Sunday, September 30, 2012

Sunday Poetry: John Donne

Elegy IX: The Autumnal

No spring nor summer beauty hath such grace
         As I have seen in one autumnal face.
Young beauties force our love, and that's a rape,
         This doth but counsel, yet you cannot scape.
If 'twere a shame to love, here 'twere no shame;
         Affection here takes reverence's name.
Were her first years the golden age? That's true,
         But now she's gold oft tried and ever new.
That was her torrid and inflaming time,
         This is her tolerable tropic clime.
Fair eyes, who asks more heat than comes from hence,
         He in a fever wishes pestilence.
Call not these wrinkles, graves; if graves they were,
         They were Love's graves, for else he is no where.
Yet lies not Love dead here, but here doth sit
         Vow'd to this trench, like an anachorit;
And here till hers, which must be his death, come,
         He doth not dig a grave, but build a tomb.
Here dwells he; though he sojourn ev'rywhere
         In progress, yet his standing house is here:
Here where still evening is, not noon nor night,
         Where no voluptuousness, yet all delight.
In all her words, unto all hearers fit,
         You may at revels, you at council, sit.
This is Love's timber, youth his underwood;
         There he, as wine in June, enrages blood,
Which then comes seasonabliest when our taste
         And appetite to other things is past.
Xerxes' strange Lydian love, the platan tree,
         Was lov'd for age, none being so large as she,
Or else because, being young, nature did bless
         Her youth with age's glory, barrenness.
If we love things long sought, age is a thing
         Which we are fifty years in compassing;
If transitory things, which soon decay,
         Age must be loveliest at the latest day.
But name not winter faces, whose skin's slack,
         Lank as an unthrift's purse, but a soul's sack;
Whose eyes seek light within, for all here's shade;
         Whose mouths are holes, rather worn out than made;
Whose every tooth to a several place is gone,
         To vex their souls at resurrection:
Name not these living death's-heads unto me,
         For these, not ancient, but antique be.
I hate extremes, yet I had rather stay
         With tombs than cradles, to wear out a day.
Since such love's natural lation is, may still
         My love descend, and journey down the hill,
Not panting after growing beauties. So,
         I shall ebb on with them who homeward go. 

Sunday Funnies

(Editorial cartoon by Tom Toles and published 9/25/12 by the Washington Post.  Click on image to enlarge.)


Saturday, September 29, 2012

Bonus Critter Blogging: Tiger Swallowtail Caterpillar

(Photograph by Florence and posted at her wonderful blog, Ruminations.)

There Be Monsters

(Editorial cartoon by Joel Pett / Lexington Herald-Leader (September 28, 2012) and featured at McClatchy DC.  Click on image to enlarge and then return.  Please.)

This cartoon really took my breath away because it seemed to capture my feelings from all of the stuff I've been reading the past few days.  Apparently I'm not the only one suffering from shock.  The next place on the net I visited was Eschaton, where Atrios (linking to the Rude Pundit) had this to say:

This enrages me. The other thing which enrages me are heartwarming local interest stories about a community and friends who got together and figured out how to raise the $180,000 needed to keep somebody's kid from dying of cancer or whatever. That people do this is heartwarming, that it is necessary means we're monsters.  [Emphasis added]

Yes.  Yes, it does.

We have become a culture of monsters, and the monstrosity is indeed wreaked cradle to grave, as Joel Pett points out.  Let me give a few more examples from the past couple of days.

There's this:

A man who apparently had just lost his job at a small business in Minneapolis' Bryn Mawr neighborhood returned to the building Thursday afternoon and opened fire, killing the company's founder and three others and wounding four others before taking his own life.

Two other company executives, director of operations John Souter and production manager Eric Rivers, were in critical condition at Hennepin County Medical Center. Hospital officials said one other victim was in critical condition and a fourth was in satisfactory condition. Those two wounded victims have not been identified.

And this :

A popular fifth-grade teacher fatally shot a masked, knife-wielding prowler outside his house during what appeared to be a late-night burglary attempt, only to discover he had killed his 15-year-old son, police say.

Police said 15-year-old Tyler Giuliano was shot at about 1 a.m. Thursday in New Fairfield, a town just north of Danbury.

The teacher's sister was alone in her house next door to his when she believed someone was breaking in. She called her brother, and he grabbed a gun and went outside to investigate, police said.

The father confronted someone wearing a black ski mask and black clothing and fired his gun when the person went at him with a shiny weapon in his hand, police said.

And this:

Over the course of two decades, the Boy Scouts of America covered up the acts of hundreds of child molesters within its ranks, never notifying authorities and instead quietly banishing offenders, according to an investigation by the Los Angeles. Sometimes, the molesters left one Scout troop and reappeared at another to molest again, according to information in the 1,600 confidential Boy Scout files that go from 1970 to 1991.

That pattern sounds horribly familiar. As with the sexual-abuse cases that rocked the Roman Catholic Church and the Jerry Sandusky case at Penn State, here is another situation in which authorities, entrusted to care for young people, failed to deal properly with molesters in their institution, which led to more children and youths being victimized. And as in those previous scandals, Boy Scout officials were not just elevating the protection of the institution over the welfare of individuals, but also were perpetuating a culture in which sexual abuse was seen not as a crime to be punished and denounced but as an embarrassment to be dealt with quietly.

And this:

At Fort Myer, Va., a small Army base across the river from Washington, D.C., Chaplain Mark Worrell is talking to about 100 soldiers, reciting the grim numbers.

"This year, 2012, there have been more suicides in the Army than combat deaths," he says.

And I could go on, but I'm getting depressed and I fear that I'm not doing your blood pressure any good either.

I know, I know:  if it bleeds, it leads. Still, there is one hell of a lot of blood being lost in the space of just a couple of days of news articles, and I can't help but think there is something wrong with our society, something horribly wrong.  And I don't quite know what to do about it.  I don't have any ideas on how we, all of us, can fix it.  I fear it will continue.  Our society will splinter and sputter until there is no society, no concept of community, no network of support.

And the selfish part of me is glad that I am old and won't have to watch the whole process of disintegration unfold.

May God have mercy on me and on all of us.


Friday, September 28, 2012

Friday Cat Blogging

Convenient Concrete Mindset

Heh.  David Horsey's recent column on climate change brought plenty of GOP trolls to the comment section, thereby making his point even stronger.  Smart man, him.  I don't normally read the comments, but I thoroughly enjoyed reading these, as I'm sure he did.

Horsey's message is a powerful one because it strikes at the heart of why little if anything is being done to halt the serious damage humans are wreaking on the planet.  He begins by detailing some of the steps that the Dutch have been taking:  the construction of windmill farms to lessen that small country's dependence on carbon based energy and the gearing up for rising sea levels.  He acknowledges that those moves aren't nearly enough, but they're all that Holland can do on its own.  That's the problem.

...Rather than finding ways to cope with global warming, many environmentalists argue, the world should be fighting harder to turn it back.

Certainly, it would be nice if that could happen, but it will not, unless the big countries, such as the United States, China, Brazil and Russia, start building their own ranks of windmills, curbing industrial pollution and preserving the ecology of the Siberian steppes and the Amazonian rain forest. If the Dutch waited for these major powers to act, though, they would soon be underwater.

In the U.S., some states have begun to prepare for the inevitable. In California, plans are being made for the decades ahead when coastal highways are swamped, Yosemite waterfalls run dry, agricultural areas turn to dust, the San Francisco airport floods and the famous beaches near Los Angeles are reclaimed by the Pacific. But states cannot do it alone; the federal government needs to become fully engaged.

