Saturday, 23 January 2016

Politics vs. Reality revisited

There are many that fail to appreciate how their lack of knowledge leads them to feel they are experts, this infliction has unfortunately been diagnosed among politicians.

As you undoubtedly remember this has led me to suggest limiting the politicians ability to view their job description to be ideology-driven as opposed to reality-based

Recent events appear to justify that. Several news items show how today we have unfortunate situations that might have not occurred had politicians adhered to Evidence-Based Policy. However, considering the total failure of the media one does have to admit the problem is not just politicians. We lack incentives to adopt an approach that puts the best for society at the top of the politicians to-do list.

The events in Flint illustrate the tension between responsible governance and opportunism:
As (Governor) Snyder was testing the presidential waters, however, his government was being shamefully unaccountable to constituents who were concerned about their water supply. The city of Flint switched its primary water source from Lake Huron, through Detroit’s system, to the Flint River in April 2014. Approved by an emergency manager appointed by the governor, the move was supposed to save the beleaguered city millions of dollars. But residents soon began reporting tap water that appeared discolored, smelled rotten, and caused kids to break out in rashes. Today, Flint has become a nightmarish example of how misguided austerity policies can literally poison the public.
The article continues to explain this by mentioning the moronic "let's get rid of the government"-zealots:
Unfortunately, the biggest obstacles to desperately needed public investments are politicians like Snyder who conflate “accountability” with austerity. For Republican technocrats in particular, more accountability almost always means less spending on government programs that help ensure the public good.
But of course, we are not allowed to know the details of the decision making process. Unlike scientists who are unrelentingly harassed in the name of transparancy by agents of Big Industry, otherwise known as politicians. Take the case of using politics to sabotage science in order to serve Global Warming denialism:
If you don’t like a particular scientific study, attack the scientists who produced it. It’s a tried and true method of manufacturing controversy around inconvenient scientific analysis. And now, Lamar Smith, Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, is using the sledgehammer of a congressional subpoena to bully National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) scientists for their research on climate change.
I cannot help but think of the following article:
Coal subsidies are costing US and Australian taxpayers billions of dollars a year, according to a new report.
It continues by citing Tim Buckley, who worked on the report:
“Any discussion of cost competitiveness of renewable energy and energy efficiency needs to take into account the decades of extensive subsidies evident for the coal industry and that, in many cases, remain in place today.”
Another example of reality-challenged action is Michigan no longer requiring the use of helmets for motorists:

In the three years after Michigan repealed a mandatory motorcycle helmet law, deaths and head injuries among bikers rose sharply, according to a recent study.

Deaths at the scene of the crash more than quadrupled, while deaths in the hospital tripled for motorcyclists. Head injuries have increased overall, and more of them are severe, the researchers report in the American Journal of Surgery
Then we have the odious example of white terrorists in Oregon. A situation hinted at in a report deemed unacceptable by ideologues:
Daryl Johnson, a former analyst for the Department of Homeland Security, wasn’t surprised when Ammon Bundy and his group of right-wing gunmen took over the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon. His office was responsible for the famous 2009 report, “Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment,” which suggested right-wing groups would be an emerging domestic terror threat if left unchecked.
However, the report, which was published in the fraught political climate shortly after the first inauguration of Barack Obama, created outrage amongst Republicans and right-wing media outlets, and the political pushback resulted in the burying of the report, an apology from DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano, and the eventual closure of Johnson’s office.
Then we have the blooming Big Brother industry attemting to mandate the software industry to grant automatic (without the need for any court of law), and unrestricted access through so-called backdoors to our information. Again, against the advise of those more knowledgable:
The Dutch government has released a statement in which it says that "it is currently not desirable to take restricting legal measures concerning the development, availability and use of encryption within the Netherlands." It also notes that forcing companies to add backdoors to their products and services would have "undesirable consequences for the security of communicated and stored information," since "digital systems can become vulnerable to criminals, terrorists and foreign intelligence services."
President Obama, increasingly annøyed with repeated gunmassacres in the US announced he intends to unilaterally implement some restriction on the spread of killing machines among people needing to assert their manhood. The obligatory gun fetishists are increasingly seperated from reason, to the point of them opposing even saint Ron:
... in 1991, former president Ronald Reagan wrote an op-ed endorsing federal gun control legislation; in 2016, Obama’s proposed to do less on gun control than even Reagan wanted is seen by Reagan-worshipping Republicans as unconscionable tyranny. 
Maybe Richard Feynman can help us interpret politicalese more reliable and reality-based.

Update 1:
Regarding the dubious handling of water poisoned with lead in Flint:
Water authorities across the US are systematically distorting water tests to downplay the amount of lead in samples, risking a dangerous spread of the toxic water crisis that has gripped Flint, documents seen by the Guardian show.
        ........................................................................................................
..................  the issue of misleading test results was widespread. “There is no way that Flint is a one-off,” [Lambrinidou] (a senior environmental scientist at the department of health) said.“There are many ways to game the system. In Flint, they went to test neighbourhoods where they knew didn’t have a problem. You can also flush the water to get rid of the lead. If you flush it before sampling, the problem will go away.
“The EPA has completely turned its gaze away from this. There is no robust oversight here, the only oversight is from the people getting hurt. Families who get hurt, such as in Flint, are the overseers. It’s an horrendous situation. The system is absolutely failing.”
The Centers for Disease Control is very clear about lead’s impacts on children. The agency emphasises that lead has no biological function in humans, and even the smallest exposure can developmentally impair children.
Not entirely safeguarding the publics health.

Update 2:
David Gorski has a good analysis of the unfortunate choices made resulting in the poisoning of Flint:
For those of you who haven’t heard of it yet, the Flint water crisis refers to the ongoing contamination of the tap water in Flint, MI with unacceptably high levels of lead that resulted from change in its water supply nearly two years ago to Flint River water.
 His conclusion hints at the root cause:
Now we will now be forced to use science-based medicine to treat potentially thousands of children for lead poisoning and science to try to fix the problems caused by this colossal failure of science-based public policy. Worse, it’s still going on, as The Guardian just reported on Friday that water authorities across the US are systematically distorting water tests to downplay the amount of lead in samples.
As I think about that, seeing the Governor throwing mid-level bureaucrats under the bus and other politicians saying that the Flint water crisis is a hoax does not give me confidence in how this crisis will ultimately turn out or that the aging infrastructure that allows such a catastrophe to occur will be fixed any time soon.
There is more out there for those interested in the Flint disaster. ProPublica has a podcast about what caused the problem, who dropped the ball, and what happens next. Or, try Mother Jones, which uses the deteriorating health of LeeAnne Walters and her family to tell the underlying story. And, then there is Dah Wiki.