Saturday, October 10, 2015

Chaffetz' commiittee found "no wrong-doing" by Planned Parenthood

Yesterday, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and now candidate for Speaker of the House, made an important announcement about the hearing he held last week on Planned Parenthood (See ShrinkRap, three posts on Oct. 1).

Chaffetz said that his investigation into Planned Parenthood's use of federal funds has not turned up any wrong-doing.

He emphasized that his hearing was specifically to look PP's use of federal money, and he still thinks that other aspects of Planned Parenthood's program should be further investigated for its activities.

So this is sorta good news.   But damage has been done.   Defunding has already happened in two states, and fights are underway in eight others to halt any government funding -- including the Medicaid payments for healthcare services rendered, which is almost all the government funds they receive. 


Why the House has become ungovernable

The House Freedom Caucus is a group of about 40 far right Republicans who effectively control enough votes to prevent a Republican majority on anything without them.   Without those 40 votes, the Republican House majority of 247 cannot reach the necessary 218 votes to elect a Speaker or pass any legislation, if the Democrats vote the other way.

It was this power and recalcitrance that led to John Boehner's resignation -- and to Kevin McCarthy's dropping out of the race.   Now the Freedom Caucus is using this power to control who the next Speaker is.   Essentially, in exchange for support, they are demanding agreement on positions that would "send the entire country (and maybe the world) over a cliff," according to blogger Judd Legum on Think Progress. 

One such demand is a commitment that any bill to raise the debt ceiling will be tied to cuts in Social Security and Medicare -- a ready made prescription for shutting down the government.  And that's only one of their demands.

Asked by the National Review if he thought the House was governable, McCarthy said, "I don't know.   Sometimes you have to hit rock bottom."

You mean we aren't there yet???


Friday, October 9, 2015

Boehner's secret plan to regain power ? ? ?

Here's a thought-provoking article from Josh Marshall on his Talking Points Memo:

"Since there appears to be no significant House figure willing to run for Speaker . . . .  [consider] the idea of Boehner remaining on in a caretaker role through the 2016 election. He doesn't need 218 votes. He's already Speaker. . . .

"Now, it's already clear that Boehner will remain in place until a new Speaker is elected - and that could be a while regardless. This caretaker idea through January 2017 plan seems far-fetched. But then, so did McCarthy being deposed before he even became Speaker.

"But here's something to consider . . . .  It would be a pretty big transformation. Because Boehner 2.0 would be basically the Man of Steel and indestructible for almost 18 months.

"The cudgel wielded by the 'Freedom Caucus' and the broader House GOP right would disappear?   Threaten to depose him?   Right. . . .

"He would be indestructible. No one would have any real leverage over him. . . . .

"I'm pretty sure that won't happen. But if it did happen it would mean the Freedom Caucus antics would backfire on them spectacularly."
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This is the best idea anyone has come up with.  It might even appeal to Boehner -- to remain Speaker, having neutralized the obstructionists. . . . Heck, maybe this has been Boehner's secret plan all along, like a Prime Minister who calls a snap election to realign his power.


House Republicans implode . . . as McCarthy's takes himself out of the race for Speaker

Despite Kevin McCarthy's stunning gaffe last week -- in which he let the truth slip out that the Select Committee on Benghazi really was about trying to hurt Hillary Clinton -- despite that, up until noon Thursday, he was expected to win the Republican caucus nomination to be Speaker of the House.

At 8:00 am on Thursday, he made his case before the Republican caucus meeting, as did the other two candidates.   Then four hours later, he stunned everyone by announcing that he was withdrawing his name from consideration.   What happened in those four hours?

His public rhetoric is simply that his primary concern is for the institution of the House, and that, with all the problems they have, they need a new face in the leadership.   He also said that he didn't want to put everyone through a difficult vote.

I think we can translate that into McCarthy finding out, between 8 and 12, that he didn't have the 218 votes necessary to get the nomination.   The fact is, however, that no one else can get that many either.   Now what?   Who?   

The obvious, good choice is Paul Ryan;  and he's already said No.    He has presidential ambitions, and no one is going to come out of being Speaker of this House at this time, with this amount of division and difficult decisions that must be made -- without making too many enemies to have a future beyond being Speaker.   But they're still working on him.   

The question is whether anyone can unite them and form a cohesive caucus?    Or is this another way-station on the way to a breakdown and party split?   And what implications does this have for the presidential primary race?

The most sensible idea would be to choose an interim Speaker to get through this term -- and try again later.   Newt Gingrich told Sean Hannity that, if they came to him with pledges of the 218 necessary votes, he would do it.   It could happen:  you don't have to be a member of the House to be Speaker.   

