Measles — And Vaccinations

There’s been a serious measles outbreak in Europe this year.  In the first half of 2018, there have been more than 41,000 reported cases of measles in Europe, and at least 37 deaths.  The 41,000 cases during the first half of 2018 is almost double the number of measles cases reported during the entire year of 2017 and is almost eight times higher than the reported measles figures for Europe in 2016.

pri_65784434There is a simple apparent cause for the European measles outbreak:  a drop in immunization rates.  Routine vaccinations of young children with the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine — which is shown to be 97% effective in preventing measles — are falling in countries like Italy, Romania, and the Ukraine.  It’s not clear whether parents are simply not as attentive as they once were, or whether they think measles has been wiped out and vaccination isn’t necessary in the modern world, or they’ve fallen prey to scientifically dubious arguments that MMR vaccination leads to conditions like autism.

The decline in vaccinations in the general public is the key to measles outbreaks, because measles is one of the most virulent, communicable diseases around.  It’s spread by droplets in the coughs and sneezes of an infected person, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that a person with measles can infect 90 percent of the non-immune people who come within close contact.  And even though measles seems like a simple childhood disease, it can have serious complications, like pneumonia and encephalitis, in some cases.

According to the CDC, there are no measles outbreaks in the U.S.; as of August, there had been only 124 cases of measles in 22 states in 2018, and none in Ohio.   It’s a marked contrast to the figures reported in Europe.  The outbreak in Europe, however, shows that parents and doctors need to keep their guards up and ensure that kids get vaccinated.  And it shows something more:  in this interconnected world, we’ve got to be able to depend on each other to follow the health care basics.  If people stop getting the routine, proven vaccinations, measles may end up being the least of our concerns.

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Fuel To The Fire

New Year’s Eve might be even a bigger deal in Europe than it is here.  (Google “drunk Brits new years eve” if you don’t believe me.)  But in Cologne, Germany — and in other cities in Germany and elsewhere — the drunken mayhem took a turn for the worse.

In Cologne, mobs of drunken men surrounded, assaulted and robbed women in the huge square outside the city train station; two rapes also were reported.  German police now estimate that as many as 1,000 men were involved in the incidents and are looking for 16 men in particular.  More than 100 women and girls have come forward to report the gropes, robberies, and attacks by the men, and they describe a chaotic and lawless scene in which the gangs of men did whatever they wanted without fear of apprehension or reprisal.  The women say there was no meaningful police presence at the scene, and the Cologne police chief said the scale and nature of what happened was “a completely new dimension of crime.”

GERMANY-EUROPE-MIGRANTSWhat makes the story even more incendiary is that witnesses described many of the men gathered in the square as being northern African or Arab in appearance.  Critics of Germany’s recent decision to permit more than 1 million refugees from the Middle East to enter the country have seized upon the attacks in Cologne and elsewhere as another reason to reject the open-door policy.  German authorities have said, however, that there is no evidence that the men who committed the robberies and assaults were recent refugee arrivals.

And there is an undeniable undercurrent of distrust of German authorities lurking in reports of the incidents, too.  The initial police report on the New Year’s Eve celebration in Cologne said there was a “joyful, party atmosphere” and a celebration that was “mostly peaceful.”  It was only after countless women began telling people about being mauled and robbed that authorities changed their reports to acknowledge the lawlessness and disorder.  You can’t read about the Cologne mobs without wondering whether the initial reaction by authorities was to minimize the extent of the criminal activity in order to avoid additional criticism of the German immigration policy.  Indeed, comments by Cologne’s mayor, Henriette Reker, amazingly seemed to suggest that the assaulted women bore some of the responsibility for the attacks, saying they should “keep at an arm’s length” from strangers and “stick together in groups, don’t get split up, even if you’re in a party mood”.

