Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Good for you,Obama! And good for us!

I'm very sick but I want to say that this day I am extraordinarily proud of our president for tearing down the wall we built between us and Cuba.  Fifty tears was a long and stupid mistake.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Riddle Me These: GOP Puzzlements

The GOP in the House yesterday filed a lawsuit against President Obama's health care plan.

Finally.

They have been threatening to do so for the past four years, ever since it passed.  Why has it taken so long? Because they don't have a case. They couldn't get any law firm to accept it for four years.  Two firms originally agreed to but then pulled out.  Finally some law professor has agreed to file the suit. Law professors can always find a case in any set of facts and do so to manufacture exam questions year after year.  I know because I used to be a law professor and even wrote an exam once that centered on Bigfoot.  Law professors get very desperate.

There are at least two odd things about this purported case. First, it argues that President Obama acted illegally by delaying the requirement that large companies provide employee health care coverage.

What?  Say that again.

If they hate the Affordable Care Act so much, why are the Republicans suing because part of it has been delayed?  What are these people eating for breakfast?

A second weird thing about the lawsuit is that it ignores an argument that has just been taken up by the US Supreme Court. That argument maintains that part of the law is being enforced illegally.  Through an apparent drafting error one part of the law limits premium subsidies to those who buy insurance on "state" exchanges.  Until now purchasers have been allowed federal subsidies for buying insurance on the federally created exchanges that were set up because some states refused to create their own. Obviously the intent of the law was to provide subsidies to people who need them.  No rational reason comes to mind for a federal program to be denied to beneficiaries the federal government intended to help by stepping in where the individuals' own states had refused to act.  A basic rule of determining legislative intent is that the result of your interpretation should not be crazy.  The federal government clearly wanted to help people so it's ridiculous to argue that they would deny them access to healthcare subsidies if those people had been forced to use a federal exchange.

If you think there's an argument the other way, I sure would like to hear what it is.

So why didn't the Republicans jump on this argument and use it in their lawsuit? After all, even though the argument is crazy, the US Supreme Court apparently thinks well enough of it to spend time addressing the case.

The House GOP won't use this argument in its suit because it makes the House look incredibly stupid, not just because it's a crazy argument but because it was the House's own drafting mistake that created the superficial confusion.  Yes, I admit it was the House under Democratic rule that made the drafting error but that won't stop the present House leadership from wanting to protect the institution from looking stupid no matter who was to blame.

The House GOP should have realized that it need not worry about a thing like shabby drafting errors.  It already looks so bad because of pushing a lawsuit that no law firm would touch.

But what does the House GOP care?  Their voters won't pay any attention to these matters. The Republican majority in Congress is chiefly there because redistricting has allowed the Republicans to represent a great deal of empty land.  And  -  last I heard  -  cactus and sagebrush, cornfields and cattle just don't give a damn about the law or how it is made.

Well, lots of luck to that law professor who took the case.  He's going to need it.


Wednesday, November 19, 2014

War in the Middle WEST?

Forget Afghanistan and Iraq.  Forget war in the Middle East.

Thanks to a vote in the House of Representatives this past week supporting the Keystone XL pipeline, the Lakota Sioux of the Rosebud Reservation have declared war right in our own Middle West.  In Nebraska, to be more precise.

Because the pipeline would cross the Rosebud reservation, one of their leaders has described the House vote as "an act of war".  Luckily the Senate subsequently voted against the oil pipeline, and President Obama would have overridden Congress if the Senate had voted in favor of the project. But the project is a political football for the GOP, and they plan to keep running with it.

The Rosebud Sioux are absolutely correct in believing that this colossally stupid project is an attack on them.  For one thing, it would violate an 1878 treaty regarding their reservation and trample on their sovereignty.  (Yes, my darlings, the tribes still have some sovereignty; witness the fishing treaties, gambling casinos, tax-free tobacco, and tribal courts.)

And it would threaten the water in the region's great underground aquifer which is called, appropriately, "the Lakota aquifer".

