Wednesday, November 19, 2014

A 30-Year Cold Spell?

It was 9 degrees when I woke up yesterday morning in Cincinnati, Ohio. The official low was 12 degrees that ties a record low for November 18 dating back to 1880. It was 15 degrees starting out this morning. That is more than 20 degrees lower than the average for this date. We are seeing the same over most of the country this week.

We also got 4.8 inches of snow on Monday compared to an average of .4 inches that Cincinnati typically receives for the entire month of November. Some areas of Buffalo, NY got as much as 76 inches of snow in the last 24 hours!

New York Thruway near Buffalo, NY on 11/18/14
You think you had a bad commute this morning?

Climatologist John L. Casey believes we are in the beginning stages of a new weather pattern bringing much colder temperatures that may last for the next 30 years.

What about Al Gore and the global warming alarmists?

Casey argues that they have it completely wrong.
The earth, he says, is cooling, and cooling fast. 
And unless the scientific community and political leaders act soon, cold, dark days are ahead. 
Casey says the evidence is clear that the earth is rapidly growing colder because of diminished solar activity. 
He says trends indicate we could be headed for colder temperatures similar to those seen in the late 1700s and early 1800s when the sun went into a "solar minimum" — a phenomenon with significantly reduced solar activity, including solar flares and sunspots. 
Casey is a former NASA engineer who has also recently written a book, "Dark Winter: How the Sun Is Causing a 30-Year Cold Spell," in which he forecasts increasingly frigid temperatures and eventual food shortages caused by the colder climate. Colder weather will also affect the earth's crust which could lead to more volcanic and earthquake activity.

Casey even suggests that he thinks that Putin is interested in the Ukraine because of its more temperate climate and Russia's heavy reliance on its wheat crop from that region during cold weather times. A noted Russian astrophysicist believes that we are already entering a mini-ice age.

All of this reminded me of a blog post I wrote in February, 2011 in which I wrote about some of the same themes that Casey is talking about in his book.

If given a choice between global warming and cooling---I will take warming every time. I don't say that just because I prefer golf and the beach over skiing. There are very significant geopolitical and economic reasons to prefer a warmer over a cooler climate.

Human beings tend to get very angry and irritable when they are cold and hungry. They are much more content when they are warm and their stomachs are full. Read on about my thoughts on all of this from almost four years ago.

I'll Take Hot Rather Than Cold Any Day
(originally published February 10, 2011)

I am not a climatologist or meteorologist. However, I consider myself a practical thinker who makes decisions by looking at facts. I have also learned that it is always important to look beyond the "facts". How are the facts packaged and what is the motivation of the messenger?

Over the years, I have listened to the claims about human created global warming. Without even spending a lot of time on the science, these claims never seemed to make sense to me. The planet is known to have warmed and cooled over the years. Even if the data shows it is warming, how do we know it is caused by man when you look at past history? We know there was an ice age. We also know the ice melted. How did it ice up? How did the ice melt?

I can't help but be a little skeptical when I also see the changing explanations about the climate.  In fact, it does not even seem to be global warming we are worried about any more, it is climate change.

We heard a few years ago that we would see far less snow because of global warming.  When we got more snow, we were then told this was caused by the warming. It is all very confusing for something that is supposed to be so settled in science.

I also remember in the late 1970's and 1980's all of the talk from scientists was concern that the planet was cooling. What happened?  That was only a few short years ago- a speck of time in the history of the earth.

When you consider past history you also quickly realize that God dwarfs anything that man can do. For example, the year 1816 was considered "The Year Without a Summer" after Mount Tambora erupted and the ash seemed to veil the sky across large swaths of earth.  Crops failed around the world and famine followed.  Riots and political unrest were not far behind.  People tend to get really angry when they are hungry. How much did the average global temperature fall that year? - only about 1 degree!

That story has always made me much more concerned about global cooling than warming. A rise in temperatures is actually beneficial for food production. It can extend the growing season further north. Cooler temperatures do the exact opposite.  Given a choice there is little doubt where I come down.

Our friends at Powerline are right on the mark again with "Scientists Set The Alarmists Straight".  If you want to get yourself grounded in the facts on the issue check it out.  Powerline's own view is summed up as follows:
"The global warming hoax survives only because most people do not take the trouble to learn the facts for themselves."
There are several links listed where you can research the facts and science yourself.  Make up your own mind. However, this looks more like a political agenda than science to me.  But if climate change is real then give me warming rather than cooling. I do better when I am warm and have food than when I am cold and hungry. How about you?

Full disclosure- I wrote this when it was 7 degrees so that may have affected my objectivity on the subject. 

Monday, November 17, 2014

Face To Face With GruberGate

It seems that every day brings another video of Dr. Jonathan Gruber of MIT providing perspectives on the tricks, twisted tactics and tall tales that went into the drafting of the "The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act."

Jonathan Gruber
Credit: MIT Economics Department

I met Dr. Gruber in late October, 2009 at a private meeting in Boston with a small group of other individuals from Fortune 500 companies who were responsible for the employer-sponsored health plans for their employees. This was at a critical time in the timeline for the bill as it was only a couple of weeks before it was voted on in the House of Representatives (the House voted on its version of the bill on November 7, 2009).

We were invited to the meeting by one of the nation's leading health insurers who facilitated the meeting so that some of its large corporate customers would have a better perspective on how the federal government was attempting to reshape the health care and insurance marketplace.

One of the things that stood out to me in the meeting was Gruber's arrogance and seeming need to promote his self-importance. Both of these traits have come through pretty clearly in the resulting videos that have surfaced recently involving Obamacare.

For example, Gruber made it a point at the beginning of the meeting to pull out his cellphone and put it on the table in front of him and state that he might have to excuse himself during the meeting as he was in "constant contact with the White House on final negotiations on the bill." In fact, he did excuse himself at least once during the meeting to take a call that was supposedly from the White House.

Therefore, any attempt by Democrats to distance themselves from Dr. Gruber on his involvement in the process is revisionist history. There is little question that Dr. Gruber had a very key role in the architecture of what became known as Obamacare.

The other thing that stood out to me during the meeting was how firmly Gruber believed in his view of the world. I might add that his view of the world was that of someone who had little experience in the real world. His view was clearly an academic of theoretical view of the world.

This came through during a discussion we had about the effects that Obamacare might have on employers ceasing to provide health care coverage for employees (or for their dependents). Gruber rejected that argument and he stated that he had fully considered that possibility and was confident that would not occur.

A number of large companies pushed back on Gruber and argued that given a workable individual health care insurance marketplace, they would gladly drop employer-sponsored healthcare. It was far more preferable to provide employees with a flat dollar amount in its place and let the federal government take on the health care cost risk they now held as self-insured health care providers. To this Gruber said, "You are blowing my mind. If that is right all of our assumptions are wrong in this bill."

Gruber also got a lot of push back during the meeting about what the "Affordable Care Act" was going to do about controlling costs. Everyone in the meeting was very concerned about costs increasing due to its combination of expanded access, mandated benefits and the like.

Every time this was brought up Gruber quickly stated that he agreed with us. He stated that the bill was not intended to do anything about controlling costs. It was intended only to provide increased access. They believed they needed to expand access first before doing anything else. They were planning to to introduce a second bill at a later date to control costs.

Therefore, Gruber admitted during the meeting that the "Affordable Care Act" had nothing to do with making health care more affordable. That was going to come in a second bill (a bill that has never been introduced). Of course, this is another little item that no one in the public was ever told about. I guess it was just another "inconvenient truth" that would have prevented the bill from becoming law.