Let's hope that doesn't happen.  I don't think I could stand Newt -- and Callista's oh-so-perfect hair -- being thrown in our faces again, day after day.

An ideal solution would be for the moderate Republicans to form a coalition with the Democrats, and just let the 40-odd crazies stew in their own do-nothing juice.    But that certainly isn't going to happen.   It's too ideal.   Government could actually work.

Democratic Rep. Alan Grayson (FL) told Chris Hayes last night on MSNBC that there are a number of good bills (immigration reform among them) that would easily pass the House if the Republicans used "regular order" procedure and stopped following "the Hastert Rule," which says that no bill is to be brought to the floor for vote unless a majority of Republicans are for it.    In other words, they don't want to pass any bill that requires Democratic votes to help it pass.    They refuse to do any bipartisan cooperation to get something good done -- except on the few occasions when Speaker John Boehner has done exactly that:  made an exception and not followed the Hastert Rule.

It could happen, and it could work.

Stay tuned . . .  but don't hold your breath.


Thursday, October 8, 2015

Alabama determined to keep blacks from voting . . . . Or not?

Alabama has a strict voter ID law, requiring an official photo ID such as a drivers license.  Once they had that law in effect, their next step was to declare a budget crisis that required them to shut down the drivers license offices in 8 of the 10 counties with the largest percentage of African-American voters.

Is the message clear now?    Do they need to resurrect the Klan to burn a cross to tell black folks they are not welcome at the polls?


That is what I wrote a couple of days ago.  Then I saw the Alabama Secretary of State interviewed on MSNBC who impressively had a different story.   The decision about which drivers license offices to shut was based on infrequency of use:   for example, one county had issued only about 12 licenses in a year;  another was only open two days a month.  It's true that most of the ones they're shutting have a high percentage of black people;  but the deciding factor was not race but that they are sparsely populated rural counties where car ownership and need for drivers licenses are low.

But the most convincing factor he mentioned was this:   Each county has another office that is open on a daily basis where acceptable photo IDs can be obtained free of charge -- without the long waits often encountered at drivers license offices.  In addition, they have a mobile unit that will tour the state, well publicized in advance, where IDs can be obtained.   And he sounded open and sincere in assuring that they are being very proactive to provide IDs and make it even easier, rather than harder, to get the photo IDs.

Rather than scrapping this story, I decided to present both sides, because I am aware that we liberals often do our own version of selecting facts and out-of-context quotes that don't tell the whole story.    So mea culpa.


Where the presidential primaries stand:

Republicans:    The race is still a chaotic mess;   but it does seem to be sorting itself into three groups.   These latest poll numbers are based on an average of eight polls taken between 9.17 and 10/1.

   1.  The winner will probably emerge from these top six:   Trump  (22.8%), Carson (17.3%), Fiorino (11.0%), Rubio (9.5%), Bush (8.3%), Cruz (6.1%).

   2.  Not impossible to emerge if he hits a home run in the next debate, but that's unlikely:  Kasich (3.1%), Huckabee (2.8%), Christie (2.6%), Paul (2.4%).

   3.  Not a chance:   Jindal, Santarum, Graham, Pataki, and Gilmore, each polling less than 1%.

The most recent poll of those averaged was done by IBD/TIPP, which has an enviable record of accuracy in recent presidential elections.   Therefore, it's finding may be significant:   Carson (24%) pulling ahead of Trump (17%), with Rubio only 6 points behind at 17%.  This may be what prompted Trump to say that, if his polls numbers slip and show he can't win, he will get out.   He likes to cut his losses and said:  "Why would I stay around if I'm losing?"   Some think, as I do, that this may be Trump beginning to pave his exit road.  My guess is that it would then turn into a horse race between Carson and Rubio -- unless the next debate brings a real surprise.
*   *   *

Democrats:   The story so far has been Bernie Sanders exciting voters and Clinton disappointing voters, although she still has a comfortable lead.   If Biden gets in, he presents a clear threat, and it becomes a three way race.

Real Clear Politics' average of nine polls, taken between 9/17 and 10/4, gives Clinton 41.6%, Sanders 25.2%, Biden 18.9%, and Webb, O'Malley, and Chafee each less than 1%.   However, the latest Public Policy Polling, taken between 10/1 and 10/4, without BidenClinton 51% to Sanders 28%.

Just this week, Clinton has -- according to her plan from the beginning -- started the more active phase of her campaign.   She's been speaking forcefully and taking positions on important issues, giving interviews, and doing a hilarious, self-mocking skit on Saturday Night Live, which humanized her and showed her comic side.  She even did a credible, mocking impersonation of Donald Trump.  

