Saturday, November 8, 2014

Ebola in perspective

For a second week now, new cases and number of deaths from Ebola continue to decline in Liberia, although not yet in Sierra Leone and Guinea.   Let's take a look at what has happened here in the U.S.

One patient has died from Ebola in the U.S., and he was infected in his native Liberia before he came to Dallas, where he died despite belated treatment in a hospital there.  Two of the nurses who took care of him came down with Ebola.   Both of them have been cured and released from hospitals.

No one exposed to him on the flight, nor any of the 23 people, including his fiance, whom he spent time with before he was hospitalized, has become ill.

The onset of symptoms in the two nurses has now passed the 21 day period, and no one has caught it from either of them.    The only other case of someone who came down with the disease while in this country -- as opposed to being brought here for treatment after already getting sick in West Africa -- is the volunteer American doctor who went to Liberia to help.   He is currently being treated at New York's Bellevue Hospital.   He caught the disease while working with patients in West Africa but only became symptomatic after returning to the U.S.  Reports on him are that he is now in stable condition.

Soon, his onset will have passed the 21 day mark without any new cases stemming from him.

The Ebola volunteer-nurse, that Gov. Christie ordered into quarantine as she arrived on a flight from Africa, was never ill and remains well at home in Maine.  Unless she becomes sick within the next four two days (21 days since her last contact with a patient), there is no possibility of anyone acquiring Ebola from her.

Summary:    Only two cases of Ebola have been actually acquired in this country.   No one has caught it from them.  Both of them were nurses working with the first Ebola patient treated in a general hospital setting before proper isolation techniques had been implemented there.

No one on the health care teams at the specialized treatment centers (Emory Hospital, Nebraska Medical Center, NIH) has acquired the disease.

Maybe it's time for the hysteria to abate, as I believe it is doing.   Or, now that the distraction of the election is over, will it flare up again?


Friday, November 7, 2014

We have failed President Obama more than he has failed us

A letter to the editor, published in the Nov. 6th New York Times conveys my thoughts exactly.    Here it is:
"To the Editor,
     "In a slightly parallel universe, it would be interesting to see how Democratic senators would have fared if, instead of running from President Obama, they had embraced this leader who saved the country from another depression;  saved the auto industry; brought unemployment down from 10 percent to below 6 percent; killed America’s greatest enemy, Osama bin Laden; passed health insurance reform; and put out constant fires.

     "If instead of embracing the flawed media narrative of a “failed presidency,” Democratic senatorial candidates had embraced Mr. Obama’s monumental accomplishments, I believe they would be returning to Washington next year as senators, not as lobbyists.
Chicago, Nov. 5, 2014"
Amen to that.   I believe the greatest failing of this election cycle was the Democrats losing the message battle and allowing the Republicans to demonize President Obama and his accomplishments.   Then all they had to do was link the Democratic candidate with Obama, and they did this in infinite repetition of tv ads.

I, too, am disappointed that he does not have Lyndon Johnson's ability to strong-arm congress into passing his legislation, nor Bill Clinton's charm (and craving to be liked) to shmooze them, and that, despite his soaring speeches, he has not been able to move people to action like Bobby Kennedy in his presidential campaign, cut short by an assassin's bullets.

No president can fully satisfy all our wishes.   But President Obama's accomplishments are far greater than he gets credit for, even in his own party.  

When asked about specific policy positions, the people side more with Democrats on issues than with Republicans.  This is true of health care, sensible gun control, immigration reform, minimum wage (several states passed ballot initiatives to raise wages in their states), gay marriage.    They support these issues, but they vote for the other guy who opposes them.

Why didn't that become a battle cry for Democrats?

To the extent that President Obama has failed us, we have failed him even more by not drowning out the Republican trash-talk.

And most of all, we have failed him by not giving him a congress that the was willing to work with him, instead of being committed to making his policies fail.


Thursday, November 6, 2014

Something good that happened in the election

On Tuesday (Nov 4) I wrote, in "Citizens United in Action," about the Chevron Oil Company's attempt to buy an entire mayor and city council in the small city of Richmond, CA, where it operates a refinery.

