Friday, October 24, 2014


A New York doctor named Craig Spencer has returned from Guinea infected with Ebola, and even the New York Post doesn't seem to be trying to stir up panic -- its lead story is measured, there's a "10 facts about Ebola" list that's reasonable and responsible, and the Ebola editorial avoids hysteria, and takes only a mild swipe at the Obama administration. If that's the worst we get, we're going to be in good shape.

There's far less fearmongering out there than I would have expected -- though Doug Powers, at Michelle Malkin's site, seems to be rooting for fear:
Number of people saying 'do not panic' about Ebola might be about to drop now that it's in NYC

... The MSM's approach is about to swing wildly:

Actually, no. It's not going to happen here -- at least it's not going to happen among people who aren't trying to stir up panic for political gain, which even the Post isn't doing yet. We lived through 9/11. We lived through anthrax. You watched those moments on TV in the breakfast nook, Doug and Michelle. So shut the hell up.

Maybe it's not that we're so tough -- we're just dealing with something that's become real for us. Fearmongering is easy when you're sending fear out into a population you're not a part of. The on-air personalities at Fox can cynically stir up viewers' fears because the Foxers themselves don't really lose sleep worrying that Ebola-infected undocumented Mexican-Muslims will overrun their cushy suburban homes and then vote illegally on absentee ballots obtained by the New Black Panthers and ACORN. It's a remote fear for them, so they can callously stir it up. The same goes for the usual CNN fearmongering -- it's out there. But this is real in New York, and the normal human reaction is kicking in: we're seeking answers, we're looking for reassurances, and we're sharing the best information we have. Our sense of fellow-feeling is kicking in.

And we actually want our leaders to do a good job (even Giuliani-haters rooted for him after 9/11). It's not like the last six years of American politics, when right-wingers wanted the government to fail, and wanted the economy not to recover for ordinary workers, because that served their purposes and they assumed they wouldn't suffer any negative consequences as a result. We know there's a slightly elevated risk for ourselves and our neighbors. We want the public response to be a success.

We'll be fine. Now you go panic.


UPDATE: Back in 2007, Barbara at the Mahablog told Michelle Malkin what she could do with her effort to turn New Yorkers into quivering cowards on the subject of terrorism. Go read.

Thursday, October 23, 2014


Yes, this story, from the Wichita Eagle via the Kansas City Star, is technically accurate:
Homeland Security confiscates Royals underwear in Kansas City

Peregrine Honig says she just wanted to help celebrate the hometown team when she designed Lucky Royals boyshorts.

The panties, with "Take the Crown" and "KC" across the bottom, were set to be sold in Honig's Birdies Panties shop Tuesday. But Homeland Security agents visited the Crossroads store and confiscated the few dozen pairs of underwear....

"They came in and there were two guys" Honig said. "I asked one of them what size he needed and he showed me a badge and took me outside. They told me they were from Homeland Security and we were violating copyright laws."

She thought that since the underwear featured her hand-drawn design that she was safe. But the officers explained that by connecting the "K" and the "C," she infringed on major league baseball copyright....
I think the word thst both Honig and this story's author are looking for is "trademark," not "copyright." But that's not the aspect of the story right-wing bloggers are picking up on. They're upset because OMIGOD THIS IS BEING DONE BY HOMELAND SECURITY!!!1!1!

From PJ Media:
Did you know that the war on terrorism is over, there are no threats to us whatsoever, and peace has broken out across the entire world?

I didn't either, but if that hasn’t happened, I'm at a loss to explain this.
From Reason's Hit & Run blog:
The Department of Homeland Security has a $39 billion annual budget. It is fighting the fight against our invisible enemies, and taking on the unknown threats of the future.

By confiscating baseball-themed women's underwear from enthusiastic local retailers.
From The American Spectator:
Last I checked, DHS wasn't listed as the enforcement arm for the US Patent and Trademark Office (or for the MLB for that matter), but given that the DHS now has a whopping $40 billion dollar budget that they aren't spending on anything important, perhaps there was a switch they failed to inform the American people of.
That's either disingenuous or ignorant, because last time I checked -- by going to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection website a few minutes ago -- Customs was part of the Department of Homeland Security. Maybe that's crazy, but that's what the federal government settled on when DHS was created (under a Republican president) a dozen years ago. And Customs has been pursuing goods that feature unlicensed logos for a long time now.

You can argue against that, and you can argue that a small producer of logo wear shouldn't have to fear this kind of thing -- but hey, since when do conservatives not regard private property rights as sacred? Corporations certainly see their trademarks as lucrative private property.

And the liberarians at Reason? Even they don't think trademarked logos should be protected? Ayn Rand wept:
Ayn Rand, founder of Objectivism, supported copyrights and patents, noting in Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal:
Patents and copyrights are the legal implementation of the base of all property rights: a man's right to the product of his mind. Every type of productive work involves a combination of mental and of physical effort: of thought and of physical action to translate that thought into a material form. The proportion of these two elements varies in different types of work. At the lowest end of the scale, the mental effort required to perform unskilled manual labor is minimal. At the other end, what the patent and copyright laws acknowledge is the paramount role of mental effort in the production of material values; these laws protect the mind's contribution in its purest form the origination of an idea. The subject of patents and copyrights is intellectual property.... Thus the law establishes the property right of a mind to that which it has brought in existence.
Rand apparently didn't mention trademarks specifically, but do you really think she'd want the right to use them to be held (ick!) in common?

So this is a two-fer from the right. First, they're trying to fool you about the involvement of the DHS (or maybe they really don't understand its makeup). Then they're revealing a heretofore unacknowledged belief that trademarks should be forced into the commons. Who knew they thought that?

You've probably read about this:
Joni Ernst, the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in Iowa, said during an NRA event in 2012 that she would use a gun to defend herself from the government.

