Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Money in Politics

Are you passionate about protecting, repealing, reforming X, Y, Z? Good for you. Congress doesn’t care.

A recent study found that little of what's done by the U.S. congress has any correlation whatsoever to the issues and outcomes about which American voters care. What matters to congress is not the opinion of Republicans, or Democrats, or the Tea Party, or the Occupy Movement, or any other average citizen or interest group, but rather the opinion of people and groups with big money.

The study in “Perspectives on Politics” (Sep 2014) by professors Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page of Princeton and Northwestern, respectively analyzed 20 years of data and concluded that “economic elites” and business interests have “substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy,” while average citizens and interest groups have “little or no independent influence.”

I think most of us knew this in our gut and we didn’t need a research study, or even Donald Trump boasting about it, to know the system is corrupt. During 2015‘s first Republican debate Trump said he gave to everybody, and gesturing to the other nine people on the stage with him said, “When they call, I give. And you know what? When I need something from them...they are there for me.” Then he added, “that’s a broken system.” Donald Trump says some crazy stuff, but he’s right about this -- the system is broken.

People, corporations, PACs, super PACs, and the in-name-only “social welfare” organizations, and their lobbyists untethered by recent U.S. Supreme Court  decisions have poured literally billions into influencing our government. They’ve earned an estimated return in terms of tax breaks and subsidies of 750 times their investment. Nice work if you can get it. And people like Charles and David Koch, and George Soros, and Sheldon Adelson, and Michael Bloomberg, and others like Donald Trump, can and do get it.

Lawrence Lessig, who is the Roy L. Furman Professor of Law and Leadership at Harvard Law School, and director of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University, has written extensively and eloquently on the corrupting influence of unlimited money on American government. Big money has a disproportionate influence on who runs for office, who gets elected, and what gets done or doesn’t get done.

But corruption of the democratic process isn’t the only thing that’s happening. In the unending quest to raise money, the two political parties and their surrogates have resorted to the outreach theme that works best -- fear and anger. Everything has become a “war;” a “war on women,” a “war on coal,” a “war on religion.” The effect on our discourse and culture has been corrosive, creating a hyper-partisan divide that fuels incivility, distrust, and confrontation.

We must get money out of politics not just to save the Republic from its corrupting influence on democracy, but also from its corrosive impact on our American culture. Join one of the many grassroots efforts to take our Republic back. A good one here in our state is, which has fielded an effort promoting a constitutional amendment, I-735, that would eliminate the disproportionate influence of concentrated money and political power on elections and governmental policy.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Ignorant of History and Determined to Repeat It

Yogi Berra died recently. He was a hall-of-fame baseball player for the New York Yankees -- an iconic figure in baseball -- but more than that, he was a guy who could string a few words together and make you think, huh? One of the things he said that the recent Republican debate brought to mind was, “If you don’t know where you’re going, you might wind up someplace else.”

That’s certainly what’s happened to us ever since we started meddling in the byzantine affairs of the Mesopotamian tribes of Iran, Iraq, and Syria. It worries me that our recent crop of Republican presidential candidates seem so uninformed about America’s unfortunate history of failed excursions in the region. They stood on the dais at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation & Library in Simi Valley, California, and tried to convince voters that they were the honest-to-god best person to be the next American president and fly on the Air Force One that stood as the backdrop to these wannabe Commanders-in-Chief. Unfortunately they demonstrated that they aren’t ready for the job.
With the possible exception of Sen. Rand Paul, these people still don’t understand the massive strategic blunder that the U.S. made in invading Iraq in 2003. They don’t ‘connect the dots’ between that calamity and the chaos that exists in and migrates from the region today.

The candidates talked over each other in their efforts to convince the audience how tough they’d be as commander-in-chief. They would’ve stayed in Iraq, forgetting that the Iraqis didn’t want us and George W. Bush agreed to leave. They’d take on ISIS on the ground in Syria. The so-called “second-tier” Republican debaters were even more forceful in their promises to put “boots on the ground” in Syria.

