Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Scary Stuff

(Click on image to enlarge so you can see the fine details.  Then please come back.)

So, Happy Halloween, or All Hallows Eve, another pagan holiday the Christians swiped and revamped, making it a paler than pale version than it was.  Now it's supposed to be a scary, monster-filled evening, with the upside being that little kids get free sugar-rushes if they're brave enough to ring a doorbell.

With that in mind, I was absolutely delighted with David Horsey's column from yesterday.  This man freakin' gets it!  This really is a scary time, one that will legitimize the worst of the human psyche should Romney win.

It is impossible to know if Mitt Romney would turn out to be a good, bad or a mediocre president, but one certain downside of a Romney victory is that it would reward the most venal forces in American politics. ...

From Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Donald Trump to all the anonymous creators of the wild fabrications that churn out of websites and go viral in emails, the relentless vilification of Obama has been unprecedented. Sure, every president suffers unfair criticism. Many of our most effective presidents, from Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln to Franklin Roosevelt and Bill Clinton, have been slandered and hounded by critics. But Obama’s detractors have plumbed new and revolting depths of mendacity.

Obama’s birthplace, his paternity, his religion, his academic attainments, his citizenship and his loyalty to the country have all been called into question by people who feel no moral qualms about spreading fabrications and untruths. Any unfair tactic, any lie is justified in order to “take back America” from someone they refuse to accept as a legitimate president, despite the indisputable reality that he was elected by a majority of American voters in a near-landslide of electoral votes.   [Emphasis added]

And what hurts this ex-lawyer most is that it was helped along by the Supreme Court in its Citizens United decision.  Our owners are only too happy to fund the wing-nuts in their drive to demolish a man, who, while certainly not perfect, didn't fit their mold.  And that's what the last four years have been about, as Horsey reminds us.

The ever-waffling Romney is not their perfect candidate, but, for now, that does not matter. He offers their one and only chance to drive the usurper, Obama, from the White House. That has been the right wing’s objective every minute of every day for four years, and vindication of their dishonest, un-American crusade would be the worst result of Mitt Romney’s election.

And that just scares the hell out of me.

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Tuesday, October 30, 2012

A Thirst For Revenge Is Not A Virtue

(Graphic snagged from What Would Jack Do, a blog which you should visit regularly, as in daily.)

As I mentioned yesterday, California has a whole bundle of propositions to go along with candidates on the ballot.  One that has me particularly hyped-up would end the death penalty in California, something I think is long overdue in a civilized state in a civilized nation.  The death penalty has nothing to do with justice and everything to do with revenge, not one of the nicer parts of the human psyche.  It's like slapping your seven-year-old son for slapping his five-year-old sister and then telling him that "hitting is bad."  It's like saying that there is no such thing as redemption, or of the possibility of change.  One strike is all you are allowed.  "An eye for an eye ..." means we'll all soon be blind.

And yet, people continue to support the death penalty, here in California and across the nation, even with new standards of evidence (DNA tests) showing repeatedly that there are innocent people on death row.  Dan Turner had an interesting opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times dealing with such a situation in Texas, although DNA evidence wasn't involved, merely forensic evidence which became available after the trial.  Gov. Rick Perry, erstwhile candidate for president, still allowed him to be executed, continuing the long tradition of killing people and letting God sort them out.

Perry's popularity dipped at home after he dropped out of the race, but something else lurking in his past could cause worse than a downturn in his poll numbers. Perry, it turns out, not only stood by while his state's executioners took the life of a man widely believed by forensics scientists to have been innocent, he later acted to prevent evidence of that innocence from seeing the light of day. He oversees a state whose procedures for reviewing inmate appeals are a national disgrace and that may, if the case of Cameron Todd Willingham is ever given a fair hearing, prove to be the home of the first execution of a factually and legally innocent person since the advent of the modern judicial system.

Read the entire article to see what evidence is being suppressed even as Willingham's family is requesting a posthumous pardon.

But if that isn't enough to persuade Califorrnia voters, the editorial board of the Times has suggested a more pragmatic reason -- cost.

Courts are not 100% reliable, and although there's little doubt that most death row inmates are reprehensible people who may deserve their fate, there is no knowing whether all 725 of them are guilty. That's why the appeals process is so long, burdensome and expensive, and it's why voters should end the risk that California will execute an innocent person.

One well-respected study found that the death penalty costs California taxpayers $184 million a year in court and security expenses. That's a high price to pay for a sentence that hasn't been carried out since 2006. Seventeen states and the District of Columbia have abolished the death penalty. California should join them, and will if voters of conscience and common sense turn out and do what's right.

But, then, I'm old.  As I look back over my life and the incredibly stupid mistakes I've made, I find that I'm more interested in mercy than in justice, especially justice as it is practiced in this sphere.

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Monday, October 29, 2012

Fair Share

(Editorial cartoon by Mike Luckovich and published 10/21/12 in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.  Click on image to enlarge and then please return.)

One of the interesting things about living in California is that we do a lot of our legislating by proposition, especially on issues too contentious for the timid souls in our state house and legislature. This election is no different.  We have multiple propositions for state and local issues, which means that our sample ballots/information packets are telephone book in size.

The one that that prompted this post is Prop 30, the governor's plan to increase the tax rates for the wealthy.  You can imagine the weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth and dire predictions jamming the airwaves and telephone lines for this one.  The argument is always the same:  if we increase the tax rates on the wealthy, those who make jobs, they will flee California to states (or nations) not so greedy and short-sighted.

Yeah, right.

Michael Hiltzig doesn't buy this argument either, and he checked out some actual studies on the claims (see his articles for the links, most of which are in pdf format).  The studies show that millionaires do not flee when their tax rates are raised as long as there is no outright gouging.

A counterpart to the biblical adage that the poor will always be with us is the notion that the rich will always be one tax hike away from leaving us.

That's the foundation stone, after all, of the argument against raising taxes on "job creators" and of bestowing preferential treatment on capital gains (largely collected by the rich) over wage income (the sustenance of us other poor slobs).

And it's a linchpin of the campaign against Proposition 30, Gov. Jerry Brown's proposal to raise income taxes on income above $250,000, topping out at a 13.3% rate on income over $1 million. Go after the wealthy like that, the argument goes, and the rich will flow out of the state like rainwater cascading down a sewer grate.

It's refreshing, therefore, to see some hard data on the issue, and illuminating to learn what it tells us, which is: Not so.

The data came from the California franchise tax board and was crunched by two Stanford sociologists at the request of Board of Equalization member Betty Yee. Their main goal was to determine if the last big California tax hike on millionaires, the mental health surcharge of 2005, had a detectable effect on the out-migration of those who paid it. (The surcharge added one percentage point to the tax rate of incomes over $1 million, raising the top marginal rate to 10.3%.)

In their just-published paper the Stanford analysts, Cristobal Young and Charles Varner, also investigated whether the state's 1996 tax cut for high-income residents, which cut the top rate to 9.3% from 11%, had the opposite effect — that is, lured wealthy taxpayers into the state.

They found no such effects. The 2005 increase did not boost out-migration among the $1-million-plus population — in fact, the rate of millionaire out-migration declined after the hike. The 1996 tax cut didn't increase the flow of millionaires into California, either. The analysis, moreover, also augments what we know about who California's millionaires are, and why their customary response to a tax increase isn't to flee.
 There are multiple reasons for this, and I would direct you to Hiltzig's article and links for them, but among them are the fact that income for many of these millionaires is tied to their businesses which can't be moved easily.