"I have a beautiful little Smith & Wesson, 9 millimeter, and it goes with me virtually everywhere," Ernst said at the NRA and Iowa Firearms Coalition Second Amendment Rally in Searsboro, Iowa. "But I do believe in the right to carry, and I believe in the right to defend myself and my family -- whether it's from an intruder, or whether it's from the government, should they decide that my rights are no longer important."

In an obvious way, the fact that Ernst can say this and still be the favorite to win a U.S. Senate seat is a clear example of white privilege. Imagine a pronouncement like this being greeted with shrugs (as it almost certainly will be in Iowa on Election Day) if it had been uttered by a left-leaning black candidate a couple of years prior to running for office.

But there's another way this is an example of white privilege. At The Washington Post, Paul Waldman asks:
... if Ernst is talking about some hypothetical situation in which government's disregard for her rights may necessitate an armed response it's fair to ask her: What exactly is it? Is she saying that when law enforcement officers come to arrest her on some trumped-up charge, instead of submitting and fighting the charges in court she'll shoot those officers? Who else is an appropriate target here? Members of Congress who pass laws taking away her rights? FBI agents? Who?
Here's the thing: Generally speaking, she thinks there's no such circumstance. Ernst feels free to make this reckless statement, to a crowd that didn't find it the least bit objectionable, because she feels pretty safe in the assumption that she'll never be called to back those words up with actions. That's because she lives in a country where, regardless of all the hotheaded rhetoric, the government never really tyrannizes people like her and her audience, i.e., heartland white people of some means.

If Ernst and the crowd she was addressing were African-American, and had to get used to staggeringly high incarceration rates, as well as routine stop-and-frisk episodes and traffic stops for themselves and their children, they'd have to ask themselves if they were really so damn brave that they'd take up arms against the government. But they don't have to worry about that. So Ernst can just let loose this way with a barrage of irresponsible talk about insurrection.

Oh, sure, there was that crazy David Koresh a generation ago, and there was Randy Weaver at Ruby Ridge shortly before that. But in this century there's been one situation of this kind involving conservative white people: the standoff at Cliven Bundy's ranch. And in that situation, Bundy and his pals didn't actually have reason to put a bullet in anyone because the Bundyites were conservative heartland whites, and a government run by a widely despised black guy, and with an even more loathed black guy as attorney general, was never really going to risk messing with them.

Whether they'll admit it or not, white right-wing heartlanders know that the jackbooted government thuggery they have Walter Mitty fantasies about resisting happens to them only after they engage in the most extreme provocation. So they talk the talk, knowing they won't ever to have to walk the walk.

The right would be howling for Obama's head if the two attacks in Canada this week had taken place here, and not just for the general reason that the right is always howling for Obama's head.

This is the reason:
Federal sources have identified the suspected [Parliament] shooter as Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, a man in his early 30s who was known to Canadian authorities.

Sources told The Globe and Mail that he was recently designated a "high-risk traveller" by the Canadian government and was unable to secure the appropriate travel documentation, thus blocking his attempt to travel abroad. The circumstances are similar to that surrounding the case of Martin Rouleau-Couture, the Quebecker who was shot Monday after running down two Canadian Forces soldiers with his car.
... on Oct. 8, Royal Canadian Mounted Police announced that they were investigating 63 national security cases linked to terrorism and involving 90 individuals -- that was the day after the Canadian parliament voted to join anti-ISIS air strikes in Iraq.

The attack in the capital on Wednesday is the second of its kind since that vote.
That's why there'd be calls for Obama's impeachment if this happened here: because the authorities had both assailants on a watch list, and the two were still able to carry out attacks.

The authorities (as Rachel Maddow explained last night) were already on alert for the possibility of what an NBC report said were possible "knife and gun" attacks, specifically on soldiers, whose faces the government didn't want photographed by the media. In spite of this, the government was unable to prevent a car-ramming attack on two soldiers (by a man who was later reportedly seen holding a knife after a high-speed chase), and then didn't prevent a gun attack on a soldier yesterday, followed by a shooting attack on Parliament.

The perpetrators had been monitored, but they were able to kill anyway. Can you imagine the response from the right in America if that had happened here?

By contrast, this is at Fox Nation right now:

But Harper's a conservative, of course, so letting two assassins of soldiers slip through a dragnet in one week is totally cool.


UPDATE: News Hounds notes that Sean Hannity is using Harper as a stick to beat Obama with because Harper has used the magic "t" word:
But to Sean Hannity, the fact that Canada had nonetheless not stopped the shooter before he killed was of no significance next to the fact that Harper used the word "terror." And Hannity was ready to use that against President Obama who is more circumspect with that terminology....
Compare and contrast for us if you can, the Canadian prime minister -- no hesitation, immediately identified this as likely terror and our own president once again is reluctant and resistant. Why?
If there's an attack like these attacks on U.S. soil, and President Obama immediately defines them as terrorist attacks, you think Hannity will praise him?

Wednesday, October 22, 2014


You're probably aware of this:
... a man with a rifle shot a soldier standing guard at the National War Memorial in downtown Ottawa, before seizing a car and driving to the doors of Parliament Hill's Centre Block nearby.

MPs and other witnesses reported several shots fired inside Parliament, and a gunman has been confirmed dead inside the building, shot by the House of Commons Sergeant-at-Arms, according to MPs' eyewitness accounts....

Ottawa Civic Hospital confirmed two people have been taken to hospital with non-life-threatening injuries, one with a gunshot wound.

Ottawa police confirmed shots were also fired in three locations: the war memorial, inside Centre Block and near the Rideau Centre east of Parliament Hill, although earlier reports of shots inside the shopping mall have been denied by police. The downtown area remains in police lockdown....
This follows an incident in Quebec in which a man rammed a car carrying two Canadian soldiers, one of whom later died. The assailant, who was shot dead by police after he reportedly approached them brandishing a knife following a high-speed chase, was a convert to Islam who'd begun expressing radical Islamist views and had tried leaving Canada for Turkey. (Early this month, Canadian authorities were expressing concern about ISIS-inspired "knife and gun" attacks.)

