Wednesday, October 31, 2012

So, Now What?

Most of you probably assume I’m voting for Obama, given the breakdowns I gave of him and Romney the past couple of days. Not so fast.

Our political system is broken from stem to stern. I don’t mind how much money gets spent. Why shouldn’t as much money be spent deciding who runs the joint as is spent advertising beer or gasoline? The issue is where the money comes from, and how much accountability those donors demand. We’re in an era of openly transactional politics, where, too often, you get what you pay for, and the long-term interests of the country as a whole get short shrift.

When I first became politically aware, the great debate in America was how best to take care of those who most needed it. Now the debate centers on whether we should take care of those people at all. The parties have hardened their positions and changed the rules to make it harder to find common ground. The voters complain, blaming the other side more every day, then dig in to support their favored positions, hardening the partisan lines.

What is really needed is a more parliamentary form of government. Five parties would do nicely. There would be the Tea Party on the extreme right, a counterweight just as far to the left, then basic liberal and conservative parties, and the Libertarians. No party would have enough votes to pass anything on its own, but no party would have enough votes to block anything on its own, either. They’d all have to work together.

That’s not going to happen. The existing parties have things too good for themselves. What can be done by the average voter, who may lean one way or the other when discussing whose fault it is but can agree this is a mess? How can a message be sent to say we’re not happy?

Don’t vote for either party.

I’m not saying stay home. That’s not a protest; it’s abdication. I’m not saying throw out all the incumbents. That will only create a Won’t Get Fooled Again scenario. (“Meet the new boss, Same as the old boss.”) Pick minor party candidates. It doesn’t even matter so much who they are, though if you find someone who aligns well with you, go for it. Your candidate won’t win, but your vote won’t be wasted if enough of us do it. If the major parties see other parties are siphoning off four or five times as many votes as usual, they may have to sit up and take note.

Don’t be stupid about it. This is best done in election where there is no real contest. We still have to live with the results of our actions, and you don’t want to cut off your nose to spite your face. (See “Conservatives who voted for Ross Perot, 1992” and “Liberals who voted for Ralph Nader, 2000”) Pick your spots. I live in Maryland, where Mitt Romney has as much chance of winning as he does of becoming pope. My House and Senate races are no contests, as well. Since my vote doesn’t really matter in that context—we know who is going to win—I might as well try to say something with it.

I looked at my available options and will vote for the Green candidates in each race. Not because they’ll win, or even because I want them to win. I’ll vote for them because I don’t have a better way to show I have had enough of the status quo.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Mitt Romney

Yesterday the topic was Barack Obama’s plusses and minuses as president. Today is Mitt Romney’s turn.

I have been voting in presidential elections since I became eligible in 1976, when I voted for Gerald Ford over Jimmy Carter. That makes thirty-six years; this will be my tenth presidential campaign. In all that time, I have never seen a more cynical, calculated campaign than what has been put together by Mitt Romney and his team.

The election is upon us and Romney still has not put forth plausible numbers to show which deductions he’d do away with to offset the tax cuts he proposes. We’re supposed to trust him. How much trust has he earned?

He tacked harder right than any of his primary opponents, having farther to go after his tenure as governor of Massachusetts. When asked if Romney had moved too far right last March, senior campaign advisor Eric Fehrnstrom replied, “"I think you hit a reset button for the fall campaign. Everything changes. It's almost like an Etch-A-Sketch. You can kind of shake it up, and we start all over again." English translation: Nothing we said before counts. We’ll say whatever each audience wants to hear.

Later in the campaign, Republican pollster Neil Newhouse let this slip, when questioned about the accuracy of a claim in a recent ad: “We're not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers.”

Politicians make their livings through playing fast and loose with the truth; it’s why people dislike them in general. (Sometimes on principle.) They deceive, fabricate, mislead, dissemble, prevaricate, and misrepresent. Rarely do they flat out lie, and I have never seen a presidential campaign so willing to say, “So what?” when caught. What will Romney actually do if elected? It’s hard to say, though it’s safe to predict he’ll do whatever is most politically expedient at the time.

Gaffes are part of the political theater, never more so than in this day of You Tube and camera phones. Too much is made of them, even in debates. Candidates speak millions of words on the campaign trail, usually while handling multiple responsibilities on little sleep. They’re going to say something stupid once in a while. Still, Romney’s comment in the third debate (“Syria is Iran’s route to the sea.”) is disturbing on multiple levels.

It’s not a one-time misstatement; he’s made the same claim at least five times over the past year. It doesn’t take Magellan to look at a map to see Iran has a long coast (1,100 miles), and does not border on Syria. (Note: it has been said Romney means Syria is Iran’s route to the Mediterranean. They’d still have to go through Iraq—friend or not, that will not go unnoted—and to what end? To take on all of NATO’s navies, when whatever fleet Iran can muster still has to go around Africa?) Romney either doesn’t care what he said is not true, or—what? Someone must have told him. Shown him a map. Something. Is this the person we want making war or peace decisions?

Another concern has to do with Romney’s ability—or willingness—to empathize, or even care about, people less fortunate than himself. Lyndon Johnson was a world-class SOB; Ronald Reagan was the original presidential champion of trickle-down economics. Both were able to see what needed to be done when it was needed most by the most people, set aside some differences, and get it done.

He famously said 47% of the people in this country—presumably those who pay no federal income tax—“Believe they are victims, who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it.” Romney either lacked the curiosity to find out—or didn’t care—that those who do not pay are predominantly those living on Social Security, disability, have legitimate deductions (itemized deductions, tax credits for education, and the income tax exemptions for everything from disability payments to interest on municipal bonds), or work and don’t make enough money to reach even the minimum threshold for income tax, even though they do pay Social Security and Medicare taxes. Reagan would have seen the breakdown and asked what could be done to help some of those people, especially those who flat out didn’t make enough money to qualify; Johnson would have offered to kick Romney’s ass for him.

