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.