Thursday, April 30

H1N1 swine flu pandemic threat: While WHO and the U.S. government dithered, Veratect Corporation raced to warn the world

"Requests made over the last five days to WHO spokesmen for a rough chronology of events and interviews with experts have not been answered. Similar requests to the CDC have been turned down."
-- The Washington Post, April 30, 2009 (1)

The chronology mentioned above relates to the progress of swine flu; it's early days to nail that down. But there is another timeline, a sort of chronology of bureaucratic dithering, which is already available.

The Obama White House and the U.S. Departments of Homeland Security and State fell down badly by dragging their feet in reaction to the earliest concrete warnings of an unusual flu outbreak in Mexico. In my last post, on Monday, I voiced my suspicions about the matter. I was not the only person to harbor such suspicions. In an effort to blunt reporters' pointed questions, the White House issued a Q&A on Monday. From the Boston Globe's report on the Q&A:
QUESTION: When did the US learn about the swine flu situation in Mexico?

ANSWER: As John Brennan of the Homeland Security Council indicated in this afternoon’s briefing, we [the White House] did not learn about the swine flu cases in Mexico until late last week.

From this afternoon’s briefing at DHS:

QUESTION: Can you tell us, Madam Secretary -- and perhaps Mr. Brennan, as well -- a little bit about when the United States government first became sort of fully aware of, you know, these events in Mexico [...]

[JANET] NAPOLITANO: Sure. John, do you want to -- OK.

BRENNAN: The first instances of the influenza down in -- in Mexico were the end of last week. In terms of confirmation, it was like Thursday or Friday of last week. [April 23 and 24]. So the Mexican health authorities knew they had a health issue. And, therefore, they sent the samples to both the Canadian labs, as well as to the CDC. And so the confirmation that it was swine flu was last week. [...]
Those replies are precious. They avoid the key issue of when the U.S. government was apprised of an unusual flu outbreak Mexico and the Canadian government's intelligent actions in response.

Yet evidentially Napolitano and Brennan were unaware during the briefing that Veratect Corporation's lead scientist, Dr James Wilson, had gone public with Veratect's timeline, which is published on Wilson's website, Biosurveillance; it details Veratect's strenuous efforts to impress on U.S. public health officials and the World Health Organization the urgency of the flu epidemic unfolding in Mexico.

If Rahm Emanuel didn't know earlier about Veratect I'm sure he found out this morning when he read The Washington Post:
[...] News of an outbreak of severe respiratory illness in Mexico burst into public consciousness last Friday, April 24.

That was 18 days after public health authorities there started looking into unusual cases of pneumonia in their country, eight days after Mexican authorities notified the World Health Organization of the growing outbreak and four days after the events came to the full attention of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

Officials involved in pandemic preparedness at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the CDC, did not learn of the Mexican outbreak until the day the rest of the world did, April 24. They did know, however, that the CDC was investigating six rare cases of swine influenza in California and Texas.

As Mexican health authorities were finding cases of unusual illness, they at least once officially notified the WHO's regional office in Washington, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), of a possibly brewing epidemic.

People in the WHO's Geneva headquarters also received several urgent warnings from a biosurveillance firm, Veratect, based in Kirkland, Wash.

The delay in making the global health community aware happened despite the adoption in 2005 of international health regulations requiring nations to report to the WHO within 24 hours any disease outbreak that is serious, unusual, at risk of spreading internationally or potentially disruptive of trade.

By the time international authorities became fully aware of the outbreak, there were about 800 cases and at least 50 deaths, and the virus was unknowingly being carried into other countries.

What seems apparent is that the world health community's newly rebuilt, well-oiled -- but never used -- mechanism for warning the world about pandemics may have given nations far less lead time than intended.

"After all this work on flu surveillance and setting up a reporting system and then this -- perhaps this isn't the best example of how it's supposed to work," said a highly placed health official in the Obama administration who was not authorized to speak on the record.

After the balky start, however, the WHO's pandemic response system is running well.[...](1)
That's a very nice way of putting it all, but there are passages in the Veratect timeline that are damning.

Before I provide examples: you can abandon the forlorn hope that Veratect's emails and phone calls simply got misplaced or relegated to the low-priority inbox.

Veratect is to pandemic what NORAD is to missiles. It's an early warning system that, working from open-source reports and utilizing an extensive global network of contacts, locates and tracks disease outbreaks around the world -- then warns governments of any disease pattern that might indicate the start of a pandemic. So it's a fair guess that Veratect alerts are immediately opened by everyone on the email list. From the (updated) timeline (emphasis mine):
April 20

Veratect was urgently asked to provide access to the VeraSight Global platform on 20 April by a client in the US public health community, and indicated they had received word from their counterparts in Canada that Mexican authorities had requested support. This client speculated whether notification of all southern U.S. border states’ public health authorities should be done and were confused as to why the CDC had not issued an advisory. Veratect contacted the CDC Emergency Operations Center to sensitize them about the situation in Mexico. CDC indicated they were already dealing with the crisis of recently detected H1N1 swine influenza in California and possibly Texas.

April 21


Veratect sensitized the International Federation of Red Cross who in turn requested broader access be provided to the Pan-American Disaster Response Unit (PADRU). Veratect moved to notify several US state and local public health authorities, providing the caveat the situation in Mexico remained unclear due to pending laboratory results. Veratect reached out to World Health Organization (WHO) operations, informing them the Veratect team was on an alert posture and available for situational awareness support. They indicated they and their subordinate, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) were now aware of the situation but had no further information. Veratect also extended contact to the British Columbia Center for Disease Control and offered assistance in tracking the events in Mexico. All contacts indicated laboratory results were pending.


Veratect also reported the National Ministry of Health issued a health alert due to a significant increase in influenza cases during the spring season in Mexico.

Officials indicated that there have been 14 influenza outbreaks throughout the country. The most heavily affected states are Baja California, Chihuahua, Distrito Federal (Mexico City), Hidalgo, Tlaxcala, and Veracruz. Local case counts were not provided.

April 22

Veratect also reported the Mexican Ministry of Health indicated that an "unusual" outbreak of laboratory-confirmed influenza caused five deaths from 17-19 April 2009 in Mexico City, Mexico. The deaths occurred at the following three hospitals: el Hospital de la Secretaría de Salud (2), el Institute Nacional de Enfermedades Respiratorias (2), and el Hospital Ángeles del Pedregal (1). According to unofficial sources, the fatal case count was higher than that provided by officials. There were currently 120 influenza cases hospitalized throughout Mexico City. National health officials indicated that influenza vaccines were sold out in Mexico City and that they were attempting to acquire additional supplies of the vaccine.

At this point, the Mexican Health Secretary reportedly stated there was an influenza epidemic in Mexico City and throughout the rest of the county. In response to the cases, the official stated health authorities would launch a public awareness and vaccination campaigns.

Sources reported a total of 20 fatal cases of influenza throughout Mexico over the disputed timeframe. The other cases were located in San Luis Potosí (4), Baja California (2), and Oaxaca (1). The Director of Epidemiology at the National Center for Epidemiological Surveillance and Disease Control characterized the outbreak as "quite unusual."

No information was provided indicating that the strain of influenza itself was unusual. Rather, several sources indicated that it was "unusual" to record this many fatal influenza cases during this time of year. Influenza cases normally peak from October to February, while these cases had occurred during Mexico’s spring season.

Canada announced a national alert for travelers returning from Mexico with respiratory disease, beginning a campaign of public media announcements. Potentially ill contacts were identified returning from Mexico and isolated in Canada. [...]
Why didn't the U.S. government issue a similar alert at the same time? Why didn't State post a travel advisory or at least an alert at the time?

If they answer that such actions are not the U.S. government's traditional way of handling things, particularly regarding a neighboring country -- traditions should have gone out the window after the SARS outbreak.

If they answer that they were waiting for WHO to raise the pandemic alert level to 4 -- here we come to the most interesting part of the story:

If it was left up to WHO we might be still be waiting for them to raise the alert level. But in this crisis WHO has been the caboose and Veratect has been the engine. The general public is the last to know, but Veratect had already raised the pandemic threat level by treating the outbreak from the viewpoint of 'operational reality.' On April 26 James Wilson discussed that reality in a post at Biosurveillance:
Are the WHO Pandemic Phases and the CDC Pandemic Severity Index Relevant in the Operational Environment?

WHO has recently announced they do not have enough information to change current WHO phase of pandemic alert [...]

At this point, it is safe to say the world has moved on with heightened surveillance, response actions, and additional preparations regardless.

DHHS and CDC also have the so-called Pandemic Severity Index, which of course is not in use at the moment because no one wants to utter the dreaded word, “pandemic”.

The PSI has not been publicly used since the beginning of the current swine flu crisis. The reason is semantics - the word “pandemic” has not been embraced yet by the public health community.

And yet, the world clearly has embraced the fact we have an emergency to deal with. [...]
The next day WHO in effect rubber-stamped the Veratect warnings by raising the pandemic threat level to 4. They did the same when they raised the threat level to 5.

