I really don’t want to write about crap in Washington when Irma is tearing up Florida. If you’re affected by the weather, please tell us about it in the comments.
We may be in for a rough weekend, between floods and fires. Stay safe. Do let me know if you see any plagues of frogs or locusts or anything.
There’s so much nonsense going on it’s hard to focus on any of it, but I will try. Â Today I want to bring up something I read in the Guardian that I’m not seeing elsewhere: “The White House is struggling to prevent a crippling exodus of foreign policy staffers eager to leave before the arrival of the Trump administration, according to current and former officials,” the Guardian says.
The top level officials in the National Security Council (NSC) are political appointees who have to submit resignations and leave in a normal transition. The rest of the 400 NSC staff are career civil servants on secondment from other departments. An unusual number of these more junior officials are now looking to depart. …
… â€œCareer people are looking get out and go back to their agencies and pressure is being put on them to get them to stay. There is concern there will be a half-empty NSC by the time the new administration arrives, which no one wants,â€ said one official.
The NSC staffers want to get out before Michael Flynn takes over, and I can’t say I blame them.
Reports from the state department suggest most of its staff are taking a wait-and-see to the prospect of having the ExxonMobil oil executive, Rex Tillerson, at the helm. On Thursday, most of the Democrats on the House foreign affairs committee wrote to the current secretary of state, John Kerry, offering his staff protection against a â€œwitch-huntâ€ by the new administration against civil servants who worked on Obama policies Trump wants to reverse. The letter was sent after the energy department refused to hand over to the Trump transition team a list of names of staffers who had worked on climate change.
I don’t know how those staffers are going to be protected once the Trump appointees take over. There will be witch hunts. The “old hands” will continue to leave.
Two words come to mind: Institutional memory. You might remember the wonder that was FEMA after Hurricane Katrina. It came to be realized that the massive incompetence that marked the response to Katrina was a combination of bad management and loss of institutional memory. So many old FEMA hands had left in disgust during Bush’s first term that the agency literally was staffed by people who didn’t know what they were doing. Not enough people remained who knew established procedures, what worked and what didn’t.
In the case of foreign policy, though, there’s another precedent that comes to mind. The McCarthy witch hunts in the 1950s were especially Â hard on the State Department. People with expertise in Asia were targeted in particular after Mao Zedong gained control of China. I have read that the loss of the old China hands in State left the U.S. largely blind when dealing with subsequent events in Asia, and this fed into the decisions that eventually got us more and more entangled in Vietnam. Loss of a critical number of professionals in any agency could have disastrous consequence long after Trump is gone.
So climate scientists may yet be purged, and foreign policy personnel, and I hate to think what’s going to happen to the Justice Department. It’s going to be very, very bad. And Trump may have a lot of Katrinas on his hands.
I’m thinking of all of you in Florida and elsewhere on the southeast coast. Please stay safe, and let us know how you’re doing when you can.
The Dumbest Man on the Internet reports thatÂ Andreas Lubitz — the man accused of flying a Germanwing plane into a mountain, killing himself and 149 other people — was a recent Muslim convert. He got this from a “German news website,” he says. The sit is a right-wing blog with the name “news” in its title, but hey, whatever works. Pam Geller and the rest of the Usual Shriekers are repeating this revelation uncritically.
Meantime, it’s slowly coming to light that Lubitz suffered a yet-unspecified illness. Reports that he suffered “depression” or “mental illness” appear to be unsupported. Something was wrong with him, however, and he had been advised by a doctor to take the day off.
The fact is, we don’t really know that Lubitz deliberately crashed the plane. Â A French prosecutor concluded that’s what Lubitz did, based on the cockpit voice recorder.Â Leonid Bershidsky of Bloomberg News says that the same evidence is consistent with Lubitz’s being unconscious, however. Maybe his unspecified illness made him pass out, and the pilot was unable to re-enter the cockpit because of “safety” devises that required a response from Lubitz. See alsoÂ Donâ€™t be so quick to believe that Andreas Lubitz committed suicide by Jeff Wise.
Elsewhere — yes, I saw that Harry Reid is retiring. I am of mixed feelings about that. Your thoughts?
Along with dynamic scoring, aka fantasy budgeting, another issue to be pushed by congressional Republicans is approval of the Keystone XL Pipeline. There’s a nice op ed in The Hill explaining why Keystone XL is not in our national interest. The main points.