We’ll have to wait to see whether the German police apprehend and identify specific suspects, but the failure of authorities to be forthcoming about the incidents in the first place simply, and unnecessarily, adds fuel to the anti-immigrant fire.  It’s hard for many of us to accept, but Donald Trump apparently appeals to some Americans because of the perception that he is “speaking truth to power” — and that perception can be created only if there also is a perception that power isn’t speaking truth in the first place.  When authorities are seen as trying to downplay the facts or bury the true story, it only reinforces that underlying perception and gives blowhards like Trump more ammunition for their anti-immigration rants.

A Touch Of Europe

When we were outfitting our new backyard, we spent a lot of time on finding just the right umbrella.  We were looking for a brightly colored one that would remind us of a European cafe in a nice shaded courtyard.  We scoured the Internet for a Campari umbrella, and also checked out other Euro beer- and liquor-themed options, then Kish found this Cinzano umbrella that fits our concept perfectly.
C’est bon!

Jews In Europe, Again

On Saturday, a gunman in Copenhagen went on a rampage at a free speech event and then shot and killed a Jewish man guarding a synagogue before being killed by police; Danish authorities think he may have been trying to recreate last month’s murderous attacks at the offices of the Charlie Hebdo magazine, and a kosher supermarket, in Paris.  On Sunday, hundreds of Jewish tombs were desecrated in eastern France.  Surveys of Jews in Europe show increased worries about anti-Semitism, and a recent hidden camera video shows a Jewish man being insulted, spat upon, and threatened as he walked the streets of Paris.

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu responded to the Denmark incident by calling for Jews to emigrate to Israel; he said Jews deserve protection in every country but warned that the attacks will continue.  Some Jewish leaders in Europe rejected that call, arguing that, in one man’s words, for Jews to leave Europe would be handing Hitler a “posthumous victory.”  They contend, instead, that Jews should remain and advocate for increased democracy, vocal rejection of anti-Semitism by governments in the Eurozone, and increased police protection of synagogues and Jewish cemeteries.

What should Jews do?  No one is predicting a second Holocaust — but no one predicted a first Holocaust, either.  No one wants to retreat in the face of depraved and murderous attacks, but would you want to continue to expose your family and children to potentially unsafe conditions and a culture in which slurs and physical intimidation are increasingly commonplace?  It’s an impossible individual choice, being made against the dark historical backdrop of genocide that happened on the European continent less than a century ago.

The burden instead must fall on governments to stop Europe from backsliding into hell.  Protest marches and public pronouncements are nice, but more must be done to stop the anti-Semitic wave, demonstrate the commitment to a Europe that welcomes and includes Jews, culturally and politically, and aggressively identify and prosecute the perpetrators of street bullying, vandalism, shootings, and every other anti-Jewish criminal act.  Americans can reinforce that message by not spending their money in Europe unless action is taken.

If people are to leave the European continent in the wake of an anti-Semitic wave, it should be the wrongdoers, not the persecuted.

Time To Book That Trip To Europe

If you’ve got a trip to Europe on your “bucket list,” you might want to go for it now.  For Americans, travel in France, Germany, Italy, and the other members of the Eurozone will be as cheap as it has been in years — for the next few months, at least.

IMG_0114The value of the Euro — the collective currency of the Eurozone — has been in free fall against the American dollar over the past few months.  On Friday, the Euro fell to $1.12, which is its lowest level in 11 years.  That’s a very sharp decline from earlier in the year, when the Euro was trading at around $1.40.

European economies are weak, and the European Central Bank has announced that it will be engaged in a “quantitative easing” program that will seek to expand the money supply — and, inevitably, have an inflationary impact — in an effort to spur economic growth.  And because the ECB has just announced its program, and it will take some time for all of the details to be absorbed by the financial markets, we can expect the value of the Euro to continue to fall against the dollar in the near future.

All of this is good news for Americans who are interested in visiting Europe.  Because the  Federal Reserve Board has already completed the quantitative easing program in the U.S. and has announced that it will be raising interest rates in the near future, the dollar should remain very strong against the Euro.  That means American tourist dollars will get better exchange rates at currency stores and will have more buying power on the streets of Paris and Rome — which will bring down the real cost of lodging, meals and museum fees.

