Friday, June 6, 2014

A very stark, telling image

Neil deGrasse Tyson, the astrophysicist, science educator, Director of the planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History, and star of the TV show "Cosmos," discussed climate change with Chris Hayes a few nights ago on MSNBC's "All in With Chris Hayes."

Saying that the wealthy will begin to notice very quickly when it affects their wealth -- and, Tyson says, it most definitely will, because many of the coastal cities and centers of wealth will be affected.   Then came this stark image:

"Here in New York, if we lose the ice caps ... [the water] would come up to the Statue of Liberty's elbow, the one that's holding the Declaration of Independence.  That's where the water line will be."

Think about that.    Water all the way up to her elbow.   Manhattan is pretty flat, so this must mean that all of Manhattan island would be under water.

That's frightening.   But will they believe it yet?   Probably not.


President Obama did not "negotiate with terrorists"

This is more about the prisoner swap in Afghanistan.

Critics of the president and this operation are yelling about "negotiating with terrorists."   As Christ Hayes and his guest experts a few nights ago pointed out:  These Guantanamo detainees who were released are not "terrorists."   They were part of the Taliban, not Al Qaeda.   

Now the Taliban did in some places habour Al Kaeda operatives.  They may have done some things to their own people that we find unacceptable, but they themselves did not engage in terrorist acts against us.   Republican Col. Wilkerson, former chief of staff to Gen. Colin Powell when he was Secretary of State, put it this way on Chris' show:   "The Taliban are only fighting us because we're there;  we invaded their country."

No, these five men were being held as "enemy combatants" -- prisoners of war.   The international rules of war mandate that, at the end of a war, the two sides exchange prisoners.    Since we are officially ending our participation in the war in Afghanistan at the end of 2014, we would presumably be returning these men then anyway.  And Bergdahl was the only known American prisoner of war being held by the other side.

Meanwhile, the right wing media/blogger folks are going crazy demonizing Sgt. Bergdahl, some saying we should have just left him there, others suggesting the firing squad.   After five days of this all-out, all-bad news slants from the right, conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer said that he would have made the same decision as did President Obama.

The New York Times has a story out that cautions against rushing to judgment before the facts are known.   They looked extensively into the charges that six or more soldiers died in the searches for the missing man.   Their conclusion:   the evidence does not show this.   It was a time of increasing casualties in that area.   Some of those mentioned as being killed in the searches were actually killed in attacks on their base compound, not out on patrol.   Only one of the reports about deaths in those months even mentioned the missing Bergdahl.

It makes news, pulls in viewers to throw all this outraged blame around.   But it's just wrong to convict this young man in the public arena without any evidence or defense.  And, then, even if he did walk off intending to desert -- is that cause for just leaving him to die in captivity?   Doesn't he deserve a chance to present a defense?


Thursday, June 5, 2014

Was Bergdahl a deserter? . . . Or a troubled young man who needed help?

Sam Stein of the Huffington Pos, wrote a very thoughtful piece about the prisoner exchange that brought back Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl in exchange for five Guantanamo detainees. 

Was Bergdahl a deserter, punishable by firing squad death?   Or was he a troubled young soldier, sent to fight for a dubious cause in a war no longer fully supported by fellow Americans,  who needed help?

Republicans and FoxNews wasted no time turning it into a political battle -- more of President Obama's feckless and dangerously weak handling of foreign affairs.   He gave away too much, trading "the Taliban Dream Team" (so said Sen. Lindsey Graham) for one lowly enlisted man, who may have -- let's say, allegedly -- deserted his duty.   

Others have said that the president violated the Constitution in not consulting Congress and should be impeached.  Others suspect this is a backdoor method of emptying out Guantanamo.   Some of Bergdahl's former fellow soldiers have complained that the months-long searches for him after he disappeared resulted in the deaths of six soldiers, which they deeply resent.

Sam Stein points out that "No one has actually argued that Bergdahl should have been left behind, left to endure Taliban-style justice for walking off his post, . . . [but] The more illuminating question to ask, instead, is what would have happened politically had the White House sat on its hands and not acted?   Some of the very Republicans criticizing the president today were imploring him to do more to free Bergdahl just a few months prior. Some even suggested he pursue any means necessary to get him released. Let's say the White House had waited to act in hopes of a better deal -- and never reached one. What then?

