Saturday, April 30, 2016

Abortion, And The Newtonian Physics Of Politics

For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.  So said Sir Issac Newton, the founding father of physics.  It plays out in politics in much the same way.

The ultra-conservative 1950s gave way to the non-conformist 1960s.  The swinging 1970s gave way to the more puritanical 1980s.  The right-wing, anti-government politics of the 1990s gave way to the return of Big Government with a vengeance in the 21st Century, first in a military way with Bush, and then in a more progressive way with Obama.

And so it is with abortion.  Since the Supreme Court's decision in Roe v. Wade, the anti-sex* opponents of abortion have dedicated their lives to chipping away at a woman's right to terminate a pregnancy.  And they have succeeded to a degree that should frighten anyone who values individual freedom.

There have been concerns raised by older feminists that Gen X and millennial women may, in the face of this kind of success, take freedom of choice for granted.  I understand and respect that concern, but, based on reality, I'm not entirely sure that it should exist.  If anything, as this Slate article shows, it may be having the opposite effect, galvanizing an entire generation of women to stand up for their rights.

Looks like Newtonian politics, thankfully, is alive and well.

*As a matter of principle, I refer to the so-called "pro-life" movement as an anti-sex movement, for reasons I detail here.

The Needless Victims Of Faith Healing

There is a sad but true joke about those that believe in God, but expect Him (or Whomever) to only express Himself through miracles.  It goes like this:

A man is on the roof of his house, with floodwaters rising all about him.  He is offered help by a balloonist in a balloon, a helicopter, and a powerboat.  He refuses all of the offers, claiming that
he believed that God alone would save him.  He ends up drowning, goes to Heaven, and asks God why he was allowed to drown.  God's response:  "Well, I tried.  Who do you think sent you the balloonist, the helicopter and the powerboat?"

The point should be painfully obvious  God does not need to violate His/Her/Its/Their laws in order to be real.  God does not have to be spectacular in order to give us what we need.  And God, above all, does not need any so-called followers whose alleged "faith" depends upon putting God to one or more tests.

That latter blasphemy is exactly what faith-healing believers do.  And, when they subject children to the tortures of faith-healing, they become doubly heinous.  Parents of children like the one in this story can't be punished enough.  At the very least, laws should be changed everywhere to make that punishment possible.

Even A Broken Clock Like The New York Post Is Right Twice A Day

No media outlet wanted to go after the 9/11 bad guys more than the New York Post did.  No other outlet was a bigger media cheerleader for the fraudulent war in Iraq than the Post and its publisher, Rupert Murdoch, the man who brought right-wing politics into mainstream American media.  And no other media outlet, with the exceptions of the other ones Murdoch owns, have spent so much time ignoring the real nation that we should have been going after.

Saudi Arabia.  The home of most of the hijackers  The source of the Islamic extremism that motivated them to become terrorists.  And, sadly, one of the key suppliers of the substance that has done more to corrupt our society than any other:  oil.

But maybe things are changing.  Maybe the truth can, over time and with enough exposure, overcome its unpopularity.  Maybe even a right-wing rag like the Post is willing to expose the real bad guys.

And, now that it has done so, maybe the rest of us should ignore Saudi threats and get behind a truly bipartisan effort to go after the real bad guys.

It's about time  Every 9/11 victim that lost his or her life or health, and every member of their families would agree.  That should be reason enough.

There Are No More Excuses For Opposing Alternative Energy

But, of course, the folks in the pockets of the fossil-fuel industry keep on trying.  My personal favorite has always been the one about Hollywood activists and their private jets.  I've already dealt with this issue in at least one previous post, but it's so much fun going after this ridiculous argument that I feel like I should take advantage of every chance I get to do it.

Especially when I read an article like this one.

It illustrates how far this technology has come in such a very short time.  And it also illustrates how far it is likely to go  Quite literally, around the world.

One is forced to wonder what the fossil-fuel tools will come up with as an argument against alternative energy once Leonardo DiCaprio is flying from premiers to conferences and back again on his own solar-powered jet.  Then again, maybe they'll finally become converts.

That might be a miracle.  But, as the article demonstrates, perhaps we are living in an age of miracles We'll see.

Criminal Negligence And The Cleveland Police

How does it happen?

How in the name of God does an officer get on the police force of a major American city with a documented background from prior police work that shouldn't allow him to be the security guard for a one-toilet washroom?

How do the officers responsible for hiring him get a slap on the wrist?

