Monday, December 31, 2012

Did we go over the cliff . . . or not?

It's one hour and fifteen minutes to midnight -- the witching hour that was supposed to mark us falling down the over-hyped fiscal cliff.   Then it turned out it wasn't that big a deal, at least not immediately.   Most of the effects can be fixed.

But it was still used as a negotiating incentive for the political implications, for both parties.

Now, as the minutes tick away, it's not really clear whether we going over or not.   I supposed technically we will, because they say it's impossible to write up a bill and get it passed.  In fact, the House adjourned and wouldn't vote on it tonight anyway, even if the Senate does pass it.   And they're not likely to get it done before midnight.

So yes, we're going over the cliff.   But we may hardly notice it.

What's actually in the deal that Joe Biden and Mitch McConnell supposedly have hammered out.   This is the third team, so to speak.    First it was Obama and Boehner.   That fell through.  Then it was Obama and Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell.  That went nowhere.   So they called in good old Joe, who has worked with McConnell for 23 years in the Senate and knows how to work a deal.

The bottom line, I think, is that, because the more liberal Democrats hate it and the more conservative Republicans hate it, it's probably a pretty good compromise.  Each side gave in on a very important point for them:   Republicans gave in on their pledge never to raise taxes on anybody;  and Democrats gave in on Obama's campaign promise to raise them for anyone making over $200,000/250,000.

It also extends unemployment benefits, extends child tax credit and college tuition tax credit amd fixes the Alternate Minimum Tax.  It also cancels the 23% cut in payment to Medicare doctors, which would have decimated the number of them taking Medicare patients.   The Republicans also got some of what they wanted on estate and capital gains taxes.

Both sides got some of what they wanted and agreed to some of what they hated.

The fact is, however, that this really only kicks the can into March, when they will have to try to deal with tax reform, spending cuts, and the debt ceiling all at the same time.   That's not good.  The Democrats will have lost some of their advantage, since avoiding the fiscal cliff and being blamed for it, won't motivate the Republicans as it does now.

Strategically, who won?   That's not clear either.   You could argue that Republicans broke the most solemn (to them) promise by voting to raise taxes on the wealthy.   Democrats, especially labor and progressives, hate that Obama gave in on holding the tax break to $250,000 as he had said he would do.

But will it pass?   That's not so clear.   Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid have said they will support it.   Will the more liberal Democrats and the Tea Party Republicans?   That's not so clear.

Stay tuned.

And, by the way, Happy New Year.


Sunday, December 30, 2012

Chuck Hagel for Defense

Big changes coming in the Obama cabinet.  Already, he has nominated John Kerry to replace Hillary Clinton, after striking out on undeserved opposition to Susan Rice, his obvious first choice.

Now, opposition is mounting in the Senate to his rumored first choice for Secretary of Defense, former Senator Chuck Hagel.

Hagel would make a first rate Secretary of Defense.  A moderate Republican and former Senator from Nebraska, Hagel currently co-chairs President Obama's Intelligence Advisory Board.   He is Purple Heart Viet Nam War veteran and, in the Senate, he has served on both the Foreign Relations and the Intelligence Committees.

Opposition to Hagel's nomination comes primarily from conservatives who say his policy views are "out of the mainstream."   Frankly, that's what makes him such a good choice, in my opinion.   After voting for the Iraq war, he soon became a critic and wanted to bring it to an end.   However, he has mostly angered conservatives for speaking forthrightly about Israel.   Although he is a staunch supporter of Israel's survival, he does not remain silent about the current Israeli policy toward Palestine.  In fact, he believes that the survival of Israel, as well as peace in the Middle East, depends on reining in its current self-destructive direction and a revival of the center-left political influence.

He has even been described as to the left of President Obama on some issues concerning the Middle East, including Iran, where he would push for diplomatic negotiations rather than military action.

So.   Wouldn't it be a good idea to have him in a significant place in our government?


Saturday, December 29, 2012

Some good news

How refreshing, to have good news.

In 2012, New York City has had the lowest number of recorded homicides since records have been kept.   Peaking in the low-2000 range in the early 1990s, the previous record low was 471 in 2009, before jumping back up to 508 last year.  Now down to 414 at the end of 2012.

Mayor Blumberg attributes the decline to better policing on the streets and more attention to prevention, especially the police force's active and early intervention in domestic violence disputes.

One category of major crimes did increase, rather dramatically:   theft.   In fact, theft of one particular type, Apple products.    The total number of reported Apple iphones, ipads, etc stolen was more than enough to account for the overall increase in theft crime.

They are popular items, but I'm cynical enough to wonder how many were actually "stolen," as opposed to "reported stolen" in order to get a new one model from insurance coverage.


Obama won re-election in spite of Republicans suppressing the vote

Can the GOP recover?    Not just from losing the election.  Not just from their ideological split.   Not just from the dumbing down of their party and letting the far right wing pull them their way.  Not just from having run a campaign based on distortions, lies, non-disclosure, and hypocrisy.

I'm thinking today about what must be a deep-seated collective shame from having tried, once again, to steal the election.   Or are they incapable of shame?   Most of us, I think, would be ashamed if the only way we thought we could win is to lie, distort, cheat, and suppress the opposition vote.

Now we have some objective evidence to back up what we all knew:   that Republican controlled states were going all out to suppress the voting of those likely to vote for Democrats.

Assistant Professor Theodore Allen of Ohio State University has studied the voting day experience and determined that as many as 49,000 voters in Central Florida alone did not vote because of problems at the polls.   If they had, Obama's margin of victory over Romney would have been 11,000 higher.

Beyond the voter ID laws, the most egregious of these suppression tactics led to some people having to wait in line as long as 9 hours.   Many, of course, simply did not/could not wait and did not vote.   This affected working class people and African-American and Hispanic voters most of all.

Several things contributed to this:   Florida decreased the number of early voting days by almost half, and they had an excessively long ballot, cluttered with meaningless trivial referendums, apparently designed to make it take much longer to vote, thus causing the lines to back up and up.

Needless to say, Obama won anyway.   So this both proves that decisions by the election board did suppress the vote -- and that President Obama won re-election anyway.   But it could have flipped the vote if it had been closer, not only in Florida but also in Ohio and Pennsylvania, which also had similar problems.

Yes, Republicans lost overall in the national elections -- but they still control the state houses.  So we're not done with this problem yet.


Tuesday, December 25, 2012

A Christmas wish

My wish for those I hold dear -- and for the whole world:

                    Peace and Love


Monday, December 24, 2012

Maybe we won't lose Barney, after all

Since Barney Frank is retiring from the House, I was already lamenting the loss of him as a witty commentator to political reporters.

Now there are rumors that he may become a television commentator himself.   I would imagine MSNBC would snap him up, at the least, as a frequent guest on other talk shows.

In a final interview before he leaves office, Barney was his usual candid self.   He's for legalizing both prostitution and marijuana.   He defended the free speech of the Westboro Baptist Church people:  "Free speech means supporting the right of people to say vicious things you strongly disagree with."   Yes, let them say it;  but can't they be kept away from the families as they bury their innocent dead?

On marriage equality, he is of course for it, having recently married his partner.   But he thinks the Prop8 case is arriving at the Supreme Court prematurely.  He makes the same prediction I do:  that they will decide it narrowly as applying only to California, leaving a more sweeping decision for a later time.

