Anouncement of Democrats’ Demise is Premature

November is eight months away and already the pundits are predicting the outcome of the midterm elections. I won’t burden you with the details but the bottom line is “Democrats are in trouble.” For one reason or another, they argue, the Republican Party will gain seats in both the House and the Senate. They might even win complete control of Congress.

To me, it is a prospect too horrible to contemplate. But, if you step back and take a look at Congress as it is now, how much more damage can the Republicans do to America than they’ve already done?

The House of Representatives has become a loony bin in the grip of the Tea Party and the Senate is hobbled by filibusters and other procedural tricks. This is the worst Congress ever, and Americans have had it with both major parties.

But all is not lost. Despite the intricate prognostications, people tend to vote the way they’ve always voted, and there are more Democrats in America than Republicans. Of course, the number of Independents is increasing and it’s anybody’s guess who they’ll favor in November. My bet is they will tend to vote against incumbents – in both parties.

One reason for the pundits’ pessimism is the recent special election in Pinellas County, where Republican David Jolly defeated  Democrat Alex Sink. But I don’t think that’s a reliable predictor.

Sink reportedly said some pretty dumb things. She is quoted as saying immigration reform is needed because there are so many jobs for hotel maids and so on in Florida. And she damned Obamacare with faint praise, promising to fix it when she got to Washington. Furthermore, her commercials toward the end of the campaign were rather tepid, suggesting she would work with Republicans to achieve bipartisan results.

That’s obviously no way tro fire up your base. And, naturally, the base did not bother to vote.

I think that’s the key in November. If Democrats don’t bother to turn out, they’re doomed indeed. And if the party chooses uninspiring candidates like Alex Sink, they can expect to get beaten.

The Republicans, for all their internal squabbling and backbiting, are fired up. They share a common hatred of Barack Obama (I don’t have to tell you why, I’m sure). They will be going to the polls in droves, that’s for sure.

And if Democrats stay home, they will get what they deserve.

On the other hand, if Democrats vote – and persuade their friends and relatives to vote – they will certainly have an opportunity to give the President a Congress he can work with to achieve his goals.

Click for Robert Gibbs’ warning.


America’s Credibility Shaken as Ukraine Aid Bill Stalls

I am conflicted on the Ukraine crisis. On one hand, I wish America would stay out of other countries’ politics. On the other hand, now that they are so obviously involved,  Americans have promises to keep.

American institutions – the CIA and the Endowment for Democracy, for example – seem to be involved in fomenting the uprising that led to the crisis. And President Obama has come out on the side of the anti-Russian rebels. Indeed, he has explicitly promised to help them.

Congress is in such disarray that  it cannot agree on a financial aid package for the Ukraine. The House passed a bill last week to provide $1 billion in loan guarantees. But the Senate’s version got shot down.

John McCain is livid. Groups he supports were apparently mixed up in protests that ran off the Ukrainian president, and – of course – he wants the US to support the new regime.

Russia’s actions are clearly indefensible. Vladimir Putin is preparing to invade the Ukraine and annex the Crimea in defiance of international law. On the other hand, America’s support of the rebels is also questionable. The new regime came to power via a coup and the president they deposed – however misguided he might be – was democratically elected.

But that’s not why Republican senators refused to approve the Ukraine aid package.

Harry Reid blames the Koch Brothers because their political puppets insisted on including looser campaign funding regulations in the bill.  But Senate Republicans cite the bill’s provisions to expand the International Monetary Fund’s lending capacity as their reason for voting against it.

Whatever the reason, the result is clear. American credibility has been damaged.

In this push-you-pull-you Congress, where no faction seems to agree with any other – unified action on international crises seems impossible.

It’s a troubling message to send to a world in turmoil.

As America stumbles toward the mid-term elections in November, Congress becomes more and more like a Keystone Cops movie – except that in this case it’s not a farcical comedy but a tragic farce.

Click for news of the Ukraine crisis.

Click for John McCain’s reaction.

Click for Harry Reid’s claims.