And that will not happen as long as the Republican Party stands in the way. Partly to do the bidding of the industrialists who are their benefactors and partly because they seem to have abandoned belief in science, Republicans have become climate change deniers. Even in a year when the West is aflame in wildfires and extreme weather batters the East, Republicans continue to insist there is nothing unusual going on – just a little blip in the weather.

If we lived in a rational society, any Republican who insisted climate change is not real would be as shamed and ostracized as the backwoods snake-handlers in the GOP congressional caucus who say a woman cannot be impregnated if she is raped. As a country, we should all be embarrassed. Americans, not the Dutch, should be leading the world in dealing with the imminent calamities being brought on by the rise in global temperatures. But we will not be able to take the lead until one of our two major political parties stops shilling for the big energy companies and abandons its medieval scorn of science.   [Emphasis added]

And that other political party needs to stop shilling for the ExxonMobils and to stop authorizing drilling in sensitive areas as well.

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Thursday, September 27, 2012

Less Bread, Fewer Circuses

(Editorial cartoon by Lee Judge / The Kansas City Star (September 26, 2012) and featured at McClatchy DC.  Click on image to enlarge, and then hustle on back here.)

 Michael Hiltzig has a wonderful column up on the NFL/Replacement Officials controversy consuming the sports pages since the debacle of Moday's Seattle-Green Bay Game.  By way of disclosure, I am a Packer fan and have been my entire life.  I spent the first 22 years of my life growing up in Milwaukee, so that's a natural.  I mean, what else are you going to do when the temperature is leventy-seven below zero with a wind-chill factor of a hunnert-leventy-seven below zero?  Not going to a farmer's market after church, that's for damned sure.

But as dismayed as I was by the ending of that game, I didn't actually slip into the "we-wuz-robbed" mode.  All of the NFL teams are playing with the same amateur (a kind euphemism) officials.  It was nothing personal.  It's just that the owners have locked out the professional officials and we are left with the lower levels of wannabes from such places as The Lingerie League.  Really.  And why?  The owners locked out the regulars in a contract dispute with the officials' union for, among other things, retirement benefits.  And this is where Hiltzig's column comes in.

The one thing about the National Football League on which almost everyone agrees is that it takes its job of providing first-rate entertainment very seriously.

That could be one explanation for the league's effort to supplement the pleasure of watching two teams of superbly trained athletes compete by adding the comedy stylings of pick-up referees, capped by the spectacular fiasco of Monday night's Seattle Seahawks-Green Bay Packers game.

Or the explanation may be simply that a business collecting more than $9 billion in revenue this year sees value in sacrificing one crucial component of its success — credible and firm enforcement of the rules — merely to save about $5 million a year, or five hundredths of a percent.

That's the difference in retirement contributions between what the league wants to pay its referees and what the referees have said they'd accept. And that's one of the major sticking points in the high-profile labor dispute between the NFL and its refs that has made a mockery of the league's supposed commitment to professional on-field standards and player safety.   [Emphasis added]
 It's at this point, however, that Hiltzik makes the broader and more important point:  we should be neither shocked nor surprised by the owners' move.  We've seen it happening for years, just not when it comes to the baby-pacifier, numbing-the-masses circuses:

...But it's really about much more.

It's about employers' assault on the very concept of retirement security. It's about employers' willingness to resort to strong-arm tactics with workers, because they believe that in today's environment unions can be pushed around (they're not wrong). You ignore this labor dispute at your peril, because the same treatment is waiting for you.  ...

One major issue is the NFL's insistence on changing the retirement plan for all refs from a traditional defined-benefit plan, based on the employees' pay and years of service, to a 401(k)-style defined-contribution plan. The defined-benefit plan covering existing refs would be frozen and terminated — they'd get what they've earned so far, but no more. The referees union has already agreed to the changeover for all newly hired members but proposes to grandfather the old plan for existing refs, allowing them to continue to accrue benefits.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has argued that defined-benefit plans are a thing of the past — even he doesn't have one, he told an interviewer recently, as though financially he's in the same boat as any other league employee.

This is as pure an expression as you'll find of the race to the bottom in corporate treatment of employees. Industry's shift from defined-benefit retirement plans to 401(k) plans has helped to destroy retirement security for millions of Americans by shifting pension risk from employer to employee, exposing the latter to financial market meltdowns like those that occurred in 2000 and 2008.   [Emphasis added]

This is about union-busting and putting us in our places.  We've put up with it so far, so what do the owners have to lose?  Recent history (Wisconsin and the recall election of Walker, for example) would seem to bear their gamble out.

Unless, of course, we refuse to play this time.

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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Newt! To The Rescue

(Editorial cartoon by Jim Morin / Miami Herald (September 25, 2012) and featured at McClatchy DC.  Click on image to enlarge and then be kind enough to return.)

Newt Gingrich has decided to back Todd Akin, the Missouri Republican who is challenging Blue Dog Claire McCaskill.  McCaskill, who looked to be defeated by just about anybody the GOP threw at her, surged ahead when Akin made his oh-so-stupid "mispoken" comment on women's magical physiology when it comes to rape.  Even the Republicans were outraged by the comments and the furor they caused, so traditional campaign resources were yanked as they urged Akin to step down so that they could grab that Senate seat.  Akin refused and has been depending on the Tea Party regulars who voted for him in the primary to financially support his campaign.  Up until a week ago, Akin trailed McCaskill, but then Newt Gingrich appeared with Akin and urged the GOP to support him.

Missouri Republican Todd Akin is moving forward with his go-it-alone U.S. Senate bid, which got a little less lonely when former Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich raised money for him in suburban St. Louis.

Akin has shown no signs that he’ll give in to Republican leaders’ urging that he abandon efforts to unseat Senator Claire McCaskill, a first-term Democrat. Today is the last day he could get a court order to withdraw.

Instead, Akin said yesterday at a campaign event with Gingrich that he anticipates national Republican groups will resume their support of his candidacy in the days before the election.

“I think the money’s going to be coming,” Akin said, adding that the funds he needs to compete with McCaskill “can come from a lot of different sources.”

And you know what?  I think the money's going to be coming as well:  from some of those different sources Akin hinted at and from the regular GOP sources.  Republicans want that Senate seat badly.  But it won't be because of Newt's intercession.  It will be because Akin doesn't look quite like the lost cause he once was.

A St. Louis Post-Dispatch/Mason-Dixon poll conducted Aug. 22-23 showed McCaskill with a 9 percentage-point lead. A Public Policy Polling survey conducted Aug. 28-29 showed the race was virtually tied, with Akin trailing McCaskill by one percentage point.  

McCaskill isn't exactly my favorite Democrat.  She is much too conservative.  She has voted with the caucus just often enough to avoid the DINO label.  But she sure as hell beats the alternative.  I hope the DNC realizes that.


Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Mitt's Delusions

(Click on image to enlarge and then be kind enough to return.)

David Horsey's latest column does a pretty good job at pointing out just how flawed a candidate for president Mitt Romney is.  The man simply has no clue.  About anything.

The column was written before the latest non-sense from Mitt (in which he declares that passenger jets should have roll-down windows so that when the plane is smoke-filled the passengers can breathe), but it gets at the reason why Mitt continues to speak "inelegantly."  Horsey speaks briefly about the "shoot first, aim later" Romney response to the Libyan violence and then moves on to his comments to donors captured on video and widely circulated this past two weeks.

As soon as the video came to light, critics -- including many conservatives -- pointed out that the 47% is composed mostly of disabled veterans, retired people, the working poor, a few thousand millionaires with good tax lawyers and millions of former members of the middle class who have lost their jobs. Some further noted that the policy that gives them a break from paying taxes was an idea championed by many Republicans, such as President Reagan. Only about 15% of the 47% are underemployed poor families who receive food stamps and other government assistance.

