Tuesday, October 21, 2014


From the "Daily News Briefing" at Herman Cain's "Best of Cain" site:

I have no words.


UPDATE: Oh, of course:


I'm glad David Corn of Mother Jones is reminding us of this, but I wonder how much good it will do once the presidential campaign gets under way:
As [Senator Rand Paul] moves toward a White House bid, journalists scrutinize his every wiggle and whisper. But one core component of his political personality has largely escaped exploration: The senator is close to being a full-blown conspiracy theorist.

In 2010, before winning his Senate seat, Paul sat for an interview with Luke Rudkowski, a libertarian YouTube personality who specializes in quizzing political leaders about the plot to establish a "one-world socialist government." Rudkowski asked what Paul knew of the Bilderberg Group, a collection of government and business leaders whose annual conference is a favorite target of conspiracy-mongers. Paul replied, "Only what I've learned from Alex Jones." That's right: Alex Jones, the radio host who claims that Bilderberg is a key part of a global plot to create a "scientific dictatorship" that will exterminate the "useless eaters," a.k.a. 80 percent of the human population.

Paul described the group to Rudkowski in unequivocally Jonesian terms, as "very wealthy people, who I think manipulate and use government to their own personal advantage. They want to make it out like world government will be good for humanity. But guess what? World government is good for their pocketbook." The previous year, Paul had appeared on Jones' radio show, noting that he had watched his host's videos and expressing support for the effort to "expose people who are promoting this globalist agenda." (In turn, Jones urged his listeners to send money to Paul's Senate campaign.)
Here's the problem with bringing this up: Most Americans don't know what the Bilderberg group is, and don't know why believing the Bilderbergers are at the epicenter of a globalist conspiracy is crazy. For that matter, they don't know who Alex Jones is -- or maybe they know him just as that guy who got into a one-sided shouting match with Piers Morgan on the subject of guns shortly after the Sandy Hook massacre. (Nothing Jones said was very different from the NRA's own propaganda, or the gun utterances of most Republican officeholders, so while he came off as a hothead, I don't think he came off as a conspiratorialist.)

When the public doesn't already understand that a crazy idea is crazy, it's hard to use belief in that idea against a candidate. That's why Joni Ernst is a slight favorite to win the Senate race in Iowa, even though she's said delusional things about the UN's Agenda 21. Hardly anybody knows what Agenda 21 is. Hardly anyone understands that it's innocuous. You can't tell voters that Ernst believes a cockamamie conspiracy theory when they don't know it's cockamamie.

Corn goes on to tell us that Rand Paul has worried about the imminent formation of a "North American Union" with a single currency:
Paul also has embraced one of the conspiracy theories promoted by his father, former Texas Rep. Ron Paul: that leaders from the United States, Canada, and Mexico are seeking to merge their countries into a socialist megastate that would issue the "Amero" currency to replace US and Canadian dollars and the Mexican peso. (Anti-feminist campaigner Phyllis Schlafly and Jerome Corsi, who led the 2004 Swift Boat Veterans for Truth campaign, are among the key proponents of this idea.)

At an appearance for his father's 2008 presidential campaign in Bozeman, Montana, Rand Paul was asked what steps his dad would take to thwart the scheme to impose a North American superstate. The first thing to do, he said, was "publicizing that it's going on" and pushing Congress to "stop it." He insisted the Amero push was "a real thing" but cautioned, "If you talk about it like it's a conspiracy, they'll paint you as a nut. It's not a conspiracy, they're out in the open about it. I guarantee it's one of their long-term goals -- to have one sort of borderless mass continent." He did not specify who "they" were.
But people don't know that's crazy. We have NAFTA. What's the difference? Why is NAFTA real and this is crazy? People don't understand. It would be hard to get them to understand. And no one's really tried.

You're not going to get a careful, detailed story debunking conspiracy myths about Agenda 21 or the North American Union or the Bilderbergers from The Washington Post or The New Republic or The New York Times Magazine or CNN -- maybe stories would appear if a high-profile candidate invoked one of these theories in the heat of a closely covered campaign, but that's not what's happening. (Rand Paul, as Corn notes, stopped talking about these conspiracies once he became a serious Senate candidate. That's also what Ernst has done.)

As long as these ideas are under the elite press's radar, there won't be debunkings. Even Vox, which sells itself as the site where everything you might see mentioned in the news gets explained, has nothing about the Bilderberg group or the Amero. The phrases "Agenda 21" and "North American Union" have never appeared at Vox.

If the mainstream media won't deign to debunk these myths because doing so feels like slumming, the myths will fester -- and the public won't know that candidates who've taken the myths seriously are engaging in crazy talk. Ernst is skating; unless the media's approach to conspiracies starts to change, Paul will, too.

Monday, October 20, 2014


National Journal's Shane Goldmacher has just published a gushy, breathless puff piece on Joni Ernst, Iowa's Republican Senate candidate:
What the Republicans ... have going for them this year is Ernst herself, a folksy state senator and lieutenant colonel in the Iowa National Guard who has emerged as one of the breakout stars of 2014. She burst through a crowded Senate GOP primary with an ad touting her farm-girl roots castrating hogs. "Let's make them squeal!" she said of Washington spenders. The ad drew national attention (627,000 YouTube views and counting) and a deluge of donations.

Most recent polls have shown Ernst narrowly ahead and her supporters more energized. She is more liked than disliked by Iowa voters, while Braley's favorability rating is underwater in most surveys....

"She's become a rock star, certainly among Republicans," says [David] Oman, her finance director....

