Saturday, June 13, 2015

Rubio's "Scarlet Letter" vote

See ShrinkRap for June 11 on Jeb Bush's shame-promoting moralism toward unwed mothers, citing The Scarlet Letter as a better way to deal with out-of-wedlock pregnancies.

Thanks to Laura Bassett of the Huffington Post for coming up with this epilogue to that story.    In 2001, when Jeb Bush was governor of Florida, there was a controversial bill that passed by an overwhelming majority that would require an unwed mother to post the details of her recent sexual encounters in the newspaper before putting the baby up for adoption -- ostensibly to ensure that the biological father would be informed, even in the case of rape.

This bill could have been written by the same man who wrote that "The Scarlet Letter" chapter of Jeb Bush's 1995 book.   It seems logical to think that he approved of the bill, although apparently he let it become law without his signature.   At least he did not publicly oppose it.  My guess is that he did not oppose it, but he knew it would be declared unconstitutional by the courts.   As it later was.

One of the legislators who voted for this draconian law in 2001 was the young Marco Rubio, protege of then Gov. Jeb Bush.

In fairness, some lawmakers later were later horrified to find that this newspaper notification was in the bill, saying they would never have voted for it, if they had known.  Sen. Rubio has not yet responded to a request for comment.


Friday, June 12, 2015

Trade deal defeated by the president's own party

This has to be the low point of President Obama's administration, losing so badly (302 to 126) at the hands of his own party on this trade deal he has put so much into.    But, from what I know at this point, it seems to me that the president was his own worst enemy in the way he handled this.

It culminated this morning, when he made a last minute appeal to the Democratic Caucus.  According to some Democrats leaving the meeting, they felt he was insulting and questioned their integrity;   and then he left without taking questions.

I have not understood all along why the president seemed to be championing something that appealed more to Republicans than to Democrats.   But it was even moreso the process and his attitude toward opponents in his own party.    He would simply say, as he did about Sen. Elizabeth Warren, that she was wrong and didn't know what she was talking about -- but then he never said exactly what she was wrong about.   And, since the senators are forbidden from discussing the details, we still don't know if she was in fact wrong.

I tried to give the president the benefit of doubt, knowing how difficult and complex any multi-national aggreement is and how impossible it would be to conduct sensitive negotiations if there are leaks and public discussion about the details before there is a final agreement.   Surely there must be something I didn't understand that would explain this uncharacteristic behavior of the president.

But, rather than talking about that, he simply dismissed his critics -- as rudely as if they were the Republican right.

The vote today was not actually a vote on the Trans-Pacific Partnership but on the Trade Adjustment Assistance bill, which would help pay to retrain workers who lose their jobs as a result of the TPP.      But passing TAA was necessary to secure a number of Democratic votes necessary to pass TPP.

The Senate has already passed its version of TPP, and the House can reintroduce it, but it's likely dead for now, at least.   And it will be even harder to get it passed, without major changes, because of this today.

The defeat was assured today when House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi announced that she would vote no on TAA, saying: " . . .  I'm sad to say it’s the only way that we will be able to slow down the fast-track.   If TAA fails, the fast-track bill is stopped."    Democrats' objections to TAA were not conceptual but to the fact that funding for it was too low and that the Senate version would pay for it by cutting $700 million from Medicare. 

Some Democrats -- and I think they're right -- blamed the Obama administration, saying that they ignored organized labor's complaints that it failed to protect workers.   It also did little to demand environmental standards, or to prevent currency manipulation, by other countries.   Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-TX) said, "This vote wouldn't be so close if this process hadn't been so closed."    That was said before the vote;   as it turned out, it wasn't anywhere near close.   It lost by 176 votes.


Hillary's tactic of "playing it safe" politically

Jonathan Allen of Vox news says that Hillary is being "Clintonian" in playing it safe on controversial issues -- meaning that she is selectively choosing some progressive issues to speak out on, but just as many she is avoiding taking a position yet.

It's called "triangulation," perfected by Bill Clinton, where he would wait for others to stake out a position and then stand in the middle.  Allen says that this "reinforces the often asserted (but sometimes unfair) criticism that she doesn't have core convictions. . . . that she is less than trustworthy."   He continues:
"It's true that Clinton has rolled out a string of positions that please constituencies on the left, from support for LGBT rights and voting rights to repudiating the results of her husband's 1994 anti-crime law and vowing to enhance President Obama's executive action on immigration. . . . But Clinton has been very selective about how she's courted her party's progressive base, speaking as much to identity politics as to actual policy. On some of the more controversial policy questions, she's taking a pass."
Ruth Marcus of the Washington Post said: "The left-leaning positions she isn’t taking are as significant as the ones she has endorsed."

