Saturday, October 3, 2015

Why even opponents of the Iran nuclear deal should feel good about this silver lining.

Writing in an opinion piece for Reuter's news service, Alexander McCoy and Jacqueline Lopour bring up what is, to me, a wholly new idea that should give even opponents of the Iran nuclear deal something to feel good about:

If the Iranians cheat, at least we will then know where to drop the bombs.   Their argument goes like this:
"The Iran deal creates inspections that allow the United States and five world powers — Britain, France, China, Russia and Germany — to probe the strategic importance of various nuclear sites.  If inspectors suspect cheating, they can demand access to the location. Any resistance by Iran would shine an enormous spotlight on that particular site. It would tell the West the site is important enough for Iran to risk war and would suggest that Tehran’s activity there violates the deal. It creates, in effect, a clear military target.

"Without a deal, the allies have no way of knowing which sites are truly important. So Washington and its allies would have to consider bombing them all. The more targets Washington asks the military to destroy, the greater the chance for failure, collateral damage and escalation."
Makes sense.   I only wonder why no one thought of it before.


Friday, October 2, 2015

Vatican: Pope's meeting with Kim Davis "should not be considered a form of support for her position."

Breaking News:  reported by the Associated Press:
Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi said, on Friday, that Francis met with "several dozen" people at the Vatican's embassy just before leaving Washington for New York.   Lombardi said such meetings are due to the pope's "kindness and availability" and that the pope only really had one "audience" with former students and his family members.

"The pope did not enter into the details of the situation of Mrs. Davis, and his meeting with her should not be considered a form of support of her position in all of its particular and complex aspects," Lombardi said.

[This late news bulletin confirms what I had already written below.  Another non-Vatican source also said that the pope gives out rosaries by the thousands;   he gave rosaries to the prisoners he visited in New York.  Ralph]

So Kim Davis met the Pope. He has also met with LGBT advocates and with prisoners in jail . . . and kissed a baby dressed up as a pope.

My point is that the media -- and Davis' attorney from the right-wing Liberty Council -- are hyping the significance of this meeting a bit out of proportion, as suggested in this breathless headline:  "The Pope Just Handed Kim Davis A Huge Win."

Even Davis and her attorney say the meeting lasted less than 15 minutes, that it included Davis and her husband being given rosaries blessed by the pope (a pretty standard papal gift), that the pope thanked Davis for her courage and told her "to stay strong," and that they promised to pray for each other.   No one has even suggested that any substantive discussion took place.

From what we've seen of Pope Francis, this sounds to me like a pastoral visit, recognizing and giving comfort to someone in need.   As a Vox reporter put it:   Of course he met with her:  "he was just emulating the guy who founded his religion."  It seems obvious that the pope and the Vatican wanted to keep it personal and pastoral and avoid creating a political news story;  otherwise, why keep the meeting a secret?

The further fact, as reported by Reuters is from Pope Francis' meeting with the press aboard the plane heading back Rome.   He was asked if he supported those, including government officials, who refuse to abide by some laws, such as issuing marriage licenses to gays.  His answer:  "I can't have in mind all cases that can exist about conscientious objection but, yes, I can say that conscientious objection is a right that is a part of every human right. . . .  And if someone does not allow others to be a conscientious objector, he denies a right."

That is not a ringing endorsement of Davis' cause, especially since the pope did not address at all the specific problem of one elected official's conscientious objection interfering with other people's rights, as in the Davis case. 

So what does this tell us about whether the pope lent his moral authority to Kim Davis' case?   Not much.    She is in fact being freely allowed to exercise her right to conscientious objection.   What she is not allowed to do is deny constituents their legal right to marry.

Once the judge was satisfied that the deputy clerks in the office could carry out the duties without her participation, Ms. Davis was released from jail on the condition that she not interfere either directly or indirectly with this function of the office.   She does not have to endorse or approve of gay marriage.

This accommodation, which allows her not to have anything to do with licenses for gay couples except not to interfere with the proper, legal functioning of her office, is compatible with Pope Francis supporting her conscientious objection.   Nothing he said suggests that he thinks the federal courts are being unfair to her.   In fact, one might say that Judge Bunning is also supporting her conscientious objection by his accommodation.

The fact is that Kim Davis and the Liberty Council have lost their bid to halt gay marriage in Rowan County, Kentucky.   They have no case, but they are still trying to pretend that they do.   And having been granted a meeting with Pope Francis does not give her cause any more legitimacy than those prisoners in jail or the baby whose parents dressed it in a cute pope costume.   (Note to the parents:   Save the costume;  you can use it again on Halloween.)

So let's stop the hype.   The law is clear, and the law is being carried out.  I'm cynical enough to think the Liberty Council's motive in continuing to pursue this is as much about fund raising as it is about ideological principle.


