Author Archives: Michael Froomkin

Thank You Gov. Ron DeSantis!

The Sun-Sentinel has the data: Florida’s COVID-19 resurgence: State reports 901 new deaths, bringing 7-day average to pandemic high:

Florida reported another 901 previously unreported COVID-related deaths on Thursday, sending the 7-day average soaring to the highest it’s been through the pandemic. Data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control also showed 21,183 new cases.

The 901 deaths is the highest number reported in Florida, which has been releasing death counts in batches based on the date the deaths occurred. The 7-day trend based on the date the death was reported stands at 242, according to the Sun Sentinel’s analysis of the CDC data.

But, hey! Things are even worse in Alabama and Mississippi, so not to worry, right?

As of Wednesday, Florida ranked third in the nation for both average daily COVID cases and deaths per 100,000 population.

Posted in COVID-19, Florida | Leave a comment

UM’s Alex Azar Appointment Gets Deserved Flack

Alex Michael Azar II in caricature © 2020 DonkeyHotey, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

It doesn’t quite rise to the level of ‘man bites dog’ but when the president of your local chapter of the American Association of University Professors objects to the hiring of someone as any sort of Professor, it’s at least unusual. But here comes Scotney D. Evans, an associate professor in the School of Education and Human Development, with a statement (written with graduate student Thomas Kennedy) opposing the UM Business School’s hiring of former Trump Secretary of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar as a researcher and adjunct professor in UM’s Business School. They have some cogent points:

Hearing that the Miami Herbert Business School hired Alex Azar, former President Donald Trump’s Health and Human Services Secretary, we both reacted with a mix of horror, disgust and sadness. With all the amazing, diverse and socially responsible policy experts out there that can really motivate and inspire students into “ethical citizenship and service to others” with “a respect for differences among people,” as stated in UM’s mission statement, they choose this guy? There are a lot of important reasons why Azar should be unemployable by any reputable organization that values common humanity and equal rights for all.

Trump’s family separation policy is one of the most shameful stains on the moral character of this country in recent years. Stephen Miller, a senior policy advisor and director of speechwriting for Trump, and other Trump cronies like Azar helped enforce a policy that resulted in children being ripped from crying mothers’ arms to be placed in facilities where sexual abuse and mistreatment were rampant. Unaccompanied minors who were coming to this country looking for a better life did not fare much better, as they were also placed in detention facilities in which they were routinely denied hygienic products and basic necessities. Our very own community became a flash point during the Trump years because of an infamous detention center for migrant children in Homestead, Fl.

I (Thomas) have worked on campaigns to close and prevent the reopening of that detention facility and heard firsthand the awful conditions that children were subjected to, including a military style regimen in which they were not allowed free movement, afforded very limited call time, given inadequate access to lawyers and were mistreated and abused by staff. The for-profit detention of immigrant children under horrid conditions outraged many of us, but unfortunately, those who were involved in implementing these horrible policies have not suffered repercussions. Azar was complicit in implementing these detention policies during the Trump era, and was responsible for the administration of immigration detention centers, including the one in Homestead.

This hire directly contradicts the university’s espoused commitment to racial justice. You can’t be against racism and hire Azar. In addition to being complicit in the racist Trump policies described above, he also botched the COVID-19 response that disproportionately harmed and killed Black people, and he tried to sabotage the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid which greatly benefit people of color. Being anti-racist as an institution means taking a strong stand against racist policies and those who have a hand in creating or upholding them. Alex Azar was directly involved in creating, implementing and rationalizing racist discourse and policies while employed by the Trump administration.

This hire reminds us of the saying – “don’t listen to what they say, watch what they do.” University statements against systemic racial injustice are meaningless without decisive action against racist policies and the public figures who propagate them. Frankly, we’re dismayed that more faculty, staff and students have not strongly vocalized opposition to this hire. Are faculty in the business school on board and willing to ignore Azar’s role in toxic policies? Is the harm that Azar helped cause simply being waved away and whitewashed under the guise of welcoming a diverse “marketplace of ideas”? As University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire Professor and activist David Shih has suggested, the marketplace of ideas fails when we cannot make objective choices about racism.

