NIH boss blames budget cuts for Ebola mess

A dose of self-awareness is in order for critics of the Obama administration’s response to this Ebola matter.

Pay attention, congressional Republicans. I’m talking about you.

The head of the National Institutes for Health says budget cuts have derailed efforts to find a vaccine for the deadly disease that has killed thousands of people in West Africa — and one in the United States.

As the Huffington Post reported: “Dr. Francis Collins, the head of the National Institutes of Health, said that a decade of stagnant spending has ‘slowed down’ research on all items, including vaccinations for infectious diseases. As a result, he said, the international community has been left playing catch-up on a potentially avoidable humanitarian catastrophe.”

The Post goes on: “Money, or rather the lack of it, is a big part of the problem. NIH’s purchasing power is down 23 percent from what it was a decade ago, and its budget has remained almost static. In fiscal year 2004, the agency’s budget was $28.03 billion. In FY 2013, it was $29.31 billion — barely a change, even before adjusting for inflation. The situation is even more pronounced at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, a subdivision of NIH, where the budget has fallen from $4.30 billion in FY 2004 to $4.25 billion in FY 2013.”

Here’s the maddening part, from my perspective.

The very people who now complain about government’s inability to deal with this matter (I refuse to call it a “crisis” in the United States) are the same folks who keep slashing money because — they contend — the United States cannot afford to spend it. They are critical of the NIH, calling it some sort of “liberal-leaning arm of government” that pushes “agendas.”

And yet these are the folks who are feeding much of the hysteria that keeps showing up on right-wing mainstream media outlets by contending that Ebola is about to break out badly in this country, even though health professionals insist that is not the case.

What can be done? How about giving the NIH the resources it needs to find a vaccine for Ebola before it becomes a crisis in the United States?

Voter ID laws miss real culprit

Texas’s voter identification law is in place to guard against voter fraud.

Is it working? Does it seek out the most common culprit? Frontline, the acclaimed PBS news documentary series, suggests it doesn’t.

The most common abusers are absentee voters, according to Frontline. The Texas law, which has been upheld by the courts, targets those who show up at the polls without proper identification or who have false ID and seek to pass themselves off as someone else.

Yes, those incidences do occur — rarely.

The more common element of fraud occurs away from the polling place.

Frontline notes that most absentee votes are white and older than the rest of the voting population. Accordingly, voter ID laws draw their aim on those who are least able to afford to pay for the kinds of identification that many states now require. As Frontline reports:

“Laws that require photo ID at the polls vary, but the strictest laws limit the forms of acceptable documentation to only a handful of cards. For example, in Texas, voters must show one of seven forms of state or federal-issue photo ID, with a valid expiration date: a driver’s license, a personal ID card issued by the state, a concealed handgun license, a military ID, citizenship certificate or a passport. The name on the ID must exactly match the one on the voter rolls.

“African-Americans and Latinos are more likely to lack one of these qualifying IDs, according to several estimates. Even when the state offers a free photo ID, these voters, who are disproportionately low-income, may not be able to procure the underlying documents, such as a birth certificate, to obtain one.”

Therein lies the problem that some see in these voter ID laws. They make it harder for some Americans to vote and those Americans happen to be among the more disadvantaged among us.

Didn’t we pass a constitutional amendment to prohibit such a thing?

Simple questions need simple answers

Greg Abbott apparently fielded a question that didn’t require a lot of verbal nimbleness.

However, the Republican nominee for Texas governor tried to get cute with his response and in the process had some folks scratching their heads over what he really meant.

The question came from the San Antonio Express-News editorial board, according to Dallas Morning News blogger Jim Mitchell: Would the state attorney general have defended a state ban against interracial marriage?

Abbott has said that as AG, it is his duty to defend state laws, such as the law that bans same-sex marriage. So the Express-News sought to broaden the context just a little by posing a hypothetical question about interracial marriage.

Abbott fluffed the answer, according to Mitchell. Here’s how Mitchell reported it: “Rather than say ‘no I would not defend a ban on interracial marriage,’  he slipped into an accurate, but weak response: ‘And all I can do is deal with the issues that are before me… the job of attorney general is to represent and defend in court the laws of their client, which is  the state Legislature, unless and until, a court strikes it down.’”

The result, said Mitchell, was to create questions about whether Abbott somehow believes such a ban is worth defending, that he’s might actual favor such a prohibition.

Abbott’s arguments against same-sex marriage also pose some problems for the GOP nominee. He said something recently about marriage needing to produce children. Obviously, two people of the same gender cannot do such a thing. Here’s Mitchell’s take: “I’ve taken Abbott to task for his defense of the same-sex ban and the prime reason cited in court filings — the supposed state interest in procreation. Regardless of his personal thoughts, the procreation argument is just amazingly weak.”

Come on, Mr. Attorney General. When you get asked a straightforward question, respond with a straightforward answer.

Keep it simple.

R.I.P., Ben Bradlee

I came of age during a most interesting and turbulent time.

Being near the leading edge of the baby boom, I was born not long after World War II. I grew up in the 1950s and ’60s as the nation was being shaped into the greatest economic and military power in world history.

Then came the turbulent time of Vietnam, a war that divided Americans. I did my tiny part in that war, came home and re-enrolled in college. Dad asked me, “Do you have any idea what you want to major in?” I said no. He offered a suggestion: Why not journalism? “You wrote such descriptive letters when you were away,” he told me, “that I think you might want to try journalism as a career.”

So, I did take some entry-level journalism courses in college. I fell in love with the written word.

Then a burglary occurred on June 17, 1972. It was at the Watergate office complex in Washington, D.C. Some goofballs had been caught breaking into the Democratic National Headquarters. The Washington Post covered the event as a “cop shop” story initially. The paper buried it.

