Saturday, March 24, 2012

Issa misuses power of office

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) is the powerful chair of the House Oversight Committee, which oversees all government operations and holds hearings in which Obama's administration people have to come testify repeatedly -- and often face hostile, sometimes blistering, attacks from Issa and other Republicans on the committee.

It's a set up for partisan witch hunts, and the Republicans are making full use of it now that they are in control of the House.  When the Democrats were in charge, they wielded tough oversight, but I think they were fair, at least in comparison with Darrell Issa -- probably as mean an SOB as they have up there.

Issa recently made headlines claiming that Attorney General Eric Holder had lied in his committee testimony, and he is building a case to have the House vote on contempt charges against Holder.  Yesterday, ranking minority member of the committee Elijah Cummings (D-MD) charged that
Issa has repeatedly launched unsubstantiated investigations that often prove to be false.   The Department of Energy and Sec. Steven Chu are his special targets, with no fewer than 11 investigations into that department -- without a single proof of wrong-doing.   
Sec. Chu,a Nobel Prize winning physicist, has had to testify repeatedly before a hostile committee, and Issa has told him publicly that he should resign.   But not one of the charges has been proved.

They have especially gone after the federal loan that Energy granted to Solyandra, a maker of solar panels that went bankrupt and defaulted on the loan.   Issa has kept the investigation going, despite lack of a smoking gun or proof of anything improper.   It is the Obama policy to use loan guarantees to help private companies develop alternate energy -- and some of them will fail, naturally. Some will succeed and further the progress to alternatives to fossil fuels.  
Now, here's the smoking gun.  And it's in the Republicans' pocket, not the Democrats.  Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) has acknowledged that Republicans' probes into the program will continue, seeking to prove "cronyism" in awarding of loans, until Election Day.  Then it will stop.  Jordan said"
"Ultimately, we'll stop it on Election Day, hopefully. And bringing attention to these things helps the voters and citizens of the country make the kind of decision that I hope helps them as they evaluate who they are going to vote for in November."

There you have it.   I'm sure the Democrats have done similar things when they were in power.   But Republicans are meaner, more persistent, and don't seem to care about good government unless it benefits them either in money or votes.


Friday, March 23, 2012

Trayvon Martin #2

Why did the local police not arrest George Zimmerman?  He claims he shot Trayvon Martin in self-defense, and they said they had no evidence to disprove that.   However, recorded 911 conversations between Zimmerman and the 911 operator show that he was actively pursuing Martin, not the other way around.   The 911 operator told him to wait for the police and not pursue Martin on his own.

He claims that Martin jumped on him from behind.  There is absolutely no evidence of that.  It's his word against a young man who was unarmed and is now dead.

We have the 911 phone dialogue in which the operator said he should not pursue Martin but wait for the police to arrive.   And then we now have the word of the 16 year old girl friend that Martin was actually on the phone with.  There is nothing to suggest he did anything except try to get away from Zimmerman -- except Zimmerman's word that Martin jumped him from behind.

In addition to lack of evidence to refute Zimmerman's claim of self-defense, police cite Florida's Stand Your Ground law that allows residents to use lethal force (guns) if they feel their lives are threatened by an intruder.  Martin was walking down a street, not intruding in a house.   Because it was a gated community that had experienced numerous recent burglaries and Zimmerman was a Neighborhood Watch volunteer, he wants this to be considered intrusion (into the neighborhood).

Of course, it's known now that he was not an intruder into the gated neighborhood but the guest of one of the residents.

The Republican legislator who co-wrote that 2005 law says it does not apply in this case.  "Anyone who is out pursuing and confronting people is not protected by this statute," he said.

Meanwhile, with public pressure mounting, Florida's governor has met with the parents and assured them the further handling of the case will not be in the hands of those who initially declined to arrest Zimmerman.   They have both withdrawn from the case, and further investigation will be handled by the state's attorney office with assistance from the U. S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division.

Eleven states have similar laws as Florida's.  A recent survey shows that Florida's cases of intruders being shot have increased three-fold since the law was passed in 2005.   Before this law was passed, you were supposed to make a reasonable attempt to get out of the threatening situation before using lethal force.
Some legal experts say people take the new law as license to murder and have the flimsiest explanations for why they feel threatened.   It was at the insistence of the NRA that the laws have been passed.  Not a big surprise.