WHO really had no choice but to raise the threat level -- and the U.S. government had no choice but to bring up the rear. The global network of physicians and scientists who were plugged into BIWAC -- the Biosurveillance Indication and Warning Analysis Community, which Wilson co-founded -- raced ahead of the lumbering gait of bureaucracy and drove the response to the threat of an emerging disease.

In his post last night at Biosurveillance Wilson found kind words for WHO and the CDC. But he made clear that locating the earliest signs of public health threats requires a particular kind of institutional 'culture' that's quite different from the one generated by a large complex bureaucracy. He also stressed that while the two cultures can be complimentary, they represent -- or should represent -- a division of labor:
[...] The best (albeit imperfect) analogy I use for what our team does versus what public health does is the US National Weather Service versus FEMA.

The National Weather Service focuses its efforts solely on the detection and warning function, whereas FEMA is more concerned with what happens when and after the hurricane hits. The culture of early warning, and the people drawn to that kind of work, are very different from the response culture of FEMA.[...]
I hope you find time to read the entire essay (which is short), because Wilson's observations are at the heart of debates about many areas of endeavor. Fans of Zenpundit will recognize in Wilson's argument the tension between the most creative military minds of today and the military bureaucracy. Yet Wilson misses the mark when he tries to rationalize the ways of bureaucracy:
CDC, PAHO, and WHO must maintain credibility at all times with the public. This is non-negotiable or situational control may be lost. During a pandemic, it would be a disaster for public health to lose credibility. Therefore, they must be sure, confident, and push diagnostic resolution to the maximum degree possible. The downside is that process takes time.
The biggest downside is that bureaucracy is always under the thumb of a political class, which is taffy in the hands of competing special interests and government agendas. The upshot, too often, is screw-ups on a horrific scale. This makes it hard for bureaucracies to maintain credibility at any time with the public, much less all the time.

This brings me to the question: What was Argus doing while Veratect was moving heaven and earth to warn agencies, including the CDC, about the emerging disease threat in Mexico?

What is Argus?
Situated on the tree-lined campus of Georgetown University’s Medical Center in Washington, D.C., is Project Argus, one of the nation’s premier biosurveillance systems for detecting and tracking early indicators of, and warnings about, international biological events. Argus exemplifies real-time global health engagement taking place between academia and federal government agencies tasked with the critical mission of protecting domestic and global public health, and national security.

Argus’ primary function is to alert CDC, and other users, to biological events that may require a public health response. The system monitors media and other electronic sources at the local level around the globe for three types of indicators: reports of disease outbreaks, potential environmental triggers, and social disruption.

Since it began operations in July 2007, Argus has logged more than 30,000 biological events involving pathogens such as avian influenza, Ebola virus, cholera, and other unusual pathogens that have caused varying states of social disruption throughout the world. Argus currently accesses more than 1 million pieces of information daily, and produces, on average, 200 reports per day. Argus covers all the countries officially recognized by the United States. Analysts are collectively fluent in 36 languages.[...]
Would the fluency include Spanish, I wonder?

Taking a shot in the dark, it might be that Argus hasn't been quite the same place since Dr. Wilson left. From his biography at Biosurveillance:
James M. Wilson V, MD [...] is currently the Chief Technical Officer and Chief Scientist of the Veratect Corporation in Seattle, Washington. He was the Principal Investigator of Project Argus, Chief of the Argus Research Operations Center, and Division Head of Integrated Biodefense at the Imaging Science and Information Systems Center, Georgetown University. [...]
I can understand that Dr Wilson would want to maintain a collegial tone with the CDC and DHS (which he also worked for), but let's dispense with the crumpets and croquet, shall we? The U.S. government screwed up by ignoring Veratect's early warnings and the example set by Canada in dealing with the virus.

As for the CDC's fancy biosurveillance agency and its fluency in 36 languages --

Reading through the CDC description of Argus and the US interagency cooperation to deal with health threats around the world -- (E.g., "The strong USG agency ties developed through Argus and the BIWAC helped to identify laboratory collection difficulties in response to a recent outbreak in Tbilisi, Georgia, of African swine fever (ASF), a highly contagious disease affecting pigs that, unchecked, can spread rapidly and cause crippling economic consequences.") -- I was struck by the huge amount of attention that CDC lavishes on far-flung parts of the globe. Yet somehow they were slow to react to a health crisis on America's doorstep.

1) The Washington Post: System Set Up After SARS Epidemic Was Slow to Alert Global Authorities; David Brown, April 30

2) The Washington Post: U.S. Slow to Learn of Mexico Flu; David Brown, April 26

Monday, April 27

Mexico-U.S. swine flu outbreak and the U.S. Department of Slime (UPDATED 4:10 PM ET)

U.S. set to issue travel warning to Mexico
Mon Apr 27, 2009 3:26pm BST

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. government plans to issue a travel warning later on Monday urging Americans to avoid all "nonessential" trips to Mexico because of an outbreak of swine flu, a U.S. official said. [...]

"There will be a travel warning urging Americans to avoid all nonessential travel to Mexico because of the swine flu," said a U.S. official, who spoke on condition he not be named as the warning has not yet been officially announced.

It is likely to be announced by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, although the State Department will also carry details on its Web site, the official said. [...]
And breaking news 4:25 PM ET: WHO has just raised the pandemic threat level to 4, which acknowledges what they knew several days ago, which is that the virus is transmitted primarily human-to-human.

Gee, maybe I should call State "slime" more often. That's about as much humor as I can wring out of this grim situation.
Yesterday The Washington Post published a report titled U.S. slow to learn of Mexico flu, which begins:
U.S. public health officials did not know about a growing outbreak of swine flu in Mexico until nearly a week after that country started invoking protective measures, and didn't learn that the deaths were caused by a rare strain of the influenza until after Canadian officials did.(1)
But why didn't the U.S. Department of State inform the CDC of the situation in Mexico?

Or are we to assume that both the Mexican and Canadian foreign offices refrained from informing State that a killer epidemic in Mexico was caused by a new -- new, not rare -- virus, as soon as they had such evidence?

The Post also reports, from the same article:
[I]t seems that U.S. public health officials are still largely in the dark about what's happening in Mexico two weeks after the outbreak was recognized.

Asked at a news conference yesterday whether the number of swine flu cases found daily in Mexico is increasing -- a key determinant in understanding whether an epidemic is spreading -- Anne Schuchat, an interim deputy director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said, "I do not know the answer to those questions."
The rest of the Post article explains how Canada came to be contacted before the United States. But if the CDC is still having trouble coordinating with their Mexican counterparts on this most urgent matter, the ball is in State's court.

Memo to those Members of Congress who're trying to do an end run around Bob Gates by restoring State to the power it had over the U.S. military during the Clinton presidency. You need to reorder your priorities in tbe face of a global pandemic. If Mrs Clinton is unclear about her job duties that problem should trump everything else.

But I want to return to the odd statement, "U.S. public health officials did not know about a growing outbreak of swine flu in Mexico until nearly a week after that country started invoking protective measures ..."

I understand that the Central Intelligence Agency has been very busy talking with lawyers since the CIA memos were released. But this is not the remotest region of the Hindu Kush we're talking about. Aren't there any Spanish speakers at Langley?

In other words why should the CDC have to wait to learn from Mexican officials that there was a killer flu outbreak in Mexico?

Then there's the NSA. And State's own spy agency. Oh -- and there's the DEA, which has a large presence in Mexico.

Didn't any DEA agents phone stateside in early April and say, 'Ship us more Tamiflu yesterday! There's a strange flu epidemic going on here?'

And say, doesn't the U.S. have an embassy in Mexico City -- which is the locus of one of the biggest outbreaks of the epidemic?

No embassy workers rang up State and shrieked, 'Send us more Tamiflu, were trapped in an epidemic?'

Nobody did that, huh?

And nobody at the embassy sent a routine report to HQ in Washington and added, 'By the way, flu season is over here, but there's been an outbreak of something that seems like a really bad flu.'

Oh but then I forgot! You can't contact Foggy Bottom from there because Mexico City is situated on the dark side of the moon.

I don't want to hear that State -- and the White House and the congressional leadership -- didn't know.

As to why they didn't tell the CDC what they knew -- who can plumb the mind of human slime? But you'd think that even slime would have a sense of self-preservation.

There is still no travel advisory from State regarding the outbreak of a lethal epidemic in Mexico, not even a travel alert.

1) H/T No Quarter

This entry is crossposted at RBO.

Dan Riehl links to this post and add his pithy comments.

Sunday, April 26

Mexican-U.S. swine flu outbreak. Caution: blind curves and fog ahead (UPDATED 3X)

UPDATE (See the end of this post for the other two updates.)

When did the White House, high-ranking Members of Congress, U.S. Department of State, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, World Health Organization, and the government of Mexico's President Felipe Calderon learn about Virus X?

The outbreak of a new and lethal virus in Mexico happened in March. Yet it was not until yesterday that President Calderon declared a State of Emergency in his country, the CDC issued a health advisory, and WHO issued an alert. Saturday also saw seemingly coincidental announcements from health officials in New York and Kansas about an outbreak of the virus in their states.

Speaking of coincidences, I must say that these weekend surprises, which divert much U.S. public attention from a controversy that President Obama created the previous week, are turning out to be a regular -- coincidence.

