Thursday, January 31, 2013

Standing Guard Against Tyranny

Ted Cruz, who once described gun-control efforts as "a manifestation of an unabashed agenda to deprive law abiding citizens of our rights to keep and bear arms," was not impressed with Gabby Giffords' brief testimony yesterday before the Senate Judiciary Committee.  During the hearing, the freshman Texas senator contended gun safety measures would "restrain the liberties of law-abiding citizens" rather than those of criminals.

Chuck Grassley, the ranking member of the committee, was more colorful, maintaining (on page 5 of transcript)

The framers believed that these structures would adequately control the government so as to protect individual liberty. But the American people disagreed. They feared that the Constitution gave the federal government so much power that it could be tyrannical and violate individual rights. So the Bill of Rights was added.

Grassley went on to characterize Barack Obama as "the same president who exceeded his power under the Constitution to appoint recess appointments. So, no wonder millions of Americans fear that the president might take executive action and Congress may enact legislation that could lead to tyrannical federal government."

This man is hysterical, as he probably would be labeled if he were a woman.   Yet, today, Grassley's warning that "millions of Americans fear" the emergence of a "tyrannical federal government" may have been accurate as Fox News reports

The Alabama man police say shot and killed a school bus driver Tuesday in an attempt to kidnap a 5-year-old boy has been hunkered down for over 24 hours with the child in an underground bunker on his remote property, The Dothan Eagle, a local newspaper, reported.

An Alabama legislator says the boy has been able to receive medicine and watch TV.
State Rep. Steve Clouse said Wednesday he met with authorities and visited the family of the boy.
Clouse described the standoff as a "static situation" and "a waiting game."

Alabama State Trooper Charles Dysart told news media gathered near the site of the standoff late Wednesday that nothing in the situation has changed. He said no additional information would be released until Thursday morning.

The paper reported that neighbors in Midland City, which is in south Alabama, identified the suspect as Jimmy Lee Dykes, 65. Police have not officially released the suspect's identity.

Ted Cruz's "law-abiding citizen," who apparently has killed one person and taken another hostage, has been arrested three times: once in 1995 for a weapons charge, in 2000 for possession of a small amount of marijuana, and for a misdemeanor charge involving a gun, for which he was due to face trial yesterday.

Although the Fox description excluded the suspect's anti-government paranoia, Byrd seems to personify the individual whose rights Grassley believes the Second Amendment was designed to protect.  TPM notes

“His friends and his neighbors stated that he did not trust the government, that he was a Vietnam vet, and that he had PTSD,” Tim Byrd, chief investigator with the Dale County Sheriff’s Department, told The Southern Poverty Law Center’s Hatewatch blog on Wednesday. “He was standoffish, didn’t socialize or have any contact with anybody. He was a survivalist type.”

You gotta love those law-abiding guys who "fear that the president might take executive action and Congress may enact legislation that could lead to tyrannical federal government."  Just standing up for their rights, apparently.

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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Two Guys Make A Modest Suggestion

It is possible for liberal/progressive Democrats to work with Republicans.   And not only with the (ever-dwindling) ranks of "moderate" Republicans, but with conservative Republicans. And not on permanently lowering income tax rates, killing by drone strikes young males who are not terrorists, eavesdropping without warrants, preventive detention of American citizens, or cutting earned benefits.  Both the chairperson (from whose website the following is taken) and the ranking member of the Senate Banking Committee on Financial institutions and Consumer Protection have sent a letter

to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder questioning whether the “too big to fail” status of certain Wall Street megabanks undermines the ability of the federal government to prosecute wrongdoing and impose appropriate penalties.  They also requested that the Justice Department disclose the identities of parties with whom prosecutors consult about the appropriate level of penalties for financial institutions.

“Wall Street megabanks aren’t just too big to fail, they’re increasingly too big to jail,” Brown said. “Already, the nation’s six largest megabanks enjoy what amounts to taxpayer-funded guarantee by virtue of their size, making it harder for regional and community banks to compete. Now, these megabanks may also enjoy some impunity when they violate the law by laundering money or illegally foreclosing on homeowners.  Wall Street should pay the full price of its wrongdoing, not pass the costs along to taxpayers.”

“The best deterrent to crime is to put people in prison,” Grassley said.  “That includes those at powerful banks and corporations.  Unfortunately, we’ve seen little willingness to charge these individuals criminally.  The public deserves an explanation of how the Justice Department arrives at these decisions.”

Matt Taibbi recently wrote that the bailout of the financial industry

built a banking system that discriminates against community banks, makes Too Big to Fail banks even Too Bigger to Failier, increases risk, discourages sound business lending and punishes savings by making it even easier and more profitable to chase high-yield investments than to compete for small depositors. The bailout has also made lying on behalf of our biggest and most corrupt banks the official policy of the United States government. And if any one of those banks fails, it will cause another financial crisis, meaning we're essentially wedded to that policy for the rest of eternity – or at least until the markets call our bluff, which could happen any minute now.

Andrea Mitchell of NBC News maintains that if Hillary Clinton decides to run for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, she will (as the NBC website put it) "clear the field" and "no one else will be able to challenge her, not Andrew Cuomo, Joe Biden, or Martin O’Malley."  But from 1964 through 2008, the vote in Ohio, represented in the U.S. Senate by one Republican (Rob Portman) and one Democrat,  for the winning presidential candidate has deviated from the national average by 1.3 percentage points- and in 2012, by .87% points.

Democratic politicos know Ohio is a swing state as well as a bellwether. If it  wants a nominee willing to challenge the powerful interests whose actions threatened to sink the world economy,  it should welcome a challenge to Hillary Clinton, and from someone bolder than Joe Biden or (especially) Andrew Cuomo.

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Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Quality Mythmaking

If ever you wonder how to separate the honest and the dishonest claims about earned benefits, here is one way:  if the speaker implies that the same factors apply to all of them, he or she is trying to play you for a fool.  Monday, Joe Scarborough, whose column in Politico should be entitled "The Wisdom of Conventional Wisdom," noted that Paul Krugman had appeared on Morning Joe with the temerity to claim that failure to slash the deficit immediately would not lead to the downfall of the nation.   The former GOP congressman wrote

But maintaining calm was not as easy for Council on Foreign Relations president Richard Haass, who agrees with former Joint Chief chairman Michael Mullen, that long-term debt poses the greatest threat to America 's national security. Richard took exception to the suggestion that deficits don't matter and that longterm debt can be pushed to the side for years to come . Mr. Haass, Admiral Mullen and former Clinton chief of staff Erskine Bowles all believe that entitlements and debt are the most pressing challenges we face as a country over the next few decades.

You can add my liberal co-host, Mika Brzezinski, to that group. Mika let out a gasp when Mr. Krugman suggested Medicare and Medicaid shortfalls should be ignored. She compared Krugman's "head-in-the-sand" approach to the one taken by climate change deniers. Krugman took exception, saying that no one could predict the future of entitlements so there was no need to worry until the programs became insolvent.

That response drew a spirited email from former Treasury official and “Morning Joe” regular Steve Rattner in defense of Mika's analogy, who wrote the following:

"We are putting millions of tons of carbon in the air every day; we are also adding billions of dollars to our future entitlement obligations every day. We are borrowing (stealing?) from our children to pay far more in benefits to seniors than we are paying into the system.
We have something like $60 trillion in unfunded liabilities to Medicare and Social Security. Paul Krugman would like us to just wait until those programs run out of money, at which point those unfunded liabilities would be just that much larger."

