Sincerely Insincere

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Being a political junky, my differences with the current administration are based in philosophy, economics and efficacy. But also, I realize that I’m in the vast minority of citizens who actually study policy from those platforms – rather than the usual “what does it do for me” place that many people consider. The interesting thing today is that, statistically, most Americans view the administration unfavorably as well. This is interesting because that same cohort of “most” Americans don’t know anything about most issues (e.g., don’t know what a Kurd is, can’t find Sierra Leone on a map, or have no idea why it’s important to them that GDP growth exceed population growth). What, then, are they upset about?

It has taken five or six years (as I say, most people don’t pay attention to Washington), but most people now see that government is a mess. They may not see the details, but they see that nothing we are doing is working. And, and this is problematic for the administration, they are beginning to see that they have been systematically lied to. Americans won’t stand for that.

The most recent case in point is the ebola outbreak. When Liberia was daily news fodder for the hundreds dying every day, we were told not to worry – it can’t come here. Then Thomas Eric Duncan showed up at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital and tested positive for ebola. Not to worry, our hospitals are well equipped and well trained, we were told. Then it became known that he had shown up three days earlier, told them he was from Liberia, and was presenting with “flu-like symptoms.” They sent him home with some general purpose meds. Not to worry, we were told, Texas Health is a state-of-the-art hospital with a crack staff. Then Mr Duncan died and two of his nurses came down with ebola. By this time, people were getting worried – this is a hemorrhagic fever that liquefies your internal organs and is 70% fatal. This is serious stuff, and nothing government was telling us has turned out to be right.

While agencies and departments were wringing their hands trying to develop enhanced protocols (the ones we started with obviously weren’t working), we find out that Amber Vinson, the second nurse to be transfer-infected, flew commercially from Dallas to Cleveland and back – with a low grade fever! And she had called CDC to see if that was OK, and they said yes!! This was starting to panic the public – what are they doing in Washington? Is anyone paying attention to what is happening?

Finally, we were told not to worry, we were installing a new protocol to monitor passengers’ temperature before they get on a plane in Liberia, Sierra Leon and Guinea, and again when they get off at any one of the five designated airports for travel from those countries – JFK, Newark International, Hartsfield-Jackson [Atlanta], Dulles [Washington] and O’Hare [Chicago]. The only problem there is that it wouldn’t have caught Mr Duncan, and it didn’t catch Dr Craig Spencer, a Doctors Without Borders physician who had been in Guinea working with ebola patients and is now being treated for ebola at Bellevue Hospital in New York – our most densely populated city.

After all the hubbub and scrambling, Washington’s bright idea doesn’t work. Again.

It has gotten so bad that liberal Andrew Cuomo, Governor of New York, and conservative Chris Christie, Governor of New Jersey, have agreed to quarantine medical workers returning from Liberia, Sierra Leon and Guinea for 21 days upon arrival at one of their airports. If Washington can’t do something meaningful, the states may have to.

It’s this kind of serial incompetence that has normal people worried about the routine operation of government. When Democrats had total control of things, they gave us the stimulus, which turned out to be a massive political payback, and ObamaCare, which has turned out to be a miasma of unintelligible taxes, regulations, requirements and restrictions. People who normally don’t pay attention to what government is doing, are paying attention now, and that doesn’t bode well for Democrats next month.

What Did You Expect?

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President Obama has appointed an “Ebola Czar,” despite the fact that we already had one – Dr Wanda K Jones, PhD[1], Assistant Secretary of Health and Human Services for Health and Scientific Affairs – under whose aegis falls both the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Apparently, the president doesn’t understand the organizational charts of his own Cabinet. Of course these are the same wonderful people who brought us a billion-dollar website that still doesn’t work (the back-end is yet to be coded and tested), but they are the folks in charge of things like “health and human services.” Ms Jones is NIH’s and CDC’s boss.

CDC director Dr Thomas Frieden has said that budget cuts are responsible for the, as it turned out, inadequate response of Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital [Dallas] to the handling of Thomas Eric Duncan, a visitor from Liberia who had carried a terminal ebola victim into her home and remained with her until she died. That’s a somewhat spurious position as CDC’s budget wasn’t cut – only frozen – and how CDC spends their money is set by CDC. The “missing” money from CDC is the billion dollars that was shifted to ObamaCare by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Dr Frieden had previously assured the nation that all was in order if an ebola patient arrived on our shores, and indeed, the two American aid workers that were flown back here from Liberia were handled with expertise and subsequently recovered. It was with the unexpected appearance of Mr Duncan that worm can opened.

Everything the administration – including Dr Frieden – had said has proven to be wrong. Ebola got here despite our president’s assurances that it was very unlikely to do so. Mr Duncan was mishandled at Texas Health, despite Dr Frieden’s assurances that our healthcare system was well prepared to confront that possibility. Two healthcare workers involved in Mr Duncan’s care have been stricken with ebola despite our being told that protocols were in place and well understood by healthcare providers. Nurses have cried out that what protocols CDC has provided are confusing, and that “training” consisted of CDC telling healthcare providers to refer to a tutorial on their website.