After the passage of the bill we have also found that the "Patient Protection" portion of the title was also highly questionable. Millions lost health care coverage they were happy with. Millions lost doctors they were pleased with. Millions of others are paying thousands of dollars in extra premiums for coverage they do not need.

In effect, the correct name for Obamacare should have rightfully been "The Patient Disturbance and Unaffordable Care Act" in that it has contributed untold disturbance and anxiety to our country while also making expensive health care costs even more unaffordable.

Jonathan Gruber is not a bad guy. Like most academics, he thinks he has all the answers and is smarter than everyone else. Like most human beings, he has an ego and he wants people to think he is important. Like most liberals, he is well-meaning.

However, over the years I have found that most liberal ideas are well meaning and well intentioned. In a theoretical laboratory these ideas make a lot of sense. I think that is why so many academics are liberals. The ideas make such great sense in the classroom or a textbook. Unfortunately, in the real world these ideas must face reality. A reality where human beings make decisions based on incentives or disincentives relative to their own self-interest. A reality where unintended consequences often have much greater effects than the intended consequences.

There was nothing wrong with the basic concept behind health care reform in attempting to expand the number of individuals insured and to insure that individuals could obtain coverage even if they had pre-existing health conditions. However, there were much easier (and less expensive) ways to accomplish this under the law.

My biggest problem with Obamacare from the beginning was its total lack of transparency. Especially on the question of taxes. To do what they were trying clearly required some type of broad-based tax to fund the expansion of coverage. Obama chose to play a shell game with the American people instead. He simply chose to not tell the truth from the very beginning of his campaign on this issue. Just as he lied about the need for an individual mandate in his debates with Hillary Clinton. To do what he wanted to do, it was necessary. There was no other way around it and he knew it.

There is a legitimate policy argument that providing health care coverage is a fundamental function of the federal government under its duties "to promote the general welfare". However, under this "social model" concept, it has traditionally followed that general broad-based taxes should be used to fund this government spending. This is the model on which Medicare and Social Security are based. It is also the model that has always been used for local schools, police and fire protection etc.

However, in Obamacare they paid for the extension of "general welfare" coverage by putting the entire tax cost on a few taxpayers in yet another redistributive income scheme and in penalizing many others who had health coverage they already liked to help a few others who did not have any coverage.

Obama, Gruber, Reid and Pelosi knew it was unlikely that this bill could be passed if people were told the truth. Instead, they played tricks with the numbers and put nice comforting words like Patient Protection and Affordable Care in the bill thinking it would be enough to the pull the wool over the people's eyes.

In the end, Obama and Gruber are a lot like Col. Nathan Jessep (played by Jack Nicholson in the 1992 film, "A Few Good Men") and his dialogue with Lt. Daniel Kaffee (played by Tom Cruise) in the climatic courtroom scene in the movie.

Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson in "A Few Good Men"

Col. Jessep: You want answers?

Kaffee: I think I'm entitled to.

Col. Jessep: *You want answers?*

Kaffee: *I want the truth!*

Col. Jessep: *You can't handle the truth!*

We could use a few good men about now. Obama.  Gruber. Where are they?

In the meantime, GruberGate is starting to feel a little like Watergate with Gruber playing the role of Deep Throat.

However, if you follow the money here, it seems that a lot of money went right into the pocket of Jonathan Gruber for his consulting services on the law to the federal government and various states.

It is hard to handle that truth!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

All About Atmospherics

"All show and no go."
My mother used to say this after she had sized up someone and determined that their substance did not match their style.

"Beware the Articulate Incompetent."

The smartest boss I ever had used to say this to me when we ran across people that sounded and looked great but when you considered what they really said or did, there was nothing there. In the corporate world these people could quickly impress others and be persuasive in their presentation, but it ended there. They added nothing. In fact, they usually resulted in a net subtraction to the organization because they had people doing the wrong things for the wrong reasons.

Who do you think of first when I say, "All show and no go" or "Articulate Incompetent"?

Barack Obama immediately comes to my mind.

Obama and the Greek Columns
Credit: UK Daily Telegraph

Our President seems to care most about perception, politics and presentation. Substance and sense rarely make his list.

You need to look no further than yesterday's announcement about the climate deal he "negotiated' with China on carbon-reduction emissions.

Granted, the headline looks good and President Obama knows that very few people will ever get beyond that. This is how the headline read in yesterday's New York Times.

U.S. and China Reach Climate Accord After Months of Talks

Under the "deal", the United States will cut carbon emissions by 26% to 28% (using 2005 as the base year) by the year 2025. For those counting, that is just ten years away.

To meet this goal there will be more restrictions and regulations of coal and other fossil fuels. The result will be higher electricity and energy costs that businesses and consumers in this country will have to pay.

What is China going to do in return?

Nothing. Until the year 2030. At that time China would cap its growing carbon emissions.

You might think that does not look right at first glance. However, it you thought about it for a minute or two longer you might conclude that it would make sense if China is "catching up" to the U.S. in carbon emissions as its economy is growing.

However, the fact is that China is not catching up to the United States in carbon emissions. It is already spewing out far, far more than the U.S.

This chart, using USEIA data, shows that China's total carbon emissions in 2012 were 8.5 billion metric tons annually (and growing) compared to 5.3 billion in the United States (and declining).

For reference, U.S. carbon emissions in 2005 were 5.1 billion metric tons. That means the U.S. carbon emissions target in 2025 under this deal will be between 3.7 and 3.8 billion metric tons. Assuming China continues the same growth in carbon emissions as it has had since 2005 (5.1% per year), China's cap would be about 21 billion metric tons in 2030---more than 5 times the U.S. target!

Even if you adjust these numbers for population and compare the numbers on a per capita basis (China currently has about 4x the population of the U.S), the United States will be a loser.

The biggest loser in this country will be Americans looking for good-paying jobs. That is a certainty.

The next biggest loser will be planet earth if you believe the global warming alarmists. Under this agreement China can continue bringing a coal-fired power plant online every 10 days (as they are currently doing now) carte blanche compliments of our President.

This should alarm the alarmists. They continually are warning of a looming climate catastrophe but most of their attention is focused on the United States which is a relatively small piece of the puzzle.

Liberals will argue that it is better to have some "agreement" with the Chinese than no agreement. However, I think that thinking is misguided. First of all, this is not a binding agreement on the Chinese. They can do as they please. There are no consequences if they do not live up to the agreement. At the same time, Obama has effectively given China a blank check to do whatever they want for the next 16 years. This "deal" insulates them from any criticism or condemnation in the interim. China can simply point to their "agreement' with Obama. It is nothing but theatrics but it protects the Chinese from any attacks from the global warming crowd.

Since 2005, the U.S. has reduced energy-related CO2 emissions by one billion tons but China has increased emissions by over two billion tons. Guess what? If you are concerned about CO2 emissions and you are on planet earth, you are losing.  And it is not because of anything that the United States is doing. If China is not cooperating (and India and others) the problem will not be solved.

The irony is that as we shut down our coal powered generating plants, China and India are building hundreds of them.  In fact, a recent study indicated that over 1,000 coal-fired plants are planned around the world with 75% of them in India (455) and China (363).

And in 16 years, even with China "cooperating" under this agreement, carbon emissions will be 11 billion metric tons higher than they are today even if the United States reduces its emissions by the targeted 1.5 billion metric tons.

In other words, it is "all show and no go" as my mother used to say.

Or to put it another way...

Only in the mind of an articulate incompetent does it make sense to...

shut down your most cost-effective energy generating source, 

shut-off your most abundant energy resource, 

raise electricity costs on all Americans,

and risk losing hundreds of thousand of jobs in the process.