I know it will cause Steve, Mika and Richard much duress but I couldn't agree with them more.

And I know it will cause Steve, Mika, Richard, and Joe much duress but the Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid programs differ from one another, including in target audience, funding, and solvency.  Still, the idea that "future entitlement obligations" (i.e., assistance for the ill, the elderly, and the poor) are the same as climate change is intriguing, if ludicrous.   Eleven days before his appearance on MSNBC's morning drive-time program, Krugman explained the difference, which begins

with climate change. Serious people are and should be deeply worried, indeed horrified, by the lack of action on greenhouse gases. But why? Why not just assume that when climate change becomes undeniable, we’ll do whatever is necessary?

The answer, first and foremost, is that each year we fail to act has more or less irreversible physical consequences. We’re pumping around 35 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere annually; this stuff will stick around for a very long time, and its consequences for warming and sea level rise will last even longer. So each year that we fail to act has a direct physical impact on the future.

There’s also an investment aspect: each year that we fail to get the incentives right, people commit limited resources to the wrong technologies, especially coal-fired power plants instead of wind, solar, conservation, whatever. Again, these choices have a physical impact on the world of the future.

Now ask, what in the debate about “entitlements” corresponds at all to this kind of impact? Nothing physical, clearly. You could argue that it would have helped to prepay some of our future costs by paying down debt and indeed having the government acquire assets while the demography was favorable – not because this would have directly increased future resources (debt is money we owe to ourselves) but because it would have reduced the need for higher taxes, and hence the distortionary effect of those taxes. And this argument was, indeed, the reason people like me wanted to protect the Social Security lockbox way back when.

But we didn’t; Bush squandered the surplus on tax cuts and unfunded wars (and was, with notably rare exceptions, cheered on by the very people now lecturing us solemnly on the need to cut entitlements). Now the baby boomers are retiring fast, and as far as I can tell none of the deficit scolds are pushing for a big effort to pay debt down over the course of the next few years.

Instead, they’re pushing for things like a gradual rise in the retirement age and a change in the formulas used to compute benefits – things that will cut future rather than present outlays. Or to put it differently, they aren’t really trying to cut debt; they’re simply trying to lock us in now to the spending cuts they think we’ll eventually have to make anyway. And they never, as far as I can tell, really ask why it’s important to do this now.

But think about it; use Social Security as the example, although much the same argument applies to other programs. It seems probable if not certain that we will eventually either have to cut SS benefits (relative to current law) or raise additional revenue. So the threat, if you like, is that future benefits will fall short of what people now expect. To avert this threat, the usual suspects insist that we must gradually reduce the program’s generosity. That is, in order to guard against cuts in future benefits we must … cut future benefits. Huh?

Social Security is an easy call, given that it is projected to be solvent until 2033, would remain solvent forever if income caps on the payroll tax are eliminated, and does not contribute at all to the national deficit.  (Arguably, it did so briefly, while the payroll tax cut was in effect because the trust fund was reimbursed by money from the general treasury for revenues lost.  That ended with the fiscal slope deal.)    However, although Medicare- more efficient than the private market- does not itself add to the deficit, rising health care costs most emphatically do.

Nonetheless, critics of Medicare (as with Social Security) imply that its founders, and legislators thereafter, were ignorant of the demographic changes which would imperil the program. Not so, noted Sarah Kliff of Ezra Klein's Wonkblog, who found there is no reason to panic over Medicare when she noted last April

In 1970, when the Medicare Trustees projected the fund would be exhausted in 1972, Congress reduced payments to providers, primarily physicians and hospitals. The same thing happened in 1997, when the trustees projected the funds would run out in 2001. Then, Congress quickly passed the Balanced Budget Amendment, which again cut into doctors’ reimbursements.

“The appeal to ‘insolvency’ as a danger,” Marmor, Spencer and Oberlander write, “needs to be recognized for its symbolic and strategic value in framing the debate over Medicare.”

Their bottom line is that there’s a big difference between the Trust Fund running out of money and the death of the Medicare program. In fact, no one quite knows what would happen if the Trust Fund actually ran out of money. “There are no provisions in the Social Security Act governing what would happen in such an event,” the Congressional Research Service report concluded.

What it would not mean, however, is that Medicare would screech to a halt. Programs covering doctors’ visits and prescription drugs could continue on pretty much unfazed. As for hospital coverage, Congress could look for other revenue sources, or it could borrow, or it could move money over from other parts of the budget. Given Medicare’s political popularity, it’s difficult to imagine legislators letting the program go underwater.

Medicare and Social Security were put "on the table" by a President anxious to be the most responsible adult in the room.  But reductions as part of a grand bargain sold as a means to curb the deficit would be nearly impossible to undo.  And when at some point there is a GOP president, taxes will be slashed, defense spending will remain exorbitant, and the party in power will speak little of the deficits which so dominate their rhetoric today.

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Monday, January 28, 2013

Curb Your Enthusiasm

CBS News probably hoped that last night's interview (transcript, here) on 60 Minutes of Barack Obama/Hillary Clinton would be a joy and pleasure, something to take viewers' minds off Syria, Mali, Afghanistan, and the other, pesky little issues they'd rather ignore.  For the most part, President Obama, for his part, did not disappoint, stating

Well, I was a big admirer of Hillary's before our primary battles and the general election. You know, her discipline, her stamina, her thoughtfulness, her ability to project, I think, and make clear issues that are important to the American people, I thought made her an extraordinary talent...

I think everybody understands that Hillary's been, you know, one of the most important advisors that I've had on a whole range of issues. Hillary's capacity to travel around the world, to lay the groundwork for a new way of doing things, to establish a sense of engagement that, you know...

The President commended "the great work that Hillary did and her team did and the State Department did in conjunction with our national security team" and even referred to the outgoing Secretary of State as "a strong friend"  (though the adjective might better be applied to, say, an Arnold Schwarzenegger). When Kroft was moved to ask "what's the date of expiration of this endorsement?"  Obama replied " You know, Steve, I gotta tell you, the-- you guys in the press are incorrigible. I was literally inaugurated four days ago. And you're talking about elections four years from now," deftly avoiding either denying it was an endorsement or offering any praise for the fellow who has served as Vice-President for 4+ years.

Asked, however, about about criticism of U.S. foreign policy as exhibiting "an unwillingness or what seems/appears to be an unwillingness to gauge big issues. Syria, for example," Obama maintained

Well, Muammar Qaddafi probably does not agree with that assessment, or at least if he was around, he wouldn't agree with that assessment. Obviously, you know, we helped to put together and lay the groundwork for liberating Libya. You know, when it comes to Egypt, I think, had it not been for the leadership we showed, you might have seen a different outcome there. But also understanding that we do nobody a service when we leap before we look.

Doing stand-up, Barack Obama boasted "You know, when it comes to Egypt, I think, had it not been for the leadership we showed, you might have seen a different outcome there."

Think again, Mr. President.  It is an "outcome" you ought not to be proud of.   Zvi Mazel in The Jerusalem Post informs us

There is no longer a parliamentary opposition in Egypt.

With the new, controversial constitution, President Mohamed Morsi has full executive powers; he names the prime minister, the judges of the Supreme Court and the heads of all public institutions.

