Sunday, June 29, 2014

It's About Time!

Liberals are now ready, willing and able to meet their right-wing counterparts on the state battlegrounds.

A Helpful Reminder That Not ALL Evangelicals Are Reactionaries

Here's one, for example, who is a scientist and an advocate for acting against climate change.

Obamacare Numbers As A Source Of November Optimism?

Could be.  Let's hope so.

A Hidden Virtue Of Liberalism: It Saves The Lives Of Conservatives

Well, sometimes, it does, at any rate.  Here's once such instance, involving Obamacare.

Maybe Our Colonial Masters WERE Smarter Than Us

It turns out that they had Reagan's number, at any rate.

Can You Bring A Town Back From The Dead?

Maybe you can, with renewable energy.  Take a look.

And, Speaking Of Suckers ...

... consider the current plight of the New York Mets, and their fans.  Even if you root for another team, or don't care about baseball at all, this is something that deserves your attention.

The Mets are one of two teams in the largest market in the country.  They have played there since 1962, when Major League Baseball expanded from 16 to 20 teams.  Despite many losing seasons, they have frequently drawn over 1 million fans a season and, often, more than 2 or even 3 million fans in a season.  In fact, in 2008, they drew over 4 million fans, in no small part because it was their last season at Shea Stadium, their home since 1964.  They have appeared in the World Series four times, and won twice.

But 2008 was also the last Mets season with a winning record.  Since then, the team has never won more than 79 games in a season and, despite playing their home games in a new, state-of-the-art ballpark, attendance has steadily declined over the past five and a half years.  They are currently on a pace to win only 74 games in 2014, and may fall below the 2 million mark in attendance for the first time since 1997.  And, in a city where star power is everything when it comes to fan support, the Mets only feature one true star (David Wright), five solid major league players (Jon Niese, Dillon Gee, Bartolo Colon, Curtis Granderson and Daniel Murphy), and 19 others who have bounced back and forth between Triple-A and The Show.

Even worse, the team's owners, Fred Wilpon, his son Jeff, and Saul Katz, nearly destroyed the team's finances by allowing a portion thereof to be used--oh, how it was used--by the notorious Bernard Madoff.  You would think that Bud Selig, who did not hesitate a second to use his best-interests-of-baseball powers to bail the Los Angeles Dodgers out of their own fiasco with family finances, would surely want to do the same thing on behalf of another of baseball's supposed flagship franchises.  But Wilpon has been a reliable support of Selig's on a number of the latter's initiatives as commissioner, and Selig values that support so much that he "loaned" baseball executive Sandy Alderson from the commissioner's office to Wilpon to serve as general manager and stabilize the team's money situation.

However, Alderson, who helped pioneer the "Moneyball" approach to building a roster that has helped the Oakland A's and other small-market teams compete, is an executive in name only, one who is forced to deal with constantly shrinking budgets and a lack of full authority in baseball matters.  And this has put Alderson in a position where he has been forced to tell Mets fans that the team won't spend more on getting better players unless the fans keep spending money to see the lesser ones lose.

It boggles my mind that the senior management of a major business can say to the public, with a straight face, that the business won't improve its product until you spend money to suffer with its inferior goods.  I think that this might be without any true parallel in American history, although it did bring to my mind Oral Roberts' threat to allow the Lord to take him if his supporters didn't set new contribution records.  But Alderson's embarrassing plea, in its own way, is an admission of the 1% mindset:  we don't exist for you, you exist for us.

Baloney.  Baseball is entertainment, and there are plenty of avenues for entertainment, especially in a city like New York.  Any Mets fans who fall for this line of reason only assures himself and herself that his or her money will be continued to get pocketed by Ownership (as the Wilpons and Katz like to call themselves).  The franchise of Tom Terrific, Mookie's roller through Buckner's legs, and Mike Piazza's 9/11 home run has sadly turned into the worst sort of Ponzi scheme:  one group of suckers begging its customers to play a similar role so that they can recoup their losses.

Don't let them do it.  Mets fans pay enough and suffer enough to deserve something better, like ownership that can and wants to invest in a product worth buying.  Stay home, turn off the TV and satellite radio, don't Google "Mets" on your computer, and force Fred, Jeff, and Saul to give you that ownership--by selling.

