Posts from — March 2012
I was not surprised to hear Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia (photo above, left) compare the individual mandate in the health care reform law to forcing Americans to buy broccoli. Disgusted yes, but surprised no. And I was not shocked to find out he did not know the so-called Cornhusker Kickback was no longer included in the law he was ruling on. I know Scalia is an ignoramus.
A lazy ignoramus. Consider this pronouncement on the case:
Mr. Kneedler, what happened to the Eighth Amendment? You really want us to go through these 2,700 pages?
And do you really expect the Court to do that? Or do you expect us to — to give this function to our law clerks?
Is this not totally unrealistic? That we are going to go through this enormous bill item by item and decide each one?
(The 8th amendment is the constitutional prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. )
It is illuminating to see Scalia described in Wikipedia as “the intellectual anchor of the Court’s conservative wing.”
How could this man be called “intellectual”?
The fact that Ronald Reagan appointed him to the nation’s highest court is not just an indictment of the American political system, it is an indictment of American education. Scalia is a product of Georgetown University, which is widely regarded as an illustrious institution. But he is a devout Roman Catholic and apparently judges every issue through that prism.
To me, this man is brainwashed, not educated. Education is supposed to produce an open mind.
The court is also home to the infamous Clarence Thomas (photo above, right), who will go down in history for alleged remarks about finding pubic hair on his can of Coke. Does anyone care that his wife is a lobbyist who opposes the health care reform law? I guess not. Nobody seems to care about the myriad other conflicts of interest that dishonor his tenure.
You might think the members of the nation’s highest court should be above reproach. But you know they are not.
You know how this court will vote before a single word is uttered. The decision will be based on politics – not the law.
Of course, the politics is complicated this time. The court might hesitate to show its partisan teeth in an election year. There might be a backlash at the polls. And there’s the justices’ “credibility” to consider. If the conservatives vote to trash the law and the liberals vote to retain it, even the most credulous observer might smell a rat. On the other hand, wouldn’t it be a triumph for conservatives if “Obamacare” were ruled unconstitutional!
I predict that these are the “issues” the justices will take into consideration, not constitutional law or precedent. I expect that their arguments will just be rationalizations of a political point of view.
It might be impossible to predict the outcome. But the process was never in doubt.
March 30, 2012 1 Comment
Charles and David Koch (left to right, above) are rich, powerful men who are using their money and power to change America. They seem to represent some dark spirit, some evil force intent on reversing centuries of civilization and reinstating the law of the jungle. While they are often described as Libertarian, they seem determined to deny the rest of us the freedom to pursue our lives in peace.
It is this sinister duo that is making Florida’s ”Stand Your Ground Law” the template for Wild West legislation around the country.
Media Matters reports that after teaming with the NRA to get Florida’s deadly law enacted in April 2005, the Kochs’ American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has been promoting the law as a model for other states through their nationwide network of conservative legislators.
It is just one of many oppressive legislative templates being circulated by the Kochs. Others include harsh immigration laws, intrusive anti-choice laws and radical union busting laws.
This powerful pair have also provided much of the funds for the crusade against health care reform and for other Tea Party activities that are wreaking havoc in American politics.
The two brothers inherited Koch Industries, a Wichita, Kansas-based company from their father Fred. The $100 billion-dollar-a-year company’s subsidiaries include Georgia Pacific and the maker of Lycra and Stainmaster carpets, as well as various oil and coal enterprises. They have used the proceeds from their empire to fund a multitude of conservative propaganda organizations (click on chart above for details).
I can understand their hostility to the government’s environmental laws – not condone it or identify with it but at least understand it. I can even understand why they are virulently anti-union. They want to be free to plunder the earth’s resources and exploit the labor of their fellow-citizens unimpeded by pesky regulations. But that’s just part of the story.
You know, of course, that it is their Stand Your Ground Law that police cited in letting Trayvon Martin’s killer go free. (Martin is the 17-year-old unarmed black youth who died at the hands of a neighborhood-watch guard a month ago.)
So what do the Koch brothers have to gain from such a horror?
And what would they have to gain from shredding the nation’s social safety net, inflicting misery on the old, the sick, impoverished children and other vulnerable Americans?