But here was the prize (IMHO):   In reference to a recent anti-gay remark made by Justice Antonin Scalia, Frank said:
“I was glad that he made clear what’s been obvious, that he’s just a flat out bigot. . . I’d previously said he was a homophobe.  And Fox and the right wing said, ‘Oh just because he’s not for same-sex marriage?  And I said, ‘No, let me be very clear. That’s not it.
This is a man who has said you should go to prison for having sex.’ It was an extraordinarily abusive sentiment and it was dead wrong.  And, by the way, for a guy who is supposed to be so smart [Scalia] -- quite stupid.  This young man said to him, ‘Why do you compare sodomy to murder?’ And he said, ‘Well because I have a right to say if I think something is immoral.’ Well the question wasn’t about his right. The question was:  By what morality is expressing your love for someone in a physical way equivalent to killing that person? It makes it clear that the man is an unreconstructed bigot, and given that you have a bigot on the Supreme Court like that, it is useful to know.”
Now that is the kind of talk that makes me admire Barney -- and makes me so glad that we may still be hearing from him.  Maybe even more than we did before.   Just tell me when and where to tune in.


PS:   Now that John Kerry has been nominated to be Secretary of State, his senate seat will be open.   It would be great if he decided to run for that.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

NRA speaks #2

Re Wayne LaPierre's calling for armed guards in every school:

There was an armed security guard at the Columbine school.   He shot at the killer five or six times -- and he missed every time.

Recently in a situation at the Empire State Building, police shot and killed a guy who was threatening mass killings and, in the process, wounded seven innocent people on the street.

So, if armed security guards and New York policemen are so inaccurate with guns, how accurate would you expect the kindergarten teacher to be, Mr. LaPierre?


Despicable perversion of religion #3

Huffington Post Online interviewed Nate Phelps, one of the many offspring of Fred Phelps, founder of Westboro Baptist Church.   He left the church, along with three other siblings who are estranged from their father.  Nate currently identifies himself as an atheist and is the Executive Director of the Centre for Inquiry Canada, a secular organization that educates and advocates for reason and science.   He is also on the board of directors of Recovering from Religion.

While he disagrees strongly with his father's interpretation of the Bible, he defends his family's sincerity against accusations that they are just being provocative and don't believe what they're saying.  He says he is convinced that they really do believe what they preach.  Then he adds that character is another thing.  He made reference to his father having been abusive to the children when they were growing up, and this has to come into as assessment, he says.

Nate comes across as a well-educated, well-spoken man.  This fits with what friends I know in Topeka say:  that the Phelps sons and daughters are very bright and well educated, many of them lawyers.   This comes from people who have taught them in school.  One of the daughters, a lawyer, successfully defended the church all the way to the Supreme Court and won the lawsuit that had been brought against them for protesting at the funeral of soldier killed in Iraq.

It's a strange family.   I have trouble seeing how such bigotry can co-exist with high intelligence and good education.   One explanation would be the kind of mind-control that sometimes comes from an abusive relationship, especially of children early in life.  They may grow up not daring to think for themselves or to oppose anything put forth by the abuser -- unless they escape, as several of them have done.

Preaching God's hatred at funerals of innocents is not simply bigotry -- it's just plain cruel.


Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Chubby Newt

This is a short, quick note -- because that's all he rates, if that.  And since I've just written about another public figure making an absurd statement, it brought to mind The Chubby Newt, who made news twice this week.

Once in blathering about the Newtown tragedy.  His opinion (or at least what he told the TV cameras):   If we hadn't taken prayer out of schools, and if we let school principals be armed -- maybe these things wouldn't happen.

And yesterday, he said that he "would probably have done better than Romney against Obama" in the election.

OK.  Let's put these both in the context that Newt is always wrong about whatever he says.  So why do tv producers keep having him on to pontificate?

Why am I writing this now and putting his name out there?    The best way to deal with Newt would be to ignore him;  don't give him a mike or a camera.   Why can't we do that -- me included?


The NRA finally speaks about the Newtown massacre

Following the massacre at an elementary school in Newtown, MA, there seems to be a more serious determination to do something about our culture of violence and the too easy access to weapons for multiple killings.

There have been calls for greater gun control following Columbine, Virginia Tech, Tucson, Aurora, CO, and others.  But they usually pass in a week or so, and nothing changes.

This time -- it may accomplish something.  President Obama, some Republicans in Congress, TV commentators, and even the judge who held the trial for Gabrielle Gifford's shooter have been calling for new control laws, at least on assault weapons.  Some of them have even been speaking boldly about what the NRA really does -- which is to act as a lobbyist for the manufacturers and the retailers of these weapons.

Now the NRA has spoken.   Executive VP Wayne LaPierre held a news conference yesterday.   Did he offer the expected gesture toward a modicum of gun control -- or at least emphasize the need for safety training and preventing mentally ill persons from getting guns?

Absolutely not.   He went the other way.
The solution to our violence and gun problem is:   MORE GUNS. 
Every school in this country should have armed guards;  and the principals also should be armed.   That's the NRA's solution.

This is not even what the majority of NRA members would say.   And it certainly is not what the nation needed to hear.

It's certainly arguable that no conceivably-passable regulatory laws could have prevented Adam Lanza from doing what he did.    He used guns that had been legally purchased by his mother.   And he killed her -- possibly because she was trying to prevent his taking her guns.  She reportedly handled them properly and kept them secure.  But Adam lived with her and he knew how to gain access to them.

That is not the point.   The point is that there are too many guns, no one needs to have assault weapons designed only to kill many people quickly, and it's time we at least reinstate the ban on such weapons that we once had.   If the emotions stirred by this tragedy serve to restore some sane regulations, let's do it while we can.


Friday, December 21, 2012

House Republicans gave up and went home

John Boehner couldn't get enough votes from his caucus to pass his Plan B, so the House adjourned and went home until after Christmas.

This is good news, I think.   Ultra-conservative Republican Congressman Dan Burton (Indiana) said that if a fiscal deal isn't reached before the end of the year, President Obama will be in such a strong position that Republicans will be forced to accept the end of Bush tax cuts for those making above $250,000.

What this means for Boehner's future as Speaker remains to be seen.   He gambled on getting his "compromise" bill through the House -- which meant they would break their pledges not to raise taxes at all.

And he lost.   Which will likely add fuel to the talk of opposition to his re-election as Speaker, with Georgia's Tom Price as a more conservative, leading contender.

Others are making the obligatory "blame Obama" comments -- trying to paint him as the recalcitrant one.   That's ridiculous -- and maybe why his offer on chained-CPI index for Social Security was a good tactical move.   Same for going up to $400,000 on taxes.  They can't really say he didn't give on anything -- not with any credibility.

Sounds really good to me.   Let's go over the cliff, and then fix what needs to be fixed with a new congress and better Democratic numbers -- plus there will be greater pressure on the Republicans to give in.


PS:    Boehner's humiliating defeat by his own party now makes a mockery of his taunting President Obama yesterday, when he told a press conference that "the president is not willing to stand up to his own party."  

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Despicable perversion of religion #2

Some opponents are going after the Westboro Baptist Church in a new way -- hacking into their twitter accounts and changing their message.   One 15 year old whiz kid, who goes by the online name of "Cosmo the God," managed to take over the twitter account of Shirley Lynn Phelps-Roper, daughter of Fred Phelps and spokesperson for the group.