Now, we've been told by a lot of blowhards in America -- hello, Scott Brown -- that ISIS members are going to attack Americans after crossing into the country via the Mexican border. We've also been told that the reason we need to fear Americans traveling to ISIS-held territory is that Americans are likely to acquire fighting skills they'll subsequently use against Americans.

We don't know who's responsible for the shootings in Ottawa today. We do know that the car attack on the soldiers wasn't by someone who slipped into Canada illegally, and wasn't by someone with "battlefield experience" -- the assailant was a Canadian national named Martin Couture-Rouleau, who owned a pressure-washing company that was struggling. He wasn't a soldier, and he seems to have been prevented from fighting with ISIS.

Maybe the assailants today have military experience -- but it isn't necessary if you want to do some harm. Nor is sneaking over a border. The ISIS message crosses borders digitally. We fear the wrong things.


I wonder how we can quell the desire of at least some young people to fight for ISIS, overseas or in their own countries, as long as ISIS (at least in some people's eyes) offers an idealistic, optimistic vision of a better life, and possibly a materially better life. I'm absolutely not saying that I believe that message -- I'm saying that some people find it plausible. You can blame them for falling for this message, but I'm not sure you can blame them for wanting to think there's a better life somewhere. Apart from the global rich, how many people right now, anywhere on earth, are satisfied with their lives? How many people like their governments? Who are the admirable political leaders right now?

The New York Times has a story today about Tunisians who are disillusioned with their government four years after the Arab Spring. Large numbers of them -- many unemployed or underemployed -- are leaving to go to ISIS-held territory. They seem to think the streets are paved with gold there:
In interviews at cafes in and around Ettadhamen, dozens of young unemployed or working-class men expressed support for the extremists or saw the appeal of joining their ranks -- convinced that it could offer a higher standard of living, a chance to erase arbitrary borders that have divided the Arab world for a century, or perhaps even the fulfillment of Quranic prophecies that Armageddon will begin with a battle in Syria....

Mourad, 28, who said he held a master’s degree in technology but could find work only in construction, called the Islamic State the only hope for "social justice," because he said it would absorb the oil-rich Persian Gulf monarchies and redistribute their wealth. "It is the only way to give the people back their true rights, by giving the natural resources back to the people,” he said. “It is an obligation for every Muslim."

Many insisted that friends who had joined the Islamic State had sent back reports over the Internet of their homes, salaries and even wives. "They live better than us!" said Walid, 24.

Wissam, 22, said a friend who left four months ago had told him that he was "leading a truly nice, comfortable life" under the Islamic State.

"I said: 'Are there some pretty girls? Maybe I will go there and settle down,'" he recalled.
Some are coming back disillusioned after experiencing the reality of life under ISIS:
Imen Triki, a lawyer at a nonprofit that has represented more than 70 returning Tunisians, ... estimated that as many as 60 percent of those who come back profess disappointment at the strife between the Islamic State and its former partner, the Nusra Front, the Qaeda-affiliated Syrian rebel group. "They never thought there would a fight between Muslims," she said. "They find that they have been deceived and sold like mercenaries."

Charfeddine Hasni, 30, an information technology worker who said he backed the Islamic State, acknowledged that friends had returned dismayed. "They thought it would be like joining the side of the Prophet Muhammad, but they found it was divided into these small groups with a lot of transgressions they did not expect, like forcing people to fight," he said, recalling one friend killed by his own fellows in the Nusra Front. "But they are not a real army, so they are hard to control, and these are personal mistakes," he added.
But they want a better life. Who else, in a sink-or-swim post-crash world, offers any reason for optimism? ISIS is awful, but to some people it's the only ray of hope. You want to beat ISIS? Offer a real ray of hope.


UPDATE: The shooter in Ottawa today was Not a border-crosser, apparently:
Law enforcement and U.S. government sources tell CBS News the dead shooting suspect is Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, born 1982, and he is believed to be Canadian-born.

AND: The shooter is a Canadian convert to Islam who (like Couture-Rouleau) had his passport seized by the Canadian government, which regarded him as a "high-risk traveler." So no border-crossing and no "battlefield experience" in this case, either.

Heather MacDonald, a right-winger widely respected as an intellectual, has now weighed in on Ebola, and her conclusion is just a seemingly high-minded version of what Keith Ablow was ranting about last week: she believes that we're at risk of Ebola exposure because the public health field is lousy with anti-colonialism, or something very similar:
The public-health establishment has unanimously opposed a travel and visa moratorium from Ebola-plagued West African countries to protect the U.S. population. To evaluate whether this opposition rests on purely scientific grounds, it helps to understand the political character of the public-health field. For the last several decades, the profession has been awash in social-justice ideology. Many of its members view racism, sexism, and economic inequality, rather than individual behavior, as the primary drivers of differential health outcomes in the U.S. According to mainstream public-health thinking, publicizing the behavioral choices behind bad health -- promiscuous sex, drug use, overeating, or lack of exercise -- blames the victim.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Healthy Communities Program, for example, focuses on "unfair health differences closely linked with social, economic or environmental disadvantages that adversely affect groups of people." CDC's Healthy People 2020 project recognizes that "health inequities are tied to economics, exclusion, and discrimination that prevent groups from accessing resources to live healthy lives," according to Harvard public-health professor Nancy Krieger....

The public-health profession has a clear political orientation, so it's quite possible that its opposition to a visa and travel moratorium is influenced as much by belief in America's responsibility for the postcolonial oppression of Africa, and suspicion of American border enforcement, as it is by a commitment to public-health principles of containment and control.
MacDonald starts by telling us that a couple of CDC health programs don't want to address the problems caused by certain personal behaviors -- but if you look at them, you see that they're very much focused on overeating and lack of exercise. What they're not focused on is blaming individuals for eating poorly, or for not being active. The point of the programs is to nudge people toward healthier habits, and make exercise options and better food more readily available. I'm not sure exactly how a finger-wagging focus on "individual behavior" would work -- public shaming? scarlet letters? signs hung around fat people's necks in the public square? -- nor do I understand how it would improve public health. But it sure would help divide the country into the worthy and the unworthy, which is the kind of sorting that's the basis of all modern conservatism.