Thursday, October 1, 2015

Comparing Chaffetz's propaganda graph and a true representation based on actual numbers

This refers to earlier posts today about the Tuesday congressional hearing on Planned Parenthood, where committee chair Jason Chaffetz sprang the first graph on PP CEO Cecile Richards, and she slayed his argument by pointing out the small print at the bottom giving the source as American United for Life, an anti-abortion group.   The problem with the graph is that the two lines are completely out of scale with each other;   the graph has no common Y-axis.   It's just a made-up picture of one thing going up and another going down -- deliberately distorted to make it seem that abortions have shot up, while cancer screenings have sharply declined.
The lower graph uses the same numbers and constructs a graph as it should be to show proportionality:   see how both lines are plotted to the same numbers on the vertical or Y axis.   Here the slight increase in abortions hardly seems significant.   While there is a much greater decline in cancer screenings, the Note in the middle of the graph explains that as due to major changes in the American Cancer Society's recommended frequency of various cancer screenings during the period.

There is no way to read this other than the intended grand "gotcha" moment of the hearings.   It failed completely and left Chairman Chaffetz looking not only indecently partisan but inept as well.


"A perfect pageant of extreme GOP priorities"

Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, told Chris Hayes on "All In" on Tuesday night that the organization had that day delivered a petition to congress with 2 million signatures supporting Planned Parenthood.   She pointed out that 70% of Americans approve of legal abortions.

Hogue called the congressional hearings on Planned Parenthood "a perfect pageant of extreme GOP priorities," which she listed as:

   1.  Total disregard for facts.
   2.  Complete denigration and disdain for women.
   3.  Obsession with outlawing abortion at the expense of anything else that needs to happen. 


My scoring of GOP hearing on Planned Parenthood: Cecile Richards 5, Republicans 0

On Tuesday, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee held its long-awaited hearing on Planned Parenthood that they thought would be the death knell for the organization.    They came armed with what turned out to be lies and fake videos and erroneous graphs.

Planned Parenthood's CEO Cecile Richards slayed them by being professional, calm and . . . . . . simply right.   The Republicans could only stew in their own toxic juices that they had concocted to try to destroy her and her organization.

The committee chair, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), tried to disarm Richards right off the bat by questioning her about her salary, hoping to say that PP obviously doesn't need any government money if they can pay her that much.   Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) used her time as a committee member to attack Chaffetz for focusing on Richard's salary, which she says he would not have done if Richards had been a man.
"I first would like to register my opposition and my objection to the chairman beating up on a woman . . . for making a good salary. . . . The entire time I've been in Congress, I've never seen a witness beaten up and questioned about their salary. . . .  Ms. Richards heads a distinguished organization providing health care services to millions of Americans. I find it totally inappropriate and discriminatory."

At least two other Democratic women members of the committee chastised their committee chair for his disrespect of Ms. Richards, but it was a male colleague, Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA) who said that the disrespect Chaffetz had showed to Richards is reflective of a much broader problem Republicans have with women. 

"My colleagues like to say there's no war on women. Look at how you've been treated as a witnessIntimidation. Talking Over. Interrupting. Cutting off sentences. Criticizing you because of your salary. How dare you! Who do you think you are, making a professional salary as the head of a premier national organization and daring to actually make decisions as the head of that organization? . . . "Lord Almighty, what's America coming to?"

Televised excerpts of the hearing tended to focus on such moments, but it did seem that Republicans were relentless and disrespectful to Richards:   asking questions, then cutting her off before she could even get out a full sentence in reply, then firing another question and cutting her off when she tried to answer.

The low point for Chaffetz came at the end of his questioning period when he put up his piece de resistence, a chart purportedly showing that, between 2006 and 2013, "cancer screening and preventive services" had declined sharply while "abortions" had increased.   Richards said she had never seen the chart before.  Chaffetz said that they had taken the figures "from your report."   Richards repeated that this was all new to her, that she would look into it, but that "it absolutely does not represent what's happening at Planned Parenthood."

Chaffetz, looking triumphant, asked incredulously:   "You're going to deny that these numbers came from your report?"

At this point, Richards' lawyer leaned over and called her attention to the fine print at the bottom of the chart.   Without missing a beat, as Chaffetz was still sputtering about her denying her own numbers, Richards leaned into her microphone and calmly repeated what her attorney had just pointed out to her:   "This chart is from Americans United for Life, which is an anti-abortion group;  so I think you'd better check your sources."  

Oops.   OMG, what Schadenfreude!!!  You almost had to feel sorry for Chaffetz . . . but not very much.   He came in full of arrogance and superiority, and he got destroyed by his own hubris.   But the delicious bit was that it was a woman who pointed out his mistake, the woman he had been hounding for four and a half hours.