I suspect that comparable studies on a national level would show similar results, even if "the makers" say otherwise.  Those that are offshoring  have already done so, and the loss of their presence and citizenship doesn't trouble me greatly.  If they were really into creating jobs, they would have done so by now. 

Maybe the President and the Democratic Congress Critters might want to look into this and quit huffing and puffing about the 1%.

And now an aside.  To those facing the fury of Hurricane Sandy, and I mean all of you, be safe and be well.  We need all of us to make this cock-eyed country work.

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Sunday, October 28, 2012

Sunday Poetry: Walt Whitman

(From "Song of Myself")


You sea! I resign myself to you also—I guess what you mean,
I behold from the beach your crooked inviting fingers,
I believe you refuse to go back without feeling of me,
We must have a turn together, I undress, hurry me out of sight of
         the land,
Cushion me soft, rock me in billowy drowse,
Dash me with amorous wet, I can repay you.

Sea of stretch'd ground-swells,
Sea breathing broad and convulsive breaths,
Sea of the brine of life and of unshovell'd yet always-ready graves,
Howler and scooper of storms, capricious and dainty sea,
I am integral with you, I too am of one phase and of all phases.

Partaker of influx and efflux I, extoller of hate and conciliation,
Extoller of amies and those that sleep in each others' arms.

I am he attesting sympathy,
(Shall I make my list of things in the house and skip the house
         that supports them?)

I am not the poet of goodness only, I do not decline to be the
         poet of wickedness also.

What blurt is this about virtue and about vice?
Evil propels me and reform of evil propels me, I stand indifferent,

My gait is no fault-finder's or rejecter's gait,
I moisten the roots of all that has grown.

Did you fear some scrofula out of the unflagging pregnancy?
Did you guess the celestial laws are yet to be work'd over and

I find one side a balance and the antipodal side a balance,
Soft doctrine as steady help as stable doctrine,
Thoughts and deeds of the present our rouse and early start.

This minute that comes to me over the past decillions,
There is no better than it and now.

What behaved well in the past or behaves well to-day is not such a
The wonder is always and always how there can be a mean man
         or an infidel.

Sunday Funnies

(Editorial cartoon by David Horsey and published 10/25/12 in the Los Angeles Times.  Click on image to enlarge.  Click on link to read Horsey's column accompanying the cartoon.)


Saturday, October 27, 2012

Bonus Critter Blogging: Carpenter Bee

(Photograph from Ifthethunderdontgetya.  Click on link to see many more wondrous nature photos.  And this one you should click to enlarge.)


(Editorial cartoon by Jim Morin / Miami Herald (October 26, 2012) and featured at McClatchy DC.  Click on image to enlarge and then be kind enough to return.)

Nancy Pelosi has come up with one of the best neologisms of this election season.  She introduced it while appearing on "The Daily Show."

Nancy Pelosi, the House minority leader, appeared on “The Daily Show”  on Sunday and coined a new term for Mitt Romney’s shifting political positions – “Mittology” – as she campaigns for Democratic congressional candidates and President Obama. ...

But Pelosi’s sharpest zinger was aimed at Romney’s shifting positions, particularly on abortion rights, as both presidential candidates court women voters in the increasingly tight race for the White House.

“The president calls it Romnesia, I have my own, what I call Mittology,” Pelosi said.

Since then, of course, we've had another GOP candidate chime in on abortion, once again when conception occurs as a result of rape.  This time it was  Richard Mourdoch, the Indiana GOP Senate candidate, a man Mitt Romney has endorsed.

Indiana Republican Senate candidate Richard Mourdock said Tuesday when a woman becomes pregnant during a rape, "that's something God intended."

Mourdock, who's been locked in one of the country's most watched Senate races, was asked during the final minutes of a debate with Democratic challenger Rep. Joe Donnelly whether abortion should be allowed in cases of rape or incest.

"I struggled with it myself for a long time, but I came to realize that life is that gift from God. And, I think, even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen," Mourdock said.
 Mitt didn't withdraw his endorsement;  he merely stated that he disagreed with Mourdock on the issue.  Bad theology, bad politics, but good Mittology.

At this point, the GOP regulars are probably tearing their hair out, as Jim Morin's cartoon suggests.  The election is close and women voters are key to the outcome.   Still, it's hard to feel too bad for Republicans.  The "pro-life" stance is, once again, a key part of the Republican platform.  Did they think nobody would notice?

What we are seeing is the members of the white daddy party continuing to exert their patriarchal authority over all women.  For some superb analyses of the issues I would urge you to read the posts from Echidne and Hecate, two women who have nailed it much better than I could.  Go read them both.  You'll soon see what I mean.

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Friday, October 26, 2012

Friday Cat Blogging

And Some Are Scum

(Editorial cartoon by Glenn McCoy / Belleville News-Democrat (October 25, 2012) and featured at McClatchy DC.  Click on image to enlarge, although I don't see why you'd want to.)

As you've probably noticed over the past several months, I've indulged my love for editorial/political cartoons on this blog.  I've always posted those that really tickled me, that really cut through the bovine excrement being spread by the rest of the mainstream media outlets to get at the truth of what's going on.  It occurred to me that I wasn't presenting a complete picture.  You see, the conservatives and Reich Wing have their cartoonists as well, and Mr. McCoy is one of them. 

I've selected this cartoon of his to show just how the worst of the wurst operate.

OK, the main reference is to the Three Wise Monkeys aphorism, one that we're all familiar with.  Here's the thing, though, it's the Three Monkeys, not the Three Wise Apes or the Three Wise Chimpanzees.  The aphorism is Asian and it's clear what is intended.  This graphic from Japan makes my point.  Notice the ears.

And you might want to notice the ears of this picture of one of my favorite species, spider monkeys.  Here also the ears are close to the head, not sticking out. 

The ears sticking out are usually associated with apes and chimpanzees.  Liberal cartoonists had a field day with that when it came to George W. Bush, whose ears did stick out.  A whole lot of my liberal friends referred to him as "Chimpy" because of that.  And, to be fair, President Obama has acknowledged that his ears have been a life-long challenge for the same reason.

So what's my beef with Mr. McCoy's cartoon?

Well, I have several of them.

The first is easy.  The mainstream media and the lame stream media at FOX and AM talk radio have been screaming about Obama's obfuscation of what happened at the Libyan embassy since it happened, even though it's clear that the administration has been forthcoming with the information they had as soon as it was received, even though some of the information was partial.  There has been no silencing on the issue, just a whole hell of a lot of mis-reporting all the way around.

The second is that we just had a debate on foreign policy and Mr. McCoy's candidate was noticeably silent on the issue of Benghazi.  He was too busy agreeing with President Obama's foreign policy in most respects, that is, when he wasn't talking about Mali and a really geographically-challenged  view of the Middle East.  I guess Mr. McCoy was left hanging, so he went for what he thought was low-hanging fruit.

Which brings me to the third beef:  this isn't an example of a racist dog-whistle.  Oh, no.  Not at all.  It's a freaking FOG HORN.

The use of the chimp image is one thing, which is still enough to make my tin-foil chapeau vibrating.  It's the brown hand reaching down from the upper right hand corner of the cartoon.  This BLACK MAN is in the WHITE MAN's house and he's screwing things up for WHITE MEN.

And the thing is, a picture really is worth more than a thousand words and this cartoon will reach a lot of people in the heartland.  That's the power of cartoonists.