MacDonald goes on to discuss other ways in which the evil liberals of public health have failed to sort the citizenry into the saved and the damned:
During the height of the AIDS epidemic, the public-health profession abjured any focus on abstinence as a means of stopping the spread of the disease. This silence was contrary to decades of public-health response to venereal disease, which stressed individual responsibility, as well as contact tracing, to prevent further infections.
Oh, right -- instead of recommending safe sex, the public health community should have told high-risk groups to give up sex altogether -- presumably forever, since it's a quarter century after the first AIDS diagnosis and we still don't have a cure. I assume this would include entire entire African heterosexual populations, although I assume MacDonald is thinking more about those awful gays.
The American Journal of Public Health recently published a study coauthored by Columbia University professor and longtime police critic Jeffrey Fagan arguing that young black men who have been stopped and questioned by the New York Police Department suffer from stress and anxiety. The more times an individual gets stopped, Fagan claims, the more stress he may feel. The study did not consider whether individuals who have been stopped numerous times by the police may be anxious because they are gang members operating in a world where retaliatory shootings are common.
Right -- all Those People are in gangs, so stress them out as much as you want. It's cool. They're used to it.

The idea undergirding all this is that authorities should respond to every societal problem by punishing someone, a necessity liberal squishes just don't recognize. In the case of travelers from West Africa -- the overwhelming majority of whom are disease-free -- I guess the "individual behavior" they're being punished for is not having the moral fiber to be born in a white First World country.

Least surprising news imaginable, from The Hill:
Tea Partyers have learned to play nice after a cycle of knockdown, drag-out fights with the Republican establishment that have gotten them nowhere.

Sensing a GOP majority in the Senate is within reach, conservative groups have put down their bombs and are working together with establishment actors to make that happen -- even backing formerly sworn enemies in some races.

In New Hampshire, Tea Party Patriots (TPP) has launched a ground effort to help elect Republican Scott Brown, who has drawn the ire of conservatives for backing stricter gun control in some cases. In North Carolina, TPP and others are actively supporting Republican Thom Tillis, who was far from being the conservative pick in his primary. He faces Sen. Kay Hagan (D).

The Tea Party Express (TPE) is now actively backing Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) -- little liked among Tea Partyers -- and former South Dakota Gov. Mike Rounds (R), for Senate.

At the very least, Tea Partyers are showing a willingness to "hold their nose and vote," as FreedomWorks Executive Vice President Adam Brandon put it, because of the understanding that a Republican-controlled Senate with some impurities is better than nothing at all.

"Our members have told us that right now, having a Republican-controlled Senate and firing [Majority Leader] Harry Reid (D-Nev.) are their top priority," Jenny Beth Martin, TPP president, told The Hill....
What did I tell you a year ago?
Trust me, these folks are going to work this out. First of all, crazy-base disappointment with the GOP is not exactly new. Crazy-base voters thought John McCain was a pathetic RINO. Did they bolt for a third party? No. They felt the same way in 2012 about Mitt Romney. Did they bolt then? No. They never bolt, because they hate liberals, Democrats, and the Democratic voter base as they perceive it (i.e., non-white moochers) far more than they hate one another.
They fall in line -- and they vote. They vote every time.

Republicans have found their sweet spot -- establishment figures are (or eventually learn to become) just like teabaggers except on issues that become embarrassing to the GOP in polite circles, like shutting down the government and playing games with the debt ceiling, while the teabaggers stay pure on everything. The chattering classes think teabaggery has been tamed and the Republican Party is now reasonable, and the teabaggers themselves see that they're succeeding in dragging the party even further to the right. And on Election Day, it all comes together -- until the Democratic base gets a clue and learns to turn out in non-presidential years. But when will that ever happen?

Tuesday, October 21, 2014


Fox News reports a key result from its latest poll:
The world's "going to hell in a handbasket," according to a majority of voters in the latest Fox News poll.

And that's draining support for President Obama’s policies.
This is true -- but not quite in the way Fox wants you to think it is.

Yes, it's true that, according to the poll, "58 percent of voters feel things in the world are 'going to hell in a handbasket,'" while 35% of respondents say that "everything will be all right." (No choice in the middle was offered.) This is just the latest in a series of push-poll-y questions in Fox surveys. (An example from a while back: "Do you think the Democratic Party should allow a grassroots organization like to take it over or should it resist this type of takeover?")

But it's the placement of this question that's important here. In a 42-question survey, this was question #4, right after questions about approval of Obama and Congress and a question asking about the direction of the country.

Why put the "hell in a handbasket" question near the front of the survey? Presumably so it will influence respondents' answers on questions starting with #5:
Do you approve or disapprove of the job Barack Obama is doing on the following issues?
5. Handling the Islamic extremist group ISIS
6. Foreign policy
7. The economy

8. Do you think the country is better off or worse off today than before Barack Obama was elected president?
And so on.

In 2009, in reference to a similar planting of a provocative question in a Fox poll, Nate Silver wrote,
... when you ask biased questions first, they are infectious, potentially poisoning everything that comes below. I don't particularly care if Fox News wants to ask leading or even outrightly biased questions -- but they have to ask them after any questions they expect the policymaking community to take seriously.
Pew and other pollsters have told us about question-order effects. The National Council on Public Polls warns journalists to take note of question order when considering poll results:
Sometimes the very order of the questions can have an impact on the results. Often that impact is intentional; sometimes it is not. The impact of order can often be subtle.

During troubled economic times, for example, if people are asked what they think of the economy before they are asked their opinion of the president, the presidential popularity rating will probably be lower than if you had reversed the order of the questions. And in good economic times, the opposite is true.

