Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Granny Bird Award: Rick Perry

A new feature at Cab Drollery, the Granny Bird will be awarded from time to time to individuals or groups who adversely affect the rights and interests of the elders, especially if they go out of their way to do so.

It is most fitting that the inaugural award should go to Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who, in a book published as he was burnishing his credentials to run for president, declared Social Security unconstitutional and "a Ponzi scheme." He has made it clear that he loathes this program and its partner Medicare and that he intends "to have a conversation" about them.

Well, Rick: here's the opening commentary from Granny.

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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Day The Music Died

The ten-year anniversary of 9/11 is rapidly approaching and plans for memorializing the date are ratcheting up. "Ground Zero" has returned to our every day vocabulary. Politicians are once again thumping their chests and issuing dire warnings about terrorism and plots and jihadists, oh my. The day that a handful of maniacs took over four commercial airliners is once again being dragged into the national consciousness, although it's hard to tell just what the appropriate emotional response should be: sadness? anger? fear? celebration? set-jaw determination?

I know I have a pretty mixed set of emotions when I recall that day nearly ten years ago, especially now that we have slightly more information than we did back then. For example, we now know that President Bush and Vice President Cheney pushed investigators hard to find a connection between that attack and Iraq. Even in 2001 the administration wanted to get the Iraq War on, although it would have to settle for an attack on Afghnistan first when it became clear that the attackers were from a shadowy group known as Al Qaeda rather than from Saddam Hussein's stable. The neocons would still get their war with the oil rich Iraq, but that war would have to wait a couple of years.

We also know that the Bush administration was warned by the Clinton administration of the danger Al Qaeda posed and that even as late as August 6, 2001 the president was warned of an imminent attack from the group, a warning he shrugged off. Would it have made a difference if President Bush had taken the warnings seriously? It's hard to tell because we also learned that our various intelligence gathering agencies weren't communicating with each other.

And so the events unfolded on that day: over 3,000 people died, a huge number, yes, but one that is tiny compared to the death and destruction that followed in the wake. The destruction involved, however, more than buildings and jet liners. That day marks the destruction of some important principles which had protected Americans for over 200 years as the neocons ripped the heart out of the US Constitution. The attack gave rise to the first Patriot Act, a law which has been renewed and tweaked every year since and which enables our government to spy freely on its citizens.

From the Los Angeles Times:

Thanks to new laws and technologies, authorities track and eavesdrop on Americans as they never could before, hauling in billions of bank records, travel receipts and other information. In several cases, they have wiretapped conversations between lawyers and defendants, challenging the legal principle that attorney-client communication is inviolate.

Advocates say the expanded surveillance has helped eliminate vulnerabilities identified after the Sept. 11 attacks. Some critics, unconvinced, say the snooping undermines privacy and civil liberties and leads inevitably to abuse. They argue that the new systems have weakened security by burying investigators in irrelevant information.

"We are caught in the middle of a perfect storm in which every thought we communicate, every step we take, every transaction we enter into is captured in digital data and is subject to government collection," said Fred H. Cate, a professor at the Indiana University Maurer School of Law who has written extensively on privacy and security. ...

Officials from the FBI and NSA say they follow strict rules to avoid abuses. But in 2007, the Justice Department's inspector general found that the FBI had engaged in "serious misuse" of its authority to issue National Security Letters, claiming urgency in cases where when none existed

Such letters, a kind of administrative subpoena, are key to the increased surveillance.

Those letters are still being used, essentially without any judicial or congressional oversight. As the article makes clear, not even the various congressional intelligence committee members know precisely how often and under what circumstances those letters are issued. Testimony from the FBI and NSA is murky, intentionally so, but what little data has been gleaned has shocked many committee members. Yet, those same committee members continue to vote to extend their use each time the Patriot Act is up for renewal.

9/11 will be a day of both profound sadness and extreme anger for me. I won't be celebrating.

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Monday, August 29, 2011


Apparently the godless left has hurt the feelings of the good Christians running for office, at least that's the most charitable explanation I can come up with after reading Charlotte Allen's opinion piece in today's Los Angeles Times. Ms. Allen fills her polemic with references to books, articles, and blog posts all of which she claims prove that the left will go gunning for any conservative running for office who also happens to be a practicing Christian.

An election year is just around the corner, and right on schedule we're witnessing the return of the liberal obsession with conservative politicians' religious beliefs.

Every time a Republican candidate for high office surfaces who is also a dedicated Christian, the left warns in apocalyptic tones that if you vote for him, America will sink into a "theocracy." Long ago these fear-mongers warned us about Ronald Reagan. Then it was George W. Bush, and after that, Sarah Palin. Now it's Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry. Elect Perry or Bachmann, this year's warnings go, and make way for "Jesusland" — a country in which adulterers will be stoned, creationism taught in the schools and gay people sent to reorientation therapy.

What Ms. Allen conveniently overlooks is that the liberal obsession with conservative politicians' religious beliefs is fueled by those conservative politicians constant reminders of those religious beliefs. It was Michele Bachmann who first noted that in her belief system a woman should be submissive to her husband. It was Rick Perry who called for and then led the prayer service in Houston a few weeks before announcing his candidacy for president. Perhaps if the candidates weren't constantly harping on their religion those of us who want religion kept separate from government wouldn't get so damned uppity.

Further, it is only too clear that what the candidates are doing at this stage is pandering to those elements of the Religious Reich who still command some power in the GOP. That segment of the party demands fealty on issues such as evolution, climate change, abortion rights, and the candidates are only too happy to provide them with that fealty in the most strident tones possible. Is it any wonder that those of us on the left, including those of us who are ourselves practicing Christians, are appalled at the rhetoric?

No, Ms. Allen, you can cite all the books and articles you want, but until the conservative candidates start recognizing the fact that ours is a secular government and not a Christian government, those of us on the left are going to have plenty to say.

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Sunday, August 28, 2011

Sunday Poetry: Percy Bysshe Shelley


I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert...Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
'My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!'
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

--Percy Bysshe Shelley

Unwelcome Move

I learned something interesting during my visit to Watching America this weekend: NIMBYISM is not just an American phenomenon. When it comes to relocating American military bases, other parts of the world can be just as cranky as Americans unhappy with a recycling plant in the neighborhood.

GIs have been relocating from Heidelberg to the Erbenheim section of Wiesbaden since the end of 2009. Another 700 GIs assigned to the legendary U.S. V Corps just arrived recently. By mid-2012, the Army's main land force headquarters is scheduled to complete its relocation of some 4,000 troops to Wiesbaden.

All of this is much to the Left Party's displeasure. State parliamentary leader Willi van Ooyen says that rather than spending billions on war and the expansion of military facilities, the money should be spent on improving social and educational services. To back up his demands, he is reminding the Hessen state president of Article 69 of the Hessen state constitution, which says that the state is officially anti-war.

Perhaps Mr. van Ooyen could send a letter to our Supercommittee expressing the same idea with respect to spending billions on war rather than on improving social and educational services. We could use a shift in priorities as well. I mean, the cost of moving the base to Wiesbaden is quite significant:

The U.S. Army justifies the relocation with the fact that its headquarters facilities in Heidelberg are fragmented and scattered, making them more vulnerable to terrorist attack. In Wiesbaden, on the other hand, there is already a secure and compact facility with two access points. Construction of the command center, along with the necessary support buildings, is expected to cost $130 million, of which the U.S. Congress has already appropriated $60 million. The city of Wiesbaden has already assured the U.S. and German governments that the land necessary for construction would be made available and that it would undertake measures aimed at facilitating the acquisition of necessary permits. [Emphasis added]

Of course, the city of Wiesbaden will cooperate: the presence of the US soldiers means an additional $45 million for the local economy. So, regardless of the Left Party's high-minded objections, the Imperial Army is moving to Wiesbaden.

That's how we roll.

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Sunday Funnies

(Editorial cartoon by Joel Pett / Lexington Herald-Leader (August 25, 2011) and featured at McClatchy DC. Click on image to enlarge.)

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Bonus Critter Blogging: Sea Stars

(Photograph by Thomas P. Peschak and published at National Geographic.)


It appears that the Obama administration is getting serious about fraud in the Medicare and Medicaid systems. One official, Peter Budetti, deputy administrator and director for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services' Center for Program Integrity even responded to an Los Angeles Times opinion piece which attacked Medicare's electronic billing system as one just made for the criminals to take advantage of.

