Saturday, August 9, 2014

The greatest name in politics . . . maybe ever.

By "greatest name in politics," I do not mean the person who made the best name for him/herself by good deeds and success.  No, I am actually talking about the name itself, as a name I like the sound of.  Rarely has the name of a public figure caught my ear and intrigued me quite so much.

Actually, I think Allison Lundergan Grimes is pretty good too;  and Michelle Nunn is not bad.  But this woman has a name that really takes it to a new realm.   I don't mean a crazy level;  it's a name that is mellifluous;  it connotes nature combined with purpose.  And it is her actual birth name.

She's an associate professor of law at Fordham Law School.   An undergraduate degree from Yale, then she simultaneously earned her law degree from Duke and an MA in political science.    Her specialty is anti-trust law.

I heard her as a guest on one of the MSNBC evening news shows, I think Chris Hayes;  and she is an impressive thinker and speaker.   Definitely takes progressive positions on issues.   She was director of internet organizing for the Howard Dean campaign.   She co-founded A New Way Forward, a group dedicated to breaking up the power of big banks, and she was involved with Occupy Wall Street.

She's running against incumbent Andrew Cuomo for the Democratic Nomination for governor of New York.   All that sounds terrific, like someone I would like to support, especially if the whiffs of scandal swirling around Gov. Cuomo are real.    But honestly, New York is not my state, and I'm not going to get involved.   It's really her name that intrigues me.
She could join the ranks of Elizabeth Warren, Hillary Clinton, Jennifer Granholm, Michelle Nunn, Allison Lundergan Grimes -- and, yes, I'm going to put Michele Obama on the list -- in giving us a new kind of politician:   all smart, progressive, sane, assertive women -- and they carry it well with a light touch. 

They seem a different breed -- so much so that I would almost not include Hillary Clinton;   as capable as I know she will be, she's has a bit of the "old school" politics.   I'm looking for a new type of smart women, who care about making things work for the people, the kind that has a majority presence in the Norwegian Parliament, which explains why they have such a good social safety net.
Her real name, given to her at birth? 
          Zephyr Rain Teachout

Friday, August 8, 2014

"And marriage equality goes marching on . . . "

 Some recent happenings on the marriage equality front:

1.  A three judge panel of the 6th U. S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati heard arguments in the gay marriage cases each of the four states in its jurisdiction:  Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky, and Tennessee.   One of the judges made a comment that is making the internet rounds.   She observed, "it doesn't look like the sky has fallen in" in the states that already allow same-sex marriage.    Sounds like that's at least one vote.

2.  And then there's Texas, whose ban of same-sex marriage was overturned in U. S. District Court last February and is on appeal.   A group of 60 Texas lawmakers signed a brief arguing that gay marriage could lead to the legalization of incest, pedophilia and polygamy.   

Good grief.   Is that all they've got?    Well, no.  In appealing the case, Attorney General Gregg Abbott argues that the ban promotes stable, lasting relationships for child rearing.   Yes, thank you, Mr. AG for making the argument for our side.  You see, it's also good for the children being raised by gay men and lesbian parents to allow their parents to get married and have all those stabilizing benefits.    

Abbott even goes on to cite the article by Mark Regnerus that has been thoroughly debunked in other court hearings;  it's even been withdrawn by the journal that published it.    Either these people are just going through the motions of appeal . . . or else they haven't done any homework at all and are just plain dumb to boot.   In truth, their "defense" is laughable.

3.  The campaign for the Democratic nominee for governor of Georgia, Jason Carter, put out this statement saying he supports marriage equality.   Later, in an interview, Carter was asked if he supports same-sex marriage.  He replied:
"I have, for a very long time, supported marriage equality. . . .  Everybody who knows me knows where I stand on the issue. I haven't had a conversion. My grandfather is 89 and supports marriage equality in part because of the influence we've had on him.

"I do think it's important for people to know that no one in the movement is talking about telling churches what to do. But as far as the government is concerned, marriage equality is something I believe in and have [believed in] for a very, very, very long time since before I got into politics."
Carter also had a good answer to whether, as governor, he would push for protection against anti-gay discrimination for Georgia state employees:
"I'm against discrimination. How we get there with the Republican legislature is a question. But one thing I know for a fact is that, right now, there are state employees who are living double lives because they're not allowed to be who they want to be, and who they are, when they're at work. That's something where if they know that they have someone in the governor's office that is a friend, that will make a big difference in those people's lives. That's important to me. That's important to a huge number of other people.
Well, there you have it.   What a clear choice between this young Democrat and that Nathan Deal, who in his 2010 campaign smeared opponent Karen Handel for having supported Youth Pride, a community support facility and counseling center for gay teenagers. 

