Saturday, October 24, 2015

Irony of the week

There has been an exponential growth of small commercial and recreational drones flying all over our airspaces.   Recognizing that this needs some regulation before someone gets hurt, the government is working on a plan to register and regulate these pet drones -- even though there have not yet been reported deaths.

Thus it is a bit ironic that we can, without great outcry or outrage, impose sensible regulation of drones -- but can't pass sensible laws to regulate guns, which are actually used in over 30,000 human deaths a year in the U.S. 


House Speaker-in-Waiting Paul Ryan has the support he asked for -- at least for now.

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) sought and got the support of (as Daily Kos put it) "the GOP right, the far right, and the OMG far right."    His support among Republicans is wide-spread, even though he didn't get unanimous support in the OMG right, just two-thirds.

Still, this indicates some promise of at least trying to unite and cooperate among themselves.   What remains to be seen is how this works out in practice.   The OMG right -- meaning the Freedom Caucus, aka Tea Party affiliated ultraconservatives -- will have to learn to accept less than the 100% their way that they have been demanding.

So, I would say this is a promising development. . . . and we'll see how it works out.

Paul Ryan and Democrat Patty Murray did work out a bipartisan budget deal last year;   but Ryan is a "cut taxes/don't spend" kind of Republican.    The difference is that he is at least open to compromise.


Friday, October 23, 2015

Republicans attempt to take down Hillary Clinton. . . . . She won.

A quote from Kurt Eichenwald's Newsweek article about the Benghazi hearings with Hillary Clinton testifying on Wednesday:

"The historical significance of this moment can hardly be overstated, and it seems many Republicans, Democrats and members of the media don’t fully understand the magnitude of what is taking place. The awesome power of government—one that allows officials to pore through almost anything they demand and compel anyone to talk or suffer the shame of taking the Fifth Amendment—has been unleashed for purely political purposes. It is impossible to review what the Benghazi committee has done as anything other than taxpayer-funded political research of the opposing party’s leading candidate for president."

From watching about 6 hours of the testimony myself, I agree.   Hillary was the clear winner.  After 11 hours of testimony, even Chairman Trey Gowdy admitted that they had not come up with anything new.


Could-be good news #7 . . . if only our politicians would expand Medicaid in Georgia

Georgia's Republican governor and legislature remain adamant that they will not expand Medicaid because, they say, we can't afford it -- even though the federal government would have paid 100% of the cost for three years and more than 90% of it thereafter.   But here are the facts:

1.  300,000 more Georgians would have health care.
2.  $33 billion dollars would flow into the state.  At present, our federal tax dollars go to help pay for it in other states.
3.  80,000 new jobs would be created in the next decade.
4.  The state would be relieved of paying for mental health treatment that would be covered by these patients' individual Medicaid insurance.
5.  Rural hospitals would not have to close because of huge costs of treating indigent patients who would now be covered by Medicaid.

So a "good news" story has to remain "could be."   Shame on Georgia's Republicans.


A very sobering view of the Democratic Party -- beyond the White House

Making the point that "Democrats have been obliterated at the state level," Matthew Yglesias, writing for Vox, says:  "The Democratic Party is in much greater peril than its leaders or supporters recognize, and it has no plan to save itself."

Referring to the thousands of critically important offices all down the ballot, Yglesias points out that "70 percent of state legislatures, more than 60 percent of governors, 55 percent of attorneys general and secretaries of stateare in Republicans handsAnd, of course, Republicans control both chambers of Congress."
These are rather dismal indicators that the Democratic Party is in serious trouble and seems to have "nothing at all in the works to redress their crippling weakness down the ballot. . . .  Instead, the party is focused on a competition between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton over whether they should go a little bit to Obama's left or a lot to his left, options that are unlikely to help Democrats down-ballot. . . .   The GOP might be in chaos, but Democrats are in a torpor. . . . 

"Elections for state legislature rarely make the national news, but they are the fundamental building blocks of American politics. Since they run the redistricting process for the US House of Representatives and for themselves, they are where the greatest level of electoral entrenchment is possible.

"And in the wake of the 2014 midterms, Republicans have overwhelming dominance of America's state legislatures. . . .

