US Outbreak: How Monkeypox Spread in a Failing State

The new order of our times seems to be that everything must get worse. Because one plague was not enough, we’ve added another: monkeypox, a close relative of smallpox that causes flu-like symptoms and painful, pus-filled blisters. Making matters even worse, it’s spreading primarily in gay communities, giving new life to old bigotries and complicating public health messaging.

Formerly endemic to West and Central Africa, monkeypox is now circulating globally, including significant outbreaks in the US and Europe. As of August 1, the case count stands at some 30,000 worldwide and 6,000 in the US, though the numbers multiply daily. The disease spreads most easily by close physical contact, particularly with the rash or pus of an infected person, but may also be transmissible by air. Anybody can be infected, but the reported cases have overwhelmingly been in gay and bisexual men, who account for as much as 98% of the current outbreak, according to one study.

Last month, the World Health Organization declared monkeypox “a public health emergency of international concern.” Health officials are cautiously optimistic that we can still contain the outbreak if we act quickly and aggressively. However, in keeping with the American tradition of doing nothing until a problem is out of control and then doing less than the bare minimum, we are acting neither quickly nor aggressively.

President Biden has been contemplating for weeks whether to declare a national emergency. Taking this long to consider whether a situation is an emergency is almost comical. The whole point is to mobilize resources and stop the problem before it spreads. A small fire may not do much damage, but it gets bigger. New York, California, and Illinois, the states with the largest outbreaks, have declared public health emergencies.

Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra told reporters, “We have done everything we can at the federal level.” Loosely translated, this means, “We haven’t done much of anything, nor do we plan to.” The federal government’s plan is apparently to leave the situation up to states and individuals.

Individual decisions do play a role in halting any disease. But relying on individuals alone, or on state and local health authorities, is not enough. Not everyone has the education they need to understand the risks, and access to vaccines and testing is dismal. By not taking swifter, more aggressive action, the federal government is leaving Americans at the mercy of states with fewer health resources or less interest in protecting the health of gay men.

What makes this all so frustrating is that monkeypox vaccines do exist. The US has hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of doses that it has simply not deployed. While monkeypox ripped through gay communities, the US allowed 300,000 perfectly usable doses of the Jynneos vaccine to sit in Denmark. The US has 100 million doses of ACAM2000, a smallpox vaccine that’s also effective against monkeypox, but it’s been slow to deploy those, too. Only after watching the outbreak spiral out of control did the government import and order more vaccines, but these may not be ready for months.

Vulnerable people in cities across the country have reported long lines, inadequate testing, and widespread misdiagnosis – if they’re able to get any medical attention at all. There are, of course, plenty of complicating factors. Healthcare professionals are badly strained from battling COVID-19 for more than two years. But the issues with vaccine shortages, shipments, and bureaucratic red tape could all theoretically be overcome by decisive executive action – if only we had a decisive executive in the White House.

Our system itself is the biggest obstacle. Capitalism simply isn’t designed to solve social problems. Its only purpose is to make money. If our society was oriented around solving problems, we would immediately increase vaccine production, ramp up distribution and vaccination efforts, and educate people. In 1959, the Soviet Union contained a smallpox outbreak in just 19 days. If we wanted to, we could do the same with monkeypox. But confronting a disease outbreak requires collective action, a dirty thought in US society.

The public health message here is also tricky. While there are increasing reports of spread into other communities, monkeypox still seems to be overwhelmingly spread by men with multiple partners. It appears that raves and sex parties have been especially fertile breeding grounds. In contrast to previous outbreaks, the rashes and blisters have often appeared on the genitals or in the anus, causing immense pain and difficulty sitting or using the toilet – and giving doctors some clues where the close skin-to-skin contact may be taking place.

None of this means that the population is dirty, or responsible for this public health crisis. All it means is that they need access to medical care, and need to be the focus of vaccination and education campaigns. Unfortunately, it’s provided an opportunity for the religious right to blame some of their favorite targets. The media has a hard time finding balance, either inferring that monkeypox is an STI for gay men – which isn’t true – or bending over backwards to avoid potentially politically incorrect facts, which may prevent the community from getting the attention they need.