This water supply is important even beyond the needs of the Rosebud Lakota Sioux, important as those needs are.  Ranchers and farmers throughout Nebraska and its environs depend on the aquifer. One terrible pipeline spill, and a great American water source is gone.  So is a lot of your food.

All for the sake of Canada being able to tear up its lands to extract filthy stuff known as tar sand oil. This stuff is as filthy as it sounds.  And its oil burns one-third more dirty than ordinary crude. It will be put in the pipeline and flow down to the Gulf of Mexico to get shipped somewhere else. Or maybe get spilled in the Gulf?  In any case, there's no oil coming to America from this project and no jobs except the ephemeral ones of laying a pipeline. We are just Canada's doormat in this.

The project is especially stupid in a world virtually awash in oil.  Gasoline is now less than $3 a gallon here in Oregon, where gasoline prices are usually close to $4 a gallon.  More and more, America is moving away from oil to fracted natural gas and renewable energy sources.  And President Obama this year put a huge hike on required gas mileage for cars and trucks of the immediate future. This is the first time trucks are going to be affected, meaning all those vans and SUVs will be filling up less often.

The last thing the world needs is Canada's filthy tar oil. Surely there must be investors in this proposed project who can see that.

I love that the Sioux are talking about this proposal in terms of war.  Because that's exactly what it is.  Idiots like this Canadian bunch and the climate change deniers and all the polluters are making war on all of us.

Haven't you caught on to that yet?

These people are going to kill us.

Or at least kill our grandchildren and their children.  The planet is going to go through convulsions of war over food that will kill many people now living or make them wish for death. Civilization will collapse in a mad scramble. Beyond the wars for food, the longer-term scenario of global warming ends with Earth spiraling into the furnacy future of a Venus.

It's as if the Canadians and other polluters were about to launch a nuclear war.  The threat is real and it is big-time.  There will be no place to hide.

So what to do?  Support the environmental groups that are prepared to sue.  The Rosebud Lakota Sioux are going to join such legal action, but I don't want to hear any snickering about "the Sioux are gonna sue." This is serious business.  Send money to the Environmental Defense Fund, Sierra Club, and other groups. Care enough to find them on-line yourself.  This is YOUR war!

Also prod your Democratic office holders with the obvious that they are over-looking.  They can't have it both ways.  They can't have the educated and the young people as voters who show up at the polls and also have Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana get re-elected by obtaining approval for this stupid pipeline. It's sad to lose that seat but we lost a lot more of them earlier this month because the young people stayed home. They had no reason to vote. They face a non-future and heard nothing about that in this election.

The Democratic Party has got to wise up and stop being coy about environmentalism. It's got to do more of what Obama has begun: fighting global warming and other ghastly destruction of our planet.    It also has to have a clear, well-enunciated program for getting people into good-paying jobs.  (This proposal must nowhere include the word "infrastructure".  We lose whole elections because of that word!)  Instead it must be a state by state plan for building specific bridges, roads and schools. Identify the damn things! Be specific!

It doesn't have to be jobs v. the environment.  That's the GOP scenario that's working for the GOP.  We have got to take the initiative in laying out a different ballpark and stop playing on the GOP's home field.  Environment AND jobs!

So, my brother and sister Sioux, where can we sign up to volunteer in this war to save the world?  And thank you for cutting through the crap and saying it like it is: We are under attack and in danger of our lives.






Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Man Who Saved the World and Lifted My Shame and Sorrow

Just just when my world hit bottom with last Tuesday's election results, President Obama did the most important thing any president has ever done.

He saved the world.

Not my little world.  The big world. The planet.

And in so doing, he's let me die a happy woman, knowing that my children and grandchildren and all children will now possibly have a future.