Cosmo changed her background to a message that said "Pray for Newtown" and edited her profile information.    Someone else tweeted out her telephone number and started an online petition to the White House to have the WBC declared a hate organization.  Other cyberattack groups have also been active in causing mischief for other members of WBC.  

The Westboro Baptist Church is listed as an anti-Semitic and homophobic hate group by the Anti-Defamation League and, I believe, by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which exposes and works to counter-act hate groups.

Unfortunately for young Cosmo, this act of countering a hate group may cause him some trouble.   He wound up in juvenile court for several other cyberattacks in 2012:  taking down the NASDAQ site and some government site, including   His probated sentence banned him from the internet until he turns 21.  So will probably be a probation violation for him.

Is this a good thing?    I must admit that my moral position on it gets sort of fuzzy when the victim is such a despicable group in which I can find absolutely no redeeming features.   So, I am torn.   However, I also agree with the ACLU principle of defending freedom of speech, even when it's a message they deplore.   But shouldn't there be some limits? -- like the funerals of innocent people who have absolutely nothing to do with what you're protesting, and the only rationale of the protesters is the publicity they will get?


Understanding the CPI

Now I know a little more about the Consumer Price Index and how this figures into the cuts that Obama is prepared to accept in Social Security cost of living increases.

The proposal is simply to use what's called the "chained-CPI index" instead of the simple "cost of living" index.  Some economists say the chained-CPI index is more accurate of real spending cost increases.  What it does is measure the increased prices of what is actually purchased, rather than simply on how prices have gone up.

Under the old way, if the price of beef goes up, the CPI goes up.  Under the chained index:  if the price of beef goes up, and if a significant number of shoppers then buy pork instead of beef, that is taken into consideration.   So, in effect, it doesn't just compare the price of beef in 2011 with beef in 2012;  it compares what people paid for groceries in 2011 with what they paid for groceries in 2012.    Same with clothing, etc.

There are now some statistics on how much the change would affect SS checks.   Over the past 26 years, on average, it would have been 0.28% a year less -- or 7.32% over the 22 years.   A relatively small amount per year, but it does add up over time.

As of this writing, Nancy Pelosi says the House Democrats will accept it.   One of the labor leaders says they oppose it, but they're not yet ready to say it should be the deal breaker in a fiscal cliff settlement.

And, remember this.   It can always be increased later by a more Democratic-friendly Congress.


Let's be practical

Who knows what is really going on behind the scenes in the negotiations about the fiscal problems -- how much of what we hear is negotiating tactics, how much is serious business?

The latest flap that has liberals up in arms is the report that Obama has offered to change how the annual cost of living (COL) increases are calculated.   I'm not very knowledgeable about this.  Some have said that old way of calculating it is not really realistic anyway.  I think it boils down to this:

Yes, it would make a little difference over time in how much a senior's monthly SS check is.  For example, mine will increase by 1.7% next year.   With the change, it might rise by 1.5%.  That's the magnitude we're talking about.   So, say, in 5 years it might be a difference of 1%.

Not insignificant.  But, as a negotiating tactice, it might be OK.  The trouble is, it crosses that line in the sand, where Dems said "no cuts in entitlements" and Repubs said "no new taxes."

Boehner has already indicated a willingness to cross that line by allowing tax cuts to expire on those making over $400,000.   So this is a comparable move, it seems to me.

But my initial response was:   There he goes again.  Obama is caving in on Social Security.  So I understand the emotional reaction, too.    But, if he doesn't concede any more than this, and he gets a deal out of it, that's not too bad.


LATE ADDITION:   An NBC/Wall St. Journal poll just released shows that 61% of Republicans would accept higher taxes on the wealthy to avoid the fiscal cliff.   So, maybe a deal will be reached without any further concessions from Obama.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Despicable perversion of religion

It was bad enough that the Westboro Baptist Church protestors picketed funerals of men who died from AIDS and men who had been killed in Iraq.   It seems that, in their warped minds and perversion of Christianity, that they will take any occasion that gets TV cameras to cover their despicable circus. 

But now they have sunk even lower -- announcing their plans to protest at the funerals of children killed in Newtown, CT.  Their "excuse" this time was to blame Connecticutt's marriage equality legislation.  Killing 20 children was God's punishment.

EXCEPTEnter the calvary, just like in the old Westerns, when the good guys ride into town to save the day.  

Motoclycists from the anti-Westboro group Patriot Guard Riders lined the streets to block them from access to the funeral mourners.  Another group, Angel Action, was also ready to go to Newtown to help in this effort.  And more than 100 bikers from New York and Massachusetts were in Connecticutt to show their support and be available if needed.

As last reported, the Westboro group left the area without picketing.   This seems to be the most effective way to counter them.   It all began in the early days with AIDS victims' funerals, where men dressed as angels with long, white-draped arm extensions -- which they held aloft as they lined the streets to block the views of the protestors.

There's something especially poignant, though, about motorcyclists showing their tender, protective side for victims of such bigotry and hatred.  

Good for them.


Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The need for impartial redistricting plans

Forty-four states leave the drawing of congressional district lines entirely to their legislatures, which means the plans will favor the political party in power at the time.

Six states (AZ, CA, HI, ID, NJ, WA) give the task to independent or bipartisan commissionsThree states (FL, IA, ME) have independent bodies to propose plans, which are then subject to legislative approval.    Seven states have populations small enough that they have only one congressional district.

So how does it work out where political parties have the choice?   Not very well.   The 2012 elections is a good test of that.   With the Tea Party in ascendency in 2010, conservatives not only swept into control of the House but also of state governments -- which gave them control of redistricting done in response to the 2010 census.

Thus 2012 showed influence of state legislative majorities in the elections for the U.S. House but not so much in the presidential race.   It led to some interesting divergencies:

WisconsinObama carried the state, as did Tammy Baldwin, who will be one of the most liberal of the new U.S. Senators.  Democrats received more total votes statewide for Congress -- but due to the way districts are drawn (to concentrate partisan voters in a few districts), the state will have 5 Republicans and 3 Democrats in Congress.

PennsylvaniaObama won, as did several Democrats for state offices;  and 83,000 more votes overall for Democrats to Congress.   Yet Republicans will have a 13 to 5 edge in their congressional delegation.

Virginia:   Democrats won nearly 50% of the votes in Congressional races, but will have only 27% of its seats in congress.

Ohio:  Democrats won 48% of the vote, but only 25% of its seats.

This needs fixing.   The House of Representatives, having to be elected every two years, is designed to be the more representative of recent public opinion, as well as the more representative of the relative populousness of states.

Another factor is that this kind of political-target districting also gives an advantage to incumbents.   So, once the Tea Party swept into Congress in 2010, it was not so easy to defeat them.   But a significant number were defeated anyway -- including a close call for Michele Bachmann.

What about a constitutional amendment to overhaul our electoral system:   let's do campaign finance, redistricting, and the electoral college, all in one amendment?


Monday, December 17, 2012

At long last, maybe . . .

There are some indications that, finally, at long last . . .  just maybe . . . we can have a rational discussion about sane gun control.

Joe Scarborough, former Republican Congressman and host of "Morning Joe" on MSNBC, discussed his changing views on gun control in the aftermath of the Newtown school massacre.   This morning he described himself, during his years in Congress, as having been "a conservative Republican" and solidly aligned with the NRA and libertarian views on the second amendment.   However, "Friday changed everything," he said:
"I knew that day that the ideologies of my past career were no longer relevant to the future that I want, that I demand for my children. Friday changed everything. It must change everything.
We all must begin anew and demand that Washington's old way of doing business is no longer acceptable. Entertainment moguls don't have an absolute right to glorify murder while spreading mayhem in young minds across America.  Our Bill of Rights does not guarantee gun manufacturers the absolute right to sell military-style, high-caliber, semi-automatic combat assault rifles with high-capacity magazines to whoever the hell they want.

