Reality

The NYT kind of hit a grand slam this morning on some of my favorite topics. So here are the grand thoughts of the day that these writers captured so much more elegantly than I could have:

NYT Editorial Board: They basically pointed out the absolute the mess the country will be in if the Republicans win the Senate. Do they want to govern or obstruct and of course that will be the civil war that will rage in the Republican Party. Those (See Denver Post) who think you are voting for change and an end to obstructionism have seen nothing yet. Here is a snippet:

… are a pretty good indication of what life will be like in Congress if Republicans gain control of the Senate in Tuesday’s election, and if Mr. McConnell wins his race in Kentucky. It’s not just that they are committed to time-wasting, obstructionist promises like repeal of health care reform, which everyone knows President Obama would veto. The bigger problem is that the party’s leaders have continually proved unable to resist pressure from the radical right, which may very well grow in the next session of Congress.

… The Republican Senate candidate in Iowa, Joni Ernst, wants to ban abortions and same-sex marriage and impeach the president. In Georgia, David Perdue, the Republican candidate, said his biggest task is to “prosecute the failed record” of the Obama administration. Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas, a three-term incumbent in a tough race for re-election, promised voters that a Republican majority “means a stop to the Obama agenda.”

And the editorial points out that Mitch McConnell promises to place riders on spending bills so that if the President vetoes their nonsense, government effectively gets shut down. Change, isn’t it wonderful?

Even better is Timothy Egan’s essay on free speech and the UC Berkley students attempt to block Bill Maher from speaking for their winter commencement because of his comments on Islam. Mr. Egan points out the irony of the students who say they represent free speech trying to prevent him from speaking, and the establishment protecting his free speech rights. Here is a snippet:

Maher’s opponents say they are not against free speech, just university-sanctioned speech that offends them. Right. As the round of commencement cancellations last spring showed, when the only person allowed to speak at official college ceremonies was a platitude-spouting milquetoast, you might as well play elevator music from the podium.

The “values of U.C. Berkeley,” as championed by the Free Speech Movement, mean you can say things that are not approved by the authorities, be they administrators or a clique of humor-curdled censors. Those nearly 800 people who were arrested outside Sproul Hall in 1964 didn’t get cuffed so that a few Berkeley students could muzzle a comedian in 2014.

Oh, and Mr. Egan pointed out in an offhanded way that being P.C. about the intolerance of Islam really should be examined.

Finally, there was my hero Paul Krugman, pointing our once again (and has been since the early 90’s) that the stagflation of Japan was a warning for the rest of us on austerity economic policies that we continue to fail to learn.

What policy failures am I talking about? Start with government spending. Everyone knows that in the early 1990s Japan tried to boost its economy with a surge in public investment; it’s less well-known that public investment fell rapidly after 1996 even as the government raised taxes, undermining progress toward recovery. This was a big mistake, but it pales by comparison with Europe’s hugely destructive austerity policies, or the collapse in infrastructure spending in the United States after 2010. Japanese fiscal policy didn’t do enough to help growth; Western fiscal policy actively destroyed growth.

And he points out why,

that responding effectively to depression conditions requires abandoning conventional respectability. Policies that would ordinarily be prudent and virtuous, like balancing the budget or taking a firm stand against inflation, become recipes for a deeper slump. And it’s very hard to persuade influential people to make that adjustment — just look at the Washington establishment’s inability to give up on its deficit obsession.


And that,

conservatives have blocked efforts to fight unemployment out of a general hostility to government, especially a government that does anything to help Those People. In Europe, Germany has insisted on hard money and austerity largely because the German public is intensely hostile to anything that could be called a bailout of southern Europe.


It’s nice when other people do my work for me. I wonder if any of this is seeping in to the alternate reality most conservatives are living in?

