Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Congressional Hearings: The Face of the Enemy Planned Parenthood vs Republicans

What would we do without CNN?  We would not see that spectacle which Mark Twain described as a pack of jackasses, the elected representatives of the people, engaged in that favorite Congressional circus called the "hearing"

Anyone who has ever watched his kid looking at pitch after pitch and never even swinging in little league, striking out  time after time, will know what it feels like watching Cecile Richard, president of Planned Parenthood, testifying before the House Committee on Oversight. Agonizing does not begin to describe the effect.

This morning,  I caught only 40 minutes (while on the treadmill) of 5 hours of testimony, but that was enough.  

There was that Republican from South Carolina or Alabama or someplace South asking Ms. Richards if she could understand how he felt when he thought about partial birth abortions, if she could understand the depth of feeling he had about that.  And she responded, brightly, that the phrase partial birth abortion is not a medical term.  What you wanted to hear her say was:

"Congressman, I, like you, am appalled by the idea of infanticide. The difference is, you may believe life begins when a single cell, the sperm, penetrates the egg.  Destroying those two cells may strike you as infanticide.  I do not agree, but that does not mean I think less of you.  You may also believe God instructed Abraham to murder his son. I do not.  You may draw your line at where life begins at two cells, I may draw the line at  21  weeks, or even 8 weeks, but as President of Planned Parenthood, I am not the one to draw the line. That has been done by Congress and by the Courts. Planned Parenthood follows the law of the land. I respect your right to disagree."

Or the Congresswoman who asserted abortion is not a healthcare procedure. 

"Congresswoman, you may not consider abortion part of a women's health clinic, but then again, you may never have seen the results of abortions performed outside healthcare facilities, the sepsis, the death."

Or the crafty Republican from Ohio who asked her what she understands the term "Over head" means. This is all part of the Republican strategy to say that any federal taxpayer  money given Planned Parenthood, whether it's used to pay the receptionist who schedules the appointment or to the doctor who performs the abortion is all the same because it supports the organization which, whatever else it might do, also performs abortions.

"Congressman, you are talking about 'mingling' of funds, but as anyone who ever read George Bernard Shaw's 'Major Barbara' knows, there are those, not accountants but philosophers, who would argue there is no such thing as 'clean' or 'dirty' money in the world. In company which makes airplanes, there must be a janitor or a secretary who opposes war, who draws a salary which sends her children to school, which pays her mortgage, and yet that company may make airplanes which drop bombs on a village in Iraq, a village where her grandparents still live. You would use accounting tricks to separate guilt, or to indict. I would say we follow the law of the land at Planned Parenthood. We pay lawyers to be sure of that.  You are in Congress. You don't like the law, you can try to change it."

And there was the congressman wearing only a shirt, not in his Congressman's suit, who asked whether anyone from the Justice Department or from the White House had contacted anyone at Planned Parenthood since the infamous videos of selling fetal parts surfaced.  

"Congressman, we have ten thousand, seven hundred some employees. Has anyone  from Justice or the White House called?  I wouldn't know. Nobody has called me from Justice or the White House about the videos, although it seems like everyone else has.  I did sit next to a young man on the Metro yesterday, however, whose photo ID said 'Department of Justice' and he grinned at me and said, 'Illegitmus Non Carborundum,' and I went to college once, and recalled enough Latin to know that meant, "'Don't let the bastards grind you down.'  I didn't catch his name. But you might think he was talking about the videos or maybe he was talking about these hearings. Hard to be sure."

Ms. Richards almost rose to the occasion when Congressmen prodded her on how much money Planned Parenthood had contributed to Democrats vs Republican congressional candidates. She said Planned Parenthood would be happy to support any candidate who supports women's health. But she could have said:

"Congressman, Planned Parenthood would be happy to contribute to your campaign or to any Republican candidate's election if we could only find a Republican candidate for federal office who cares enough about women's health.  But your party has become a party of extreme positions and extreme candidates.  We'll support Republican candidates,  just as soon as we can detect signs of real concern for women's health, rather than the bombast we see evident today among the Republican members of this committee who persist in trying to destroy the most vital force in women's health in this country."

Several Republicans said if there were no Planned Parenthood women could easily be served by the many other health care facilities which exist in every state to serve women. 

"Congressman, you and your Republican colleagues are often quoted as saying that free enterprise and the marketplace ought to determine which enterprises survive and which perish. Well, as you have noted Planned Parenthood is just one of many options for women seeking health care, and yet we have survived, no we have flourished over the past fifty years, despite the large number of alternative clinics which you have noted exist as alternative sites for women's health care. Doesn't that say something about the value our patients, or you might call them our 'customers' place on our services?"

Oh, those are the kinds of answers we wanted to see.  Instead, we got infinite patience and courtesy. 

Where is Barney Frank when you need him? 

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Republican Attacks High Earning Woman

Well, here's an interesting development: A Republican Congressman attacks a witness because he thinks she makes too much money as the CEO of a large organization.

Will wonders never cease?

Jason Chaffetz thinks it's a shame for a woman to be making $500,000. 

Of course, Cecile Richards was visibly unprepared for this tactic, unfathomably, given the telegraphing of this new meme from the Republicans who are not capable of independent thinking. 

But where does this new tactic lead? Will every CEO appearing before Congress, say the head of Right to Life or Liberty College or the Southern Baptist convention have to provide their pay stubs for some Congressman to shake his head about how overpaid they are? 

Oh, wait. I get it. Planned Parenthood is all about profit--making money from selling fetal parts. How could I have been so dim?