And how do the officers of said police department get away with bald-face lies about the shooting of a 12-year-old boy that are flatly contradicted by the available evidence?

If you're wondering why I'm raising all of these questions, read on.  This should lead you to raise the same questions, and many more.

But there's one thing it won't do.

It won't cause you to question why African-Americans have far more reason to fear the police than anyone else in American society should have.

Perhaps It Takes Two To Get To The Moon

Two sectors of the economy, that is:  public and private.

The national railroad system and the Interstate Highway System were both products of the intersection of public and private interests.  The nation's economic and military interests required an effective system of transportation; private business interests had the means to facilitate that through the invention and development of railroad and automobile transportation.  Together, the public and private sectors were able to give America the land transportation it needed to unite the economic interests of the nation and give vehicles the mobility they needed for our national defense.  And yes, a Republican president, Dwight Eisenhower, gets credit for the IHS (while simultaneously making Democrats wish there were more Republicans like him).

Why can't the same thing happen with space travel?  NASA, although operating at a fraction of the budget it used to have, is still capable of producing incredible space-related technology, while private investors like Elon Musk are coming up with innovative new vehicles for reaching out into space. Maybe, if Washington, can get away from bickering, it could spend some time working on a way to get NASA and the Musks of the world to work together.

And get us back to the final frontier, so that we're no longer just exploring it in movie theaters and on TV screens.

A Market-Based Alternative To Taxation?

Trickle-down economics.  We know it doesn't work, and yet we're still married to the idea.  At least, those in charge of the political economic system and their bagpeople in Congress are still married to the idea.  And that's bad enough.

In the past thirty-five years, wealth plainly hasn't trickled down.  It's trickle up to the investing class, and out to tax shelters.  It sits in banks as a hedge against the fear and trembling brought about by the near-crash of 2008.  God forbid that should happen again, say the Wall Streeters, because we know that we can't con the voters into bailing us out again.  We'd rather let our money rot in banks than take a chance on investing it in something that actually might make even more money, both for us and ourselves

And we know we don't have to worry about tax hikes, because we've got the public convinced that, if Washington comes after us, they'll come after Main Street as well.  So we're sitting pretty, right?

Maybe not.

Maybe the answer is negative interest rates, a de facto market-based penalty against hoarding cash. Maybe, if people won't jump off the investors' diving board, they need to be pushed.  Maybe, if we push them hard enough, they'll start spending, and interest rates can start to climb again, along with everything else, including wages.

It's worth a try.  Something's got to give, if we're ever going to get out of the liquidity trap.

Fighting Climate Change With Bonds?

I've been interested for a long time in the idea that it's possible to solve political and social issues through the power of the markets  Of course, economic boycotts are one very time-honored, and effective, way of doing this.  Boycotting lettuce helped Cesar Chavez fight on behalf of produce pickers.  Boycotting the sale and purchase of Krugerrands helped to end apartheid in South Africa. And I suspect that the current rounds of boycotts against states that enact anti-LGBT laws will someday work as well.  Thank you, Bruce Springsteen.  And boy, does XHamster really know how to hit guys where it hurts.

But there are positive ways of doing essentially the same thing.  U.S. Savings Bonds are a good, traditional example; they have helped for decades to raise money for the defense of our nation   Now, the power of bonds may soon go to work against a different type of danger to our nation: climate change.

Take a look at Senator Barbara Boxer's efforts to enact a bill that would enable Americans to buy bonds that would raise money specifically for the fight against climate change.  It's a good idea; it enables people who care about the issue to take direct action against it.  And it does so in a way that allows people to target their money, and how much of it they want to spend, against the problem. One of the reasons Social Security has the level of support it has is the fact that it is supported by a dedicated tax (albeit one that ends up raising revenues to support Republican tax cuts).

Bravo, Senator Boxer.  Here's hoping your good idea cuts though the partisan chaos and becomes a reality.

"Tort Reform" Finally Exposed For The Fraud That It Is

The subject of this story is not a happy one.  It details the injustice that state caps on non-economic damages in personal injury cases have wrought for women in sexual assault cases.  And yet, I could not help reading it without feeling something close to what H.G. Wells meant when, after his predictions of a second World War and a blitz on London came true, he sent his friends the following terse message:  "God damn you all.  I told you so."

I have long been--in fact, always been--a staunch advocate against so-called "tort reform"--for two reasons.  (Full disclosure, before I go any further:  I am an attorney who, in the early days of my career, handled some personal injury cases, and still have friends and colleagues who do so.)

