Saturday, May 10, 2014

Families of Benghazi victims do not want another investigation

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said that two of the families of Benghazi victims have asked lawmakers:  "Please don't take us down this path again."   It's not necessary and it's very painful for them.

Everyone knows that this is a political stunt, enshrouded in a pious claim of "getting the truth."   If this were a court of law, no prosecutor would even consider there to be reason for further investigation.   After 13 hearings from multiple committees, they've already learned as much as they can about what went wrong and how to prevent it in the future.

No scandal was uncovered, nor is likely to be -- because there just isn't one.  Republicans won't accept that, because then they lose it as a political tool.    They're trying to sell the idea that the lack of evidence means that the White House is hiding something.   There's every reason to believe that there just isn't anything else.

Just as in Iraq:   They didn't find any WMD, because there were none.

I suspect that the Republicans even acknowledge this behind closed doors.   But they've lost gay marriage and Obamacare as political rallying points for their base, so they have to come up with something else -- and this is it.

Darrel Issa has already run it into the ground.  As Pelosi put it, "Issa is damaged goodsThey have to move to another venue with another chairman."

This may appeal to the Republican base, but they are not a majority.   Most voters are smarter than this and will see through the sham.   Just as "Obamacare" crumbled as an issue for them, Benghazi may too, especially if they over-play it -- and still come up with nothing.


PS:   I just thought of a great slogan for the Democrats to use:   
"These are the same folks who tried to sell you Weapons of Mass Destruction as justification for invading Iraq.    We all know how that turned out."

Friday, May 9, 2014

Utah? Oklahoma? Virginia? Texas? Michigan? . . . . And now Arkansas? Georgia could be next.

As of May 9, 2014, there are 17 states and the District of Columbia in which same-sex marriage is now legal.    The roster includes mostly the more liberal states:   all the New England states, plus California, Maryland, Delaware, Minnesota, New York, New Jersey, Washington, Illinois, Iowa, New Mexico, Hawaii.

But here's the really significant thing:   Within the past year, gay marriage bans have been challenged in federal courts in a raft of conservative states -- and in every case so far, federal judges have said the bans are unconstitutional.    These cases are all on appeal, or will be appealed:   Utah, Oklahoma, Virginia, Texas, Michigan. 

The defendants of the gay marriage bans have no credible argument any more.  They keep trotting out bogus science that has been repeatedly discredited and debunked;  or else they appeal to "tradition."    They can't even claim majority disapproval any more.

Arkansas was just added to that list by a federal judge today.  And a court challenge has just been filed in Georgia.    With six more cases making their way to the Supreme Court, its quite likely that SCOTUS will hear one or more of these appeals next term.

And that could mean marriage equality all over the nation -- or, as some fear, it might still be a little premature for SCOTUS.    I don't think so.   Kennedy has been the swing vote and wrote the majority opinion of the most important gay rights cases to date -- and his vote is all we need to join the four liberals.

I wouldn't be surprised if John Roberts might even join the liberals.  If they overturn their lower courts' decisions and uphold bans on gay marriage at this point, the court would lose a lot of credibility -- at a time when this is already a problem for the Roberts Court because of its tilt toward the business community.   Roberts does have a stake in the general reputation of his court.    Look how he bent himself into a legal pretzel to retain the Affordable Care Act.


Refusing to expand Medicaid now becomes a hot political issue

Tuesday night, Speaker of the House in the North Carolina legislature, Thom Tillis, won the Republican primary race for senator, defeating a Tea Party challenger from the far right -- one who even claims that the 2nd amendment is so absolute that it gives individuals the right to own nuclear weapons.   

Tillis thus becomes the Republican challenger to Democratic incumbent Sen. Kay Hagan, widely considered one of the most vulnerable seats that could flip control of the senate to the Republicans. 

Sen. Hagan's backers had even run an ad against Tillis during the primary, hoping to force a run-off between Tillis and the extremist candidate who would be easier to defeat.

Not to worry so much.    This new study I wrote about yesterday gives a sharp focus to what may now become the main campaign issue in this race.    Thom Tillis ran his own ad boasting that, as Speaker, he was solely responsible for stopping the expansion of Medicaid in North Caroliona.

Sen. Hagan lost no time seizing control of the issue.  She used the confirmation hearings of President Obama's nominee to replace Katherine Sebilius as Secretary of HHS to speak about the 500,000 people in N.C. who had been denied health coverage because the Medicaid expansion was blocked.

The majority in North Carolina are fed up with people like Thom Tillis turning their "purple" state into a bastion of ultra-conservative legislation on abortion, voting rights, marriage equality, and undermining the ACA.  

I am very optimistic that the ACA is going to turn out to be a political advantage in November, not the Democratic bete noire the Republicans were expecting.


