Saturday, November 23, 2013

Republicans' attack on democracy

1.  Our particular type of democracy is government by the people, where the majority opinion must be tempered to protect the constitutionally-guaranteed rights of the minority.   That is, the majority rules except where the majority would take away rights of the minority. 

2.  Republicans continue to attack this basic rule.   One of the fundamental rights is the right to vote.  They have been obstructing voter access by passing state laws that make it difficult, if not possible for some people, to exercise their right to vote.   

     a.  They do this by restrictive voter photo ID laws, reducing open polls times, etc.   And then they cynically defend these moves by saying they are "protecting the sanctity of the vote" -- which is a bald-faced lie, given that there is virtually zero problem with voter ID fraud.
     b.  Another tactic is a refusal to carry out their constitutional duty to "Advise and Consent" to the president's nominations, both to the executive and judicial branches of government (cabinet officers, regulatory officers, and judges).   The frequency of the use of the filibuster or the anonymous hold on nominations has been unprecedented.   In the entire history of this country, half of the filibusters against such presidential nominees have occurred in the past 5 years -- yes, since Obama became president.

    c.   Republicans also attack this president in other ways,  attempting to delegitimize his presidency by the relentless, completely bogus claims about whether he was born in the United States.   

     They simply refuse to accept that President Obama won the 2008 election and was then re-elected in 2012.   This gives him the right and the responsibility to run the Executive Branch and to carry out his duties as President of the United States.    They have tried everything possible to delegitimize him -- from challenges to his birth certification to obstruction of his appointments.

     d.  According to Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA), Republicans' obstructionism in Congress is nothing short of an attempt "to nullify the laws of the land."  That is what justifies the Democrats' changing the rules on the filibuster in the Senate.   In the past, people have filibustered nominees that were unqualified, or so far out of the mainstream in ideology;  but this crowd filibusters highly qualified, reasonable, left-of-center nominees simply to defeat the president or to obstruct the functioning of a program they don't like.   That's why the Democrats had to change the rules, in order to give our government a chance to work.

     This is indeed a very low period for democracy in this land.


PS:    The extreme tactics that Republicans are using to try to keep Obamacare from working is another example of their trying to nullify the law of the land.

Friday, November 22, 2013

50 Years Ago

There are perhaps half a dozen events during my life that were so extraordinarily shocking and momentous in what those events meant that my memory of the moment of hearing the news was indelibly engraved on my memory.

The news that President Jack Kennedy had been shot in Dallas is one of those.   I know exactly where I was and what I was doing -- fifty years later, it's like the moment was preserved in amber.

The same was true when I heard about the bombing of Pearl Harbor, about President Franklin Roosevelt's sudden death from a stroke, and the explosion on takeoff of the Challenger spacecraft in 1986.  I'm sure it would have been the same if I had been alive when President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated.

But it's not just calamities and losses.   There's something about sudden, momentous, life-altering news that we preserved in memory.  I also have an etched memory of where I was when the news that Atlanta had been selected as the host city for the 1996 Olympics.    Or the end of World War II.

With the Kennedy assassination, it was not just November 22.   We were glued to our tv sets for days afterward, participating in a united grieving.   And they played the Adagietta from Mahler's 5th Symphony, over and over.   I can hear it now, with its combination of stunning beauty and immense sadness.

So those days feel very real to me today.


Thursday, November 21, 2013

At last . . . at long last

They should have done it long ago, but Senate Democrats today had finally had enough of Republican obstructionism when it comes to filibustering President Obama's nominees.   The vote was 52 to 48 to change the senate rules to rule out using the filibuster to prevent floor debate and vote on the president's nominess for the Executive branch and for judicial nominess up to but not including the Supreme Court.

Majority Leader Harry Reid outlined some stark statistics (as reported on Huffington Post:
1.  Half the nominess filibustered in the history of the United States were blocked by Republicans during the Obama administration.