He not only smeared Handel, he smeared and possibly endangered the lives of the kids at Youth Pride by demonizing it as a place where they teach and encourage homosexual behavior in 14 year olds.   Despicable man.


Thursday, August 7, 2014

2016 Hillary Clinton vs ? ?

This post was informed by an article by Laila Kierney on Reuter's news service.

New Jersey's scandal-ridden Gov. Chris Christie is traveling the country as head of the Republican Governor's Association, raising obscene amounts of money for the party, which will be doled out to Republicans in governor's races -- and no doubt trying to rebuild his own presidential fortunes for 2016.

One state he cannot count on for big support is his own, New Jersey.  A recent Quinnipiac University poll there showed that New Jersey voters favor Hillary Clinton over him by 50% to his 42%.

Not to feel too bad, though, Big Guy.    The Hill also beats the others by a good bit more.

Hillary Clinton  50%     Chris Christie  42%
Hillary Clinton  54%     Jeb Bush  34%
Hillary Clinton  55%     Rand Paul  34%
Hillary Clinton  57%     Mike Huckabee  34%

She outpolls all Republican match-ups in Ohio as well, according to Quinnipiac polls.

What we really need to do now is also elect a Democratic Congress to help her out.   Think what Obama could have accomplished if we hadn't lost the House in 2010.


What's happening in Ukraine and Gaza ?

1.   Is Putin in or out?   Reports are that Putin has about 20,000 Russian troops massed just east of the border with Ukraine, along with heavy military equipment, and they continue to train and equip the Ukrainian separatists.  So what is Putin up to?   Does he even know?    DoD Sec. Chuck Hagel sees it as a growing threat that Putin might invade Ukraine, as he did in Crimea.    Let's hope the administration's Russia experts have some ideas, because to me Putin's actions just seem quixotic and without a coherent plan.

2.  So far the cease-fire holds in Gaza, and Israel has agreed to extend it in favor of negotiations for a lasting truce.   So far, Hamas has not agreed.   Israel insists on total disarmament of Hamas, which Hamas rejects and Hamas insists on Israel lifting the blockade, which Israel rejects.  

Maybe if they both just said "yes" at the same time . . .   I don't mean to trivialize it.   These are tough positions to compromise on.   But Israel needs security;  the Palestinians need to have control over their own lives and land.

But, as long as the guns and missiles are silent, there is hope . . . I suppose.


Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Some success stories

There is so much to regret and to enrage us going on in the world that it's good to focus on the successes every once in a while.   Here are a few:

1.  A few weeks ago, the Walgreen drug chain put up a trial balloon, saying they were acquiring a related European firm and that they would move their headquarters to Europe to manage to entire merged company.     This would mean that a huge portion of their corporate profits would not be taxed in the United States -- another hit of perhaps billions on our federal budget.    And Walgreen is just one of many corporations who have, or are contemplating, made such a move.

A grass roots outcry from progressive organizations -- I've signed several internet petitions -- as well as from Democrats in Congress and the President himself -- apparently has changed Walgreen's mind.    Consumers have quite a bit of power still in this focus-group, ad-driven market -- but it has to be organized.    Latest word is that Walgreen will not be shifting it headquarters and its taxes.    Chalk one up for People Power.

2. Despite recent polls showing that "Obamacare" still has high disapproval ratings, there is good data coming out now showing that states that took full advantage of the Affordable Care Act (expanding Medicaid and setting up state insurance exchanges) have a much larger drop in uninsured people than those who did not.    Arkansas, Kentucky are among the most successful in lowering their uninsured rates.

3.  Republicans fought really hard for years to stop the formation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau;   it got created but they made it impossible for Elizabeth Warren to be appointed to head it, despite her having been in charge of creating the organization.   Then they tried to kill it by hampering its operations in all sorts of ways.

The good news is that it's working anyway -- protecting us from predatory or unfair credit card charges, bad mortgages, student loans, etc.   Thanks mostly to Elizabeth Warren, now in the Senate representing Massachisetts and trying to quash the "Ready for Warren" movements to get her to run for president.   

4.  The agreed-to 72 hour cease-fire in Gaza has now held for about 32 hours, and plans are being made for beginning indirect truce negotiations in Egypt between Israel and Hamas.   It's hard to find any good news coming out of that conflict -- but this slight ray of hope to end the active fighting is welcome.