Mobil Oil, on the other hand, is a clean company, especially when it  provides jobs to Republican districts. And the companies that make missiles and armaments in the districts of Republican Congressman--those CEO's earn every dollar they get.

Before Congress, Mr. Chaffetz worked for Nu Skin international, whose CEO this year made $10 million. Did he chastize the Nu Skin CEO for that?  What does he think of the salary made by the head of the church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints?

Well, I never thought I'd see the day when big salaries are seen as shameful by Republicans.

Planned Parenthood vs. Republican Loonies

Cecile Richards, head of Planned Parenthood, is testifying before Congress today. Republicans are trying to defund Planned Parenthood and are threatening to shut down the government to do this. 

Republican representatives have embraced the phony videos which do not show Planned Parenthood officials selling fetal tissues for fun and profit, do not show a living fetus with a beating heart dying under the hands of Planned Parenthood doctors, do not in fact show Planned Parenthood at all. 

Having been somewhat deflated by revelations that the fake videos are, in fact, fakes, Carly Fiorini notwithstanding, Republican congressmen are now saying oh, well, but Planned Parenthood is evil anyway because they spend money on high salaries and lobbying for "Democrat" congressmen. 

I've only caught snatches of Ms. Richards testimony, but so far she's simply been patient and firm. I'm hoping she's brought a few zingers which will make the evening news, like:  "Congressman, you claim to be unhappy about abortions. Well, I'm unhappy about abortions, too.  I wish, from the bottom of my heart, we never had to do another abortion at Planned Parenthood or anywhere else in this country. Abortion is the last thing any woman wants to have to choose. And that is why I go to work every day, so we can prevent unwanted pregnancies. You and your Republican brethren would shut down the one organization which prevents more abortions than any other, by providing for contraception. I'd like to ask you, Congressman. Are you against contraception? Do you want to go back to the days when contraception was limited?  Do you not know that in every state where access to contraception has been denied, like Texas and Louisianna teen pregnancy rates have sky rocketed?  In what century do you want to live, Congressman?"

Or words to that effect.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Republicans: The Mad Men Effect

Before Chris Rock takes his lines national, he tries them out on local audiences in New York to see what works and what doesn't.  New Hampshire serves the same purpose for candidates for national office. They come to small towns like Hampton and give their stump speeches to audiences of a few score of citizens and see what lines elicit a response and what kind of response. And they get questions from the audience, often questions they did not expect, like the one Donald Trump got in Rochester from the guy who knew President Obama is a Muslim and not born in the United States. 

So it was yesterday, listening to Lincoln Chafee and Lawrence Lessig. There were surrogates for Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Martin O'Malley, who already have their stump speeches.  

As I listened to each I kept thinking of how these would play during a debate on national TV and how they would play with various audiences. Bernie Sanders has several hurdles to leap:  1. He is too old  2. He is detached from reality--how could he possibly pay for free college for everyone?  3. He would be as alien as Obama in red and even purple states.  His surrogate clearly recognized all this and answered each.  Tax Wall Street and the money is there for free college. And so on. 

 Hillary has been accused of being too cold so her surrogate, the estimatable Congresswoman from New Haven Connecticut, Rosa DeLauro,  told warm and fuzzy stories about Hillary, how she could have gone straight for the big money out of Yale Law School but instead went to work for an advocacy group for women's health.  Rep. DeLauro is a very impressive speaker, but what was most impressive is she drove the four hours up and the four hours back on a gorgeous Saturday, when she could have been enjoying the Connecticut shore, just to speak to fifty people at a Hampton, NH picnic. 

Lawrence Lessig spoke the essential truth: Money and its pursuit has so corrupted our political life it has undermined and poisoned democracy to the point the citizenry has lost faith in government. His problem is that very few people think there is anything which can be done about that. He is seen as Don Quixote tilting windmills. Delusional, lovable but not a threat to the status quo.

The problem each of these essentially decent candidates has is not with the strength of their ideas but with the perception about what these ideas mean, with the marketing.

And that is exactly the problem the Republican candidates do not have. They have great marketing for really dreadful ideas.  They can sell you just about anything with the right slogans and ad campaigns--they are the Mad Men of our political system.

Here's the Republican product: Government is bad. We do not need it. Well, we don't need it except to build armaments in various congressional districts, to maintain the armed forces and to keep women from having abortions or most forms of contraception and to "protect our borders" and keep out those venal immigrants who want to rape and pillage and give birth to their children here so they can forever suck at the teat of our social welfare state.  And, oh yes, Obamacare has been a "disaster" and the only thing our economy needs is to get the government regulators off the back of entrepreneurs and big business and unleash the horses of private enterprise--like those guys who build diesel Volkswagons or who send peanut butter jars filled with Salmonella downstream or who run coal mills or drill for oil in the Alaskan wilderness or offshore. 

Here's one example from my own experience here in New Hampshire. In the Live Free or Die state there is a movement to make the state a "Right to Work" state. Now who could be against the right to work?  But what Republicans mean by this is no worker who works in a unionized plant where the union has negotiated a benefit package for all workers has to pay union dues. Of course, if you don't have to support the union but you benefit from its labors in your behalf anyway, why would you pay for it? It makes unions sort of like public radio--you can listen to it whether or not you send in your check. 

The Democrats have never come up with a response to this slogan. They've tried, "Oh,it's the right to starve" or "Right to get screwed" but nothing has matched the original phrase. Republicans really are good at this game.  As Don Draper once observed: "Everyone thinks it's easy. They all think they can do it. But they can't."

