Saturday, October 25, 2014

Republicams 'wasted' millions . . . and still lost.

In my post earlier this morning, there was a line so refreshing and delicious that I want to repeat it here for emphasis.

In the 2012 election cycle, Karl "Rove’s American Crossroads dumped $117 million into the 2012 election. More than 90 percent of it was spent on candidates who ended up losing."

Keep up the good work, Karl.   Soak your billionaire donors and pour it down losing rat holes. Help prove that money can't necessarily buy elections.   Then maybe politicians will begin to realize they don't have to depend so much on big donors who demand support for their special interests.


Stop worrying about Big Money in political campaigns . . . David Brooks

We all lament the Supreme Court's "Citizens United" decision, which unleashed hundreds of millions of dollars in money donated to a certain kind of political action committee that does not have to identify its sources.    The expectation was that it would lead to further corruption of our political system by Big Money and that it would benefit Republicans more than Democrats.

David Brooks wrote about this in a New York Times column on October 9th titled, "Money Matters Less."   He drew several conclusions:

(1)  It may not be true that Republicans benefit more (despite the Koch Brothers).   In 2012, Romney did not outspend Obama.  Again, in 2012, campaigns in 38 states were examined, and "15 top Democratic-aligned committees outraised the 15 top Republican ones by $164 million."

In September 2014, "Democrats have more money than Republicans in most of the tightest Senate races: Colorado, Alaska, Arkansas, Georgia, Iowa, Louisiana, Minnesota, North Carolina, New Hampshire and Virginia;   [and] Democratic candidates have reserved $109 million in television advertising time before Election Day, while Republicans have reserved $85 million."   

However, it is expected that anonymous donors will pour in last minute money into the Republican-alligned 501(c)(4) committees.

(2)   What we do know about Citizens United is that "it has accelerated a pre-existing trend: Each year more money flows into campaigns. Spending this cycle is more than double what it was at this point in 2010 and four times higher than it was in early October 2006."

(3)   "Democrats do have an advantage in the donations made to super PACs, which have to report their donors. But Republicans have an advantage in donations made to 501(c)(4) groups, which can keep the names of donors secret."   This means that Democrats are more open about their giving, while Republicans want to remain anonymous.

But here's the real surprise, although we had begun to suspect it:

(4)  "The final and most important effect of Citizens United: it will reduce the influence of money on electoral outcomes. Yes, that’s right. Reduce.

"Remember, money is quite important in local races, with unknown candidates.  But money is not that important in high-attention federal races. Every year we get more evidence suggesting that campaign spending does not lead to victory. In 2012 the Koch brothers spent huge amounts of money to pathetic effect. Rove’s American Crossroads dumped $117 million into the 2012 election. More than 90 percent of it was spent on candidates who ended up losing.    [Terrific ! ! ! ]

"And money is really not important when both candidates are well-financed. After both candidates have hit a certain spending threshold, the additional TV commercials they might buy are just making the rubble bounce. . . .  If you doubled a candidate’s spending, the candidate would only gain 1 percentage point. In other words, big swings in spending produce only small changes in the vote totals. . . .  

"What matters more is the quality of that message and the national mood. . . .  "

Krugman concludes by saying that we should all just relax about campaign spending and worry more about these rich people who are wasting their money [yeah, right].   "This year, the big spender is a hedge fund manager named Tom Steyer (a Democrat). He could have spent $42.7 million paying for kids to go to college. Instead he has spent that much money this year further enriching the people who own TV stations. What a waste."


Friday, October 24, 2014

Two good news items about smoking

1.  CVS Pharmacies nationwide announced that they will no longer sell cigarettes or other tobacco products.   Further, they have begun a stop-smoking campaign for both employees and customers.

2.  Today, makers of Camel cigarettes announced that smoking is banned in offices, hallways, and conference rooms.   A smoking ban was already in effect in their factory floors, cafeterias, and fitness centers.


Thursday, October 23, 2014

The "I'm no scientist, but . . ." dodge

The political-dodge phrase of the year has to be "I'm no scientist."    That's the stock answer given by politicians on the right who know better than to deny the truth of climate change, but who also don't want to say why they're not willing to do anything about it.   Count John Boehner and Mitch McConnell in this camp.

This week, Marco Rubio uttered the same convenient phrase -- but in a very different way.  He says he's going to introduce senate bill that calls for a travel ban from the West African countries where Ebola is occurring.    He said, "I'm no scientiest, but . . . " then he went on to pretend he's knows better than they do what should be done.

So this has got to be the all-purpose weasel phrase.   It works for those who want to avoid having to talk about climate change.   And now Rubio is hoping it will work for him to pander to fears, while opposing what the medical scientists say:  that a travel ban will make things worse, not better.

Rubio may just be a bit too late, however.   As the news gets so much better (no new cases in the US, all patients here doing well, new protocols that work to prevent spread, and Nigeria proving that it can be contained, even there), the hysteria and ignorance will begin to fade.