By persuading China to set targets for reduction of carbon emissions, he has given the human race a future where we had none. Without a major reduction in carbon by the U.S. and China we were all going to be toast.  Not just the polar bears.  Us too.  With wild climate changes, starvation would have stared us in the face and with it the terrible wars of people fighting for food. Civilization would collapse. The dead would be the lucky ones. That would be the world I was handing on to my grandchildren and their children. I would be dead already  -  one of the lucky ones  -  and they would suffer.

But it may be all right now. Hope has come back into the world.  As of this Tuesday, merely a week after the election forfeited by stay-at-home Democrats, the great good news has come.  China  -  the key holdout on climate change  -  has come around.

Sure, the agreement Obama announced is not perfect.  But it can be improved.  The big thing is that China has changed its stance.  Now that the two top carbon emitters  -  the U.S. and China  -  have announced targets for reduction, the rest of the world will follow suit. Even India, the third-largest emitter and still a hold-out, will have to move.

On the homefront the Republicans, who have resisted anti-carbon measures, have now lost one of their chief arguments.  Mitch McConnell and others have insisted the United States do nothing about carbon emissions because "What's the use as long as China does nothing?"  Ta ta to that argument!

Some Republicans are screaming that Obama gave away the store to the Chinese. No, he didn't.  Most of the U.S. targets he offered were already on the books.  These included the new emissions limits he has announced these past two years for both cars and trucks.  Another big part of the U.S. package is the new stiff standards being adopted by his Environmental Protection Agency for coal-powered electric plants.  With these cuts we were already on the road to most of the reduction goals he offered the Chinese.  In this agreement we got a terrific deal: a  big concession from China  in exchange for what we were going to do anyway.

The President is one hell of a horse trader!

It was evening here in Oregon when the news came Tuesday about the deal.  A couple of hours later when I went to bed, it really hit me and I started to cry.  Tears of joy.  A great sorrow and shame has been lifted from me.  All my life I have worked as an environmentalist, even back to the days when we were called conservationists.  Yet now when I am old it has seemed that the climate of the entire planet was so severely threatened that tens of thousands of species, including my own, might perish.  And this beautiful little blue planet would become a wasteland, even perhaps an eventual hell like Venus, as it fell into a self-increasing spiral of heat.

Before the worst came, I would be gone, having escaped into a peaceful death of old age, leaving my children and grandchildren to suffer the dire onslaught.  I would have failed in the most basic of Jewish duties, of human duties:  save the family, save the children.

But now I can die happy because hope has come back into the world.  There may be a future for my family and yours after all.  And for this little blue planet in the great black reaches of space.

Thank you, Mr. President.  I wish I could give you a hug.  A polar bear hug!

This will be a wonderful Thanksgiving!









Sunday, November 9, 2014

Finally.... Obama Sees The Light

Finally President Obama has seen the light.  On "Face The Nation" today he named the abiding, central, and fatal flaw in his administration.

Failure to publicize his achievements.

He has one of the best records of any president of all time. But he and his White House have failed a central duty of the presidency,  i.e. to tell the American public what their president is achieving in their name and for their benefit.

Instead he has allowed the Republicans and their unscrupulous friends to fill the void with all kinds of lies, groundless fears, and just plain hate.  At a time when America should be rejoicing that we  -  beyond all other industrialized nations  -  have recovered from the worst economic cataclysm since the Great Depression, people are being encouraged to whine about America "being off track."

I could go on and on about Obama's little-recognized achievements,  but it's not my job to publicize Obama's record.  I did that job and did it well for decades in politics for other political figures, thereby not only advancing the status of worthy politicians (and there are some) but advancing the public knowledge of good causes that needed the public's support.

Tell it to them loud and clear.  Then tell them again.  Then tell them again.  And again. And again. The message repeated is the one that sinks in. The GOP knows that and did it well.  The Democrats  -  including the Congressional party  -  sat around virtually silent. The public therefore believed the GOP garbage.  The Democrats were so disheartened that they flat out REFUSED rides to the polls or other help, something that has never happened.  Only 38% of all voters went to the polls, probably the worst performance ever.

To the talker goes the spoils.

