Updated: Apr 12, 2021
On Saturday, Russia reported 8,704 new cases of COVID-19, bringing their total to 4,632,688. According to those statistics, Russia has had 31,734 cases per million residents, not good but nothing compared to, say, Florida. Florida reported 6,906 new cases Saturday for a grand total of 2,118,713 cases statewide. That's 98,647 cases per million Floridians. The problem with both these sets of statistics though is that they are both likely to have been doctored to fit the political needs of two unscrupulous political leaders, Vladimir Putin and Ron DeSantis.
Yesterday, Anton Troianovski the NY Times' Moscow bureau chief, filed a damning report on Russia's coronavirus numbers: You Can't Trust Anyone: Russia's Hidden Covid Toll Is An Open Secret. Florida's official death toll stands at 34,055. Russia's is 102,986. Both numbers are not even close to reflecting reality. "At least 300,000 more people died last year during the coronavirus pandemic than were reported in Russia’s most widely cited official statistics," wrote Troianovski. "Not all of those deaths were necessarily from the virus. But they belie President Vladimir Putin’s contention that the country has managed the virus better than most. In reality, a New York Times analysis of mortality data shows deaths in Russia during the pandemic last year were 28 percent higher than normal-- an increase in mortality greater than in the United States and most countries in Europe."
Much like DeSantis in Florida, "for much of the last year, Russia has appeared more focused on the public-relations and economic aspects of the pandemic than on fighting the virus itself. After a harsh two-month lockdown last spring, the government largely lifted restrictions last summer, a boon for public opinion and the economy, even as the disease spread more rapidly."
By the fall, Russian scientists had developed a Covid vaccine widely seen as as one of the best in the world-- but the Kremlin has put a greater emphasis on using the Sputnik V shot to score geopolitical points rather than on immunizing its own population.
Perhaps the starkest sign, though, of the state’s priorities is its minimization of the coronavirus death toll -- a move that, many critics say, kept much of the public in the dark about the disease’s dangers and about the importance of getting a vaccine.
Asked to sum up 2020 at his year-end news conference in December, Mr. Putin rattled off statistics showing that Russia’s economy had suffered less than that of many other countries. Indeed, even as Europe introduced lockdowns in the fall and winter, Russians were largely free to pack nightclubs, restaurants, theaters and bars.
But Mr. Putin said nothing about the pandemic’s human toll-- one that, in the dry monthly data releases of his own government’s statistics agency, is only now coming into full view.
...The low official toll has contributed to the obliviousness of Russians to the virus’s dangers in some cases-- and to their profound distrust of the government’s messaging regarding the pandemic in others. Last October, a poll found that most Russians did not believe the government’s tally of coronavirus cases: Half of those who did not believe the tally thought it was too high, while half thought it was too low.
In February, another poll found that 60 percent of Russians said they were not planning to get Russia’s Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine, and that most believed the coronavirus to be a biological weapon.
...For all the death, there has been minimal opposition in Russia-- even among Mr. Putin’s critics-- to the government’s decision to keep businesses open last winter and fall. Some liken it to a Russian stoicism, or fatalism, or the lack of an alternative to keeping the economy running given minimal aid from the state.
Much of what Troianoviski wrote about Putin's Russia, has been written about DeSantis' Florida. New research published earlier this month in the American Journal of Public Health argues that Florida is undercounting the number of people who died from COVID-19 by thousands of cases, casting new doubt on claims that Gov. Ron DeSantis navigated the coronavirus pandemic successfully." The researchers wrote that "The impact of the pandemic in Florida is significantly greater than the official COVID-19 data suggest. DeSantis has boasted-- and conservatives have eagerly echoed those boasts-- that he has handled the pandemic better than any other governor and implies he should be reelected next year and be the GOP presidential nominee in 2024. His critics say that many of the 33,000 deaths "would have been prevented if he had listened more diligently to health experts. DeSantis resisted lockdowns, downplayed masks and has made it increasingly difficult for localities to institute public health measures of their own. And the state could be on the cusp of a new coronavirus surge."
Patricia Mazzei is The Times' Miami bureau chief, and-- like Troianoviski-- she was looking at motives yesterday. Putin wants to be president for life; DeSantis wants the GOP presidential nomination for 2024-- after reelection next year. She wrote that DeSantis’s inclination to "drive hard at reopening Florida has made him perhaps the most recognizable Republican governor in the country and a favorite of the party faithful. In turn, he has become a polarizing leader in the resistance to lengthy pandemic lockdowns, ignoring the advice of some public health experts in ways that have left his state’s residents bitterly divided over the costs and benefits of his actions. Now, with Florida defying many of the gloomy projections of early 2020 and feeling closer to normal as the pandemic continues to dictate daily life in many other big states, DeSantis, 42, has positioned himself as the head of 'the free state of Florida' and as a political heir to Trump." He's selling himself as a competent version of Trump. Seizing on conservative issues du jour that are constantly being pushed by Fox and the far right media-- like opposition to social media "censorship" and vaccine passports-- he has forged strong connections with his party’s neanderthal base.