Appararently nothing. They seem to do this kind of thing out of pure malice.
According to Bloomberg Markets magazine, the billionaire brothers are driven by relentless hostility to any kind of regulation. In an article on the brothers’ “secret sins,” the magazine reports:
A Bloomberg Markets investigation has found that Koch Industries — in addition to being involved in improper payments to win business in Africa, India and the Middle East — has sold millions of dollars of petrochemical equipment to Iran, a country the U.S. identifies as a sponsor of global terrorism.
Internal company documents show that the company made those sales through foreign subsidiaries, thwarting a U.S. trade ban. Koch Industries units have also rigged prices with competitors, lied to regulators and repeatedly run afoul of environmental regulations, resulting in five criminal convictions since 1999 in the U.S. and Canada.
It seems to me as if these men feel above the law, above the government, so much above everyone else that they furiously refuse to be told what to do by anyone.
I see them as the incarnation of Lucifer, possessed by an unholy hubris.
But they are mortal. And they are both in their seventies – in the twilight of their lives. Their sinister influence cannot prevail much longer.
March 29, 2012 1 Comment
I wasn’t behind the closed doors when President Obama made a deal with the health care industry but I think I can guess what happened. Being the reasonable man that he is he probably agreed not to go for a single-payer system if the industry would help work out an arrangement providing affordable health insurance for all Americans.
Naturally, the industry double-crossed the President. They took the deal and then poured billions into an all-out war against it. The resulting confusion helped give birth to the Tea Party and spawned a convoluted health care reform law that is now being judged by the United States Supreme Court.
I don’t know whether the law – or at least the individual mandate on which it is based – is unconstitutional. I would imagine not as states require their residents to buy car insurance and at least one, Massachusetts, mandates the purchase of health insurance. I would think a precedent is well established.
However, this is a conservative court. And it is a radical court. Just look at the justices’ astonishing ruling that deems corporations to be people and allows them to spend unlimited amounts on political advertising. It should surprise nobody if the majority of justices voted to strike down the health care law in an effort to discredit President Obama and give the Republicans a boost in November’s elections.
If they do that, they might be doing Americans a favor.
The way I see it, the President would have been smarter if he had simply expanded the exisiting Medicare-Medicaid laws to include everyone. Of course, the premiums would have to be set a a rate that would sustain the program. But it would provide a defense against the excesses of the for-profit health insurance industry.
It seems strange that the private insurers are so afraid of competition from the government. How many times have we heard that government is by definition incompetent and that private enterprise is far more cost effective? And the government system would bear the extra burden of insuring the least profitable citizens – those with pre-existing conditions, for example.
Surely, those efficient private insurers would be able to compete against the government and still make a healthy profit?
I think that solution – known as a “sngle-payer” system in the political jargon of the day – would be more elegant than the cumbersome legislation now before the Supreme Court. For one thing, enforcing the myriad rules in the existing law will be at least as challenging as herding cats. I think it would be better to let the market decide what’s best but provide a government-run alternative to keep the private insurers honest.
If the existing law – dubbed Obamacare by its opponents- is ruled unconstitutional, the November elections would most likely be fought on that issue. And this time, the President could go for the single-payer alternative.
I can imagine how desperately the health insurers will fight it, and how many billions they will contribute to the Republicans’ campaigns. I can hear the lies now, the sophistry, the “spin.” The slick con artists will be out in force, and the President – in the words of Rudyard Kipling’s poem – “will hear the words he’s spoken twisted by knaves to set a trap for fools.”
But the choice is so clear, the stakes so enormous that I can’t see the American voters being taken in. Not this time.
You know what they say, “fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me.”
March 27, 2012 No Comments
The current crop of Republican presidential candidates has attracted a grotesque following. And instead of renouncing the ugliness, the candidates continue to play to it. I’m sure you know what I mean. As the Republican standard bearer, John McCain had the decency to set a dizzy old woman straight when she suggested Barack Obama was an Arab terrorist. This time around, the Republican candidates seem to thrive on craziness like that.
The crowd reaction on the nomination campaign trail has been shameful. From the cheering when the death penalty was mentioned to the booing of a gay soldier who asked a question to suggesting that uninsured people should be allowed to die if they can’t afford hospital treatment.
