Saturday, July 28, 2012

The Second Amendment

"A well regulate 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 Second Amendment of the Constitution--IN ITS ENTIRETY

So, here in a single sentence, we are given the reason for the allocation of a specific right. We want the state to remain free. To insure this we need security. To secure the state we need a militia. Militias must have guns.
So this is the state of affairs in 1783. No standing army. No armories. No missile silos. No nuclear submarines. No stealth bombers. No drones. Just a bunch of guys who have houses with fireplaces and mantel pieces and above each is a black powder musket, like the ones they fired on British troops at Bunker Hill.
In his love of "the original" text of the Constitution, Antonin Scalia, and his originalist brethren on the Supreme Court find an inalienable right for eunuchoid wackos, who have so little self regard they need to hold an AK 47 in their hands to feel like men. These men need to be able to keep an arsenal of attack rifles, grenade launchers and boxes of rounds of ammunition at home. 

I don't know why they can't have tanks in their driveways and rocket launchers. 

It's all right there in the 2nd Amendment.

There may be one or two other places in the Constitution where the framers take the trouble to explain why they are granting a specific right, just to make clear the rationale and to imply there are reasons here which might someday change. But I can't bring another to mind, right off the bat.

Friday, July 27, 2012

GOP Rare Moment of Honesty: Health CareI Is For Those Who Have It

WALLACE: One of the keys to ObamaCare is that it will extend insurance access to 30 million people who are now uninsured. In your replacement, how would you provide universal coverage?
MCCONNELL: Well first let me say the first single thing we can do for the American system is get rid of ObamaCare. … The single biggest direction we can take in terms of improving health care is to get rid of this monstrosity. [...]
WALLACE: But you’re talking about repealing and replace, how would you provide universal coverage?
MCCONNELL: I’ll get to it in a minute. [...]
WALLACE: I just want to ask, what specifically are you going to do to provide universal coverage to the 30 million people who are uninsured?
MCCONNELL: That is not the issue. The question is, how can you go step by step to improve the American health care system. … We’re not going to turn the American health care system into a Western European system.

Republicans are masters of framing the debate--if they believe something they know will be unpopular, they are slippery enough to say something they think will lead to an applause line. So taxing billoinaires becomes thwarting the "job creators," and playing Russian roulette with the economy. Now, when asked whether the Republicans care about the millions of uninsured Americans, Mitch McConnell says, that's not the point. The point is we don't want to do what those pinko commie European semi socialist nations (like Great Brittain) have done and allow government to take over the world's best medical care system (which would surprise Sweden, Norway, the UK, France and Germany to learn--all of whom have better systems than we do.)

What's wrong with this on a political level?  Nothing, actually, most Americans, about 300 million out of 330 million have health insurance and don't particularly care about those who do not.

What's wrong with this on a policy level?  Those 30 million uninsured are dragging the system down. Our system is failing because of those uninsured, who flood our emergency rooms and wind up flooding our hospital wards and driving up costs for the 300 million.

We are being penny wise and pound foolish--just as the Greeks discovered when they stopped paying for free sterile syringes for drug addicts. Nobody likes drug addicts, let them die. But then those drug addicts reused syringes, shared them and HIV and Hep C rates skyrocketed and spilled over to infect the general population, filled the wards and cost way more than a few sterile syringes would ever have cost.

Stupid policy makes waste, something the Republicans with their insistence on bad government are teaching us year by year.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Wanted: Democrats with Bite

At the onset of the Civil War, the South had negligible factory capacity to produce cannon, too little land under cultivation for crops (though lots of land devoted to cash crops), no navy to prevent a blockade of ports, a population about 1/3 that of the north, and no functioning central government. The North had all the advantages of numbers in people, factories, food and wealth. All the South had was, as Rhett Butler observed, cotton, slaves and arrogance.

That war should have been over in 4 months, not 4 years.

But as they were fond of saying in the South, "It's not the size of the dog in the fight; it's the size of the fight in the dog." 

The South had two things: 1. The capacity to reframe the argument.  2. Good leaders: leaders with daring, who were not afraid of a fight.