Polls find that voters have greater faith in her ability to lead than in her willingness to tell the truth.     Half of women and nearly two in three men think she's not trustworthy.   In contrast, almost 60% of nonwhite adults do believe she's honest and trustworthy.   And, overall, she leads every potential Republican opponent in a one on one matchup.  

Still, one has to wonder if this "untrustworthy" meme is being blown out of proportion.   While in the abstract it is the top quality voters say they look for in a president, Republicans and conservative pundits have turned it into a reflex criticism of Hillary Clinton.   Their repetitive mantras have perhaps created a word-association link that influences people's later answers to a poll question.    Will this matter as much in the voting booth?

For example, all the stories now are citing her having been part of the groundwork while Secretary of State for the current Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement -- but criticizing her for now dodging taking a position.    So they're saying that she's not trustworthy for having changed her position.

But here's how she has actually defined her current position in a statement released by her campaign:  "Hillary Clinton believes that any new trade measure has to pass two tests: first, it should put us in a position to protect American workers, raise wages, and create more good jobs at home. . . .  Second, it must also strengthen our national security. We should be willing to walk away from any outcome that falls short of these tests. The goal is greater prosperity and security for American families, not trade for trade’s sake."

Now there's nothing incompatible with her having worked for a trade agreement and now having reservations about the final negotiated form that she has not been part of since leaving office two years ago.

Aside from that, it is politically a hot seat to take a position at this point, as Allen points out:  "Senior aides have since said that she doesn't need to take a position until the deal is finalized and the fine print can be analyzed. . . .  as it stands, the vast majority of House Democrats — and party activists — oppose the deal.  If Clinton supports it, she'll disappoint them and give more fuel to Sanders and O'Malley, both of whom oppose the pact. If she opposes it, she'll have flip-flopped and turned her back on Obama."

So, at the risk of adding to the "untrustworthy" narrative, it's only smart politically to wait and see.   Besides, with the administration's strict rules about who can read the actual agreement and zero permission to talk about the details in public, she may not actually know what's in the final details.

Allen ends with the downside of waiting to take positions, which I'm sure her strategists and she are fully aware of in making their decision:
"It's tempting to think that Clinton has plenty of time because it's early in the presidential election cycle or because her Democratic rivals probably don't have what it takes to beat her in a primary. But by sidestepping important policy questions, she's giving oxygen to doubts about her sincerity. That's a character question that should be familiar to Clinton fans who watched Barack Obama turn honesty into a weapon against her in 2008, and it's one that crosses party lines. 
"Ultimately, Clinton is going to have to choose a side on these issues. The longer she takes, the more it looks like she's afraid of commitment."
On the other hand, it may also say that she's a careful, smart politician who sometimes decides that it's better to let her pragmatism outweigh her idealism.    This is an unending conflict for anyone interested in governing and politics:   when to let your idealistic self lead and when to let your practical side take half a loaf instead of losing it all.   I waver from one side of that line to the other continually

It's the divide that separates me from my progressive, idealistic friends who criticize President Obama for having "sold out" and abandoned their hopes for transformational change.   It's clear to me that he has learned that Washington is a hard place to ever get all you want and that it's better to compromise and get part of it and keep working for the rest.


Thursday, June 11, 2015

Jeb responds

Sometimes I just love the rapid news cycle (other times, not so much).   Today was one I like.   Jeb Bush was asked whether he still supports those comments in his 1995 book about shaming unwed mothers and irresponsible fathers.

He carefully avoided talking about shame and simply said that he continued to think that it's very important for fathers to be involved in the lives of their children and then shifted to decrying the number of unwed mothers in our country.

As political damage control, this was a good response.   As a voter (who will never vote for Jeb), I would have preferred for him to say shame is never a good tactic for trying to motivate people to change their behavior.   But that's asking a lot for a politician who has to pander to his right-wing base to try to win the primary.


Jeb Bush almost makes me long for brother George

As readers of ShrinkRap well know, I am not a fan of George W. Bush.    And the more I know about his brother Jeb, I like Jeb even less.   Let's hope it does not come to pass that there's reason to even think about the Bushes much longer.    The way Jeb's campaign keeps going off the rails suggessts there's hope.

Laura Bassett of Huffington Post wrote about Jeb's idea of restoring shame as a way of trying to reduce out of wedlock births.    This was not a slip in the heat of a political rally.   He wrote a whole chapter on it in his 1995 book Profiles in Character.   Here are some quotes:
"One of the reasons more young women are giving birth out of wedlock and more young men are walking away from their paternal obligations is that there is no longer a stigma attached to this behavior, no reason to feel shame. . . .  There was a time when neighbors and communities would frown on out of wedlock births and when public condemnation was enough of a stimulus for one to be careful."
He then cites the 1850 novel The Scarlet Letter as the way people were historically punished by public shaming -- which he seems to want to restore.   He also implied that the welfare system could use a healthy dose of shame as well.   “For many, it is more shameful to work than to take public assistance -- that is how backward shame has become!”