A Nation Of Suckers

Once in a long while, you come across something in our culture--a book, a play, a news story, or some other artifact or event--that is the whole thing in microcosm.  And, by "whole thing," I mean the American culture, society, experience, or whatever you want to call it.  It's happened to me a few times in my life, and it happened again this morning, as I was watching CBS's "Sunday Morning" program.

The show presented a story about a small, independent airline called Spirit Airlines, which routinely ranks dead last in customer service surveys compared to its competitors, yet remains hugely profitable.  How is this possible?  Through bait-and-switch marketing that provides low air fairs, along with separate charges for services that are complementary on other air lines, such as overhead storage for luggage.  In fact, Spirit was the first airline to charge for checked luggage.

You might ask yourself how such a transparently sleazy operation manages to stay in business.  To quote Bob Dole out of context, where's the outrage?  There is none, for one very simple reason: we are, to a much larger extent than we should be, a nation of suckers.

Many Americans, out of a peculiar combination of optimism and laziness, are ready, willing and eager to believe that, as Ronald Reagan himself once said, "there are simple solutions to all of our problems."  If someone comes along and sells us--really, really, really sells us--on the idea that X is all you need to solve your problems, you'll see people fighting each other to be the first person on their block with X, or Y, or Z, or whatever the letter of the day is.  These cons work for a limited period of time--in fact, they often involved emotional appeals not to wait or delay--because they are set up to short-circuit the thought process.  If you give enough people in this country sufficient "bait," and a tiny window of time to snap it up, you avoid giving them an opportunity to think it through and realize that you're offering them nonsense.  This technique can even allow you to help people "solve" an imaginary problem, as Harold Hill does in "The Music Man" with his memorable tirade against the evils of a pool table in "Ya Got Trouble."

And, even worse, this technique can give you the power to torment people after you've rewarded them, as in the case with Spirit.  They use ticket prices as a loss-leader to get people to the airport and, once there, nickle-and-dime them on other services that people have come to expect as part of the flying experience.  It's the latter part of this process that makes up their profit margin, and Spirit gets away with it because people would rather rationalize their behavior that face it.  "Oh, well," the nickle-and-dimed Spirit customer can say, "at least I saved a ton of money on the ticket."  No you haven't--because you spent it later on.  As a Spirit executive who was interviewed said on CBS, somewhat smugly:  "What people say and what they do are not the same thing."

Let me be clear on where I think the ultimate responsibility for this belongs.  It belongs with us.  With all of us.  And especially the fools who think they're really clever by flying with Spirit.  If you allow any business to treat you this badly, and do it in sufficient numbers, you are not a bargain-spotter; you are a systematic underminer of free and fair marketplaces for all goods and services.  If there are enough of you out there, you will eventually give us an economy with nothing but bait-and-switchers, even for those of us who are smart enough to avoid them.  And you will ultimately save nothing, not even yourselves, because you will end up making all of us slaves in a nation owned by frauds.

Everyone should do themselves a favor and take a hint from another comment the Spirit executive made during the CBS interview:  the statement that they would never charge for the use of bathrooms.  That simply proves that even a good con artist knows when not to take things too far.  It also proves that consumers who not only know their rights but fight for them are the last, best hope against the hypercapitalism that threatens to devour the American Dream. Whoever you are, reading this, stop making us a nation of suckers--or don't stop trying in the first place.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

This Is ALL I'm Going To Say About Cliven Bundy

I'm on the same page as Daily Kos.  Drone him.  I would consider that an exercise of my right to bear arms against all enemies of America--especially the new, armed, internal warlords.

Compulsory Voting?

I'm not crazy about the idea; freedom to me is the freedom both to act and not to act.  But this author makes an impressive case.

What Do You Call A Conservative Who Catches Up With Liberals?

Or, at least, me.  I've been advocating for years for market-based limits on the amount of debt that can be included in financial transactions.  Now, when it comes to banks, at least one conservative columnist agrees with me.

Proof That Gun Nuts Don't Care About Gun Safety

A woman invents a safer gun, and is tormented for doing so.

The Most Direct Solution To Income Inequality

A maximum wage.  Sounds farfetched?  One author doesn't think so.