When Facts Fight Back

Funny thing about facts: they just won’t go away. You can twist and distort them. You can concoct competing data and present them as facts. You can bluff and swagger and bluster and bully. You can flat-out lie. But the facts won’t go away.  When the smoke clears, there they are, uncompromising, irrefutable, overpowering.

A North Carolina senator learned that hard truth on Tuesday when he tried to face down an expert witness at a US Senate hearing on single-payer healthcare.

Senator Richard Burr – a Republican of course – came to the fray with a collection of popular myths and loaded questions about Canadian health insurance. Dr. Danielle Martin, a physician and health policy professor from Toronto, came armed with an arsenal of facts and an unflappable Canadian demeanor. Burr’s assault was doomed from the start.

Here’s part of the exchange (from the Los Angeles Times):

BURR: Why are doctors exiting the public system in Canada?

MARTIN: Thank you for your question, Senator. If I didn’t express myself in a way to make myself understood, I apologize. There are no doctors exiting the public system in Canada, and in fact we see a net influx of physicians from the United States into the Canadian system over the last number of years.

What I did say was that the solution to the wait time challenge that we have in Canada — we do have a difficult time with waits for elective medical procedures — does not lie in moving away from our single-payer system toward a multipayer system. And that’s borne out by the experience of Australia. So Australia used to have a single-tier system and did in the 1990s move toward a multiple-payer system where private insurance was permitted. And a very well-known study by Duckett, et al., tracked what took place in terms of wait times in Australia as the multipayer system was put in place.

And what they found was in those areas of Australia where private insurance was being taken up and utilized, waits in the public system became longer.

BURR: What do you say to an elected official who goes to Florida and not the Canadian system to have a heart valve replacement?

MARTIN: It’s actually interesting, because in fact the people who are the pioneers of that particular surgery, which Premier Williams had, and have the best health outcomes in the world for that surgery, are in Toronto, at the Peter Munk Cardiac Center, just down the street from where I work.

(Newfoundland Premier Danny Williams, who owns a condo in Florida, had a heart valve procedure in Miami.) 

So what I say is that sometimes people have a perception, and I believe that actually this is fueled in part by media discourse, that going to where you pay more for something, that that necessarily makes it better, but it’s not actually borne out by the evidence on outcomes from that cardiac surgery or any other.

BURR: On average, how many Canadian patients on a waiting list die each year? Do you know?

MARTIN: I don’t, sir, but I know that there are 45,000 in America who die waiting because they don’t have insurance at all.

In her testimony, Dr. Martin dispelled Republican propaganda about Canada’s health care system,  telling the committee:

I do not presume to claim today that the Canadian system is perfect or that we do not face significant challenges. The evidence is clear that those challenges do not stem from the single-payer nature of our system. Quite the contrary…

And adding that:

We do not have uninsured residents. We do not have different qualities of insurance depending on a person’s employment. We do not have an industry working to try to carve out different niches of the risk pool. This is a very important accomplishment and as we watch the debate unfold as to how to address the challenges you face, we are reminded daily of its significance.

Here’s a different kind of exchange, between Dr. Martin and Senator Bernie Sanders, who favors single-payer health insurance (from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation report):

SANDERS: Is your prime minister a socialist?

MARTIN: No sir, our prime minister is quite conservative.

SANDERS:  So obviously as a conservative he wants to implement the American health-care system that the Canadians are very aware of, I gather that is the first thing he did when he took power is that right?

MARTIN: Not exactly.

SANDERS: Why not?

MARTIN: Support for single-payer Medicare in Canada goes across all political stripes.

The CBC reported that Dr. Martin gave the senate “a lesson on Canadian health care.” was less polite. Their headline declared:  “Canadian doctor makes anti-Obamacare senator look like a buffoon.”

That’s usually what happens when misinformation goes up against the facts.

Click for the Los Angeles Times report.

Click for the CBC report.

Click for the version.