Mazzei, a bit of an on-the-other-handist DeSantis apologist, asserts that "his record on the virus is, in fact, mixed. By some measures, Florida has had an average performance in a pandemic that is not yet over. Yet his decisions helped keep hospitals from becoming overwhelmed with coronavirus patients. He highlights that he helped businesses survive and allowed children to go to school. What his critics cannot forget, however, is how he resisted some key public health guidelines. An op-ed article endorsing masks that his staff drafted under his name in mid-July was never approved by the governor for publication. The restrictions he now dismisses as ineffective, such as local mask mandates and curfews, which experts say in fact worked, were imposed in most cases by Democratic mayors with whom he hardly speaks... He infuriates passionate critics who believe he operates shrewdly to tend to his own interests. They fear that approach contributed to confusing public health messages, vaccine favoritism for the wealthy and the deaths of about 34,000 Floridians. 'DeathSantis,' they call him... 'He’s taken the wrong approach on some of our most critical issues, Covid being first and foremost, yet within Republican political circles, he is considered to be the front-runner for the White House,' said former Representative David Jolly, an ex-Republican who is flirting with a possible run for governor. 'He’s worked his hand perfectly.'"
DeSantis centralized power in his office early in the pandemic, ceding little of the spotlight to public health officials. The state Department of Health’s weekly Covid-19 recaps are titled “Updates on Florida’s Vaccination Efforts Under Governor DeSantis’ Leadership."
DeSantis’s slowness in locking down the state last year hurt his approval ratings. So did a deadly summer surge of the virus. But then, far earlier than most other governors, he pledged that schools would open in the fall and life would start returning to normal.
“His policies were contrarian, and he was defiant,” said Tony Fabrizio, a Republican pollster who has tracked DeSantis’s popularity and saw it rebound beginning last summer. “The more he stands his ground, the more he speaks his mind, the more the affinity grows for him.”
His critics see the governor as stubborn and unwilling to hear dissent.
“The governor we have today is the governor we anticipated after the election,” said Nikki Fried, Florida’s agriculture commissioner and the only Democrat elected statewide, who looks likely to run against DeSantis.
“He surprised everybody in 2019,” she added, “but obviously that is not truly who he is.”
In some ways, DeSantis has filled the void left by Trump, minus the tweets. He remains a Fox News regular. He counts among his scientific advisers Dr. Scott W. Atlas, the former Trump adviser who has promoted dubious theories. DeSantis’s office said he had received a vaccine last week but not in public, reminiscent of Trump, who was given the shot behind closed doors.
And the governor’s favorite foes are the “corporate media,” against whom he has scored political points.
His recent tangle with 60 Minutes centered on the extent to which political connections have helped white, wealthy Floridians get vaccinated.
Local news outlets have chronicled how vaccine access has been slower for Black, Latino and poorer communities. Some pop-up vaccination sites were opened in neighborhoods that had many older residents-- and that also had ties to DeSantis campaign donors.
But 60 Minutes focused on how Publix supermarket pharmacies received doses and left out relevant details, including an extended response from the governor at a news conference.
On Wednesday, in DeSantis’s words, he “hit them back right between the eyes,” accusing 60 Minutes of pursuing a malicious narrative.
He left without taking questions.
Truth be told, Florida got the shittier end of the stick here. Putin does the best with what he’s got. He’s the undisputed dictator of a country full of drunk, sullen underachievers, full of 40-year-old technology, a mediocre monopolized economy and lousy weather. He came up with a reasonable effective vaccine (100-year-old technology), introduced reasonable limits on a very unruly population, and kept the bullshitting to a minimum. DeSantis, on the other hand, actually maximized the bullshit, smeared it all over his face, and then flung the poo at anyone and everyone, Trump-style. Just like Trump, he caused countless deaths by ALWAYS lying, proudly, at every conceivable opportunity. He’s not a dictator, but he is a demagogue, setting the worst possible example not only for Joe Blow in Ft. Myers, but also for every demagogue to follow. He has scaled the top of the power pyramid by appealing to everyone’s worst instincts, like a kindergarten teacher who invites everyone in the class to fart in each other’s faces. So... not really the same thing, although DeSantis and Putin both go through the rituals of democracy without really meaning it.