Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Short: Who gets punched in the nose?

Blather, blather, blather. Boehner claims that Putin is aggressive because Obama stinks as a president:
"When you look at this chaos that’s going on, does anybody think that Vladimir Putin would have gone into Crimea had George W. Bush been president of the United States? No! Even Putin is smart enough to know that Bush would have punched him in the nose in about 10 seconds." --John Boehner
But, but, but, as this commenter points out:
Well, ...  to be fair, when Putin invaded Georgia during the Bush administration, George did fly to Moscow and punch him in the nose. So, there's that.
Thanks, Mother Jones, for the laugh. It's been too long.

Place your bets.
Images: and daily,co,uk

Why don't we have a travel ban?

The Ebola issue is much more political than it should be. Of course, many politicians can't restrain themselves from engaging in bashing their targets over a disease that's as deadly as Ebola. In the 1980's, the politically-infected arguments raged about AIDS, and we haven't had a disease with this much potential since then. However, the politics around AIDS perhaps should have been a lesson to prevent politics from ruling the discussion. But we're Americans, so we inject politics into everything.

Even if you don't think you personally are bringing politics into your viewpoint on Ebola, you probably are. To see how the politics play out, just ask yourself why we don't have a travel ban. Your answer is likely to fall into one of two categories, both of which are heavily influenced by politics.

There must be a good reason

didn't ask myself about the lack of a travel ban for a while. I'm not sure why, but my left-of-center tendencies probably had something to do with it. I figured that the administration had a good reason for not banning travel from the epidemic areas. I didn't believe that cover stories that it was due to vital trade ties, or that commercial flights were necessary for our humanitarian efforts. I figured that there was a reason that the administration didn't feel comfortable talking about. Perhaps they were worried about human smuggling taking over if there were no flights. (That was my top theory.)

However, my support was based on faith or trust that there was a good reason. Faith and trust--not good scientific reasons.

So why don't we have a travel ban? Maybe it's the smuggling worry. Maybe we have a secret agreement with most European countries that we won't cut off flights. That way the affected countries have contact and a safety valve, but no country with good western medicine ends up with a disproportionate number of Ebola cases (that's another theory, in case you didn't notice).

This is still speculation, faith, and trust. If we based our policy simply on reducing our chances of an Ebola epidemic to the lowest possible level, we would have a travel ban. We would also not have allowed the American workers with Ebola to return and be treated in American hospitals.

So this administration is willing to take some risks. The science does show that the risks are quite low, and that's been born out in the US. The only known cases of transmission in the US occurred between a deathly ill patient (with copious diarrhea and vomiting) and his nurses. No one in his family became ill.

But the low chance of an outbreak here isn't the declared reason for a lack of a travel ban. We're still left wondering and coming up with our own ideas for the lack of a travel ban.

There must be a nefarious reason

If you don't trust the president and his administration, what do you make of the lack of a travel ban? I've read a bunch of theories on that:
  • The administration doesn't want to be politically incorrect, so it won't cut off or stigmatize part of Africa.
  • The administration supports open borders in every way, even if it lets Ebola into the country.
  • Obama hates America and wants an Ebola epidemic here.
  • Obama puts the good of other countries above the good of the US.
  • This is payback for slavery.
  • This is a good way to reduce overpopulation all over the Earth.
By not being clear in its reasons, the Obama administration has opened the door to a lot of speculation. That speculation is either supportive and antagonistic, and all of it is tinged with politics. If you thought your opinion was based solely on science, I hope this post showed you otherwise.


Extras. Christie and Cuomo teamed up to show that they are post-political and would institute a quarantine together. It fell apart in a couple days because it was based on political gamesmanship. Ebola politics in Louisiana, a state that isn't likely to be a locus of Ebola issues. The media steps up to help Obama again--travel bans don't work. See, there must be a good reason.