It will be much more interesting to see polls taken after the first Democratic debate on October 13th.  This will also reflect a couple of weeks of Clinton's more active campaigning.


Wednesday, October 7, 2015

A new weapon to fight anti-abortion legislation

Ohio state Sen. Nina Turner (D) has introduced a bill that would require men seeking a prescription for erectile dysfunction medication to (1) see a sex therapist, (2) have a cardiac stress test, (3) present a notarized affidavit from a sex partner stating that he has a problem with impotence, and (4) listen to counseling about celibacy as a viable alternate lifestyle.

Two more legislators in other states have been considering similar bills.   I still like the one that was talked about several years ago that would require a man seeking Viagra to undergo an ultrasound rectal exam to examine his prostate gland.   Remember that law (I believe it's North Carolina) that requires a woman seeking an abortion to undergo a vaginal ultrasound exam?

It's changed for some under Obamacare, but it used to be true that medication insurance covered Viagra but not birth control.   Men make the laws.


Apply abortion rules to gun buyers ?

This has been making the rounds on the internet, apparently, but I just saw it.   It's too good not to re-post.   Sorry I don't know who is the original author, but kudos to . . . whomever,

"How about we treat every young man who wants to buy a gun like every woman who wants to get an abortion — mandatory 48-hr waiting period, parental permission, a note from his doctor proving he understands what he's about to do, a video he has to watch about the effects of gun violence, an ultrasound wand up the ass (just because). Let's close down all but one gun shop in every state and make him travel hundreds of miles, take time off work, and stay overnight in a strange town to get a gun. Make him walk through a gauntlet of people holding photos of loved ones who were shot to death, people who call him a murderer and beg him not to buy a gun.

"It makes more sense to do this with young men and guns than with women and health care, right? I mean, no woman getting an abortion has killed a room full of people in seconds, right?"

Congressman regrets legislation that stopped research on gun violence 20 years ago

Reported by Sam Stein, political editor, Huffington Post 

Former congressman Jay Dickey (R-Arkansas) says he regrets legislation that he sponsored 20 years ago that has restricted federal funding for research into gun violence.  When the original bill to shut down the CDC's National Center for Injury Prevention failed, Dickey then introduced an alternate that prohibited agency funds being "used to advocate or promote gun control.”  It passed and has been the law for 20 years now.

Even though it didn't specifically ban research, it has been interpreted as such by later politicians who wanted to do the NRA's bidding -- and by the CDC out of fear that such research would jeopardize any of their research on injury prevention.

Dickey says he didn't intend to stop research, just to stop what seemed politically motivated advocacy.   He now thinks:  "If we had somehow gotten the research going, we could have somehow found a solution to the gun violence without there being any restrictions on the Second Amendment."

congressional Republicans.  In 2011 they further extended the restrictions to include the entire National Institutes of Health, claiming that "a gun is not a disease."

Since the 2012 Newtown school shooting that killed 20 kids and 6 staff, President Obama has instructed federal agencies to interpret the Dicky amendment literally -- as a restriction on funds for advocacy, not on funds for research.

Let's see what happens now following the Oregon shooting -- and with Obama's greater freedom to act boldly, since he no longer has to worry about getting re-elected.   He has said he will use the full extent of his executive powers, and it sounds like he may have some in this.


Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Michael Moore on mass shootings and guns

Michael Moore's award winning film about the 1999 Columbine High School mass shooting established him as our social conscience on guns, health care, and a number of other topics.   So it was natural for people to turn to him for a comment on the latest mass shooting in Isla Vista, California.   That was in May of 2014.  Here's what he wrote at that time.

With due respect to those who are asking me to comment on last night's tragic mass shooting at UCSB in Isla Vista, CA -- I no longer have anything to say about what is now part of normal American life. Everything I have to say about this, I said it 12 years ago:

We are a people easily manipulated by fear which causes us to arm ourselves with a quarter BILLION guns in our homes that are often easily accessible to young people, burglars, the mentally ill and anyone who momentarily snaps. We are a nation founded in violence, grew our borders through violence, and allow men in power to use violence around the world to further our so-called American (corporate) "interests." The gun, not the eagle, is our true national symbol.

While other countries have more violent pasts (Germany, Japan), more guns per capita in their homes (Canada [mostly hunting guns), and the kids in most other countries watch the same violent movies and play the same violent video games that our kids play, no one even comes close to killing as many of its own citizens on a daily basis as we do -- and yet we don't seem to want to ask ourselves this simple question: "Why us? What is it about US?"

Nearly all of our mass shootings are by angry or disturbed white males. None of them are committed by the majority gender, women. Hmmm, why is that? 