One Obama administration official put it this way:  "Imagine the outrage from Republicans if we had left him there."    And, especially, if you think about leaving him there in the context of the fact that almost all of our troops will be coming home by the end of this year.   And leaving one behind in Taliban captivity -- however he got there.

What a privilege the opposition enjoys -- the freedom to criticize, no matter what the president does, without having the responsibility, without having to make any of the hard decisions or say what they would actually do differently, without having to take the garbage they throw at him.

Maybe it helps just a little bit to remember that it's no worse than they said about Abraham Lincoln.


Wednesday, June 4, 2014

USDA to Gov. Deal: You can't do that.

The Georgia legislature passed, and Gov. Nathan Deal signed into law in April, a bill that requires drug testing of anyone applying for food stamps that is suspected of being on drugs, beginning in 2016.

Now the U. S. Department of Agriculture, which administers the food stamp program, has informed the governor that he cannot do thatThe regional USDA administrator wrote to Gov. Deal:
"Requiring SNAP applicants and recipients to pass a drug test in order to receive benefits would constitute an additional condition of eligibility, and therefore, is not allowable under law."
That's pretty clear.


Bah humbug !!

It's been a long time since I did one of my "bah humbug" rants about some annoying every day matter.   Politics is just so much more outrageous, especially the Republicans in this second decade of the 21st century.

But tonight, I once again encountered one of life's minor outrages that's been bugging me for some time.   It has to do with paper towel dispensers in the public restrooms, like in theaters, restaurants, etc.

You know the kinds I mean:  some of them you pull down the paperothers you stand in front of, waving your hands like an idiot, trying to figure out which way the damned motion sensor wants you to wave -- left to right?  right to left?  up to down?   Sometimes nothing works, and I finally realize this is one where you're supposed to pull down on the paper towel.

They all look pretty much alike.  So I wind up pulling on the ones you're supposed to wave at;   and looking like a hand-flapping fool before the ones you're supposed to pull.

How about a little consistency?   Pull? or Wave?   Or, at least, make them different colors so we old codgers don't have to look quite as foolish as we feel.  It's bad enough that we've just finished having to stand at the urinal twice as long as the next guy, because it takes us longer to do what needs to be done.  And then to have to go wave at a machine.

Bah humbug !!


Tuesday, June 3, 2014

A national health care exchange . . . by default

The following is based on information from an article in Politico.

The original Affordable Care Act had some important features which contributed importantly to its predicted success:   (1)  The expansion of Medicaid with penalties for the states that did not comply;   and (2)  The expectation that each state would set up its own insurance market exchange.

The U. S. Supreme Court struck down #1 and made the Medicaid expansion voluntary for each state with no penalty.   Recalcitrant Republican governors and legislators have balked at that, as well as #2.   It's amazing that the ACA has done as well as it has without either of these components.

As of now, 36 of the 50 states rely on the federal rather than setting up their own exchange.   Designed to be a limited fallback alternate for states that had difficulty setting up their own exchange -- it was then overwhelmed when it had to handle the volume of 36 states at once.

Republicans of course are whining about the centralized control:   Rep. Tom Price (R-GA, regretably my own congressman) says that "This was predictable. . . .  Our friends on the other side didn't listen."

Hold up there, Dr. Price.   President Obama and the Democrats in Congress tried to give the states autonomy to design their own exchanges -- and two-thirds of them wouldn't take it.   They just didn't want to play in Obama's sandpile, so they said "No."

But, don't you Republicans see what you did, by having the states refuse?   YOU actually mandated that we have a national exchange by default.    And it's not "national health insurance."  It's a national marketplace, for god's sake.   Doesn't that word ring familiar bells for all you market-based conservatives?

A few, like Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), the leading Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, are beginning to want an investigation -- not into but into why the states failed to set up their own.   Better late than never.

Well, not really.   Because the best thing, IMHO, would be to go directly to a single-payer, national health service.   But conservatives are so opposed to anything that has even a whiff of "socialism," that they would probably even give in and set up state exchanges to stall that off.