With the dissolution of the lower house of the parliament, he has entrusted, until the next parliamentary elections, the legislative powers he had taken over to the upper house – where the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists hold 85 percent of the seats.

Only the judiciary retains a measure of independence, and even that is threatened by several dispositions of the new constitution.

Morsi is now making an allout effort to appoint members of the Brotherhood and their supporters to every available position, in spite of the spirited resistance of the judiciary, media and Interior Ministry, where there is a long-standing tradition of opposition to the Brotherhood.

Parliamentary elections that were to be held two months after the constitutional referendum, in February, have been postponed without explanation and are now scheduled for an unspecified date in April. It is generally understood that Morsi wants to ensure that he has everything sewed up tight and can confidently expect victory for his Freedom and Justice party.  

A dictatorial regime mildly friendly to the U.S.A. replaced by a dictatorial regime allied with the Muslim Brotherhood and the President brags about "the leadership we showed."   But while the Administration was late to the game of unseating Hosni Mubarak, it now is showing leadership in empowering an anti-Semitic national leader who opposes a two-state solution in the Middle East and once called for a boycott of American goods.   On January 22, four F-16 fighter jets left the U.S.A. for Egypt, part of an aid package negotiated with Mubarak, and which will include 16 more jets and 200 Abrams tanks before the end of the year.

The unwise  transfer of American weaponry to the extremist regime in Cairo has given Republican Senator Rand Paul, evoking analogy to a stopped clock, an opportunity to be right twice (including his vote on the National Defense Authorization Act) in the space of three months.   Paul would, he says, "condition money and anything we give to them on good behavior. And I don't think we've been getting good behavior from Egypt."

Fortunately, that may change.  Morsi is facing considerable opposition to the moves he has made to solidify his control and put a stranglehold on the Egyptian people. The aforementioned Mazel explains that three anti-Islamic forces are considering collaboration and the National Salvation Front

is asking its supporters to maintain pressure on the regime through sit-ins in Tahrir Square and near the presidential palace, while avoiding violence. The opposition is pinning its hopes on the mass rally it is calling for the second anniversary of the start of the revolution – set to happen this Friday. It is also threatening not to take part in parliamentary elections unless suitable guarantees are given concerning their fairness and transparency. This includes 10 essential conditions such as interdiction of political campaigning inside mosques, as well as the establishment of a new government acceptable to all through a balanced electoral process.

In Egypt, the fat lady has not yet begun to sing.  But from what we have heard thus far, the outcome hardly qualifies as a notch on President Obama's foreign policy belt.

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Sunday, January 27, 2013

Susan? Susan Who?

In a hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Thursday, Hillary Clinton demonstrated that her sharp political instincts were not dulled by trips to Laos, Mongolia, France, Afghanistan, Japan, Vietnam, Cambodia, Egypt, Israel, and Burma... and at least 101 other countries.  Her exchange with Senator Ron Johnson (transcript below) produced some dramatic video:

JOHNSON: Madame Secretary, do you disagree with me that a simple phone call to those phone call to those evacuees to determine what happened wouldn't have ascertained immediately that there was no protest? I mean that was a piece of information that could have been easily, easily obtained.

CLINTON: Well, Senator -

JOHNSON: Within hours if not days.

CLINTON: Senator, I - when you're in these positions, the last thing you want to do is interfere with any other process going on.


JOHNSON: I realize that's a good excuse. CLINTON: Number two, well, no it's the fact. Number two, I would recommend highly you read both what the ARB said about and the classified ARB, because even today there are questions being raised.

Now, we have no doubt they were terrorists, they were militants, they attacked us, they killed our people, but what was going on and why they were doing what they were doing is still - 

JOHNSON: No, no. Again. We were misled that there were supposedly protests and then something spread out of that - an assault sprang out of that. And that was easily ascertained that that was not the fact - 


JOHNSON: And the American people could have known that within days and they didn't know that.

CLINTON: With all due respect, the fact is we had four dead Americans. Was it because of a protest? Or was it because of guys out for a walk one night and decided they would go kill some Americans? What difference at this point does it make? It is our job to figure out what happened and do and do everything we can to prevent it from ever happening again, Senator. Now, honestly I will do my best to answer your questions about this, but the-the fact is that people were trying in real time to get to the best information. The I.C. has a process, I understand, going with the other committees to explain how these talking points came out.

But, you know to be clear, it is from my perspective, less important today looking backwards as to why these militants decided they did it, than to find them and bring them to justice, and then maybe we'll figure out what was going on in the meantime.

The Wisconsin Republican then concluded with "OK, thank you, Madame Secretary," spurring Steven Colbert to remark "'Thank you, Madame Secretary?' 'Thank you, Madame Secretary?' She just spanked you, Ron! I don't understand! Unless 'Thank you, Madame Secretary' was your safe word" (when Clinton) "slapped these guys around and walked out of there with their nuts in her attache case."

Yes, Mrs. Clinton, as it could be described less colorfully, took those guys, ate them up and spit them out by admonishing them (roughly speaking) "What's the point? What's done is done.  Let's move forward."   Along the way, however, the outgoing Secretary of State might have answered the question from Senator Johnson.

It's not as if it was a difficult question. Johnson had charged "We were misled that there were supposedly protests and then something spread out of that- an assault sprang out of that. And that was easily ascertained that that was not the fact."

But in fact there were "protests"  The New York Times reported on September 12 that the attack on the consulate in Libya "followed by just a few hours the storming of the compound surrounding the United States Embassy in Cairo by an unarmed mob protesting the same video. On Wednesday, new crowds of protesters gathered outside the United States Embassies in Tunis and Cairo."

It initially appeared that the assault perhaps "sprang out of that."  The Times observed
It is unclear if television images of Islamist protesters may have inspired the attack in Benghazi, which had been a hotbed of opposition to Colonel Qaddafi and remains unruly since the Libyan uprising resulted in his death. But Tuesday night, a group of armed assailants mixed with unarmed demonstrators gathered at the small compound that housed a temporary American diplomatic mission there.

The following Sunday, UN Ambassador Susan Rice was sent out to do the rounds, appearing on This Week, Face the Nation, Fox News Sunday, Meet the Press, and State of the Union. Most famously, she explained on the NBC show

Well, let us– let me tell you the– the best information we have at present.  First of all, there’s an FBI investigation which is ongoing.  And we look to that investigation to give us the definitive word as to what transpired.  But putting together the best information that we have available to us today our current assessment is that what happened in Benghazi was in fact initially a spontaneous reaction to what had just transpired hours before in Cairo, almost a copycat of– of the demonstrations against our facility in Cairo, which were prompted, of course, by the video.  What we think then transpired in Benghazi is that opportunistic extremist elements came to the consulate as this was unfolding.  They came with heavy weapons which unfortunately are readily available in post revolutionary Libya.  And it escalated into a much more violent episode.  Obviously, that’s– that’s our best judgment now. We’ll await the results of the investigation.  And the president has been very clear–we’ll work with the Libyan authorities to bring those responsible to justice.

Bob Somerby points out

Rice issued a double caveat. She said they didn’t have information at present which led them to conclude that there had been premeditation. 

Note to the slow: This doesn't mean that Rice rejected the idea that there was premeditation or planning. And the specific question to which she responded involved the possibility that the attack had been planned “several months ago.” 

