Barack Obama, bewildered bystander

By Charles Krauthammer – The Washington Post

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The president is upset. Very upset. Frustrated and angry. Seething about the government’s handling of Ebola, said the front-page headline in the New York Times last Saturday.

There’s only one problem with this pose, so obligingly transcribed for him by the Times. It’s his government. He’s president. Has been for six years. Yet Barack Obama reflexively insists on playing the shocked outsider when something goes wrong within his own administration.

Charles Krauthammer writes a weekly political column that runs on Fridays. View Archive
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The IRS? “It’s inexcusable, and Americans are right to be angry about it, and I am angry about it,” he thundered in May 2013 when the story broke of the agency targeting conservative groups. “I will not tolerate this kind of behavior in any agency, but especially in the IRS.”

Except that within nine months, Obama had grown far more tolerant, retroactively declaring this to be a phony scandal without “a smidgen of corruption.”

Obamacare rollout? “Nobody is more frustrated by that than I am,” said an aggrieved Obama about the botching of the central element of his signature legislative achievement. “Nobody is madder than me.”

Veterans Affairs scandal? Presidential chief of staff Denis McDonough explained: “Secretary [Eric] Shinseki said yesterday . . . that he’s mad as hell and the president is madder than hell.” A nice touch — taking anger to the next level.

The president himself declared: “I will not stand for it.” But since the administration itself said the problem was long-standing, indeed predating Obama, this means he had stood for it for 5½ years.

The one scandal where you could credit the president with genuine anger and obliviousness involves the recent breaches of White House Secret Service protection. The Washington Post described the first lady and president as “angry and upset,” and no doubt they were. But the first Secret Service scandal — the hookers of Cartagena — evinced this from the president: “If it turns out that some of the allegations that have been made in the press are confirmed, then of course I’ll be angry.” An innovation in ostentatious distancing: future conditional indignation.

These shows of calculated outrage — and thus distance — are becoming not just unconvincing but unamusing. In our system, the president is both head of state and head of government. Obama seems to enjoy the monarchial parts, but when it comes to the actual business of running government, he shows little interest and even less aptitude.

His principal job, after all, is to administer the government and to get the right people to do it. (That’s why we typically send governors rather than senators to the White House.) That’s called management. Obama had never managed anything before running for the biggest management job on earth. It shows.

What makes the problem even more acute is that Obama represents not just the party of government but a grandiose conception of government as the prime mover of social and economic life. The very theme of his presidency is that government can and should be trusted to do great things. And therefore society should be prepared to hand over large chunks of its operations — from health care (one-sixth of the economy) to carbon regulation down to free contraception — to the central administrative state.

But this presupposes a Leviathan not just benign but competent. When it then turns out that vast, faceless bureaucracies tend to be incapable, inadequate, hopelessly inefficient and often corrupt, Obama resorts to expressions of angry surprise.

He must. He’s not simply protecting his own political fortunes. He’s trying to protect faith in the entitlement state by portraying its repeated failures as shocking anomalies.

Unfortunately, the pretense has the opposite effect. It produces not reassurance but anxiety. Obama’s determined detachment conveys the feeling that nobody’s home. No one leading. Not even from behind.

A poll conducted two weeks ago showed that 64 percent of likely voters (in competitive races) think that “things in the U.S. feel like they are out of control.” This is one degree of anxiety beyond thinking the country is on the wrong track. That’s been negative for years, and it’s a reflection of failed policies that in principle can be changed. Regaining control, on the other hand, is a far dicier proposition.

With events in the saddle and a sense of disorder growing — the summer border crisis, Ferguson, the rise of the Islamic State, Ebola — the nation expects from the White House not miracles but competence. At a minimum, mere presence. An observer presidency with its bewildered-bystander pose only adds to the unease.

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Doctor in New York City Is Sick With Ebola

By Marc Santoraoct – The New York Times

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A doctor in New York City who recently returned from treating Ebola patients in Guinea became the first person in the city to test positive for the virus Thursday, setting off a search for anyone who might have come into contact with him.

The doctor, Craig Spencer, was rushed to Bellevue Hospital Center and placed in isolation at the same time as investigators sought to retrace every step he had taken over the past several days.

At least three people he had contact with in recent days have been placed in isolation. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which dispatched a team to New York, is conducting its own test to confirm the positive test on Thursday, which was performed by a city lab.