A little more information from Rachel Maddow last night.    Repeated disasters of explosions and fires have become a nightmare for Richmond.   One huge fire two years ago sent 50,000 people to the hospital.     The city government decided to do something about it and began pressuring Chevron to install new safety measures.

So this year, Chevron decided to buy a new city government for Richmond, one that would be Chevron-friendly.   It poured $3 million into support for its own hand-picked new candidates for mayor and council.   The incumbent mayor raised about $40,000, in contrast to the three million used against him.

And what did Chevron get for its three million?     Nothing.    Nada.    Zilch.

The mayor and all seven councilors were re-elected.

That's what I wanted to see all over this election cycle -- that the money in politics problem would take care of itself when the mega donors found out that they didn't get much bang for the buck.   It's not yet clear whether this was true overall, but it certainly proved true in Richmond, CA.     Bravo to local control.


What happened?

Today has been a day of alternating waves of despair and scrounging for an explanation of what happened.

How did we go from all these senate races being stuck in statistical ties -- only to have the Republican win them by 6% or 8%?    Especially, given that there were reasons to think that Democratic voters were under-represented in many of the polls?

So far, the best I've come up with stems from something I read today, saying that Mitch McConnell's strategy was based on the fact that the most people don't know which party controls the houses of congress;   and so, when there is deadlock, they always blame the president and vote against his party.

The Republicans certainly tried -- and succeeded -- in augmenting that strategy by spending six years demonizing President Obama at every opportunit and by thwarting as much of his agenda as they could, to make him look ineffectual.

They made the president the enemy;   then all their campaigners had to do was to link their Democratic opponent with Obama.     That certainly was true in Kentucky and Georgia, where the most prevalent tv ads were some version of "A vote for Michelle Nunn is a vote for Obama."

The Democrats, I'm afraid, played right into this strategy by running away from the president and his very real accomplishments.    In retrospect, they -- and the country -- might have been better off if they had stood up to the criticism and proudly supported his policies and explained why -- turning the tables on their opponents saying "And David Purdue wants to deprive you of that right."

This was unanticipatedly bad . . . with very long repercussions.


Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Republicans win big

It's not over yet, in that there are still four more of the toss-up states yet to be decided, but the Republicans are just one state away from taking control of the Senate.

In Georgia, Michelle Nunn lost her senate race, and Jason Carter lost to Nathan Deal, who was re-elected governor.   And they both lost big;  no need even for the runoff.

The turnout was big -- in some states setting records for a midterm election.  So we can't blame it on voter apathy.   And the Republicans' win is shaping up to be big enough that it can't be explained on voter suppression.   People came out to vote.   They chose Republicans.

It's not just the senate.   They're winning re-election of Republican governors:   Nathan Deal in Georgia, Scott Walker in Wisconsin, and others.

All we can say at this point is that it looks like voters have chosen Republicans.   What I don't understand is why.   In days ahead, there will be much discussion of this.

Is it primarily the anti-Obama sentiment?   Is it big money and attack ads?

One thing I do know is that I am not very good at predicting who is going to win.   I didn't expect it to be a big Democratic night;  but I certainly didn't expect it to be a big Republican night either -- and at this point I think we have to say that it is.

I am a little wiser than I was in 1972 when George McGovern was the Democratic presidential candidate.    I stayed up until 2 am, still hoping he could pull out a win when, in fact, he wound up carrying only one state: Massachusetts.

I'm not staying up late tonight to see who wins the senate race in Alaska, hoping we can still keep control of the senate.


Just as I'm about to post this, Iowa has been called for the Republican candidateThat does it.   Republican have won control of the Senate, and Mitch McConnell will be the Senate Majority Leader.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Refreshing candor on the campaign trail

In the midst of dueling attack ads and hand-wringing over the flood of outside money flowing into state races, here was a moment of refreshing candor.

Retiring Senator Tom Harkins (D-IA), campainging for the Democratic nominee to succeed himself, said about the Repuboican nominee Jody Ernst that she would be the wrong person to represent Iowa, "even if she is as attractive as Taylor Swift."

When chastised by everyone that he should not have made a coment about her appearance, Harkins replied:
"I know I shouldn't have [said it] . . . but I'm only human and I can make mistakes sometimes in how I say something."
Perhaps, if he were a cad, that would not get him off the hook.   But Harkins is a compassionate gentleman who has been for the farmers and the minorities and the poor people of this country for a long and distinguished career in the senate.   We can cut him a little slack in his swan song.


