We Need to Fight Ebola Over There So We Don’t Fight It Here

Chris ChristieWe expect that politicians are going to be demagogues. It is almost part of the job description — at least in the modern United States. What we don’t expect are wimpy demagogues who backtrack the moment anyone pushes back. But we should! Demagoguery is a form of bullying, and it is what weak people engage in. I’ve argued this in a general sense for a very long time. A parent can beat a small child into submission, but I think we all understand that that doing that is a sign of weakness, not strength. Similarly, strength is trying to win a political fight on the merits — not trying to push people’s emotional buttons.

Andrew CuomoSo when wimp-bully duo Andrew Cuomo and Chris Christie announced their automatic 21-day quarantine for people exposed to Ebola in West Africa, it was just a matter of time before they folded. It might have helped if the deceitful duo had, I don’t know, listened to people who know about this kind of stuff. But that would have ruined it! The only way they could simultaneously foment fear and elevate themselves to the status of “brave statesmen” was by avoiding, you know, the facts.

But alas, Dumb and Dumber didn’t know what they were up against, as Alex Altman reported in Time, Why Christie’s Ebola Quarantine Gambit Backfired:

It’s never a wise move to pick a fight without knowing your opponent. When Chris Christie ordered a mandatory quarantine for health-care workers returning from West Africa, he might have thought his foil was a lethal virus or an unpopular president or some feckless federal bureaucrats who failed to keep Ebola from arriving in the US. Instead the New Jersey Republican found himself battling a brave nurse, who captivated the country as she skewered the policy from behind the plastic screen of an isolation tent in a Newark hospital.

That brave nurse, of course, was Kaci Hickox. On Saturday, she published an oped in the Dallas Morning News about what exactly had happened to her on her return to the United States through Newark Liberty International Airport on Friday. In addition to being heartbreaking, it also highlighted the total incompetence of the people involved in the “brave” new quarantine effort. This part is especially good, and in a movie would be downright hilarious:

Four hours after I landed at the airport, an official approached me with a forehead scanner. My cheeks were flushed, I was upset at being held with no explanation. The scanner recorded my temperature as 101.

The female officer looked smug. “You have a fever now,” she said.

I explained that an oral thermometer would be more accurate and that the forehead scanner was recording an elevated temperature because I was flushed and upset.

I was left alone in the room for another three hours. At around 7 p.m., I was told that I must go to a local hospital. I asked for the name and address of the facility. I realized that information was only shared with me if I asked.

Eight police cars escorted me to the University Hospital in Newark. Sirens blared, lights flashed. Again, I wondered what I had done wrong.
I had spent a month watching children die, alone. I had witnessed human tragedy unfold before my eyes. I had tried to help when much of the world has looked on and done nothing.

At the hospital, I was escorted to a tent that sat outside of the building. The infectious disease and emergency department doctors took my temperature and other vitals and looked puzzled. “Your temperature is 98.6,” they said. “You don’t have a fever but we were told you had a fever.”

After my temperature was recorded as 98.6 on the oral thermometer, the doctor decided to see what the forehead scanner records. It read 101. The doctor felt my neck and looked at the temperature again. “There’s no way you have a fever,” he said. “Your face is just flushed.”

Jonathan Cohn provided a good rundown of the weekend, Chris Christie Isn’t Backing Down on the Ebola Quarantine. It turns out that officials in charge of this kind of stuff only found out as a result of the press conference. That’s just more evidence that this was all about politics: Cuomo trying to look strong following his embarrassing performance in the primary against Teachout and Christie looking for his chance to take the lead for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.

The problem, I think, is that men like Cuomo and Christie are used to beating up poor people. The most powerful target they ever take on are teachers. But Hickox was something more. Bill DeBlasio said, “This hero is coming back from the front, having done the right thing, was treated with disrespect was treated with a sense that she had done something wrong when she hadn’t.” Cohn wrote this before she had been released:

Her presence could discourage health care workers from going overseas in the future. That would be tragic—and dangerous. It’s easy to forget, given the media coverage, but so far only one person has died of Ebola in the US and the only two people who got the virus from him have both recovered. But, in West Africa, thousands are still dying and the epidemic is spreading to new countries. As I wrote on Friday, it’s hard to see how the Christie-Cuomo quarantine does much good — and easy to see how it could do harm.