I know that's a nasty way to end the week, but I needed to vent.

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Thursday, October 25, 2012

Elder Belle's Blessing: Center For Medicare Advocacy

(Photo by Patrice Carlton and published by National Geographic.)

This edition of Elder Belle's Blessing, an award given from time to time to people who have enhanced the rights or well-being of elders, goes to the Center for Medicare Advocacy for their work in getting the government to loosen up a rule for treatment.

Thousands of Medicare patients with severe chronic illnesses like Alzheimer's would get continuing access to rehab and other services under a change agreed to by the Obama administration, advocates said Tuesday.

The proposed agreement in a national class action suit, filed with a federal judge in Vermont, would allow Medicare patients to keep receiving physical and occupational therapy and other services at home or in a nursing home so they can remain stable, said Gill Deford, a lawyer with the Center for Medicare Advocacy.

That's been a problem for some because of a longstanding Medicare policy that says patients must show improvement to keep getting rehab. Deford's group and other organizations challenged it.

"If you have a chronic condition, by definition you are not improving," said Deford, the lead attorney on the case. "Our view is that Medicare regulations were intended to allow people to maintain their health status. They don't have to show they are getting any better. The point is to allow them not to get any worse, if possible."   [Emphasis added]
The original purpose of the rule was to keep unscrupulous health care providers from continuing treatment not reasonably necessary.  The problem is the wording (what's new, eh?):  to justify the ongoing treatment "improvement" must be shown.  That's hard to do with chronic disabilities and illnesses.  Patients are not going to get better.  What these treatments hope to do is maintain the current status or at least slow the decline.

Hopefully the judge will accept the settlement and these valuable treatments will be reinstated. 

Kudos to the Center for Medicare Advocacy.

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Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Round On The Sides, High In the Middle

I listened to the Monday night debate on the radio, or, rather, I listened for about 45 minutes.  I then went to bed, which I figured was a better use of my time.  I did, however, read all sorts of recaps, fact checks, and analyses yesterday.  I was most satisfied with David Horsey's take and his conclusion.

Another debate brought out another version of Mitt Romney. This third time around, the chameleon candidate was not the hard-charging neo-con hawk of the primaries. Instead, he talked about peace, negotiations and using military power as a last resort. ...

Yes, Romney took shots at Obama's foreign policy, calling it weak and apologetic, but then he proceeded to agree with the nearly every aspect of what the president has done, from Libya to Iran. He abandoned his criticism of Obama's timetable for U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan and said he would bring the soldiers home on the same schedule. He also eschewed past complaints that Obama had abandoned Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak and indicated he too would have let Mubarak take the fall.

Romney's foreign policy as of Monday night seems to be "me too!"

Will this worry the hard-line Republican foreign policy cadre? No, why should it? Romney has proved time and again just how malleable he is on any and all issues. These tough guys who brought us the Iraq war know they will be back in charge at the Pentagon and at the State Department in a Romney administration. For now, they will give him a pass to do anything it takes to get elected. ...

It all added up to a win for Obama, but not necessarily a loss for Romney. Today, Romney will be back to the core effort of the campaign's final two weeks: trying to change the electoral math by flipping Florida, North Carolina and Virginia his way and then moving on to the campaign's ground zero -- Ohio, the place where just a handful of voters will decide who will run America’s foreign policy for the next four years.   [Emphasis added]
Mitt Romney's Etch-a-Sketch has had quite a workout the past several months, but, hey!, it's still working, and in all sorts of ways.  If the mainstream media and pundit class are to be believed, the race is very, very close.  Apparently a lot of Americans like the White Guy, even if his knowledge of Middle East geography is sadly lacking.  He has people who will look at the maps for him.

That means two more weeks of frantic campaigning, tons of robo-calls and television ads, millions of dollars expended.  And it just might come down to Ohio.  Mike Luckovich provides an excellent visual of that scenario. 

What a weird country this has become.


Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Another Skrmish In The War Against Women

(Editorial cartoon by Joel Pett / Lexington Herald-Leader (October 22, 2012) and featured at McClatchy DC.  Click on image to enlarge and then be good enough to return.)

As the campaign season draws to a close and many races still remain too close to call, things have gotten downright wacky.  Nowhere is that more evident than in the attempt to woo women voters, usually with hilarious results.  Romney managed to give Democrats a viral meme with his "binder" comments at the last debate. 

At the same time, however, Republican candidates continue their war against women.  Todd Akin has moved on from his misbegotten comments on "actual" rape to chide his opponent for not being ladylike and likening her to a dog (and you know where that is going).  The latest entry comes from Rep. Joe Walsh of Illinois who has some rather peculiar views on abortion.

“There’s no such exception as life of the mother,” Walsh said, according to this report from Bloomberg News. “And as far as health of the mother, same thing, with advances in science and technology. Health of the mother has become a tool for abortions any time, under any reason.”

Within hours, women’s heath advocates — and physicians — attacked his remarks. ...

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) fired its own salvo, calling the congressman’s comments “inaccurate” in a widely distributed response.

“Abortions are necessary in a number of circumstances to save the life of a woman or to preserve her health,” the doctors’ organization said. The group reported that more than 600 women die every year from pregnancy and childbirth-related causes and that “many more would die each year if they did not have access to abortion.” ...

Dr. David Grimes, a clinical professor in obstetrics and gynecology at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine in Chapel Hill who has provided abortions for four decades and formerly led a department that studied abortion safety at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, described some potentially life-threatening circumstances.

In his practice, he said, he’s often cared for women who are newly diagnosed with breast cancer or leukemia whose oncologists refuse to administer treatment until the pregnancy is over. Type 1 diabetes can be severely aggravated by pregnancy, and an abortion may be necessary to save a patient’s eyes or kidney function. And in some severe cases of pre-eclampsia, the liver can begin to die — and the only treatment is ending the pregnancy.   [Emphasis added]
The general consensus of physicians who actually treat women during pregnancy is that legislators like Walsh should just shut-the-fuck-up when it comes to telling doctors how to treat their patients and stick to issues they have at least rudimentary knowledge of.

But it's not just the abortion issue.  The war continues on several fronts:  the right to contraception, and the right to have that contraception covered by health insurance the way Viagra is covered; the right to equal pay without restriction; the right to maternity leave with continuing health coverage; the right to assistance for child care and child feeding for single mothers and poor families.

Here we are in the 21st Century and women are still not considered as important as corporations and the Pentagon.  I guess I shouldn't be surprised, but I reserve the right to be appalled and, yes, depressed.  We are still a long way from the scenario envisioned by Joel Pett and his cartoon.

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Monday, October 22, 2012

But We COULD Have Nice Things

(Graphic found at Eschaton.  Click on image to enlarge.  Do it so you can read it easily.  Then please come back.  I'll explain it later.)

Susie Madrak found the most incredible article I've read in a long time.  I'm going to excerpt a little bit of it, but you really need to read the whole thing.

I never thought I'd use this column to write about a Laundromat's success. Or that the column would be sprinkled with words like "grace," "mercy" and "fabulous." But something other than Starbucks coffee is brewing at The Laundry Cafe, and it says a lot about community, expectations and - dare I say this? - love.

But let's first talk about owners Akins and Holland, who met while working together at Johnson & Johnson - Akins in marketing, Holland in sales. Both were deeply affected by the company's famous credo of responsibility to customers, employees, communities and stockholders.

