Saturday, June 20, 2015

Confederat flag = "A racist symbol of a failed rebellion."

Here is one person's take on the meaning of displaying the Confederate flag, by Ben Hallman, Senior Editor, Huffington Post.

"The Confederate flag is a racist symbol of a failed rebellion.   It's not a debate.

"The Confederacy was the most vile and harmful political invention in United States history. It was founded on the explicit principle that slavery is the 'natural and normal condition' of black people, and that they should be ruthlessly exploited to the benefit of their white masters. More Americans died in the bloodletting that followed than in World War I, World War II, Korea and Vietnam combined. 

"Where in that story arc is anything worth celebrating? Yet 150 years after the Civil War ended in utter defeat for the Confederacy, a flag of that failed pseudo-nation still flies on public property. And once again, following the killing of nine black parishioners by an apparent white supremacist inside a church in Charleston, South Carolina, we are talking about whether it should.

"This isn't at all a difficult question. There is no place for the flag of a rebellious breakaway region on public property anywhere in the United States. 

"It certainly does not belong above a memorial [that is] steps from the South Carolina statehouse, where apparently it cannot ever be lowered -- under force of law.

"White Southerners who support the display of the flag claim it is a symbol of their "heritage," when what they really mean is it reminds them of an imagined past where white people held all the power and minorities were kept properly in their place. . . . "

*  *  *
I agree with those who say it is time for Confederate flags to be relegated to history museums, not to be flown on government property.


White Supremacy and murder in South Carolina

In the latest of what seems to be an ever-increasing wave of violence against unarmed African-American people, a white man with a gun walked into the historic Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina where a prayer meeting was in progress.   The pastor and eight people in the congregation are dead.

The suspect is a 21 year old white man whose reported confession has not yet been confirmed by the police.  But he has been arrested and charged with nine counts of murder in what is being treated as a hate crime.   

The suspect had posted a picture of himself on social media wearing a jacket with flag patches that have become emblems of support for white supremacist groups, although there is no evidence he is actually a member of any such group.   Acquaintances say that he harbored hatred for black people, spewed racist rhetoric, and recently talked about doing something violent -- resulting in a concerned roommate hiding the suspect's gun for a few days before later returning it.

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley condemned the shooting and called for the death penalty.   But there is a bitter irony here.    Gov. Haley also presides over state government in Columbia, SC, where the Confederate flag flies on the state capital grounds, at the Confederate Memorial.   Prior to 2000, it used to fly over the capitol dome itself, beneath the U.S. flag and the South Carolina flag.   A prior controversy resulted in its being moved to the memorial site, still on the grounds and within sight of the capitol building.

Someone on the internet has raised the question:   "Will South Carolina honor the victims of this church shooting by lowering the Confederate flag to half-staff?"  Gov. Haley has already ordered flags to be flown at half-staff for nine days -- one day for each of the victims.

But the Confederate flag is not on a pulley, so it cannot simply be lowered to half-staff but, rather, would have to be removed.  State law, however, prohibits its removal except by a vote of the legislature

The S.C. Division of General Services has not yet clarified whether the Confederate flag will be lowered, along with the U. S. and South Carolina flags.

This is not the most important question, which I will give deeper thought to before posting later:   the conflict of love vs hate in South Carolina -- and throughout our land.


Friday, June 19, 2015

The pope is right on climate change. Republicans' response so far: "leave science to the scientists"

Several GOP contenders have responded to the pope's forthcoming papal encyclical on the climate by saying "he is not a scientist" (Santorum) or varying expressions that "we just don't know the cause" or that "we should leave it to the scientists."

But, when 97% of scientists say that human activities contribute a major proportion of greenhouse gases, why not just say that the scientists have spoken?    And that it's up to our political process to do something about it -- urgently.   There's almost nothing that you'll get better than 97% agreement on.   So don't keep dodging responsibility by quoting the tiny minority.

Here is what scientists do say, according to an article on Daily Kos, "Global Temperatures Soaring:  2015 starts off the top of the chart," by FishOutofWater, 6/17/15.

