Thursday, January 31, 2013

Paranoia Strikes Deep

[Note:  I'm having some financial problems right now.  I know my timing is atrocious, given all the fund raisers lately, but if you can spare a little more, please donate to my "cat food for me and Home Boy" fund.  Thank you.]

The news has shifted from immigration to gun control the past couple of days.  I'm about as optimistic on this issue as I am on the various immigration proposals.  David Horsey seems to agree with me.

Gun owners truly have nothing to worry about. There are no federal commandos coming to break down their doors and take away their guns.

Sure, there is an outside chance that a universal gun registration system will be approved by Congress, but anything more, including -- and especially -- an assault weapons ban, will be scuttled by the House Republican caucus, if not by Democrats trying to win reelection in gun-friendly red states.

And yet, given the rhetoric of the National Rifle Assn. lobbyists and the noisy agitators in the conservative media complex, one would think that President Obama is planning the modern equivalent of the British march on Lexington to confiscate patriot firearms. ...

But, paranoid rants aside, the logical conclusion of the hyper conservatives' argument ends in a strange place. If the patriots of 1776 could match the redcoats with muskets and cannon, doesn’t the absolutist interpretation of the 2nd Amendment suggest that today’s "patriots" should be able to stand against a modern army? Doesn't it mean that citizens have a right to keep and bear, not just AR-15s, but rocket launchers, tanks, fighter jets and attack helicopters?   [Emphasis added]

Please, David.  Let's not give the NRA new talking points for their crazier supporters.

The distressing part is that it's not just the conservative House that will block any meaningful gun control laws (which would ban private ownership of semi-automatic military-style weapons and large ammunition clips, as well as end the gun show exception to background checks).  Democrats in both houses of Congress have also come to enjoy the largess of the NRA and gun manufacturers.  It is unlikely that many will be willing to bite the hand that has fed them so well.

Meanwhile, death by guns in the hands of private citizens is a daily occurrence.  That doesn't seem to bother our elected representatives in Washington.

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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

This Is Getting Interesting

[Note:  I'm having some financial problems right now.  I know my timing is atrocious, given all the fund raisers lately, but if you can spare a little more, please donate to my "catfood for me and Home Boy" fund.  Thank you.]

(Editorial cartoon by Mike Luckovich and published 12/30/12 by the Atlanta Journal Constitution.  Click on image to enlarge and then return.)

I know, I know:  I'm harping on immigration a lot these days.  It's just that a lot of stuff is unfolding right now that I find quite interesting (and, truth be told, amusing).

First of all, in addition to the bipartisan group of senators who have crafted the broad outlines of an immigration bill, apparently there is a bipartisan group of House members doing the same thing:

A secretive group of House members from both parties is racing to complete an immigration bill in the next two weeks with an eye toward introducing legislation before President Obama’s State of the Union address on Feb. 12, said two congressional aides who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the negotiations.

The draft bill, written behind closed doors by three Democrats and three Republicans, so far includes a path to legal status, new border security measures and tighter restrictions on employers. It tracks closely with the blueprint laid out by the bipartisan group of senators on Tuesday, said the aides. ...

Congressional aides confirmed that along with Diaz-Balart, Republicans John Carter and Sam Johnson, both of Texas, are part of the group, with Democrats Luis V. Gutierrez of Illinois, Zoe Lofgren of San Jose, and the chairman of the House Democratic caucus, Xavier Becerra of Los Angeles.

Gutierrez said in a statement that he has been a part of “very constructive conversations with my House colleagues in both parties,” adding that he is confident that “we are poised for action and not just more talk on immigration reform.” He would not confirm that he is part of the group. ...

Like the senators’ framework announced Tuesday, the draft of the House bill allows most of the 11 million illegal immigrants in the country to apply for probationary legal status and contains border security and enforcement milestones that immigrants must meet before they can become lawful permanent residents. Unlike the Senate proposal, the House version does not set up a commission to certify that the border is secure.

One detail that has not been worked out yet between the House members is exactly how illegal immigrants who have been granted legal status will be allowed to apply for lawful permanent residence – a green card – and later, to apply for full citizenship.   [Emphasis added]

As I noted yesterday, one of the problems will be sealing (or, I guess, "securing" is the preferred term) the borders.  Who gets to decide that and what exactly do they mean.  People noticed that little problem

The fate of 11 million people could hinge on the interpretation of border security.

An immigration-reform blueprint by a bipartisan group of senators includes a path to U.S. citizenship for those who are in the country illegally. But the blueprint, released Monday, specifies that the federal government must first certify that the U.S.-Mexico border is secure.

Immigrant rights groups fear that millions of people will be in limbo until the security threshold appeases those dissatisfied with the border's status. ...

Pat Sexton, president of the Tucson chapter of the Arizona Latino Republican Association, said securing the northern and southern borders will keep out  those seeking to cross illegally once word gets out about the possibility of  legal residency.

But define securing the border. That’s going to be so politically difficult to do,” Sexton said.  [Emphasis added]

And now the president has weighed in on the issue, although what precisely he wants is still not exactly clear:

 Details on how to achieve a pathway to citizenship still could prove to be a major sticking point between the White House and the Senate group, which is comprised of eight lawmakers - four Democrats and four Republicans.

Obama and the Senate lawmakers all want to require people here illegally to register with the government, pass criminal and national security background checks, pay fees and penalties as well as back taxes, and wait until existing immigration backlogs are cleared before getting in line for green cards. After reaching that status, U.S. law says people can become citizens after five years.

The Senate proposal says that entire process couldn't start until the borders were fully secure and tracking of people in the U.S. on visas had improved. Those vague requirements would almost certainly make the timeline for achieving citizenship longer than what the White House is proposing.

The president urged lawmakers to avoid making the citizenship pathway so difficult that it would appear out of reach for many illegal immigrants.

And that's where we are right now.

What I suspect will happen is that a bill will be sent to the president.  What I also suspect is that it won't have a realistic pathway to citizenship for those already here.  It will be just enough for the GOP to wave their hands excitedly and to shout "Huzzah!  See!  We do care about our Hispanic Brothers!  Now, vote for us!"

Because, after all, this is really what it's all about.

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Tuesday, January 29, 2013

False Start?

(Editorial cartoon by Mike Luckovich and published 1/29/13 in the Atlanta Journal Constitution.  Click on image to enlarge and then please wander back.)

It isn't often I read Doyle McManus two days running, but I was curious as to what he would have to say now that we know a little more about the immigration reform law being considered by the bipartisan group of senators.  He's quite cheered by the move.  Me?  Eh, not so much. 

McManus seemed both surprised and pleased that the GOP is even willing to work on the issue.

Only a year ago, Republican presidential hopefuls were competing to show how tough on immigration they could be. Mitt Romney won that dubious contest by denouncing the Dream Act, which would have provided legal status for some children of illegal immigrants, and calling for tough policies that would induce immigrants to “self-deport.”

Poor Gov. Romney: After his defeat, his own party has suddenly concluded that sounding hostile toward immigrants is bad politics, especially when Latinos and Asians constitute a growing part of the electorate. Who knew?