What is important here is whether the questions that were asked prior to the critical question in the poll could sway the results.
Fox knows this. Fox knows this very well.

From the "Daily News Briefing" at Herman Cain's "Best of Cain" site:

I have no words.


UPDATE: Oh, of course:


I'm glad David Corn of Mother Jones is reminding us of this, but I wonder how much good it will do once the presidential campaign gets under way:
As [Senator Rand Paul] moves toward a White House bid, journalists scrutinize his every wiggle and whisper. But one core component of his political personality has largely escaped exploration: The senator is close to being a full-blown conspiracy theorist.

In 2010, before winning his Senate seat, Paul sat for an interview with Luke Rudkowski, a libertarian YouTube personality who specializes in quizzing political leaders about the plot to establish a "one-world socialist government." Rudkowski asked what Paul knew of the Bilderberg Group, a collection of government and business leaders whose annual conference is a favorite target of conspiracy-mongers. Paul replied, "Only what I've learned from Alex Jones." That's right: Alex Jones, the radio host who claims that Bilderberg is a key part of a global plot to create a "scientific dictatorship" that will exterminate the "useless eaters," a.k.a. 80 percent of the human population.

Paul described the group to Rudkowski in unequivocally Jonesian terms, as "very wealthy people, who I think manipulate and use government to their own personal advantage. They want to make it out like world government will be good for humanity. But guess what? World government is good for their pocketbook." The previous year, Paul had appeared on Jones' radio show, noting that he had watched his host's videos and expressing support for the effort to "expose people who are promoting this globalist agenda." (In turn, Jones urged his listeners to send money to Paul's Senate campaign.)
Here's the problem with bringing this up: Most Americans don't know what the Bilderberg group is, and don't know why believing the Bilderbergers are at the epicenter of a globalist conspiracy is crazy. For that matter, they don't know who Alex Jones is -- or maybe they know him just as that guy who got into a one-sided shouting match with Piers Morgan on the subject of guns shortly after the Sandy Hook massacre. (Nothing Jones said was very different from the NRA's own propaganda, or the gun utterances of most Republican officeholders, so while he came off as a hothead, I don't think he came off as a conspiratorialist.)

When the public doesn't already understand that a crazy idea is crazy, it's hard to use belief in that idea against a candidate. That's why Joni Ernst is a slight favorite to win the Senate race in Iowa, even though she's said delusional things about the UN's Agenda 21. Hardly anybody knows what Agenda 21 is. Hardly anyone understands that it's innocuous. You can't tell voters that Ernst believes a cockamamie conspiracy theory when they don't know it's cockamamie.

Corn goes on to tell us that Rand Paul has worried about the imminent formation of a "North American Union" with a single currency:
Paul also has embraced one of the conspiracy theories promoted by his father, former Texas Rep. Ron Paul: that leaders from the United States, Canada, and Mexico are seeking to merge their countries into a socialist megastate that would issue the "Amero" currency to replace US and Canadian dollars and the Mexican peso. (Anti-feminist campaigner Phyllis Schlafly and Jerome Corsi, who led the 2004 Swift Boat Veterans for Truth campaign, are among the key proponents of this idea.)

At an appearance for his father's 2008 presidential campaign in Bozeman, Montana, Rand Paul was asked what steps his dad would take to thwart the scheme to impose a North American superstate. The first thing to do, he said, was "publicizing that it's going on" and pushing Congress to "stop it." He insisted the Amero push was "a real thing" but cautioned, "If you talk about it like it's a conspiracy, they'll paint you as a nut. It's not a conspiracy, they're out in the open about it. I guarantee it's one of their long-term goals -- to have one sort of borderless mass continent." He did not specify who "they" were.
But people don't know that's crazy. We have NAFTA. What's the difference? Why is NAFTA real and this is crazy? People don't understand. It would be hard to get them to understand. And no one's really tried.

You're not going to get a careful, detailed story debunking conspiracy myths about Agenda 21 or the North American Union or the Bilderbergers from The Washington Post or The New Republic or The New York Times Magazine or CNN -- maybe stories would appear if a high-profile candidate invoked one of these theories in the heat of a closely covered campaign, but that's not what's happening. (Rand Paul, as Corn notes, stopped talking about these conspiracies once he became a serious Senate candidate. That's also what Ernst has done.)

As long as these ideas are under the elite press's radar, there won't be debunkings. Even Vox, which sells itself as the site where everything you might see mentioned in the news gets explained, has nothing about the Bilderberg group or the Amero. The phrases "Agenda 21" and "North American Union" have never appeared at Vox.

If the mainstream media won't deign to debunk these myths because doing so feels like slumming, the myths will fester -- and the public won't know that candidates who've taken the myths seriously are engaging in crazy talk. Ernst is skating; unless the media's approach to conspiracies starts to change, Paul will, too.

Monday, October 20, 2014


National Journal's Shane Goldmacher has just published a gushy, breathless puff piece on Joni Ernst, Iowa's Republican Senate candidate:
What the Republicans ... have going for them this year is Ernst herself, a folksy state senator and lieutenant colonel in the Iowa National Guard who has emerged as one of the breakout stars of 2014. She burst through a crowded Senate GOP primary with an ad touting her farm-girl roots castrating hogs. "Let's make them squeal!" she said of Washington spenders. The ad drew national attention (627,000 YouTube views and counting) and a deluge of donations.

Most recent polls have shown Ernst narrowly ahead and her supporters more energized. She is more liked than disliked by Iowa voters, while Braley's favorability rating is underwater in most surveys....

"She's become a rock star, certainly among Republicans," says [David] Oman, her finance director....

