2:00PM Water Cooler 10/16/14

By Lambert Strether of Corrente


Chief clinical officer at Texas Health Resources Dr. Daniel Varga issues non-apology apology [New York Times]. To wit:

[VARGA:] We’re a hospital that may have done things different [sic] with the benefit of what we know today. But make no mistake: No one wants to get this right more than our hospital, the first[1] to diagnose and treat this insidious disease.

So, wait. The MBAs running Texas Presbyterian dump a few wheelbarrows-full of all that non-profit money from Neiman-Marcus shoppers at Burson-Marsteller, and the best PR those guys can come up with is “Mistakes were made”? Can’t anybody here play this game?

The Médecins Sans Frontières protocols were the protocols that should have been used, not the CDC’s, one. Two: Dr. Varga, you had one job, and that was to get the right protocol used by the health care workers in your charge. I mean, it’s not like ebola hasn’t been in the news. Didn’t anybody in the MBA misleadership class at Texas Presbyterian think to check into the protocol the people on the front lines were using? Dear Lord. 

And speaking of expensive PR firms and bang for the buck, somebody should ask Burson-Marsteller whether they recommended maintaining the gag order for medical personnel at Texas Presbyterian, and, if so, what their rationale was.

Meanwhile — and this will surprise you — kudos to Obama [WaPo]:

[OBAMA:] I shook hands with, hugged and kissed not the doctors, but a couple of the nurses at Emory, because of the valiant work that they did in treating one of the patients. They followed the protocols, they knew what they were doing, and I felt perfectly safe doing so.

OK, the usual Obama-esque mealy-mouthed caution — he’s not kissing the doctors! — and “perfectly safe” rings false because, well, if you’ve got to say it, why say it, but respect due for the simple human gesture of touching.

Ebola fears are similar to early HIV-AIDS myths [Pete Hammil, New York Daily News].

NOTE [1] “First” in the United States, you moron. American exceptionalism yet again. What copywriter at Burson-Marsteller drafted that talking point for Varga, anyhow?

Hong Kong

Hong Kong government re-opens talks with students after brutality video [Agence France Presse].

South China Morning Post throws weight behind government, tells students to go home [South China Morning Post]. 

China’s biggest and mainland-based umbrella exporter has filed for an initial public offering in Hong Kong [Reuters]. So, different bet from SCMP?

Students give tents to visitors who wish to stay overnight [Economist]. The students improve their WiFi-enabled study corner with new desks. Others take their wedding photos at Admiralty [WSJ]. Isaac Cheung, 20:

“A lot of people say this can’t be a success (if the government doesn’t change. But) you can’t judge it that way. (We) will remember this in 10, 20 years.”

So, no, the students aren’t dreamers [Asian Correspondent]. But I’d like to hear more about the taxi drivers, street vendors, and nannies; the ones who aren’t studying because they have to go to work.

Some fear Hong Kong could slip intp a recession [WSJ, “Hong Kong Hotels, Shops May Suffer Long-Term”].


Activist calls back police officer who called her place of work based on her tweets “against the police.” “Hi, is this Keith?” [YouTube]. “Inciteful” is now a thing, apparently. And indeed, why not?

Whatever the story in Ferguson might be, it is not about “religious leaders” — many of whom, though not all, are from what Black Agenda Report calls “the black misleadership class” — parachuting in and bringing “healing” to a “badly damaged community” [The Atlantic].

Historical note: The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency at 3200 South 2nd Street is the oldest Federal arsenal complex west of the Mississippi [Matthew Aid].


One Maine story: How George W. Bush was arrested for drunk driving — with tennis great John Newcombe [Daily Mail].

And TNR butchers Maine politics [The New Republic]. Our crazypants R governor, Paul Lepage, won office in 2010 with 38.1% in a three-way that also included No Labels-type cipher Eliot Cutler (36.7%) and the tired and uninspiring Libby Mitchell of the corrupt but rickety Baldacci D machine (19%). Obviously, the spoiler who put LePage in office was not the putatively “independent” Cutler, as TNR avers, but the distantly trailing Mitchell. If LePage were truly the demon figure that Ds then and now make him out to be, then the only ethical course of action for Mitchell — given what her internal polling must surely have told her — would have been to throw her votes to Cutler. Of course, the iron law of institutions prohibits that, then as now. You gotta know the territory, TNR.

And another Maine story: Both independent Larry Pressler in South Dakota and sleazy felon-loving private equity “No Labels” D mole Greg Orman in Kansas look to Maine’s Angus King for inspiration and advice in their Senate races [Bloomberg]. Perhaps they can form a Gang of Three. Ka-ching?