Here's a few of his comments from that response:

Since President Obama took office, we have conducted an unprecedented crackdown on those who steal from Medicare, giving law enforcement greater resources, putting more boots on the ground and increasing penalties. In 2010, these efforts recovered a record $4 billion in taxpayer money.

But we're not just prosecuting fraud. We're also taking steps to prevent it. In the past, nearly anyone could fill out a form with the right information and become a Medicare provider. Criminals could set up false clinics, enlist willing accomplices and vulnerable seniors to submit false claims and begin collecting payments they had not earned for care they had not provided.

That's changing.

First, we're paying closer attention to who is signing up in the first place. Now, before you can become a Medicare provider, you have to go through a rigorous third-party review process that will make sure you have the correct licenses and meet all the requirements to bill Medicare. The days when you could just hang a shingle and start billing Medicare are over.

Second, if criminals do get into the system, they're now a lot more likely to get caught. Starting last month, our Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services have for the first time a comprehensive picture of Medicare claims nationwide. This means that our investigators can see billing patterns in real time and analyze those patterns. They can identify potentially fraudulent claims before they're paid, investigate them and take action quickly. And we are doing this without placing an undue burden on honest providers, allowing them to focus on providing high-quality care to Medicare beneficiaries.
[Emphasis added]

Mr. Budetti makes it clear that the very system attacked as being designed for fraud has itself made it easier to spot fraud. The electronic billing system provides CMS with ongoing, real-time snapshots of its use in much the same way credit card companies use their system to spot unusual credit card usage. He contends that it works to make the entire system more efficient and it also works to highlight suspicious activity.

If the supercommittee really does want to tinker with Medicare/Medicaid, here is one area that might make sense. Make the elimination of fraud from the system a priority and back that priority up with an increase in penalties for the crime and an increase in the budget of the Department of Justice to investigate and prosecute the crime. Rooting out the criminal element from our health care system would be a lovely gift to the country.

It also would represent change we could believe in.

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Friday, August 26, 2011

Friday Cat Blogging

Crunch Time

The field for the 2012 GOP nomination appears to be set, or at least I thought so. Rick Perry entered the fray, shook things up, and now leads not only Romney but also Obama. Shouldn't that be enough?

Apparently not. There's still one more name, one more candidate: Sarah Palin. She promised to let us all know her intentions come Labor Day, the day the campaigns get serious. And there are still people who think she's the answer to all the questions raised about the current Republican candidates.

James Oliphant has a very clever column up which takes a look at a possible run by Ms. Palin. He gives five reasons why she will run and five why she won't, and each list is a mirror image of the other.

The column is really well done and deserves a full reading, but two elements from the "why she won't" really stood out for me:

2. She can’t do it her way. Even Barack Obama, with all of the fawning media coverage and all of the attention he received in 2007 and 2008, had to build an extensive, sprawling network of operatives, volunteers and surrogates to first beat Hillary Clinton and then capture the presidency. Until someone proves otherwise, presidential campaigns succeed from the ground up, not the top down. Palin has shown no sign of wanting to build an operation such as that, nor has shown any desire for day-in, day-out campaigning. There's also the question of money. While it's generally assumed that Palin wouldn't have trouble raising funds for her campaign, that hasn't been tested. And as Romney and Perry work to lock up donors, time is becoming an enemy in that regard.

3. She has it pretty good. Palin is one of America’s biggest stars—and she can have an effect on Republican politics by simply posting on Facebook. Her status as a private citizen allows her to choose where and when she engages the media. And right now, she makes a lot of money, whether from her reportedly $1-million Fox News contract, speaking gigs or books. The bottom line is that she is in almost complete control of her time and her image. If she runs, that will change dramatically. And coming up short risks damaging a brand that she has worked hard to cultivate.


With respect to reason 2 one need look no further than Newt Gingrich's "campaign." He promised us a new way, and he's been pretty good about delivering. The problem is that it hasn't worked so far, and will probably fail in the long run. Newt is running in place, and one of the reasons for that is that he didn't bother with lining people up to do the hard work at local and state levels. He figured his personal charisma would be enough. Obviously it's not.

Reason 3, however, is the big one, the one that trumps all the rest. Palin has spent the last three years cultivating that brand and doing so with amazing success. The press still dances to whatever tune she whistles, following every bus trip even while complaining that she doesn't give them an itinerary. And those little excursions are always timed to give her maximum exposure as they grab the spotlight away from other candidates and other events on the campaign trail. She doesn't need the hard work of a political campaign to keep that brand front and center: the press has shown that they will do that for her. Free.

So, at least at this point, I think Palin is just being a narcissistic tease. She isn't going to run. But if I'm wrong, and that announcement on Labor Day puts her in, I'm doubling down on popcorn futures.


Thursday, August 25, 2011

An Improvement?

Paul Thornton's blog post in the opinion section of the Los Angeles Times suggests that the anti-gay rhetoric coming from the GOP candidates for president may actually be a sign that things are actually improving when it comes to gay rights. I'm not so sure, but he does raise some interesting points when it comes to the homophobia expressed by Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum, and even Mitt Romney. Their opinions are not being treated by the press and the public as they have been in the past.

Could this be the biggest gay-bashing election in recent history? Doubtful, since President George W. Bush set such a high bar in 2004. Quite the contrary: Call me an optimist, but I see such highly publicized gay-baiting as a positive development.

Why? Not so long ago, the virulently homophobic views offered by some candidates were treated almost as viable alternatives to the positions taken by less anti-gay politicians. It was as if all those views came from the same menu of Reasonable Points of View Worth Debating. Now, the radical ideas espoused by Bachmann, Perry, Santorum and others are held up not for genuine consideration but for scorn (notwithstanding the last GOP debate in Iowa). Perry's and Bachmann's views aren't weighed against President Obama's "evolving" stance on same-sex marriage; rather, they are simply ridiculed. It says as much about our society as it does the candidates.
[Emphasis added]

I realize that many of the anti-gay comments being made by the candidates are offered as red meat to the extremist fringe of the Republican party, the Religious Reich. I also realize that public opinion has moved towards acceptance of gay rights, including gay marriage, even if that movement has been glacially slow. I am not so certain, however, that we have gotten beyond the menu of "Reasonable Points of View Worth Debating" presentation by the press after such events as the recent Iowa debate and the coverage of speeches given after the straw vote. While Mr. Thornton and a few others have held the homophobia up for scorn, most of that is buried deep within the paper or in blog posts which show up on line, but not the paper editions being perused at the breakfast table.

Still, Thornton's post is filled with links which do show at least the start of a change. For that, I am grateful.

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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Better Than Coffee

Occasionally, something in my morning scan of the news lifts my spirits rather than dampens them. It's rare, too rare, but it does happen just often enough to keep me going. This was one of those rare mornings.

From the Minneapolis Star Tribune:

Muslim families in the northwest metro suburbs, who for years have moved from one place to another for prayer services, won approval Tuesday night for a mosque that will share space with Plymouth's post office.

The Plymouth City Council voted unanimously to approve the Northwest Islamic Community Center's purchase and move into the building. The center plans to remodel it for family activities and to serve the worship needs of about 40 Muslim families centered in the Plymouth area.

"We welcome you to our community," Council Member Bob Stein said after the vote.

What a lovely sentiment and what a refreshing change over what is usually reported when Muslims seek approval for a new mosque/community center. Of course, it helps that Minnesota has a large community of Muslims, many from Somalia. That community has had ample opportunity to show that they are good neighbors, something that Minnesotans have clearly noticed.

And the new mosque in Plymouth is a win-win situation. The US Postal Service had the post office up for sale as part of its cost cutting retrenchment. The Islamic group has purchased the building and has leased back part of it to the government for a postal service counter. The USPS will still have a local presence.

It ain't much, but it's good news, and sometimes that's better than coffee in the morning.


Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Mental Health Day


Monday, August 22, 2011

Super PAC-alistic

The Minneapolis Star Tribune has really stepped up the effort in its political coverage. Of course, having two local people running for the GOP presidential nomination has a lot to do with that, but even with Tim Pawlenty now out of the race, the paper continues to do a fine job in covering the issues and the candidates.