Thursday, March 22, 2012

Newt -- fatal roadblock

Newt's revenge, disguised (in his mind only) as the Secret Plan to Save the Planet, may just have run into a fatal roadblock.

His plan A was to wow the masses with his Big Ideas and sweep the primaries and caucuses.

His plan B was to get Santorum to quit so Newt could take the right wing vote.   Only trouble, Santorum kept winning and Newt kept losing.   So it only made sense the other way around.

His plan C was for Rick Perry to run as Newt's VP.   Perry said he preferred being governor of Texas.

His plan D was for Newt and Santorum to join forces to outweigh Romney's votes.   Only trouble, Romney kept beating them both and Newt coming in third.  

His plan E was, as they said a few weeks back, "to unleash Callista" on the campaign trail -- let her start making speeches, talking up women's issues.   Only trouble, Callista has quite negative ratings herself (see "Wives" earlier today).

His plan F was to sweep the South and go to the convention with a big block of delegates.  Only trouble, Santorum swept Alabama and Mississippi.

His plan G:  there's still Louisiana this weekend.   That's where things will turn around.   Only trouble,  In Trade gives Santorum a 98.3% chance of winning LA and Newt a 0.5% chance.

His plan H:   well there's always a brokered convention where none of them has a majority.  Only trouble, everybody but the far right wing is rushing to coalesce around Romney;  and Santorum has the others sewn up.

But that's not all.   The stake through Newt's heart may well be this.   He's been reading up on the history of historical brokered conventions, like the 1920 one that wound up nominating Warren Harding.    George Will responded to that with:  "talk about defining aspirations down."

Newt should instead read the rules of the Republican National Committee, which states:
"Nominations:   Each candidate for nomination for President of the United States and Vice President of the United States shall demonstrate the support of a plurality of the delegates from each of five (5) or more states, severally, prior to the presentation of the name of that candidate for nomination."
In other words, unless Newt wins three more states to go with South Carolina and Georgia, he could not even have his name put into nomination.    Does anyone know three more states likely to go for Newt?

Want to guess Newt's Plan I?    Contest the rules.   They should not apply to one with such a Cosmic Ego, after all.

And Plan J?   Have a hissy fit.  Find a way to bring the U. S. government to a halt.

Plan K?     I don't know, but I suggest to Callista that she try to stay healthy.   Newt has a way of discarding wives when they get sick.


The Horror !!! And only his barber knows for sure.

Today, Thursday, March 22, 2012 is going to be Trivia Day.   No particular reason.   Just several good, but trivial, things came to my attention.   Here's one.

Rod Blogojevich, impeached ex-governor of Illinois, was convicted of trying to sell the appointment to fill Obama's former Senate seat.  Now his time to begin his jail term has come.

Blogojevich has this thick mop of black hair that is his most distinctive feature.   It's what keeps this 56 year old looking boyish.   Plus his "bad boy" behavior, of course.

Only his barber knows for sure.   And now that Blogo is in prison, the barber has spoken.  He's been dyeing his hair for him for years.  Now that he is in prison, which bans the use of dyes, his hair will very quickly turn gray.

It's hard to imagine.   Bad Boy Blogojevich with gray hair?



Public Policy Polling has surveyed 900 American voters on how they favor Michelle Obama, Ann Romney, Karen Santorum, and Callista Gingrich.

Interestingly, the wives are popular in the same ranking order as their husbands and, in most cases, more popular than their husbands.

Michelle Obama:     54% favorable, 34% unfavorable (+ 20)
Ann Romney:          31% favorable, 22 % unfavorable (+ 9)
Karen Santorum:     31% favorable, 27% unfavorable (+ 4)
Callista Gingrich:     18% favorable, 44% unfavorable (-26)

The last one is particularly interesting.  Newt has made such a big deal about "going to the Lord for forgiveness."  But we haven't heard anything about Callista's regret or asking forgiveness for being "the other woman" in an affair that lasted for -- was it eight years?   I guess it's better just not to go there and hope people don't think about it.

Maybe they do think about it.   Or maybe they just don't like her hair.