Then a couple of young reporters began sniffing around. Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein smelled a rat. This is bigger than we think, they told their editor, Ben Bradlee, who died today.

The reporters had to talk their editor into letting them go hard after the story.

Bradlee eventually relented. He turned the young men loose. They uncovered the greatest constitutional crisis of the 20th century.

It was a good time to be a journalist.

I’ll make an admission. I was among the thousands of  young journalism aspirants who became star-struck by the notion of breaking the “big story” because of the work that Bradlee, Woodward and Bernstein did in uncovering the Watergate story.

I trust others in their mid-20s, such as myself, were as smitten as I was at the intrepid nature of the reporting that was done in the field and the tough decisions the reporters’ editor had to make to ensure that they got it right.

Brother, did they ever get it right.

They can thank Ben Bradlee for guiding them, pushing them, perhaps even goading them into telling this story completely.

My own career, of course, didn’t produce that kind of notoriety. I am grateful, however, for the nudge my dear father gave me in late 1970 to seek an educational course that would enable me to enjoy the career I would have. I also am grateful that Ben Bradlee had the courage to seek the truth in a story known as Watergate and gave young reporters all across the land further incentive to pursue a noble craft.

Thank you, Ben.

Price goes up … then comes back down

Update: I thought for a moment I had been hallucinating earlier today when I noticed the price of gasoline had jumped 20 cents per gallon during the night. But nope. I saw it.

Then I noticed a competing convenience store chain had kept its prices the same as the day before, $2.79 per gallon of unleaded gasoline. Lo and behold, the two stations I noticed the big jump had rolled the price back to $2.79 during the day, and then dropped the per-gallon price a penny more by the end of the day.

Could there have been, shall we say, a gasoline pump trial balloon sent aloft this morning?


A mystery of economics has been made even more mysterious as of this very morning.

While completing an errand a few minutes ago, I noticed the price of regular unleaded gasoline jumped 20 cents per gallon overnight.

It’s still under $3, but it’s now at $2.99 at one local gasoline station. It’s a local chain, so I’m betting I’ll see a similar spike at other corner gasoline stations later this morning when I trudge off to work.

The mystery is this: I keep reading stories in the media about the plummeting price of crude oil and the accompanying decline of gasoline — which is a product of aforementioned crude oil. Then I witness this upward spike in prices here in West Texas, which supposedly is one of the centers of the domestic oil production boom that I thought was helping drive the price of energy down.

What in the world am I missing here?

I get the supply-and-demand drivers that fuel the economy.

News reports keep telling us that our supply is outstripping our demand. Production is up, demand is down. Thus, prices are supposed to come down. Isn’t that how capitalism works? It’s kind of basic.

Now the price of gasoline here in Amarillo, Texas, has shot back up — by a lot!

It’ll take some time for the price to trickle back down. That’s how it works. What jumps up quickly comes down at a snail’s pace.

I’ll be waiting and watching.

Where does Davis go from here?

This is not a particularly bold prediction: Wendy Davis is likely to lose her bid to become Texas’s next governor.

The Democratic nominee is being whipsawed by a combination of circumstances: She’s running in a heavily Republican state; she hasn’t gotten serious traction on the serious issues she’s sought to raise; her opponent, Greg Abbott, has proven to be unflappable in the face of intense criticism.

My question now is this: Where does the state senator go from here?

Some observers had speculated that Davis could emerge with a moral victory even in defeat. She’s made a name for herself. She gained national fame with that notable filibuster in 2013 of a strict anti-abortion bill. She is an articulate spokeswoman for her party.

The problem is that the Texas Democratic Party is in shambles. Republicans have grabbed every statewide office and have tightened the vise-grip they hold.

Davis had been seen as a possible leader of a Democratic resurgence. Trouble is that the resurgence has failed to take hold.

Davis’s future as a political star in Texas is questionable at best, and not because of anything she’s said or done, but because the party cannot seem to pull itself off the deck.

If she’s going to maintain a future in elected politics, it looks to me as though she ought to follow the Scott Brown model up yonder in New England. Brown, a Republican, lost his U.S. Senate seat in Massachusetts to Democrat Elizabeth Warren. Then he moved to neighboring New Hampshire and is mounting a serious challenge to Democratic U.S. Sen. Jean Shaheen.

Sen. Davis? New Mexico might be beckoning.

Oops! GOP governor tells truth, then backs off

Hey, I always thought Ohio Republican Gov. John Kasich was a straight shooter.

Turns out he needs to get his sights re-set.

Kasich told The Associated Press that the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, is here to stay, that Republicans have no hope of repealing it, even if they win control of the U.S. Senate after the Nov. 4 mid-term election.

‘AP reported this: “‘The opposition to it was really either political or ideological,’ Kasich said of Obamacare. “I don’t think that holds water against real flesh and blood, and real improvements in people’s lives.'”

That sounds pretty darn reasonable. But wait! Gov. Kasich’s people said AP got it wrong. The governor was referring to the ACA’s Medicaid expansion.

The ACA should be repealed and replaced, the governor’s office said — speaking for Kasich.

Here’s the deal, folks.

The ACA is working. Millions of Americans have signed up for health insurance who didn’t have it before. It’s providing comfort to those who prior to the law’s enactment couldn’t afford to be insured.

The ACA rollout was a Keystone Kops affair, to be sure. The computerized system crashed. It was a mess.

Then it got fixed. Yes, the rollout likely caused Kathleen Sebelius her job as health and human services secretary.

I’ll stick with Kasich’s initial view that repeal of the ACA ain’t going to happen.

Congressional Republicans, I’m quite certain, will have no trouble finding other issues with which to pick fights with the president. It’s in their DNA.