5.  There was a brief outbreak of hysteria, fueled by Donald Trump and others of his ilk, over the prospects of two Ebola patients being brought into this country for treatment.   First, they are now at a special, super-isolated unit at Emory Hospital that is actually under the aegis of the nearby CDC and was designed to handle just such dreaded communicable diseases.    Second, both patients are American citizens, medical missionaries from Franklin Graham's Samaritan's Table.   Why shouldn't they be brought home, especially if home is where they can obtain the best treatment.   Third, Ebola is spread by body fluids;  it is not going to get out of this special isolation unit;  it will not start an epidemic here.   Fourth, both patients are said to be improving -- which is very good news.

6  And the best news lines of the day were from Whoopi Goldberg, responding to Donald Trump's hyperventilated bloviating about keeping even Americans with Eboli out of the country.   Whoopi's comeback:   After explaining some facts about the disease, she said:
"Do your homework, Donald. . .  Just do your homework ... Before you say something that dumb -- you know better than that. Come on.”

May more good stories come our way.


Tuesday, August 5, 2014

We can't let the Republicans take over the Senate

Nate Silver, the numbers-crunching genius who correctly predicted every state's vote in the 2012 presidential election, is tracking current senate races.    Yesterday, he released a statement that gives the Republicans a 60% chance of taking control of the Senate by a one-seat margin.

Now, a couple of caveats.

1.   This is based on current polls, trends, and his vast knowledge of political history.  But it is only a measure of today's prediction.   There are three months left, and many things happen in the last three months of campaigns.

2.  Nate's impressive accuracy was in predicting presidential votes.  In some of them, his prediction would change over time;   his 100% success was based on his final predictions just prior to the election.  

3,   Senate races are sort of a hybrid between national presidential politics and more local, congressional district politics.  

4.   A 60% chance of winning by one seat.   That's pretty slim -- and Democrats have a 40% chance of preventing that happening.  But it's enough to turn over all committees and the agenda, powerful differences.   On the other hand, it will take only flipping one seat that now seems in the Republican column.

5.   The sobering thought behind these stats is that the senate will likely be even more closely divided, even if we hold onto control so breaking filibusters will be even harder.

Nevertheless, there is cause for concern -- even though in general Democrats seem less worried than they were four months ago as some of the 'in trouble' incumbents, like Mary Landreau and Mark Pryor seem to be doing better than originally feared.   On the other hand, Mark Udall is doing less well in Colorado.

I believe the two wild cards are going to be the possible pick-ups of Michelle Nunn in Georgia and Allison Lundergan Grimes in Kentucky.    Each is essentially tied with her Republican opponent.

In the end, it will likely come down to the ground game in a few key states, that is, who gets their voters to go to the polls.


Monday, August 4, 2014

Gaza #3: The cease-fire that wasn't a cease-fire. The other side of the story

Most of the world, listening to the mainstream media in both Israel and the United States, hears the Israeli narrative loud and clear . . . the Palestinian narrative, not so much.

Take this latest "cease-fire" that was said to have lasted less than two hours before Hamas attacked and killed three Israeli soldiers.    Declaring that Hamas had broken the cease fire, Netanyahu blasted the U.S. State Department with angry words for having coerced Israel into agreeing to the cease fire.   He gave the U.S. ambassador a message:  "not to ever second-guess me again" and that we should trust his judgment on how to deal with Hamas.  He also added that he now "expected" the U.S. to fully support Israel's offensive in Gaza.

In retaliation against Hamas, Israel launched a predawn heavy artillery strike that demolished a United Nations school, killing 21 Palestinian civilians of the 3,220 who had taken refuge in the school from the Israeli attacks on their homes.    The United Nations had repeatedly cautioned Israel that their schools were being used to house refugees and should not be attacked.  Netanyahu's spokesman, Mark Regev, says that Hamas itself is totally to blame for the deaths because Hamas has its military operations near shelters and hospitals.

U.N. officials have said that the school was at least 200 yards from any Hamas military activity.  Bits of shrapnel found at the school site suggests that heavy artillery, generally fired from up to 25 miles away, were the weapons used -- and they are notoriously imprecise in hitting targets.   They are designed for wide-spread destruction, not precise targets

This latest "lack of precision" in the Israeli attacks prompted the harshest criticism yet from the U. S. State Department ("appalled at the disgraceful attack") and the United Nations ("a moral outrage and a criminal act").  