What is especially helpful is the coverage of some of the more complicated factors in campaigns, especially after the Citizens United decision. This morning, for example, there was a helpful article explaining some of the ins and outs of Super PACs and the role they are playing in campaigns. Naturally, Michele Bachmann's campaign is used as an example:

Michele Bachmann's powerful fundraising force has gained some superpower.

The Minnesota congresswoman has two new so-called Super PACs on her side that can raise unlimited cash from donors, corporations and anyone else who wants to see a President Bachmann in 2012.

Pro-Bachmann conservative activists Ken Blackwell, Ed Brookover and Bob Harris are among political activists taking advantage of the new political finance rules, created in the wake of the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision, that allow the formation of new groups with few limits on their fundraising. ...

...Super PACs have become the new powerful vehicle for high-dollar donors to influence elections, while decreasing the role that political parties play. As long as Super PACs and their nonprofit cousins, known as 501(c)(4)s stay independent of a candidate's campaign, they can rake in as much as they want.

The independence part is the key to the usefulness of Super PACs. They cannot give any money to the candidate or campaign. They can, however, buy millions of dollars of advertising time touting the candidate as long as there's a disclaimer that the ad has been paid for by the Super PAC and not the candidate. All in all it's a sweet deal for the candidate.

And it's not just Michele Bachmann and Mitt Romney who've got Super PACs. The Democrats have embraced the concept as well, even after decrying their use by Republicans. After all, it's not exactly prudent to show up at a gun fight with only a Swiss Army knife.

So with both sides lining up behind these vehicles for unlimited donations and uncontrolled spending, the real losers are the rest of us who will face endless hours of campaign commercials on our televisions and radios and who will have to wade through that muck to try to come to a rational decision for our vote.

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Sunday, August 21, 2011

Sunday Poetry: W.S. Merwin

Some Last Questions

What is the head
A. Ash
What are the eyes
A. The wells have fallen in and have
What are the feet
A. Thumbs left after the auction
No what are the feet
A. Under them the impossible road is moving
Down which the broken necked mice push
Balls of blood with their noses
What is the tongue
A. The black coat that fell off the wall
With sleeves trying to say something
What are the hands
A. Paid
No what are the hands
A. Climbing back down the museum wall
To their ancestors the extinct shrews that will
Have left a message
What is the silence
A. As though it had a right to move
Who are the compatriots
A. They make the stars of bone

--W.S. Merwin

Perpetual War

This "hopey-changey" thing really hasn't worked out very well for the progressives who worked hard to get Barack Obama elected. Oh, there have been some positive changes on his watch: "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" has been rolled back; the US and Russia have "reset" their relations after eight years of back and forth threats between the Putin and Bush administrations; embryonic stem cell research is back on line. All of these are good things and I was delighted to see them. But, let's face it, it ain't much, especially given what we were promised.

What is especially grating is that Mr. Nobel Peace Prize has got us hunkered down even more deeply in Iraq and Afghanistan, regardless of his assertions. We are still at war in both countries. We still have troops in both countries and will continue to have troops in both for years to come.

Mehdi Hasan, in a recent "Comment Is Free" column, noted the ongoing blood-letting going on in Iraq and Afghanistan and suggests that it will continue unless and until the US really and truly leaves both countries.

A decade on from 9/11, bloodshed and chaos continue to plague Afghanistan and Iraq. A US state department report published on Thursday revealed that the number of terrorist attacks in Afghanistan had jumped by 55% last year; in Iraq, attacks were up 9%. The US-led invasions and occupations of both countries have been a dismal failure – thousands of lives lost and trillions of dollars squandered. The presence of western troops in Muslim lands has provoked more terrorism than it has prevented. ...

Putting more boots on the ground was a gross misjudgment. More US troops have died fighting in Afghanistan during Obama's two and a half years in the White House than in Bush's two terms in office – and, despite the recent decision to start bringing troops home, there will be more US military personnel fighting the Taliban at the end of Obama's first term in office than at the start.

Iraq, meanwhile, has become the forgotten war – yet an astonishing 47,000 US troops remain stationed there. Earlier this month, Obama told a group of supporters: "If somebody asks about the war [in Iraq] … you have a pretty simple answer, which is all our folks are going to be out of there by the end of the year."

Not quite. US military leaders expect to keep up to 10,000 "folks" in Iraq beyond the 31 December 2011 deadline, agreed by the Bush administration, for a full US withdrawal. ...

Nope, no change here.

We have always been at war with East Asia

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Sunday Funnies

(Editorial cartoon by Lee Judge / The Kansas City Star (August 18, 2011) and featured at McClatchy DC. Click on image to enlarge.)


Saturday, August 20, 2011

Bonus Critter Blogging: Blue-Tongued Lizard

(Photograph by Kathy Parker, Your Shot, and published by National Geographic.)

Michele, Michele, Michele

GOP presidential candidate Michele Bachman continues on her streak of historical gaffes. The latest has to do with the rise of an ancient US nemesis.

From the Los Angeles Times:

According to the liberal website Think Progress, Bachmann, whose grasp of history on the trail at times has been somewhat shaky, said during a radio interview Thursday that Americans today are mindful of the threat posed by a rising U.S.S.R., which, like Elvis, left the building a long, long time ago. ...

“What people recognize is that there’s a fear that the United States is in an unstoppable decline. They see the rise of China, the rise of India, the rise of the Soviet Union and our loss militarily going forward,” Bachmann said on conservative activist Jay Sekulow’s show. “And especially with this very bad debt ceiling bill, what we have done is given a favor to President Obama, and the first thing he’ll whack is 500 billion out of the military defense at a time when we’re fighting three wars. People recognize that.”

Now, most Republicans should have been aghast at this mistake. After all, Saint Ronald of Reagan single-handedly vanquished the Soviet Union. Everybody knows that. Well, apparently everybody but Michele Bachman.

To be fair, Bachman probably just conflated the two terms used to describe a particular country, depending on the historical period. She has a habit of doing that: conflating John Wayne and John Wayne Gacy when referring to an Iowa birthplace; conflating the birth date and date of death of Elvis Presley. It's just that she does that sort of thing a lot, as if it were intentional. Or a symptom of a rather serious cognitive disorder.

Regardless of the cause of these gaffes, it does make her an easy target for the press and for her opponents. While pointing out the errors didn't do much good for Tim Pawlenty's campaign, as crunch time draws near, the other Republican candidates will be looking for an edge, and her confusing, say, North and South Korea might very well provide that edge.

What surprises me, however, is the fact that the GOP suddenly seems to have a whole treasure trove of women candidates who are prone to such nonsense: Sarah Palin, Christine O'Donnell, Sharon Angle, Michele Bachman. Meanwhile, Kay Bailey Hutchinson, who is certainly not my favorite person but who at least has an intact intellect, loses an election to Rick Perry.

Strange times, these.


Friday, August 19, 2011

Friday Cat Blogging

But That Was Then

No one ever said Texas Governor Rick Perry was a slouch when it came to campaigning, at least campaigning in Texas. Campaigning on the national stage, however, is something else. Gov. Good Hair is beginning to discover that. Crowds at events are not always adoring supporters, all willing to overlook outrageous and unsupported assertions. Reporters sometimes do their homework and are just itching to demonstrate what they've discovered. Perry came up against both this week.

From the Los Angeles Times:

Texas Gov. Rick Perry told a voter in Dover, New Hampshire Thursday that he had no plans to change the Social Security system for those who are nearing the point where they would receive benefits. ...

"The folks who are either on or soon to be on, they don't have anything to worry about. The program is going to be there," he said.

That voter had good reason to be concerned. Gov. Perry's comments on Social Security and Medicare and other such "entitlements" in the past haven't been so soothing:

In his book, "Fed Up!: Our Fight to Save America from Washington," Perry refers to Social Security as "an illegal Ponzi scheme." [Emphasis added]

That's pretty direct, isn't it?

Obviously worried about the fallout from the statement, Perry's campaign staff now suggest that what the governor really means is that the subject needs to be discussed thoroughly, not just hidden away. Perry himself has said that the whole issue really belongs with the states, not the federal government. Still, it's pretty hard to just walk away from a phrase as inflammatory as "illegal Ponzi scheme."

Welcome to the race, Rick.

