Saturday, July 12, 2014

Hamas' rockets, Israel's air strikes, killing civilians. Moral intentions vs effects.

I have shied away from writing about the current fierce escalation in violence between the Hamas forces shooting rockets into Israel and the Israeli response of air strikes into Gaza.  In part, it is because the historical context is so complex, and I believe that both sides have grievances that go so far back in history that it seems nearly impossible to reach any consensus on whose claim is right.

The larger part of my reluctance, however, is that my position sometimes puts me at odds with some of my friends who have a greater, and a deeply felt, personal stake in Israel.

Nevertheless, I do not consider myself on one side or the other.  I think I have some understanding of both points of view, having heard impassioned, persuasive arguments for both sides.  Each side picks a point in history that favors its claims, and blame is assigned to the other based on that.  I doubt any solution is going to come, as long as either side takes the position that the blame is entirely on the other side and that the solution is simply that "they" must do this -- or that -- before negotiations can begin.

Almost without regard for the historical reality, however, I usually
tend to feel more supportive of the current underdog, especially when there are such disparities of power and resources and control of their own daily lives.   

This sympathy found expression in a moving summation of the current situation by Chris Hayes last night on his MBNBC "All In With Chris Hayes.'  In discussing the Hamas-Israeli battle raging in Gaza, Chris began by acknowledging the asymmetry of each side's stated intention and noting that deliberate killing of civilians is a war crime under the international conventions of warfare.
"Hamas says it is explicitly targeting civilians, and the Israeli defense force says it is notAnd that distinction has real import.". . . 

"But intention, when it comes to violence and war, is not the end of the storyEffect matters as well.  And to look at the effect of the missiles and the rocket fire exchanges between Hamas and Israel is to see yet another glaring asymmetry.   So far, no Israelis have been killed in the latest round of violence, thanks in part to Israel's sophisticated missile defense system;  while on the other side, 89 Palestinians have lost their lives, according to Gaza Administrative Health, including 15 women and 24 children. [by Friday morning this had risen to 100 and by Saturday morning to 120.] That includes one family in their home . . . and at least eight Palestinians gathered on the beach to watch yesterday's World Cup match between Argentina and the Netherlands.

"Gaza is one of the most densely populated places on earth, with 1.8 million people crammed into an area . . . .   In that environment, no amount of precision will stop 110 airstrikes in one day from wreaking terrible havoc on civilians.  The imbalance in casualties that we're seeing right now has been replicated in every single round of armed conflict between Israel and Palestine for the last 14 years. . . .  

"It's easy to forget that the numbers represent human beings, fellow human beings, real people with namesThese people who are dead today are as real as the Israeli teenagers who were kidnapped and murdered and the Palestinian teen murdered last week.   The mothers and fathers and the kin and friends and cousins they leave behind mourn just as intensely as the families of the young victims we all saw displayed on the news.

"As a matter of both ethical principle and public perception around the world, at a certain point, the effect of violence and its magnitude begins to swallow whatever moral intention is behind itEnough women and children and soccer watchers on the beach are marched to their graves -- and people stop caring what you meant to do."
That is a powerful statement, and I agree with Chris.   There are many Israelis who also agree.   Of course they don't want to live under the constant fear of rockets from Gaza, but they see that Israel has also been cruel to the Palestinians.   Not just in retaliatory airstrikes and invasions and destruction of homes, but in the ongoing, daily deprivations and obstructions  imposed.   And, yes, the Palestinians have fought back, throwing rocks -- and now, from Hamas, rockets fired into Israel's civilian areas.   Both sides definitely have grievances and both have suffered losses.

Israel's supporters say Hamas must acknowledge Israel's right to exist.   The Palestinians say Israel must stop the settlements.  Each has its irreducible demand.   No solution will come from attempts to impose one demand without accommodating the other.   Israel has been just as recalcitrant in expanding its settlements as Hamas has been in its calls for Israel's destruction and its rockets.


Friday, July 11, 2014

How is the new health insurance program working?

A survey done by the Commonwealth Fund has found some interesting data about how people are liking their new health care insurance, and how effective the program is.

77% of people who had insurance before but changed to new coverage under the ACA are happy with their new plan.  This presumably includes all those featured in Republican anti-Obamacare ads who were angry about "losing" their old policies.

74% of Republicans who did not have insurance before are happy with their coverage.

The overall rate of uninsured working class adults dropped from 20% to 15% in this survey (end of March).   Later data show it dropping further to 13.4% at the end of June.   But that's not the most startling figure:   a total of 20 million people have enrolled in the various parts of the ACA:

   7.8 million under age 26 were able to stay on their parent's plans
   8 million were enrolled under the marketplace exchanges
   5 million purchased insurance directly from insurers 

And this particular count of 20 million doesn't seem to include those in the expanded Medicaid programs.