Thursday, May 8, 2014

GOP governors refusing to expand Medicaid will lead to deaths

A new article in the respected Annals of Internal Medicine reports on a study of the effects of the Massachusetts 2006 health care reform.   It compared mortality rates, in adults ages 20 to 64, before and after reform in Massachusetts versus a control group with similar economic and demographc conditions.

The results showed a 30% reduction in deaths from all causes  (8.2 per 100,000)  compared with the control group.  When only deaths from conditions that are amenable to health care were considered, the results were significantly higher.

Another way of calculating the benefit showed that for every 830 adults gaining health insurance coverage, 1 death per year could be prevented.

Journalists have extrapolated from these figures and predicted that, in the states that have refused to expand Medicaid through the federally funded plan in the Affordable Care Act, some 6,000 more people a year will die.  Think about that when you decide whether to re-elect Gov. Nathan Deal.

And, the most positive view of all:   in those states that have expanded Medicaid through the ACA plan, some 24,000 deaths every year will be prevented.

Now, even as a Republican who hates everything associated with "Obamacare," do you really want to run your re-election campaign on getting rid of that plan?    Some of them are waking up to this reality and are afraid their constituents will also.   That's why we have to have this new Select  Committee to investigate "Benghazi" for the 14th time.


Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Justices shows bias in free speech votes

From New York Times  article on May 5, 2014 about the relative effect of ideology on Supreme Court Justices' votes on free speech cases:
" . . .  In cases raising First Amendment claims, a new study found, Justice [Antonin] Scalia voted to uphold the free speech rights of conservative speakers at more than triple the rate of liberal ones. In 161 cases from 1986, when he joined the court, to 2011, he voted in favor of conservative speakers 65 percent of the time and liberal ones 21 percent."
 But, the article points out, he is not alone.    Liberal justices are over all more supportive of free speech claims than conservatives justices, but their ideological preferences are also reflected in skewed voting patterns, just not as pronounced as the more conservative justices. 

The study was conducted by several academic economists, one of whom Professor Lee Epstein of Washington University of St. Louis, said he found the results stunning, even "shocking."
"The study considered 4,519 votes in 516 cases from 1953 to 2011. . . . There may be quibbles about how they coded individual votes. But it was seldom difficult to tell which side was invoking the First Amendment. Nor is it usually hard to assign an ideological direction to particular speakers or positions. . . . 
"The largest [gap in a justice's votes], at least among members of the Supreme Court who cast more than 100 votes in free speech cases since 1953, belongs to Justice Scalia. Justice Clarence Thomas is not far behind. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. have not cast enough votes for a reliable appraisal, but the preliminary data show a similarly significant preference for conservative speakers.  Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, the current court’s most reliable free speech vote, favored conservative speakers by a smaller but still significant margin.

"The Roberts court’s more liberal memberspresent a more complex story,” the study found. All supported free expression more often when the speaker was liberal, but the results were statistically significant only for Justice John Paul Stevens, who retired in 2010. In the case of Justice Stephen G. Breyer, the difference was negligible. And it is too soon to say anything empirically meaningful about Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan."
Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the University of California-Irvine Law School called the new study important, "“because it offers an explanation for justices’ behavior in First Amendment cases and shows how much justices’ ideology influences the speech they are willing to protect.”

But he also added that it is possible to sort the votes in other ways too, not just according to conservative/liberal ideology.   “For example, the Roberts court is very pro-speech except when the institutional interests of the government are at issue.”

Whatever the measure, it does seem to be objective evidence of patterns of how justices will vote on cases that concern one of our most basic rights.    Which underscores my long-held view:   that the appointment of Supreme Court Justices has the most lasting effect of anything a president does while in office.


Here is a breakdown of the way each justices has voted on free speech cases, depending on whether the speaker (or the cause) was conservative or liberal, C=conservative, L=liberal:
Scalia:          C 65%, L 21%
Thomas:     C 63%, L 23%
Alito:            C 47%  L 5%
Roberts       C 62%,  L 18%
Kennedy      C 64%  L 41%
O'Connor     C 51%  L  45%
Breyer          C 39%  L 40%
Souter          C 51%  L 60%
Ginsburg      C 40%   L 52%
Stevens         C  48%  L 61%

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

A few facts about guns

The most recent mass shooting -- nearby at a FedEx facility in Kennesaw, GA  -- prompted gun advocates to call for more guns.   FedEx policy is to have unarmed security guards, but the Georgia Gun Owners association wants to take that right away from them, calling on the legislature to eliminate all "gun-free zones."   Others have said that, if the security guard had been armed, deaths could have been prevented.

Atlanta Journal-Constitution's columnist Jay Booker writes "that argument does not stand up to scrutiny."  An Insurance Information Institute vice president told Jay that insurance companies typically charge higher premiums for companies that use armed security guards.  They do not base this on anti-gun ideology but on the cold hard facts of risk assessments.  What their data tell them is that "an armed guard is more likely to be a danger than a protection."