From the very beginning it has struck me that it would be awfully hard for the American public to accept her as First Lady, a figure we want to hold up as such a positive role model.   Of course, we've had second marriages among our presidents and their wives.    But this one is sort of in your face, thanks to Newt's serial infidelity and absolute dependence on a relationship with a woman.   That point seems not to have been given much thought.  Much has been made of his infidelities.  Not much has been said about the fact that he can't seem to be alone without either a wife or a mistress.

Do you realize that, since Newt was 16 and dating his high school teacher, whom he later married, he has never been without a primary attachment to a woman -- not for a day.  Every single day since he was 16, he has either been married or had already proposed to the next wife -- and always before he asked the current one for a divorce. 

As a psychoanalyst, I find that worth thinking about.


Obama uses ASL

Today, a community college student attended a rally at which President Obama spoke.  Stephon was born deaf and communicates using American Sign Language (ASL).

He was close enough that he got to shake hands with the president, after which he signed "I'm proud of you."   Without missing a beat, Obama answer him in sign language, "Thank you."

The student was astounded.  But actually Obama's understanding of basic sign language has been observed before, when he has responded similarly to others using ASL.

Trivia -- but such a telling one for a man as busy as Barack Obama has been most of his life.


Wednesday, March 21, 2012

NH gay marriage survives appeal attempt

The two year old New Hampshire law approving marriage for same sex couples has survived an attempt by Republican legislators to institute repeal.

It was defeated in the state House by a vote of 211-116.

The law was passed when Democrats controlled both houses of the legislature, and there was a Democratic governor.   Now both houses are controlled by Republicans.  The Democratic governor had said he would veto the repeal bill if it passed.

Nevertheless, the National Organization for Marriage has pledged $250,000 to help lawmakers who voted for repeal.  A rival Republican group has pledged to help those who voted against repeal.

So, the fight continues.   But we're now winning far more than we're losing.   And that's big progress.


Romney's significant win in IL

As a blogger on TPM last night wrote before results began coming in from the Illinois primary:
The only suspense tonight is how wide a margin of victory will Mitt enjoy, can Paul hold off Newt for third place, and will Newt's percent of the vote nudge over into double digits.
The answers are:
The margin was 12% ahead of Santorum.
Yes, Paul did hold off Newt, who finished in 4th place.
No, Newt did not nudge into double digits.   He got 8% of the vote.

Santorum had predicted that it would be an Act of God if he won Illinois -- his strong suit is to be in Wisconsin.   Newt hopes to win Louisiana.

Looks like God decided not to act, at least not in Santorum's favor -- despite all those preachers "laying their hands on Rick" and praying for God to favor him.

But this Illinois big win for Mitt helps solidify his position.   And the big guns are beginning to rally round.    Karl Rove's big super PAC's donors are said to be ready to start giving to Romney.   And Jeb Bush just announced his endorsement of Romney.

Meanwhile, Romney's top adviser, Eric Fehrnstrom, snatched defeat from the jaws of victory for another week with an unfortunate metaphor.

He was asked whether the candidacies of Santorum and Gingrich have forced Romney to shift so far to the right in the primary that it would hurt him with moderate voters in the general election.   Fehrnstrom said:

"Well, I think you hit a reset button for the fall campaign. Everything changes. It's almost like an Etch a Sketch. You can kind of shake it up and we start all over again."
Oops.   An unfortunate choice for someone already accused of having no core principles, of flip flopping to say whatever the voters of the moment want to hear.

This was at first interpreted that Fehrnstrom meant Romney's platform was like an Etch a Sketch.   He later clarified that he meant the voters' mindset and their images of the candidate.

Either way, not good.

But he will weather it.   What else do they have?    Santorum?   Gingrich?

It will be Romney.    Or . . . someone else at the convention.

But expect to hear a lot about Etch a Sketch in the coming months.


Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Trayvon Martin -- new evidence

Self-appointed vigilantes -- more harm than good?    It sounds that way in this case.

Black teenager, 17 year old Trayvon Martin, was walking down the street in a suburb of Orlando, FL.  He was visiting his father at the home of the father's girlfriend in an upscale gated community.  He had been to the convenience store and had a bag of candy in his pocket.  He was unarmed.