On the negative side:  In those states that did not expand Medicaid, more than one-third of the lowest income residents in those states are still uninsured.   This is not the fault of the ACA but of the governments of those states which did not expand Medicaid and of SCOTUS which removed their incentive to expand, thus giving them an option they took for political reasons.

With $418 million spent on anti-Obamacare ads vs $28 million on pro-Obamacare ads, it just doesn't look like a good investment for the Koch Brothers and their ilk.   In spite of all the attempts to kill it or weaken it or make it difficult to obtain -- the ACA is alive and thriving and helping people


PS:  On a side note, the Brookings Institute released its study of the effects of anti-Obamacare tv ads and found that, based on per-capita spending state by state:

   increased spending was tied to declining enrollment in red states
   increased spending was tied to increasing enrollment in blue states

The conclusion they draw is that the ads called attention to the opportunity in those states where people were not politically turned against Obamacare.  It's even been suggested that all the negative ads gave people the idea they'd better sign up now lest the Republicans actually did manage to kill it.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

SCOTUS and consequecnes

Two weeks after the Supreme Court extended its string of naive, damn-the-consequences rulings -- this one, Hobby Lobby, declaring unconstitutional the Massachusetts buffer zones at abortion clinic entrances -- the results of that ruling are spreading.

The ruling only applied to the MA law and to the particular case brought by nice folks who only want to have a "quiet conversation" with women entering the clinic.  But a number of other states are already choosing not to enforce their buffer zones as well, knowing that the lawsuits will come now.   The right-to-life groups are revving up, declaring victory.

A legal counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom said:  ‘‘Americans have the freedom to talk to whomever they please on public sidewalks."   And what about the freedom not to be harassed?

I'm sure it's only a matter of weeks before we will again see horrific images of angry, screaming zealots harassing, taking photos, and confronting women with their "baby-killer" signs just as there have always been.   Only now, they can come right up to the clinic entrance instead of staying out of the buffer zone.

Is each clinic now going to have to have police protection just to keep a clear path for people wanting to enter their building?

The very same justices who accuse liberals of "legislating from the bench" have done some of the most egregious legislating from the bench themselves.

At least spare us the pious talk in which you deny slippery slope consequences and give naive advice that there are already laws to deal with this kind of hurtful, obstructive behavior.


Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Some more outrageous news items

1.   A science teacher in Atlanta's Grady High School included a cartoon in a power point presentation for her freshman biology class on the origins of human life.   The cartoon depicted two castles: one, labeled "Creation - Christ," flies a flag that says "Christianity;"  the other is labeled "Evolution - Satan," and it's flag says "Humanism."    Balloons flying from the Evolution Castle carry the words:  euthanasia, homosexuality, pornography, divorce, racism, and abortion.    The teacher said the presentation came from an Atlanta Public Schools file-sharing data base.   After students and parents complained, it was removed.   Last year, a student in this same teacher's class complained to the administration about her injection of her own religious views into science teaching, but no action was taken.

2.  Sarah Palin is trumpeting a full-throated call for President Obama's impeachment, citing his "dereliction of duty" in failing to defend our borders from the influx of illegal immigrants.   Last year, she wanted to impeach him over the debt limit.   Next year it will probably be something else.   Careful, guv, about your language.   Some say you didn't exactly carry out your duties as governor of Alaska, even failing to complete your first term.

3.  Congress has created this Select Committee to harass Hillary Clinton investigate Benghazi -- yet again.  The committee chair has requested an operating budget of $3.3 million.  For comparison, the budget for the House Veterans Affairs Committee, which oversees the entire range of programs for our veterans, is $3.2 million.    More for a totally egregious political stunt than to insure that our veterans are taken care of.

No, actually, it is more than a stunt;  it is a serious blow across the bow of Campaign Hillary.  And it should be labelled for what it is:   politics under the false pretense of governmental business.   And fortunately, I think, that issue has been so over-worked that Hillary is probably already immune to any damage;  it might even backfire, along with "repeal Obamacare."

4.  A Russian Orthodox priest has critiqued the World Cup games, calling them "a homosexual abomination."   Among other things, he slammed the colorful shoes worn by many of the players, suggesting that they helped to promote the "gay rainbow."

I'd like to remind the good priest of the previous Pope Benedict's choice of colorful footwear -- those custom-made ruby red slippers he liked to wear.   If you judge futeball players by their shoes, shouldn't you apply the same to church leaders?


Tuesday, July 8, 2014

"We're not going to be able to burn it all" . . . Barack Obama

The International Energy Agency has determined that, to meet the international goal of limiting earth's temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius, we will have to leave two thirds of the world's reserves of oil, gas, and coal underground, unburned.   In an interview with New York Times columnist Richard Friedman, President Obama was asked if he agreed with that assessment.

The president acknowledged this, saying "Science is science. . . . "We're not going to be able to burn it all."   He went on to say that, over the next two decades, we are going to have to build a ramp from the way we use energy today to the way we need to be using sustainable forms of energy.