These facts did not seem to faze Romney. He acknowledges that his words were "inelegant," but he and his campaign continue to stand by his premise that there is a vast swath of Americans who are increasingly dependent on government. Indeed, there are more people receiving food stamps and unemployment checks, but that has a great deal to do with the economic calamity Romney's friends on Wall Street brought down on the country in 2008 and is no proof half the people of this country want to become permanent wards of the state.

Such facts do not matter to Romney. He shares the illusion of the rich -- people such as those in the room where he spoke of the 47% -- who find it comforting to believe money is a reward for virtue and those who do not have money are, therefore, lacking in virtue, brains and drive. Helping out those who struggle with financial challenges, therefore, simply rewards sloth and is bad policy -- especially if it means millionaires and billionaires have to pay higher taxes.

Mitt Romney's biggest liability in his run for president has been the public perception that he is an out-of-touch rich guy. The reason that perception has been so hard to overcome is that it is the truth. Mitt’s father and mother -- both wealthy, but liberal, Republicans -- tried to teach their kid the value of personal frugality and empathy for people of modest means. The lesson, apparently, did not stick with their country club brat of a son.

And what compounds the problem is that Mitt has never bothered to learn and to retain any facts about the real world, whether it involves finance, tax policies, the effect of outsourcing, cold fusion, or airplane design.  He's never had to.  He's always gotten what he wanted because, of course, he's entitled, something his wife keeps reminding us of.

The GOP stalwarts must be pulling their hair out at astounding rates.  Here's a guy who just keeps shooting himself and other down-ticket candidates in the foot.  I suspect a lot of them would agree with Lee Judge's cartoon of 9/20/12.

Fortunately, Mitt and his people don't seem to care.


Monday, September 24, 2012

Meanwhile ...

So, because of the debacle of the 2010 election in which the GOP lost essentially every state-wide election, both of the major parties are pretty much ignoring California.  The presidential candidates come into the state only to raise money.  Being used simply as a super-sized ATM machine is, I suppose, disrespectful, but it has its upside.  We are not being barraged by television commercials and robo-calls.

And so the state has gone its merry way, doing things that lots of countries (not to mention states) wish they could.  This is not to say that my state doesn't have problems.  It does.  Major problems.  We still have unemployment in the double digits and the state budget continues to hemorrhage red ink.  Education at all levels is being gutted, as are programs which protect the vulnerable.  Still, there is some good news in California.

Gov. Jerry Brown on Saturday signed 25 health-related bills, including controversial legislation that extends for two years a study program that allows non-surgical abortions to be performed by a limited number of nurse practitioners, certified nurse-midwives and physician assistants.

Sen. Christine Kehoe (D-San Diego) introduced SB 623 to expand access to abortion for women, especially in rural areas where physicians are not as available. ...

Brown also signed legislation that would improve breast cancer detection and give women easier access to birth control.

SB 1538 mandates that women who go in for screenings be informed if they have dense breast tissue and how that may affect the results of their mammogram and their risk of cancer. It also encourages women to speak with their physicians about whether additional screenings might be warranted. ...

Earlier in the day, Brown was in South Los Angeles to sign legislation that allows registered nurses to give out hormonal contraceptives to women under a standardized procedure.

That law "also allows RNs to dispense drugs and devices upon an order by a certified nurse-midwife, a nurse practitioner or a physician assistant while functioning within specified clinic settings," the governor's office said. ...

Brown signed the bill Saturday morning at Planned Parenthood's local headquarters and cast the event as a reaffirmation of "every woman's basic constitutional rights."   [Emphasis added]
There are lots of reasons I enjoy living in California.  These are just a few of them, but they are important ones.

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Sunday, September 23, 2012

Sunday Poetry: Denise Levertov


The tree of knowledge was the tree of reason.
That's why the taste of it
drove us from Eden. That fruit
was meant to be dried and milled to a fine powder
for use a pinch at a time, a condiment.
God had probably planned to tell us later
about this new pleasure.
We stuffed our mouths full of it,
gorged on but and if and how and again
but, knowing no better.
It's toxic in large quantities; fumes
swirled in our heads and around us
to form a dense cloud that hardened to steel,
a wall between us and God, Who was Paradise.
Not that God is unreasonable – but reason
in such excess was tyranny
and locked us into its own limits, a polished cell
reflecting our own faces. God lives
on the other side of that mirror,
but through the slit where the barrier doesn't
quite touch ground, manages still
to squeeze in – as filtered light,
splinters of fire, a strain of music heard
then lost, then heard again.

--Denise Levertov

Sunday Funnies

(Editorial cartoon by Kevin Siers / The Charlotte Observer (September 19, 2012) and featured at McClatchy DC. Click on image to enlarge.)


Saturday, September 22, 2012

Bonus Critter Blogging: Atlantic Walrus

(Photograph by Paul Nicklen and published at National Geographic. Click on link to learn more about these nurturing mothers and keep in mind the damage that will be done when the ice floes no longer exist.)


(Click on image to enlarge, and then return.  Please.)

David Horsey's latest column isn't really an Obamabot's excuse, even though the cartoon seems to imply as much.  Instead, it's his reflection on the changing tides of the power of the president in this nation.  It's a good essay and well worth reading in full.  As usual, I don't completely agree with Horsey, but (again, as usual) he caused me to stop and think about the issue.

He commences his argument by pointing out the nation's founders purposefully designed a government with checks and balances because they didn't want too strong an executive branch.  They were tired of George III and his treatment of the colonies as just a source of income.  And so they put forth a government which would hopefully prevent that from happening again.

Of course, because of the exigencies of current events, we have had strong presidents who have rammed home policies (both foreign and domestic) even in the face of recalcitrant congresses.  Horsey uses the example of Lyndon Johnson as the last really strong president, and attributes that to Johnson's experience in Congress and his understanding of how to make it go along with his wishes.  My generation tends to remember Johnson only for his disastrous foreign policy (Viet Nam and Cambodia), but he also got the Voting Rights Bill and Medicare passed, two of the most important US laws in the 20th Century.

Since then, Horsey implies, the "strong president" has had to yield to Congress and bases much of his argument on the success of the Newt Gingrich in neutering the president's ability to count on persuasive techniques with important congressional committee chairs.

With the advent of the Cold War and the rise of the national-security state, this balance tilted when it came to making war and conducting foreign affairs. In that realm, presidents are now nearly kings. In setting domestic policy, however, presidents still need to make bargains with other power players in order to achieve success. Lyndon Baines Johnson was a genius at getting what he wanted from senators and representatives because, as a senator himself, he had mastered the game. Johnson knew how to reward or coerce every committee chairman, and he knew they could deliver once he bent them his way.

That is where Newt Gingrich comes in. In 1995, when he became speaker of the House, Gingrich eliminated the long-standing system that had invested most institutional power in the chairmen of the various House committees. Gingrich also brought a more confrontational kind of politics to his caucus that has only become more strident and ideological in the years since he stepped down as speaker.

Horsey raises some important points, but I would argue that the George W. Bush/Dick Cheney administration was one of the strongest executive branches in modern history.  Yes, 9/11 gave them the anticipated boost in foreign policy, but that bled over into domestic policy in the Patriot Act(s) , the use of non-judicially overseen wire and email tapping, indeterminate detentions, and the use of military "inventions" on American soil (drones).  And, unfortunately, that derivative domestic policy continues under Barack Obama with little outrage from either party.

I do agree, however, that the strident ideological stance of the GOP (and to some extent, the DLC/Blue Dog members of the Dems) have offset some of Obama's power and his ability to use the "bully pulpit" so important to FDR, JFK, and LBJ.