So when they decided to go into business together - "Laundry is practically recession-proof," says Akins, "since people will always need clean clothes" - they wrote their own credo, which is printed on their business cards:

"Serve with honor. Grow with humility. Live with respect. Repay with generosity."

The men, who grew up poor, had seen little of those virtues in the dark, dingy and depressing Laundromats their families once used. ...

Hence, The Laundry Cafe, which attracted a crowd on opening day, April 13, and whose business has ballooned 300 percent since, using only word of mouth for advertising. Customers are pulled in by a breadth of amenities usually not offered in low-income areas. What makes them stay, the men are convinced, is the unspoken message those amenities telegraph: That customers are worthy of them.
 What these young men did was to turn a laundromat into a center for the community.  Yes, there are washers and dryers, but there's also coffee, and room for discussions and lectures and meetings.  And the people of that community have used it for all of that, and kept it neat and functioning.  It's their place as much as Akins' and Holland's.

Now compare that story with the vile message from Ed Conard.  See the difference?  More importantly, see the implications?

I hope you will pass both stories around freely, maybe even to your Congress Critter and the Administration.  And I also hope you will make some pretty strong demands.  We are worthy of having those demands met.

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Sunday, October 21, 2012

Sunday Poetry: Dylan Thomas

(For George McGovern and Terry C.  R.I.P.)

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

Sunday Funnies: Another 2-fer

(Editorial cartoon by Mike Luckovich and published 10/18/12 by the Atlanta Journal Constitution.  Click on image to enlarge.)

(Political cartoon by Matt Wuerker and published by Daily Kos.  Click on image to enlarge.)


Saturday, October 20, 2012

Bonus Critter Blogging: Beaver

(Photograph by Michael S. Quinton and published at National Geographic.  Click on the link to learn more about this busiest of landscape engineers.)

A Bumper Crop Of Crazy

(Click on image to enlarge and then hustle on back.)

David Horsey is obviously not amused by the tortured lies coming from the extremist right.  In fact, he was so unamused that he did a little research on his own.

The list of nutty fabrications about Obama, his administration and Democrats is long. Here's a small sample from

• Obama intends to force a complete ban on all weapons for U.S. citizens through a United Nations treaty. Total paranoid fantasy -- Obama has actually broadened the number of places where citizens can carry guns.

• Barack and Michelle Obama surrendered their law licenses to avoid ethics charges. Another big lie.

• This dictatorial president has issued 900 executive orders, some creating martial law. Wrong -- he's signed 139 executive orders, none establishing extraordinary powers.

• The government bought 79% of the vehicles sold by General Motors in June. Nope, completely false.
• The Democratic National Convention hosted a Muslim prayer service while rejecting prayers from a Catholic cardinal. Another falsehood -- the Muslim service took place in a park and the cardinal gave the convention’s final prayer.

• Obama plans to deny emergency brain surgery to patients over 70, do away with the National Day of Prayer and get rid of the White House Christmas tree. Once again, lie, lie, lie.
 And these are just a few that he found at FactCheck, and certainly not the most bizarre.  I guess there's something about a Black Man in the White House that just sends some people around the bend, and the GOP knows it and is quite willing to capitalize on it.  That's one of the reasons this election is so close.

This country is beginning to depress me.

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Friday, October 19, 2012

Friday Cat Blogging

The Poor? Never Heard of Them

(Editorial cartoon by Joel Pett / Lexington Herald-Leader (October 16, 2012) and featured at McClatchy DC.  Click on image to enlarge and then return.)

There are several issues notable for their absence in the presidential campaign.  Climate change is one of them.  Another one is that of poverty in America.  We have been hearing a lot of rhetoric about Helping The Middle Class, but virtually nothing about the poor, many of whom have fallen into that status from the middle class in the past five years.

Steve Lopez has an interesting column in the Los Angeles Times on the missing issue.  He suggests several reasons for the absence of any meaningful discussion of poverty by the candidates.

 If you've been following the presidential campaign, you might easily have gotten the impression that the poor no longer exist. The word "poverty" was mentioned once in the first debate between President Obama and GOP challenger Mitt Romney. Together, the two candidates made 29 references to the middle class. And in Tuesday's debate, I lost count after Romney reeled off more than half-a-dozen references in a single answer.

In the vice presidential debate, the word "poverty" got one mention. But Vice President Joe Biden and GOP challenger Paul Ryan dutifully followed their leaders, with 33 references to the middle class. ...

And yet, said Harris-Dawson, many poor people have an interesting thing in common.

They don't consider themselves poor.

"We actually came up with a list of people on welfare and went door-to-door, and do you know what? The majority of people said they were not poor," said Harris-Dawson, who thinks the candidates may be aware of this phenomenon.

He said people who were out of work framed it as a temporary condition related to the distressed economy or some other factor.

"Being poor has been so demonized. Being poor means being on 'Jerry Springer.' That's what it means nowadays, and who wants to be on 'Jerry Springer?'"

Yes, and it means that in 2012, with 46 million people living in poverty — 16 million of them children — candidates for president of the United States seem to think it won't matter if they pretend you don't exist.   [Emphasis added]

I suppose that's one good reason the candidates have shied away from discussing poverty:  the newly poor don't want to claim that status because that would make them one of the 47%.  But I think there's a bit more going on, and I think Avedon Carol has done her usual excellent job in sussing it out in a post having to do with  the purpose of voting.

 Something I think I've mentioned before, and that Stuart Zechman and I talk about privately, is that without the New Deal framework, social progress goes down the drain. It was that New Deal framework that made social progress movements possible, and that's why the arch-conservatives and Big Business banded together to destroy it.

And it's working. It is already difficult-to-impossible to obtain local access to abortion in most parts of the United States. It is not only difficult but damn-near illegal to protest in public. And even where you can legally protest, you get diverted, attacked, and arrested anyway. The relationship between your politics and your ability to obtain or keep a job is increasingly so strong that anyone who isn't on board with the arch-conservative program is terrified to make any statement that can be interpreted as economically liberal in the hearing of anyone who might make their employer aware of it.

These things add up, especially in an environment where "equality" means little more than an equal shot at no jobs.

And this is why, above any other issue, I am on board with Stuart when he says:

    Restoration of the New Deal framework is my priority policy agenda.

    This is because I am convinced that social liberalism's successes, e.g. civil rights, the successes of liberation movements (sexual, women's, etc.), intolerance with respect to security state regimes, etc., follow from the small-d democratic, economic and cultural empowerment of the majority of ordinary citizens. The history of the 20th century is the history of the balance of powers created by such a modern liberal-democratic framework, and the "culture of liberty-entitlement" that such empowerment produces in populations of otherwise reactionary-agricultural or labor-competitive citizens.

    Without the New Deal, or a New Deal-oriented governing framework, there is no liberal democracy, only oligarchy. Without liberal democracy, the cultural forces of popular reaction take hold in American populations, and social liberalism's creativity has little value in solving the problems faced by ordinary folks

 under plutocratic rule. Without liberal democracy, majority literacy itself is at risk. Bedford Falls' economy's culture produces the broad acceptance and (therefore) legality of privacy rights. Pottersville's economy's culture produces the broad rejection of and (therefore) illegality of natural selection being taught in public schools. One comes before the other. In post-19th century capitalist America, there can be no civil rights, and no dominance of individual liberty without first securing the economic rights and democratic power of the majority against "the old enemies of peace."

