Friday, October 17, 2014

Ebola and Good Government

The Ebola scare is yet another example of the lax attitude by the government toward any concern by the average American.  Sure, there is little likelihood the  Joe Citizen will contract the deadly virus, but we like our government to assure us we'll be OK, and they must - must - look competent and in charge.  Competence doesn't mean telling American just what we what we want to hear either.  It means making sure we know the truth of the thing and that Common Sense rules.

Fear, fear and more fear - you little
@@#$@!  We'll get you, you virus!
The actions by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in dealing with the first victim of Ebola in the United States, and communicating the realities of the virus and our ability to fight it within our borders to us, did not meet the high level of competence we expect from public officials.  After a string of government-related scandals and media hype over the past few years, it's become a tiring and distracting circumstance   Numerous mistakes were made:

1) not sending expert personnel to Dallas immediately to ensure proper care of Mr. Duncan - however, the local authorities should have requested help and readily accepted the notion they were out of their depth.  Both the hospital and the CDC should have considered moving the patient to one of the five regional CDC hospitals that have both the experienced personnel and technology to care for such a patient.  Sending Mr. Duncan home after he had told ER personnel he was from Liberia borderlines on the reckless or even negligent;

2) assuming and blaming the first American to contract the disease within our borders, a nurse treating the now-deceased Thomas Duncan, for not following protocol before looking at the protocol itself.  It is a knee-jerk bureaucratic response to blame the individual rather than admit a systemic or procedural problem;

3) not communicating those protocols (now in question themselves) to local hospitals in a forceful and meaningful way - a lengthy email is not enough - this may have more to do with budget constraints than competence.  Remember those austerity cuts to the budget over the past few years? Budget decisions have real-life ramifications - the next time your member of Congress rails about cutting the budget to reduce the deficit ask them what items they plan to cut - and arbitrary across-the-board cutting is not a way to do it either;
A dose of Common Sense =
a pound of cure

4) telling the second nurse it was OK to travel - although the individual is partly to blame on this (we know our bodies and she of all people should have taken an extra dose of caution whether she knew the other nurse was sick or not); remember Mr. Duncan (God, rest his soul) didn't think he was sick either even though he was directly in contact with someone who was ill in Liberia. 

Here at C2 we don't go for calling on department heads to quit every time their is a misstep.  It was a first time experience to deal with a victim of the virus who, should have taken a dose of caution and stayed in Liberia until he was sure he wasn't sick, but individuals have different levels of both experience and education - that's why we employ experts to help all of us.  We envision this kind of situation in an episode of a television dram, but nobody thinks it will actually happen until it does. 

Not fired, just moved to treating the flu -
which will kill more people this year than
That's why C2 doesn't go for firing officials as a knee-jerk reaction.  The way we evaluate these officials is how they respond to being wrong - do they acknowledge the wrong and work to be better, like CDC Director Tom Frieden did do, or act like former Secret Service Director Julia Pierson before members of Congress - confrontational, defensive and dismissive?  This should be our base criteria before we get the torches and march to city hall.

So where to do we go from here?  Well there have been a number of good decisions made in the last couple days, moving both of the patients from Dallas to CDC regional centers being the best move of all.  Texas Health Presbyterian was obviously not prepared for the situation and was slow to get up to speed and now, one would expect, is overwhelmed with the idea of any more Ebola victims. 

At a different level, there is confirmation that an additional four thousand reserves from the 101st Airborne to compliment the three hundred already deployed West Africa.  During the congressional hearings yesterday we were glad to hear they would be using the protocols developed by Doctors Without Borders, who have yet to lose a single healthcare worker to Ebola in the midst of thousands of cases. 

Other proposals such as a travel ban and appointing an Ebola Czar to handle the issue are more controversial and political in our opinion.  A travel ban would not be perfect and in fact may worsen the situation by driving victims of the virus (and they are victims rather than some sort of enemy to be defended from), underground and away from acknowledging to officials they may be sick.  As well, it creates problems and complicates getting help to the countries affected in the form of economic and humanitarian assistance.

