Saturday, February 7, 2015

RBG denounces Citizens United

U. S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg says that Citizens United was the worst decision made by the current court and would be the one she would overturn if she had a magic wand.

No disagreement with her about that.    But RBG (as her unlikely but definite rock-start status entitles her to be called) expanded more on that sound bite.   Thanks to Ashley Altman of HP for the story.

Saying that our campaign system is now "being polluted by money," she added that it is even affecting the judiciary system.   Some judges in over half of the states have to face elections -- and elections require money for campaigns.

"It costs millions of dollars to fund a campaign for a state supreme court," Ginsburg said. "Something is terribly wrong. I think we are reaching the saturation point."

A shameful byproduct of Citizens United, Ginsburg added, is the low voter participation in this country.  With so much money flooding the system, many people feel that election outcomes are already determined, so why bother if their vote won't count?

In an interview with The New Republic last September, Ginsburg said that the Supreme Court should have left it to the legislative system to enact campaign finance laws, because legislators have a better sense [than judges] of how money and politics connect.

Nevertheless, Ginsburg is not totally pessimistic.   She quoted her late husband, himself a respected legal mind, with saying that the true symbol of the United States is the pendulum.   When things swing too far one way, they eventually have to swing back the other way. 

"There is important work to be done. . . . I can't say when, but one day sensible restrictions on campaign financing will be the law of this land. Yes, it will happen," she said.

Ah, RBG.   May you live and grace SCOTUS with your presence forever.


Friday, February 6, 2015

Politics can make you "sick"

Presidential hopeful, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has found room in his austerity budge for a $250,000 study of the health impact of wind turbines.

It's not that this hasn't been studied before.  Those other studies just didn't get the results Gov. Walker and those who favor the fossil fuel industry wanted.    

For example, an advisory group to the state's public service commission reported to the state legislature last fall that "some individuals residing in close proximity to wind turbines perceive audible noise and find it annoying, [but] it appears that this group is in the minority and that most individuals do not experience annoyance, stress, or perceived adverse health effects due to the operation of wind turbines."

The Canadian health department did a large-scale study in 2012 and concluded that wind turbine noise could not be linked to sleep disorders, illnesses, dizziness, ringing in the ears, migraines or headaches, perceived stress, or quality of life concerns. The only thing Canadian health officials did find to be related to wind turbine noise: annoyance with features of turbines, such as noise, shadows cast by the blades, blinking lights, vibrations and visual impacts.  A study by experts in Massachusetts in 2012 reached similar conclusions.

In fact, the executive director of RENEW Wisconsin told Huffington Post:  "All peer-reviewed studies to date indicate using the wind is a safe way to generate electricity, far safer for human health than other forms of electricity production, such as coal."

Thanks to Kate Sheppard of Huffington Post for this information.

Those studies have not diminished the complaints of some residents who live near turbines, however;   and some renewable energy advocates also welcome additional research, as long as it's based on good science.   But it seems unnecessary except as a way to try to quell these people who are "getting sick" for political reasons.

Perhaps it would be worth it, if those complaining are consulted on the design of the study, in exchange for their agreement to accept the results -- and then shut up about it.

This clearly is an annoyance for some people, exacerbated by conservative politics -- with emphasis on the latter phrase.    What about the very real health hazards both to the environment and to individual people of the wastes from the coal industry, the leaks of oil pipelines into rivers, the pollution from fracking, etc. etc.

To try to make a health issue out of clean, renewable energy is politics at its worst.

Bah humbug.


Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Pelosi: "Republicans continuing to bay at the moon"

On Tuesday, the House Republicans voted for the 56th time to overturn, or otherwise undermine, President Obama's Affordable Care Act.

The vote was 239 to 186.   Three Republicans and all the Democrats voted against it.

Rep. Steve King (R-IA) explained the reason for the vote:   to give the newly elected representatives the chance to vote against Obamacare.   Older members have done so numerous times;    but it is apparently a rite of passage somehow to be given the opportunity to prove their contempt . . . I would say, for the American people.

The truth is that the ACA is a resounding success, as described by Michael McAuliff on the Huffington Post:   "10 million newly insured Americans, the slowest inflation of health costs and premiums since the 1960s and a strengthened Medicaid system, all while the economy in 2014 showed the best jobs growth since 1999."

Unlike many of the previous bills, the one passed on Tuesday would require four congressional committees to come up with a replacement plan within six months. 

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi was not impressed.   As she said:  “We have the Republicans continuing to bay at the moon. . . .  Instead of proposing any . . .  good suggestions they may have to improve the Affordable Care Act, they're baying at the moon.”

Like the 55 previous bills, this one will not pass the Senate, where Democrats can prevent getting the 60 votes needed to advance the bill to floor debate.   And President Obama will veto it, if it should somehow get passed.


Tuesday, February 3, 2015

"God is greater . . . Come to prayer . . . come to well-being." Why are those words so frightening?

It is indeed a tragedy of our current world that most Western people do not distinguish between the gentle people of the Islamic faith and the violent extremists.

In this post, I am not focusing on the violent extremism but on the positive aspects of the daily prayer, the adhan.

Jordan Denari is a researcher at Georgetown's Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding and a former Fulbright Fellow in Amman, Jordan.   He writes in response to the unfortunate controversy that arose over Duke University's short-lived plan to include the Islamic call to prayer from the bell tower of the Duke Chapel.    Largely the result of anti-Muslim rants from Christian evangelist Franklin Graham, son of Billy Graham, the plan was cancelled as too risky at this point in time.    (See my two ShrinkRap posts on January 15th).