    Of all of the policy agendas I support, such as limiting executive power, expanding privacy rights, de-industrial militarizing of America, reforming the justice system, inhibiting poverty creation, etc, there is a preference order, with "Restoration of the New Deal Framework" being at the top. My vote will therefore reflect what I believe to be the priority policy agenda for movement liberals.

Yes, because the New Deal framework is fundamental to any other social liberty.


We know that the key features of the New Deal, the ones still left, are "on the table" as far as the president, his administration, and entirely too many Democratic members of Congress are concerned.  Oh, they talk about "tweaking" Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, but it is clear that is only the first step in the drive to dismantle them (although I guess the favored euphemism is "privatize" them).  Federal programs which provide even a minimal safety net for the poor (Food Stamps, WIC) are slashed or eliminated as both sides fight to increase the defense budget so as to keep defense contractors fat and happy.

And those of us who object are marginalized, quite literally kept far away from the seat of power (hence the Pett cartoon above) and arrested for exercising the most basic of First Amendment rights.

It doesn't appear that there is much we can do this election cycle, but come January it might be time to put our comfortable shoes on.

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Thursday, October 18, 2012

Good News/Bad News

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

I understand I missed a really feisty debate on Tuesday.  I almost regret retiring to my bedroom with my cat and my Kindle.  I've done plenty of reading about the debate, however, and it was nice to see that Barack Obama is capable of sharp responses at appropriate times.  That's part of the good news.

The other part is that the MSM is actually doing a half decent job in "fact checking" both candidates.  I don't recall seeing this much in past election cycles.  For an example, take this column from the Los Angeles Times:

Mitt Romney said "the president cut in half the number of licenses and permits for drilling on federal lands and in federal waters."

According to the Bureau of Land Management, in fiscal year 2011, 2,188 leases were issued for energy development on federal lands.  Four years earlier, in fiscal year 2007, 3499 leases were issued. So, not quite a 50% drop, but a drop nonetheless.

However, the biggest drop-off came in fiscal year 2008, to 2,416 leases. The fiscal year for the federal government starts Oct. 1, 2007, so that decline began under the Bush administration. Leases under President Obama took a precipitous drop in 2010, because of the moratorium the administration implemented in the wake of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, which occurred on federal land and was the worst offshore oil spill in federal history. The number of permits has started climbing since then. noted the following about drilling on federal lands: "From 2004-08, well into Bush’s tenure, oil production on federal lands and waters fell in four of five years, for a net decrease of 16.8%. From 2009-11, the Obama years, oil production rose two of three years, for a net increase of 10.6%."

Sadly, those facts also pretty much set forth the bad news:  President Obama has re-opened federal land to oil drilling, some of it in pretty environmentally sensitive areas, even after the blow-out in the Gulf of Mexico.  Off-shore leases and leases in federally owned wilderness areas means we can expect more such accidents as the oil companies have to drill deeper and to use such techniques as fracking.  Besides that, the new leases mean that the federal government continues to support the use of carbon-based energy sources, one of the major sources of climate change.

In other words, this administration seems willing to ignore both the short-term and the long-term consequences of more drilling.  And that's really bad news for all of us.

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Wednesday, October 17, 2012

My Hair Is Not On Fire

(Click on image to enlarge, and then get back here.)

A confession:  this post is written before the debate.  Since I don't have television, I won't be watching it, and it's entirely possible I won't listen to it on NPR and check in on the internet to see what folks are saying about it.  I am that tired of the campaign.

But David Horsey's cartoon and column did get my attention, if only because it addressed one of my profound peeves about politics in this country.  To be fair, Horsey does raise some good points about Mr. Etcha-A-Sketch and his campaign.  Obama missed a lot of easy opportunities in the last debate, and apparently it has cost him.

The Republican nominee came prepared to disavow his own nasty comments about the allegedly government-dependent 47% of Americans, but President Obama failed to bring it up, so Romney had to do the disavowing on his own the next day. Perhaps Obama's failure to fully engage in the debate can be ascribed to the shock of seeing Romney abandon his entire campaign persona with such ease.

And Romney has been rewarded for it. Apparently, undecided voters admire a candidate who can turn on a dime and abandon yesterday's convictions in favor of today's more convenient ones. But what happens if Romney has run out of convictions to abandon? Is there anything left, any small principle to which he still clings?

Well, there is one.

In tonight's debate, look for yesterday's Mormon to show up as a guy who can't remember ever visiting Salt Lake City.
Like I said, Horsey's point is well-taken, up to a point. 

Quite frankly, I don't care if Mitt Romney is a Mormon, just like I didn't care that Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter were Southern Baptists or John Kennedy was a Catholic.  I know, I know, this should be fair game because Obama keeps getting smeared by the Reich Wing as a Muslim.  But I wouldn't care if he were, just like I don't care that Rep. Ellison (DFL-Minnesota) is, or, in a non-political arena, Maher Hatout is.  Professed religion should not be a touchstone for public office or for a public voice.

I don't even have to raise the "our founders" argument and their expressions in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.  I can go back further.  The people from England and Europe who initially settled this country were, to a large extent, driven here by those in the old country who couldn't abide their religious beliefs and who were making life so difficult that folks like the Puritans came to this country just to exist.  While I'm not a huge fan of the Puritans, I do appreciate the troubles they faced, and I don't want that repeated now.

And it's not like we don't have the mechanisms to check any untoward intrusions into our rights by a zealot of any stripe.  We just have to have the ovaries to invoke them.

So, maybe tonight will be enlightening for those who still haven't made up their minds or those who are wavering.  I suppose that's a good thing.  I just hope I can get through the next three weeks without taking a hostage.

Oh, and all that popcorn I have on hand?  I've donated to the nice young man next door who is a NY Giant fan.  I think he'll make better use of it.

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Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Chilling Story

And by story, I mean short story -- a work of fiction. 

At the suggestion of an acquaintance, I downloaded one written by Kurt Vonnegut called "2BR02B."  I got it free from Amazon, but it's also available free from Gutenberg in other formats than kindle.  The story is short and can easily be read while you're waiting for your dinner to finish cooking.  The only problem is that you might not feel much like eating when you finish.

The story begins with a description of what appears to be a utopian future:

Everything was perfectly swell.

There were no prisons, no slums, no insane asylums, no cripples, no poverty, no wars.

All diseases were conquered.  So was old age.

Death, barring accidents, was an adventure for volunteers.

The population of the United States was stabilized at forty-million souls.

How is this miraculous world possible?  One key component is keeping the population down.  That is accomplished by mandating that before a child can be born, someone has to volunteer to die and a special agency is set up to facilitate that painlessly.  If a volunteer can't be found, well, then the child will be euthanized.

One of the major characters is faced with such a dilemma:  his wife is about to deliver triplets and he has found only one volunteer (his grandfather), which means he has to choose which child will be allowed to survive.  The other two will be put down.

I think you should read this story, so I won't provide any further details, much less a spoiler.  Suffice it to say, however, that the powers in charge are all patricians.  It's clear that Vonnegut thinks this would be a terrible world to live in, even with all of the benefits.

Back in July, I posted on a subject no one wants to talk about:  population control.  It was based on the first of a series of articles in the Los Angeles Times on the burgeoning population on the planet and what that is doing to the air, water, climate, and quality of life for all living species.  We are now at the point that if we don't start planning ways to stop the population explosion, the planet will do it for us in all sorts of horrific ways.

Yet, no one appears ready to tackle the issue in any sort of rational and humane way.  If we get to the point where we can't ignore it any further, I fear that the measures taken will be draconian and imposed by the patricians, our 1%, if you will.  You know what that means:  99% of humanity will be in the position of that man waiting for his triplets to be born.