The credibility of CDC has been badly sullied, and the administration has long ago lost its credibility (see: “if we pass this stimulus package unemployment won’t go above 8%”; “if you like your insurance plan, you can keep your insurance plan”; Attorney General Holder knew nothing of Fast & Furious despite mountains of eMails and memos to him on the subject; “NSA isn’t spying on Americans”; “a video caused the disaster at Benghazi”; “there’s not a whit of corruption at IRS”; on and on and on and on).

This would have been a perfect time to introduce Dr Jones, whose curriculum vitae and expertise seem to uniquely qualify her to serve in the role of coordinator for the administration’s ebola effort and its public face on these issues. But President Obama appointed Ron Klain, a political operative who served as Chief of Staff to two vice presidentsAl Gore (1995-1999) and Joseph Biden (2009-2011). It’s obvious that the president doesn’t think we have an ebola problem, rather his administration has a messaging problem about ebola. He’s hired a professional spin-artist to front the effort.

Once again, Mr Obama looks upon face of a crisis and sees only politics. This may explain last week’s poll that showed 53% of respondents that think “the world is going to hell in a handbasket.” Nothing is being addressed on its own merits, only what effect it will have on the next election.


[1] Dr Jones joined CDC in 1987 as an HIV laboratory trainer. In 1990, she became the Assistant Director for Science in the Office of the Associate Director for HIV/AIDS, where she was active in policy issues related to HIV laboratory testing, women and AIDS, HIV vaccine development and healthcare workers.

Three Weeks Out

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The campaigns are around the clubhouse turn and coming down the home stretch, and it’s shaping up as a conventional mid-term election. Last Friday, Gallup showed the president’s approval rating at 39%, below 40 for the first time; state polling is, generally, strengthening GOP candidates as undecideds start breaking for Republicans; the administration is still pinballing around from crisis to crisis; and the Democratic Senate is still a Roach Motel for pending legislation. I’m now seeing a net GOP gain of six to eight seats in the Senate (Kansas isn’t going to send a pseudo-Independent to Washington, Mitch McConnell will win Kentucky and Alaska will break Republican).

A New York Times/CBS/YouGov poll released on October 9 found that Obama’s disapproval ratings are higher than his approval ratings in 43 of 50 states[1]. Obama’s approval rating is above 50% in only three states[2]. Note that none of these states are considered battleground states in the Senate race. This has import because mid-term elections tend to closely track presidential approval ratings. This is because undecideds and unaffiliateds trend toward the out-party when the president’s approval rating is below 50%, and that’s what we are seeing – in state after state, as fewer people tell pollsters that they are undecided, Republican advantage increases. Add the fact that none of the president’s (and by extension, Democrats’) “accomplishments” enjoy a popular majority, meaning that unaffiliated voters are more likely to reject Democratic candidates than favor them. With each party comprising about a third of likely voters, it’s the unaffiliated voter that will decide these close states.

While this year is a near perfect-storm against Democrats – an increasingly unpopular president increasingly demonstrated to head an incompetent administration, coupled with a dreadful election landscape in the Senate (21 Democratic seats up for election against only 15 GOP seats being up), and some Democrats running in states where Romney won the 2012 vote – they can take solace in the fact that Republicans will face much the same fate in 2016 – 24 Republican Senate seats up for election with only 10 Democrat incumbents running). So the narrow Republican majority (assuming they win the Senate next month) will be under a Democrat microscope from Day-1.

This does not bode well for improved relations between parties. Indeed, the Democrats will probably be even more combative – with “centrist” Democrats being flushed from Red and Purple states, the remaining Democratic caucus will be even further to the left than it is today. Being in the minority will give them more freedom to be disruptive (read: to be the dreaded “obstructionists” they now claim Republicans to be).

If the Republicans are smart, they will take advantage of shifting veto power from Harry Reid to President Obama. They should go through the Senate IN-Box and pick bills that enjoy majority support (over 50% approval) outside the Beltway – the XL Pipeline, legitimate tax reform, actual border control, etc – and move them to the president’s desk for self-righteous veto. By doing so judiciously, they can build a 2016 Republican platform, issue-by-issue, of how they would govern if returned to the White House.

I’m afraid, however, that the temptation will be too great to treat Democrats like Democrats have treated Republicans since 2009: closing them out of important issues and bills, ignoring their input, forcing through unpopular programs by party-line vote, and so forth. There is hope, but I don’t hold much faith in today’s crop of legislators – to quote Winston Churchill, “we increasingly need statesmen, but continue to elect politicians.”


[1] The seven exceptions are: Maryland, Hawaii, Vermont, New York, Massachusetts, California, and Delaware.

