Saturday, November 1, 2014

Bah Humbug: nothing for "a friend"

While I was at the drug store yesterday waiting to get my flu shot, I browsed in the greeting card section, looking for one to send to a friend for his upcoming 80th birthday.

We are in the era of greeting card specificity -- but they left out one.    There were 160 different cards (I counted) in the section "For Him."   But every single one was for a kinship relationship:    Father, Grandfather, Son, Grandson, Brother, Uncle, Nephew, Brother-in-Law.

But not a single one appropriate for "A Friend."   And not even a non-specific one that would do.    What's the problem with having a friend and wishing him Happy Birthday?   Especially on his 80th.   

Bah humbug.    


Republicans' attempt to purge voter lists of seven million voters

Al Jazeera America is reporting on its investigation into claims that the GOP is attempting to kick 7 million from voter rolls in 27 states.   The article is entitled "Jim Crow Returns."

There is something called the Interstate Crosscheck program, which generates master lists of voters in multiple participating states -- and then cross-references similar names registered in more than one state -- to try to identify people attempting voter fraud.   They then supply these lists to states so they can go through and purge their voter rolls.

The problem is that this is being administered by people whose motive -- despite what they say -- seems obvious:   to gut the lists of those who might tend to vote Democratic.   It has been shown that they focus on last names that are common among blacks and Latinos and Asians.

Beyond that, they often just match first and last names and ignore that the middle name or date of birth may be different.   What often happens in the states is that the voter registration office will send a post card to the address listed, asking them to contact their office to clarify their data.    But, according to this article, the cards often look like the kind of thing that people toss in the trash along with all the other junk mail they receive.

If they do not respond, then they are either dropped from the voting lists, or at best forced to vote a provisional ballot -- and then later have to make a trip to the registration office, along with documents to prove their identity.
 It’s Jim Crow all over again,” says the Rev. Joseph Lowery, who cofounded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference with Martin Luther King, Jr. Lowery, now 93, says he recognizes in the list of threatened voters a sophisticated new form of an old and tired tactic. “I think [the Republicans] would use anything they can find. Their desperation is rising.”
In the state of Virginia alone, over 40,000 names have been removed from voting lists, despite the spurious criteria for matching double voters.

Kansas Secretary of State Kobach, who came to national attention in the debacle about whether he could force the Democratic party to name another candidate after their nominee dropped out, is one of the instigators of the program.    When he talks about it, he claims that they match for first, middle, and last names, Jr/Sr, date of birth, and social security number.

In practice, however, names are often marked as suspect simply because they have the same first and last names.    John Paul Williams of Alexandria, VA is supposedly the same man as John R. Williams of Atlanta, Georgia.   Just imagine how many people in every state are named John Williams.

Al Jazeera America traced some of these supposed same-person pairs and found them to be false matches.    But is anyone doing anything about stopping this outright wholesale attempt on the part of Republican state officials to steal the elections?

Even the New Georgia Project, which registered some 80,000 new voters, is still unable to get an accounting from the Georgia Secretary of State for why 40,000 of those voters have not turned up on the voter rolls -- despite suing in court.   All he will say is that they have processed all the registration forms that were correctly filled out.

Forget the painstaking work of tracking all this and undoing all of the false strikes from voters lists.   Just think, for a moment.    Why would anyone go to all the trouble, not only to register to vote in two different states, but also plan to actually vote in two different states?    Does any individual expect that his one vote is that crucial to the outcome that it's worth all that?

This is all just a bunch of Bull-hocky (to use Rachel Maddow's favorite euphemism).   But the Republicans' motive is as serious as sin.   These perfidious purges could sway the elections in close states.

Even more reason we have to get every vote to the polls with an unprecedented number of  toss-up races for the senate -- and therefore who controls the agenda and the committees -- is at stake.


Friday, October 31, 2014

Kaci Hickox wins in court; a put-down to ignorance, fear, and political exploitation

Kaci Hickox, the Maine nurse who was slapped into inadequate quaranteen facilities in Newark as she was returning from a period of voluntweer work with Ebola patients in Sierra Leone, is now in Maine and defying the governor's order for her to stay in her house.