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Thursday, August 18, 2011

Just So You Know

Our friends at Open Secrets have an interesting chart for your perusal, one that shows the net worth of each of the members of the "supercommittee" which will be meeting soon to decide on how to cut the deficit.

You'll have to click on the image to enlarge it. Then come on back here. Oh, and Sen. Kerry's part of the chart isn't to scale: it would have to be fifteen times longer, too wide for my screen.

Now, for the important part:

Education funding, nutrition programs, affordable housing, community health centers and many other programs may soon be on the chopping block as the 12-member Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction works to cut the national debt by $1.5 trillion by Thanksgiving.

And the decisions about which programs will be axed will be made by lawmakers, who, by and large, are far wealthier than the average American.

According to a Center for Responsive Politics analysis, the 12 members of the debt supercommittee range in net worth from just over $100,000 to more than $238 million.

As a whole, the Democratic members of the supercommittee are less wealthy than their Republican counterparts, according to the Center's research -- with the exception of Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), who is the richest member of the U.S. Senate. ...

The median American family, meanwhile, had a net worth of $96,000 in 2009, according to the Federal Reserve Board.

Those numbers don't inspire much confidence when it comes to raising the revenue stream by raising taxes on the wealthy, do they. Nor do they inspire confidence that the members of the committee will have great empathy for the rest of us, especially those of us whose net worth is south of the national median.

I am not optimistic.

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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Yes, I'm Cranky

Whether it's the heat or just the climate in general, I find I'm down to my last nerve, and it's getting frayed rapidly. This editorial in the Los Angeles Times surely didn't help matters any.

The Times runs one just like it every year about this time as the summer winds down and people start preparing their kids to return to school. The subject matter isn't what galls me, nor is the way the editorial board treats the subject. In fact, I consider this kind of editorial a necessary public service, and I appreciate that it's being performed. What grates on me is that it has to be performed year after year.

It's about childhood vaccinations, the ones that keep diseases like chicken pox and polio and measles and whooping cough under control, if not completely eradicated in our population. California requires proof of those vaccinations before allowing a child to be enrolled in school. This year the state requires that students in 7th grade through high school to bring proof of whooping cough boosters, a requirement necessitated by the resurgence of that illness in the state last year.

We know childhood vaccinations work, yet some parents still resist. Sometimes parents refuse the vaccinations for their children on religious grounds, and the state does allow that as an exception. Sometimes the refusal is based on the fact that the child has a physical condition (e.g., an impaired immune system) which precludes the vaccinations. The state also allows an exemption for this as well.

Too often, however, the excuses proffered are not so sensible. Many still believe that the vaccinations cause autism in children, even though the study which made that assertion has now been thoroughly debunked. Yet others object to those vaccinations being mandated by the government as a despotic intrusion into their lives, even though the whole point of the mandate is to provide for the general welfare of the population, a goal inherent in government.

Here's a portion of that editorial that bears repeating. Again.

As The Times has reported, there were nearly 9,500 cases of whooping cough last year in California alone, the most in 65 years. Cases of other diseases — measles and Hib — are rising, though in far smaller numbers. Many measles cases are "imported" from countries where the disease is more prevalent, often by unvaccinated U.S. residents who return from foreign travel.

It would be one thing if these diseases affected only the children whose parents object to vaccines. But if those children get sick, they put many others at risk, including those who cannot be immunized for medical reasons, who don't respond to vaccines or who aren't old enough to be inoculated. (Of the 10 infants who died of whooping cough in California last year, nine were too young to have been vaccinated.) All of these children are endangered by the unfounded fears of a small minority of parents. Public health depends on "herd immunity" — the inoculation of enough people to keep a disease from the larger community.

Maybe there will come a day when running this editorial annually won't be necessary. Unfortunately, I doubt that day will come during my life time.


Tuesday, August 16, 2011

More Cheese, Please

Last week, I noted that the redistricting maps were completed, and state Republicans were unhappy with the results of the work done by a citizens' commission, mainly because the new districts were drawn sensibly and sanely, rather than with an eye to protecting incumbents. Yesterday, those final maps were approved by the commission and officially registered by the Secretary of State. The Republican whines turned to howls of protests laced with ugly threats.

From the Los Angeles Times:

The California Citizens Redistricting Commission consists of five Democrats, five Republicans and four unaffiliated members. But state GOP Chairman Tom Del Beccaro characterized the approved boundaries as "unfair if not unconstitutional." ...

A referendum drive to overturn the state Senate lines is being led by state Sen. Mimi Walters (R-Laguna Niguel) and Orange County businesswoman Julie Vandermost through a committee called Fairness and Accountability in Redistricting, according to Republican consultant Dave Gilliard. They may also launch a referendum on the congressional boundaries, according to Gilliard.

To be fair, the Republicans aren't the only ones unhappy with the new district maps. Some Latino groups feel the new lines dilute Latino voting power and are also considering legal action. What both blocs are conveniently ignoring is that the commission was given the task of drawing districts that conform to common sense and to geography; that was the whole point of taking the task away from state legislature, which preferred the gerrymandering of districts to protect themselves.

The Republicans, however, are making the most noise with the threat of an initiative on the issue. Putting the issue on the ballot will have the effect of rolling back the redistricting until after the 2012 election, which is clearly what their protest is all about. Rather than doing the hard work of persuading the voters that their agenda is more appropriate for California than the Democrats', they'll settle for the old boundaries.

You'd think the GOP would take notice of the shellacking they took in the 2010 elections and change their mode of operations. Sadly, you'd be wrong. And the entire state is going to suffer for it.


Monday, August 15, 2011

Next Round Coming Up

On Saturday, I suggested that once Rick Perry announced his candidacy, his record as governor of Texas would be more closely examined, by the other candidates in the GOP race and (hopefully) by the media. That has begun to happen.

From the Wall Street Journal:

Gov. Rick Perry's presidential pitch goes something like this: During one of the worst recessions in American history, he's kept his state "open for business." In the last two years, Texas created over a quarter of a million jobs, meaning that the state's 8% unemployment rate is substantially lower than the rest of the nation's. The governor credits this exceptional growth to things like low taxes and tort reform.

It's a strong message. But one of the governor's signature economic development initiatives—the Texas Emerging Technology Fund—has lately raised serious questions among some conservatives.

The Emerging Technology Fund was created at Mr. Perry's behest in 2005 to act as a kind of public-sector venture capital firm, largely to provide funding for tech start-ups in Texas. Since then, the fund has committed nearly $200 million of taxpayer money to fund 133 companies. Mr. Perry told a group of CEOs in May that the fund's "strategic investments are what's helping us keep groundbreaking innovations in the state." The governor, together with the lieutenant governor and the speaker of the Texas House, enjoys ultimate decision-making power over the fund's investments.

Sounds like a pretty good idea, yes? The only problem is that Gov. Good Hair set that fund up with state money to benefit his buddies/campaign donors:

All told, the Dallas Morning News has found that some $16 million from the tech fund has gone to firms in which major Perry contributors were either investors or officers, and $27 million from the fund has gone to companies founded or advised by six advisory board members. The tangle of interests surrounding the fund has raised eyebrows throughout the state, especially among conservatives who think the fund is a misplaced use of taxpayer dollars to start with.

"It is fundamentally immoral and arrogant," says state representative David Simpson, a tea party-backed freshman from Longview, two hours east of Dallas. The fund "opened the door to the appearance of impropriety, if not actual impropriety."
[Emphasis added]

Now, this story didn't appear in the "liberal" press, but in the Wall Street Journal. And Mr. Simpson isn't exactly a disgruntled liberal grousing about the rich getting richer while the poor are getting nothing, but a man backed by the Tea Party. And this is just the start of Gov. Perry's campaign.

What would be nice is if Team Blue, lead by Barack Obama, would also take note of the governor's record, pointing out some of these things. I don't see that happening any time soon. I guess they expect us to do that heavy lifting for them.

More popcorn, please.