It was in that context that Rice made her provisional statement about premeditation. To this day, is there any evidence of prior planning extending back several months? We don’t know the answer to that.

But we do know, as Somerby suggests, that Rice did not exclude the possibility of premeditation, nor the possibility of involvement by terrorists.  We know, too, that the text of the C.I.A. talking points, which determined Rice's response on the five Sunday talkies, read

The currently available information suggests that the demonstrations in Benghazi were spontaneously inspired by the protests at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and evolved into a direct assault against the U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi and subsequently its annex. There are indications that extremists participated in the violent demonstrations.

This assessment may change as additional information is collected and analyzed and as currently available information continues to be evaluated.

The investigation is ongoing, and the U.S. government is working with Libyan authorities to bring to justice those responsible for the deaths of U.S. citizens.

Hillary Clinton knows that, also, and could have played it any of four ways.  She might have defended Ambassador Rice by noting that the intelligence community had supplied her with information later revealed to be misleading.  Or she might have defended Rice by noting that the Ambassador never said terrorists weren't involved and had cautioned that intelligence was preliminary. Or she might have argued that Rice had in fingered "opportunistic extremist elements" who "came with heavy weapons."   Fourth option:  avoid defending U.S. Ambassador Rice in any way and instead summon righteous indignation.   Responding "Was it because of a protest? Or was it because of guys out for a walk one night and decided they would go kill some Americans? " implies that the pivotal response- which Rice delivered that Sunday- really wasn't important.  But it was a darned good performance.

As of this writing, Mrs. Clinton is due to continue her exploration of a possible race for President in 2016 by appearing in a few minutes on CBS' 60 Minutes with President Barack Obama.  Perhaps Obama will extend the same courtesy to his Vice-President, who more than once has pulled his fat out of the fire in negotiations with Congress. Or perhaps not.

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Saturday, January 26, 2013

Life Begins At Conception, Sometimes

She's right, you know.  Salon's Katie McDonough has an unusual- not weird, but nearly unique- take on an important story cross-posted this past week in the Colorado Independent and RH Reality Check.  John Tomasic wrote

Lori Stodghill was 31-years old, seven-months pregnant with twin boys and feeling sick when she arrived at St. Thomas More hospital in CaƱon City on New Year’s Day 2006. She was vomiting and short of breath and she passed out as she was being wheeled into an examination room. Medical staff tried to resuscitate her but, as became clear only later, a main artery feeding her lungs was clogged and the clog led to a massive heart attack. Stodghill’s obstetrician, Dr. Pelham Staples, who also happened to be the obstetrician on call for emergencies that night, never answered a page. His patient died at the hospital less than an hour after she arrived and her twins died in her womb.

In the aftermath of the tragedy, Stodghill’s husband Jeremy, a prison guard, filed a wrongful-death lawsuit on behalf of himself and the couple’s then-two-year-old daughter Elizabeth. Staples should have made it to the hospital, his lawyers argued, or at least instructed the frantic emergency room staff to perform a caesarian-section. The procedure likely would not have saved the mother, a testifying expert said, but it may have saved the twins.

The lead defendant in the case is Catholic Health Initiatives, the Englewood-based nonprofit that runs St. Thomas More Hospital as well as roughly 170 other health facilities in 17 states. Last year, the hospital chain reported national assets of $15 billion. The organization’s mission, according to its promotional literature, is to “nurture the healing ministry of the Church” and to be guided by “fidelity to the Gospel.” Toward those ends, Catholic Health facilities seek to follow the Ethical and Religious Directives of the Catholic Church authored by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Those rules have stirred controversy for decades, mainly for forbidding non-natural birth control and abortions. “Catholic health care ministry witnesses to the sanctity of life ‘from the moment of conception until death,’” the directives state. “The Church’s defense of life encompasses the unborn.”

The directives can complicate business deals for Catholic Health, as they can for other Catholic health care providers, partly by spurring political resistance. In 2011, the Kentucky attorney general and governor nixed a plan in which Catholic Health sought to merge with and ultimately gain control of publicly funded hospitals in Louisville. The officials were reacting to citizen concerns that access to reproductive and end-of-life services would be curtailed. According to The Denver Post, similar fears slowed the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth’s plan over the last few years to buy out Exempla Lutheran Medical Center and Exempla Good Samaritan Medical Center in the Denver metro area.

But when it came to mounting a defense in the Stodghill case, Catholic Health’s lawyers effectively turned the Church directives on their head. Catholic organizations have for decades fought to change federal and state laws that fail to protect “unborn persons,” and Catholic Health’s lawyers in this case had the chance to set precedent bolstering anti-abortion legal arguments. Instead, they are arguing state law protects doctors from liability concerning unborn fetuses on grounds that those fetuses are not persons with legal rights.

As Jason Langley, an attorney with Denver-based Kennedy Childs, argued in one of the briefs he filed for the defense, the court “should not overturn the long-standing rule in Colorado that the term ‘person,’ as is used in the Wrongful Death Act, encompasses only individuals born alive. Colorado state courts define ‘person’ under the Act to include only those born alive. Therefore Plaintiffs cannot maintain wrongful death claims based on two unborn fetuses.”

McDonough realizes

The terrible mix of doctors and dogma becomes all too clear in cases like the death of Savita Halappanavar, a woman who died in an Irish hospital — another institution governed by Catholic directives on reproductive care — after its staff denied her an abortion for a non-viable fetus. When claims of fetal personhood can outweigh claims of women’s personhood, we’ve got a serious problem on our hands.

And Catholic strings don’t just limit women’s access to contraception and safe abortion care. They also have major implications for end-of-life care, in-vetro fertilization, sterilization and countless other medical procedures that we just don’t want the Pope’s advice on.

Would it have been preferable for the hospital to comply with Stodghill’s lawsuit and concede the unborn fetuses were people? No, because it would have set a dangerous precedent. And instead of reading gloating blog headlines today, we would be be reading outraged ones.

Accordingly, she slams "the gradual takeover of public hospitals by Catholic-sponsored medical centers" as "a dangerous trend."  It appears to be yet another sphere in which functions performed by government employees have been increasingly privatized, public interest be damned.

McDonough argues convincingly that the gradual takeover of medical facilities by institutions affiliated by the Roman Catholic Church is "what we should be talking about instead of Catholic hypocrisy."  It is, though, a little like Jesus' admonition in Matthew 26:11a (ESV) "For you always have the poor with you."    (Note the tense: "always have" rather than "always will have.") Knowing that poor people, to some extent, always will exist does not relieve institutions from alleviating their suffering nor trying to reduce their numbers.

So, too, does the hypocrisy of the Church bear notice, though we might say:  concern for profits invariably trumps concern for the clientele in provision of services by private, secular organizations With that understanding, that the Church's concern for profits trumps dedication to the idea that life begins at conception should not be startling.  

Gloating may be counter-productive, but reasoned criticism of the Church's position is not.While Mr. Stodghill, who has lost in two lower courts, appeals to the Colorado Supreme Court, Denver Archbishop Samuel Aquila, Colorado Springs Bishop Michael Sheridan and Pueblo Bishop Fernando Isern jointly have said "no Catholic institution may legitimately work to undermine fundamental human dignity" and promise to conduct a "full review of this litigation and of the policies and practices... to ensure fidelity and faithful witness to the teachings of the Catholic Church."   Skeptical, the Daily Kos' Kaili Joy Gray blogs

Of course the bishops are going to do their very best to clean up the mess, which is why Denver Archbishop Samuel Aquila, Colorado Springs Bishop Michael Sheridan and Pueblo Bishop Fernando Isern will be conducting their review of the case "to ensure fidelity and faithful witness to the teachings of the Catholic Church." (Catch that? The teachings of the Church. Not Jesus. The Church.)