It’s not much of a jobs-creator. “The pipeline company, TransCanada, told the U.S. State Department the pipeline would create 35 permanent U.S. jobs. Thatâ€™s about half as many workers as it takes to run a McDonaldâ€™s.” Further, it will create fewer than 2,000 temporary constructions jobs, and if those are such great jobs why don’t we spend some money and put people to work fixing public infrastructure, hmm?
For that matter, remember when righties cheered when Gov. Chris Christie killed the Access to the Region’s Core (ARC) rail tunnel that would have gone under the Hudson River and provided better connections between New Jersey and midtown Manhattan?
The project would have eased overcrowding in Penn Station by building a new rail station at 33rd Street and 7th Avenue on the West Side of Manhattan, and it would have generated 5,700 construction jobs and 44,000 permanent jobs, and increased home values in towns that would now have one-seat service to Manhattan, the study noted.
Yes it cost money, buckets of which the feds had already handed over for the project, and much of which Christie had to hand back. It would have been good for the economies of both New Jersey and New York City and added a lot of value to a lot of businesses. Not to mention lightened the aggravation factor of trying to commute into Manhattan, which half of New Jersey seems to do every day.
And keep in mind that New Jersey under Christie has had terrible job growth numbers. Under Christie, New Jersey jobs growth has been among the slowest in the nation. I’m pretty sure New Jersey beats Kansas, but not many other states. Most damning is that New Jersey has lagged way behind all its neighboring states in jobs growth, especially Delaware and New York.
But we’re talking about the Keystone XL Pipeline. Noting that a lot of the same people who applauded Christie’s killing of the tunnel project are now claiming that Keystone XL is needed to provide jobs, let’s go on to the next point.
The Keystone XL oil is not going to provide more gas for U.S. cars. The oil isn’t for us; it’s meant to be refined and shipped overseas. I think most of the people who support it have some notion that as soon as the pipeline is built all kinds of cheap gas will show up at the local Shell station. It won’t.
If something goes wrong, it could go really really awful bad wrong and cause long-term disaster. The tar sands oil is really dirty oil, the article says, and if it spills or leaks it’s even harder to clean up than most oil. The pipeline is intended to go through many critical wetlands and agricultural areas, and a leak or spill could do huge amounts of damage that no doubt would cost U.S. taxpayers dearly to clean up.
In Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska, the pipeline would run within a mile of more than 3,000 wells that provide drinking and irrigation water. It would also cross 1,073 rivers, lakes and streams â€” from the Yellowstone River in Montana to the Platte River in Nebraska â€” along with tens of thousands of acres of wetlands. Pipeline blowouts are not rare events, and the transport of tar sands oil threatens all those resources. Between 1994 and late 2014, there were nearly 6,000 pipeline blowouts or other serious incidents, spilling a cumulative 100 million gallons of oil and other hazardous liquids. A spill of tar sands crude, which has proven more damaging and difficult to clean up than conventional oil, would make matters worse.
Bottom line, it’s a hugely risky project that would provide very little benefit to the United States and its citizens. Note that a many Canadians want to stop the tar sands oil extraction because it’s doing a lot of environmental damage in Canada.
A pro-pipeline article argues that absent a pipeline, the crude oil is being transferred by train, which (it argues) is even less secure than a pipeline. Also making the oil available on the world’s oil economy would stop OPEC from messing with prices. And, of course, the real long-term answer to that is to learn to be less dependent on fossil fuel, period. Between the deep ocean drilling that caused the contamination of the Gulf of Mexico that still hasn’t been cleaned up properly to the Keystone disaster-in-the-making, we’re basically tearing our planet apart trying to wring every last bit of fossil fuel out of it already. Is there anyone out there foolish enough to think this isn’t going to have to stop sometime, somewhere?
Well, yes, unfortunately. I guess there are.
Headline on an AP Story: “Exit poll: Voters unhappy with Obama and GOP.” So they elect more Republicans to send to Washington? Why do voters hate America?
We’re in for a nasty couple of years.
Peter Baker writes in the NY Times that President Obama is “fighting for his own relevance.” But President Obama’s relevance is the least of my concerns today. What’s really at stake is America’s relevance. If we thought U.S. politics has mostly been a clown show for the past 20 years, I fear that was just the warm up act. I know we’ve been joking for years about moving to Canada, but frankly were I a young person I would seriously be considering finding a more stable country to live in. We can’t keep this up.