Judge Charles LaVerdiere has just this morning refused to grant the state the power to force her to stay housebound, given that she is asymptomatic and therfore not considered a risk for spreading a disease which she appears not to have.

The judge's ruling only requires that she continue the monitoring throughout the 21 day period and that she coordinate any travel plans with state officials so the monitoring can continue.   That's quite reasonable and in line with science-based protocols.

Score one for science and reason against fear and hysteria.


Another milestone in over-turning prejudice against gays

The corporate world just showed that it is ready to enter post-homophobic America.   Tim Cook came out as a proud gay man, and Wall Street and the stock market barely noticed.

Why is this so momentous?   Because Tim Cook is the CEO of Apple, the biggest corporation, as measured by market value, in the United States, larger even than Exxon-Mobile or Microsoft.    

This makes Cook the first CEO of a Fortune 500 company to openly acknowledge being gay while he was still the CEO.    He come to power in the shadow of its legendary founder Steve Jobs, but the stock price has nearly doubled, and new products have continued to roll out, during his three years at the helm.

APPL stock has been at its highest value ever, and it remains there today, following Cook's announcement.

That Cook is gay has been widely known within the Apple executive world;   he was elevated to its highest position with full knowledge of this.   He chose to make this knowledge public in a classy way:   He wrote an essay in Bloomberg Businessweek.   What better way of showing that he was speaking to his upper echelon business colleagues -- and competitors.   

It is being called a "watershed moment not only in the history of Corporate America, but in the history of the country" (Mark Gongloff of the Huffington Post).   He can now become a spokesman for non-discrimination in the workplace -- where it is still legal in 29 states to fire someone just for being gay.   Maybe Congress can finally be persuaded to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act that has languished for years under Republican opposition.

Gongloff also wrote that "with just one step, Cook has left [Steve] Jobs' shadow and become an icon of his own."

As a proud owner of a few shares of APPL stock myself, I salute our CEO.


Thursday, October 30, 2014

Quarantine inconsistency on health care workers

The returning Ebola nurse that Christie had thrown into isolation against her will was released to return to her home in Maine after she showed no signs of infection.   But the Maine governor insists that she remain inside her house for the full 21 days;   she says she won't;  the state is getting a court order to force her -- and there will be a showdown in court next week over constitutional rights    She says she is fighting it not just for herself but for the larger question involving all health care workers who will be returning from West Africa.

Here's the radical inconsistency, pointed out last night by MSNBC's Laurence O'Donnell:   There are dozens of health care workers tending to the one patient in New York's Bellvue Hospital, who are allowed to go home each night -- in New York and New Jersey -- with no restrictions other than monitoring themselves for symptoms.   The same is true for those who have worked with Ebola patients here at Emory and in the hospitals in South Dakota and at the NIH.

What is the justification for treating those returning from Africa any differently from those who are working with Ebola patients -- and continuing to do so on a daily basis -- here at home?   I can see none.

This inconsistency makes even more of a mockery of the hasty, unnecessary policies thrown into place by political, not medical, decisions.


Christie insults constituent rather than answer to his failure to distribute federal disaster relief money

Chris Christie appeared Wednesday in one of the New Jersey towns worst hit by hurricane Sandy to commemorate the two year anniversary of that disastrous storm.

A constituent stood in front of him, holding up a sign for the tv cameras which called on Christie to "finish the job" of helping small business and home owners rebuild or rehabilitate their structures.

Christie -- in a video clip now gone viral -- told the man "you don't know what the hell you're talking about;   sit down and shut up."   [Note:  there were no chairs to sit down upon;  it was an outside event; but that's beside the point.]    Christie also accused the man of showing off for the TV cameras, as he himself stood there before the TV cameras in a setting designed specifically for Christie to show off.   'You're stealing my moment, dude.  Shut up and get out of the way.'

