Thursday, March 31, 2011

It Ain't The Water

Tea Partiers worked very hard to get the new crop of Republican congress critters elected in November. They expected their new representatives to change the atmosphere in Washington, DC. No more business as usual. Sadly, that hasn't happened. The freshman class has proved quite adept at business as usual, especially the "business" part.

From the New York Times:

Mr. Pompeo said he ran for Congress because as a businessman (whose business included some Koch investment money) he saw “how government can crush entrepreneurism.” His contributions to the House Republicans’ budget-slashing legislation included two top priorities of Koch Industries: killing off funds for the Obama administration’s new database for consumer complaints about unsafe products and for a registry of greenhouse gas polluters at the Environmental Protection Agency.

The congressman said he was concerned that the database would encourage false accusations about good products and that the registry would increase the E.P.A.’s power and cost jobs. Those arguments are nonsense, but Mr. Pompeo represents an early warning of the shape of things to come when the Supreme Court’s misguided decision to legalize unfettered corporate campaign donations fully kicks in next year.

The congressman has plenty of ties with the Koch brothers (see the full editorial linked above), and he's obviously been repaying some debts. Sadly, he's not alone in that regard. His freshman colleagues have also been rewarding their big money supporters, and, as the editorial points out, we can expect that kind of behavior to continue at increasing speed thanks to the misguided Citizens United decision by our Supreme Court.

Ordinary voters may be making a show of demanding real political change, but they are being increasingly outbid at the big money table where American politics happens.

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Of Two Minds

I was surprised at my own ambivalence upon reading this article in today's Los Angeles Times. It has to do with the increasing use of nurse practitioners in the County's system of health clinics. County officials want to add to the responsibilities of nurse practitioners because of the shortage of primary care physicians, primarily because of the cost factor, but also because patients need to be able to see one person on a regular basis, someone who is familiar with them and with their ailments, and there aren't enough doctors to do that.

California is among 23 states that allow nurse practitioners to act as primary care providers without a doctor's supervision, a move aimed at stemming a shortage of physicians and reducing costs.

Now the nurses are poised to take on an even greater role as Los Angeles County and other health systems develop "medical home" models of care that expand the number of primary care providers, including nurses, to meet the requirements of national healthcare legislation, reduce unnecessary hospital visits and cut costs. ...

Nurse practitioners are registered nurses with advanced degrees who can interpret lab results, prescribe medications and do many of the things doctors do — with the added bonus that they cost less to train and hire than doctors, and are easier to find. As of last month, there were about 16,000 nurse practitioners statewide, a 16% increase from five years ago, according to figures from the state nursing board.

At Los Angeles County hospitals and clinics, nurse practitioners are paid $88,000 to $128,000; primary care doctors earn $106,000 to $186,000.

Sure, the cost savings is obvious, but should that be reason enough to place the primary care focus upon nurse practitioners who by all accounts have far less training than doctors? The California Medical Association certainly doesn't think so.

An Institute of Medicine report last fall urged state officials to expand what nurse practitioners can treat. The report found health systems that increased nurses' responsibilities delivered "safe, high-quality primary care," including Kaiser Permanente, the Veterans Health Administration and Geisinger Health System in Danville, Pa.

But Dr. James Hay, president-elect of the California Medical Assn. said some health systems have found such nurses more expensive than doctors because they lack doctors' training and as a result, refer more patients to specialists and order unnecessary tests.

That last quote from Dr. Hay did raise my eyebrow a bit. I'm not so certain that those health care professionals with the magical "M.D." after their names haven't engaged in some of the same behavior on a fairly regular basis. And, as the article makes clear, most of the programs using nurse practitioners usually provide for a medical doctor so that in particularly complicated cases the doctor can be brought in.

Additionally, at the clinic level, the nurse practitioner is generally not treating brain tumors or fractured limbs. Most of the cases the nurse sees are for the flu, diabetes management, and conditions that are fairly routine. The nurses have been trained to read lab reports and to recognize symptom clusters. A primary care physician is available if the nurse needs guidance.

I guess on balance I would go with the proposed system, especially since medical schools are simply not turning out enough primary care physicians to serve the needs of the country, especially the needs of the poor and uninsured. Besides, I tend to like and trust nurses more than I do doctors.


Monday, March 28, 2011

Well, Duh!

WaPo's Chris Cillizza makes a pretty good case that the GOP has a rocky road ahead of them when it comes to the new demographics.

The numbers are eye-opening. Hispanics now account for more than 16 percent of the total population, making them the largest minority group in the country. More than half of all population growth in the United States over the past decade came from Hispanics. Perhaps most amazing is that nearly a quarter — 23 percent — of all children age 17 or younger are Latino.

That’s a major problem for Republicans, given that in the 2008 presidential election, Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) — far from the GOP’s most ardent advocate of stricter immigration laws — won just 31 percent of the Hispanic vote, according to exit polls.

As Republican candidates at all levels continue to pander to their basest base on the issue, pushing for draconian laws at the federal and state levels which absolutely preclude any kind of "amnesty" for immigrants already here, the problems will only get worse. Just ask California's Republicans: last November they lost every single statewide office and one of the main reasons was they could not gain any traction with Latino voters.

Mike Murphy, a senior Republican strategist who worked on former eBay chief executive Meg Whitman’s unsuccessful campaign for California governor in 2010, argues that the reason his side has struggled to make inroads with Hispanics is “mostly driven by the fact that too many Republicans have attempted to use illegal immigration as a wedge issue.” ...

Murphy describes it as a “base-driven strategy that has injected red-hot rhetoric into our party’s message on immigration,” adding: “Primary politics have made the situation even worse.” (Murphy suggests that GOP opposition to some sort of path toward legalization is a “non-starter” for Hispanic voters.)

The state's Democrats, however, didn't take anything for granted, especially with the well-heeled candidacies of Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina staring them in the face. The Dems, with the help of unions, went block by block urging Latinos eligible to vote to turn out to avoid the harsh promises made by Republicans. It worked.

As the 2012 presidential primary system starts heating up (even without any clearly declared candidates), I suspect that the GOP still won't get the message. The Tea Party and the Fundagelicals will continue to call the tune. I would imagine that's what President Obama is counting on.

Unfortunately, that also means that we won't get any meaningful immigration reform legislation this year.

Labels: , , ,

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Sunday Poetry: Pablo Neruda

Cat's Dream

How neatly a cat sleeps,
sleeps with its paws and its posture,
sleeps with its wicked claws,
and with its unfeeling blood,
sleeps with all the rings--
a series of burnt circles--
which have formed the odd geology
of its sand-colored tail.

I should like to sleep like a cat,
with all the fur of time,
with a tongue rough as flint,
with the dry sex of fire;
and after speaking to no one,
stretch myself over the world,
over roofs and landscapes,
with a passionate desire
to hunt the rats in my dreams.

