Saturday, January 31, 2015

#3 House GOP leader . . . tarnished by past association with David Duke

Rep. Steve Scalise's (R-LA) recent appointment as the #3 person in the leadership of the Republican House Caucus has caused a lot of stir focused on his past connections with a white supremacist group more than a decade ago.   At first, Scalise explained that, as a rising local politician at the time, he was accepting any invitation to speak to a group, implying that he didn't really know much about the conference or the group sponsoring it.    He simply gave an address and left.

However, as reporters have probed into the details, it seems not quite so simple.  It turns out that the conference was hosted by the key Louisiana figure David Duke.   No one should have failed to recognize the positions of this former Ku Klux Klan leader and notorious white supremacist, who later ran for the U.S Senate and was almost elected governor of Louisiana in 1991 -- just 3 years before Scalise spoke at the conference.

Scalise's attempts to distance himself from any association with David Duke seem to have back-fired by keeping the subject in the news and dredging up more old news, including that he had once described himself to a reporter as "David Duke without the baggage."

That is definitely an appeal to those who approved of Duke's policies but objected to his notoriety and extremist past.  And that's not all.

Now David Duke has been on tv saying that he is considering running against Scalise because the congressman has betrayed his constituents.   "He got elected on false pretenses. . . .   He's not David Duke. . . .  He's insulting every one of the members who actually voted for him, because he's suggesting that they're racist because they supported my views."

Duke further called Scalise "a sellout" and called on him to step down.    So far, House Speaker John Boehner has supported Scalise, and at present he retains his #3 leadership post.

Yet another internal difficulty for the House Republicans,  They can't quite seem to get it all together to be something other than the "NO" opposition party.


Friday, January 30, 2015

Gun violence higher in states with higher gun ownership and weaker gun laws

States with higher rates of gun ownership and with weaker gun laws have more deaths from gun violence.

Wouldn't you think?    It's just make sense.   And yet, we've had decades of conservative, gun-lovers trying to tell us otherwise.  

And people saying stupid stuff like:   "When guns are outlawed, only outlaws have guns" -- to try to convince us that the good people should have more guns.

Now the Violence Policy Center, a nonprofit research group studying the impact of gun violence on public health, has released a report that gives us some data.   As reported on Huffington Post by Amanda Gutterman:

"Alaska has the highest rate of gun fatalities in the country, according to data from 2013. The state saw 19.59 deaths per 100,000 people . . . .  Alaska also has the country's third-highest rate of gun ownership, with firearms in 60.6% percent of households.

"The study found a similar correlation between gun ownership and gun deaths in the rest of the country. Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and Wyoming, the states that followed Alaska in terms of highest gun death rates, had some of the nation's largest percentages of households owning guns. . . . "

The study also found that those five states have "lax" gun restrictions, such as not banning assault weapons and allowing concealed carry permits.

"States with the lowest gun death rates -- the top three were Hawaii, Massachusetts and New York -- were found to have strong gun laws as well as low rates of gun ownership.  A separate 2013 analysis from the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence similarly found that these three states were among those with the strongest gun restrictions in place.

A number of previous studies have linked gun laws and gun ownership with deaths by gun violence, challenging the "more guns, less crime" hypothesis that suggests a higher rate of gun ownership makes communities safer. . . .

"Another recent report from researchers at Johns Hopkins and Stanford Universities found a positive link in all 50 states between right-to-carry laws and a rise in violent crimes. . . . 

Hawaii, the state that had the fewest gun deaths in 2013, has only 9.7 percent gun ownership and a gun death rate of 2.71 out of 100,000. . . .

Even that is still high compared to many other countries.   In the United Kingdom, few people own guns and the 2013 gun violence death rate was one-tenth of our best state -- at 0.23 deaths per 100,000.

What is this American craze for guns and more guns?   Even after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012 -- which raised a national discussion about guns -- Americans have stockpiled more and more guns and further weakened some states' gun control laws.

Only in America.


Thursday, January 29, 2015

AG nominee Loretta Lynch tells senators she disagrees with President Obama on marijuana

President Obama's nominee to replace Eric Holder as Attorney General, Loretta Lynch,  testified today before the Senate Judiciary Committee in her confirmation hearing.

From what I saw of it, she should be confirmed.   She was confident but not cocky.   She answered questions clearly and responsively, without backing down when a conservative senator grilled her on their disagreement.

She also did not shrink from distancing herself from Holder or the president when she genuinely disagreed with their positions.

For example, on the subject of legalization of marijuana, she clearly stated that she does not favor legalization.   Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) referred to a New Yorker profile where
President Obama discussed his views, calling pot "a bad habit and a vice" and likened it to his old cigarette habit.  "I don't think it is more dangerous than alcohol," he was quoted as saying.

Sessions asked Lynch if she agreed, she replied, "Senator, I do not. . . . I certainly don't hold that view and don't agree with that view of marijuana as a substance. . . .  I think the president was speaking from his personal experience and personal opinion, neither of which I'm able to share. But I can tell you that not only do I not support legalization of marijuana, it is not the position of the Department of Justice currently to support legalization, nor would it be the position if I were confirmed as attorney general." 

 In response to other questions about the president's policy on immigration, she sided with the president and said that she found the legal basis for his policy on deportation to be well reasoned.

By all indications, this is a very smart, dedicated, principled U. S. attorney and an experienced prosecutor who would be independent enough to disagree with -- and to say "no" to -- the president of the United States.   That is what we need in an Attorney General.

This is the opposite of what George W. Bush wanted, and had, in Alberto Gonzalez as Attorney General.   Rather than disagree, he gave Bush what he wanted in aiding and abetting the Iraq war.