"2014 was the warmest year in global climate records but 2015 is on track to be significantly warmer than 2014. The first 5 months were the warmest on record and global models are predicting a super El NiƱo that could be the strongest ever measured on record or by paleoclimate proxies. . . .  Extraordinarily warm global sea surface temperatures forecast for this summer and fall will bring on even hotter temperatures in the second half of 2015 than the first half. If the models are correct 2015 temperatures will spike far above 2014.

"Climate scientists have known for years what's causing the climate to warm - huge human emissions of greenhouse gases."
Despite obvious confirmation of predictions already being seen in the drought in California, the melting of glaciers, and increased sea levels, Republicans are still dodging and denying.  

Among those for whom the pope's message on climate proves the most politically awkward is Jeb Bush, who converted to Roman Catholicism 20 years ago.   Besides taking huge sums of campaign money from businesses interest (the Kochs, for one) that resist the necessary regulatory adjustments, he was governor of Florida where the largest city, Miami, is destined to be submerged by ocean if we do not act.

And yet, here's the best Jeb has come up with:  (1)  "The climate is changing, whether men are doing it or not."   (2)  A call for vague, toothless "policies of adaptation."   (3) Saying he is "a little skeptical" about the pope's message on climate, because "religion ought to be about making us better as people and less about things that end up getting into the political realm."

The sad and scary thing about Jeb Bush's response is that his is among the best of all the Republican presidential hopefuls.

Look at these charts for yourself, showing the long-range changes in temperature and in greehouse gas emissions.   On the first graph, despite the sharp rise in temperatures since 1980, the first half of 2015 is even off this chart.NASA Global Annual Temperature record. The first 5 months of 2015 blows the top of the chart.
             Graph from the National Weather Service.

Human activities have caused atmospheric greenhouse gas levels to skyrocket.
           Graph from Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2007

This is serious stuff.    We should be wary of politicians who try to tell us otherwise.


Thursday, June 18, 2015

Republicans eat their own

Republicans are completely responsible for the King v. Burwell lawsuit before the Supreme Court that would remove the federal subsidies that make health insurance affordable for millions of people.   The original lapse in wording in the bill was apparently not what anyone intended.    When it was originally written, it was assumed that almost all states would set up their own insurance exchanges, which are clearly included in the federal subsidies.

Now it appears that winning the lawsuit at SCOTUS will impact Republican constituents more than Democratic ones -- by a whopping margin of 2 to 1.

When SCOTUS' original decision that took away the incentives to states to set up their own exchanges, the federal exchange plans suddenly jumped from the anticipated very few states to about two-thirds, as Republican governors and legislatures refused to set up their own plans.

Republicans are responsible in another way.   The problem with the text that is the basis for all this could be remedied in a one-hour session of Congress in which those four words -- "established by the state" -- could simply be removed from the ACA law.   But they adamantly refuse to even consider it.

Their intent, of course, was to make sure that President Obama's signature health care revolution did not succeed.    When it did anyway, Republicans entered a lawsuit to exploit a four-word phrase that should have been removed from the bill, but was overlooked.

They're apparently counting on having brain-washed the American people with "Obamacare = Bad" enough that anything bad that happens will be blamed on the Democrats.

Be careful what you wish for.   Now, if SCOTUS agrees with the plaintiffs and takes away the individual subsidies, an estimated 6 million will probably be unable to afford their newly acquired health insurance.   

Already, Republicans had gotten anxious and were scrambling to find some temporary fix, like delaying the implementation until after the 2016 election, because of the political fall-out for them.

A new report has been released by FamiliesUSA, advocacy and consumer support organization that favors the ACA.   Of the 34 states where it is anticipated that people will lose their subsidies, two-thirds of those states are Republican states.

That makes sense, and I'm not quite sure why it is news today.   With few exceptions, it has been those states with Republicans in control of state government, that have refused to set up their own state exchanges. 

That is why I say, in my headline, that "Republicans eat their own."   It would be fun to sing another round of "Schadenfreude" -- except that this would be a colossal setback for the health and well-being of this country.    Even the prospect of seeing your political enemy being held responsible for a disaster is not something to wish for on the backs of needy, suffering people.


Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The No Tax chickens have come home to the Republican roost in Kansas.