2.  Of 23 district court nominees filibustered in U.S. history, 20 were Obama's nominees.

3.  Even judges that have broad bipartisan support have had to wait nearly 100 days longer, on average, than President George W. Bush's nominees.
Minority Leader Mitch McConnell blustered, threatened 'you'll regret this,' and tried to change the subject to trashing Obamacare.    But he clearly had lost this battle.

I wish they had gone further and instituted the revised filibuster rules proposed last year.   Filibusters would still be possible, but each week the number of votes required to reach cloture is reduced until it comes down to a simple 51 vote majority.   It allows the opposition to slow the process but not permanently block it.    The seems to me a simple solution that both sides should endorse.


Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Surprising, very good new about Obamacare

I just watched some very encouraging data reported by Lawrence O'Donnell tonight on MSNBC.    It concerns the surprisingly good statistics coming out now about the Affordable Care Act and medical costs .    No, it's not about the accessibility of the web site.   It's about two areas:   (1) who is affected and how;  and (2) cost savings already evident.

1.  Who is affected and how:    The number of people getting a bad deal is miniscule compared with what Republicans and the conservative media would have your believe.
80% are unaffected (because they get their medical insurance from employers or from the government, such as Medicare/Medicaid or federal emplyees).

15%  previously had no insurance and will now be able to get it.
2.5% who had their insurance cancelled but will now get a better policy for less money.

1.5%  who had policies cancelled but will now get better policies with federal subsidies to help pay for them.

1.5% who had their insurance cancelled but will now have to pay more for a policy.
The bottom line:  
98.5 % are either unaffected or will be better off.

1.5% had policy cancellations and will have to pay more. 

2.  Surprising new data about the savings in health care costs, largely due to Obamacare -- and it's far from fully implemented.

A report by the Council of Economic Advisers shows that the past year's rate of growth in medical spending was the lowest every recordedonly 1.3%.   That is a phenomenal slowing.   I think it was recently in the 6% range.  Several factors may be in play, but arguably the largest is the effect of the ACA.   And most of its features are not yet in effect.

Because of this slowed growth, they are lowering the projected estimate of the future costs of the Medicare/Medicaid by 10%.   That is huge in a program the size of the nation's health care bill.

NOW, let's see how the conservative media (FoxNews, talk radio) reports this and how the Republicans respond to it.    If politics were not involved, they should be over-joyed.   But I am not going to hold my breath.


Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Cheney family feud #2

In defense against the bad publicity of Liz Cheney's declaring her opposition to gay marriage on Sunday, both Liz and her father spoke about how Liz has always had "compassion" for her sister and her family.

COMPASSION ? ? ? ? ?   How condescending.    

What an odd word to use in the family.  It is not an appropriate term for someone you regard as equal.   Compassion is for someone you regard as unfortunate or disadvantaged in some way.
How telling.   There probably aren't a whole lot of GLBTQ voters in Wyoming, but there are plenty of voters who can smell a phony political opportunist.   I'll bet they outnumber the ones who will vote for Liz because she is against gay marriage.


Cheney family feud

Dick and Lynne Cheney have two daughters.    Liz, 47, is trying to unseat the long-time U. S. Senator from Wyoming, Mike Enzi.   Mary, 44, is a lesbian mother, married in 2012 to Heather Poe.

Liz's political campaign is a troubled one to begin with.    Although the family has deep roots in Wyoming going back several generations, Liz is mostly a product of suburban Washington, where her father has served as congressman, vice president, Secretary of Defense, and Chief of Staff;  and her own work has been in government in Washington.

Enzi has been a well-like, effective senator, and he is one of his people.   At 69, they see no reason to replace him, especially with a young woman whose missteps in trying to overcome an "outsider" image have been the main news -- along with her lag in polls.

Now the issue of gay marriage has entered the picture.   Trying to position herself to the right of Enzi in order to grab the far-right electorate, Liz has declared herself to be opposed to same-sex marriage.