While officials have said they expected isolated cases of the disease to arrive in New York eventually, and had been preparing for this moment for months, the first case highlighted the challenges involved in containing the virus, especially in a crowded metropolis. Dr. Spencer, 33, had traveled on the A and L subway lines Wednesday night, visited a bowling alley in Williamsburg, and then took a taxi back to Manhattan.

The next morning, he reported having a fever, raising questions about his health while he was out in public. The authorities have interviewed Dr. Spencer several times and are also looking at information from his credit cards and MetroCard to determine his movements.

Health officials initially said that Dr. Spencer had a 103-degree fever when he reported his symptoms to authorities at around 11 a.m. on Thursday. But on Friday, health officials said that was incorrect and that Dr. Spencer reported having a 100.3-degree fever. They said the mistake was because of a transcription error.

People infected with Ebola cannot spread the disease until they begin to display symptoms, and it cannot be spread through the air. As people become sicker, the viral load in the body builds, and they become increasingly contagious.

Mayor Bill de Blasio, speaking at a news conference at Bellevue on Thursday night, sought to reassure New Yorkers that there was no reason to be alarmed.

“Being on the same subway car or living near a person with Ebola does not in itself put someone at risk,” he said.

Dr. Spencer’s work in Africa and the timing of the onset of his symptoms led health officials to dispatch disease detectives, who “immediately began to actively trace all of the patient’s contacts to identify anyone who may be at potential risk,” according to a statement released by the health department.

Dr. Spencer’s fiancée has also been quarantined at Bellevue. Two other friends, who had contact with him on Tuesday and Wednesday, have been told by the authorities that they too will be quarantined but whether they will isolate themselves in their homes or be relocated was still under discussion, according to a person briefed on the investigation. None of the three were showing signs of illness.

The driver of the taxi, arranged through the online service Uber, did not have direct contact with Dr. Spencer and was not considered to be at risk, officials said.

Speaking at the news conference, city officials said that while they were still investigating, they did not believe Dr. Spencer was symptomatic while he traveled around the city on Wednesday and therefore had not posed a risk to the public.

“He did not have a stage of disease that creates a risk of contagiousness on the subway,” Dr. Mary Bassett, the city health commissioner, said. “We consider it extremely unlikely, the probability being close to nil, that there will be any problem related to his taking the subway system.”

Still, out of an abundance of caution, officials said, the bowling alley in Williamsburg that he visited, the Gutter, was closed on Thursday night, and a scheduled concert there, part of the CMJ music festival, was canceled. Health workers were scheduled to visit the alley on Friday.

At Dr. Spencer’s apartment building, his home was sealed off and workers distributed informational fliers about the disease.

Dr. Spencer had been working with Doctors Without Borders in Guinea treating Ebola patients, and completed his work on Oct. 12, Dr. Bassett said. He flew out of the country on Oct. 14, traveling via Europe, and arrived in New York on Oct. 17.

Since returning, he had been taking his temperature twice a day, Dr. Bassett said.

He told the authorities that he did not believe the protective gear he wore while working with Ebola patients had been breached but had been monitoring his own health.

Doctors Without Borders, in a statement, said it provides guidelines for its staff members to follow when they return from Ebola assignments, but did not elaborate on the protocols.

“The individual engaged in regular health monitoring and reported this development immediately,” the group said in a statement.

Dr. Spencer began to feel sluggish on Tuesday but did not develop a fever until Thursday morning, he told the authorities. At 11 a.m., he found that he had a 100.3-degree temperature and alerted the staff of Doctors Without Borders, according to the official.

Emergency medical workers, wearing full personal protective gear, rushed to Dr. Spencer’s apartment, on West 147th Street. He was transported to Bellevue and arrived shortly after 1 p.m.

He was placed in a special isolation unit and is being seen by the designated medical critical care team. Team members wear personal protective equipment with undergarment air ventilation systems.

Bellevue doctors have been preparing to deal with an Ebola patient with numerous drills and tests as well as actual treatment of suspected cases that turned out to be false alarms.

A health care worker at the hospital said that Dr. Spencer seemed very sick, and it was unclear to the medical staff why he had not gone to the hospital earlier, since his fever was high.

Dr. Spencer is a fellow of international emergency medicine at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center, and an instructor in clinical medicine at Columbia University.

“He is a committed and responsible physician who always puts his patients first,” the hospital said in a statement. “He has not been to work at our hospital and has not seen any patients at our hospital since his return from overseas.”

Before Thursday, more than 30 people had gone to city hospitals and raised suspicions of Ebola, but in all those cases health workers were able to rule out the virus without performing blood tests.