Even when 90% of the American public calls for stronger gun laws, Congress refuses -- and then we the people refuse to remove them from office.

So the onus is on us, all of us. We won't pass the necessary laws, but more importantly we won't consider why this happens here all the time. When the NRA says, "Guns don't kill people -- people kill people," they've got it half-right. Except I would amend it to this: "Guns don't kill people -- Americans kill people." Enjoy the rest of your day, and rest assured this will all happen again very soon.         Michael Moore

And, of course, it did happen again and again.  Since Moore wrote that, nearly 18 months ago, there have been at least 100 more shootings in schools alone, in addition to movie theaters, shopping malls, churches.   Isn't it . . . at long, long last . . . time to address the problem?   It isn't just "stuff" that happens, Jeb, when a young, white, American man with multiple guns and a grievance pulls the trigger, again . . . and again . . . and again . . . 

Australia showed us how to do it.    When they had a mass shooting, they passed effective laws.   And they haven't had a mass shooting since.


Jeb offends mightily

The Oregon school shooting -- the 47th so far in 2015 -- was tragic and heartbreaking.   President Obama rightly called for congress finally to pass "common sense gun laws."

But Jeb Bush dismissed the idea, saying "stuff happens," and we shouldn't rush out to pass laws every time something bad happens.  How disgustingly insensitive to those who died and to their families.   Is that the empathy we want in a president?


10 facts that bug conservatives

Compiled by Richard Riis, reprinted on Daily Kos.   These claims have been documented in much greater detail, which I have edited to shorten the post. 

1. The United States is not a Christian nation, and the Bible is not the cornerstone of our law.  John Adams: “The government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion.”  Thomas Jefferson: “Christianity neither is, nor ever was, a part of the common law.”  James Madison: “The civil government … functions with complete success … by the total separation of the Church from the State.”

2. The Pledge of Allegiance was written by a socialistThe Pledge was written in 1892 [by a] Christian socialist, [a movement that maintains] that capitalism is idolatrous and rooted in greed, and the underlying cause of much of the world’s social inequity.

3. The first president to propose national health insurance was a RepublicanTheodore Roosevelt, during his unsuccessful Progressive Party campaign to retake the White House in 1912.

4. Ronald Reagan once signed a bill legalizing abortionIn 1967 he signed a bill that [included] legalized abortion for the vaguely-defined “well being” of the mother.  He was willing to compromise in order to achieve other ends he considered more important. That he claimed later to regret signing the bill doesn’t change the fact that he did.

5. Reagan raised federal taxes eleven timesOverall, Ronald Reagan cut tax rates more than any other president, [but]  he realized the resulting national debt from his revenue slashing was untenable, so he quietly raised other taxes on income – primarily Social Security and payroll taxes - no less than eleven times. Most of Reagan’s highly publicized tax cuts went to the top income brackets, while his stealth tax increases had their biggest impact on the middle class.

6. Roe v. Wade was a bipartisan ruling made by a predominantly Republican-appointed Supreme CourtThe landmark 1973 ruling was decided on a 7-2 vote that broke down like this, according to ideology:  2 conservatives, 3 liberals, 2 moderates.  By the political party of the president who appointed them, it was: Republicans 5, Democrats 2.   No one can rightly say that this was a leftist court forcing its liberal beliefs on America.

7. The Federal Reserve System was a Republican inventionThe Federal Reserve System was the brainchild of financial expert and Senate Republican leader Nelson Aldrich, whose ideas were influenced by a European banking system.

8. The Environmental Protection Agency was also created by a RepublicanThe EPA was created by President Richard Nixon.   He was also an advocate of national health insurance, but didn't get it enacted.

9. Obama has increased government spending less than any president in at least a generationGovernment spending, when adjusted for inflation, has increased during his administration (to date) by 1.4%.  Under George W. Bush, the increases were 7.3% (first term) and 8.1% (second term), while Ronald Reagan added 8.7% and 4.9% in his two terms.  The evidence shows that Republican administrations consistently increased government spending significantly more than any Democratic administration.

10. President Obama was not only born in the United States, his roots run deeper in American history than most people know.  On his mother’s side, he has at least 11 direct ancestors who fought for American independence in the Revolutionary War [and yet] 56% of Republicans still believe he is a foreigner.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Pope Francis' complex position on same-sex relationships

In the wake of the big flap about Pope Francis' secret meeting with Kim Davis and what that means, the pope opened the convocation of 300 bishops on the family and the modern world by reminding the delegates that the Catholic Church is opposed to gay marriage -- but he added that the Church had to show love and understanding towards all.

