Saturday, July 11, 2015

Is bi-partisanship breaking out in the Senate?

 Is the gridlock in Congress beginning to crack?   With continued fights over the budget and even threats of shutdown, that may be far too optimistic.

But there have been two recent legislative initiatives from Democratic-Republican duos.

1.  Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), along with co-sponsors Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Angus King (I-ME), are re-introducing legislation that would reduce the size of banks that are "too big to fail" to reduce a repeat of the 2008 necessity of a government bailout to save our banking system.

From 1933 to 1999, the Glass-Steagall Act regulated this;   and many economists say -- as does Sen. McCain -- that the Act's 1999 repeal "led to a culture of dangerous greed and excessive risk-taking" in the banking industry.   Sen. Warren adds that "The biggest banks are collectively much larger than they were before the [2008] crisis, and they continue to engage in dangerous practices that could once again crash our economy."

Sen. McCain is at odds with the Republican leadership, which is still fighting such reforms.   But at least we have one important Republican willing to stand with Democrats in a sensible policy that puts the country's interest above big banking interests.

2.  Senator Johnny Isakson, (R-GA) and Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) have re-introduced their bill that provides a benefit under Medicare for doctors and other health care professionals to have discussions with patients for advanced planning for end-of-life care.   This allows mature adults to voluntarily consider options and make advanced decisions, which they can later revoke, about what level of life-extending treatments they want, should they become terminally ill with no hope for cure.   Co-sponsors include a number of both Democratic and Republican senators.

Such a plan was to have been part of the Affordable Care Act before Sarah Palin chose to turn it into a paranoid, hysterical drama -- calling it "death panels" -- for cheap political gain in the 2008 campaign.  She invoked images of unfeeling government agents deciding, for example, that her Downs Syndrome child was not worth saving.  The fact-checking service PolitiFact gave this the dubious distinction of "Lie of the Year" in 2009.

But thanks to Sarah Palin and other bottom-feeders on the right, the damage was done and it was dropped from the ACA.    That provision was not considered worth the political capital like some other provisions that were necessary for the bill to succeed.  Now, thanks to this bi-partisan effort of sensible senators, some sanity has returned;   and it looks like we may eventually act like adults

Unfortunately, it's too late for those who may have needed such advanced planning during the last eight years.


Friday, July 10, 2015

Even South Carolina puts U. S. Congress to shame

In response to the church massacre in Charleston, the South Carolina governor and legislators have been genuinely awakened to the evils of slavery and the degradation that trickles down from white supremacy.

This week, the S. C. Senate voted 97 to 3 to remove the Confederate flag from its pole on the statehouse grounds and place it in the Confederate Museum of Relics.  The House followed suit with a vote of 94 to 20, and Gov. Nikki Haley has already signed the bill.

In contrast was an ugly controversy that arose among Republicans in the U. S. House of Representatives Commerce Committee.    Under President Obama's direction, the National Parks Service policy regarding the Confederate flag is that its sale is prohibited on Park Service properties, and any display is limited to historical or educational exhibits.

Republican leadership in House originally attached an amendment to the Interior Department funding bill to put that Park Service policy into law.   But Thursday, Republicans on the appropriations subcommittee introduced an amendment that would have allowed display of the Confederate flag in national cemetaries.

After outraged Democrats objected, Speaker John Boehner put the debate "in abeyance" for an unspecified time period, and it is still in effect.   What happens now is uncertain.

But that's not all.  In their first gun-related vote taken since the June 17th church massacre in Charleston, 32 members of the House Appropriations Committee voted to bock research into gun violence by the Centers for Disease Control.    They've done this before and for decades have prevented the CDC from investigating gun violence as a public health and safety measure.

This is despite the fact that it is now predicted that this year gun violence will outpace car accidents as the leading cause of death among young people in America.    Not a public safety concern?

The U. S. House of Representatives no longer represents the people of America.   Until we can change the gerrymandering process that protects incumbents, overturn voter ID laws,  and get some limits on the way money from the NRA and the financial elite distort our democratic process, we will continue to get this kind of "representatives."

The one glimmer of hope is that SCOTUS just upheld the constitutionality of Arizona's voter-initiated independent commission on redistricting.