Similarly, where was a rapid "take charge" response from Obama and Democratic leaders when things went bad?

A scandal like the one at the VA  -  in which our veterans had DIED from needless delays!  -  should have had an enormous and immediate response.  Obama could have called a primetime television address to the nation within 24 hours of the news breaking. And he could have announced that the head of the VA was under suspension while the truth of the story was being determined.  He could also have said that any veteran now waiting for a doctor appointment at the VA could see a private doctor at government expense if the scheduled wait was unreasonably long.  Further, that those responsible for the delays and for the cover-up would be fired. Not just be "held responsible".  FIRED!  He could have been visibly angry and mentioned his grandfather, a WWII veteran, and said how he wouldn't have stood for his grandfather being treated that way and nobody should stand for this mistreatment of the men and women who have suffered for us and our country.

Or something like this. Something dramatic and effective. Not just in order to help himself but because the situation did in fact require immediate and dramatic action.

He also should have identified the GOP role, if any, in cutting funding for sufficient number of VA doctors. I have heard or read that this was a factor.  Was it?  If so, why in hell haven't the administration and the Congressional Democrats made a big noise about it?  Not just for political reasons but because our veterans deserve representation that is loud and clear.

It's old news now.  Its time has passed.  But its ghost lingers.  So do the shadows of the CIA shenanigans and ineptitude, the bobbling around about Ebola, the messed up Health Care web site. None of these things were, of course, Obama's fault.  But they were someone's fault, someone who works for him.  The buck stops at his desk. He perhaps can't fire civil servants but he could and should have done other things to show he was a manager who would stand for no nonsense.

It seems that "no drama Obama" means that you can (almost) get away with murder at the White House. At least you can walk in the front door with a knife or shoot bullets into the White House walls and nobody does anything. These were the unkindest cuts of all (no pun intended). They truly made Obama look weak. The leader who is this nearly threatened and does nothing looks very weak indeed. In the olden days the heads of attackers would have been impaled on the spikes of the White House fence to advertise that it's a bad idea to mess with The Boss.  He isn't just The Boss, he's our elected leader. Who attacks him attacks us.  Doesn't the White House get this?  He is so symbolically important that he can't afford to be cool about personal danger.

Does it all matter anymore?  Isn't he just a lame duck now? Yes and no. Certainly there's more work to be done.  He has more judicial appointments to make, and they will have to get through a Republican Senate. After waiting for congressional action on immigration, he is going ahead on his own.  There may also be more environmental protections announced as executive orders. Further he has a tricky road to walk in the Arab world and the Middle East, plus the unending dance with Putin, who at one moment is poking Ukraine and in the next moment is offering help to get nuclear materials away from the Iranians.

But there will likely be zero legislation enacted in cooperation with Congress. I predict that half of  the time the GOP in Congress will engage in internecine warfare (Sen.Ted Cruz v. the rest of the GOP) and the other half in passing legislation that Obama must veto.  In all likelihood it's a lame duck Congress.

The lamest ducks of all are, of course, the vast number of Democratic voters who stayed home last Tuesday.

People get the government they deserve, Churchill said.  But, as my friend Judith McVittie of  Chicago says, "Why do the rest of us have to suffer?"










Thursday, November 6, 2014

What REALLY Happened This Election Day

No, it wasn't a repudiation of President Obama. And, no, it was not a GOP triumph of its message.  And it certainly was not a win for all the millions of dollars the Koch Brothers and their ilk lavished on the campaign.  In fact, those GOP donors   -   with the exception of telling unanswered lies  -  wasted their money. (More about that in the P.S below.)

It was simply the lowest turnout in a national election virtually ever.

Only 38% of those eligible went to the polls.  38%!

That's a drop on average nationally of between 10 and 16% as compared to 2010.  And 2010 was a stinker as to Democratic stay at-homes and election outcome.

Since Republicans are about 30% of the electorate and vote far more reliably than do Democrats, it's clear that the Democrats weren't there at all on Tuesday.  In fact, it's amazing any Democratic candidates won anything.