It’s become a joke, but how many people do you know put their dog on top of the car for a long trip so the luggage can ride inside? That’s not politically relevant, but it says something about the kind of person we’re dealing with.

So, who will I vote for? Come back tomorrow. It might surprise you.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Barack Obama

The Beloved Spouse will be happy to tell you I’m no Obama booster. What he says he wants to do is generally what I think needs to be done, but he too often leads from behind. When the Tea Party was savaging the Affordable Care Act for its “death panels” in town hall meetings, shouting down any reasonable discourse, he alone had the pulpit to speak to the nation to describe exactly what end of life counseling is, and how badly many people need it. He didn’t. He did much the same with the original stimulus plan, as well as Dodd-Frank. Their passages were far more due to the efforts of Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid than to Obama, but, like the quarterback on a football team, he gets both too much credit and too much blame for the results.

His record on executive decisions is no better. Joe Biden had to (probably inadvertently) shame him into coming out for same sex marriage. He allowed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” to go away when he could have ordered it as Commander-in-Chief. (Doing so summarily would have been a tough call, but he could have pushed for it more than he did. As it was, he accepted a fait accompli, hardly a sign of stellar leadership.) Guantanamo still holds prisoners.

On the other hand, he does have accomplishments. The Affordable Care Act is law, and will, over time, prove to be a major advancement in solving our health care problems. Dodd-Frank will help to avoid the kinds of cumulative disasters that led to the crash of 2008. The stimulus, while not big enough to pull us out of the Great Recession, kept things from being worse than they are. He has come around on some things, such as Gay Marriage, instead of digging in his heels.

The facts are, he did quite a bit, and quite possibly would have done more had he faced an opposition interested in governing as a loyal opposition, instead of treating the past four years as a campaign to rid themselves of Barack Obama. This is not a casual excuse on Obama’s behalf. Senate Minority Mitch McConnell publicly stated his prime objective would be to deny Obama a second term. Record numbers of filibusters have shown this to be no idle boast.

Republicans have criticized Obama for not working with them, of failing to reach across the aisle to compromise, yet it is they—especially in the House—who have consistently refused to negotiate in good faith. The prime example comes from the Grand Bargain negotiations between Obama and Speaker John Boehner to reach a deal on the deficit. The original plan was to make one dollar in spending cuts for each dollar of taxes raised. Boehner took that back to the House, and was told in no uncertain terms by the Tea Party wing of his own party—which makes up no more than 20% of the Republican caucus—that it was unacceptable. So Boehner went back and cut a deal for two dollars in cuts for each dollar of revenue. Obama agreed; the Tea party cut him off at the knees again. A three-to-one ratio was offered. Six-to-one.

After a while, the Republicans’ true position came out: no revenue increases at all. The deficit would have to be controlled exclusively through spending cuts, which would fall disproportionately on those who could least afford them. It can only be concluded this was what they had been shooting for all along. The negotiations were shams. Obama’s primary fault was in allowing himself to be jerked around for as long as he did.

This brings the argument full circle, to a lack of leadership. He didn’t spend his political capital when he had some, which was right after the 2008 election, when he had an enthusiastic base and ample majorities in both houses. Political capital does not gather interest if ignored; it withers like an unused muscle. When Democrats lost the House in 2010, Obama was more interested in conciliation than in leadership, only becoming vocal on the situation when the presidential campaign began in earnest. Say what you want about Obama and his predecessor, George W. Bush had far better leadership skills. He may have led this country off a cliff, but he knew how rally the troops.

Tomorrow we’ll talk about Mitt Romney.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

More on Chick Fil-A

Americans on both sides of the political spectrum delight in painting the opposition in the broadest strokes possible, to the detriment of everyone except those who stand to benefit by the resulting polarization. It was bad enough when people refused to see shades of gray in public figures; everyone was either good or bad. Now, thanks in large part to the perpetual campaign and twenty-four hour news, “good” and “bad” aren’t enough. Everyone is either Good or Evil.

The current Chick Fil-A controversy is a good example. I have weighed in rather firmly on one side, yet my reasons are not at all what those who ostensibly agree with me tend to argue. I don’t eat at Chick Fil-A anymore. It’s not because Dan Cathy is Evil. I don’t know Dan Cathy. Never heard of him until a few weeks ago. (It’s his father, Truett, whose picture appears in all the restaurants.) For all I know he’s a good man and fine father who happens to hold a social/political opinion far removed from at least one of mine. That doesn’t make him bad, no matter how far apart we are on this. Some of his recent comments make him sound a little intolerant and close-minded, but that’s his right, and has nothing to do with my personal boycott.

The issue here is solely how Chick Fil-A spends money I give them. The money in question moves from the business to the Chick Fil-A Foundation to organizations that take positions I find abhorrent. I won’t let them use my money for that, as is my right. They’re not bad, or evil. In my eyes, they’re just wrong about this one thing. It’s a big enough thing in my eyes to justify action on my part. Period.

If Dan Cathy wants to spend his personal money on these groups, that’s his business, and I’d have lunch at Chick Fil-A tomorrow. True, his income likely comes almost exclusively from Chick Fil-A, but once it enters his personal bank accounts, it’s his; what he does with it is none of my business. (Unless he wants to run for public office, which may place him in a position to make his opinions into law.)

That may seem like splitting hairs to some. So be it. To me it makes a difference. I don’t shop at Wal-Mart. That has nothing to do with how the Walton family spends its obscene fortune, and everything to do with their business practices. (How they treat their employees and how much of their merchandize is from China, for example.)

A representative democracy only works if people of good will can discuss their differences. It’s not working now, largely because that isn’t happening. We’d better start soon, or what’s left won’t be worth fighting over.