And the beat goes on. Last week, while candidate Rick Santorum was showing off his marksmanship skill, some woman yelled, “Pretend it’s Obama!” The crowd giggled its approval.
So I find it ironic when candidates of this ilk accuse President Obama of being “divisive” in pointing out he can identify with the parents of a black teenager who was shot to death while walking to his father’s home in a Florida subdivision.
The president made a personal plea for Americans to come together and do some “soul searching” after Trayvon Martin (photo above, left) was killed by a neighborhood watch guard in Sanford, near Orlando.
“If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon,” said the president (shown above right as a teenager).
Commenting on the charge that race played a central role in the tragedy, the president said “all of us have to do some soul searching to figure out how does something like this happen – and that means that we examine the laws and the context for what happened as well as the specifics of the incident.”
Republican candidate Newt Gingrich chose to misinterpret the president’s remarks in the most churlish manner possible.
“Is the president suggesting if it had been a white who had been shot, that would be OK because it wouldn’t look like him?” Gingrich asked Friday on Sean Hannity’s radio show. “That’s just nonsense. I mean, dividing this country up.”
In a separate radio interview Friday, Santorum showed the same disdain for decency.
“What the president of the United States should do is try to bring people together, not use these types of horrible and tragic individual cases to try to drive a wedge in America,” Santorum said.
This presidential campaign is shaping up as one of the nastiest episodes in America’s history. The contest for the Republican nomination has been a no-holds-barred smearfest where mud flies freely. I can only imagine what the general election campaign will be like.
It doesn’t help to say Americans deserve better. Obviously, some of them don’t.
March 26, 2012 1 Comment
I will be 78 years old tomorrow. Seventy eight years of joy and laughter, disappointment and despair. That’s a long time. When I was born there was no penicillin, no radar, no birth control pills, no television, no jet planes, no atom bombs, no desk top computers… The list goes on and on.
Looked at one way, mankind has made huge strides. The store of human knowledge expands exponentially. We know so much about so many things. We have figured out how to control my diabetes, for example, and how to treat my brother’s throat cancer… Doctors routinely do heart and liver transplants, reattach severed limbs, and perform many other operations that are nothing short of miraculous.
But while we have become amazingly advanced technologically, in many ways I have watched the human race slip backwards.
Throughout the world people are at one another’s throats, unable to agree, incapable of resolving disputes intelligently. They are still dropping bombs on one another, and all our progress has only made the bombs more devastating…
In America, an inoffensive black teenager is gunned down in a gated Florida community, and no charges are brought against the shooter. Meanwhile, despite the election of the country’s first back president – possibly even because of it – the number of white supremacist groups is increasing at an alarming rate. Militia groups are popping up as never before.
And while ethnic and sexual minorities are gaining acceptance in some areas, in others xenophobia and homophobia are raging.
Unexpectedly, demagogues are trying to beat back the civil rights won at such cost a generation ago, and fiercely battling women’s rights, threatening to revolke their ownership of their own bodies. Especially throughout the South and in rural areas, these politicians are inexplicably popular. Even with some women.
You might think that the expansion of religious teaching and philosophical thought would provide the foundation for peace. But it seems the opposite is true. Religion divides instead of uniting us. Philosophy causes conflict instead of harmony. The same science that brought us miraculous medicines and surgery illuminates the way to unprecedented destruction and death.
You might think we would have become more tolerant, more understanding, more accepting of conflicting opinions. You might thnk we would have evolved to the point where disputes can be resolved without resorting to violence, where war would be a relic of the distant past. You would thnk the missile silos with their deadly warheads would have vanished from the face of the earth. Instead, more nations are trying to join the nuclear club.
You might think that with expanded knowledge would come deeper understanding, that we would by now have grasped the futility of greed, that we would have discovered the joy of loving and sharing. But, to the contary, the exhilaration of depredation seems more prevalent every day. The intoxicated crowd prays to the statue of a golden calf (photo above), and Baal rises triumphant over the vision of a weeping Christ.
Looking back on those 78 years, it seems to me that for every two steps forward we make, we slip a step back. And I’m not sure it isn’t the other way around.