While the city has stepped up its laboratory capacity so it can get test results within four to six hours, the precautions required when drawing blood and treating a person possibly sick with Ebola meant that it took until late in the evening to confirm Dr. Spencer’s diagnosis.

Doctors said that even before the results came in, it seemed likely that he had been infected. Symptoms usually occur within eight to 10 days of infection. Dr. Spencer stopped working with Ebola patients 11 days ago and returned home six days ago.

Ebola is transmitted through bodily fluids and secretions, including blood, mucus, feces and vomit.

Because of its high mortality rate — Ebola kills more than half the people it infects — the disease spreads fear along with infection.

The authorities have been on high alert ever since Thomas Eric Duncan traveled to the United States in September from Liberia, and was later given a diagnosis of Ebola.

Mr. Duncan died at a Dallas hospital this month.

Several days after his death, a nurse who helped care for Mr. Duncan learned she had Ebola. Two nurses who treated Mr. Duncan fell ill, but are recovering.

That single case led to hundreds of people being quarantined or being asked to remain isolated from the general public.

The missteps by both local and federal authorities in handling the nation’s first Ebola case raised questions about the ability of health care workers to safely treat those with the disease.

In the New York City region, hospitals and emergency workers have been preparing for the appearance of the virus for months.

Dr. Irwin Redlener, the director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University and a special adviser to Mayor de Blasio, said that the risk to the general public was minimal, but depended on the city moving swiftly.

“New York has mobilized not only a world-class health department, but has full engagement of many other agencies that need to be on the response team,” he said.

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The Poll Tax That Wasn’t

By Rich Lowry – Politico

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When the Supreme Court over the weekend rejected a petition to stop a Texas voter ID law from going into effect for the midterms, the left commenced its wailing and gnashing of teeth.

In her dissent, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg called the law “purposely discriminatory,” and everyone piled in behind her with denunciations of the Lone Star State’s blatant racism.
For the left, voter ID is tantamount to a poll tax. It is meant to suppress minority voters and is a last-gasp, unconstitutional scheme by the Republican Party to save itself by decisively shaping the electorate to its advantage.

If all of this is true, the nation is awash in neo-segregationist election rules. According to a recent Government Accountability Office report on voter ID laws, 33 states now have them, although the rules vary.

A valid ID is a necessity of modern life and requiring one to vote hardly seems an undue imposition. Especially if you are willing to give one out gratis. Of the 17 states that have strict requirements for a photo or government-issued ID, the GAO notes, 16 provide a free ID to eligible voters.

The critics rejects this as yet another poll tax because people may not have the relevant underlying documents to get the free ID and there is a cost to obtaining them.
Well, yes. In Indiana, for instance, it costs $10 to obtain a birth certificate. In Arkansas, it costs $12. In North Dakota, $7.

The hard numbers suggest that the number of voters getting locked out by voter ID laws is diminishingly small. The GAO report focuses on the voter ID states of Kansas and Tennessee. In these states, voters whose eligibility to vote is in doubt may vote provisionally. Then, they have a period after the election to prove that they were indeed eligible and have their votes counted.

How many voters are showing up to vote, only to realize that they have been denied their rights by the ID requirement?

According to the GAO, in Kansas in 2012, 1,115,281 ballots were cast. There were 38,865 provisional ballots, and of these, 838 were cast for voter ID reasons.

In Tennessee, 2,480,182 ballots were cast. There were 7,089 provisional ballots and of these, 673 were cast for voter ID reasons.

In both states, about 30 percent of these voter ID-related provisional ballots were ultimately accepted. That means in Kansas and Tennessee, altogether about 1,000 ballots weren’t counted (and perhaps many of them for good reason), out of roughly 3.5 million cast. There you have it ladies and gentlemen, voter suppression! It is of such stuff that Jim Crow was made.

Indeed, voter ID is a scheme to suppress minority votes that is so nefarious that its effect can’t reliably be detected by the tools of social science.

The studies are all over the map and shot through with questionable assumptions and methods. The GAO looked at 10 studies on the effect of voter ID on turnout in general. Half of them found no effect. Four of them found it slightly suppressed turnout, and one showed it increased turnout.

Of the five studies, three found statistically significant effects on minorities, two did not. As a study last December in Political Research Quarterly notes, the idea that voter ID suppresses minority turnout “is strongly suggested in political discourse but lacks a strong empirical basis.”

The analysis by the authors of the Political Research Quarterly study concluded that “more stringent ID requirements for voting have no deterring effect on individual turnout across different racial and ethnic groups.”