When it came to the argument, well, slavery was not a great policy. Only a small aristocracy actually owned slaves, and the South would need all of its men to fight; it would need to bring on board  the 19th century equivalent of Joe Sixpack. So, the fight would be about "states rights."  Everyone had to like the right of states to do what they wanted without some Big Government in distant Washington telling them what to do.

When we think about how the Republican party of today has managed to recruit to its ranks so many who are not in the top 1%, it has used the same technique: reframe the argument. This election is not about economic fairness, it's about Big Government. 

Aren't we all just appalled by Big Government?

We might like Medicare and Social Security and the internet and the cohesiveness it took to beat Hitler, but Big Government? Hell, that's something we can all agree to hate.

And as for leaders: Consider the Republican leader of the Senate, Mitch McConnell who, when given the unenviable task of making a case for continuing tax cuts for the billionaires comes up with the brilliant remark that to change the tax code now, in this precarious economy would be like playing Russian roulette with the economy.

Russian roulette, oh, that's bad.  You point the gun at your own head in that game.

And who do the Democrats have to respond to this?  Why, Casper Milquetoast himself, with that wispy little voice, that walking apology, Harry Reid, who says, oh, well, no, actually, we are not trying to hold a gun to anyone's head, we are just concerned about the current economic situation, so sorry to upset you.

It took Lincoln a few years to finally find some generals to match those of the opposition. And they were flawed men: Sherman was a depressive and Sheridan was ruthless and Grant was said to be a drunk. Lincoln said he'd like to find out just exactly what it was Grant drank, so he could supply it to his other generals. As Lincoln  summed it up, "He fights."

We need a Grant and Sherman and a Sheridan now, in the Democratic party, to turn the tide of the war. We are clearly losing to a "cause" which is no more worthy than that great Southern  Cause.  We have lost important battles: The election of 2010 lost the House of Representatives to the Tea Party Frank Guintas and Paul Ryans who want to destroy Social Security and Medicare. In the state house in Concord we have the same lunatic core of Republicans who want to sent us back to the 19th century, to an agrarian state which spurns the idea of community and cooperative effort.

I'm still looking for a dog with some sizable fight.

You Didn't Build That: An Actual Substantive Debate

So now Romney is running a clip from President Obama saying to the small business owner, "You didn't build that business." 
Beyond the stupidity of the sound bite manipulation, there is actually a true difference of perception and opinion here, and it may be the first glimmer of an actual debate here.
There are those who look at their own accomplishments in life and feel very proud, and think of all the risks and sacrifices and feel that whatever rewards they've got, they earned on their own, without any help from anyone. They have constructed in their own minds, the story of their clawing and fighting their way to success against all odds, their own personal story of travail and prevail.
Then, there are those who look at their own accomplishments and they are more humble,  and they say, "Whatever heights I've reached, I've done it by standing on the shoulders of giants."
Of course, the Republicans are now running ads with clips from small businessmen who are incensed the President would suggest they did not pull themselves up by their own bootstraps, and the media have investigated and it turns out each of these self made men took advantages of government grants, tax breaks, have advertised to their customers the tax breaks they can reap buying the products. 
It's a lot like the "Keep your derned government hands off my Medicare!"
When the full clip was run, of course, President Obama is saying, "You didn't raise yourself." You had a mother, a teacher, and your company used the internet and roads and bridges and all the infrastructure which comprises the American economic machine. You had to work hard, sure. But you had lots given to you to allow you to become successful. 
Every night on the world news, you see people trying to improve their lives in Rwanda or Tanzania or Honduras and you can see immediately, they will never succeed to the extent even a modestly determined person will succeed in America, because they've got no paved roads, no running water and no money in those places
I have friends who are like these Republicans--always whining about how hard they worked in college to get into medical school and through it and now they deserve all the money and good life they've earned. Sure, they worked hard, harder than their sociology major classmates,  all through college. But they were in college, at an Ivy League college and they got into an expensive medical school, where they also worked hard, but they were given that opportunity by other people who worked hard to give it to them. 
But some people are self absorbed and basically see themselves as virtuous and everyone else as less deserving. 
They are the ones who vote Republican.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Big Government/Bad Government

I'm trying to collect a list of things the federal government has done which have benefited the country. It's a little like trying to think of the things mother did to benefit the family--where do you begin?