I have seen how the cat asleep
would undulate, how the night
flowed through it like dark water;
and at times, it was going to fall
or possibly plunge into
the bare deserted snowdrifts.
Sometimes it grew so much in sleep
like a tiger's great-grandfather,
and would leap in the darkness over
rooftops, clouds and volcanoes.

Sleep, sleep cat of the night,
with episcopal ceremony
and your stone-carved moustache.
Take care of all our dreams;
control the obscurity
of our slumbering prowess
with your relentless heart
and the great ruff of your tail.

--Pablo Neruda

(Translated by Alastair Reid)

Nope, Not Us

There was a better than usual selection of articles over at Watching America this weekend. It's worth a visit.

My selection this week was based on this queasy feeling I get whenever I hear or read the following: "A NATO strike has hit civilians in Afghanistan, killing 11."

NATO? Come on. We all know that the drones and fighters belong to and are controlled by the US. It's our screw-up. An American writing in Pakistan's The News uses a comparable circumlocution, but at least he notes the actions for what they are: terrorism. Patrick Kennelly, associate director of the Marquette University Centre for Peacemaking and currently working with peace groups in Afghanistan, reminds us just what our act of retribution for 9/11 has led to.

In 2001, the American led ISAF (International Security Assistance Force), a coalition of the richest nations in the world, began military operations in Afghanistan in response to the 9/11 killing of civilians in New York and Washington. The purpose of the operations was to fight terrorism and seek reprisal for the Taliban’s harbouring of Al Qaeda. The operation has turned into a near decade-long war on one of the poorest nations in the world. ...

Most westerners are familiar with the thousands of American civilians killed 9/11, some people know about the atrocities committed by the armed opposition groups in Afghanistan, and even fewer people are familiar with the stories of Afghan civilians killed by ISAF forces.

Some of the recent civilian killings by ISAF, primarily composed of American forces include: two children in Kunar province on March 14, nine children collecting firewood in Kunar province on March 1, five civilians including two children who were searching for food in Kapisa province on February 24; 22 women, 26 boys, and three old men in a raid on insurgents in Kunar province on February 17; two civilians killed and one injured while travelling in a van in Helmand province on February 3.

This is what war is. For all the chest thumping puffery regarding the precision weapons we use, we still are cheerfully hitting the wrong targets, thereby making our putative enemy more palatable to the people of Afghanistan. And we've been doing this for nearly ten years with nothing but a rising death toll to show for it.

It's time to end this madness.

Past time.


Sunday Funnies

(Editorial cartoon by Lee Judge / The Kansas City Star (March 22, 2011)and featured at McClatchy DC. Click on image to enlarge.)


Saturday, March 26, 2011

Bonus Critter Blogging: Damselflies

(Photograph by Yeo Weng Sang, My Shot, and published at National Geographic. Ain't love grand??!!?)

Friday, March 25, 2011

Friday Cat Blogging

The Hanging Judge

There is a remarkable essay up in the opinion section of the Los Angeles Times today. It is written by Donald A. McCartin, a retired Superior Court judge, who describes himself as a right-wing Republican and who is proud of the fact that he was known as a "hanging judge" when it came to the capital punishment cases he heard. Although he had long been a proponent of state-mandated killing, he now concludes that the death penalty just isn't worth the effort and the cost to society.

During that time, I presided over 10 murder cases in which I sentenced the convicted men to die. As a result, I became known as "the hanging judge of Orange County," an appellation that, I will confess, I accepted with some pride.

The 10 were deemed guilty of horrifying crimes by their peers, and in the jurors' view as well as mine they deserved to die at the hands of the state. However, as of today, not one of them has been executed (though one died in prison of natural causes).

And therein lies the rub, according to Judge McCartin. For thirty years he has watched countless appeals and retrials as the defendants asserted all sorts of theories as to why they should not be put to death by the state. He also has watched the suffering of victims' families as their wounds are reopened with each appeal and each legal decision. The judge does not object to the legal process involved, however:

... I have followed the development of legal thinking and understand why our nation's Supreme Court, in holding that "death is different," has required that special care be taken to safeguard the rights of those sentenced to death. Such wisdom protects our society from returning to the barbarism of the past. And though I find it discomfiting and to a significant degree embarrassing that appellate courts have found fault with some of my statements, acts or decisions, I can live with the fact that their findings arise out of an attempt to ensure that the process has been scrupulously fair before such a sentence is carried out.

What he objects to is the massive waste of court time and taxpayer dollars in ensuring that the process has been scrupulously fair. Knowing now what he apparently hadn't considered then, the judge admits he probably should have imposed the alternative sentence to the perpetrators of the ultimate crime: life imprisonment without possibility of parole. It would have saved untold anguish to the victims' families and millions of government dollars, dollars that the state really needs right now, and still kept the public safe.

I watch today as Gov. Brown wrestles with the massive debt that is suffocating our state and hear him say he doesn't want to "play games." But I cringe when I learn that not playing games amounts to cuts to kindergarten, cuts to universities, cuts to people with special needs — and I hear no mention of the simple cut that would save hundreds of millions of dollars, countless man-hours, unimaginable court time and years of emotional torture for victim's family members waiting for that magical sense of "closure" they've been falsely promised with death sentences that will never be carried out.

The hanging judge has changed his mind. As a left wing Democrat, his is not the argument I would use for eliminating the death penalty from our society, but it is one that is both cogent and based in fact. As such, it deserves the hearing I hope it gets from the publication by the Times.

Nicely said, Your Honor.


Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Stupid: It Burns!

I don't know which infuriates me most about the Republican move described in this article: the outright thuggery in continuing the attack on the poor or the rank stupidity of cutting a health care program which saves the government money by giving poor people preventative care. Either/or, I am royally pissed.

Here's the skinny: in their ongoing zeal to roll back President Obama's health care law, the Republicans have targeted drastic cuts to community clinics. Those are the places people without insurance or millions of dollars go to get their children vaccinated, where they go for their own ailments, where the go for their flu shots. These clinics, located all over the country, actually save money for Medicare and Medicaid by providing preventive care so that little problems don't become huge problems clogging up hospitals and emergency rooms.

That apparently doesn't matter. It's health care and it's for the poor.

Community health centers, pioneered by Boston almost a half century ago, are a cornerstone of efforts to expand health care coverage to all Americans while cutting costs. By offering preventive care to poor, uninsured residents, these neighborhood centers reduce the chances these patients will end up in hospital emergency rooms for vastly more expensive treatment, with taxpayers picking up the bill, health analysts say.

“Why would you want to give someone access to more expensive care if you could take care of it in a less expensive way? It makes absolutely, positively no sense on any level,’’ Representative Michael E. Capuano, a Somerville Democrat, said of the GOP efforts. Capuano was a founder of the Congressional Caucus on Community Health Centers.

Republicans characterize their proposed cuts as a necessary piece of their overall effort to rein in government spending. Their approach would also cripple President Obama’s health care overhaul.
[Emphasis added]

And that's what's really going on. Make the man look bad. Make him easy to defeat.