For its part, the GAO used “a quasi-experimental analysis” to find that voter ID suppressed turnout in Kansas and Tennessee from 2008 to 2012, and that the effect was larger among African-American voters, but not Asian-Americans or Hispanics.

The states dispute the methodology. Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach argues that it makes no sense to compare turnout from 2008 with 2012 because in 2012 there wasn’t a Senate race in the state and therefore no get-out-the-vote effort. He points out that in 2000, when there also no Senate race, turnout was 66.7 percent. In 2012, after the passage of the voter ID law, it was almost exactly the same, 66.8 percent.

Where you come down on this issue really depends on whether you think it’s reasonable to require the minimal effort to establish your identity of producing an ID at the ballot box or not.

The critics say that in-person voter fraud is extremely rare, although that is not an argument for leaving the system completely open to it. As my colleague John Fund points out, the New York City Department of Investigation last year had undercover agents try to vote as persons who were in jail, had moved, or were dead. They were successful 61 out of 63 times.

Is voting so important that it shouldn’t be tethered to an ID requirement? That’s not how we treat other important rights, as Hans von Spakovsky of the Heritage Foundation notes.
It takes an ID to buy a gun, a constitutional right. It takes an ID to get a marriage license or check into a hotel. No one goes around complaining that these requirements infringe on the rights of minorities to own a firearm, get married, or avail themselves of public accommodations.

Voting is inevitably going to require, even in the most latitudinarian states, some effort. You have to, at least most of the time, go to the polling place. You have to fill in the bubbles correctly. You have to deposit your ballot in a box. Not all people will go to the trouble to do this, or to do it correctly, which doesn’t mean they are disenfranchised.

The irony is that unhinged complaints about voter ID are, in this supposedly troubling new era of the poll tax, a turnout tool.

Read more: http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2014/10/the-poll-tax-that-wasnt-112123.html#ixzz3GzNEUsoy

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U.S. misinformed Congress, public on immigrant release

By Brad Heath – USA Today

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Some of the immigrants freed last year as a cost-saving move had criminal records far more serious than the Obama administration has previously disclosed.

New records contradict the Obama administration’s assurances to Congress and the public that the 2,200 people it freed from immigration jails last year to save money had only minor criminal records.

The records, obtained by USA TODAY, show immigration officials released some undocumented immigrants who had faced far more serious criminal charges, including people charged with kidnapping, sexual assault, drug trafficking and homicide.

The release sparked a furor in Congress. Republican lawmakers accused the Obama administration of setting dangerous criminals free. In response, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said it had released “low-risk offenders who do not have serious criminal records,” a claim the administration repeated to the public and to members of Congress.

The new records, including spreadsheets and hundreds of pages of e-mails, offer the most detailed information yet about the people ICE freed as it prepared for steep, across-the-government spending cuts in February 2013. They show that although two-thirds of the people who were freed had no criminal records, several had been arrested or convicted on charges more severe than the administration had disclosed.

ICE spokeswoman Gillian Christensen acknowledged the discrepancy. She said “discretionary releases made by ICE were of low-level offenders. However, the releases involving individuals with more significant criminal histories were, by and large, dictated by special circumstances outside of the agency’s control.”

Lawmakers expressed concern. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said it is “deeply troubling that ICE would knowingly release thousands of undocumented immigrant detainees – many with prior criminal records – into our streets, while publicly downplaying the danger they posed.”

Immigration authorities detain an average of about 34,000 people a day. Although the agency regularly releases immigrants who have been charged with serious crimes, it typically does so because their legal status has changed or because they cannot be deported — not as a way to save money. That distinction, combined with the fact that last year’s release happened abruptly and with no advance notice, fed the partisan firestorm that followed.

ICE pays an average of $122 a day for each immigrant it keeps in detention.

The detainees were awaiting deportation or hearings in immigration court. The release did not stop those proceedings; instead, most were released with electronic monitors or other forms of supervision.

In hearings last year, Republican lawmakers pressed then-ICE Director John Morton for specifics on the criminal records of the people the agency had freed. At one, Rep. J. Randy Forbes, R-Va., asked Morton directly, “No one on that list has been charged or convicted with murder, rape or sexual abuse of a minor, were they?”

Morton answered, “They were not.”

He told lawmakers that, to his knowledge, none had faced child pornography charges.

White House spokesman Jay Carney similarly described them as “low-risk, non-criminal detainees.”