Making a Sad Story Worse

Nobody likes abortion, of that I am sure. But it’s the kind of last-resort decision only the woman involved should make. What is making a sad situation even more tragic is the self-righteous persecution of unfortunate women by America’s militant conservatives. The sheer presumptuousness of these self-styled Christians fills my heart with rage.

I assume it gives them a sense of moral superiority but their cruel crusade is the darkest kind of sin. It is hate where love is called for, punishment instead of solace – the quintessential example of those “whited sepulchers” that the Redeemer condemned.

As is so often the case with those who consider themselves superior to their fellowmen, the anti-abortion crusaders are not only conceited but also implacably stupid.

Consider their boycott of Girl Scout cookies.

These idiots have decided the Girl Scouts are in favor of abortion because the organization’s Twitter account tweeted a link to a Huffington Post Live segment in which Texas Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis was listed as a contender for “woman of the year.”

So the anti-abortion right has launched a boycott on sites like Cookie-Cott, MyGirlScoutCouncil and LifeNews. In support of their boycott, they say that pro-choice politicians who were former girl scouts have been allowed to come back and speak at the group’s events, that troops have partnered with the Susan G. Komen foundation to raise breast cancer awareness and that the organization supports the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women.

The anti-abortionists are not only boycotting the cookies, they are also encouraging parents to avoid the Girl Scouts and instead send their daughters to groups like the American Heritage Girls.

It would be comical if it weren’t so infuriating.

Yet across America, the crusaders have gained so much political power that Republican controlled legislatures are making legal abortion impossible – or virtually impossible – in state after state.

What is happening to this country? Where are the sensible Americans? Where are the compassionate Americans? Where are the real Christians?

Click for more on the cookie boycott.

Click for pro-boycott argument.


Young’s Legacy Lives on

... Pits Pro-Life David Jolly vs. Pro-Abortion Alex Sink |

You will no doubt be hearing a lot of pontificating about last night’s special election over in Pinellas County. And some pundits will tell you it was a referendum on Obamacare.

I have no doubt that’s one reason David Jolly (above, left) trounced Alex Sink (above, right) in yesterday’s congressional contest. A lot of us codgers live in this part of Florida, and we’ve been told President Obama robbed Medicare Advantage of billions to provide health care for poor (code word for minority) families. That means higher copays and deductibles could be looming for us, and I guess a lot of us aren’t that self-sacrificing.

The president had no choice, I suppose. There were so many “fiscally conservative” Democrats in Congress – and so much Republican resistance to taxing the rich - that he was obliged to find the money somewhere or his health care reform would never have seen the light of day.

But I think it was Bill Young – the ghost of Bill Young, the legacy of Bill Young – that won the election for Jolly.

I remember Bill Young from my days at the Clearwater Sun and the Tampa Tribune. He was a grand master of the art of political survival. It seemed everybody was a friend of Bill Young. He was personable, affable and approachable. He was always ready to lend a hand when a constituent had a problem. And he brought home the bacon.

Back in those days, individual congress members could add “earmarks” to the annual budget, loading it with projects for their districts.  Here’s an excerpt from the AP story announcing his death at 82 years old last October:

 Mr.  Young  brought hundreds of millions of dollars in earmarks back to the Tampa Bay area, and built up a military contracting industry in the region, creating jobs and lifting the economy. 

It’s no wonder  he kept getting re-elected. He served 22 terms in Congress.

David Jolly worked in Young’s office before he became a lobbyist. Many Pinellas voters might remember him from those days. They certainly remember Bill Young.

And I have to wonder if some people voted against Sink because she is a woman. Or because she was a banker. Or because she is not a very good campaigner…

I suspect those are among the reasons she also lost the governor’s race to Rick Scott.

And there’s another troubling factor in yesterday’s loss – a lot of Democrats didn’t bother to vote.

Obviously, there was more to this special election than Obamacare.

Click for the news story.

Click for an AP story on Bill Young.

Click for more on David Jolly.

Click for low-turnout story.

Click for an analysis of the race.