Chris Hayes had the protesting man on MSNBC's "All In With Chris Hayes."   He is a serious activist who works with an organization that tries to help people get the funds appropriated by the federal government to New Jersey.

He says that the federal government gave the state of New Jersey 2.1 billion dollars for this very purpose.   So far, only 20% of that money has been distributed to the people.  Here two years after the storm, some 5,000 people are still unable to use their homes or businesses.

The tough talking Christie plays well on FoxNews, but New Jersey voters seem to be getting tired of it.   His approval ratings went way up after Hurricane Sandy, then reversed directions round about Bridgegate;  and now his disapproval rating keeps going up and his approval rating keeps going down -- with a pretty wide negative gap now.

It will be entertaining to see him in the Republican primary debates;   but he'll never make it to the nomination, even if all the brewing scandals don't ever catch him.    Folks want a president to use the "bully pulpit," but I don't think they want him actually to be a bully -- at least not toward his own constituents.


The spread of Ebola in perspective . . . and a rebuke of Christie

On Tuesday night, MSNBC's "All in With Chris Hayes" had as a guest Sophie Delauney, the Executive Director of Doctors Without Borders, the humanitarian medical treatment group working with Ebola patients in West Africa.

Chris was particularly interested in her organization's experience with medical staff becoming infected.  These are the people who work with the sickest patients at the most contagious stages of the disease.    Yet, of 3,300 medical staff working for Doctors Without Borders in West Africa, only 23 have become infected.   That is 0.7%.

Of those 23, 21 were nationals who lived in these countries.   Investigations showed that all 21 became infected, not when they were working in the hospitals but after they returned to their home areas.  Thus, only 2 of the 3,300 actually became infected from working with patients in the medical setting with its proper protocols of protection.

So, actually, only 0.06% of those working with the sickest patients actually contracted the disease from them.

Ms. Delauney strongly opposed the idea of quarantine of international health care workers when they return to their home countries.  Active monitoring is far preferable and quite adequate, since it is well established that no one is contagious until they become symptomatic;  and the virus spreads only through body fluids.

All the hysteria about the doctor who returned to New York and rode the subway or went bowling before he began running fever is just irrational fear and political posturing.    The idea that he has exposed a lot of people or contaminated the subway cars and bowling alley is just false.   He was very responsible in following Doctors Without Borders guidelines, and he reported for treatment as soon as his temperature rose.

Elizabeth Warren had a great comeback to Chris Christie's insisting on stricter quarantine standards than recommended by the CDC or DWB.    She said, "Let him tell us about his medical experts who are advising him, because we want the policy to be determined by science, not by politics."


PS:   Cautious good news.   The World Health Organization reports signs that the Ebola outbreak in Liberia may be subsiding -- fewer new cases, fewer burials.   The caution is that apparently slowing has occurred before, only to resurge later.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Governors take charge and put fear above science

Despite the top Ebola expert at the CDC, and the established, effective protocols of Doctors Without Borders, and the advice of the World Health Organization;  and despite President Obama urging not to set up these quarantines, Republican governors are rushing to jump on the ship of fear -- which will just increase the chances of its sinking.

Gov. Christie of New Jersey, Gov. LePage of Maine (who sent state troopers to blockade the home where the Christie's Ebola nurse detainee is now residing), Gov. Jindal in Louisiana, Gov. Deal in Georgia, Gov. Scott in Florida -- and others are reacting out of fear.

Is it fear of Ebola, really?    Or is it fear of political blame if they don't ride the way of hysteria trumped up by FoxNews and the conservative blogosphere?

The worst yet is a letter that went out to members of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, which is holding its annual meeting in New Orleans next week.  The letter, which came from the state Secretary of Health and Hospitals and from the state Office of Homeland Security, has disinvited any members who have cared for people with Ebola in that past three weeks.

You see, the reason this is especially a terrible idea is that Ebola is considered a tropical disease.  These are the very people who need to hear about what is happening in West Africa and to contribute ideas.    Now there may be some vital scientists who will not be able to attend this meeting.

