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The Ebola Hysteria Demonstrates How Gullible Americans Are

There have been less than a dozen Ebola cases in the U.S., all of them imported from Africa, and except for one guy who was misdiagnosed and sent home, the survival rate is 100% for patients treated by the U.S. health care system. I’m not a doctor, but from what I’ve read, Ebola gets transmitted only by direct contact with bodily fluids from an infected person, making it one of the harder infectious diseases to catch. But never mind all this; it’s creepy and crawly, which makes it a perfect vehicle for promoting mass hysteria.

Clearly, many people are freaking out. A recent online poll conducted by a major news network shows over 80% of Americans want our government to enforce quarantines on travelers who’ve been to Africa. This is red meat for political demagogues hunting for an issue that will resonate with voters but doesn’t require spending any money or doing any work. New Jersey and New York have both enacted state quarantines, with predictable results.

Kaci Hickox is a pissed-off nurse who was effectively jailed by New Jersey upon returning from Africa where she had been doing humanitarian medical work under the aegis of Doctors Without Borders, a highly respected and Nobel Peace Prize-winning international organization that brings health care to far-flung and impoverished corners of the globe that don’t have any. Hickox is asymptomatic and isn’t taking kindly to attempts by grandstanding politicians to incarcerate her in order to play to ignorant and fearful mobs. (I mean, how would you like it?)

Having fled New Jersey to escape that state’s quarantine hysteria and its demagogue governor, Hickox went to Maine, understandably because its her home state, but probably not the best choice because Maine happens to be run by the stupidest and most suggestible governor of them all, Paul LePage, who needs a three-way race to get elected to anything, because only 35% of the voters are dumb enough to vote for him. LePage wants to incarcerate Hickox, too, but she’s giving him the figurative finger.

LePage, of course, is a clueless idiot who doesn’t know what he’s talking about — the worst kind of politician. Here’s what he said (courtesy of CBS News):

Governor Paul R. LePage issued a statement saying state officials “are very concerned about her safety and health and that of the community” and said that Maine State Police will monitor the residence in Fort Kent where Hickox is staying.

and

“Upon learning the health care worker intends to defy the protocols, the Office of the Governor has been working collaboratively with the State health officials within the Department of Health and Human Services to seek legal authority to enforce the quarantine,” the statement said.

Notice the governor has posed state cops outside Hickox’s home, the only useful function of which is to further promote the irrational climate of hysteria and panic that Gov. LePage is doing his very best to propagate. Hickox, to her credit, isn’t taking this nonsense lying down; this is what she said in response:

”I remain appalled by these home quarantine policies that have been forced upon me even though I am in perfectly good health.” Her lawyer told The Associated Press on Wednesday that Hickox isn’t willing to cooperate further unless the state lifts “all or most of the restrictions.”

Yep, she has lawyered up, and is fixing to sue the ignoramus who runs Maine and his accomplices if they lift a finger against her.

Now, shifting our gaze slightly southward of Maine, a Connecticut third-grader has also lawyered up and filed a federal discrimination lawsuit against her public elementary school after they threw her out of class and threatened to have the cops drag her away if she came back. Why did they do this? Because her parents took her to Africa for a family wedding, a part of Africea that doesn’t have any Ebola, but never mind that, it’s still Africa for God’s sake! The panic her family caused by taking a schoolkid to a part of Africa that has no Ebola and then returning her to school is aggravated by the fact she’s black and her name is Ikeoluwa Opayemi, which no doubt sounds very scary to probably at least 75% of the American public that isn’t black, Hispanic, or Asian (read: white). After all, this is the same American public 75 percent of whom believed Saddam Hussein was behind the 9/11/01 attacks (and the other 25% apparently believed our own government did it). Here’s what the school district did to earn a federal discrimination lawsuit (courtesy of CBS News):

When the girl tried to return to the Meadowside Elementary School, she was told by Dr. Dennis McBride, the school district’s health director, that she would have to stay home until Nov. 3 “due to concern from certain parents and teachers that she could transmit Ebola to other children,” according to the lawsuit. … The family offered to go through Ebola screenings, but was told that if the girl tried returning to school, she would be removed by police …. “Dr. McBride stated that although the risk of infection with Ikeoluwa might be minor, the primary reason for his decision that she be quarantined at home for 21 days was due to the rumors, panic and climate at Meadowside Elementary School,” according to the lawsuit.

What we have here is a doctor who knows better, but succumbed to “rumors, panic and climate,” which by doing so he is of course now helping to propagate and go viral (pun intended). I’m sure Dr. McBride knows more about medicine than I do, but I’m a lawyer and know more about law than he does, and I can tell you that he’s a lawyer’s dream witness. How many times does a civil rights plaintiff have a witness who goes on TV and says, “Yeah, I know she’s not sick and isn’t gonna get sick, but I violated her civil rights anyway because I’m pandering to the panic sweeping through my community that I’m helping to create?” or words to that effect. What’s even better, from the kid’s lawyer’s point of view, is he’s also the school bureaucrat who made the decision.