Why I Will Never Be a Politician

As I watch most of the candidates politic for 2014, it becomes crystal clear why I would never make it as a politician. Here are the primary reasons:

  1. She who must never be mentioned here won’t let me. Besides, I don’t think she can master that hero worship look other candidate’s wives manage. She has a dim view of most of the male population
  2. I don’t like asking people for money if the only thing I can spend it on is campaign stuff
  3. I have a tendency to speak my mind and am not afraid to think out loud. I don’t think changing my mind is a sign of weakness. Joe Bidden gets criticized all the time for saying the impolitic truth. He is my hero
  4. I would be clear in what I believe in, who I voted for, and not read one poll
  5. I would not pander to stupid ideas (e.g. clean coal) because the majority thinks its a good idea (See Cuomo and Christie on the Quarantine)
  6. I would run a campaign on what I am for: Raising the minimum wage, investing in infrastructure, stimulus spending, restoring many government budgets, single payer healthcare, national education standards and less testing, real immigration reform including the Dream Act and demilitarizing our border, reduce and eliminate student loans, high speed rail, a carbon tax, equal pay for women, a woman’s right to choose and control her own body, national voting standards, assisted suicide, a value added tax and tax reform, increasing social security, relations with Cuba, a real investigation into torture, less secrecy, a narrow and transparent drone policy, oh, you can find something in there to hate
  7. Finally I would only run positive campaigns and they would be very simple. Here is what I am for, here is why, here is the data. My opponent is against most of this. So you choose

Any questions why I would never make it as a politician? To summarize, I actually have a plan and I will not pander to you for your vote. Said another way, I am channeling Bernie Sanders.

Could Ebola be Our Wakeup Call or Just the Most Glaring Example of How We Have Lost Our Way

Charles Blow has an excellent piece about how our hysterical response to Ebola is counterproductive and as he says:

We aren’t battling a virus in this country as much as a mania, one whipped up by reactionary politicians and irresponsible media. We should be following the science in responding to the threat, but instead we are being led by silliness. And that comes at heavy cost.

But it is a sign of how in these Tea Party days of elections, we respond to everything. Damn the data, damn the science, play on the fear and develop misguided policies based upon it. React to our emotions not science. Our Ebola response is similar to our response to crime (throw away the key), the debt (more austerity is better), the economy and joblessness (fear inflation and soaring interest rates), voter fraud (doesn’t exist), global warming (government hurting business), and on and on.

It is all wrong and based upon fear and emotion, not hard cold facts and data. When the data becomes inconvenient, we suppress or try to discredit them. So does our hysterical response to Ebola show us in the bright sunlight of reality our fear politics and how counterproductive they are, or is it just more of the same and we learn nothing? I think it is an open question and our future depends on whether we can learn anything or not.

 

UPDATE:  California just issued the same stupid quarantine rules as New Jersey and New York.  Fear and hysteria are winning.  Here is what science tells us:

“The Infectious Diseases Society of America says mandatory quarantines carry “unintended negative consequences without significant additional benefits.’ More evocatively, a New England Journal of Medicine editorial opposing such policies warns that quarantining returning Ebola workers “is like driving a carpet tack with a sledgehammer. It gets the job done but overall is more destructive than beneficial.'”

Maine, Another State that Has Lost It’s Brains

Maine is instituting mandatory 21 day quarantine for Nurse Kaci Hickox.  They say it is voluntary, but if you don’t stay inside your house, they will force you to stay there.  Now there are real Constitutional problems with this.  Maine is saying there is a clear and present danger but there is no data to support that.  We have had three people (Thomas Eric Duncan,  Nurse Amber Vinson, and Doctor Craig Spencer) who were out in public and there were no additional infections.  It’s hard to get.  Additionally Vinson and Spencer self monitored and when they had symptoms, were then isolated before they became highly infectious.  It works.  So where is the proof this is necessary?  It’s not.