Hearing this coming from Liz's mouth on FoxNews enraged Mary and Heather, who had felt that Liz was sincere in her warm support of their relationship and in telling them how happy she was for them when they married.    Mary says she had always assumed that Liz shared their father's view, as he expressed both in the vice presidential debate in 2008 and recently in an interview with Barbara Walters:   "I think people should be able to marry the person they love.  I don't have any problem with same-sex marriage."

Now on top of everything else Liz has a problem with credibility.   Has she been harboring negative feelings and hiding them from her sister, with whom she used to be close?    Or is she now flip-flopping in order to try to win an election?

The sisterly rift is now deep.   Mary and Heather have been frank about their feelings on Facebook and in an interview with The New York Times.   Mary says she has no plans to see her sister during the holidays.   When reminded by the reporter that her criticism could complicate her sister's Senate campaign, Mary's response was a clipped:  "OK."

Next to the odious Kardashians, the family I most dislike is probably the Cheney's.  Dick is a snarly, war-mongering grouch who wants to control the world;   Lynne has one of the most grating personalities I've ever heard on the news talk shows (she was head of the National Endowment for Humanities under Reagan).   Liz has the worst traits of both parents.

I do like and admire Mary.   And I admire her father for one thing:   that even in his political campaign to be Vice President on the Republican ticket, he did not shy from giving his full support to gay marriage.

Now Liz is trashing the only likeable thing about her family -- and trashing any credibility she might have in the process.

It's sort of like the Republican Party itself -- a family split between reasonableness and pandering to the prejudices of a small base.

Another chorus of "Schadenfreude, Schadenfreude," please, to the tune of "Edelweiss."


Monday, November 18, 2013

Will they revoke Zimmerman's gun permit NOW?

George Zimmerman was acquitted of all charges against him in the killing of Treyvon Martin.  Some on the jury say that he was guilty but the evidence did not allow them to vote for a guilty verdict under the self-defense laws as they stand in Florida.

Before that incident, he had domestic violence charges against him by his wife, later dropped.   He had also had run-ins with police, including an alleged assault on an officer, that gave him a record and required his attendance at anger management training.

Still he was allowed to carry a gun.

Since the Martin murder trial, Zimmerman has been pulled over 3 times for traffic violations (speeding, etc.).   There was another domestic altercation with his wife where he punched his father-in-law in the nose and then destroyed his wife's IPad and video recording she made of his behavior.   She declined to press charges after initially calling the police.

Now George Zimmerman has been arrested, again for domestic violence against his pregnant girlfriend, who says that he smashed a glass table with the butt of his shotgun, then pointed it at her during an argument;  he then pushed her out of her own home and barricaded the door.   Police had to force entry when they arrived.

So -- gun rights people -- is THIS now enough to have this dangerous man's right to carry guns revoked?    Do we have to wait until he kills someone else?   No, I do not believe that he is a cold-blooded murderer.   I believe he is a hot-blooded, violent man with poor impulse control.    But that sort of person, with this record, should not be allowed to have guns.



No, it's not "Obama's Katrina"

The "anti-Obamacare" machine rolls on.   And it will until the web site gets fixed and larger numbers of people begin getting the benefits promised and rightfully expected.

Stipulated:   (1) that the web site rollout was extremely poorly accomplished;  (2)  Obama should have been more precise when he promised people they could keep their policies.

But consider this re #1:    If the Supreme Court had not overturned the penalty for states not setting up the insurance exchanges, and if the so many (mostly Republican) governors and state legislatures had not then refused to set them up voluntarily -- then there wouldn't have been such a need and such an overwhelming crush to get on the federal exchange, which is only necessary because the states aren't doing it.    The states that have set them up are faring pretty well with their own rollouts, red state Kentucy being among the best.