If I can shift gears again, I saw a headline this morning that reads (again, thank you, CBS News):

An All-American recipe for retirement disaster … Four out of 10 people haven’t even started saving, while many are making an investment blunder.

(The “investment blunder” alluded to here is keeping savings in cash instead of buying stocks, bonds, and mutual funds.) This is nonsense, and I’ve seen it before, it’s been circulating for a while now, and long enough to get debunked. I swear, nobody actually researches anything or reports any news anymore; the major publications and networks just scoop up and recycle each other’s trash, because it’s cheaper than hiring a newsroom in this age of plunging ad revenues. It probably came from a press release issued by a shop that sells stocks, bonds, and mutual funds, or at least that’s what it reads like.

Practically all Americans over age 25 have retirement savings in some form or other. They may not be adequate, but they’re not nothing. You get to the 40% figure by excluding employer retirement plans and counting only self-managed savings. That subtle bit of mathematical legerdemain drastically undercuts America’s retirement savings.

Not that Americans are financially literate in any sense. I read recently the average American household has 13 credit cards. I don’t know if that’s accurate, or another fevered media fantasy; you have to be suspicious of everything you read nowadays (except, of course, the articles I write for this and other blogs). I agree that everyone should have a credit card but 13?! I say people should apply for credit card no credit as their first credit card, build up some credit and then perhaps get another one for emergencies, rewards systems, and big purchases! There is really no need for 13 credit cards… But I know for sure this is a country where payday lenders thrive. Where the laws on payday lending are relatively strict when you are applying for a payday loan online. The basic business model is you sign over your next paycheck in return for what the industry euphemistically calls an “advance.” In states that still have usury laws or have enacted laws to regulate these lenders, you might get off with paying a 36% to 40% APR rate, but otherwise, anything goes. According to Wikipedia,

There are many different ways to calculate annual percentage rate of a loan. Depending on which method is used, the rate calculated may differ dramatically. E.g., for a $15 charge on a $100 14-day payday loan, it could be (from the borrower’s perspective) anywhere from 391% to 3733%.

These are returns that would make an old-time Mafia loan shark envious. What’s more, it’s perfectly legal, so you can set up shop in a storefront and give yourself a patina of respectability (and a marketing advantage) by calling yourself a “business,” and because you get an endorsed paycheck in exchange for the money you’re lending, the bad-loan losses are close to zero and you have none of the expensive overhead of paying thugs to find the borrower and beat him if for some insane reason he doesn’t repay on schedule.

It is of course incredibly important to differentiate this type of unscrupulous behavior from legitimate business loans. For example, did you know that during times of economic upheaval there are a number of financial resources out there designed to help small businesses stay afloat? Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDLs) have been created for this exact purpose. If you own a small business and would like more information about EIDLs and how to check your eidl status then head to the Zenefits website.

Clearly, the lender is on the better end of this trade, as Wall Street would phrase it, but that doesn’t stop the ignorant American public from flocking to payday loan stores. There’s probably some serious impoverishment and wealth concentration going on here, but I don’t know how you can stop it; this is, after all, a free country. While nobody is seriously discussing a formal repeal of the 13th Amendment, usurious debt is a functional proxy for slavery, and I don’t know what if anything we can do to prevent slavery when people are eagerly lining up to become slaves. Some are fighting back against this with payday loan consolidation though to climb out of that pit of slavery, it might be worth people doing more research on it if they are interested but I digress.

And then there’s climate change. By now, you certainly know that scientific fact has absolutely nothing to do with what people believe about climate change. You can put a melting iceberg right in front of a Republican and he’ll straight-facedly tell you the world is getting colder. Why? Because he doesn’t want to do anything about it, and if we acknowledge the problem, we might do something about it. What he’s really terrified of is that gas might cost $5 instead of $3.50.

It isn’t just the Ebola scare, or Saddam Hussein launching nuclear-tipped ICBMs at New York and Washington D.C. if we don’t send our military to take him out (and, incidentally, grab Iraq’s oil), or people believing that getting a credit card offer in the mail is the same thing as a winning lottery ticket. Facts have nothing to do with anything in this country anymore, even among people who should know better, and I’m looking at some of you academics who read this blog, because you’re just as human and gullible as the rest of us, whether you want to believe that or not.

Is the human condition utterly hopeless? Nobel Literature Prizes have been awarded to people for wrestling with this question and not answering it. Maybe that simply demonstrates how hard it is to find anyone who can actually solve any of our problems. Given that most of our problems are of our own making, born of our obstinate refusal to exercise the intelligence that God (or nature, or whatever) gave us, the difficulty of this is not to be underestimated.

And so the Great Ebola Panic of 2014 goes on, and acquires a life of its own. A hundred years from now, future generations are going to look back on this and laugh at us.

Update: President Obama, speaking to health care workers today, said America should support instead of shun health care workers working on the “front lines” of Africa’s Ebola epidemic, who are saving “thousands and perhaps hundreds of thousands” of human lives. Good for him. And shame on all the sleazy pols of the other party who are demagoguing the issue to ‘scare up” votes (pun intentional). Roger Rabbit icon


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