Thursday, July 9, 2015

Good works by Muslim groups

The Muslim world is in the middle of its month-long Ramadan -- a time of fasting and reflection and service to others.     Here is what one group is doing.

A web site,, makes it possible for various groups in the global Muslim community to raise money for good works through online crowd funding.    One project is providing bikes for Afghanistan orphans.   Another encourages and supports people adopting refugees who have had to leave their homes.

The project that caught my eye is called "Respond With Love."   Its purpose is raising funds to help rebuild the African-American churches that have been burned in the wake of the massacre of nine worshipers in a Bible study group at their church in Charleston, SC. 

Imam Zaid Shakir explains:  "The American Muslim community cannot claim to have experienced anything close to the systematic and institutionalized racism and racist violence that has been visited upon African Americans. We do, however, understand the climate of racially inspired hate and bigotry that is being reignited in this country. We want to let our African American brothers and sisters know that we stand in solidarity with them during this dark hour. As a small symbol of that solidarity, during this blessed month of Ramadan, we are gathering donations to help rebuild the seven churches that have been burned down since the racist murders in Charleston, South Carolina."

*   *   *
This is a worthy project.   I also want to help spread this positive image of Muslims in this country to counter the grossly unfair stereotype of Muslims as terrorists promoted on much of our right-wing news media and right-wing politicians.

Anyone who would like to join me in contributing to this fund -- to support both the black churches and the Muslim community for making this effort -- can find the relevant information at the web link below. 


When this web page of the various projects opens, find the block for Respond With Love.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Best political line of the week

 Comedy duo Tim and Eric said this about Donald Trump: 

"He's his own priest."

Greek democracy vs European Union

Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel Laureate in economics and professor at Columbia University, was Chairman of President Bill Clinton's Council of Economic Advisers and former Chief Economist at the World Bank.   He wrote the following essay before the Greeks' dramatic  61%  No vote on the referendum that rejected the proposed bailout plan:

". . .  [T]he economics behind the program that the “troika” (the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund) foisted on Greece five years ago has been abysmal, resulting in a 25% decline in the country’s GDP.  I can think of no depression, ever, that has been so deliberate and had such catastrophic consequences: Greece’s rate of youth unemployment, for example, now exceeds 60%.

"It is startling that the troika has refused to accept responsibility for any of this or admit how bad its forecasts and models have been. But what is even more surprising is that Europe’s leaders have not even learned. The troika is still demanding that Greece achieve a primary budget surplus (excluding interest payments) of 3.5% of GDP by 2018. 

"Economists around the world have condemned that target as punitive, because aiming for it will inevitably result in a deeper downturn. . . .

"We should be clear: almost none of the huge amount of money loaned to Greece has actually gone there. It has gone to pay out private-sector creditors – including German and French banks. Greece has gotten but a pittance, but it has paid a high price to preserve these countries’ banking systems. . . . 

"[I]t’s not about the money. It’s about using “deadlines” to force Greece to knuckle under, and to accept the unacceptable – not only austerity measures, but other regressive and punitive policies. . . . 

"Greece’s citizens voted for a government committed to ending austerity. . . .  That concern for popular legitimacy is incompatible with the politics of the eurozone, which was never a very democratic project. Most of its members’ governments did not seek their people’s approval to turn over their monetary sovereignty to the ECB. . . .

"Many European leaders want to see the end of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s leftist government . . . that is so opposed to the types of policies that have done so much to increase inequality in so many advanced countries, and that is so committed to curbing the unbridled power of wealth. They seem to believe that they can eventually bring down the Greek government by bullying it into accepting an agreement that contravenes its mandate. . . .

"[A no vote in the referendum] would at least open the possibility that Greece, with its strong democratic tradition, might grasp its destiny in its own hands. Greeks might gain the opportunity to shape a future that, though perhaps not as prosperous as the past, is far more hopeful than the unconscionable torture of the present."
*   *   *
As we now know, Greek voters did embrace democracy and self-determination -- or at least rejection of the draconian plan that the European troika is trying to force upon them.    So what happens now?   In a meeting Tuesday of EU foreign ministers and Greek Prime Minister Tsipris -- both sides made it clear that they are not knuckling under.   The EU is still demanding severe austerity measures in exchange for debt relief;   and Tspiris made it clear that he is negotiating and not knuckling under.    If they fail to reach an agreement tomorrow, Greece could go through a default and restructuring of debts -- essentially bankruptcy -- and Greece may leave the European Union and form its own curreency.