MSNBC's Chris Hayes called this the most radical statement to come out of the White House . . . ever.   And yet the general media hardly noticed.    The importance of this benchmark is that we are going to have to stop the fracking process, which is designed to get those fossil fuel reserves that have been hard to get before.    That is, we are going after those reserves beyond that two-thirds level -- and we have to stop.

Yes, science is science.   But politics is also politics.   There is no way that this current congress is going to pass any kind of regulations that will stop our insatiable demand for more and more oil.    This is the challenge.    The president has brought John Podesta back into his administration to be in charge of the climate change program, which is an indication of Obama's desire to do the right thing.

Some are predicting that in the long reach of history, his presidency will be judged, more than any other issue, on what he did to turn the tide on climate change.   And, even though he has done more than another president in history, scientists are saying that it will be judged as not enough.

It boggles the mind.  How does any thinking, caring human being stare into so many abysses as our president must -- from climate change to the incendiary Middle East;  from financial regulation to Republican obstructionism -- and not just want to give up?

To expend so much effort and so much political capital -- just to get something done that you know is woefully inadequate -- must take a strength that few people possess.  


Monday, July 7, 2014

The top outrages of the week

1.  Walgreen's drug store chain is considering merging with a European drug store chain and moving it's headquarters to Switzerland in order to lower its corporate taxes -- despite the fact that almost 25% of its revenue comes directly from our government for Medicare and Medicaid patients.   SCOTUS says corporations are persons and have religious beliefs.  If Walgreen's is a person, then it must be a sociopath without a sense of moral responsibility.

2.  Rick Perry on FoxNews floated the conspiracy theory  that the Obama administration is behind the surge of immigrants coming across our southern border.  He doesn't offer any reason that Obama would want this but vaguely suggests "ulterior motives."   Careful, guv'ner.   This might be another "Oops" moment.

3.  Speaking of Texas, that's the place where a gun license qualifies as a voter ID but a college student ID does not.    Hmmm.   No mystery there.

4.  The latest form of protest from anti-environmentalists is called "rolling coal."    It involves spending up to thousands of dollars to alter their truck engines and exhausts systems to produce heavy, black, soot-filled exhaust as a form of political protest.   One trucker said "It's my way of giving them the finger."  There's a Facebook picture of a truck backed up to a Prius, enveloping it with its cloud of black exhaust;  another with a sign on the back that says:   "Prius repellent."    

Here's the link with pictures:

Just another week in the Land of the Free.


Sunday, July 6, 2014

Should Ruth Bader Ginsburg resign so Obama can appoint her successor ?

With the end of a Supreme Court term, when resignations are usually announced, attention has focused on Ruth Bader Ginsburg's age (81).   No one has suggested that she's not still up to the job.   In fact, the dissent she just wrote for the Hobby Lobby case would suggest that she is at the height of her powers and her influence.

It's really a political question, and it usually starts with citing statistics that Republican justices are so much better than Democratic justices at timing their leaving the court when a more like-minded president would be making the replacement nomination.   Consider that Thurgood Marshall, the giant of liberalism, was replaced by the uber conservative Clarence Thomas;  the moderate Sandra Day O'Connor by the very conservative Samuel Alito.
Obama still has 2 and 1/2 years, and he will most like be followed by Hillary Clinton for 4 to 8 years.  That should make it fairly safe for RBG to wait a few more years.   But the stakes are so high, we can't afford to lose one liberal vote.

Others have argued that Ginsburg is so effective and has such a history of shaping the court's views of women's issues, that it's unlikely that Obama or Clinton could get anyone nearly as liberal confirmed, especially if the Republican's take control of the senate in 2014.   So she should stay.

Here's my dream scenario -- well, if I'm going to indulge in a dream scenario, I would resurrect Barbara Jordan from the dead and have Obama nominate her.    But my more realistic dream scenario is this:

Ginsburg stays on the court.   Hillary Clinton wins in 2016, and the Democrats still control the senate.   Then Hillary nominates Barack Obama to replace Ginsburg when she steps down in 2017.    Think about it.   When he taught at the University of Chicago Law School, his specialty was constutional law.     So he would combine a constitutional scholar, liberal views, plus the experience of having been president and had to deal with the consequences of SCOTUS decisions.

OK:   So here's my real dreamy team:    Let Ginsburg go ahead and resign.   By a miracle Barbara Jordan comes back to life and Obama puts her on the court.   Then Hillary wins in 2016 and puts Obama on the court to replace Clarence Thomas, who has just been impeached for repeated and obvious conflict of interests and refusing to recuse himself from those cases.

And that's only two wishes.   Don't I get three?   My #3 is a doozie:   Antonin Scalia continues his slide into dementia and goes out as a paranoid, blithering idiot.   His family intervenes and gets him to resign, and Hillary has a wide open field of smart women to choose from.