Monday, July 09, 2012

Does This Hurt?

Doctors have this thing they do now when you say something hurts. “On a scale of one to ten, with ten being the worst pain you can imagine, how bad is it?” This is stupid on a couple of levels.

First, I write crime fiction; I can imagine a lot. “You mean like having a bayonet thrust through your navel then thrust upward to your sternum? Is that ten?” Well,

a. I don’t know what that feels like, and

2. If it hurts that bad, I’m probably too engaged to tell you about it.

How about a system that actually means something, that people can relate to? I am proposing the King Pain Scale, which may someday achieve the same level of acceptance as the Apgar test or the stages of grief.

1. I’m fine. Leave me alone.

2. I’m aware of it.

3. It’s sore.

4. It hurts.

5. It’s painful.

6. I’m in a lot of pain.

7. Hurts like a bastard.

8. Incapacitated.

9. Unconscious.

The Sole Heir is about a year away from spending more money than most people’s houses cost to go to medical school, and she has this kind of a resource right here, for free. Go figure.

Saturday, July 07, 2012

An Open Letter to Chick Fil-A

Dan Cathy

CEO, Chick Fil-A

Dear Mr. Cathy,

I have been a fan of Chick Fil-A restaurants since serving at Fort McPherson during my time in the Army in the early 1980s; I have eaten at the original restaurant in Hapeville GA. I currently live in Laurel MD, and my wife and regularly eat at the local Chick-Fil-A. (By regularly, I mean at least once a week, sometimes more.) I believe it is the finest fast food restaurant I have seen, not only because of the quality of the food, but the exceptional cleanliness of the restaurant, and the courteous and friendly demeanor shown by everyone on the staff. I have mentioned this to managers on more than one occasion. I am sorry to say I will not eat there anymore, due to Chick Fil-A’s support of groups that actively advocate against same-sex marriage.

Make no mistake, I understand these groups—such as Focus On the Family—may perform many worthy functions for families. Unfortunately, their support for only the type of family they consider to be appropriate, and their efforts to limit the rights of any who would subscribe to a different view, are hateful and without compassion. I have several gay friends; my daughter’s godmother is gay. These are good people who have lived lives more difficult than they should have been because of intolerant views about a matter that is no one’s business but their own. I know of no person or organization providing evidence of any kind to show same-sex marriage affects anyone else’s marriage or family choices.

I understand there are religious issues in play here. I do not mean to be anti-religion. If a religion’s conscience does not allow it to accept same-sex marriages, that is their right. It is not their place to try to enforce such strictures on others. Too often Old Testament verses are quoted to damn those who are different, when any good Christian should look more to the New Testament and its lessons of tolerance, as the New Testament is where Christians are supposed to have taken their teachings.

This is a free country, and everyone is free to worship as they see fit. I think any self-proclaimed “Christian” organization should be more inclusive, but do not feel they should be forced to do so. All I am saying here is you can’t use any of my money to fund activities I find personally abhorrent, even if done indirectly.


Dana King

Laurel MD

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Exercising the First Two Amendments

It’s always good to hear from The Second Amendment Correspondent. It’s been too long since we sat down over dinner and discussed everything from work and mutual acquaintances to what’s wrong with the world. His comments to a previous post are, as always, thoughtful and thought-provoking. In the spirit of energetic discourse, here are some of the thoughts he provoked (his comments in italics for reference):

Some good points. Not enough. Health inspectors? As someone who has dealt with them, I can tell you they don't protect us anywhere near what you think. Look at all the food related scandals we've had lately. And no, likely they wouldn't be worse without them in many cases. After all, the USDA and FDA approved "Pink Slime".

No argument about pink slime and the other food issues the past few years. Two things to consider: isn’t it odd how things got worse when the inspectors’ budgets started to get cut. Also, let’s not forget our history. Do we really want to go back to the way things were a hundred years ago, where food safety was balanced against profits? Unless you’re planning on growing your own food, someone has to be the impartial arbiter.

Most people who do the research realize that the TSA isn't actually protecting us anywhere near what the government would like us to believe. News organizations routinely wander around the baggage area and on the runway without interference. Thank God the terrorists haven't figured that out yet (although I can't imagine why not).

No defense of TSA here, but is the solution to go to a private security firm? Seems to me for-profit companies were running airline security on September 11, 2001. How’d that work out?

The main issue with the healthcare package is that it requires an enormous amount of money to support it. More than we can pay. People forget that the real provisions don't kick in until 2014 as enough money needed to be collected upfront to pay for it. That is if our "expert" politicians don't raid it like they have Social Security (which by the way isn't an entitlement as we all pay into it).

The United States spends more on defense than the world’s next nineteen countries combined. We build sports stadiums for hundreds of millions of dollars apiece. We can’t afford to ensure everyone has decent, basic, health care? We keep hearing about what we can’t afford. It’s not that we can’t afford these things; we don’t want to pay for them.

No defense here of how Social Security has been treated, though there seems to be some confusion over who is more at fault for this. Generally speaking, the least fiscal responsibility is exercised when so-called conservatives are in charge. Over the past thirty years—maybe even fifty—deficits are more likely to rise when conservative hold power then liberals.

Our government has consistently shown itself to be unreliable and untrustworthy in many cases whenever we allow it more power. Why we would entrust the government with any more regulatory power than it already has baffles me.

We have a large number of elected officials who ran on the platform of “government is the problem,” so it is now in their best interests to ensure government is the problem. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.
One example, anyone know how many regulations govern the production and distribution of ground beef? Something that has had multiple outbreaks of e. coli infestation? Take a guess - and you'll be wrong.
There are 40,000 regulations covering ground beef. And no, I didn't put too many zeroes there. So, with 40,000 regulations and all the inspectors out there, they still can't prevent widespread contamination of ground beef.