Greece will continue to have very hard economic times, either way;  but at least they would be in charge of their own destiny and would have honored a democratic process by their own elected government.    Why cannot conservative politicians admit to the repetitive proof that austerity just does not work to get out of an economic depression.  Economic stimulus and job creation is the answer.   Greece and Kansas are two of the best recent examples of how austerity backfires and just makes things worse.


Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Some news events to start off the week

1.  In the second of three votes on the fate of the Confederate flag, the South Carolina legislature voted 37-3 to remove the flag and place it in the Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum.    It now goes to the House of Representatives for the final vote, which requires a two-thirds majority.

2.  In a referendum on Sunday, Greeks gave a strong NO vote to the proposed bailout plan from the creditors and the European Union.   It's not clear what happens next.   There is a planned meeting on Tuesday between the Eurozone Finance Ministers and the Greek Foreign Minister.   Some commenters are saying the only viable choices are at least some debt reduction or Greece leaving the EU.

Whatever the relative merits of a yes/no vote, it's clear that the No vote has boosted the spirits of the Greek people, who have suffered for five years under an austerity budget mandated by the European Union and the creditors -- and the now-rejected plan would have required even more severe austerity measures.

A commenter on CNN on Sunday night called the vote "a raised middle finger" by the Greek people toward demands of the EU.   Paul Krugman likened the EU proposal to "Medieval doctors bleeding their patients."   And best-selling economist/author Thomas Piketty pointed out that Germany, the EU member most opposed to a lenient bailout for Greece, had never repaid its debts following the two world wars.

3.  Pope Francis drew "hundreds of thousands" of people at an appearance in Ecuador.   He is touring a number of South American countries, where 70% to 80+% of the population is Roman Catholic.   There is such good will toward this particular pontiff that it is tempting to suggest we change how we refer to such huge popularity as "rock star appeal."   Rock stars do not hold a candle to this pope in crowd-drawing capacity.

Francis will visit Philadelphia in the fall, where estimates of up to a million people will come out to hear him.

4.  The U. S. Women's soccer team defeated Japan 5-2 in the World Cup finals on Sunday.   This makes the U.S. team the only women's team to win three World Cups, in 1991, 1999, and 2015.    The television audience of 25.4 million was by far the largest for any soccer match ever in U.S. history, beating the tv audience for the 2014 men's World Cup finals of 18.2 million.

5.  Colorado has had phenomenal success in reducing teen pregnancy and teen abortions as the result of a six-year-long, free contraceptive program.   Birth rates among teenage moms declined by 40% and teen abortions by 42%.   The program uses "long-acting, reversible" contraceptives, either IUDs or hormonal implants.

Now -- if they can just keep religious-conservative politicians from interfering with this successful program.

6.  Bernie Sanders continues to draw the largest crowds yet of any presidential candidate.   An estimated 7,500 people attended a rally in Portland, Maine yesterday.   That's nothing compared to the "pope-star appeal," but it's amazing this early in a campaign.


Monday, July 6, 2015

Conservatives who wouldn't make it in today's Republican Party

Richard Riis of Daily Kos compiled a list of positions taken by previous leaders that may suprise you and defy our current understanding of  "conservative," "liberal," and "patriot."   [I have edited, condensed, and added commentary to Riis' listings.]

1.   The Pledge of Allegiance was written in 1892 by Francis Bellamy, a Baptist minister and self-described Christian Socialist, a movement which considered capitalism to be rooted in greed and the cause of much of the world's social inequity.   The phrase "under God," was not in the original and was only added in the 1950s during the Cold War to differentiate us from the "godless" Communists.

2.  In 1973 Roe v. Wade was decided by a bipartisan 7 to 2 vote.  Voting yes were 5 justices appointed by Republican presidents and 2 justices appointed by Democratic presidents.