"It is time for Congress to put children before deadly dogmas. It's time for politicians to start focusing more on protecting our schoolyards than putting together their next fundraiser. It's time for Washington to stop trying to win endless wars overseas when we're losing the war at home ... For the sake of my four children and yours, I choose life and I choose change."
Harry Reid, Senate majority leader and staunch gun advocate, also signalled his readiness to "engage in a meaningful conversation and thoughtful debate about how to change laws and culture that allow violence to grow."

It's a good start.   Will it last?



From the New York Times, 12/17/12:
"Japan Election Returns Power To Old Guard"
"Tokyo -- Japan's voters handed a landslide victory to the Liberal Democratic Party in national parliamentary elections on Sunday, giving power back to the conservative party that had governed Japan for decades until a historic defeat three years ago."
That left me scratching my head.   The Liberal Democratic Party is the conservative party???

So I went to Wikipedia for a quick rundown on political parties in Japan.  And this is not an error.   The Democratic Party, the larger of the two major parties, is generally considered to be left of center;  while The Liberal Democratic Party is made up of conservative and centrist groups.

In addition there are about ten other minor parties, including the Social Democratic Party, the Communist Party, and a smattering of smaller groups usually based on some narrower focus.

Quite different from our slugfest of two giants.


Sunday, December 16, 2012

Gun control laws #2

I know so little about guns -- but that's no less than I want to know.   However, in my ignorance, I may have misstated the situation in my previous post.  It concerns whether "any conceivable law" could have prevented the sale of the type guns the killer used.

More details released today by the police in Newton, CT reveal that both the rifle and the handguns were fitted with "high capacity clips" -- meaning they could fire multiple rounds of shots without reloading.

The rifle, at least, is classified as "semi-automatic."   It is of the type that could get through the loophole in the assault weapons ban that existed from 1994 until it expired in 2004 after conservatives blocked its renewal. 

So it was currently legal -- and it's debatable whether any likely future law will be able to ban such weapons.  If they fix the loopholes, then the law may stop such semi-automatic weapons, until they figure out another loophole, of course.

In my opinion, these guns have no purpose other than to kill lots of people quickly, and they have no place in our modern, urban society.


What should we do about gun control?

There is no doubt that gun violence - particularly these mass shootings -- is increasing.   My information here is based in part on Jay Bookman's AJC column, 12/16/12.

"Of the dozen most deadly mass killings in U.S. history, half have occurred in the past five years."   U.S. gun ownership is also highest in history:  300 million guns for a population of 315 million.    Yet, we have NRA-types saying the problem is not too many guns, but not enough guns.   If those elementary school teachers had been armed, they could have taken this guy out.    The same day as the shooting, Michigan's legislature passed a law allowing concealed weapons to be carried into schools.

Is that what we want?    A fully armed society?   Shoot-outs at elementary schools and churches?  A return to the good old days of the frontier Western shoot-out at high noon?

But what is to be done?   With so many guns in circulation, can gun control laws be effective?

In this case, the 20 year old shooter took guns legally owned by his mother, who was herself an experienced shooter who took her children to the firing range to teach them how to shoot.  As to his accuracy:  news reports point out that he killed 27 of the 28 people he shot, leaving only one person alive but wounded.

He was reportedly denied a gun purchase on his own at one store the day before, because he refused to wait for the background check.   So he used his mother's guns . . .  first on her.   Since we have no information on his motive for shooting his mother, could it be that she was trying to stop him from taking the guns, knowing he was unstable? 

No gun law currently in force, or any conceivable additional laws, would have prevented this tragedy.   The laws in place did prevent his purchase, at least at one store;  but it couldn't stop his access to his mother's legally purchased guns.  It's hard to have to admit that, being a staunch advocate for gun control.  But it's the truth.

Hand guns and a rifle were the weapons of choice here.  It's unlikely those will be banned.   But there is a case for banning the sale and ownership of assault rifles and multiple-round handguns that are designed only for killing many people as quickly as possible.   They are not needed for hunters or home defenders.  But that wouldn't have prevented the lawful purchase of these guns by the mother.

What we do need to change, however, is our culture of guns and violence.   It's one thing to restrict ownership to the sane without criminal records, and to require training in the use of firearms.   But how effective can that be, with so many guns already in circulation, with the lax enforcement of laws, combined with loopholes in sales at gun shows that bypass background checks, plus the inability to prevent cases like the present one where he easily obtained legally bought and owned guns of a family member.

Changing our gun culture, or frontier mentality, and our glorifying gun slingers in movies and TV and video games.    Now there's a long range project.   Education must begin early and often -- as has been done to some extent in educating children about environmental concerns.

I don't expect this one to be fixed in my life time;  but I do hope we begin trying to fix it NOW before another such awful massacre occurs.


Social Security does not add to the deficit

Jason Linkins and Ryan Grim, two blog writers who bring some sanity to political discourse, have taken on the often-repeated myths about Social Security.   Nothing seems to get people quite as confused, or to give politicians quite as much opportunity to distort and mislead.

Here it is, simple and clear:
Social Security does not add to the deficit.
It does not need to be cut in order to balance the budget.
It only needs minor tweeking to keep it solvent.
Here is how Linkins and Ryan explain it: 
Social Security, by law, is not part of the congressional budget;  it does not add to the deficit. It is not a driver of long-term debt. . . .  [It] does not even have to come up during the “fiscal cliff talks” because it’s totally irrelevant to the situation and will only complicate everything needlessly. . . .

[T]he Associated Press, relying on a familiar line of reasoning, argu[es] that the program does in fact add to the deficit because the government 'spent that money on other programs, reducing the amount it had to borrow from the public, including foreign investors... In return, the Treasury Department issued special bonds to Social Security. The bonds are now valued at $2.7 trillion. They are accounted for in two Social Security trust funds, one for the retirement program and one for the disability program. The bonds pay interest like other Treasury notes and are backed by the full faith and credit of the U.S. government.' . . .
In other words, as I read it, Social Security is not the cause of increased deficit.  It is a holder of U. S. bonds, which represent its debt;  but it is simply a creditor of the U. S., just like China.  We don't blame China for our our deficit or our debt.

At a 2011 Senate hearing, two Social Security experts, a liberal and a conservative, testified -- and agreed -- that the law is "unambiguous."  It specifically states that Social Security  "shall not be counted for purposes of the congressional budget."

Further, they agreed that it is not to be considered part of the budget.   Even if you cut Social Security, it will not change the $14.3 trillion debt that we are facing.  It does not help in any way with the debt limit.   And note:  that both a liberal and a conservative expert on Social Security agreed on these statements.

Back to Linkins and Grim:
The solvency of Social Security is at risk if the following two things happen: 1) the number of recipients overwhelmingly outnumber the number of contributors and 2) American lawmakers forget how to do math.