However, Virus X is not a spin machine. So it is deeply troubling that both the Mexican and U.S. governments were slow to react. Let's hope X turns out to be a dud; this country can't afford to be asleep at the wheel when it comes to the threat of a killer pandemic.
11:30 PM ET, Saturday

A new strain of swine flu has broken out in Mexico and the United States. There are so many discrepancies in the news reports about the outbreaks that a few minutes ago I threw in the towel and turned to Wikipedia, which already has a richly-sourced entry up titled 2009 H1N1 flu outbreak. Wikipedia also discusses the outbreak at their Swine Flu entry.

Go to both articles to stay current on the news about the outbreak but be warned that Wikipedia's wealth of information doesn't mean they have all the story straight, either. This is a very fast-moving series of events with many parts, and much about the disease and the way it acts is still unknown.

Just to give you an example of the foggy patches: here's this from Wikipedia's article about the outbreak:
The strain was unusually virulent in Mexico, causing more than 60 deaths, mostly in Mexico City and central Mexico ... Some cases in Mexico and the United States have been confirmed by the World Health Organization to be a never-before-seen strain of H1N1.
There seem to be two different viruses in play. The one that's been identified as new has (at this point) been confirmed to have killed 20 or 14 people in Mexico, depending on the news report, not 60. There have been roughly 70 deaths in Mexico from the outbreak; so far there have been no deaths from the U.S. outbreak.

Why so much fuss about a few deaths from flu? Because the pattern of the outbreak and infection in the US and Mexico reveals some remarkable similarities to the 1918 swine flu killer global pandemic. The story is still unfolding but here is what I've picked up so far about the possible similarities:

  • In Mexico (but not the US) the new virus (I'll call it Virus X) has "primarily struck young, healthy adults, much like the deadly Spanish Flu of 1918. This is unlike most influenza strains which produce the worst symptoms in young children, elderly adults, and others with weaker immune systems." (Quote is from the Wikipedia article on the outbreak.)

  • Virus X seems to be breaking out 'spontaneously' in different regions -- in this case, North America. The outbreak among eight children in New York City who came down with Virus X after their private school class visited Mexico was not 'spontaneous,' of course. But cases of the disease have also appeared in Kansas.

    It might be possible to discern a chain reaction in the USA if the "index case" -- the first known patient with an illness -- can be located in the U.S. But right now the outbreaks are suggesting a pattern of spontaneous and near-simultaneous infections. This was the same in the 1918 pandemic.

  • Some people have a mild case of the influenza and don't get pneumonia. For several people in Mexico, there has been the pneumonia complication and severe onset of the virus. Again, this is similar to the 1918 swine flu

  • I don't think much is known yet about the incubation period for Virus X but another troubling feature is that it doesn't seem to progress with dazzling speed, as did SARS. (This was the same for the 1918 swine flu, if I recall.) SARS was so fast-acting that despite its extreme virulence the pattern of its spread could be quickly identified, which is the only way that effective quarantine was set up in places such as Hong Kong. Virus X seems much more subtle in its action.

    Taken all together, what is known at this point about Virus X paints a picture that is disturbingly similar to the 1918 swine flu pandemic. Wikipedia notes:
    In the spring of 1918, swine influenza mutated into a severe human form in just a few months. Some of the victims became severely ill and died, while the rest suffered from mild symptoms.
    Aside from my concern about the obvious health risk of the outbreak, I am alarmed because of the foot-dragging and waffling on the part of the Mexican government and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

    The Mexican government did the same thing that China's government is famous for: initially they suppressed information concerning the outbreak and dragged their feet about turning to international labs for help in getting the virus tissue samples properly tested. So Mexico and the entire world have lost time if the outbreak should turn into a killer pandemic.

    The CDC has been caught flat-footed because they are without a director; they only have an acting director. That's because Julie Gerberding was told to resign by the incoming Obama administration. It's standard practice for a new President to bring in his own crew for important positions. But it doesn't get more dangerous in this era than to play politics with the CDC.

    Obama should have kept Julie Gerberding at the helm in the way he did with Bob Gates and for the same reasons.

    Worse, because of the present delicate relations between Mexico and US, there is a distinct possibility that the CDC was initially told by the U.S. Department of State or even the White House to downplay the situation to the public.

    Yesterday (unnamed) "CDC officials" were speculating that the virus might not be completely new, and that perhaps better testing and surveillance had simply turned up a previously unidentified virus.(1)

    Meanwhile, up in Canada, which was hit hard by SARS, dateline Saturday:
    “It re-combined to create something totally new,” David Butler-Jones, Canada’s chief public health minister, told reporters yesterday. “How, when, or where it did that I don’t think we know. What it will lead to is impossible to predict.”(1)
    In short, the situation at the CDC leaves WHO Director-General Margaret Chan and her staff at the WHO to do the heavy lifting during the present health alert.

    Earlier on Saturday Mexico's President Felipe Calderon finally grew a brain and declared a national emergency because of the viral outbreak.(2) Yet as soon as he made his announcement on Thursday about the outbreak, other Latin American govenrments have been scrambling to get out alerts to their people and monitor their borders.(2)

    And from the reaction of a furious Mexican I read about in one news report, Calderon's foot-dragging will cost him the next election if the death toll in Mexico from the outbreak continues to rise, no manner how many drug cartel members he kills.

    What's striking about several news reports I read on Friday is that they don't mention that in Mexico the outbreak was noted there as early as March. So we come to questions about when the U.S. Department of State and the CDC knew of the outbreak, and why they did not issue a travel advisory at the time.

    If a global pandemic materializes from the swine flu it could be that the USA lost not just precious hours in dealing the pandemic, but weeks.

    In addition, the WHO announcement on Saturday was so bizarre that it suggested pressure had been brought to bear on the organization:
    The World Health Organization declared the outbreak of the previously unknown virus "a public health emergency of international concern."

    In a statement posted on its Web site, the agency advised health workers in all countries to monitor patients closely for signs of flu-like illness and severe pneumonia.

    The Geneva-based agency's recommendation came after a committee of international experts gathered in an emergency session Saturday to consider raising the alert level for the outbreak to 6 -- a pandemic -- which could have led to travel advisories and additional restrictions to combat the disease.

    The WHO's alert for the virus remains at phase 3, meaning a flu with "no or very limited human-to-human transmission." The committee said it needs more information before changing the threat level. But Dr. Margaret Chan, the agency's director-general, told reporters Saturday that the outbreak has "pandemic potential."(3)
    So are we to assume that two people in Kansas, eight people in California and Texas, people in New York, and people from all over Mexico petted the same sneezing pig?

    Reportedly, the Virus X outbreak has not been localized in one family or region in Mexico; it's broken out across the country.

    So let's not clown around. Virus X has spread chiefly through H2H -- human-to-human transmission. And the CDC announcement on Saturday backs this up.(3) Unless WHO wants to argue that a very busy bird or flock of birds with a severe case of diarrhea pecked at infected pig feces in one location, then flew around North America plopping their droppings onto select people in Mexico, Kansas, Texas, California, and maybe a Manhattan private school.

    Stranger things have happened but the best guess at this time is that X Virus spreads through H2H. And that means it could have walked on two legs off at least one plane flight.

    The CDC response on Saturday to the crisis 'harmonized' with the WHO one while still managing to convey the true seriouosness of the outbreak:
    [...] About the same time the WHO committee issued its statement, two new U.S. cases of the flu were confirmed in Kansas. New York health officials, meanwhile, had evidence of eight probable cases, CNN reported.

    "People are taking this extremely seriously. We have a very severe situation," said Dr. Anne Schuchat, the interim deputy director for science and public health program at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

    Speaking to reporters by telephone earlier Saturday, Schuchat said the CDC is aiming its efforts at slowing the spread of the disease, which has killed at least 68 people in Mexico in the past month. [Again, there are different versions of how many Mexicans who died from flu actually died from Virus X.] 1,000 others in the Mexico City area have developed flu-like symptoms, according to media reports.

    In addition to the latest cases, eight people in the U.S. -- six in California and two in Texas -- were confirmed to have come down with a similar strain of the flu found in Mexico, according to the CDC. [Another report says that the CA and TX strains are a genetic match to the Virus X found in Mexico.] All eight have recovered, the CDC said, with only one patient needing hospitalization.

    Given that the new virus has appeared in diverse populations and in many communities, containing it is no longer feasible, Schuchat said.

    "We're not at a point where we can keep this virus in just one place," she noted. "We do expect more cases and we do expect them in other communities."(3)
    So, was WHO pressured by the government in Mexico and/ or the United States into keeping the threat level at 3?

    And was the CDC pressured by the U.S. Department of State or even the White House not to announce a travel advisory about Mexico?

    There's a lot at stake here aside from the economic and diplomatic considerations. If WHO and the CDC sound a false alarm they know the consequences could be horrific when the real deal shows up at some point.

    So, for right this minute, WHO gets a pass by keeping the threat level at 3, even though Virus X is clearly transmitted from human to human.

    Correction: they get a pass unless Virus X turns into a killer global pandemic. And unless it recombines with H5N1 and sets off the superkiller global pandemic that virologists have been dreading.

