Saturday, May 24, 2014

The VA health care problem is terrible -- but Republicans are also responsible for it

The waiting times for veterans to get started in medical care at some VA Medical Centers is unconscionable and cannot be tolerated.    It is disturbing that some employees have resorted to falsifying the data to obscure how bad it is.

Republicans are rubbing their hands in glee, while condemning President Obama and his administration for such a shameful neglect of those to whom we owe so much.

But wait just a minute.   As unacceptable as it is, there are some things that should be understood before pointing fingers of blame.

1.   The past 13 years of the Bush-Cheney, unpaid-for wars have generated an enormous number of new veterans needing medical care.    One estimate is that new patients in our VA system have increased by 50% during this time, while the number of full-time doctors working for the VA has increased by only 9%.

Might that not be a major cause of the problem, not just incompetency? 

2.   While there has been some increased funding for the VA, much more is needed;  and who is it that insisted on worrying more about the deficit than helping our people?   It is the Republicans, more than the Democrats, who have blocked better funding.

Please, President Obama, do not just say "this is unacceptable, and we have to do better."   Please give it back to the Republicans -- expose their hypocrisy.  Face them down with their cutting funds and then blaming you, the president, for programs failing.   

Just like they cut the security budget for our diplomatic facilities -- yes, including Benghazi.   This is one of the oldest tricks in their playbook;   don't fall for it.


[Later Note:   According to the AJC's fact-checker, congress did not "cut" funding for VA medical services;   that has actually gone up.   However, what they did was to pass a budget that reduced the amount that President Obama requested in every budget since 2010 -- so, in effect, given the overwhelming increase in need, they seriously under-funded it, even if they didn't cut it below what it had been.]

Friday, May 23, 2014

House Science Committee a huge embarrassment

It's been true ever since the Republicans took control of the U. S. House of Representatives, but it comes up fresh as we see that at least one of the most embarrassing of its members of the House Science and Technology Committee will not be returning next term.

Rep. Paul Broun (RGA) gave up his seat to run for the senate seat vacated by Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) -- and Broun came in a distant fifth in a big primary field.   Broun became famous for his claim that "All that stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology and the Big Bang Theory, all that is lies straight from the pits of hell."

So, of course, John Boehner thought he would be a good nominee to put on the House Science and Technology Committee, along with Todd (women-don't-get-pregnant-from-rape) Akin.

An article by Ashutosh  Jogalekar in the March Scientific American described the debacle of some of the hearings held by this committee, where members reveal their ignorance and contempt for the scientific method. 

Jogalekar writes that, in one hearing to discuss the 2015 budget with the president's science adviser, "the proceedings turned into a mixture of hostile heckling and insulting sarcasm."    He continues:
"From the described exchange it seems that the members have zero interest in knowing the truth or understanding how science works. Sadly this rancor, ignorance and lack of respect for science and scientists is business as usual for Republican members of the House committee. After all, the subcommittee responsible for climate change is, quite appropriately enough, led by a climate change denier . . .  17 out of 22 members of the larger committee either deny that climate change is happening or question that human activities are responsible for it; . . . [and] let’s not forget committee member Paul Broun who thinks evolution is a 'lie from the pit of hell.'"
Well, now we can forget about Paul Broun.   Let's hope John Boehner does not feel the need to appease the Tea Party when he appoints Broun's replacement.   But don't expect too much change.    Boehner apparently feels this is a throw-away committee to use for that purpose.


No appeals for OR and PA, bringing total to 19 + 1

Pennsylvani's governor has released a statement saying that he will not appeal the court's decision to overturn his state's ban on gay marriage.

It has also been reported that Oregon also will not appeal.   This means that marriage equality is now fully legal in 19 states plus the District of Columbia.   And some 7 other states where the laws have been overtured but are in various stages of appeal.

With this momentum, it's possible that the Supreme Court could just let all these decisions stand by refusing to hear the appeals.   Let's hope they don't go that route.  It would be much better to have them make a clear, definitive decision.

Justice Antonin Scalia must be apoplectic.   In fact, his dissent in the DOMA case was dripping with rage and scorn.   And now seven or eight judges have cited his dissent in DOMA and also in Lawrence v Texas, turning his reasoning around to support their decision rather than refute it, as Scalia would have it.

Scalia's Lawrence argument was that overturning sodomy laws opens the door to courts deciding that being morally offensive to a majority of people is not sufficient reason to ban something -- and he specifically predicted that this would lead to gay marriage.  And this is exactly the reasoning that some judges used in overturning the bans:   that moral disapproval is not enough of reason to deny people equal protection under the law.  In his DOMA dissent, Scalia just ranted a lot;  I'm not sure what his legal point was.    Either way, he's on the losing side.


PS:  Late news on Thursday:    plaintiffs have challenged the ban on same-sex marriage in South Dakota, leaving North Dakota as the only state that does not have a challenge.   So there are lots more court hearings coming up.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Elijah Cummings to ride herd on the Benghazi Select Committee

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has made her decision for Democrats to participate in the Select Committee on Benghazi.   It was a tough call -- on the one hand, participating would lend the perception of legitimacy to an otherwise obviously political stunt.   

On the other hand, having representatives on the committee, as well as investigative staff, will give them access to what the Republicans are doing, prevent Republicans from selectively presenting only their witnesses and materials, and allow them to challenge distortions.

