals, the Marin County types who think that because they feed their children organic food that the kids will have super-charged immune systems and therefore can’t become sick. (It should be noted that vaccine trutherism is a non-partisan affliction: liberals are no more likely than conservatives to think vaccines cause autism.)

What’s more, while it’s also true that advocating for vaccines requires conservatives to agree with Science, this issue isn’t like climate change, where many on the right think the entire scientific community is engaged in a vast conspiracy of deception. On climate, people fear that they’ll lose something (like their SUVs) and have to change their lifestyle in order to address the problem; the issue also threatens their traditional allies in the energy industry. There are few such considerations in the vaccine issue.

So the vaccine issue demonstrates that while nearly every Republican agrees with libertarian ideas on some issues, this doesn’t necessarily reflect just an inviolable philosophical commitment to individual liberty. When being a libertarian means getting something they want without having to give up anything they like, they’re happy to wave the anti-government flag. But if it means their kids might get sick because some people are dumb enough to take their medical advice from Jenny McCarthy, the needs of the many begin to look much more pressing than the delusions of the few.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line, The Washington Post, February 3, 2015

February 6, 2015 Posted by | Communicable Diseases, GOP, Libertarians | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“You Don’t Need A Hazmat Suit”: Want To Help Combat Ebola? Get A Flu Shot

On Friday morning, the Obama administration announced that it was appointing Ron Klain, the former chief of staff to Vice President Joe Biden, to become the Ebola “Czar” to oversee all efforts to combat the disease. This isn’t much of a surprise. After all, the president told reporters Thursday night that he would consider making such a move. But there is another, much more subtle message, hidden in this move: Get a flu shot.

When he spoke to reporters Thursday, Obama expressed complete satisfaction with his current team overseeing the Ebola response: Thomas Frieden, the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Sylvia Mathews Burwell, the secretary of the Health and Human Services, Homeland Security Advisor Lisa Monaco, and National Security Advisor Susan Rice. But each of those four have other duties as well. Monaco and Rice are both heavily involved in coordinating the airstrikes in Iraq and Syria.

For Frieden and Burwell, their attention will soon be partially diverted to flu season. “We’re going into flu season, which means, by the way, that people should be looking to get their flu shots,” Obama said. “We know that every year tens of thousands of people potentially die of the flu, and a hundred-thousand or more may be actually going to the emergency room and hospitalized because of the flu. So that’s something that Tom [Frieden] also is responsible for.”

As I noted Friday morning, there is no reason to fear Ebola. You don’t need to wear a hazmat suit when you travel. But if you are feeling helpless and want to do something to help combat the disease, get a flu shot. The symptoms for the flufever, nausea, vomitingare very similar to those of Ebola. That means the more people who get the flu this year, the more people are going to panic about potential cases of Ebola, cases that the vast, vast majority of the time will prove false. Reducing the number of people who get the flu will help quell that panic.

And, by the way, the flu killed 50,643 Americans in 2012. That’s another very good reason to get a flu shot.

 

By: Danny Vinik, The New Republic, October 17, 2014

October 18, 2014 Posted by | Communicable Diseases, Ebola, Influenza | , , , , | Leave a comment

“Scarier Than Ebola”: On Matters Exotic, We’re Rapt; On Matters Quotidian, We’re Cavalier

We Americans do panic really well.

We could use a few pointers on prudence.

Do me a favor. Turn away from the ceaseless media coverage of Ebola in Texas — the interviews with the Dallas nurse’s neighbors, the hand-wringing over her pooch, the instructions on protective medical gear — and answer this: Have you had your flu shot? Are you planning on one?

During the 2013-2014 flu season, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only 46 percent of Americans received vaccinations against influenza, even though it kills about 3,000 people in this country in a good year, nearly 50,000 in a bad one.

These are deaths by a familiar assassin. Many of them could have been prevented. So why aren’t we in a lather over that? Why fixate on remote threats that we feel we can’t control when there are immediate ones that we simply don’t bother to?