There are a couple of ways to look at this. One, there are clearly too many regulations. We need fewer regs, better enforced. On the other hand, I doubt anyone sat around making up regulations out of thin air. Regulations are like the rules of sports: new one come up when someone finds a way around the old ones. The truth is somewhere between those two extremes.

But, we think they can regulate healthcare (remember, pass it so you can find out what's in it?)

We all knew the key elements in the Affordable Care Act:
· Young adults can now stay on their parent’s health plan up to age 26.
· Some small businesses with fewer than 25 employees can get help paying for the cost of providing health insurance.
· Insurance companies can’t deny health coverage to kids with pre-existing conditions.
· Adults who have been uninsured for at least 6 months and have been denied coverage because of a pre-existing condition may now get coverage.
· Insurance companies can’t place dollar limits on the health care they cover in your lifetime. 
· Those in the Medicare Part D “doughnut hole” get a 50 percent discount on name-brand prescription drugs and a 7 percent discount on generic prescription drugs.
· Those in Medicare can get preventive services and screenings, such as mammograms and colonoscopies, at no cost to them. 
· New health plans must offer preventive and screening services, such as mammograms and colonoscopies, at no cost to the patient. 
Down the Road
· Insurance companies won’t be able to deny coverage to anyone with a pre-existing conditions.
· Health insurance will cover essential health benefits and coverage will be guaranteed for nearly all Americans. 
· Most Americans will be required to purchase health insurance if they don’t already have it – and depending on your income, they may get help paying for it. 
· Insurance companies won’t be able to place dollar limits on the care they cover in a single year. 
· Americans without health insurance will be able to buy it through state-based marketplaces called exchanges. 
· More Americans will have access to health coverage through Medicaid.

None of these exist in a health care market run by the open market. We also knew there were no death panels in it.

Tea Party advocates are proud to pull out Revolutionary War slogans; “Don’t tread on me” is a favorite. There are two they conveniently forget. You never see them wave the flag showing the snake cut into thirteen pieces, and you never hear them recalling Benjamin Franklin’s words: We must all hang together, or we will all must certainly hang separately. The United States became the richest and most powerful nation in history during a period of social liberalism, where the words “To who much is given, much is expected” had real meaning. The current every man for himself, devil take the hindmost mentality has a good chance of undoing all of that. Everything good that has happened to this country over the past seventy years could have happened elsewhere; there but for the grace of God. Everything bad that has happened elsewhere can also happen here if we’re not careful of the legacy we have been handed.

Right Winger, and proud of it.

My good friend, and happy to have you. I’d post here more often for this kind of response.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Claiming a Father’s Privilege

Few things are more tedious than people who tell you every little thing their kids do, from their first bowel movement through retirement. Past a certain age, most of us have kids, we all love them, and they all do things their parents think are remarkable. I’m not in the business of relentlessly promoting The Sole Heir, and I’m not about to start.

That doesn’t mean I don’t get to bump my chest a little when she has a week like this one.

On Tuesday she received her MCAT scores. (MCATs are the medical school equivalent of SATs for incoming freshman.) Her total for the three numerically scored sections was 33, including 13 in Verbal Reasoning. Of course, those numbers means nothing to anyone not involved in the medical profession. Suffice to say she well exceeded the average section scores of students for medical school (8.8) as well as some top flight medical schools. (Georgetown 10.0; George Washington 9.4; Johns Hopkins 10.1.) Her writing score was an R (on a scale of A to T, T being highest); the average accepted student gets an N. Overall, that places her near the 90th percentile, and that’s a pretty harsh curve, since you don’t take MCATs unless you’re planning to be a doctor.

That would be a good week for anyone. It’s not even the most exciting thing to happen to TSH.

Tomorrow she leaves for seven weeks in France. First a week of sightseeing in Paris with her mother, then off to Nice to participate in a medical internship at a trauma hospital, observing surgeries and doing other pre-doctor kinds of things. She is the first student from St. Mary’s College of Maryland ever to be chosen for this program.

I’ll miss her and I’ll be anxious for her until she returns, but I won’t worry. My daughter is very much the person I’d like to be if I ever grow up. She knows how to take care of herself.

Well done, Bink.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Missing Connections

For a nation with no qualms about telling the rest of the world how it should live, Americans seem to have a lot of trouble connecting causes and effects. We see them when they aren’t there, and don’t see them when they are. The latter is the subject of today’s diatribe.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA, or Obamacare) is about to come before the Supreme Court. Polls show the law is unpopular. Asking people how they feel about the individual provisions should show a wide band of dissatisfaction, right?

Not quite.

Pre-existing conditions can’t be held against you? Love it. Keep your kids on your insurance until they’re 26? Love it. Prescription benefits? Love it. Advances in maintaining medical records? Great idea. Better access to preventive care? Common sense.

Aside from amorphous conspiracy theories (European-style socialized medicine will corrupt your precious bodily fluids!), about the only thing people don’t like about the ACA is the individual mandate, which is necessary to keep younger, healthier people from cherry-picking their care. “You can’t make us have health insurance!” is the cry. “It’s a crumbling of our Constitutional liberties.”

What’s most interesting about this is those who are most hysterical about it have, in general, accepted the Patriot Act as an essential protection of the American Way of Life. These folks also have no issues with TSA requiring colonoscopies before allowing one to board an airplane. Americans insist on paying for their own invasive procedures, which is not the face I’d want to show the rest of the world.

Then there is government regulation. Ask any red-blooded American about government regulations and he’ll tell you they stymie business, cost jobs, and don’t do a damn bit of good.

Probe deeper and you’ll find this same person doesn’t want to have to do without food and drug inspectors, highway safety standards, environmental and workplace health rules, and on and on. Those are government regulations, folks, and the reason you like them is because the people those rules are intended to regulate will fuck you to death without them.

