Saturday, April 25, 2015

The "Restrain Steve King from Legislating" Act

This is just too delicious to pass up as a followup to ShrinkRap's April 23 post on Rep. Steve King, "Yelling STOP."   The rest is quoted from a story by Elise Foley on Huffington Post, April 23, 2015.

WASHINGTON -- Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) proposed a bill this week that would block the courts from hearing cases that could legalize same-sex marriage, so Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) has proposed a (satirical) bill to block King from legislating.

Polis' office issued a press release on Friday announcing the Restrain Steve King from Legislating Act, playing off King's Restrain the Judges on Marriage Act. Polis' fake bill would prevent King from "abusing taxpayer dollars by substituting the judgments of the nation's duly serving judicial branch of government with his own beliefs," according to the release.

It's personal for Polis -- he's the first openly gay parent to serve in the U.S. Congress, and has two children with his partner.

"For too long, Steve King has overstepped his constitutionally nonexistent judicial authority," Polis said in the statement. "Mr. King has perverted the Constitution to create rights to things such as discrimination, bullying, and disparate treatment. These efforts to enshrine these appalling values as constitutional rights were not envisioned by the voters, or by King's colleagues who must currently try to restrain his attempts to single-handedly rewrite the nation's founding principles on a bill-by-bill basis. . ."

Friday, April 24, 2015

Is Obama's Trans-Pacific Partnership a good thing? Or is it bad for U. S. workers?

Frankly, it feels uncomfortable to have a big issue in which so many Democrats in Congress are opposing President Obama.

I want to trust him, but to have Elizabeth Warren and Harry Reid, as well as labor unions, so vehemently opposed leaves me confused.

Obama says:  "When people say that this trade deal is bad for working families, they don't know what they're talking about."

Yes, Mr. President.   We may not know what we're talking about -- but why is that?   Because the agreement has not been made public.  Members of Congress are allowed to read it in a secure room but are not allowed to talk about it in public.

Why the secrecy?    If it's so good, tell us what about it makes it so good.   Don't just tell us that it is good.


Thursday, April 23, 2015

Yelling "STOP" -- after the tsunami has already passed over

That heading, "Yelling STOP after the tsumani has already passed over," is the metaphor that came to mind when reading Rep. Peter King's (R-IA) latest attempt to stop the strong tide of historic change on gay marriage.

Here we are, less than one week before the Supreme Court hears oral arguments in the cases brought in four state courts to overturn laws that ban same-sex marriage.   It is widely believed that the SCOTUS decision will legalize marriage equality nationwide.

King has a bill he wants to introduce that would bar federal courts from hearing any cases related to the definition of marriage.   This of course is predicated on the idea that laws about marriage are left up to individual states -- which has always seemed wrong to me, even if historically accurate.

Why would something that is so important to the social fabric of our culture be left up to individual state decisions rather than being the same for all Americans?  It seems inconsistent that conservatives would argue, on the one hand, for the sanctity of marriage as the centerpiece of our society;   and, on the other hand, they argue that it should be left up to the individual states to decide laws about marriage.

More immediately, with less than a week to go:  What of the practicality of Rep. King's proposal?    Can it be anything other than a stunt?

How does he expect to get a bill passed by both houses of congress and signed by the president in time to stop SCOTUS from acting in one week?    Especially given that President Obama would certainly veto it?

Why, if he is serious, did he wait until now?    Perhaps it's his desperate scheme to be able to say to his right wing base that "I did everything I could."

Pathetic.  What an image -- Little Peter King struggling to his feet, gasping for air, stomping his little foot, and shaking his fist at the backside of the massive tsunami of public opinion, yelling "Stop !!!   Stop, I tell you  !!!"

A February 12-15, 2015 CNN/ORC poll found that 63% of Americans believe that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry.


Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Pope Francis gives U. S. nuns back the control of their organization

Long-time readers of ShrinkRap know of my sharp criticism of the previous Pope Benedict for his utter imbalance (in my view) of church theology and human life.   

One example was his declaration that "the use of condoms increases the spread of AIDS."