Criminal justice student and self-appointed neighborhood watch volunteer, 28 yr old George Zimmerman, was patrolling the neighborhood when he spotted Martin.   He was armed with a 9 mm handgun.  Shortly thereafter Martin was lying on the ground, dead from a gunshot wound in his chest.   Zimmerman told police he had shot him in self-defense, that he had gotten out of his truck to check the street name, and that Martin had jumped him from behind -- so he shot him in self-defense.

Evidence is mounting to strongly contradict that account.  Records from 911 show that Zimmerman called to report "a suspicious guy" and asked that police be sent.   The 911 recording has Zimmerman saying:
This guy looks like he's up to no good, or he's on drugs or something. . . .  He's just staring, looking at all the houses. Now he's coming toward me. He's got his hand in his waistband. Something's wrong with him. . . .  He's coming to check me out. He's got something in his hands. I don't know what his deal is. Can we get an officer over here?"
Then this:
Zimmerman:  "These assholes always get away . . . Shit, he's running."
Dispatcher:  "Are you following him?"
Z:  "Yes."
D:  "We don't need you to do that."
At this point, Zimmerman tells the dispatcher that the guy is running and he was following him.  Then there was further talk about where the police were to meet Zimmerman.   At this point other calls began coming in to 911 from neighbors who reported screaming, two men fighting.  On at least one of the neighbors' calls to 911, a voice can be heard calling, pleading for help.  Police believe this to be Trayvor Martin's voice;  his mother has identified it as his.  Then a gunshot is heard.  Some callers sobbed as they described a dead boy and a man standing over him.

Police investigated, decided there was not enough evidence to refute Zimmerman's story of self-defense -- and have made no arrest.

New evidence: A 16 year old girl has come forward to say that she was on the phone with Trayvon as he was walking down the street.   He told her that a man was following him, so he put up his hoodie.   She told Trayvon to run.   He said he wasn't going to run, but he would walk fast.   At first he thought he had lost the man, but then there he was behind him.   He asked Zimmerman why he was following him.   Zimmerman said, "What are you doing here?"  The next thing she heard was Trayvon's head set must have fallen because the line went dead.  She tried calling him again but got no answer.

Phone records show that she was on the line with Trayvon up until five minutes before the police records show them arriving on the scene.

Local investigative journalists have reported that Zimmerman supposedly "had a thing about young black males."   There had been a number of break-ins in the neighborhood recently.   Police have received numerous calls from Zimmerman in the past year about suspicions in the neighborhood.   In 2005 he was arrested on felony charges for battery against a police officer and resisting arrest with violence.   But prosecutors chose not to prosecute the case, so it was dropped.

This is a tragedy that is all too common for young black men who are automatically eyed with suspicion.  And it is especially tragic when self-appointed, hot-headed people act as vigilantes.  Yes, Neighborhood Watch groups are admirable.   But they should be watchers, not vigilantes with guns and itchy tirgger fingers.

There seems little doubt that Zimmerman is lying when he claims self-defense.  Both the neighbors' calls to 911, and now the 16 year old girl's account of her phone call, pretty well refute that story.  Even Zimmerman's own 911 tape does not jibe with his claim that Martin jumped him from behind -- he was obviously following him when he had been advised by the 911 dispatcher to stop and wait for the police.

What of the local police?   Sounds like they have given this guy a pass now on two occasions.  The state investigator has already taken over the case, and now the U. S. Department of Justice is joining, following an online petition signed by 500,000 people.   This case is going to be big and force these questions to be answered.

But Trayvon is dead -- and he shouldn't be.


Bumper sticker

Joe Biden said it, and it could become a bumper sticker for Obama-Biden 2012: 
Osama bin Laden is dead,
and General Motors is alive.
Think about it.


Monday, March 19, 2012

Predicting SCOTUS

Next week, the Supreme Court hears arguments on the case brought by 26 Republican state attorneys general against the Affordable Health Care Act, specifically the clause for an individual mandate to purchase insurance.

The Republicans claim that the federal government cannot compel individuals to purchase anything.   My quick answer to that is that the federal government compels me to pay taxes, a good bit of which goes to purchase bombers and bombs and other paraphernalia of war, which I don't want to do.

But there is in fact precedent under the Commerce Clause that allows the federal government to regulate interstate commerce.   It's in the Constitution.   However, there is disagreement on how much regulation.