Confirming a Surgeon General would be
a better idea.  Klain is a political manager
and Ebola is now a political issue.
Probably a good choice.
A Czar is a curious idea in that we are missing a Surgeon General that oversees the CDC, the National Institutes of Health, and other related agencies in the first place.  C2 would like to ask why the Senate hasn't even voted on the White Houses' nominee a year after his nomination.  A Surgeon General would have been the face of this issue rather than Director Frieden, who would have been free to do is J-O-B rather than fielding questions from a media that is out of control on every issue these days.  Let's vote on the Surgeon General, first, then see if need yet another un-elected official to oversea a temporary problem.

Please note that throughout this post C2 has never used the word "crisis".  Crisis is well over-used these days.  We have an education crisis, a healthcare crisis, a drug crisis, a crisis of confidence - it goes on and on.  Websters dictionary defines crisis this way: a critical event or point of decision where, if not handled appropriately or in a timely manner may lead to a catastrophe or disaster.  We don't see an imminent disaster in the offing here in the United States but Africa is a different question - there is a crisis there, and the next time we see a Facebook posting about cutting aid to foreign countries we need to think about ISIS and our need for allies in the region to fight them over there, and as well, to fight Ebola...over there.

Finally, today is twenty-three days after Mr. Duncan was known to have the disease.   Where is the good news that the people who were quarantined due to having contact with him have no more worry of contracting the disease?  Where is the reporting of good news?  C2 is thinking of creating it's own news service that will responsibly report not only on what creates concerns, but also news that alleviates those concerns - or a resolution of those concerns.  By the way, remember Kobani?  I encourage the Constant Reader to Google the international news concerning Kobani and remember that the last news reports we heard in the United States were of it's impending fall to ISIS.  

Thank you for your precious time.  If you like what you read - share it.  If not, I'll try harder next time.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Of Saudis and Kurds - A Deeper Look at the Fight With ISIS.

There's been a couple of ideas floated around about the fight with ISIS that we buy into, and C2 may even provide some additional insight of our own when put into a larger historical context.  First, it seems like a big stretch of logic, but we're convinced that Saudi Arabia is playing a bigger role in the fight with ISIS than we know - for it's own benefit of course.  No, I'm not talking about lending some more fighter aircraft support or even funding for operations in Syria.  I'm talking about the use of Saudi oil, their bread and butter - their real weapon.

C2 believes the House of Saud is keeping production levels artificially high to undercut pricing on the black market for oil sold by ISIS.  We'd like to know who is buying their oil in the first place, but combined with US strikes on captured oil facilities, lower and lower prices will make that black market oil seem too much trouble for the cost, or so goes the theory.  This is an interesting move because air strikes on these wells and production centers are only aimed at reducing their ability to produce - not to destroy them as rebuilding would be a huge cost to either the Iraqi or Syrian governments once they are re-taken.  Consequently, C2 believes this source of funds will continue to support the terrorist group so long as they hold the territory - as they'll just put them back together eventually. 

Class picture of latest madras recruits
from Mecca? or Medina? or Qatar?
However, this means ground forces will have to re-take these facilities sooner rather than later.  Saudi Arabia can only keep oil low for so long before it's own national interests start to be affected.  The Saudi monarchy as well as all the other Persian Gulf oil states know that ISIS is an existential threat to their existence.  They have all walked a fine line over the past 20 or 30 years, supporting radical Islam from the beginning as a way of connecting with the lower classes.  Oil revenue enables social programs unheard of in other Islamic states in Asia and the social unrest in Pakistan and Afghanistan has underscored the tenuous hold these oligarchs have over their countries.  The origins of ISIS and Al Queda are the madrasa of Saudi Arabia and Qatar.  Whether they know it or will admit it is a big question; whether they will do something meaningful about is a bigger one that will have to be answered if the world truly wants to defeat radical Islam for good and all.