Monday, October 27, 2014

I'm afraid of 2016

Americans like fairly regular change in presidential party. Since FDR, no party has held the presidency for more than 12 continuous years. More commonly it's been 8 years. That means the Democrats are due to lose the presidency in 2016.

Will it actually play out that way? I haven't thought it would. The GOP have been so terrible at laying out their policies that people have rejected them for the presidential spot. They've been fuzzy on the details, and used euphemism like "premium support." Their radical wing is either fuzzier (by calling for America to return to common sense and/or the Constitution) or scarier (like calling for the end of the EPA, Social Security, anti-discrimination laws, and any monetary policy at all.) I've tended to think that this makes the GOP unelectable nationally. The 2012 election seemed to bear this out, when a vulnerable president won reelection despite a limp recovery.

However, there's a powerful school of thought that the candidates and even the platforms make no difference. Who wins and loses is based on the "fundamentals." And these fundamentals aren't even all that complex:
  1. A basket of weighted economics factors from the past four years, which probably boil down to "is the economy getting better or worse?"
  2. The popularity of the incumbent president. 
Based on the fundamentals, Hillary Clinton might be in trouble. Obama's popularity is dropping and will weigh her down, according to the fundamentals school. The economy will probably not surge in 2016 to help her out.

Those issues, along with the fatigue with the party in the White House, should doom Hillary or whoever the Democratic nominee is. So I worry.

On the other hand, I have a hard time foreseeing any success for the party of:
  • weird fuzzy budgets
  • voucherizing Medicare
  • defaulting rather than raising the debt limit
  • no replacement for Obamacare
  • more wars in the Middle East
  • Michele Bachmann
  • Ted Cruz
I still think Hillary will win because the GOP will shoot themselves in the foot, the face, the ass, or all three. The 2016 election may demonstrate the limits of the fundamentals model. The model may need an escape clause for insanity.


Extras. Nate Silver doesn't think much of the fundamentals model.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Short: Iran negotiates, but will the Senate approve?

Here's a fascinating article about the negotiations between the US and Iran. It doesn't focus on centrifuges or which sanctions need to stay, or on timetables, or any of that boring but important stuff.

Instead, it focuses on the elephant in the room. If Obama makes a deal with Iran, there's no fucking way that the Senate will approve it. No fucking way at all.

It doesn't take much reflection to see that this observation is true. The readers are probably nodding their heads in agreement right now. So, chances are that the Iranians know it too. Yet they are still negotiating.

I think they want a settlement and want to be part of global trade much more than they want nuclear weapons. That makes sense, because you can't eat nuclear weapons, live in them, or play them on your Xbox. You can't shoot them at people without HUGE repercussions either. Food, housing, and game consoles are much more practical, and maybe that's what Iranians really want. That's the better choice. Good on you, Iran. I hope it remains that way.

The Senate went nuclear, but Iran isn't... maybe?
Image: telegraph. co,uk

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Conspiracy cocktails

I don't usually pay attention to Alex Jones because he's so far out there that he rubs elbows with the Reptilian alien believer. But hey, good ratings, so you've got to.

But if you're listening to Alex Jones, who else might be in the mix? Look here:


On the right is PrisonPlanet from Alex Jones, then there's Savage nation, Mark Levin, some unknown called Hagmann and Hagmann, and finally Glenn Beck.

Now that's a conspiracy cocktail. However, I'm not so sure about Alex Jones. He seems a little suspect to me.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Evidence-based thinking vs. assumption-based thinking

I've read many comments about how the US is doomed to have an Ebola outbreak because Obama is such a horrible president. I agree that there are plenty of reasons to think the Obama isn't a good president, but it's quite a leap to assume that we'll have people dying of Ebola because of it.

Of course, many people think we are doomed since the country reelected Obama. We were doomed by ACA, so we must be at least doubly or triply doomed. So if we are doomed, any crisis can obviously boil over and burn us all. We were threatened existentially over the summer by immigrants, which turned into immigrants with dread diseases. Then that story morphed into ISIS terrorists infiltrating through the Mexican border. Now we are doomed because ... Ebola!