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Sunday, August 14, 2011

Sunday Poetry: Philip Levine

At Bessemer

19 years old and going nowhere,
I got a ride to Bessemer and walked
the night road toward Birmingham
passing dark groups of men cursing
the end of a week like every week.
Out of town I found a small grove
of trees, high narrow pines, and I
sat back against the trunk of one
as the first rains began slowly.
South, the lights of Bessemer glowed
as though a new sun rose there,
but it was midnight and another shift
tooled the rolling mills. I must
have slept awhile, for someone
else was there beside me. I could
see a cigarette's soft light,
and once a hand grazed mine, man
or woman's I never knew. Slowly
I could feel the darkness fill
my eyes and the dream that came was
of a bright world where sunlight
fell on the long even rows of houses
and I looked down from great height
at a burned world I believed
I never had to enter. When
the true sun rose I was stiff
and wet, and there beside me was
the small white proof that someone
rolled and smoked and left me there
unharmed, truly untouched.
A hundred yards off I could hear
cars on the highway. A life
was calling to be lived, but how
and why I had still to learn.

--Philip Levine

Downgraded President

The committee that gave Barack Obama the Novel Peace Price at the start of his presidency must be having second thoughts, even ninth or tenth thoughts. It was clear that the award was made not on past achievements, the usual basis, but rather on the hope that he would earn it. He has not, of course. He has upgraded the war in Afghanistan, pushed further into Pakistan, and now is sending drones to Libya and other countries. He has not proven to be a peacemaker, at least in foreign policy.

World leaders have also pulled back from the joy and relief that the Americans had elected someone who would undo all the mischief of the Bush years, someone who would lead the lone superpower and its allies into a new world of sanity and stability. Instead of stability, the world is awash with economic and political turmoil, much of which can be linked to the unstable American economy. The past month has been especially tumultuous as Congress grappled with the debt ceiling and then was rewarded for its efforts by a credit downgrade by Standard & Poor.

It is against such a backdrop that I found this article from Germany's Stern at Watching America. It's subtitle truly reflects its contents: "The Downgraded President."

...make no mistake, the ex-messiah Obama finds himself in a free fall. He lost his messianic magic a long time ago and has used up all his credit with voters. This past week was disastrous. First the Tea Party hounded him into a bad compromise on the debt battle. At the same time, the unemployment rate (of 9.1 percent) and meager growth prospects nurtured fear of a renewed recession. Then came the slap in the face from S&P, and 30 U.S. soldiers died in Afghanistan in one fell swoop on Saturday, more than ever before on this mission. Obama’s America seems to be socially divided, politically torn, economically at the abyss and militarily leached. “Yes, we can.” Anything but. Obama is now recording the worst poll ratings of his term in office.

And who is to blame for this misery? The Tea Party freaks? The legacy of the financial crisis? Certainly, all play a little part. Above all, however, it is the president himself. There is a jarring dissonance between Obama’s promises and reality ...

That last sentence quoted should have sounded familiar because it is an allusion to a Maureen Dowd column. Even she gets it right. Obama's promised changes and renewed hope were just campaign talk. Either because he lacks nerve, or imagination, or will, his administration has thus far been a disaster with only a few bright spots to keep some sense of sanity alive.

Now, with elections looming next year, he's begun his campaign for re-election. This weekend he kicked off a bus tour through rural America to talk about jobs. I suppose we should be grateful that he at last recognizes that the economy will not be improved until people get back to work, but I have yet to see any evidence that he is ready to propose a meaningful program to accomplish that.

In other words, he's in campaign mode and this is just more talk.

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Sunday Funnies

(Editorial cartoon by Tom Toles and published August 10, 2011 by the Washington Post. Click on image to enlarge.)


Saturday, August 13, 2011

Bonus Critter Blogging: "Ninja" Slug

(Photograph courtesy Peter Koomen and published by National Geographic. Click on the link to learn the reason for this critter's nickname.)

Governor Good Hair

Well, today's the day: the Iowa straw poll is finally here. What is billed as "the first test" for the candidates in the race for the 2012 GOP nomination may not yield any delegates, but it surely will affect who stays in the race from this point onward. Ironically, one of the factors in who goes and who stays is the gentleman from Texas, Governor Rick Perry, whose name isn't even on the ballot because he hadn't declared his candidacy. He will do that today.

Many believe that Perry's entrance into the race changes everything, and I'm one of those believers. He's the one candidate at this point who can beat Romney for the nomination.

He'll appeal to social conservatives because of his open religiousness: he suggested Texans pray for rain to break the drought gripping the state and led a religious gathering attended by 20,000-30,000 people in Houston for a "Response" to the problems facing the state and the nation.

He'll appeal to fiscal conservatives because of the record he will claim for the way he has managed his state and for his comments on the spending habits of the federal government.

And he will appeal to the old guard of the party because of his access to big money from wealthy Texans who have always given freely to his campaigns in a state without any real limits on campaign financing.

He can beat Romney and he has a damned good chance of beating Obama.

Is he an automatic win/win? Certainly not. He hasn't had to face any real scrutiny on a national level. That scrutiny will start the moment his announcement is made, and there certainly is plenty to look at. An article in McClatchy DC suggests just a few of the items on his presidential resume that bear looking at. Among them are the following:

Trans-Texas Corridor — Perry introduced the ambitious concept in 2002 of a network of corridors linking major Texas cities, with toll roads for cars and trucks, tracks for freight and passenger rail, and rights of way for power lines and pipelines. But the $175 billion, 4,000-mile network was immediately controversial, as Perry signed a contract with a Spanish consortium to build it and then used eminent domain powers to acquire private land. After sustained public opposition, the state abandoned the large-scale project — and its name, which had become toxic — in 2009 in favor of some highways and smaller projects.

Texas debt/economy — Texas critics of Perry say that while the state may claim 37 percent of net job creation in the country since June 2009, according to the Dallas Federal Reserve, the jobs are low-paying and that even then the governor shouldn't take the credit.

"The narrative about Texas jobs' miracle dissolves," said Craig McDonald, the director of Texans for Public Justice, an Austin-based watchdog group. "The price of oil is responsible and really helped our economy."

Democrats are vocal about the state's rising debt, which grew from $13.4 billion to $37.8 billion from 2001 to 2010, according to the Texas Bond Review Board.

"The number one issue he's vulnerable on is debt," said Matt Angle, the director of the Lone Star Project, a Democratic research group. "When he took office it was zero. That goes against his message of fiscal responsibility." The state budget must be balanced by law, but the state may still incur bond obligations.
[Emphasis added]

There's plenty to look at, but Governor Perry has proven to be a tenacious campaigner, as his recent defeat of Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison for another term as governor shows. Although his name is not on the Ames ballot today, his supporters have waged a strong write-in campaign, and it conceivable that he will place high in the results, perhaps even winning the event. His prayers for rain in Texas may not have brought any drought-busting storms to his state, but his entrance into the race will surely bring about a change in the campaign.

Popcorn futures are up.


Friday, August 12, 2011

Friday Cat Blogging

Say What?

I don't know which is more interesting, what was said at last night's debate in Iowa amongst the various candidates for the GOP 2012 nomination or what was reported to have happened at the debate. None of the candidates present added anything new or different to what they have been delivering for the past weeks, so I guess the media decided their own analysis was more important.

First, from the Los Angeles Times:

In the most combative encounter of the 2012 contest, Michele Bachmann, Tim Pawlenty and other mid-tier candidates tangled repeatedly over their records and positions on the economy and other issues in a televised debate Thursday night.

That was the lede to the article, by the way. The turf battle between the Minnesota Twins was the highlight for the Left Coast Times, although brief (very brief) synopses of some of the other candidates' responses are noted.

Next, from the New York Times:

A withering critique of President Obama’s handling of the economy was overshadowed by a burst of incivility among the Republican presidential candidates who gathered here for a debate on Thursday night and fought to stay alive in the party’s increasingly fractious nominating race.

The simmering animosity that has been building among some contenders broke into full view during the two-hour debate, with Representative Michele Bachmann defending her legislative accomplishments, her economic ideas and her experience to serve as president. She batted away the criticism, smiling at times and swinging at others, trying to prove she could take the heat.

That was not the lede, merely the second and third paragraphs. Again, the wrangling between Bachman and Pawlenty seemed to be the focal point. I keep waiting for the voice of an older woman to come booming out, "Don't make me come back there."

I suppose the journalists can be forgiven for taking the easy way out in their reportage. After all, Mitt Romney had made his daily gaffe earlier on debate day when he suggested that "corporations are people," so he was going to stay away from any real thunder. He was content to remain above the squabbling. In other words, he was boring.