Apparently it came down to one man:   Elijah Cummings, the ranking member of the Government Oversight Committee who has clashed with Darrell Issa and knows how to hold his own.    Cummings will lead the Democratic group of five.   The other four have already been on other committees that conducted their own investigations into Benghazi.

So it's a group with a lot of knowledge and a leader who is known for his lawerly skills, his blunt confrontational style when necessary, and the respect he has in the House.

So I would say this is probably the best outcome, given the Republicans' determination to forge ahead.   But it's going to be a long, hot summer.


Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Primaries

"The Primaries" essentially meant Republican primary races here in Georgia.   There are some terrific Democratic candidates running, but for the most part, the races with strong candidates (Michelle Nunn, Jason Carter) had only token opposition and won easily by huge margins.    

In most of the down-ballot races, with multiple candidates, I did not know anything about the candidates on which to choose.  State School Superintendent was the prime example.    Especially after the 2012 way Republicans sneaked in a charter school amendment that gave state office holders a strong voice in creating charter schools (over-riding local school board decisions), this should have been an important race.    But I had little information to go on.

Perhaps I had failed to pay attention, if the AJC wrote much about the candidates.   But I'm afraid they continued the unfortunate Democratic practice of focusing on the big offices and hot contests -- leaving the savvy tea party to build up a grass roots infrastructure at the lower levels.

Results were not unexpected:    Nunn and Carter easily won their races.    So did Nathan Deal.   Nunn's Republican opponent will be decided in July run-off between businessman David Purdue and congressman Jack Kingston, probably the two least extreme conservatives in the seven-person race.   You couldn't call any of the Republican candidates moderate.    Bottom line:    these are the two who would likely be the biggest challenge to Michelle Nunn, and probably Purdue more than Kingston because of his "newcomer" status.  He has never before run for public office.

One small side benefit:    Paul Braun had to give up his House seat to run for the Senate, and he lost.   So, at least for a while, we'll be spared the embarrassment of having him held up on national tv news as the epitome of nutty extremist congressman from Georgia.


Headline of the day

Credit to Huffington Post for the wryest headline of yesterday:
"Obama Plans To Designate New Monument.
Republicans Plan to Freak Out."


Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Add Pennsylvania ! ! ! !

I'm changing my metaphor for the gay marriage march through the states:   it's not an avalanche;   it dominoes falling.    Nobody gets hurt.

Yesterday, it was Oregon.    Today, a federal judge ruled that the ban in Pennsylvania is unconstitutional.

Another side note:   move Oregon to the column of settled legalization of gay marriage.   The state does not intend to appeal yesterday's decision.

Wow !!   The pace is breathtaking.      More than half the states now either have marriage equality or court decisions that are on appeal;  and well over half of all Americans live in these states.

The score since DOMA fell last June is now 11 for 11, if you count the related cases of decisions that required recognition of other state's legal marriages.


The politics of climate change may replace Benghazi, which replaced Obamacare, in the Republican strategy

Esteemed liberal writer, Jonathan Chait, wrote in the May 19th issue of New York Magazine that voters aren't really energized enough by the Republican-created "scandal" of Benghazi to last untill November.    He's predicting that climate change will become the big issue instead.

Chait cited the recent U. S. National Climate Assessment's report that: “Climate change, once considered an issue for a distant future, has moved firmly into the present.”    And that was even before the West Antarctic ice sheet began to disintegrate before our very eyes -- and irreversibly, say the scientists.

So how can Republicans oppose any and every regulation that would begin to affect climate change?   Don't put anything beyond their insatiable search for an issue that might defeat President Obama.

As Chait points out, on the very same day that the Antarctic bad news broke, Republicans had filibustered to death a very sensible bipartisan, corporate-friendly energy conservation bill that Republican Sen. Rob Portman and Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen had worked on for three years, carefully designed to get bipartisan support.   It even had the backing of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers.

Why did they kill it?   Simple, political perfidy.   They kept loading it up with poison-pill amendments that they hoped would force Democrats to vote on things that they could then use against them in the fall elections.

Get the picture?    Repubicans are playing politics.  And they will screw the future of our grandchildren and of the planet itself for a cheap hope of winning.    How pathetic that they have nothing positive to run on, but fall back on suppressing the vote measures, on lies and distortions, and on opposition to modern science.


Monday, May 19, 2014

And the score is . . . 8 to nothing !!!

U. S Federal District Judge Michael McShane has struck down Oregon's ban on gay marriage, making it the 8th overturn out of 8 cases heard in federal courts in less than a year since SCOTUS' historic decision that held parts of the Defence of Marriage Act to be unconstitutional.    In addition, two more states were ordered to recognize marriages legally performed in other states.

The growing roster of states where the law has been overturned, but are awaiting appeal, include:  Utah, Oklahoma, Virginia, Texas, Michigan, Arkansas, Idaho, and now Oregon.  Ohio and Kentucky are the ones ordered to recognize other-state marriages.

Isn't it unlikely that SCOTUS will disagree with 10 out of 10 federal judges?   Isn't it?   All it would take is either Kennedy or Roberts to side with the four liberal justices.   It's not that SCOTUS is bound by lower court decisions;  far from it.    But if 100% of them decide one way, based on SCOTUS precedents, what legal reasoning could have been overlooked?

This of course is in addition to the 17 states and the District of Columbia in which it was already legal.