"Winning a presidential election would give Republicans the overwhelming preponderance of political power in the United States — a level of dominance not achieved since the Democrats during the Great Depression, but with a much more ideologically coherent coalition. Nothing lasts forever in American politics, but a hyper-empowered conservative movement would have a significant ability to entrench its position by passing a national right-to-work law and further altering campaign finance rules beyond the Citizens United status quo."
*     *     *

And I would add the worst outcome of all:   Having a Republican president appoint the next three or more Supreme Court Justices.

I'm sure someone could write a rebuttal to this pessimistic view -- but we should recognize the truth and listen to this wake-up call.   The Democrats have become a top-down party, while the Republicans have rebuilt themselves as a bottom-up party.


Thursday, October 22, 2015

Norway is leading the conversion to electric cars.

Norway is exceeding its own expectations in converting to electric cars and is well ahead of every other country in converting fossil fuel energy to electricity.   Norway's goal had been 50,000 electric cars by the end of 2017.   Instead, they already up to 66,000 by the end of September 2015.

That may not sound like a lot of cars by U.S. standards, but Norway's population is just over 5 million.  The U.S. equivalent would be 3.8 million electric cars.    That's a lot of Leafs, folks !

How are they doing it?   First, they are not bogged down by climate-denying politicians bought off by oil industry lobbyists.   As Lars Andreas Lunde, a Conservative Party politician, put it: “It has to be more expensive to pollute than to use environmentally friendly fuels.”   Can you believe this came from a conservative politician ?!?!? 

Norway is one of those democratic socialist countries that Bernie Sanders wants to emulate.  Their political climate is vastly different from ours:  less influenced by money and corporate lobbyists.  In fact, Norway is the 7th biggest oil exporter in the world;  but their system of government doesn't make politicians depend on corporate money to win elections.  They put people first.

So the government provides incentives to buy electric cars by making them exempt from the high sales tax and registration taxes imposed on other vehicles that can amount to more than ten thousand dollars.

The other big factor comes from Norway's natural environment.   The electricity for recharging the batteries in electric cars has to come from somewhere.  If you have to use fossil fuels to generate the electricity, you're still polluting to reduce your pollution.  

Not so in Norway, which is blessed with fast moving rivers all over, so that 95% of the energy to run these electric cars originates in hydroelectric plants that convert moving or falling water into electricity with virtually no pollution.

An additional advantage: Electric cars are more efficient.  They transfer 60% of their energy to the cars' wheels, while gasoline motors waste much of their energy in the form of heat, transferring only 20% to power the car.

OK, next Republican debate moderator.  There are a couple of good questions here to ask of the climate deniers in the next debate.

[Information source:  articles from the Huffington Post and the New York Times.]

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Paul Ryan will be Speaker -- but only if his party will unite behind him

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) told his Republican colleagues in the House that he is willing to be Speaker but only on the condition that he gets support from all wings of the party and that they unite behind him.   Otherwise, he is happy to remain as chair of the House Ways and Means Committee.

The conditions that he stipulated are that the Republicans stop being "an opposition party [and] update House rules so everyone can be a more effective representative. . . . We have become the problem.  If my colleagues entrust me to be the speaker, I want us to be the solution."


Jeb explains: his brother is not responsible for 9/11 -- but Hillary is responsible for Benghazi

That is exactly the question that Jake Tapper confronted Jeb Bush with Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union."  Jeb tried to extricate himself from the contradiction, but he wasn't convincing.

Jeb has been saying it over and over . . . and he should never have brought it up in that second debate.   He, rather stupidly, thought he had scored a coup when he triumphantly countered a taunt from Donald Trump by saying: "There's one thing I know for sure about my brother:   he kept us safe."

The backlash, and it hasn't stopped since, is:  'Yes, but 9/11 happened on your brother's watch.'  To which Jeb lamely responds that "it's what you do after an attack that matters and shows leadership. . . .  He united the country and kept us safe after 9/11."

Jake Tapper took the ball and scored:  "How do you respond to critics who ask:  If your brother and his administration bear no responsibility at all [for 9/11] . . .   How do you then make the jump that President Obama and Secretary Clinton are responsible for what happened at Benghazi?"