Ernst has excited not just GOP insiders but Iowa voters. A recent NBC/Marist poll showed a huge enthusiasm gap, with more than 60 percent of Ernst backers saying they were actively supporting her, versus 34 percent who were more opposing Braley. The reverse was true for him. More than 60 percent of his supporters were mostly opposed to her, rather than actively for him.
And according to Goldmacher, anyone who thinks Ernst is extreme or fringe-y is just trying to ruin everyone else's sense of delight in her wonderfulness:
Democrats have tried to cut Ernst down with a campaign to cast her as an extremist. They have some politically potent fodder, including video of her speaking about the possibility of privatizing Social Security and her support for "personhood" legislation, which could ban some forms of birth control (Ernst says she is in favor of birth-control access). She's suggested that states could nullify federal law and raised the specter of impeaching Obama. She also suggested that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, before trying to backtrack.
Ed Kilgore is outraged at the notion that calling Ernst an extremist is somehow out of bounds, given the positions she's embraced, and he notes that Ernst's embrace of the insane Agenda 21 conspiracy ought to be disqualifying all by itself. BooMan also finds it appalling that Goldmacher allows her to skate on these matters.

But I want to point out another aspect of Goldmacher's argument. He flatly calls Ernst a "better candidate" than Democrat Bruce Braley -- but he needs an explanation for why she's not running away with the election. His explanation is this:
... Iowa Republicans [are] still smarting from two straight cycles of defeat that they blame on superior Democratic infrastructure. "The Obama machine, organization -- whatever you'd like to call it -- took us to school in 2008 and again in 2012," says David Oman, who cochaired Mitt Romney's Iowa campaign last cycle.

... as they are in Senate races across the country -- Colorado, Alaska, North Carolina, to name a few -- Democrats here are hoping smart tactics can offset a national mood that favors Republicans. And in Iowa, fears of the Democratic machine lurk not far below the surface....
Right. If Braley wins, it's not going to be because that's a genuine expression of Iowa's popular will. He's going to win because Democrats always gin the system with their mysterious, sinister get-out-the-vote tricks and wiles.

This line of argument dovetails nicely with Republican vote trutherism (Democrats win because of massive voter fraud!) and its lite, polite variants (Democrats win because they give so much free stuff to moochers! Republicans lose some elections in the overall vote count, but win the votes of the right people, so, really, the GOP wins!). Either way, America -- or "real Americans," at least -- prefer the GOP no matter what the vote totals say. Democrats don't have a mandate to govern even when they win (because they don't really win), and Republicans have a mandate even when they lose.


Time's Alexandra Sifferlin reports good Ebola news:
The World Health Organization declared Nigeria free of Ebola on Monday, a containment victory in an outbreak that has stymied other countries' response efforts....

For the WHO to declare Nigeria as Ebola-free, the country had to make it 42 days with no new cases ..., verify that it actively sought out all possible contacts, and show negative test results for any suspected cases....

Nigeria had 20 cases of Ebola after a Liberian-American man named Patrick Sawyer flew into Lagos and collapsed at the airport. Health care workers treating Sawyer were infected, and as it spread it ultimately killed eight people, a low number next to the thousands of cases and deaths in other countries....
Sifferlin notes that Nigeria did a lot of things well, getting doctors trained early (by the World Health Organization and Doctors Without Borders) and declaring a health emergency immediately.

But Nigeria didn't seal its borders:
Keeping borders open. Nigeria has not closed its borders to travelers from Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, saying the move would be counterproductive. "Closing borders tends to reinforce panic and the notion of helplessness," Shuaib said. "When you close the legal points of entry, then you potentially drive people to use illegal passages, thus compounding the problem." Shuaib said that if public health strategies are implemented, outbreaks can be controlled, and that closing borders would only stifle commercial activities in the countries whose economies are already struggling due to Ebola.
Let me just remind you that Nigeria shares a continent with eleven other countries where Ebola has been detected:

We share a continent with no such countries. In fact, there are no such countries in the Western Hemisphere.

And yet the majority of Americans want the borders sealed. It wasn't done in Nigeria -- and it wasn't necessary.

Politico just conducted a poll of states with competitive Senate races and competitive House districts. The results could have been a lot worse for Democrats. The respondent pool skews a bit more rightward than the country as a whole: of the 17 states surveyed, 10 voted for Mitt Romney in 2012; 32 of the 62 House districts are currently represented by Republicans. Within the respondent pool, 38% call themselves "conservative" (in line with national numbers), but another 12% are moderates who say they lean conservative, so half the pool is at least somewhat conservative. And 40% of respondents consider themselves born again or Evangelical (Pew puts the nationwide percentage at 26.3%). And yet 47% of respondents "strongly" or "somewhat" approve of President Obama's job performance. What's more, when asked to choose between the Republican and Democratic candidate (or the independent in the case of the Kansas Senate race), Democrats win, 41%-36%. With leaners, it's still Dems, 44%-41%.

And yet fear persists. I understand Ebola fear being on people's minds, but this seems really irrational:
Eighty-four percent of voters say the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant poses a "serious" threat to the U.S. homeland, including 43 percent who say it poses a “very serious” threat. Just 12 percent said the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, is not a serious concern....

And the same pool of voters that expressed intense resistance to U.S. military intervention overseas in a July POLITICO poll now say they are more concerned about terrorism against the homeland (60 percent) than the possibility of another "drawn-out U.S. war in Iraq" (39 percent.)
More than a month ago, we saw ISIS members beheading Westerners in their sphere of influence. Fearmongers told us that ISIS was sending people into America, or had already done so. The Mexican border was invoked. Ebola was mentioned.

So, um, where's the stateside ISIS terrorism?

Here's the thing: We don't notice when things we fear don't happen. When we're on alert, we don't notice the seemingly unremarkable, even when it's relevant to our concerns.

It's somewhat like Sherlock Holmes's incident of the dog in the night-time:
Gregory (Scotland Yard detective): "Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?"

Holmes: "To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time."

Gregory: "The dog did nothing in the night-time."

Holmes: "That was the curious incident."
In the Conan Doyle story "Silver Blaze," a dog doesn't bark when a famous racehorse is abducted. Sherlock Holmes knows that the person who moved the horse was not a stranger to the dog. But it's a detail everyone else overlooks.

