Sunday, January 31, 2010

Why Them?

The respected Washington political newspaper, The Hill, regularly includes an online blog feature in which they ask for feedback regarding some recent event --here is an example. One of the responses they post is from the head of the John Birch Society. This is not the first time that his reactions have appeared in these kinds of pieces.

Why would a respectable publication look to such a fringe group for reaction? Clearly, there are plenty of opinion leaders on both the left and the right that can be turned to without giving legitimacy to a group on the lunatic fringe of American politics.

Will they get a quote from Lyndon LaRouche next?

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Supreme Court Right on Free Speech

This week's U.S. Supreme Court decision in the case of Citizen's United v. FEC has set off a firestorm of criticism, with a few voices on the political right joining a seeming majority on the left in denouncing the decision. The Court rejected portions of the McCain-Feingold Act that restricted political speech during the times when the majority of people pay attention to politics -- that is, during the periods just before elections. That people who think of themselves as "liberal" could countenance such restrictions boggles the mind, but their denunciations of the opinion have been strident. Many have greatly exaggerated the supposed ramifications of the ruling while giving scant attention to the actual scope and basis for it.

One of the frequent criticisms of the decision -- made by the same people who are sufficiently non-literal to extend free "speech" rights to activities such as pole dancing and flag burning -- is that it recognizes free speech rights to persons, meaning both human beings and statutory persons -- corporations. They argue that freedom of speech is an individual right, but not a corporate one. Really?

Freedom of speech is not the only right provided for under the First Amendment of the Constitution. There is also freedom of the press. Given the logic of the Court's opponents, one might then suppose that freedom of the press extends to individual writers or editors, but not to, say, The New York Times or the Gannet Corporation. Freedom of the free exercise of religion? Well, that is perfectly fine for private individuals, but it wasn't intended for churches or other incorporated religious groups?

The Court got the decision right. One suspects that the sky will not fall. In fact, we are a more free country as a result of this repudiation on restrictions on free political speech.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Egg on Pundits' Faces

As this post is being written, it is not yet known whether Scott Brown will be the next U.S. Senator from Massachusetts. However, we have known for weeks that it is a much closer, more competitive race than anyone would have ever expected even a couple of months ago.

While there is nothing shameful in being surprised, this episode might give rise to some memories from a year ago. Does anyone remember all of those political pundits on the left -- and some on the right -- who declared that the Republicans had become a regional party relevant in the south and becoming extinct everywhere else? Some applauded, or bewailed, the death of one of the two national parties.

That great exaggeration spread just before the Republicans won the governorship in New Jersey, nearly won a House race in New York, and became competitive in a state wide race in Massachusetts.

Now, before conservative pundits imagine that they are being applauded here, one might recall that following the elections of 2004 and 2006, many self-proclaimed expert observers declared that an age of Republican hegemony was upon us. That didn't work out so well either.

We live in a world where access to information provides lots of opportunity for instant analysis, which some people confuse with received wisdom. Perceiving trends usually requires time and patience. In spite, or perhaps because of, the glut of information, those qualities are in short supply.

In a perfect world, many pundits would step back for a time of evaluation and reflection. In the real one, most will just move on to the next thing to be wrong about.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Reid's Future

John Fund writes in the Wall Street Journal that he believes that it is unlikely that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will ultimately run for re-election later this year. The 70 year old Senator is sufficiently far behind in the polls that it is increasingly unlikely that he can win.

That is probably correct. Sen. Reid will likely preside over passage of whatever health care reform bill that they can ultimately agree to and then announce his retirement not long thereafter. Democrats will applaud him, calling health care reform the crowning achievement of his brilliant career.

Of course, if the work on a compromise bill somehow blows up, the Majority Leader will be given a less ceremonious push out the door.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Why Leach Needed to Be Fired

In the aftermath of the firing of head football coach Mike Leach at Texas Tech University, some sports writers and bloggers have defended the coach, arguing that his dismissal offers proof of the softness of our culture and young athletes. They are wrong, and the university took the only option that it could given the situation.

While news accounts have differed to some degree, it is generally agreed that wide receiver Adam James had suffered a concussion and, as a result of his medical condition, told the coach that he was unable to practice until his symptoms abated. Coach Leach responded by punishing the receiver, forcing him to remain standing in a dark room for an extended period of time. A reasonable interpretation of Mr. Leach's actions would be that he intended this punishment to also send a message to the rest of the team about the need to get back on the field after an injury. Even if that is not the case, he clearly did not take the injury as seriously as he should have, and the problem was a serious one, indeed.

While the issue has been long neglected, medical and athletic leaders are finally paying more attention to the impact of multiple concussions on student and professional athletes. Some former athletes, by the time they are in their 30's or 40's, are having problems with severe memory loss, emotional problems, and even apparent symptoms of Alzheimer's. After years of ignoring or denying it, the NFL is finally admitting that there is a problem and is looking for solutions to protect professional athletes.

At the high school and college level, athletes have been put at risk by 1) a general failure to properly diagnose concussive injuries; and 2) encouraging athletes to get back on the field of play before they should do so. All too frequently, concussions are dismissed as "having your bell rung," and kids are encouraged to keep playing in spite of having not healed from neurological injuries with long term implications.

For links to numerous articles describing the problems, see here.

With regard to many types of injuries, it may be heroic for young athletes to play through the pain and help their team win. That is not the case with brain injuries. Mr. James had a concussive injury, and Mr. Leach's reaction to it was grossly inappropriate. Offered the opportunity to apologize, he refused. Absent evidence that he understands what he did wrong, he should not be working with student athletes.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Overhype the Danger and Take Credit for the Milder Results

That seems to be what is happening in this New York Times report, which begins:

Although it is too early to write the obituary for swine flu, medical experts, already assessing how the first pandemic in 40 years has been handled, have found that while luck played a part, a series of rapid but conservative decisions by federal officials worked out better than many had dared hope.

It is true that far fewer people have died of the swine flu than were expected, but it is also likely that the predictions were unreasonably high. In the southern hemisphere, where no vaccine was available in the winter months of 2009, the flu also killed far fewer people than expected.

Meanwhile, in the United States, the federal government promised to deliver 160 million doses of the vaccine by late October. It actually came through with less than 30 million -- meaning that they provided less than 20 percent of what they had emphatically promised.

It is arguable that the panic created by the overhyping of the swine flu danger actually cost lives, as it resulted in at least some rationing of tamiflu.

The swine flu epidemic of 2009, like that of 1976, turned out to be greatly exaggerated. While we can all be glad for that, there is no reason to thank the federal government.