3.  Ronald Reagen raised federal taxes eleven times.

4.  Barry Goldwater (who was called "Mr. Conservative" when he was the Republican candidate for president in 1964) was pro-choice, supported gay rights, and despised the "religious right."    Of course, he lost the election in a landslide to LBJ, who was the "liberal" in the race.

5.  Republican president Teddy Roosevelt expanded the federal land protected from private development from 43 million acres to 194 million acres.    Disappointed in the direction of his successor, William Howard Taft, Roosevelt ran against Taft's re-election bid on the Progressive Party ticket in 1912.   One of his platform issues was national health insuranceTaft and Roosevelt both lost to Woodrow Wilson.

6.  Richard Nixon established the EPA and approved the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the important labor protection initiative.  He ended the Viet Nam War after initially expanding it, and he negotiated nuclear weapons controls with the Soviet Union.   He instituted wage and price controls to curb inflation.   He endorsed the Equal Rights Amendment.   His proposals for health care reform were advanced for his time, including employer mandates and expansions of Medicaid, although he leaned heavily toward using private insurance to accomplish this.    And then came Watergate .  .  .

It's unlikely that any of these "patriots" would be acceptable in today's Republican Party.    They would all be too liberal.


Sunday, July 5, 2015

Forgiveness transforming race relations in the South

Anthony B. Bradley, associate professor of Religious Studies at King's College in New York, writing on Al Jazeera America, pointed to the aftermath of the June 17th murder of nine worshipers at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC.
"Why were [the families] so quick to forgive? . . .  [They] were simply exercising a fundamental Christian virtue. In so doing, they possibly changed the South forever in the process as Confederate flags and symbols are removed from state buildings across the South.

"When we suffer injustice, the human heart craves revenge, vindication and retaliation. . . .  [But] Christians are commanded to respond to injustice with forgiveness. . . .  [Forgiveness]  is what Christianity is all about. . . . an extension of love. . . . 

"The grace of forgiveness, in turn, empowers forgiven people to forgive others. . . . The families at Emanuel set the tone for how the rest of us should respond. . . .  [They] oriented Charleston and the whole country toward love, peace and justice.  Their act was a pre-emptive strike against social unrest, more violence and greater racial division . . . 

 "There were protests, but they were shrouded in prayer and singing. There was rage and mourning but no riots. There was despair and confusion but no retaliation. The victim’s families ushered in a spirit of unity and racial solidarity. Black and white people across South Carolina came together. . . .   

"Moreover . . . the Confederate battle flag is finally being viewed from an African-American perspective. Politicians are responding to African-Americans’ concerns about that symbol of white supremacism in communities across the country. . . .   Amazon, Walmart, Sears, Kmart and eBay are no longer selling Confederate flag merchandise. . . .  

". . . [E]xpressing forgiveness publicly does not grant freedom from the consequences of transgressions. Forgiveness is not a substitute for justice. . . .  [Dylann] Roof must still stand trial for the crimes he committed. 

"The families of the victims are now free, however, from the snare of hate and vengeance and instead are empowered by love.  At the funeral of shooting victim Ethan Lance . . .  her granddaughter Aja Risher said, 'I want my grandmother’s legacy to be what she stood for, and that’s love.'  Risher wants her death to be viewed as not in vain but as 'a catalyst for this country to change.'"
*   *   * 
At least, it seems there has been a start in that direction.   Strom Thurmond once ran for President as a "Dixiecrat" and was one of the conservative political powers in South Carolina and Washington for decades.   His son, now a state senator himself, was one of the first to declare his commitment to taking down the Confederate flag.

But we whites should not hide behind an easy forgiveness from those we harmed.   There can be no real change without our, first, owning up to the brutal and horrific treatment that white supremacy has done to our black brothers and sisters.   Even if we did not participate in the KKK or the Jim Crow laws, we have benefited -- always, even if unknowingly -- from white privilege.   Scholars and philosophers are now studying the meaning of "whiteness" as a cultural phenomenon.   A milder form of white supremacy, white privilege is insidious because we absorbed it like mother's milk as we were growing up.

Black families saying "we forgive you" can't have any true meaning for us unless we stop and think deeply about our responsibility and that of our direct ancestors -- and do something positive about the wrongs.