Here's the message to the selfless, courageous humanitarians who have given up three to six weeks of their income and home life to volunteer to go half way around the world to help with a medical crisis -- and they're told they're not welcome back home, even though the medical science tells us plainly that, without symptoms, none of these people are risks for spreading the virus.

Shameful.   Mass hysteria

OR:   Is this another Republican attempt to undermine President Obama, make him look ineffective, and then turn around and blame him for the shambles they make of anything they touch?   In truth, he cannot overrule them if they want to set more restrictive public health standards for their states.


October Surprise #3: Christie claims he didn't change quarantine orders

Chris Christie does not make mistakes, and he does not change his mind.    He is always right.   Just ask him.

Unlike NY Gov. Cuomo, whom he convinced to mandate a quarantine on asymptomatic returning health care workers, Christie claims that releasing the returning Ebola nurse from quarantine to return to her home in Maine does not represent a retreat from his mandate.

Christie says she "was obviously ill" when she was put in quarantine.   That turned out to be incorrect.   It was based on a false reading from the forehead temperature scan, which apparently gave a high reading because her faced was flushed.   When they rechecked it with an oral thermometer, her temperature was normal and has remained so.

She was still detained under Christie's mandate, until the backlash became so intense and her threatened lawsuit began to materialize.   Then Christie found a way out.

If she could be transported without using public transportation to her home state of Maine she could be released.    The implication is that she could not remain in New Jersey without staying in quarantine.   Therefore, he has not changed his policy.

His defense for sticking to this protocol, which is stricter than those of the CDC or Doctors Without Borders, is that the national standards will come around to his thinking "sooner rather than later."    That is, he is right and the medical experts are wrong.   No acknowledgement that he may have been hasty . . . .  or, horrors, wrong.

Arrogance means "never saying that you're wrong" --  a terrible trait to have in a political leader.    Do we really want someone with his finger on the nuclear bomb who never has doubts, never has second thoughts, never acts hastily without consulting the experts, never regreats anything he has done?


Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Allison Grimes gets major newspaper endorsements

The two large newspapers in Kentucky, the Louisville Courier-Journal and the Lexington Herald-Leader have endorsed Democratic senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes over the incumbent Mitch McConnell.

This is very significant, because Kentuckians have been sending McConnell to Washington for 30 years, and he is arguably the most powerful Republican in Congress.   That may in fact be the problem.    Here are some excerpts from the Courier-Journal editorial endorsement for Grimes.
We urge voters to choose the future and elect Alison Lundergan Grimes.  Ms. Grimes, 35, a lawyer and Kentucky's secretary of state, has tackled an enormous challenge in taking on Mr. McConnell, a legendarily formidable political foe and, as Senate minority leader, one of the nation's most powerful Republicans. . . .  
Praising Grimes for her candid hour-long interview with the paper's editorial board, they then wrote: 
Mr. McConnell, in turn, never accepted a similar invitation dating back to early September to appear before the C-J editorial board, thus shielding himself from scrutiny as well as any potential for attack ads based on his responses. Kentuckians should take measure of that: Thirty years in the Senate, and no comment.

More discouraging — and most important to voters — is that he appears lacking a vision for Kentucky or the country as a whole. Rather, his decades-long drive to increase his power and political standing has resulted in this campaign based on his boast that if he is re-elected and Republicans win a Senate majority, he would become Senate majority leader.  . . .  but we believe that alone is not a reason for giving him another term. . . .

In his long career in politics, starting as Jefferson County judge-executive, Mr. McConnell has in the past effectively served his community and his state. In more recent years, some credited him with roles in pulling the nation from the brink of the fiscal cliff and breaking several deadlocks in Congress, including helping end the 16-day government shutdown last year. 