Luckily, there are some silver linings. Monkeypox is not especially contagious. Its spread is nowhere near as fast as COVID, nor will it ever be. While some patients have experienced unbearable symptoms and lonely, month-long quarantines, other reports show this strain is relatively mild. Few have died, and none in the US. The disease doesn’t spread easily on contaminated surfaces and may be difficult to transmit asymptomatically. We already have effective vaccines available, and could halt a lot of spread by vaccinating vulnerable communities.

This is not a problem that we want to sit back and watch, as we have so far. Like COVID, the more monkeypox spreads, the more potential there is for newer, vaccine-resistant mutations to emerge. And the more it gets into other communities, the more vicious the anti-gay sentiment could become. By the time Biden decides whether it’s an emergency, it could become a catastrophe. We could solve the problem relatively easily – if, that is, we were capable of solving anything at all.

Don’t look now, America, but socialism is all around you

Bernie

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, currently the frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination, is a self-described “democratic socialist.”

With Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders on a trajectory to win the Democratic nomination for president, socialism is the talk of the nation. Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist, has proposed big reforms, including universal healthcare, tuition-free college, and more than doubling the federal minimum wage. His ascent has the Democratic establishment and corporate pundits concerned. What the media doesn’t acknowledge is that socialism is everywhere in America already. And whether they realize it or not, Americans like it. Continue reading

Howard Schultz and the billionaire establishment’s preference for Trump over leftist Democrats

Schultz

Howard Schultz, 65, oversaw the expansion of Starbucks into a global brand and now feels qualified to run the United States.

Whether or not Howard Schultz, the billionaire former CEO of Starbucks, runs for president in 2020 hinges largely on what direction the Democratic Party goes. Schultz, who has no political experience, is concerned that the party has become too left-wing, pushed by prominent congresspeople like Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. In order to save the country from a choice between socialism and Donald Trump, Schultz may be compelled to run as a “centrist independent.”

In a media blitz late last month, Schultz slammed Trump, calling the president “despicable” and accusing him of doing “almost everything possible to discredit the dignity, the civility, the values, the respectfulness of the Oval Office with no degree of any sense of responsibility to the American people.” Schultz’s remarks were notably lacking in specifics. While his most sanctimonious denunciations were of Trump’s demeanor and vulgarity, his strongest policy critiques were directed at Democrats, particularly Ocasio-Cortez. Continue reading

How high taxes and a mixed economy made America great

Progressives

Much like our own era, the turn of the 19th Century was dominated by wealthy interests and corruption. The progressive political movements that responded to it brought America into its greatest era of general prosperity.

Donald Trump’s campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again,” triggered an important conversation in American politics. On one hand, it was vague enough that Americans could write whatever fantasy they wished onto it. On the other hand, it forced us to ask: when was America great? Depending on your position in the social-economic-racial strata, the answer might be never. But there’s one era for which most Americans share a nostalgic sense of glory: the first few decades after World War II.

We were riding high then. The Greatest Generation had just won the planet’s deadliest and most far-reaching conflict to date. In the following decades of the 1950s and 60s, the American middle class boomed and prosperity was widely shared among the population. People of color made meaningful civil rights gains as the evils of white supremacy began to be more forcefully confronted. And all while the American dream was being realized, the country was the highest-taxed it has ever been. Continue reading

The socialist claim to liberty

fistBy Kyle Schmidlin and Eldon Katz

Everyone has friends or family members who define themselves as “socially liberal; but fiscally conservative.” The conservative libertarian views their ideology as a mature, pragmatic, and disciplined compromise, the best way to get as many people what they want and maximize everybody’s liberty and opportunity.

But this vision of liberty is perverted and one-sided in favor of the powerful. It grants people the freedom to exploit, but not freedom from exploitation, effectively treating the liberty of the powerful as absolute but anyone else’s liberty as flexible. As Bertrand Russell put it, “The fortunate must not be restrained in the exercise of tyranny over the unfortunate.” Continue reading

Trump’s stock market enthusiasm shows how out of touch he is

trump-wall-street

Trump’s unpredictability initially caused the market to worry, but since his election stock prices have soared.