I Guess It Takes A Conservative To Tell The Truth About Reagan And Get Away With It

Spent and borrowed more than Jimmy Carter?  Yes, he did.

It's About Immigration, Not Impeachment

John Boehner's latest boner, announced last week, is to sue Barack Obama over the latter's allegedly broad and frequent use of executive orders to do the job the American people elected Obama to do.  It has the merit--in fact, its only merit--of calling attention to the job that Boehner and his House of Representative cronies have failed to do:  legislate in the interests of the American people, as opposed to GOP donors.  Apart from this, it proves once again that Boehner has the political and policy instincts of a pet rock:  his announcement only drew donations from Democratic donors and laughter from just about everyone else.  And none of this even touches that fact, frequently documented in the wake of the announced suit, that Obama's use of executive orders is far less than that of such Republican predecessors as Reagan and George W. Bush.

But hold on for a moment:  Boehner took pains to say that his planned suit is "not about impeachment."  On the other hand, he took pains to not specify the offending executive actions.  I suspect that's because the threat of a suit is an attempt to bluff Obama out of taking executive action in an area where he has, thus far, only dipped his executive toe:  immigration.

Thus far, Obama has initiated only two major initiatives via executive action:  the provisional waiver program, which allows the undocumented to apply for a waiver of inadmissibility without leaving the country; and the DACA program, which is essentially an exercise of prosecutorial discretion in favor of undocumented young people.  Neither of these programs offer the possibility of permanent relief for these individuals and, in fact, such relief is not possible without legislation authorizing it. 

But, under current law, Obama has broad authority to act on behalf of the nation's immigrant population, which he has thus far refrained from using, in the hope of encouraging Congress to work with him on a long-term comprehensive legislative solution.  His reward for this has been Boehner's threatened suit, and this additional news from the past week.  And I am certain that the latter is the excuse for the former:  now that the legislative path is closed, Boehner is attempting to head off Obama's previous promise to act on his own, if Congress (meaning, really, the House) refused to work with him.

My advice to Obama?  Go for it.  Use your executive authority to the maximum, by providing temporary protective status for all of the undocumented (except those with criminal records).  Give work cards to those old enough to work.  Stop the GOP greedheads from using 11 million human beings as a political football and a fundraising tool.  They've been held hostage to the partisan divide long enough, turning a legal issue into a humanitarian one.

And don't worry about Boehner's empty suit, or the equally empty threat of impeachment.  If either become a reality, it will not lead to your political demise, but that of the Republicans.  You've got a country to run.  You've got people to serve, whether they have the right papers or not.  It's time for everyone to get back to governing, and you're the one who needs to make it happen.

Yes, you are.  Yes, you can.  And yes, you will.  I'm sure of it.

Friday, June 27, 2014

It May Not Be Over In Mississippi

Thad Cochran, incumbent Republican U.S. Senator from Mississippi, came within a few thousand votes of seeing his political career come to an end on Tuesday night this week.  His Tea Party challenger, Chris McDaniel, had forced Cochran into a runoff election after Cochran failed to get an outright win in the primary leading up to his re-election bid this fall.  A political force in Mississippi for decades, Cochran undoubtedly thought that he was the last incumbent Republican in the country with any re-election worries whatsoever, given (a) the billions of Federal dollars he has brought into the state, and (b), the post-New Deal, reflexive Republican nature of the state's voting patterns.  Nevertheless, when he came face to face with those worries, in the form of a forced runoff and lack of support in the polls, Cochran did what any small-government, anti-Washington politician would do.

He doubled down on advice from consultants, and wooed Democrats, including African-Americans.  And, as a consequence, McDaniel is refusing to go gently into the good night of losers.  If anything, McDaniel is sounding very much like a man whose work is not yet finished.  And he's in a position to finish it; although the deadline has passed for filing in Mississippi as a third-party candidate for the fall, he could still run as a write-in candidate.  And he's got the resources to make that work in a serious way.

To what does all of that add up?

My twenty-five cents (or more):  I think that McDaniel is going to organize a write-in campaign on behalf of the Tea Party.  Apart from the resources that are at his disposal, McDaniel's reasoning may be that Mississippi is so dominated by conservative voters, regardless of their party affiliation, there is no way that Travis Childers, the Democratic nominee, could possibly win, even in a three-way split of the vote among Cochran, McDaniel and Childers.  Consequently, the goal for Tea Parties should be to give Mississippi the most conservative Senator they can.