There’s still plenty of opposition among GOP voters to increased immigration in general and any reform that smacks of “amnesty” for illegal immigrants in particular. It won’t be easy getting comprehensive immigration reform through the conservative-majority House.

Given House Speaker Boehner's success in getting the debt ceiling pushed off for a couple of months, and given Paul Ryan's indication that the GOP needs immigration reform to remain "viable", I think it likely that some kind of bill could be passed.  The question is, however, whether such a bill would make any difference to the millions of undocumented people already here.

From what I gather from "unofficial" reports, the benefits would only kick in once the border was effectively sealed.  Presumably the Mexican border is what is meant.  That doesn't take into account those people who entered the country legally via visas (tourist or student) and simply overstayed their visits.  And how do we know when our border is effectively sealed?  Who decides?

And a path to citizenship would require paying a fine and paying back taxes.  How big a fine and how far back?  That's pretty weak soup for calling it amnesty.

At this point, the bill seems to favor the students from abroad who get advanced degrees from American universities in subjects such as science and engineering.  The rest of the foreigners would have to be satisfied with a bracero-like program.

While I am pleased to see some movement on a long-overdue issue, I'm not so sure this is moving in the right direction.  I hope the Democrats don't get too invested in this approach.

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Monday, January 28, 2013

Picking Their Fights

Doyle McManus had an interesting op-ed column this weekend, one that made sense to me and gave me a little hope that maybe this Congress will actually get something done.  He used the metaphor of "an orderly retreat," and I think it works beautifully.

Astonishingly, for perhaps the first time since they won the majority in 2010, Boehner's House Republicans were seized by a sudden fit of pragmatism. That debt ceiling that couldn't be lifted as a matter of sacred principle? It was "suspended" until May with only perfunctory debate.

Boehner's sometimes fractious lieutenants, Eric Cantor of Virginia and Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, fell into line. Tea party firebrands including Michele Bachmann of Minnesota voted no, but they remained uncharacteristically quiet.

Score one for Boehner.

It may seem painfully obvious that a political party needs to seek favorable ground on which to wage its battles — to choose "smart fights" and avoid dumb ones.
But until last week, Democrats could pretty much count on House Republicans to ignore that rule. Only three weeks ago, the same Republicans had dared President Obama to take the country over a fiscal cliff of brutal tax increases and spending cuts — only to retreat in disarray when they noticed that the country wasn't behind them.

The logic of Boehner's gambit last week was straightforward: A debt ceiling showdown looked like another dumb fight. The speaker wants to change the subject to federal spending, an issue on which conservatives think they have more public support. On March 1, deep automatic cuts in both domestic and military spending are scheduled to take effect. And on March 27, the federal government will have to shut down unless Congress passes a new spending bill. Both of those events, Republicans say, will let them push for new spending cuts without the hair-raising dangers of a debt-ceiling crisis.   [Emphasis added]

First, apparently Speaker Boehner is getting better at herding cats.  Maybe he got some coaching from Nancy Pelosi, or maybe House Republicans finally figured out that they actually took quite a hit in November and might want to change their mode of operating.  Their obstructionism in the last Congress led to their actually losing ground in both houses.

Secondly, and more importantly, the manufacturing of crises to get their way just didn't work the way they thought it would.  The President isn't playing nice any more, and he's making them look bad.

I'm not suggesting that congressional Republicans will turn into nice guys who will voluntarily cut the entitlements to oil companies, banks, large farm corporations, and wealthy investors.  Not hardly.  They've still got their knives out for Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid.  At least, however, they are now meeting with Democrats to start on the broad outlines for an immigration reform bill, something that has been totally off the table with them.  That's a start.

With a little more pressure from the public, they might even consider cutting the Pentagon budget, lopping off a few of the more ridiculous programs and cheating contractors.

I sure hope so, even though I know hope is not a plan.

Popcorn futures are up.

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Sunday, January 27, 2013

Sunday Poetry: Adrienne Rich

At Willard Brook
November 18, 1961

Spirit like water
moulded by unseen stone
and sandbar, pleats and funnels
according to its own
submerged necessity —
to the indolent eye
pure wilfulness, to the stray
pine-needle boiling
in that cascade-bent pool
a random fury: Law,
if that's what's wanted, lies
asking to be read
in the dried brook-bed.

--Adrienne Rich

Sunday Funnies: You Choose

I couldn't garner the energy to do a final selection, so I'll just give you the first round (in no particular order).  As always, click on image to enlarge and then return for the next one.

(Editorial cartoon by Mike Luckovich and published 1/20/13 in the Atlanta Journal Constitution.)

(Editorial cartoon by David Horsey and published 1/25/13 in the Los Angeles Times.)

(Editorial cartoon by Lee Judge / The Kansas City Star (January 25, 2013) and featured at McClatchy DC.)

(Editorial cartoon by Joel Pett / Lexington Herald-Leader (January 24, 2013) and featured at McClatchy DC.)


Saturday, January 26, 2013

Bonus Critter Blogging: Elephant Seal

(Photograph by Marc Moritsch and published at National Geographic.  Click on link to learn about the two varieties of elephant seals.)


All this rainy, cool weather has served to load my sinuses and my lungs, so I should probably taken the last 24 hours off and slept.  Unfortunately, this whole filibuster deal still has me so deeply annoyed that I wasn't going to get any real rest anyway.  David Horsey didn't help matters.  His cartoon nailed the issue, but as far as I'm concerned, he missed the whole point of this latest Democratic wimp-out.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid shocked and infuriated many of his fellow Democrats on Thursday when he backed away from his pledge to put an end to the curse of the filibuster.

Minority Republicans have been flagrantly using the old filibuster ploy to block even the most mundane bills unless they can win votes from at least 60 of 100 senators. This has effectively stunted the Democrats’ 53-seat majority and stifled initiatives from the Obama White House.

In times past, the filibuster was a rarely invoked parliamentary rule that allowed a single senator to halt legislative business if he was willing to stay on the Senate floor and talk for hour after hour, risking a raw throat, sleep deprivation and a distended bladder. Now, though, it has morphed into a convenient emergency brake that can be pulled remotely by any senator without having to leave the comfort of his or her office. Critics say abuse of the filibuster rule is a major source of the gridlock in Washington that everyone complains about because it unfairly gives the minority a veto over anything the majority wants to do.

Last year, Reid thought he had a deal with Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell to limit use of filibusters. When he got burned on the deal, Reid apologized to freshman senators in his caucus who had been urging him to rewrite Senate rules and pare back the filibuster to its original form. He said at the time, and again after the election, that he was going to force a change at the start of the new Congress.

Well, that moment came and Reid opted for a deal with McConnell that tweaked filibuster guidelines but left the rules largely unchanged. It will be slightly easier for the president’s nominees for judgeships and positions in his administration to get approved and it will speed up a few procedural steps, but the necessity of having a supermajority to get a bill passed remains. ...
...Hopping mad as they are now, though, a day may come when they'll give thanks that he made a deal with the GOP devil. ...

Democrats may be frustrated for the next two years, but, in the two years that follow, when Republicans could easily be in charge of both the House and the Senate, the Ds may find the filibuster is a very useful weapon. Maybe Harry Reid was just planning ahead.