Some of the concern  has some logic to it. For example, the administration loathes racial discrimination, so it won't ban travel to and from the African countries where the epidemic is occurring. There's some logic to that complaint. The administration hasn't done a great job in explaining why it allows recent visitors from the infected countries to come into the US without quarantine. It doesn't lay out the criteria for when to impose these kinds of measures, so it's reasonable to wonder if they've worked it out at all.

But some critics have leaped to the idea that the administration wants Ebola in the country. Limbaugh says the progressives believe that Ebola is our just desserts for slavery. I can't remember hearing that from the progressives I know, but Limbaugh talks about it quite extensively. Well, we know that Obama and liberals/progressives want to destroy the country, so Ebola would be nifty tool to do it.

Alex Jones thinks Ebola is a great tool for imposing "the medical tyranny state." First you bring people with Ebola into the US, then you release them to spread it around, and then you lock up and/or disappear Americans accused of having the disease. This warning, among others, is helpfully packaged on this Tea Party site, so you can clearly grasp what the real story is.

Contrast this "we-are-doomed" thinking with some scientific observations. Only two people carrying Ebola are known to have left the infected countries by commercial flights. Checking passengers for fever and the cost of tickets appear to have done a good job of deterring infected people, though not a 100% effective job.

Also, it's a fact that the US has handled Ebola patients successfully in this country, so we don't have to take a zero tolerance approach. We can balance the risks: the risk of one or more infected people arriving in the US vs. the risks of cutting off air travel.

Observation also shows that Ebola hasn't spread through casual contact. The only people infected (so far) in the US have been healthcare workers caring for a single patient. No one who had casual contact with the patient, not even the people who shared the patient's apartment, has gotten sick. Observation shows that healthcare workers at the Dallas hospital became infected, but not those at the Atlanta hospital.

Observation doesn't show any connection between Obama and who has gotten infected. So how is Obama responsible? The connection is only possible if you make assumptions, not if you depend on observation and logic. Those who are bashing Obama for presence of Ebola in the US have a bit of a logical case. He could have forbidden the travel of anyone from the effected region. But the bashing goes so far beyond that, and the predictions have been catastrophic because Obama is such a catastrophe himself. By warped logic, Obama is awful, and therefore any awful thing that happens is directly attributable to him.

And by the way, the new Ebola czar that he just named, that guy is a disaster too. Already. He must be, because Obama appointed him.


Extra. Zero Hedge starts by warning that your civil rights will be gone if there's an Ebola outbreak, Then he warns that Ebola is a "very, very serious disease," and that "we could truly be looking at the greatest health crisis that any of us have ever seen."

So which is it? Should we be protecting our rights and freedom of movement, or should we be cautious of our health? I wish he had decided before he wrote contradictory warnings in a single post.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Evidence-based medicine--Ebola edition

So at least two nurses caught Ebola from the Liberian patient cared for in Dallas. What does that tell us?

We already knew that cautious, well-trained American professionals could contract the disease because it happened with the American missionaries, including a doctor. Many African medical professionals have caught and died of Ebola too.

The right way to handle it

In contrast, three Ebola patients have been cared for at Emory University Hospital without a transmission. What does that tell us? That Emory knows how to handle this disease better than the Dallas hospital does. There must be important differences in how the personnel gown or perform tasks, and Emory does it in a superior way. So learn from Emory.

Also, it makes sense for current and future Ebola patients to go the Emory for treatment rather than have the treatment administered at a lesser hospital. We didn't know this beforehand, but we shouldn't be surprised. We did get a warning from African hospitals that were trying hard to prevent transmissions, but still failed. We had another warning from the Spanish nurse who caught the disease.

Luckily, the medical administrators (whoever they are) see the evidence too. One of the Dallas nurses has been flown to Emory. The other is quite healthy and was staying in isolation at the Dallas hospital, but has just been transferred to Maryland. Since she remains well, she probably doesn't require extensive care with lots of handling of bodily fluids. There's little chance that she'll infect someone else.

