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“A Public Health Triumph”: Republicans Call Ebola A Federal Government Failure. It’s Exactly The Opposite

If you live in a state with a competitive Senate race, chances are you’ve seen an ad recently that told you to vote Republican because of Ebola. According to the media tracking firm CMAG (reported here by Bloomberg), there has been a significant increase in Ebola-themed ads in the race’s final days.

These ads are meant to stoke a general sense is that the world is spinning out of control, and only a Republican Senate can save us. As conservatives like Charles Krauthammer have argued: “Ebola has crystallized the collapse of trust in state authorities,” showing us that the Obama administration is too incompetent to handle the dangers confronting us.

But what if Ebola demonstrates exactly the opposite?

Imagine that a year ago, I told you that a few months hence, west Africa would see the largest Ebola outbreak in history. Then I explained that despite regular travel in and out of the affected countries by health professionals and ordinary people, there would be a grand total of two — not two hundred, or two thousand, but two — Americans who contracted the disease here, and both of them would be nurses who had treated a dying patient who had contracted the disease in Liberia. And I told you that both of them would be treated, and would survive and be healthy. If I had told you that a year ago, would you have said, “Wow, that sounds like a gigantic federal government failure”?

Of course not. You’d say that sounds like a public health triumph.

To be clear, I’m not arguing that there have been no mistakes. In the early days, the CDC didn’t offer clear enough guidance on prevention measures for health care professionals, which is what made it possible for those two nurses to become infected. But if you actually look at the facts, the disease has been completely prevented and contained here in the United States. It makes you wonder what the administration’s critics are talking about when they cry that the government has failed.

And right now, while the federal government is proceeding in a methodical, sober fashion to keep the disease contained, it’s state governments that are acting like fools. Governors Andrew Cuomo and Chris Christie first announced that health care workers returning from the affected countries would be quarantined for 21 days, and Christie essentially imprisoned one nurse at Newark airport. Then, when they came under withering criticism from people who actually have some expertise in this subject, they changed the policy to request that those workers quarantine themselves in their homes.

The nurse held in New Jersey, Kaci Hickox — who has no Ebola symptoms, shows no sign of being infected, and poses no danger to anyone — returned to her home in Maine and is now fighting with Paul LePage, perhaps America’s most buffoonish governor, over whether she should be confined to her home against her will. You wouldn’t trust LePage to help your third-grader with his math homework, but he professes to know something about this disease that actual public health specialists don’t.

I have little doubt that the GOP fear-mongering on Ebola will be effective in these elections, at least to some degree. People are easily frightened, and it’s always easier to get them to vote on their fears than on the facts. But if you look objectively, it’s hard to reach any other conclusion but that the federal government has done quite a good job protecting the public from Ebola.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect; The Plum Line, The Washington Post, October 31, 2014

November 3, 2014 Posted by | Ebola, Public Health, Republicans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Life Is Hardly Imitating Art”: Fear May Win Elections, But It Makes Governing Hard

According to Hollywood, most disasters feature government or institutional figures who try to downplay the scale of catastrophe, at least publicly, in order to prevent mass panic. Rightly or wrongly, these fictional leaders want to shield the public from the facts because they believe disseminating the truth would only provoke hysteria.

Right now, though, life is hardly imitating art. As the midterm elections approach, some leading political figures — most of them Republicans — are actively spreading half-truths, distortions and just plain lies in order to increase voter anxiety. They believe exploiting public fears will boost their chances.

It is a sinister and shameful use of the political soapbox, a detrimental exercise that misleads people about the risks they face from threats as different as Islamic jihadists and an exotic virus. It also damages the reputations of institutions that are indispensable in a crisis.

Shouldn’t our political leaders be the responsible ones who distribute facts, dampen panic and model rational decision making? Isn’t it part of their job to coach the rest of us to keep cool? Apparently not, if exaggerating threats is the better campaign strategy.

The use of fear as a political weapon isn’t new, of course. It is as old as the earliest political gatherings and has been used by feudal lords, despots and democratically elected premiers and presidents. There’s a reason for that: Fear is among the most powerful of human emotions, more likely to motivate people to react than sorrow, joy or even anger.

For some Republican candidates, Ebola arrived in the United States just in time. While the murderous jihadists of the Islamic State group had helped to push President Obama’s approval ratings to new lows, they were still a faraway threat. But the tragic death of Thomas Eric Duncan, a Liberian national who died in a Dallas hospital, lent itself to hyperbole and fearmongering.

Several Republicans have found a way to work the Ebola virus into criticisms of their Democratic opponents, usually linking an alleged weakness on border security to an enhanced threat from infected persons. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) has suggested that the Obama administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are hiding the truth about the transmission of Ebola.

But the prize may go to Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), who suggested in an interview with the right-wing media organization Newsmax that Islamic State fighters might use Ebola as a biological weapon.

While the GOP has taken the lead on the fear bandwagon, a few Democrats have also jumped aboard, scared to be left behind. Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Kay Hagan (D-NC) are among the Dems who have joined the call for travel bans from some West African countries, although health officials have repeatedly said such restrictions would be counterproductive.

Perhaps our elected leaders would be more responsible if the nation were facing an existential threat, as it did in World War II. Perhaps they’d put aside partisanship if Ebola were really poised to create a worldwide pandemic, spiraling through affluent countries as well as poor ones.

History shows us examples of bipartisan cooperation to fight not only Nazi Germany but also the communist threat that lingered for a half-century after that. Unfortunately, that same history shows us many examples of politicians only too willing to inflame passions, incite fear and create panic for personal gain. Sen. Joe McCarthy’s crazed commie-hunt went on for years, destroying not just livelihoods but also lives.