If we win, it will be in spite of Republicans' concerted effort to keep us from voting.

Republicans who promote voter ID laws and other methods of suppressing their opposition's vote, usually aren't candid enough to admit what they're doing.   Occasionally, they slip up, as one politician did a few years back when he let slip something to the effect that it was the only way they could win.

I just came across something that makes this strategy explicit.  It's from a letter asking for people to make get-out-the-vote phone calls from a letter from Paul Hogarth of the liberal blog Daily Koss.
Back in 1980, Paul Weyrich—the “founding father of the conservative movement”—gave the following speech at a Religious Right gathering in Texas: 
I don’t want everybody to vote. Elections are not won by a majority of people. They never have been from the beginning of our country, and they are not now. As a matter of fact, our leverage in the electionsquite candidlygoes up, as the voting populace goes down.
That is what we're up against, folks.   We cannot count on simply having a majority who want Democrats to win.    We have to do better at getting people to the polls.   We have a super majority to counteract all the ballot challenges and the provisional ballots they will impose, as well as all the folks who don't have the voter ID or have already been wrongly struck from the voting records.

I've already voted.   I helped a newly naturalized citizen get registered, helped him understand the voting process, and then took him to an early voting place to cast his first vote -- ever.    His smile of pride, wearing his "I voted" sticker, was enough reward.

Please vote -- and take someone with you.   Or make some phone calls.    There's a good chance President Obama will have the chance to nominate someone to the Supreme Court in the next two years.    Let's at least keep the Senate in Democratic control.


Citizens United in action

As the New York Times described it yesterday, this election is the ultimate result of the Supreme Court's decision that took the limits off campaign finance -- and  throws the proof in Justice Samuel Alito's assertion that unlimited money would not have a corrupting effect on elections.

It has happened in two ways:   (1) the unprecedented amounts of money flowing into state and even local elections from anonymous out-of-state superfunds that do not have to reveal their donor sources -- and going mostly into negative television attack ads;   and (2)  the background financing of think tanks and policy planning groups that devised all these voter suppression laws that states just copy and pass into laws.

But it's not just on the huge scale targeting high profile races.    Look at this example:

Senator Bernie Sanders (Independent-VT) is one of the leading opponents of SCOTUS' Citizens United decision.    In a discussion with Bill Moyers, Sanders uses the example of what's happening in Richmond, CA to illustrate how this unlimited use of anonymous money in politics is ruining our democracy.  []

Richmond is a small city on San Francisco Bay.   It happens to be the location of a Chevron petroleum refinery.    The oil company has spent nearly $3 million in local races for mayor and city council members, essentially to "buy" up a slate of oil-friendly candidates.

It's one thing to flood national, or even state, elections with millions -- where Democrats also have wealthy people who can match them.   It's quite another for a national corporation to throw that kind of money into a local race with no counter force to give the opposition even a slim chance.

I know Ruth Bader Ginsburg and her liberal colleagues understand this.   I hope Roberts, Kennedy, at least, are having second thoughts about what they have wrought.  Alito is beginning to seem as recalcitrantly obtuse as Scalia and Thomas.


Monday, November 3, 2014

The real hero this week: Ebola nurse Kaci Hickox

I join Arianna Huffington in my admiration for the nurse Kaci Hickox who not only went to Sierra Leone and worked with Ebola patients -- but then returned to the U. S. and stood up to two governors who tried to quarantine her against medical/scientific advice about the risk of contagion from asymptomatic people.

Kaci Hickox is the hero we should be celebrating this week.

Gov. Chris Christie first ordered her confined to a tent within an unequipped hospital in Newark, NJ upon her arrival in the Newark airport.  She called his bluff when she proved not to be symptomatic, and he let her leave the state.

Once in Maine, Gov. Paul LePage then ordered her confined to her home.   She defied that order to go for a bike ride that, of course, endangered no one except possibly the dozens of media people falling over each other trying to interview her.

Gov. LePage sought a restraining order from the court to make her stay home -- and lost.   Judge Charles LaVeridere very rationally sided with medical science.