    Virus X, by the way, is a recombination or reassortment of specific bird, human, and pig viruses that produced a new virus. To my knowledge the avian part of the assortment is not H5N1.

    The good news is that many people around the globe have survived H5N1 infection. H5N1 antibodies have been found in poultry factory workers in India. So I have argued since 2005 that H5N1 might be diluting its superkiller potential as it cycles and recycles around the world through humans, fowl, and animals, looking for just the right pig flu virus to combine with.

    But I wouldn't place money on my bet. And I would not expect any humane government to gamble on my argument, particularly because it's a reassorted version of H5N1 with pig flu virus that's the biggest threat. Put sick pigs and birds in too close proximity and you have Nature's bioweapon lab.

    That brings us to another patch of fog. Given the subtle action of Virus X, it could have been introduced to Mexico from the US side then returned to the US.

    If you say it's most likely that it arose in Mexico: it's most likely that it arose in a market that sells live pigs and fowl for slaughter to people who want freshly-killed meat for their cooking.

    These markets exist in Mexico -- and in Texas and probably in other border USA states. The stateside markets are to serve the large Mexican and other 'southern' Americas transplants and immigrants who live stateside. But US 'natives' also shop at the markets.

    There was an outbreak of a bird or swine virus at one of those stateside markets just a few years ago; I am pretty sure the outbreak was at a market in Texas.

    In any event, many of the markets cram live pigs and fowl close to each other while they're awaiting sale. Same can happen during transport to the markets from Mom-and-Pop farms. Both scenarios replicate conditions that have made mainland village China the laboratory for so many killer virus outbreaks.

    So right now it's a coin toss about where Virus X was born.


    I've just read John Batchelor's Saturday night post titled Pandemic Potential, which has a good summary of the story -- along with the sardonic observation, "The White House wants us to know that POTUS is watching the developments through the reports of CDC, State and Homeland Security."

    Here's the passage from John's report that really caught my eye:
    [Dr] Henry Miller, Hoover Institution, sent me an alert on this development on Tuesday 21: "...adjacent southern California counties ...two cases of febrile respiratory illiness... caused by infection with a swine influenza A (H1N1) virus... contain a unique combination of gene segments..."
    So Calderon must have known from that report out of the USA there was no way he could continue to keep a lid on the situation in Mexico.

    I am glad to learn that DHS is keeping the President updated on the Virus X threat. A quick check at the DHS website, however, leaves me in the dark about how or whether they're keeping the public updated.

    Granted, it's late and I'm tired, so I might be missing it, but as of this hour I could find nothing about Virus X on the site, even when I typed "disease" into Homeland's search engine.

    I did come across Homeland Security Presidential Directive 21: Public Health and Medical Preparedness. The abstract begins:
    It is the policy of the United States to plan and enable provision for the public health and medical needs of the American people in the case of a catastrophic health event through continual and timely flow of information during such an event and rapid public health and medical response that marshals all available national capabilities and capacities in a rapid and coordinated manner.
    Yes, well, I suppose the timely flow might not include things like posting information on the DHS website about a new virus with lethal qualities that has appeared in the USA and Mexico.

    My visit to the U.S. Department of State website also did not turn up any mention about the viral outbreak in Mexico. There is a travel warning, dated February 20, 2009, which relates to the violence in the country. But one would think that with Spring Break, and just for the general safety of U.S. tourists and businesspeople traveling in Mexico, State would have made at least some small mention of the outbreak in a travel warning.


    I've just read a second Batchelor post from early this morning on the pandemic threat. He observes at the end:
    In Japan, they have already introduced temperature screening to passengers arriving from Mexico. Asia is said to be "on alert." In Mexico City, President Calderone has started emergency powers to order closings and quarantines. In Washington, the White House confirms that President Obama was in Mexico City and meeting ... with possibly flu infected officials on April 13.

    The word "panic" is commonplace in news bulletins from Mexico. The headlines just hint at border closings and blockades. The White House has been quick to say that the POTUS is monitoring the moving story through the CDC, State and Homeland Security. It is a fair guess that many municipal and state authorities along the Mexico-US border are meeting and conferring from Saturday to Sunday to Monday to discuss potential defenses. One school has already been ordered closed in Texas, more likely will follow in California, New Mexico, Arizona and Texas. In precaution.[...]
    Again, evidence of a serve viral outbreak in Mexico occurred as early as March.

    Janet Napolitano, the United States Secretary of Homeland Security met with President Calderon in Mexico on April 3. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with Calderon in Mexico the week before.

    Were Napolitano and her staff, Clinton and her staff, and President Obama and his staff provided with the anti-viral drug Tamiflu or Relenza before they left for Mexico? Were they inoculated with the H5N1 vaccine for the trip?

    1) Bloomberg: Swine Flu may be named Event of International Concern - Update 2, April 25, 18:22 EDT.

    2) Bloomberg: Mexico’s Calderon Declares Emergency Amid Swine Flu Outbreak - Last updated April 25, 16:45 EDT

    3) Market Watch: Swine Flu could become global - April 25, no time stamp

    This entry is crossposted at RBO.

    Saturday, April 25

    Web-Scrubbin Varmits

    ACORN does it again, and again they get caught red-handed. This time it's web-scrubbing. RBO nails down the latest twists and turns of those sneaks.

    Friday, April 24

    Congress to state legislatures: Go sit on a tack. Rethinking American society, Part 4 (UPDATED)

    Dan Riehl at Riehl World View linked to yesterday's Pundita post, ... Hashing out the Fourth Republic, and made this comment:

    "A Fourth Republic ... It'll take a lot of thinking and much more doing."

    Yes. Many Americans including Dan, the TEA party participants, and Procrustes at RBO are currently doing much thinking about how to move the United States in a new direction.

    Procrustes's Obamanation, TEA parties, the law of unintended consequences and a Constitutional amendments convention, which I crossposted in my Hashing post, introduced me to James V. DeLong's April 21 The Coming of the Fourth American Republic, and Randy E. Barnett's April 23 The Case for a Federalism Amendment. How the Tea Partiers can make Washington pay attention

    Both essays have generated a great deal of comment on the blogosphere. Barnett's proposal for a "federalism amendment" was published in the Wall Street Journal. Barnett, a law professor, is also a blogger at the law-oriented website Volokh Conspiracy. He posted there yesterday about his WSJ essay and DeLong's.

    Another lawyer and a co-blogger at VC, Ilya Somin, also posted on Barnett's proposal. The proposal touched off debate and criticism from VC readers. (See the comment section at Somin's post.)

    I can't promise that every comment is written by an attorney or law student, although they're represented in large measure among VC's readers. However, the comments are helpful reading for anyone interested in Barnett's proposal and the related issues.

    The most troubling comment at VC came from "Han Solo," who observes in part:
    Did you know that 39 states have ALREADY REQUESTED a constitutional convention to repeal the 16th amendment which is ONE MORE than the required 2/3rds, and CONGRESS IS IGNORING THEM and doing so unconstitutionally.

    The republic is pretty much dead at this point since the federal government thinks there are no limits at all on its powers. [...]
    Han goes on to quote from a critique of Barnett's proposal that was posted at the Wall Street Journal Forum, and which expands on Han's observation.

    I've reposted the entire WSJ Forum comment at the end of this post. And there are several worthwhile observations at the Forum about Barnett's article; as with the VC readers, the comments reflect a great deal of criticism and debate about his proposal.

    My favorite comment is found at VC. After reading withering criticism from another reader about Barnett's proposal, "Assistant Village Idiot" wrote, "Brett -- Let's try it first. Don't borrow trouble."

    That's the spirit!

    From all the comments I've plowed through, it seems there are wrinkles to be ironed out in Barnett's proposal. And there are alternatives proposed that might have a greater chance of success than Barnett's.

    However, there is a big drawback to the constitutional amendment route to reining in the federal government: none of the proposals address how lessened federal influence will insure that the "Special Interest State" won't simply be replicated at the state government level. (The SIS is DeLong's term to describe the present or 'third' American version of the Republic.)

    And DeLong's analysis of the Third Republic is incomplete. Yes, special interests run amok, but I think another profound negative impact on American society is from wholesale application of economic models. These models are often highly irrational; i.e., bearing relation only to theory even though applied outside theoretical bounds.

    Yet until the public got a look at the responses from the federal government to the financial/ economic crisis that exploded last year, the situation, which I discussed in my second Rethinking American Society post, was greatly obscured by the dust kicked up from partisan quarrels and special-interest wars.

    All that dust obscured the odd fact that U.S. federal policy became dominated by economic models rooted in monetary policy -- with state governments having no choice but to fall in line.

    These models, cranked out by the Federal Reserve, the Treasury, and hosts of economic advisors to the Congress and White House, explain the utter eeriness of many significant problems that beset the USA.

    It's as if a machine has tremendous impact on our society, but which is programmed to deal only with the workings of mathematical models having no relation to thousands of situations existing outside the models.

    So there is an aspect of American society that is irrational to the point of madness. But if everybody's acting loco it becomes the norm. That's what happened in the USA, due to the notion that endlessly fiddling with the monetary supply could bring about and sustain a prosperous society.