When it comes to doing research for which there is no immediate benefit, no clear prospect for financial gain, that gets left to the government. So radio, the internet, the polio vaccine, radar (with a big help from the Brits), nuclear power (which some may say was not such a net plus), Medicare, Social Security, the development of technology to harvest natural gas (which is fast replacing dirtier coal, a private industry despoiler of the environment), protection of the food supply from taint and infection, basic medical research into AIDS, which is closing in on taming a truly horrific epidemic, space exploration (for what it's worth), clean up of contaminated soil and water by polluting industry (Love Canal), the interstate highway system, the saving of American automobile companies (more than once), the GI bill which educated an entire generation and allowed millions to move up into the middle classes and beyond so their children could take the next step up, keeping all the 6,000 flights up in the air and not running into each other (the FAA), allowing many people who otherwise could not afford homes to get mortgages (until recently--but remember during the 50's, 60's, 70's and 80's the federal government's mortgage programs worked very well--until the avarice and wheeling and dealing of Wall Street and private bankers stabbed it in the back.

That's just off the top of my head. 

Add your own.

When we face the Frank Guinta's and Kelley Ayotte's of the world, those Tea Party darlings who want to strangle the government in its bed, who have taken a pledge to never vote for a tax, well, we ought to be able to respond by saying--actually, that government you want to kill, that's an old friend of mine, a friend I owe a lot to, a friend I want to see live and thrive, even if it means--Oh, Heaven Forbid--I have to pay taxes.

Here's another thing to think about:  In most states you pay sales tax, property tax, both on real estate and cars, and state income tax. Here in New Hampshire, we do not pay enough taxes, and we pay the wrong sort of taxes, but go to any town meeting and you get the whiners raising a howl any time a candidate intimates she is not going to cut taxes and may just consider re-structuring our tax scheme. "Oh, then you're for an income tax," the whiner shouts, as if he has just unmasked a vampire.

Here's a reality check New Hampshire--doing things, improvements, life costs money. Only wimps whimper at every mention of the cost.  In the Granite State too many of us see the price of everything and the value of nothing.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Which Fight to Pick

It is always good to see Barack Obama throw a punch in the direction of any Republican, because it is so rare and because it is so necessary.

He has obviously got together with his advisers and decided the Romney as a man who ships jobs overseas is a punch safe to throw.

Any punch will do, but I wish he'd throw more than a jab now and then.

For one thing, all American companies ship jobs overseas--we cannot even make our own Olympic uniforms with American tailors in America. 

I'd rather see the President keep pounding away at the Republican party's attempt to kill Medicare--every Republican in Congress voted for Coupon Care and Romney has endorsed it.  Do you really want all your medical expenses, all your parent's medical expenses to be privatized--i.e., to be your own, minus some paltry "coupon" for $8,000, which would be like pissing into the wind when it comes to the $250,000 bill you are going to get for your coronary bypass procedure?

And what about the Representative from New Hampshire who says he wants to kill Social Security? Mr. Guinta says he dearly hopes his children will never ever have to learn what Social Security ever was. He wants private insurance and retirement funds based on the stock market to "lead the way" toward "personal responsibility" for every citizen's retirement.

Oh, yes, that's the Tea Party and the Republican Party song: No more Social Security. No more Medicare. The twin towers of Democratic Party "state- ism." I think that's how you must spell this new Republican Party word. State-ism by state-tists.

 I infer what they mean by this is people who look to the state, rather than to private enterprise for solving problems like medical care for the elderly or retirement.  Or for building roads, bridges, and maintaining them, for building railroads and airports and maintaining the air traffic system, and for building and staffing prisons and for fighting wars and for safeguarding the environment.  All those things should be done by commercial companies, which are--don't you know--always more efficient and better at everything than the U.S. government, which might have put a man on the moon, created the internet, funded the National Institutes of Health which identified the HIV virus, created the Center for Disease Control which has stifled epidemics, defeated fascism and a variety of other threats to the nation, provided health care for half a century for America's elderly, but cannot be trusted to do anything right, because, well, you know the record.