There are, however, some problems with that line of thinking.  For one thing, Childers is nobody's idea of a bleeding-heart liberal:  he's anti-abortion, and opposes the ACA.  For another thing, if consultants and African-Americans are now the key to winning an election in Mississippi, the Tea Party is dead in the water.  And no one should be surprised by this:  the Tea Party is dying, even in the most conservative parts of the country.  Take Kansas, for example.  If this poll concerning Sam Brownback's chances for re-election is to be believed, it's for one simple reason:  the Tea Party's ideology has been given a chance in Kansas and failed, miserably.  The Tea Party is now the answer to Thomas Frank's famous question.

This is why there is no reason--absolutely, positively none--for anyone to presume that Barack Obama will suffer the slings and arrows of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell next year.  Hell, even if he does face a Republican-controlled Senate, it may not be led by Mitch McConnell.

My advice to Democrats across the country, anxious about the Senate?  Look at the Magnolia State as an opportunity.  Take a two-pronged approach.  Give logistical support to Childers and McDaniel--the former overtly, the latter covertly.  Who's to say that keeping the Senate in Democratic hands may not require electing an anti-abortion, anti-ACA Senator?  Even if Childers doesn't make it, consider this:  every dollar spent keeping the Mississippi Senate seat in Republican hands is a dollar that can't be spent against taking Senate seats from red-state Democrats--or holding on to previously safe seats in Kentucky or Georgia.

It's time to think tactically, progressives.  Looking for ideological purity will get you two years of Barack Obama's impeachment trial--and disaster for all of us.

Friday, June 20, 2014

An Unlikely Source Of Support For Raising The Minimum Wage

From a small business owner, who, despite the obvious objections he might raise about the short-term impact of an increase on his bottom line, understands the long-term value that good, happy, well-paid employees--and only such employees--can and do create.

Climate Change As A Military Threat?

Maybe this will get conservatives to get their heads out of the sand ... if the rising waters don't do it first.

George Will And The Enabling Mainstream Media

It is now official:  George Will has gone off the deep end.  In his escalating efforts to be the most noticed voice in the right-wing echo chamber, he throws off the few tattered shreds of objectivity, and even decency, that he had left and declared rape a career move for women.

There was a time when doing something this awful would have had consequences.  The offending writer would have been publicly denounced, by public officials and their supporters on both sides of the political divide.  The world of published and broadcast journalism would have, without exceptions worth mentioning, demanded that the offending writer be sanctioned--specifically, that the writer's employer should serve notice that the writer's services are no longer needed.  And, on top of that, the writer's employer should apologize, loudly and clearly, for having published the writer's offense piece in the first place.

Have we had any of that here?

Sadly, no.  With the notable and laudable exception of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, not one single newspaper has taken any action to condemn Will's contemptible view of women, and the contemptible manner in which he expressed it.  Will's work continues to  be published across the county, without comment or objection by any of his peers or their employers.  Least of all, Will's immediate employer, the Washington Post, whose editorial page editor not only came to his defense, but specifically stated that Will's drivel was "well within the bounds of legitimate debate."

Well within the bounds of legitimate debate?  If that means that we are all free as the wind to characterize a violent crime as a gold mine for the victim, one is force to wonder what, if anything, is outside of it.  Oh, I know:  putting "Doonesbury" on the editorial page rather than the comics page, because we can't afford to offend conservatives while they busy reading "Shoe," or "Mallard Fillmore."  Offending liberals?  Now, THAT'S the order of the day.  After all, in post-Reagan America, freedom of speech is the right to speak like a conservative and be assured that you'll never have to listen to someone who disagrees with you.

We should be so lucky as to still have a mainstream media that could  be characterized as "liberal" to any extent.  There was a time when the Fourth Estate in this country truly acted like it, when they exercised their power to fight corruption in government, and fought it successfully and nobly.  Anyone who recalls the Pentagon Papers and Watergate knows what I'm talking about.  But, in corporate America, there is only one estate:  Wall Street, to whom the journalists deferentially bow.  Only in such a country could the authors of a disastrous plan for war be sought out for their "expert" opinion on the disaster they created.  Only in such a country could the Sunday talk shows be dominated by a single political party.  And only in such a country can a minority party effectively shut down the government--and watch the press cover the event not as an attack on self-government itself, but as a who's-up-who's-down partisan ball game.