Morons. Evil, evil morons.

You are going to wind up costing the taxpayers billions by your stupid vindictiveness.

An increase of visits to health centers under the federal health care overhaul would save $181 billion or more between 2010 and 2019, according to a study last year from the George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services. About $52 billion of the savings would come from federal Medicaid funds and $33 billion from state Medicaid funds. “If people can get good primary care, this means that they can become healthier, so they don’t have to go to the hospital for care, so that we can save money,’’ said Leighton Ku, the study’s lead author.

That apparently doesn't matter to the Republicans. They have more important considerations to tend to.

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Something's Happenin' Here

Say what?

The US Supreme Court issued decisions against business interests?

Pretty hard to believe, but apparently so.

The decisions continue a recent trend in which the high court has confounded its critics by siding with workers and plaintiffs in business cases. The Chamber of Commerce has been on the winning side in only one case decided this year, while suffering five losses, including in the stock fraud case decided today.

By a 9-0 vote, the justices said a drug maker can be sued for failing to disclose to investors the scattered medical reports that suggested a serious problem with a drug. The company said it should be shielded from lawsuits unless there was strong medical evidence or statistical proof of a serious problem.

In the workplace case, a Wisconsin plastic company had maintained that it could not be sued for firing Kevin Kasten, an employee who made an oral instead of a written complaint at work about the time clocks. Federal laws protect employees from retaliation for having "filed any complaint" alleging a violation.

Well, OK: I kind of get the first case. Investors are a key component of corporations. Rip them off and this Supreme Court is likely to get testy. And this case was a particularly nasty one. The drug maker was aware that its cold-symptom product was causing problems for consumers, enough so that an FDA review was inevitable, yet it hid that information from a wave of investors.

The second case, however, pits the little guy against the employer. With this Supreme Court, I would have expected the opposite result. So did Justices Scalia and Thomas, who voted that the employer is entitled to a well-composed written complaint about time clock vagaries, and that if they slapped an employee around for just making a verbal complaint, well, too bad. Surprisingly, the majority of the justices felt the retaliation was unlawful.

While I am pleasantly surprised by both decisions, even I am not naive enough to believe that the court this term is making a left-ward tilt. These cases were too clear cut for all but the dynamic duo. It will soon be back to business as usual.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Another Small Victory

Last week I praised the Los Angeles Times for its ongoing series of articles on the health insurance industry. By shining the light on the shady practices of those carriers in raising rates,co-pays, and deductibles, often midstream, the Times brought some pressure to bear. Today's good news is that such pressure works.

California health insurer Anthem Blue Cross, scaling back rate increases for the second time in less than a year, has agreed to cut nearly in half average increases for more than 500,000 individual policyholders.

State officials said California's largest for-profit health insurer would reduce average July 1 increases to 9.1% from 16.4%. Anthem said it also would put on hold until January plans to hike policyholders' deductibles and co-pays for medical services at the same time.

The two things which are significant in this announcement is that so many policy holders are benefited and that this is the second time in a year that Anthem Blue Cross has had to back down in trying to implement unconscionable increases. The latter is due to a combination of press coverage and diligence in the California Insurance Commissioner's office. This time the system worked, although Anthem Blue Cross is still maintaining that health care costs are rising and the company is losing money in the California individual policy market. The issue will obviously be revisited at the end of the year, if not sooner.

The system is still not right, mainly because the industry likes it that way:

[California Insurance Commissioner Dave] Jones said he was pleased with Anthem's decision, but he said that fast-rising rates remain a huge problem for Californians struggling to afford health insurance. And he renewed his call for a state law to give his office the authority to reject excessive rate hikes. "Health insurers still hold all the cards when it comes to rate increases," he said. "Consumers are at their mercy."

Until the California legislature and the rest of the state legislatures put some teeth into the insurance commissions' authority, we'll just have to rely on the press to highlight the over-reaches by the industry. Fortunately for us in California, the Los Angeles Times has been doing just that.

Labels: , ,

Monday, March 21, 2011

Because We Can't Be Trusted

California Republicans convened this past weekend and decided that some elections don't matter, especially if they challenge the powers of the those in control of the two main parties.

California Republicans voted Sunday to enact a sweeping end-run around the spirit of the "top-two primary" system adopted by voters, deciding to conduct a mail-in nominating process with all registered GOP voters before the primary election. ...

The move is an attempt to blunt the effects of Proposition 14, which changed the system to allow candidates from all parties to compete in a primary, after which the top two vote getters compete in a general election — even if the two candidates are from the same party. The ballot measure, approved last year, was intended to create competition and loosen the grip that the state's most partisan voters have on primary elections. Democrats are expected to take up the matter when they hold their convention next month.

Under the GOP measure approved Sunday, the candidate who wins the mail-in nomination contest will be listed as the official Republican candidate on party mailers and will have access to party resources.

Prop 14, passed last November, was an attempt to return the nominating process to the people of California, something at least one of the two parties finds unconscionable. The other party, whose leaders must also be worried about the loss of some power to set the agenda, will shortly be dealing with the issue. Both parties are clearly not happy that the voters decided they want to make the choices. After all, what does the run-of-the-mill voter know about what's best for the state and what's best for themselves?

It really is a tough time for democracy right now.

Labels: ,

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Sunday Poetry: Gwendolyn Brooks

The Crazy Woman

I shall not sing a May song.
A May song should be gay.
I'll wait until November
And sing a song of gray.

I'll wait until November
That is the time for me.
I'll go out in the frosty dark
And sing most terribly.

And all the little people
Will stare at me and say,
"That is the Crazy Woman
Who would not sing in May."

--Gwendolyn Brooks

Sunday Funnies

(Editorial cartoon by Kevin Siers / The Charlotte Observer (March 16, 2011) and featured at McClatchy DC. Click on image to enlarge.)


Saturday, March 19, 2011

Bonus Critter Blogging: Llama

(Photograph by Mattias Klum and published at National Geographic. Click on the link to learn more about this nifty critter.)

A Suitable Response

Sometimes the right thing gets done, even if for rather questionable reasons. That's what happened in Arizona this week.

Arizona established itself over the past year as the most aggressive state in cracking down on illegal immigrants, gaining so much momentum with its efforts that several other states vowed to follow suit. But now the harsh realities of economics appear to have intruded, and Arizona may be looking to shed the image of hard-line anti-immigration pioneer.

In an abrupt change of course, Arizona lawmakers rejected new anti-immigration measures on Thursday, in what was widely seen as capitulation to pressure from business executives and an admission that the state’s tough stance had resulted in a chilling of the normally robust tourism and convention industry.
[Emphasis added]

The five bills put before the Republican majority state senate included such gems as requiring hospitals to report to law enforcement any patients suspected of being in the country illegally and challenging the US Constitution on granting citizenship to children born in the US of parents here illegally. While it would have been nice if the bills were defeated because they were so mean spirited and xenophobic, that they were defeated in the state that brought the battle on was at least some comfort.