Well, we could go on and explain that the chart is not only bogus, it's a terrible chart in that they use a different scale for the two measured factors.   In addition the numbers are all wrong anyway.   So it's hardly worth the space to say all that's wrong with it.  Vox has a good dissection of the chart, if you want the details.

The final two points are this:

1.  The Republicans' case against Planned Parenthood had already collapsed when it was proven that the video was faked.   The truth is that they held a hearing that was purported to be to investigate the validity of the video, and they didn't even call the guy who made the video -- because they know that it's all a house of cards that would collapse.

2.  Chairman Chaffetz' next big "evidence" against PP was supposed to be this damning chart;  it collapsed right there for all to see.   He didn't even have the good sense to redact the small print at the bottom of the chart that clearly said "Source:  Americans United for Life" and, instead, accused the witness of "denying that these numbers came from your own report."

This is the political party that wants us to elect them to run the government?


PS:   Released the day of the hearings is an NBC/WSJ favorability rating poll that shows:  Planned Parenthood 47% favorable/31% unfavorable (+16% net);  Republican Party 29% favorable/58% unfavorable (-33% net).

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

GOP candidates' lies about Planned Parenthood

Blogger "acerimusdux," writing on Daily Kos on 9-22-15, compiled a list of quotations about Planned Parenthood made by Republicans running for the presidential nomination.   Of the top nine in the polls at that time, eight of them told a blatant lie about what Planned Parenthood does, about its motives, or about the fake video concocted by the notorious sting operation.

The lies ranged from outrageous:  "[They should not get a penny] . . . because they're not actually doing women's health issues" - Jeb Bush.

. . . to the more outrageous:  "[Y]ou've created an industry . . . an incentive for people to be pushed into abortions so that those tissues can be harvested and sold for a profit" -- Marco Rubio. 

. . . to the even more outrageous:  "Planned Parenthood officials callously, heartlessly bartering and selling the body parts of human beings" -- Ted Cruz.

. . . and even worse:  "Civilized people don't hack other people to death and then sell the parts because there's money to be made" -- Mike Huckabee.

And then, in a category by herself, because it was so gut-wrenchingly graphic and horrific -- was Carly Fiorino's description of watching the video of "a fully formed fetus on the table, it's heart beating, it's legs kicking while someone says we have to keep it alive to harvest its brain."

The truth about that is:  Whatever video Fiorino is talking about had nothing to do with Planned Parenthood.   Some evidence suggests that it was a film clip, not of a fetus at all, but of a baby from a premature birth totally unconnected with Planned Parenthood -- or the result of an abortion.   It was from film taken by the father of a much wanted child whose premature birth, and death shortly thereafter, was the result of a naturally occurring miscarriage.   The sound track superimposed that Fiorino says she heard could not have had any connection with this film clip taken by grieving parents and sent out to friends.

The one candidate of the nine who did not lie was Donald Trump.   Although he said he opposes abortion, he at least acknowledged that government funding goes for women's health care, not for abortions.

The truth is that 97% of the services provided by Planned Parenthood are not abortion related.   The truth is that PP does not sell fetal tissues;   it only charges legally permissible expenses of storing and shipping fetal tissues to legitimate research organizations.   The truth is that mothers' choice to donate tissues for research is entirely voluntary, without any coercion whatsoever, either directly or indirectly.

I have no quarrel with those who oppose abortion.   I'm not a fan of it myself;   but I think it should be available, it should be legal, it should be rare, and it should be decided by a mother and her doctor, not by politicians.    Abortion would be rarer than it is, if conservative politicians didn't defund contraceptive services.

It is a sad point we've come to when presidential candidates of a major political party have so little faith in their policies that they think the only way they can win is by lying.


Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Frank Rich puts Donald Trump in perspective

Frank Rich, writer for New York magazine, says this about Donald Trump's effect on other Republican candidates:

"What he does so rudely is call the GOP's bluff by saying loudly, unambiguously, and repeatedly the ugly things that other Republican politicians try to camouflage in innuendo, focus-group-tested euphemisms, and consultantspeak."

Changing the Washington climate on climate change

Last week was a busy one in the news:    The pope, the pope, and more of the pope (who I like, by the way).   But then China's president Xi Jinping came to town, and climate change suddenly moved front and center.

But it began before that:

1.  On Monday, Hillary Clinton announced that she could no longer wait for the White House to declare it's position.   She said she opposes the Keystone XL pipeline.

2.  In the Wednesday ceremony where President Obama welcomed Pope Francis to Washington, the pope said, "It seems clear to me also that climate change is a problem which can no longer be left to a future generation.  When it comes to the care of our common home, we are living at a critical moment of history."

3.  On Thursday, in his address to Congress, Pope Francis urged them to make a "courageous and responsible" effort on climate change.