What we popularly refer to as the “Social Security solvency crisis” refers to a large population of Americans (the “Baby Boom Generation”) entering their retirement years at a time when the number of contributors is less than ideal. Hopefully, however, someone at some point is going to remember how to solve a simple arithmetic problem, raise or remove the income caps on contributions (right now, incomes that exceed $110,100 are not subject to contributions beyond that amount), and then we will never have to worry about Social Security solvency again. . . . 
Does this make us all feel better?   It should.   Let's hope journalists and pundits will begin to confront politicians who play the Social Security card and try to scare voters into doing something stupid to mess with a program that works.

Medicare and Medicaid are another matter.   They do affect budgeting.  And it's important to keep them separate when thinking about what to cut.


Saturday, December 15, 2012

States say 'no' to ObamaCare health exchanges

Yesterday was the deadline for states to file their plans to set up their own exchanges for people to shop for health care insurance.

More than half the states decided not to do so -- which means that the federal government with set up exchanges for people who live in those states.

Maybe that's not a bad thing.   Could it be the start for a national health insurance program?


Friday, December 14, 2012

Outrageous response to the outrage in CT school

We have yet another national tragedy in mass shootings in public places, this time in an elementary school in Connecticut, leaving 20 children, the school principle, the school psychologist, the killer himself, and his mother -- all dead.

Of course there is outrage on the left, as people cry out, once again, for some sane gun control laws to be passed.

Some responses from the right are . . . simply outrageous.
One anti-gun-control advocate said:  if teachers had been armed, they could have stopped the killings.

And then there's former Gov. Mike Huckabee, who told Fox News: 
"We ask why there is violence in our schools, but we have systematically removed God from our schools.  Should we be so surprised that schools would become a place of carnage?"
Last year, he said this about the mass shooting in a theater in Colorado: 
"We don't have a crime problem, a gun problem or even a violence problem. What we have is a sin problem.  And since we've ordered God out of our schools, and communities, the military and public conversations, you know we really shouldn't act so surprised ... when all hell breaks loose."
It's not clear what Huckabee means.   Is he blaming us liberals who insist on separation of church and state?   Or is he saying that his god is so insecure and jealous that he cannot abide not being worshiped all the time, everywhere -- and that this god would punish those little children and their families because we don't pray to him in schools?

I don't think so.   I cannot believe in a god who would do that.


Thursday, December 13, 2012

The fight over Susan Rice's appointment was not about Susan Rice

Susan Rice is imminently qualified to succeed Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State.   She was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford, where she got her PhD in international relations.  She has been part of the National Security team in the Clinton administration, as Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, a senior Fellow on Foreign Affairs at the Brookings Institute, and is currently the U. S. Ambassador to the United Nations.

Opposition to her appointment has focused on one Sunday morning of talk shows, where she gave a preliminary report on what happened in the Benghazi attack that killed our ambassador and three others.   Her explanation was based on unclassified information that was supplied by our intelligence organizations.   It proved to be premature and incorrect, as she said at the time that it might be.

Graham, McCain, and other Republican senators have been unrelenting in their continuing rant of opposition, without much substance to their criticisms of Rice herself.

Nevertheless, insiders predicted that she would still win confirmation in the Senate, requiring only five Republicans to join a united Democratic vote.   Today, Dr. Rice asked President Obama to withdraw her name from considerations.   She had not been formally nominated.

There are two speculations about what motivated the Republicans' opposition.   (1)  It is a way to thwart President Obama and to create a sideshow to distract from their losing position on the fiscal cliff fight.  (2) The next most likely nominee is Senator John Kerry, whom even Republicans consider highly qualified.   But this would create an open senate seat from Massachusetts and the possible flip of the seat to a Republican.   Scott Brown might beat anyone less formidable than Elizabeth Warren.

Aides say that it was Rice's own decision, not that Obama pulled the plug.   But I would guess the White House is relieved not to have that fight right now with the financial cliff, debt ceiling, and budget fights going on.

Now there will be a white man at State again for the first time in 15 years.  Before that, it had never been anything but a white man.   Then came Madeleine Albright, Colin Powell, Condi Rice, and Hillary Clinton.


December 13, 1932

Friday, December 13, 1932.   That's when I came into the world.   And that makes me 80 years old today -- an octogenarian.  I'm trying to get used to that word, to demystify it, to distill it to its purity of meaning -- quite simply that I have lived 80 years.  It says nothing about my mental acuity or my physical robustness.

But let's be real. "Octogenarian" sounds so old, with stereotypes of fragile little people, diminished in every way.  It's the time when nurses in doctors offices begin in all seriousness to treat you like a child again and adopt a fake tone of cheeriness:  "How are we feeling this morning, Sweetie?"

I've already had the experience of a cashier at the bagel shop, as I was sorting out coins to give her the exact amount, say in her kind, but patronizing tone, "Take you time, hon."

I have plans, not so much to deny the reality of my age but to embrace it as an opportunity.  Responsibilities are lessened, more time is available.   I want to harvest my life experiences, to be reminded, to mull them over, and reflect on what this has all been about.

In time I may share some of that.   Some of it will be private.   Who knows?   I might even extract a book of memoirs from it.   Or I may not.  I have no obligation to do it.

But it is a journey I would like to begin.


Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Leave it to the comedians

As I repeatedly say, "leave it to the comedians."   They're the ones who tell the truth, call out the liars, and speak boldly to the powerful.   Shakespeare knew this when he created the wise fool.

There are serious problems in the world -- Will we go over the fiscal cliff?   Will the Republicans cave on tax hikes for the rich?   Will the Syrian rebels prevail, now that we have officially recognized them and can give aid?   Will North Korea's successful long-range rocket launch lead to a new round of tensions from that direction?   Will Netanyahu's intransigence over building more housing for Israelis in Gaza prevent any kind of negotiated peace?  Will the Hamas leader's statement that he will never recognized the existence of the State of Israel prevent any kind of negotiated peace?

But for today, I'm putting those aside in favor of a comedian, Chris Bliss, who has spent the last ten years raising funds for and getting a monument approved by the Arizona legislature to commemorate the Bill of Rights.

This started when Alabama's Chief Justice was defying law by having a monument to the Ten Commandments in the court building.   Bliss thought, rather than fighting over whether it was legal, why not simply put up a monument to the Bill of Rights next to it and -- as he pithily put it -- "Let people comparison shop."

Not a bad idea.   As a blueprint for forming a democracy which would you choose?

"Freedom speech" or "Thou shalt have no other gods before me"?

"Due process of law" or "Thou shalt not take the Lord's name in vain"?

"Public trial by jury" or "Observe the Sabbath day to keep it holy"?

"Right to bear arms" (whatever that means) or "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife"?

"Protection against unreasonable search" or "Honor thy father and thy mother"?

You get the idea.   There is no question which one is more germane to democracy and the establishment of a government of the people.

One belongs in a place of honor in courthouses and public parks.  The other belongs in religious buildings.


Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Vatican needs different PR

Pope Benedict has come under criticism (including this blog) for being out of touch with the real world in his views on homosexuality, on women, and on birth control.   He sees himself defending the faith, not adjusting to the world, of course. And perhaps that's his proper role.

I happen to disagree with that aspect of his views -- although I am quick to admire and praise the social justice work done by many Catholics, especially the American nuns.  Of course, the Vatican is trying to suppress them and take control of their organization because they spend more time helping the poor than they do demonstrating against abortions and gay marriage.

Apparently, the Vatican managers do think that they need a more modern image to counter some of this criticism.   In my opinion, however, they're going about it the wrong way, and it's beginning to make the pope look a bit foolish -- and it only emphasizes the divide.