And that- loyalty to an institution rather than to its founding principles- is an even greater problem than the reality, increasingly recognized, that yet another organization (as with most of us) is not immune to the temptation of maintaining its economic power.

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Thursday, January 24, 2013

Race And Class In America

The Atlantic's Ta-Nehisi Coates has finished reading Isabel Wilkerson's "phenometal" book, The Warmth of Other Suns, and concludes we need to "get the book. Read it now. Today is too late." Reviewing the work, Coates makes several good points, including ones about neo-liberals, the middle-class values brought to northern citizens by black migrants, and "the bail-out of banks that left the homeowners whom the banks conned underwater."

But Coates also concludes from Wilkerson's work "America does not really want a black middle class.   On a policy level, there is a persistent strain wherein efforts to aid the people are engineered in such a way wherein they help black people a lot less."

But middle class and lower-class individuals of all ethnic backgrounds have not been getting a fair shake for 35-45 years, due partly to the decline of organized labor (graph of union coverage rate in the USA from 1973 to 2011, from the Economic Opportunity Institute, below).   As Harold Meyerson wrote last September

In the early 1950s, one out of three American workers belonged to them, four out of ten in the private sector. Today, only 11.8 percent of American workers are union members; in the private sector, just 6.9 percent. The vanishing act varies by region—in the South, it’s almost total—but proceeds relentlessly everywhere. Since 1983, the number of states in which at least 10 percent of private-sector workers have union contracts has shrunk from 42 to 8....

When unions vanish, ordinary Americans lose their right to bargain collectively for their pay and benefits. Even those who have never bargained collectively will feel the loss. Some years ago, when unions were big enough that their effect on the larger economy could be measured, Princeton economist Henry Farber concluded that the wages of nonunion workers in industries that were 25 percent unionized were 7.5 percent higher than they’d be if their industry were union-free. When unionized companies were common, firms that were nonunion had to mimic the wages and benefits of their unionized counterparts for fear that their employees would leave or, worse, organize. That was certainly the practice at General Electric and other largely nonunion giants.

Not surprisingly, nor coincidentally, corporate profits as a share of the gross domestic product are at an all-time low while that of wages and salaries is at an all-time low. In the same vein, the real value of the minimum wage has been steadily declining over the decades as demonstrated by the graph, below, from the National Employment Law Project Analysis of CPI-U.   If the minimum wage ($1.60) of 1968 had kept up with inflation in the 40 years since, it would have been $10.58 in 2012.   Were it raised to $9.80 by July 1, 2014 (as proposed in the Fair Minimum Wage Act introduced in the House and Senate last year, fully 56.1% of the individuals who would benefit are non-Hispanic whites.

Refuting Coates' thesis that it's only aspiring blacks who have gotten the shiv. Steve M. of No More Mister Nice Guy asks

... is it correct to say that "America does not really want a black middle class" today? I think the problem now is that the powers that be don't really want any middle class whatsoever. And the hostility of the rich to the middle class has been a problem throughout the period when blacks might have moved into the middle class...

When was the civil rights era? The 1960s. What has happened to the (overwhelmingly white) middle class since then? Middle-class incomes have been flat since the 1970s. Blacks had to maintain a separate economy until the point when we whites finally conceded, at least in law, that they had a right to some of our pie -- and then they were expected to fight with us for the same amount of pie.

Yes, a lot of whites still don't want blacks to get ahead. But the system hasn't wanted anyone to get ahead for the past forty years, except the 1%. And the aftermath of the 2008 crash makes clear that the 1% want to break the rest of us, eviscerating our social safety net and keeping the unemployment rate high enough that we'll continue to settle for crumbs when we're lucky to land or keep jobs. Yes, whites on average start at a far better position than blacks. But the 1% don't really want any middle class whatsoever.

In the midst- between the first and second paragraphs- the blogger notes "Conservatives say that white ethnic groups faced prejudice, yet managed to make it in America without affirmative action and similar programs. But white ethnics (including my Italian forebears) were able to get their piece of the pie during a period when the pie was getting bigger."

The pie was bigger back then.   In The Betrayal of the American Dream, Donald Bartlett and James Steele last year observed

The last decade alone saw the closing of 14 percent of the nation's factories (56,190 establishments), the sharpest industrial decline in American history.  A record 5.7 million factory workers lost their jobs during this time. This 33 percent decline even exceeded manufacturing job losses during the Great Depression, according to Stephen Ezell, a manufacturing industry analyst. As those jobs have vanished, millions of middle-class Americans- whose income has stagnated or gone down- have struggled.

Those jobs have vanished apart from whether they were held by whites, blacks, Hispanics, Asians, or anyone else.     Jobs may be created in the "new economy."  But all the blather from neo-liberals (including the current President and the last Democratic one) about the need for training for the new economy will bring back, or create, many good jobs for Americans of any ethnic group.

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The Other Word Is "Phony"

I'm just a humble country lawyer trying to do the best I can against this brilliant prosecutor from the big city of Lansing.
— Paul Biegler, Anatomy of a Murder

It may have begun, this website suggests, in Anatomy of a Murder, but the tradition is long of the wealthy and influential assiduously building a humble image.  The late Senator Sam Ervin, Democrat of North Carolina and star of the Watergate hearings, was particularly endearing while claiming to be only a "poor country lawyer."

A particularly effective practitioner of the art, William Jefferson Clinton, appeared Saturday before a group of professional donors and, Politico reported, cautioned

Do not patronize the passionate supporters of your opponents by looking down your nose at them. A lot of these people live a world very different from the world lived in by the people proposing these things. I know because I come from this world...

A lot of these people... all they've got is their hunting and their fishing. Or they're living in a place where they don't have much police presence. Or they've been listening to this stuff for so long that they believe it all.

Liberal/progressive blogger and (Hillary) Clinton biographer and enthusiast Taylor Marsh, noting (as she is wont to do) that she is married to a firearms expert, observed

The biggest reason why Clinton’s comments are not only patronizing, but condescending, is that they’re also a straw man argument, because no one on the Democratic side is “looking down their nose” at gun owners and I bet Bill Clinton knows this. His opportunistic scolding is for purely political gain, which takes the attention away from where it needs to be and where the majority of Americans want it.

Cheerfully displaying his testosterone, the former Governor told the donors a story which ended up in him telling an NRA lobbyist "If that's the way you fel, you get your gun, I'll get my gun and I'll see you in Texas."  Marsh comments

As a gun owning family, I don't need Mr. Clinton or any other Democrat, certainly not one brandishing an AK-47, using this moment to scold people like myself who are demanding universal background checks, as well as serious consideration on banning high-capacity clips, not to mention putting the spine back in the ATF and gun laws.

Former President Bill Clinton is insulting those of us who own guns and also know the flagrant manner in which the NRA is torturing gun laws and the Second Amendment.  the former presiden tis posturing in a manner meant to deliver a Sister Souljah moment to his own, which only comes off as tone deaf to people who know anything about the gun issue.