Speaking from his other-worldly theological throne on the eve of his historic visit to Africa -- where there was an epidemic of AIDS transmission from unfaithful husbands to their wives, who then bore HIV positive children, who quickly became orphans when both parents died -- I thought his choice to emphasize doctrinal purity over health and survival was unconscionable.   (See ShrinkRap, March 21, 2009:  "The pope and condoms.")

Another example was the Vatican's taking control of the U. S. nun's national organization, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious.  Control was given over to a group of priests, appointed by the Vatican.

Aside from the objection to a group of men taking away the autonomy of a group of women, this seemed especially outrageous to me because of the specific complaints against the nuns that "justified" their need for male control.   They were said to be spending too much time working in soup kitchens and advocating for social justice -- and not enough time protesting abortion and gay marriage.

Well, that was Pope Benedict and his other-worldly Vatican.   Now we have the breath of fresh air from Argentina, Pope Francis, who is more flexible in how he applies the doctrinal rules when it comes to human lives.   He is pope-as-pastor, not the pope-as-theologian.

The latest beneficiaries of that are the U. S. nuns.   The more tolerant Vatican under Francis has just declared, about the mandate to overhaul the nuns' Leadership Conference, that the work "has been accomplished."   In short, control of their fine organization has been returned to the nuns themselves.   Which seems an implicit message:   go back to doing your work with the poor and needy.

I do not share the theology of Pope Francis, but I greatly admire his humanity.


Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Update on the Lynch nomination

Senators John Cornyn (R-TX) and Patty Murphy (D-WA) have reached a compromise on the human trafficking bill and it's proposed abortion amendment that will allow bipartisan support.   Passage of the bill is expected on Wednesday, opening the way for Republican leadership to then bring up Loretta Lynch's confirmation vote.

This was done in the true spirit of compromise.   It turned "political process at its worst" to "political process at its best."  The two senators and their staffs deserved praise for persevering in the face of partisan bickering to find a middle ground that allowed each side to claim partial victory.

Loretta Lynch should be confirmed by the end of the week.


Some things that took less time than getting Loretta Lynch confirmed for Attorney General

Loretta Lynch was nominated to be Attorney General.  She sailed through the confirmation hearings, and no one has raised any significant substantive objections.

Yet, here she is, 163 days after the Judiciary Committee approved her, still waiting for a vote on the Senate floor.    No one even bothers to pretend any more that it has anything to do with Lynch herself or her policy positions.  Her confirmation is being held political hostage to a war over an abortion amendment on the bipartisan human trafficking bill -- which is totally unrelated to the job as Attorney General.

This is the political process at its worst.  What happened to the Roberts Rules of Order that says the parliamentarian can overrule a proposed amendment because it is not germane to the substance of the bill?

Anyway, to lighten the mood here a bit, here are some things in our world that took less time than the 163 days it takes for a Republican controlled Senate to confirm a Democratic president's nominee for AG:

1.  The entire tenure of Attorney General Elliot Richardson, who was far too moral and refused to do Richard Nixon's dirty work of firing the Watergate Prosecutor.  (148 days).

2.  The entire life span of mosquitoes.   In fact, there will be about 20 generations of mosquitoes to live and die within 163 days.

3.  The entire wedding-to-divorce span of Kim Kardashian's second marriage to the pro basketball player.

4.  The First Gulf War to drive Iraqi troops out of Quwait (about 44 days), managed by President Bush 41.  Bush 43's debacle in Iraq took a bit longer.   Let's hope there's not a Bush 45;  we might wind up in a third Iraq war.

5.  The writing of the United States Constitution (less than 100 days).

6.  The creation of the earth and its creatures (6 days, according to biblical accounts).

Call your senator, demand a vote on Loretta Lynch !!!


Monday, April 20, 2015

The cost of gun violence in the U.S.

The Mother Jones issue of May/June 2015 has an informative article about the cost of gun violence in the U.S.   We often see statistics about how many lives are lost to gun violence (>11,000 in murders, >20,000 in suicides).   But there is virtually no data on cost analysis.