“Most Miserable” States Cling to Policies of the Past

Back in 1979 – after one of those Ontario winters – I decided I’d had enough of the cold, the snow, the ice storms and the darkness, and made plans to head south. As soon as I got the immigration red tape sorted out, I put an ad in Editor & Publisher, offering my skills to American publications. Among the replies was one from Enid, Oklahoma and another from Clearwater, Florida. I’m sure you can guess which one I chose to interview for.

Oklahoma is one of the last places I would choose to live in.  Even the pictures of the place are daunting. And there are those horror stories about tornadoes wiping out homes, businesses and schools, leaving a trail of tears in their wake.

So I am not surprised to see the state listed among “America’s Most Miserable” by this year’s Gallup-Healthways survey. Pollsters asked 176,000 respondents various questions designed to determine their quality of life, and came up with the following “misery” ranking:

1. West Virginia; 2. Kentucky; 3. Mississippi; 4. Alabama; 5. Ohio; 6. Arkansas; 7. Tennessee; 8. Missouri;  9. Oklahoma; 10. Louisiana.

Residents of these “miserable” states are among the most likely to suffer from health problems such as high cholesterol and blood pressure, as well as obesity, according to the study.

Do you notice that nine of the 10 states vote Republican? And the other one – Ohio – is what the pundits call “a toss-up.”

Tell me, if you were obese, sickly and miserable, would you vote for the status quo? Or would you go with “Hope and Change”?

To me, the stubborn loyalty of these unfortunate people to  the failed policies of the past is the great mystery of American politics.Take West Virginia, which has been the “most miserable” of all for the past five years. They’re loyal to the coal industry, which has been inflicting the worst kinds of suffering on them for generations. They don’t care what coal does to them – or the rest of us. They vote for the politician who will fight for the industry and stave off any kind of environmental regulations.

Scanning the comments below the Yahoo News item, I got a glimmer of enlightenment. Here’s an excerpt from one comment that offers a peek into the minds of these “miserable” Americans:

I was reared in the 1950s. My Dad worked as a laborer while my Mom stayed home with the six of us kids. They always made sure we had something to eat (it might be beans, potatoes, and bread), we had clothes and shoes to wear, but there was little extra. I can’t remember anyone wailing, crying, or gnashing their teeth over our situation. You see, we didn’t know we were poor. Everyone living in the entire area surrounding our home was in the same boat. We, of course, realized that in other parts of the town other people lived better than we. But, we didn’t see this difference day-in-day-out so it didn’t bother us.

What they can’t see doesn’t bother them. So they bury their heads in the sands of time and take pride in their stoic misery.

Go figure.

Click for the Yahoo item.

Click for the 10 happiest states.


The Showdown of 2016

I’m nervous about making predictions for November’s mid-term elections. But I wouldn’t hesitate to say who I think will win the presidency in 2016. After all, November is close enough for you to remember my forecast, while 2016 isn’t.

Not that anyone is asking for my picks. But why not? I’ll tell you what I see coming, and you can tell me why I’m wrong. It’s a favorite game of the TV pundits.

Even Grover Norquist (of “poopy-head” fame) is touting a tip sheet. I read this morning that he says the Republican nomination for President will go to one of six likely candidates – New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, Texas Governor Rick Perry, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, and Kentucky Senator Rand Paul.

What a wimp. Why not go out on a limb and pick the winner? Who’s going to remember two years from now?

And it’s a sorry looking list, isn’t it?

“Boss” Christie might well be in prison by 2016. Walker is a union-busting flunkie who was taped taking orders from billionaire Charles Koch on the phone. Rick Perry – oh my God, Rick Perry? Wasn’t he the nitwit who couldn’t remember the three federal departments he wanted to trash? As for Bobby Jindal, I am haunted by his creepy response to the President’s State of the Union address back in 2009. Remember?

I am pretty sure Jeb Bush isn’t running. Why would he? He has far-reaching business interests that might be damaged by the negativism of a presidential campaign. Besides, he is too reasonable for today’s Republican primary voters. The party has moved so far right that loose cannons like Ted Cruz are the base’s favorites.