I could go on, but the point is made. Americans are perfectly happy to throw out a program that helps a thousand people because they heard someone gamed the system, even if they can’t prove that someone actually did what their buddy on the Internet (or Rush Limbaugh or Rick Santorum) said they did. Writers know never to let truth get in the way of a good story. The same rule should not apply to life decisions.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

March 1

It was about 8:00 PM when I dropped my coat on the stairs and made it to the bathroom barely in time to vomit from adrenaline and exhaustion. Awake for thirty-eight hours, hardly anything to eat, and I had the easy job. I might have fallen asleep on my way to the bedroom. When the phone woke me an hour later my shoes were on, neither foot on the bed. I would have ripped the caller a new one, but it was my mother-in-law, and she deserved a special dispensation.

She’d only been a grandmother for three hours.

She wasn’t home when I called from the hospital; she had only just received the message.

It took a little over thirty-four hours of labor to become an official father. Mom was getting stitched up when the midwife invited me to meet my daughter. Unseeing and cold, she looked everywhere and nowhere until they told me to speak to her, and she looked straight at me. We played that game a few times and it was time for neo-natal ICU after a less than perfect Apgar test.

That was twenty-one years ago today. Happy Birthday to The Sole Heir.

Almost eight years ago someone else with a March 1 birthday came into my life. She’s still around, too, known better to readers of this blog as The Beloved Spouse.

Happy birthday to the two women in my life. You are the reasons I look forward to every day.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

“Smarter Than Bush” Sets the bar Pretty Low

Barack Obama’s easy election in 2008 said more about the state of the country and John McCain’s relative merit as a candidate than it did about Team Obama. This guy, and his crack staff, have all the political savvy of Don Imus.

It started with picking Joe Biden for vice-president. I love Joe Biden. Voted for him for president as far back as 1988. I think he’s done a nice job as VP. The trouble is, he would have been a lot more help in the Senate, where he was a senior member who knew how to get things done. Casting the tie-breaking vote in The Age of Filibuster so neutered his abilities his dog feels sorry for him. Hillary Clinton has been a fine Secretary of State, but she and Biden (along with Interior Secretary Ken Salazar) could have given Obama the filibuster-proof majority he needed for some of his initiatives.

Senate and House Republicans routinely roll him on negotiations, yet Barack “Charlie Brown” Obama keeps thinking John “Lucy” Boehner will let him kick the football. A prime example can be found in last year’s deficit reduction negotiations. The original ratio of tax increases to budget cuts was supposed to be 1:1, until Obama looked like he might agree to it. Then it was two dollars in cuts to every dollar of tax increase. Then 3:1, 6:1, until now moderate Republicans say 10:1 and the firebrands will accept no tax increases. Obama doesn’t only not draw lines in the sand; he doesn’t even draw them in water.

The current blow-up over health insurance paying for contraception is a perfect point. First, how could people smart and sensitive enough to public opinion to win a presidential election not realize conservatives would pounce on this like a tiger on a tethered goat? (I left out religious leaders because they are but stalking horses for conservatives here. This is all about politics, or they would have complained over similar rules put out by the Bush Administration.) After getting burned once, Obama stepped in it again with his “compromise,” which not only failed to satisfy the original critics (surprise, surprise) but now placed a burden on private enterprise by requiring insurers to provide birth control for free.

The solution was easy. These are health insurance companies we’re talking about, right? They pay for prescriptions, right? Then just say they have to pay for all prescriptions and be done with it. Birth control pills, Viagra, insulin, tranquilizers, heart medications, you name it. Don’t distinguish among what the scrip is for; just fill, baby, fill.

Anyone who isn’t depressed by the fact that Obama is far and away the best choice to be president for four more years—considering what Republicans are passing off as candidates—isn’t paying attention.

Monday, February 06, 2012

21 the Hard Way

Football teams usually score 21 points on three touchdowns and their subsequent conversions. Last night’s Super Bowl saw the New York Giants score a two touchdowns, one point after touchdown, two fields goals, and a safety; they missed a two-point conversion after the second touchdown. It was still enough to beat New England 21-17.

I have come to realize nothing is better than watching the Steelers beat Baltimore; the second best thing in football is seeing New England lose. I wondered why last night, and I think I’ve figured it out. The Ravens are mere felons; the Pats are cheaters.

The New York safety came when Tom Brady was called for intentional grounding in the end zone. Grounding calls when the ball is thrown deep down the field are unusual, but this was the right call. Announcer Chris Collinsworth noted how rare such mistakes are for Brady, but a look at Brady after the call shows he was convinced the error was the officials’; not his. He’s Tom Brady. How could officials advance through what is allegedly a merit system and make a borderline call against him?

Doubly sweet was watching Pats coach Bill Belichick after the game. The players looked disappointed; 99% of coaches would, too. Belichick wore an expression you’d expect to see from Tony Soprano after he’d fixed a horse race and the wrong horse won. Somebody fucked up somewhere, and it wasn’t him.

The ending was satisfying, but not because I rooted for the Giants; I was cheering against the Patriots. I dislike New York teams on principle, flowing downward from the Yankees. The Giants and Rangers have worn me down a little. Eli Manning is hard to dislike, and even Tom Coughlin has been supplanted as the Official Rat-Faced Fuck of the Home Office by NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. Still, I would have rooted for the forces of darkness against the Patriots, except the Pats vs. the FOD would be an intra-squad game.

The first pitchers and catchers report in five days.

Friday, February 03, 2012

Conservatives Are Not Dumber Than LIberals

A new study is getting a lot of play lately, as it suggest conservatism and racism are linked to low intelligence. That’s an iffy proposition on multiple levels.