And that leads us back to Madison and what the founders originally wanted for this new nation, and what we should think long and hard about.  Do we really want a supremely strong executive, a king or (the modern equivalent) a CEO?  Yes, I think it fair to say that we want a strong executive, one who leads on important issues, but don't we want his ideas to be tested by the representatives we have sent to Washington?  Or , and this is the important part, do we want a federal government that we own to represent us?

That of course would require an electorate not splintered by the internecine warfare of a 24/7/365 election cycle and a press that would provide us with real news and analysis and an education system that taught us all how to think and to judge.

I may be asking for too much.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Friday Cat Blogging

Granny Bird Award: Mitt Romney

It's been a while since I've issued a Granny Bird Award, given to those who go out of their way to harm the interests of elders, but Mitt Romney certainly deserves this one for his now infamous characterization of the 47% of those who pay "no taxes" as defective mooches on the other half of the country.

I've seen a lot of great analyses of just how wrong and how nasty this superior being is in his assertion, but one of my favorites came from Michael Hiltzig.  His most recent column nails Romney for his blatant abuse of the facts.  I especially appreciated what he had to say about the elders place in all of this.

Voters can decide for themselves whether Romney's words, taken at face value, bespeak a hopelessly crabbed approach to government's role in our lives or a principled stand for private enterprise and economic freedom.

But they should be concerned about the fundamental inaccuracy of Romney's claims and the erroneous conclusions he draws from them. For those point to the important questions of how he can make policy in a fact-free context, and how he can even know his own mind if he doesn't know what he's talking about.

So let's examine Romney's numbers and their significance.

The key number he cited is that 47% of Americans "pay no income tax." The statistic is true as far as it goes, but it doesn't come close to reaching the finish line. In fact, its shock value derives from the legerdemain of focusing solely on the federal income tax. This misleads Romney and his audience into thinking that the group in question is mostly people on a lifelong dole.

The truth is that the vast majority are people who are working or who have worked in the past. Their ranks include millions of Americans who are now retired, living on Social Security and Medicare benefits they paid for throughout their working lives.

Preach it!

Those of us who receive Social Security and Medicare are not mooches getting a free hand-out from the federal government.  We worked for years and had money deducted from our paychecks to cover these benefits.  We paid in advance.  We're just getting our money back now.

While the elders may not be paying federal income taxes now, they sure as hell did in the past.  Furthermore, they are still paying sales taxes to their state and local government.

Somebody needs to grab Mitt by the shoulders and shake him like an etch-a-sketch.  In the mean time, this award will have to suffice.

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Thursday, September 20, 2012

Things That Make Me Ill

(Editorial cartoon by Joel Pett / Lexington Herald-Leader (September 17, 2012) and featured at McClatchy DC. Click on image to enlarge and then kindly return.)

One of the things I've noticed recently is that my fuse has grown shorter as I get older. Like most people my age, I've come to grips with my mortality. I know that even under the best of circumstances I have far fewer years left than I've already lived by a factor of about two. When I come across news stories like the one noted in a recent David Lazarus column, I realize just how bad things have gotten and how I'll probably not live long enough to see the change which is so desperately needed. Let's just say it's a good thing that I've sold my handguns or I might be tempted to go all vigilante on some people's asses.

Please click on the link to get the skinny on one's family's struggle to get its insurance company to provide and pay for the special occupational therapy required to help its six year old autistic daughter. No, really. It's not that long.

Here's the thing. For over a year California has required insurance companies to provide for such treatment, and the Roberts family has been paying for that coverage. Doesn't matter. Aetna has been playing the time-honored game of stall, delay, dance, and ignore in the hopes that the family would just go away. And that game continued even after a decision in the family's favor by a court:

California passed a law in October requiring insurers to cover behavioral therapy for autistic kids. But for many families, it can be a long, hard struggle to cover clinic bills, which can total as much as $50,000 annually.

Since the beginning of 2011, the Department of Managed Health Care has received almost 600 complaints against the seven largest health plans over problems with authorizing autism-related treatments. ...

What's so sad is that if someone at Aetna had simply picked up a phone and made one call to United Therapy Network and another to Big Fun, almost two years of hassles probably could have been avoided.

Instead, a family has faced months of needless uncertainty. And a 6-year-old girl still awaits a bureaucratic decision authorizing coverage of easily accessed treatment that could give her a chance at a more normal life.

It would be so easy for insurers to avoid ill will.

If that was something they actually cared about.

Thankfully, Lazarus stepped up and hopefully embarrassed the hell out of Aetna and put additional pressure on the state agencies involved to step up and slap Aetna around until it honors its contractual and legal obligations.

And now I'm going to go take a shower to rinse off the slime and to cool off. I'm too old for this.

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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Shoot First, Aim Later

OK, I admit it: standing alone, this cartoon by David Horsey is at the very least shocking, if not offensive. This is one of those times that the column appended to the cartoon is essential because it provides a good explanation.

The first half of the column is devoted to Mitt Romney's slimy political grandstanding with respect to the riots in Egypt and Libya which resulted in the deaths of four Americans. It is the rest of the column which clarifies Horsey's intent with the cartoon.

Romney is not the first presidential candidate to imply he can wave a magic wand -- or, more precisely, Teddy Roosevelt's big stick -- and remake the world to the liking of the United States. Most of those who aspire to the presidency make a similar claim (with Ron Paul being the most recent laudable exception). Candidates try to act like masters of the universe to impress voters who want to believe a proper president can accomplish anything.

Of course, by imagining they are electing a sort of superhero, voters set themselves up for disappointment and disillusion over and over again. Sure, a president can topple a dictator if he wants to utilize the vast power of the American military. But it's not so easy to clean up the ensuing mess. And anyone who expects that a president can tame the random eruptions of frenzied mobs in faraway places is kidding themselves.

The swarming packs of young men in Cairo and Benghazi and Tunis and Beirut spend their days looking for any excuse to vent their deep frustrations and anger. This time around, the excuse was a ridiculously amateurish YouTube preview of a movie that may not even exist, made by a shadowy character who claims to be an Israeli Jew but may, in fact, be an Egyptian Coptic Christian.

The film clip's slanders of the prophet Muhammad may have been the spark that set off the wildfire of protest, but the underlying and perpetual causes of such violence are much deeper grievances -- some as contemporary as the chronic joblessness of young Arab men, some as ancient as the blood feuds between Muhammad's successors.

A long line of American presidents helped keep the lid on the seething antagonisms in Muslim lands by backing dictators who repressed both the best and worst impulses of their people. Now those strongmen are disappearing, one by one, and the lid has blown off. Our idealistic American hearts want to celebrate this burst of liberation, but our worried minds wonder if a whirlwind has been let loose.
Where I disagree with Horsey is the implication that American support for those dictators had nothing to do with our embassy employees becoming targets. In my opinion, they were natural targets for that very reason. That said, Horsey's conclusion, as hard as it is for Americans to swallow, rings true.

In the Islamic world, Americans are frequent targets, but we are neither the root cause of the region's trouble nor the magicians who can make all problems disappear. An American president can prod, manage, contain and intervene, but he can seldom transform. The people of the Middle East will have to do that for themselves. Only when they perceive that they are authors of their own agony will they become masters of their own fate.


Tuesday, September 18, 2012


I've not hesitated to kvetch about the things the Obama administration has gotten wrong, so it's only fair that I note when it has done the right thing in the right way. One of the things Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have gotten right is their handling of Burma, easing that vicious military junta back into the world through the use of old-fashioned diplomacy rather than drones and bombs. We are now seeing the results of those efforts.

Democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi’s first trip to the U.S. in decades starting Monday could prompt a further easing of U.S. economic sanctions against Myanmar, analysts said, although the visit will mainly serve as a victory lap for the demure figure celebrated by Republicans and Democrats alike.

During her six-stop, near three-week trip, the Nobel laureate is expected to meet with President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and receive the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest U.S. civilian award. She also may spend a night in the White House and be feted at a dinner in her honor attended by former Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton as well as Microsoft head Bill Gates.

The Obama administration is keen to highlight her visit as a foreign policy success in an election year, analysts added, given her role in pushing the long-isolated pariah state also known as Burma to open its doors, legalize protest, ease media restrictions and release hundreds of political prisoners.

President Obama has every right to claim this as a foreign policy success. The tireless prodding and pushing has worked. Aung San Suu Kyi's freedom from decades of isolation and house arrest is testament to that. Her election to Parliament, even if at this point the military leadership continues to hold all of the power, has been a signal that the current leaders are loosening their grip, albeit slowly.

Ironically, also visiting the US at this time is Burma's current president, Thein Sein and there is some concern that all of the attention paid to Aung San Suu Kyi is upstaging him. If handled appropriately by the Obama administration, this need not be a major concern.

While some believe Thein Sein has felt upstaged by Suu Kyi, both share a desire to see Burma emerge from isolation, analysts said.

“She’s gone out of her way to be quite constructive in parliament,” said Turnell. “And let’s face it, if it weren’t for her, Burma wouldn’t be on anyone’s radar.”


So, welcome to them both


Monday, September 17, 2012


I had to re-read this story a couple of times because I thought I was hallucinating due to the triple-digit temperatures most of this weekend. But, no, I had it right the first time: the GOP was sending dollar bills to the party faithful as part of a "fund raising" effort.

An urgent fundraising appeal from Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus that went out this week included some start-up money in the envelope: a single dollar bill.

Priebus wrote in the letter that he was “risking a dollar bill to get your attention at this critical moment of the 2012 campaign.” ...

Priebus asked supporters to match "the Obama Democrats and their liberal special interest allies dollar for dollar and answer their vicious attack ads so we can win back the White House, reclaim complete control of Congress and elect more GOP governors."

"That's why I expect and trust you to return the dollar I've enclosed along with an emergency contribution of at least $60 for a total gift of $61. A donation of $121 will provide an even bigger boost."

Now, back in the day, it was not unheard of for big-city machine operatives to pass out "walking around money" in poorer districts to get folks to the polls and to cast their votes for the right people. However, I doubt that even back then a buck would have done the trick. No, the Reince probably did intend this to be a fund raising gimmick. But a buck? I wonder how many of those dollar bills went into the trash because the recipients saw the return address and just tossed the envelope without bothering to even open them.

No word yet on how many bills the RNC has gotten back.

Heh. As a sage once said, "Stupid is as stupid does."


Sunday, September 16, 2012

Sunday Poetry: Amy Lowell


An arid daylight shines along the beach
Dried to a grey monotony of tone,
And stranded jelly-fish melt soft upon
The sun-baked pebbles, far beyond their reach
Sparkles a wet, reviving sea. Here bleach
The skeletons of fishes, every bone
Polished and stark, like traceries of stone,
The joints and knuckles hardened each to each.
And they are dead while waiting for the sea,
The moon-pursuing sea, to come again.
Their hearts are blown away on the hot breeze.
Only the shells and stones can wait to be
Washed bright. For living things, who suffer pain,
May not endure till time can bring them ease.

--Amy Lowell

Sunday Funnies

(Political cartoon by Tom Toles and published 9/13/12 in the Washington Post. Click on image to enlarge.)


Saturday, September 15, 2012

Bonus Critter Blogging: Sumatran Rhinoceros

(Photograph by Ch'ien C. Lee, AP and published at National Geographic. Click on link to learn more about the 100 most threatened species, of which this rhino is but one.)

Cool Tool

The folks at Open Secrets have come up with a dandy new tool to show who is engaged in buying our government.

Today, we at are unveiling our newest tool to track the influence of organizations here in Washington: at-a-glance profiles that tie together the many different types of information the Center for Responsive Politics collects on any given organization, including campaign contributions, lobbying expenses and even how many members of Congress invest in a company. In the past, we've maintained all of this data, but unless an organization qualified as a "heavy hitter," the various pieces of information were found in separate locations.

Now, however, you can get that info on any organization Open Secrets has been tracking (and there are plenty of them) in a handy one-page form. All you have to do is go to the gateway page, which has charts suggesting some of the usual suspects and a search box if you're looking for something specific not listed amongst the "heavy hitters".

For example, I clicked on my favorite target, the Pharmaceutical Rsrch & Mfgrs of America (PHRMA) and up popped a nifty one-page snapshot which shows how much was spent on lobbying and on which issues/bills, shows how much was spent on campaign contributions and the recipients, and shows the "revolving door" aspect by noting how many lobbyists were former government employees.

This is a great tool if you are as deeply concerned as I am with the way our government operates and who holds the keys. I urge you to play around with this for a little while. I think you'll be surprised.


Friday, September 14, 2012

Friday Cat Blogging

Sweet Gig

(Click on image to enlarge. Then come back. Please.)

So, our congress critters have returned to DC. The conventions are over, the election is still seven weeks away, a budget has still to be passed. So, maybe the 112th Congress will actually do some work? Not likely, as David Horsey points out.

...The lawmakers are taking a break from campaigning just long enough to make sure the government does not go broke by the end of the month. It’s nice of them to drop by to do the people’s work. This year, such a thing has been a rare occurrence. ...

The list of accomplishments for this Congress is short and risible. The lawmakers earned an easy feather in their cap by shaving 2 percentage points off the payroll tax for the last two years. However, with deficits mounting higher by the second, the expectation is the tax holiday will not be extended past Dec. 31.

Lawmakers also managed to agree on raising the debt ceiling last year – but only after an exercise in brinkmanship between Democrats and Republicans that prompted Standard & Poor’s to downgrade the U.S. credit rating. And the provisional budget arrangement that came out of that debacle set up automatic draconian cuts that will kick in at the turn of the year if a new deal is not reached. ...

The 112th Congress has passed far fewer bills than any Congress in recent years. Our current crop of lawmakers may, in fact, have achieved the lowest productivity of any Congress in modern history.

One would have to go back to the pre-Civil War period to find a batch of national legislators as deeply divided and rigid in their positions. Compromise is now a dirty word and, as the debt ceiling fight proved, there is a large faction among the House Republicans who would close the government and bring down the economy rather than vote for the tiniest of tax increases.

And so this sorry crowd has slinked back to Washington for a few days to see if they can do the absolute minimum – pass a continuing resolution that will allow the federal government to pay its obligations for a few more months. Then, they will all head back home to continue campaigning for re-election.

The mystery is why they want their jobs at all.
[Emphasis added]

C'mon, David. Don't be so naive.

These folks get six-figure salaries, a health care plan for themselves and their families most of us can only dream about, and a real, live pension plan. They have staffs which do most of the hard work for them, and they don't have to pay the salaries or benefits. They work four days a week at most, and they get vacations that double those given to the public school teachers that they love to demonize. They are also pretty much guaranteed cushy jobs after their government "service" with the lobbyists and corporations they've served so well.

What's not to like? Of course they want these jobs.

And we keep electing and re-electing these slugs.

Maybe it's time for a change, you think?


Thursday, September 13, 2012

Mental Health Day

(Maybe later. Or not.)


Wednesday, September 12, 2012

9/11: Some Reflections

(Editorial cartoon by Mike Luckovich and published 9/12/01 by the Atlanta Journal Constitution. Click on image to enlarge. Come back here.)