Here Jeb got a little convoluted, talking about the question of security and whether the State Department responded to warnings of possible terrorist action and that the State Department had a duty to ensure proper security at its consulates, including Benghazi.

Careful, Jeb.  Because that begs bringing up these established facts:

(1)  President Bush's national security briefing on August 6, 2001 warned that Bin Laden was determined to strike in the U.S.;  and Condi Rice had been told by departing Clinton officials that bin Laden and al Qaeda were the primary terrorist sources of worry.  There is no evidence that they took it seriously.  In fact, Bush's Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz told the NSA's counterterrorism expert [before 9/11] that he didn't understand why there was so much focus on bin Laden since "Iraqi terrorism" posed just as much of a threat.

(2) As to beefing up security at Benghazi, it was Congress, not the State Department, that slashed spending on diplomatic security for U.S. embassies.  In addition, there have already been seven official investigations of what happened in Benghazi, and none has found any evidence to blame the State Department or Hillary Clinton.   And it's clear that #8, the current Select Committee, is designed to try to hurt her politically.

As Peter Beinart wrote in The Atlantic, "There’s no way of knowing for sure if Bush could have stopped the September 11 attacks. But that’s not the right question. The right question is: Did [George] Bush do everything he could reasonably have to stop them, given what he knew at the time? And he didn’t.  It's not even close."   There is no evidence of heightened security or surveillance -- or any increased focus on bin Laden.   They were too intent on finding (or fixing) reason to invade Iraq and get rid of Saddaam.

Jeb -- what you thought was an ace up your sleeve has backfired;   your attempts to fix it have just made it all look worse.   There is plenty to throw back at you about your brother and keeping the country safe (what about all our military people who died needlessly in the Dubya-Cheney war in Iraq?    That cat is long gone out of the bag -- and Donald Trump isn't going to let you forget it, not that he knows your vulnerability on the subject.    Nor will the real journalists.    


Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Don't do it, Joe

Joe Biden's decision as to whether to enter the Democratic presidential primary is expected within the next two days.    My feeling all along is that, as of now, his legacy will be that of everybody's favorite uncle.    But, if he runs and loses, he will be remembered as the guy who lost a presidential bid three times.

And Hillary Clinton's performance in the debate proves that she would be very hard to beat -- unless there is another shoe to drop in the Benghazi or email controversies.

Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC) has the best advice for Biden, as reported by Howard Fineman.  Rather than entering the race now, Biden should instead say that he is "available if circumstances warrant it" -- meaning that if Hillary implodes.   Clyburn added that she has the best chance to win the White House in 2016.

The significance of this message from Clyburn is huge.   Biden's chances, at this late date, of winning either of the first two primaries (Iowa and New Hampshire) are nil.   So he would depend on winning South Carolina and doing extremely well throughout the south, which means the African-American vote.

James Clyburn is not only #3 in the House Democratic leadership team, he is an African-American from South Carolina -- and arguably the go-to man to win the South Carolina primary.

 Clyburn says he hasn't spoken with Biden about this -- so presumably this is a warning, not a trial balloon from the Biden camp.

I hope Biden listens.    This is good advice from a man who knows.


Monday, October 19, 2015

Quote of the week from a pundit

Charles Krauthammer, Fox News commentator and conservative columnist, referring to all the hand-wringing about Hillary Clinton's declining poll numbers (this was before the debate):

"It doesn't matter that her lead has shrunk from 50 points to 20.  Twenty points is a landslide."

Good News #6: U. S budget deficit at an 8 year low

Republican politicians' talk about the budget deficit as one of the biggest problems we face.   They rant against the "tax and spend" Democrats as the cause of the problem.   Neither is true.

Listen to the facts:
1.  The huge expansion in the deficit came during the George W. Bush administration, because he gave a huge tax cut, mostly to the wealthy, and he started two war without even pretending to try to pay for either.   Rather than even asking Congress to raise taxes, as we should in wartime,  he increased our deficit and our national debt.    And then the 2008 financial meltdown came during Bush's term, with the resulting huge expansion of deficit in 2009.

2.  Since Barack Obama has been president, the deficit has shrunk by $1 trillion dollars.   As a percentage of our economy, it is now almost 10% less than when he took office.