In an attempt to solve a problem... 

that we are not even sure we have, 

and if we do, we are not sure we can do anything about it, 

because of natural or external forces that we cannot control, 

that may overwhelm anything we do anyway,

that ultimately works to the advantage of your biggest trade partner, 

that will undoubtedly result in more job losses for Americans over the longer term.

In the end, it is all about atmospherics with Barack Obama. And I am not talking about carbon emissions in the air.


I thought it was interesting that while writing this blog post I saw this headline about China hacking into the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) recently.

Chinese hack U.S. weather systems, satellite network

Hackers from China breached the federal weather network recently, forcing cybersecurity teams to seal off data vital to disaster planning, aviation, shipping and scores of other crucial uses, officials said.

Am I the only one who sees the irony in the fact that our President is celebrating a "climate change breakthrough" with a country who at the same time is hacking our oceanic and atmospheric weather information systems? Pretty soon we will not know what to believe about those global warming statistics!

It really is all about atmospherics with both President Obama and China!

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Bonfire of The Vanities

Tom Wolfe wrote the novel, "The Bonfire of the Vanities", which was published in 1987. It is a story of ambition, elitism, racism, social division and greed in New York City in the 1980's. The same themes could just as easily apply to Washington, DC over the last six years.

The lead character in the novel is Sherman McCoy who is a high-powered Wall Street bond trader who went to all the right schools and is married to a "social x-ray" wife (her life is centered around lunch with her socially connected friends and maintaining a rail thin figure) and lives in an expensive Manhattan co-op. McCoy is so taken with his life of success that he refers to himself as the "Master of the Universe".

It all starts to come unglued for Sherman while returning to Manhattan after picking up his mistress at JFK and making the wrong turn on a dark, rainy night. He ends up in the Bronx and a world that is not in his universe. One thing leads to another and Sherman McCoy slowly sees all of his vanities going up in a bonfire. In the end, there was not much there to begin with. The status, success and society that surrounded him was built on little substance. Does that sound familiar?

As I look at Barack Obama and I see what is transpiring around him I can't help but see the same story unfolding.

We are witnessing "The Bonfire of the Vanities" insofar as Barack Obama is concerned.

The flames are engulfing most everything around him but he appears not to notice any of it.

This is a man who also thought of himself as the "Master of the Universe".  Here is how Obama described himself to others when he was assembling his campaign team for his Presidential run.

I think I could probably do every job on the campaign better than the people I’ll hire to do it. I think I’m a better speechwriter than my speechwriters. I know more about policies on any particular issue than my policy directors. And I’ll tell you right now that I’m gonna think I’m a better political director than my political director.

How has all of that worked out? The self-described "Master of the Universe" seems to have been most successful in administering over the undoing of the Democrat party.

When Barack Obama took office in 2009 there were 256 Democrats in the U.S. House of

When the 114th Congress convenes in January, 2015, Democrats will have less than 190---a loss of almost 70 seats.

2015 U.S. House of Representatives
Red=GOP, Blue=Dem, Green=Undecided as of 11/10/14

In 2009 the Democrats held as many as 58 Senate seats and 2 Independents also caucused with them. There were only 40 Republican Senators.

When the Senate meets in January there will likely be 54 Republicans in the U.S. Senate.

This is the map of Governorships in 2009 when only 22 Republicans held office.

This is the map after the 2014 elections with Alaska and Vermont still undecided. 31 of 50 states are now in the hands of Republicans.

Credit: Jim Dalrymple,

Most significantly, liberal blue states Illinois, Massachusetts and Maryland turned red. Consider the Obama margins in these three states in 2012---Illinois +17, Massachusetts +23, Maryland +26.

The following graphic shows how "swing state" Ohio has swung in the last three gubernatorial races in the state from Democrat blue to Republican red.

Credit: The Dayton Daily News

If we look at state legislatures, Democrats held 62 of the 99 (Nebraska has a unicameral legislature) when Obama took office. They now control just 30 of 99 according to an analysis by David Freddoso of The Washington Examiner.

Credit: David Freddoso, Washington Examiner

Blue has turned to red everywhere you look around Barack Obama. It has to be "The Bonfire of his Vanity" deep down somewhere in his soul.

The losses that the Democrats have taken at the polls as a result of their blind allegiance to Barack Obama may also cause further problems down the road.

Alexander Burns of surveys the damage to Democrats looking forward.
As Democrats take stock of their grievous losses in the 2014 elections, party leaders are confronting a challenge perhaps even more daunting than their defeats in the House and Senate: the virtual wipeout of the Democratic talent pool across the country.
After the Republican waves of 2010 and 2014, the party is depleted not just in its major-league talent, but also in its triple-A recruitment prospects. It amounts to a setback, Democrats say, that will almost certainly require more than one election cycle to repair.
At the start of the 2014 campaign, Democrats envisioned an election that would produce new national stars for the party in at least a few tough states – Georgia Sen. Michelle Nunn or Kentucky Sen. Alison Lundergan Grimes, for instance, or maybe even Texas Gov. Wendy Davis. Even if the party fell short in those “reach” states, Democrats hoped to produce new heavyweight blue-state Democrats – Maryland Gov. Anthony Brown, the country’s only black state executive; or Maine Gov. Mike Michaud, who would have been the first openly gay candidate elected governor.
Any of them could have landed on a vice presidential short list in 2016.
Instead, all of them lost.

You begin to appreciate the talent dearth of the Democrats if you try to put together list of possible Presidential contenders that go beyond Hillary Clinton. Joe Biden? Elizabeth Warren? Martin O'Malley? Mark Warner? It was a short list to begin with. It got shorter after last Tuesday.

Contrast that with the Republican list of possible contenders. Chris Christie. Scott Walker. Rand Paul. Ted Cruz. Jeb Bush. Paul Ryan. Bobby Jindal. Marco Rubio. John Kasich. Rick Santorum. Ben Carson. Rick Perry. Mike Huckabee. Mike Pence. Mitt Romney?

Not all of these potential GOP candidates will enter the race but there are a lot of names to draw from. The Democrats will likely end up with Hillary or a fresh, new face similar to 2008 without much experience or track record.

We will soon see how the cast of characters for 2016 starts to take shape.

After all, the cast is always critical to a good movie. And that brings us back to "The Bonfire of the Vanities."

The resounding success of Wolfe's novel made the film rights to the book a hot commodity in Hollywood. Brian DePalma agreed to be the Director of the movie and a high-powered cast was put together to star in the film. The only problem was that the actors cast in the movie did not seem to fit the characters in the book in any respect.

The likeable Tom Hanks was cast as the tough to like Sherman McCoy. A young Kim Cattrall played Sherman's "social x-ray" wife. Melanie Griffith was cast as McCoy's mistress, who was a sultry Hispanic girl in the book, but ended up in the movie as something altogether different. Bruce Willis starred as the newspaper reporter, Peter Fallow, who was English in the book. A Jewish judge in the book turned into Morgan Freeman as an African-American in the film.

The resulting movie, despite a $47 million budget (in 1990 dollars) and a lot of star power, grossed only $15 million at the box office. It was considered both a critical and commercial flop. The cast chosen for the movie just did not fit the needs of the film.

So it is with Barack Obama. He might have been the perfect candidate from central casting but he was ill-suited from the beginning to deal with the problems of the country or to lead the Democrat party. Yes, Hollywood got that one wrong as well.

Barack Obama promised hope and change. However, the hope and change he has delivered seems to have principally inured to the benefit of the Republican Party.

