Archive (2009)

"Gaffes" and "Overreaction"

Joe Biden and Eric Massa now have at least one thing in common: both are being accused in some quarters of over-reacting to the swine flu pandemic. This morning, Biden said that he'd tell his family to stay off of airplanes, subway cars and other confined places. Massa's call to close the Mexican border has not been taken up by many, and President Obama didn't pick up on it when asked about it directly during last night's press conference.

While there are great logistical and financial issues with both Massa's and Biden's suggestions, I don't see why everyone's afraid of a "panic" over the flu. Yesterday, the WHO raised the pandemic alert level to phase 5, one below the full-blown phase 6. Here's what that means:

A Phase 5 alert is a “strong signal that a pandemic is imminent and that the time to finalize the organization, communication, and implementation of the planned mitigation measures is short.”

Is there any way to read that and not think that serious, immediate measures are no over-reaction? I'm afraid both Biden and Massa are right. If we act now to slow down cross-border travel and gatherings of large groups, we'll be less likely to have a pandemic.

If you're interested in reading more, Ezra Klein looks at a study which shows that small marginal changes in behavior can make a big difference in pandemic spread.

More Swinish News

Reader Elmer sends this morning's Corning Leader front page [pdf] (and jump [pdf]) which contains a story about Massa's continuing call to close the Mexican border.

Flu-Like Symptoms

Massa's continuing call to close the Mexican border got some local press, in the Star-Gazette and on WENY.

Massa was also on cable, with a FoxNews [subscription required] interview on the flu, and a MSNBC interview on Specter's defection.

Finally, the Democrat and Chronicle reports 8 suspected cases of swine flu in the Rochester area, and the Corning Leader reports two suspected cases in Cortland County.

Understanding FOIL

A reader sent me a meeting notice that looks interesting. Robert Freeman, the director of the State Committee on Open Government, will be speaking on freedom of information and open meeting laws in Penn Yan.

What: Talk by Robert Freeman on Open Government.
When: 7 p.m. May 11.
Where: Auditorium in the Yates County Office Building, 417 Liberty St, Penn Yan.
The event is free and open to the public.

Some of the topics that he'll discuss include the limits of boards going into executive sessions to discuss "personnel" matters, and whether the public has a right to give input at meetings.

Time-Warner Roundup

Reader Elmer sends this mention of Eric Massa in a Seattle Times editorial about Time-Warner's caps. It's indicative of the wide attention this issue has received outside of the 29th district.

Meanwhile, there was a major Time-Warner outage in upstate New York today. Customers from Albany to Buffalo were without Internet and telephone for about three hours this morning. As Stop The Cap points out, Time-Warner telephone customers were without the ability to summon emergency services. Time-Warner's heavy promotion of their digital phone service doesn't mention that they don't have the same network standards as old-fashioned telephone service.


Eric Massa's call for closure of the Mexican border got some attention in the local media. It's too early to tell whether Massa's call is panic or prescience, but some of what I've read about the Mexican outbreak is not a confidence booster:

I'm a specialist doctor in respiratory diseases and intensive care at the Mexican National Institute of Health. There is a severe emergency over the swine flu here. More and more patients are being admitted to the intensive care unit. Despite the heroic efforts of all staff (doctors, nurses, specialists, etc) patients continue to inevitably die. The truth is that anti-viral treatments and vaccines are not expected to have any effect, even at high doses.
The truth is that mortality is even higher than what is being reported by the authorities, at least in the hospital where I work it. It is killing three to four patients daily, and it has been going on for more than three weeks. It is a shame and there is great fear here. Increasingly younger patients aged 20 to 30 years are dying before our helpless eyes and there is great sadness among health professionals here.

One of the most interesting, and scariest, works of history I've ever read is The Great Influenza, which documents the 1918 "Spanish Flu" pandemic. A few take-home lessons from that book:

  • Like this outbreak, the 1918 pandemic killed the young and healthy, not the old and weak.
  • The 1918 pandemic began with outbreaks in crowded areas (Army bases) and it seemed to "flare up", kill large numbers, and then go away for short times. Overall, it was short (18 months) and deadly (50 million killed worldwide).
  • The care in 1918 was mainly supportive. Hospitals quickly became overwhelmed by the large numbers of victims.
  • One of the major contributors to the spread of the 1918 pandemic was minimization by authorities. This included wartime censorship which filled the newspapers with happy talk instead of news which could have led to school closings and quarantines. Authorities also did things like holding massive draft call-ups in cities where flu was reported.


In the many online and real-world discussions I've had about potential Republican candidates in 2010, we've all assumed that Eric Massa's challenger must live in the 29th district.

That's not true. In NY-20, Jim Tedisco doesn't live in the district, yet he was a candidate. Here's why, according to Talking Points Memo:

[T]he federal Constitution does not have a district-residency requirement, only a state-residency requirement. There are in fact House members on both sides of the aisle right now, who either don't live in their districts or didn't at the time when they were first elected -- and this number goes up significantly if we count the ones who really live in Washington.

This means that strong Republican candidates who live on the edges of the district, including Monroe County Executive Maggie Brooks and State Senator Cathy Young, would be eligible to run. Of course, technical possibility does not equal political viability, but it does make the speculation a little more interesting.

Why Isn't TW Telling Their Customers to Shut Up?

Ars Technica did a little digging in Time-Warner's annual report, and found this gem: Time-Warner's digital phone bill is an order of magnitude bigger than their Internet bill.

Time-Warner will pay $453 million this year for "digital phone connectivity". They will pay $40 million for "high-speed data connectivity" (i.e., the Internet). Yet Time-Warner's phone plans are unlimited, they charge less for phone service, and they have not discussed capping their customers' telephone usage.


The Star-Gazette has a one-sided editorial about a new provision in some FAA legislation that would require the Elmira Airport to hire new firefighters. The airport's current firefighting and rescue staff does double duty. The new law would require the airport to have full-time firefighters, and perhaps hire as many as 30 of them.

The S-G characterizes this as hiring them to "sit around and be paid for an emergency." Well, yes, that's what firefighters do. But, more importantly, the S-G completely ignores the change in traffic in Elmira in the past year. Prior to last November, the airport was served by regional jets and turboprops, carrying 70 or fewer passengers. With the arrival of Allegiant Air, the airport now hosts full-sized jets carrying 130-150 people.

The S-G calls upon the Congressional delegation to do something about this, as if there's no debate to be had. I think there's a serious debate that needs to happen, and it centers around a real tradeoff between risk and cost savings.

Morning News: Helping Constituents and Cheap Bandwidth

13-WHAM has the story of a local man's struggle with an airline. Massa's office is mentioned as one of the agencies helping out.

Mustard Street points to this New York Times article about cheap bandwidth in other countries. Here's a comparison of bandwidth pricing and cost worldwide. Stockholm, Sweden is the cheapest because the city owns the fiber network and has providers compete to provide service on the network.

Massa Gets Some Gannett Attention

Eric Massa's district tour got a story in the Star-Gazette.

The D&C also weighed in on the Time-Warner issue, giving Massa some credit for helping the situation. (via Rochesterturning)

What Smart Conservatism Looks Like

Philbrick at Mustard Street is on-point yet again today on the Time-Warner issue. He's been right from the start, asking smart, skeptical questions and having a conservative (not reactionary) take on Massa's proposed legislation.

Time-Warner's behavior was anti-competitive and monopolistic, and when their rhetoric wasn't flat-out bullshit, it was full of Orwellian doubletalk. There's nothing right or left about fighting a utility company's attempt to gouge consumers, and I hope that some elected conservatives will realize that the next time this issue comes around.