 Oh, please!

They don't call the U.S. Senate the most powerful country club in the world for nothing.  Sadly, our founders intended that.  Our congress was set up like the 18th Century British Parliament, in which the House of Lords served as a check on the House of Commons.  The English system has evolved from that point.  Our system has not.  And that's just for openers.

More importantly, why on earth would Harry Reid or any Democratic senator trust Mitch McConnell to keep his word on any deal made with him?  He certainly hasn't in the past, and if the GOP gets control of both houses he sure as hell isn't going to in the future.

No, this was a sell-out.  Pure and simple.

And we're the commodity that got sold.

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Friday, January 25, 2013

Friday Cat Blogging

(Click on image to enlarge.  Trust me on this.)

Mission Fail

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

I was trying to decide on a subject for today's post.  Several came to mind, among them Harry Reid's selling us out on the Senate filibuster rule and my ambivalence of allowing women to serve in combat (which they have done for years, just ask Tammy Duckworth).

I decided on Hillary Clinton's very successful day on Capitol Hill because it was one bit of fun news.  As David Horsey pointed out in yesterday's column, she made her antagonists look like the buffoons they are.

When Hillary Clinton went to Capitol Hill on Wednesday, Republicans opened their bags of overly ripe conspiracy theories and moldering fruitcake ideas and tossed everything at her. Every shot missed.

Republican senators and congressmen on the foreign affairs committees of both houses had insisted that the departing secretary of State come in for a full day of hearings about the deadly terrorist attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya. Some of them must have thought this was a great chance to do preemptive damage to the most popular choice for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination. Instead, she made them look like the clumsy bad guys in an Aaron Sorkin political drama.

The State Department's own independent investigative board has already answered most of the serious questions about the Benghazi tragedy in which four Americans were killed, including U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens. The panel cited the failures of mid-level officials and suggested 29 ways to improve the system. Clinton said implementation of those steps was already 85% complete.

A productive hearing would have concentrated on what else can be done to prevent similar tragedies in the future -- a discussion that would have also included examining why Congress not only consistently underfunds the State Department, but has blocked expenditure of money that has already been appropriated to shore up American diplomatic efforts in several international trouble spots.  [Emphasis added]

Ah, but David, the Republicans weren't interested in a productive hearing.  Shouting "Benghazi!" three times worked to get Susan Rice to back out of her nomination, so the magic was expected to work on Hillary. 


I don't know whether Hillary is contemplating a run for the 2016 nomination.  I wouldn't be surprised if she decided that she'd had enough of the political circus.  I also wouldn't be surprised if she decided to give it another go.  Either/or, she didn't look too tired, too old, too incompetent to me.

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Thursday, January 24, 2013

Some Rights Are Less Important

(Editorial cartoon by Joel Pett published 1/23/13 by the Lexington Herald Leader and featured at McClatchy DC.  Click on image to enlarge and then kindly return.)

Forty years after Roe v Wade and a woman's right to abortion is still under attack.  The right to privacy, upon which the decision hinged, is simply not as important to many as the right to own and flaunt military type semi-automatic rifles.  We really have not yet come a long way, baby.

From a Los Angeles Times editorial:

Unlike many landmark Supreme Court cases that have become accepted parts of our culture — such as Brown vs. Board of Education, which declared school segregation unconstitutional, or Loving vs. Virginia, which overturned state bans on interracial marriage — Roe did not lead to a clear national consensus on abortion.

A recent Pew Research Center survey found that although most Americans support the court's decision, 29% said they would like to see Roe overturned. Nearly half of Americans say they believe abortion is morally wrong. Those positions have changed little in recent decades.

Sadly, the Roe decision remains under attack in many quarters from politicians, conservative religious groups and others. Fueled by their belief that abortion is murder, they are intent on taking away or substantially curtailing the right to choose, even though the Supreme Court has correctly concluded that abortion is a private matter.

Today, most states have some kind of law that affects access to abortion. ...

In some cases, state restrictions have been declared unconstitutional by courts as violations of Roe vs. Wade. But even where they have not, they often seem to be efforts to drive a wedge into the debate or to make it increasingly onerous to get an abortion, particularly for low-income women.   [Emphasis added]

The editorial details the forms of those attacks on the right to abortion, most coming from state legislatures, which include not just time delays but also invasive procedures including sonograms, a further invasion of a woman's body.  And, even more horrifying, one national party would not allow for any exceptions such as incest, rape, the health of the woman.  Women are just not as important as that cluster of fetal cells and certainly not as important as men's right to have instruments of death.

This makes me crazy.

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Wednesday, January 23, 2013

What David Said

David Horsey posted a thoughtful, even lovely, column yesterday, reflecting on the import of President Obama's second inauguration.  I think he nailed it in one.  I recommend you read the entire column (which isn't very long), but here's a taste:

The spirits of two great men, Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, Jr., stood watch over the West Front of the United States Capitol on Monday as Barack Obama took the oath to serve a second term as president with his left hand placed on two Bibles -- one Lincoln’s and one King’s.

The event not only fell on the King holiday and 50 years after King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, but also came within days of the 150thanniversary of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. Without the revolutionary changes for which Lincoln and King were martyred, Barack Obama’s presidency would not be possible. This was abundantly apparent four years ago when he became the nation’s first African American chief executive, but it seems no less remarkable and significant the second time around. ...

The residue of the racism that once justified slavery is still evident. There is no doubt that Obama would not be such a hugely controversial and maligned figure in some political circles and in certain parts of the country if he were white. The good news is that the beast of racial bias is cornered and dying. Obama’s reelection is proof of that and, perhaps, that is why the second inauguration of the man seems to be as important a marker of our progress away from slavery, Jim Crow and bigotry as was his first. The first time might have been a fluke; the second time is evidence of real change.


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Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Things That Make Me Chuckle

(Editorial cartoon by Mike Luckovich and published 12/30/12 in the Atlanta Journal Constitution.  Click on image to enlarge and then kindly return.)

President Obama has taken the oath of office and been sworn in for his second term, has walked down Pennsylvania Avenue, and delivered what by all accounts was a fine speech.  Now the hard part comes:  presidenting.

He still has to deal with a split Congress, but this time around he has taken some pretty strong stands and has thrown multiple issues to be resolved into the mix.  Gun control, debt ceiling, deficit cuts, and immigration:  and those are just for openers.  The Republicans can't very well continue the blatant obstruction.  They failed in their drive to limit Obama to just one term and they lost ground in both the Senate and the House.  Even with their fear of being primaried by the Tea Party and extreme right wing, the saner members of the party know that they could lose the House in 2014 if they don't at least look like they're trying resolve the nation's problems in a rational, adult way.

And those saner members are beginning to speak out.  The latest blast is on immigration reform which would allow for some kind of  (gasp!) "amnesty."  The Los Angeles Times thought the story was significant enough that it was yesterday's front page headline in the print edition.

Traditional pillars of the Republican base, such as police groups, evangelical pastors and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, have begun to push skeptical GOP lawmakers to change federal immigration laws to allow most of the nation's 11 million illegal immigrants to apply for legal status.