A spreadsheet ICE officials prepared listing the detainees includes one person in Texas charged with aggravated kidnapping and sexually assaulting a child, as well as others charged with armed assaults or assaulting police officers. Another immigrant released from Miami had been charged with conspiracy to commit homicide. Two detainees from Boston had been charged with aggravated assault using a weapon. One in Denver had a sexual assault charge. The agency released the spreadsheet to USA TODAY under the Freedom of Information Act.

ICE’s records do not indicate whether the detainees were convicted of those crimes or merely charged with them. The agency said it would not release information identifying any of the detainees because doing so would invade their privacy, so it was impossible to examine the details of their cases.

Morton, who resigned last year, told Congress that the more than 2,200 immigrants ICE released included 629 people with criminal records, all of them people who had been charged with misdemeanors “or other criminals whose prior conviction did not pose a violent threat to public safety.”

That accounting did not include 144 other detainees whose release ICE records attribute to “special issues.” Most often, that meant the detainees were let go because the agency had little chance of deporting them in the near future. The Supreme Court has said the government generally cannot hold immigrants for more than six months if it has no prospect of deporting them. To save money, ICE freed some detainees before the six-month clock ran out.

Homeland Security officials have acknowledged that ICE handled the detainee release badly. The department’s inspector general concluded in August that the cost-cutting efforts were so rushed and mismanaged that top officials never informed the White House or then-Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. Nonetheless, its audit concluded that officials acted “appropriately” in selecting which undocumented immigrants should be released.

The former head of ICE’s detention operation, Gary Mead, said that if officials provided incorrect information to the public, they did not do so deliberately. Rather, he said, the release happened so quickly that ICE managers in Washington did not know precisely who had been released until after the episode had been reported by the news media.

“We had been asking for some time whether we would have enough money to sustain the level of detention we had, and we didn’t get an answer,” Mead said. “When we did get an answer, it was that we had to start releasing people today.”

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An Affair to Remember…. As Hillary gears up to run, look for attempts to rewrite 1990s history.

By The Wall Street Journal

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As Hillary and Bill Clinton prepare for another White House ramble, the country is fated to endure more than a few 1990s flashbacks, often including attempts to whitewash the real history. The latest character to re-emerge is Monica Lewinsky, the former intern who is doffing her beret to reinvent herself as an anti-cyberbullying activist.

In a speech this week at a Forbes magazine conference that went viral on the Web, Ms. Lewinsky describes herself as a “survivor” of online abuse—she became “the creature from the media lagoon.” As the worst abusers, she cited Matt Drudge and the New York Post, which gave Ms. Lewinsky a term of tabloid endearment as “the portly pepperpot.” Another culprit was “a politically motivated independent prosecutor,” or Ken Starr.

The problem is that Ms. Lewinsky was actually the victim of the Clinton lagoon, as White House operatives tried to destroy her reputation when the scandal broke. The real bullies weren’t online but in the West Wing.

On Jan. 21, 1998, Mr. Clinton told his aide Sidney Blumenthal that Ms. Lewinsky “came on to me and made a sexual demand on me,” according to Mr. Blumenthal’s deposition to Mr. Starr. Mr. Clinton added that he “rebuffed her” and then she “threatened him. She said that she would tell people they’d had an affair, that she was known as the stalker among her peers, and that she hated it and if she had an affair or said she had an affair then she wouldn’t be the stalker any more.”

Mr. Blumenthal then repeated this tale to anyone in the press corps who would listen, and the “stalker” smear soon made it into multiple media reports under the authority of “a White House source.” Mrs. Clinton for her part described Ms. Lewinsky as “a narcissistic loony toon,” as the first lady’s friend Diane Blair recounted in the personal papers archive opened in 2010 by the University of Arkansas library.

Meanwhile, Mr. Clinton fanned out across the talk shows to deny that he had any romantic or otherwise improper relationship, which he continued to insist until he was forced to admit his lies by the blue DNA dress. Then the Clintons flipped to attacking the respected jurist Mr. Starr as a rabid partisan. Mr. Clinton was impeached for obstruction of justice and lying under oath, and he later was stripped of his law license.

We correct the record not least to point out that the Clintons weren’t above falsely smearing a young woman not much older than their daughter as an oversexed psycho blackmailer. Since Ms. Lewinsky brought it up, we also wonder what the modern feminists applauding her address think about men in positions of power publicly shaming a female subordinate without her consent.

But the story is especially instructive for what it reveals about the Clinton family mores of saying or doing whatever it takes to win. Mr. Blumenthal and the rest of the Clinton menagerie are rested and ready for another run at political power. As the 2016 election nears, Americans should be prepared for more attempts to rewrite 1990s history.

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