SchadenfreudeSchadenfreude . . .  (sung to the tune of "Edelweiss" from "The Sound of Music."    Ah, what a sweet tune -- the pleasure we take in another's suffering.

Republicans have brain-washed the faithful for so long that it's become like a religious cult, where "tax cuts" are the Kool-Aid.    And now those chickens have come home to roost.

We're seeing it most starkly in the Kansas legislature.   Called into special session to deal with the enormous budget deficit, a monster they created by slashing state taxes, offset by draconian cuts in government spending.   But the cuts were so devastating to the state schools that the courts stepped in and ordered them to restore some of the funds.   Even so, some schools had to end the school year early for lack of funds.

They have to do something, but they are paralyzed -- because the only solution is to raise taxes, while they're still singing the hymns on the evils of taxes.

Listen to the rhetoric from Republicans in official legislative session:    One referred to anyone who would raise taxes as "a socialist."    Another one passionately declared:   "Taxes are evil."   A third said, "Taxes are thievery, nickel and dime thievery."

Gov. Sam Brownback has reluctantly said they need to raise taxes.    House leaders offered a plan for a 1% business tax.    Conservatives walked out of the room.

No question, the Republicans own this.   They can't find a solution, because the only solution is to raise taxes.  They have such majorities that they don't need a single Democratic vote to defeat any bill and even to over-ride a veto.

What a mess,    What a monster.    What Schadenfreude.   (I love that wonderful German word.)


[UPDATE:  In the waning hours of the special legislative session, Kansas lawmakers bowed to the inevitable and raised taxes . . . a little bit and mostly on the backs of those least able to afford it.    Most of the correction to their over-zealous income tax cuts will come in the form of a jump in sales tax, without the exemptions that most states have for food and other necessities.   So the overall picture looks like this:   big cut in income taxes and big increase in sales tax.   The wealthy still get the good news, and the ordinary people get the bad news.]

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Mittens disses Hillary -- and she squashes him

First of all, where does Mitt Romney get the gall to criticize Hillary Clinton for being out of touch with ordinary Americans because of wealth?    And yet, there he was.    Saying how can people believe her populist message when she makes many times more in one speech than ordinary people make in a year.

Come on, Mittens.   How about you and Hillary compare tax returns, huh?

So Hillary nailed him.
"I want everybody to have the same opportunities that I had and that my husband had.   I don't think Americans are against success.    They're against people who get on top of the ladder and start pulling it up after them so nobody else has the same chance they did."
Not only was it a great zinger, she said it with a directness and emotional appeal that I have found missing in her in the past.    Good show, Hillary.


The Bernie Sanders phenomenon

I don't know how he's going to look this time next year, but right now Bernie Sanders is winning hearts . . . and maybe some minds as well.   He sure knows how to handle a press conference.

He's fast becoming known for his candor.    Just ask him to comment on issues -- and you get refreshing, practical, credible answers.  He even addressed that "socialism" label head-on, saying that:
"It is not a radical agenda.   In virtually every instance, what I am saying is supported by a significant majority of the American people.   Yes, it is not supported by the Business Roundtable or the Chamber of Commerce or Wall Street. I may be old-fashioned enough to believe that Congress might want to be representing a vast majority of our people … and not just the Koch brothers and other campaign contributors.”
And then comes the zinger.
"Every time the media refer to me as a 'socialist,'  they should refer to my opponents as 'capitalists.'"

Liam Miller explained the "Bernie phenomena" like this: 
"Simply put: everyone is sick of politics as usual. . . .  Sanders is the only candidate who does not represent more of the same.   On a deep level, people know the only solution is to elect people who aren't beholden to big money;  to elect people who will fight for the poor and the middle-class's piece of the pie. If that's called socialism, then so be it. . . . 

"Everyone is sick of plastic, insincere, politician smiles and hairdos. Sanders doesn't waste time on it . . .  - and it's obvious he's sincere. . . .

" . . . people overwhelmingly agree with Sanders . . . and they're taking him seriously, even if the punditariat are not." 
I'm going to keep watching this carefully.   We've had a tendency to think of Bernie as an impractical idealist.    And we've seen what Washington does to idealists these past 6 years.   But it would feel so good to vote for someone so sincere and so uncontaminated by the political process.