The first is trying to define intelligence. The study uses childhood IQ. That’s one measure, though over time this has been debunked as a magic number for determining intelligence. There are different kinds of intelligence; IQ measures only one.

Second, and maybe more damaging, is linking conservatives and racism. There may be studies that show conservatives are more likely to be racist than liberals or moderates; I really don’t know. I do know that racism takes many forms, and the less intelligent may be less able to cover it up in their actions. Many conservative politicians are happy to sprinkle racist comments through their speeches using code words. Whether they are truly racist, or cynically appealing to racist voters is open for discussion.

Linking “conservative” and “racist” in the same breath brings to mind the stereotypical redneck who lives in a trailer, drives a pick-up truck with a shotgun rack and a Confederate flag, and thinks getting some strange means sleeping with other than a blood relative. Yes, those people are out there (stereotypes have to come from somewhere), but not in the quantities people believe. Therein lies the problem.

Let’s separate true racists from the argument. A died in the wool racist is a piece of shit not worthy of discussion. They can all die and the world will be a better place. Yet there are shades of racism. Is a person a racist because they are uncomfortable among others who are different, and want better outcomes for those more like them? Common sense and scientific studies imply these traits are natural. We may well be hardwired that way from our tribal ancestors. It’s how we respond that’s important, and is the crux of the discussion.

We live in a country that believes the average TV viewer cannot understand a football play because it’s too complicated, yet can solve the problems of society with a solution that fits on a three-by-five note card. Life is complicated, and it’s a lot more complicated than even those who think it’s complicated want to deal with a lot of the time. Pull one thread and the whole sweater will eventually unravel. An enlightening discussion could probably arise from playing Six Degrees of Separation with what’s going on in the country instead of movie stars.

Conversations, blogs, and message boards have led me to believe conservatives are not inherently less intelligent than liberals. They’re perfectly capable of thinking about an issue in depth; they just don’t want to. Life is hard enough as it is, with jobs and family and health and retirement and the transmission and your pain-in-the-ass shiftless brother-in-law. A lot of people don’t have the energy do sift through the ramifications of No Child Left Behind or the Affordable Care Act or Dodd-Frank. They’re busy, and they want someone to distill it for them.

Up step Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Ann Coulter, and their ilk. (Rarely has “ilk” seemed a more appropriate word.) These “pundits” cherry pick statistics and ridicule opposing points of view and lower the bar for rational discussion. Much has been written about why there is no counterbalancing liberal talk radio. Among the reasons cited is that, while liberals will listen to conservative radio (if only to better understand the enemy), conservatives are not inclined to listen to a liberal. Once the idea is set, let no thought pull it asunder.

Conservative “solutions” tend to be simpler. They won’t work, but people can understand them without taking time off work to attend a focus group. Too many immigrants from Mexico? Build a fence and be done with it. Ignored is the fact the Soviet Union couldn’t keep people from slipping through the Iron Curtain when they lined it with machine guns and had a border a fraction the size of ours to seal.

I can’t begin to recount how many discussions I’ve had with conservatives where points are won until the argument is conceded, only to have the final point be, essentially, “I don’t want to.” That is the core of conservative thought today. They have things they want, or don’t want, and they don’t really care what the potential complications are, or who else is affected. Conservatives by and large aren’t stupid, but their thought processes are often selfish and immature.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Four Years Late and Billions of Dollars Short

Mass re-financing is in the news lately, a program where the federal government will guarantee the loans of homeowners who have established credit worthiness but have homes so far underwater no mortgage company will touch them. This is a radical concept for some, as it could put the government at risk for billions of dollars if people start defaulting. That alone will probably kill the bill, as the government is currently afraid to buy three-ply toilet paper if it will increase the debt.

The real problem is the whole idea is too late. This idea should have been crammed down the banks’ throats as a condition of TARP, with the banks accepting most of the risk. It’s not like the banks haven’t extended themselves in a similar manner before.

Remember when Donald Trump was bankrupt? The Donald certainly doesn’t. Trump has claimed various levels of bankruptcy four times and come out ahead each time. Why is that? It’s not because he’s smarter than everyone else; one look at his hair tells you that. No, The Donald got so far into the banks they couldn’t afford for him to go tits up, so he pretty much got to dictate terms. (Sound familiar?)

What the banks and government fail to recognize—or just don’t care about—is that we’ve been in the same situation for the past four years, with one exception: it’s not one guy who owes a massive amount of money, it’s a lot of people who owe a little. True, loans in the $100,000 to $300,000 range seem like a lot of money to us, but to these guys $100,000 is an office decorating expense. They’d rather throw thousands of people into the street than say, “Let’s find a win-win here. We won’t make quite as much, but we won’t have to sell a $250,000 home for $100,000, either.”

But they won’t. And no one will bring it up to them now, because government has no place telling banks how to run themselves. All government does is make sure they stay afloat when their Ponzi schemes fall apart on them.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Theology 101

Last week I received—along with twenty or so others—the following e-mail from someone I have known as far back as I can remember:

Brilliant in its simplicity................
A. Back off and let those men who want to marry men, marry men.
B. Allow those women who want to marry women, marry women.
C. Allow those folks who want to abort their babies, abort their babies.
D. In three generations, there will be no Democrats.
Damn - I love it when a plan comes together
God Bless America

My reply (To all, of course; this is me we’re talking about):

I know well two gay couples who are married, one male, the other female. The men adopted an infant girl two years ago; the women each have a child from sperm donors. Those children are raised in loving, stable homes. If Rachel were of the proper age, I would not hesitate to let her stay with either couple.These are people who are hurt by the perpetuation of attitudes that convey them as somehow less worthy of the same consideration any of us would want or expect, not stereotypes standing in as straight lines for a joke.