What I think has to be kept in mind is that treating Ebola in Africa makes us safer as well. This is actually a case where we need to fight it over there so we don’t have to fight it here.

Government Treats Banks Better Than Students

A Fighting ChanceAmerica’s young people are struggling with more than $1 trillion in student loan debt. I asked: why does the United States government lend to the biggest banks — the same banks that nearly broke our economy — at an interest rate that is less than one percent, and then turn around and charge our students an interest rate that is nine times higher? Why is the US government scheduled to make $185 billion in profits off the backs of our students? We’re not investing in these students — no, we’re asking them to pony up the money to subsidize the rest of us.

—Elizabeth Warren
A Fighting Chance

Boehner’s Anti-Impeachment Gambit Works

John BoehnerOne of the most mystifying things about the conservative movement for the last 25 years has been its labeling of moderate to conservative Democratic presidents as lawless socialists out to destroy the country. This was true of their reaction to Clinton and it is true of their reaction to Obama. Now we have the endless Darrell Issa hearings on everything short of how long Malia takes in the bathroom each morning. And these hearings are now and forever just one revelation away from finding anything. And remember that under Clinton, Monica Lewinsky was the net result of years of digging into every right wing conspiracy imaginable. This is what happens to a political party when it has no ideas and its obsession with ideological purity make coming up with any ideas impossible: it focuses on political nonsense.

And part of never ending “scandal” machine that is the Republican Party is John Boehner’s new lawsuit against President Obama. As you may recall, at the end of July, he decided that the House would sue Obama for delaying the implementation of the employer mandate in Obamacare. He did this to quiet his caucus that really wanted impeachment hearings. Why did they want this? Obama! The irony is great: they want to sue Obama, but the best thing they can come up with is a decision that they agreed with. If Obama were really the lawless president they claim, they should have been able to come up with something better like any of a half-dozen claims that Darrell Issa has made but has never been able to substantiate.

Yesterday, over at Washington Monthly, Simon Lazarus and Elisabeth Stein published an interesting item, The Congressional Research Service Finds that Boehner’s Lawsuit Has No Legal Basis. It seems that someone involved in the lawsuit — maybe Boehner himself — asked the CRS to look at the lawsuit and analyze its legal foundation. The result was finished on 4 September, A Primer on the Reviewability of Agency Delay and Enforcement Discretion (pdf). And the results are unequivocal: there is no basis for a lawsuit at all.

It is almost two months later and the report was never released. Clearly those who requested it do not like what it found. But this was not the first hit to the lawsuit. Lazarus and Stein noted that other, more public, sources have noted that the case had little or no merit. And then, there was this:

More telling, indeed humiliating, on September 19, Boehner was fired as a client by the firm he had hired to prosecute his suit; reportedly, the firm had been advised by clients that continuing with the representation could harm its credibility.

I assume that Boehner always knew that the lawsuit was a crock. As I mentioned above, it was mostly yet another “treat” to keep his caucus from eating itself. It was also probably seen as a good tool to use in the midterm elections. As for the CRS report, that was probably meant for use with the House Republican caucus to explain that they really don’t have a case against the president.

In this way, we should be grateful to Boehner. By getting his caucus to focus on this lawsuit, he created a falsifiable claim. The House doesn’t really need a reason for impeachment other than that they think he is a “doody pants.” But the courts are the courts. The Republicans can think the courts are corrupt, but there is nothing they can do. Of course, the way the Supreme Court is these days, you never know.

Washington Dysfunction Is Republican Dysfunction

Paul KrugmanPaul Krugman is angry today, Ideology and Investment. He is never better than when he is angry. I think it is just that one so rarely hears a major commentator speak the truth about politics. There is so much mincing of words. And that is especially true when it comes partisan issues where no one can ever criticize one side without adding, “On the other hand…” And this is a very big problem when one of the two major political parties acts like an extremist third party where purity to their extremist ideology is all that matters. The Peace and Freedom Party is an extreme group on the left, but they are still more reasonable than the modern Republican Party. Yet still all mainstream pundits are supposed to pretend that the Republicans are no more extreme than the moderate and nonthreatening Democrats. Krugman is one of the few big name people who will actually admit that this isn’t the case.