Oddly, the same Republicans who want to free workers from the onerous obligation to pay the people who fought for them, they are all for New Hampshire companies which force new employees to sign "non compete" contracts, which stipulate that if you quit the company, you cannot work within 25 miles of any work site owned by the company.  So, the company, in a sense, owns you just as surely as the union might be said to own you.  Want to leave your job at the clinic?  Fine, just sell your home and move your kids out of their schools or resign yourself to the exile of a long commute to your next job. In the case of doctors, the contracts often spell out the concept that the company "owns" the patients in the doctor's practice.  He cannot solicit them or even tell them where he is headed because the patients "belong" to the company.  Republicans are not, in fact, for unleashing the free market system; they are in favor of big business controlling the destinies of the company and the workers and that often means thwarting free competition, which really is the wild and wooly marketplace in action. 

You would think all these details would be a problem for Republicans, who are supposed to be all for unleashing the stallions of the economy, but it does not because they have, brilliantly, dreamed up a great phrase we can all latch on to: Right to Work.

And so the "Estate Tax" on the rich becomes the "Death Tax."  The "Affordable Care Act" becomes "Obamacare" and you know where that man comes from...Mars most likely, or worse yet, Kenya.

If they say it often enough, "Obamacare has been an unmitigated disaster" then all the statistics which show it has insured more people than anyone anticipated, that it has brought down costs rather than, as anticipated, raising them, that it has been hugely successful are for naught.  The classic example of marketing over reality is Kentucky where the state Obamacare program, Kynect, has been hugely popular but polls reveal the good citizens of Kentucky believe Obamacare has been a disaster.  It's the old "Keep your friggin government hands off my Medicare."

Makes you wonder what the Democrats have to do to win the hearts and minds. Where is the Don Draper for the Democratic campaign?

Give him this: He can sell 

Looking better all the time

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The Iman's Curse

Law is not always justice

When I was 8 years old, walking down the right hand side of the hallway at Abington Elementary School in Arlington, Virginia, I was smiling, talking to a friend when  a hall patrol, wearing his white belt with its shiny badge, pulled me over and said, "You've had 3 warnings. You have to go to Patrol Court tomorrow."  

I protested I had never had a warning, ever, to no avail. The patrol insisted I had and there was no arguing. What the charge was, I had no idea and neither did he. It could have been anything. Walking down the left side of the hallway. Murder. Anything.

Patrol Court was a fearsome place. There were stories that after brief trials the principal spanked kids in front of everyone and kids cried just knowing they were being swept up into that maelstrom.  I had had experience defending myself in our family courts at home, for various infractions, like leaving the milk out but I had faith in the justice of family court, even if it was my father, an implacable judge, who was sitting in judgment. I had no such faith in patrol court.

It was Mid-May and there were only six weeks left in the school year before summer vacation and that summer I would be moving across the Potomac to Maryland. So I was determined to hide from that patrol. I would wait until the patrols left their posts before running into my school room, and got socked with multiple "tardy" notices. My mother was notified and asked me why I was late. I walked to school every morning and had for three years and never been late before. I just shrugged. I had to give up my cherished softball team because the patrol played on another team and I'd be sure to be spotted. 

It never occurred to me to tell my parents. Why, I cannot say.

Weeks of hiding in the shadows taught me what it must be like for anyone who fears the authorities. I could  identify with those old movies about Jews hiding from the Nazis, creeping along streets, trying to stay out of sight. 

Our move that August to Maryland was a huge relief. I had successfully avoided capture and now was carried to the promised land, for a new start, free from patrols, in Maryland. 

In one of those odd random scenes which happen in life, later that summer my brother remarked, "You know, when you smile, you look exactly like Danny Sullivan." Danny Sullivan was a well known bad actor at Abington Elementary School, always in trouble, defiant, a kid who likely spent a lot of time in Patrol Court. So that was it: a case of mistaken identification. The cop on the beat got it wrong. 

So it was with a special sympathy I read Evan Osnos's New Yorker article(Sept 21) about the Khan family which had two sons and the father arrested by the FBI and accused of materially supporting terrorism, specifically the Taliban in Pakistan, by sending money. 

There were many things which made my blood boil in this piece:  the punishment of the defendants which began before any trial:  Repeated strip searches, including rectal exams, solitary confinement;  publicity from the FBI which labeled them terrorists intent on jihad, so that when the two accused sons were ultimately freed for lack of evidence, they found notes on their cars and homes "No jihad in our neighborhood," and jobs and homes and cars were lost.  It all reminded me of a toned down version of Abu Garaib prison in Iraq played out in Florida.

American confronts Islam

Give the FBI, the police, any school yard bully a badge and put him in a position where he can hurt someone with no risk of being hurt himself and you've got the essence of governmental terrorism.

Early in the article Osnos mentions the way the father, who was ultimately sentenced to prison until he is 98 years old, would erupt over minor transgressions with major invective: A child would not stop crying--"May God just make her dead"--his son left his daughter in law at home to cook--"May he be run over by a truck."  This sort of thing is, apparently, a hyperbole not uncommon in the Pashtun culture:  "May you be destroyed beyond recognition into the abyss of oblivion."  These are all the powerless have for a venting.  When it is first mentioned, you wonder why but as the trial progresses you see this mode of hyperbolic expression proves to be the father's undoing. Put that Pashtun habit in front of a jury of Americans and you've got a frothing, wild eyed terrorist intent of blowing up schools for girls.

So when, at his trial, the father's invective is read to the jury it sounds as if he really has it in for the Pakistani government and, by implication, that he really does support the Taliban. Of course, the government prosecutors do not present the invective the father levels against the Taliban--that would have hurt their own case.