    Once the notion got entrenched and applied at the federal level, American society took on overtones of the Mad Hatter's tea party.

    If you tell me, 'I don't feel loco' -- let me ask you a question: Where did you get the idea that you were a corporate entity?

    If you say, 'I'm not a corporate entity' -- then why are you trying to act like one, if you're an American mired in debt as a way of life? Do you see a municipality staring back when you look at yourself in the mirror?

    There are human ways to use debt as a financial tool, but where did Americans get the idea that they could finance themselves through debt in the manner of a corporation? Corporate entities finance their operations through debt, but you can't sell bonds on your family life.

    The idea is plumb loco but Americans came to accept it as normal that individuals should manage their finances as if they were corporate entities. Now walk the cat backward and you'll find that it was economic models applied blindly to American society that entrenched the idea.

    And that's just one loco idea arising from over-application of economic models to American life.

    You're not going to cure that particular kind of madness by nudging the federal government back over a line. So the journey of a thousand miles must begin with a cultural revolution. Only then will Americans see their way clear to the best political solutions for balancing state and federal power -- and for relegating special interest legislation to its proper place in a democratic society.

    This said, we can't simply dial up a cultural revolution. If the TEA parties coalesce behind a rollback of federal powers, and if they want to try the constitutional amendment route, they have my encouragement and maybe even my participation.

    However, the key word here is "coalesce." In two recent posts, Note to Libertarians and The Real War on the Right, Dan Riehl pointed to the fundamental contradiction in Libertarian-Leftist alliances that are popping up, and to the profound disagreements within the Republican party.

    The other day Ilya Somin pointed to the same theme by asking Is the GOP Becoming More Libertarian? Read his post at Volokh Conspiracy and the comments that follow to see why it's herding cats to attempt to unify the disparate views in the Republican party.

    All that said, I feel safe in observing that a fast-growing number of Americans have concluded that things can't continue as they are. Many signs at the TEA parties read, "We don't like Republicans, either."

    At root the TEA parties were not about partisan political issues; they were to point to the mushrooming abuse of federal power. If all parties concerned can agree on just that much, they stand a chance to unite and to the best interests of U.S. society.

    Now here is the comment at the Wall Street Journal Forum that Han Solo mentioned. The author of the comment is Bill Walker, a co-founder of the Friends of Article V Convention organization:
    The author [Randy Barnett] fails to mention a few significant facts relevant to his discussion of an Article V Convention, which is the correct term in discussing the convention process of Article V.

    These are:

    1. The author fails to note that all 50 states have submitted over 750 applications to Congress for an Article V Convention. The Constitution requires that Congress call a convention when two-thirds of the state apply for one with no other terms or conditions. This means therefore the call is based on a simple numeric count of applying states.

    The language of Article V is clear: the application is for a convention call ("on the application of...[Congress} shall call..." and therefore constitutionally the proposed issue of an application has no bearing on the matter of whether or not Congress must call; all that matters is how many states have submitted applications.

    The applications can be read at [Friends of the Article V Convention] and are available nowhere else on the Internet and are photocopies of the actual pages of the Congressional Record. Under the terms of Article V; therefore, if 34 states submit 34 applications, Congress must call.

    2. The author is totally incorrect in his assumption that Congress can "head off" a convention by the states proposing a specific amendment then proposing this amendment itself. As has been admitted by the attorney of record for Congress in a federal lawsuit before the Supreme Court of the United States, there are no terms or conditions for Article V other than the applications.

    Further it was admitted the convention call is "peremptory" -- a legal term meaning that Congress (or the states) have no option once the two-thirds mark is reached.

    3. The author is incorrect regarding his information about the 17th Amendment. As the text of the applications clearly show by 1911, 31 states had applied for a convention call. In 1911 there were 46 states in the union, meaning that two-thirds of that was 31. Congress was obligated to call and simply chose to ignore the Constitution and has continued to do so ever since. [emphasis mine]

    Further, the texts of the applications show that on at least seven different occasions the states themselves noted that the numeric count standard had been satisfied and that Congress was obligated to call a convention.

    4.The text of the applications show that 39 states have already asked for repeal of the 16th Amendment, one more state than is necessary for ratification of the proposed amendment but again it must be emphasized as admitted by the government, it is not the amendment issue but the number of applying states that matters.

    5. As to any fears regarding a convention, according to sources, some 10,000 amendment proposals have been submitted to Congress; only 27 in the history of our nation have become amendments to the Constitution.

    Because a convention is under the same constitutional restraints as Congress and as Congress has the identical power of proposal as a convention, the math of proposed amendments together with ratification indicate the number of proposed amendments coming from a convention will be small at best.

    6. The trend of the states in their applications covering some 20 issues is clear: no state has submitted a single application that in any fashion resembles this proposal. Instead the states have addressed individual actions of Congress and the courts and sought corrections through amendments.

    Thus they have sought to prohibit the use of unfunded federal mandates, state review of Supreme Court rulings, a balanced budget amendment, a federal initiative, referendum and recall amendment to name but a few of the proposals made by the states. No state has submitted any application even remotely resembling the proposal of the author.

    I urge everyone to go to and read the applications and learn the facts about an Article V Convention.
    Rethinking American Society series
    Part 1: Why the financial crash happened

    Part 2: Goodbye to THX 1138 and all that

    Part 3: Hashing out The Fourth Republic

    Part 4: Congress to state legislatures: Go sit on a tack
    This entry is crossposted at RBO and linked at Riehl World View with Dan Riehl's comment about The Fourth Republic:
    [...] As with most developments, there is the intellectual and the organic. Much will be discussed. But what matters is what plays out over time. And much of that will be driven by events.

    Still, it's interesting and important to gain a sense of possible direction for whatever it is America might become on the other side of our current challenges.

    Thursday, April 23

    Rethinking America, Part 3: Hashing out The Fourth Republic

    Today Procrustes at RBO plays Betsy Ross and sews together patches of dissent and opinion with her own observations to frame the revolution America needs at this time, which is the curtailment of federal power.

    Reportedly, many Americans who don't belong to the GOP or the Libertarians joined TEA parties. That suggests to me that if true libertarians, unionists, liberals, greens, and conservatives can suspend their infernal squabbling long enough to agree on a few principles, we'd have ourselves a right proper American revolution. And I'll bet that's the revolution many 'Lou Dobbs Independents' are looking for.

    Procrustes quotes from recent writings by Constitutional scholar and Georgetown University law professor Randy Barnett. Barnett dashes the quaint notion that recent legislation proposed in several U.S. states to limit federal power can find support in the Constitution's Ninth and Tenth Amendments. He then proposes a strategy to roll back federal power that has more than a snowball's chance in hell to work.

    (So I say with a wry smile that I might have subtitled this post, Lawyers: Can't live with 'em, can't live without 'em.)

    Procrustes's essay also brings into sharp focus that Obama’s presidency is the logical outcome of the excesses of America's 'third' republic. As I note in the RBO comment section:

    "Perhaps Obama sold himself to the Liberal Old Guard (and to many Republican ‘moderates’) as the one to keep the ancien regime of massive federal power lurching along. In that event neither he nor they factored in the economic crisis, which is exposing the extent of power that the central government had gathered to itself over a period of decades. I think it took a crisis of this gravity and scope to reveal to many millions of Americans that federalism had become a juggernaut."

    I am bursting to say much more but right now it's time to turn over the podium to Procrustes, who gave me permission to cross-post her essay:

    RBO Rant: Obamanation, TEA parties, the law of unintended consequences and a Constitutional amendments convention

    There have been a myriad of signs pointing the way for nearly two years -- aided and abettted, of course, by the hear-no-evil-see-no-evil-speak-no-evil media--that it should come as no surprise to RBO readers that the inaugural prophecy by The Telegraph (UK)'s Gerald Warner -- “this Emperor has no clothes, it will all end in tears” -- has, within the space of less than 100 days, begun to come true.

    Warner wrote:
    This will end in tears. The Obama hysteria is not merely embarrassing to witness, it is itself contributory to the scale of the disaster that is coming. What we are experiencing, in the deepening days of a global depression, is the desperate suspension of disbelief by people of intelligence - la trahison des clercs - in a pathetic effort to hypnotise themselves into the delusion that it will be all right on the night. It will not be all right.

    We have been here before. In the spring of 1997, to be precise, when a charismatic, young prime minister entered Downing Street, cheered by children bussed in for the occasion waving plastic Union Jacks. A very few of us at that time incurred searing reproaches for denouncing the Great Charlatan (as I have always denominated Tony Blair) and dissenting from the public hysteria. Three times a deluded Britain elected that transparent fraud. Yesterday, when national bankruptcy became a formal reality, we reaped the bitter harvest of the Blair/Brown imposture.

    The burnt child, contrary to conventional wisdom, does not fear the fire. After the Blair experience there is no excuse for anybody in Britain falling for Obama. Yet today, in this country, even some of those who remained sane during the emotional spasm of the Diana aberration are pumping the air for Princess Barack. At a time of gross economic and geopolitical instability throughout the Western world, this is beyond irresponsibility.
    There is no need to enumerate the evidence. Just peruse RBO's Reading List and begin reading.