To counter this stupidity let me ask the State of Maine who is going to pay for lost salary, ensure their job is not in jeopardy, and provide shopping and support services with this totally misguided and hysterical policy?  Where is the evidence that there is a clear and present danger?  We have now had three test cases and it was not a problem.  Further what medical professional can give 3 weeks to treat Ebola and then give three weeks of guarded home stay?  It is stupid, an over reaction, and shows how hysterical we have become.  The Federal guidelines are enough, and I think most courts will find that this exceeds reasonable restraints based on no evidence that this is reasonable

Think about it this way:  We decide that being having the Muslim religion may make you a radical, so we decide to round them all up and put them into a camp.  Where is the evidence that this won’t increase radicalism?  How does this serve the public interest?  What about gay marriage. Prop 8 proponents claimed it hurt heterosexual marriage and did harm to society. Where was the evidence? There wasn’t any. It is the same thing.  We really do look like a backwater ignorant bunch of scared little people.

Oh My Head Hurts – Frank Bruni and Education Reform

It’s those stinking bad teachers and unions, or so the new (old) reformers are telling us.  It’s sad when you see a usually insightful writer like Frank Bruni falling for this garbage.  Oh, sure you can find the anecdotal bad teaching and a schools system’s inability to remove them.  It is the easiest thing to do to prove your approach.  But it is dead wrong.  You can figure this out fairly simply by looking at states that have no union impact and see how much better or worse they are doing.  So what could be happening there?

This is like the no-brainer solution for the feeble and yet we can’t quite get there.  Look where systems really work well and you see the following:

  1. Well paid and respected teachers
  2. Teaching as a profession and only the best need apply
  3. Teachers have a strong (read unions) voice in how schools are run
  4. Funding that provides equal funding across all school districts regardless of the tax base for each district

Or said another way see Finland, Denmark, China, Singapore, schools systems that way out perform ours.  But of course those systems have nothing to teach us because we are number 1.  And blaming the teaches negates 1 through 4 above and further exacerbates the problem.  Yes there are other issues (See Dean Baker take on Frank), but we would rather attack teachers and further demoralize the profession.  It works great because then we can justify not paying them.  On and on …

 

Monopoly

Maybe I have got this one wrong, but my gut instinct tells me I don’t. The subject is Apple Pay which is Apple’s genius idea of paying for things using your iPhone (6). The advantage of this system over a card is that it uses thumbprint technology to authorize a payment from your phone. Stealing your phone isn’t like stealing a credit card number or a credit card. So it is an improved pay system.

Enter the monopoly (in my mind) and no it is not Apple Pay. It is a rival to Apple Pay called CurrentC. So what’s the problem. CurrentC has negotiated contracts with companies like Walmart, CVS, Target, Gap, etc., to only use their system which comes out in 2015. So Apple Pay can’t be used at these and other retailers (See NYT). Now wouldn’t that be like saying you can only use say a City Bank VISA card at most stores and all the others (including other VISA cards) are shut out?

Apple Pay was first to the market with a product that apparently is quite popular and your choice of how to pay is being dictated not by the market place, but by corporations that fear competition. If we had a real market place, Apple Pay would be accepted everywhere and CurrentC would have to be the next best thing to supplant it. Or the customer could choose. See my issue here?

We like to think of corporations as the front line in efficiency and market place ideology. In most cases that is not reality. They want to maximize their profits and to do that, limit your choice to only their product. That is the reality of our market place today and is why the big bad old government is so very necessary with all its big bad rules and regulations.

Zoning Out

It’s that time to record all my TV shows, not watch most news, and carefully edit what I read in the newspaper. It is election time. And it is depressing. The ads on TV are totally propaganda so if you are listening to any of them, you will probably pick a bad candidate. We have gone from the days of hyperbole to outright lies and no one seems to care. The news is about the horse race which is like sports talk, mental masturbation. It is meaningless until people actually vote (or the game is actually played).

And it’s depressing. How could anyone vote for Republicans if you have been paying attention? Oh I know, both sides do it, except they don’t. Gridlock is not from Democrats not compromising, it is because they don’t totally cave. The Immigration Bill is the prime example. It was a giant compromise and it can’t get an up or down vote in the House because Republicans won’t vote on it. And here is the foolish thinking from the Denver Post:

Congress is hardly functioning these days. It can’t pass legislation that is controversial and it often can’t even pass legislation on which there is broad agreement. Its reputation is abysmal, and even its members rarely dispute the popular indictment.