The really disturbing thing about the story, beyond the destruction of a family by government bureaucrats who go home at night to dinner with their own families feeling smug and righteous, is the nature of the accusation. Nobody ever even tried to prove the Khan sons or father actually ever did anything violent or did anything more than express anger or send money to relatives. The offense was in having bad ideas and expressing them offensively. 

The father had cursed the Pakistani government for killing the wrong people in an incompetent effort to kill the Taliban.  The Pakistani soldiers were incapable of shooting Taliban, so they just shot the little people who got in their way. That provoked the father: "May Allah destroy them...[and] hit them with his shells of wrath."

Oh, that is certainly worth 25 years without parole. 

The government never showed any of the hundreds of dollars the father sent to relatives ever reached the Taliban.  A juror later told Osnos he had voted to convict because the defense "Couldn't prove that he didn't do it."  

Now there is a concept for you.  You are not presumed innocent; you are presumed guilty unless you can prove you didn't do it.

So, maybe, as an 8 year old, I was on to something, when it came to Patrol Court and the justice I could expect from my fellow citizens. In my case, I was able to escape across the river to the liberty of Maryland. 

In the case of the Khan family, they escaped the chaos of Pakistan to America, but as one son says, "You advertise it to the whole world: Hey, we're the best country, we're the best nation, we're the best justice system. If you think about it, the whole purpose of this country was to protect people like us."

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Democrats Catch Fire

Yesterday I did something I never thought I'd do willingly--on a perfectly good Saturday when I could have been riding my bicycle, swinging at the batting cage, running Mr. Boat at the beach, I spent the day indoors, sitting on a folding chair listening to politicians give speeches. 

But what speeches!  

Maggie Hassan, the governor of New Hampshire, who has turned out to be way better than I expected, set the tone with a withering attack on the Republicans who have nothing to offer but anger, invective and hate.

Then came Hillary, the first of four presidential candidates to speak.  I'd never seen her in person but that didn't stop me from having an opinion about her based on sound bites and things I'd heard and read.  But the woman has to be seen on her own terms, allowed to speak without interruption and she did that, for forty minutes give or take. For the first time, I saw her fire and her cutting wit. I will have no trouble voting for this lady and no doubt, I'll even go door to do for her.  What you remember from a stump speech, of course, are the one liners and zingers, but you also carry away the general tenor and what had always bothered me about Hillary Clinton was the sense every sentence has been parsed, focused grouped and all she cares about is getting elected, but there is no core set of progressive beliefs. That's wrong. She is as liberal as anyone, except maybe Bernie Sanders. Well, definitely, Bernie Sanders.

She heaved some nice harpoons toward Mr. Trump--"He says he cherishes women. Well, Mr. Trump, that's not good enough. Maybe when you learn to respect women we'll listen."  She did not fail to excoriate Trump for tacitly accepting the premise expostulated by the Republican at Rochester that President Obama is a problematic Muslim and not a native born American. (Of course, Trump was a birther for years himself, so all he could do was to look embarrassed and mutter tepid things like, "We'll look into that.")

So, I'm with Secretary/Senator Clinton now, mentally.

But if my head is with Hillary, my heart is with Bernie Sanders.  After Hillary got through with the 4,000 people packed into the convention center in Manchester, I thought there was no way Bernie Sanders could be anything but an anti-climax.  Everyone had screamed themselves hoarse and stomped and cheered so ecstatically for Ms. Clinton, what could anyone have left for Bernie? He'd be trying to stoke the dying embers of a burnt out fire.

But when Senator Sanders took the stage the place erupted anew. Bernie signs were thrust into the air, held above heads on every side of the area, we were surrounded by a sea of light blue Bernie T shirts and when the ovation finally died down enough for Mr. Sanders to be heard through a pause in the din, he smiled wryly and said, "It sounds to me like at least someone here is ready for a revolution in politics in this country." And the place erupted again. 

Bernie railed against the "billionaire class," the fact that 1% of Americans own more than 90% of the people, and he railed against an America where not a single, solitary Wall Street banker or CEO went to jail for sending the economy to the bring of a Great Depression with their bogus mortgage backed stocks, while we send poor, young men to prison for decades non violent drug offenses, and he said when banks are too big to fail, they are too big to exist, and he said that no Congressman or Senator who fails to understand the cost war extracts from the soldiers who fight it should be allowed to serve in any legislature and he pointed out he had voted against the Iraq war.  

He also said public colleges ought to be free in America as they are in Western Europe and he said we ought to have Medicare for all. He did not explain how he'd pay for that, but his twenty something supporters weren't concerned. 

As Hillary and Maggie Hassan had, Bernie Sanders laughed at the Republicans who are screaming about the demise of Social Security, when the fixes for Social Security are nearly painless and very obvious, fixes which will guarantee its solvency into the next century.

What was so exhilarating was the anger. It was like listening to Lewis Black. The Republicans are angry and gleeful when Ted Cruz and Donald Trump give voice to their anger. But Democrats have sat placidly by, accepting the propositions that Obamacare has been a disaster, that  ISIS and Syria are simply failures of President Obama's foreign policy, that Medicare and Social Security are scams, wasteful government programs which will ruin the economy and grow hair on your palms and soles and destroy America's "honor" and naturally deserved "hegemony."  Finally, Democrats are saying:  Wrong! Lies! 

As Hillary said, "Mr. Trump says he'll make America great again. Well, I've got news for Mr. Trump. America is great and as long as Democrats can govern, we'll make it greater." 