In this country, in which we sadly all now live, we cannot possibly expect the press to do the right thing.  It appears that help will come only from an unlikely source.  Paging Ms. Hughes, Ms. Karen Hughes ... .

And Karen, if I were you, when I went after George, I wouldn't stop with his tongue.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Iraq: The Borders And The Bellicose

Iraq.  The story that somehow never goes away.  To paraphrase Michael Corleone in "The Godfather Part III," just when we thought we were out, it pulls us back in.

I might, if I were discussing violence in a different nation, refer to "the nation that somehow never goes away."  But Iraq is not a nation.  It never truly has been.  And that is at the center of the instability and inhumanity that has characterized the less-than-a century of its existence.

Properly understood, Iraq is one of the unfortunate consequences--perhaps the most unfortunate--of the Sykes-Picot Treaty, an agreement between Great Britain and France to carve up, post-World War I, most of the Ottoman Empire to extend their own imperial interests.  In Britain's case, that meant obtaining the portions that offered the greatest access to oil, and then merging them in a way that was (at that time) administratively convenient--even if that convenience needed to be forged in a bloodbath of ethnic cleansing.  Even after the bloodbath, the "nation" of Iraq remained what it essentially had been under Ottoman rule--three provinces divide by ethnicity and/or religion, and living at swordpoint under a single flag that could hide, but not destroy, the animosity among the Kurds, the Sunnis and the Shia.

For this reason, and despite decades of Western-friendly kings and dictators in charge, Iraq has been a ticking time-bomb, waiting to explode.  When Dick Cheney--sorry, I meant George W. Bush--made the fateful decision to go looking for non-existent weapons of mass destruction, he effectively provided the detonator, by removing Saddam Hussein, the common enemy that united Iraq's otherwise divided people.  And when Cheney-Bush was replaced by Barack Obama, the new president effectively set the stage for re-igniting the powder keg, by buying into the "bipartisan" approach to foreign policy and accepting the fiction that Iraq could, and had, become a democracy.

If there is one fact that democracy in the United States proves beyond any doubt, it is that democracy cannot thrive in the absence of a common culture that triumphs over political divisions.  This country is effectively divided between "red" and "blue" cultural perspectives that hamper our ability to come together even on issues where common ground clearly exists.  Iraq, however, is far worse:  it is divided by three entirely different cultures that have no desire to be part of the same nation.  That is why democracy could never thrive in Iraq.  

Indeed, Iraq illustrates the dilemma of our time where the Middle East and Africa are concerned:  the boundaries of long-dead empires that deny large, densely-populated portions of the world not only the ability to join the family of modern nations, but even the basic ability to function as nations at all.  One of the most urgent international projects of our time is to redraw the map in these regions, to align national boundaries with historic ethnic, religious and other cultural factors that simultaneously divide these peoples, and give them the chance to effectively communicate within and across boundaries.  I have shared this view in a previous post, and I do so again now.  Democracy, and international cooperation, can only work among national units that are secure in their basic identities--and only with that security can they have the strength to open their minds and hearts to the differences of their neighbors.

If, as a nation, we re-commit ourselves to resolving the destinies of the Iraqi peoples, it must be with the goal to create not one democracy, but three.  It is the only way to keep faith with the flow of history, and with the humanity and treasure that has already been committed to the region.

Which brings me to a particularly distasteful aspect of the current crisis:  the re-emergence of the neocon network that pushed with all its might to commit that humanity and treasure--and did so assuring us that the outcome would pay for itself, both financially and with the birth of a new democracy.  It is an indictment of the not-so-liberal mainstream media that, last Sunday, nearly all of them were resurrected on the network news talk shows as "experts" on the way forward in the Middle East.  If there is any reason for listening to these men, who have ice in their veins and blood on their hands, it is solely to recall their previous advice about Iraq and do the exact opposite of what they suggest.  If even Pat Robertson can figure out that the Cheney-Bush war approach was a fiasco, maybe the rest of us can, too.