But as the stakes grew higher and campaigns more costly, he lost his way to the point where he now is identified largely as the master of obstruction and gridlock in Washington.   Kentucky needs a U.S. senator who sees a higher calling than personal ambition and a greater goal than self-aggrandizement. For those reasons and for her evident potential, we endorse Ms. Grimes for election on Nov. 4.
The Herald-Ledger said McConnell has
"repeatedly hurt the country to advance his political strategy. . . .  The Senate may never recover from the bitter paralysis McConnell has inflicted through record filibusters that allow his minority to rule by obstruction. . . .  He poses as a champion of the right to criticize the government, but it's really his rich buddies' right to buy the government that he champions." 
She and Georgia's Michelle Nunn will make great additions to the senate -- from states that weren't expected to send a Democrat to that body.   Let's make it happen.   Get out the vote.


Monday, October 27, 2014

October Surprise #2 -- fizzle

The over-reactive, anti-science political decision by Govs. Christie and Cuomo has fizzled -- as a political issue, that is;  and it might even backfire on them.  With the top NIH infectious disease doctor going on Sunday morning talk shows and saying this was not based on scientific knowledge and it would be counter-productive in controlling the disease;  with the nurse confined involuntarily in a New Jersey hospital threatening to sue;  and with the White House backing its scientists and clearly opposing the quarantine -- the hasty governors relented, at least a bit.

Cuomo modified the quarantine requirement to home confinement, and then Christie followed suit and allowed the nurse to be released from the hospital and flown home to Maine.   However, he claims that the quarantine stands as long as she is in New Jersey.

I don't want Cuomo to lose his re-election bid over this, because he's a Democrat;  and I'd rather have a Democrat in every governor's chair.   But Cuomo is not one of my favorites;   he seems arrogant, and there have been accusations of manipulation of state agencies.    As for Christie, they don't come any more arrogant than he is, this side of insanity.    He's already in big enough trouble;  and this misjudgment can only add to his reputation as a bully.

Good come-uppance, guys !!


PS to the Bush family:   You picked the right weekend to ramp up your push for a Jeb Bush presidential run -- just when Christie's hoped-for juggernaut hit another self-inflicted bump.

The October Surprise

In election years, there is always talk about what the "October Surprise" might be -- something unexpected that happens just in time to influence voters.   It could be the economic collapse of 2008, or a scandal in an incumbent's staff, or . . . anything.

This year it seems to be Ebola.   Not just the outbreak in Africa but the handling of the cases here in this country.   Republicans, of course, have been trying to blame it on Obama and exploit his "failure" for their purposes.

Now we have this very interesting situation:    Republican governor Chris Christie of New Jersey and Democratic governor (up for re-election) Mario Cuomo of New York have jointly decided to impose a 21 day quarantine on anyone arriving at the two international airports of New York who had had contact with Ebola patients in Africa.

This may be about to backfire on them.   The Obama administration is pushing back.   The head of the CDC's Infectious Disease division was on tv this morning saying the quarantine was not necessary and could have negative consequences that would threaten the public health globally.    U. N. Ambassador Samantha Power, on a tour of the West African countries, made similar remarks on NBC.

A senior administration official said the governors' decision was "uncoordinated, very hurried, an immediate reaction to the New York City case that "doesn’t comport with science.”

To me, the most telling thing is that the governors did not even consult with their own health departments about it.  And then Christie says he "has no second thoughts" about it.   Of course, he doesn't.   That's his style -- bluster, bully, and bull-headed.

No second thoughts, even when he has made false statements.    He said the doctor who has Ebola "didn't follow the Doctors Without Borders protocol, when he actually did.  And he said the nurse, who is not even symptomatic, is "obviously ill," but provides no evidence for saying that.

The legality may be challenged in court.  The asymptomatic nurse currently in quarantine is said to be hiring a lawyer and claiming that her rights are being violated.

October surprise, indeed !!!


Sunday, October 26, 2014

STOP THE CRAZY TALK -- get this election over with !!!

I honestly don't know whether I can take 8 more days of this crazy, kill-your-opponent fever talk.

Sen. Ted Cruz's chief of staff put out this tweet:   "Before Obamacare, there had never been a confirmed case of Ebola in the U.S."

Yes, and we could just as truthfully say that "Before Ted Cruz became a senator, there had never been a confirmed case of Ebola in the U.S."

