Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Obama and Ebola

There has been a continuing thread of "science versus politicians" over how to handle the threat from Ebola. The big question is how far can we trust the "scientists".

The debate is over closing the border to people who have traveled in countries where the disease is epidemic and how we should treat people who have been exposed. The experts say that Ebola is very difficult to catch and people who are not exhibiting symptoms are not contagious. They have also said the closing the border would make the problem worse. The preferred response is to identify people who are infected then try to identify everyone they came in contact with while they were communicable.

Closing the border is a huge point of contention. While our scientists say that they know best, other countries such as Great Britain have closed their borders. Are these countries ignoring their scientists? The US policy seems counter-intuitive.

Identifying infections and people who were exposed only works as long as we have a tiny number of cases. There are only 19 beds certified for Ebola in the entire nation.

We are told that Ebola is very difficult to catch but that ignores the fact that it is an epidemic. Medical staff following isolation protocols have been infected.

The insistence that there are no symptoms until the temperature reaches 100.3 is strange. One infected nurse was cleared to travel because her temperature at the time was below that magic threshold. Apparently a victim's temperature does not rise to the magic number instantly.

There are other reasons to be concerned. President Obama values partisan loyalty over competence. That has led to wide-spread failures across his administration,  If top officials didn't know that the web site for Obamacare, the centerpiece of the Obama administration, was inoperative at launch then do they know what is happening in other areas?

Currently the nation has no Surgeon General. That's because Obama's nominee's main qualifications were that he was the head of Physicians for Obama and that he planned on using the office to lobby for anti-gun legislation. His Ebola czar is a lawyer with no medical expertise.

There is also reason to distrust the CDC itself. In 2009, a version of the flu called H1N1 seemed more dangerous than most and there were shortages of vaccines. The CDC advised people to sneeze into their elbow instead of their hand and to use hand cleanser. They also stated that it was more dangerous to younger people and older people seemed to have a natural immunity so seniors could skip vaccines.

The advice about not sneezing into your hand was valid Hand sanitizers are anti-bacterial and have no effect on viruses like H1N1. Worst, the virus had the same mortality rate among seniors as other strains of the flu. The claim that seniors had a natural immunity was a bit of social engineering. The CDC figured that kids in schools were at a greater threat of catching H1N1. With the vaccine in short supply, they told some white lies in order to get the vaccines where they believed it would do the most good.

So, how much of what we are being told includes white lies? There is no way for us to know.  

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Perverse Logic of Indigenous People's Day

The second Monday in October is Columbus Day, celebrating the date that Columbus sighted land and starting the chain of events that led to the modern world. This year Seattle joined Minneapolis, and South Dakota in celebrating Indigenous People's Day (or American Indian Day in South Dakota). These people see Columbus as a conqueror and the indians as a vanquished race.

Keep in mind that all Columbus never touched the mainland in North America and none of these places are proposing any sort of reparations to the Indians, let alone giving the land back. The whole thing is an exercise in political correctness, denouncing previous generation of Americans and patting themselves on their smug backs through a meaningless gesture.

The people who celebrate Columbus Day are celebrating the triumph of American culture. We're here and we're proud of it.

The Obama Doctrine Meets Reality

Officially the current motto of the Obama administration's foreign policy is "Don't do stupid shit."

The real policy, as outlined in the president's West Point speech, is "It doesn't matter what happens in the world as long as it doesn't affect Americans." While this sounds fairly harmless, it has proved to be disastrous.

The Ebola outbreak is an example. The US was slow to react because it was only killing foreigners. The US government didn't step up its reaction until an American aid worker was infected. The problem here is that plagues can't be contained. The best way to stop Ebola in the US is to stop it in Africa. This means putting US personnel at risk, helping to treat African victims but if it continues to spread then it will come here and start killing American civilians.

Syria is another example. When the civil war there started, outsiders urged Obama to get involved by finding non-Islamic rebels and arming them. Obama did virtually nothing at the casualties mounted. Even when Syria crossed his red line and used WMDs, he faltered. It is obvious that he didn't want to get involved as long as the conflict only involved foreigners killing each others. Hundreds of thousands dead and over a million displaced was not enough to sway Obama.