Last Christmas, they staged a photo opportunity to show him sending out an email message (get it?   the pope does email).   The video clip showed them leading him in to a table holding a lap top, which obviously had a pre-written message.    He sat down at the table, and with assistance touched his finger to the "send" button -- and Viola !! -- the pope does email.

Now we hear that he has opened a twitter account and plans to tweet.   Oh, come on, folks in the Vatican.  Is this really going to change anything if the policies don't change?

The AJC carried a cartoon yesterday, reprinted from another paper.  It's a drawing of a little man all gussied up in pope regalia and funny hat.  And it poses a Q&A.

Q:  "Why did the man with archaic views on women, gays, birth control, sex, marriage, health care and child molestation open a twitter account?

A:  "He wants to keep up with the times."

To borrow a line from a recent US vice presidential candidate:  "It's like putting lipstick on a pig."  No, I'm not calling the pope a pig.   It's the incongruity and the futility of trying to obscure something by creating a faked image.


Monday, December 10, 2012

Journalists not doing their job

Dan Froomkin, a particularly good political writer for Huffington Post, has a scathing article about the failure of journalists to do their job during the recent election cycle.  He cites the increasing practice of 'balanced reporting,' where outright lies are simply treated as one side of the story.   Reporters failed to confront untruths, and they failed to distinguish between the usual amount of political truth-stretching and the "far more over-the-top" lying of the Republicans.

Candy Crowley's correction of Mitt Romney's misstatement in the second debate was a notable exception -- and the fact that it created such a big stir indicates how rare it has become.

Norman Ornstein, a scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, and Thomas Mann, scholar at the more liberal Brookings Institute, co-authored an explosive article on this subject in the Washington Post last April, which was taken from their recently published book.  Froomkin quotes Ornstein: 
"I can't recall a campaign where I've seen more lying going on  -- and it wasn't symmetric. . . . the Republican campaign was just far more over the top."
Ornstein further stated that, when journalists use this false equivalence meme, it allows politicians to just adopt a strategy of lying -- because they get away with it.

A big part of the problem, Froomkin points out, is that the tv producers, and newspaper publishers and editors are beholden to their corporate interests.   They don't want to risk accusations of bias -- so they put pressure on reporters and news analysts to keep things balanced.

Even the fact-checking  was not immune.  They often will present an equal number of "mostly true" and "false" ratings for both candidates.   Even though one candidate's "false" statements are trivial and the other's are major lies -- they balance out the scorecard.  This false "balance" tries to appear unbiased, when in fact they are distorting the truth by making fake equivalence.

Since Mann and Ornstein made these charges against fellow newsmen, this bipartisan pair of "the most quotable men in Washington," are now virtual pariahs inside the beltway, according to Froomkin.   Neither has been on the Sunday talk shows since their book came out.  Yet, in private, journalists agree with them.

Mann says that they are not anti-Republican but rather they're saying "We want a strong, conservative Republican Party -- but one with some connection with reality."

Ornstein says his message to the media going forward would be this: 
"I understand your concerns about advertisers. I understand your concerns about being labeled as biased. But what are you there for? What's the whole notion of a free press for if you're not going to report . . . the truth?. . . 

"[S]ometimes there are two sides to a story. Sometimes there are ten sides to a story.  Sometimes there's only one.

"Somebody has got to make an assessment of whether the two sides are being equally careless with their facts, or equally deliberate with their lies."
Amen to that.   In fact, I did my own ranting about the failure of the journalists to do just this back during the campaign.


Sunday, December 9, 2012

Hillary 2016

It's hers for the taking . . . on a silver platter, if she wants it.   Hillary Clinton is better positioned to be swept into office as #45 than anyone in my memory.   She has proven her capabilities as a Secretary of State.  

Here's how it was put by one of the candidates who ran for the 2012 GOP nomination, and lost:
"The Republican party is incapable of competing at that level.  First of all, she's very formidable as a person.  She's a very competent person. She's married to the most popular Democrat in the country; they both think [it] would be good for her to be president. It makes it virtually impossible to stop her for the nomination."
He adds that she would also have the support of President Obama, who will still be a relatively popular president.
"Trying to win that [for the GOP] will be truly the Super Bowl."
I agree with this assessment.  Add to it that, by then, ObamaCare will have become a success, maybe the war in Afghanistan will have wound down (at least our involvement), the economy will be in solid recovery -- and it should favor a Democrat anyway.

The only thing that troubles me is that those quotes are from Newt Gingrich.  And his predictions are almost 100% unreliable.   He's always wrong -- by a mile.   Remember his saying Mitt Romney would win in a landslide?

Still . . . a poll shows that 57% say they would support her -- and she's not even running.  With that, and my own opinion, we can forget Newt.


Fascination with the constitutional law

In my old age, I have become interested in constitutional law, as it plays out in Supreme Court hearings and decisions.  Perhaps because there have been some interesting questions brought to the court for decision lately;  perhaps because I have more time to read about the cases now.

Of course the two cases that deal with marriage equality based on equal protection that the Court has just decided to hear next spring are among those.   I will write about those later.

This one is quicker.   The Court also announced that it will hear arguments about whether the pharmaceutical companies' practice of paying generic drug manufacturers huge sums to keep their products off the markets violates the anti-trust laws.

By keeping the lower priced generics off the market, BigPharma can charge higher prices, even after their patent exclusivity expires.  But the people and the federal government will lose money, billions of dollars.  So does government have a role in preventing this practice?   Should prices be a consideration?   Isn't that what anti-trust laws are about:  protecting competition, which should keep prices lower.

The pharmaceutical companies claim that it is not a payoff but a settlement of a patent dispute with the generic makers.  Really?

This will be interesting to watch.


Saturday, December 8, 2012

"Tis the season of . . . Scrooge"

Good old Scrooge, who graces Atlanta stages at this time of year when "A Christmas Carol" is the obligatory production of several theater groups.  So, I decided to drag out my Bah Humbug schtick to go along in honor of Dickens.

Again, it's about dining out in local restaurants.   My complaint today is about over-solicitous wait-staff.   Being attentive to the diner's pleasure/displeasure with what he's been served is a good idea.  But, come on, folks.   Asking once is enough.

There's one place I go frequently that's a step up from fast food franchises but definitely not one of the upscale, tablecloth restaurants.  It seems that the staff have been over-trained to ask, "How's your meal?"

During a quick lunch recently, I was asked not once, not twice, but five times by 3 different people.   Once would have been enough.  It's even worse because, dining alone, I am always reading;  and I hate to be interrupted to answer silly questions.   And, no, I don't want to sit at the counter so I can watch TV.

Look, if I'm obviously absorbed in what I'm reading and not looking around to catch your eye, I'm fine.  The food's all right.   And I don't want to have to answer questions like, "Is everything wonderful?"

Well, no, it's not wonderful.   If I wanted wonderful, I would have gone elsewhere.  I just wanted the four-vegetable plate with no frills.  I don't expect wonderful.  It's ok and it's what I ordered.  Enough, leave me alone.

First, my server came by within seconds of the food being delivered.   "How is everything?"  Well, I hadn't even tasted it yet, but it looked ok and it was what I ordered.   Then the manager came by, going from table to table, asking if everything was all right.   Then the server came back again.   Then someone else -- maybe the boss ??? -- came by asking, "How's your meal?"  Then the server came again as I was mopping up the last morsel -- obviously I wasn't dissatisfied, since I ate every bit.   But he asked anyway.