In my lifetime, politicians have used the fear of racial integration to incite white voters and scare them to the polls. For decades, the worst stereotypes about black students were used to agitate white parents; the most pernicious lies about black homeowners used to panic white neighborhoods. While those segregationist pols didn’t invent racism, they primed it and pandered to it. And we are still trying to recover from the havoc they wrought.

Yes, you can win elections by inspiring fear and panic, unfortunately. But you will have created another breach in the social fabric — another ruinous tear that will make it more difficult to govern from the post you’ve won.

 

By: Cynthia Tucker, The National Memo, October 25, 2014

October 27, 2014 Posted by | Ebola, Fearmongering, Republicans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A GOP Cliché”: Politicians Are No Scientists On Climate Change, But They’re Happy To Give Medical Opinions On Ebola

“I’m not a scientist, but …” has become something of a cliché among politicians who want to weigh in on climate science without actually having to say whether they believe it. But when it comes to Ebola, a number of the same not-a-scientist politicians have been more than happy to provide their medical opinions, as Think Progress documented Monday.

Many of these politicians have made false statements about Ebola, from claiming one could catch it at a cocktail party, to arguing that it can be transmitted through the air, to worrying that immigrants will carry it over the Mexican border (where there have been precisely zero cases of Ebola).

As Think Progress notes, many of the Republican politicians spreading medical misinformation about Ebola have attested to their lack of qualifications in other scientific fields like climate change:

House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) says he’s “not qualified” to debate the science of climate change, but insists that President Obama should “absolutely consider” a ban on U.S. travel to West African countries experiencing Ebola outbreaks. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) says he’s “not a scientist” when it comes to climate change, but also says it would be “a good idea to discontinue flights” from Ebola-affected countries. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal — who studied science in college — says he’ll “leave it to the scientists” to talk about climate change, but says it’s “common sense” to institute a flight ban.

Meanwhile, actual doctors and medical professionals have made it clear that Ebola does not spread through the air, it is not “incredibly contagious” and there is little likelihood of a large-scale outbreak in the United States.

Irrational panic over Ebola, however, does appear to be highly communicable.

 

By: Kate Sheppard, The Huffington Post Blog, October 21, 2014

 

 

 

 

October 22, 2014 Posted by | Climate Change, Ebola, GOP | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Ebola Politics”: Let Obama — And Frieden — Do Their Jobs

If the prospect of hanging concentrates the mind, then even the possibility of infection with Ebola should do the same — for all of us. Instead we seem easily distracted by attempts to blame President Obama and scapegoat the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Republican politicians and media loudmouths demand the resignation of Dr. Thomas Frieden, the CDC director, evidently because he refused to endorse a West African travel ban.

They’re all dead wrong.

First, Obama is following precisely the correct approach in addressing the outbreak with his order to dispatch American troops to Liberia. At this stage, no force except the U.S. military is capable of getting the situation in West Africa under control. The men and women of the medical corps can swiftly set up emergency tented facilities in every Liberian county, while security personnel begin to restore order and prevent panicked destruction.

The president didn’t foresee this outbreak, but neither did anyone else, principally because every earlier Ebola outbreak had been contained within a few rural villages. While his order to send troops isn’t popular – and nobody likes the idea of sending our troops into danger – he made a difficult but wise choice. (Our British and French allies have agreed to do the same in Sierra Leone and Guinea, respectively.)

Why are the unique characteristics and large scale of the U.S. military so vital now? Simply because no other force can adequately handle the logistical and safety requirements of this chaotic, perilous undertaking. To take just one example: Both our troops and the local health care workers will need an enormous supply of protective gear known as Personal Protective Equipment – each of which must be not just discarded, but carefully destroyed after a single use.

More broadly, the effort to contain Ebola needs very well-trained, well-organized, and well-disciplined people on the ground – which is to say, an army. Our military personnel are the best in the world, and will be able to provide leadership and guidance to the Liberians, organizing local health workers to restore order amid chaos and fear.

No organization except the U.S. military possesses the capacity to deal with such problems.

Second, the calls for Dr. Frieden to resign by Republican members of Congress more resemble cheap midterm campaigning than intelligent policymaking. Although the CDC has not functioned perfectly in the current crisis, its director is certainly the most qualified and experienced figure to stem a threatened outbreak of infectious disease. His expertise is not merely on paper, either.

During four of the worst years of the HIV/AIDS crisis in New York, when multi-drug resistant tuberculosis was taking a terrible toll, Dr. Frieden oversaw the program that eventually controlled TB and reduced cases by 80 pecent. For five years he worked in India, dispatched by the CDC to work with the World Health Organization to control TB in that country – where his efforts helped to provide treatment for at least 10 million patients and saved as many as 3 million lives. Those are among the reasons that President Obama appointed him in the first place – and why he still deserves far more confidence than the partisan screamers in Congress and on cable television now attacking him.

Now is the wrong time for politicians and pundits to harass the Pentagon and the CDC, as they address the difficult task at hand — which will require many weeks of intensive struggle. There will be plenty of opportunity for recriminations later, if that still seems necessary.

In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, when the country faced what felt like an existential crisis, many public figures, especially Republicans, urged everyone to put national unity and cooperation ahead of partisan bickering. It would be good if, just this once, they would follow their own advice.

What we will need in the months to come is a fresh assessment of our foreign aid programs. We need to understand why our traditional stinginess does both our country and our children a terrible disservice. Our best hope for survival, in the long term, is to notice how small our world has become – and to recognize that protecting our fellow human beings everywhere is the only way to protect ourselves.

 

By: Joe Conason, Editor in Chief, The National Memo, October 17, 2014

October 19, 2014 Posted by | Ebola, Politics, Republicans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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