"The Bonfire of the Vanities" plays out once again.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Mid-Term Musings

I don't typically like to comment on political races until I have had a chance to take a in-depth look at the detailed election results and exit polls. After all, I am a data guy. I look for answers and insights in the data to try to put everything in context.

However, I know there is a lot of interest from my readers on my thoughts on the mid-term election results so I will share a few musings about the mid-terms based on what I watched last night on the cable tv channels and the limited data I have reviewed so far.

Senate Races

The Senate races pretty much followed the themes that I laid out in my blog post, "Sensing the Senate Races-2014" that I published on the eve of the election.

I profiled 13 states where I thought the Republicans had a path to majority control. They appear to have won 11 of the 13 with Louisiana still likely to be added to their majority in the December run-off. The only state on my list of the first tier list of targets that they were not able to win was New Hampshire. However, I had assessed a win in New Hampshire to involve very long odds.

I had Virginia as a secondary target based on the polls in the state, however, I was on right on target when I stated, "when I look at the 4 point Obama margin ( in 2012) and the fact that minority and young voters will not likely turn out like they did two years ago, it seems Gillespie could make this a race in the end." He certainly did.

Governor Races

This was the most under-reported story of the night as the networks were so focused on the Senate races. It is almost hard to believe that the Republicans won gubernatorial races in red states like Illinois, Massachusetts and Maryland.  Consider the Obama margins in these three states in 2012---Illinois +17, Massachusetts +23, Maryland +26.

In addition, Republicans won these other states which are all blue or swing states---Maine, Michigan, Wisconsin, Florida, Ohio and only lost in deep blue Connecticut by 3 points and Rhode Island by 4 points.

All in all, Democrats now hold only 18 out of 50 governor offices. To put that in perspective, there are now more states where gay marriage is legal than there are Democrat governors!

Wave or Not?

I try never to get caught up with the emotion and hype in the aftermath of elections. We are hearing this election called a wave but we heard similar descriptions when the Democrats won in 2008 and 2012. Or the GOP in 2010.

In the aftermath of the 2012 election there were many political commentators who were flooding the
flooding the airwaves with opinions that the Republican Party had to fundamentally overhaul their positions on the issues to be successful in the future.  They argue that there had been a fundamental seismic shift in the voting demographics that is younger, less White and more liberal.

I disagreed and this is what I wrote three days after the 2012 election after reviewing the exit poll data on that election.

There clearly was a solid group of voters who would vote for Barack Obama.  That was proven in 2008 and 2012.  It is just not clear to me that this voting bloc is sustainable or repeatable.  Obama is not going to be on the ballot again.  The symbol will be gone and all that will be left is the substance of the Democrat positions that are not exactly wildly popular.  Republicans should take heart and not be too quick to alter their core positions.  This comes through in the exit polling for 2012 even considering the demographic advantage that the Democrats had in voters this year.

I have not analyzed any exit polls in detail this year but I suspect that Democrats lost big in this election cycle primarily because black voters did not turn out as they did in 2008 and 2012 for Obama and young voters stayed home having lost their love affair with Obama.

I did look at some limited exit poll data on North Carolina which seems to confirm my thoughts. Black voters made up about 28% of the total vote in 2012. This year they made up 21%.  That is a 7% swing of voters who voted for Hagan 96% of the time. That is the election right there. Tillis won by 2%.

During the campaign, President Obama made a hand scratching statement to a rally of supporters in Maryland when he said, "You've got to get that cousin Pookie sitting at home on the couch" to get out and vote. Guess what? Cousin Pookie never got off the couch. There is now a GOP Governor in a state that Obama won by 26 points two years ago.

The bigger question is why do the Democrats have a problem in turning out voters in non-Presidential years?

Mercenaries and Patriots

Democrats seems to have a problem turning out voters in mid-term elections because, first of all, they have more low interest voters than Republicans. Poll after poll shows that they don't pay as much attention and are less informed as a general rule than are Republican voters.

They seem to only get engaged in Presidential years when it is hard to ignore politics and and you can't go anywhere without hearing about it.

It also seems to be the case that many Democrat voters are engaged primarily by what the political process means to them personally. It is mostly about what the government does for them in dollars and cents. In that respect they are very similar to mercenaries in an army. The party's voters are primarily composed of special interest blocks of voters who depend on government. They are primarily interested in furthering their individual interest through government.

I think this is the fundamental flaw in the Democrat party model right now. They can only expand their numbers by recruiting more mercenaries to their army. Whether it is expanding government benefits, opening the border to future voters or providing government special subsidies to  "the right" businesses, their base largely is dependent on government.

Republicans, on the other hand, are more interested in what government does generally as well as what government could do to them. Republicans don't vote as mercenaries to serve their own interests, but for the interests of the country. Therefore, Republicans can more generally be counted on to go to the polls year in and year out and the numbers seem to bear that out.

Over the years many countries who have relied on mercenary armies have learned that they are inherently unreliable. I don't think it is any different in politics. People motivated by beliefs will beat people motivated by bucks in the end.

This is why the Democrats had such a hard time understanding the Tea Party movement when it started out of nowhere. They just could not understand how so many people could get so ginned up when they weren't getting anything out of it individually. It was totally foreign to the way they understood the psychology of voters. Remember when Nancy Pelosi derided the grassroots Tea Party and called them "astroturf"? She thought it was fake because she just could not believe that people would show up without getting paid to do it.

Interesting Insights
  • Democrats and the mainstream media like to refer to "racist" and "anti-immigration" Republicans but has anyone looked at the election results in South Carolina? Tim Scott, the black Senator who had been appointed by Governor Nikki Haley last year, and was running for the remainder of the full term, got 85% of the votes of white men in the election. He only got 16% of the vote of black men!  By the way, Scott also got almost 100,000 more votes than white Senator Lindsay Graham who was running for re-election. Nikki Haley (the daughter of Indian immigrants) was re-elected 56%-41%. 
  • Speaker John Boehner lives near me and was re-elected in the 8th Congressional District of Ohio.  However, I found it interesting that Boehner only captured 65% of the vote in his home county.  That is about 7 points below what John Kasich drew in the county. Boehner also had a lower percentage vote than all the other state officeholders on the ballot. The last few years have definitely taken a toll of Boehner's popularity with the hometown folks.
  • In Ohio, generally all local tax increases have to go before a vote if it means the property tax millage will go up. This includes school, police, fire and other issues. Starting in the late 1970's these issues started to have increased difficulty in passing. People started to get fed up with high taxes. This has been a continuing theme for the last several decades. What I found interesting in looking at the results of Tuesday's election in Hamilton County (my home) was that most tax levy issues passed with rather comfortable margins. This included a 1/4 cent increase in the local sales tax in the country to pay for repairs and refurbishment of Cincinnati's Union Terminal, the iconic art-deco railroad terminal built in the 1930's, which is now  a museum center. In fact, the vote wasn't even close with a 65%-35% margin despite the fact that household budgets are being squeezed by the economy.  I think this is a potentially interesting development.  Does it signal increased interest in government actually doing the things government is supposed to do and a willingness to support these efforts? We will see.
  • The margin of the Cory Gardner win in Colorado was surprising to me coming in a state that voted for Obama twice and which also just two years ago passed the most liberal pot laws in the country. That win seems to have been driven by Gardner's ability to win the suburbs of Denver that Obama had won in the previous elections. It appears that a number of Obama's "soccer moms" have become "security moms".  For example, by a 63%-25% margin, Colorado voters were in favor of U.S. military action against ISIS.  At the same time, 61% thought abortion should be always legal (28%) or mostly legal (33%). In the end, Gardner won married women by 49%-47%. Does this indicate that one's head is more valuable than one's uterus? It appears so.
More on the mid-terms later when I have more time to analyze the results in detail.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Sensing The Senate Races-2014

The mid-term elections are tomorrow and I thought I would pull out my smeared and smudged crystal ball and see what I see developing in the U.S. Senate election races across the country.