Of even greater comfort, however, is the fact that enough Americans were appalled by the initial Arizona legislation that they engaged in one of the more effective forms of protest in this country: the economic boycott. Once again, it worked. Business interests were hurt, and business doesn't like to be hurt.

A letter signed by 60 state business leaders this week blamed last year’s bill for boycotts, canceled contracts, declining sales and other economic setbacks.

“Arizona’s lawmakers and citizens are right to be concerned about illegal immigration,” the letter said. “But we must acknowledge that when Arizona goes it alone on this issue, unintended consequences inevitably occur.”


Being evil is sometimes bad for business.

Who could have imagined.


Friday, March 18, 2011

Friday Cat Blogging

How Embarrassing Is This?

It's a sad day when an international and respected commission issues a report chastising the US for human rights abuses. The report, which is located here (in pdf), shines a harsh light on US immigration detention policies.

Immigration enforcement in the United States is plagued by unjust treatment of detainees, including inadequate access to lawyers and insufficient medical care, and by the excessive use of prison-style detention, the human rights arm of the Organization of American States said Thursday.

The group, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, issued those findings in a report that also took aim at a federal program that allows county and state law enforcement officials to enforce federal immigration laws. The report said the government had failed to ensure that local police were not singling out people by race or detaining illegal immigrants on the pretext of investigating crimes.

The commission recommended that the federal government cancel the program, known as 287(g).

The Obama administration didn't have much to say about the report, declaring it needed to study it, but it did point to the "improvements" it has ordered in the detention system, including making the physical environment less penal in nature. Clearly the administration really does have to study the report because it obviously has overlooked one of the main points:

“The Inter-American Commission is convinced that in many if not the majority of cases, detention is a disproportionate measure and the alternatives to detention programs would be a more balanced means of serving the State’s legitimate interest in ensuring compliance with immigration laws,” the report said.

Detaining people who have done nothing wrong beyond entering the country illegally to find work, shutting them away from their families in underused jails and prisons, depriving them of decent medical care, and fencing them off from legal counsel: these are hardly the earmarks of a free and just democracy. Having this pointed out by an international group with international credibility has to leave a mark.


Thursday, March 17, 2011

Shining The Light

I whine a lot about the mainstream media, especially the Los Angeles Times, because of the failure of the press to do their job, which is to keep the public informed of what's really going on. I do, however, have to admit that my home town newspaper has done a superlative job in covering health insurance costs and scams here in California. Today the Times did it again, this time focusing on Blue Shield and its decision to cancel a premium hike.

On Wednesday, Blue Shield withdrew a planned May 1 rate hike for individual policyholders that would have averaged 6.5% and gone as high as 18%, saving customers $35 million to $40 million this year. That increase followed other recent hikes that, cumulatively, would have driven up rates as much as 86.5% since October.

The rate hikes had triggered widespread criticism since they were first disclosed by The Times in January.
[Emphasis added]

And it wasn't just the disclosure of the proposed hikes on individual policies that was important, it was also that the Times did its homework and pointed out that the raise in premiums came as the insurance industry nationwide continued to be enormously profitable. Duke Helfand did more of that in today's article.

Blue Shield of California's decision to cancel a big rate hike for nearly 200,000 people followed mounting pressure from the public and political leaders. But an unforeseen factor may have made the retreat easier for the company to accept: It's paying out less for medical claims than it had anticipated.

And it's not just Blue Shield. Major insurers including WellPoint Inc. and Aetna Inc. also say that medical spending has been lower than projected recently, saving the companies millions of dollars in payouts.

Company officials say that is largely because people are going to the doctor less. Many have switched to cheaper policies that require them to shoulder a greater share of the cost — and that has them thinking twice about discretionary visits.
[Emphasis added]

That's that's the bad news: people aren't getting to the doctor often enough to take care of small problems before they get to be more expensive big problems. Still, however, Duke Helfand reported that fact as well as the fact that people are having to take policies with higher deductibles and copays just to have coverage for catastrophic and bankrupting medical crises.

My point is that by shining the light on health insurance companies and their gouging practices, the Times is doing what, unfortunately, the state's insurance commissioner is not yet able to do: protecting the public. And the Times has been doing a fine job in that respect for several years now.

Well done.

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Road Is Paved With Lies

I found my way back to the opinion blogs at the Los Angeles Times and found a follow-up post to one published yesterday (see my post here) on the efficacy of Republican lying as the 2012 campaign begins in earnest.

This blog post is by Paul Thornton and takes up where Dan Turner left off by noting how powerful the regular use of lies can deeply affect opinion.

As my colleague Dan Turner noted previously, GOP Rep. Michele Bachmann's worst blunders have less to do with historical trivia than her willingness to propagate outrageous lies, including the myths of President Obama's "death panels" (which she didn't invent but was happy to retell) and that lavish trip to Asia that supposedly cost taxpayers $200 million a day. Bachmann isn't alone among fellow 2012 GOP hopefuls. Separately, Newt Gingrich and Mike Huckabee entertained conspiracy-like theories related to Kenya; Sarah Palin midwifed the "death panels" canard; and Rick Santorum, he of "man-on-dog" infamy, accused the president of supporting infanticide.

Mythomania aside, what do they all have in common? (No, it doesn't involve Fox News' payroll.) According to a new Gallup poll, those five bomb-throwers have the biggest shares of devoted followers among the 2012 GOP field ...

That Gallup Poll, along with a handy chart setting out the numbers and listing the questions asked, can be found here and it's worth a visit. Essentially, respondents were given a list of names and asked if they recognized the names. If so, they were asked if they had favorable or unfavorable opinions of the recognized people. About the only surprise is that Sarah Palin didn't top the list.

Apparently, conservatives love them some liars, the bigger the fib, the higher the appreciation. The sad part, however, is that the tactic seems to be working, according to Thornton:

The 2012 race shaped up into a contest on the incumbent not long after Obama emptied his boxes in the Oval Office. The Romneys, Pawlentys and other less galvanizing technocrats can try to wait out this wave of GOP populism, but it has been the hyperbole and, yes, lies from the Bachmanns and Palins that have added weight to the president's falling poll numbers.

I see a contentious and ugly campaign ahead, both for the Republican nomination and for the general election. Unless, of course, our vaunted free press steps up and does a little fact checking and puts it where the public can see it.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

It's The Lies, Stupid

The Los Angeles Times web site is a tough one to navigate, unnecessarily so, although I'd be the first to admit that I am not the savviest of internet users. Still, I don't imagine I'm the only reader who was unaware of the bloggers posting in the Opinion section. Those blogs get very little mention in the summaries posted for each of the various areas of the site. Today was one of the rare days when a blog was mentioned in a way that enticed a click out of me.

Written by Dan Turner, the post takes an incisive look at Michelle Bachman's most recent display of ignorance wherein she not only got US history wrong, she also got US geography wrong.