We believe in free discourse and think our campus benefits from a variety of beliefs and opinions to encourage a healthy and diverse learning environment. We also believe that people make mistakes and should be afforded opportunities to repent. But Azar was complicit in some of the most horrific policies enacted during the Trump era. His hire was a huge mistake.

Posted in Trump, U.Miami | Leave a comment

Masking Is Effective

mask-wearer

Random mask-wearer

In response to my suggestion that DeSantis should be impeached for getting in the way of local mask rules, comment trolls have been suggesting that mask-wearing is not an effective strategy for battling the COVID pandemic.

I happened to see an email on a list I belong to that mentioned studies on mask-wearing and thought I would share them for those who wish an evidence-based-approach to their politics:

…and there’s the one I cited in the earlier comments, KXAN, Do face masks work? Here are 49 scientific studies that explain why they do (Aug 7, 2021).

I believe these overwhelmingly substantiate my claim that the weight of current scientific evidence highly supports the value of mask-wearing in public and especially indoors (such as in classrooms). Science moves at it does: that was not the initial consensus view, and someday the weight of hypothetical new contrary evidence might push to a different view, but today, I think any rational person who wants their personal decisions, and the decisions of political leaders ,decided by science must accept that right now this is the far-better supported view.

Does that end the debate? Of course not; even without new data there could be countervailing considerations — although I think these largely are absent at present. I think the evidence tends to show that the downsides of masks, even for most kids, is low to zero. It’s possible there might be a religion I don’t know of that prohibits mask-wearing (there certainly are some that forbid vaccination, e.g. Christian Science). There might be the rare true respiratory disease that allows going out and about, but can’t cope with a mask.

Barring some rare edge cases, though, I think the evidence here is pretty clear: DeSantis and a few other governors are ignoring the clear evidence on the value of masks, and the direct effect of their crass and evil choices will be illness–some of which will be serious and long-lasting–and death. That really ought to matter to people.

Posted in COVID-19, Florida | 5 Comments

Impeach Ron DeSantis

This Twitter thread is surreal.

Surely in any rational polity, one where country (or state) mattered more than party, the calls would be ringing to impeach Governor DeSantis for his campaign to cause the children of Florida to infect their (often elderly, or immunocompromised, or – this being Florida – unvaccinated) vulnerable relatives, thus leading in many cases to hospitalization and death.

But this is, demonstrably, not a rational polity.  [Update: see Masking Is Effective] So the question, blunt and indecorous as it may be, must be asked: how many dead people will it take before impeaching DeSantis becomes sufficiently necessary that people demand it of our gerrymandered and Republican-controlled but, one assumes, still-human state legislature?

Recall that the Governor’s policy is not simply one of inaction in the face of pandemic: it is to very actively block local government attempts to prevent the spread of the disease, and to punish (now via his tame Board of Education) those who have the moral courage to act in the face of his attempts to intimidate them.

What’s that you say? There is no chance that the Trumpist Florida House of Representatives would ever risk angering its base — the kind of people who boo Trump himself when he encourages vaccination — by even tolerating a suggestion that ur-Trumpist DeSantis’s pro-death policy was in any way objectionable? I agree that is the most likely story. But ‘a week is a long time in politics’. And the movement has to start somewhere.

UPDATE (8/24): A new poll shows that a large majority of the people of Florida think DeSantis’s stand on mask rules is nuts.  That doesn’t inevitably mean that (despite being immoral) it’s a bad tactic to get the Republican nomination, as Republicans agree with DeSantis’s view 72 – 24 percent.  It’s everyone else who loathes them: Democrats support school mask requirements 98 – 1 percent, independents support them 63 – 32 percent.

Posted in COVID-19, Florida | 19 Comments

We Robot 2021 Will Be Virtual After All

I was very sorry to have to make this announcement:

We had hoped very much to have a live event, but circumstances make it clear that it’s not to be. We’d looked forward to welcoming you back to Coral Gables, but we’ve decided that due to safety concerns we have to take We Robot to a fully virtual format again.