3.  Because of repeated distortions and lies from the Republicans, a 2014 Bloomberg Politics poll found that 73% of the public believes the deficit has gotten bigger during Obama's administration.

Yes, we still have a deficit -- but look at that chart above.   The red lines represent Bush budget results, the blue ones Obama's.   Why turn it back over to the ones who caused the trouble to start with?

The good news is that what Obama has done is working.    It would have been even better if the conservative congress had allowed more progressive principles to be used -- larger government spending on things like infrastructure, creating jobs, and education -- rather than austerity spending cuts.


Latest deficit news:   The above chart's figure for fiscal year 2015 was based on estimates.   Since the chart was made, FY 2015 has been completed as of Sept. 30th, and the deficit was even lower than estimated:   $439 billion, down from $483 in FY 2014.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

First post-debate poll

Here are some results from the first post-debate poll released by HuffPost/YouGov, based on 1000 respondents of Democrats and Democratic-leaning Independents (DLI) queried on Oct 14-15.   Of those, 67% had either watched at least part of the debate or watched clips and analysis later on news shows.

1.  As to who won the debate, Democratic voters gave it to Clinton 55% over Sanders 22%, while the DLIs said the winner was Clinton 35% and Sanders 26%.

2.  Preference for Clinton as the party nominee among registered Democrats (note this did not include Independents) rose from 44% to 52% following the debate.   This came mostly from a decrease in the number of undecideds, suggesting she quelled the doubts some had had about her.

Looking at the details brings out some interesting findings.

3. How were opinions of candidates changed by the debate?
Questions asked whether their opinion of each candidate had improved (+) or declined (-) after the debate.   Democrats' responses:

Clinton         +50%     -12%     net   +38%
Sanders       +44%     -   5%      net  +39%
O'Malley      +21%     -   9%      net   +12%
Webb           +  6%      -25%      net   - 19%
Chafee         +  6%      -25%      net   - 19%

Those figures include both Democrats and Independents.   Looking at D-L Independent opinions alone:   Clinton's net change goes from  +38% to -14% while Sanders went from +39% to +4%.

So it sounds like much of the DLI vote is for Sanders or at least for someone other than Clinton.   That's important.   She needs to win them over.

4.  Men vs Women Support for Clinton:  The other interesting -- and, to me, puzzling -- finding was that in this poll Hillary Clinton had significantly stronger support among men than among women -- especially among Independents. 

55% of men -- and 44% of women -- prefer Clinton to be the nominee.  Of the Dem-leaning Independents, 53% of men and only 29% of women prefer Clinton.

What does this mean?   My guess is that the Dem-leaning Independents are in large part Sanders supporters.  This is borne out by looking at the breakdown of results in the question of who would you choose as the nominee: 

All respondents:   Clinton 49%, Someone else 35%, Not sure 16%.
Dem-leaning IndendentsClinton 29%, Someone else 48%, Not sure 23%.  

Conclusions:  Both Clinton and Sanders had a great night, with Clinton standing out as the more experienced debater and more broadly knowledgeable about the issues.   Sanders introduced himself, his policy ideas, and his passion to a much wider audience and wound up with a boost in favorable opinions about him.   The poll supports the idea that his biggest problem remains fear that he can't win.

As I interpret this poll, preferring Clinton or Sanders as the nominee does not mean that the respondent would not vote for the other one once nominated.   It does not necessarily mean they would vote Republican, but they might be less likely to vote.

Within the narrow field of progressive Democrats, Clinton and Sanders bring surprisingly significant policy differences that are worth discussing.   If subsequent debates remain on this high level of civil discourse, we can have an educational discussion of real issues.

As to the other three debaters:   O'Malley got better known, but his performance can't be called a breakthrough;  so the question remains why he's needed in the race.   As for Webb and Chafee, thanks for your interest and goodbye.

And, as I keep reminding myself and us all:   There's still time for someone to get pregnant and have a baby before this election next November -- totally unrelated, of course, but a vivid way of emphasizing how long off it is.

My other reminder ad nauseum:  Do you want a Republican to appoint the next three SCOTUS justices?    Worry less about which one and concentrate on electing the Democrat who can win the general election.