The undeniable fact, however, is that they can't have it both ways.


Monday, June 2, 2014

Shinseki's resignation

Gen. Eric Shinseki has resigned as head of the Veterans Administration, taking responsibility for the problems.   Gen. Shinseki is a good man who managed to make the VA much better in many ways.   His demise is more the fault of factors beyond his control -- mainly a matter of supply and demand -- and the cheating scandal that resulted from undue pressure to meet demands that were way beyond capacity, or Republican's willingness to expand that capacity.

To the extent that Gen. Shinseki or someone else could have done better, it would have required a degree of bully pulpit drama that is not his style.   So, in the end, political pressure necessitated his stepping down.

But let's look at the real problem -- which doesn't change one iota by his leaving.

1.  Year after year, the VA Medical system is at the top in ranking of quality of care;  it beats out all private systems;   and it's service for amputees is unparalleled.   We do not have a problem of poor care, once a veteran gains access to the system.

2.  We have a problem of not enough doctors and nurses, combined with a burgeoning population of two million new patients trying to get into the system.

3.  The increased population has at least three sources:
     a.   Returning veterans from two wars that were started without thought for later consequences.
     b.   Older veterans, who had formerly chosen private medical care for non-combat illnesses, but who because of the recession can no longer afford the private care.
     c.   Viet Nam veterans who, like any aging population, need more medical care than before.

4.   Now combine those three increases in patient populations about 2 million) with the politics of Republicans' budget cutting mania.

5.   And add in another factor:  the pay scale for VA doctors is half to two-thirds what they could make in private practice.   So there is an actual shortage in addition to an increasing need for more.

As to the falsifying of appointment records?    It's the same story as the Atlanta Public School cheating scandal where, under extreme pressure to improve student test scores, teachers falsified test scores.    Put people's jobs on the line with unreasonable expectations, and they will often do what has to be done to keep them.

There will be some reprehensible individuals identified in all this, probably.   But Gen. Shinseki will not be one of them.    It is a systemic problem that goes all the way to congressional appropriations decisions.


Sunday, June 1, 2014

John Kerry had a good week

Not only did Sec. of State John Kerry out-maneuver Darrell Issa (see "Issa backs down"), he also took on the former VEEP's criticism of President Obama's foreign policy.

VEEP said Obama's decision to pull almost all our troops out of Afghanistan was "stupid" and "unwise," and he called Obama "the weakest president I've seen in my lifetime."

Here's Kerry:
“I’m not surprised to hear from Dick Cheney something that’s obviously, number one, negative, and number two, wrong,   Dick Cheney was completely wrong about Iraq, and we are still struggling with the aftermath of what Dick Cheney and his crew thought was the right policy to go in and start a war of choice for the wrong reasons. . . . 

“They turned topsy-turvy the entire region with respect to Sunni and Shia and the relationships there. . . .  So the fact is that they have been deeply, deeply wrong in the policy that they pursued, and any advice from him really has no meaning to me with respect to what we’re doing today.”
In his West Point commencement speech, President Obama focused on foreign policyand he addressed that Cheney attitude:

"But to say that we have an interest in pursuing peace and freedom beyond our borders is not to say that every problem has a military solution. Since World War II, some of our most costly mistakes came not from our restraint, but from our willingness to rush into military adventures – without thinking through the consequences; without building international support and legitimacy for our action, or leveling with the American people about the sacrifice required. Tough talk draws headlines, but war rarely conforms to slogans. As General Eisenhower, someone with hard-earned knowledge on this subject, said at this ceremony in 1947: “War is mankind’s most tragic and stupid folly; to seek or advise its deliberate provocation is a black crime against all men. . . .

"But U.S. military action cannot be the only – or even primary – component of our leadership in every instance. Just because we have the best hammer does not mean that every problem is a nail. And because the costs associated with military action are so high, you should expect every civilian leader – and especially your Commander-in-Chief – to be clear about how that awesome power should be used."
As one of the commentators in MSNBC noted on Thursday night, after showing clips of Cheney's remarks, Cheney is doing a preemptive strike, trying to obscure the glaring truth of the failure of his own folly in Iraq.