This continued as the war spilled over into Iraq and the gains made under the Bush administration were lost. Obama dismissed the Islamic State as a Junior Varsity team despite intelligence briefings that said they were very dangerous to the US. Reports of mass slaughter of conquered men and enslavement of women was insufficient to convince Obama to do anything against the Islamic State.

Obama didn't change his mind until the IS began beheading Americans. By that point it was too little, too late. Air strikes are not enough and the President is still unwilling to take sides in Syria.

The result of Obama's earlier inaction is that Ebola is spreading with no end in sight and the Islamic State has conquered a third of Iraq with no sign of slowing.

Friday, October 03, 2014

The Misstatements of Neil deGrasse Tyson

Neil deGrasse Tyson is famous. He has a TV show. He writes books. He gives speeches on science. The problem, as reported in the Federalist, is that he gets some things wrong. Four specific errors have been noted. So far I have not seen anyone actually analyze these errors and put them into perspective so I'll do it.

Error #1 - the drugs and the coins
According to Tyson, he was on jury duty and had to explain to a judge that what sounded like a large amount of drugs was comparable to the weight of a coin. The amount of the drugs and the comparable coin vary from one telling to another.

This one is harmless.

Error #2 - 50% of students are below average.
Tyson quotes a newspaper headline as saying that 50% of the students are below average.

On the face of it, Tyson has a point. Assuming that the average is close to the mean, then you would expect half the students to be above that point and half to be below it. The problem is that this is a bad assumption when talking about students. "Average" for students usually means ones who earn a C. Below average means students earning a D or F. Any school district where half the students are earning a D or F has a problem.

Unless Tyson can produce the article and show that in the context, "average" means "mean" rather than "C" he should stop using this one.

Error #3 - a Congress member doing a 360 degree turn
Tyson says that a member of Congress said, "I've done a 360 degree turn on this." Since that's a full circle, this was probably a misstatement for a 180 degree turn.

Tyson does not name the member of Congress who said this. Instead he uses the quote to belittle all current and past members of Congress. Given that the quote is years old and Congress has a lot of turn-over, he's tarring hundreds of people with this quote. Worse, the person who said it probably knows the difference and misspoke (as President Obama did when he implied that there are more than 50 states).

This is a cheap shot and Tyson should stop using this one.

Error #4 - The same god who named the stars...
This is the most troubling error. When giving the eulogy for the astronauts who died on the space shuttle Columbia, President Bush said, "The same Creator who names the stars also knows the names of the seven souls we mourn today."

Tyson wanted to use this as a springboard for talking about the fact that 2/3s of the stars have Arabic names because of the contributions of Arabic astronomers. The problem is that Tyson also wanted to belittle President Bush so he misrepresented the quote. He said that it was given right after 9/11/2001 and meant to divide "us" and "them". He also asserted that the Old Testament god is the same god as Allah, an assertion that would get him executed in many Muslim countries.

The fact is that Bush went to lengths to say the exact opposite. The memorial service that Tyson attributed the quote to was very inclusive. Bush made it clear that we were not at war with Islam, just with a small, violent subset that does not represent the true version.

Tyson brushes this off as a minor issue but it isn't. It is a deliberate misrepresentation of Bush that Tyson gives in order to make himself look smarter. Listen to the clip here. Tyson spends four minutes running down Bush and making himself look smarter.

This is not a simple error. This is a deliberate falsehood and Tyson should apologize for ever using it.

All of these fit a pattern. They are meant to show that Tyson is smarter than anyone else - judges, reporters, members of Congress, or the President and, by extension, people who listen to Tyson are also smarter because he has shared his vast knowledge with them.

Friday, August 01, 2014

The Limits of Executive Authority

The House has authorized a suit against President Obama for exceeding his authority in rewriting the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare). The White House calls this frivolous and the President himself claims he is being sued for doing his job. People on the left are insisting that the House should impeach the President or drop things. The far right agrees with this.

If the suit is successful, future Democrats will look back and thank the current Republicans. Just a few years ago they were ready to impeach President Bush for signing statements. Obama's executive orders go much further. Presidents matter. Do they really want to give this much power to President Cruze?