I am not optimistic.

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Monday, October 15, 2012

Malala Yousafzai

(Editorial cartoon by Kevin Siers / The Charlotte Observer (October 11, 2012) and featured at McClatchy DC.  Click on image to enlarge and then return.)

One of the most horrific stories coming out over the past weeks has been the story of the Taliban's targeting a 14-year-old girl for being "immodest," i.e., insisting on going to school.  The Taliban don't want girls to get an education so she was to be assassinated

The police said Friday that they had made several arrests in connection with the Taliban’s shooting of Malala Yousafzai, a 14-year-old education activist who was critically injured, but militant commanders in northwestern Pakistan reiterated their intention to kill the schoolgirl or her father.

“The next 48 hours will be critical,” Mr. Ashraf told reporters. Extremists targeted Ms. Yousafzai, who was shot in the head while riding in a school bus on Tuesday in Mingora, because, he said, “they were scared of the power of her vision.”

“She is the true face of Pakistan,” he added. ...

Sirajuddin Ahmad, the spokesman for the Taliban in the Swat Valley, said that Ms. Yousafzai became a target because she had been “brainwashed” into making anti-Taliban statements by her father, Ziauddin Yousafzai.

“We warned him several times to stop his daughter from using dirty language against us, but he didn’t listen and forced us to take this extreme step,” he said.

Both father and daughter remain on the Taliban’s list of intended victims, he said..
 Malala is still alive, but in critical condition.  Her story has stirred the world, and, in a refreshing bit of news, many Muslim clerics in Pakistan have condemned the Taliban for this monstrous act.

Islamic clerics across Pakistan appeared to overwhelmingly join in the global condemnation of the Taliban’s shooting of a 14-year-old education activist as mosque-goers devoted their Friday prayers to the grievously wounded girl.

Friday afternoon services often serve as a barometer of public sentiment in Pakistan and elsewhere in the Muslim world, and with seemingly rare exceptions, many prayer leaders included mention of Malala Yousafzai, who survived an assassination attempt this week in the northwestern Swat Valley.

“Malala is a brave child who raised her voice for the education of girls and women in Swat, and she was cruelly punished for that. And we condemn it,” one Islamabad cleric, Maulana Ishaq, told his congregation in representative remarks.

What remains uncertain is whether the collective revulsion of religious leaders, politicians and the military toward the Pakistani Taliban, which carried out the attack, will reduce Pakistan’s embrace of extremism in other ways.

My first response, besides outrage, is that at least our version of the Taliban isn't shooting women and little girls, but then I got to thinking about it.  Our patriarchs haven't pulled guns on uppity girls and women (at least not yet), but they have done such things as demand that our girls not get the vaccine which would prevent HPV, a sexually transmitted disease that can lead to cancer, because it would make them more liable to become sexually active before marriage, just like they don't want realistic sex education for any of our kids.  Abstinence only programs are the only ones our Taliban feel are necessary.

Our Taliban don't want contraception devices available to our kids, and they don't want them available to women.  The result is sexually transmitted disease and unwanted pregnancy.  And then they don't want abortion available in any form for any reason.  And then they don't want to provide any financial assistance for the newborn (WIC, ADC, paid family leave, accessible and affordable day care).

Yes, there be monsters, but they're not only located in Pakistan.

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Sunday, October 14, 2012

Sunday Poetry: Louis Simpson

Working Late

A light is on in my father's study.
"Still up?" he says, and we are silent,
looking at the harbor lights,
listening to the surf
and the creak of coconut boughs.

He is working late on cases.
No impassioned speech! He argues from evidence,
actually pacing out and measuring,
while the fans revolving on the ceiling
winnow the true from the false.

Once he passed a brass curtain rod
through a head made out of plaster
and showed the jury the angle of fire--
where the murderer must have stood.
For years, all through my childhood,
if I opened a closet . . . bang!
There would be the dead man's head
with a black hole in the forehead.

All the arguing in the world
will not stay the moon.
She has come all the way from Russia
to gaze for a while in a mango tree
and light the wall of a veranda,
before resuming her interrupted journey
beyond the harbor and the lighthouse
at Port Royal, turning away
from land to the open sea.

Yet, nothing in nature changes, from that day to this,
she is still the mother of us all.
I can see the drifting offshore lights,
black posts where the pelicans brood.

And the light that used to shine
at night in my father's study
now shines as late in mine.

--Louis Simpson

(Louis Simpson died recently.  Rest in peace.)

Sunday Funnies

(Editorial cartoon by Tom Toles and published 10/11/12 by the Washington Post.  Click on image to enlarge.)


Saturday, October 13, 2012

Bonus Critter Blogging: Borneo Horned Frog

(Photograph courtesy Joris van Alphen and published at National Geographic.  Click on the link to see some of the new species discovered during a recent biodiversity survey of Borneo.)

Voter Suppression

(Political cartoon by Matt Wuerker and published 10/11/12 at Daily Kos.  Click on image to enlarge and then come on back.)

There are a couple of side issues in this election cycle.  Perhaps the biggest is the fall-out from the Citizens United decision by the US Supreme Court making it probable that this will be the most expensive election in US history.  Equally as important, however, is the issue of voter suppression attempts by GOP leaders in several US states, many of which are "swing states."  Either by legislation or by state constitutional amendment, Republicans are hoping to make it very difficult for elders, people of color, and poor people to vote if they don't drive and don't have a state issued identification card at hand.  While these laws are getting lots of press, none of the candidates are willing to touch the issue.  None of them want to go on record as being soft on voting fraud, I guess, even though evidence has shown that voter fraud is statistically non-existent all over the country.

Fortunately, the courts have intervened and have come down hard against the effort to curtail voting rights in most cases.

Earlier this year, voting rights advocates foresaw a cloud over this year's election because new voting laws in Republican-led states tightened the rules for casting ballots and reduced the time for early voting.

But with the election less than a month away, it's now clear those laws will have little impact. A series of rulings has blocked or weakened the laws as judges — both Republicans and Democrats — stopped measures that threatened to bar legally registered voters from polling places in the November election.

"Courts see their role as the protectors of the core right to vote," said Ned Foley, an election law expert at Ohio State University.

The laws were the product of a Republican sweep in the 2010 election. The GOP took full control in such states as Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Florida, and soon adopted changes in their election laws.

Some states told registered voters they must show a current photo identification, such as a driver's license, even if they did not drive. Others, including Florida and Ohio, reduced the time for early voting or made it harder for college students to switch their registrations.

Republicans defended the laws as protections against fraud. But advocates for increased access to the polls cast them as "voter suppression" laws that could prevent tens of thousands of poor and elderly voters, racial minorities and students from casting ballots. And Democrats, who can usually count on support from these voters, worried that the laws could even sway the outcome in the presidential race if it were close in key states.

Not all such laws were rolled back, and the issue has not been resolved.  All of the court decisions are subject to appeal and the current Supreme Court may very well hold that this is a state issue and restore the laws.  That means the 2014 elections may be affected by these laws.

Rick Hasen, a law professor at UC Irvine, said many of the rulings might not stand for long. "The victories over voter ID laws are likely to be short-lived," he said.

The Supreme Court has not yet weighed in this year on the major election law disputes. Four years ago, however, the justices upheld an Indiana photo ID law, and Hasen predicted they would look favorably on the new state laws so long as voters were given enough time to comply.