    The most recent proof of the imminent unraveling of the republic comes from John Batchelor's post earlier today on the insanity being unleashed through Barackistan HQ's release of Bush administration "torture memos."

    JB wrote:
    The Obama administration has willy-nilly moved into battle with the most partisan, best-armed, most ruthless part of the political apparatus that did not vote for Mr. Obama. The non-partisan voters will recoil and despair. It does seem overmuch to say that a civil war has started already.
    It will be political Armageddon between the Right and the Left waged in the halls of Congress and spewed forth in real time, soundbyte-by-soundbyte, by the nearly completely biased Obamedia; it is too much to expect many will operate from an objective perspective, advertisement-driven media whores that they are. Not to mention every gritty, grungy and grotesque tantilizing and titulating minutiae will be Twittered, Blackberried, bloggered and YouTubed ad nauseum.

    What set off this RBO rant? Well, it was Randy E. Barnett's article The Case for a Federalism Amendment. How the Tea Partiers can make Washington pay attention in today's Wall Street Journal.

    As loudly as the Left wants to scream that the TEA party movement was not only concocted but steamrolled by the Republican Party, the gesticulating and hysteria will not change the facts. A fair majority of American citizens -- nearly half of general election voters for starters -- have reached the Rubicon's shores and are refusing to cross.

    In fact, TDS (TEA Party Derangement Syndrome) has replaced CDS (Clinton Derangement Syndrome) and PDS (Palin Derangement Syndrome) in many blog comment sections.

    All protestors are not taxpayers even should they claim to be. We know for a fact that, as CBS News reported April 15, approximately 43% of Americans pay no federal income taxes.
    "You've got a larger and larger share of people paying less and less for the services provided by the federal government," says Roberton Williams, a senior fellow at the Tax Policy Center. "The concern is that the majority can say, 'Let's have more benefits, spend more,' if they're not paying for it. It's 'free.' That's not a good thing to have."
    The National Taxpayers Union reports for 2006 that the top 1% paid approximately 40% of all taxes paid; the top 5% paid approximately 60% of all taxes paid; and the top 25% -- those earning $64,702 or more -- paid 86%+ of all taxes paid. Oh, and the bottom 50% of taxpayers -- those earning less than $31,987 -- well, they paid less than 3% of all taxes paid.

    Where's this 95% of taxpayers who are going to pay less? Sounds good; but it's just another Barackistan-sized Bamboozle for the gullible Lobotobots to ingest with their Cheeto-flavored Kool-Aid.

    Plus, it's highly likely that a similar number to those not paying federal income taxes are not paying state income taxes as well.

    But then there is another whole dynamic to consider. Although not all protestors can honestly claim outrage based on taxation, all should be vehemently enraged at how America's future generations are being deliberately encumbered and enslaved by flagrantly irresponsible spending. Almost ironically, those on the Far Left fail to see these almost daily unconscionable financial commitments being made in the name of social justice, economic justice or racial justice will exact a price that will have to be paid by everyone.

    It's a simple matter of math; it's as simple as paying one's bills and balancing a checkbook. Money has to come in so that money can go out. The more that must go out -- to China and others who now own us for generations -- the more influx of cash will be needed to meet the demand.

    Cheer on, socialists, but you will also be called upon to pay the piper eventually. Oh, and by the way, all your civil liberties will have vanished by then, too.

    So what is it that Barnett wrote that is so inflammatory as to merit this rant? Well, put simply, Barackistan HQ's activities have not only rocked American citizens sufficiently to propel the TEA party movement forward but, as he points out, the movement may well have served as the impetus for an amendments convention initiated by the aggrieved and offended states of the union.
    In response to an unprecedented expansion of federal power, citizens have held hundreds of "tea party" rallies around the country, and various states are considering "sovereignty resolutions" invoking the Constitution's Ninth and Tenth Amendments. [...]

    While well-intentioned, such symbolic resolutions are not likely to have the slightest impact on the federal courts, which long ago adopted a virtually unlimited construction of Congressional power. But state legislatures have a real power under the Constitution by which to resist the growth of federal power: They can petition Congress for a convention to propose amendments to the Constitution. [...]

    An amendments convention is feared because its scope cannot be limited in advance. The convention convened by Congress to propose amendments to the Articles of Confederation produced instead the entirely different Constitution under which we now live. Yet it is precisely the fear of a runaway convention that states can exploit to bring Congress to heel.
    One example of what might work, Barnett suggests, is the repeal of the 16th Amendment. The 1913 amendment authorized a federal income tax. Barnett writes "This single change would strike at the heart of unlimited federal power and end the costly and intrusive tax code."

    Barnett asked if such a move could work. He answers by saying:
    Could such a Federalism Amendment actually be adopted? Stranger things have happened -- including the adoption of each of the existing amendments. States have nothing to lose and everything to gain by making this Federalism Amendment the focus of their resistance to the shrinking of their reserved powers and infringements upon the rights retained by the people. And this Federalism Amendment would provide tea-party enthusiasts and other concerned Americans with a concrete and practical proposal by which we can restore our lost Constitution.
    Barnett discussed this in an April 16 states' rights segment on Fox News Channel's Glenn Beck Show.

    Writing today at The Volokh Conspiracy, Barnett added:
    Last week I was on the Glenn Beck Show urging that state legislatures petition for a convention to amend the Constitution rather than passing purely symbolic "sovereignty amendments." [...]

    Although typically called a "constitutional convention," this term does not appear in Article V, which states “on the application of the legislatures of two thirds of the several states,” Congress “shall call a convention for proposing amendments.” I think "amendments convention" is a more accurate term that distinguishes it from "constitutional conventions"--such as are convened in states specifically to rewrite state constitutions in their entirety. Of course, before becoming part of the Constitution, any amendment proposed by an amendments convention would still need to be ratified by three-quarters of the states.
    Barnett directs our attention to James V. DeLong's instructive April 21 American Enterprise Institute article, The Coming of the Fourth American Republic.

    DeLong explains the situation in which we find ourselves today (although you should read the whole article to see how we got here):
    The real-world answer imposed by the New Deal and its progeny turned out to be special interest capture on steroids. Control comes to rest with those with the greatest interest or the most money at stake, and the result was the creation of a polity called “the Special Interest State” or, in Cornell University Professor Theodore Lowi’s terms, “Interest Group Liberalism.” Its essence is that various interest groups seize control over particular power centers of government and use them for their own ends.

    It is this combination of plenary government power combined with the seizure of its levers by special interests that constitutes the polity of the current Third American Republic. The influence of “faction” and its control had been a concern since the founding of the nation, but it took the New Deal and its acolytes to decide that control of governmental turf by special interests was a feature, not a bug, a supposedly healthy part of democratic pluralism.

    And so the Special Interest State expanded, blessed by the intelligentsia. And it feeds on itself; the larger and more complex the government becomes, the higher the costs of monitoring it. This means that no one without a strong interest in a particular area can afford to keep track, which leaves the turf to the beneficiaries. And as existing interests dig in to defend their turf, new interests require continuing expansions of governmental activity to stake a claim on.

    The appropriations committees and their pork barrels are the most obvious example of rule by special interest, but not always the most important. Whole departments are dedicated to special interests—Labor, Education, Energy."
    DeLong provides a few examples:
  • "Money is important, but regulation is every bit as useful, especially because regulations can shift property rights from third parties without going through the budget process."

  • "Tax provisions, both credits and deductions, are substitutes for government budget outlays. [...] Indeed, wherever one finds a public policy disaster, it is likely that the tax code is involved. The wreckage wrought in part by the favored treatment given to home mortgages now litters American exurbia."

  • "Laws can also raise transaction costs, which is much in the interest of the legal profession, itself one of the most powerful of the special interests. Legal looting also goes on via the endless list of regulatory laws."
  • DeLong believes the Special Interest State's "insoluble problems" include:
  • Its "Sheer size."

  • Scope of "Responsibility."

  • The "Lack of any limiting principles."

  • Plus: "U.S. leaders do not grasp the situation."
  • You see, it is not just taxation that is at the root of the problem -- or the TEA Party movement.

    Wisely, the average American citizen knows that even though he/she may not be able to articulate exactly what it is.

    In RBO's opinion, it is clearly the growing insertion of Barackistan HQ into every nook and cranny of American life that is at work upsetting the apple cart. Such things as nationalizing American banks and industry while attempting to regulate everything else in the land to the point that free will has been sufficiently replaced with a totalitarian regime. That makes folks unhappy and unhappy citizens either acquiesce or fight back.

    DeLong concludes:
    On the other hand, it would be unwise to treat the issues with anything other than utter sobriety. The nation made a fundamental political transition peacefully on one occasion, and only with appalling bloodshed on another, and it is hard to buy ammunition these days because the dealers’ shelves are bare. So all patriots would be well advised to pick up a copy of Crane Brinton’s classic The Anatomy of Revolution, and figure out how we can achieve the necessary segue to the Fourth Republic without becoming a chapter in the next edition.
    UPDATE 11:55 PM ET
    Riehl World View has linked to this post; Dan's comment: "A Fourth Republic ... It'll take a lot of thinking and much more doing."