On matters exotic, we’re rapt. On matters quotidian, which are nonetheless matters of life and death, we’re cavalier. Tens of thousands of Americans die in car crashes annually, and according to a federal analysis from 2012, more than half of them weren’t wearing seatbelts.

Perhaps that didn’t make a difference in many cases. In some, it probably did. But on this front, as on others, we have clear answers about how to minimize risk and we simply proceed to forget or ignore them.

There’s no way to square skin-cancer statistics in the United States — more than 3.5 million cases diagnosed yearly and almost 10,000 deaths — with the number of Americans showing off their tans. They aren’t all getting body paint. They’ve been lectured about sunscreen and shade and hats. But vanity trumps sanity, and melanoma rides its coattails.

I’m not dismissing the horror of Ebola, a full-blown crisis in Africa that should command the whole world’s assistance. And Ebola in the United States certainly warrants concern. We’re still searching for definitive answers about transmission and prevention.

But Americans already have such answers about a host of other, greater perils to our health, and we’d be wiser to reacquaint ourselves with those, and recommit to heeding them, than to worry about our imminent exposure to Ebola.

“People get very fearful and stressed out and have a lot of anxiety about things like Ebola that aren’t a general health risk,” said Jeffrey Duchin, who is the chairman of the public health committee of the Infectious Diseases Society of America. “Just look at causes of death in the United States. Everything is higher than Ebola, and there are things that we can do about many of them.”

Duchin, a physician, moderated a panel of experts who discussed Ebola at the society’s conference last week. These doctors sought to refocus attention on influenza, which lacks novelty but not potency.

In my conversation with him, Duchin also pointed out that between 2.7 and 5.2 million Americans are believed to be infected with the hepatitis C virus. Deaths related to it can range widely, from 17,000 to 80,000 annually, he said. There’s a test for it. There’s effective treatment. But the C.D.C. says that up to 75 percent of the people with the virus don’t know they have it.

Stephen Morse, a professor of epidemiology at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, told me: “We have a lot of vaccine-preventable diseases and we see more and more people refusing to have their children take vaccines.”

He was referring to outbreaks of measles and pertussis (or whooping cough) in states and cities where parents have hallucinated a connection between immunizations and autism. They cling to this fiction in the face of scientific information to the contrary.

Both The Hollywood Reporter and Time magazine recently published accounts of anti-vaccine madness among supposedly educated, affluent Americans in particular. According to the story in The Hollywood Reporter, by Gary Baum, the parents of 57 percent of the children at a Beverly Hills preschool and of 68 percent at one in Santa Monica had filed personal-belief exemptions from having their kids vaccinated.

Such numbers, Baum wrote, “are in line with immunization rates in developing countries like Chad and South Sudan.”

On CNN on Monday night, a Dallas pediatrician was asked about what she had advised the families she sees. She said that she urged them to have their children “vaccinated against diseases that we can prevent,” and that she also stressed frequent hand-washing. Ebola or no Ebola, it’s a responsible — and frequently disregarded — way to lessen health risks.

So are these: fewer potato chips. Less sugary soda. Safer sex. Tighter restrictions on firearms. More than 30,000 Americans die from gunshots every year. Anyone looking for an epidemic to freak out about can find one right there.

 

By: Frank Bruni, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, October 15, 2014

October 16, 2014 Posted by | Communicable Diseases, Ebola, Public Health | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Unreasoning Dread”: Freaking Out About Ebola Isn’t Helping

One afternoon two weeks ago, I did my best to calm a friend who’d become fearful that her son would contract Ebola in Syria. The young man had enlisted in the National Guard. She knew the U.S. was bombing ISIS terrorists there, and that people were talking about “boots on the ground.” She thought she’d heard about a Syrian Ebola outbreak on TV.