Kim Davis and her lawyer had claimed that her meeting with the pope indicated his support of "what we are doing."   But on  Friday the Vatican released a statement saying that Pope Francis' meeting with Davis was not to be understood as his supporting all the particulars of her sitution, not did it constitute an "audience."  Rather, it was simply one of dozens of meetings he had with individuals.   In fact, it said, he had had only one "audience," and that was with "a former student and his family."

Well, according to Chris Hayes on "All In" Friday night, that "former student and his family" was in fact a gay man and his partner, seen in a film clip with Francis warmly embracing them as old friends.


Bill Clinton to the rescue

I personally think it is a measure of concern from the Hillary Clinton campaign that they are bringing out the Big Guy himself this early to save the day.   Maybe it's necessary, because what they've been doing has not been enough to stop the slide in her favorable/unfavorable ratings, which are under water at 41.0% favorable to 53.8% unfavorable.

So Bill Clinton spoke to CNN's Erin Burnett on Tuesday, and responded to Donald Trump's claim that Hillary Clinton was "perhaps the worst secretary of state in history."   Here is his response, according to an Associated Press report:

WASHINGTON (AP) — Former President Bill Clinton said Tuesday that Donald Trump's attacks on his wife, Hillary, are "fact-free" and that presidential candidates "shouldn't be able to insult (their) way to the White House."

Clinton was asked by CNN's Erin Burnett about Trump's claims that Hillary Rodham Clinton, the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, was "perhaps the worst secretary of state in history.
The former president responded by praising his wife's work on Iran, nuclear proliferation and AIDS prevention and said that if Trump wins the Republican presidential nomination, "he'll have to sort of hone his criticisms a little more finely because the facts will be easy to marshal."

Clinton said he thought Trump and some of the other GOP candidates "believe that authenticity is created by making your campaign look as much like a reality TV show as possible."

He added: "As the field winnows down, I hope it will be more, get more serious. 'Cause the American people deserve some sense of what the heck you're going to do if you actually get the job. Because the day after you take the oath of office . . . you're not in an episode of 'Survivor.' You're actually supposed to show up and run the show."

Clinton was also asked about the ongoing investigations into Hillary Clinton's email use during her time in the Obama administration. "That'll play out however it does," he responded. "But she's the only secretary of state in history that ever said, 'Just release them all, all my work-related emails.' And so far, as I said, you get the record out, I think she looks great."
Bill Clinton is still the best political spokesman in my lifetime.   Hillary is lucky to have his unparalleled political and public relations skills in her corner.    The problem is that the more she needs his help, the more her image is overshadowed by his.


Sunday, October 4, 2015

Study challenges claim that welfare assistance creates dependency

[Note added 12-17-15:   Somehow this post from two months ago has been picked up by social media or some mass distribution.   I am getting hundreds and hundreds of comments in response;  99% of them are generic responses that have nothing to do with the specific content of this blog but are obvious attempts to get me to visit their own blogs to build volume, or are advertising something they promote.

Unfortunately, because of the volume of comments flooding in, I cannot respond to those rare genuine comments and have had to mark all responses to this blog as "spam."  My apologies to people who have asked my advice on blog design or some tech question.   To those who are simply soliciting responses to build up your own volume, please do not waste your time or mine.  I will not respond to mass, generic comments.]
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The original post was written by Walter Einenkel for Huffington Post:

This past March a study was released by two sociologists, both of whom analyzed survey responses from 19,000 people through 18 European countries.

Sociologists Dr Kjetil van der Wel and Dr Knut Halvorsen examined responses to the statement 'I would enjoy having a paid job even if I did not need the money' put to the interviewees for the European Social Survey in 2010.
Their findings—while may be surprising to some—are not surprising around these parts:

The researchers, of Oslo and Akershus University College, Norway, found that the more a country paid to the unemployed or sick, and invested in employment schemes, the more likely its people were to agree with the statement, whether employed or not. They found that almost 80% of people in Norway, which pays the highest benefits of the 18 countries, agreed with the statement. By contrast in Estonia, one of least generous, only around 40% did.

They also found that the more a country involved itself in the labor market (see regulations) the more likely the people of that country would want to work even if they did not need to work out of financial necessity.

"This article concludes that there are few signs that groups with traditionally weaker bonds to the labour market are less motivated to work if they live in generous and activating welfare states. "The notion that big welfare states are associated with widespread cultures of dependency, or other adverse consequences of poor short term incentives to work, receives little support.

"On the contrary, employment commitment was much higher in all the studied groups in bigger welfare states. Hence, this study's findings support the welfare resources perspective over the welfare scepticism perspective."

For every mythologized "welfare queen," there are millions of people who just need a little help.