Every single Democrat rattled off the economic statistics about low unemployment and rising stock market values. Each gave credit to Obama for steering us clear of the next great Depression toward which the Republicans had sent us hurtling. 

There is hope, if the energy can last. 

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Trump Channels Bachmann. Fiorina Does Orson Welles

Plaice Cove 

Donald Trump declared last night at the debate, quite emphatically, that "vaccines" (he didn't specify which) cause autism. He knows this because it happened to a beautiful child, the son of a woman who works for him, which is at least a closer relationship than Michele Bachmann's informant, who was a woman in the parking lot.  He quickly amended his declaration by saying he was all for vaccines, but when you give them all at once, as is the current practice in the United States, THAT definitely causes autism, as was proven by the case study of one child to whom he referred. 

Thus does Mr. Trump illuminate the profundity and subtly of his grasp of pediatrics, public health, epidemiology, prospective, double blind controlled studies and the rigor of scientific thought. Who needs the scientific method when we are talking vaccines and a single child's health?

Well, nobody called him on this, and there were two doctors on the stage. One was Rand Paul.  Ben Carson, a pediatric neurosurgeon did not correct Mr. Trump, but then again, he is a surgeon, not a physician so maybe he gets a pass.  Or maybe Dr. Carson does not believe in vaccines. He does not believe in evolution, so he may simply be a doubter. 

Mr. Trump got off the candidates' stage and fled to more friendly environs of Rochester, in our very own state of New Hampshire, where the first question from the audience was actually not really a question but a statement that President Obama is a Muslim and not an American and what about those Muslim training camps where they are teaching kids how to kill Americans and when are we going to wipe those camps out?  Mr. Trump laughed, probably thinking he'd been set up about the vaccine thing and now he was being set up again by the Rochester birther and he muttered something to the effect, "Oh, like this had to be the first question." And then he affably allowed as he would consider all sorts of solutions to all sorts of threats which are clearly multiplying "out there" in the dangerous world in which we live. 

It really did appear to be dawning on Mr. Trump exactly who his crowd is--who he is the hero to in this country.   When a national figure invokes bombast, panders to paranoia, the ten percent of the nation who are  paranoid schizophrenics, or who have personality disorders and such like, surface and start to howl at the moon in chorus.  When Spiro Agnew attacked the effete intellectuals, anti Semitic, anti Black anti immigrant mail poured into Congressional offices, newspapers from all over the country. Now it's Mr. Trump's turn. You wanted to be a hero. Well, now you are, the hero of the certifiably insane. John McCain turned down that mantle, but you are not so clear minded.  Clearly, if the presidential bid thing does not work out, Mr. Trump will be the front runner in the race for the Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan. 

Then there's Carly Fiorina who saw some anti abortion group's video showing an aborted fetus with a heartbeat and mistook it for the infamous (and fraudulent) video which was supposed to show Planned Parenthood officials driving deals for fetal organs as they popped Chinese food morsels into their mouths at lunch, as if they were not just selling fetal organs but eating them. Anyway, Ms. Fiorina got very choked up talking about what an outrage it is that Planned Parenthood is allowed to exist, especially now that it's been exposed by this video.  Remember when Orson Welles panicked the nation with his hysterical broadcast about the invasion of New Jersey by Martians? It was wonderful theater, but, of course, it wasn't really true and Mr. Welles did not make the distinction between truth and fiction clear enough, so he was taken to the wood shed and chastised.  Ms. Fiorina seems to have similar problems distinguishing truth from fiction.

Ms. Fiorina says she rose from secretary to CEO. The truth is she was a secretary as a summer job during her undergraduate years at Stanford and her father was the Dean of the law school at Duke and she entered whatever big company it was (AT&T ?) in a management training program, not exactly in the secretarial pool. 

One thing about politicians, they are not the sorts who allow facts get in the way of a good story. 

Plaice Cove in the Early Morning Mist

Monday, September 14, 2015

Dead Child: The Image of Refugee Desperation

The image of the dead child on the beach is hard to shake.

What is our obligation as the people in the life boat, as the people on the luxury cruise ship, toward those adrift at sea?  I'm speaking figuratively. What do we owe, as people in comfortable circumstances, to those who are suffering in war torn regions or in regions of famine?

In the 1980's I served on the Emergency Room committee at Georgetown University Hospital. One morning, one of the  hospital administrators, who happened to be a priest (a Jesuit, no less) started fulminating about the burden placed on the Emergency Room by immigrants from El Salvador or Honduras, I can't recall which, who were flooding into the ER and many of these got admitted to the hospital and this was wrecking budgets left and right. "Why don't we just send these people back? Don't we have any rules about who lives here now?  We can't just give free care.  It'll bankrupt this hospital!"

One of the other doctors on the committee, a guy with a name like Cohen or something Jewish, looked startled and amused and he said, "Father, and here I always thought this was a Catholic hospital. Christianity, you know. Love thy neighbor as thyself and all that."

Georgetown at that time had an entire institute for the study of the ethics of immigration.

Now we are hearing arguments about whether people trying to cross international borders are "refugees" (in which case they qualify for more sympathy and rights) or "economic migrants" (in which case they don't.)  

Apparently, our willingness to feel sympathy and to offer safe harbor has to do with whether or not their stories are heart rending, whether they have been fleeing some really dreadful, life threatening war or genocide or simply fleeing starvation or simply yearning to get out of a thatched hut in a muddy village to have a better life.