March 22, 2012 3 Comments
It might seem incredible that women are being battered by the men they love – or used to love – in a country like America in an age like this. But it happens every day, or every night, all over the country. And combating this horror can be a tricky business. Expensive, too.
As a reporter, I used to hear law enforcement officers complain of the hazards – and often the futility – of responding to a domestic violence report. They said that sometimes the battered wives would turn on them when they intervened, and that many of the wives who didn’t actually attack them couldn’t be counted on to press charges after the dispute cooled down.
It s one of those situations where an ounce of prevention is obviously worth a pound of cure, and back in 1994 U.S. politicians recognized this fact. Congress agreed to fund a department dedicated not only to investigation of violent crimes against women and prosecution of their attackers but also to the development of policies designed to deter such brutality.
The Violence Against Women Act was adopted with bipartisan support. It provided $1.6 billion for investigation and prosecution of violent crimes against women, and mandated automatic restitution for victims. It also included civil redress in cases where prosecutors failed to bring criminal charges.
The law has brought demonstrable results. With grants from the Office of Violence Against Women, programs were initiated across America that have effectively reduced the number of complaints about domestic and dating assault, stalking and various other attacks on women.
The program’s success has earned automatic renewal of the act in Congress after Congress.
But not this time.
In this political climate, nothing can be taken for granted.
According to Noreen Malone, writing in the New York Times:
The act is up for renewal and, as the Times reports, it’s facing “fierce opposition from conservatives” in the Senate. The new version of the law contains expansions that violate certain principles that congressional Republicans feel they just can’t sacrifice:
“Republicans say the measure, under the cloak of battered women, unnecessarily expands immigration avenues by creating new definitions for immigrant victims to claim battery. More important, they say, it fails to put in safeguards to ensure that domestic violence grants are being well spent. It also dilutes the focus on domestic violence by expanding protections to new groups, like same-sex couples, they say.”
So the effective party line, then, becomes that they support no violence against women, but (against) immigrants and gay people? Eh, not their problem! Still, in a moment where women (and not just Democratic women) feel like the GOP has been attacking certain core rights of theirs, the subtle nuances of fiscal policy that Republicans are citing in their opposition aren’t going to do much to convince women that the party just doesn’t really care about them any more. Plus, there are plenty of conservatives who want to make opposing the act about women’s issues specifically. Phyllis Schlafly, for instance, referred to the act as a “slush fund for feminism” and said that it promotes divorce.
Look, I know this is a crazy Congress. I realize the Tea Party members are suicide bombers. I realize the Republican Party has lost its moral compass. But come on!
Do they think they can get away with politicizing the protection of America’s women -even if some happen to be immigrants?
I don’t think so.
The women are on the march. And the crazies in Congress are just adding fuel to the fire.
March 16, 2012 2 Comments
You might expect a battle for women’s rights to take place in Afghanistan or Saudi Arabia, or some other faraway land. But certainly not in America.
After all, a century or more has come and gone since Suffragettes chained themselves to the railings in Congress and won the right to vote (photo above). It’s been nearly half a century since feminists burned their bras. And it’s been 39 years since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that women have the right to decide if and when they want to bear children.
It seemed that the battle was pretty much over: Women had finally won the right to be people – people enough to vote, people enough to own property, people enough to own their bodies.
Out of nowhere has come a crusade to turn back the clock.
Across America, legislative proposals have popped up like mushrooms in a massive assault on women’s independence. The proposals range from subjecting women to compulsory trans-vaginal probes as a precondition of abortion to denying them birth control as part of their health insurance. And several Republican controlled legislatures have actually passed laws to force women to undergo ultrasound examinations in order to get an abortion.
In Arizona, the Republican run legislature seems about to pass a law that would let employers fire an employee who used insurance-provided birth control without a doctor’s prescription stating it was required for medical reasons (not for protection against pregnancy). I understand it’s based on a template provided by a Koch brothers group and that other states are contemplating similar legislation.
Meanwhile, Puritanical rhetoric and sexual name calling has intensified. Radio demagogue Rush Limbaugh launched a virulent assault on women, slandering a young law student who dared to speak out against the attempt to deny female employees insurance coverage for birth control, describing femistis as “feminazis,” and cooking up preposterous conspiracy stories to explain why advertisers were fleeing his show.
Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum has also come out against birth control, blaming it for the sexual depravity he sees in modern America and advocating abstinence to preserve”the family,” which he regards as the foundation of American society.
It’s no wonder many American women feel they are under attack and are fightng back. They’re taking to the streets and they’re asking us to join them.
March 15, 2012 4 Comments
I am convinced that Rick Santorum is going to win the Republican nomination. And I am not saying this just because he came first last night in Alabama and Mississippi. He’s on a roll. He will probably win again in Louisiana, where all those transplanted Nova Scotians share his Roman Catholic faith. And he already showed his strength in Missouri. It’s just a matter of time before someone makes Newt Gingrich an offer he can’t refuse and he drops out of the race.
One on one, Romney can’t beat Santorum. Not in rural America for sure. Not in the South. Not in the Midwest, where Catholics abound. Remember the contest is for the hearts and minds of Republicans, not Independents or Democrats. And Republicans dominate in the parts of America where time has stood still for the past half century.
I wonder why anyone thought a Mormon would be the Republican candidate. This is the Republican Party, where bigotry rules. Not just racial and social bigotry. Religious bigotry. The kind of bigotry that proclaims: Believe as I do or burn in Hell forever!
The nomination of a man like Romney was never “inevitable” in such an environment – despite his unconvincing protestations of “conservatism” and the predictions of the pundits.
I got the feeling that it is Santorum who is “inevitable” when he reported last night that people were coming up to him and saying, “I’m praying for you.”
Romney is running a campaign. Santorum is leading a crusade. (Gingrich? He’s just in it for the ego boost and the money he’ll be making from his books and speaking engagements when this is all over.)
As an Obama supporter, I am tempted to bask in the prospect of Santorum facing the President. But I have an uneasy feeling that the contest might not be as one-sided as I think.
I know how powerful religious crusades can be. History abounds in illustrations of their might. And I see that kind of zeal today in Islamic suicide bombers.
The Santorum crusade could inspire the fire a Romney campaign could never ignite. And that fire could spread.
It’s a fire of faith. And faith by definition defies reason.
If Americans perceive Santorum as a prophet who will vanquish the cool academic in the White House and vindicate their discredited notions , who will “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable,” who will purge the Temple of Congress of its unholy money changers… If he achieves that kind of transfiguration, he could ride a groundswell of fervor to victory.
Of course, Santorum is a false prophet. He is a narcissistic, pompous prig with no understanding of Christ’s message. His interpretation of Christianity is perverse and depraved. A latter-day Pharisee, he preaches hate, bigotry and self-righteousness, not love, tolerance, humility and forgiveness.
But false prophets have prevailed before. And this one could prevail now.
If he does, look out! He would impose his Puritanical views on the rest of us, dragging America back to the dark days of religious and racial oppression.
As Thomas Jefferson observed: Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.
March 14, 2012 8 Comments
Sandra was worried. President Obama’s popularity seemed to be taking a nosedive. So on this balmy Florida day, with the sun in the sky and the birds in the trees, her brow was furrowed. Those pesky polls! They’ve ruined my wife’s day.
The latest ABC News/Washington Post poll gave the president a 46 percent approval score, down from 50 percent last month. And another poll registered an even more dramatic decline. The CBS News/New York Times poll – which gave Obama a 50 percent approval rating a month ago – indicated his job approval was now just 41 percent, with 47 percent giving him a failing grade.
Of course the pundits were all over it. They jumped to the conclusion that the president was in danger of losing in November. Yeah, the same pundits who were so confident he was on his way to re-election when they heard about his good poll results a month ago.
I’m sure polls give some comfort to politicians and I know it provides jobs for pollsters, but they really aren’t of much value in predicting election results. For one thing, the election is nearly eight months away, and a lot can – and will – happen in that time. For another, there’s no way to predict who will vote and who will stay home.
Who knows? Perhaps a good fairy will give the flu to the 33 percent of the American electorate that wants that black guy out of their White House as fast as his feet will carry him – no matter what’s happening to the country. They might be home in bed sniffling and shivering while the rest of us are out there choosing America’s leader for the next four years.
And the rest of us are more reasonable than the pundits think.