Starting with its first edition here in Miami, We Robot has sought — we think successfully — to create and encourage interdisciplinary conversations about robotics (and AI) law and policy. We now have a decade’s worth of success at evolving a common vocabulary and a body of work which includes bedrock scholarship for the rapidly expanding fields represented at the conference. We have fostered, and continue to foster connections between a diverse, international, and interdisciplinary group of scholars, ranging from graduate students to senior professors to persons in government and industry. And — not least — we’ve had a lot of fun doing it.

We’re currently exploring various conference tools that we hope will make it easy not only to have an engaging event with significant audience participation, but also will facilitate the side conversations that are part of what makes We Robot the exciting event it has always been. Watch our homepage for the latest news.

We will soon be posting drafts of the papers that will be presented at We Robot. We may be going virtual, but we’re not changing the format: you will have a chance to read the papers before the conference, and indeed we hope that you will do so and come armed with your thoughts and questions. Other than on panels, authors will not present their own papers – instead our discussant will give a quick summary and critique, and then we’ll open it up to questions from the audience. For the panels, the authors speak briefly, then we go to Q&A. Links to the papers will appear on the program page of the website and in a series of blog posts on the front page of the site.

The good news that by going virtual we are no longer capacity constrained. We’re also reducing the price structure of the event. Registration for the workshop day will be only $25; registration for the two-day main conference will be $49 for everyone except for all students, and for UMiami faculty, for whom it will be $25 including the workshop. We do have some fee waivers available if these fees are a hardship for you. If you have already registered you will be notified directly about processing any refunds that may be due.

Although we will not be able to see you in person, we look forward very much to your virtual participation in We Robot 2021. The heart of We Robot has always been in participation by its attendees, and we will do all we can to preserve that.

See you soon–virtually.

[Cross-posted from the We Robot 2021 blog]

Posted in Robots, Talks & Conferences | 3 Comments

Greenbacks vs Gunboats

Money down the drain

© 2011 TaxRebate.org.uk.
Licensed via CC BY 2.0 license.

So we spent about $2.26 trillion over two decades in Afghanistan–not to mention the US, allied, and Afghani lives lost or damaged by injuries, and the cost of various sorts of devastation to the Afghan people, and future costs of lifetime care for veterans and future interest on money the US borrowed for the war–and all we got is a Fall of Saigon on steroids.

I may be a broken record here (see bulleted links below), but if you consider that the population of Afghanistan is circa 27 million (it was less 20 years ago, but let’s take that as our back of the envelope number), then we could have paid every Afghan circa $4,185 a year for twenty years instead of invading.

That $4,185 a year is less than the average salary of $18,500 per year [a number I suspect reflects urbanized participants in the modern market economy plus some oligarchs who raise the average], but well above the modal salary of $1,000 per year. If we take the Afghan GNP to be circa $19.5 bn per year, that GNP works out to about $722 per Afghani per year. So our annual $4,185 for every woman, man, and child is about 5.8 times the average GNP per person per year. [While these numbers may seem odd, they may be due to an agrarian country with a child-oriented demographic skew.]

I would bet that the prospect of payments over four times the modal salary and 5.8 times the average GNP per person could have bought you quite a lot more than what we got–had we been able to find a way to pay it to the average Afghani. Those would have been terrific bribes in a country that is not unused to the concept. Might even have bough some serious political reform; it certainly would have paid for a lot of education for girls (and boys) and for construction, driven by bottom-up demand rather than erratic top-down supply.

But that’s not how we roll.

Incidentally, that $2.26 trillion equals about $788 annually, for twenty years, per US taxpayer (using the current 143.3 million number as a ballpark divisor).  I find it much easier to grasp $3,152 last year for the four taxpayers in my immediate family as representing US’s out of pocket costs than some number of hundreds of billions, not to mention the trillions over time.

Previously:

Posted in Politics: International | 1 Comment