Monday, April 30, 2018

The state intervenes... too much

The Alfie Evans scandal didn't get a lot of news site attention from the MSM, but it did in the conservative media. A bit of background if you don't know the story (which means that you follow the MSM and thus miss some news stories):

Alfie was born in Britain about 23 months ago. About 6 months after his birth, his health was declining and he was found to have some unknown wasting disease that was shrinking his brain. He's been on life-support since December 2016. The doctors decided treatment was futile, and removed life support. A hospital in Italy offered to take him, which the parents wanted, but this was blocked by the British courts, who also posted guards to prevent his parents from removing him from the hospital. He died at the hospital on 4/28/18 approximately 5 days after being removed from a ventilator.

Superficial review and reaction

Initially I viewed this case of one of people blindly holding on to hope, screaming for everything possible to be done, and ignoring the evidence that it was hopeless. I think most of the news stories played out this way, along with most of the comments. So my initial reaction was to back up the scientific findings and stress the reality of the situation. Alfie was not going to recover. He was not conscious at all, and would never become conscious. He had no prospect in life except being connected to life support and having seizures as they gave him therapy in trying to keep him alive. That was the hard truth that so many people seemed unable to accept.

I agreed that hospital was right to declare treatment futile. I disagreed with the British court preventing the parents from taking Alfie to Italy. There seemed (to me) little chance of significant harm to Alfie. But the judge was overly concerned that he'd die in transit, and that seemed appalling to the judge. I disagree, but at least I understood the rationale, and I didn't think the judge was a monster. Many others did.

The public outrage at the hospital and the British courts was huge, which I didn't understand. Now I do.

When should courts overrule parents?

If you look at the story through the lens of what was good for Alfie and what was medically possible, the parents seem out of touch, and the hospital and courts seem sane, realistic, and reasonably kind.

However, if you look at the story through the eyes of Alfie's parents, it appears very different. They want to do whatever they can for their son. The hospital says they can't do anymore. The parents are distraught, seek other opinions, but are legally and physically blocked from taking their son to another location for treatment.

This is the outrage. They love their son, want to care for him, have never been abusive to him, but their rights as parents were shut down in favor of the court's opinion. I felt this was wrong, but at first I didn't feel the outrage of it.

The mistake of the court was to take away the rights of the parents to decide the child's treatment. Almost all parents will consider carefully, help, nurture, notice how the child responds, comfort, and minimize suffering. Most parents can do this better than a judge can because they are intimately connected to the child.

Not all parents are like this, however. Some are abusive or negligent. For those parents, it makes sense for the courts to intervene. However, Alfie's parents were neither abusive nor negligent. They cared more than anyone else. But at the end, these parents, who dearly loved him, were barred by police from caring for their son in the way they desperately hoped to.

That was the wrong. Not against Alfie, but against his parents. And it was a fairly grievous wrong, to take the decision away from them in such desperate circumstances.

Media focus

Media tended to focus on how it wasn't certain what caused Alfie's decline, and how his last hope relied on getting care elsewhere. Some attacked the British National Health Service (NHS) for its policy to withdraw life support. Some didn't attack the NHS, but faulted the courts for siding with the NHS against the parents and the child's 'last hope.' It became a cause within Britain, but perhaps even more among American conservatives. Their spin, motivated by animus against socialized medicine such as the NHS, regularly contained lies and didn't accurately report the reality of Alfie's condition. The media regularly used words like 'murder' and conservative commenters copied that. Very few gave consideration to the personal, ethical, moral, and financial issues in giving life support for extended periods.

The American Conservative is typically a more thoughtful source of the conservative perspective. But even here, Dreher puts his thumb on the scale. When the NHS wants to end artificial life support, it's described as "forcibly euthanizing the disabled." But should his parents make the decision, it's letting "Alfie die a natural death." Interesting difference in wording considering the actions are the same.

The American Spectator is probably more typical in its invective. The doctors are incompetent and the state is tyrannical. This isn't measured analysis, it's war against tyranny. It's no wonder so many echo these arguments when they're not presented with any counterarguments. Just one side of the story. If you're not practiced in questioning, it's not going to happen.

Luckily, the comments section for the Dreher argument had other thoughtful alternatives. Another columnist for the American Conservative focused more on the parents, and was also fair to the doctors. In the comments section for the American Spectator, anyone dissenting was blasted. Well, that's just another week in the culture war. I wonder what this week will bring?