Of course, the answer we should be giving to these politicians who aren't scientists should be:  "I'm not a scientists either, but we have some brilliant ones in this country;  and we should listen to what they say."   You don't have to be a scientist to benefit from their knowledge and experience.


Wednesday, October 22, 2014

More encouraging news about controlling Ebola

Things are looking better now on the Ebola fronts, especially here in the U. S.  First, the 43 people in Texas, who had been exposed to the Liberian man who died in Texas Presbyterian Hospital, have finished the 21 day quarantine without evidence of the disease.   This includes his fiancee who had extensive contact with him after he became symptomatic.

Second, the CDC has now issued more stringent guidelines for health care workers' protection.   They are similar to techniques used by Doctors Without Borders* for its hundreds of health care workers in West Africa.  No one, who has followed those guidelines, has become infected.   

Third, the World Health Organization has declared Nigeria an Ebola-free nation, following 10 deaths there back in the summer.   It has been long enough since then, without any of their contacts becoming infected, so that they can declare the outbreak over in Nigeria.    This is a very important success story.

Fourth, it's only two more weeks to go until the election . . . and then maybe we can return to sanity, as politicians stop fomenting fear and portraying themselves as having the answer to what we need to do to protect us from Ebola.    Another 2016 presidential hopeful has just jumped on the "ban air travel" bandwagon.   He almost waited too late, because the crest of the fear wave is about over -- and the fear-mongers may start to look . . . well, look like fear-mongers. 

Banning air travel is a bad idea for this country, for reasons explained in previous posts, and as President Obama and CDC officials have also said.   Now if someone would just start saying all this on FoxNews.


PS:   Doctors Without Borders is a wonderful international organization (originally French, I believe) that provides medical care throughout the world's neediest places, primarily in the developing world.   They are one on the front line in West Africa dealing with Ebola patients.   I just sent them a donation, and would encourage others to do so at:

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Pope Francis gets the last word . . . for now on gays and the church

Pope Francis had an assembly of Catholic bishops at the Vatican for a two week discussion on the position of the church on family and social issues.   At the end of the first week, a Vatican-proposed document was distributed for discussion.   It called for a more welcoming openness to gay members, and even spoke of acknowledging gay relationships.  It did not go as far as suggesting changing doctrine that considers homosexual acts sinful and gay marriage unthinkable. 

This proposal clearly reflects Francis' influence in creating a more compassionate and less rigid pastoral stance of the church.   But the synod (assembly) would not have it, even a less inflammatory revision.  They struck the whole thing out of the final document.

Reportedly the Vatican plans to distribute the proposal and the discussion that ensued, along with the final document.   It will be the subject of conversations throughout the global church in the coming year, to be followed by another synod next year to continue the discussion.

Pope Francis, who probably knew that this will take time, seemed undaunted by the reaction.  "God is not afraid of new things. . . .  That is why he is continuously surprising us, opening our hearts and guiding us in unexpected ways," he said in a sermon to 70,000 people gathered in St. Peter's Square.

He called the sometimes heated discussion "a great experience" because the bishops had spoken "in true freedom and humble creativity."

John Tavis, author of The Vatican Diaries said that, by making the synod a two step process with local discussion in between the two assemblies of bishops, the pope "showed that he was not afraid of real debate. . . .  Pope Francis clearly placed the Church on a new path, toward an evangelizing style that is less focused on doctrine and more willing to invite people in, no matter what their status."

I do not share Francis' theological or doctrinal beliefs, but I continue to admire just about everything else about him, including the direction he is trying to lead the Church.   He is in so many ways the opposite of predecessor, whom I often criticized for being so out of touch with the real world.


Monday, October 20, 2014

Clarifying Ebola: virulence vs contagion

Some experts are saying that the Ebola virus is "not highly contagious."   Many politicians are saying that it is "highly contagious."  Who is right?    

It helps to separate two factors that are being conflated:   virulence and contagion

ContagionThe ability to spread from one individual to another through direct or indirect contact.
     The degree of contagiousness tells us how easily it is spread.   Ebola is not spread as easily as cold or flu viruses, because it cannot be picked up from airborne particles, like sneezes.    It is spread by direct contact of bodily fluids from an infected person onto the mucous membranes or broken skin of another person.    Thus, compared to other viruses, its contagiousness is low.

Virulence: The ability of an agent of infection to produce disease and the severity of that disease.   The virulence of a microorganism is a measure of its ability to overwhelm bodily defenses and to cause severe illness.
    This tells us how bad it is if you get it.   Ebola's virulence is very high -- once it has gained entrance into your body.

Think of it as a two-step process.   (1)  Being exposed to the virus as described under contagion.   (2)  Your body's attempt to resist the virus, plus the severity of the illness it causes.

It is quite correct to say that Ebola virus is not highly contagious and that it is highly virulent.   A cold is relatively high in contagion but low in virulence, the opposite of Ebola.


