With 139 Americans dying of Ebola in just one day, can our nation possibly sustain this death toll in the future?
… oh, wait. No, no, never mind. Those are the daily deaths in the United States from influenza and pneumonia, not Ebola.
Oops. My bad. I mixed up the rows when I was taking notes from the CDC’s latest release of mortality data. I meant to write down “50,636 flu and pneumonia deaths a year / 1 Ebola death a year,” but I wrote down “1 flu or pneumonia death a year / 50,636 Ebola deaths a year.”
Sorry. It’s a natural mistake to make — I got distracted watching cable news. Back to you, Anderson.
I have often remarked, with surprise and dismay, how quickly the American people have been to forget about oil spill disasters like the Exxon Valdez and the Deepwater Horizon. I noted how, just months after the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico, Barack Obama began efforts to expand offshore drilling in risky deep waters, rather than placing a moratorium on new wells.
The modern mythological dimensions of the phenomenon of oil spill amnesia are explored by professors Ashlee Humphreys and Craig J. Thompson in a new article to be published in the December issue of the Journal of Consumer Research, titled Branding Disaster: Reestablishing Trust through the Ideological Containment of Systemic Risk Anxieties. Humphreys and Thompson conclude that media coverage of oil spills tends to follow a pattern that helps to minimize citizen activism against oil drilling, helping to reconcile the public to the status quo.
“While news coverage of an environmental disaster may negatively impact the bottom line of the company responsible for the disaster for some time, it also diverts the general public’s attention away from the risks involved in fossil fuel extraction,” they write. “A macrolevel analysis reveals that media coverage of such events ultimately contains the anxieties that are sparked by initial news coverage. The brandcentric disaster myths generated by media coverage frame public discourse in ways that help to reestablish consumers’ trust in expert systems while also insulating corporations and governmental institutions from more systematic critiques.”
Standard narratives emerge to dampen outrage: No one could have predicted or prevented the disaster; Oil reserves are human property separate from the ecosystems in which they are contained; The clean up is taking care of business; The individual company pays a fine in compensation for the isolated incident without dealing with the underlying problems. These narratives don’t match the reality of years of continuing environmental damage and ongoing risk of additional disasters, but the media mythology of containment wins out over scientific facts that are not incorporated into a system of meaning that the public can intuitively grasp.
“What Global Warming?” This is the question that conservative media pundits continue to ask. By asking the question rhetorically, conservatives invite you to think of the cool days of autumn and to forget the more general global trends. While the pundits play political games, the reality of global warming is all around us.
By now you know (or at least should know, if you’re paying attention) that even the winter of 2013-2014 that was so cold for the United States was very, very warm for the world overall — according to NASA’s temperature records, it was the sixth hottest on record, as a matter of fact. Cold U.S. temperatures were strongly overbalanced by very warm temperatures elsewhere around the world, making it in general a hot winter.
A day or two ago, global temperature data for September was released by NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies. In its entire 135 year record of temperature readings taken from around the globe, over land and sea alike, there has never been a September as warm as September 2014 was. September 2014 was the hottest on record for the globe.
This wasn’t a fluke. Every single one of the 10 hottest Septembers in NASA’s record have happened in the 21st century. In fact, all 10 of the hottest 10 Septembers on record occurred within the last 12 years. (2011 and 2010 didn’t make the 10 hottest list; they were #11 and #14.) Every single September in the 21st Century has been one of the 20 hottest Septembers in the NASA record.
That is, very literally, a record of global warming. And just in case you think I’m cherry-picking NASA’s global temperature record, here’s the entire set of September readings, from September 1880 to September 2014:
What global warming? THIS global warming.
As of this morning, there has been only one case in the entire United States of America of transmission of the Ebola virus. There is no public health emergency. Yet, on the TV, on the radio, and on the Internet, people are acting as if there is a crisis in full swing, and that our lives are all in danger. Why is there such a discrepancy between fear and reality?
Sadly, the answer is quite simple. The 2014 congressional elections are about to take place, and the Republicans need to turn out their political base. The political base of the Republican Party hates Barack Obama, not really because of anything that he is done, but because of who he is. Specifically, they hate Barack Obama because he has some African ancestry.
We have seen this hatred in the form of conspiracy theories stating that Barack Obama was born in Kenya. We have seen this hatred in the form of conspiracy theories about Barack Obama’s wedding ring, supposedly showing a Muslim secret code, and even in conspiracy theories about Barack Obama’s middle name.
The Ebola panic is only the newest incarnation of this Republican racist picture. Fear of Ebola has become a code for fear of African people, and people who have African descent. To express extreme, out of proportion fear of Ebola has become a way for Republicans to surreptitiously talk about the dangers of African people, including Barack Obama.