Monday, June 15, 2015

A sign of the changing times

At a recent Clinton campaign rally, a woman said to her daughter as Bill Clinton walked by:

"That's Hillary Clinton's husband."

Another screw up of the Jeb Bush campaign

YIKES !!!    As if Jeb Bush needed any more evidence of the incompetence of his campaign (and perhaps of the candidate himself).

Of course, it may go unnoticed, although few things do in this day of the internet and trivia meisters in abundance.   I caught it, not because I'm a history buff, but because of my immersion in the fiction of William Faulkner.    "Pickett's Charge" figures in one of his novels.

Here's what I'm talking about.    A New York Times article on Sunday described the lackluster performance of Jeb Bush and his campaign thus far, failing to meet expectations that by now he would be the clear, and perhaps prohibitive, front runner.    In a recent poll, he trailed both Mario Rubio and Scott Walker.

So this past week, Bush shook up his campaign staff and appointed a new campaign manager, Danny Diaz, who is known as a hard-edged manager who will mount a more aggressive campaign.
The Times article included the following:  "By hiring Mr. Diaz, Mr. Bush wanted to send a clear signal that 'the culture of the Bush operation will now be a Pickett's Charge engagement campaign with his main opponents,' accoring to one Bush ally."

I'm sure what they meant to convey was the aspiration of "Pickett's Charge," which was ordered by Gen. Robert E. Lee at the major battle of Gettysburg.   The Confederates planned an attack by three divisions involving thousands of troops -- hoping to turn the tide of the war in their favor.

Instead, it was a huge failure and a major turning point in the war against them.   The South lost over 50% of its men in the battle.   It was the beginning of the end.

Get the picture?    Someone speaking for the Jeb Bush campaign has just said their new approach will be a major push -- throwing everything they've got against the opponents -- and that they will lose.


Sunday, June 14, 2015

The better side of Rand Paul ? ? ?

Sen. Rand Paul seems to have a sincere commitment to criminal justice reform.   He used a political fund-raiser dinner in Baltimore to talk about the tragic suicide of 22 year old Kalief Browder, a young black man who had been arrested at age 16 for aledgedly stealing a backpack.   Although he maintained that he was innocent, he remained in jail for three years without being convicted of a crime, during which time he was subjected to brutal beatings by both prison guards and other prisoners.    

That is the story as described by Paul and as reported by Al Jazeera America.  Paul ended his appeal by saying that he had hesitated to tell the story but had decided that it might help change things.  Paul told the group: 
“Even if you’re convicted of a crime, in America for goodness sake, are we going to let people be raped and murdered and pillaged in a prison because they’re convicted? . . . And [Kalief] wasn't even convicted."
Paul then talked about other examples of unequal treatment in our justice system, including drug convictions.   He emphasized that he was not saying that they had done nothing wrong or that it was only about racism -- but that he could understand the anger expressed in black communities like Ferguson, MO.
“I didn’t grow up poor, I grew up middle class or upper middle class and this is me learning about how other people have to deal with life. . . .  So the thing is until you walk in someone else’s shoes, I think we shouldn’t say that we can’t understand the anger of people."
Paul sounds very earnest about this, and perhaps he is.   But here is another side to him as described by progressive blogger digby, who points out Paul's past close relationships with neo-confederates and racists.   She acknolwedges that he has been reaching out to the black community, now that he's running for president and "trying to create an image of someone who really cares."

But digby's real question is:   what is "the libertarian solution . . .  to the ongoing, structural, institutional racism that has permeated our culture since its inception and which remains the fetid, infectious boil on the American body politic?"   The answer:   "lower the taxes on the business people so they hire more people. . . .  There is literally no problem on earth that lowering taxes on business people will not solve."

That, according to digby, is the libertarian answer.   Of course, Rand Paul is also distancing himself a bit from his prior strict libertarianism, now that he's trying to broaden his appeal.   he describes himself as "libertarianish."  

I'm willing to give Rand Paul the benefit of doubt that he is sincere and that he might really want things to be better.    His rhetoric is getting better.    Let's see if he can come up some solutions other than tax cuts and deregulation.