Alfie on a ventilator, with his dad

Monday, April 23, 2018

This better be my last post about Benghazi!

It sucks that I'm still writing about Benghazi. It sucks that the issues surrounding Benghazi haven't been settled. It sucks that information about  Benghazi hasn't been thoroughly thrashed and set to rest. It's a living demonstration of the partisanship that there hasn't been a clear, concise, thorough, and uncontested report of what happened. It reflects on secrecy and cover-your-ass dissembling by the Obama administration and partisan point-scoring, innuendo, and hyperbole by the GOP.

This latest bout of Benghazi research was prompted by a comment on the stand-down order. Politifact says that the story of a stand-down order is mostly false. It pointed to a report of a House Intelligence Committee, and I decided to read it. It's actually pretty readable, less than 30 pages, and doesn't get bogged down. It seems to be mostly a fact-finding mission--the kind of report I've wanted to see.

From my own research during the summer of 2014, I figured that the stand-down story had some major holes in it, primarily that it was simply a 20-minute delay, not a stand-down. But there's not enough drama with a delay, so the story was juiced up.

The report confirmed what I had suspected (win for me!). There was a delay as the station chief tried to gather more info and more support, but it was a minimal delay, per pages 19-21 of the report.

However, drama sells. Partisan audiences are hungry for scandal that fits their biases. So we get books and even a movie based less on evidence and more for giving the crowd what it wants. Trey Gowdy (GOP representative) is too cowardly to tell the whole truth either:
"The best I can do is tell you what the witnesses say, and then you can decide who you think is more credible."
Let me translate that:
'I don't think the story is credible, but I'll cling to the thin thread of evidence because it's politically expedient.'
He does admit that leaving earlier wouldn't have saved the lives of the two diplomats who died in the compound. I'll be remembering this to refute the yahoos who repeat that specious claim.

But back to the report. It was good to find out about roadblocks, and how the team that flew in from Tripoli was stuck at the Benghazi airport until they found one local group that seemed trustworthy enough. The attack on the CIA annex was unusually precise and coordinated, and deadly, with two more Americans killed there. Then everyone evacuated to the airport, along with the body of the ambassador who had been missing. That mystery was resolved in less than 10 hours, even in dangerous territory like Benghazi.

Some GOPers wouldn't sign on to the report. I guess it blew up too many of the talking points they wanted to clutch. Gowdy was one of those who refused. That guy--sometime he goes up in my estimation, and sometimes he scrapes the bottom.

One final sentiment: it was worth my time to research this and find what seems to me like the actual truths. Truth is worth the effort.


Extras.  National Review declares there's evidence for the stand-down order... and neglects the evidence that refutes it. Convenient omissions? From WaPo: Who is more credible--the Benghazi CIA station chief, or the author of the sensationalist book?

Sunday, April 22, 2018

April links 2

Red flag laws for guns. Florida passed one after the Parkland shootings. Vermont just did because they had a very close brush with a school shooter arrested as he was planning his shooting spree. Indiana has had one for a while due to random shootings in a neighborhood.

Also, here is a resource on studies of efficacy for certain policies about guns.

Comey's nasty book. I'm not a fan of Comey, who seems mealy-mouthed to me. However, he had enough backbone to stand up to Trump, which not everyone has. His new book seems to have a lot of filler, some of it being creepy. However, he does reveal a non-surprise: Trump trying to spin the Russian hacking.

US/French/British strike on Syria. Interesting detail. How they faked out the Russian/Syria air defenses. A broader discussion. The US isn't striking hard because it needs to have room to ramp up if Syria continues chemical warfare.

History lesson about the end of the gold standard. One of the important moments of history. However, the US hadn't really kept to the gold standard anyway. Fiat currency has its problems, but the gold standard was simpler impossible to make work.

$21 Trillion missing. A Russian shill wrote that the Pentagon had lost $21 trillion. This was just a shill, so he didn't have any real thought in his comment. Consider this: $21 trillion is a huge amount of money that might have worldwide implications. Just imagine the US having double its current debt, but nobody cares. I pointed this out to the shill. He lamely replied "Well, it's from Forbes."

I have to look into this some more, but I've got to clear those tabs off my browser. So here's the dump: Michigan, missing money, truth in accounting, more Michigan,  maybe some details, Reuters. I don't have a link to the Forbes article because it wasn't particularly readable.