The issue has long been fought mostly between Republicans and Democrats. But the fate of a potential immigration overhaul may be determined by battles erupting inside the GOP.

"Now it's conservatives versus conservatives over how much immigration reform should happen," said Alex Nowrasteh, an immigration expert at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank in Washington that has advanced a free-market argument for opening up the immigration system. ...

Some national Christian organizations, law enforcement officials and business leaders have begun coordinating a national campaign to convince voters that immigration reform can be consistent with conservative values. Gathering in Washington last week, leaders of several groups said the goal is to help Republicans in Congress who fear being voted out of office if they support legal status for illegal immigrants.   [Emphasis added]

California Republicans have been begging for this for four years now.  They have been effectively shut out of state government because of the nasty stance on immigration their candidates felt compelled to take. And the demographics of the country, supported by the 2010 Census, have shifted.  There are more Latinos who are "legal" and who vote and who have been voting for Democrats because of the Republicans' refusal to be flexible when it comes to a path to citizenship for the millions of undocumented people already here.  And that's why the sudden interest in reform:

"Republicans need to change now because the country is changing," said Nowrasteh, the immigration expert at the Cato Institute. "It is self preservation as well."   [Emphasis added]

You think maybe?

Excuse me while I chuckle.

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Monday, January 21, 2013

A Better Approach

(Editorial cartoon by Jim Morin / Miami Herald (January 10, 2013) and featured at McClatchy DC.  Click on image to enlarge and then hustle back.)

I used this cartoon a while back to head a post on Medicaid fraud.  I think it's even more useful when talking about getting Medicare and Medicaid costs under control.  I would direct your attention to the buttons labeled "Bureaucracy" an "Lax Oversight."

A think tank has issued a report suggesting a better way to cut costs in these programs than raising the eligibility age or lowering reimbursement rates to medical providers.  The report puts forward the rather interesting suggestion that if we change the paradigm, the programs will be stronger, more effective, and less expensive.

From the Minneapolis Star Tribune:

Most people in the Medicare reform fight argue about how much patient benefits and doctor and hospital reimbursement rates must be cut to deal with the burgeoning federal budget deficit.

UnitedHealth Group's Simon Stevens talks about saving more than half a trillion bucks over the next decade by doing neither.

"It is very important that the debate does not become a stylized arm wrestle between those two alternatives," Stevens, chairman of the UnitedHealth Center for Health Reform & Modernization, said in an interview last week.

The UnitedHealth Center has entered the Medicare deficit discussion in a surprising place. As think tanks and business groups line up on the side of raising eligibility ages or other austerity measures, the country's biggest private health insurer suggests ways to save the country's biggest public health insurance program without cutting services.

A new report from the UnitedHealth Center outlines ways to change Medicare from a fee-for-service program that pays doctors and hospitals per procedure to a results-driven, managed-care model that coordinates payments, offers greater rewards to medical professionals who give quality care and reduces the costs to senior citizens who make the healthiest choices.   [Emphasis added]

UnitedHealth is one of the largest private insurers in the country and has a huge chunk of the Parts B, C, and D Medicare supplement programs.  It is refreshing to see that kind of outside-the-box thinking from that part of the equation.  Yes, the program would be a "managed care" program, but frankly, all insurance depends on "managed care," as anyone who has health insurance well knows.

The news article contains specific details and I would urge you to read it all.  You can also read the UnitedHealth Center's summary of its report (which contains a link to the report itself in pdf format).  If you agree that this is a welcome alternative to what is currently under discussion by the Very Serious People in Washington, let your congress critters and the White House know.  I suggest you do that now.  The GOP is pushing hard to get Medicare cuts with the end goal of ultimately dismantling this valuable program, and I'm afraid the White House and the Democrats will give in on this.

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Sunday, January 20, 2013

Sunday Poetry: T.S. Eliot

(From "Burnt Norton")

At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance,
I can only say, there we have been: but I cannot say where.
And I cannot say, how long, for that is to place it in time.
The inner freedom from the practical desire,
The release from action and suffering, release from the inner
And the outer compulsion, yet surrounded
By a grace of sense, a white light still and moving.

-- T.S Eliot

Sunday Funnies

(Editorial cartoon by Jach Ohman and published 1/16/13 in the Sacramento Bee.  Click on image to enlarge.)


Saturday, January 19, 2013

Bonus Critter Blogging: River Otter

(Photograph by Nicole Duplaix and published in National Geographic.)

Round Two, Or Is It Three?

(Editorial cartoon by Mike Luckovich and published 1/16/13 in the Atlanta Journal Constitution.  Click on image to enlarge.)

Here we go again.

 Faced with some unanticipated recalcitrance from the White House, the GOP, after meeting at a private retreat, has decided that it needs to change its rhetoric with respect to the latest fiscal cliff, the debt ceiling

House Republicans announced Friday that they will vote next week to authorize a temporary extension of the debt limit, pushing off a politically unpalatable fight in the hopes of extracting further spending cuts from Democrats in a new budget deal.

The new offer, announced at the conclusion of a three-day retreat, represents a modification of the Republican leadership’s previous demand that any debt limit increase, temporary or otherwise, must include equivalent spending reductions. The temporary increase this time comes with the stipulation that it will “give the Senate and House time to pass a budget,” something the GOP notes that the Democratic-led Senate has failed to do so for years.

A leadership aide argued that it is consistent with the so-called “Boehner Rule,” which requires spending cuts or reforms in return for a debt-limit extension. Also, if Congress fails to pass a budget in time, the terms of the House offer would then call for lawmakers to stop receiving pay, just as the nation would then again face the threat of a default. Republicans say that the budget would only include an extended debt-ceiling increase if Democrats agree to significant spending cuts. [Emphasis added]

Sound familiar?  It should.  This is the same deal the Republicans have offered the last two times around, and have gotten away with (I might add).  The result is yet another manufactured crisis.  Obviously the Republicans are hopeful that the American public will come away from this announcement believing that the House Republicans are trying to be reasonable, trying to enter into good faith negotiations.  Apparently the GOP still believes that image is everything.

The initial response from Democratic leadership in the Senate and from the White House seems to be a little stronger than it was the last couple of times around.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) welcomed the move.

"It is reassuring to see Republicans beginning to back off their threat to hold our economy hostage,” the Nevada Democrat said in a statement. “If the House can pass a clean debt ceiling increase to avoid default and allow the United States to meet its existing obligations, we will be happy to consider it.”

The White House signaled that it was "encouraged" to hear the news from House leadership.

"We are encouraged that there are signs that Congressional Republicans may back off their insistence on holding our economy hostage to extract drastic cuts in Medicare, education and programs middle class families depend on," its statement said.[Emphasis added]

This looks to me as if the Democrats aren't willing to kick the can, which I think is a welcome change.  I hope that position holds up and that White House continues to demand that the debt ceiling increase be passed without any strings attached, now and in the future.  The President has a radio address this morning.  He should use that to hammer home this message.  And congressional Democrats should use every opportunity (including the Sunday bobblehead appearances) to do likewise.  It's time to end the GOP extortion

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Friday, January 18, 2013

Friday Cat Blogging

Bringin' It, Part 2

(Editorial cartoon by Kevin Siers, published by the Charlotte Observer 1/17/13 and featured by McClatchy DC.  Click on image to enlarge and then return.)