Ernst has excited not just GOP insiders but Iowa voters. A recent NBC/Marist poll showed a huge enthusiasm gap, with more than 60 percent of Ernst backers saying they were actively supporting her, versus 34 percent who were more opposing Braley. The reverse was true for him. More than 60 percent of his supporters were mostly opposed to her, rather than actively for him.
And according to Goldmacher, anyone who thinks Ernst is extreme or fringe-y is just trying to ruin everyone else's sense of delight in her wonderfulness:
Democrats have tried to cut Ernst down with a campaign to cast her as an extremist. They have some politically potent fodder, including video of her speaking about the possibility of privatizing Social Security and her support for "personhood" legislation, which could ban some forms of birth control (Ernst says she is in favor of birth-control access). She's suggested that states could nullify federal law and raised the specter of impeaching Obama. She also suggested that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, before trying to backtrack.
Ed Kilgore is outraged at the notion that calling Ernst an extremist is somehow out of bounds, given the positions she's embraced, and he notes that Ernst's embrace of the insane Agenda 21 conspiracy ought to be disqualifying all by itself. BooMan also finds it appalling that Goldmacher allows her to skate on these matters.

But I want to point out another aspect of Goldmacher's argument. He flatly calls Ernst a "better candidate" than Democrat Bruce Braley -- but he needs an explanation for why she's not running away with the election. His explanation is this:
... Iowa Republicans [are] still smarting from two straight cycles of defeat that they blame on superior Democratic infrastructure. "The Obama machine, organization -- whatever you'd like to call it -- took us to school in 2008 and again in 2012," says David Oman, who cochaired Mitt Romney's Iowa campaign last cycle.

... as they are in Senate races across the country -- Colorado, Alaska, North Carolina, to name a few -- Democrats here are hoping smart tactics can offset a national mood that favors Republicans. And in Iowa, fears of the Democratic machine lurk not far below the surface....
Right. If Braley wins, it's not going to be because that's a genuine expression of Iowa's popular will. He's going to win because Democrats always gin the system with their mysterious, sinister get-out-the-vote tricks and wiles.

This line of argument dovetails nicely with Republican vote trutherism (Democrats win because of massive voter fraud!) and its lite, polite variants (Democrats win because they give so much free stuff to moochers! Republicans lose some elections in the overall vote count, but win the votes of the right people, so, really, the GOP wins!). Either way, America -- or "real Americans," at least -- prefer the GOP no matter what the vote totals say. Democrats don't have a mandate to govern even when they win (because they don't really win), and Republicans have a mandate even when they lose.


Time's Alexandra Sifferlin reports good Ebola news:
The World Health Organization declared Nigeria free of Ebola on Monday, a containment victory in an outbreak that has stymied other countries' response efforts....

For the WHO to declare Nigeria as Ebola-free, the country had to make it 42 days with no new cases ..., verify that it actively sought out all possible contacts, and show negative test results for any suspected cases....

Nigeria had 20 cases of Ebola after a Liberian-American man named Patrick Sawyer flew into Lagos and collapsed at the airport. Health care workers treating Sawyer were infected, and as it spread it ultimately killed eight people, a low number next to the thousands of cases and deaths in other countries....
Sifferlin notes that Nigeria did a lot of things well, getting doctors trained early (by the World Health Organization and Doctors Without Borders) and declaring a health emergency immediately.

But Nigeria didn't seal its borders:
Keeping borders open. Nigeria has not closed its borders to travelers from Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, saying the move would be counterproductive. "Closing borders tends to reinforce panic and the notion of helplessness," Shuaib said. "When you close the legal points of entry, then you potentially drive people to use illegal passages, thus compounding the problem." Shuaib said that if public health strategies are implemented, outbreaks can be controlled, and that closing borders would only stifle commercial activities in the countries whose economies are already struggling due to Ebola.
Let me just remind you that Nigeria shares a continent with eleven other countries where Ebola has been detected:

We share a continent with no such countries. In fact, there are no such countries in the Western Hemisphere.

And yet the majority of Americans want the borders sealed. It wasn't done in Nigeria -- and it wasn't necessary.

Politico just conducted a poll of states with competitive Senate races and competitive House districts. The results could have been a lot worse for Democrats. The respondent pool skews a bit more rightward than the country as a whole: of the 17 states surveyed, 10 voted for Mitt Romney in 2012; 32 of the 62 House districts are currently represented by Republicans. Within the respondent pool, 38% call themselves "conservative" (in line with national numbers), but another 12% are moderates who say they lean conservative, so half the pool is at least somewhat conservative. And 40% of respondents consider themselves born again or Evangelical (Pew puts the nationwide percentage at 26.3%). And yet 47% of respondents "strongly" or "somewhat" approve of President Obama's job performance. What's more, when asked to choose between the Republican and Democratic candidate (or the independent in the case of the Kansas Senate race), Democrats win, 41%-36%. With leaners, it's still Dems, 44%-41%.

And yet fear persists. I understand Ebola fear being on people's minds, but this seems really irrational:
Eighty-four percent of voters say the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant poses a "serious" threat to the U.S. homeland, including 43 percent who say it poses a “very serious” threat. Just 12 percent said the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, is not a serious concern....

And the same pool of voters that expressed intense resistance to U.S. military intervention overseas in a July POLITICO poll now say they are more concerned about terrorism against the homeland (60 percent) than the possibility of another "drawn-out U.S. war in Iraq" (39 percent.)
More than a month ago, we saw ISIS members beheading Westerners in their sphere of influence. Fearmongers told us that ISIS was sending people into America, or had already done so. The Mexican border was invoked. Ebola was mentioned.

So, um, where's the stateside ISIS terrorism?