The record shows how private industry always puts America first, like BP oil did in the Gulf of Mexico, like Wall Street and the private banks did in bundling mortgages into credit default swaps, whatever they were, and nearly pushed the economy off the cliff, before Uncle Sam, otherwise known as the federal government rode to the rescue, for which the Republicans all blamed them viciously as government run amuck, killing the economy with bail outs and over regulation.

But no, to point to instances where private avarice and private enterprise damaged America is to incur the wrath of Wall Streeters, and it might not test well with focus groups. 

Once again, I take my cue from The Wire, when Tommy Carcetti shows up at the funeral of a young woman who has been shot and all the TV cameras and newspaper reporters are waiting to interview him as he walks out of the funeral parlor, but Carcetti over rules his staff and walks right by the media and hops into his car.  How can you leave all those reporters disappointed, in the heat of an election?  Because, Carcetti says, it would be using a private funeral for political theater.  That's a leader, right there.

So, I'm hoping the President will stop listening to his aides and listen to his own interior voice and attack those fat cat, government hating Republicans for what they are.  A few jabs are fine to set them up, but you need to throw flurries.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Obama: Hope? Hope He Can Throw a Punch

Every once in a while I catch a "Classic Boxing" match on TV.  The fights which really amaze me are the ones where the fighters don't seem to be able to do much at all for the first thirteen rounds and then in the last two rounds there are more flurries and, sometimes, out of nowhere a punch seems to land and it's all over.

I'm hoping President Obama is in that mode.

Since the last election, I've been dismayed at his inability to throw a punch. He blocks some punches reasonably well, or he did when his opponents were Sarah Palin and John McCain, but against this Romney cat, who seems to be channeling Reagan, right  down to his voice, the President has been, as he usually is, pretty quiet.

Now his managers seem to have come up with a strategy of attacking the Mitt with the same invective his Republican opponents used: The guy is a vulture capitalist and what that means is "I got mine. You're on your own." So he makes his money in the US of A, using the internet the government gave him, the roads the government built him, flying around at airports safeguarded  courtesy of the FAA, and then he parks all the money he made in Swiss bank accounts and off shore islands, having used the tools his country's government provided but being unwilling to pay the taxes which would repay, in some small measure, the government which made all this possible.

It's the old idea of his having been born on third base, and thinking he hit a triple: He had all the advantages given him and he winds up believing he earned those advantages through his own efforts, without help from anyone else.

It's what the Republicans have to sell. And the Democrats are finally beginning to voice some tepid disapproval.  But the Democrats still can't throw any big blows. They are still satisfied with a few jabs to keep their opponents from launching any big shots of their own.  

Here's what a good right cross would sound like: 
 "You know, I tried  to find common ground with Republicans since I became President, but haven't had much luck. There just isn't much I can find to agree with,  coming from them. But I finally have found something I can agree with at least some Republicans, those Republicans who described Governor Romney as a 'vulture capitalist.' Now, that's not a phrase I originated; that's their phrase. In fact, I can find no definition of it. But if they mean a man who swoops down on a dying company and starts eating away at it, who takes what he can from it while it's struggling to survive and says, 'I got mine. You're on your own,' well then, I can agree that is what we've seen of Governor Romney. He parks his money, made off the suffering of ordinary working Americans, in Swiss bank accounts and then claims he wasn't responsible for how that money was made. It all happened, he doesn't know how, while he was off managing the Olympics. Well, if he didn't know how, he should have.  And you sure should know how. This is not just politics as usual. I am talking about a man and his values. The saddest part is, he cannot even see what is wrong with what he did.  He thinks the right values are, 'I get mine and you ought to go out and get yours, but we owe nothing to each other or to the collective effort we call the government of the United States of America. We can hide our money from the government which nurtured us, and that's just all in the game. Because that's all it is to us.  As Republicans, we don't see any ethical obligation to give back. We just take all we can.'"

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Bite or Be Bitten

"American capitalism is predatory, and American politics are corrupt...My friends who will not recognize this fact seem to me like a bunch of musicians sitting down to play a symphony concert in a forest where there is a man-eating tiger loose. For my part, much as I enjoy symphony concerts, I want to put my fiddle away in its case and get a rifle and go out and settle with the tiger."