I have an even bigger complaint.   If you're going to interrupt my reading, at least listen to my answer.   Often, the question is asked -- and it takes a second to get out of the article I'm absorbed in and bring my attention back into the room, and before I can even get a couple of words out -- the reply comes back, "Great."   And he/she moves on to the next table.

Bah humbug !!!!     Leave me alone, already.   That's why I'm dining alone.  Respect my wish not to be constantly interrupted, please.  Besides, really good servers are attentive, but not intrusive;  look my way occasionally in case you're needed, but don't substitute intrusive questions so you can then disappear for five minutes, not to be seen -- even if something is needed.


aka Curmudgeon-in-Training

Friday, December 7, 2012

Economy improving

The U.S. economy added 146,000 jobs in November, and unemployment fell to 7.7% -- down .2% from October and the lowest in rate four years.   Housing prices are up.  The economy grew at a solid 2.7% annual rate for the July-September quarter.

Things are definitely looking up.  Even with the uncertainty of the fiscal cliff looming.  Either they will come to some agreement or they'll fix it afterward, which wouldn't be hard if the political will is there.

The biggest stumbling block is that the Republicans don't get it that they lost the election and they do not have the clout to continue obstructing progress.   Judging from Aunt Minnie's miscalculation yesterday, they've entered the season of making stupid mistakes.


Thursday, December 6, 2012

Reid calls McConnell's bluff

"Aunt Minnie" McConnell got out-foxed by Harry Reid in the Senate today.

McConnell made a motion this morning to take a vote on President Obama's proposal to allow him to extend the nation's debt ceiling on his own -- apparently thinking that Reid wouldn't allow it at this point because not all Democrats are on board with it yet.  It would be defeated, he assumed, and McConnell could crow that even the Democrats didn't support giving the president that authority.
To his surprise, Reid agreed to bring it to the floor for an up or down vote.   BOING !~!  BOING !~!~!

Talk about backfire -- and backtracking.   Aunt Minnie had badly miscalculated.   So he wound up filibustering his own bill.

Now gleeful Democrats are jumping up and down, because what better proof do they need to show that the Republicans are abusing the filibuster -- and it should be changed?

It's not Aunt Minnie's first miscalculation.   Back in July he called for a vote on extending the Bush-era tax cuts for the middle class but not for the upper 2%, thinking it would fail.

But it passed.  And now that is putting extra pressure on the House to take a vote on it, with the Senate having already passed it.

Damn, it feels good to see the Democrats outmaneuvering the Republicans -- and winning, for a change.  What a difference an election makes.


Wednesday, December 5, 2012

What a difference an election makes . . .

Not only was the president re-elected with a 4.6 million vote margin in the popular vote and and an electoral win of 332 to 206, but his campaign's get-out-the-vote drive helped carry Senate and House candidates with him, improving the Democrats' standing in both chambers.

Not only that, but no one seems to doubt that President Obama has more political captial than before, giving him a stronger negotiating position on the budget and other legislation.

But here's my election-results, take-home news trivia of the day:
Marco Rubio has embraced scientific knowledge.  

Remember, during the campaign when he was asked if he believed the earth was only 6,000 year old and he said "I'm not a scientist . . . . . the age of the earth is one of the mysteries."

Well, now he has found out.   Today he was asked about it again, and said: "There is no scientific debate on the age of the Earth, it's established pretty definitively, it's at least 4.5 billion years old. . . .I was referring to a theological debate."  It was also about not offending his ultra-conservative base.

Well, it's good to have that cleared up.   Yes, indeed, what a difference an election makes.


Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Is Fox News reforming? #2

His election night antics, as well as his way-off-the-mark predictions, continue to stain Karl Rove's standing with Fox News.

New York Magazine is reporting that Roger Ailes -- uber-boss of Fox News -- is limiting the appearances of Karl Rove and Dick Morris on the network.   Morris also made outlandish claims about Romney winning in a landslide.

Ailes supposedly said, in reference to it, "The election's over."

It's one more indication Ailes can read the tea leaves and found his network on the wrong side of history.   He's more of a businessman than an ideologue.


Monday, December 3, 2012

There is "No presumption of innocence for young black men . . . "

Jordan Davis, an unarmed, black 17-year old boy, was shot last week by Michael Dunn, a white man, during an altercation concerning loud music on a car radio at a Florida gas station.   The white man fired shots into the backseat of the SUV.  He claimed he had seen a gun in the car and felt threatened.  But no shotgun was found, and second degree murder charges have been filed against him by local police.

Melissa Harris-Perry is a professor who has taught political science and African-American Studies at Columbia University and the University of Chicago;  she is now professor of political science at Tulane University and hosts her own tv news show on MSNBC, frequently commenting on race in America.

On her Saturday program, she commented on the parallels between Davis' death and the killing of Trayvon Martin, a black teenager who was also unarmed when he was shot and killed by George Zimmermann earlier this year.   Both instances, she said, continue "that sense for those of us who know them and love them that this country is no place for young black men."

Referring to the murder of Emmett Till in the 1950s, she said that one thing remains the same over generations of American history:
"No presumption of innocence for young black men, no benefit of the doubt. Guilt not determined by what they did or said but presumed to be inherent in their very being. They need not wield a weapon to pose a threat because if you are a young black man, you are threat enough."
Some are saying this will be another test for Florida's "stand your ground" law.   That is patently absurd.   Here's what happened in this case.   Dunn parked next to an SUV at a convenience story in Jacksonville, FL while his girlfriend went into the store.   In the SUV were four young black men, and their radio was playing loud music.  Dunn got out and told them to turn it down.  Words were exchanged.   Dunn then got his gun and fired eight or nine shots into the back seat of the SUV, killing Davis.   He said he saw a gun and felt threatened.  But there was no gun.   Just four young men coming from the mall and having fun listening to their music.

There is no way -- in a sane world, at any rate -- where this could conceivably be stretched to be justified under "stand your ground."    This was not Dunn's home;  it was a public place and Davis had just as much right to be there.  Dunn initiated the contact.  There was no provocation on Davis's part -- unless you call loud music a provocation -- well, I might, but I wouldn't kill anybody over it.

Except . . .  except.   Harris-Perry is right on target in this sense.  But, of course, that justifies nothing in the action of the white man.  Nor is she suggesting that.  But there are many white people who feel threatened just by the presence of young black men.    

If I were a shrink, I might suggest that this is an obvious example of projecting one's own feelings on to "the other" like this formulation:  'I want to eliminate him, so I assume that he wants to eliminate me too.   Therefore, he is a threat to me, and I have to protect myself by getting rid of him before he kills me.'   That projection is the basis of paranoia.

Well, you don't have to go that far into speculating about unconscious psychodynamics.   We do still have a race problem in our society.    We are still paying the price -- both white and blacks -- for slavery and the less severe forms of injustice that are not yet gone.

Is it that same feeling of threat that is behind the vicious Obama-hatred that played such a big part in this year's election?   Perhaps.


Sunday, December 2, 2012

Thinking about the GOP's problem #2

The other big problem I see for the party is that it is leaderless.

George W. Bush left as his legacy two wars, one of which at least should not have been started, and a disastrous economy much of his own doing.  They want him to get lost.

Their 2012 presidential candidate lost decisively, and they didn't like him anyway.  So Romney has no future as a party leader.