This is pretty much an update from my post yesterday on the President's gun control proposal.  At that time I noted that he was fairly strong in his presentation, but I wondered whether he would hold to his position once the gun nut yahoos and the NRA got to their bought-and-paid-for members of Congress.  It appears that Obama is going to do more than sit back and watch on this issue.

From the Los Angeles Times:

A somber President Obama, launching a public campaign Wednesday for a package of gun-control measures that is likely to face very tough opposition in Congress, signaled that he was prepared to go over the heads of lawmakers to push for his proposals.

In an effort to capitalize on emotions from last month’s massacre at a Connecticut elementary school, Obama couched his initiative in the context of protecting children from needless violence, and White House aides placed four children onstage with him to dramatize his plea.

“This will be difficult,” Obama said. “There will be pundits and politicians and special-interest lobbyists publicly warning of a tyrannical, all-out assault on liberty — not because that’s true, but because they want to gin up fear, or higher ratings, or revenue for themselves. And behind the scenes, they’ll do everything they can to block any commonsense reform.” ...

“I will put everything I’ve got into this,” Obama said, but added, “This will not happen unless the American people demand it.”

In a sign of just how difficult it will be to force legislative action, Obama called on the public to demand that Congress bring the proposals up for a vote, and put pressure lawmakers who oppose his plan.  [Emphasis added] 

Apparently President Obama was serious about his plan to get the public involved.  I received an email from the White House signed by Joe Biden urging me to go here and sign on in support of the president's proposals.  I suspect I got the email because I signed the petition at the White House web site which garnered over 200,000 signatures in just a few days proposing our gun laws be tightened.  Dutifully, I clicked on the link and discovered a recap of the presidents proposals.

If this effort to reduce gun violence is to succeed, it’s going to require all of us coming together and calling for a safer country. Sign on to show your support for the President’s plan to protect our kids and communities, then share this page with others.

The sign in portion only really requires the signer's email address and zip code.  The zip code will come in handy for identifying the signer's congress critters and the email for further updates.  I think this is a canny idea and I'm pleased to see the strategy.  Apparently President Obama is serious about getting reasonable (if limited) legislation passed.

I did leave a comment, essentially noting that while I considered the proposals were merely a start, at least it was a start.  I suggest you make the trip over to the site and leave at least your email and zip code.  As I've noted many times, unless we-the-people make it clear to our elected officials that we're the ones who vote, who ultimately own the chairs they've plunked their backsides into, we won't get the government we deserve.

Do it.  Make a cranky old lady happy.

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Thursday, January 17, 2013

Bringin' It

(Editorial cartoon by David Horsey and published 1/16/13 in the Los Angeles Times.  If you click on the link you'll get not only an enlarged image but also Horsey's commentary.)

I do find that Obama 2.0 is a bit more acceptable than the initial version.  I'm hearing less of the "Why can't we all just get along" and more of the "It's time to get it done.  My way."  He's pressuring Congress and he's demanding they walk and chew gum at the same time on contentious issues:  debt ceiling, immigration, and, today, gun control.

President Obama on Wednesday unveiled a broad array of executive actions and legislative proposals to curb gun violence, including a new push to ban assault weapons, impose a 10-round limit on ammunition magazines, and expand background checks for gun purchasers.

At a White House event, the president began to outline 23 separate actions he can take unilaterally, including authorizing research on gun violence and nominating a full-time director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

The president will call on Congress to swiftly pass a series of proposals that would, among other things, go beyond closing the gun show loophole that exempts some sellers from running criminal background checks, and enact stiffer penalties for gun traffickers. ...

All told, aides said in advance of the president's remarks, Obama's package addresses four key goals: keeping guns out of the wrong hands, keeping “weapons of war” off the streets, making schools safer, and improving mental health services.

(The 23 executive orders are summarized here.)

As he showed us in the health care bill, Mr. Obama is an incrementalist.  At least this time around he's delivering the message with some teeth showing.  His proposals are not exactly what is needed, but it's enough of a start that the NRA and the gun worshipers are going nuts in response.  A couple of congress critters have already muttered the word "Impeachment."  I doubt that move will get much support, but getting any kind of gun control bill passed in the House is going to be difficult.

It will be interesting to see how much pressure the White House is willing to exert to get his proposals passed.  I think we're going to have to be the ones to do the pressuring, but a little back-up would be nice.

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Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Catch-Up Time

David Horsey has come up with a pretty good term to describe the Republicans in Congress:  NeoConfederates.  He's referring, of course, to their stance on many issues which is reminiscent of Southerners in the 19th Century.  But he doesn't let the Democrats off the hook either in this column.

In the current issue of Vanity Fair, Todd Purdum equates the current era with the decades before and after 1500 during which the New World was discovered and explored, trade became a global enterprise, the Reformation broke the religious monopoly of the Roman Catholic Church, the feudal system gave way to nation states and movable type and the printing press created the first form of mass communication.

The introduction to Purdum’s column sums up his thesis: "Not in 500 years has the world seen such revolutionary change as it is now witnessing: the Internet, genetic engineering, mass migration, climate change, worldwide economic dislocation, a new global elite, and more." Then comes this kicker: "Yet our leaders don't seem to take any of it seriously." ...

Today, there are quite a few very vocal neo-Confederates who think gun rights, states rights, the protection of white American culture and elimination of "excessive" taxation on the rich are the nation's preeminent concerns. Their anti-bellum mindset makes it impossible for them to accept scientific reality -- climate change, evolution, the true age of the planet -- and political reality -- America is becoming a more diverse, tolerant nation that does not share their fear-driven philosophy.

One of our two great political parties has been captured by the neo-Confederates and, because so many of them have been elected to Congress, the political system is gridlocked. Big problems are either ignored -- climate change, deterioration of infrastructure, the toxic greed in the financial system -- or kicked down the road to be fixed another day.

And, as the cartoon shows, the Democrats in Congress and in the White House are allowing the latest iteration of NeoCons the space to wreak this havoc on the nation. At this point, there doesn't appear to be anyone ready to lead in the 21st Century.

Yet, Horsey is still hopeful:

Change is constant but our political system always lags behind until the force of change is too great to resist. The fact that those who are now clinging to the past have become so rigid, desperate and shrill is a strong indication that a big leap is drawing close. We have not found our Abe or Teddy or FDR or LBJ, as yet. Barack Obama is more a manifestation of a changing America than he is the agent of a revolutionary shift. But when the shift comes, leaders will rise to the moment and history will call them great.

That is a hopeful thought at a dismal moment in our democracy.

Here is where I would disagree with Horsey.  I would suggest that a different paradigm than the "great man" theory implied in his conclusion is what will be the key to the change, and was in fact the key to the changes wrought by these American leaders.  There will be no change until the American citizenry demand it, even as the African Americans demanded it of LBJ and the public demanded it of FDR.