How much longer can Persian Gulf
monarchies depend on high prices to
maintain their power?
At a higher level, if one hasn't noticed, oil has dipped below $90 a barrel and is formally in "bear market" territory.  Over the past few years American's have gotten pretty used to seeing $3-$4 for a gallon of gas, but I'll predict that by Christmas we'll be seeing prices below $3 all over the country, perhaps closer to $2.50 not because the Saudis are panicking about US production, but to assist the economies of Europe and Asia as a long-term view, and that once their economies start to grow again, prices will increase. They have reduced prices when it wasn't in their interest before, but for very short time-periods and only after very public appeals from the US and the West, ensuring OPEC and Saudi Arabia in particular look as if it were an act of largess.  Only market forces have forced lower production by the cartel, which makes the recent moves by Saudi Arabia that much more interesting.  

Connecting these dots may is a little difficult and C2 is not a believer of global conspiracies in general, so these market trends and policy initiatives may simply be due to a confluence of coincidental market forces and policy initiatives, nonetheless if the Constant Reader pays attention to the broader view of the daily news, you may come to the same conclusions.  

Blue=French; Red=Brits
Kurds? Everywhere
A note on Kobani, the city ISIS is currently focusing it's energies on, and the Kurdish situation in northern Syria: thanks to the Sykes-Picot agreement signed between France and Britain after World War I, the current national boundaries in the Middle East were established not for the benefit of indigenous peoples but declining European empires, and one of its many negative consequences left the Kurdish people divided into four communities making up large minorities in Syria, Iraq, Iran and Turkey.  Worried about Kurdish nationalist movements along their southern border, Turkey committed large-scale acts of ethnic cleansing on their Armenian and Kurdish populations in the early 20th century.  This only exacerbated the situation.  Some of these movements turned to violence, including the PKK which formed in the 1960s as a response to Turkish repression.  It is considered a Marxist terrorist movement, however - not a radical Islamic group - a remnant of the Cold War whom Russia supported when Turkey joined NATO, and is now trapped in Kobani.

It may seem that the Turks are being callous toward the people of Kobani, and they are.  The Turks are hoping that ISIS kills off as many of the PKK as possible, but the people of Kobani are caught in the middle - and so is the US.  We also classify the PKK as a terrorist organization, so helping their fighters in Kobani with better weaponry is tantamount to giving "Muhaddin Rebels" in Afghanistan to help get rid of the Russians. The move may well backfire on Turkey after ISIS - and the US - is gone.

PKK "terrorists" fighting in Kobani -
they don't look very scary...scared
is more like it
So how do we help the people of Kobani?  Good question.  I don't think there will be any help, except that maybe Turkey will let them cross the border when ISIS starts killing them en mass.  The reason Turkey isn't helping us is the larger issue of Kurdish independence in Iraq as well.  Once they are given a homeland in Iraq they may likely work to carve out something in northern Syria - and then on to Turkey.  As well, there is a real threat to Turkey from ISIS along a frontier almost as long as our Mexican border. Imagine not only large immigration from the south into the US, but armed insurgents bent on re-taking Texas.  That's what Turkey is concerned about.

Even though they have historically been bastards, Turkey is right to be skeptical of using their territory as base to launch attacks on ISIS or establish a staging ground for a second front to the north of ISIS. The media won't tell you this in a straight forward way, because...well, they are idiots.  They don't read history and they only see what is in front of them, which is no help to our government nor our general understanding of the complexities involved in the fight.  Getting Turkey actively involved in the coalition will be a sticky question.  C2 believes that until ISIS becomes a direct threat to Turkey, they will largely stay on the sidelines.  They know their history.

The media aren't much help these days.  Everything is a crisis, a scandal,
or a disaster.  "Breaking News" available every hour, is sort of like "antiques
made daily". Warped.