Instead of the call coming from the chapel tower itself, the prayer call will be from the steps of the Chapel, and students will be invited to pray there in front of the chapel.

It's not the first time I have been sharply critical of Franklin Graham, whose NGO relief organization Samantha's Purse does a lot of good in the area of global poverty and hunger.   But his prejudices (anti-gay, anti-Muslim) make him -- to my thinking -- a shameful scion of the generally admirable Rev. Billy Graham.   Even though I strongly disagreed with Billy Graham's theology, he did not strike me personally as a hate-filled bigot as his son seems to have become.

But, let me turn back to what impressed me about Jordan Denari's essay, which was picked up by the Huffington Post.   He writes:
". . . Like the rest of the country, universities are fraught with busyness and competing distractions. Students rush around, faces buried in smart phones and heads cluttered with things to do.

"Given this grim reality of college life, it's too bad the Islamic call to prayer won't be proclaimed from Duke University's bell tower. The adhan can be an antidote to some of the challenges college students face. . . . 

"But what was missed in those debates was the meaning and purpose of the adhan: encouraging deeper mindfulness among those who hear it.  The adhan, like the ringing of church bells, calls us to gratitude, appreciation and attentiveness . . . .  Religious and non-religious students alike have much to gain from being called from the chaos of their days to remember the greater purpose and meaning of their lives. . . .

"When I lived abroad in Amman, Jordan . . .  "The adhan became something that I, as a Catholic, grew to deeply appreciate and enjoy. Countless times, the words "Come to prayer, Come to well-being," prompted me to step back from my day and remember what was most important. . . . "
Amen.   Thank you, Jordan Denari.


Monday, February 2, 2015

"Boots on the ground . . . anywhere and everywhere . . . if that's what it takes."

When ABC's "This Week" host, Martha Radditz, asked Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI) about the chances that he will run for the 2016 Repubican nomination for president, he was ready with his answer:

"I’ll just tell you one thing. After three elections for governor in four years in a state that hasn’t gone Republican since 1984 for president, I wouldn’t bet against me on anything."

Walker does have that going for him.    He's been very successful at getting elected, defeating a recall attempt, and then getting re-elected.   He has also won right wing admiration for how he defeated the public service unions and slashed the state budget for assistance to needy people.

And he's clearly running.    With Mitt Romney briefly in and then quickly back out, Walker seems to be in good position to be the bridge candidate who is a little more acceptable to the establishment than other right wing hopefuls.   If, despite the big money for Bush and Christie, neither can get a majority because the right won't accept them, then Walker could be the one.

At present, Walker is topping a preferential poll in Iowa from Bloomsburg/Des Moines Register with 15%.   But Romney was still in the poll and got 13%, with Rand Paul between them at 14%.   

Walker tries to paint Hillary Clinton as representing an earlier era in Washington;  and, he says, that's not what people want.  "People want new, fresh leadership with big, bold ideas, and the courage to act on it."   And there stands Scott Walker, ready to accept that mantle as "a name for the future."

Here's the scary thing, though.   In answering questions about foreign policy and our involvement in the world, Walker says he would be open to putting "boots on the ground."

"I think anywhere and everywhere, we have to go beyond just aggressive air strikes. . . .  We have to look at other surgical methods. And ultimately, we have to be prepared to put boots on the ground if that’s what it takes."

Except for Rand Paul, would others of the 20 who are vying for the GOP nod say anything much different?


Sunday, February 1, 2015

"Let them eat cake" -- 21st century style

OK, so Marie Antoinette didn't really say, "Let them eat cake."    But that myth has persisted because it so perfectly captured the feelings of the era, when the aristocracy concerned itself with enormous vanity and exaggerated ornamentation -- costing huge amounts of money that ultimately came from the poor people of France.

Marie-Antoinette par Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun - 1783.jpg

Meanwhile, poverty was rampant, but inconceivable to the idle rich.   So they had the French Revolution, and the heads of the aristocrats rolled into baskets beneath the guillotine.

All this talk of income inequalityAre we headed there again?   21st century style

I'm prompted to think along these lines, because this item of shocking, pampered luxury -- seems like the 21st century, technological version of the French aristocrats silly baubles and bibelots.

Thanks to Cathy Ledbetter of the Huffington Post for this dubiously useful information:

She describes a new product, seemingly a homely thing:   a mattress pad.   But this is no ordinary mattress pad.   It's called Luna and is described by its manufacturer as "the world's first smart mattress cover."

Ledbetter writes:  "By simply plugging your mattress cover into the wall . . . Luna literally tracks and learns your bedtime so that it can adjust the music, temperature and heating/air conditioning in your bedroom. Luna will even lock your doors for you. 

"In the morning, Luna functions as an alarm clock, waking you up during the lightest cycle of your sleep with the option to turn on some subtle tunes AND your coffee pot, making getting out of bed that much easier. It'll even let you know how well you slept. . . . 

"Luna is on sale now in both queen and king sizes starting at $179."

Meanwhile, thousands of Americans go to sleep hungry every night.    And countless people don't even have a bed but crouch in doorways or beneath underpasses.

Comparatively, I enjoy a good bit of modest luxury myself.   I do have a very nice, medium sized Steinway grand piano, which I make good us of;  but I drive a 10 year old Toyoto Prius, which I love and will continue to drive as long as we're both able.   

This smart mattress cover just strikes me as misplaced values akin to the court of King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette.

This income inequality thing is real.   And it's not getting better under our present system.   Or maybe I'm just a self-satisfied moralist saying, 'my values are better than your values.'