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Yankton Daily Press and Dakotan, Yankton, Oct. 28, 2014
Ebola: A crisis in our response
America's handling of the Ebola crisis seems to be a crisis in its own right. It stumbled slowly out of the gate and has not gotten much better as the situation has progressed.
It has now become a stage for political hysteria, with at least two governors discarding medical advice to impose their own quarantine rules that, ironically, may make things worse.
That's how our country handles a crisis, it appears: Reaching for short-term, popular fixes that disregard the big picture.
There was a lot of criticism two weeks ago when President Barack Obama named an "Ebola czar," Ron Klain, who had no medical background but had experience in government management. On the face of it, that's actually not an unreasonable skill to have in a situation like this: While he may not have a medical background, he would be able to implement and coordinate an emergency response protocol that would include tapping the best medical minds available.
But just how much Klain is currently doing in that regard is hard to detect, given what we're seeing in New Jersey and New York. That's where Govs. Chris Christie and Andrew Cuomo, respectively, have unilaterally taken their own initiatives by declaring mandatory 21-day quarantines on aid workers returning from the so-called "Ebola zone" of West Africa.
In this instance, we have two individuals without medical backgrounds who are calling their own shots — "to err on the side of caution," Cuomo said — while discarding medical opinion on the matter.
This leads us to the ordeal of Kaci Hickox, a nurse and epidemiologist for Doctors Without Borders, who landed in Newark, New Jersey, from Sierra Leone on Friday and was promptly stuffed in quarantine, which turned out to be an unheated tent outside of a local hospital. She exhibited no symptoms of an Ebola infection — it's not infectious unless symptoms are present — and said she felt fine. This flatly contradicts Christie's ascertain that she had a fever and was "obviously not well."
Ultimately, Hickox was allowed to return to her home in Maine Monday, but only after the American Civil Liberties Union got into the act. A lawsuit may well be looming.
So, where was the Ebola czar here when coordination between state and federal officials was desperately needed?
And where was the cool-headedness and medical rationale of these governors when they imposed what Hickox described as "knee-jerk" quarantines?
The great fear expressed by many medical experts is that such measures will discourage workers from going to West Africa to combat this disease. As many of these medical people have said, fighting Ebola in West Africa, at its epicenter, is the best way to protect Americans here.
Similarly, some lawmakers have called for travel bans imposed on West Africa, a move that also worries medical experts. On the surface, it may seem logical and simple, but such a ban might reduce the number of workers going to the afflicted region, which could make the Ebola outbreak worse and subsequently an even greater threat. It would also compel people in West Africa wishing to come to the U.S. to go to other countries to find connections. Would we place bans on those countries, too?
We seem to be battling the Ebola outbreak by leading with our jittery emotions, and with politicians playing upon public fears. That might score some points in the polls, but does it really address the core issues of fighting this disease? And does it ultimately keep us safer?
Watertown Public Opinion, Watertown, Nov. 3, 2014
Dirty tricks, negative ad are nothing new
The day before yesterday we gained something by turning back the hands of a clock. The day after tomorrow we gain something by turning forward the page of a calendar.
Saturday we were rewarded with an extra hour of sleep by setting our clocks back an hour. Wednesday, we will be rewarded with freedom from what started out as a slow trickle of harmless 'vote for me' political ads for tomorrow's election that eventually morphed into a series of increasingly negative diatribes saying more about what was wrong with one candidate than what was right with another.
Many of us are convinced negative campaigning is a relatively modern phenomena. Sadly, that's far from the truth. Negative ads are as much a part of the American landscape as fireworks and apple pie. In fact, as bad as it is now, it used to be worse; much worse.
In 1800, then-Vice President Thomas Jefferson decided to run against then-President John Adams. Not surprisingly, that didn't go over too well with the president who called the vice president an arsonist and an abuser of women, among other things. The vice president responded, in turn, by calling the president a hermaphrodite, among other things.
That's pretty harsh stuff, much worse than what we see today.
In 1828 Andrew Jackson ran against John Quincy Adams, then the nation's sixth president and son of John Adams, the nation's second president. Adams and his supporters called Jackson's wife an adulteress and bigamist while Jackson's camp replied that Adams sold his wife's maid into sexual bondage to the Czar of Russia.
Whoa! Talk about mudslinging. Who would even think about trying something like that today?
Those races, however, aren't unique. Dirty tricks and negative tactics have been part of almost every presidential race in history. Even George Washington was a victim as his foes said he had a secret desire to be crowned king.
With the long history of negative ads and dirty tricks involved in our election process, it's hard to believe that somehow, even with all that's wrong with our political system, it still seems to work; almost in spite of itself. That's a pretty amazing thing when you think about it. Despite all the special interest groups, malcontents and would-be power brokers spending millions of dollars telling us what's wrong with this person or that we still, one way or another, have a system that, warts and all, manages to work.
Given the long history of dirty tricks and negative ads at top-of-the-ticket American political campaigns, perhaps we shouldn't be surprised they eventually filtered their way down to other levels. Please put those aside if you haven't yet voted. Forget about all the negative ads and outside influences and concentrate on what you believe is right for you, your community, state and nation and then please, vote accordingly. In the final analysis, you are the deciding factor. Remember, the special interest groups, malcontents and would-be power brokers spending millions of dollars don't determine the outcome of this election; you do.
Oh, and just in case you've got room for one more negative ad, this one is a doozy. In 1928 Republican Herbert Hoover was running against Democrat Al Smith for president of the United States. Smith was the first Catholic candidate of a major political party and his foes warned that if he won, he'd have a secret tunnel built from the United States to Vatican City in Rome and the pope would be calling all the shots in Washington.
Too bad he didn't win. It would have been interesting to see how that one played out.
Argus Leader, Sioux Falls, Sept. 27, 2014
Cities, counties need tax flexibility
Sometimes a good idea just runs into poor timing.
Let's hope that's true with a proposal that was shot down by the South Dakota Legislature in 2010, but just might get another hearing.
The idea is to empower local governments to raise or add a sales tax for a special purpose. The proposal in 2010 would have allowed for a temporary city sales tax as a funding mechanism for a new Sioux Falls event center.
Mayor Dave Munson and others proposed the legislation and a total of 92 cities and towns supported the bill, saying the power to add a temporary tax would help them with the multitude of building and infrastructure needs they face.
They argued that residents would be able to put such measures to a local vote, assuring that the ultimate control over raising taxes would rest with the taxpayers of the communities.
The proposal never made it out of legislative committee. The House Local Government Committee killed the bill on a 10-3 vote.
Legislators and state revenue department officials argued that such a law could hinder the state's ability to raise its sales tax if needed.
Sioux Falls Mayor Mike Huether brought the subject back to the forefront recently, after returning from a trip to Williston, ND. Huether said that community, which is wrestling with phenomenal growth brought on by the oil boom, was adding a half-cent sales tax to build a recreation center and acquire land for more parks. North Dakota state law allows that.
In addition, he said the North Dakota State Legislature was considering a separate sales tax measure that would provide funding to cities and counties affected by the rapid growth in those areas.
He pointed to those funding sources as possible solutions to ongoing problems in Minnehaha County caused by rapid growth. The county has no ability to add a sales tax and is struggling with overcrowding and pressures on its jail and court system. County officials have pushed unsuccessfully over the years for legislation to allow taxes on drinks to raise funds to deal with continuous growth.
Huether isn't pushing the measure, just pointing it out as a solution in a similar situation. We applaud him for raising the issue.
Maybe it's time to try again to get similar enabling legislation passed in our state.
At the very least, the discussion should be restarted in Pierre.