The current make-up of the Senate is 55 Democrats (2 are "Independents" who caucus with the Democrats) and 45 Republicans.  Therefore, the Republicans need to pick up six seats overall to assume majority control.

My evaluation of the races in each state are based on several factors: Obama's vote total in the 2012 elections, the extent to which reduced black voter turnout could harm the Democrat candidate this year compared to Obama's vote totals in each state in 2012, the individual appeal of the Senate candidate and recent polling data I have reviewed.

There are 35 Senate seats up for re-election. 34 are regular elections and one is a special election--the South Carolina seat of former Senator Jim DeMint who resigned in early 2103 and was replaced by Tim Scott who was appointed by Governor Nikki Haley. Scott is running for the remaining two years of DeMint's term while Lindsay Graham is also seeking re-election to a full six year term as South Carolina's senior Senator. suggests that 42 Republicans seats are either not up for re-election or are considered safe in 2014. On the other hand, only 38 Democrats seats are considered safe by Real Clear Politics heading into the election tomorrow.

Therefore, control of the Senate rests on 20 seats and the Republicans merely have to split those seats to take 52-48 majority control (or nine of the twenty to get to 51-49). Where do I see the best chances for the pick-up of those 9 or 10 seats?

Here are my thoughts based on the most probable to least probable Republican wins.  There are 13 states in which the Republicans have very good chances to pick up the 9 seats they need. I doubt they win all of these. However, 10 of the 13 races ending up in the Republican column seems reasonable although we might not see that number until after the run-offs in December.

West Virginia
Shelly Moore Capito looks to be a lock in the Mountaineer state. Obama only got 36% of the vote in West Virginia in 2012. He has to be even more unpopular today. Capito is +17 in the RCP poll average.

South Dakota
Another state where Obama did poorly with just 40% of the popular vote in 2012. Mike Rounds is +12 in the RCP poll average. Rounds would be polling better but for the fact that former Republican Senator Larry Pressler is on the ballot as an Independent and is most likely siphoning off some of Rounds' potential support.

Obama lost Montana by 14 points to Romney. Steve Daines is +18 in the RCP poll average.

Barack Obama only got 37% of the vote in Arkansas in 2012. The incumbent Democrat Senator Mark Pryor has a big political name in the state, has two terms under his belt but also too many votes siding with Obama. The GOP has 37 year old rising star Tom Cotton on the ballot. Cotton is +7 in the RCP poll average.

Another tough state for any Democrat supporting President Obama. Obama only received 38% of the 2012 vote of those in the Blue Grass state. It is no wonder that Democrat candidate Alison Grimes refused to admit she voted for Obama. McConnell is definitely vulnerable and he could have been taken out here with the right candidate. It just does not appear that Grimes is the person to do it after a series of campaign missteps.

Alaska warmed up a little for Barack Obama between 2008 and 2012. He drew only 38% of the vote in 2008 and improved to 42% in 2012. Mark Begich is the incumbent Democrat facing off against Republican Dan Sullivan. Sullivan is +2 in the most recent RCP poll average. I don't know anything about Sullivan but it is hard to believe that any Republican could lose to a Democrat in Alaska (like Begich) who has voted voted with Obama 97% of the time.

This is a state that should be an uphill fight for the GOP. Obama won Iowa by 10 points in 2008 and 6 points in 2012. However, it is an open seat which makes the task at little easier compared to other states like Colorado, New Hampshire and Virginia which favored Obama by similar margins two years ago and have incumbents on the ballot. Joni Ernst, the GOP candidate, seems to have run a very good campaign. The Democrat, Bruce Braley, has been less sure-footed with several gaffes involving farmers in a state with 90,000 farmers. Ernst is +1.4 in the RCP poll average that shows just how hard it is to turn a blue state to red even when you have the better candidate.

Obama was -18 to Romney in 2012. The Landrieu name is famous in the state but Mary Landrieu has also voted with Obama 97% of the time. She got 52% of the vote in 2008 but that came with Blacks making up 29% of the total vote and favoring her 96-2 over the GOP challenger. It appears that Landrieu can only win if there is a Black turnout similar to 2008 and 2012. She lost the white vote 2-1 the last time around. This election will likely be decided in a run-off in early December as there are two GOP candidates that are splitting the opposition votes. Landrieu is only averaging about 40% support in the RCP poll average.

Georgia supported Romney + 7 in 2012. However, this is an open seat with the retirement of Saxby Chambliss that has provided an opportunity for the Democrats for a pick up. Michelle Nunn (daughter of the popular ex-Senator Sam Nunn) is the Democrat nominee. David Perdue, a businessman who is running for his first political office is the GOP standard bearer. Turnout of black voters will again be the key to this race and Nunn probably needs African-American turnout to be over 30% to win. A Libertarian candidate is polling around 3% which might also push this race to a run-off as Georgia law requires the winner to have more than 50% of the popular vote.

North Carolina 
North Carolina was the only state that supported Obama in 2008 that did not return the favor in 2012. Romney won by 2 points after Obama squeaked by McCain by .4 points in 2008. The Democrat, Kay Hagan, is the incumbent which provides her an advantage over Thom Tillis. The race is complicated by a Libertarian who is polling at around 5%. The Black vote will again be critical as Hagan won this demographic 96-1 in 2008. She has voted with Obama 97% of the time.

Update as of 6am 11/4/14-I just saw the numbers related to early voting in NC and it makes me more optimistic for Tillis. Jay Cost of The National Review states that 52% of early votes have been voters age 65+. In 2012 this number was only 36%. Young voters age 18-29 made up 13% of early voters in 2012, only 5% in 2014. In addition, white voters are up and black voters are down in the early numbers. Read my earlier blog post, Turned On and Turned Out to see why these numbers could be important to Tillis if these voting trends continue with the total vote.

Kansas is the state where voters undoubtedly wish there was someone else on the ballot. The Democrat nominee, Chad Taylor, withdrew as a candidate to provide the "Independent" a better chance of unseating 5-term Senator Pat Roberts. Kansas has not elected a Democrat Senator since FDR's years. Kansas voters are left with the option of voting for an over-the-hill Roberts or a fake Democrat (Greg Orman) in a state in which only 38% supported Obama in 2012. Anything can happen here. This should be a sure GOP win. However, now you can see why I have this race so far down the list. Roberts only wins if voters use the vote to send a message to Obama and Harry Reid. If Orman wins it will be the third state that has an "Independent" as a Senator--the most in the history of our republic. Interestingly, the positions of these "independents" on the issues are anything but independent. All are Democrats in substance. It is just easier to get elected without the liberal Democrat label. We will see if that trick works on Kansas voters.

Most of the pollsters and political pundits have been pointing to this as a GOP pick-up with Cory Gardner beating incumbent Democrat Mark Udall. I have my reservations. First, it is always harder to beat an incumbent. Second, Colorado was +5 for Obama in 2012. Third, are the same voters who legalized pot two years ago going to vote for a Republican? I don't think so. Gardner only wins if the voters who voted for Obama and pot in 2012 don't bother to vote in 2014.