Since we’re just kidding around and no offense should be inferred (right?), let’s talk about the inbred cousin fuckers who, left to their own devises, will constitute the core of Tea Party support in three generations.

Oh, wait. That’s been done already.

The sender of the original e-mail then replied with:

I am totally anti gay. You will never convince me that gay marriage is right or should be condoned. Thank god I live in a state where the governor thinks the same.

This leads me to several questions about Christians I have wondered about for years. I hope someone can enlighten me.

The dictionary definition of “Christian” as a noun is, “a person who believes in Jesus Christ; an adherent of Christianity,” and as “a person who exemplifies in his or her life the teachings of Christ.”

We all know I am no Bible scholar, but I’ve been around enough to know a little. Things like:
There are two books to the Bible: the Old Testament and the New Testament.

The New Testament covers the teachings of Christ.

Christ’s teachings include such sentiments as “love thy neighbor,” “hate the sin but love the sinner,” and, “let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”

The Old Testament tells the tales of God before Christ’s time, when, to paraphrase Lewis Black, He was a Prick. Fire and brimstone, stoning, plagues, floods, slavery. The Old Testament sounds a lot like Mississippi in 1957.

If we accept that the Old Testament was written before the New Testament, and that the writers of the New Testament knew this, then it is reasonable to assume the New Testament is intended to supersede the Old. Where they differ, the New should take precedence.

Christians, believing as devoutly as they do in the teachings of Christ, should then look to the New Testament when determining courses of action with things they do not understand or agree with. Forgiveness and forbearance replace the Old Testament’s eye for an eye vengeance, and punishment such as was administered to Sodom and Gomorrah. More than any other religion, and regardless of whether they truly believe homosexuality is a sin, Christians should accept and forgive; that forgiveness is the bedrock of their religion. True Christians would not dream of denying anyone, straight or gay, the same rights and pursuit of happiness they themselves enjoy.

So here’s my question: Where are all the Christians we keep hearing about in this “Christian” nation? Christianity in America is strictly Old Testament, unless someone is asking for a little forbearance and charity for themselves. That’s not what Christ had in mind for his followers. He wanted them to forgive others, not expect it for themselves.

American Christians need to walk the walk if they’re going to talk the talk. Being a Christian is not just saying all the right things when you want them to apply to you and dragging out the Old Testament when someone does something you don’t like. It means treating those others as you would like to be treated. Even more, it means placing yourself in their position, and wondering what it would be like to be treated as “good Christians” treat them, knowing the only forgiveness you’ll find will come only after abject surrender to their way of thinking.

What would Jesus Do? Right.

Monday, January 16, 2012


Mitt Romney is, and has been, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee. Yes, he could still be found with either a dead girl or a live boy and blow it, but given his “contenders” it might take both to derail him now.

Romney is a good choice for current Republicans, a man who will say anything if he thinks it will help him. No, I mean it. Not just the usual, “I’ll cut taxes and increase services for you personally while screwing everyone you don’t like” stuff all politicians say. I’m talking about simple stuff that points out what a clueless SOB he really is.

For example:

Comparing his current “unemployment” with Floridians who are currently unemployed. Mitt used the similarities in their situations in an attempt to bond with people he wants to vote for him. Of course, Romney is unemployed by choice, and can well afford it. He failed to notice the $200 million elephant shitting on the tablecloth.

His claim he knows what it’s like to worry about getting a pink slip. Romney was born into a wealthy family. He graduated from Harvard’s Law and Business schools with a law degree and an MBA. Even if Bain had seen fit to can him in the early days, Mitt’s family would be fed and his health taken care of, unlike someone who needs his job—and maybe a little more—to pay the rent and health insurance.

The man will lie about his own first name. When CNN’s Wolf Blitzer asked the candidates to identify themselves with something along the lines of, “‘I'm Wolf Blitzer and yes, that's my real name,” Romney followed up with, “I'm Mitt Romney and yes, Wolf, that's also my first name.” Aside from being a pathetic attempt to seem like one of the guys, his comment ignores the fact that Romney’s first name is Willard.

A faux pas? Maybe. Taken together with other comments, this last (my personal favorite) shows a rich kid who so badly wants to included with the regular guys he’ll do anything—anything—to be accepted. He doesn’t see he’s not one of them, and he never will be.

Presidential candidates are asked how they’ll handle the 3:00 AM phone call, like Russian missiles are already over the North Pole. The 3:00 phone call most people are worried about these days is the one that wakes you up to tell you your kid has been in an accident or a parent has had a stroke and you need to get there right now except the kid had the family’s only car or your parents live in Arizona now and you don have anything like the money needed to get there in a timely manner, even if you could afford the time off from work. Romney has no clue what that’s like, and shows how far he is from getting one every time he makes one of those pathetic statements.

Then there’s the story about letting making the dog ride on top of the car for a family trip. His Harvard degrees and job at Bain didn’t allow him to spring for a kennel? Maybe they thought the dog would enjoy the family reunion on Lake Huron. Rent a bigger car. It’s not bad enough the man can’t be trusted to give a straight answer about his name; he’s cheap, too.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Another Voice, With More Clarity

Jim Winter is a hell of a good writer, whose Road Rules made my highly-coveted (cough,cough) list of best reads for 2011. Jim’s an insightful gut and recently posted to his blog (Edged in Blue) something I wish I’d written. He says a lot of things I believe, and better than I have been able to.

He’s going to vote for Obama; I’m not. (I’m not going to vote for any of the current Republican crop, either. My vote is still for sale available.) That’s not to say he’s not disappointed; his list of Obama’s failures—and failings—matches mine quite well. I could go on for a while, but do yourself a favor and read it for yourself. I can’t do it justice.

(Jim also does periodic capsule biographies that are as good and concise as anything you’ll find. Well worth checking out.)


Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Sometimes a Great Nation

It is not unreasonable to judge a republic, at least in part, by the quality of its leadership. No matter what anyone thinks of its leaders, the people voted for them; the credit—or discredit—goes to them.

What passes for leadership in the current Republican Party should put all notions of American Exceptionalism to rest. (The Democrats are in a sorry state themselves, but the levels to which Republicans will sink have been largely undiscovered until recently.) Mitch McConnell and Eric Cantor are the party “leaders” of their respective houses. McConnell has been quoted as saying they could do what was best for the country, but their job was to unseat Barack Obama. Cantor is such a lying weasel his press secretary kept interrupting Leslie Stahl when Cantor found himself trapped by the fact that St. Ronald Reagan raised taxes a dozen times. Cantor maintained all the while Reagan had not. Speaker of the House John Boehner doesn’t wipe his ass until the Tea Party tells him which hand to use; they make up barely a quarter of his caucus.

This year’s crop of presidential candidates competes on a daily basis to see who can promote the most regressive, repressive, reactionary policies imaginable. Herman Cain is one step above a sexual predator. Michele Bachmann is, to be fair to her, bat shit crazy. Ron Paul has the virtue of sincerity. His policies would return the nation to the early days of the Industrial Revolution in some ways, farther back in others. Newt Gingrich never met a fact he couldn’t make up; Rick Perry never met a fact he could remember. Jon Huntsman comes across as putting the nation first, though should he receive closer scrutiny his policies aren’t much less regressive then his peers. Rick Santorum would return much social policy to feudal times.

Then there is the “presumptive” nominee, Mitt Romney, who won the New Hampshire primary last night. Romney likes to portray himself as the adult in the room, with policies that avoid the Tea Party extremes on the right as well as the nanny state on the left. He has the hair, the smile, and works overtime to project an aura of the guy you’d like to see in charge.

In fact, he’s a greedy, insensitive son of a bitch.

Now that the rug rats have pretty well burned themselves out amusing the media, our watchdogs have time to pay attention to Romney. What he’s showing them is not pretty:

Last week’s comment that he likes “being able to fire people who provide services to me,” was spoken in the context of health insurance. The initial uproar was inaccurate; more on that later. The issue here isn’t that it’s good to be able to get rid of a company that gives you substandard service; we all like doing that, as cable and cell phone companies are well aware. What damning here is that Romney doesn’t understand the average person doesn’t have the option to change health insurers.The vast majority of people in this country have health insurance provided by their employer on a take it or leave it basis; they have the option to stick with it or buy their own. Even if they’d like to opt out and get their own—assuming they can afford it—no one has issues with their health insurer unless they’re sick. At that point, no one else will pick you up because you have a pre-existing condition. Romney points to his experience as governor of Massachusetts to show his health care expertise; in fact, he lacks even basic knowledge of how it works.

He uses his experience at Bain Capital to show he can run a large organization. Paul Krugman puts to rest the myth of running government like a business pretty tidily here. In short, if a business lays off half its workers, it still has the rest of the world to sell its stuff to. Nations—even export-heavy nations—sell the majority of their good internally. Lay off too many of them ad no one has money to buy anything else.

Romney’s claims to have created 100,000 jobs while at Bain don’t hold water. He dared to look someone in the eye and talk about knowing what it’s like to worry about getting fired, seeing no distinction between being a “freshly-minted MBA” with an already wealthy father and someone who will lose his health insurance and house if he gets canned.  He even had the chutzpah to claim to be unemployed himself.

Now he claims the “firing people” line was taken out of context. A recent Romney ad shows Barack Obama saying “if we keep talking about the economy, we’re going to lose.” What’s left out is the line immediately before that: Obama was quoting an aide to John McCain in 2008. Complaining about out of context quotes takes Romney to a new level of the Menendez Brothers Duplicity, killing one’s parents then begging for mercy as an orphan.

Great nations have great leaders. Take a look around at who’s in charge and who wants to be. Then look into a mirror and tell yourself they reflect a great nation. I dare you.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Random Thoughts After the Iowa Caucuses

Mitt Romney “won” with 30,015 “votes,” or 24.6% of the total. In 2008 he lost with 30,021 votes and 25.2%. So this year he gets six fewer votes, and drops 0.6% of the total, and calls it progress. Definitely a Republican.

Rick Santorum lost by 8 votes. It’s only a matter of time before he claims he lost because at least ten aborted fetuses would have voted for him had they been allowed to be born. Of course, he won’t mention how many of those would not have lived long enough to vote if his other social policies were also in effect.

Romney and Santorum combined didn’t muster a majority. This confirms Romney’s status as the World’s Tallest Midget.

Ron Paul finished third. He wants to abolish the Department of Education and let the states take care of it. Paul is from Texas, where Rick Perry is governor, and a bunch of people thought he was the best man for the job twice. This is not a ringing endorsement of allowing states to run education.

Newt Gingrich won the second tier, finishing fourth. He’s now in the enviable position of being the oldest one at the kids’ table for Thanksgiving dinner, waiting for some adult to croak so he can move up. The attention Santorum will receive in New Hampshire may be just the thing.

There are three reasons Rick Perry couldn’t do better than fifth. Christians are discriminated against, there aren’t enough immigrants in Iowa. and

Michele Bachmann had a moment of unprecedented lucidity and suspended her campaign after attracting only 5% of the vote in a state that adjoins hers. Maybe Iowans knew her better than she thought.

Jon Huntsman skipped Iowa to focus on New Hampshire, where splitting the Mormon vote with Romney won’t hurt him as much.

Herman Cain got 0.05% of the vote because Iowans are racists who hate pizza.

On the Democratic side, Barack Obama edged out Randall Terry, Darcy Richardson, and Vermin Supreme with 98% of the votes. The losing candidates all claimed to be hurt by not bringing their birth certificates.