Mr. Turner suggests that Bachman's ignorance is appalling, but she has another character flaw which is far more dangerous: her propensity to lie.

Bloggers are having a field day over Bachmann's latest blunder, and Politico points out that all this could hurt her with a few East Coast history buffs if she's serious about throwing her hat in the presidential ring. But I'd be happier if pundits made more of a fuss about Bachmann's outright falsehoods, which are plentiful, than a few mistakes, which are common for just about anybody who does much public speaking. Bachmann's whoppers during the heathcare debate are well documented (she helped lead the "death panels" charge and even went so far as to claim that the Democratic healthcare bill would end all private insurance coverage within five years), and she can be relied on to repeat whatever nonsensical claim is currently in vogue on conservative talk shows, such as the absurd notion that President Obama's trip to India last year cost taxpayers $200 million a day.

Bachmann can read a history book if people are concerned about her grasp of 18th century details. But I'm not sure she can conquer her addiction to lying.
[Emphasis added]

While I disagree with Mr. Turner that we should cut frequent speakers some slack when it comes to boneheaded mistakes, especially when those speakers purport to be national leaders, I do agree with his assessment that the intentional distortion of the truth and the flat-out lying is far more damaging to the fabric of our democracy, especially when the lies are told to further a personal agenda.

Ms. Bachman, like many of the Tea Party cohort, are capable of both sins, venial and mortal.


Monday, March 14, 2011

Elders To The Rescue

The Federal Circuit Courts of Appeal are in dire straits. More than 10% of the current seats are vacant because of congressional delays in voting on nominees over the past two administrations. Case filings are up, which complicates matters even further. In order to keep things afloat, even if just barely, the appellate courts have had to rely on judges long past their retirement age. "Seniors" have had to fill the gap which only gets larger each year.

...Nearly 11% of the nation's 875 lifetime positions are empty.

Senior judges, working overtime to keep the wheels of justice turning, earn the gratitude of their overwhelmed colleagues. But they do not earn a penny more for continuing to work, many of them almost full time, than they would if they were to hang up their robes and head for the golf course. ...

All but three of the 9th Circuit's 19 senior judges heard cases over the last year. Their collective caseload accounted for 33% of the appeals court's work in the year that ended in September, said Molly Dwyer, the court's clerk.
[Emphasis added]

Many of the senior judges were appointed and confirmed during the Carter and Reagan administration, so they obviously have the experience. Many of them are also in their 80s, and while they are doing their jobs beautifully, they cannot continue to be considered an endless solution to the vacancy problem. Additionally, even if the vacancies were filled tomorrow, the burden of the federal court system would still be heavier than it ought to be because each circuit simply needs more judges to do the job required under our system. Federal court officials have been begging Congress for years to increase the number of judges, but Congress has refused to act, usually for "budgetary" reasons. That obviously will be the excuse used by the 112th Congress as well.

Meanwhile, nominees to the bench continue to await confirmation votes, even in the midst of this judicial emergency.

A few recent confirmations brought the vacancies below the 100 mark, but Wheeler points to the alarming trend of lengthening times between when a vacancy occurs and when it is filled. One of the three open seats on the 9th Circuit — soon to be four with Schroeder's senior status — has been vacant for more than six years. The nominee to another of the vacancies, UC Berkeley law professor Goodwin Liu, has weathered more than a year of Senate scrutiny and interrogation with no confirmation vote in sight.

This is an appalling state of affairs in a nation which brags about the "rule of law."

Labels: , ,

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Sunday Poetry: William Butler Yeats

The Second Coming

TURNING and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

--William Butler Yeats

Waking Up

Selecting an article from Watching America was easy this week, but that's probably because this opinion piece from Argentina's Argenpress matched my own interests right now. It's about the whole push to bust unions by Republican governors in our Midwest. It's also about the potential re-engergizing of the union movement in this country.

The Wisconsin battle has generated an extraordinary movement of solidarity and worker mobilization throughout the country with meetings, supportive actions, and fundraising to support the occupants of the Capitol extending to all regions. The issue of defense of collective bargaining and the right to organize workers has become part of the national debate. It’s not just solidarity: In Ohio, thousands of demonstrators took to the streets against the cutback plan pushed by that state’s governor, which proposed elimination of collective bargaining for public employees and allowing hiring of new workers (scabs) during an eventual stoppage. There are also mobilizations in Indiana, where bills were presented that included a plan that would authorize private sector workers to “choose” not to be in any union. On Saturday Feb. 26, worker demonstrations were held throughout the United States in solidarity with the fight in Wisconsin: In Madison, in spite of snow, 70,000 people united for the most important demonstration since the Vietnam War. There were also tens of thousands in every principal city in the country. The massiveness of the demonstration on the 26th gave new life to the storming of Madison’s Capitol: On Sunday the 27th the government’s attempt to clear the building failed when hundreds of state police officers declared support for the occupiers. The occupation continues stronger than ever.

In the United States the conscience of millions of workers is undergoing a transformation. The New York Times concluded that Wisconsin might be the “Tunisia of the United States’ working class.” It’s like one of the demonstrators on the 26th stated in his slogan, “Thank you, Governor Walker, for waking a sleeping giant — the American working class.”

While I'm not too sure the numbers cited by the author are accurate when it comes to the masses of protesters, I suspect they are closer to the truth than the ones given out by authorities and the US mainstream media. That said, I believe he's gotten the rest of the story correct. The working class is finally beginning to get it when it comes to what our owners have in mind for us.

We may have lost the first skirmish as the Republican state senators found a way to work around the missing Democrats, but the war continues. Yesterday another 100,000 (at least) protesters renewed the battle at the Madison Capitol, this time joined by the Democratic senators who have returned to the state.

And the unions and their supporters have found other ways to engage, including pouring energy into the effort to recall 8 Republican senators and pulling money from a bank whose directors contributed to Scott Walker's election campaign.

The battle is a crucial one for the nation, not just Wisconsin. If that sleeping giant awakens and stands up for the rights of working people, we will have our own revolution.

Labels: ,

Sunday Funnies

(Editorial cartoon by Tom Toles and published March 9, 2011 in the Washington Post. Click on image to enlarge.)


Saturday, March 12, 2011

Bonus Critter Blogging: Mimic Octopus

(Photograph by David Doubilet and published at National Geographic. Click on the link to learn a little about this tricky cephalopod.)

Laugh Break

This week has been filled with bad news all the way around, from a governor selling workers down the river (Wisconsin) to a country's leader murdering those who would challenge his corrupt regime (Libya), to an island nation being crippled by a devastating earthquake (Japan). Media coverage of all three debacles has been spotty, but, I suppose, adequate enough for the savvy reader to do a little digging, although I still find my blood pressure rising every time some inkstained boob insists on speculating what effect the latest tragedy will have on the price of oil.

I needed a break, and the Los Angeles Times actually gave me that break in a most delightful manner.