Presidents need wide powers to do their jobs. Bush could not wait for Congress to give him authorization to ground airlines on September 11. Clinton issued multiple orders on bin Lauden alone. Nixon issued a temporary wage-price freeze. These orders were limited in scope or length.

FDR holds the record for most executive orders. His first 100 days are considered a model for new presidents but it should be remembered that the Supreme Court rolled back most of these.

Obama expresses frustration that Republicans will not act on pressing matters such as immigration reform but this has become a vicious cycle. Legislation is a series of compromises. By refusing to enforce the letter of the law, Obama makes Republicans reluctant to pass new legislation for fear of giving Obama further powers to abuse.

The ultimate danger is that Congress will become irrelevant as the President accumulates more power. I'm not suggesting that this will happen during the Obama administration but this is the logical end to a President making up his own legislation.

So why not impeach? There are three valid reasons. The first is that it would be far more frivolous than the lawsuit. Impeachment by itself does nothing but add a footnote to the President's biography. Once impeached, the matter moves to the Senate which voted on removing the President from office. This takes a super-majority. All of the Republicans and half of the Democrats would have to vote in favor in order for this to succeed. This will not happen which is why the left is pushing for an impeachment vote.

The second reason is that it would not force President Biden to reverse Obama's orders.

The third reason is "President Biden" although that is not as strong an argument as it used to be. Biden has a history of being wrong on most things but he still knows how to work with Congress and he might be a better president than Obama. Or he might not. It's best not to find out.

Monday, July 21, 2014

TIme for Hillary?

As Hillary Clinton continues her book tour, the constantly asked question is if she plans on running for president? She has several advantages: name recognition, the ability to raise huge sums of money, experience running a presidential campaign, and a thicker resume than the current resident of the White House.

Hillary can also take advantage of voters who want a female president and aren't picky about who. She can also take advantage of the so-called "war on women" and the outrage against Republicans over it.

But before she gets fitted for her inaugural dress, let's go over her negatives:

Her age and health
Hillary is getting old. Her supporters have tried to defuse this by pointing to President Reagan's age and claiming sexism. The fact is that Reagan's age was an issue in both 1980 and 1984 when he ran for reelection. Age was also a factor for Bob Dole and John McCain.

Hillary's health is also a valid issue. Her husband, Bill, has had major heart problems. She falls a lot. One of those falls was so bad that she had double vision for a month and had to wear corrective glasses. Other health issues may come to light.

Foreign Affairs
Hillary was Secretary of state. Many of today's problems began during her tenure. She was personally involved with the reset with Russia. If things continue to go wrong in the Ukraine, Iraq, Egypt, Lebanon, Afghanistan, or Syria, she will have to spend her time excusing herself instead of running.

Obama Fatigue
President Obama is not very popular right now. As a Democrat and former member of his cabinet, Hillary will be seen as running for an Obama 3rd term. McCain did well running against Bush as well as Obama but he was already known as a maverick and had no direct ties with the Bush administration. Hillary was a member of the Obama administration so it will be much harder for her to run against him. At the same time, a significant portion of Democrats still support Obama and Hillary will need their support to win the nomination. It will be difficult for her to do an about-face in the general election.

Clinton Amnesia
It's been a long time since the Clinton's left office. Hillary's appeal in 2008 was the promise to turn things back to the peace and prosperity of the 1990s, before 9/11 and the Bush wars. Promising to turn the clock back 16+ years will just make Hillary seem old and out of touch.

Younger voters do not have clear memories of the Clinton years. Some voters weren't even born when Bill took office and anyone under 30 will barely remember the Clintons.

Clinton Fatigue
2012 was the first election since 1976 that didn't have a Clinton or Bush running (I"m including Hillary's primary run in this). 2016 may have both a Clinton and (Jeb) Bush running. A lot of people are tired of these political families.

While voters under 30 didn't really know the Clintons, the ones over 30 were sick of them by the time they left office. We don't really want to be reminded of Vince Foster, Whitewater, blue dresses, etc.