First, they take the power to decide justice out of the hands of jurors, and subject justice to an arbitrary and capricious limit hand-picked by jurors without any regard to the nature and severity of injuries suffered in a wide and individualized variety of cases.  Second, they put that power in the hands of insurance companies that, knowing the upper limit of their exposure as a consequence of the caps, can simply cost-out that exposure and pass it along to their insureds--in full, I might add.  Texas in the years before the passage of the Affordable Care Act, had the most restrictive "tort reform" provisions AND the highest health insurance rates.

True, some verdicts are ridiculous, and deserved to be challenged and reduced.  And, even before the advent of "tort reform," the legal system had tools in place that made that possible.  In addition to the right to challenge a trial decision in appellate court, the amounts of money awarded in a jury decision can be adjusted through post-trial motions.  Those tools are still in place, and allow the adjustment of outrageous awards on an individualized basis.  Everyone has heard about the infamous "McDonald's coffee" case, but not everyone knows exactly how it turned out.  It turned out in a way that demonstrates that "tort reform" is no better than a solution in search of a problem.  And the only problem it effectively solves is the need of insurance companies to make easy profits.

The Slate article is all you need to read to get a sense of how unfairly damage caps work against women.  The equally ugly truth is what the article doesn't detail:  the extent to which the whole "tort reform" movement is simply another illustration of how conservatives take power out of the hands of the people, in the name of "protecting" them from alleged corruption.  In that sense, for example, it is a close cousin of term limits, the rules that confiscate not only your right to vote (and mine), but also your right to run for public office.  No, not completely.  But more than enough to undermine the needs and concerns of the voters--including those of conservative voters.

Remember how conservatives wanted to repeal the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution, so that Ronald Reagan could run for a third term as President? They're the ones responsible for the Amendment in the first place!  They were afraid of "more Roosevelts."  That fear led them to shoot their own interests in the foot, although it spared the nation, and Reagan's family, the spectacle of Reagan beginning his long journey into dementia while still in the Oval Office.

Term limits, like "tort reform," are not designed to serve the interests of individual Americans, or the nation as a whole.  They are designed to do nothing more than punish constituencies that tend to favor Democratic candidates and causes, such as trial lawyers, and protect Republican candidates and causes, such as doctors  It is simply an extension of "divide and conquer" politics, the only kind that Republicans understand how to practice.  It tears the nation apart, at the expense of the interests and needs of the American people.

And we've had more than enough of "divide and conquer" politics.  Let's start dismantling a corrupt way of governing the nation by consigning "tort reform" to the trashcan of history in which it belongs.

Campaign Against the "Hastert Congress," And Vote It Out

How often is it the case that the perpetrators of the most heinous offenses are often describe by their family and friends as the nicest, most wonderful people you could ever imagine meeting?  Such is the case with Dennis Hastert, former Republican Speaker of the House and now exposed in court as a full-fledged pedophile.

That Hastert did what he did is beyond question; he has confessed to it, no doubt in the hope that the confession would, along with his deteriorating medical condition, earn him some measure of compassion, the same compassion Hastert denied his victims.  But the cursed Republican capacity for blind loyalty to a fellow-traveller is on full display, just in case Hastert's confession and dementia aren't enough to prevent him from doing serious prison time.  As detailed here, Hastert's former House colleagues have all written letters to the court where Hastert is on trial.  All of these letters allegedly attest to his many sterling Christian qualities.

Given the fact that the charge of the writing brigade on Hastert's behalf is being led by Tom Delay, a man who has faced his own running of the legal gauntlet, one feels free to question the seriousness that these testimonials should be given,  Even more, given the damage that Hastert has done to the lives of young men who didn't expect their wrestling coach to fill the rest of their lives with emotional torment, one wonders if Hastert should really be given any leniency at all.  On the other hand, prison is certainly not the place in which a child molester is likely to find any leniency; child molesters are at the bottom of the convict social totem pole, and don't always finish out their sentences as a result.

Whatever Hastert's legal fate, the revelation of his perverted conduct is an occasion to reflect on his career as House Speaker, which saw the birth of the "Hastert Rule," the rule by which the House was and is only allowed to consider legislation supported by "the majority of the majority"--i.e., most of the House Republican caucus  Even if that meant the considering of legislation supported by only a minority of the full House, and even if it meant that no bill supported by an overwhelming bipartisan majority could be enacted, the Rule had to be followed at all costs.