Liberal activists are "looking down their noses at" opponents of gun control, saith the man who describes the latter group as "listening to this stuff for so long that they believe it all."   Yet he receives a far better reception than the "elitist" Illinois Senator who five years ago- while sympathizing with the unemployed in the industrial heartland- remarked "So it's not surprising then that they get bitter, and they cling to guns or religion, or antipathy toward people who aren't like them, or anti-immigrant sentiment, or, you know, anti-trade sentiment [as] a way to explain their frustrations."

Clinton, additionally

recalled Al Gore's 2000 campaign against George W. Bush in Colorado, where a referendum designed to close the so-called gun show loophole shared the ballot with the presidential ticket. Gore publicly backed the proposal, while Bush opposed it.

Though the referendum passed with 70 percent of the vote, Gore lost the state. Clinton said that the reason was because a good chunk of the referendum's opponents were single-issue voters who automatically rejected Gore as anti-gun.

And Clinton said that passing the 1994 federal assault weapons ban "devastated" more than a dozen Democratic lawmakers in the 1994 midterms- and cost then-Speaker of the House Tom Foley (D-Wash.) his job and his seat in Congress.

"I've had many sleepless nights in the many years since," Clinton said. One reason? "I never had any sessions with the House members who were vulnerable," he explained- saying that he had assumed they already knew how to explain their vote for the ban to their constituents.

Perhaps Clinton claimed to be "sleepless" because he forgot that Foley was from Spokane rather than Seattle. As explained here, however, Clinton's continuing narrative that the assault weapons ban cost the Democrats control of the House in 1994 is way overdone.  It is analogous, however, to the former President assuring fundraisers in Houston in 1995 "Probably there are people in this room still mad at me at that budget because you think I raised your taxes too much. It might surprise you to know that I think I raised them too much, too."

By now we shouldn't be surprised.  It's the same man who rescued the economy by raising taxes and then expressed some regret, who signed an assault weapons ban and then blamed it for allegedly sinking his party, and who now imagines liberals belittling gun control opponents.  (And rewarded Wall Street pigs on his way out of the White House.)  Similarly, last fall, after President Obama noted merely that a President has to "figure out how everybody in the country has a fair shot" rather than merely how to "maximize profits," the former President felt compelled to declare "I don't think we ought to get into the position where we say this is bad work."

Bill Clinton is a master of the straw man argument, but also of portraying himself in the same tradition as the fictional Paul Biegler, Sam Ervin, and even Tim Pawlenty, who periodically sports a southern accent. The guy who say he "know(s) because I come from this world" has been reportedly

raking in huge sums of money by speaking to groups and corporations. It is estimated that he earned around $41 million as a speaker. His standard fee is $150,000. It is also speculated that between 2003 and 2007 the former President received an amount of $15 million paid by Ron Burkle in exchange for his 'advice' on potential investments and opportunities for investors.

Former President Bill Clinton has moved to his new home in Bedford Hills, NY from his old home at Chappaqua. It is believed that the house was bought for $10.9 million. Though the house is only eight miles from his previous abode, this new property offers much more privacy and security. The new 'Clinton Estate' sits on over 20 acres of land and covers around 7,000 sq ft of living space. The new home looks like an English country cottage and it features lots of fireplaces, ceilings that have wood beams, a stable for horses and a dressage ring, an in-ground pool that is heated. Apart from these, there are a couple of guest houses too.

It's a tough life, flying around the country raising money and then having to face the indignity of periodically returning to a humble abode with 7,000 feet of living space, a stable for horses and a dressage ring, and a heated in-ground pool.   The real burden, however, is having to live on 20 acres of land with extraordinary privacy and security when, as he and the mainstream media periodically remind us, Bill Clinton is really just the average Joe who loves those plain, working-class folks.

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Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Pulling A Fast One

When you're the media darling Chris Christie is, sometimes your actions gain out-sized attention.  And sometimes they receive little attention at all.

And so it has been on the matter of firearms.   Recently, the NRA ran an ad arguing that President Obama is an "elitist hypocrite" for questioning the organization's advocacy of armed guards in schools while his children at school are protected by law enforcement.  Rather than opposing the NRA's solution, supporting reasonable gun safety measures, or simply pointing out that the pressure group had displayed ignorance of the facts, Christie made the tough political choice to defend children.   He received praise far and wide (except from Republicans who realize Chris Christie is the only cause Chris Christie is interested in) when he proclaimed

I think it's awful to bring public figures children into the political debate. They don't deserve to be there. And I think for any of us who are public figures, you see kind of ad and you cringe. You cringe, because it's just not appropriate in my view to do that. They've got real issues to debate on this topic. Get to the real issues. Don't be dragging people's children into this; it's wrong.

Not all have been taken in.  Jersey Jazzman blogs

... on the issue of school funding, Chris Christie is one of the biggest hypocrites in America.

All of Christie's children go to private schools which brag on low student:teacher ratios, broad and rich curricula, lots of extracurriculars, and large amounts of spending per child. His eldest son, for example, attended the tony Delbarton School in Morristown...

Yet even as the Christie children have enjoyed their education - an education free of state-mandated standardized testing - the governor himself has waged a campaign to defund schools across the state. Back in 2010, he slashed state aid to schools so severely that even relatively affluent districts were forced to cut programs and charge activity fees. Shamelessly, when the courts forced Christie to restore many of his cuts (thank you Education Law Center!), he actually bragged that he had increased state funding for education, when all he had really done was partially restore the draconian cuts he made the year before (you have to include the surpluses he forced districts to use up as part of his cuts).

Asked by a constituent about sending his children to private schools (video below), the Everyday Guy and fellow next to you on the bar stool replied "First off, it's none of your business.  I don't ask you where you send your kids to school, don't ask me about mine."   The governor of the state. Seriously.

It's easy to defend children, especially those of the President of the United States.  It's not so easy to challenge the gun lobby.  In a press release, the New Jersey Second Amendment Society

has announced that NJ Governor Chris Christie has accepted his invitation to speak at the February 8 rally in Trenton being held to promote second amendment rights in New Jersey.

(President) Fiamingo commented in his news letter to the NJ2AS membership: “I had an opportunity to invite Governor Chris Christie to speak at our Rally Day event and he accepted. I confirmed with his office that we may include him on our roster. Unless something critical comes up, we can expect him to make an appearance.”

Running for re-election in a state in which Barack Obama remains fairly popular, Governor Christie stands foursquare behind the President's children while he panders to the gun lobby.  Chris Christie is big, brash, and blustery.  Bold, not so much.

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In A Positive Development, Discordant To Some

It's another annoying GEICO commercial (video below; I apologize) with Maxwell the pig, a far inferior character than the gecko.  As the plane is about to lift off, Maxwell brags about his GEICO app to the two stewardesses, one of whom turns to the other and says "I'll believe that one when pigs fly."  Max turns to the passenger across the aisle and asks, evidently rhetorically, "Did she seriously just say that?"