And consdier this re #2:   Obama did the usual kind of shorthand in public speeches, omitting some qualifying details, when he promised that people who like their insurance plans could keep them.   But all of this furor about his "lying" is just plain political smearing.   The difference is really pretty petty.   The wording of the ACA itself says quite clearly:   plans that were in effect at the time the ACA was passed in 2010 are grandfathered in and people can keep them if they want to.   Any plan acquired after 2010 must meet standards.

But implied in that is that the insurance companies have to continue offering those plans.   Imagine the calls for his impeachment if Obama was asserting the authority to tell the insurance companies that they have to continue to offer those plans.   That would be more than just regulating an industry;  that would amount to nationalizing an industry. 

And consider this:   Republicans have found their political rallying cry in "people's health insurance cancelled."   The pool of people affected starts at 6%, and many of them will get better policies at lower cost.   But beyond that, here's the point:   this number in miniscule compared to the number of people who would lose medical insurance under the alternate proposal from Republicans.    Moreover, look how many people were denied Medicaid by governors refusing the federal help to expand.

The other point is that insurance companies cancel individual policies all the time;  in addition they discontinue policy plans or change them significantly all the time -- so a large number of those policies that were "cancelled" because they didn't meet ACA standards would not qualify for grandfathering anyway because they were not in effect in 2010.   That was not a false promise in the ACA -- it was a detail not included in the president's shorthand talking point.

As to calling this "Obama's Katrina?"   Yes, it could become the turning point where the administration's incompetent performance changes the whole tenor of how it is regarded.   That could be -- we'll have to wait and see.    

But there is a major, major difference.   The furor about the Bush administration's handling of Katrina was its seeming indifference, and people were dying unnecessarily.   That debacle was capped by Bush's complimenting his head of FEMA with "Heck of a job, Brownie !!"    Plus the fact that Bush had originally appointed "Brownie" to head up FEMA despite his total lack of qualifications for such an important position.

The "Katrina" image was also captured in that iconic picture of Bush looking out the plane window at the devastation in Louisiana -- from a great, safe distance.    To be fair, there was the argument that it would have been a distraction in an emergency situation for the president of the U.S. to arrive on the scene.    But there is also the counter-argument that the inspiration and expression of caring would have been worth it.

In contrast, President Obama is working to try to bring much needed relief of suffering for want of medical care to millions of Americans.   And it is the Republicans who seem indifferent to that suffering in trying to deny this health care.

So here's my advice:    let's keep all this in perspective, recognize that Republicans are smelling political blood and that the media are smelling juicy audience bait.   And have a little patience.   Nobody has lost anything yet.   Any changes don't go into effect until January at the earliest, and the ACA has until the end of March to get up and running.


Sunday, November 17, 2013

FoxNews slammed

A senior officer in the British Foreign Office, Baroness Warsi, whose parents are from Pakistan, was discussing differences in how international affairs are discussed in England and in the U. S.    This occurred at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington in a program about persecution of Christians around the world.

Warsi said as a playful aside that she hoped she wouldn't be questioned about why she, as a Muslim, was speaking about persecution of Christians.

This was a reference to the now infamous interview on FoxNews where Muslim author Reza Aslan was grilled by a FoxNews religion reporter as to why he, as a Muslim, was writing about Christianity.   It was the continued stupidity of the questions, compelling Aslan to repeat again and again his academic qualifications as a researcher and professor of history of religions, that was so egregiously ignorant and bigoted.

Warsi said, about that Aslan interview: 
"I thought 'how ignorant can you be'. . . . The fact that this is even a question shows there is a level of illiteracy. . . .  Fox News needs training on religious literacy."
Of course, I relish every critical comment about FoxNews, but they deserve them all.   And I remind us all of the study done last year on the level of knowledge about news events and where people get their news.   It showed that the highest scores on news knowledge was by people who listen to NPR.    The lowest rating was viewers of Fox News.  In fact, they score even lower than people who watch no news at all !!!      Which suggests that they are being misinformed.

Well, we already knew that, didn't we?    Now we have some objective evidence.