That leaves Rand Paul.

I think Paul will win the nomination (beating out Cruz, who is not in Norquist’s list). Paul has the name recognition. He has the fund-raising clout. His anti-war stance has widespread support. And – here’s the trump card – he has his daddy’s political machine.  Ron Paul has a very well organized political infrastructure all over the country. He has been putting the thing together for years.

Scary, isn’t it?

Rand Paul, in bed with white supremacists and anti-abortion extremists… Rand Paul, in favor of letting kids go hungry and sick people die if they can’t pay their own way… that Rand Paul.

But I don’t think we need to worry. He is going to be facing Hillary Clinton.

And Americans are too sane to pick a cold-hearted libertarian nut like Paul when they can choose a bright, compassionate, capable woman like Hillary. I predict that not only will Hillary take the White House in a landslide but that voters will have had enough of the crazies who call themselves Republicans nowadays and give the Democrats both houses of Congress.

And what about this November?

I’ll have to think on that some more.

Click for the Norquist list.


In a Dumb World, Brilliant Invention Dazzles Me

You read about the incredibly stupid utterances of demagogues like Rand Paul and Ted Cruz, about the “expert” who says homosexuals are preordained to go to Hell, about the clumsy power seekers in places like the Ukraine, and you might think the world is getting dumber and dumber.

And then you read about inventions like 3D printing.

My brain cannot completely grasp the intricate technology that produces such marvels. (To tell the truth, I am even in awe of the smart phone, but that’s probably just my age.)

If I can believe what I read, it’s possible to design a three-dimensional object  on a computer and “print” it out on a 3D printer. The breakthrough is based on a process called Stereolithography (SLA).  As my poor brain interprets it, the technology uses ultraviolet rays to harden liquid resin into solid objects, which are mapped out by computer signals.

What kind of objects?  How about a door knob? Or an architectural model?

Not impressed?

How about airplane wings, musical instruments, auto parts … Or sweets and chocolates?

And how about this excerpt from a recent New York Times article:

A University of California professor is working on printing out an entire house. Another 3-D artist has sculpted a “cyborg hand” that lets his son (who was born without several fingers) pick up a water bottle. More disturbing, a group called Defense Distributed claims to have produced a working gun from open-source plans and then printed it out.

 Still shrugging those jaded shoulders of yours?

Try shrugging off this report by Sarah Gray, which I read in this morning:

… the ability for 3D printable organs to have a potential for blood supply  – the life-force cells need to bring them the nutrients and oxygen — is a huge advancement in 3D printing bioengineering.

Ms. Gray is talking about human-type organs. The kind doctors could use to replace your real organs. How’s that for advanced technology?

So who is this brilliant innovator who gave mankind the 3D printer?

You won’t find his name in the gossip columns or Yahoo News. You won’t see him on the Jimmy Fallon show. But you can Google him.

His name is Charles Hall, and his pals call him Chuck. He is a 74 year old American, and I think he lives in South Carolina (at least that’s where his company, 3D Systems, is located).  And he is being inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame. The announcement was made  on Tuesday.

Didn’t see the story? That’s probably because it was published in such popular news sources as I guess it wasn’t sexy enough for the mass media.

It’s a dumb, dumb world, after all.

Click for the New York Times article.

Click for Ms. Gray’s report.

Click for Chuck Hall’s induction story.

Click to see 3D printers.

Click for what they mean to us.

Click to read about gays going to Hell and other dumb statements.


Gun Crazy – and Loving it!

“Freedom-loving” Americans are supposed to feel relieved when they hear that the National Rifle Association “will not go quietly into the night,” that the organization will forever fight for “the right to survive and protect our families with all the rifles, shotguns, and handguns we want!”

That was the message NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre brought to the annual Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington DC yesterday.

“The NRA’s five million members and America’s 100 million gun owners won’t back down, not now, not ever,” LaPierre said. “Our Second Amendment in this country separates us from any other country on earth. It makes us better than other countries and it makes us stronger than other countries.”