This article estimates that we spend almost as much on gun violence as we do on Medicaid something in the range of $229 billion dollars a year.

Of course this is a pretty rough estimate, since the NRA and other gun advocates have pressured politicians to suppress any data collection about gun violence, effectively banning the CDC from funding research.    Mother Jones found that:
"A recent systematic review of studies evaluating access to guns and its association with suicide and homicide identified no relevant studies published since 2005.

"An executive order in 2013 from President Obama sought to free up the CDC via a new budget, but the purse strings remain in the grip of Congress, many of whose members have seen their campaigns backed by six- and even seven-figure sums from the NRA. 'Compounding the lack of research funding,' the doctors [in the survey] added, 'is the fear among some researchers that studying guns will make them political targets and threaten their future funding even for unrelated topics.'

"Miller's [research] approach looks at two categories of costs. The first is direct: Every time a bullet hits somebody, expenses can include emergency services, police investigations, and long-term medical and mental-health care, as well as court and prison costs. About 87 percent of these costs fall on taxpayers. The second category consists of indirect costs: Factors here include lost income, losses to employers, and impact on quality of life, which Miller bases on amounts that juries award for pain and suffering to victims of wrongful injury and death. . . . 

"At $229 billion, the toll from gun violence would have been $47 billion more than Apple's 2014 worldwide revenue and $88 billion more than what the US government budgeted for education that year. Divvied up among every man, woman, and child in the United States, it would work out to more than $700 per person."
Will knowing this make any difference?   Probably not.   Until we get money out of politics, money is going to be the dominant factor on all but a few issues.   Why gun violence is not one of them, I have no answer.   It should be.   But if Columbine and Sandy Hook didn't wake up our NRA-bought politicians, I don't know what it will take.


Sunday, April 19, 2015

Influential people . . . and women as presidents and prime ministers

Time magazine's annual "100 Most Influential People" has just been released.  As always, there were some surprising choices (Kim Kardashian???), but that's not what I want to highlight.  What impressed me this time was the writing of the brief bios -- especially a couple of phrases that so aptly captured the person.

About John Oliver, the comedic genius who hosts the satiric news show, "Last Week Tonight," it was written:
"John is powerful because he isn’t afraid to tackle important issues thoughtfully, without fear or apology. But he’s unique because he uses irreverent humor to make people think."

As I often write here on ShrinkRap, it's the comedians who tell the truth to power -- going at least back to Shakespeare.

About Hillary Clinton:
"She is a realist with a conscience and an idealist who is comfortable with the exercise of power. . . .  Hillary knows how to draw opponents out of their fighting corners and forge solutions on common ground. She practices the politics of reconciliation and reason. Which, not coincidentally, is also the politics of progress."

And, speaking of the woman who is likely to be the United States' first woman president, there is also circulating the web a list of nations that had women as presidents or prime ministers long before the U. S. did.   This list omits the royal women who were not chosen by the people and their representatives, like:   Cleopatra, Queen Elizabeth I and II, Catherine the Great of Russia, Queen Victoria.

Women chosen by the people begins in 1960 with Sri Lanka's Prime Minister, Sirimavo Bandaranaike, and followed by these especially notable women leaders:

1966 India:  Indira Ghandi
1969 Israel:     Golda Meir
1974 Argentina:   Isabel Peron ("Evita")
1979 Great Britain:   Margaret Thatcher
1988 Pakistan:  Benazir Bhutto
2005 Germany:   Angela Merkel

There's a long list of other countries that have had women leaders, including:  Central African Republic, Portugal, Bolivia, Dominica, Iceland, Norway, People's Republic of China, Yugoslavia, Malta, Phillipines, Pakistan, Lithuania, Nicagarua, Ireland, Haiti, Myanmar, Bangladesh, France, Poland, Canada, Rwanda, Turkey, Bulgaria, New Zealand, Switzerland, Chile, Brazil, South Korea, Ukraine, Liberia, Finland, Croatia, Slovakia, Costa Rica, Australia.

The United States looks like the caboose on this train.