Here's the thing: We don't notice when things we fear don't happen. When we're on alert, we don't notice the seemingly unremarkable, even when it's relevant to our concerns.

It's somewhat like Sherlock Holmes's incident of the dog in the night-time:
Gregory (Scotland Yard detective): "Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?"

Holmes: "To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time."

Gregory: "The dog did nothing in the night-time."

Holmes: "That was the curious incident."
In the Conan Doyle story "Silver Blaze," a dog doesn't bark when a famous racehorse is abducted. Sherlock Holmes knows that the person who moved the horse was not a stranger to the dog. But it's a detail everyone else overlooks.

We're missing the dogs that aren't barking. ISIS isn't killing people in America. Ebola isn't spreading, and the vast majority of people exposed to it here are still in good health. But once fear is stirred up, it lingers. Reassuring news doesn't have anywhere near the same impact.

Republicans stoke fear all the time because they know this. They've had a lot to work with lately. But their direst predictions aren't coming true.

Too bad we won't notice -- soon we'll just let them scare us about something else.

Sunday, October 19, 2014


In comments yesterday, Never Ben Better posted a disheartening story from Maine:
A teacher at Strong Elementary School was placed on a 21-day paid leave of absence after parents told the school board they were concerned that she might have been exposed to Ebola during a trip to Dallas for an educational conference....

Jackie King, a spokeswoman for the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, said the Dallas conference is being held at the Hilton Anatole Hotel, where participants also are staying....

The hotel where the teacher stayed is about 10 miles from Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital, where the first case of the virus was diagnosed....

About 363,000 passengers arrived on international flights into Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport in August, the latest month for which statistics are available. About 5 million domestic travelers passed through the airport in the same month....
In addition to telling us that this town is in a panic despite the fact that the teacher in question stayed ten miles away from the hospital where Thomas Eric Duncan was treated, the story recounts other incidents of Ebola panic:
A Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist for the Washington Post, who photographed Ebola victims in Liberia in September, was disinvited from a photojournalism workshop at Syracuse University even though he showed no signs of the disease for 21 days after his return to the United States.... In Hazelhurst, Mississippi, a crowd of parents pulled their middle school students from class Friday after learning that the school's principal recently had traveled to attend a family funeral in Zambia, which is in southern Africa and about 3,000 miles from the outbreak in West Africa.
And here's a guy named Matt Dexter who has a child in that Maine teacher's classroom, and who, in his ignorance, probably reflects the way much -- most? -- of America is thinking right now:
"I'm really tired of people telling everyone, on the news, starting at the national level, 'zero risk, low risk,'" he said. "The bottom line is that there is risk. Are we more capable of handling this than Africa? Sure, but why walk around blind and jam people into hot spots we can't control? It all comes down to personal responsibility."
I know the press wants to report on what is happening, and speculate on what might happen, but it's obvious now that what the public needs from the press is a reminder of what isn't happening.

Thomas Eric Duncan flew from Monrovia, Liberia, to Brussels, Belgium, on September 19, then flew from Brussels to Dulles Airport in D.C. The next day, September 20, he flew from D.C. to Dallas.

He arrived in Dallas -- infected with Ebola -- 29 days ago.

The incubation period is, at most, 21 days.

There are no Ebola cases in Belgium. There are no Ebola cases in the D.C. area. The only people with Ebola in Dallas have been Duncan and two nurses who treated him when he was unquestionably gravely ill, and when the nurses may not have mastered the protocols for protecting themselves from a highly contagious patient, or may not have had adequate protective gear and other safeguards.

The point is, we know that Thomas Eric Duncan did not communicate Ebola to anyone in his travels -- no one on any plane he flew on, no one in any airport he passed through. The people he had contact with until he was finally admitted to Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital on September 28 -- 21 days ago -- have shown no signs of Ebola, and that includes his relatives and his fiancee -- who seems fine, by the way, but can't get anyone to rent her an apartment.

I know that, by now, much of America probably thinks that "we don't really know" what the incubation period is, just as they think "we don't really know" how Ebola is transmitted. But no matter what they think, they need to be reminded that there are no non-medical personnel who've contracted Ebola via Thomas Eric Duncan. Not his relatives. Not his fiancee. Not the people at the apartment complex where he was staying. Yes, it's true that the people who delivered food to Duncan's family after his hospitalization and later cleaned the apartment are still not past the 21-day maximum incubation period-- though they've had time to develop symptoms, and none have.

If the authorities are lying to us about how Ebola is transmitted, where are all the other cases?

With some people, it's probably hopeless to point this out -- they'll say there are other cases, but they're being covered up. (So why weren't the cases of Duncan and his nurses covered up? Why aren't the scares all over the country being covered up?)

But I have to think that some people would understand if they were reminded that the disease is being transmitted pretty much exactly the way the authorities have always thought it's transmitted, and isn't being transmitted ambiently, just as the experts told us.

Ebola was discovered in 1976. Do most Americans know that -- know that scientists have had 38 years to figure out what it does? Could the press please remind the public of the fact that this virus hasn't been a mystery to scientists for decades?

I have hope, because I lived in New York, which was an epicenter of AIDS as the disease was emerging. People panicked about casual transmission of HIV -- but, eventually, they didn't. Increased understanding can happen -- but people need to see what the virus does and doesn't do. The press needs to report the latter as well as the former -- and, by the way, so does the Obama administration.