New Hampshire
Obama won NH by 6 points two years ago. The incumbent Democrat, Jeanne Shaheen, is a former popular Governor who appears to be in trouble in this race. Scott Brown, who won election to succeed Ted Kennedy in Massachusetts, on a wave of anger about Obamacare in early 2010 (only to lose to Elizabeth Warren in 2012) is taking Shaheen on having established his legal residence in the state. This is one of the key races of the night as if Brown can unseat Shaheen it will send reverberations that will be felt very quickly across the country. Brown has made immigration a big issue in his campaign so if he wins you can be sure that it will also carry the same warning bells to politicians in Washington on this issue as did his win in Massachusetts with Obamacare. Watch this one closely. Shaheen is only up +1 in the RCP poll average.

There are a few other states that might come into play for the Republicans if tomorrow night starts shaping up to be a wave election. I don't expect it but it is possible.  If so, these states are the next possibilities for Republican gains.

Obama won Virginia by 4 points and a big part of his margin came out of the DC suburbs with support from young people and minorities in particular. The rest of the state tilts GOP. Again, turnout is key here.  Democrat Mark Warner has been a popular Governor and Senator so he is tough to take out. Ed Gillespie is the GOP challenger and the RCP average has him -10. However, when I look at the 4 point Obama margin and the fact that minority and young voters will not likely turn out like they did two years ago, it seems Gillespie could make this a race in the end.

I still have a hard time even uttering the words Senator Al Franken. I often have a hard time understanding what is going through the minds of Minnesotans. How could any state elect both Jesse Ventura and Al Franken? Minnesota went +9 for Obama in 2012 so this is an uphill battle for the GOP as Franken has lots of money and challenger Mike McFadden is a political novice in his first bid for public office after a successful business career.

New Mexico
Another state that went +10 for Obama in 2012. Tom Udall is the incumbent Democrat Senator and being challenged by another successful businessman (Allen Weh) who has not held elected office before. Weh might be helped by Susana Martinez, the popular GOP Governor, who is running for reelection and is up by 13 pts in the RCP average. There has not been a lot of good polling in the Senate race and RCP does not have a polling average on the Senate race. How long are the coattails of Martinez?

There does not appear to be much other opportunity for Republican pick-ups in other states. Michigan and Oregon looked like possibilities earlier in the year but the GOP candidates in those states failed to gain any momentum or money.

An interesting newcomer to keep your eye on is the likely new Republican Senator from Nebraska, Ben Sasse. Sasse is +23 in the RCP poll average so he looks like he is on his way to Washington.
Sasse is age 42 and has a B.A. from Harvard and a Ph.D from Yale and most recently was the President of a small university in Nebraska (Midland University) in the town he as raised in.

This is how Real Clear Politics sees the Battle for the Senate on the eve of the election. 8 toss ups! Many of these races will be determined solely by who shows up and votes. And by those that think they have something better to do and don't vote.

Make sure you vote!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Power of Potential

Why does a untested high school pitcher command a bigger signing bonus from a major league baseball team than a proven major league pitcher with six years of experience as a starter?

Why does a fledgling tech company IPO result in a market cap far in excess of a steady and profitable company that has a 10 year record of success in the marketplace?

Why does the up and coming young MBA a few years out of school get the promotion over the steady, seasoned and loyal 10 year manager?

Why do NFL fans of mediocre teams always clamor for the 2nd string quarterback?

Why did an untested Barack Obama beat two candidates (Hillary Clinton and John McCain) who were both more accomplished and experience than he was?

All of this stems from the human tendency to favor potential over achievement. In effect, "the potential to be good at something is preferred over actually being good at the very same thing."

Those are the words of Zakary Tormala who is an Associate Professor at Stanford's Graduate School of Business. I recently saw Tormala speak at a conference on this subject and I thought his research into this subject was interesting and enlightening.

Tormala has an academic interest in psychological certainty (and uncertainty) and its effects on our behavior and decision making.  For example, if someone is certain in their beliefs it is very difficult to get them to change their mind to consider new choices. On the other hand, people who are uncertain are much more willing to have an open mind and consider new options.

What are the implications of this in the real world?

It is critical that people in sales and marketing understand the role of uncertainty. Someone who is certain is going to be impossible to sell under almost any circumstances. The only way to get them to consider your product is to introduce some uncertainty (for example, a new insight or threat that they might not have been aware of) to get them to open their mind for other options or choices.

What is interesting in comparing potential versus achievement is that uncertainty seems to have the opposite affect you would expect according to research that Tormala conducted with two other collaborators that was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Evidence of achievement should reduce uncertainty about a person’s talent and boost confidence about his or her future success or high performance. Potential, on the other hand, is fraught with uncertainty by its very nature: An individual with high potential might achieve greatness but very well might not. Because potential leaves more room for doubt about a person’s true talent or future outcomes, it stands to reason that achievement should be viewed as more impressive than otherwise equivalent potential and should often be viewed as a stronger or more reliable indicator of future success.

However, that is not the case most of the time. Potential trumps achievement in people's minds a lot of the time.Although achievement provides certainty, the uncertainty of potential seems to be more engaging and interesting to people.

We postulate that potential is more interesting and engaging than achievement precisely because it is less certain and more ambiguous. Indeed, considerable research has revealed that relative to certainty, uncertainty can sometimes stimulate greater interest and involvement and, ultimately, deeper processing.
Thus, we suggest that the uncertainty surrounding individuals with high potential makes them more interesting, which draws people in, increases processing, and can have positive downstream effects on judgments. 

About now I am sure you are saying, "Enough with the academic speak!".

"What are you talking about in the real world?"

Here is a "real world" example based on one of the experiments that Tormala did to prove the power of potential.

The experimental study involved an ad campaign on Facebook involving a real comedian named Kevin Shea who was growing in popularity  at the time. Shea had just launched a fan page of Facebook so Tormala and his fellow researchers took out ads on Facebook to see how many clicks the could garner to Shea's Facebook page.

The only difference in the ads was a small change in wording of the header. One header touted achievement and the other emphasized potential.

They also measured two well-known persuasion strategies. The extent to which individuals were persuaded by experts (Source Credibility Appeal) and by others (Social Proof Appeal).

The "Expert" header in the ad read like this for Achievement.

Critics say he has become the next big thing.

The "Expert" header for Potential was this.

Critics say he could become the next big thing.

The "Social Proof" header in the ad read like this for Achievement.

Everyone is talking about Kevin Shea.

The "Social Proof" header for Potential was as follows.

By this time next year, everyone could be talking about Kevin Shea.

Therefore, it really was the case of "he has arrived" vs. "he could arrive".

What were the results?

It is pretty incredible if you ask me how powerful potential was compared to achievement.

When the source was stated to be experts (like critics) there were about 2x the number of clicks to find out about the potentially great comedian Kevin Shea than the Kevin Shea who was already great.

When the source was simply the opinion of others (non experts), there were almost no clicks unless it was about potential. There was almost no interest in clicking through to find about someone who everyone was already talking about.

Tormala may be correct that uncertainty is driving more interest in potential than achievement here.

However, I believe there is another big factor at play here that he is overlooking.

That factor is "Social Currency".

The fact is that human beings like "to be in the know".  They also like the feeling they get when they find out about something new. Why? So they can tell someone else to show how "smart" or "clued in" they are. After all, when it comes to all of us, it is mostly about us.

Don't you know that feeling yourself?

There is no fun in telling something to someone who already knows it. It is fun to tell somebody something new.