And then there was this:
"In the context of present-day society we need to make kids feel shame before their friends rather than their family. The Miami Herald columnist Robert Steinback has a good idea. He suggests dressing these juveniles in frilly pink jumpsuits and making them sweep the streets of their own neighborhoods! Would these kids be so cavalier then?" 
Yes, the book was published 20 years ago;   but it was not just youthful excess.   He was 42 and only four years away from becoming governor of what is now the fourth most populous state in the U. S.

More than that:   His book title is Profiles in Character.   He was writing about character -- and his view on fostering shame is a measure of Jeb Bush's character.   It's not a pretty thing.    It fits perfectly with the stories of this moralizing prig's prep school arrogance, when he led a ring of boys in shaming a fellow student who wore his hair long and seemed to be gay.   They held him down and cut his hair off, as he screamed and begged them to stop.

And it also fits with his maniacal obsession with prolonging the life of the brain-dead Terri Shiavo, despite her husband's and the court's legal-rights decisions otherwise.   He even used his authority as governor to have criminal charges brought against her husband (See ShrinkRap posts from 2/5/15 and 3/16/15.)

So, while we're all having our moments of schadenfreude over the organizational problems roiling the Bush campaign right now, let's remember that, at the heart of that campaign, is the man himself.    This man should not be president because of his character, regardless of his policy positions.


Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Debunking some transgender myths

Attitudes and acceptance of full equality for gay and lesbian individuals have changed so dramatically in recent years.   And now we're on the wave of similar changes concerning transgender individuals -- along with similar myths that need to be debunked.

Yesterday, the American Medical Association adopted the position that there is "no medically valid reason" for excluding transgender individuals from military service.

Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee doesn't agree, apparently -- or, at least, he's using the issue to pander to the ignorance of his political base.   People like Huckabee disregard the truth in favor of the lie that will rouse the righteous indignation of people who vote for them.

Maybe I have overestimated the intelligence of this former preacher, former governor of Arkansas, former Fox News talking head, and purveyor of a quack diabetes "cure."   The myth that Huckabee is peddling (besides the diabetes 'cure') is that trans women will use the girls' restrooms in schools and be a sexual threat to the little girls.

Huckabee is playing on the misconception that a trans woman is still a man with a man's sexual desires, dressed up in women's clothes.   I guess that is about the level of creepy ignorance we'd expect from an Arkansas preacher and Fox talk show host -- either ignorance or even creepier manipulator of ignorant people's prejudices.

There was a time early in his 2008 presidential primary campaign that I found him refreshing, even while I disagreed strongly with his policy positions.    But he has not worn well, and now he just seems like another profiteering, sleazy, ex-preacher out to make a ton more money.

Forget it, Mike;   2008 was your year, if there ever was going to be one.


[Late night note]   What is it with these preachers?   Evangelist Franklin Graham hates gays so much that he's made a big story out of changing the bank that handles his huge empire because Wells Fargo supports LGBT rights.    So -- he moved his money to the North Carolina based BB&T bank.    Funny thing is that BB&T sponsors the Miami Beach Gay Pride Parade, and he announced this news on the very LGBT friendly Facebook. 

Maybe he didn't know.   Or maybe he's just hoping that the attention span of his base will click off after they hear the first half of the story.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

What more proof do we need that Republican austerity and trickle-down just do not work?

Kansas and Louisiana are both examples of the folly of trying to improve a faltering economy, like we've faced since 2008, by cutting taxes and government spending.    Both states have had Republican governors who followed that failed mantra that insists that the "job creators" need to have their taxes cut and the government needs to spend less money.

Today, Kansas has come close to bankruptcy;   funds for education were slashed, government jobs were abolished, and infrastructure spending was decimated.    Some Kansas public schools had to shorten their school year, because they ran out of operating funds.

Louisiana did not fare much better, following the same pattern, despite the fact that Gov. Bobby Jindal was hoping to run for president on his stewardship as Louisiana's governor.

In contrast, there is the success story of Minnesota, under the administration of Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton.    When he took office in 2011, there was a budget deficit 0f $6 billion dollars and unemployment of 7%.    Four years later, Minnesota has a budget surplus of $1.2 billion, with unemployment below 4%, one of the lowest in the nation.

How did he do it?   Despite a Republican controlled legislature for his first two years in office, Dayton was able to enact an increase in state income tax for those earning over $150,000, combined with increasing the minimum wage and a guarantee of equal pay for women.