MORE: I wonder if we need someone like Oprah to make this case. It's easy to imagine Oprah in her heyday flying down to Dallas, meeting with Duncan's fiancee and others who'd had contact with him -- and hugging some of them on camera, while also bringing on an expert to explain the transmission process and incubation period. Everyone in America would know that Oprah hugged a close contact of an Ebola patient. She'd say she had no fear because the incubation period was up, and then we'd see that she didn't get sick. A celebrity interviewer who did this now woul be doing America a world of good.

Saturday, October 18, 2014


This Politico story is just silly:
Rick Perry's Ebola test

Ebola came to Texas. And Rick Perry went to Europe.

Now the Republican governor, a likely presidential contender, is back in Austin and scrambling to avoid a damaging perception problem like the "oops" moment that doomed his first shot at the White House.

At first, Perry seemed to have everything under control. When a man in Dallas was diagnosed with the deadly virus, Perry held an Oct. 1 news conference, assuring the public that "there are few places in the world better equipped to meet the challenges posed by this case." When more people were quarantined, he launched a task force and told Texans to "rest assured our system is working as it should."

But then he left Sunday for a long-planned 7-day trip designed to burnish his foreign policy credentials. During his absence, two more cases of Ebola were confirmed, both of them involving Texas nurses who had dealt with the first patient.

The governor cut his trip short and rushed home on Thursday, only to encounter criticism for leaving in the first place....
As long as we have a Democratic president, no Republican officeholder is going to be held accountable by Republican primary voters for failing to do the right thing on Ebola, no matter what he or she may have done or failed to do. Republicans running in 2016 who've had to deal with Ebola are going to be judged on one criterion: How much did you distance yourself from the president? It doesn't matter whether Obama and his administration handle Ebola flawlessly from here on in -- the test will be whether you denounced Obama at every possible opportunity and said that everything he was doing was wrong.

On that test, it's not clear that Perry gets a passing grade:
Unlike other possible Republican presidential contenders, he has laid off the hot rhetoric blaming the Obama administration, instead calling for calm. He told reporters about a phone call he had with Obama, signaling his new, harder-line stance on handling Ebola -- by calling for a travel ban on visitors from countries most deeply affected — without focusing on the differences he has with the White House.
It may be silly to take Rick Perry's presidential ambitions seriously at all, but even if you do, he's not going to be judged on "crisis management" in this situation, as the article suggests -- he's going to be judged on how much he hates Obama. That's how every Republican presidential aspirant is judged on pretty much everything.

Oh, so now we're getting well-written, thoughtful, detailed arguments for why a travel ban won't work?

Don't get me wrong, I'm very grateful for this article on the subject by The New Republic's Jonathan Cohn. Among other things, it addresses the argument that commercial flights aren't needed into and out of West Africa because aid workers can take charters:
Lots of people wonder, couldn't the U.S. government just arrange other transportation -- maybe a modern-day version of the 1948 Berlin airlift? I've put that question to a number of officials and experts and the answer I keep hearing is "no." In the real world, they say, making these arrangements would be difficult and solutions would be inadequate. It's not as if assistance is this highly organized campaign, with all the necessary aid workers and their supplies lined up at Dover Air Force base, just waiting for C-17s to take them across the Atlantic. The flow of people and wares into West Africa is a constantly changing, unpredictable blob that's heavily dependent on freely available commercial transportation. Replacing that would take resources and time, the latter of which the region really doesn't have.
A very good Politico story on the same subject runs some numbers, citing Robert Mann, an aviation consultant:
"If you literally sequester the markets, which is to say remove all scheduled service, you really eliminate the possibility of practical access to those markets by public health officials and public health [groups] who are trying to help," Mann said. "You would force them into the charter market, which is very expensive and in some cases also not very practical."

Mann said the economics of chartering a plane to operate in West Africa are particularly challenging -- and, by extension, especially expensive, likely rising quickly out of reach for most non-government organizations or aid workers.

He said a 16-seater plane capable of flying from North America to Western Africa nonstop, chartered from a reputable firm, would cost around $12,000 per hour for a 16-hour round-trip flight, not including ground handling costs, plus fuel costs for the return trip. He said some charter companies might be reluctant to even offer services to an Ebola hotspot, for the same reason an airline wouldn't care to fly there.

"It's really not practical for 16 people to pay what may be $200,000 to charter a jet -- and compare that to the fares on scheduled airlines," which might be about $1,200 per person.
Yes -- $200,000 to charter a jet for 16 people is $12,500 a person, as opposed to $1,200. It's more than ten times as much. And aid groups are cash-strapped as it is. Who among the ban-the-flights crowd is prepared to pony up the difference, or put up resources (or advocate the allocation of tax dollars) to ensure enough flights?

And both pieces address the question of what happens to countries in the hot zone. Here's Cohn:
A travel ban would also hurt the region economically. And while it might seem frivolous to worry about dollars (or other currencies) when it comes to matters of life and death, the issues are inextricably linked. The more the people of these countries face deprivation, whether its lack of jobs or lack of food, the more they will push to leave. It's not at all far-fetched to imagine huge refugee flows out of these countries -- the kind that even tight border controls couldn't fully stop. That would increase the chances that Ebola ends up in other African nations, including those with large urban centers and strong ties to global networks. Think of Ebola taking hold in the slums of Lagos or Nairobi, and how quickly it would jump from there to the rest of the continent and then beyond. It's just one more example of how a travel ban, quite apart from its devastating effect on the region, could actually result in more cases eventually showing up on American shores.
But in all likelihood it's too late for arguments like this. The train has left the station. The hysteria-mongers had a jump on thoughtful liberals, centrists, experts, and wonks -- the right-wing screechers been spreading fear and yelling "Seal the borders!" while Thomas Feiden and other Obama administration officials have been defending the lack of a travel ban with vague general statements lacking detail about what a post-ban world would look like. And the mainstream press has been slow off the mark as well. The right set the terms of this debate -- as the right sets the terms of most debates.