There's more luck too. Among the exposed civilians in Dallas, there are no reports of any developing the disease... so far. What a relief.

No abundance of caution

Another thing we learned is that the Dallas hospital wasn't careful enough. They didn't wear higher level protection gowns for the first two days of isolation despite the high chance that the patient had Ebola. They had a large number of staff caring for the patient instead of a small dedicated team. They didn't provide housing for this dedicated staff, who mingled with family. The second infected nurse even flew to Ohio and back again.

The Dallas hospital acted was though their precautions were 100% fail safe. That was an incorrect assumption and a stupid risk to take. A smarter approach would have been to limit the number of people exposed and limit their contacts with others. Finally the Dallas hospital is doing this. This precaution should have been implemented at the beginning. But at least they're learning instead of being in denial.

We still have to wait to see what happens with the exposed people in Dallas. Now we have to wait even longer to find out whether any relatives or fellow travelers caught Ebola from the second nurse. Those later exposures should never have happened. Instead of finding out around Oct. 19 whether we face a larger epidemic, we won't know until after Nov. 4. We didn't need this extra stress.

Possibly flying Ebola to your destination

Extra. Read about and marvel at the facilities at Emory. Only three definite cases of Ebola have been imported to other countries (Nigeria, Senegal, and the US). Nigeria had the worst situation, but they have stopped the spread and ended the crisis. It never spread in Senegal. We'll have to see what happens here in the US, and also what happens elsewhere. Our response needs to be based on evidence and reasonable caution, not panic.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Is this the worst Congressional leadership ever?

Criticizing the leadership of the other party is so common that it's almost a reflex. I don't want to bash Congressional leaders just because I hate their party, which is what so many do. However, I'm seriously wondering whether we have some of the worst leadership ever.

Clearly from my previous posts I'm not a fan of Nancy Pelosi. She ran the House very strictly, and the moderate Democratic strain withered, though it's possible it would have withered anyway. Pelosi's biggest mistake was to pass measures that were too liberal while pretending that they were compromises. Pelosi may make noises like she knows how to compromise, but the actions don't follow. By not moderating her chamber more, lots of her party lost their seats in 2010, but she took no responsibility for it.

I thought Reid was somewhat cannier, and he is. However, I think perhaps he's chosen a path that is also ultimately bad for his compatriots in the Senate. He's always been tricksy with the Senate rules. He seemed the major force behind the Senate blockade of Bush appointments in 2007-8, though he backed off from it. However, the atmosphere never changed, and p. Petty partisan advantage has been the operational environment for the entire Reid tenure. A few times it's abated somewhat, but it always roars back, either with Reid ramping it up himself or in response to GOP provocation. It's been destructive to nearly everyone in the Senate, but Reid hasn't rethought the tactics. He still keeps an iron hand on the bills being debated and the amendments being offered. His purpose is probably to protect his senators from embarrassing votes. He may have won that battle, but he and the vulnerable senators have lost nonetheless.

To me this is a lesson that leaders have to rise above the partisanship at least a little. If they always reach for the partisan advantage, they end up looking grubby and petty and that infects their conference.

The GOP in the Senate don't look any better. Under Mitch McConnell, they ramped up their tactics as the minority. They also appear to relish the chance to inflict even more pain if they gain the majority. They will almost definitely hold those embarrassing votes that have been blocked. Many partisans are hoping to end the filibuster so that the Senate can pass a conservative agenda and force Obama to veto it. I'm far from certain this will happen, but I'd put the likelihood at 60%. That will change the Senate from the deliberative chamber where good deals can arise to a highly partisan operation like the House. It would be a huge loss of the country, but too many partisans are pushing for it without a thought about the long-term damage.