And two potential candidates weren't at the debate, although their presences were certainly palpable. Texas Governor Rick Parry will probably announce his candidacy on Sunday, and most of the pundits now see him as Mitt Romney's worst nightmare. Sarah Palin, who would challenge Michele Bachman as the Tea Party Queen, intends to pull her bus into Ames this weekend for the straw poll. I doubt she has any startling announcement, but she does love her some spotlight, which she will undoubtedly get.

So, last night's debate added little to the process, which, given the nature of the Iowa straw poll, was to be expected. If some of the lower tier candidates don't move up a bit, they'll probably drop out. Campaigns are expensive and the money spigots won't open until Republican donors feel they have a real horse in the race.

Sadly, I didn't need all the popcorn I popped for the event.


Thursday, August 11, 2011


I spent a fair amount of time yesterday nosing around the Open Secrets web site. This organization keeps track of the role of money in politics and presents articles detailing what their investigations have discovered. As you can imagine, it's a very educational site, even for those of us who thought we knew all about the subject.

For example, this article introduced me to a layer of campaign financing of which I was totally unaware: leadership PACs.

Leadership PACs are committees affiliated with individual politicians, but the money they raise cannot be used for that politician's own campaign costs. Instead, they are typically used to distribute money to colleagues, often by those interested in attaining leadership positions within the party.

Politicians of both parties engage in this practice, raising money from their sources and then spreading that money around to candidates as a sort of favor which at some point hopefully will be repaid. It's especially helpful if the politician with the leadership PAC intends to run for office in the next election.

To illustrate the principle, Open Secrets takes a look at the leadership PACs of the current declared and potential candidates for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination. I was surprised by the kind of money which got thrown around by these people during the 2010 cycle. The big money guy in that race, Mitt Romney was particularly active.

Seven other Republicans who are pursuing their party's presidential nomination also have leadership PACs. Only former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, who spent the bulk of the 2010 election cycle serving as the U.S. ambassador to China, does not have a leadership PAC.

Former governors Tim Pawlenty and Sarah Palin, along with Romney, have made far more donations in support of their political brethren than the other GOP presidential candidates, though Romney beat out all of his rivals. ...

The race to find -- and fund -- possible Republican allies, who may provide pivotal endorsements or assistance during the presidential primaries, has been going on for years.

(Of course, it has also been going on with Democrats as well, it's just that no one has yet to emerge who will challenge the president in the current cycle, which is what this article is exploring.)

The article is awash with charts and graphs and detailed information which shows just how extensive this particular part of the campaign funding equation is, and it's staggering. Fortunately, the Federal Election Commission requires monthly and quarterly reports from those with leadership PACs, so that saints like Open Secrets can provide us with the reminder of just how our electoral process is greased by the huge amounts of money involved.

I urge you to visit the site and to read the linked article. It's a stunner.

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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Oh, Yeah: And Him Too

I had hoped to post some good news, that Wisconsin voters had recalled at least three GOP state senators, but that hope was dashed. Only two were recalled. The state senate remains in the hands of the GOP. It was a valiant effort at push-back against the anti-union, anti-worker governor, but it just couldn't get over the hump in conservative districts. Still, it was and is a good start for all of us. At least we showed our party how to get off its knees. That's going to be important in 2012.

Because I can't celebrate this morning the way I wanted, I'll just take another look at the Iowa straw poll coming up this weekend. While meaningless in terms of garnering actual delegates, it has become a gauge for how candidates are faring in their respective drives. People who do very poorly here apparently don't have a chance and generally fold their campaigns. The Los Angeles Times suggests that two candidates are potentially in that position: Tim Pawlenty and Rick Santorum.

Yes, Rick Santorum, that guy from the past.

The former Pennsylvania senator says he is best suited to take on Obama because he is the sole member of the GOP field who has defeated Democratic incumbents. He points with pride to his track record, including writing legislation that overhauled welfare.

Santorum castigates Obama as not believing in the values upon which the nation was founded and says the president's healthcare law is solely aimed at giving government ultimate control over citizens' lives.

"After 235 years of giving up people's lives, fortunes and sacred honor to defend and fight for that heart of America, if you want to be the generation that will go down in history that gave it away, you just go right ahead and live your lives the way you are and don't show up at the Ames straw poll," he said.

Recognizing his straits, Santorum told reporters that he hoped to finish in the top five in Ames. Six candidates, including Pawlenty and Santorum, are officially taking part in the straw poll, and three others will appear on the ballot.

Now most lefties still snicker when Santorum's name is mentioned, mainly because of a quite vulgar joke associating his name with, well, a rather disgusting substance. They also recall his horror at the thought of gay marriage which he claimed would lead to men marrying their dogs. What we should remember is that he was one of the architects of welfare "reform", which was one of the most callous rollbacks of a part of the social safety-net to date (although it might soon be replaced by actions taken this Fall when the 112th Congress gets down to the business of deficit reduction).

Santorum, who apparently doesn't have a great deal in the way of campaign funds, has not received much attention in the race so far. He has not done any kind of media blitz so the media has pretty much ignored him. Instead, he's been pressing the flesh in the hopes of gathering enough votes to raise himself from the bottom of the pack to just below the first tier of candidates. At least that way people will at least know that he's running.

Will he do even that well? I suspect not. His time is over, at least I hope so.


Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Another Texas Governor

File this under "will-he-won't-he": it now appears certain that Governor Good Hair will be entering the race for the 2012 GOP nomination.

In a bid to steal attention from his Republican rivals, Texas Gov. Rick Perry is expected to affirm his intention to run for president this weekend, just hours before a major straw vote test in Iowa.

Perry will probably use a previously scheduled speech Saturday in South Carolina, home of the first Southern primary, to signal his plan to enter the race. He will follow that by flying immediately to New Hampshire, the leadoff primary state, for a house party that evening.

At the same time, thousands of party activists will be awaiting the results of an Iowa straw poll with the potential to sort out the Republican field. Perry's name is not on the ballot but a well-financed write-in effort, which he has not officially sanctioned, is being waged on his behalf.

The Los Angeles Times sees Perry as a serious threat to Mitt Romney, the presumed front runner in the current motley group of contenders, for several reasons. First, he's a "southern governor" with access to local dollars (oil money). Second, he's a social conservative, as evidenced by his leading 30,000 or so folks in prayer at a special gathering in Houston on Sunday. Third, he's got what appears to be a formidable staff on board to run his campaign, including a couple who ditched Newt Gringrich because that candidate refused their advice.

Like Mitt Romney, Governor Perry has pretty much stayed out of Iowa in terms of campaign appearances, leaving Michele Bachman and Tim Pawlenty (the Minnesota Twins) to slug it out in public for the bragging rights in an essentially meaningless straw poll, but also like Mitt Romney, he's kept a presence of sorts: that write-in campaign just might work.

The perfect candidate to take the nomination? Not hardly. Once he's in (and it now appears that he will be), he will have to face more actual scrutiny than he has. His big claim to fame is that Texas has added more jobs under his tenure than the rest of the country combined. Someone just might point out that a huge chunk of those new jobs are minimum wage jobs, and most are due more to the enormous profits oil companies made during the last round of oil speculation than to his efforts. His efforts at dismantling the education system of his state, from K-12 right up to the state university system, might also need defending. And there's also the problem that those donors who supported George W. Bush just might not be as willing to open their wallets to him because the two principals are not exactly best friends forever.

At any rate, the field will look a little different after this weekend, which means I will need to order more popcorn.


Monday, August 08, 2011

Whine And Roses

California did an interesting thing a while back. Via the initiative process, voters took the responsibility for redistricting away from the state legislature and vested it instead in a citizen's commission. After decades of gerrymandering to suit the incumbents, Californians had had enough. The results are now pretty much out, and while the commission did a remarkably good job with the complex issues, some politicians are not happy.

From the Sacramento Bee:

The California Republican Party endorsed the two initiatives that brought about the Citizens Redistricting Commission, Propositions 20 and 11.

Oddly, some party leaders, including Chairman Tom Del Beccaro, are having buyer's remorse.