Couple that with the ever-present European interest in encouraging tourism, and it’s not hard to forecast that bargain-hunting U.S. travelers will have a field day in 2015.

Nationalism, Or A Desire For Self-Control?

In Europe, elections to the European Parliament last week sent shock waves through the political firmament.  Parties of the right and left that ran campaigns against the European Union — known as “Euroskeptics” — made significant gains in England, France, Denmark, and Greece, although pro-EU parties collectively will still be in the majority.

The political reaction was immediate, as leaders who had previously characterized the Euroskeptics as a fringe movement scrambled to respond to the wave.  In Great Britain, Prime Minister David Cameron — whose Conservative Party was thumped and finished third in British balloting, behind the Euroskeptic UK Independence Party — acknowledged that people were “deeply disillusioned” with the EU.  In France, where President Francois Hollande’s Socialist Party finished third behind the Euroskeptic National Front, Hollande went on TV to call for the EU to scale back its role.  Noting that the EU had become “remote and incomprehensible,” Hollande said he will speak to other European leaders about focusing on the economy and added that the EU needs to be “effective where it is needed and to withdraw from where it is not necessary.”

The politics of multi-party European countries seem very murky here in the two-party U.S.  It’s not clear whether the recent vote is the product of simmering nationalism — a very loaded word in Europe, where it provoked two devastating World Wars — or anger over austere financial policies and moribund economies, or concern about immigration, or a simple desire for self-determination rather than ceding control over policies to unelected bureaucrats in Brussels who are seemingly answerable to no one.  Or perhaps it is a combination of all of those factors, as well as others.

The EU started as an economic entity that sought to combine the economies of European countries into a cohesive unit, with a single currency, that could compete on the world stage with the United States and Japan; eventually it became more of political and regulatory entity that plays an increasingly significant role in everyday life.  A sizable number of Europeans now seem to be questioning whether they want what the EU has become.  And Europe’s political leaders are wondering:  what is the alternative?

The Rise Of Anti-Semitism In The Eurozone

The BBC has a troubling story about the apparent rise of anti-Semitism in Europe — at least, as expressed in a poll of European Jews.  Of the nearly 6,000 people surveyed, two-thirds considered anti-Semitism to be a big problem, and more than 75 percent believed that bigotry has increased in the last five years.

Even worse, those depressingly high numbers don’t really tell the full story.  Survey respondents reported that prejudicial comments on-line — where distance and anonymity can allow the inner demons to run free — has become shockingly prevalent.  Moreover, 20 percent of the respondents had personally experienced verbal abuse or physical assault, with the most serious incidents involving Muslim extremists, people with left-wing political views, and finally people with right-wing views.  The situation has gotten so bad that, in many countries, significant percentages of the Jewish respondents are considered emigrating to ensure the safety of their families.

This is the kind of grim, brooding story that should cause serious concern for everyone who believes in democracy, pluralism, and freedom of religion.  We know what happened in the 1930s and World War II years, and we need to take steps to ensure that it doesn’t happen again — in Europe, or elsewhere.

If we see instances of anti-Semitic speech on-line, we need to call out the speaker and shame them with their bigotry.  We shouldn’t tolerate anti-Semitic garbage from the podium of the UN General Assembly or the mouths of Middle Eastern zealots.  If we hear of an anti-Semitic incident, we need to take steps to ensure that the perpetrators are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.  If we see vandalism in Jewish cemeteries and synagogues, we need to participate in the clean-up and figure out how to prevent such incidents in the future.  We need to fight hate speech with right speech, and criminal acts with criminal prosecution.

This is not a Jewish issue, it is a human issue.  Abuse and mistreatment of any religious or ethnic group weakens us all and splinters the world into feuding factions.  I don’t want to live in a balkanized world where any group may be targeted, scapegoated, and assaulted  with impunity.  I hope that the good people of Europe stand up, and I hope that those of us in America stay vigilant.