I wonder whether Boehner is the least bad of the lot. Occasionally he makes his conference take those hard votes. He resisted the Tea Party strategy in 2013, eventually giving in and allowing them to shut down the government, just to show them that their strategy was doomed. He seems to be the only top Congressional leader who isn't making his conference more intolerant. Oy, if he's the best of the lot!

Collect the whole set (1 of 4)

Extra. I started this post two months ago, but was inspired to finish by this news story of a Democratic senator wishing Harry Reid was gone.

Update 10/14/14. Here's a post about how awful Mitch McConnell is, and not because he's a RINO.

Update 10/29/14. Here's another way that Reid has hurt his caucus. By allowing so few votes, senators from more conservative areas haven't been able to separate themselves from Obama and the Democratic norm. They're likely to lose their seats because of it.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Ebola in Texas, but not worried yet

I wasn't worried about the two Americans being transferred to Atlanta for treatment for Ebola. Am I worried yet with this case in Texas?

No, not yet. But this is of greater concern. The Liberian man exposed a bunch of people before he was quarantined. Now those people may come down with Ebola too, and they could spread it to others. That's what has happened in West Africa.

Handling it right over here

It could happen here, but it won't. We have strong medical systems, not only to treat those with the illness, but to monitor those who may have been exposed. Some are in quarantine to prevent more exposures, and to limit the number of people who have to be monitored.

The personnel directly caring for the Ebola patient are probably limiting their contacts too. They shouldn't be going home to their families and attending church, ball games, and going to shopping malls. It's a big sacrifice to limit contacts, but it's not for a long time, so I think the medical personnel would be willing to make it.

A big problem in West Africa is that the sick weren't separated from the well, and they infected a fair number of people. By the time it was clear that isolation was needed, there were already too many infected people, and the medical system was overwhelmed.

That's unlikely to be repeated here in the US. We have a lot of medical resources to dedicate, and just one case so far. Any contacts who start showing symptoms will go into complete quarantine immediately, not after they've exposed bunches of people. That didn't happen with this first case, but the lesson has been learned. The medical system is on alert and will quarantine, and we will avoid the multiplication effect that occurred in Africa.

The warning sign to watch for is when people are getting sick at home and staying there, denying that they have Ebola. That denial is dangerous because it allows the sick person to infect others. That's when it can snowball. A different warning sign would be medical personnel dying or fleeing hospitals, hospitals refusing to take more patients, or hospitals being attacked. This has happened in West Africa, but there's little chance we'll see it here.

The importance of honesty (again)

This is a lesson in taking the right precautions and being truthful. The man from Liberia lied to get on a flight out of Liberia, lied again by not telling hospital workers that he'd been closely exposed in Libya, and probably lied at other times too. It's important for people not to lie anymore about it. Some people are asking whether we can trust our health officials. From what I've seen, yes, they are telling the truth, and they are taking all the right measures.

In one more month, we won't have a concern about Ebola in Texas. We'll have an all-clear, just like we eventually got in Atlanta. Till then, we have to take the right precautions, and keep this small. That's what we're doing, so it's going to be alright.

Partial view of a well-managed Ebola clinic in Guinea

Extra. CDC directions on handling the dead. That's more good precautions. 

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Obama looks like a coward on immigration

Obama had a formal Rose Garden announcement back in June that he was going to take a unilateral executive action on illegal immigrants currently in the country. His announcement followed the admission by John Boehner that the House wasn't going to take up immigration legislation, The extent and details of the immigration program weren't decided at the time, but it would be done before the end of the summer.

Fast-forward to the week of Labor Day (unofficial end of summer), and an unnamed "Whitehouse official" floats the word to the Reuters news service that the bold action on immigration won't happen until after the mid-term elections in November.

Do over!

Obama has certainly bungled this one. He acted like the big man in June, announcing something bold. But when it looked like there was going to be a political cost, he became too indecisive to handle the issue before the elections. I seriously have to wonder about his thought process. Did he think there wouldn't be any negative consequences for fiat action on immigration? If so, that was uninformed thinking.