All my friends know that I really love editorial cartoons, even those drafted by folks whose politics I disagree with. That's why I feature my favorite cartoon every Sunday morning. It isn't Sunday, and this post is not going to supplant tomorrow's offering, but it is intended to take the edge off the other dreary news.

It's an opinion blog, authored this week by Joel Pett, who is himself a fine editorial cartoonist. Here's what he had to say:

Political wannabes and has-beens constantly test the winds and dip their toes in the water. Then they weather the inevitable storm of criticism from home-state cartoonists who knew them when. To Atlanta's Mike Luckovich, Newt Gingrich is no peach -- a candidate with legs, maybe, but twice-divorced from reality. Jersey boy Jimmy Margulies fired off a dismissal of The Donald's presidential casting call, panning the Palin reality show in the process. And Steve Sack saw only the lighter side of Minnesota's favorite son, refusing to toot the horn of (groan) Pawlenty.

And then Pett includes the cartoons so nimbly referenced. Click on the link to see those three cartoons, but be prepared to laugh, at least a little, at each of them.

Me, I laughed explosively at all three.

You're welcome.


Friday, March 11, 2011

Friday Cat Blogging

They're Back

Los Angeles Times business columnist David Lazarus took a look at the latest insurance company scam in today's column. It has to do with deductibles and with Anthem/Blue Cross. The news is not good.

...if you bought a health insurance policy with a deductible so attractive it's part of the plan's name — such as Anthem Blue Cross' Individual PPO 500 plan — you'd expect that $500 deductible to be basically set in stone.

But Anthem is notifying many individual policyholders that their plan's deductible is going up May 1. The deductible for the Individual PPO Share 500 plan will now be $550. The Individual PPO Share 1000 plan will have a $1,150 deductible. The Individual PPO Share 1500 plan will have a $1,750 deductible. ...

Peggy Hinz, an Anthem spokeswoman, said the changes were reviewed by state regulators. "It is important to note that adjusting benefits is not a breach of contract and can help keep premiums down," she said.

That's news to Culver City resident Mindy Berman. Not only is the deductible for her Individual PPO Share 1500 plan going up but so is her monthly premium — jumping 24% to $643 from $519.

So...the company sells a plan to consumers touting the deductible, buries the fact that the company is free to raise that deductible in the policy's fine print, and then adds a premium increase on top, like a cherry. Good job, that. Of course, this means that the consumer is now paying more for less healthcare. All part of the bargain, eh?

David Lazarus finds the flaw appalling.

What's especially troubling in the case of Anthem's deductible increase is the idea that a plan can be marketed with a relatively low deductible as its chief selling point, and then that deductible can still be jacked up after a consumer has signed on.

Maybe that's splitting hairs. Maybe insurers are free to do whatever they want.

That appears to be the case, David. While the California Insurance Commissioner is going to take a long hard look at the move from the standpoint of false advertising, of "bait-and-switch" tactics, it's clear that Anthem believes it's on firm ground on this one.

Sadly, the company will probably get away with it. You see, we have no alternative any more.

Labels: ,

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Elections Have Consequences

The Republicans in Wisconsin won this round. Members of the Senate did an end around the Democrats who had fled to Illinois to prevent the necessary quorum for voting on the budget bill designed to bust state employee unions.

The Republicans control the Senate but had been blocked from voting on the issue after Senate Democrats left the state last month to prevent a quorum. But the Republicans used a procedural maneuver Wednesday to force the collective bargaining measure through: they removed elements of Governor Walker’s bill that were technically related to appropriating funds, thus lifting a requirement that 20 senators be present for a vote. In the end, the Senate’s 19 Republicans approved the measure, 18 to 1, without any debate on the floor or a single Democrat in the room.

Nice move. And it will work. The State Assembly, also heavily Republican, will surely pass the changed bill. The public will now be faced with a strutting Scott Walker, the governor who wanted desperately to kill collective bargaining and got what he wanted.

Is the battle over?

Not hardly. State progressives will continue working furiously on the recall of several Republican senators and might very well succeed. In ten months, the possibility of a recall of the governor will rise on the horizon. In the mean time, union supporters will hopefully continue to apply pressure on the state legislature via ongoing peaceful protests.

But it's a battle that wouldn't have had to be fought if the state's voters hadn't elected Scott Walker and his Republican buddies. And there's the lesson. The Republicans "swept" into office in an election for which there was a dismal turnout. Too many people stayed home in November, especially in the big cities, the bastion of progressive politics.

Now, there are all sorts of reasons/excuses for that low turnout, not the least of which would be the total disgust of voters with the Democratic Party on the national level. Jobless, about to be homeless, with the economy in the toilet, Wisconsin Democrats watched as Wall Street and the wealthy got bailed out by Democrats who held the White House and controlled Congress and all they got was the equivalent of a tee shirt in payroll tax breaks. So, unlike November, 2008, the Wisconsin voter just stayed home.

And they got, sadly, what they deserved: Scott Walker and a Republican-led state legislature bankrolled by the Koch Brothers.

State and local elections may not have the cachet or drama of a presidential election, but they are just as important. In many respects, they are even more important for sending a message to national officials and party leaders, but at the very least those elections are necessary for the nitty-gritty work required to keep cities functioning and the state healthy. Those who stayed home in Milwaukee, Green Bay, Madison did their state a disservice.

Elections have consequences.

Labels: ,

Wednesday, March 09, 2011


While most of the attention has been focused on the shenanigans by Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and his union busting in the name of budget cutting, the fact is that most states are in dire straits when it comes to red ink. California, of course, is no exception. For the past three years, the state has been hit hard by unemployment so tax revenues have been way down. Complicating matters further, because of unusual rules on tax increases and because Republicans in the state legislature have ruled out any tax increases, the only way to stop the hemorrhaging has been rather dire cuts in services.

The editorial board of the Los Angeles Times took a look at Governor Jerry Brown's budget proposals, and and found some of them shortsighted. The editorial makes it clear that the state has no choice but to cut expenditures, but when it comes to safety net programs, a scalpel rather than a chainsaw is needed. The long term effects of too-drastic cuts could be devastating to the state.

The demand for welfare, Medi-Cal and other safety-net programs is cyclical, with costs going up during downturns as tax revenues plummet. In recent years, lawmakers have sought repeatedly to rein in spending by reducing the availability of those programs and shrinking their benefits.

More than half of the $12.5 billion in spending reductions that Gov. Jerry Brown proposed this year were in social services. Negotiators for the Assembly and the Senate restored some of that funding in their conference report, but still called for billions in cuts to healthcare, preschool subsidies, child care and welfare payments. ...

In the long run, an inadequate safety net is likely to lead to higher dropout rates, more incarcerations and less productivity by those who can't obtain needed services. That's particularly true of the money spent helping children in low-income families prepare for and stay in school. These programs aren't above scrutiny, but rather than pruning them meticulously, lawmakers have proposed deep, broad cuts.