And that's why it's a damned shame that current candidates aren't speaking to this issue.  Some states, like California and Oregon are working hard to make voting easier, but both are reliably "blue."  It's the swing states that are affected.  I just hope that come 2014 those states have come to their senses.

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Friday, October 12, 2012

Friday Cat Blogging

Just Two To Go

(Click on image to enlarge and then kindly return.)

I think, like me, David Horsey is beginning to tire of campaign debates, or at least how they're treated by the mainstream media and the public.

Winning a presidential debate is a lot like winning a belching contest. Sure, it takes a peculiar sort of skill, but is it anything to be proud of?

Mitt Romney was universally acknowledged as the "winner" of his first debate with President Obama, but what did he actually do to claim victory? He reversed positions he had taken through the entire campaign. He failed to give any serious detail about how he planned to make up for the huge revenue losses inherent in his big plan to cut taxes. He attacked his opponent with a stream of false or exaggerated characterizations of administration policies. And he bullied moderator Jim Lehrer with relish akin to the enthusiasm he must have displayed when he gave that gay kid an involuntary haircut back in his prep school days.

Why does any of that make him a winner?
And Obama?  What about his performance?

...Having been reminded over and over again not to come across as an arrogant, angry black man, he bit his tongue and let Romney get away with one unanswered untruth after another. Personally, I would like to have seen an angry black man flipping Romney's trash talk right back at him. Instead, Obama looked like a sleepy community college teacher trying to get through the last class of the day.

Amen, and Amen.

But, and this is my biggest kvetch, these debates are judged by assholery:  the winner is the guy who steamrollers everyone else, who comes across as strong (veracity be damned), who is the daddy the country yearns for.  Ideas, "that vision thing," plans, proposals have no place in such a format.  The laurel wreath goes to the bully, the strong man, even if we know he is going to screw us five ways to Friday because by electing him we gave him permission to do so.  Horsey apparently feels the same way:

After all, it is clearly not truthfulness or consistency that are hallmarks of a debate winner. There seems to be one primary trait that is rewarded in these encounters: being a badass.

Like I said yesterday:  I grow old.

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Thursday, October 11, 2012

Is It Over Yet?

(Editorial cartoon by Joel Pett / Lexington Herald-Leader (October 10, 2012) and featured at McClatchy DC.  Click on image to enlarge and then return.  Or not.)

I admit to growing weary of debates.  I feel like I'm six years old again, trapped in the car with my family for a long drive somewhere and all I can think to ask is "Are we there yet?" over and over again.

Last night was the Brown-Warren debate, and while I didn't watch it, I did read what my compatriots at Eschaton had to say as it unfolded.  Obviously, we're all pulling for Elizabeth Warren in her bid for the Senate, so I'm certain there was a certain amount of bias in the reportage.  I'm also certain that press accounts will be slanted the other direction and many will slip in a line about her Native American claim.

Tonight it will be Ryan and Biden going at it.  Now, I can kind of understand why a debate between the nominees for that position is appropriate.  After all, the Vice President is just "a heart-beat away" from the presidency.  But both men have been campaigning vigorously (Ryan for two jobs:  Veep and Congressman from Wisconsin) and we pretty much know where both stand on the issues.  We also know more about their (ahem) proclivities, as Pett's cartoon shows. 

Will I watch it?  No.  I don't have television and I have dial-up internet.  I'll listen to it on NPR and read the live-blogging on Eschaton and then tomorrow read the various press accounts. 

Will it make a difference in how I vote?  Nope.  Not at this point.  We're less than a month from the election and I've made up my mind.  And unless something totally unforeseen comes in the last two presidential debates (and why are they so close to the actual election date anyway?), they won't change my mind either.  I suspect most other voters, regardless of their political persuasion feel the same way.

I think what we have here is a manufactured race, one built to keep the media churning and to keep the money coming in.  Think about it:  just in reportable expenditures, the tab for the presidential race will probably come in at over $2 billion dollars.  That doesn't include some of the superPAC numbers dispersed over congressional races and the numbers from the 501(c)4 expenditures. Think about what that money could have been used for at a time when deficit reduction and tax cuts and medical costs are the topics du jour.

I grow old, I grow old.

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Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Say, What?

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

Of all the comments made by Mitt Romney in last week's debate, the one which really grabbed folks was his gratuitous offer to defund PBS, even though he likes Big Bird.  Now you just know that cartoonists and photoshop experts were delighted.  Horsey's cartoon, published yesterday, has plenty of company.  Mike Luckovich pumped one out ASAP.  Matt Bors put one up yesterday.  Libby Spencer found multiple 'toons on the net,  see here and here.

More than outrage by the attack on an American icon is involved, however, as Horsey points out.

Mitt Romney may have won the first presidential debate, but what stuck in many people’s minds was his threat to fire Big Bird. Apparently, Romney thinks America’s debt problem can be fixed by picking up pennies along Sesame Street.

Pressed to explain how he would balance the federal budget while cutting trillions of dollars in taxes, the allegedly masterful debater offered up just two specifics: He would repeal “Obamacare” (even though the Congressional Budget Office says the healthcare act actually reduces deficit spending) and eliminate the federal subsidy to the Public Broadcasting System.

Directly addressing beleaguered debate moderator Jim Lehrer, the former anchor of the PBS "NewsHour," Romney said, “I’m sorry, Jim, I’m going to stop the subsidy to PBS.... I like PBS, I love Big Bird, I actually like you, too, but I’m not going to keep on spending money on things to borrow money from China to pay for.” ...

So, after many long months of campaigning and promising to cut the deficit while also cutting taxes, the single genuine and specific spending reduction Romney has stipulated is the one one-hundredth of a percent of federal expenditures that helps pay for Big Bird, Downton Abbey and the rest of the PBS lineup. Defenders of PBS were quick to point out that eliminating the federal subsidy for public television would trim an amount equal to just six hours – 360 minutes – of spending at the Pentagon.

It seems as if it would be more effective to leave PBS with its minuscule piece of federal largess and, instead, cut six hours – or maybe 24 or 48 hours – of military spending, right? Apparently not to Romney. Rather than trimming the Defense Department budget, he has proposed a radical spike in defense outlays that would take military spending to the highest level in 60 years.

Apparently teaching pre-schoolers colors, letters, and numbers is less important than dropping bombs on them from drones.

Very scary man, him.

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Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Why We Can't Have Nice Things

Two groups of health care professionals I've developed a deep respect and reverence for are nurses and pharmacists.  Both have the time and are willing to take that time to answer questions a patient might have.  I've especially appreciated the fact that the pharmacists I've dealt with keep track of the medications I'm on, especially when those meds are prescribed by different doctors.  They spot when there's a potential interaction issue and alert both doctors to any problems.  They also explain why it's important to take the med in a specific way and to complete a prescription unless the doctor says otherwise.

 Those are just a few of the reasons why this column by David Lazarus was like a punch to the midsection.

You already knew that our healthcare system is screwy. But you probably didn't know that at least some pharmacists at CVS, the nation's second-largest drugstore chain, were refilling prescriptions and submitting claims to insurers without patients' approval.

The bizarre, possibly illegal practice was spelled out in confidential emails sent this year by a CVS pharmacy supervisor to dozens of pharmacists under his control.

The emails make clear that an internal quota existed for prescription refills, with at least 30% of calls to patients about their medications expected to result in return business. A threat of "major personnel changes" was made to pharmacists who couldn't hit their quota. ...