Donald Trump, who was born rich in America, has no sympathy for any illegal immigrant and wants to deport 11 million of them because they broke the rules written by members of his father's ruling class.
Cordell Hull 

During the 1930's Cordell Hull, Roosevelt's Secretary of State, turned back a ship filled with Jewish refugees/ immigrants/migrants from Germany. They did not have the letter attesting to their good character from their local police departments in Germany. They had broken the rules.  They went back to Germany, and, eventually to the ovens. Not our problem, said the man from Tennessee, who swiveled in his desk chair and pointed to the American flag behind his desk and said, "I could not allow these people who did not follow the rules to land on American soil without violating my own oath to serve that flag and the nation for which it stands." 
The Donald 

Donald Trump, presumably, would applaud.

The instinct among many who live along the border with Mexico is the same as that of the Hungarians who are erecting a fence to keep out Syrians trying to breach their border.

It turns out, the boat people are only a fraction of the more massive influx coming along land routes from Afghanistan, Syria and Lebanon.

Ross Douthat has written some  thoughtful essays about what Europe owes the desperate people arriving from Syria and from Africa seeking a better life. He suggests some nations like Greece and Hungary, which are not economically stable could be broken by a flood of immigrants. 

Maybe part of the problem is figuring out whether we are in an overloaded lifeboat, precariously floundering in stormy seas,  in which case taking on more bodies from the water is apt to sink our boat or whether we are on a luxury liner, in which case we would run no risk of sinking our ship by taking in the people from the water.  This is the question of exactly how much of a threat are those people trying to get in?  

There is the old warning, which is probably apocryphal, about the poll done in China saying 1/3 of the population of China says it would move to the United States tomorrow if they could. That would be what?  Over four hundred million Chinese overnight?  Would Chinese become the national language?  

Then there is the problem of admitting groups who have no intention of assimilating. In England and France, there are Islamic groups who do not accept the virtue of tolerance, as a concept. Fundamental to both nations, which consider themselves democracies, is the idea you must listen to the other side. But some groups within the immigrant communities assert they know the will of God and accepting education for girls, allowing women to dress so their ankles or faces are visible, allowing women to walk in public without a male relative, premarital sex, dating, listening to criticism of the prophet Mohammed, listening to popular music, exposing children to ideas not coming from religious authorities,  are all anathemas. In this case, do you really have the huddled mass yearning to breathe free or do you have, in essence, an invasion by a group intent on imposing its will on the larger society around it? 

If you have members of a group who seek refuge, but then arrive and find themselves offended by the people who live in their adopted land, what do you do with these malcontents? 

The American immigrant experience was, overall, one of a strong drive toward assimilation:  Jews changed their names to sound more Christian.  Daughters bleached their hair blonde to look less like people from their country of origin and more like the Marilyn Monroe idols on American screens. With this drive toward embracing group standards came a lot of self loathing among individuals.  The desire to melt into the stew in the melting pot rather than to become part of a salad in a salad bowl took its toll on individuals, but overall, it provided America with its greatest strength: Hybrid vigor. It is not our missiles or even our factories which form the basis of our strength--it's our diversity and our embrace and celebration of differences and our desire to form a more perfect union. But what happens when you have groups who reject the idea of e pluribus unum (one out of many)?

I have no easy answers. I guess I'm not as smart as Donald Trump.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Big Ideas: Social Security, Medicare

Voters have short memories, it would seem. But I heard on NPR this morning for half of all retired Americans, half of their income comes from Social Security.

Social Security was a big idea which gained traction during the Great Depression and Franklin D. Roosevelt got it through Congress, Democrats sweeping away a failed Republican presidency and failed Republican ideology that all America needs is stalwart self reliant people. The idea underlying Social Security is the concept that people are short sighted fools who are typically so hard pressed to pay today's bills they will not put aside money for their own retirement which seems far off. Cross-that -bridge-when-you-come-to-it mentality prevails in youth and actually, throughout life. So people have to be forced to put something away today for the future they can never believe will actually ever come.  

Republicans promulgate two main falsehoods about Social Security:

1. The "I Could Do Better Myth:" They assert confidently allowing the government to play this paternalistic role is an affront, that if you really want to assure a secure financial future, you ought to be allowed to fend for yourself in the stock market.  The fact is, even today, no investment you could make in stocks would repay you as well as Social Security.

2. The Sky Is Falling, "This Thing Is On It's Last Legs Myth:"  Every Republican loudly asserts Social Security is sinking beneath the waves in insolvency and trying to save it will take down the entire federal government and the nation with it. Of course, this is wrong. Yes, if Congress does nothing over the next 20 years, Social Security might go broke, but the Congress can do something, and  will have to do something, even if it's a Republican Congress; it will do something because the options available are so simple and painless, even for a Republican Congress, and refusing to feed Social Security, starving it to death will provoke a revolution, even among white, Southern Republican ignoramuses, once they see those checks stop coming.  Those "keep your government hands off my Social Security check," folks will get smarter in a hurry.

These painless solutions are obvious:  Congrress  could raise the retirement age, to 67, which would fit modern demographics. When Social Security was passed in the 1930's people didn't live much past 70, so they were only getting pay outs for 5 years or maybe 10. And there were a lot more young workers to support the retired workers then--the country had more young people and fewer older people and those younger people did not have to support the elderly for more than 5 years.

Or, the government could "raise the cap" and assess taxes on salaries over $118,000, which is to say, it could ask the wealthy to pay more toward the system. Currently, if you make $400,000 you only pay social security taxes on the first $118,000. If you make $400,000 you probably can afford to pay more in social security payroll taxes without much of a crimp to your lifestyle. Maybe you don't have to fly first class to Aruba for your winter break holiday, maybe business class.