    I have other comments but I'll put them in a new post, which I'm writing now.

    Wednesday, April 15

    Goodbye to THX 1138 and all that: Rethinking American society, Part 2

    8:30 AM ET UPDATE:
    The first part of my conversation with Claudia took place before Texas Governor Rick Perry's April 9 announcement:
    ... [H]e has joined other state leaders in supporting House Concurrent Resolution 50. The resolution aims to reaffirm state rights guaranteed under the 10th amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and to serve as a notice to the federal government that it should desist measures that go beyond its constitutionally protected powers.

    “I believe that our federal government has become oppressive in its size, its intrusion into the lives of our citizens, and its interference with the affairs of our state,” Perry said. “That is why I am here today to express my unwavering support for efforts all across our country to reaffirm the states’ rights affirmed by the Tenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. I believe that returning to the letter and spirit of the U.S. Constitution and its essential 10th Amendment will free our state from undue regulations, and ultimately strengthen our Union.”

    Perry said Resolution 50 re-asserts Texas’ sovereignty over all powers not under the federal government’s mandated authority.
    A reader alerted me to Perry's announcement and also to this very unsettling turn of events; report dated today:
    An April 7 Department of Homeland Security report targets those who favor state or local authority over federal authority and those who belong to pro-life or anti-illegal immigration groups as being a potential national security threat.

    According to the unclassified document, Gov. Rick Perry, R-Texas, could very well fall under the umbrella of the report’s definition of being a right-wing extremist in light of his statement [...] praising state’s rights. [...]
    This is a bad bit of business. What next does our government have in mind?
    PUNDITA: Before we pick up from where we left off, have you heard any more succession talk than usual from Texans?

    CLAUDIA: Pundita, I'm from New Mexico.

    PUNDITA: I know; I was just wondering. You get more news about doings in the southwest than we do here in Washington.

    CLAUDIA: [laughing] If you're asking if descendents of conquistadores are still plotting for Spain, the Spanish side of my family says yes, the Irish side won't hear of it.

    PUNDITA: I wanted to know if you'd had your ear to the ground. I'm thinking of the Tea Parties.

    CLAUDIA: There's a great deal of paranoia right now.

    PUNDITA: Yes. There's even a rumor going around that ACORN is sending out people to ask the Tea Party demonstrators for their email and address information so they can send the data to the IRS.

    CLAUDIA: Look, you nailed it with your talk about the importance of Locavore and how a whole localism movement is building on that. That's just going to keep getting bigger and bigger.

    I don't think there's any more talk about Texas seceding than there's always been, but again I don't live in Texas. There's always been talk about different parts of the southwestern states forming new states. And there's always talk on both sides of the border about the border states joining Mexico. I've heard that talk all my life.

    Where the talk is increasing, where I think it's getting serious, is with states getting more independence from the federal government, and not just western states are wanting this. Legislators from several states want to invoke the Ninth and Tenth Amendments to the Constitution to get a rollback of federal authority. Either they've introduced a resolution or they're planning to.

    PUNDITA: Do you know whether such a resolution has been introduced in Texas?

    CLAUDIA: I think so.[1] You're very interested in Texas all at once. I don't see the Tea Parties as a prelude to secessionist movements, if that's what you're asking. Succession can't happen; the Civil War settled that. So I think the Chuck Norris for President of Texas thing is people blowing off steam. But it wouldn't be wise if the Washington establishment ignored the Tea Parties.

    PUNDITA: Well, Claudia, we'll do our part to try and hold the republic together. But the size of TARP was the last straw for many people. Change is coming; much turns on the direction it takes.

    To pick up on our last conversation, Dan Riehl had praise for my post of our first discussion but criticism for its long length and tendency to wander a bit, in his consideration.

    CLAUDIA: If you publish everything we talked about just now he's really going to have criticism for part two. We haven't even gotten to the main event yet.

    PUNDITA: He gave me the same advice years ago; his points are good. And he challenged me to summarize our first discussion in 700 words. Just the thought sent me to the sherry bottle, which I keep only for medicinal purposes, of course.

    CLAUDIA: [laughing] I can take a crack at summarizing your points if you don't want to end up a drunk. I think I could do it in fewer than 700 words. You'd just have to give me a little time.

    [The following is the summary Claudia put together]

    Washington's attempts to deal with major issues in America are only cosmetic because they don't address the two biggest problems this country is facing and how they feed off other. One problem is the explosion of money in the world.

    This led to the financialization of capital. Financialization is where profits are made through trade in financial instruments instead of the production of goods, non-financial services, and commodities.

    Money becomes a commodity to be traded. That diverts investments toward the financial markets. That creates more and more types of financial instruments. That leads to more and more speculation and corruption and outright gambling. That's led to a pattern of market crashes that become increasingly severe and spread to the entire society.

    In the United States Equalization became a major driver of financialization. Equalization is the idea that economic conditions will eventually equalize between a rich country and a poorer one. That's if the richer country comes to rely more on investments for profits, and the poorer country increases its profits through production and export of goods to the richer country.

    Equalization was seen as good for globalization and for American business. This was on the theory that as the poorer countries became wealthier from exporting they would import more U.S. products.

    The theory didn't work out in America's favor when it was put into practice. And it turned out the huge profits from investments in financial instruments in the U.S. diverted large amounts of investment money toward speculation in financial instruments.

    Also, Americans who were not at all knowledgeable about the financial and stock markets were encouraged to become investors, as the means to take pressure off the Social Security system. This led to huge speculative bubbles.

    Americans began living on credit and equity in their homes, and that added to the explosion in excess money as we went deeper into debt. Then it all came crashing down.

    PUNDITA: Thank you, Claudia. There are many explanations and related factors that I didn't bring into the conversation but that's the ballpark.

    CLAUDIA: Even though you didn't publish that part, we started the conversation when I asked how you would fix the economy if you were President Obama. You told me that the president didn't have the power to fix the economy because that power is with the Federal Reserve. That astounded me.

    PUNDITA: It's one of those facts that are hidden in plain sight. The Fed sets and manages monetary policy and the Congress and the Executive Branch handle fiscal policy.

    Even though the Fed has to answer to the Congress, that's not saying much. After the US abandoned the Bretton Woods agreement in the 1970s and replaced it with the petrodollar agreement, US monetary policy became the blackest of black arts.

    There were probably zero members of Congress and their aides who had advanced degrees in math. Most of those elected representatives were lawyers. So for decades the Fed had been making up any kind of hoodoo they wanted. The worst part was because the Fed wasn't an ace at higher math, either, often they believed their own spells and incantations, which led to a lot of trouble.

    At one point, while Paul Volcker was running the Fed, he got so tangled up in a dizzy monetary model that West Germany's central bank had to rescue Fed policy. That yanked America back from the brink of runaway inflation.

    CLAUDIA: This is very scary stuff, Pundita.

    PUNDITA: As long as things stayed relatively simple, they could always patch over their mistakes by fiddling with the money supply -- although it's been argued that the patches just kept leading to another monetary crisis. But once the global money supply skyrocketed because of the current era of globalization and financialization, the Fed was in over its head.

    Instead of admitting that, they tried to hide it. That's when things headed toward FUBAR.

    In early 2006 they stopped compiling M3 figures, which is one measure of the money supply. They said those figures weren't necessary anymore. So Ron Paul got up before the House of Representatives and said, "Actually, M3 is the best description of how quickly the Fed is creating new money and credit."

    He said a lot more at the time, not all of it correct; for example his data on the situation with Hugo Chavez was skewed, but he was right about the importance of M3 -- what's so funny?

    CLAUDIA: Ron Paul is a Texan.

    PUNDITA: [laughing] Oh, right, I forgot!. Yeah, it would have to come from a Texan. What he got in reply was the chirping of crickets.

    The different measures that make up the money supply are cumulative -- there's M0, M1, M2. M3 is all that plus certain types of CDs, such as institutional money market mutual fund balances, and also deposits of eurodollars and repurchase agreements.

    CLAUDIA: Those measures sound as if they'd be indicators of whether speculation was heating up.

    PUNDITA: I suspect the present way of monitoring the money supply is antiquated; there might not be enough data categories to pinpoint were trouble spots are cropping up in the globalized era of massive speculation in financial instruments.

    CLAUDIA: Do you think the Fed foresaw the crash?

    PUNDITA: Without M3 data? I don't know. But even if they did they couldn't give an adequate warning without risking that it would touch off a panic. By 2005, when they announced they were going to suspend M3, the Fed was staring down the barrel of financialization run amok, and they were incapable of digging an exit for society. After helping to create a monster it was outside their power to control it.

    CLAUDIA: We keep coming back to the story of the Sorcerer's Apprentice.

    PUNDITA: Yes.

    CLAUDIA: There's a point I'm not clear on; are you saying that Humpty-Dumpty can't be put back together again, or that it's not worth it to try?

    PUNDITA: There's going to be a lot of fiddling with the international monetary system. That should get seriously underway at the G7 and IMF meetings later this month in Washington. There will be another meeting of the G7 finance ministers in June. They can't put things back together again exactly as they were, but they can put a lot of duct tape on Humpty-Dumpty, particularly if they admit that gold should be integrated in the patched system.