I'm not talking about the pollsters reports, delivered daily to the White House, Congress, and, yes, to us.  Those polls are skewed and presents results which pretty much say what the pollsters want them to say.  I'm talking about non-stop telephone calls, faxes, and emails.  I'm talking about more than 200,000 signatures on a petition to tighten gun laws at the White House petition site.  That clearly got the president's attention.

Until we start behaving as citizens in a democracy, we won't have one.

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Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Small Blessings

(Editorial cartoon by Steve Sack and published in the Minneapolis Star Tribune 7/20/12.  Click on image to enlarge and then return.)

We've heard a lot from right-wing women like Ann Coulter and Sarah Palin on Fox or the social media since the November election.  One person we haven't heard from, however, is Michele Bachmann.  The Tea Party Queen has held no press conferences on the Capitol steps, nor has she appeared on the Sunday Talk Shows.  What is up with that?  Her home state paper of record noticed the same silence and provides some possible answers.

Now the Minnesota Republican is hardly heard from anymore, barely uttering a word in public during the simmering build-up to the "fiscal cliff" deal in Congress, which she opposed.

Gone are the boisterous rallies opposing Obamacare, the rousing church testimonials and the controversial TV utterances about Islamist moles in government that raised money even as they rained down critical headlines.

Since her wafer-thin re-election in November in the state's most solidly Republican district, Bachmann has sharply dialed down her national profile, staying off television and remaining in the background of a raging congressional debate over taxes, her signature issue as a former IRS attorney and deficit hawk.

"She's been focused on her district," said Bachmann spokesman Dan Kotman, adding that the silence is deliberate. "She's doing listening sessions and reaching out to business folks and community leaders."

The silence also comes as a weakened Tea Party movement has been fractured by in-fighting and recrimination over reverses at the polls, not the least of which was the reelection of Barack Obama, Bachmann's political nemesis. ...

Her opponents acknowledge that Bachmann's new low profile is an astute political move.

"I think she learned that her quest for the presidency really cost her a lot of political capital in her district," said Minnesota DFL chairman Ken Martin. "She saw in her own polling -- as we did -- that something was going on in her district. So she doubled down and did what she needed to do to win the election."  [Emphasis added]

Imagine that:  after a year of ignoring her constituents in Minnesota and ignoring her duties in Washington DC, she almost lost her seat to a liberal, a seat in a very conservative district.  That had to get her handlers' attention, if not hers.  And while I'm not so sure that the Tea Party is on its last legs (most Republican congress critters are still scared to death by that group), it isn't difficult to believe that many of the conservatives in her district are tired of the clown show.

Do I think this silence will last?  Nope.  Michele Bachmann loves the limelight too much.

Do I think she will start behaving herself?  Nope.  Michele Bachmann won't be able to restrain herself when the vote on the debt ceiling and the votes on reducing the deficit.

In the meantime, however, I'm enjoying the silence.

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Monday, January 14, 2013

Lead Poisoning

I must admit that I'm surprised the discussion on gun control continues.  I had expected two, maybe three weeks of coverage after the Connecticut Massacre and then our notoriously short attention spans would be attracted to the latest issue, like the debt ceiling.  Yes, there are lots of electrons and ink being spilled on the tussle between Obama and the GOP, but gun control issues continue to be discussed.

I suspect a large part of the reason for the continued attention is that the NRA and its merry band of crazies just won't shut up on it.  David Horsey also noticed that.

Supporters of gun rights make a fair point when they insist that guns are not the sole cause of the problem. They are very likely right that the ultra-violence in movies and video games inspires already troubled young minds to re-create bloody fantasies in real life. And they are right that something must be done to stop those warped-minded individuals who pull the triggers before they can do their evil deeds.

But the gun rights folks seem incapable of acknowledging that guns are part of the problem too. There are mentally deranged people and violent entertainment and video games in every developed country, but only in this one is there such frequent carnage. The one factor that is different is that, in the United States, there are as many guns as there are people.

This would suggest that it is at least worth considering measures that would make it more difficult for the wrong people to get hold of weapons. Yet, when better background checks or tighter regulation of private gun sales are proposed, too many gun enthusiasts immediately start screaming about confiscation. They insist that any step toward better regulation of firearms is an unthinkable slide toward a Stalinist world of gulags, government tyranny and defenseless citizens. ...

In recent days, a tenured communications professor at Florida Atlantic University, James Tracy, wrote several blog posts that suggested the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown may well have been a staged event with actors hired by the Obama administration and orchestrated to provide a pretext for pushing gun control.

Now, that is about the most crazy and obscene allegation that has ever oozed from the right-wing blogosphere. But when the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported about the professor's theory, quite a few readers called and emailed the newspaper to defend and applaud Tracy’s ideas.

This explains why laws that would keep guns out of the hands of crazy people are opposed by many firearms fans. So many of them seem to be totally nuts.   [Emphasis added]

Well, that and the fact that the NRA in conjunction with their buddies who sell guns and ammo want NO restriction on guns.  Zero.  Nada.  No matter what they say when called to task for what some of the clearly deranged mouth off.

Swept along by the tide of outrage and sorrow after the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre, Congress passed a law to try to prevent future tragedies by keeping guns out of the hands of the mentally ill.
The measure, signed by President George W. Bush, promised to strengthen the 14-year-old National Instant Criminal Background Check System by establishing incentives and penalties to prod states to submit records of people legally barred under federal law from buying guns — including those who had been committed to mental institutions.

But today, that promise remains unfulfilled. More than half the states haven't provided mental health records to the federal database that gun dealers use to check on buyers. And the gap in dealing with the mentally ill is just one of myriad problems that have hampered background checks. ...

The background check system, which became effective in 1998, was part of a 1993 law that prohibited people from possessing guns if they were convicted of a felony, addicted to drugs, committed domestic violence or were involuntarily sent to a mental institution.

Gun rights organizations, including the National Rifle Assn., have fought expansion of those checks. Though the NRA says it supports making sure the names of "violent schizophrenics" are in the database, the group also made it tougher for states to comply — by successfully lobbying for a provision in the 2007 law that requires an appeals process so the mentally ill can seek to have their gun rights restored. States must set that up before they can receive federal grants to help collect records.  [Emphasis added]

If the NRA will balk at denying guns to the mentally ill, they will surely balk at measures which limit the size of ammunition magazines, the bulk sales of ammunition over the internet, the banning of civilian purchases of military style semi-automatic weapons, even though most Americans think all of those ideas are pretty sound, if only a minimalist start.

So, will we get at least something out of Congress on the issue?  Sadly, it's pretty hard to tell.  In fact, it might be pretty damned difficult.  Mike Luckovich shows us why.

(Mike's cartoon was published in the Atlanta Journal Constitution on January 11, 2013.  Click on image to enlarge and then add your congress critters' office numbers to speed dial.)

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Sunday, January 13, 2013

Sunday Poetry: Sara Miller


I wish I could keep my thoughts in order
and my ducks in a row.
I wish I could keep my ducks in a thought
or my thoughts in a duck.
My point is that we all exist, wetly, in the hunt.
The ducks are aware of this
in their own way, which is floating.
The way of the mind is brevity.
There may be other thoughts on other days
in the minds of other and better men
and their constant companions, the women,
but these same tidy capsules — never.
This is just one of the things
I noticed about my thoughts
as they passed easefully by.
--Sara Miller

Sunday Funnies: Toles 2-fer

(Both editorial cartoons by Tom Toles and published 1/9/13 and 1/11/13 by the Washington Post.  Click on images to enlarge.)