Just as the Obama administration failed to anticipate an infected person getting through screening, failed to anticipate confusion surrounding a complex series of Ebola protocols, and failed to anticipate the inability of a non-specialized hospital to handle an Ebola patient in a health care system known for cost-driven corner-cutting, Team Obama also failed to anticipate the right pouncing on Ebola in the way it has, and thus driving public opinion. I think this administration is pretty good at reacting -- the health care website got fixed, the screws on Putin got tightened, the current level of Ebola contact-tracing is probably now at least as strict as it needs to be, if not stricter -- but anticipating problems is, to put it mildly, not the Obamaites' strong suit.

And the fact that right-wingers, on nearly every issue, drown out everyone else with their cynical faux-anguish is something center and left journalists never anticipate. And I have to ask: How do you miss this when it keeps happening? How do you not realize that you have to write stories as if at least a third of your audience has already been terrified and misinformed by the right, and constantly needs to have misconceptions corrected in great detail? How can something that happens so often possibly be a surprise every time it happens?

All of you, please: Be ready for the possibility that things will go very, very wrong. It often happens in the real world. It nearly always happens in the dissemination of information that has potential political consequences, thanks to the right.

Friday, October 17, 2014


Here's an utterly unsurprising headline from The Hill: "GOP Blasts Obama Ebola Czar Pick." Tweets are quoted:

There's absolutely no one, doctor or otherwise -- or at least there's no one apart from movement-conservative Republicans like Ben Carson -- who actually would have been acceptable to the GOP. And yet when the appointment was announced, the voice of the mainstream, CNN, greeted the news as if the entire Beltway would stand up and cheer:
Klain is highly regarded at the White House as a good manager with excellent relationships both in the administration and on Capitol Hill. His supervision of the allocation of funds in the stimulus act -- at the time and incredible and complicated government undertaking -- is respected in Washington. He does not have any extensive background in health care but the job is regarded as a managerial challenge.
Tell us the truth, dammit. Find a bland, neutral way to say that Republicans are always gunning for the president and would howl in outrage at any choice for this position. Saying that isn't being partisan -- it's reporting incontrovertible facts.

The public needs to know this. It's misleading to portray the Republican Party as a mild, reasonable, slow-to-anger political organization whose members just happen to squeal like stuck pigs in unison every six hours or so because Obama does outrageous things precisely that often. The president has made plenty of mistakes, and naming Klain could, for all I know, be one of them (though if his job is managing bureaucracies, with the medical expertise left to others, maybe he is a fine pick) -- but the political story of our time is the Republican Party's attempt to neutralize a Democratic presidency by making it incapable of functioning. There is no issue on which Republicans will ever rally behind the president (no, not even Secret Service protection; Republican concern for the president's safety were merely a means through which to criticize his administration). Implying that Republicans will ever accept anything Obama does is like implying that ISIS might give up beheading people if enough parents plead. Don't say something like that just to be evenhanded, because what's more important is that it's not true.

A Daily Caller story is at going viral on the right:
US Ebola Hospital Laid Off Staff Due To Obamacare, Now Has Staff Constraints

The Nebraska hospital at the center of U.S. medical efforts to fight Ebola recently laid off staff due to budget cuts caused by Obamacare, and its Ebola-fighting resources are now limited due to staff constraints.

The Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha recently treated journalist Ashoka Mukpo after the NBC News freelancer contracted Ebola. The center is one of the only hospitals in the country that can adequately treat Ebola patients in its biocontainment units.....

But the center's Ebola-fighting capacity is limited due in part to staff constraints.

"That's pretty much the level of staffing that we have as well," said the center's biocontainment unit nursing director Shelly Schwedhelm, referring to the center’s capability to hold only two or three Ebola patients at once.

The Nebraska Medical Center announced 38 layoffs, including those of top officials, in October 2012 with more possible layoffs to come. The center directly blamed the layoffs on decreased revenue from Obamacare's reduction of Medicare reimbursement rates....
Is this story accurate? Is the Nebraska Medical Center's biocontainment unit short-staffed because of Obamacare?

No. Here's what the biocontainment unit's nursing director actually said about limitations on the Center's ability to take on Ebola patients, according to the story the Caller linked:
Shelly Schwedhelm said the med center's 10-bed unit is "prepared to take on more than one patient." But Schwedhelm said the autoclave equipment -- the technology that sterilizes items with high-pressure steam -- would limit the unit's capacity to two or three Ebola patients at once.

"That's pretty much the level of staffing that we have as well," Schwedhelm said.
Right -- as Rachel Maddow explained at some length last night, this unit maintains sanitary conditions by autoclaving gowns, gloves, human waste -- pretty much everything that comes into the unit. That's the reason for the patient limit: how much its autoclave equipment can handle. Presumably the staffing level is adjusted accordingly.

Were there layoffs at Nebraska Medical Center? Yes -- the hospital announced the layoff of 38 people (out of a staff of 5,200) in October 2012, "citing reducing costs, changes in the marketplace and a reduction in the growth of Medicare spending," according to AP. But as an Omaha World-Herald story preserved at Free Republic makes clear, it's a distortion of the facts to say flatly that the layoffs were the result of Obamacare:
Reimbursement rates for Medicare, the federal health insurance program for people age 65 or older, have been targeted under federal health care reform. It's possible that the rates will be further reduced Jan. 1 when automatic spending cuts are scheduled to go into effect. Couple that with ongoing federal deficit-reduction discussions, and hospital officials recognize the need to look hard at controlling costs, said Adrian Sanchez, a spokesman for the Nebraska Hospital Association.
(Emphasis added.)