I think my thesis also explains the difference between when the source is an "expert" versus a "non-expert". If you think about it, most people would consider an expert to be "in the know" and "ahead of the curve" compared to non-experts. Therefore, people are more willing to consider the achievement frame from an expert than a non-expert because it is more likely they know something everybody does not. That is why there were more clicks on the achievement frame for source credibility but almost none for social proof appeal. "If everyone else is already talking about this guy why bother checking it out? Who am I going to tell so I will look like I am clued in."

I think there is another factor at play here as well. That is the fact that most human beings are naturally optimistic. Life is hard if you don't believe that tomorrow is going to be better than today. We have a natural tendency to believe in the next great thing. That is what drives people to get out of bed in the morning. Tomorrow will be better.

On the other hand, achievement has boundaries. You know the top and the bottom of the range of achievement. Potential is boundless, especially on the upside. Hope does spring eternal.

In conclusion, think about the power of potential. It has significant practical implications. Think about how you present things to others and how you state things when it comes to achievement versus potential. Small word choices can have large impacts on persuading others as Tormala points out in another article on this subject.

If you're recommending someone for a job, a promotion, or admission to graduate school, it would be wise to highlight that person's potential. Our take is that framing your support for a person, a restaurant, a cause — and many other things — in terms of potential as opposed to achievement could make your case more persuasive.
We found that even seemingly minor word choices made a difference. Participants in one study evaluated a job applicant more favorably when he had performed well on a test called the "Assessment of Leadership Potential" rather than one called the "Assessment of Leadership Achievement." So someone who scores well on a Scholastic Aptitude Test might be perceived as a stronger candidate than someone who scores well on a Scholastic Achievement Test. A subtle shift in word choice can have a big impact on interest and engagement.

Potentially great advice, don't you agree?

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Questions on Quarantines

The case of nurse Kaci Hickox and her enforced quarantine in Newark, New Jersey pushed me to do a little research on the background and basis for a quarantine order.

It also seems useful to compare and contrast the difference between quarantining someone and isolating someone.

This is exactly how the Center for Disease Control (CDC) defines the two terms.

Isolation and quarantine help protect the public by preventing exposure to people who have or may have a contagious disease.
  • Isolation separates sick people with a contagious disease from people who are not sick.
  • Quarantine separates and restricts the movement of people who were exposed to a contagious disease to see if they become sick.
In addition to serving as medical functions, isolation and quarantine also are “police power” functions, derived from the right of the state to take action affecting individuals for the benefit of society.

Ms. Hickox created a lot of noise in the news about having been quarantined in New Jersey upon her arrival from Sierra Leone after treating Ebola patients in that country for a month with Doctors Without Borders.

This is what she said in an interview with Candy Crowley on CNN.

"To quarantine everyone, in case, you know, when you cannot predict who may develop Ebola or not, and to make me stay for 21 days, to not be with my family, to put me through this emotional and physical stress, is completely unacceptable," Hickox told Crowley. She added, "I feel like my basic human rights have been violated. It's really inhumane".

Hickox was ultimately released by New Jersey and sent to her home state of Maine. However, the Governor of Maine, Paul LePage, has stated that she will be expected to self-quarantine herself in Maine. And the nursing school (University of Maine-Fort Kent) which her live-in boyfriend attends has stated he will not be allowed on campus if he has any contact with Hickox. Faced with that choice, he has decided to not attend school during the quarantine period.

It seems that Ms. Hickox is not any more welcome to move around freely in her home state of Maine than in New Jersey.

First, it should be duly noted that sincere thanks and appreciation should go out to Ms. Hickox, Dr. Spencer, Dr. Brantley and the other medical professionals who have given so much in the effort to serve those in the Ebola-infected countries of West Africa. It is a true lesson of humanity and sacrifice in a world where both seem to be in very short supply.

However, what sense would it make to undo all of that good by not following some common sense protocols that have proven to be prudent through the course of many, many years of human activity. Does it not make sense "to be safe rather than sorry" with a disease that could particularly devastate urban communities and a 21st century economy that is so inter-connected?

I appreciate your service, Ms .Hickox, but the weight of public opinion and prudent thought is not on your side.

I find it troubling that as a medical professional Ms. Hickox also does not seem to understand that the very reason for a quarantine is because (using her words) "you cannot predict who may develop Ebola or not". This is the very purpose of a quarantine. You quarantine "to see if they become sick". You isolate those that are sick.

That being said, it is also clear that New Jersey seems like it could have done a better job of handling her quarantine. More on that below.

In addition, consider this poll that was taken among NBC's Today Show viewers that was reported on the show yesterday. Bear in mind that NBC Today Show viewers would not typically be considered Tea Party members.

Who were the 6%?

That leads me to provide a little background and history on the history and reason behind a quarantine.

This also comes from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) website.

The practice of quarantine, as we know it, began during the 14th century in an effort to protect coastal cities from plague epidemics. Ships arriving in Venice from infected ports were required to sit at anchor for 40 days before landing. This practice, called quarantine, was derived from the Italian words quaranta giorni which mean 40 days.

Notice that the concern here was the risk of bringing plague into Venice and other coastal cities from ships arriving from infected ports. No one was let off the ship who had been somewhere where the infection was rampant until the incubation period had passed. That is the purpose of a quarantine.
You do not quarantine someone who is symptomatic as by that time it is already too late. At that point the protocol is to isolate the sick from those who are not sick.

They figured this out in the Middle Ages when the risk of transmission was relatively small compared to the risks we have today with air travel and a much more mobile world population. Why do we think we can ignore common sense today?

In the early days of our nation most quarantine efforts were handled by state and local governments, but eventually it was acknowledged that the federal government was in a better position to oversee these efforts as the country became more mobile and transient.

The Public Health Service Act of 1944 clearly established the federal government's quarantine authority for the first time. The act gave the U.S. Public Health Service (PHS) responsibility for preventing the introduction, transmission, and spread of communicable diseases from foreign countries into the United States.

There is authority under that statute "to detain, medically examine or conditionally release individuals and wildlife suspected of carrying a communicable disease."
The list of quarantinable diseases is contained in an Executive Order of the President and includes cholera, diphtheria, infectious tuberculosis, plague, smallpox, yellow fever, viral hemorrhagic fevers (such as Marburg, Ebola, and Congo-Crimean), and severe acute respiratory syndromes.(emphasis added).
Other diseases are considered to pose a health risk to the public but are not considered subject to quarantine under current law.
Many other illnesses of public health significance, such as measles, mumps, rubella, and chicken pox, are not contained in the list of quarantinable illnesses, but continue to pose a health risk to the public.
What is most interesting here again with the Ebola issue is that it is the President of the United States Barack Obama who is not exercising any leadership or the prudent use of his clear executive authority. As a result, Governors in New Jersey, New York, Connecticut and Illinois have announced mandatory 21-day quarantine periods for any health workers returning from West Africa where the federal government has done nothing. Bear in mind, three of these states are led by liberal, Democrat governors.

We are left with the strange fact that the President of the United States will not act when he has the clear legal authority to do so, and it is necessary (Ebola), but he wants to act when he has absolutely no legal authority (Amnesty for illegal immigrants). That is why I have previously referred to him as President Opposite.  It just seems that he has us going in the wrong direction with every step he takes.

Of course, the President argues that to place a 21-day quarantine period on any returning medical worker from West Africa would discourage health care workers like Ms. Hickox and Dr. Spencer from volunteering to help with Ebola treatment in Africa. As a result, the problem will only get worse and put us at greater risk over the long term.

I understand the argument but doesn't that present us with a false choice?

Mickey Kaus suggests that we need to think about the incentives in this case before we say we can't both protect the public today and also provide the needed medical resources to West Africa. I have written before that incentives make the world work. People at first thought Kaus was kidding when he suggested building a luxury resort for returning health care workers but he states he is dead serious. I must say I like his thinking in looking at the problem.