[2] Maryland, Hawaii, and Vermont.

Meltdown at Secret Service

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Yet another executive agency is gyrating out of control, as we learn that a felon with a gun rode an elevator with the President of the United States during his Atlanta trip to CDC. This was just three days before Omar J Gonzalez leapt the north fence, ran across the North Lawn and through the unlocked front door of the White House, and made into and out of the East Room before being apprehended by an off-duty Secret Service agent. Mr Gonzalez was armed with a knife. He blew through six security levels, we’re told – armed Secret Service agents walking patrol on the lawns were out of position; the Belgian Malinois guard dogs weren’t released; a guard station, whose occupant has an enunciator for perimeter breaches didn’t sound it; a “breach enunciator” for unauthorized opening of the White House door (which was left unlocked – not even counted among the six levels) had been turned off; a Secret Service agent stationed just inside the door was overpowered by Mr Gonzalez; and a sixth level that is classified, but also failed.

First was the couple, Tareq and Michaele Salahi, who crashed a White House state dinner for the Indian Prime Minister in November 2009. They managed to mingle with the Vice President and the president’s Chief of Staff, and were in the room with the president, first lady and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. They had no invitation, were not on the guest list, and weren’t seated for dinner in the tent on the South Lawn[1].

Then came November 11 2011 when a man was able to park his car on Constitution Avenue (650 yards from the White House), fire a rifle several times, striking the White House, was “missed” by the Secret Service, and wasn’t investigated until a maid found broken glass on the carpet and bullet impact in a window four days later. At least six rounds stuck the upstairs residence of the First Family[2].

Then in April 2012, it became known that Secret Service agents on the advance team for a presidential trip to Cartagena [Colombia] had hired prostitutes, and the situation got ugly. This triggered the most embarrassing incident to that point in the 148-year-old agency’s history. When Mark Sullivan retired in February as the 22nd director of the Secret Service, he surely wanted to be remembered for three decades of faithfully protecting Presidents, candidates for national office, and other high-ranking officials. But most Americans will remember his tenure for the booze-fueled antics of 13 Secret Service agents who set out for a wild night in a seaside resort and ended up starring in an international sex scandal. The fear, of course, is that by bringing women back to their hotel rooms, agents who might know the details of the President’s personal security had opened themselves to blackmail. Drug cartels in Colombia are also known to use prostitutes as spies[3].

In December of 2013, a sign language interpreter for the hearing impaired stood within inches of speakers (including President Obama) at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service in South Africa. As it turned out, he was just waving his hands around – not signing – and no one seemed to know who he was or who hired him[4].

Just last week, a man identified himself as Representative Donald Payne Jr, a Democrat from New Jersey, and entered a backstage area where invited dignitaries were gathered to have their picture taken with the president. A member of the White House staff determined that the man wasn’t Payne, and another aide asked him to leave, which he was allowed to do. He wasn’t detained for questioning[5].

When Omar Gonzalez jumped the North Fence at the White House, the incomparably clean image of the Secret Service was sullied. It has gotten only worse in wave of revelations that have followed. The Best Places to Work in Federal Government, a report released by the Partnership for Public Service, an independent look at government jobs, describes an agency that has seemed to have lost its way. The report uses an index that reflects employee satisfaction and commitment, and the Secret Service’s index dropped by 13 points, from 65.8 to 52.8 in the three years from 2011 to this year (calculated before the fence-jumping incident and subsequent furor). Out of 300 agencies, Secret Service is ranked 226th by the report[6].

Secret Service and FEMA, two government agencies that actually performed well, have spiraled downward since being folded into the labyrinth of Homeland Security. They’ve lost control of their budgets, no longer are the last word on their agendas, and have to clamor to have their priorities heard. This is the fate of moving from a semi-autonomous agency into a full-blown bureaucracy. The net result is a loss of faith in agency leadership, which has become subservient to department leadership, and a general lowering of morale. Shoddiness is sure to follow, and indeed, that is what we are seeing in both cases, as their performance dumbs-down to overall department performance.


[1] See Amy Argetsinger and Roxanne Roberts, Tareq and Micheale Salahi crash Obama’s state dinner for India, in Washington Post, November 26 2009.

[2] See Carol D Leonning, The night bullets hit the White House – and the Secret Service didn’t know, in Washington Post, September 28 2014.

[3] See Shane Harris, Secret Service Prostitution Scandal: One Year Later, in Washingtonian, April 2013.

[4] See Alexander Smith, “Fake” sign language interpreter at Nelson Mandela memorial provokes anger, NBC News, December 11 2013.

[5] See Eliot Hannon, Man Posing as Congressman Reportedly Got Backstage at Obama Even Last Week, in Slate, October 3 2014.

[6] See Joe Davidson, How good, or bad, is Secret Service morale?, in Washington Post, September 26 2014.