Republicans blame President Obama for letting Ebola cross the border, because Presidents are supposed to be able to stop such things with their magical brain waves, apparently.Â Others are calling for the head of the CDC to resign, or perhaps to commit ritual suicide. But the picture that is emerging just about everywhere but on Fox News is that Ebola spread to two nurses (so far) largely because of really bad hospital management.
Which takes us to our next installment of “When Capitalism Kills.” I’m not sure when the last one was, but I’m sure I’ve written on this general theme before.
The husband of an ER nurse at a Florida hospital formerly owned by Gov. Rick “ball fan envy” ScottÂ writes at TPM that his wife’s place of employment is run like most large companies/corporations in America. That is, the people at the top have no background or interest in how the products or services their companies provide actually happen. They are strictly money guys who have backgrounds in finance or something related but couldn’t manage production of their own products if you put a gun to their heads and threatened to shoot them if they don’t get that toothpaste into the tube.
Further, they have no respect for the expertise of the people who really are somehow making the products or services happen and would no more think to consult them about how to run the company better than they’d try to fly off the roof of corporate headquarters. Instead, if they decide something is amiss they hire outside consultants who will spend a few days having lunches with upper management and who will provide recommendations that, if implemented,Â would make everything worse. Just about anyone who has ever worked in the trenches of production or engineering departments of large companies/corporations will tell you this.
If you are such a person, read this and tell me how familiar it sounds —
… it is obvious to those who work there that the combination of lax training and toxic labor relations â€˜leadersâ€™ like him have brought to the company are emblematic of a big problem for US hospitals if a major outbreak of ebola or other infectious disease occurs. My wifeâ€™s ER has an â€˜ebola cartâ€™ with some lightweight protective gear and written instructions for putting on a PPE, but the instructions are a loose bundle of papers and the pictures donâ€™t match the gear in the cart and has inaccuracies that put them at serious risk. Itâ€™s an object of gallows humor for the staff. Thatâ€™s the totality of their training or preparedness so far. As we all now know, PPEs are not easy to put on and take off correctly. Even though nurses all have experience with standard droplet control (they see TB and HIV all the time), ebola is a special case. They have gone months and months without a nurse education director because no one wants to deal with their management and take the position. Her coworkers are clear that they will refuse to treat an ebola patient because they have woefully inadequate training in the correct procedures and lack proper gear.
And yet the head of infectious disease at this hospital went on the local news to proclaim the hospital was ready to receive ebola patients safely. They obviously didnâ€™t bother to speak to a single nurse on the front lines. Iâ€™m not particularly panic-y about ebola, even though obviously the family members of ER personnel have a lot at stake in ebola preparedness. But I think that this situation will be the weak link in any major national response. So many of our hospitals are run by lunatics like Rick Scott who seek only the highest profit margin. They do not invest in training, they build charting mechanisms that are good for billing but not treating patients, they constantly fight with their unionized employees, they lie to the public, etc, etc. We like to imagine that competent, highly-skilled medical institutions like Emory will save us, but we have way more Dallas Presbyterians in this country than we have Emorys. You can see exactly this managerial incompetenceâ€”and toxic labor relationsâ€”woven through the statement released by the nurses at Dallas Presbyterian today. Also see the head of National Nurses United on All In With Chris Hayes for a similar perspective.
To put it bluntly: weâ€™ve entrusted our national medical system to the managerial competence and goodwill of the Rick Scotts of the world, and that is much scarier than a podium fan.
One of the nurses at the Texas hospital said that in the second week of the Ebola crisis at her hospital she was provided insufficient protective gear that left her neck exposed. Meanwhile the hospital was releasing statements to the press saying they were taking every precaution and going beyond CDC recommendations.
In other words, standard corporate bullshit.
Meanwhile, many politicians of both parties are babbling about hiring an “Ebola czar,” who no doubt would end up being the public sector equivalent of private sector consultants — some Very Important Person who will perform public “we’re doing something about this” theater.Â And nothing any VIP does will ever trickle downÂ to the level of the people directly confronting Ebola in hospitals, working with inadequate direction and protection because management doesn’t know the difference between a virus and vichyssoise.