It's not just these two governors.   Lousiana lGov. Bobby Jindall is perhaps the next worst panderer;   he supported the disinviting of health care workers who were to be speakers at this week's convention of a national infectious disease association conference in New Orleans.    But New York, Georgia, Illinois, even California, and a host of other states also went the route of fear.

They chose to pander to that fear instead of taking the opportunity to educate the public.

All honors to Kaci Hickox, not only for standing up for the civil rights of all Ebola care providers but for using this as a teachable moment when the nation's spotlight was on her.

I nominate her and her fellow Ebola care workers for Time magazine's Person of the Year.


Mitch McConnell's penultimate outrageous stance

Just days until election day, with 10 senate seats either tied or within statistical range of error, and Mitch McConnell gave his final campaign pushVote for the Republicans so they can bring the gridlock in Congress to a merciful end."

He continued: 
"A new Republican majority wouldn't mean we'd be able to get everything you want from Washington. But it would mean we'd be able to bring the current legislative gridlock to a merciful end. It means we'd be able to start sending bills to the president's desk again, just as the American people expect."
Think about what he's saying.    The gridlock is the fault of the Democrats;  turn the leadership over to him, and bills will get passed.

Guess what, Aunt Minnie McConnell.   You could have ended the gridlock any time in the past 6 years.  Yes, I mean that gridlock you intentionally created when you declared in 2009 that your agenda would be to see that President Obama was a one-term president.  An now you're expecting the Democrats to just do what you obstinately refused to do?    Let the majority prevail?

The last time I checked, our democracy runs on the principle that the majority rules, tempered by protection of the rights of the minority, not by protecting the wishes of the minority.

There is no way the Republicans are going to win a filibuster proof majority.   So at best, what would likely happen is that the two parties' numbers would be roughly reversed.   The Democrats would have just as much minority power to control things by filibuster, as Republicans have been exercising.

First, it's not going to happen.   The politicos are going to be very surprised when they see the turnout the Democrats are going to have -- and we will retain control.    But, even granting McCo0nnell his fantasy, what makes him think we'll let him get what he wants without a fight -- the kind of fight he taught us to wage.


PS:   Last minute word is there is a deluge of anonymous money flowing into senate campaigns from secret committees that are supposed only to run ads promoting social issues, not candidates.   Never mind;   more attack ads aren't going to change things at this point -- unless they turn people off so that they vote for the other guy.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Mitch McConnell's desperation

Technically, it was sent out by the Kentucky Republican Party, but the notice says that it "was approved by the McConnell campaign."

This image (below) is a mailing that went out to voters in certain (Democratic majority) counties in East Kentucky, which McConnell very badly needs to carry.   The envelope is designed to look like an official notification, even to copying the font type and references to a legal code violation. It's return address is Frankfort, KY, the state capital.

"Election Violation Notice" is obviously intended to make the receiver think s/he is being accused of a violation.    How is this not voter intimidation and suppression of the vote?

Carefully read by a savvy person, the letter inside simply accuses Alison Grimes of making false statements -- hence by voting for her the voter would be participating in a "fraud."   That's the substance:  a false accusation of making false accusations.  It's about nothing (except the Mitchell team making false accusations.    But a legal code is even included, which has nothing to do with this, but it is very much a coded message to make people fear they will be arrested if they try to vote.

The code of violation cited has to do with felons who are not allowed to vote and the penalty if they try.    And one source said that 40% of black men in Kentucky have police records that make them ineligible to vote.    So folks know about getting in trouble if you try to vote when you're not supposed to.

Thus the very strong covert message to unsavvy voters is:   you could be in real trouble if you try to vote in this election

The Grimes campaign says that they have been receiving calls from voters who say they are confused, afraid they shouldn't vote.    So Grimes is suing the Republican party for voter intimidation and has asked for an injunction to stop any further such mailings.   A hearing is scheduled for the day before the election.

The important thing is not what happens in court, however, but the bad publicity that will backfire against McConnell -- because Grimes stood up to him.

I say it is an act of desperation on McConnell's part -- because, if he thought he was going to win, why would he do something so stupid and so risky of creating the backlash that this is doing?