Meanwhile, all is not lost for the Ds, if three races — South Dakota (Pressler, see above), Kansas (Orman, see above), and Georgia break their way [Atlantic].


The New York State Democratic Committee “housekeeping account,” an obscure but powerful vehicle for the governor, and the linchpin of a network of interlocking campaign accounts, makes meaningful opposition to Cuomo all but impossible [WYNC]. So, in other words, whatever Cuomo wants to do after the election, including fracking, casinos, and tolls on the Tappan Zee, he is free to do, no matter what the election outcome. Yay!


Drone trailing Albanian flag flies over Serbian soccer field, igniting fracas [AP].

Yemen separatists Southern Herak tell oil firms to stop exports from south, following political crisis in the north [Reuters].

Stats Watch

Jobless claims, week of October 11: “Stunning 23,000 decline in initial jobless claims” [Bloomberg]. Is “stunning” over-egging the pudding?

Industrial production, September 2014: “Industrial production for September topped expectations-and it was not just a swing in utilities” [Bloomberg]. Is “not just” over-egging the pudding?

Consumer comfort, week of October 12: “Bloomberg comment that the lowest jobless rate since 2008 and the cheapest gasoline costs in a year probably combined to lift households’ spirits about the future. The upbeat mood may be difficult to sustain as stocks slump and concern grows that the Ebola virus poses a wider health risk” [Bloomberg]. 

Panic on the Street

Except not. Stocks advance, Treasuries and dollar fall [Bloomberg].

News of the Wired

  • UK’s NHS reorganised 20 times in since 1973 — Thatcher’s election in 1979 being the opening gun for the neo-liberal era — the 2012 disruption abolishing 170 orgs and creating 240, at cost of £1 billion pounds [Institute for Government (full report)]. A billion pounds? That’s real money. But let’s be fair. If you’ve ever been through a re-org, you know it was done in complete good faith, and all that churn could only have had positive effects. I mean, for the public.
  • Vatican backtracks on gay tolerance [Independent].
  • Up to a third of all cell lines in cancer research are contaminated “imposters” yet researchers continue to use them [Discover]. “There are about 10,000 citations every year on false lines.”
  • Streams of hydrogen drifting away from Mars [Scientific American]. Maybe Musk can bring more gas with him?
  • Researchers erase memories in mice using flashes of light [Daily Mail].
  • Dark Age America [The Archdruid Report]. Ending on a cheerful note!

* * *

Readers, feel free to contact me with (a) links, and even better (b) sources I should curate regularly, and (c) to find out how to send me images of plants. Vegetables are fine! Fungi are deemed to be honorary plants! See the previous Water Cooler (with plant) here. And here’s today’s plant:

Talk amongst yourselves!

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. James Levy

    I have the funny feeling that if they could yell “Terrorism!!!” then a whole load of money, equipment, and talent would come pouring forth that have been set up to deal with a biological warfare “incident” that is simply sitting around in mothballs during this crisis. They’d have military and FBI personnel to burn, access to the biowarfare labs and their isolation units and experimental drugs, and all the support Congress can throw at the problem. But some black citizen has the temerity to bring the disease here and all you have is confusion and recriminations. It might make great black humor in the hands of a Kubrick, but the reality of it scares me to death.

    1. peppsi

      That’s a great point. The false specter of terrorism is not only a disgusting and wasteful political tactic, but also creates this sort of dreadful misallocation of resources that costs lives.

  2. Vatch

    “Ebola fears are similar to early HIV-AIDS myths [Pete Hamill]”. Similar, yes, but not identical. How many nurses or doctors got HIV-AIDS from their patients? None that I’m aware of. Ebola is definitely more dangerous.

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      Needle-sticks is how they got HIV-AIDS, though I don’t have numbers. I think Hammill’s point, however, is not the mode of tranmission, but the “moral panic.”

  3. Jess

    ““First” in the United States, you moron.”

    Come on, Lambert, don’t sugar coat it. Tell us what you really think.

  4. LaRuse

    RE: [OBAMA:] I shook hands with, hugged and kissed not the doctors, but a couple of the nurses at Emory, because of the valiant work that they did in treating one of the patients. They followed the protocols, they knew what they were doing, and I felt perfectly safe doing so.

    Eh. That is a bit like the Japanese official who drank water from one of the damaged reactors at Fukushima to prove his confidence in the decontamination efforts. Good on Mr. President for trying to allay fears and get everyone to calm the heck down, but, ebola aside, I don’t think anyone should be doing too much hugging and kissing in the middle of flu season.