We have seen, all too graphically, how this sort of posturing for the sake of maintaining power at the expense of the people's wishes and needs has entirely corrupted and poisoned Washington and, worse yet, left the entire country in turmoil and near-revolt.  In spite of this, and in spite of the public disgrace of its creator, the Hastert Rule still controls the House, and therefore Congress, in zombie-like style  Which is not surprising, given the 12th Commandment of Republican politics (after not speaking ill of a fellow Republican):  thou shalt not ever, ever, admit a mistake.

I am not a psychiatrist or a psychologist, and cannot speak to the sources of pedophilia.  But I think it's fair to say that the Hastert Rule can be said to have its source in an old-fashion lust for power and control--and, underneath that, a deep-seated sense of insecurity and self-worthlessness that wrongly feels that power in any form can cure it.  It would not surprise me if pedophilia doesn't stem from the same sort of psychological phenomenon.  It has seemed to me for some time that most forms of sexual deviancy are some sort of effort to project an illusory image of power over a seemingly defenseless victim--even if the victim is somehow said to "enjoy it."

With all of this in mind, and with a deep sense of humility that comes from contemplating the pain of Hastert's victims, I nevertheless call on Democrats and progressives all across the country to declare war on what should be called the "Hastert Congress"--a Congress obsessed with its own sense of power rather than the concerns of the voters that elected it.  And there should be no embarrassment provoked by accusations that they would be somehow exploiting the pain of Hastert's victims.  On the contrary, they would be avenging it, as well as the pain the American people have experience as a consequence of Hastert's political lust.

I fear, however, that Democrats will shrink at the thought of doing this.  They will think that it's not nice, not "classy" to do this.  Well, how classy have Hastert and his colleagues been.  They have lived by the sword  It's time for them to die politically by it--and for Democrats to show American that they are strong as well as compassionate.  They need to do so; Hastert is living proof that Republicans are neither.

Speaking Of "Laboratories" Of Democracy ...

... one of them appears to be on the verge of blowing up.  "What's the matter with Kansas?" asked Thomas Frank in the title of perhaps his best-known books on politics.  Well, Mr. Frank, under former U.S. Senator and current Governor Sam Brownback, the answer can be reduced to a single word:


Massive budget deficits.  Massive cuts in public services.  Schools being closed.  And, on top of everything else, a shrinking economy.  All of which happened only after Brownback, with the aid and connivance of his Republican colleagues in the Kansas state legislature, attempted to show that so-called "supply-side" economics works at the state level as well as it did at the national level. They enacted sweeping tax cuts designed to supposedly unleash so much money into the local economy that jobs would sprout up like Kansas wheat.

Only jobs aren't sprouting.  And, as written by someone whose 400th birthday just recently passed, there's the rub.  Trickle-down economics are, in fact, working as well at the state level as they have at the federal level.  They are inflicting the kind of massive, unforgiving social Darwinism that only a philosophy based on narcissism can inflict.  Only with one tragic difference.  Ronald Reagan got away with "Reaganomics" because state governments did what they could to ease the pain.  And it worked, to a very small degree; the increase activity of state governments allowed conservatives to pretend that it was morning in America even though it looked more like twilight for any sense of the national common good.

To whom, however, does Kansas transfer its self-induced pain?  No one.  As is the case with state governments everywhere, with the exception of federal aid (and good luck getting that out of the current Congress), the state's only source of fiscal salvation is the government that served as the architect of its current misery.

And what is Kansas' government doing?  Engaging in a game of finger pointing.  Brownback, incredibly, is refusing to make any changes whatsoever.  In his view,  all of the Titanic's deck chairs are exactly where they should be.  And the legislators who helped him enact his Ponzi scheme are running away from him like droves.  You can read all about it here.

Incredibly, as the Daily Kos post notes, other states are advancing tax policies identical to the ones that have turned Kansas into an economic basket case.  And Arthur Laffer (what a deliciously ironic surname) has announce that the Kansas boat isn't really sinking, and will in fact soon benefit from the rising tide created by punching a hole in its hull.

Conservatives are great avoiders of the truth, by any means necessary.  The two leading theories among them explaining the Kansas fiasco are (a) the Laffer view, that the whole thing just needs more time to work, and (b) the theory that they cut the wrong taxes, by focusing on business taxes that businesses could easily avoid.

The problem with the Laffer view is that it puts conservatives on the same side as an old Bolshevik joke:  "Proof of the farsightedness of comrade Trotsky's predictions is that none of them have come true yet.''  One has to survive the short run to make it to the long run--and Kansas has no short-term options for survival other than to reverse course.  As for the "cutting the wrong taxes" argument, the truth of the matter is that everyone's behavior is shaped in some way by tax policy.  Increase sin taxes, and people will either pay up or sin less.  Increase gas taxes, and people will either cut back in other areas or drive less.  The wealthy, however, simply by virtue of being wealthy, will always have more options for dealing with any tax policy.