President Trump held a pep rally for himself on Twitter earlier this week, touting his base as “bigger and stronger than ever before” despite all the “fake news” – into which category he put virtually every media source except his dedicated propaganda networks, Breitbart and FOX. Trump then listed some of his successes so far, including economic enthusiasm, the stock market, jobs, and deregulation. As usual with Trump, he is wrong in more ways than are easily counted. Continue reading

What if climate change is a hoax?

Australia blog about climate change science media coverage : Anti-carbon tax protesters in Canberra

Pro-oil protesters hold signs at a demonstration against taking action on climate change.

The most demanding issue of our time is environmental protection. Over hundreds of years of exploding populations, consumption-driven economies, and carving up the planet for resources, the human species has completely reshaped its humble home world. For decades now, scientists have warned that this behavior, unchecked, could have an ominous consequence. Science has given humanity a simple ultimatum: change our behavior or face nature’s wrath.

This has led to a deep schism. Those who are most heavily invested in the current system fight scientists’ claims aggressively. Corporate giants have spent untold millions on disinformation campaigns and disseminated their propaganda through far-right outlets. They have successfully transformed a scientific and moral issue into a political one.

But for the sake of argument, suppose the denialists are right. If we turn our resources to the fight against climate change and it turns out to be a hoax, what will we have done? Continue reading

Everything must go: how Trump is giving America away to corporations

trumpdevos

President-elect Donald Trump with future Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, a billionaire advocate for privatizing education.

Shortly after the election, Donald Trump released a video outlining his 100-day plan for the beginning of his presidency. It contained one of the most arbitrary items ever to exist in a presidential platform: a plan to, for every one new regulation introduced, remove two. The compromise Trump is brokering is clear. If citizens want something from corporate America, they’ve got to give corporate America two things in return. Continue reading

Exploited college faculty join Fight for $15

Students, faculty and low-wage workers march in solidarity in downtown Chicago.

Students, faculty and low-wage workers march in solidarity in downtown Chicago.

Students aren’t the only ones feeling the financial pinch of college. Faculty members are, too, particularly adjunct professors and recent hires. According to Service Employees International Union analysis, “31 percent of part-time faculty members and 14 percent of all faculty are living near or below the federal poverty level.”

But nationwide, a growing movement is attempting to change that. In solidarity with Fight for $15 and with the support of labor organizers like SEIU, faculty are calling attention to the crisis of poverty wages and demanding solutions. Continue reading

Martin Shkreli, America’s most prominent gangster

Don't feel too bad that your new prescription made you go broke. It went to a good cause: This guy, who's worth an estimated $100 million.

Don’t feel too bad that your new prescription made you go broke. It went to a good cause: This guy, who’s worth an estimated $100 million.

Martin Shkreli is on the fast track to becoming America’s public enemy number one. He’s a former hedge fund manager who made his front page debut in September for acquiring the patent to a drug used by AIDS and cancer patients and then raising its price more than 5,500 percent. Since then, he’s also been outed through published social media exchanges as a creep and a bully, perhaps even criminally so. Most recently he tried to buy his way into a meeting with Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.

It’s to Sanders’s credit that his campaign gave the money away to a health clinic and called Shkreli the “poster boy for drug company greed.” What makes Shkreli’s donation extra distasteful is his statement on the controversy: “He’ll take my money, but he won’t engage with me for five minutes to understand this issue better.” It’s clear that Shkreli expected to receive an audience with the candidate in exchange for his donation.

Shkreli’s behavior is best characterized as mob-like. His attempt to exchange financial favors for political ones sounds an awful lot like bribery. Add to that his psychotic harassment of a former employee’s family over misappropriated funds – including a vow to see the man’s wife and children homeless on the street – and Shkreli really starts to fit the profile of unfiltered gangster villainy. Continue reading