             Upton Sinclair, 1918.

At times like these, when President Obama seems constitutionally incapable of answering the Republican cannonade, it is reassuring to remember this is not a new thing in our history. There have always been men, leaders even, who are not up to the fight, who would fiddle while the republic burns, thinking somehow they are not dealing with predators but rather with nice gentlemen in smoking jackets who will want to retire for cigars and bourbon after the debate. 

President Obama should be saying:  "The Republicans are bought and sold by billionaires like the Koch brothers, and all those who sail with them. They dance on the string manipulated by these rich, shaddowy men, and if you vote Republican, you are on the end of that same string. It is a string which connects the Republican Supreme Court, which has ruled, rather which has created rules which make it legal and Constitutional for rich men to buy and own politicians. This is the difference between me and my opponent and his party. I am owned by no one. I am owned by the American public, and I believe that public without a strong and vibrant middle class is terminally ill."

Dream on, Mad Dog. The vicious will bite and the kind hearted will be bitten.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

The Supreme Court Wrecking Ball

It is pretty remarkable, reading reactions to the Supreme court ruling on Obamacare, to see people writing in the New York Times who are supposed to know what they are talking about saying such stupid things:  Thomas Friedman tells us, "I was inspired by a simple noble leadership impulse at a critical juncture in our history--to preserve the legitimacy and integrity of the Supreme Court as being above politics." And Adam Liptak, who is the Times' Supreme Court correspondent, a Yale graduate, seems incapable of the most rudimentary analysis, saying, "In the last term, the Roberts court proved itself resistent to caricature...Roberts recast the legacy of his court."

The fact is, this one decision by Roberts did not undo the radically rightward posture of the court, and in fact, as Pamela Karlan, a Stanford professor of public interest observed, it did just the opposite. By ruling Congress could not pass laws under the commerce clause, but only under its right to tax, Roberts served notice the Congress could do precious little in the future, without his stamp of approval. 

Under the commerce clause and the clauses which allow Congress to provide for the public welfare, and under the enforcement powers of the 14th ammendment the Congress was able to pass the New Deal and to forbid landlords from rejecting tenants on the basis of race or religion; it was able to prohibit development of fragile wetlands; it was able to establish Medicare and to require schools receiving federal aide to give girls equal opportunity to play sports. Under its role in promoting the general welfare, it could fund the National Institutes of Health and under its 14th amendment powers, it could prohibit local laws which discriminate against voters of certain races with bogus voter ID laws. 

All of this is under attack by right wing extremists, and they now know they have a sympathetic court, at least 4 members of that court on whom they can rely.

Adam Liptak tells us the court is no longer a 5 conservative, 4 liberal court of idealogs, and the chart (reproduced from the Times article above) shows, he says how true this is. But if you stop to really look at this chart, it suggests exactly the opposite. In cases where there is a substantial social content, i.e. where it's a powerless individual against an authority, like the strip search case, or the case of 14 year old defendants facing life sentences or the case where a defendant faces a plea bargin, you have the Scalia, Thomas, Alito, Roberts tetrad voting for entrenched power always. The fact that Kennedy sometimes switched to vote with the liberals does not make the court any less predictably conservative. 

Of course, half the cases are decided by 9-0 votes, but those are the cases which have no social/political aspect. When values and politics are at stake, the four horsemen of the radical right are to the right of Rush Limbaugh, and with Justice Scalia channeling Limbaugh, one might think Romney will nominate Limbaugh to the Court, if he gets the chance. Why not? 

The Times editorial board got it right when they said, "They have been radical innovators, aggressively stepping into political issues to empower the court itself."

If Romney wins this election, we are in for decades of conservative ascendancy, through the court. 

If Obama wins, there is at least a chance, if he has enough Congressman winning with him, he could take the advice scholars have given:  Add two new Supreme Court Justices during his term and two new justices for each new presidential term until 19 have been seated and allow only the most recent 9 to vote on decisions. That way the court could be openly political as it now pretends not to be, and it would reflect the trend in electoral politics, as the tide ebbs liberal or conservative. 

But at least we would escape a conservative court dragging us down when the rest of the country has changed its mind--which is just what happened during the Great Depression and which almost sunk us then.