Right -- Republicans demagogue this issue shamelessly while demanding cuts of their own. The Paul Ryan budget passed by the Republican-controlled House in 2012 had the same Medicare cuts. And Republicans howl endlessly about deficits.

So this Daily Caller story is dishonest in more than one way. Just another day at the office for the right-wing noise machine.

Thursday, October 16, 2014


Ebola contracted by health care workers in supposedly well-prepared hospitals. Rumors of even more Ebola cases. Flyers continuing to arrive from West African countries. Much of America seems to think that all these things are happening here because of Barack Obama's singular refusal to do the right things. But as the Daily Beast's Barbie Latza Nadeau noted yesterday, all this is happening in Europe, too:
If you were surprised to hear the news that a Sudanese United Nations worker died of the deadly Ebola virus in a Berlin hospital on Tuesday, you might be even more surprised to learn just how many Ebola patients there are elsewhere in Europe.

The World Health Organization maintains that there are eight confirmed cases of the deadly virus in Europe tied to the current outbreak: two dead missionaries in Spain, one dead doctor in Germany, one cured man and one doctor in treatment in Germany, two tropical disease doctors in treatment in Holland and a Spanish nurse, Teresa Romero Ramos, under treatment in Spain. Romero Ramos contracted the virus from one of the dead Spanish missionaries. There are also at least a dozen or more suspect cases scattered around European hospitals that may or may not evolve into the full-blown virus.
A week and a half ago, I wrote about the case of Romero Ramos, and about Spanish nurses com plsining that safety in their hospitals was compromised, a problem they blamed on austerity-driven budget cuts. Their complaints sound awfully similar to what nurses and other health care workers are saying in America, although here the problem is for-profit-medicine corner-cutting, not central-bank-imposed austerity. (See, for instance, this grim e-mail from a Talking Points Memo reader whose wife works in a hospital that's clearly not prepared for Ebola.)

There's probably more Ebola than we know about in Europe:
... There is at least one nurse under quarantine in Germany who treated the deceased doctor there. If she is infected, she will now be the fourth health worker outside of West Africa who contracted the disease in a sterile hospital...
The other three are Romero Ramos and the two nurses in America. But that may not be the extent of it:
... As of Wednesday, there were suspected Ebola patients in hospitals in Cyprus, Rome, Brussels, Paris and London. The corpse of a British man who died in Macedonia is being flown to Frankfurt for Ebola testing. More than 100 people who were in contact with the Spanish nurse are under surveillance, being asked to take their temperatures twice a day; 16 people are under quarantine, including her beautician and housekeeper.
Conservatives (and quite a few non-conservatives) regard President Obama's refusal (so far) to ban travelers from affected countries as an act of incomprehensible recklessness, or even as a deliberate betrayal of the American people. But although conservatives have made much of the suspension of flights in and out of West Africa by certain national airlines, flyers from affected countries are still reaching Europe, and European heads of state don't seem to be in a hurry to tighten the restrictions:
One of the biggest concerns in Europe is the frequency of air traffic with West Africa. European hubs are a natural stopping point for many flights from Africa to other regions. A number of routes by major carriers have been suspended, but many still run flights. The United Nations and the World Health Organization have urged airlines not to cut off West Africa, pleading that continuing flights is the only way to save lives.

On Tuesday afternoon some of Italy’s emergency plans were put to the test when a Turkish Airways flight from Istanbul to Pisa made an emergency landing in Rome. According to the airport authority, two passengers from Bangladesh -- a mother and daughter -- started exhibiting Ebola symptoms. When they told flight attendants they had been to West Africa, alarm bells rang and the flight was diverted. They were taken off the plane by emergency officials dressed in biohazard suits and first screened at Rome’s airport before being rushed to Rome's Spallanzani hospital in a special ambulance. The rest of the passengers were asked to leave contact information in case the two suspect passengers test positive for the deadly virus, so they can be contacted if they need to start taking their own temperatures. The Turkish Airlines flight then continued on to its final destination.

The same day, Ebola panic struck the Glasgow airport after a passenger on a Dutch KLM flight fell ill. After emergency workers rushed to the scene and secured the area, the patient was diagnosed with the flu, not Ebola....
You can argue that the Europeans are reckless, too. But you can't argue that President Obama's actions attain some special level of recklessness.

And yet that's pretty much the mainstream view all over America.


The (subscriber-only) cover story of the latest issue of Time is posted now. It's about Rand Paul. And here's the cover:

As Tom Kludt notes at Talking Points Memo, Time is hardly being original here: a month ago, Politico Magazine also called Paul "the most interesting man in politics." Chris Cillizza of The Washington Post called Paul "the most interesting man in the (political) world" back in June. Reason called him the "Most Interesting Man in the Senate" back in 2011.

So it's a cliche by now -- but why this cliche?

I think, in large part, it's the bro (and bro-admiring) nature of many Beltway journalists. The folks at Reason would have embraced the libertarian-ish Paul no matter what, but Cillizza, Politico, and Time are part of a press corps that I'm convinced is looking for a frattish guy to escort us out of the Obama era (and save us from that icky old lady Hillary Clinton) -- and if a possible bro savior has been found, what higher, bro-ier compliment can the journos pay him than to apply an honorific derived from a series of beer commercials, and, moreover, a series of beer commercials obviously inspired by the even more bro-ish Chuck Norris Facts joke series?