We know Barack Obama didn’t cause gas prices to go up. And we know he doesn’t want them to stay high, regardless of the rantings of people like Newt Gingrich.
Here’s the deal. Demand for gas is down and supply is up but – in contradiction of conventional wisdom – prices are high and getting higher. The reason? That free market Republicans are always raving about. It doesn’t work when a swarm of speculators with bushel baskets of cash are betting on a spike in oil prices.
And with all the turmoil in the Middle East, it doesn’t take a genius to figure the oil supply might be in danger.
Where does all that money come from, by the way? According to reports from knowledgeable sources a lot of the underworld’s ill-gotten gains are being invested in the commodities market. So by letting gamblers take over the stock exchanges, the free-market folks are helping a lot of crooks get richer at the expense of decent hard-working folks all over the world.
How’s that for a great economic philosophy?
And how’s this for foreign policy: The people who blame President Obama for high gas prices are also screaming at him to bomb Iran. You think that’s going to lower oil prices?
Of course, the Republicans are also complaining about the slow economic recovery.
How’s that for chutzpah?
They caused the worst crash since the Great Depression and they’re yelling at President Obama for not setting things right fast enough. Where do they think he keeps his magic wand?
And – get this – they’re telling voters they can do a better job with the same policies that caused the wreck!
How dumb do they think we are?
The bottom line is that – apart from that hard-core 33 percent – most Americans know the president has done a much better job than the Repubicans did when they were in charge. We realize he has been hobbled at every turn by the worst Congress in history. And we know he is on our side, even if he makes a mistake now and then.
So no matter what the polls say, his job is secure as long as the reasonable voters go to the polls.
They didn’t do that in sufficient numbers in 2010 and look at the mess that caused!
This time has to be different. Whatever else you do on November 6, get out and vote (or get one of those absentee ballots). And encourage all the reasonable folks you know to join you. You do know some easonable people, don’t you?
March 13, 2012 5 Comments
There is scant comfort in saying “I told you so” when I learn about another disaster in Afghanistan, but if you’ve been reading my blogs you know how many times I’ve argued that it’s past time for American troops to get the hell out of that God-forsaken country.
The horror of a deranged American soldier going on a killing spree, massacring at least 16 civilians including women and children, is the most shocking of a series of incidents that support my plea.
Those families would still be alive this morning if the troops had been brought home after Osama bin Ladin’s execution.
Coming on the heels of the Koran-burning riots, this grisly outrage will surely end any hope the Obama Administration might have harbored of winning the hearts and minds of the Afghan people.
In a rather prim understatement, a New York Times report observes:
The shooting risks further inciting anti-American sentiment in Afghanistan and troubling a relationship that had already been brought to a new low by the burning of Korans at an American military base last month.
I can’t imagine why successive American administrations believed the Afghans would fall in love with America for invading and occupying their country and forming an unholy alliance with drug lords and bandits. Add to that the burning of the Afgfhans’ holy book and the massacre of innocent civilians and you have a prescription for certain failure.
Oh, and by the way, according to the Times article:
In a separate incident, four Afghans were killed and three wounded on Friday when coalition helicopters apparently hunting Taliban insurgents fired instead on villagers in Kapisa province in eastern Afghanistan, according to Abdul Hakim Akhondzada, governor of Tagab district in Kapisa.
And lest we forget:
In another incident in January, American officials had to contend with the fallout from a video that showed four United States Marines urinating on the corpses of what appeared to be the corpses of three Taliban members.
In 2010, a rogue group of American soldiers, whose members patrolled roads and small villages, also near Kandahar, killed three Afghan civilians for sport in a series of crimes. The soldier accused of being the ringleader of the group was convicted of three counts of murder by an American military panel in November.
I said it before and I’ll say it again: The longer American troops remain in Afghanistan the more trouble they’re going to get into.
It doesn’t matter how many Taliban warriors they shoot, Americans have lost Afghanistan forever.
Why are American troops still there? There has to be reasons that are unknown to me. Someone somewhere must be making so much money from the war that they won’t allow President Obama to call the troops home. Yeah, I know, I must be some kindof conspiracy nut.
But can you blame me?
March 12, 2012 3 Comments