Let me begin by noting this is not how I remember Mike Luckovich's cartoon the day after 9/11. That may be because that part of my memory is slowly being burned away, or it may be because the Atlanta Journal Constitution decided years later to save that cartoon by scanning a portion of it for posterity. Either/or, it still is a powerful image for me. Back then I wasn't blogging, nor was I following blogs from the big guys. I was watching television, primarily CNN, and they had Mike on to explain the cartoon and how he came to draw it. That sucked me in as far as political cartoons go. While I've only been recently inflicting my love for political cartooning on my blog visitors, I've been following that genre ever since.

So, here we are, eleven years later, and that image still haunts me. At first, the images of the planes headed for the Twin Towers in Lady Liberty's eyes grabbed me. Now, however, it is the tear rolling down her face that choked me up once I found the image on the 'net. That was prescient, as art often is, however unintentional.

While I know, rationally, that we were primed for everything that has happened since 9/11, on that date the ball emerged from the murky clouds to become more visible. George W. Bush made it clear that he intended to be a "war president" before his election, and fulfilled that promise in a way I hadn't anticipated. We now know that his new administration had been warned from the start that Al Qaeda intended to attack this nation (as late as 8/6/01 -- my birthday), but he shined the warnings on, apparently believing that even if it happened, it would be no big deal: he still would go after his intended target, Iraq.

Oh, yes, he declared war on Afghanistan, invoking NATO rules so as to get other nations involved, and then ignored that war for years while he sent troops to another country to secure their oil for our nation and to make our defense contractors (and their cheerleader-in-chief, Dick Cheney) wealthier. Thousands of our troops died, thousands more were grievously wounded in body and soul. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqi deaths later, we exited. Those Iraqis are still dying because of our meddling. And that war was justified on lies.

Our national leadership decided that international rules didn't apply to the US anymore. We were the only superpower. So we ignored the Geneva Conventions we had signed and engaged in renditions, black prisons, torture of all prisoners in those black prisons and in acknowledged prisons such as Guantanamo Bay. Abu Ghraib, Bagram, and water boarding entered our lexicon. Due process exited.

And due process didn't just exit for foreign prisoners, it exited. Period. Along with other constitutionally guaranteed rights. The Patriot Acts, including all of its iterations passed with little if any discussion. Our emails, our telephone calls, even our library habits were opened up to the Department of Homeland Security, the Justice Department, and the Defense Department and we had no recourse. We cannot even board a plane without removing our shoes and subjecting ourselves to revealing x-rays. Our internet habits are tracked easily. Local police departments now have drones to track our every move.

Yes, we lost a lot on 9/11, but I have to tell you, I can't blame all of that on Obama bin Laden.

Kyrie Eleison.

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Tuesday, September 11, 2012

No Surprise Here

(Editorial cartoon by Jim Morin / Miami Herald (September 10, 2012) and featured at McClatchy DC. Click on image to enlarge and then return.)

Doyle McManus' week-end column confirmed what I thought all along. Political conventions are held only to pump up the party faithful for the coming election.

Attending two political conventions back to back is like visiting two parallel universes: one conservative, one liberal; one overwhelmingly white, the other emphatically multiculti; and each one strangely confident that its candidate is on a steady course to victory. ...

Both campaigns can't be right, of course. But their mutual conviction that they have the advantage meant that neither side felt it had to move toward the middle. Instead, with both parties focused more on mobilization than persuasion, the conventions were aimed mostly at rousing the faithful.

That's why, in a year when the public's overriding concern is the economy, so much time at the conventions was devoted to the social issues that both define and divide right and left in America. The Republicans didn't shy away from talk about restricting abortion and defending traditional marriage, because so much of their base wants that message. The Democrats were a mirror image, defending abortion rights and applauding as Obama reiterated his support for gay marriage.
[Emphasis added]

While the economy was mentioned in each convention, little of any substance was said in either venue. And there was little mention of compromise, of reaching across the aisle to get things back on track and done. Of course, that would have been a lost cause in any event, at least for the Democrats, given the last 3+ years (see Morin's cartoon). Still, what we got over the last two weeks were unending pictures and sound bites of a divided nation.

Neither Romney nor Obama managed to use the conventions to open a commanding lead. That doesn't mean that their time was wasted. But it does mean that this campaign is likely to remain close, divisive and joyless. It's going to be a long 59 days.

Maybe the candidate's time wasn't wasted, but I sure felt like I was robbed.

And I'm getting pretty damned sick of popcorn.


Monday, September 10, 2012

The Personal As Political

(Click on image to enlarge and then return if you know what's good for you.)

David Horsey raised an issue which has been nagging at me for months. How much do I really want to know about a candidate's personal life before I vote for him/her?

At 2012’s national political party conventions, though, self-revelation was a requirement. It was as if the candidates, their wives and many of the supporting speakers were guests of Oprah or (reaching way back to early TV) contestants on “Queen for a Day.”

This imperative to get personal was due, in part, to the unusually private natures of the men at the top in both parties. Mitt Romney, in particular, needed to get beyond the not-inaccurate caricature of him as a stiff rich guy who will say anything or take any convenient position to get elected. And so, his wife, Ann, was given the prime spot on the first night of the convention to tell how much fun her guy was on their first date, reminisce about the makeshift furniture they had in their student apartment and recall how splendid Mitt was with their five bratty boys.

Strange as it seems, President Obama also needed reintroduction. Even after four years as president, a lot of people cannot see past his cool demeanor while a frighteningly large share of the electorate imagines him born and raised in some Kenyan village under the tutelage of scheming Third World socialists. ...

Twenty-first century America is a society that craves intimate details about celebrities while common citizens share personal facts freely on Facebook and Twitter. It is no surprise that the handlers of our presidential candidates seek to win advantage by feeding that public fascination. There is nothing wrong with this, unless biography overshadows serious discussion of policy. ...

It is swell that Mitt Romney and Barack Obama are good family men with exemplary mothers. But, after watching two weeks of speeches in Tampa, Fla., and Charlotte, N.C., we may know more about how they wooed their wives than how they plan to fix the economy.
[Emphasis added]

As I've said here many times, I don't care what church candidates attend (or don't). I don't actually care if they are philanderers. I do care if they are convicted felons, especially if the felonies involve fraud in the business place or criminal charges for rape, including rape of children. Most convicted felons, however, don't run for public office.

What this development really is involves, as Horsey astutely points out, the current American thirst for celebritude: we're down, so amuse us so we feel better.

What this campaign should be about is what each candidate proposes for ways to make us better so we can survive the hard times we're in. Since neither candidate is willing to go that extra mile I can only conclude that neither has a clue.

And that is frightening.

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Sunday, September 09, 2012

Sunday Poetry: Gwendolyn Brooks

the sonnet-ballad

Oh mother, mother, where is happiness?
They took my lover's tallness off to war,
Left me lamenting. Now I cannot guess
What I can use an empty heart-cup for.
He won't be coming back here any more.
Some day the war will end, but, oh, I knew
When he went walking grandly out that door
That my sweet love would have to be untrue.
Would have to be untrue. Would have to court
Coquettish death, whose impudent and strange
Possessive arms and beauty (of a sort)
Can make a hard man hesitate--and change.
And he will be the one to stammer, "Yes."
Oh mother, mother, where is happiness?

--Gwendolyn Brooks

Sunday Funnies

(Editorial cartoon by Mike Luckovich and published 9/6/2012 in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Click on image to enlarge.)


Saturday, September 08, 2012

Bonus Critter Blogging: Patagonian Cavy

(Photograph by Julie Larsen Maher/Wildlife Conservation Society and published in the New York Times. Click on link to learn more about these cute little rodents.)