Yes, let's go back to Iraq, if their is no other alternative.  But let's not do it with allies.  And let's tell them the truth about what is wrong, and what needs to be done to fix it.  Let's create not one democracy, but three.  Let's leave a limited number of troops behind, but troops that are fully equipped and paid for up front--with a gas surtax, if necessary.  And only for a limited period of time, to send a message to the new nations that, at some point, they have to live or die on their own.

I would rather not go back to Iraq at all.  And I'm sure that I'm not alone.  But it's beginning to look as through Iraq is the international nightmare that will not go away.  Something to think about this fall, if you're tempted to vote for the neocon's favorite political party.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Why Not Run On Obamacare?

It's working, and it's time to shove that fact in the face of Republicans.  Maybe, just maybe, the Democrats will have enough spine to do it.

Fighting Climate Change Is Affordable

So says Paul Krugman.  Maybe it's time to stop making excuses, and work together to save the only world we have.

From Rugs To Rivers

Dyson cyclone technology may soon be deployed to clean up our waterways.  If it works half as well on rivers as it does on rugs, we'll all be a lot better off.

Not To Keep Harping On Banks ...

,,, but there's nothing like a banker's perspective for understanding how bad it is.

Will Graphene Save Us?

It sounds like it will; it may seem too good to be true, but perhaps it is.

Read My Lips: More New Taxes!

That's the title of this New Republic article, and I think it says all that needs to be said on the subject.  From the time I started this blog five years ago, I have long believed that government must pay its bills honestly, without pretending that tax cuts will do anything other than bankrupt the country, either through government debt or through failure to spend for legitimate public needs.  I wish and pray with all of my heart that more people would wake up and understand this basic truth.  Before it's too late.

And I hope and pray that it isn't already too late.

Amending The Constitution, One Decision At A Time

In the years before conservative justices overtook the Supreme Court and, by doing so, the jurisprudence of the nation, Roe v. Wade was criticized as being less of a judicial decision and more of a legislative act--particularly in its trimester-by-trimester breakdown of a pregnant woman's right to terminate the pregnancy versus the fetus' interest in being born.  Along came the conservative takeover of the Court and, along with in, Antonin Scalia's majority opinion in Heller v. District of Columbia, in which he effectively erased the Second Amendment's language regarding "a well-regulated Militia" to find a individual constitutional right to bear arms--to which he then appended, with no constitutional support, a right on the part of states to enact "reasonable" gun regulations.  Among other less printable reactions to Heller, my thinking at the time was that, if Roe was legislation, Heller was nothing less than a constitutional amendment.

Sadly, the same has to be said of the Court's decision in Town of Greece v. Galloway, in which the Court essentially nullified the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment by sanctioning sectarian prayer by government officials at public meetings.  Even worse than the decision's evisceration of precedent is its basis not on any form of legal reasoning, but on the view of several Justices (Anthony Kennedy in particular) that the town officials could "reasonably" conclude that prayer has a calming effect on their deliberations.

I would, in the first instance, suggest that several hundreds of years of historical evidence goes a very long way toward undermining the "reasonableness" of the view that prayer, and specifically Christian prayer, has a "calming" effect.  (The Inquisition, anyone?  For that matter, the Crusades?  You get the idea.)  I will cheerfully forgo doing so, however, in favor of a straightforward discussion of what the First Amendment does and does not permit, and why it was designed that way.

Our nation was founded by a variety of Christian denominations, with Catholics predominating in the South and Protestant groups in the North.  Mixed in with that were a variety of other theological viewpoints, including Deism (believing in God but not in a specific doctrine).  While a general belief in God in some form was common, there was also a general understanding that God's will and purposes were not viewed or understood in the same way by everyone.  There was also a genuine concern, based on the European experience, that it was always possible for one sect to gain enough power to impose its will on everyone else, thereby undermining the freedom that many had sought in the New World to begin with.

Hence, the dual nature of the First Amendment's language on the subject of religion.  The Establishment Clause was intended to prevent government from endorsing and enforcing the practices of a particular faith.  The Free Exercise Clause was intended to protect the practicing of all faiths by private individuals.  And how should the First Amendment's words on religion be construed in a situation such as the one in Town of Greece v. Galloway?  Very simply.  The public officials have a right to pray, individually and even as a group, outside of a public meeting.  The other people present have a right to pray in the same manner.  Neither group has the right to use public resources (such as a town meeting) to indicate preferential treatment toward any religion, or even toward religion itself.  Any freedom is a two-sided coin:  the right to exercise it or the right to not do so.  It is the individual's choice.