Why? Well, a more honest and consistent electoral map will result in potential losses for the GOP. This should come as no surprise to Republicans, who conveniently have forgotten that under the old map they managed to lose every single race for state office and lost one seat in the state legislature in the 2010 election. Instead of recognizing that the current brand of Republicanism was rejected by state voters across the board in that election, Republicans are now whining that the commission plan didn't work and are threatening a law suit to overturn its efforts and to give the job to a panel of state judges.

The California Republican congressional delegation almost surely will shrink in 2012. They also may lose a few state Senate seats next year, although they could gain a seat in 2014.

But any losses have nothing to do with the commission and everything to do with demographics and voter registration.

This is a party that has been losing market share for years. A mere 31 percent of California registered voters call themselves Republicans.
[Emphasis added]

More moderate members of the state GOP have been warning their party that in a state where the Latino population is growing, virulent attacks on "illegals" are not the best way to tap into that new sector of the population, something which Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina learned the hard way.

The new maps all but guarantee there will be as many as nine more Latinos in the Legislature. Instead of griping about the lines, Republicans should focus on recruiting candidates who appeal to that fast-growing segment of the population. While they're at it, they should find candidates who can attract moderates' votes.

The final maps will issue shortly, and will hopeful complete the process. The citizens who have spent a lot of time and energy in re-drawing district lines to conform to geography and population rather than the wishes of incumbents of both parties have done a remarkably good job. For that, the entire state should be grateful.

And somebody should send some Real California Cheese to the GOP leaders. It'll go well with their whine.

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Sunday, August 07, 2011

Sunday Poetry: Dylan Thomas

Twenty-Four Years

Twenty-four years remind the tears of my eyes.
(Bury the dead for fear that they walk to the grave in labour.)
In the groin of the natural doorway I crouched like a tailor
Sewing a shroud for a journey
By the light of the meat-eating sun.
Dressed to die, the sensual strut begun,
With my red veins full of money,
In the final direction of the elementary town
I advance as long as forever is.

--Dylan Thomas

Hidden Under A Bushel

This week's visit to Watching America was a quick one. I mean, one headline really leaped out and grabbed me by the throat. Who could resist checking out "Beacon of Stupidity"?

From Luxembourg's Tageblatt:

An entire nation has forgotten the words once spoken by its former president, John F. Kennedy: “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country!”

There is no other way to explain why, ever since Reagan took office, Americans have been playing a game that results in less money for the poor and the middle class. Social benefits are being cut, and the very wealthy are getting a lot more money because they are pretty much the only ones enjoying regular tax reductions.

...In May, Nobel Prize winner Joseph Stiglitz calculated that in the last ten years alone, the income of the richest one percent of Americans has increased 18 percent. In contrast, the entire middle class saw its income shrink. The hardest hit people have been male, blue-collars workers who “only” have a high school diploma. Their incomes sank by 12 percent during the same span of time. ...

There is a system to the whole thing, and it is highly rational, albeit only from the perspective of the fat cats who have, thanks to Fox News and the guardians of anti-communism on radio and television, persuaded the infuriated middle class to praise every stupid attack on the state and public welfare as a victory for freedom.

The only thing that is missing is for the Americans to collectively notice that the country that fancies itself a “beacon of democracy” degenerated into a tyranny run by an economic minority quite a while ago.
[Emphasis added]

The analysis is right on the money, from start to finish. What is also on target is the missing element which might right the ship of state: an understanding by the middle class as to who and what the real enemy is. We can thank the corporate media and their lackeys for that, especially when their activities are combined with the movement to de-fund and de-legitimize public education.

We, as a nation, have gone from willfully naive to intentionally ignorant, and we are now reaping the harvest of that movement. It's a long, hard road ahead of us if we don't get a clue soon.

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Sunday Funnies

(Editorial cartoon by Kevin Siers / The Charlotte Observer (August 3, 2011) and featured at McClatchy DC. As always, click on image to enlarge.)

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Bonus Critter Blogging: Cheetah

(Photograph by Frank Trimbos, My Shot, and published July 29,2011 in the Photo of the Day section of National Geographic. Juba the Cheetah has a broken leg and is being cared for at a lion farm in South Africa.)


While our eyes and ears were held captive by the manufactured crisis surrounding raising the debt ceiling, so were the eyes and ears of the House Republicans. This turned out to be a good thing, as an unusually forthright editorial in the Los Angeles Times points out:

House republicans, especially those of the "tea party" ilk, think they know the cause of our country's economic woes: environmental regulations. As a result, they loaded up the appropriations bill that funds the Interior Department and the Environmental Protection Agency with dozens of riders that would encourage deadly pollution of the air and water, set back efforts to reduce greenhouse gases and allow uranium mining near the Grand Canyon, among other things. Such riders are commonplace on annual appropriations bills, but Washington insiders say they've never seen such a breathtaking assault on the environment.

If there was any good news from the chaos surrounding this week's deal to raise the federal debt ceiling, it's that the drawn-out congressional debate over the issue distracted GOP representatives from passing this monstrosity. The Interior appropriations bill will resurface after the August recess, but now it's unclear whether the House will approve it as a stand-alone bill or combine it with other appropriations bills into an omnibus spending package; also unclear is whether the anti-environment riders will survive the process. It's very important that they don't.

That's pretty strong language from the "center left" editorial board, but it gets even shriller:

Why are House Republicans so mad at Mother Nature? "Many of us think that the over-regulation from the EPA is at the heart of our stalled economy," Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) told the New York Times. Actually, it was a failure to properly regulate the mortgage industry that caused the meltdown, not environmental protections that have been in place, through economic good times and bad, since the 1970s. Nor are planned regulations that won't go into effect for years the source of our current financial problems. But they do make a convenient scapegoat for those who would rather not discuss further regulation of the financial industry. [Emphasis added]

Hallelujah! They finally get it!

Of course, the benefactors of House Republicans, whether its Shell Oil or the Koch brothers, want those pesky regulations lifted in order to make more money without any of the attendant responsibilities, state of the earth be damned. Now that the first manufactured crisis is over, the next one is being prepared and will be delivered in September as Republicans urge the regulations be lifted because they are job killers.

What I found heartening was the on-the-money analysis and blunt language of the editorial, something altogether too rare in this newspaper and others. I think we're making some headway.


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Friday, August 05, 2011

Friday Cat Blogging

A New Tool In The Kit

The Citizens United case has really made a huge difference in campaign finance, a difference that both major parties have cheerfully exploited. By allowing corporations to make huge donations, those far beyond what are allowed individual donors, the case makes it easier for candidates to quickly snap up huge amounts of cash without much effort.

The Supreme Court decision, which I consider absurd on its face and tortured in its logic, opened the door to the potential for abuse and we might have just been handed the first clear-cut example of that abuse.

From the Los Angeles Times:

Federal Elections Commission records show that $1 million was given to Restore Our Future, a so-called super PAC backing Romney, by W Spann LLC. Under the law, corporations can now give such donations.

However, NBC News reported Thursday that the firm was incorporated only in March, made the donation in April and was dissolved on July 11, just before the super PAC was required to disclose donations.

Given the time line, the only inference which can be drawn is that the "corporation" was a dummy shell, created solely to slip Romney a cool million to his already bloated war chest. Pretty tricksy, eh?

Perhaps just a tad too tricksy, at least I hope so.

While federal election law permits corporations to donate to super PACs, it prohibits the use of conduits to conceal the identity of actual donors. That could lead to an official inquiry by the FEC or the Justice Department.

"There is FEC precedent to conduct an investigation to determine if this corporation used it own funds to make a contribution --- which would be legal after Citizens United -- or whether the corporation was just a conduit for a person or persons who did not want to disclose their identity," said Brett Kappel, an election lawyer at Arent Fox law firm in Washington.
[Emphasis added]

Of course, even if the FEC opens such an investigation, it is unlikely that the investigation will be completed and the predictable law suit resolved before the 2012 election, much less before the GOP convention. It is also unlikely that Mitt Romneywill return the money (where would he send it?) although he could score some major integrity points if he did.

This is what we can expect for as long as the Citizens United decision stands.

All that dry powder accumulated during the 110th Congress is emitting a deadly odor at this point.

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Thursday, August 04, 2011

The Grand Shuffle

There's a rather curious opinion piece by Alexandra Le Tellier in the Los Angeles Times which poses an interesting question: why is Newt Gingrich running for the GOP presidential nomination? Unfortunately, the article doesn't really add anything to the various suggestions posed by other pundits. It does, however, provide an interesting compendium of some of those opinions.