It needs fresh leadership, energy and ideas, and Cory Gardner can help provide them in the U.S. Senate.

Yes, they are recommending the Republican (the kings of filibuster in the Senate) to break the gridlock. So let’s break the gridlock with a whole bunch of guys with bad ideas. We have come to a point where one side is just flat wrong (flow down, job creators, supply side economics, cut social programs, disenfranchise women and gays, draconian immigration reform, and on and on) so let’s put them in charge. This is the intellectual desert we have become.

The argument that the Democrats have been in charge (ignoring a hostile House and the use of the filibuster in the Senate to block anything) apparently is lost on them. The minority can’t move anything, so they (Republicans) block everything. They have failed to cede power to the winners of the election, so now we will reward them with fully putting them in charge. And on this craven logic the Denver Post sinks into the sunset of responsible journalism.

So let’s go with the guys who don’t believe in global warming and science in general if it is inconvenient to their ideology. Let’s go with the guys who want to bring back coal, and think giant corporation profits flow down to the rest of us. Let’s go with the guys who think Corporations are people and their religious rights are more important than their employee rights. Let’s go with the guys who think we should disenfranchise women and minorities, and think a minimum wage should be lower. I do not exaggerate.

Oh wait, my Republican doesn’t think those crazy things like Mexicans have calves like cantaloupes. They vote in blocks people. Have you been paying attention? They are owned by corporations. But not yours right? You vote for them because you are fiscally conservative and Democrats are tax and spend maniacs.

And that is the worse part. See Kansas. You have all that wrong and so do they and many purple Democrats. The pie is not getting bigger as the rich get richer, but smaller for the rest of us. The data is all out there, but let’s put them in power because at least things will get done.

Oh, and I almost forgot. You want change so you are electing conservatives. Do you understand what conservative means? It means the status quo. It means fearing change. It means reinstituting the same old policies that have failed us over and over again, less tax on the wealthy and fewer regulations on businesses. What are you thinking?

Well you made your choice and it is the wrong one. So the country will slide further into the abyss for another two years and then we will see if you have come to your senses. I see the train wreck coming and I can’t watch it. Could you pass me the Food Section of the paper honey? Oh, and what is on the Food Channel tonight? Nice weather huh?

Seeing What Republicans Have Wrought

Watching our hysterical response to Ebola, and then the every man for himself approach by state Governors, ignoring science or good policy, tells you everything you need to know about what Republicans have brought us. The CDC is ignored, the long term best interests of the American people are ignored, as we take an anti-intellectual, damn the science approach, I know what is best attitude. Welcome come to the world of “I can see Russia from my porch.”

It is time to quit trying to go in 50 different directions, pay attention to science and data, and start doing smart things. This applies across the board to all political issues. Of course if we did that the Republican Party would cease to exist. It is time to throw these ignorant bastards out of office and start electing people who aren’t interested in fear politics and pandering to the stampede, and care about doing what is smart. Republicans have created a machine to develop an alternate reality and this alternate reality is driving our train right now. I wonder when this nightmare will end.

No That’s Not Right and We Need Government Sort Of

There is an illuminating article in Sunday’s NYT that kind of summarizes where we are with treating Ebola patients, what we did wrong, and the lessons learned. But the article kind of implies that somebody had to go first so we could learn these lessons. In discussing Governor Coumo’s remarks to health workers the article stated:

Unfortunately, we have an advantage from watching what happened in Dallas,” Mr. Cuomo told thousands of health workers Tuesday at an Ebola training session at the Javits Convention Center. “Because Dallas didn’t have a chance to prepare like we have a chance to prepare.”

But I would question if what happened in Dallas had to happen at all. The assumption that any hospital can treat Ebola patients is hubris out of control (See Hubris), much like our belief that we have the best health care system in the world when the evidence is overwhelming we don’t. As I have argued and apparently is now being recognized, there should be centers for this where the staffs have been specifically training.