Know the code: Fear of Ebola = fear of African people = fear of Barack Obama = fear of Democrats = Republican victory in the congressional elections in 2014. Paranoia about Ebola goes hand-in-hand with paranoia about Barack Obama, and by association is a tool for opposition of the reelection of congressional Democrats.
Many Democrats have been slow to pick up on this connection, and so are getting swept up in the anti-Ebola panic. Even though the United States of America is quite safe from any bola outbreak, they repeat the stories of Ebola terror, and in doing so they help the Republicans turn out their voter base.
Will Democratic activists wise to the anti-African Ebola panic code? Is it already too late to undo the damage from this virulent strain of hatred?
The school district for the town where I live spent a huge amount of money to construct a new football field and set of bleachers at the high school. Today came the test. Was the spending worth it? The Homecoming game is taking place right now – traditionally the most popular game of the season.
As you can see in this photograph, the new seating isn’t even one-third full.
Who did we build the new football facilities for?
Seen at a local farmer’s market this weekend.
Take one. Try one.
There has yet to be even one case of human transmission of the Ebola virus in the United States. People within the borders of the United States are already extremely safe, very well-protected from the spread of Ebola. Screening for Ebola is already taking place at ports of entry to our country, and medical teams are prepared to take action, if eventually disease transmission in the United States does take place.
In short, there is no Ebola emergency in the United States. There isn’t even the reasonable threat of an Ebola emergency here.
Yet, Americans are freaking out. People are using the Ebola outbreak in west Africa as an excuse to engage in racist smears against African people in general, even if they haven’t been anywhere near the few places on the continent where Ebola is spreading quickly. Right wing Christians are exploiting the Ebola story to spread conspiracy theories about the government stockpiling coffin liners for American victims of Ebola. The U.S. military is encouraging fears of Ebola-provoked stampedes of people from Central America across the border with Mexico, even though no such problem actually exists, because Ebola isn’t present in Central America. Health care quacks are encouraging fear in order to sell their anti-Ebola snake oil.
Even in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, only three out of every thousand people are infected with Ebola, and these Ebola victims tend to be among the most impoverished citizens of these countries, and therefore the least likely to get on an airplane heading to the United States. Yet, right wing media networks are demanding that all travel from west African countries to the United States be stopped.
It’s sad, if predictable, that such political extremists would indulge in this kind of overreaction. What has been less expected is that members of the United States Congress would join in this kind of overreaction. Yet that’s just what has happened.
This week, a bipartisan group of members of the U.S. House of Representatives sent a letter to President Barack Obama, urging him to, “quarantine for any individual who has traveled to or from affected countries in West Africa within the dormancy period, aside from responsible health and military personnel sent there to fight the disease, to ensure that they have not contracted Ebola and are not contagious. Lastly, we ask the State Department to impose a travel ban and restrict travel visas issued to citizens of the West African countries experiencing this epidemic, until such countries have defeated the epidemic. Such a ban should be instituted by suspending earlier-issued visas until further notice, halting the issuance of such visas, and denying entry to the nationals of such counties upon presentation of a passport from those countries at our ports of entry.”
The current policy already protects Americans, but these members of Congress want to make it illegal for citizens of west African countries to travel to the United States, even if those citizens have been living outside of west Africa for years. These kinds of restrictions are not only unnecessary, they help to promote a culture of irrational fear for the sake of political gain. It’s telling that none of these members of Congress have actually drafted any legislation to accomplish what they are demanding that Barack Obama do. They’re too busy running for re-election to do anything but strike a pose, and help to spread an unreasonable panic
The following are the members of Congress who have participated in this irresponsible posture to encourage public panic about Ebola: Steve Stivers, Alan Grayson, Ted Yoho, Robert Pittenger, Dennis Ross, Kyrsten Sinema, Kenny Marchant, Stephen Fincher, Michael Grimm, Tom Cole, Adrian Smith, Steve Stockman, Dave Joyce, Bill Posey, Mike Kelly, Tom Marino, Roger Williams, Steve Daines, Matt Salmon, Greg Harper, Andy Barr, Steven Palazzo, Mike Coffman, Dave Loebsack, Bob Gibbs, and Paul Gosar.
Over the last few days, panic over Ebola in the United States has reached ridiculous levels, as people with the common cold have begun to visit hospital emergency rooms, convinced that they are dying of the disease, despite the fact that no case of transmission of Ebola within U.S. borders has ever been recorded. As part of the panic, right wingers have begun demanding that American borders be closed to all people traveling from west African countries.
Others have been insisting that Ebola is part of an End Times that will result in the rapture for Christians, that the Ebola outbreak was created on purpose by Barack Obama, and that FEMA is stockpiling huge numbers of coffin liners in which to dispose of the corpses of American Ebola victims.