Why did all those Democrats stay home?  The media pundits believe it's because they don't like Obama any more. The more compelling reason seems to me to be that they like him just fine but he wasn't on the ballot.  He wasn't there in 2010 and they stayed home and we lost the House.  But they came roaring back in 2012 in terrific numbers when he was on the ballot.

It could be, therefore, that they simply didn't like the Democrats who were running for both  houses of Congress this year.  In fact, one of the reasons they may have turned up their noses was they do like Obama and resent that the Congressional candidates were running away from the president. If rats are perceived fleeing a sinking ship  -  and the media have certainly portrayed Obama as the Titanic  -  does anybody love the fleeing rats?  They may think them shrewd but most people just want to hit the rats with a broom, the disloyal little scum.

No, folks, I put it to you that the Congressional Democrats lost this election all on their own without any help from Obama.  With the exception of a few members of the black caucus in the House, the Democratic members of Congress have been disloyal to him all along.  They have failed to defend him or his policies.  They have failed to explain that the GOP in Congress is blocking everything and won't play ball and won't compromise or work across the aisle.  For six years the GOP and its moneybags friends and Fox News have drummed all kinds of lies into the public's ears. And the Democratic Congress members have sat quiet.

Why?  Chicken-hearted?  Racist?  Lazy?  Dumb?

Let's look at dumb.  It's dumb not to know what Nazi propaganda chief  Joseph Goebels taught the world.  Tell a big lie and tell it often enough and people will believe it.  The GOP followers of the "Little Joe" Goebels doctrine told the lies over and over.  And the Democrats did not repeatedly repudiate these lies as they needed to do.  It's not rocket science.  In fact it's simplistic and boring but it must be done: Tell the truth. Tell the truth. Tell the truth. Tell the truth. CALL OUT THE LIARS!

As a former political p.r. person I have died a thousand deaths of frustration watching the GOP ravish the political landscape with their lies, never being adequately challenged by the Democrats.

And, heaven help him, President Obama and his staff have been guilty of the same negligence.  Poor trusting soul that he is, he thought it was enough to say the truth once and that people would understand and hold onto it.  That may work teaching law school  -  though I taught law school longer than he did and I found a nice bit of repetition was not amiss  -  but it doesn't work in governing nor in campaigning.  Tell them over and over.  I felt I had failed at my political p.r. job if I could not get at least three news cycles out of the same story.  And that was for local or state campaigns.

Plus the American public has a memory that extends only two weeks.

So where  in heaven's name were the Democratic candidates to remind people of what the Democratic party has done for them in recent years?  We can't remember stuff on our own. Quick!  Without pause, name me six big things Obama and the Democrats have done. Come on!  Quick! Quick!

And more important, what did the Democrats running for Congress propose doing for people in the future?  And don't say that awful word "infrastructure."  You wanna get run out of town?  Voters hate that inside lingo. And skip the banal platitudes about improving education for our children.  Nobody knows how to do that except good teachers, and nobody has ever run for office promising to make education worse.  People want something they can get their teeth into.

Can you think of something sexy to garner votes?  Something teeth-worthy?

Well, neither could the Democrat candidates apparently.

We lost our Colorado Senate seat in part because Udall ran a one-note campaign about women's  bodily functions.  That fight is over on the national level.  We women won. And everybody is tired of hearing about it.  It continues at the state level in places like Texas where they never get tired of old battles, to wit the Alamo.

So here's a summary for the Democratic Congressional candidates:  Dance with the guy that brung ya.  Plus remember Ben Franklin's snake: We hang together or we hang separately. Plus always answer the lie RIGHT NOW and tomorrow and every day thereafter.  And for God's sake, get yourselves something to run on that's interesting, relevant and specific.

And stop blaming Obama.  After all, he won re-election and you Congressional candidates just failed to do that little thing.