I say this all the time, but I'm going to keep saying it: There's an excellent chance that the 2016 election is going to be a rerun of 2000, with the press coming to the conclusion that the Democrat is a buzz-killing, nut-crushing schoolmarm, and with a Republican bamboozling the reporters into thinking that he's both a thoughtful right-centrist and a guy you'd really, really like to have a beer with. If it's not Rand Paul, it might be Mitt Romney or Paul Ryan or Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio or Chris Christie. But the template is JFK: cerebral and charismatic.

Bros and bro fanboys will downplay any signs of right-wing extremism in their designated bro hero, and will see any modest accomplishments as signs of potentially world-historic political talent. Check out the breathless talk from the author of the Time story, Michael Scherer -- obviously more of a bro hero-worshiper than an actual bro -- on today's Morning Joe:

SCHERER: ... politics is about storytelling, and the stories almost never change, and here's a guy who's really trying to change the whole narrative of how we think about Republican Party vs. Democratic Party. He's going around the country talking to conservative, all-white, straight-and-narrow, preppy audiences and saying, "We've got to embrace the freaks and the weirdos and the longhairs and the guys with tattoos." He's going, like other Republicans have done unsuccessfully, to minority communities, saying, "I want to do a bunch of things you haven't heard Republicans say in the past need to be done." He's going to young people around the country. And more important than that, I think, is that Republicans -- he's not the first person to try and color outside the lines, but Republicans, because they're in this sort of demographic bind, are actually listening to him, and he's got a soapbox and he's actually making changes.
He's actually making changes. Yeah, you can see how much Republicans have started following Paul's color-outside-the-lines lead in the huge shifts they've made on the issues of ... er ... um ... well, I'm sure I'll think of something.
SCHERER: ... Interviewing him is like being in a graduate seminar on, sort of, how you can still be a conservative and hold these views without being inconsistent. To get from Point A to Point B, to explain himself, he doesn't really contradict himself, but it takes three or four jumps to really slice the issues he's after, and it's a far more intellectual approach to politicking than we've seen.
(Yes, you heard that right: Rand Paul is "intellectual," and "intellectual" is now a good thing for a politician to be. Barack Obama, call your agent.)

I keep alluding to 2000, but I can't deny that this sort of thing happened on Bill Clinton's behalf in the run-up to the 1992 primaries, when insiders started getting serious mancrushes on him. It also, obviously, happened to Barack Obama in 2008, big time. But if it happens in 2016, the designated bro savior is going to be a Republican who'll be far more extreme than the journalists crushing on him will ever acknowledge (or notice).

So beware -- the next presidential election is not in the bag for Democrats. This is why.


UPDATE: I reread this and realized I didn't make a very strong case for Rand Paul as bro-ish regular guy. For that, I guess, you have to turn to his trolling of Michelle Obama on the issue of food.

Frickin' hilarious!

On Tuesday, Keith Ablow, the house psychiatrist at Fox News, went on Fox's radio affiliate and ranted for twelve minutes in a way that Josh Marshall correctly characterized as "Fox 'Doc' Goes Full Stormfront":
Dr. Keith Ablow, a member of the Fox News Medical A-Team, on Tuesday said that Obama won't protect Americans from Ebola because "his affinities" are with Africa, not the U.S. "He's their leader."

"He has it in for us as disappointing people. People who've been a scourge on the face of the Earth," Ablow said on Fox News Radio's The John Gibson show. "In his mind, if only unconsciously, he's thinking, 'Really? We're going to prevent folks suffering with illnesses from coming across the border flying into our airports when we have visited a plague of colonialism that has devastated much of the world, on the world? What is the fairness in that?'"

“How can you protect a country you don't like? Why would you?" Ablow asked....
Ablow said of America, "We don't have a president."
"We don't have a president?" Gibson asked.

"We don't have a president who has the American people as his primary interest, who believes the country has Manifest Destiny and has been a force for good," Ablow insisted.

The Fox News doctor went on to speculate that Obama had only been elected because Americans were victims of Stockholm Syndrome....
Yup, we voted for Obama because 9/11 scared us into trying to appease our attackers:
"We said to ourselves, and the world, 'Look at this guy. We're going to elect this guy president. Why would you attack us? We're not even voting for somebody who likes us. This guy, who has names very similar to two of our archenemies, Osama, well, Obama. And Hussein. Hussein. Surely you won't attack us now because we've got a shield here of a guy who, as the leader of our country says we're bad.'"
This is a follow-up to a similar opinion piece Ablow wrote for the Fox News website.

All I can think is that Dinesh D'Souza can go off to his community confinement center with his head held high.

Four years ago, D'Souza published a Forbes cover story titled "How Obama Thinks," which accused President Obama of imbibing the anti-colonialism of the father he barely knew and building his entire worldview out of that anti-colonialism. "For Obama," D'Souza wrote, "the solutions are simple. He must work to wring the neocolonialism out of America and the West."

When D'Souza wrote this, and published a book with the same argument called The Roots of Obama's Rage, many conservatives were appalled. Heather Mac Donald called the Forbes article "Dinesh D'Souza's poison."
Sickeningly, while "How Obama Thinks" is useless as a guide to the Obama presidency, it is all too representative of the hysteria that now runs through a significant portion of the right-wing media establishment. The article is ... an example of the lunacy that is poisoning much conservative discourse.
David Frum wrote, "When last was there such a brazen outburst of race-baiting in the service of partisan politics at the national level? George Wallace took more care to sound race-neutral." The Weekly Standard's Andrew Ferguson reviewed The Roots of Obama's Rage, writing, "On the evidence of his new book, we can't be sure if Dinesh D'Souza is a hysteric or a cynic."