No one is claiming that Israel targets these schools, but it is a fact that six U. N. schools have been hit, despite being designated as U.N. refugee shelters.  A director of the U.N. relief agency asks, "Why aren't the safe zones working?"   The U.N. updates the exact locations of their refugee sites twice a day and notifies the Israelis. 

The increasing number of civilians and the extreme disproportion of the lives lost in this conflict (300 to 1) has become a growing theme in mainstream news in the U.S.   But even soit is mostly the Israeli side of the story that is reported, other than the human tragedy aspect of the Palestinian civilian plight.

Here is the Hamas version of what happened concerning the cease-fire.   The cease-fire conditions that they agreed to did not include allowing Israel to continue destroying the tunnels in Gaza during the cease-fire period.   For them, there was no cease-fire, because Israel never ceased its military operations.

Further, one version suggests that the attack on the three Israeli soldiers was actually carried out before the designated 8:00 am beginning of the cease fire and that Israel held back on reporting it until 9:30 in order to justify its subsequent "retaliatory" strikes -- and also to then claim that Hamas could not be trusted.

A larger point in the Palestinian narrative that gets lost in the news media is the disagreement about who is the instigator of the current fighting.   Israel blames Hamas for shooting rockets into their country.     The Palestinians blame Israel for the blockade of their country and the economic strangulation and deprivations they suffer;   for them, the rockets and the tunnels are the only recourse left to them to resist Israel's domination.

As Richard Falk wrote in Al Jazeera:
"This [Hamas] response is without a doubt contrary to international law, but what alternatives were open to Hamas other than sullen acquiescence? It was also the case that prior to the heavy flow of rockets, Israel launched airstrikes on Gaza, which appeared to be designed to induce a retaliation that could then provide Tel Aviv with justification to launch a massive military operation in line with the distasteful Israeli metaphor that “mowing the grass” — an indiscriminate punitive incursion — in Gaza is necessary to ensure that the region remains compliant.

"Also relevant is a comprehensive unlawful blockade of Gaza that was established in mid-2007 and is widely viewed by international law experts as illegal because it amounts to the collective punishment of Gaza’s population of 1.8 million civilians. Collective punishment is unconditionally prohibited by Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. In this case, since Palestinian civilians are supposed to be protected by Israel as the occupying power, the violation of international humanitarian law is flagrant."
There undoubtedly is truth in both of these points of view.   I think the world at least needs to hear both.   Led by the outrage over the extreme disparity in the human cost of this war, gradually more of the Palestinian narrative is being aired.    As I'm writing this, Israel is said to be pulling back its troops.   Perhaps they've simply accomplished their task of destroying the tunnel system, if not the entire economy and infrastructure of Gaza -- or perhaps they are reacting to mounting world criticism.


A tortured interpretation of "free speech" and Florida law

In Florida, it is illegal for a doctor to ask a patient about gun ownership if it is not "relevant" to the patient's medical care.   The law does not define what being "relevant" means.

This arose because pediatricians were increasingly being urged by their professional associations to counsel the parents of small children about gun safety in the home, in the same way a pediatrician might advise parents about any public health or personal safety issues.  And there are certainly enough deaths of children who find guns in the home and accidentally shoot themselves or a sibling or friend.

The NRA would have none of that, thank you very much.  So they got a law passed to prevent it.    The law has now been tested in a lawsuit, and a three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld the law, denying the claim that the law interferes with the free speech of the doctors.

This seems a dangerous interpretation and begins to chip away at 1st amendment rights (freedom of speech) in favor of so-called 2nd amendment rights (gun ownership).   The court's reasoning was that doctors questioning their patients is "treatment" and therefore does not come under the protection of free speech.

My first reaction, as above, was to see this as gun rights vs free speech rights.   But, on further thought, it makes some sense.  A recent controversy concerning "treatment" vs "free speech" arose over a new kind of law (passed in both California and New Jersey) that prohibits licensed counselors and therapists in those states from undertaking a "treatment" aimed at changing the sexual orientation or gender expression of anyone under the age of 18.    This is based on studies showing that those treatments often do serious harm, while being minimally effective in achieving their reputed aim.

A challenge to the law in California from conservative therapists who claimed it violated their free speech was rejected by the courts.  In other words, protecting patients from harmful treatments trumps free speech of the doctor.   When you reframe the question that way, it seems different.   The problem is in the NRA's concept of why this is "harmful."