Just 60 More Days

(Editorial cartoon by Kevin Siers / The Charlotte Observer (September 7, 2012) and featured at McClatchy DC. Click on image to enlarge and consider returning, please.)

Kevin Siers' cartoon expresses my opinion of President Obama's acceptance speech now that I've listened to most of it and read all the commentary I had to time to. What struck me most is how similar Obama and Bill Clinton are in so many respects. Both are superb orators, amazingly so. Both will have a crowd on their feet quicker than almost any other politician of my life time.

And those oratorical skills have the effect of, well, softening the parts of the message which they have to deliver without turning off their audience. People still adore Bill Clinton, even with his personal and political shortcomings as a Democrat, and I suspect we all have some affection at least for Barack Obama. Still, a close examination of what they each have said and what they have done does not match what the Democratic Party used to be about.

That should not come as any surprise. After all, both come from the DLC wing of the party, which, if you think about it, is more oriented towards business, not the working and poor people of this country. For example, Bill Clinton presided over welfare "reform" and wanted abortion to be "safe, legal and rare."

Barach Obama, in his Thursday speech, referenced Simpson-Bowles, which means Social Security and Medicare is still on the table. Both will cheerfully be jiggered to save money so that the Pentagon and their sweet deals with contractors can go on unmolested. Downsizing/outsourcing government functions will continue.

And what especially saddens me is that I will vote for Obama, because the alternative is so much worse.

I grieve for my country. I really grieve for my niece, nephews and their children and all the generations that follow mine. We at least had a taste of the dream.

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Friday, September 07, 2012

Friday Cat Blogging

The Least Of These

Editorial cartoon by Joel Pett / Lexington Herald-Leader (September 6, 2012) and featured at McClatchy DC. Click on image to enlarge and then come back.)

Well, the talk finally got around to the economy on Wednesday. Several speakers made it a point to talk about the mess President Obama inherited four years ago and what he has been doing to clean it up. That clearly was the featured speaker's job and Bill Clinton delivered. However, I tend to agree with rmj over at Adventus:

For my money the better speech last night was delivered by Elizabeth Warren. Bill Clinton did what Bill Clinton does: he eloquently defended the status quo. Elizabeth Warren delivered the truly radical concept that whatever you do for the least, you do for all. [Emphasis added]

That said, at least the Big Dog moved in that general direction with this line:

"The most important question is, what kind of country do you want to live in? If you want a you're-on-your-own, winner-take-all society, you should support the Republican ticket. If you want a country of shared prosperity and shared responsibility – a we're-all-in-this-together society – you should vote for Barack Obama and Joe Biden." [Emphasis added]

President Obama will hopefully do likewise (this is written before I've watched or listened to his speech, which I won't do until later today anyway). Apparently he will refer to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, which in itself is a marvelous improvement. The question is whether he and his party are ready to do more than reference FDR, whether they will lift not just the middle class but also the poor. Quite frankly, they have not shown any interest in doing so, as this horrifying report shows.

Record numbers of U.S. households struggled at times to feed their families last year, according to a report Wednesday from the U.S. Department of Agriculture on the state of hunger in America.

A lack of resources forced others to cut back on meals and disrupt their usual eating patterns, it says.

A record 17.9 million U.S. households – 700,000 more than in 2010 – didn’t have enough food at all times last year to sustain active, healthy lives for all family members, according to the USDA.

This “food insecurity” affected a record 14.9 percent of U.S. households and more than 50 million people, about one in six U.S. residents. ...

The effect on children was significant. Nearly 9 million children lived in food-insecure households last year, and 845,000 were in households with very low food security.

And you can't just blame the Republicans and Paul Ryan:

The survey data comes as congressional Republicans, led by GOP vice-presidential nominee Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, push for massive cuts in food stamp-program funding to curb enrollment growth and to help balance the federal budget. The Democratic-controlled Senate also voted in June to cut food stamp funding, but by a smaller amount. [Emphasis added]

FDR would be appalled, as we all should be.

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Thursday, September 06, 2012

It's The Economy, Stupid

(Editorial cartoon by Jim Morin / Miami Herald (September 5, 2012) and featured at McClatchy DC. Click on image to enlarge and then be so kind as to return.)

So the Democratic Convention has opened, and eyes are focused on Charlotte. Tuesday's activities and speechifying were refreshing, I must admit, and I don't much like conventions in their present form. I liked them better when there were some real issues to be resolved, like who would be the nominee and who would be tapped for the VP slot. Most of the real issues are now decided before the gavel falls to open the convention and there really aren't any surprises. National party conventions have become mostly pep rallies with a soupcon of showcases of up-and-comers.

But the Democrats have shown some moxie in the first day and evening of their convention, something I've really appreciated. They haven't run away from their heritage (via Eschaton, which you should also check out for Atrios' pithy comment).

Stop us if you’ve heard this one: A major political party, trying to rekindle the flame of enthusiasm that died down to the embers after a presidential term that didn’t live up to expectations is turning to social issues — and fear of radical social change — to rally its base back to the polls.

No, it’s not the Republican Party of 2004. It’s the Democrats in 2012. With the establishment GOP and its nominee, Mitt Romney, trying to keep a lid on its social views, Democrats see a window of opportunity on same-sex marriage and abortion rights. And on the first night of their convention here, they hammered away at social messaging in a way that the conservative right could only dream about last week in Tampa. ...

In speech after speech, Democratic heavyweights took the stage to laud their party for backing marriage equality and slam the other side for continuing to oppose it — all to wild enthusiasm from the crowd. In the stands in the convention hall and the streets in the city around it, same sex marriage has become a rallying cry for Democrats and something they’re ready to put right out in front during a closely contested election. ...

Abortion got mentioned on the Tampa stage, but the GOP clearly wanted to talk about something else. Not true for Democrats, who proudly put the president of NARAL, Nancy Keenan, before a roaring crowd in Charlotte.

“We believe in funding family planning because it helps to prevent unintended pregnancy. We believe that a woman considering an abortion should not be forced to have an ultrasound against her will,” she said. “We believe that rape is rape. We believe that a woman should make health care decisions with her family, her doctor, and her God. And we believe that there’s no place in that room for politicians — especially politicians who don’t know how women’s bodies work.”

To which I say a hearty "YES!".

But let's get back to reality. Yes, the Democratic Party has got to get the attention of people like me, but it also has got to get the attention of the rest of the electorate, and, frankly, gay marriage and abortion rights are not at the top of most people's agenda. The economy is. And rightly so. What the Democrats, especially Barach Obama and Joe Biden, have to do is assure the electorate that they in fact recognize the problems of the 99% and they will do something about it.

David Horsey's column of 9/5/12 deals with just that issue.

Republicans not only have to compete with the star power of Michelle Obama, it just may be that they have set a trap for themselves by making the central question of the 2012 presidential campaign, "Are you better off now than you were four years ago?" At their convention in Charlotte, N.C., this week, the Democrats, from the first lady on down, are responding to that question with some pretty sharp answers.

Here's the most succinct one: "GM is alive and Osama bin Laden is dead."...

Of course, the question is posed in a personal, not a collective way. Are you better off than you were? Though many people are doing just fine and have sailed easily through the economic doldrums, those who have lost jobs, have not found new jobs or have taken work that pays less are likely to answer no. That is no small number of people.

Still, I am reminded of something a Republican congressman told me years ago during another election when unemployment was a big issue. Yes, 8% unemployment is high, he said, but that means 92% of the people have jobs. So, the real question is whether a big number among those 92% are feeling like they might be next on the layoff list. In other words, it is not so much the anguish of the jobless that drives an election, it is the extent to which the employed majority feels secure or insecure about the future.