Loretta Lynch should be confirmed.   She promises to be a very worthy successor to AG Holder.


Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Conservatives backing down -- two more wins for Obama

 Chalk up two more wins for President Obama today.

1.  In addition to the Republicans who are sponsoring a bill to force more sanctions on Iran, Democratic Senator Bob Menendez is a co-sponsor of the legislation;  and nine other Democratic senators had planned to vote for the sanctions.    This, despite the president's veto threat and his plea that it would likely destroy the delicate negotiations with Iran.

Today, Sen. Menendez announced that he and the other Democratic senators would not back the passage of such a bill until after March 24 and only then if there has been no framework agreement with the Iranians.

This is a major reversal from some conservative Democrats who were defying the president on this issue -- led by hawkish Sen. Menendez, who is the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

2.  Also today, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence became the latest Republican governor to expand Medicaid in his state under the Affordable Care Act.   Last year, most Republican governors blocked their states from taking advantage of the federal dollars made available -- and instead have a multi-state suit against the Obama administration over the issue.

But gradually, they have begun to come around.    It helps that the Health and Human Services department is allowing some flexibility in states adapting the original plan in different ways.   The Indiana plan differs greatly from traditional Medicaid, building on the state's 7 year old plan which combines high-deductible health insurance and health savings accounts.   It requires enrollees to make some contribution into their accounts, based on income.

HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell said in a press release:  “The administration will continue to work with governors interested in expanding Medicaid to devise approaches that work for their states while keeping faith with the law’s goals and consumer protections."

So far, 28 states and the District of Columbia have expanded Medicaid under the ACA.   Georgia continues to be one of the others.   We need to do this.   The political wisdom is shifting:   it's the thing to do now to devise a program that will fit the ACA model broadly and yet give your state its unique plan that you can claim credit for.

Gov. Deal, are you listening?  


Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Fox News' Chris Wallace critical of Netanyahu visit

As reported in Huffington Post by Alana Horowitz:

Two Fox News anchors, Shep Smith and Chris Wallace, were very critical of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for his plan to visit the U.S. Congress without discussing it with President Obama.

Wallace said he was "shocked" and called the move "wicked."   Wallace said that Netanyahu had met with Secretary of State John Kerry earlier in the week and said nothing about the trip.    

Wallace continued:   "For Netanyahu to do something that is going to be seen as a deliberate and really pretty egregious snub of Obama when Obama is going to be in power for the next year and three quarters would seem to me to be a very risky political strategy."

Shep Smith took note of the fact that in recent years, Israel has consistently rebuked U.S. efforts toward a two-state solution'
"George Bush used to say 'you must stop the expansion of the the settlements,' so what does Israel do? They move on with expanding the settlements. This president says,  'you gotta stop expanding the settlements," and they just keep expanding the settlements.'  It seems like they think we don’t pay attention and that we’re just a bunch of complete morons," Smith said.
Well, I don't know if leaving "News" off a couple of place cards could make the difference -- but this is pretty striking.   Since when has Fox News taken President Obama's side in anything?  


Monday, January 26, 2015

The Left wins big in Greece's election

Greece has just held elections for its Parliament, which also determines who the Prime Minister is.

Exit polls show, as predicted, a big win for the radical left, anti-austerity party, Syriza, and its leader -- and future prime minister -- 40 year old Alexis Tsipris.   As of this writing, results were still too close to determine whether Syriza's margin of victory would give them an absolute majority (151 seats of the 300 member parliament) or whether they might be one seat short and have to form an alliance with another party.

I don't know the internal politics enough to evaluate the fine points of this;  but it seems clear that the severe austerity program, forced upon Greece by the European Union in exchange for bailing it out of its financial collapse, did not work.   

Tsipris and his party hope to renegotiate the terms of the bailout and embark on a program of economic stimulus, which I think experience both in Europe and the U.S. proves to be what was needed in this recent recession.

Stay tuned.   It will be interesting to follow Greece's experience as they try to bail out of the bail-out and try something different from austerity.


White House sends message to Fox "News"

President Obama held a luncheon for network news anchors on the day of his State of the Union speech.

Apparently, either intentionally or otherwise, there was a message for Fox News in the wording on the place cards.    Here is how five of the place cards were listed:
Brian Williams
NBC News

David Muir
ABC News

Scott Pelley
CBS News

Shepard Smith

Bret Baier
As far as I know, there has been no comment from the White House.  

None needed, I would say.


Sunday, January 25, 2015

The president's speech ad libs hit the mark

As moving, values-rich, and cautiously optimistic as President Obama's State of the Union speech was on Tuesday night, it was his reactive ad libs that stole the show.

Near the beginning, he said "I have no more campaigns to run."    When the applause from the Republican side of the chamber seemed a little more robust than polite, Obama looked out over the group and, with a slightly amused smile, said:   "I know . . . 'cause I won them both."

Which then prompted really robust applause from the Democratic side.

Later, he ticked off the major economic indicators of the success of his policies:
"At every step, we were told out goals were misguided or too ambitious . . . that we would crush jobs and explode deficits.

"Instead, we've seen the fastest economic growth in over a decade, our deficits cut by two-thirds, a stock market that has doubled, and health care inflation at its lowest rate in 50 years."
Democrats responded with enthusiasm, but the applause from the Republican side was tepid.   Obama gave it the perfect timing of a great comedian . . . looking out over their side he gently chided:
"That's good news, folks."
In both remarks, he was reminding the Republicans that, although the 2014 election had put them in charge of Congress, it did not nullify his own decisive re-election as president in 2012, running on these policies they said would kill jobs.     But he did it with the light touch of the ad lib aside that delivered the eye-poke with just the right combination of irony and humor.

Worthy of Bill Clinton at his best.