None of these conspiracy theories are supported by the facts, but then, they don’t even sound plausible. There is one rumor about Ebola making the rounds, however, that at least seems like it could be true: The rumor that, although Ebola experts say that the disease doesn’t spread through the air, in secret, they know that airborne transmission of Ebola does, or at least could, take place.
This is a difficult conspiracy theory to disprove. How could anyone definitively say that Ebola will never ever ever be transmitted through the air when people with Ebola cough? It’s like trying to prove that there are not little fairies that live in refrigerators, but magically turn invisible whenever the door is opened. Proving that something does not exist is logically impossible.
That’s why the reasonable standard in cases like this is that people who propose outlandish theories are the ones who have to prove that their theories are correct. If you propose that there are fairies living in the refrigerator, then it’s up to you to prove it.
Likewise, it is up to those people who claim that Ebola is now spread by through the air to prove that what they say is true. If they can produce evidence, then the rest of us need to consider the quality of that evidence, and accept the claims if the quality of evidence is clear.
Unfortunately, many of the people who have been making claims that Ebola is spread through the air haven’t been very credible. One such source that we at Irregular Times have been referred to is Dr. Rima E. Laibow. In addition to spreading the idea that Ebola can be contracted by breathing tainted air, Laibow joins in the End Timers’ claims of U.S. government stockpiles of coffin liners for Ebola victims. As proof of her claim, she brings out the very same old photograph of burial vaults that was debunked five years ago.
Laibow hasn’t restricted her wild claims to the standard, religiously-tinged conspiracy theories of the far right, however. Laibow also has made herself known for making scientifically-unsupported claims of medical benefits for the products that she sells, including cannabis oil and something she calls nano-silver. Cannabis oil is one of the more common snake oils of our time, often promised to work as a cancer cure, although no evidence supports that use. The FDA recently found that Laibow has not adequately provided scientific evidence that nano-silver actually has the health benefits that she claims, and that Laibow has failed even to provide adequate instructions to her customers about what is supposed to be the proper way to use her nano-silver products.
Still, it is possible that Laibow is just one very bad representative for an important discovery: That Ebola is transmitted through the air. It is possible that somewhere, good scientific studies have been done proving that Ebola has mutated into a airborne disease, and I simply haven’t been able to find these studies.
If this is the case, I want to know. So, I’m issuing a challenge to our readers: Show me a peer-reviewed scientific study that’s been published somewhere other than on YouTube, or on someone’s medical products online store, proving that Ebola is actually transmitted from human to human in the air. If you provide such a study, I promise to give it a thorough and unbiased a review as I can.
This last July, I found myself wondering aloud: would the Mayday Super PAC (using big money in politics to undermine the use of big money in politics) endorse and fund the campaign of Nick Troiano for Congress? If the Mayday PAC ended up funnelling money to Troiano, that would represent the crassest sort of insider nepotism, since the leaders of the Mayday PAC (Lawrence Lessig, Kahlil Byrd and Mark McKinnon) formed personal bonds of friendship with Nick Troiano when they all worked together on the privatized presidential election effort called Americans Elect.
As the Mayday PAC announces its final favored candidates, I think it’s worth taking a moment to notice who’s not on the list: Nick Troiano.
Not making a bad choice is a good choice, Mayday.
The state of reporting on Ebola was best represented today by Jim Garamone of DoD News, who wrote breathlessly that, “The potential spread of Ebola into Central and Southern America is a real possibility.”
What this sentence seems to mean, in the context of the current panic, is that the spread of Ebola into Central and Southern America is likely.
What the sentence actually means is that what could happen could happen. It’s a tautology, and thus, brings no useful insight into policy discussions of what the U.S. government should do about the current Ebola outbreak that has almost completely been contained to a few countries in west Africa.
Journalists, and the people who read their work, are tending to interpret predictions about what could happen in the future as revelations of what is certain to happen, or in the worst cases, as reports of what is happening right now. Intelligent readers will pay attention to the facts of what is actually going on with Ebola, which, outside of west Africa, isn’t very much.
Ebola is a serious disease, which is why we need to remain calm and not get swept up in a panic. It won’t help anyone to waste resources implementing outlandish policies, such as shutting down air traffic between the United States and Africa. We will all be better off if experts in infectious disease are allowed to lead the way in containing and eradicating Ebola, rather than hyperventilating pundits who are mostly interested in gaining audience share for their advertisers by keeping their fans in a state of eager anxiety.
Yesterday, I wrote about the conspiracy theory claiming that children who crossed into the United States through the Mexican border this summer are to blame for the presence of enterovirus 68 in the United States. One of the right wing web sites that is helping to spread this conspiracy theory is Now The End Begins, found at NowTheEndBegins.com.