That is why this is the legal bottom line for the facts in this case:  no one--no one--in a government setting should ever be forced to pray, or to join in a particular form or religious worship.  The freedom to dissent from doing so is inviolable, constitutionally speaking.  Town of Greece v. Galloway fails to understand, or even reference, this basic right.  By doing so, the decision paves the way for an official Christianity that the Framers had intended to avoid at all costs.

God only knows what this Court will try to amend next.  Let's hope that He, She, It or They gives us the grace to fight it and win.

Voucherized VA?

It has been only a few weeks since the health care scandal at the Department of Veterans Affairs became public knowledge, and thus part of the political debate.  In our high-speed age of political digital discourse, it should surprise no one that a partisan take on this story has not only emerged, but already gone beyond the standard tactic of blaming the Obama Administration.  We have now had two conservative advocates, John McCain and Cal Thomas, attempting to turn this story into an argument against government heath care (and, hence, an argument in favor of "privatization").  Mr. Thomas' take on the subject can be found here; Senator McCain's can be found here.

This is an obvious attempt to revive the Obamacare debate through the back door, using our men and women in uniform as a cover for the subterfuge.  Leaving aside the question of how the public feels about the ACA at this point (and polls show that even its critics want to keep it), I frankly welcome the attempt.  Doing so allows for a discussion of how we got to the point of needing health care reform in the first place.

Long ago (three decades, to be exact), health insurance was provided through non-profit insurers, who in turn were subsidized in various ways by the tax code--in particular, the break that employers received for providing health insurance to their employees.  By and large, this system worked well up to the 1980s, the age of Reagan and the view that everything's better if it's done by businesses.  With much less fanfare than it deserved, our non-profit insurers were given the green light to become for-profit entities--and promptly started shedding their least affordable customers, those with pre-existing conditions or who were otherwise in need of extensive care.  The result was predictable:  a shrinking pool of subscribers to underwrite the cost of benefits, and a growing pool of people in poor health with nowhere to go but bankruptcy or Medicaid.

It is because of Reagan's push to turn health insurance into a capitalist paradise that we ended up needing universal health insurance more than ever.  It is also because of that push that we created a cabal of for-profit insurers that pushed back mightily for decades against any effort to make that happen (Google "Hillarycare" for a guided tour of the peak of that effort).  And it is only through government intervention in the form of the ACA that we may finally have a chance to get back to a system that works for almost all (if not all) Americans.

My point, as it relates to the VA scandal?  Government needs to be involved in health care to ensure that everybody gets it.  And, in the case of veterans, people we have put in harm's way, there is a moral imperative to do everything, including government assistance, to ensure that they get every inch of health care that they deserve.  Senator McCain, a former POW, knows this better than anyone--which is why his willingness to cut VA funding should shock even his supporters.

Then again, Senator McCain is a Republican.  His party is dedicated to privatizing everything it can touch--and willing to accomplish that through a war of inches.  Those of us on the other side should be demanding not only the restoration of cut funds, but full funding of VA benefits through cutting unneeded, overpriced weapons systems.   I realize that the manufactures of those systems are major campaign contributors.  But doing this would put a little meat on the bones of McCain's 2008 presidential slogan, "Country First."  (It might also help us forget that he inflicted Sarah Palin and Joe the Plumber on us, which would be a nice side benefit).

This country fought two wars that were funded off-budget, to hide the costs.  It's time to reckon with those costs, and pay for them honestly, with tax dollars.  Our returning troops deserve a better welcome that the one Senator McCain and Mr. Thomas want to give them:  "Thanks for your service.  Here's a coupon.  Find a doctor who can treat advanced combat injuries--if you can."

Yes, I know they're talking only about outsourcing routine care.  For now.  Like I said, they love to play a game of inches.  How many inches do you want to give them before a veteran you know dies from their games?  Better to not let the games be played.  Better to give our veterans the last full measure of our appreciation though full public funding--no matter how much it hurts.  The alternative hurts them a lot more.