      1. hunkerdown

        “Bugger you, Cordelia, I got mine…” How quintessentially British.

        “Fortunately” there are schools in the US where physical contact is forbidden. They “should” manage to not serve as disease vectors.

      2. Paul Tioxon

        As much as I’d like to subvert unwarranted authority, the president does command a certain amount of respect under certain circumstances. By personally putting his body in harm’s way, even if it is panic induced and mostly unfounded, when I see the public at large beginning to spin out of control, along with the law makers, police, health officials etc, it is important for these displays of the president to debunk fears and prevent mass hysteria. I lived through 3 Mile Island in 1979 in Philadelphia and among the people I knew, many fled and relocated mostly down South and more out West beyond the Mississippi River. The fear was real. Jimmy Carter showing up a few days after the initial melt down calmed the nation down. Here is a brief clip for those of you who may not believe how afraid people can become for good reason in the absence of certain facts.

        “After the radiation leak was discovered on March 30, residents were advised to stay indoors. Experts were uncertain if the hydrogen bubble would create further meltdown or possibly a giant explosion, and as a precaution Governor Thornburgh advised “pregnant women and pre-school age children to leave the area within a five-mile radius of the Three Mile Island facility until further notice.” This led to the panic the governor had hoped to avoid; within days, more than 100,000 people had fled surrounding towns.

        On April 1, President Jimmy Carter arrived at Three Mile Island to inspect the plant. Carter, a trained nuclear engineer, had helped dismantle a damaged Canadian nuclear reactor while serving in the U.S. Navy. His visit achieved its aim of calming local residents and the nation. That afternoon, experts agreed that the hydrogen bubble was not in danger of exploding. Slowly, the hydrogen was bled from the system as the reactor cooled.

        At the height of the crisis, plant workers were exposed to unhealthy levels of radiation, but no one outside Three Mile Island had their health adversely affected by the accident. Nonetheless, the incident greatly eroded the public’s faith in nuclear power. The unharmed Unit-1 reactor at Three Mile Island, which was shut down during the crisis, did not resume operation until 1985. Cleanup continued on Unit-2 until 1990, but it was too damaged to be rendered usable again. In the more than two decades since the accident at Three Mile Island, not a single new nuclear power plant has been ordered in the United States.”


          1. James

            Agreed. Doubly so because Carter was a trained and experienced nuclear engineer. Obama on the other hand…

      3. Kim Kaufman

        Didn’t Obama “go swimming” in the Gulf after the BP oil spill to show that there was nothing wrong with the water… and then it turned out he really didn’t go swimming or it was in some other part of the ocean or something? I have a feeling this whole thing was photoshopped. .

    1. DJG

      Presumably the nurses are females (pink collar and all) and the doctors may be mixed (although more likely to be male). So the president preserves his derring-do and heteronormativity (and he’s still evolving on same-sex relationships, along with the approval of the slag-oil pipeline!).

  5. Yata

    Kennebuncport (?) – I think i get the blues every time i hear that name. Lived in Maine when i was younger (mid 70s) and have quite a few great memories. The thought always comes to mind of what the hell it must be like living in the shadow of that presidential estate with all the entourage that entails. Private beaches and well off aren’t things that come to mind when i remember Maine.

  6. abynormal

    interesting, im watching the ebola house hearing on aljazeera …Dr. Sparrow of mt. sinia is being interviewed and asked about America’s ebola responses compared to the rest of the world…”they’re worse than the other countries combined”…not sure if she’s including west africa but the point is clear. she states ‘the hearings are showing health officials weakness even with the apologies and there is no planning involved… this could turn much worse for America’.

    aljazeera is also reporting 70 new deaths a day in sierra leone, where they have 370 beds but need 1300.

    how many more hearings will we have before we get our sh!t together? of course im in atlanta where they seem to think this is the new warm springs for ebola :-/

  7. Marianne Jones

    It’s time to call out Senegal for some praise. They had an imported Ebola case, a student from Guinea who traveled to Senegal for educational purposes, and treated the patient without infecting a single healthcare worker there. Senegal! Here in the so-called “best healthcare system in the world” we can’t manage to duplicate their success. Our response is completely shambolic.

    Also notable, Emory Hospital’s own infection control expert called the CDC a week ago to point out deficiencies in CDC protocols and was ignored.


    1. Danb

      The federal government could intervene to impose effective Ebola protocols in for-profit hospitals and “health” organizations through various public health laws or even invoke “nationals security.”