We're missing the dogs that aren't barking. ISIS isn't killing people in America. Ebola isn't spreading, and the vast majority of people exposed to it here are still in good health. But once fear is stirred up, it lingers. Reassuring news doesn't have anywhere near the same impact.

Republicans stoke fear all the time because they know this. They've had a lot to work with lately. But their direst predictions aren't coming true.

Too bad we won't notice -- soon we'll just let them scare us about something else.

Sunday, October 19, 2014


In comments yesterday, Never Ben Better posted a disheartening story from Maine:
A teacher at Strong Elementary School was placed on a 21-day paid leave of absence after parents told the school board they were concerned that she might have been exposed to Ebola during a trip to Dallas for an educational conference....

Jackie King, a spokeswoman for the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, said the Dallas conference is being held at the Hilton Anatole Hotel, where participants also are staying....

The hotel where the teacher stayed is about 10 miles from Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital, where the first case of the virus was diagnosed....

About 363,000 passengers arrived on international flights into Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport in August, the latest month for which statistics are available. About 5 million domestic travelers passed through the airport in the same month....
In addition to telling us that this town is in a panic despite the fact that the teacher in question stayed ten miles away from the hospital where Thomas Eric Duncan was treated, the story recounts other incidents of Ebola panic:
A Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist for the Washington Post, who photographed Ebola victims in Liberia in September, was disinvited from a photojournalism workshop at Syracuse University even though he showed no signs of the disease for 21 days after his return to the United States.... In Hazelhurst, Mississippi, a crowd of parents pulled their middle school students from class Friday after learning that the school's principal recently had traveled to attend a family funeral in Zambia, which is in southern Africa and about 3,000 miles from the outbreak in West Africa.
And here's a guy named Matt Dexter who has a child in that Maine teacher's classroom, and who, in his ignorance, probably reflects the way much -- most? -- of America is thinking right now:
"I'm really tired of people telling everyone, on the news, starting at the national level, 'zero risk, low risk,'" he said. "The bottom line is that there is risk. Are we more capable of handling this than Africa? Sure, but why walk around blind and jam people into hot spots we can't control? It all comes down to personal responsibility."
I know the press wants to report on what is happening, and speculate on what might happen, but it's obvious now that what the public needs from the press is a reminder of what isn't happening.

Thomas Eric Duncan flew from Monrovia, Liberia, to Brussels, Belgium, on September 19, then flew from Brussels to Dulles Airport in D.C. The next day, September 20, he flew from D.C. to Dallas.

He arrived in Dallas -- infected with Ebola -- 29 days ago.

The incubation period is, at most, 21 days.

There are no Ebola cases in Belgium. There are no Ebola cases in the D.C. area. The only people with Ebola in Dallas have been Duncan and two nurses who treated him when he was unquestionably gravely ill, and when the nurses may not have mastered the protocols for protecting themselves from a highly contagious patient, or may not have had adequate protective gear and other safeguards.

The point is, we know that Thomas Eric Duncan did not communicate Ebola to anyone in his travels -- no one on any plane he flew on, no one in any airport he passed through. The people he had contact with until he was finally admitted to Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital on September 28 -- 21 days ago -- have shown no signs of Ebola, and that includes his relatives and his fiancee -- who seems fine, by the way, but can't get anyone to rent her an apartment.

I know that, by now, much of America probably thinks that "we don't really know" what the incubation period is, just as they think "we don't really know" how Ebola is transmitted. But no matter what they think, they need to be reminded that there are no non-medical personnel who've contracted Ebola via Thomas Eric Duncan. Not his relatives. Not his fiancee. Not the people at the apartment complex where he was staying. Yes, it's true that the people who delivered food to Duncan's family after his hospitalization and later cleaned the apartment are still not past the 21-day maximum incubation period-- though they've had time to develop symptoms, and none have.

If the authorities are lying to us about how Ebola is transmitted, where are all the other cases?

With some people, it's probably hopeless to point this out -- they'll say there are other cases, but they're being covered up. (So why weren't the cases of Duncan and his nurses covered up? Why aren't the scares all over the country being covered up?)

But I have to think that some people would understand if they were reminded that the disease is being transmitted pretty much exactly the way the authorities have always thought it's transmitted, and isn't being transmitted ambiently, just as the experts told us.

Ebola was discovered in 1976. Do most Americans know that -- know that scientists have had 38 years to figure out what it does? Could the press please remind the public of the fact that this virus hasn't been a mystery to scientists for decades?

I have hope, because I lived in New York, which was an epicenter of AIDS as the disease was emerging. People panicked about casual transmission of HIV -- but, eventually, they didn't. Increased understanding can happen -- but people need to see what the virus does and doesn't do. The press needs to report the latter as well as the former -- and, by the way, so does the Obama administration.


MORE: I wonder if we need someone like Oprah to make this case. It's easy to imagine Oprah in her heyday flying down to Dallas, meeting with Duncan's fiancee and others who'd had contact with him -- and hugging some of them on camera, while also bringing on an expert to explain the transmission process and incubation period. Everyone in America would know that Oprah hugged a close contact of an Ebola patient. She'd say she had no fear because the incubation period was up, and then we'd see that she didn't get sick. A celebrity interviewer who did this now woul be doing America a world of good.

Saturday, October 18, 2014


This Politico story is just silly:
Rick Perry's Ebola test

Ebola came to Texas. And Rick Perry went to Europe.

Now the Republican governor, a likely presidential contender, is back in Austin and scrambling to avoid a damaging perception problem like the "oops" moment that doomed his first shot at the White House.

At first, Perry seemed to have everything under control. When a man in Dallas was diagnosed with the deadly virus, Perry held an Oct. 1 news conference, assuring the public that "there are few places in the world better equipped to meet the challenges posed by this case." When more people were quarantined, he launched a task force and told Texans to "rest assured our system is working as it should."

But then he left Sunday for a long-planned 7-day trip designed to burnish his foreign policy credentials. During his absence, two more cases of Ebola were confirmed, both of them involving Texas nurses who had dealt with the first patient.