Balancing the budget on the backs of the poor and vulnerable rather than raising taxes on those who have been the recipients of the state's largess in the past will turn out to be the more expensive way to go. The "center left" board ignored the tax issue entirely, but at least it pointed out the real costs to the state under the current proposals of the governor and the legislature. For that, it is to be commended.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Bush Lite

So much for that hopey-changey stuff. President Obama once again has broken a key campaign promise, this one having to do with the Guantanamo Bay gulag.

President Obama signed an executive order Monday that will create a formal system of indefinite detention for those held at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, who continue to pose a significant threat to national security. The administration also said it will start new military commission trials for detainees there.

Of the nearly 150 men still being held at the prison camp Obama the candidate swore to close down, roughly a third can't be tried, even in the dog and pony show trials by military commissions. The evidence is too tainted, usually obtained under highly illegal means and frequently totally unreliable. But, the White House has apparently decided, they must be guilty of something or they wouldn't be in captivity. Great legal reasoning from a man who taught Constitutional Law.

The administration argues that it has the legal authority to continue to hold all of the detainees at Guantanamo Bay under the laws of war. Federal courts have backed that assertion, although they have found that some detainees should be released for a lack of evidence against them. The detainees will continue to have the right to petition the federal courts under the doctrine of habeas corpus.

It has hard to imagine that this Supreme Court will challenge the government on the issue, so these men will continue to rot away in Cuba.

"Land of the Free ... Home of the Brave."


Labels: , ,

Monday, March 07, 2011

Is Anybody Going To Run?

No one has formally declared his/her intention to seek the 2012 GOP presidential nomination and it is driving the mainstream media crazy. The nominating convention is still 18 months away, but the election season has been dramatically elongated the past few decades so it is highly unusual that not even one formal candidate has announced.

A few months ago I would have bet on Mitt Romney declaring and in full campaign mode by this time. Now I'm not so sure he'll even be the nominee. Doyle McManus of the Los Angeles Times certainly doesn't think so.

On paper, Romney should be the front-runner for next year's GOP nomination: He has experience, name recognition, broad popularity and plenty of money. But Republican strategists warn that because of "Romneycare" and other early flings with moderation, Romney lacks one important factor: fervent support from the strongly conservative voters who dominate the primary electorate in most states.

The healthcare system he helped put in place in Massachusetts while governor looks too much like Obamacare to the ideologues. And then there's the matter of his being a Mormon, which just doesn't sit well with the Southern fundagelicals. Does that mean he won't run? I think he will; he's given all the signs that he will, he just hasn't declared.

That leaves things wide open, and by McManus's count, there are 17 other potential candidates, none of whom have declared, although a few have come close.

Newt Gingrich, for example, has a web site! Of course, the website is just part of the exploratory process (a step or two before establishing an exploratory committee which would entail some reporting requirements). It's also a pretty obvious attempt to build a data base for fundraising should Mr. Gingrich actually declare his candidacy.

Michelle Bachman, one of the Tea Party divas, certainly has been doing a lot of traveling and a lot of speechifying. Yesterday it was on a Sunday talk show, which gave her plenty of air time to engage in her peculiar brand of perseverating talk: "Obamacare! Obamacare! $105 billion! $105 billion!" At least some people thinks she's nearing the tipping point. She just wants a little nudge from her friends.

Of course, that still doesn't explain why none of the 18 have announced their candidacy, and an article in today's Los Angeles Times offers a few reasons why these politicians are being coy.

Republican strategists had expected new contenders to emerge after the party scored major gains in the 2010 midterm election. Instead, the news has mostly been about those who toyed with running and took a pass, including Sen. John Thune of South Dakota and Indiana Rep. Mike Pence.

The rigors of presidential campaigning and the high personal cost involved are often cited as reasons why many political figures decline to run. A more pragmatic explanation may be Obama's rebound in the polls and continuing signs of economic recovery. That has made the 2012 GOP nomination seem less alluring than it did last fall.

In other words, no one wants to be branded a loser when the 2016 election rolls around. That could very well be the case: the candidates are hoping to keep their powder dry.

But surely someone will run. Eventually. At least I hope so. I have all this popcorn just waiting to be consumed.


Sunday, March 06, 2011

Sunday Poetry: Maya Angelou

Woman Work

I've got the children to tend
The clothes to mend
The floor to mop
The food to shop
Then the chicken to fry
The baby to dry
I got company to feed
The garden to weed
I've got shirts to press
The tots to dress
The can to be cut
I gotta clean up this hut
Then see about the sick
And the cotton to pick.

Shine on me, sunshine
Rain on me, rain
Fall softly, dewdrops
And cool my brow again.

Storm, blow me from here
With your fiercest wind
Let me float across the sky
'Til I can rest again.

Fall gently, snowflakes
Cover me with white
Cold icy kisses and
Let me rest tonight.

Sun, rain, curving sky
Mountain, oceans, leaf and stone
Star shine, moon glow
You're all that I can call my own.

--Maya Angelou

Sunday Funnies

(Editorial cartoon by Ted Rall and featured at the Los Angeles Times. Click on image to enlarge.)


Saturday, March 05, 2011

Bonus Critter Blogging: Asian Crested Ibis

(Photograph courtesy Quan Min Li via The World's Rarest Birds and published at National Geographic.)

The Gilded Parachute Age

The bloated pay scales for corporate CEOs are outrageous, but just as outrageous are the money they get when they move out and move on. The Boston Globe's editorial board took a look at one particularly egregious farewell gift and found it galling because it involved a non-profit insurance company.

BLUE CROSS Blue Shield of Massachusetts couldn’t have made a better case for a “public option’’ health plan than it did by granting an $11 million golden handshake to its former CEO. At a time when elected officials, hospitals, doctors, and insurers are all trying to hold down health-cost inflation, the pay, severance, and retirement money doled out to Cleve Killingsworth is an insult to well-meaning reformers: Why should those who treat patients receive lower reimbursments when even unimpressive suits like Killingsworth make out like bandits? ...

Like any insurer, Blue Cross is supposed to earn the roughly 10 cents it takes from each premium dollar by finding ways to keep doctors, hospitals, and other providers from taking advantage of the system. But its credibility as a referee on health care funding is undermined when its CEOs leave the company with gilded packages that make a mockery of the company’s nonprofit status.

The editorial also points out that the company's generosity extends to its board of directors, some of whom earn nearly $90,000 a year for their service. This is hardly consistent with its non-profit status, especially since many of the hospitals whose bills are chopped by Blue Cross from have boards which serve free.

Apparently even the non-profits can't resist playing the expensive CEO game. That public option, or (even better) that Medicare for all, is beginning to look even more appealing.

Labels: ,

Friday, March 04, 2011

Friday Cat Blogging

The Unitary Governor

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker was clearly taking notes during the last Bush presidency, gleaning a very important lesson: it's good to be king. How else does one explain his actions in the first months of his term?