Or, as Mike Huckabee has suggested, you might fund some of Social Security through a sales tax. Mr. Huckabee likes this idea because it galls him that prostitutes and drug kingpins who do not declare income or pay payroll taxes can get Social Security. Actually, I'm not sure Mr. Huckabee is right about this--I have known plenty of people who did not work enough in jobs which connected them to Social Security to be eligible for retirement benefits. 

The fact is, Social Security is not on the critical list. It is hale and hearty and people love it and that is what really gnaws at the Republicans. They have been trying to kill Social Security by "privatizing" it for years but even the most apathetic, ignorant and non political citizens can see it's a big idea that worked. Government doing something for its citizens.

The other thing which really inflames Republicans from John Boehner and Mitch McConnell to Ted Cruz and Ben Carson is Medicare. In a rare moment of frankness, Mr. Boehner remarked the big problem with Obamacare is that it would work so well the public would grow to like it as much as Medicare and then we'd have a nation of slackers who have grown soft sucking on the government teat.

This, of course, is a variation of that old line, "You know what happens when you feed a stray dog? It follows you home and you can't get rid of it."  That's the line you hear a lot in the South about any "entitlement" program.  Very folksy. Gets a lot of laughs. So now Social Security beneficiaries and Medicare beneficiaries (who have paid into the system for years and by virtue of that are, in fact, entitled) are stray dogs.

When Lyndon Johnson signed Medicare in 1965, it was a very modest program: It paid only for doctors' visits to patients in hospitals, not for any X rays or treatment the patients might get, not for office visits.  But that was enough to send the American Medical Association into a rage of righteous indignation, to bring the wrath of the Republican party down on all those who voted for what was sure to be the end of Western Civilization, the beginning of  socialized medicine, the opening of the door to socialism and and the casting of a deep stain on the soul of the nation.

Of course, now try to find an American doctor or hospital CEO or average citizen who can imagine what life would be like in this country without Medicare.  All you have to say is this:   If your parents didn't have Medicare, they'd be bankrupted by their first illness and they'd have to move in with you. Without Social Security, the'd have to move in with you even sooner.  How would  you like that?  Still want to vote Republican?

Sad to say, although it's the Democrats who have had the big ideas, it's the Republicans who manage to sound like they are the ones with big ideas.  Bernie Sanders is one of the few Democrats who does not run away from Democratic virtues. But he's an avowed Socialist and next to Mad Dog, he  may be one of the most un electable people in the country.  

What we need is a Democrat with guts, or "balls" as some would say. So far, Elizabeth Warren seems to be the only Democrat out there with balls and that makes a lot of people uncomfortable and we are not  talking transgender here.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Conscience and the Clerk

The curious case of Kim Davis, the Rowan County, Kentucky clerk who refused to issue marriage licenses to gay couples raises the issue of how we should view people who claim something about their religion should trump some obligations of their jobs. 

Ms. Davis, who reportedly has been married four times, apparently hears the voice of God telling her gay marriage is BAD. Presumably, God has said nothing to her about divorce or serial marriages being BAD, but gay marriage is BAD. One might conclude Ms. Davis is awfully fond of marriage, given her frequent embrace of it, but some marriages just go too far for her.

  She was elected County Clerk, so she cannot be fired, but she can be jailed for contempt of court. Contempt of court, as I understand it, does not actually mean you disrespect a judge or have acted contemptuously; it means you have thwarted the will and function of a judge thereby preventing justice from being done. I'm not sure if the clerk thwarted the Supreme Court or some lower court, but off she went to jail.  It is not clear whether she was handcuffed, but there are photos of handcuffed wrists attached to newspaper stories about her. 

So, two issues:  1. How should government respond when someone refuses to carry out the responsibilities of a job which her bosses or the public expects her to execute?  2. Why are individuals who are clearly neither flight risks nor dangerous handcuffed? Was she strip searched in jail to be sure she was not hiding a dangerous weapon in her vagina with which she might harm her jailers or other prisoners?

With respect to the appropriate response to willful refusal to do some part of the job:  If a pharmacist who is a corporate employee says he will not sell Plan B to a woman because his religion tells him abortion is murder,  and he believes Plan B to be an abortafacient, we may agree that he might justifiably be fired for failing to fulfill his responsibilities and duties, and if the corporation does not fire him, we might agree action might  be taken against the corporation for allowing him to impose his beliefs on others.  But suppose the corporation simply does not stock Plan B?  Should we consider the reasons for this decision? Suppose the corporation says it is simply not in its financial interest, its business plan or its corporate mission to sell this drug and it reserves the right to make this judgment just as it did when it decided to not stock tobacco products?  Suppose the corporation says it decided not not stock Plan B because it considers abortion murder?

The Supreme Court has said the owners of a restaurant chain do not have to pay for health insurance which includes abortion or birth control coverage because they have said this would violate their religious beliefs. So one might conclude, the Supreme Court would allow the corporation to not stock Plan B and the corporation and the pharmacist are simply exercising their first amendment rights.

But a county clerk is a public official. If she is allowed to say she won't issue marriage licenses because it violates her religious beliefs, what about the Lester Maddox redux who says it violates his religious beliefs to allow black children to go to school with white children, to allow blacks to use the same toilets, swimming pools or hotel beds as whites?  

If the clerk is an elected official, she may claim she is defending not just her personal beliefs but she is defending the beliefs of the electorate and if they disagree, well then they can vote to remove/impeach. 