As the web site name suggests, Now The End Begins exists in order to tell stories that encourage the belief among Christians that their mythical End Times is about to begin. In order to support this belief, NowTheEndBegins.com finds stories of ordinary troubles, and finds ways to exaggerate them to create the impression of diabolically-devised worldwide disasters.
That’s what Now The End Begins has done with the Ebola outbreak in west Africa, which is a serious, but natural problem, following a fairly predictable course. NowTheEndBegins.com is using the Ebola outbreak in west Africa to concoct a story that the U.S. federal government somehow knows that huge numbers of Americans are going to be killed by Ebola, but is covering up the truth. As evidence, the Now The End Begins “News Desk” points to rumors of large numbers of “coffin liners” being transported within the United States.
Their headline asks, Are The FEMA Coffin Liners For Ebola Virus Victims? Answering their own question, Now The End Begins writers observe that, “If the current outbreak of the Ebola virus was indeed concocted in a government lab, then certainly you would need a lot of cheap, readily-available containers in which to put the dead bodies.” They show the following photograph as evidence of the conspiracy:
Is the federal government stockpiling coffin liners to prepare for a massive Ebola epidemic in the USA? No. This is just an old, recycled photograph for an old, recycled conspiracy theory. Enter the photograph used by NowTheEndBegins.com as evidence of government stockpiling of coffin liners for Ebola victims in the autumn of 2014 in the Tin Eye graphic search engine, and you’ll see that the very same picture has been used before, long before the current Ebola panic.
Two years ago, the right wing conspiracy theory web site Pakalert Press was using the very same photograph, minus the label “Coffin Liners For Ebola”. The photograph was used in an article to promote the idea that FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency was setting up concentration camps, and was stockpiling huge numbers of coffin liners in preparation for a mass slaughter of Americans in accordance with Biblical prophecies about the End Times.
The problem with the Ebola-Coffin-Liners conspiracy theory is the same as with the Central-American-Kids-Gave-Us-Enterovirus-68 conspiracy theory: The chronology is all messed up. How could the government conspire in 2012 to cover up its reaction to the 2014 Ebola outbreak in west Africa?
The objects shown in the photograph are indeed plastic burial vaults, and they are indeed being stockpiled – but not by the U.S. government. As Metabunk explains, it’s private corporations that store the burial vaults, in large fields.
Why are large fields of burial vaults needed, if the government isn’t either planning a massive slaughter or preparing for a massive epidemic? The United States is a big nation, and millions of people die of natural causes every year. Many of these corpses will be buried in graves with burial vaults, to separate the rotting dead from the groundwater supply.
There is nothing nefarious going on with coffin liners or burial vaults.
There is something very nefarious going on with the right wing conspiracy theories about invasions of immigrants carrying Ebola and enterovirus 68. It’s virulent racism. The comments we’ve received at Irregular Times in response to our writing about the Ebola panic include nasty attacks against Africa in general, as if a moral inferiority of people in Africa is to blame for Ebola.
One reader comments, “This is about liberals trying to get so many 3rd world people in this country they think they can change us from our European roots. I feel like this plan was hatched in Israel. Notice how Israel refuses to help with the Ebola crises but the dual citizen Israeli in this country like Tom Frieden and Diane Feinstein urgently asks all Western Nations to send in their nationals to get infected. I say cut off Western Africa and let the disease run its course. We reestablish aid after the disease burns itself out. This is the only sensible thing to do.”
Another writes, “Maybe we ought to stop helping Africa ( I need free food, clothing, electricity,water) and let Africa deal with this. I think they need to handle this on their own. I am tired of always having to help Africa, i am tired of people saying I am a slave owner and have to help them. Enough is Enough time to focus on Americans and Americans alone.”
Both the conspiracy theory about Ebola and the conspiracy theory about enterovirus 68 are founded upon the idea that non-Europeans are inherently dirty and dangerous. The conspiracy theories are political tools that are being used to try to advance a nationalist and racist agenda of selectively limiting immigration from Africa and Latin America, depicting Africans and Latinos as little more than disease-carrying vermin. The real disease, in the view of these conspiracy theories, is the existence of human beings who have anything other than European descent.
As the bumper sticker in the image seen here illustrates, these conspiracy theories are part of a larger right wing ideology that also claims that Barack Obama is unfit to be President of the United States simply because some of his ancestry is non-European. The idea is that people of European descent are biologically deficient, and should not be allowed to participate as equals in American society.
This ideology is spreading rapidly in the United States, and is much more of a threat than Ebola or enterovirus 68 ever will be.