The way LaPierre painted it, America’s freedoms are under siege by “elites” in politics and the media. He warned darkly of a menacing conspiracy designed to rob Americans of “the core freedoms that have always defined us as a nation.”

This sounds very ironic to me.  From where I sit, it’s the NRA and its allies that are conspiring to manipulate American politics. They’re the ones who spent $3.4  million in 2013 lobbying to block gun control legislation – even such innocuous measures as background checks. They’re the ones who wrote the infamous Stand Your Ground law and persuaded state legislators to vote for it.

They’re the ones who spent nearly $19 million to influence the 2012 elections.

They’re the ones with an “enemies list” so far reaching that it even included the mayor of our Florida town. They supported his opponent’s campaign because he had the temerity to add his signature to a letter from dozens of American mayors asking the President to do something about the massacres occurring all over the country.

Surely it’s the NRA and the greedy gun manufacturers that are engaged in a conspiracy to subvert American democracy?

But, of course, the audience at CPAC didn’t get it. They cheered LaPierre’s rant so loudly he had to repeat passages in his diatribe to be heard above the crowd.

The CPAC audience also went wild earlier in the conference when Mitch McConnell brought a rifle onstage (photo above) and presented it to his retiring colleague, Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn. It was a Lifetime Achievement Award from the NRA.

It seems the right have a thing about guns. I guess brandishing a weapon makes them feel empowered. But what makes them think “our core freedoms” include the right to be exempt from background checks? Who in their right mind wants homicidal maniacs and serial killers to own guns?

It’s not the Second Amendment that makes America strong and free. It’s a system of government based on the will of its citizens.

McConnell and other right-wing nuts can brandish guns to their heart’s content. But it’s the ballot box that remains the weapon of choice in the United States of America.

Now, that’s a “core freedom” worth fighting for.

Click for LaPierre’s rant.


Horrors! Food Stamps are Being Used to Buy Seafood!

I don’t watch Fox News so I have to take Jon Stewart’s word for it, but apparently the crusading cable network has uncovered a new and menacing abuse of the welfare state. From Stewart’s scathing response to the Fox program, I gather crab legs and fresh salmon are the specific kinds of seafood that offend the network’s pundits.

What is the world coming to? Next, the Obama Administration will relax the rules and let mothers buy diapers with those state-provided coupons.

Imagine the poor having clean babies! I bet Fox would have a fit.

Looked at from the perspective of Fox News and the new American right,  those Reagan-era “Welfare Queens” were outrageous enough. But now look how the situation has escalated. Crab legs indeed! Let them eat cake! Let them eat collard greens! Let them eat hog jowl! Let them eat chitlins!

For Canadian readers, I should explain that food stamps are coupons the government sends to low-income Americans (in Florida  – and probably other states - the coupons have been replaced by electronic cards). From what I hear, they’re not easy to come by. You have to prove you’re in dire straits and even then some hard hearted bureaucrat might turn you down. And there are limits on what you can buy with the coupons. Strict limits. They can’t even be used to buy toilet paper. Or aspirins. Or cough drops.

But, apparently, crab legs are not among the prohibited purchases.

Yes, I know. The Canadian government doesn’t send out food stamps. Like governments in most civilized countries in the 21st century, the Canadian government sends poor people a check. They can buy anything in the world they want with the money.

Wait till Fox hears about that!

Where’s the shame? Where’s the humiliation? Where’s the punishment for being poor?

American conservatives would never stand for such coddling. If they had their way, I bet they would make welfare recipients display some kind of scarlet letter – P for Poor, perhaps. Or W for Welfare.

In fact, I bet they would block government aid altogether – except to the oil companies, agribusiness and other big corporations.

They would like to see the poor begging by the side of the road as they used to in “the good old days.” Or depending on churches and private charities for sustenance.

You can be sure poor folks wouldn’t be eating crab legs then!

Click for Jon Stewart’s show.