Hillary Herself
In 2008, the presidency was Hillary's to lose. She was the clear front-runner with all of the advantages she has today (her resume was a bit thinner) and fewer of the disadvantages. Regardless, she managed to lose. A quick recap is in order.

Hillary began the campaign with a sense of inevitability. Her campaign was built around this. She had a huge campaign fund and she spent it with the idea of wrapping up the nomination by Super Tuesday. She concentrated on delegate-rich states and ignored caucuses in smaller states. She did win the most delegates on Super Tuesday but not enough to give her the nomination.

In contrast, Obama had a 50-state campaign. His supporters were more excited and managed to shout down Hillary supporters in caucuses. Obama won a string of caucuses unopposed after Super Tuesday while Hillary restarted her campaign. The air of inevitability moved from Hillary to Obama. At the end of the primaries, neither candidate had a majority of the delegates but Obama's string of victories assured that he got the nomination.

Hillary probably learned her lesson in 2008 and won't let herself be outmaneuvered like that again. Regardless, 2008 shows flaws in her judgement.

Another lesson from 2008 is that Hillary isn't a very good campaigner. She comes across as shrill and insincere. She does best when she runs as a concept rather than as a candidate. Her popularity suffered a slight drop when she entered the public eye again on her book tour.

Summary
Hillary's biggest asset is her inevitability. That will let her raise huge sums and garner a lot fo votes from  people who have been waiting years to ratify her.

At the same time, she suffers from staleness. It is likely that a Republican governor will be the candidate and will seem young and fresh in contrast. We saw in 2008 how easily Hillary could lose her inevitability.

History says that the Republicans have a very strong chance of taking the White House. It tends to change hands after a 2-term president. The Republicans could still falter and nominate a candidate who makes Hillary look good but, all things being equal, Hillary's chances are slim.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

The Question That Could Sink Hillary's Presidential Campaign

Hillary Clinton has a tin ear about the wealth she and her husband have accumulated. She mistakes a cash-flow problem with being broke. True, they left the White House in debt and had to get a co-signer on their two multi-million dollar properties but they also knew they would be able to earn millions in speaking fees and book advances. The average person who is broke and in debt does not have those advantages.

She also complains that they had to earn twice as much because of taxes. While there is a slight dig at Mitt Romney there, the main complaint is that she resents paying so much in taxes.

Think of the stir it would cause if some intrepid reporter called her on this:

"Madam Secretary, you have complained how hard it was to pay off your debts and get ahead because you had to 'earn twice as much money because of taxes' but your take for a single speaking fee is enough to qualify an individual as 'truly wealthy' according to President Obama. Most in your party consider this a fair share and would like to see taxes on the wealthy such as yourself raised much higher. Do you agree with them?"

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

The Death of the Progressive Compact

The Progressive Movement was all about expanding the size and scope of government. The biggest obstacle to this was the way that the government was set up. From the founding through the early 20th century, government worked as a spoils system. Every time an office changed hands, all of the workers were let go and replaced with supporters (and relatives) of the new office-holder. This acted as a check on the size of government.

The Progressives offered a compact with the American people: "We will clean up government, filling it with the best people we can find. They will discharge their duties fairly and dispassionately and, since they are freed from the profit motive, they will be more efficient than private industry."

This compact led to drives to "clean up government". Civil Service was instituted. Applicants were tested to find the best candidates and Civil Service boards were established to assure that workers were not fired to make way for political appointees. Many (most?) small cities changed their mayor to a ceremonial position and hired a city manager to actually run things.

The recent scandals at the IRS and the VA hospitals show the limits of the Progressive compact. We have ceded enormous power to the IRS with the promise that it would only be used appropriately. In the IRS scandal, the agency was used for political reasons. Now, any time a conservative is audited, there will be suspicions that it was for political reasons.

The VA scandal is even worse. The VA system has been held up as an example of how all medical care should be organized. Now it has come out that government programs are at least as subject to mismanagement as their commercial counterparts.

These twin scandals should cause Progressives to question their basic beliefs. The idea of the dispassionate, professional is a fiction. People have opinions outside of their job. Having a government monopoly on a service allows an organization to hide its structural problems (at least for a while).

The Progressive compact with America is broken and we must resist further expansion of government.