      1. hunkerdown

        On paper, sure. But play a bit of chess here: the suggestion that government can do something helpful and succeed would lead to some dangerous places. If they comply, the market looks incompetent and peons start thinking about unthinkable things like using the remedy of law *against* class warfare; to spew out their usual “but I have the right to cut corners and commit frauds because markets” is tantamount to corporate suicide. Besides, who cares about brown people diseases? Can’t you see there’s a war an election going on here? Do you really want Presby spending patient care money on the GOP? etc.

        Anyway why would they? Remember, the 99% are product, not citizens. An old acquaintance of mine claims to have witnessed citizen firefighters getting shot while trying to put out bank fires out west during the Vietnam police action. In their eyes, better to write it off and take the loss than risk the appearance of Alternatives to the designated social order.

        1. James

          It’s a good thing that most buy into the MSM illusion, as they are nowhere near equipped to handle the truth. Cue Jack Nicholson as Col Nathan Jessup…

  8. barrisj

    Well, falling petrol prices have inevitably caused a change in new-vehicle purchase profiles, with lumbering pickups and hulking SUVs showing strong sales figures, as “savvy consumers” (quoi?) turning away from small cars and reverting to – well, American exceptionalism – buying habits and going big once again.
    Lordy-lord, don’t people ever learn?

  9. optimader

    ” “Mistakes were made”?
    Meh, Far more contrite than:
    “I don’t think that anybody could have predicted that these people would take an airplane and slam it into the World Trade Center, take another one and slam it into the Pentagon, that they would try to use an airplane as a missile ”

    followed by elective war for deflection.

  10. Jeff W

    Re: Hong Kong government re-opens talks with students

    Michael Davis, a law professor at the University of Hong Kong, in today’s Washington Post:

    All the protests would be for nothing, pretty much, if they can’t discuss the very thing they are protesting about…We can’t even raise questions to the Beijing government? What kind of autonomy is that?

    If the past is any guide, the Hong Kong government will, through sheer ineptitude, cluelessness, and recalcitrance, keep the protests going for some time. While Joshua Wong, the founder of Scholarism, rightly gets points for being “passionate but measured,” Alex Chow, general secretary of the Hong Kong Federation of Students, seems to me to be the most adept at keeping the government on the defensive. The talks provide yet another opportunity to do so.

    Add to that the fact that Ken Tsang, roughed up on video by the Hong Kong police, is a prominent member of a party whose the leaders are disproportionately British-educated barristers and will, therefore, probably have no problem getting high-powered legal representation—and the government is likely to be kept further off-balance.

  11. Lambert Strether Post author

    No window-jumping today either. Bloomberg:

    U.S. stocks recovered from an early plunge, led by small-caps, while Treasuries fell as a Federal Reserve official said the central bank should consider delaying the end of stimulus plans. Oil jumped after dropping below $80.

    Don’t worry. Everything’s going to be fine.

    1. abynormal

      Cuba sending 461 Nurses & Doctors to Africa…we’re sending military.

      Do not be excessively timid or excessively confident. Cuban Proverb

        1. abynormal

          The announcement means that up to 461 Cuban medical personnel would have been sent to help address the epidemic spreading across West Africa.

          Angulo said the staff were currently undergoing intense training ahead of their deployment, working in a mock field hospital of the kind they expected to find in the region.
          The first batch of 165 healthcare workers will arrive in Sierra Leone in early October, including 62 doctors and 103 nurses.

          The second batch of 296 doctors and nurses will head to Liberia and Guinea, the official news agency Prensa Latina reported.

        2. abynormal

          U.S. Ambassador to the African Union (AU), Reuben Brigety stated this on Monday in Addis Ababa at an information sharing session on Ebola at the AU Permanent Representatives Committee (PRC).
          Brigety said the U.S would deploy 25 medical doctors and 75 nurses to the four countries affected by the virus, including Ethiopia, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Nigeria.
          He, however, said the deployment to the Ebola affected countries was subject to the AU approval, as the U.S government was ready to assist.

      1. Park Nihrs

        We have a better military nah-nah-nah! (maybe)
        Cuba has a better health care system.

        First thing, why we don’t have an Ebola vaccine?: Ya’ll* know the answer – BECAUSE MARKETS.

        Well, we do have a vaccine. All I hear about is some private company that has a maybe sorta cure and why nobody bigger has put money into this unprofitable orphan disease. Ever hear of the NIH?

        I hope I don’t get my source in trouble but this is not a well kept secret. Rocky Mountain Laboratories (RML) NIH facility is full of top-notch scientists and they were maybe $30M away from substantial human vaccine protection (not all vaccines work that well, e.g., the yearly influenza at about 60% and the more troubling Lyme Disease vaccine)
        Then austerity hit.