Saturday, January 12, 2013

Bonus Critter Blogging: Bald Eagle

(Photograph by Traci Walter and published at National Geographic.  Click on image to enlarge so you can see why I selected this critter.  Click on link to discover why this eagle is 'special.')

Why We Can't Have Nice Things

(Editorial cartoon by Jim Morin / Miami Herald (January 10, 2013) and featured at McClatchy DC.  Click on image to enlarge and then hustle back.)

Although Jim Morin's cartoon is directed toward Medicare, I think it applies to Medicaid as well, especially since the two programs are often lumped together during budget talks.  That said, I am particularly interested in the buttons labeled "Fraud" and "Lax Oversight."  I've mentioned Medicare fraud in several prior posts, usually via a Granny Bird Award.  The same principles apply to this one.

Medicaid is usually administered, at least partially, by the states, and a recent article in the Minnesota Star Tribune details one such case of fraud.

The operator of a home health care agency in northeast Minneapolis stands accused of filing bogus Medicaid billings totaling more than $400,000, his second legal round of legal trouble while a businessman in the city.

Abshir M. Ahmed, 40, of Minneapolis, was charged Tuesday in federal court in Minneapolis with health care fraud. Ahmed was charged via information, indicating that he intends to plead guilty.

According to prosecutors, from January 2008 through June 2011, Ahmed submitted false claims through Lucky Home Health Care Inc. for services by personal care assistants that were not carried out.  [Emphasis added]

That's pretty much the same modus operandi used by Medicare fraudsters.  The scams go undetected for a long time both because some of the regulations are loosely written and because the claims are just accepted and paid unless someone notices something peculiar.  Especially in state cases, this can happen often because the regulatory agency just doesn't have enough funding to review each submitted claim carefully.

The Obama administration has done a pretty good job in discovering and shutting down fraud in the Medicare arena.  It would be nice if the feds and states would take the same stance on Medicaid, perhaps with regulation-tightening and with funded investigations.  Half a million dollars may not sound like much, but it mounts up quickly across time and across the country.  It's time to do some pushing here.

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Friday, January 11, 2013

Friday Cat Blogging

I Do Have A Conservative Streak

(Editorial cartoon by Mike Luckovich and published 1/10/13 in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.  Click on link to enlarge and then please return.)

OK, on some issues I'm a purist.  In this case it's baseball.  I am an unabashed, old-fashioned fan and have been for nearly sixty years.  As many of you know, I was born and raised in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  I was at just the right age when the Boston Braves moved to Milwaukee.  I got to see Warren Spahn and Lou Burdette pitch.  I got to see Eddie Matthews and Red Schoendist play the infield.  I got to see Henry Aaron bat. I got to see the other teams' stars when they came to play, like that cranky s.o.b. Roy Campanella and that brilliant pitcher Harvey Haddix.

And, thanks to an older brother who for some unknown reason taught me about the game even though I used blackmail to get him to take me with him when he cut school and hitch-hiked to Milwaukee County Stadium after it opened, I learned about the important parts of baseball.  He explained the geometry of the park and of the game.  The abstract purity of the game appealed to me, even as a rookie.  At age ten I understood some pretty arcane rules, like the infield fly rule and the balk rule.  It all made enough sense to me that I learned how to play the game, although "hard ball" was pretty much closed to girls.  When I discovered that, I switched over to "girls" softball and got to be pretty good.  But I still followed the game the boys played because the rules were the same.

When the Milwaukee Braves broke my heart and moved to Atlanta, I switched team allegiances to the Los Angeles Dodgers (mainly because I was driving across country to relocate in Southern California and heard Vin Sculley call a game and I was enthralled).  I got to see an entire infield move up to the bigs:  Cey, Russell, Lopez, Garvey, managed by Tom Lasorda.  I watched as Fernando Valenzuela changed the face of baseball in Los Angeles and the status of Mexican Americans who came out to watch their countryman show that the game was for all of us.  The geometry was the same.

So, when I read the news that no one, including Mike Piazza (another of Lasorda's kids) made it into the Hall of Fame this year, I was pleased.  Clemens, Bonds, Sosa:  all of them took the short cut way.  They used drugs to replace the hard work that any sport requires.  There's some indication that Piazza may also have.  You know what?  Those divots couldn't carry Spahn and Aaron's cups, even with those steroid enhanced muscles.

About thirty years ago I went through an obsessive bout on the muscle-building tour.  I went to the gym four nights a week and lifted free weights.  I modified my diet to get rid of the excessive fat.  I walked around the neighborhood for at least 45 minutes each day.  And, after a couple of months, I saw the results:  even as a girl, I had muscles.  I could lift things (like a 25 pound bag of dog food) without assistance. I dropped a couple of clothes' sizes.  I felt terrific.  It was hard work, but I felt rewarded ... until I started reading about the pros who were using steroids to get the same and even better results.  Folks like Arnold Schwartzenegger.  Folks who believed that winning at any/all costs was more important than anything else.

That's not for me.

I think that's not for any of us.

And I think that we need to make that clear.


Thursday, January 10, 2013


I generally agree with about 90% of David Horsey's opinions.  Today is an exception.  I think he's nailed it in one.  His subject is President Obama's nomination of Chuck Hagel for Defense Secretary and what we can expect in confirmation hearings.  As Horsey points out, there are some serious objections being voiced on both sides of the aisle and he lays out those objections succinctly.

First -- and this is earning him enmity from both sides of the aisle -- he is not very popular with the pro-Israel lobby. It is not that his views are anti-Israel -- his skepticism about the policies of the current Israeli government is shared by a rather large number of Israelis, after all -- it is that he has not been a bouncing, bubbling cheerleader for Israel the way so many American politicians feel they need to be.

Second, Hagel, in the past, has favored negotiation rather than confrontation with Iran. He has modified this view more recently and now says all options -- including a military option -- should be considered to stop Iran's push for nuclear weapons. That is pretty much a consensus opinion in the foreign policy establishments of both political parties, but there are some saber rattlers on the right who, nevertheless, suspect Hagel is soft on the ayatollahs.

Third, the conservative social views he held as a senator are bugging liberals. His position on abortion leaned toward the wacky Todd Akin wing of his party, which led him to vote against allowing abortions in military hospitals. Now, with that prohibition lifted, some Democrats are wondering if he will try to undermine the new policy. Hagel also said some catty things about a gay gentleman who had been picked to be an American ambassador. Although he has since apologized for his remarks, gay-rights folks wonder if he is the right guy to oversee the new gay-friendly military.

Fourth, Democrats are wondering why in the heck Democratic presidents so often pick Republicans to run the Pentagon. They worry it plays into the stereotype that Democrats are not tough enough to be in charge of running America's wars.