But, of course, Newt Gingrich took D'Souza's argument and ran with it:
Gingrich says that D'Souza has made a "stunning insight" into Obama's behavior -- the "most profound insight I have read in the last six years about Barack Obama."

"What if [Obama] is so outside our comprehension, that only if you understand Kenyan, anti-colonial behavior, can you begin to piece together [his actions]?" Gingrich asks.
Two years later, Gingrich ran a surprisingly successful presidential campaign. Meanwhile, D'Souza milked the anti-colonialism theme for two rather popular "documentary" films and another book.

And now the D'Souza thesis is so much a part of the right-wing narrative that Ablow can invoke it without even naming its originator. To right-wingers, it's no longer a strange but curiously compelling argument made by that D'Souza fellow -- it's accepted fact. It's been thoroughly worked into the Obama master narrative on the right.

Bravo, Dinesh. The well is fully poisoned now. You did what you set out to do.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014


I have nothing much to add to what I'm sure you've already read about the mishandling of Thomas Eric Duncan at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital:
A statement outlining a litany of damning assertions was read by Deborah Burger, co-president of National Nurses United. The Oakland-based nurses union does not represent the Dallas nurses, who are nonunionized, but has been vocal about what it says are hospitals' failures to prepare for Ebola.

The Dallas nurses asked the union to read their statement so they could air complaints anonymously and without fear of losing their jobs, National Nurses United Executive Director RoseAnn DeMoro said from Oakland....

The nurses' statement alleged that when Duncan was brought to Texas Health Presbyterian by ambulance with Ebola-like symptoms, he was "left for several hours, not in isolation, in an area" where up to seven other patients were. "Subsequently, a nurse supervisor arrived and demanded that he be moved to an isolation unit, yet faced stiff resistance from other hospital authorities," they alleged.

Duncan's lab samples were sent through the usual hospital tube system "without being specifically sealed and hand-delivered. The result is that the entire tube system ... was potentially contaminated," they said....
I'm amused, however, to see this union and its officers being quoted favorably by outraged conservatives at Right Wing News, CNS News, Free Republic, and other sites on the right. Do these righties know anything about their new favorite whistleblowers?

Burger advocates single-payer and opposes the Keystone pipeline, as does DeMoro. They also advocate a Robin Hood Tax on Wall Street financial transactions. In a Washington Post op-ed published Monday, DeMoro tied our Ebola problems to the private, for-profit nature of our health care system:
... Ebola is exposing a broader problem: the sober reality of our fragmented, uncoordinated private health-care system. We have enormous health-care resources in the United States. What we lack is a national, integrated system needed to respond effectively to a severe national threat such as Ebola.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issues guidelines but has no authority to enforce them. Hospitals have wide latitude to pick and choose what protocols they will follow; too often in a corporate medical system those decisions are based on budget priorities, not what is best for the health and safety of patients and caregivers. Congress and state lawmakers put few mandates on what hospitals must do in the face of pandemics or other emergencies, and local health officials do not have the authority to direct procedures and protocols at hospitals.

Where other countries -- notably Canada, which took action after its vulnerabilities were exposed by the 2003 SARS epidemic -- have empowered their public health agencies to coordinate local, state and federal detection and response efforts for pandemics, the United States cut funding for its already-weak system. Federal funding for public health preparedness and response activities was $1 billion less in fiscal 2013 than 2002....
Why do we know what went on in Texas Health Presbyterian when Thomas Duncan came in? Because a union was able to tell us. Conservatives would prefer an America in which no health care workers were unionized at all. They should remember that when they're quoting National Nurses United.

I think it's going to happen, but after the elections. Here's why:
More Americans now say that they believe U.S. military action against ISIS should include American combat troops on the ground, according to a new NBC News/ Wall Street Journal poll.

Forty-one percent of respondents believe both troops on the ground and airstrikes are necessary for the mission against ISIS, versus 35 percent who think it should be restricted to airstrikes; another 15 percent say no military action should be taken.

That’s a reversal from the NBC/WSJ poll in September, when 40 percent wanted just airstrikes and 34 wanted both airstrikes and combat troops.

The seven-point increase in those also wanting U.S. ground troops has been fueled mostly by groups that make up the GOP base. More self-described Republicans (up 14 points), men over 50 years old (up 18), white men (up 17) and seniors (up 10) now advocate for troops on the ground in the fight against the terror group. There's been virtually no change since September among Democrats, young people, and white women....
Ground troops won't be sent as long as the president thinks doing so will alienate Democratic voters -- although I have to wonder how much of a factor it would be for most Dems, especially in the red and purple states where the key Senate races are. Most Democratic voters aren't committed progressives who are politically engaged at all times. The group of people who fall into that category is a small sliver of the Democratic base. I think a lot of Democratic voters will find themselves drifting into acceptance of a ground war with ISIS in the near future. Meanwhile, the pressure will build from the rest of the public. Today's big New York Times story about U.S. soldiers finding decayed pre-1991 chemical weapons in Iraq after the overthrow of Saddam is even part of the process of getting the public ready for a wider ISIS war:
Since the outset of the war, the scale of the United States' encounters with chemical weapons in Iraq was neither publicly shared nor widely circulated within the military. These encounters carry worrisome implications now that the Islamic State, a Qaeda splinter group, controls much of the territory where the weapons were found.
George W. Bush left office six years ago. If we thought mass wariness about war was a permanent condition in America, we were crazy. This will be an issue in our politics until there's a sense that ISIS isn't a threat to Americans. War is winning the battle for America's hearts and minds -- as it usually does.