Science and wisdom vs politics and fear-mongering

A travel ban from West Africa simply makes no sense.   Here's what Dr. Anthony Fauci, famed head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said on Fox News on Sunday:
"The strongest argument I believe against it is, when people are coming into the country ... you can track themIf you say, 'Nobody comes from Sierra Leone, Liberia or Guinea,' there are so many other ways to get into the country. You can go to one of the other countries and get back in," [And then you don't have the opportunity to track them for symptoms.]
Fauci added that there is not a big influx of people.   Of the roughly 36,000 people who tried to leave those three countries, none was found to have the virus.

But of course when you have politicians looking for a few more votes 3 weeks before tight elections, this is just too good an opportunity to exploit people's fear.   Since President Obama is following the advice of experts, and since he can do no right, then the experts must be wrong.   And doing something always is more arousing than showing proper restraint.

And besides, when did facts matter to Republicans anyway?

I won't abet their perfidy by even listing those who are doing this, but it includes presidential hopefuls;   some of them are just plain ignorant and proud of it, others are knowledgeable but unscrupulous enough to endager a nation for the short-term goal of re-election.

Really, how big a crisis is it in this country?    We got off to a bad start, and the worst case scenario is that we would not learn from those early mistakes.  The distance between containment and out of control is pretty narrow and rests on near perfection in executing the protocols.  But we are learning from those mistakes and learning rapidly.

To put it in perspective:   In the United States alone, deaths from flu and its complications are about 36,000 per year.   We've had one death so far from Ebola.  Worldwide, the estimate for flu deaths is between 250,000 and 500,000.   So far the deaths from Ebola are between 4,000 and 4,500.

In addition, there is a vaccine for flu that you can get at your local pharmacy.  You don't even have to go to your doctor to get a prescription.  Medicare pays for seniors.   Yet millions pass it up.

The complacency problem lies in familiarity vs fear of the unknown and the uncontrollable.   Almost everyone has had the flu.   Despite the statistics, because mild flu is so ubiquitous, almost everyone we know recovers from it.  "Flu" does not strike terror in our hearts.    Ebola -- with no vaccine, no known cure, and a high death rate even among healthy health care workers -- terrifies us.

In this time of fear, we should listen to the experts.   Fauci is reassuring:
"There aren’t absolutes. Nothing is completely risk-free. . . .  But the relative risk of things, people need to understand, is very, very small."
As FDR famously said:   It's the fear itself that we need to fear.  That is, fear that leads us to do something irrational that only makes things worse.


Sunday, October 19, 2014

Correction about Texas' voter ID law

In my October 16 post on SCOTUS and the Texas voter ID law, I said that it was absurd that the 5th Circuit Court based it's decision to uphold the law on the basis of "maintaining the status quo."

I found this absurd, saying that the status quo was that the voter ID law had not been implemented so how could it be the status quo, even though it had been passed as a law.

I was wrong about the facts there.    The law was passed in 2011 and it had been used in some local races.   It had not yet been used in a congressional election of in any high profile race where who got to vote was so important.

So, technically wrong and politically right in how important this now is.   But I apologize for the inaccuracy.

By upholding the 5th Court's decision to let the law go into effect for the Nov. 4th election, SCOTUS's majority is using the technicality to claim consistency with its delaying a similar, albeit less terrible, voter ID law in Wisconsin

So the majority went for the technical;  Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonya Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan went for the larger question of disenfranchisement and dissented in a "stinging" rebuke.   \

I'm with the women on this one.   So would have been Ralph Waldo Emerson, who famously proclaimed that "a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds."


Trivia:  Ralph Waldo Emerson was the inspiration for my grandparents' naming my father Ralph Emerson Roughton -- a name that was then passed on to me as "Junior."

Like a turkey calling a frog ugly

Yes, it was like a turkey calling a frog ugly -- only it was fellow-traveler praise rather than insult.  Both are slick operators who know how to get others to do their dirty work without being caught themselves.

The ethically challenged New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie came to Georgia to campaign for ethically challenged Gov. Nathan Deal. . . . 

. . .  and praised Deal for his "honesty" and "integrity."  

A hoot, yes, but it's not funny -- because Deal seems to be getting away with his manipulation of the ethics office, just by denying that he had anything to do with the obvious facts.  But who believes that?

Jason Carter has an ad running that says that Deal took office with millions of dollars of personal debt;   now, after four years as governor, he is worth $3.9 million.   How did he get rich?   He sold his auto salvage business for $3 million to a company that owes the state of Georgia $73.8 million in back taxes.

There's probably nothing illegal here.   That's the point.   Deal knows how to work the system and stay within the law, technically.   But what does this say about his priorities?   Using his connections and his wheeler-dealer know-how to enrich himself, while the average citizen goes without needed government services -- like money for schools, Medicaid expansion.