Peggy Noonan, once a marvelous speechwriter to Ronald Reagan, is too old to qualify for employment as a stewardess but on Sunday's Face the Nation "power table" she played the role of Maxwell's skeptic.    Echoing the sentiments of Bob Woodward, Dee Dee Myers, and Condoleezza Rice( all of whom Crooks and Liars' John Amato described as whining about President Obama being "a real meanie to Republicans") Noonan stated

Hmmmm....well, it's true on the Hill speakers and such don't quite control their conferences and caucuses as they have, but what's different for the last few weeks say, since the President was re-elected is that he's playing it in a way differently than previous presidents. Previous presidents get a win, whether it's close or not, and then they try to sort of put their arms around everybody and summon them in. We're essentially a 50-50 country still. Instead of 'let's all be together,' he's been very sharply definitively 'us guys' vs. 'you guys' by going at the Republicans on the Hill. By speaking in a way that is very...sour about why Republicans take the stands they take, he, I think... it's a new way to play it, a tough way to play it and dicey way to play it.

It doesn't take a pig to respond "Did she seriously just say that?"

On May 29, 2000, a few months after George W. Bush was appointed President by five of nine Supreme Court Justices, Vice-President Dick Cheney said on the same program (Face the Nation)

So we're going to aggressively pursue tax changes, tax reform, tax cuts, because it's important to do so, partly for economic reasons, partly because we have this growing surplus and some of it ought to be returned. We're going to pursue education reform and Social Security and Medicare reform, because those are important national priorities and need to be addressed.

The suggestion that somehow, because this was a close election, we should fundamentally change our beliefs, I just think is silly. These are not radical positions. These are good, solid proposals to address important national issues, and we'll continue to pursue them.

After the 2004 election, Bush declared "When you win, there is ... a feeling that the people have spoken and embraced your point of view.  And that's what I intend to tell Congress, that I made it clear what I intend to do as the president; now let's work."   Then-Wall Street Journal contributing editor Peggy Noonan gushed "He has, I would argue, a mandate Now.  You can bet he's going forward boldly.  He announced it today in his victory speech. He said 'Honey, I'm not just going to lower your taxes. I am transforming the tax system.'"  Two days later, Bush no doubt sent another tingle up Noonan's leg by warning reporters "I earned capital in this campaign, political capital, and now I intend to spend it. It is my style."  (No matter the consequences.)

That's Peggy Noonan's interpretation of putting an arm around everybody and summoning them in.

Call it a mandate, or not.  But Barack Obama's margin of victory was greater than that of George W. Bush in 2000- when he lost he national popular vote- as well as in 2004.   Though Obama's margin was smaller than that of Bill Clinton in 1996, the Illinoisan won a majority of votes in both his campaigns, which completely eluded Clinton.

The issue is not whether Obama has received a mandate, which depends upon how one defines the term and interprets election results.  Rather, it is whether the President shapes his second term in light of a victory larger than that of George W. Bush and more impressive than he is given credit for by Repub detractors such as Peggy Noonan.

Presumably upsetting Noonan, President Obama yesterday gave a surprisingly progressive acceptance speech at his inauguration.  Notably absent of the trademark Obama obsessiveness with bipartisanship, it set the proper tone for a second term against the backdrop of an opposition party marked by obstructionism.  It was a good start, but as Sigmund Freud might have (or might not) have said: sometimes a speech is just a speech.

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Sunday, January 20, 2013

Safe, Legal, And Rare, Indeed

It was twenty years ago, twenty years after Roe v. Wade (whose anniversary is Tuesday) and in the midst of the first Clinton Administration that Cynthia Tucker would applaud the President's "safe, legal, and rare" prescription for abortion.  Described by Wikipedia as "a liberal American columnist and blogger for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, syndicated by Universal Press Syndicate," Tucker praised the approach as "a rare example of developing a wise and humane strategy on an issue so often discussed only in extremes." "The only way to lower the abortion rate," she wrote, "is to make contraceptives much more widely available."

Or so we thought back then, when it seemed that the only way to make abortion rarer would be to empower women, to offer them access to contraceptive care and thereby some control over their reproductive choices.

What a quaint thought.  A year ago, Rachel Benson Gold and Elizabeth Nash of the pro-reproductive rights Guttmacher Institute compared the status of the right to an abortion among the years 2000, 2005, and 2011 along the measures of ten general categories of major abortion restrictions:

• mandated parental involvement prior to a minor’s abortion;
• required pre-abortion counseling that is medically inaccurate or misleading;
• extended waiting period paired with a requirement that counseling be conducted in-person,
  thus necessitating two trips to the facility;
• mandated performance of a non–medically indicated ultrasound prior to an abortion;
• prohibition of Medicaid funding except in cases of life endangerment, rape or incest;
• restriction of abortion coverage in private health insurance plans;
• medically inappropriate restrictions on the provision of medication abortion;
• onerous requirements on abortion facilities that are not related to patient safety;
• unconstitutional ban on abortions prior to fetal viability or limitations on the              circumstances under which an abortion can be performed after viability;
• preemptive ban on abortion outright in the event Roe v. Wade is overturned

The Institute observed

the number of both supportive and middle-ground states shrank considerably, while the number of hostile states ballooned. In 2000,19 states were middle-ground and only 13 were hostile. By 2011, when states enacted a record breaking number of new abortion restrictions (see box), that picture had shifted dramatically: 26 states were hostile to abortion rights, and the number of middle-ground states had cut in half, to nine.

Restrictions enacted in 2011 (trend displayed in graph from Guttmacher Institute,below) included banning abortion at or beyond 20 weeks' gestation; adopting waiting periods, some onerous; instituting an ultrasound requirement; prohibiting all insurance policies in the state from covering abortion unless the woman's life is endangered; financially prohibitive clinic regulations; and prohibiting the use of telemedicine, a common practice in rural counties lacking medical facilities.    While in 2012 fewer laws to restrict a woman's reproductive freedom were enacted, none at all was enacted, the Guttmacher Institute reports, "to facilitate or improve access to abortion, family planning or comprehensive sex education."

Abortion is still, for the most part, legal because Roe v. Wade has not yet been overturned. And it long has been safer for the woman than has childbirth, and has been getting safer. But while liberals have focused on making abortion rarer by expanding access to contraceptive services, conservatives have resisted at almost every juncture.  They have aggressively sought to make abortion rarer, even though- no, because- it emasculates women by thwarting them from determining the size of their own family.   That is part of the legacy of Bill Clinton's "safe, legal, and rare."

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Saturday, January 19, 2013

Guns For Slavery

The other day Ted Nugent exclaimed "Why would you resist that obvious opportunity for an upgrade in reduction of crime?  It's because the Pelosis and the Eric Holders and the Barack Obamas in the world.  They don't want to save lives. They don't care about reducing crime. They are absolutely obsessed with their hatred for firearms!"  (Where in the world are all these other Pelosis, Holders, and Obamas?)

Few eyebrows were, or needed to be, raised about the foolish comment of avid gun advocate and hysterical one-hit wonder Nugent.  But when a United States Senator-  one who advocates what is heralded as a humane immigration policy-  makes an idiotic remark about gun safety, people need to notice.  Especially if that Senator is one of the two leading candidates for his party's presidential nomination.

As long as Paul Ryan has not sullied the halls of the United States Senate, that would be Floridian Marco Rubio, who this week told loofah enthusiast Bill O'Reilly

I'll let you in on secret. I mean, the President is a liberal.    And this is part of the liberals’ long-time dreams for our country, and he sees this as a opportunity to get some of these things done....I think that the President — and he doesn’t have the guts to admit it — is not a believer in the Second Amendment, although he states that he is.I didn't write the Constitution. Neither did you — neither did he. If he doesn’t want it in the Constitution or he wants to reform the Second Amendment, then have the guts to admit that.