The governor cut his trip short and rushed home on Thursday, only to encounter criticism for leaving in the first place....
As long as we have a Democratic president, no Republican officeholder is going to be held accountable by Republican primary voters for failing to do the right thing on Ebola, no matter what he or she may have done or failed to do. Republicans running in 2016 who've had to deal with Ebola are going to be judged on one criterion: How much did you distance yourself from the president? It doesn't matter whether Obama and his administration handle Ebola flawlessly from here on in -- the test will be whether you denounced Obama at every possible opportunity and said that everything he was doing was wrong.

On that test, it's not clear that Perry gets a passing grade:
Unlike other possible Republican presidential contenders, he has laid off the hot rhetoric blaming the Obama administration, instead calling for calm. He told reporters about a phone call he had with Obama, signaling his new, harder-line stance on handling Ebola -- by calling for a travel ban on visitors from countries most deeply affected — without focusing on the differences he has with the White House.
It may be silly to take Rick Perry's presidential ambitions seriously at all, but even if you do, he's not going to be judged on "crisis management" in this situation, as the article suggests -- he's going to be judged on how much he hates Obama. That's how every Republican presidential aspirant is judged on pretty much everything.

Oh, so now we're getting well-written, thoughtful, detailed arguments for why a travel ban won't work?

Don't get me wrong, I'm very grateful for this article on the subject by The New Republic's Jonathan Cohn. Among other things, it addresses the argument that commercial flights aren't needed into and out of West Africa because aid workers can take charters:
Lots of people wonder, couldn't the U.S. government just arrange other transportation -- maybe a modern-day version of the 1948 Berlin airlift? I've put that question to a number of officials and experts and the answer I keep hearing is "no." In the real world, they say, making these arrangements would be difficult and solutions would be inadequate. It's not as if assistance is this highly organized campaign, with all the necessary aid workers and their supplies lined up at Dover Air Force base, just waiting for C-17s to take them across the Atlantic. The flow of people and wares into West Africa is a constantly changing, unpredictable blob that's heavily dependent on freely available commercial transportation. Replacing that would take resources and time, the latter of which the region really doesn't have.
A very good Politico story on the same subject runs some numbers, citing Robert Mann, an aviation consultant:
"If you literally sequester the markets, which is to say remove all scheduled service, you really eliminate the possibility of practical access to those markets by public health officials and public health [groups] who are trying to help," Mann said. "You would force them into the charter market, which is very expensive and in some cases also not very practical."

Mann said the economics of chartering a plane to operate in West Africa are particularly challenging -- and, by extension, especially expensive, likely rising quickly out of reach for most non-government organizations or aid workers.

He said a 16-seater plane capable of flying from North America to Western Africa nonstop, chartered from a reputable firm, would cost around $12,000 per hour for a 16-hour round-trip flight, not including ground handling costs, plus fuel costs for the return trip. He said some charter companies might be reluctant to even offer services to an Ebola hotspot, for the same reason an airline wouldn't care to fly there.

"It's really not practical for 16 people to pay what may be $200,000 to charter a jet -- and compare that to the fares on scheduled airlines," which might be about $1,200 per person.
Yes -- $200,000 to charter a jet for 16 people is $12,500 a person, as opposed to $1,200. It's more than ten times as much. And aid groups are cash-strapped as it is. Who among the ban-the-flights crowd is prepared to pony up the difference, or put up resources (or advocate the allocation of tax dollars) to ensure enough flights?

And both pieces address the question of what happens to countries in the hot zone. Here's Cohn:
A travel ban would also hurt the region economically. And while it might seem frivolous to worry about dollars (or other currencies) when it comes to matters of life and death, the issues are inextricably linked. The more the people of these countries face deprivation, whether its lack of jobs or lack of food, the more they will push to leave. It's not at all far-fetched to imagine huge refugee flows out of these countries -- the kind that even tight border controls couldn't fully stop. That would increase the chances that Ebola ends up in other African nations, including those with large urban centers and strong ties to global networks. Think of Ebola taking hold in the slums of Lagos or Nairobi, and how quickly it would jump from there to the rest of the continent and then beyond. It's just one more example of how a travel ban, quite apart from its devastating effect on the region, could actually result in more cases eventually showing up on American shores.
But in all likelihood it's too late for arguments like this. The train has left the station. The hysteria-mongers had a jump on thoughtful liberals, centrists, experts, and wonks -- the right-wing screechers been spreading fear and yelling "Seal the borders!" while Thomas Feiden and other Obama administration officials have been defending the lack of a travel ban with vague general statements lacking detail about what a post-ban world would look like. And the mainstream press has been slow off the mark as well. The right set the terms of this debate -- as the right sets the terms of most debates.

Just as the Obama administration failed to anticipate an infected person getting through screening, failed to anticipate confusion surrounding a complex series of Ebola protocols, and failed to anticipate the inability of a non-specialized hospital to handle an Ebola patient in a health care system known for cost-driven corner-cutting, Team Obama also failed to anticipate the right pouncing on Ebola in the way it has, and thus driving public opinion. I think this administration is pretty good at reacting -- the health care website got fixed, the screws on Putin got tightened, the current level of Ebola contact-tracing is probably now at least as strict as it needs to be, if not stricter -- but anticipating problems is, to put it mildly, not the Obamaites' strong suit.

And the fact that right-wingers, on nearly every issue, drown out everyone else with their cynical faux-anguish is something center and left journalists never anticipate. And I have to ask: How do you miss this when it keeps happening? How do you not realize that you have to write stories as if at least a third of your audience has already been terrified and misinformed by the right, and constantly needs to have misconceptions corrected in great detail? How can something that happens so often possibly be a surprise every time it happens?

All of you, please: Be ready for the possibility that things will go very, very wrong. It often happens in the real world. It nearly always happens in the dissemination of information that has potential political consequences, thanks to the right.