There are several potential strong candidates for 2o16:   Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Mitch Daniels, Marco Rubio.  They cancel each other out for the party leadership position through competition with each other.

John Boehner, possibly?   But he has his hands full just trying to hold his House caucus together.

So:   lack of leader, ideological in-fighting, and a losing demographic base.   They have very big problems to overcome to be a viable political party.   The only thing they have going for them now is strong control in many state governments.


Saturday, December 1, 2012

Thinking about the GOP's problem

This is going to be about the Republicans, but for a change I'm not going to rant about how awful they are.

This is about the Republicans' dilemma.  And they really do have a serious dilemma.  For all John Biehner's bluster, he is in a very difficult spot trying to hold his caucus together, pull them back from the brink that brought on defeat.

In 2010, the Tea Party conservatives had the momentum and the election brought a lot of them into Congress.   They pulled the Republican party and the Republican caucuses in House and Senate way to the far right.   Moderates almost lost control of the party.

One of the results was that a lot of ultraconservatives beat more moderate candidates in the 2012 primaries;  some of them were incumbents who lost their seats (Sen. Lugar for example).

But look at the results in the general election.   It was one of the main factors in the Democrats gaining seats in both House and Senate -- and led to some of the surprises.  The other big factor in the "surprise" margins of victory for Obama and down-ticket offices was the Dem's ground game of registering and getting more voters to the polls.

The Romney campaign's internal polling is now being analyzed, and it shows that they badly missed the demographic changes, and therefore under-represented especially Hispanics and Asians, who both went heavily for Obama.

But back to the main point of how ultraconservative nominees led to loss of seats.   Jay Bookman in the AJC  a few days ago wrote about this and gave three examples of states in which this happened.

Indiana:   Esteemed, even by Democrats, Senator Richard Lugar lost the nomination to a more conservative opponent, who defines compromise as Democrats giving in to Republicans.    Mitt Romney carried Indiana by 10 points;  but the Democratic Senate candidate won by 5 points.

Missouri:  Rep. Todd Akins was favored to take Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill's seat, until his infamous remark about women who get raped can't get pregnant.   Romney carried Missouri by 10 points;  McCaskill won by 15 points.

North Dakota:  A seat left open by retiring Democratic Senator Kent Conrad, one of the more fiscally conservative Democrats.   The ultraconservative GOP candidate was favored to win, and Romney won the state by 20 points.   Yet a Democrat, more liberal than Conrad whom she will replace, won a narrow victory.

Bookman concludes:
"In these states,and others, Republicans mde the mistake of believing that they could pursue ideological purity without risking rejection at the ballot box, and Democrats were more than happy to teach them otherwise."
These are three seats the Republicans could easily have won with a more moderate candidate.   There are other examples, as well, if a bit less dramatic.

So now the dilemma for GOP leaders in Congress and in the Party is how to convince the remaining Tea Party crowd that following their demands to go far right is a losing strategy and to get them on board with moving the party back to right-center.


Friday, November 30, 2012

Breaking pledges

Folks, I really did try for a while to find other things to write about so that this blog is not just a rant about how awful the Republican politicos are.   That's a hard assignment, when we are bombarded daily with evidence that they are.

The meme of this week has mostly been their posturing over the debt-reduction, budgetary negotiations.   Just this morning, here are some headlines of stories on Huffington Post:

"'Surprise':  GOP Outraged By Offer They Received Weeks Ago"

"Obama Takes Fiscal Cliff Show on the Road as Republicans Stew"

"Krauthammer Loses It:  Obama Offer Like Civil War"

 This is about their storming around yesterday over the budgetary proposal that President Obama had given them some time back;  or rather he sent over a slightly newer version, but he had the Secretary of the Treasury deliver it instead of appearing himself.    I'm thinking it's the fact that he sent Geithner while, as someone put it, he was flying all over the country hyping up his tax hike message to the American people.

The sub-meme running this week also is their outraged reaction to Harry Reid's plan to change the Senate filibuster rules on the first day of the next session.

In all this, they're acting like they're entitled to run the show, even though they lost the election decisively -- some even say there was a mandate from the voters to change the show.

Here's the headline I would like to hand to the Republicans:

"Elections Have Consequences and You Lost"


Thursday, November 29, 2012

Add this to the election costs

Remember when the Republicans held us all hostage last year, refusing to vote to increase the debt ceiling unless the President caved in on tax cuts for the wealthy?

The Bipartisan Policy Center has just released a report that says it's going to cost taxpayers about $18.9 billion over the next 10 years, because of the increased interest rates the government had to pay on the money it borrowed during the standoff, due to our creditors' fear that we might default.

It was pure politics.  They knew it had to be done, and they knew they were eventually going to do it.   But they held everyone hostage -- and now we have to pay for their political stunt.

So -- just one more cost to add to the already $6 billion estimated by the New York Times as the amount of money raised and spent on the election.  It actually quadruples the cost of politics this year.

Also add in the $1 million spent by the House to defend DOMA in court after the Department of Justice declined to defend it.  

Do you need any more evidence to vote these bums out of office next chance you get, like 2014?


Our Liberal Future

Johnathan Chait has a new article on the Daily Intel blog about the future of the political parties in terms of how young people voted in the 2012 election.  He uses the Pew Research Survey's analysis of the youth voteIt's encouraging for liberals.  Here are some excerpts from Chait's discussion:

"The youngest generation of voters contains a much smaller proportion of white voters than previous generations, and those whites in that generation vote Republican by a much smaller margin than their elders. [And younger voters seem to have a deeper attachment to liberalism than just the social issues, which] may actually portend a full-scale sea change in American politics.

". . . the core of Americans’ political thinking [is] a blend of symbolic conservatism and operational liberalism. Most Americans, that is, oppose big government in the abstract but favor it in the particular. They oppose “regulation” and “spending,” but favor, say, enforcement of clean-air laws and Social Security. . . .

"But this is not the case with younger voters. By a 59 percent to 37 percent margin, voters under 30 say the government should do more to solve problems. More remarkably, 33 percent of voters under 30 identified themselves as liberal, as against 26 percent who called themselves conservative [in contrast to older groups who identify more as conservatives, when asked].

"What all this suggests is that we may soon see a political landscape that will appear from the perspective of today and virtually all of American history as unrecognizably liberal. . . .

"Obviously, such a future hinges on the generational patterns of the last two election cycles persisting. But, as another Pew survey showed, generational patterns tend to be sticky. It’s not the case that voters start out liberal and move rightward. Americans form a voting pattern early in their life and tend to hold to it. . . .  Republicans fervently (and plausibly) hoped . . .  [that] having voted for Obama and borne the brunt of mass unemployment, once-idealistic voters would stare at the faded Obama posters on their wall and accept the Republican analysis that failed Big Government policies have brought about their misery.

"But young voters haven’t drawn this conclusion — or not many of them have, at any rate. So either something else is going to have to happen to disrupt the liberalism of the rising youth cohort, or else the Republican Party itself will have to change in ways far more dramatic than any of its leading lights seem prepared to contemplate."

This is very encouraging.  Although this makes sense, I still have doubts about the degree to which this can be assumed, and I think Chait may be overly generous in his interpretation of the second Pew survey he cites as support of people sticking with their liberal-conservative choices.   I'm from the generation that saw the South go from Democratic to Republican in very quick order when desegregation became the issue

Still, Chait's perspective is encouraging.