His column is about something that readers here will be very familiar with: government investment. There is currently far too much savings and too little demand for it. So corporations are sitting on trillions of dollars. This isn’t supposed to be the case according to classical economics, right? The corporations would have to invest it. But they aren’t. Instead, they are using that money to buy back publicly traded stock to goose their stock prices. Bonuses for top level management and layoffs for workers. Hooray! Ain’t capitalism grand when you are on top?!

The government ought to be taking all that excess savings to invest in roads, bridges, the electrical grid, whatever. Currently, the federal government can borrow money at a real rate of 0.38%. But through most of 2012 and 2013, it could borrow money at negative real interest rates. You heard that right: people were paying the federal government to hold onto their money for a decade. Did we use this as an excuse to invest? Of course not! And who is to blame? Well, you already know unless you are a mainstream pundit. But Paul Krugman knows:

But nowadays we simply won’t invest, even when the need is obvious and the timing couldn’t be better. And don’t tell me that the problem is “political dysfunction” or some other weasel phrase that diffuses the blame. Our inability to invest doesn’t reflect something wrong with “Washington”; it reflects the destructive ideology that has taken over the Republican Party.

Reading that earlier felt like a hug from mom. I understand political realities. The Republicans have been shockingly good at getting people to vote against their economic interests and vote based upon fear and resentment. But that doesn’t mean we have to pretend that the Republican Party is acting reasonably. We also know, for example, that if a Republican were in the White House, they wouldn’t give a thought to the debt and they would be doing their normal thing (Tax cuts for the rich!) to stimulate the economy. And along with that would doubtless be infrastructure spending. And this only makes it worse. It means that not only is the Republican Party’s extreme policy hurting the country, it is an intentional and disingenuous tactic meant to give them more power.

Let’s think about the “dysfunction” claim. That implies that there is some kind of deal that the Republicans would take. For example, the Republicans might take cuts to Social Security (through chained-CPI) in exchange for infrastructure spending. But we know they wouldn’t. They have been offered similar deals and they’ve run for the hills. This is the Heritage Uncertainty Principle writ large. Every idea that Republicans have only exists as long as they are not agreed to by the Democrats. The moment it becomes a political reality, the Republicans run for the hills.

There is no “Washington dysfunction”; it is “Republican dysfunction.”

Niccolò Paganini

Niccolo PaganiniOn this day in 1782, the great violinist Niccolò Paganini was born. His father played the mandolin semi-professionally to subsidize his poor living in trade. As a result of this, Paganini learned to play the mandolin at the age of five. At seven, he switched to violin and was quickly recognized as a great talent. By the age of 18, he was an established professional musician in court and as a freelancer. Wikipedia, usually reticent to editorialize, noted, “His fame as a violinist was matched only by his reputation as a gambler and womanizer.”

Since we don’t have recordings of Paganini, people tend to focus on him as a composer. I don’t see it. He does have a nice ear for melody. But when he isn’t over-exuberant, he is maudlin. What’s more, there isn’t much in the way of counterpoint in his work. He apparently wrote on guitar. I think if it hadn’t been for his great ability on the violin and viola, no one would have noticed his compositions. But many (greater) composers after him — most notably Liszt and Brahms — based works on his melodies.

Paganini is best remembered for how he affected the way the violin is played. It isn’t so much true that he was an innovator. Most of his techniques such as left-hand pizzicato and harmonics had been around for a long time. But he used them so much in his compositions and performances that they became normalized. He did, it seems, develop new methods of fingering, although I’m not sure how widely these have been used; Paganini had extremely long fingers — to the point where it is speculated that he might have suffered from Marfan syndrome.

Here is his most famous piece, Caprice No 24 in A minor. I will allow that it is a charming piece of music. And here is a wonderful version of it with the all the Illényi kids playing the hell out of it. And that is fitting for Paganini:

Happy birthday Niccolò Paganini!