There is only two ways for Kansas' situation to get better:  for Brownback and his legislative allies to admit that they were wrong and change course, or for Kansas voters to vote them the hell out of office.  Conservatives, since the Reagan era, overlearned the lesson of Jimmy Carter's painful honesty and vowed to never, ever admit that they were wrong.

So it's in the hands of Kansas voters.  Either they vote the rascals out, or America will have 49 state laboratories and one that was blown up by bankrupt politics.  As always, Sunflower State voters, the choice is yours.  For your sakes, and because the rest of us don't want our tax dollars used to bail you out of your previous stupidity, PLEASE make the obvious (and right) one.

Obamacare's "Camel Nose"

The camel's nose under the tent.  A frequently-employed metaphor for a program, a proposal or even just an idea that gives the appearance of a compromise, but is in fact the first step toward a full victory for one side in a debate.  Unsurprisingly, the Affordable Care Act (a/k/a "Obamacare") was criticized on the far right as being just such a camel's nose in the context of health care reform.  Let this "dreadful" bill become law, they said, and we'll have single-payer health insurance in no time at all.  Here's but one example; the critics are so repetitious in their rantings, however, that one is more than enough.

Well, I don't know about no time at all, but it's quick possible that the ACA just might lead to the "nightmare" that its critics fear.  And there's a very simple reason for that, tucked into the language of the waivers that the law provides.  There are six in all, but one very important one for supports of single-payer:  1332 waivers, or state innovation waivers.  These allow a state to apply for an exemption from the federal government of "Obamacare's" main requirements, provided that the state can develop and implement an alternative that would cover at least as many residents as would be covered under the ACA's full provisions.  You can read more about these waivers here.

I've always regarded 1332 waivers as something of a dare to conservatives.  They allow state governments, those supposed "great laboratories of democracy" to experiment with a variety of ways to address health care needs and other public issues.  With the vast majority of states controlled entirely by Republican-led governments, you would think that they would have already used 1332 waivers to come up with their supposedly better, free-market methods of delivering the level of care now being provided through the ACA.

And you would be dead wrong.

Because Republicans aren't interested in solving problems, or otherwise serving the public interest. I've said it many times, and I suspect I will say it many times more before things are different:  they are only interested in power for themselves, and their patrons.  By definition, this excludes most of you.  And, as  it turns out, they regard the waivers as a menace, precisely because they would require an alternative to be superior to "Obamacare."  The only reason for allowing the waivers, in their eyes, is an excuse to--wait for it, wait for it--implement single-payer health insurance!

There's no intellectually honest way to consider this line of "reasoning" as being anything but tantamount to a confession--a confession that, if the goal of policy is to serve the people, then the only policy alternatives are liberal ones.  But I repeat:  they do not want to serve all of the people,  or even most of the people.  They just want to serve the ones that send checks to their already-swollen campaign treasuries.

I'm happy to accept this confession.  And it now appears that the people of Colorado, as purely a "purple" state as there is, as much an anti-tax-and-spend redoubt as exists within the Union, is potentially now on the verge of choosing the "greater" of the two evils, by asking for a 1332 waiver and replacing the ACA's requirements with single payer.  Take a look.  Vermont almost did this earlier and got a case of fiscal cold feet.  Perhaps it takes a less liberal state than Vermont to embrace and demonstrate the value of liberal ideas.  Canada, after all, got its single-payer policy through the efforts of a conservative Prime Minister; no one in Canada would choose now to go back to the way things were.

And, if Coloradans can shake off any cases of fiscal cold feet, and green-light a 1332 waiver, I am convinced that it will be the beginning of the end of for-profit health insurance in this country. Once people realize that their will be net fiscal savings, as well as fewer bankruptcies and less social and medical-related stress, state-sponsored single-payer health care will spread across the country.  And conservatives should rejoice at this; at least it will mean the end of "Obamacare."

Then again, "Obamacare" was their idea in the first place:  developed by a right-wing think tank, promoted by a Republican Speaker of the House, and enacted by a Republican governor who couldn't stop Barack Obama from winning a second term.  Leave it to Mr. Obama to find a way to add a camel's nose to it, and use it to pave the way for the health insurance this nation should have had decades ago.