4.   Chinese President Jinping's arrival on Friday brought the announcement that China pledges to set up a cap-and-trade system by 2017 and will work with the United States to push for greater change at the upcoming Paris climate change conference.   The U. S. has pledged $3 billion to help developing countries in their efforts;   China upped the ante and pledge $3.1 billion.   A little competitive bidding for the high ground is never a losing strategy -- no matter who wins, the good cause benefits.

This could be the turning point for the future of this planet -- with the pope as spiritual leader of 1.2 billion people, and the president of China as the political leader of another billion-plus, and the president of the U. S., the world's wealthiest country, all working to fix our climate problem. 


Monday, September 28, 2015

Carter says the U. S. has become an oligarchy instead of a democracy

What could be more important in the quest for human rights than free and fair elections by the people?   Former president Jimmy Carter agrees.    He has put boots on the ground to back up that belief, having monitored 100 elections in 38 different countries during his remarkable post-presidential life of humanitarian service.  

From this perspective, President Carter is eminently qualified to say, as he does, that we no longer have free and fair elections here in the United States.

"There is no way now for you to get a Democratic or Republican nomination without being able to raise $200 or $300 million . . . .  We've become, now, an oligarchy instead of a democracy . . . .  the worst damage to the basic moral and ethical standards to the American political system that I've seen in my life."

Oprah Winfrey's interview with President Carter will be aired Sunday, Sept. 27th at 7 pm (EST) on the OWN network.

In a different interview with Thom Hartmann in July, Carter expanded on his concern about what's happened in our election system:

"It violates the essence of what made America a great country in its political system.   Now it's just an oligarchy, with unlimited political bribery being the essence of getting the nomination for president or to elect the president.   And the same thing applies to governors and U.S. senators and congress members.   So now we've just seen a complete subversion of our political system as a payoff to major contributors, who want and expect and sometimes get favors for themselves after the election's over."

Republicans think the answer to "making America great again" lies in returning to the past.  My concept of what's good about the past and how to restore it would have at the top of the list:   getting the insane and obscene influence of money out of our politics and governance.    

I don't think that's what the Republicans have in mind.


Sunday, September 27, 2015

Jeb, in desperation, plays the race card

Political analyst and Huffington Post contributor Earl Ofari Hutchinson sees the political calculation of Jeb Bush's racial stereotype remarks in South Carolina.

"GOP presidential hopeful Jeb Bush knew exactly what he was doing when he insulted African-American voters by alleging that the Democrats buy their votes with 'free stuff' . . . . Bush is wallowing in single digits in the polls and he needed some spark to get the attention and touch the nerve of Deep South white, conservative voters. . . ."

Without a careful reading of what Bush said, it would appear that he's trying to tell blacks that he will offer them hope and opportunity rather than demeaning 'free stuff."

But Hutchinson says that Bush is playing on an old racial stereotype of blacks being bought by Democrats with assistance programs.   In fact, as Hutchinson points out:  "The majority of the recipients of these programs have always been white seniors, retirees, women, and children, and white workers. But these programs have been artfully sold to many Americans as handouts to lazy, undeserving blacks, Hispanics and minorities."

This is the old political "Southern Strategy" of Richard Nixon to win the electoral vote block of southern and border states by playing on racial stereotypes.   Hutchinson concludes:

"So Bush knowingly played the race card in part to boost his faltering campaign, in greater part because the recent history of presidential elections have shown that a GOP candidate's only path to the White House is getting an overwhelming number of white voters in the South, the Heartland States, and the swing states. Bush shrewdly calculated that in his political insult."

Jeb Bush just sank a notch lower in my estimate.   Let's hope it was a momentary lapse into desperation over his 7% in the latest Fox News poll, which drops him to 6th place.   Surely the Bush family darling would not stoop to the low politics of race-baiting.

Would he?  Well . . . yes, he just did.   This was not an egregious gaffe.   This was a carefully crafted strategy.

This was the same Jeb Bush who, as a teen-ager in prep school, was so snobbish and self-righteous that he led a gang to chase down and forceably cut off the longish hair of a fellow student who dared to be different.   This was the same Jeb Bush who abused his power as governor of Florida (and as brother of the president) to go around federal court rulings to get congress to pass a special law to artificially prolong the life of the brain dead Teri Schiavo.  The same Gov. Jeb Bush who -- after Shiavo died anyway, and for no purpose other than vengeance -- initiated criminal charges against the woman's husband for trying to carry out her wishes not to be kept in such a vegetative state.  

Arrogance and stubborn self-righteousness are behind Jeb's genial smile and mild manner.    If Republicans want to nominate a tyrant or a religious zealot, let them at least choose one who is open and honest about it so the American people know what their choices are.  Jeb Bush has a dark side and a mean streak.   The more I see of him, the more I prefer his brother George -- and that's a very very low bar.