Is Newt Gingrich’s presidential campaign just a way for him to pass the time? That’s the take of Dante Scala, a political science professor at the University of New Hampshire. "He's on a lark," Scala is quoted as saying in a Wednesday story by Seema Mehta. "It just seems to be a hobby more than a campaign at this point."

I suppose that's about as good an answer as we are likely to get for Newt's improbable run. Actually, I think "run" is probably the wrong word to use for a campaign which involves a few appearances, super expensive private jet transportation, and the loss of most of the experienced campaign staff which originally signed on with the puckish former Speaker of the House. "Run" implies a certain energy and dedication. I think what we're getting from Newt is a stroll, perhaps even a shuffle.

Not content, however, with Scala's assessment, Alexandra Le Tellier moves on to extensively quote Maureen Dowd's heatherish column on Gingrich's penchant for pretty women, each of whom he leaves after lining up the next beauty, and the trenchant observations of Doyle McManus, who thinks Gingrich is a man driven by his love for "the big idea."

Frankly, I really don't care why Newt Gingrich is running, I'm just glad he is. His performances really do take the edge off the boring seriousness of Mitt Romney, the crackpot idiocy of Michele Bachman, and the frenetic "look at ME" contortions of Tim Pawlenty. I say let the man have his campaign, whether it's just the swansong of a man who loves being the center of attention or it's a serious attempt to change the nature of campaigning itself.

I think he's earned it.


Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Good On Him

I am not a fan of the "hold," a process by which a single senator can stop a bill dead in its tracks for any reason at all. It always seemed to me to be antithetical to the democratic process. I may have to reassess my position, however, thanks to a Democrat.

From the Los Angeles Times:

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) will seek to block passage of an intelligence bill that extends the government’s eavesdropping authorities because the intelligence community won’t say how many Americans are being monitored, he said Tuesday.

At issue is the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which was passed in 1978 in response to revelations of political wiretapping. The law was updated in 2008 in a way that essentially legalized President George W. Bush’s “warrantless wiretapping” program aimed at stopping terrorism plots. The intelligence bill, approved Monday by the Senate’s Select Committee on Intelligence, would extend the 2008 changes until 2015. Those changes greatly expanded the government’s surveillance authorities. The targets must be foreigners out of the country, but their conversations with Americans are fair game. ...

Wyden and Sen. Mark Udall (D-Col.), who serve on the intelligence committee, asked the director of national intelligence earlier this month how many Americans have had their communications monitored under the law. The DNI’s office responded in a letter that “it is not reasonably possible to identify the number of people located in the United States whose communications may have been reviewed under the authority.”

But wait, there's more obfuscation involved.

At a Senate hearing July 26, Wyden, who serves on the intelligence committee, asked Matthew Olsen, NSA's general counsel and the nominee to direct the National Counterterrorism Center, whether government agencies “have the authority to use cell-site data to track the location of Americans inside the United States for intelligence purposes.”

Olsen replied, “There are certain circumstances where that authority may exist . . .” He did not elaborate.

Some answer, eh?

When Wyden and the committee did get some information, it wasn't the kind that satisfied, the senator. Not hardly.

“During a July 2011 committee hearing, the general counsel of the National Security Agency acknowledged that certain legal pleadings by the executive branch and court opinions from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court regarding the Patriot Act are classified,” Wyden and Udall said in dissent included in the Senate committee report on the bill. “We have had the opportunity to review these pleadings and rulings, and we believe that most members of the American public would be very surprised to learn how federal surveillance law is being interpreted in secret.”

And so Senator Wyden has placed a hold on the bill to renew the FISA law. Good on him. It's time for an honest appraisal of the job the intelligence authorities are doing, an appraisal that lets us know just far they have overreached and invaded our privacy just because they can.

I suggest you send senator Wyden a little love by letting your senators know you expect them to back him up on this quest for the truth.

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Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Like Herding Cats?

The prevailing "wisdom" being tossed about by the parties to the debt ceiling compromise and amplified by the main stream media is that the deal was obviously a good one because nobody is happy with it. Of course no one is happy with it: the deal will probably turn out to be yet another disaster for our economy, which even those on either end of the ideological spectrum acknowledge. So, how did that deal get put together, what drove it?

Well, a president who obviously never completed The Art of Negotiation-101 in law school can take a whole chunk of the blame, as can congressional leaders with their eyes more focused on 2012 than 2011. Key to the "compromise," however, was the assumption that the entire country has been gripped with Tea Party fever and that this political movement is monolithic in nature. That assumption, I believe, is unfounded, as recent polls indicate.

From the NY Times:

Few Republicans or Democrats would disagree that the Tea Party and its designs loomed over the debate on the debt limit. But the power of the Tea Party as a singular force may be more phantom than reality.

While Tea Party groups and members of the Tea Party caucus in the House loudly insisted that they would not support any increase in the debt limit, many rank-and-file Tea Party voters did support it. In interviews and in recent polls, many voters said they backed the Tea Party in the midterm elections because they wanted a change from the status quo, or because they felt that the government spent too much money, but not because they considered reducing the federal debt the nation’s biggest concern. ...

When Tea Party supporters were asked if the debt-ceiling agreement should include only tax increases, only spending cuts, or a combination of both, the majority — 53 percent — said that it should include a combination. Forty-five percent preferred only spending cuts. ...

But the Tea Party is no monolith. It is not an official party with policy positions, and its members — some loosely affiliated, some not affiliated with any group but merely sympathetic to what they think the Tea Party stands for — arrived with often different and sometimes incompatible interests.

Most Tea Partiers want smaller government (the Libertarian streak), but they want more jobs and a stronger economy. For them, a smaller government does not mean a smaller military, nor does it mean no government spending at all. Some of the people they elected in 2011 were savvy enough to figure that out and cheerfully guided some pork back home to their constituents. I didn't hear any howls of outrage over that pork, so I assume at least some in the Tea Party movement were pleased.

Yet that group had both official parties scared half to death, so scared the deal went through with only spending cuts (including cuts to that sacred cow, the Pentagon), with no eye towards the best source of revenue enhancement, more jobs. The fact that the raising of the debt ceiling was tied to reducing spending instead of a stand-alone bill is further evidence of that nebulous fear.

So, after several weeks of intense posturing and huffing and puffing our elected representatives have managed to avert a credit crisis for the nation, but have managed to anger just about everyone in the country in doing so.

Heckuva job.

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Monday, August 01, 2011

Really, Really Stupid

Steve Lopez points out in his latest column for the Los Angeles Times just what we can expect with all of the cuts to Medicare and Medicaid, and it isn't at all very pretty. Lopez' father had recently been injured in a fall, requiring a stay at a convalescent home. Now he is being released and Lopez' mother has to take on the task of primary care giver, not an easy job for a woman herself in her 80s.

It's a scenario that is playing out for scores of elders, and it is being complicated by cuts to programs which have provided assistance to care givers by providing day care relief. Those programs are now in jeopardy because Gov. Brown has cut the Medicaid for such centers as part of the program to balance the budget.

Medi-Cal had paid for many of those seniors to spend four to six hours daily at the centers, providing social interaction for the participants and needed relief to family caregivers. But Brown has decided to eliminate that funding after Nov. 30 this year. ...

Many of the centers will have to close, leaving family care givers without any respite during the day and depriving patients with needed social stimulus. If the patients and families don't have the cash or the insurance, there is really only one long term alternative, one that is going to be very expensive.

"If just 20% of the people currently in adult day healthcare go to nursing homes, we could wipe out the savings," said state Assemblyman Bob Blumenfield (D-Woodland Hills).

In other words, this is a penny-wise, dollar-foolish cut. And it's another example of incoherent, jumbled healthcare policies in a country of rapidly aging boomers. A country that spends billions keeping terminally ill patients alive with pacemakers and feeding tubes only to inflict more suffering on them.

While I don't have detailed knowledge of just what the "Great Compromise" reached by President Obama and congressional leaders entails, I do know that Medicare and Medicaid cuts were in the mix. We can expect that this scenario will now be played out on the national stage, not just in California.

But, hey! It's just a bunch of old geezers. They've had their lives.

A pox on all the politicians' houses.

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