But there is also a fifth point that Horsey makes, and it is that fifth point is where he really seals the deal:

And so, though not much has been said about it, yet, it is likely that the biggest behind-the-scenes resistance to Hagel will come from defense contractors and people within the Pentagon who think bloat is just fine. More than the pro-Israel folks, more than the bomb-Iran crowd, more than gays and abortion activists, it is those who profit from military spending and the senators who are lavished with their campaign donations who will be aiming the biggest guns to shoot down Chuck Hagel.    [Emphasis added]

So, why did Obama choose Chuck Hagel?  Apparently because he likes Hagel and because they share some common goals.  Hagel "mentored" Obama when the president was a brand new senator.  Both of them want to cut back on traditional "war waging" whenever there is a dispute, especially since our new arsenal of weaponry (e.g., drones) don't always require too many boots on the ground.  Both men want to get the troops out of Afghanistan sooner rather than later.  Both really are committed to slicing the bloat out of the Pentagon budget (like the Abrams tanks that even the military doesn't want).

Is that enough to justify the nomination and to justify the president's digging his heels in?

It's hard to tell, but I'll tell you what:  those confirmation hearings are going to be high drama.

Look into popcorn futures.  Might be a hot investment over the coming months

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Wednesday, January 09, 2013

There Be Monsters

(Editorial cartoon by Jeff Parker for Florida Today and featured 1/4/13 at Cagle Post.  Click on image to enlarge and then return.)

I've held up this post for a little over a week now because I was so angry and so disgusted that I could feel my blood pressure rising just thinking about it.  I've waited long enough.

One thing I've noticed is all the tut-tutting and tsk-tsking done by Americans in response to some pretty horrific crimes committed against women in other nations.  We sneered at the Taliban's shooting of Malala Yousafzai, the teenaged Pakistani woman who advocated for education for her and for all Pakistani women.  Malala has since been released from a British hospital, but the Taliban still have her targeted so she and her family will remain in England.

And we've frowned with disgust at the reports of the gang-rape and murder of a woman in India who made the mistake of getting on the wrong bus. 

"Savages!  What deplorable behavior"  were the cries from the oh-so-smug Americans in response to these events.

To which I say, "Oh, yeah?  Read the news lately?"

Like about  the two Los Angeles Police officers who pressured women into sex after pulling them over?

Two Los Angeles Police Department officers are under investigation for allegedly preying on women over a period of five years, luring them into an unmarked car and forcing them to perform sex acts, according to court records.

Detectives from the LAPD's internal affairs unit suspect that Officers Luis Valenzuela and James Nichols targeted at least four women whom they had arrested previously or who worked for them as informants, according to a search warrant reviewed by The Times.

Or about the guy who doused a homeless woman sleeping on a bus stop bench with a flammable liquid and then set her on fire?

A homeless woman was doused in a flammable liquid and set ablaze in Van Nuys on Thursday in what police called a random "horrific" attack.

She was whisked to a hospital, where she remains in critical condition. The seemingly random attack even shocked LAPD veterans, who said they were trying to make sense of it.

LAPD Deputy Chief Kirk Albanese said it was unclear whether the suspect, Dennis Petillo, 24, even talked to the woman before he allegedly set her ablaze.

Or about the guy who raped his buddy's sister and got away with it because she wasn't married and there's a strange loophole in California law that allowed for the judicial dismissal of the case against him?

A man enters the darkened bedroom of a woman after seeing her boyfriend leave late at night. He pretends to be her boyfriend. Before she’s aware of what’s happening, he’s having sex with her.

Was she raped? The equally horrifying answer: no.

In a conviction reversal that might inspire some California lawmaker to take up this mantle and change the state’s penal code, a Los Angeles man’s rape conviction was overturned this week on that simple fact; the man pretended to be the woman’s boyfriend, not her husband. If she had been married, his conviction would have been upheld.

And, lest you think the depravity only exists in California, there is also the news out of Steubenville, Ohio of a gang rape of a drunken girl who was transported from party to party, where on-lookers watched as she was violated sexually and urinated on.  I'm reasonably certain that I could read other local papers from other states and come up with equally as vile stories.

Monsters?  Yes, and not in just the rest of the world.  And what is our response to this barbaric behavior?  Well, let's see ...

The 112th Congress ended its session without renewing the Violence Against Women Act

First of all, the initial act should never have had a sunset clause.  Violence against women should be outlawed.  Period.  Full stop.  Second, the version which expired was a watered-down version of the original insofar as it excluded Native American women.  But the House Republicans wouldn't even bring it up for a vote. 

What War Against Women?

And where do I go to sign up on our side.

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Tuesday, January 08, 2013

House Divided

(Editorial cartoon by Kevin Siers / The Charlotte Observer (January 3, 2013) and featured at McClatchy DC.  Click on image to enlarge.)

The Republicans in Congress are still mouthing off that they intend to fight raising the debt limit until President Obama does some real deficit cutting.  Apparently they haven't learned the lesson from the last time they tried that trick.  An interesting analysis of the state of the Republican Party suggests why these kinds of fights continue.

The budget battles rocking the capital have exposed a deepening fault line within an already fractured Republican Party: the divide between the GOP's solid Southern base and the rest of the country.

That regional split became evident when members of the House of Representatives cast votes last week on a budget deal designed to avoid massive tax hikes and spending cuts: Almost 90% of Southern Republicans voted against the "fiscal-cliff" compromise. At the same time, a majority of Republican representatives from outside the South supported the deal, which was approved in large part because of overwhelming Democratic support. ...

The image projected by the battles in the House — the only part of the federal government controlled by Republicans — could influence public attitudes toward the GOP and its candidates heading into the 2014 midterm elections and the 2016 presidential contest.

In particular, the South's preeminence could pose challenges to national GOP efforts to broaden the party's appeal on social and cultural issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage.

"An increasing challenge for Northeastern Republicans, and West Coast Republicans, for that matter, is the growing perception among their constituents that the Republican Party is predominantly a Southern and rural party," said Dan Schnur, a former GOP campaign strategist who directs the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at USC. "There's always been a political and cultural disconnect between the South and the rest of the country. But as the parties have sorted themselves out geographically over the last few decades, the size of that gap has increased."   [Emphasis added]

The Republican analysts aren't so sure this is all that serious, and they do raise what I consider a legitimate argument:

Not everyone in the party agrees that its increasing concentration in the South poses a threat at the ballot box.

"No one in New Hampshire isn't going to vote Republican because our base is in the South," said Dave Carney, a campaign consultant based in New Hampshire whose clients have included Texas Gov. Rick Perry. "I don't think there's a disqualification because a majority of the party members come from below the Mason-Dixon line. What would be an issue is who the candidates will be at the national level and what their message will be."

Yet the South's dominance and internal politics have reinforced the tilt toward sharply conservative views.

In the House, most members of both parties represent districts that have lopsided partisan majorities. The threat of a primary challenge, often from a more extreme member of their own party, is a greater threat to many incumbents than opposition in the general election from the other party's candidate.   [Emphasis added]

The people from both parties at the state level have done their part by gerrymandering the districts to achieve just this outcome.  As a result, the Democrats still will have a steep climb if they wish to take over the House in 2014.  And don't think the Right Wing and Tea Partiers don't know it.

I predict a very contentious three months at least.

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