As for the rest of us, here's our cold comfort as we snarl at the stay-at-home Democrats:  Churchill said that people get the government they deserve so let's hope the non-voters get what they deserve.  As for the rest of us: As in baseball, there's always next year.

P.S. The money the Koch's, etc. spent did not increase the vote for the Republicans.  Republicans won because the Democrats let them.  The Democratic voters stayed home.  It wasn't a win.  It was a forfeit.  This is good news. Because next time, by definition, it will be different. There will be a Democratic candidate running for president who will have a coherent message and a quickness to respond to lies.  Someone to fire up the folks. Well, anyway, we damn well hope so.  And remember then to vote early and often!






 




Friday, October 31, 2014

The Second World Series, The Two Nates of Politics, and Madison Baumgarner

We were very lucky when Nate Silver, statistician and writer, moved over from sports to politics for a couple of years in a column for the New York Times. Throughout the 2012 political season he  correctly called the presidential race, based on the numbers that he carefully examined and explained.  He made this correct prediction when virtually nobody else did and he stayed loyal to it to the end when all the pundits were skeptical of Obama's chances and many pollsters were too.  In fact, Karl Rove's number crunchers so misled him that he was running around Fox studio on election night, trailed by Fox cameras, trying to persuade Fox not to give Ohio and the election to Obama.

Silver was not only right in his analysis and ultimate call; he also wrote very well. You can know everything but if you can't say it clearly, what's the point?  I stumble into incoherence sometimes just like everyone else but Nate Silver virtually never did.

But then he left us.  Back to sports and ESPN in 2013, with this year a sporadic nod at politics.  Obviously his heart isn't in it.

In his wake the New York Times hired Nate Cohn, whom I am sure is a delightful person.  But I'm not so sure about his ability to weigh the numbers and that's because he doesn't handle words all that well. He doesn't explain things.

That's where Madison Baumgarner comes in. His job is to present pitched balls to a batter. The batter then decides whether to swing or not. It's the core decision of the game of baseball. In the story of the two Nates, politics is the pitcher and they are the batters.  They each have had to decide which statistics to swing at.  Which numbers mean something?  And what do they mean?

Nate Cohn is too eager.  He swings at too much.  Further he doesn't go for the sweet spot; he seems to deliberately pop flies.

Right now he is confronting a batch of statistics that may or may not mean something.  They are the  early voting performance in several states, those states that can determine whether the Democrats hold a majority in the Senate. Potentially these numbers are very telling.

At first glance they show that a large number of Democratic voters who did not vote in 2010 have voted early in 2014.  This may indicate the Democrats are going to win in those key states.  But does it?

Eager to get an attention-grabbing opening for his story, right off the bat Cohn trumpets this as a very good sign for the Democrats. He makes it his headline and his opening paragraph.

But his real job is to figure out whether these numbers actually tell us something or only seem to. This initial judgment is comparable to deciding whether the ball speeding at you is worth swinging at.  You can't swing at every pitch and you can't embrace every number, at least not fruitfully. Do these early votes say what they seem to?  Are more Democrats going to be voting, not just early, but right up until the polls close?

Or is this a revolving door situation?  As the Democrats party workers drag these usually low performance voters to the polls are other Democrats that they dragged to the polls in 2010 going to take a time-out?

The only voter performance number that ultimately counts is the final tally. Nate Cohn takes way too long to mention this.

The danger of trying to peer through the fog ahead of time is that often you can't be sure what you are looking at.

Cohn knows this but he waits for paragraphs to tackle the issue of the revolving door or what he calls "cannibalism", and then he does so in a sort of backhand way, to mix sports metaphors.

The result is that I read the piece with dying joy.  It wasn't "good news for Democrats", as billed.  It was a bit of grandstanding.  It was a less-than-Babe-Ruth batter pointing to left field and then not delivering.

I know the Babe ain't coming back, but I sure wish Nate Silver was.  I want a guy who knows what to swing at.

Meantime all we can do is wait for Tuesday night and the final score in the last game of our own kind of series.  Election Day! Play ball!