Further, I would argue that many of the problems they had where the impression is left that no one anticipated some of the unique circumstances is just flat wrong. We could have if we had thought it through. Whether it was the lack of centralized control, or performing medical procedures not consistent with the prescribed protective clothes for primitive areas, these could have all been foreseen. Think about it this way: We had never been to the moon, but we had smart people who worked to anticipate problems and prescribe solutions. And then we pulled it off without a hitch.

So why could we not do this for Ebola? Because we have an inflated belief in our superiority. Hubris. But we could have, and many of the problems would have been foreseen. Doing real training and what-if scenarios would have identified many of the problems before they occurred. It also would have put in place a team that could quickly respond to changing circumstances or new knowledge. We didn’t do it because no one is in charge and said, let’s do it. No one had the funds to expend to redirect these valuable resources to focus on something that had not happened yet, but was clear it was going to.

That is what government is for, and we have starved it to death. Republicans would have screamed bloody murder had we done this and no one showed up sick. Budgets have been cut. But worse than that, Republicans have convinced most people to ignore science if the results are inconvenient to their base’s beliefs and that all government is bad. So centralized control, the naming of regional hospitals would have been received with howls of Republican angst without the obvious lessons learned in Dallas.

But then there is the abuse of government because of our fear. The Republicans who hate government are using government to do what science recommends against, quarantining people who have no symptoms and are not infectious. So now they are taking charge and using the government they so hate to do stupid and counterproductive things. Why would we expect anything less?

Flashing Red

If you haven’t figured it out yet all our warning lights are flashing red. This country is in big trouble. People sense something is wrong, but our elections aren’t really about issues, but a mud campaign. Whose to blame instead of where we are on what will fix it. Yet the issues are our future and most voters are distracted away from them by a very carefully crafted campaign to appeal to emotions, not facts. See Kentucky and the lies about coal from both camps (They’re Both Lying to Us …).
When I used to fly in F-4s, we had a whole bank of warning lights, and one Master Caution indicating one or more of the other warning lights had come on. Well, the Master Caution came on when economic inequality started to approach the days before The Great Crash. Since it is becoming quite evident that most Americans are ignorant of history (we keep repeating our mistakes), we are talking about the run up to the Great Depression. So the Master Caution is on and we look to our bank of warning lights to find what is going wrong.

Well the first light we see is a flashing red education light. As Nicholas Kristof noted this morning, the great advantage America had in educating all our citizens is gone and we are slipping quietly into the also ran of European nations. Our kids are running up amazing debt to try to compete and the economic impact on our future will be staggering. But we can’t even do simple things like give them favored interest rates, much less make investments in education that makes good quality education available to everyone, not just the rich.

Let’s see what else is flashing:

  1. Uh oh, the Climate light is on. We have altered the climate of the earth and are in denial. Just put some masking tape over the light so it doesn’t get in our eyes
  2. Oh my, the Disenfranchisement light is on. Indicates that women are being disenfranchised in regards to controlling their own bodies and getting fair pay for jobs. It is blinking bright red because we also have disenfranchisement at the polls through voter suppression.
  3. Oh, good God! The Economy is Faltering light is on, along with the infrastructure is crumbling light, and the Government is Ineffective light

Now in the world of jet pilots, with each of these blinking lights comes a checklist to try and remedy the situation like recycle circuit breakers, use alternate systems, you know that kind of thing. So in our world outside the cockpit with all these flashing lights, what are we talking about in our election to fix things? Well we can lower taxes on the rich and keep doing all the stuff we were doing (like blocking fixes) or we could take proactive steps proven in the past to help. Sadly, it looks like we are just taping over the lights so they don’t distract us from our impending crash.

There was one light, the Engine Fire light, that kinds of reminds me of where we are today. The checklist was fairly simple on this one. It said shut down the engine and if the light does not go out, EJECT. If the Republicans win in November and we continue our losing ways, I would say it is time to pull the handle. When social mobility is more likely in those socialist states in Europe, you know it is time to bail out before we hit the ground.