Because others were listening, I didn’t want to embarrass her. I suggested she’d misheard a reference to Sierra Leone, a tiny country in the tropical forest of West Africa where the Ebola epidemic rages — thousands of miles from Syria, which borders on Israel. The road to Damascus and all that.

The Bible reference helped. A guy in a John Deere cap backed me up. Syria was definitely not in Africa. My friend was mollified.

I’m sure she’s heard plenty more about Ebola since then, possibly even about Sierra Leone, a nation of which most Americans have zero knowledge. A lifelong map nut, I’d have had to search for it myself.

Although my friend is an intelligent person with a lively wit, it wasn’t her ignorance of geography I found so surprising. After all, polls showed only 17 percent of Americans could locate Iraq on a map back when the U.S. invaded in 2003. Rather, it was her unreasoning dread of Ebola, a tropical disease wholly limited at that time to three countries in West Africa.

Now that a single Ebola victim from neighboring Liberia has made his way to Dallas, isn’t that fear more justifiable? Shouldn’t we be running around with our hair on fire like the talking heads on cable TV? Isn’t it time for our government to do something drastic, such as banning all travel from West Africa to prevent Ebola-stricken refugees from bringing this terrifying plague to America?

Actually, no and no. Freaking out never helps when there’s real danger. For once, I felt sympathetic toward Gov. Rick Perry, who, because the Liberian victim ended up at Texas Health Presbyterian in Dallas, was compelled to act like a competent government official instead of a carnival barker.

“Rest assured that our system is working as it should,” Perry said during a hospital press conference. “Professionals on every level of the chain of command know what to do to minimize this potential risk to the people of Texas and this country.”

Of course that wasn’t strictly true. Due to a communications snafu too common in hospitals, the first physician who examined the victim wasn’t told he’d traveled from Liberia, misread the chart, and bungled the diagnosis.

But that still doesn’t mean the sky is falling. Medical experts agree that while deadly in Third World environments, Ebola is both treatable and relatively hard to catch. Patients aren’t contagious until they’re visibly ill. Even then direct contact with a symptomatic person’s bodily fluids — saliva, vomit, stool, urine, etc. — is necessary. Unlike a cold, it can’t be transmitted through the air.

Writing in The New Yorkerbrilliant surgeon and author Atul Gawande documents a South African case in which some 300 hospital workers treated an undiagnosed Ebola patient for 12 days without contracting the disease.

Isolate patients, monitor their intimate contacts, dispose of their waste properly, and Ebola can be stopped. According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) the likelihood of a mass Ebola outbreak in the United States is remote.

Perhaps that makes the disgraceful performance of so many self-styled “conservative” pundits and GOP politicians a bit less disturbing. Going all Chicken Little and doing everything possible to use a public health crisis for partisan ends would be even more contemptible if the danger were as great as they pretend.

As usual, Fox News personalities led the charge. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee sought to use Ebola to foment petulant mistrust of government in general and President Obama in particular.

It all somehow reminded him of Benghazi.

“The Ebola scare,” Huckabee claimed “goes to the heart of a simple question: do you trust the government. Audience, do you trust the government?”

Fox News and ABC News contributor Laura Ingraham hosted crank medical conspiracy theorist Dr. Elizabeth Vliet, who accused Obama of downplaying Ebola for political reasons. Rush Limbaugh suggested that the president sees Ebola as a punishment for slavery, and won’t ban travel to and from West Africa out of political correctness.

Several GOP politicians, including Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, have suggested basically quarantining entire countries, a “solution” that sounds sensible until you think about it for 30 seconds.

For example, would that mean volunteer doctors, nurses, missionaries and soldiers couldn’t come home? And then what? A catastrophically worsening epidemic in Africa, that’s what.

I’ll say this too: If Ebola were happening, in say, Denmark or Belgium, we’d be having a far saner conversation.

But then it couldn’t, which is part of the point.

 

By: Gene Lyons, The National Memo, October 8, 2014

October 10, 2014 Posted by | Communicable Diseases, Conservatives, Public Health | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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