A change in the immigration policy of the magnitude he's considering wasn't likely to go easily. Giving legal status to 2 million, 4 million, or even 5 million was going to cause pushback, and fanfare around it would make it worse. Obama may have been lulled by the general acceptance of his temporary amnesty for foreign-born children brought by their families. However, these children, who grew up in the US, speaking English and going to American schools, were a sympathetic group of roughly 600K, far fewer in number than the adult illegal immigrants Obama is now considering legitimizing.

Oops--Forgot to check the weather

Obama also neglected to check the national scene for current and foreseeable immigration problems. Supposedly the problem of unaccompanied minors had already started at the end of 2013. Unless there was a massive increase, the officials in charge of immigrant detention should have anticipated that they would run out of space and money. Perhaps they expected a charitable response, but that's not what they got. The public became alarmed at the number of children, the extra expense, and the unintended and unforeseen consequences of the change in immigration policy. They aren't in the mood for yet more changes to the policy.

So Obama, seeing the winds shift, and getting frantic requests from vulnerable senators, has decided to delay the decision and announcement of changes to immigration policy. He says that he wants to better educate the public. The public is likely to smell the smokescreen, and become more suspicious. The delay isn't going to help Obama or the vulnerable Democratic senators. I can imagine the campaign ads already: "Obama has an immigration plan that is so drastic that he can't unveil it before the election. Is Senator X going to keep him in check, or do we need a Republican in the Senate to do that?"

Of course the Latino groups are furious. They were wooed for potential political gain, then dropped for more immediate political considerations. Yes, that burns.

So the vulnerable senators will suffer a double-whammy. Is there any upside? Probably not for the senators, but there probably will be some advantage for the Dems in the future. Obama is likely to carry out a change in immigration policy, and probably on the larger side instead of the smaller (more than 2 million). That means more illegal immigrants getting temporary legal status, and happier and more loyal Latino voters.

Pain vs. gain

What's so familiar about this immigration debacle is that all the moves have been based on expedience. There hasn't been a sound, thoroughly-considered formulation of policy. But that's the way immigration has been handled for decades. It's greatly benefited some powerful groups, and they've held sway. The winners have been the immigrants, their aligned voters, the Democratic party, and business owners. The losers have been the Americans who lost job opportunities to these migrants.

So, some definite winners and rather diffuse losers--no wonder the immigration policy doesn't change. Outside of the Tea Party (who fight all things that are not as they were in the 1950's), very few will speak against immigration. I'm even reluctant to speak against it, though I've decided that I should. (I realized back in January that immigration had to be severely tightened, but didn't write about until June.) How many people will stand against those who have an interest in the immigration status quo? Not many. So a bad immigration policy is the nearly inevitable result.


Ruth Bader Ginsburg as eugenics mastermind

Yes, according to National Review.

But this isn't news. They ran a toned-down version in 2009. Why the revival? Because she said one other thing recently that could be similarly misinterpreted, so NR couldn't pass up the opportunity.

Here's what actually happened according to the person who conducted the interview. However, you won't see National Review running any clarifications, corrections, or apologies. Either the National Review actually thinks a Supreme Court justice is pro-eugenics, or they have no scruples about lying in that way. Amazing.

Now I think Ted Cruz is a demagogue who'd say almost anything, but I don't think he's a secret Nazi. But some people actually find it credible that Ginsburg could be the equivalent of a Nazi. Isn't that amazing?

Most likely, thought processes aren't involved, so these readers of National Review don't actually THINK Ginsburg supports eugenics. Instead, a NR writer tells them this, and they start repeating it because they are complete moron zipperheads with no thoughts of their own. Yes, now we're in a familiar and credible landscape. Partisan idiots will 1) believe lots of crap, and 2) repeat all of it. That's the price of reading politics these days.

And the writer of this trash--Kevin Williamson ... again. Another non-surprise. Sigh.

Now judging your fitness to reproduce - the Notorious RBG