Tuesday, April 17, 2018

History for Amnesiacs: What Mueller is investigating

The idiotic talking point among some conservatives is that the Mueller investigation is illegitimate, and was from the beginning. There wasn't any real evidence that deserved investigation. It's all been fake news and a conspiracy by the deep state. Many even call it a coup.

I read this so often that I made a list of the evidence that thoroughly justifies an investigation:

  1. The Russians hacked the DNC and gave the hacked emails to Wikileaks, thereby affecting the election. It may not have changed the outcome, but it was an attempt to do so, and was criminal activity. 
  2. The Russians hacked state voter databases. They probably hacked more than that too. 
  3. Trump has had a lot of contacts with Russians over the years.
  4. Many Trump advisers have had a lot of contacts with Russians.
  5. Trump advisers had contacts with Russians during the campaign. Sessions didn't fully disclose this information.
  6. Trump denied the meddling of the Russians and appeared ready to lift sanctions. 
  7. Trump fired the FBI director who was overseeing the investigation. 
  8. The fired FBI director recounted Trump asking for loyalty and for a pass for one of his former advisers.

That is plenty to warrant an investigation. The Mueller investigation should be happening, and should continue.

Some talking-point parrots trot out lawyer and presumed Democrat Alan Dershowitz as an ally. However, Dershowitz doesn't agree that there isn't evidence. He writes:
But there was plenty of evidence that Russian operatives had tried to interfere with the 2016 presidential election, and perhaps other elections, in the hope of destabilizing democracy. Yet, appointing a special counsel to look for crimes, behind the closed doors of a grand jury, was precisely the wrong way to address this ongoing challenge to our democracy.
Dershowitz follows up with this overstatement:
It [the Mueller investigation] has politicized our justice system beyond repair... In our age of hyperpartisanship, the public has understandably lost confidence in the ability and willingness of our leaders to separate their political views from their law enforcement decisions.
...Let Congress now appoint a nonpartisan commission to conduct a transparent investigation of Russia’s efforts to influence our elections. Let the special counsel suspend his investigation until the nonpartisan commission issues its report. If the report identifies crimes and criminals, there will be time enough to indict and prosecute. Right now, we need the nonpartisan truth, because we aren’t getting it from the special counsel.
Ahem, what is the evidence that Mueller isn't working on providing nonpartisan truth, also known as the truth?

 If anything, Congress has shown that it can't be trusted to seek and share the truth. Remember the dueling memos?

No, I'd much rather that Mueller continue. As for Dershowitz, I saw him described as a publicity whore hound. Wait, that's from 1989. I'm sure he's overcome that tendency by now.

Whatever. Mueller should continue, wrap up as soon as possible, and issue a detailed report of the facts.


Wednesday, April 11, 2018

April links

I was away for the month of March with only a tablet, and not in the mood for typing on that infernal non-keyboard. I did read a few interesting items, and a few more since I returned home.

Closing the racial achievement gap. According to Charles Murray, this should be impossible because it's inherent in the genomes. An intensive program in New York City has had very good results. However, skimming the published scientific paper, it's not clear that the gap was erased, just that they were heading that way.

North Carolina's blatantly discriminatory voting act. Struck down, but uggghhhh! This couldn't happen in the Supreme Court hadn't decided that the Voting Right Act was no longer needed. Well, that was a partisan decision, not an honest judicial finding. I read elsewhere that the legislation disallowed the types of IDs that were more common among blacks. Yes, very blatant.

Voter fraud investigation in California. I wonder a lot about California, partly because I nearly became a voter there but bailed out before I committed an actual illegal act. This investigation may be ongoing, but hasn't turn up much. However, I like to watch whatever I can in CA.

Korean strategies. From March. This story is a bit slow, but still an easy read and fairly informative on different ways to view the situation in Korea.

Nazi story. A profile of a leader of a white supremacy group that was involved in Charlottesville.

Unexpected interference in business. Suppose the socialism wasn't the worst enemy of business. Instead, it was a thin-skinned blowhard who ended up as president.

Capsule picture of what's wrong with Trump. This story rings so true to me. Trump as an impetuous glad-hander who doesn't know what he's doing.

Iran's presence in Syria. Very informative story about why Israel is bombing airfields in Syria, and who has missiles where.