He pushed $117 million in business tax cuts through the GOP-run statehouse, aggravating the state's deficit in hopes of creating jobs. Then he got the Legislature to agree to a measure requiring a two-thirds majority to raise taxes in the future, leaving fewer options to close the shortfall.

This week, he proposed a two-year budget to close the projected $3.6-billion deficit. It included big cuts in state aid to local governments — and would bar those cities and counties from raising property taxes to avoid having to make their own reductions.

Most notably, Walker used a small gap in the current fiscal year to fast-track a bill that would give his administration unprecedented powers — not only to weaken public sector unions, but to appoint dozens of powerful new bureaucrats and to determine who gets to stay in the state's Medicaid program. ...

"What you've got is a governor who's come in with a great appetite for achieving his ends," said Norman J. Ornstein, a scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute. "This is far more about power than it is about money."
[Emphasis added]

How astute of the AEI. It's hard to disagree with that analysis, even given its source. Of course, it didn't take a session examining cow entrails to reach the right conclusion. Governor Walker has been pretty clear in his intentions:

The most consequential provision would allow Walker's administration to determine eligibility for the state's Medicaid program, BadgerCare. Previously, any changes would have to go through the Legislature. Under the bill, the governor has to consult only with the Senate's budget committee. [Emphasis added]

Sound familiar? That eight years under George W. Bush had Congress tied in knots, primarily because Congress quite cheerfully ceded important powers to the executive, just as the Republican-led state legislature is doing in Wisconsin.

Quick study, that Scott Walker.

Labels: ,

Thursday, March 03, 2011

And Who Is My Enemy?

While most of the attention in the WikiLeaks matters has been focused on Julian Assange, the head of that shadowy internet organization, Pfc Bradley Manning, the soldier who is charged with sending WikiLeaks a trove of emails and diplomatic cables, continues to sit in an Army jail awaiting a court martial. Military prosecutors have decided to amp up that proceeding by adding to the charges now pending.

From the Los Angeles Times:

The Army has charged Pfc. Bradley Manning, the soldier suspected of leaking thousands of documents published by WikiLeaks, with aiding and giving intelligence to the enemy, a significant escalation of the government's prosecution of the junior intelligence analyst.

As part of 22 additional counts filed against Manning, Army prosecutors said he "wrongfully and wantonly" caused intelligence to be published on the Internet, with the knowledge that it would be "accessible to the enemy."

The punishment for that charge is death, although the prosecutors have indicated they won't be seeking that penalty. So why the charge? One theory is that the prosecution hopes to force a plea bargain in order to avoid a trial, one that might be very difficult. It seems to me, however, that such a charge only complicates the trial further by imposing a heavier burden on the prosecution:

To violate the military statute against aiding the enemy, a defendant must knowingly harbor, give intelligence to or communicate with the enemy, "either directly or indirectly." The charges against Manning allege that he did so "through indirect means," apparently a reference to the fact that information was made public on the Internet, making it available to anyone.

That's a pretty tough row to hoe. If Manning refuses any plea deal, then the prosecutors have to at least identify an enemy and establish that Manning intended to aid that enemy.

Of course, we all know who the government considers the real enemy, and right now it isn't Osama bin Laden. It's Julian Assange, the man who with his organization is trying force some transparency on the US government and who has embarrassed the government time and again with revelations on just what secrets are being kept away from us.

And Pfc. Bradley Manning? He's just a pawn, one who very well might spend the rest of his life in an Army prison.

What a country.


Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Your Cheating Heart

Most schools and educators spend a great deal of time impressing upon students that cheating is wrong and that it won't be tolerated. Some, however, have apparently decided that cheating is OK, and even assist their students in the process. This shocking turn of events is playing out in Southern California as one charter school operator with six charter schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District may very well lose those charters because of such activity.

From the Los Angeles Times:

The Los Angeles Board of Education voted Tuesday to shut down six charter schools that were accused of widespread cheating on last year's standardized tests, citing the malfeasance and an insufficient response to it. ...

Crescendo founder/executive director John Allen allegedly ordered principals and teachers to prepare students for last year's exams with the actual test questions. Several teachers at the schools alerted the district about the cheating.

There are a couple of things operating here. The first is the whole nonsense of hiring private operators to come in to take over the job of public education at the taxpayers' expense. These operators promise to replace under-achieving schools with smaller classes and improved pedagogical techniques. The result is supposed to be a better education for students than what they would get at the public schools being replaced for less money than it would take if the public school system were doing its job. Given the accusations leveled at Crescendo, I'm not so certain the parents should be happy at the type of improved education their children are receiving.

The second issue if just as important and has to do with how success is being measured in education these days. The standardized tests which are a result of that horrid measure known as "No Child Left Behind" seems to be the sole yardstick. If our schools have to "teach to the test" to avoid being labeled as a "failed school," then there is no time to teach critical thinking, logic, theory. Only facts matter, with no room for evaluation of those facts or the context in which they are being asserted.

This isn't education, not by a long shot.


Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Eye Those Wheaties Carefully, Governor Walker ...

...the New York Times just peed in your cereal bowl.

OK. I admit it. I was stunned by this from the New York Times. It's the poll which the Grey Lady conducted on the issue of public employees and their unions. (The poll results are located here.) I guess most Americans do care about unions and about their public employees.

Americans oppose weakening the bargaining rights of public employee unions by a margin of nearly two to one: 60 percent to 33 percent. While a slim majority of Republicans favored taking away some bargaining rights, they were outnumbered by large majorities of Democrats and independents who said they opposed weakening them.

Those surveyed said they opposed, 56 percent to 37 percent, cutting the pay or benefits of public employees to reduce deficits, breaking down along similar party lines. A majority of respondents who have no union members living in their households opposed both cuts in pay or benefits and taking away the collective bargaining rights of public employees.

Governors in both parties have been making the case that public workers are either overpaid or have overly generous health and pension benefits. But 61 percent of those polled — including just over half of Republicans — said they thought the salaries and benefits of most public employees were either “about right” or “too low” for the work they do. ...

The poll found that an overwhelming 71 percent of Democrats opposed weakening collective bargaining rights. But there was also strong opposition from independents: 62 percent of them said they opposed taking bargaining rights away from public employee unions.

What this means is that it isn't just the dirty fucking hippies and the Islamofascist commies who care about workers, their rights, and their benefits. It also means that a huge chunk of the country does recall what unions have meant to this country and to the world.

But wait. There's more:

Tax increases were not as unpopular among those surveyed as they are among many governors, who have vowed to avoid them. Asked how they would choose to reduce their state’s deficits, those polled preferred tax increases over benefit cuts for state workers by nearly two to one. Given a list of options to reduce the deficit, 40 percent said they would increase taxes, 22 percent chose decreasing the benefits of public employees, 20 percent said they would cut financing for roads and 3 percent said they would cut financing for education.

Now, if there were just a way to channel those opinions into action ...

Labels: ,