In addition, Jay cites results of "peer-reviewed research" that "homicides are five to seven times more likely in workplaces that allow personal firearms."

Jay concludes his column by observing that FedEx is an excellently run company with 300,000 employees, and they have obviously decided that risks far outweigh benefits of allowing employees to be armed.  And he leaves us with this thought:
"The fact that some are even debating whether to strip them of that authority [to decide to have a gun-free workplace] tells you how far off the deep end we've gone on this topic."
I completely agree.  Understand what the Gun Owners are asking for:   they want to make it illegal for a company like FedEx not to have their security guards armed.    

What an irony that Kennesaw, GA -- where the FedEx shooting took place -- gained notoriety in 1982 when it passed an ordinance that requires every home to have at least one handgun.   Conservatives tout this as the reason that Kennesaw has a very low rate of crime;  others point out there wasn't much crime there before 1982 either.  Add in the fact that the law really isn't enforced, and it's hard to gauge what effect it might have had.


Monday, May 5, 2014

Benghazi in perspective

Let's put Benghazi in perspective.    What happened at Benghazi was a terrible thing.   Our ambassador and three other Americans were killed by men who stormed the consulate building.   Yes, it was inadequately protected.   Yes, there was initial confusion about who the attackers were, whether they were part of the wide-spread protests against an anti-Muslim, American-made video that got out of hand -- or whether they were terrorists specifically targeting our facility in Benghazi.

There is no question that more security might have prevented these deaths.   There is also factual evidence that (1) our ambassador, who was killed, had not wanted more security because his style was to connect directly with the local people, and hiding behind armed guards interferred with that;   (2) in fact, there were wide-spread protests going on about that offensive video;   (3)  Republican budget-cutters had decreased the amount of money available for security at our foreign embassies and consulates.

But what are they aiming for in these investigations?    Not how it happened;  not how it can be fixed so it doesn't happen again.    No, what the Republicans are trying to call a scandal is this:    who said what on a Sunday morning talk show and who told her what to say and were they trying to cover something up?

That's it, folks.  That's what Republicans are spending millions and millions of dollars on.   At the end of the day, not one single foreign service person is going to be safer.   They're doing it for the sheer political motive that it might hurt Hillary Clinton's campaign for president -- and of course, always and at every conceivable moment, trying to undermine Obama's presidency.

That's it, in a nutshell.   And it is downright shameful.


PS:   On a Sunday morning talk show, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) -- one of the senate Republican hawks -- sounded a warning to fellow Republicans, that they might be going too far with this Benghazi thing and it could backfire on them politically.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Obama as stand-up comic

Saturday night at the White House Correspondents' Dinner, by tradition, the president has his chance to roast the assembled reporters and news pundits, as well as colleagues and anything else he chooses to riff on.

Obama is pretty good at this, having a great sense of timing in telling a joke, especially when it's self-deprecating . . . along with a twist.    Here's one that made me laugh out loud.

He commented on how great it was that, after 30 years finally an American runner won the Boston Marathon.   "It seems only fair . . . since we've had a Kenyan in the White House for the last six years."

Then as the laughter died down, he threw in the other line:   "Fox News is going to have a lot harder time convincing you that Hillary Clinton was born in Kenya."


PS:   And then there was the throw-away line, referring to the trouble John Boehner is having with the Tea Party faction:   "Just shows that orange really is the new black."

House Repubs don't censure Issa; they jump on his bandwagon

Darrell Issa (R-CA) really should be censured and removed from the chairmanship of the powerful House Goverment Oversight Committee.   Among his many other crimes is spending millions of dollars of tax payer money on partisan vendettas and pumping up his own profile for the media.

Instead, House Speaker John Boehner announced, with great flare including a campaign-style video graphics, that he is forming a Select Committee to investigate the Benghazi Scandal and White House Coverup.

Now let's be clear about this.   The Senate has already had its own select committee investigation and came up with nothing.   They found no evidence of any conspiracy to cause or cover up anything scandalous.

Issa's own investigation has spent countless hours and millions of dollars on the same thing -- and still cannot find anything.   But now they uncovered an email that conservative pundits and Fox News are ecstatically calling "the smoking gun," "Watergate-type" evidence.   It's nothing of the kind.   According to the White House, it was merely a background email about the general situation in the Middle East and not specifically about Benghazi.  Nevertheless, Issa has subpoened John Kerry to come testify.

So, here's the way Chris Hayes summed it up.   They haven't been able to find anything yet to damn the administration with;   so . . . they're going to start over and try again.

I suppose there's no chance that the answer might simply be:   there is nothing there.   No, the answer is that they think they can hurt Hillary Clinton's chances for winning the presidency by dragging out an investigation of a tragedy that occurred during her time as Secretary of State.