As Charlie Brown was wont to say:   "Good grief."


Ebola, hysteria and politics

The Obama administration has been trying to maintain calm and restraint in the reaction to now the 4th case of Ebola in this country:  one being a Liberian man infected there who traveled to Texas, two nurses who got it from him, and now a doctor returning to New York from a temporary period of working with Ebola patients in Africa.

New York governor Mario Cuomo just two days ago was also urging calm.  Even road the subway to demonstrate it was safe.  Then, within 24 hours, he reversed that position and joined New Jersey governor Chris Christie in placing a mandatory 21 day quarantine on Ebola health care workers returning to either Newark or J. F. Kennedy airports.   Their authority to do this, I assume, comes from the NY/NJ Port Authority, which they jointly oversee.   Yes, the Port Authority that controls the airports and bridges into New York;  the same one involved in the New Jersey bridge closing scandal last year.

Their sudden action has angered and dismayed New York City mayor Bill DeBlasio and the New York Health Commissioner.   Cuomo and Christie did not consult with the New York Health Commissioner or the Health Department.   The quarantine goes far beyond the CDC guidelines, which of course is the states' legal right to do.   The question is whether it is wise.

This has all the earmarks of a political decision.  With the climate of fear revved up by politicians (Cuomo is running for re-election now, and Christie is clearly running for president in 2016) -- they could not afford to let one more day go by without Doing Something, since one health care worker returning from West Africa has already become ill after roaming around New York for several days.

Cuomo -- very incorrectly and irresponsibly -- blamed Dr. Craig Spencer for "not following quarantine" protocol of Doctors Without Borders, under whose aegis he had volunteered to work in Africa.   He's also saying he should not have been out in public;  and he said this shows that a voluntary quarantine does not work if even a medical doctor violated it.   But that is just not trueIf he based his decision on that misunderstanding, then this could backfire on him big time.

The DWB protocol for asymptomatic, returning health care workers is to monitor themselves carefully for symptoms for 21 days, not return to work with patients, and to stay within four hours of a hospital capable of providing proper isolation, in case they should become symptomatic.   But they are not under quarantine, and they are free to be in public, as long as they have no symptoms.    That also fits with CDC guidelines, and it makes sense with what we know about Ebola transmission.   Dr. Spencer followed those rules correctly and reported himself as soon as he developed a temperature rise -- which, incidentally, was incorrectly reported at first as 103.   It was 100.3.

This Cuomo-Christie mandatory quarantine for non-symptomatic health care workers is an over-reaction.  It is medically unnecessary, and it increases the climate of hysteria and fear.   Further, it is likely to severely decrease the number of health care workers volunteering to go to West Africa to help.

Typically, they volunteer to go over for 3 weeks.    This quarantine will double the time commitment of volunteers and will likely reduce the number of people who can, or are willing to make the commitment.

But was it a politically necessary decision?    Perhaps.  Not doing it would have been a risky and courageous stand to take -- particularly for Cuomo to refuse when Christie was insisting.   Because, if you turn out to be wrong, the consequences politically could be a career-ender for either of them.    How sad that hysteria politics over-rules medical and public health judgment.

It also is now raising legal questions:   Does it violate the rights of free citizens to be involuntarily detained for three weeks when they have no symptoms of a disease?    If it were a rational policy -- say, if it could be spread prior to symptoms -- it might perhaps be defended as necessary to prevent a widespread epidemic of a deadly disease.    But that is not the case, and official CDC guidelines do not recommend it.

As a letter to the New York Times editor said yesterday:  "The fear of Ebola is far more contagious than the disease."

It makes the job of the president and the New York mayor that much more difficult, trying to keep the hysteria and over-reaction down.   So, no Profile In Courage award for Chris and Mario, for sure.


ADDED Sunday morning:    Christie said on Fox News this morning that "The government's job is to protect safety and health of our citizens.  . . .  I have no second thoughts about it."

That's the problem.   He acts without thinking enough, without consulting, and then he does not entertain the possibility he could have been wrong.   That's how we get demogogues and tyrants.