    CLAUDIA: This doesn't solve the problem of too much money sloshing around the world.

    PUNDITA: We'll see what they come up with. What Americans need to do for their part is confront the Equalization angle. If Americans don't want to accept a return to more industrialization, if they want to keep on being an investor society, they're going to have to acknowledge that they're investing themselves into a government that's even more blatantly statist than the one they have now.

    Here I'm speaking not in the sense of fascist statism but in the basic meaning of the term: a central government having the major role in the direction of the economy, a role that's backed by sweeping economic powers.

    Much more statism will be required if we keep going down the Equalization path. That's because once Main Street gets heavily involved in playing the markets, the government has to become increasingly interventionist because Main Street demands a much greater cap on risks than Wall Street.

    And there's already been tremendous intervention. The loosening of various market regulations in no way diminished the massive power that the U.S. Federal Reserve gathered to itself. In 1987, following the stock market crash, the Fed adopted an explicit "too big to fail" policy toward the entire equity market.[2]

    CLAUDIA: I thought this "too big to fail" idea came up because of the present financial crisis.

    PUNDITA: It was old news by then; so was the idea of a bridge bank. In 1987, Congress passed the Competitive Equality Banking Act, or CEBA. The act authorizes the FDIC to operate a failed bank for up to three years or until a buyer can be found, whichever comes first.

    CLAUDIA: How did it come to this?

    PUNDITA: It happened because the year before CEBA was passed Congress replaced the defined benefit plan for federal civilian workers, the CSRS, with a less generous defined benefit plan and a generous 401(k)-type plan, the TSP.

    From then onward, 401(k) savings plans became the fastest-growing type of retirement plan in the United States.[3]

    CLAUDIA: Then it wasn't really the banks that were too big to fail; it was the 401(k) savings plans!

    PUNDITA: The stock market crash, coming a year later, in 1987, threatened to spook employees away from the 401(k)s. Those savings plans were seen by government as the way to take pressure off the Social Security system, which was already a stool on one leg.

    CLAUDIA: But the 401(k)s crashed anyway in the present financial crisis!

    PUNDITA: Leading to the unavoidable conclusion that the Federal Reserve needs even more power to fiddle with the economy. And that the Congress needs to enact even more laws to create fail-proof conditions or at least the illusion of such.

    All of this undercuts the idea of the capital and financial markets, which are about accepting risk. Once Mr and Ms Main Street have their life savings in Wall Street, risk is not to be tolerated.

    CLAUDIA: Pundita, the hair of the dog never works.

    PUNDITA: Well, see where your 401(k) is a year from now. The Fed can't prevent steep declines in the markets or crashes, although they're trying to foolproof the system. But they figure that as long as they can apply a remedy after the fact, that will keep the 401(k) savings system intact. After the 2001 crash the Fed cut interest rates nine times, which touched off a boom.[4]

    CLAUDIA: But that just led to more explosions in the money supply, and the housing bubble, and to the banking crash! It's just getting worse and worse.

    PUNDITA: Economists have perfect faith in their art; when it fails they don't question it, they exert themselves to practice it more perfectly.

    CLAUDIA: All this reminds me of The Matrix, only without Zion and Neo.

    PUNDITA: The Matrix is the wrong film analogy. The right analogy is THX 1138.

    Throughout the film the audience assumes that the factory is what the world is like in the future. Only at the very end, when the protagonist escapes, do we realize it was just a factory, and that the world outside is not under the control of a totalitarian government.

    In the same manner, Americans today are largely unaware of the extent to which economic models have come to rule their thinking, their politics, and every aspect of their lives. Economics is simply a social science. But through many twists and turns it came to have great power in government and, finally, controlling power.

    The reason it's hard to see beyond this paradigm is because during the past half century it came to dominate the world. That's why, last year, I strongly recommended Nils Gilman's Mandarins of the Future ...

    Gilman decided to write a history of the thinking of the people who created modernization theory.

    The theory deals with development theories but they all rest on economic theories. So once you read Gilman's history, it's like escaping from the factory in THX 1138. You see that a great deal of the madness of this era arose from blind implementation of economic models -- a bunch of theories, most of which are not grounded in real-world events.

    Yet these theories ran the world for close to a half century. They couldn't run the world on their own; they were adopted by governments, their central banks, and powerful transnational organizations such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

    The upshot is that political parties have become window dressing for different schools of economics. That's why many Americans, and many people around the world, have the feeling of running in one place. No matter which party and platform they elect, somehow it keeps working out to the same thing. There's a reason for that feeling. It does keep coming down to the same thing: a view of society and government built up from economic models.

    CLAUDIA: Do you think that might be why so many people see Obama as an agent of change? Are they hoping for someone to lead them to a new way of thinking?

    PUNDITA: If so, they're in for a letdown if he sticks with the political platform that took him to the White House. The platform is straight out of the playbook of the European social democratic parties. It's based on another economic model that has no grounding in the real world.

    If you want to get an idea of how skewed the model is, the European socialist states could not have arisen from the ruins of WW2 without US support, and at least prior to the dissolution of the Soviet Union, European/Anglo defenses would not have been in any way adequate.

    Economic arguments for application of the Anglo-European welfare system to the United States must factor in US military protection for Europe throughout the post-WW2 era until the end of the Cold War, but they don't.

    And the arguments for the welfare model don't factor in that the Anglo-European states have left it largely to the U.S. taxpayer to fund policing efforts around the globe in the post-WW2 eras.

    But if you tell all this to Americans who support the European social democratic political model, they look at you as if you've come from Outer Space.

    CLAUDIA: 'Don't invade my world with facts.' Somehow, I don't think reading one book is going to do it for those Americans.

    PUNDITA: That history is powerful medicine. At some point it hits you that the theoreticians Gilman profiles are like a tribe that gets cut off from the rest of the world. There's not enough feedback from the outside to clue them in when they've descended into practices that to anyone else are barking mad. They only have each other for a guide. So if they all start barking, they figure that must be the yardstick for sanity.

    The theoreticians who set out to help the USA win the Cold War admired each others' economic and development models, they criticized and refined each others' models; their whole world became those models. And increasingly ruthless and cynical governments didn't give a damn whether the models worked; they were just a means to gain power over other governments.

    Eventually modernization theory collapsed from its own contradictions. Yet it left in its wake societies that totally accepted the idea that following economic models was the key to a nation's prosperity.

    CLAUDIA: Pundita, what are we going to do for feedback when humans are so integrated it's like one tribe?

    PUNDITA: Let's cross that bridge when we come to it. The key point is that a group of people, the modernists, were very much cut off from reality. Yet their theories had a big hand in shaping today's world.

    The task now is to get our heads outside the economics models and see our society more as it really is. Americans took a wrong turn when they confused fiscal matters with economic theories. We need to go back in our minds to that point and untangle our thinking. Then Equalization theory, and much else stupid we've accepted about socio-economic matters, will vanish like mists in the noonday sun.

    CLAUDIA: Thank you for helping me untangle my thinking.

    PUNDITA: Thanks for your questions and for acting as a sounding board. I've had a lot of observations during the past year that I've had a hard time getting down on paper. Talking things out has helped me organize my thoughts. Now if I can only manage to express them in 700 words or less.

    1) "A bill has been introduced in the Texas House of Representatives, authored by Bryan Hughes (5th district), Brandon Creighton (16th district), and Leo Berman (6th district)... "Affirming that the State of Texas claims sovereignty under the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States over all powers not otherwise enumerated and granted to the federal government by the U.S. Constitution, serving notice to the federal government to cease and desist certain mandates, and providing that certain federal legislation be prohibited or repealed."

    The quote is in the comment section at the New at Politics blog in response to their January 2009 post, Can Texas Secede? Other comments have a little information about other US sovereignty movements:

    February 16, 2009: "This week, New Hampshire and seven other states have introduced resolutions declaring state sovereignty under the Ninth and Tenth Amendment to the Constitution, with Analysts expecting another 20 states to introduce similar measures this year. This reasserts the states authority through a rollback of federal authority under the powers enumerated in the Constitution, with the states assuming the governance of the non-enumerated powers, as required by the Tenth Amendment. [...]

    We certainly have many unhappy people with the current direction of the Obama administration when we have lawmakers in 20 states making moves to reclaim sovereignty. Contact your State Rep if you want this as well -- not your Federal Rep.

    The following states have introduced resolutions declaring sovereignty under the Ninth and Tenth Amendment recently. Arizona, Hawaii, Montana, Michigan, Missouri, New Hampshire, Oklahoma and Washington.

    Expected soon as well: Alaska, Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Nevada, Maine and Pennsylvania. [...]"

    2) The Financialization of Capitalism, John Bellamy Foster; Monthly Review, April 2007

    3) History of 401(k) Plans, an Update; EBRI, February 2005

    4) Fed slashes rates again; CNN Money, October 2001
    11:45 PM ET UPDATE
    I received this fun note from Dan Riehl in response to the post:

    "I see the advice on length went out the window. LMAO You are an incorrigible cuss."

    This entry is crossposted, with illustrations, at RBO.
    April 16 Update
    This entry is crossposted at Uppity Woman.