NPR carried a story today about a group suing a Massachusetts  government agency which regulates adoptions and has forbidden prospective parents from adopting if they answer affirmatively  the question: "Do you believe corporal punishment is appropriate to discipline children?"  These parents assert the Bible endorses corporal punishment for the disciplining of children and this regulation violates their civil rights to be free from government regulating religion. 
Not knowing much about the Bible, I Googled and learned, there is something in the Bible for everyone and everything:

Prov 13.24: "He that spareth his rod hate his son: but he tha loveth him chasteneth him betimes diligently."

And here I thought I had lovethed my sons. All of which goes to show, when you hear the word of God, it is a fine and mysterious thing and maybe that's why we need a Constitution.

Doctors have long been able to refuse to learn how to perform abortions , but in that case, there is no requirement for knowing how to do an abortion to be licensed to practice medicine. Oddly, there are state laws which require that all doctors who graduate medical school need to have learned how to deliver a baby--no matter if you are going into dermatology or psychiatry--unless you have  delivered 7 babies you cannot be awarded a MD degree in some states.  (That made for some eleventh hour dashes to the delivery rooms for some medical students.)

So far, the courts have said you can resign your job, but if you stand in the way of a court order, you are in contempt. 

Of course, what the citizenry will say is something else again.

There are times when we applaud an individual for refusing to execute the responsibilities of his office/job. When a soldier refuses to shoot down defenseless civilians at Mai Lai we applaud.  When a soldier simply follows orders and shoots down defenseless civilians or gases them in a concentration camp, we insist he ought to have followed a higher authority.

Am I comparing Ms. Davis to the virtuous concentration camp guard who refused to simply go along and just follow orders?  There are many differences, but there are some intriguing similarities. 

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Our Most Un-Sexy Holiday: Labor Day

Well, All They Did Was Go To Work

"Labor is discovered to be the grand conqueror enriching and building up nations more surely than the proudest battles."
--William Ellery Channing

If you wanted to attach unpleasantness to a holiday, you could hardly do better than "Labor Day."  It's the end of the summer. It's when you learn, as a school child, the fun is over. And we think now of "labor." That is: "work." That is, where the fun ends.

Work is not about fun or sex (for most people) or for thrills (for most people) or for happiness in the task (for most people); it's what you do because you have to do it.

Of course, there are those who find meaning in their work--doctors, nurses, some police, even some computer nerds and some are thrilled by it--professional athletes, actors, dancers.

But for most people, work is something they are not happy about, but resigned to. When I was in college I ran across the remark, "Most people work to live. The German lives to work." Eventually, I got so absorbed in my studies, I began to think I was drifting in that direction--didn't last.

There are those who disdain the worker--Paul LePage, governor of Maine, leaps to mind. In 2011, he removed an eleven panel mural from the Maine state department of labor because he said it glorified the working many without glorifying the few entrepreneurs who paid them. 

Patently Offensive: Where Are the Entrepreneurs?

 He also put up signs at the state line proclaiming: "Maine: Open for Business."  Here is a man who knows who the real heroes are: Not, certainly, the workers, but the rich guys like the Koch brothers.

Of course, the murals showed children who had "lost their childhood" because they were forced to work in mills. Child labor is now thought to have been a dark side to American history by most people--not in Mr. LePage's case apparently.
Open For Business

Keep This Girl Out of Trouble

And there are depictions of strikers being arrested.  If you ever want to open your mind to a different version of American history, just open up any book by Howard Zinn, and you will find a story of startling brutality and venality, with names you may have heard in other contexts--like Andrew Carnegie, Commodore Vanderbilt, Henry Ford--who behaved unconscionably in the pursuit of they almighty dollar, maiming the workers who built their businesses in the process.
Gov. LePage Knows Who Deserves What

This is a day I can only imagine Mr. LePage and his fellow travelers, the Koch Brothers and Scott Walker (that successful union buster), find objectionable.  Laboring people are a necessary evil to these sorts, a sort of burdensome speed limit on an open road which should be in private ownership anyway. Laboring men and women simply get in the way, they are just one step away from the slackers who exploit unemployment and welfare and would be best replaced by robots who never complain or demand anything. 

Not every hard driving entrepreneur regards the workers who they employ as burdensome.  In Washington, DC, I knew two men who ran a real estate development firm. They spent years acquiring property in downtown Silver Spring, Maryland, trying to piece together a large city block they could develop, situated in an uninspiring town on the line with Washington, D.C.  While Bethesda and Chevy Chase had been gentrified into a sort of Rodeo Drive East, Silver Spring had remained a poor red headed step child, spurned, neglected, almost an embarrassment. Just as they completed their last acquisition, a mega-company, one everyone has heard of, a global juggernaut, arrived with an offer for the block they had assembled which was so gigantic they could not resist. Even if their grandest plans for the block were realized, they could not have made as much money. It meant they could cash in and retire in their mid 40's.

 One took the money, bought a huge estate in hunt country, Virginia retired and traveled. 

The other though, continued the firm, kept going into work every day.

"Why would you do that?" I asked him. "You continue to bear risk--you have a payroll, and all that goes with that--liability, workers' compensation, pensions to manage, HR rules and responsibilities. You're going to acquire new debt with each project. Why not just cash in like your partner and get clear? You got yours."

He looked at me, almost apologetic. I imagined he had had this discussion with his wife. "But I've got two dozen people who work for me. Their livelihoods depend on this company. And when we develop things, communities improve--the values of real estate rise; schools improve; life gets better for a lot of people; we build things and lives and futures. But mostly, it's the people who work for me. They have good jobs. I can't just walk away from them."

Can you imagine Paul LePage saying this?
Entrepreneurs Know Best