We’d like to quarantine care workers who return from caring for Ebola patients in West Africa — we’re not 100% sure that symptomless people aren’t contagious (“unlikely”), and symptoms seem to come on relatively quickly in any case. Voluntary quarantining has proven incompletely effective. At the same time, we don’t want to discourage volunteer health care workers from traveling to West Africa, where the main fight against the disease is being waged. They’re not exactly encouraged to make the trip if they know they’ll have to spend 21 days in a tent with a portable toilet on their return.
What to do? Protect the public here or incentivize workers to go there? This is a false choice! What’s needed is a quarantine so luxurious that health care workers will look forward to their 21 day quarantine, or at least not dread it. What if the federal government took over an isolated resort, say on the Gulf Coast. Stocked it with finest foods and wines in the land, and the best films and recreation and wireless Internet access and volunteer musical acts —  a French widow in every room, as a friend of mine used to say, equivalent to a very expensive vacation, available for free to any returning volunteer. The only catch is they couldn’t leave for 21 days. (They could bring their spouses and partners, if they wanted –but then the spouses couldn’t leave either).

I would take Kaus' idea one step further. I would make the quarantine period a paid vacation compliments of the federal government.  I might also make that pay tax-free and throw in a round trip charter flight to West Africa for every health care volunteer to boot.

Too expensive?  No way. How much does it cost to treat one Ebola patient in the ICU at Bellevue Hospital? Take that and multiply it by 100 or 1,000. In fact, Bellevue Hospital has already had to move other patients out of its ICU to another hospital so it can free staff to take care of its one Ebola patient!

How much did we spend on President Obama's tour of Africa last year? As much as $100 million according to a story in The Washington Post last year.  A 21-day tax-free paid vacation for the necessary health care workers would be a pittance compared to that expenditure.

How much would it cost to do contact tracing and monitoring on everyone on a New York subway? I don't want to even guess at the manpower and money required.

How much damage to the economy would be done if even a few hundred Ebola cases popped up over the next several months across the country. Incalculable.

Quarantine, isolation and incentives. There is a place for all of them in taking on Ebola. All it takes is a little leadership, imagination and money. We might not have any of them but we can surely borrow something from someone. We can start by borrowing proven tactics from our forefathers on how to combat communicable diseases. It starts with Q.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

It's Not Black And White

I have spent a lot of time during my career looking at opinion surveys. Employee opinion surveys. Conference surveys.  Market research studies.

One thing is always clear. You typically find consensus in the survey numbers but you never see unanimity in anything when human beings are involved. One person is going to love something and another is just as likely to hate it. There are just too many diverse views and perspectives among human beings.

For example, I recently spoke at a conference where there were ten speakers and the attendees were asked to rank the sessions from 1-10 on how interesting the talk was to them. My speech was ranked 2nd overall on the day. Most people ranked it highly giving it a very good consensus score. However, the distribution of the scores went from 1 to 10. Some people loved it but others didn't think it was worth anything to them.

The same is true in an advertising campaign that I am overseeing right now. Readership surveys in the magazines the ads are running in show that it generally is the highest-rated ad. However, looking at the verbatim comments in the survey it is clear that some people love the ad and some hate it. That is just the way of the world when dealing with human beings and their opinions. You just have to accept that everyone is not going to like everything. In fact, that diversity of opinion is what makes the world so interesting.

Considering that experience and perspective, I continue to find it mind boggling whenever I look at exit poll data regarding the votes of black voters. It is as if there is no other candidate than a Democrat on the ballot. I am not sure Putin or Castro ever received such overwhelming majorities of votes in any "election" they participated in.

It defies all logic that any one group of people could vote in such a monolithic manner when you look at the diversity of issues involving politics. Issues like abortion, national security, tax policy, immigration, foreign policy, jobs policy and the like.

You don't see it in any other demographic group so why do we see it with African-Americans?

I wrote about the demographic breakdowns in the 2012 Obama/Romney race recently here.

Blacks gave 97% of their vote to Barack Obama.

The best Romney could do was 86% with his fellow Mormons.

I can understand 86%. I don't fathom 97%.

This is especially the case when you look at some of the other demographic splits.

Men-Romney 52%, Obama 45%
Women-Obama 55%, Romney 44%
High School graduate- Obama 51%, Romney 48%
College graduate- Romney 51%, Obama 47%
<$50,000 income- Obama 60%, Romney 38%
>100,000 income- Romney 54%, Obama 44%

There are male and female African-Americans who are high school and college graduates, poor and rich. How is it that their vote is identified almost solely by race and not by other factors?

When you look at some of the vote numbers in detail from 2012 it gets even crazier.

Consider the total votes from several of the precincts in my home county of Hamilton County in Ohio.

Look at these votes from the inner city of Cincinnati.

Cincinnati Precinct 13C-  Obama 1,080 votes, Romney 5 votes
Cincinnati Precinct 15E-  Obama 703 votes, Romney 4 votes
Cincinnati Precinct 20B-  Obama 859 votes, Romney 8 votes
Cincinnati Precinct 23Q-  Obama 336 votes, Romney 1 vote
Cincinnati Precinct 23R-  Obama 407 votes, Romney 2 votes
Cincinnati Precinct 25J-   Obama 455 votes, Romney 2 votes

In those 6 precincts Obama got 99.5% of the vote.

Compare that with the precincts in Indian Hill which is generally considered to be the bastion of wealthy, white, privileged Republicans in Cincinnati. In fact, the zip code that includes Indian Hill donated more money to Romney than any other in the entire state of Ohio.

What were the vote totals in Indian Hill between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney?

Indian Hill Precincts-  Romney 3,434, Obama 1,406

In those 6 precincts Romney got 71.0% of the vote.

I can understand 71.0%. I don't fathom 99.5%.

It is not just Obama either. Look at some of the vote results from 2008 with other Democrat Senate candidates who are now running for re-election.

In North Carolina, Kay Hagan won the black vote 96-1 with blacks making up 18% of the vote total. Hagan lost the white vote by 18 points.

In Louisiana, Mary Landrieu won the black vote 96-2 with blacks making up 29% of the vote total. Landrieu lost the white vote by nearly 2 to 1.

All of this would make sense if we saw the African-American community prospering and advancing due to Democrat policies. The Democrat Party would practically be out of business right now but for the Black votes they get. However, what are Blacks getting for those votes?

All of this might also make sense if we had seen that Democrats were responsible for the most significant legislative advances for equal rights for African-Americans over the years. However, that is not the case either.

Consider these historical landmark pieces of legislation that were voted on by Congress over the years that were so important to the advancement of African-Americans.

The 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution which abolished slavery.
100% Republican Support, 23% Democratic Support

The 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution which gave citizenship to freed slaves
94% Republican Support, 0% Democratic Support

The 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution which gave the right to vote for all
100% Republican Support, 0% Democratic Support

The 1964 Civil Rights Act
80% Republican Support, 64% Democratic Support

African-Americans lined up to vote after passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act

With African-Americans today, it seems that their vote for Democrats is as simple as black and white. It is cut and dried but you must ask why?

If you look at the facts, it's not black and white.

Will this ever change?

This is one issue that I will continue to look at with great interest in the future. Will Barack Obama be responsible for another generation of Black Democrat voters or will he be responsible for the end of a trend that has lasted almost 50 years?

UPDATE (10/27/14): Herman Cain asking the same questions of Black voters in his most recent column.