In addition, 172,000 new jobs were added.   Even though Minnesota's top income tax rate is the 4th highest, its unemployment rate is the 5th lowest;   and the state medium income was $10,000 larger than the U. S. average.

In addition, this quietly effective governor also managed to institute an online voter registration system, making it easier for more people to exercise their voting rights. 

Why are Democratic strategists not shouting this success story from the rooftops and the social media?    How much longer before Republicans have to admit that their "austerity" and "trickle down" just do not work?   


Monday, June 8, 2015

Seriously? This is all the Republicans have got in response to progressive policy?

If there's much doubt remaining that the Republicans are pretty bankrupt of ideas, some of their lame responses on Sunday's talk shows are revealing.

Last week Hillary Clinton blasted out an indictment of Republicans for passing laws obviously aimed at curbing the votes of minorities, poor people, and young people.   She called for making it easier to register and to vote, not harder.

In an appearance on CBS's "Face the Nation, Chris Christie tried to shift the story.   "She doesn't know what she's talking about. . . .  [I]n New Jersey, we have early voting that [is] available to people. I don't want to expand it and increase the opportunities for fraud.  Maybe that's what Mrs. Clinton wants to do. I don't know."

Christie's talking points on Friday to reporters were similar:  "Secretary Clinton doesn’t know the first thing about voting rights in New Jersey or in the other states that she attacked. My sense is that she just wants an opportunity to commit greater acts of voter fraud around the country.”

So this is the best he and his campaign advisers can come up with -- even between Friday and his Sunday morning  tv appearance?    No attempt to address the problem and show that voter fraud is a serious problem (because real data shows that it is not).  Instead, you just bluster and accuse your opponent.

That's one example.   The other was Rick Santorum trying to explain to Chris Wallace on "Fox News Sunday" why he is qualified to speak against climate change action, while the pope is not qualified to speak in favor of doing something about it "because he should leave science to the scientists."   (See ShrinkRap on Saturday, June 5th for background.)

Wallace, who can sometimes be quite penetrating and blunt, put it to Santorum:
Wallace:  "I guess the question would be, if he shouldn't talk about it, should you?"

Santorum:  [Politicians] "have to make decisions with respect to our public policy that affect American workers."  Adding that the pope can talk about whatever he wants, but it might not be the best issue for him to "use his moral authority for."

Wallace:  "He would say he's protecting the earth."

Santorum:  "I would say that that's [an] important thing to do, but I think there are more pressing problems confronting the earth than climate change." Santorum then talked about revitalizing things that create jobs and opportunities.  

The problem with this short-sighted, conservative position on climate change is that it's never going to seem like the top priority until it's already too late to do something to save our planet and our future.     Democrats at least acknowledge that and are trying to make a start.

At best, we're lagging behind other advanced nations, and even some emerging nations, as we stagnate in our political infighting and our pervasive culture of disinformation and fear perpetrated by short-sighted conservative politicians, pundits, and preachers.

Let's hope Clinton continues riding this crusader's horse:   voting rights, women's rights, climate change, income inequality, gay/trans rights -- and a sensible foreign policy.


Sunday, June 7, 2015

Norway rises another notch in the top ranks of rational, progressive governments

The Associated Press reported this week that Norway's Parliament has approved a measure that would stop investing the $890 billion government pension fund in coal mining companies and power companies that derive at least 30% of their energy from coal.

A number of academic institutions, the Church of England, and even the Rockefeller family foundation (whose wealth came from Standard Oil) have already moved to stop investing in coal.   However, the Norway funds are the largest by far, and this decision will provide a model for other nations to follow.

Once again, Norway leads the way in a progressive, rational, humane approach to what government can do for its people and for our planet.   Ironically, it also helps balance the fact that much of wealth that makes Norway prosperous comes from its own oil deposits, as reported by the New York Times.

I continue to look at Norway as an example of how to run a country, and I yearn for us to learn from them.   What a hopeless mess our government processes seem in comparison;   what a colossal trove of money we squander every day that could be put to good use.

I can't even begin to estimate the amount of money that collectively will be spent on the 2016 presidential race.    It's estimated that Hillary Clinton's campaign expects to raise $2 billion;   I doubt that Jeb Bush's total will be any less.   Add in a few more billion for the others -- and think how many new teachers could be hired, how many roads and bridges could be repaired, how many jobs could be created.

Yes, Norway is a relatively homogenous populace and culture, whereas we are widely diverse.   And, yes, we spend trillions of dollars abroad fighting the bad guys for the whole world, it seems.   Does all our military spending really make the world a better place than if we spend half the amount on good works foreign aid and diplomacy?

At 82, I think more these days about the world I'll be leaving behind for my grandchildren and theirs -- and I feel that overall my generation has failed to make it a better place.   If we followed Norway's example, the future might not look so dismal.