CVS acknowledges that the emails were legitimate and that prescriptions may have been processed without patients' say-so. But the company says this is an example of an overzealous manager going too far, not a practice followed by CVS pharmacists nationwide.

"It is not our policy to refill prescriptions without a patient's authorization," said Mike DeAngelis, a CVS spokesman.

Never mind that Barna described his instructions to pharmacists in one email as being among CVS' "best practices." And never mind, as I've reported before, that the company has had incidents in California and elsewhere of enrolling people in its automatic-refill program without approval.

I don't use CVS, I use one of its competitors.  We have a deal:  a few days before I'm due to finish the current cycle I get an email from the pharmacy reminding me of that fact and asking me to call to confirm I'll be refilling it.  It works for me.  Lazarus points out that the CVS has a similar program in which the pharmacist is to call the patient several times.  Apparently Mr. Barna wanted the pharmacists he supervises to go beyond that by refilling the prescription and billing the insurance carrier for the refill without the patient's approval.

As Lazarus points out, if the prescription isn't picked up, it's returned to stock and the pharmacy reimburses the insurance company.  No harm, no foul, right?  Wrong.  First of all, the extra paperwork and accounting costs the insurance company, something it will cheerfully pass on to the insured the next time premiums come up for review.  More importantly, however, the practice can actually harm the patient directly:

But one consequence of CVS' practice, the insurance spokeswoman said, is that a patient who tried to fill a prescription elsewhere during that time may have found that CVS had already secured reimbursement for the order, thus preventing the patient from dealing with the pharmacy of his or her choosing.

It could also slow a patient's access to medicine until the insurance issue had been addressed.

It's a lousy practice, and I hope CVS is embarrassed enough to slap the supervisor hard so that this practice is halted.

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Monday, October 08, 2012

Things That Make Me Gag

Is it really too much to ask that our news sources stick to delivering real, actual news?  I'm not talking about doing away with the comic section or entertainment sections.  They're fine and are usually labeled appropriately.  It's when the front page or the television news hour blurs the distinctions in order to increase the audience that I get sickened.

A prime example of what I mean is detailed by James Rainey in his most recent column.

Media and their ethical norms have changed so much in recent times that no one seemed to miss a beat when ABC announced that it had invited would-be First Lady Ann Romney to sit in next week as a guest host on what ostensibly remains a news program — the network’s “Good Morning America.” 

A time existed not that long ago when news outlets kept an arm’s length from the subjects they would cover. But both “GMA” and Romney have bigger priorities today — with the morning show in a daily race to unseat NBC’s “Today” as the a.m. ratings leader and Romney pushing hard to help her husband, Mitt, win the White House.

At least the show, which announced Romney’s guest hosting duties Thursday, signaled that it intends to treat both sides equally when it comes to line-blurring. It hopes to find a spot to bring First Lady Michelle Obama on as a co-host too.   [Emphasis added]

I don't mind having Ann Romney on, but if Good Morning America is going to do that, then label it and treat it as an interview.  This "guest host" gig is ludicrous, not to mention bovine excrement.  And, no, trying to find a spot for Michelle Obama to "guest host" doesn't make it all better.  It still blurs the line between the journalist and the subject.  Or don't J-schools teach that anymore?

Just shoot me now.


Sunday, October 07, 2012

Sunday Poetry: Denise Levertov

In California During the Gulf War


Among the blight-killed eucalypts, among
trees and bushes rusted by Christmas frosts,
the yards and hillsides exhausted by five years of drought,

certain airy white blossoms punctually
reappeared, and dense clusters of pale pink, dark pink—
a delicate abundance. They seemed

like guests arriving joyfully on the accustomed
festival day, unaware of the year's events, not perceiving
the sackcloth others were wearing.

To some of us, the dejected landscape consorted well
with our shame and bitterness. Skies ever-blue,
daily sunshine, disgusted us like smile-buttons.

Yet the blossoms, clinging to thin branches
more lightly than birds alert for flight,
lifted the sunken heart

even against its will.
                             But not
as symbols of hope: they were flimsy
as our resistance to the crimes committed

—again, again—in our name; and yes, they return,
year after year, and yes, they briefly shone with serene joy
over against the dark glare

of evil days. They are, and their presence
is quietness ineffable—and the bombings are, were,
no doubt will be; that quiet, that huge cacophany

simultaneous. No promise was being accorded, the blossoms
were not doves, there was no rainbow. And when it was claimed
the war had ended, it had not ended.

--Denise Levertov

Sunday Funnies: A Tie

(Editorial cartoon by Mike Luckovich and published 10/4/12 in the Atlanta Journal Constitution.  Click on image to enlarge.

(Editorial cartoon by Lee Judge / The Kansas City Star (October 4, 2012) and featured at McClatchy DC.  Click on image to enlarge.)

This week I couldn't decide which I enjoyed more.


Saturday, October 06, 2012

Bonus Critter Blogging: Ajolote Salamander

(Photograph by Pablo Perez / AFP/Getty Images / May 30, 2012, and published by the Los Angeles Times.  Click on link for an excellent article on this Mexican salamander and the threat to its existence.)

Deplorably Dated Discourse

Todd Akin is still hanging around, and as anticipated, the GOP has relented and has started pouring money back into the Missouri Senate race on his behalf.  It's not as if Akin has improved his campaigning skills, however.  He continues to say outrageously stupid things.  His latest?  A complaint that his opponent wasn't being very ladylike.

I think the best analysis of this odd whine came from Leonard Pitts Jr. of The Miami Herald.  His column was featured at McClatchy DC and nails just what that word choice says about the speaker.


It is a telling choice of word. Hearing it used unironically, as would-be Missouri senator Todd Akin did last week, one almost feels as if Amelia Earhart never flew a plane and Sally Ride never rode a space shuttle. As if Madame C.J. Walker never made millions and Meg Whitman never made CEO. As if Lisa Leslie never dunked, Pat Benatar never rocked, Oprah Winfrey never reigned, Hillary Clinton never ran. ...

One struggles to imagine a male lawmaker being chided to behave in a gentlemanly fashion. The person doing the chiding would be laughed into oblivion and deservedly so — the complaint belongs to the era of handlebar moustaches and high-wheeled bikes.

This is not to say that a man ought not strive to behave in ways that reflect class, refinement and manners. He should. A woman should, too. In a nation so rude that a member of Congress hectors the president during a televised speech, many of us could stand to act as if we’d had the benefit of home training.

But this is not about that. It is, rather, about an arrogant, condescending and paternalistic mindset which says a woman cannot be tough, aggressive, competitive, smart or feisty, that if she embodies those traits, so prized in men, she does so at the cost of her own femininity.
In this construction, being a “lady” has nothing to do with good home training, and everything to do with being properly deferential and submissive in the presence of testosterone. And yes, you may just want to chalk all this up to a difference of values, to say that Akin, West and Specter are just old-fashioned guys having trouble finding their way in a newfangled world. But to do that is to give them a pass they do not deserve. It is to tell a little girl she must truncate the sprawl and adventure of her personality, prune it back until it fits into a small, dainty box marked “ladylike.”   [Emphasis added]


It's a shame that the concept of political correctness has fallen into such disrepute, that it has been confused with obfuscating euphemisms.  It's also a shame (as Pitts points out in his conclusion) that we still have people who operate in the realms of the last century and that many of them wind up in elected office.

I guess money really does talk, loud and clear.

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Friday, October 05, 2012

Friday Cat Blogging