For a lot of folks who have seen their incomes stagnate for years while doing more and more work, the sense that something is wrong is nothing new. The beleaguered middle class has been treading water for two decades or more. For them, the question is not whether things are worse than four years ago, times have been tough for much longer than that. They cannot blame Obama for their predicament, but they can ask what he has done to lift them out of their economic rut in his first term and what he intends to do if given a second chance to run the country.
[Emphasis added]

To which I again say "YES!".

And both nominees and the party have to spell out exactly what they intend to do and why they weren't able to do that since 2008. They must point to Mitch McConnell's now famous pronouncement that the goal of the GOP after Obama's election was to make sure he didn't get re-elected, and the ways in which the Republicans in Congress obstructed more than just appointments to the federal bench. And, more importantly, they must be specific, detailing what the goals are and how the Democrats intend to achieve them. That in itself will draw a stark line between the two parties, which will give people some sense that at least one party is paying attention to reality.

Having Bill Clinton ("It's the economy, stupid") as the main speaker on Wednesday will hopefully set things up. I don't have television, so I'm going to have wait to see what the MSM and utube have to say later this morning as far as his speech goes. But with luck, he'll do the job.

And that just might make me appreciate the new form of conventions.

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Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Our At-Bat

It's been kind of interesting to see how the press has spent its time and energies leading up to the Democratic Convention. They only had a few days because of the weird scheduling, but they obviously are determined to keep these dog-and-pony shows before us.

David Horsey, snarkmeister, took a look at the feud between Gov. Jerry Brown of California and Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey.

A blossoming feud between California Gov. Jerry Brown and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie could bring a little fun back into politics.

The spat began on the first day of the Republican National Convention in Tampa during Christie’s visit to the California delegation. Christie, who later in the week would underwhelm as the convention’s keynote speaker, pointed out to the delegates he was a mere 14 years old when Brown won the Democratic primary in New Jersey way back in 1980. The trash-talking governor of the Garden State called Brown “an old retread” and implied Brown was chicken for sending his current tax hike proposal to the voters instead of pushing it through the legislature and taking the heat.

In Los Angeles last Thursday, Brown fired back at Christie during a speech at an organized labor gathering. The veteran Democrat said age may have left him with a lot less hair, but the years had provided plenty of experience and knowledge that Christie may lack.

“Because when you were 14,” Brown said to his new rival, “I was passing the farm labor bill. I was passing worker protections in California."

Brown then challenged the famously rotund New Jersey chief executive to a three-mile run, a push-up contest and a chin-up contest. With the negative implication about Christie’s excessive weight abundantly clear, Brown said he would take any bet on the challenge, adding, “I have no doubt of the outcome.”

Nice lead-in to the Dem Convention, no?

And the newsletter I get from the STrib each weekday morning contained a nifty key word comparison of the two parties' platforms:

The Democratic and Republican parties have released their platforms, which act as guideposts for the parties’ values. The frequency each uses key words highlights the parties’ differences. The Democratic platform, which endorses “marriage equality,” mentions the word marriage four times; the GOP platform, which endorses “traditional marriage,” mentions marriage 21 times. The Democratic platform mentions Iraq 20 times and Afghanistan 22 times; the Republican platform mentions Iraq five times and Afghanistan six times. The GOP platform mentions “middle class” once; “family” 26; “children” 31 times; the Democratic platform mentions “middle class” 44 times; “family” 20 times; “children” 17 times. The Republican platform uses the word “liberty” 17 times and “freedom” 40 times; the Democratic platform -- “liberty” three times and “freedom” 15. The GOP platform mentions “taxes” 11 times and “government” 171 times; the Democratic platform mentions “taxes” 19 times and “government” 57 times.

One word which is noticeably absent from the comparative list is "poor." Apparently neither party is interested in that part of the demographics. I shouldn't be surprised, I guess. The only politician who would talk about poverty and the poor in the last decade, John Edwards, is persona non grata in the Democratic Party in much the same way George W. Bush in the Republican Party. From the Los Angeles Times:

The loss of another narcissistic, self-destructive politician might not amount to much in some ways. But along with Edwards went a moment in Democratic Party politics when national figures talked about an issue that has all but disappeared from the agenda — poverty.

There may be a caucus or meeting on the poor this week in Charlotte, but the topic has been pushed to the sidelines. It's hardly been mentioned in a prolonged Republican primary season, except as a negative: Mitt Romney and vice presidential running mate Paul Ryan insist (falsely) that President Obama wants to cut work requirements for people on welfare.

It wasn’t this way just four years ago, partly due to circumstance but also because of the presence of the native Carolinian, Edwards. Through much of his 2007-2008 race for president, he talked about the untenable divide between the “two Americas.”

I guess the poor, who don't contribute to campaigns and who might not be able to vote because of new restrictive voting laws, just don't matter to either party.

And that is a shame.

Our shame as a nation.

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Tuesday, September 04, 2012


Retired South African Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu wrote a stunning op-ed piece this weekend. In it he explains why he cancelled an appearance at an international conference. He wouldn't be attending because former British Prime Minister Tony Blair would be there. Before you decide that is awfully petty on the part of the Archbishop, read what he has to say about Blair and former US President George W. Bush.

The immorality of the United States and Great Britain's decision to invade Iraq in 2003, premised on the lie that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction, has destabilised and polarised the world to a greater extent than any other conflict in history.

Instead of recognising that the world we lived in, with increasingly sophisticated communications, transportations and weapons systems necessitated sophisticated leadership that would bring the global family together, the then-leaders of the US and UK fabricated the grounds to behave like playground bullies and drive us further apart. They have driven us to the edge of a precipice where we now stand – with the spectre of Syria and Iran before us. ...

The cost of the decision to rid Iraq of its by-all-accounts despotic and murderous leader has been staggering, beginning in Iraq itself. Last year, an average of 6.5 people died there each day in suicide attacks and vehicle bombs, according to the Iraqi Body Count project. More than 110,000 Iraqis have died in the conflict since 2003 and millions have been displaced. By the end of last year, nearly 4,500 American soldiers had been killed and more than 32,000 wounded.

On these grounds alone, in a consistent world, those responsible for this suffering and loss of life should be treading the same path as some of their African and Asian peers who have been made to answer for their actions in the Hague.
[Emphasis added]

Of course, they won't. The US refused to sign on to the treaty creating the International Criminal Court. I suspect the UK did also. Both countries' leaders felt that would be transgressing on national sovereignty. That excuse might fly if either country seriously examined the behavior of their leaders and of the people carrying out the war and prosecuted them in a court of law, but neither country has done so. Instead, we in the US have been urged to "look forward, not backward." As a result, neither leader has faced the consequences of their actions. There has been no justice. And the wounds continue to fester.

At this point I should disclose that I consider Desmond Tutu a hero, a saint, if you will. I have heard him speak. I have dined with him and spoken with him, one-on-one. I love and respect this man and his wife deeply. Archbishop Tutu, unlike Barack Obama earned his Nobel Peace Prize by his actions in apartheid South Africa. He never gave up, he was relentless against the white regime which so horribly oppressed the black majority. But he also never changed his message. Victory would not come through violence, but through the non-violence espoused by Gandhi and by Jesus of Nazareth. In the end, he was right. I think Nelson Mandela, the other hero of South Africa would agree.

When the change came, the horrors the white regime visited on black citizens were not swept under the carpet, nor were there mass beheadings. Instead, the architects and their underlings were given a chance to go through a process known as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. There were consequences, yes. But there was also healing. Something we have been denied.

So, Archbishop Tutu, I commend your latest non-violent stance. We still have a lot to learn from you.

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