        And before austerity, recall Al Gore’s rethinking gummint or whatever that was? The MBA’s wheedled their micro-efficient ways into the NIH. Less work done, more paper. As in todays’ medical allupgefukken – clincians cut patient loads to have more time with computers.

        Before the “Democrats” and the “Democratic” Trojan House Chief Resident of the United States gave us the emerging new fascist medical system on steroids, the Republicans and their Blue Dog allies spent the last 30 years gutting Public Health because – markets again – because it is Public. New technology does not substitute for diligent, experienced, worker-teacher to worker training. And even knowing the Médecins Sans Frontières protocols would not get hospital staff all trained up. One can only do so much training (actually a good story about this on NPR on 10/15-16). I just imagine some ER doc answering for someone’s failure to ask the right question with, well, I had to update the EMR with the clicky clicky Meaningful Use data so CMS does not make us pay the penalty for underuse of the wonderful new technology scam. (free text does not fill the ancient Microsoft-ware database fields properly, so it is all clicky clicky which is why we will get GIGO, and I personally got a left handed mouse due to my right handed ulnar neuropathy. )

        So, no Lambert: it is not true that “Two: Dr. Varga, you had one job”. Even if Dr. Varga remains a meaningfully useful clinician — which is unlikely — his main job is first line protection (or not) of some kind of functioning medical system in the face of mandates from the Feds, the state (OK Texas, so in Texas, there may not be any mandates, but in Minnesota there are way too many from often the same people who made lousy clinicians) and from all the 1980’s- on MBA grads whose discounted cash flow analyses prove that there are no profitable investments so just buy up other facilities, gorilla the market, get wealthy donors to buy your buildings and new equipment but charge patients full capitalization depreciation for the lousy imaging (late 1970’s quality) you still produce on 2013’s 3 Tesla machines, and financialize, financialize financialize, financialize.

        *I grew up a legal alien in Kinston, NC, home of tobacco, now cotton and pig farm effluent, as well as a great little micro-brew. Never learned to speak JessieHelms, but could occasionally decipher the dialect of my truly native brother in law, so I claim the right to drawl when I want. And I am unusually pissed off this AM from having spent inordinate time on a mess, partly my fault, within an EMR, the EMR enitrely not my fault, but the Suits would not listen to the most experienced clinician they had.

        Lambert, where do I find your personal email? Or, you have mine. I come up for air in about a month and plan to get active then. Or I crash and burn in the next two weeks. Whichever, I have stuff to discuss, and much to learn.

  12. Propertius

    I don’t understand the kudos to Obama. He seems to have used Ebola as yet another opportunity to discuss his favorite subject: himself.

    Appallingly narcissistic, even for a politician.

    1. Park Nihrs

      As a psychiatrist and intermittent member of the American Psychiatric Association, I must remind you all here of the Goldwater rule. Barry Goldwater, maybe one of the healthier politicians of my time, was publicly psychoanalyzed on thin data by some wimpy LBJ-leaning shrink just cause he was ready to nuke Hanoi. The APA was appropriately appalled (about the lack of full psychiatric exam and only after the election I think) and said we should not comment, on, for example, the sequence of facial expressions that tell me Pres. Shrub was a bully, that he had learned dissmell as a counter to shaming in his WASPy family over his dyslexia and that videos of his gubernatorial debate reveal a truly intelligent man – so his apparent stupidity in the WH was dyslexia and something else – I’ll withhold my theories on that something, appropriately.

      In medicine, we do everything appropriately.
      My APA membership has lapsed due to a severe cash flow crunch as I am starting a new practice; I get to break the rules, and not influence an election inappropriately.

      But The Chief Resident on the Potomac is an active politician, so the phrase today is I believe: “I could not possibly comment on that.”

  13. abynormal

    looking around at ebola cash flow i backed into this wowser:

    On 31 July, the WHO and West Africa nations announced a requirement for $100 million in aid to help contain the disease.[14][15]

    On 28 August, the WHO published a roadmap to guide and coordinate the international response to the outbreak, aiming to stop ongoing Ebola transmission worldwide within 6–9 months.[19] It simultaneously revised its cost estimate for the global resources required over the next six months up to $490 million.[20]

    On 16 September, the WHO Assistant Director General, Bruce Aylward, announced that the cost for combating the epidemic will be a minimum of $1 billion. “We don’t know where the numbers are going on this,” according to Aylward.[22]

    pacing with the outbreaks ?

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