Because here in America, that’s how we roll.
Numbers of dead and missing from last week’s massive mud slide in Oso, Washington, keep shifting around, and every news story has different numbers. As of today there are somewhere between 18 to 25 dead and another 30 to 90 or so unaccounted for.
Last week the county officials who control land use permits said there was no way to have predicted the disaster. Now we know that at least a couple of studies had warned that it was going to happen, precisely where and how it happened. The only thing they didn’t know was when. Somebody chose to ignore the warnings.
The most recent study was done in 2010. It was commissioned by the county to comply with federal law. The area that was buried was ranked as high risk for being buried.
Also, geologists surveyed the area back in 1999 and predicted the area would suffer a “catastrophic failure” in precisely the spot that failed.
It wasn’t that hard to predict, apparently, because the earth on the hillside shifted around a lot, especially after heavy rain. One of the geologists went back to look at the area after a large 2006 mudslide that didn’t hurt anybody.
â€œThere was new construction,â€ he said. â€œThe sound of hammering competed with the sound of [destabilized] trees snapping after the mudslide. I canâ€™t believe that someone wanted to build their home there. It was a very bad idea.â€
Charity Prueher, 41 and raised in Oso, said homeowners rarely mentioned the slides. When they did, the coursing mud was considered a small disruption, more of an annoyance than a major problem.
â€œTheyâ€™re so content with the beautiful place where they live, they donâ€™t think anything would happen,â€ Prueher said.
Prueher said she helped clear debris from the 2006 mudslide when she was a volunteer firefighter. The thought that another slide could come that was far worse never occurred to her.
Timothy Egan writes that the hillsides became dangerous because they were overlogged. He had visited the area 25 years ago and watched a massive mudslide then. He adds,
Yes, but who wants to listen to warnings by pesky scientists, to pay heed to predictions by environmental nags, or allow an intrusive government to limit private property rights? Thatâ€™s how these issues get cast. And thatâ€™s why reports like the ones done on the Stillaguamish get shelved. The people living near Oso say nobody ever informed them of the past predictions.
Just upriver from the buried community along the Stillaguamish is Darrington, a town with a proud logging tradition. The folks who live there are self-described Tarheels, transplanted from Southern Appalachia several generations ago after their own timber mills went bust. They hold a terrific bluegrass festival every year, and they show up in force at public hearings where government and environmentalists are denounced with venom. Itâ€™s not their fault that the earth moved, certainly. But they should insist that their public officials tell them the plain truth when the science is bad news.
Most of us live somewhere where there’s a potential for natural disaster. I live close enough to Long Island Sound that flooding from a big hurricane is a real concern. But that’s not likely to be a sudden disaster. I’ve told myself that if there’s ever a prediction of a big hurricane I would pack up my essential stuff and Sadie Awful Bad Cat and go somewhere else, away from water, until it’s safe to come back. There was only minor damage in this neighborhood from Sandy, though, so it would have to be a worse hurricane than Sandy to flood the place out. I don’t think I’m being entirely crazy to live here.
Still, the human capacity to ignore what you don’t want to acknowledge never ceases to amaze.
The Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity is warning Congress against spending money on Hurricane Sandy relief efforts.
Earlier this week, AFP, which is chaired by [David] Koch and believed to be financed by several other plutocrats from the New York City region, released a letter warning members of Congress not to vote for the proposed federal aid package for victims of the storm that swept New Jersey, New York City and much of the surrounding area in October. An announcement on the groupâ€™s website says that the vote next week for the Sandy aid package will be a â€œkey voteâ€â€”meaning senators who support sending money for reconstruction could face an avalanche of attack ads in their next election. Already, opposition to the bill is growing, although it passed one procedural hurdle last night. …
… Kochâ€™s top deputy in New Jersey, a surly gentleman named Steve Lonegan, who heads the local AFP state chapter, called the aid package a â€œdisgrace.â€ â€œThis is not a federal government responsibility,â€ Lonegan told reporters. â€œWe need to suck it up and be responsible for taking care of ourselves.â€
As was asked in a famous joke — Who do you mean by “we,” Kemo Sabe? This is especially rich considering all the Koch Brothers/oil industry money that has gone into discrediting climate science. The AFP website, btw, is screaming about the looming “fiscal cliff” tax increase that would, if Dems get their way, only affect the upper 2 percent.