I have not read the 11th court opinion and am relying on news reports.  But assuming that they are correct, where I see the 11th Circuit Court went wrong was in simply accepting that claim and upholding the law.  What the court should have done is to say that it cannot be upheld on the basis of free speech, but it could be overturned based on the assumption that it is harmful to patients to be counseled on gun safety in the home.   Then that puts its right back on the NRA to prove that counseling parents to keep guns locked up is actually harmful.

That's a high bar of proof for the NRA to meet.   They will make the claim -- based on paranoid conspiracy theories and anti-government fears.   But convincing the court is another matter.


Sunday, August 3, 2014

The GOP's cognitive split on control of people's lives

Paul Ryan unveiled his proposed poverty program last week.   There is one aspect of it that helped to focus the strange relationship Republicans have with control over the American citizens.

On the one hand:   They want no controls on gun ownership, on private business, on the banking systems that led to the great 2008 recession, or the freedom to harass and intimidate those they disagree with, such as at abortion clinic entrances.

On the other hand:   The want to control women's reproductive decisions, the choice of your marriage partner, our borders to an obsessive degree, and with Ryan's poverty proposal the very lives of poor people.

His plan admirably has as a goal getting people out of poverty.   But his approach is stupid in relying on state block grants, and it is demeaning to poor people in their daily lives.

As to state block grants -- their same, tired, unworkable plan to deal with any kind of social network programs -- is to take federal assistance programs, give the money in grants to the states, and then let them decide how to use the money.

The problem with this is that this has been demonstrated again and again as the perfect formula for funds not going where they were intended -- as assistance to needy people.   In the states where federal help is most needed, they use this money to replace what they have already been spending on social benefits;  then they have a pot of money to do other things with.      That wonderful word -- fungible -- is what that's called.   Money meant for one purpose can be stretched and twisted, and it often winds up going for something else.

A simple example might be:   a college student asks his dad for $300 to buy the required books for this semester;  he then buys used books for $100 and uses the $200 for partying.

Federal block grants to states -- it's like that.  Paul Ryan has invented nothing new.   What seems so demeaning in his proposals for poor people is that they are treated, not even like children, but like juvenile delinquents in rehab.    They will be asked to sign a lifetime contract, work with a case manager on a life plan for getting out of poverty.   There will be goal-setting and monitoring.

There are some things about this that may be good.    But the biggest problem about poverty today is that people who want to work do not have jobs available to them;   minimum wage is too low.   If Republicans are serious about getting people out of poverty -- let them support an increased minimum wage and stimulus spending to create jobs.   Then there will be far fewer people dependent on social network programs.


"We tortured some folks." President Obama

The report of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on our handling of captured terrorists during the post-9/11 years is about to be released.

In a news conference, President Obama uttered the words no one in his position has ever said before:   "We tortured some folks. . .  We did some things that were contrary to our values."

Now, keep in mind that soon after he assumed office, President Obama ended the practice of "extended interrogation techniques," the euphemistic phrase of the Cheney-Rumsfeld-Bush crowd.    This report then is on what happened during the Bush presidency.

Still, President Obama has been reluctant to hold his predecessor accountable . . . or the former Veep or Secretary of Defense Rummy.

Here's the other thing this report reportedly makes clear.   The torture that was done was not necessary to get the information we needed.  Cheney and Rumsfeld have staunchly maintained, to this day, that invaluable information was obtained that led to, among other things, the capture of Osama Bin Laden -- even though that didn't take place until a number of years later.

According to some who have seen it, the report makes very clear that, although some information was obtained from some who were tortured, experience has shown that the same information could also have been -- and often was -- obtained through conventional interrogation methods.    One of the most experienced military interrogators said as much at the time.

Now that we have this clarification in what should be accepted as the authoritative answer, is anyone going to be held accountable?   Apparently not.   The president's attitude seems to be that the pressure on the Bush administration and the CIA in the post-9/11 period was enormous, and their motives were to protect our country from another attack.   He acknowledged that "we did some bad things;"   but Obama seems disinclined to pursue any kind of holding them accountable, saying we should "not be too sanctimonious" in judging those who were under pressure to keep American safe in that period.

I disagree with that;  there is a middle ground.   The current political climate would not allow it;  but what should have been done, in my opinion, was what Nelson Mandela and Bishop Desmond Tutu did in South Africa:   a Truth and Reconciliation Commission.    People were interviewed in open hearings -- and with immunity from punishment -- in exchange for getting at the truth, in an effort to collectively acknowledge that this was wrong and we want to insure it will never happen again, so that reconciliation can begin.

Instead, we are still fighting about who did what and who was right -- 13 years later.