I'll let you in on a secret.  I mean, Marco Rubio is frightened of the National Rifle Association and doesn't have the guts to admit it.

On HBO's Real Time on Friday, Bill Maher compared the second and third Amendments of the Bill of Rights.  The second famously reads "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."  The third Amendment less famously reads "No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law."  

As Maher concluded, "the second Amendment is just as anachronistic as the third."   It may be even more anachronistic (more anachronistic?) than even Maher thinks.    The Second Amendment was born in an effort to enforce the institution of slavery in the American south. Thom Hartmann explains

The real reason the Second Amendment was ratified, and why it says "State" instead of "Country" (the Framers knew the difference - see the 10th Amendment), was to preserve the slave patrol militias in the southern states, which was necessary to get Virginia's vote.  Founders Patrick Henry, George Mason, and James Madison were totally clear on that . . . and we all should be too.

In the beginning, there were the militias. In the South, they were also called the "slave patrols," and they were regulated by the states. 

In Georgia, for example, a generation before the American Revolution, laws were passed in 1755 and 1757 that required all plantation owners or their male white employees to be members of the Georgia Militia, and for those armed militia members to make monthly inspections of the quarters of all slaves in the state.  The law defined which counties had which armed militias and even required armed militia members to keep a keen eye out for slaves who may be planning uprisings. 

As Dr. Carl T. Bogus wrote for the University of California Law Review in 1998, "The Georgia statutes required patrols, under the direction of commissioned militia officers, to examine every plantation each month and authorized them to search 'all Negro Houses for offensive Weapons and Ammunition' and to apprehend and give twenty lashes to any slave found outside plantation grounds."

It's the answer to the question raised by the character played by Leonardo DiCaprio in Django Unchained when he asks, "Why don't they just rise up and kill the whites?"  If the movie were real, it would have been a purely rhetorical question, because every southerner of the era knew the simple answer: Well regulated militias kept the slaves in chains....

Hartmann goes on to note that James Madison's draft of the Second Amendment had read "The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed; a well armed, and well regulated militia being the best security of a free country [emphasis mine]: but no person religiously scrupulous of bearing arms, shall be compelled to render military service in person."  But Patrick Henry and a few others feared, according to Hartmann, "that Article 1, Section 8 of the newly-proposed Constitution, which gave the federal government the power to raise and supervise a militia, could also allow that federal militia to subsume their state militias and change them from slavery-enforcing institutions into something that could even, one day, free the slaves."    Therefore, The Father of the Constitution substituted "State" for "country" and settled on an Amendment which stipulated "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."

If there were an actual, functioning mainstream media in this nation, Florida's GOP senator (as well his fellow hysterics) would have some explaining to do.   Rubio can't be asked whether he supports slavery or believes it should be brought back:  he doesn't and would summon up righteous indignation and exploit his background as a son of immigrants (though it didn't go quite as he has spun it).   But, as an esteemed member of a select club and potential presidential nominee, he ought to be asked his explanation for supporting a passage which was shaped to maintain the practice of slavery.

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Friday, January 18, 2013

Wrong Point, Right Target

Chris Christie's sound political instincts were on display Thursday when he savaged the National Rifle Association's ad (video, below) attacking President Obama for being skeptical about the recommendation of the nation's pre-eminent pro-crime organization that armed guards be placed in every school.  The New Jersey governor, gearing up for his re-election bid, asserted "I think it's awful to bring public figures' children into the political debate. They don't deserve to be there. And I think for any of us who are public figures, you see that kind of ad and you cringe."

Christie was merely one of the many voices (sarcasm alert) going out on the figurative political limb by defending children of the President of the United States.    Joe Scarborough's television wife, Mika Brzezinski, maintained "I think some of the people who run that thing are sick.  I really do. I think they are sick in the head." Presidential press secretary Jay Carney succinctly expressed the widespread sentiment when he stated "Americans agree that a president's children should not be used as pawns in a political fight.   But to go so far as to make the safety of the president's children the subject of an attack ad is repugnant and cowardly."

A blogger on the Weekly Standard website disagreed, contending "According to a scan of the school's online faculty-staff directory, Sidwell has a security department made up of at least 11 people. Many of those are police officers, who are presumably armed."

So are Christie, Brzezinski, and Carney right and the NRA and the Weekly Standard contributor wrong?  

No, no, no, yes, and yes.

Brzezinski, of course, is flailing.  NRA officials aren't "sick"; maybe tasteless and most assuredly wrong, but hardly mentally ill.   The sure-footed Christie and Carney recognize, though, that no one ever lost a vote defending children- or any family members- from criticism, however well-grounded and mild that criticism may be.  Politicians under personal attack know their ace in the hole is some variant of "I don't care for myself, but to drag my wife into this..."

And no, the NRA is not attacking Obama's children but instead labeling him a hypocrite for opposing for the American people what he demands for his own children.  The ad rhetorically asks "Are the President's kids more important than yours?  Then why is he skeptical about putting armed guards in our schools when his kids are protected by armed guards at their school?" If accurate, the second is a reasonable question.

The ad is far less cruel than it is deceptive. The President's children are more important than ours.  When our children are the victims of a crime, it is a personal, and family, tragedy.  If the children of the President of the United States were seriously harmed in a criminal attack, it would be treated, understandably, as a national calamity.

The NRA spot not only feeds on our righteous indignation that any children may be considered more important than ours.  It also, presumably knowingly, implies that armed guards are routinely stationed at the school of Sasha and Malia.   Glenn Kessler, who writes the Fact Checker column at The Washington Post, explains that the NRA has on its website a longer, four-minute video presentation which makes clear the organization is referring to armed guards rather than Secret Service protection.  He adds

... the online directory for Sidwell Friends lists 11 people as working in the Security Department. Five are listed as “special police officer,” while two are listed as “on call special police officer,” which presumably means they do not work full-time. The directory also lists two weekend shift supervisors, one security officer and the chief of security.

Under the District of Columbia General Order 308.7, a special police officer is a private commissioned police officer with arrest powers in the area that he or she protects. They may also be authorized to bear firearms — but it is not required. Security officers, by contrast, cannot carry firearms and in effect are watchmen. So five to seven security personnel in theory could be licensed to carry firearms.

But we spoke to parents who said they had never seen a guard on campus with a weapon. And Ellis Turner, associate head of Sidwell Friends, told us emphatically: “Sidwell Friends security officers do not carry guns.”

Sidwell Friends, by the way, has two distinct campuses, a lower school in Bethesda and a middle and upper schools in Washington. So given shift rotations and three different schools, it appears that the 11 “armed guards” is really just one or two unarmed guards per school at a time.

Long ago, before organized crime was decentralized and spread to ethnic groups other than Italian-Americans, the Justice Department pursued*  the murderous La Cosa Nostra through the Internal Revenue Service.  That tactic, for the most part, worked.   So go ahead, attack the National Rifle Association because they're mean to the President's children.  It might prove part of a successful strategy to counteract, even undermine, a destructive, dishonest, and thoroughly reprehensible organization.

*too little, too late for President John F. Kennedy, unfortunately

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Literally big, a former New York Giants offensive tackle is coming up big figuratively : So theres an active shooter and trump tells h...