With the opposition coming primarily from Republicans, and with SCOTUS comprised of 5 conservatives appointed by Republican presidents and 4 liberals appointed by Democratic presidents, one might think it would be struck down.   Not that they always follow the partisan divide -- but in so many cases lately, it's been a 5-4 split along those lines.

Not so on this one, say many SCOTUS scholars.   Some are even predicting a 7-2, or possibly even an 8-1 decision to uphold the law.   Why?

A little thing called stare decisis -- meaning you stand by precedent from previous SCOTUS decisions, absent a compelling reason to change it.

As recently as 2005, even Scalia voted to allow federal law to overrule state law where it concerned interstate commerce.  He wrote a separate opinion, in which he emphasized that this is permitted under the Necessary and Proper clause -- i.e., when the contested activity is necessary for the success of the overall activity that is being regulated.

People are interpreting this as meaning that Scalia would have to reverse himself to vote to strike down the individual mandate, because it is necessary and proper for the overall success of the Affordable Health Care Act.

Insurance companies are being required to drop "pre-existing condition" when writing new policies.   In order to offset their greater cost for health care, the insurance industry must have a larger pool, including all those healthy people who think they don't need insurance, or those who plan to wait until they do and then purchase it, since preexisting condition to longer applies.    That would be disaster for the whole plan.

In addition to Scalia, some are saying that Roberts might very well vote to uphold, because he is especially concerned that the Roberts Court act with restraint and caution in overturning precedent.

And then there is Kennedy, who often provides the swing vote on close decisions.   For the possible 8-1 decision, Alito might possibly come on board too.

Only Thomas is considered a sure vote to strike.   And that's true, even without his wife's very public position, including making a six-figure salary from a foundation created to fight health care reform.  He should recuse himself, but he hasn't given any indication that he will.

It's said that the governments lawyers are pitching their argument to Scalia and his prior opinion.


P.R. gives Romney 10:1 win over Santorum

With 83% of the votes reported, Mitt Romney's 83% of the vote has been consistent throughout the vote count.

Here are the results (as of 83% counted):

     Romney          83%
     Santorum         8%
     Gingrich           2%
     Paul                  1%

Do you suppose Santorum intentionally shot himself in the foot -- or maybe even higher up -- when he told the Puerto Ricans that, if they want to become a state, they have to adopt English as their first language and learn to speak it?    Or was he just bumblingly stupid in hitting them on their most important issue?

It was stupid, because it was so politically inept.   It was ignorant, because English is already the official language of Puerto Rico and virtually all Puerto Ricans are taught English in schools.

Or does this indicate a large issue of his failure to appeal to Hispanics in general?  Romney also had the endorsement of the P.R. governor.

Anyway, Romney picked up all 20 delegates, since he won more than 50% of the vote. 


Corruption in state governments

The Center for Public Integrity has released a study of each state's system for preventing corruption in state government.   Note that the results do not measure how much corruption there is, but the procedures the state has in place to prevent it.

Under the CPI formula, no state received an A grade.   New Jersey was rated first with a B+.  Other top five were:  Connecticut, Washington, California, and Nebraska.

And who came in last with F's?   North Dakota, Michigan, South Carolina, Maine, Virginia, Wyoming, South Dakota --- and GEORGIA, the very last on the list.


Sunday, March 18, 2012

Does religion matter in 2012?

This was to be the year of religion as a controversial issue in the 2012 campaign.

First, of the original crowd, two were Mormons.   Several were Catholic, including Santorum and Gingrich in the Final Four.

There is no doubt a big evangelical base, at least in the Republican primary.   But they don't seem to care so much about what denomination their candidate is as the fact that he spouts out loud and clear about "values" that they hold dear (like anti-gay, anti-abortion, anti-big-government, and anti-government-control -- except when it's to enforce those values).

So here we have Romney, who doesn't seem to be hurt by his Mormonism.

Santorum, the "more-Catholic-than-the-pope guy," who seems to have caught fire with the evangelicals but is losing the Catholic vote -- to Romney, the Mormon.

Gingrich, whose infidelities seem to have been forgiven by those "family values" folks, and he gets a lot of attention from the far right evangelicals, but is losing them to Santorum.

So -- is there any role that religion is playing here?   It's kind of hard to show that is.