Jeb Bush, who has vacillated on the wisdom of his brother’s decision to invade Iraq, admits he’s using some of the same foreign policy advisers his father and brother used. But he “will be his own man.” He blames President Obama and Hillary Clinton for creating the “insecurity” in the Middle East, “the likes of which we never would've imagined.”

Insecurity is a placid term for what is a haboob of death and destruction that, in fact, not only could we have imagined, but was predicted by none other than the elder Bush, who showed admirable restraint in not attempting the occupation of Iraq after kicking Saddam out of Kuwait in 1991, saying that doing so, “would have been disastrouss.” At that time, even Dick Cheney cautioned against becoming mired down in an Iraq “quagmire.” Brent Scowcroft, Chairman of George W. Bush’s own Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, went on ‘Face the Nation’ in August 2002 where he predicted that invading Iraq, “would turn the Middle East into a cauldron.” He followed up with an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal later that month.
The Iraq war cost America thousands of lives, left thousands more injured and maimed, cost trillions of dollars, and brought the U.S. economy to its knees. The conduct of the war tarnished forever America’s image as a just and reliable ally. It left Iraq a devastated country wracked by sectarian violence. It created this humanitarian crises that floats bodies upon the shores of Europe.
In defense of his brother, Jeb Bush said, “You know what? As it relates to my brother, there's one thing I know for sure. He kept us safe.”

Sunday, September 6, 2015


French gendarmes round up and evict migrants who were living in a camp near the Channel Tunnel in Calais, northern France, on June 2, 2015. Police evicted around 140 migrants from two makeshifts camps.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Alexis de Tocqueville on Equality in America

Drawing of Alexis de Tocqueville by Theodore Chasseriau, December 31, 1843
AMONG the novel objects that attracted my attention during my stay in the United States, nothing struck me more forcibly than the general equality of condition among the people. I readily discovered the prodigious influence that this primary fact exercises on the whole course of society; it gives a peculiar direction to public opinion and a peculiar tenor to the laws; it imparts new maxims to the governing authorities and peculiar habits to the governed.

I soon perceived that the influence of this fact extends far beyond the political character and the laws of the country, and that it has no less effect on civil society than on the government; it creates opinions, gives birth to new sentiments, founds novel customs, and modifies whatever it does not produce. The more I advanced in the study of American society, the more I perceived that this equality of condition is the fundamental fact from which all others seem to be derived and the central point at which all my observations constantly terminated

From the author's preface to
Democracy in America, 1835

Friday, August 28, 2015

Abstinence Only or Cancer -- The Republicans' False Dichotomy

There was a very interesting special on NOVA, PBS, last night dealing with vaccinations in America; their history, development, and some of the controversy that’s plagued them. We all know about the fraudulent Wakefield study and how it caused a lot of parents to avoid getting their children the MMR vaccination and all the problems that caused (and continues to cause, because some idiots still believe vaccinations cause autism -- see for example, 'Health Impact News').

I didn’t know that the vaccination to prevent the Human PapillomaVirus (HPV), which can cause cervical cancer was so controversial. The physician discussing it on the Nature special said (and I’m quoting from memory), “We’ve all wanted some way to prevent cancer, now we have an incredible scientific breakthrough that prevents cervical cancer, why wouldn’t we use it?” Good question.

Then we switch to a video of a female physician discussing the HPV vaccination with a woman and her pre-teen daughter. The mother and daughter are facing away from the camera so we don’t see their faces. The physician explains the dangers of HPV and the efficacy and reliability of the vaccine and recommends the mother have her daughter vaccinated. The mother declines to do so. The physician asks if the woman has any fears about the vaccine harming her daughter. The mother says no, she isn’t going to have her daughter vaccinated because she, the mother, believes in “chastity.”

There is some back and forth on this, with the mother explaining that she expects her daughter to refrain from sex until she’s married, and the physician explaining that the blushing bride could still get HPV from the groom, or even through “deep kissing,” should she ever have a boyfriend in her poor unfortunate life living with this deeply disturbed mother.

But the mother says that having her daughter vaccinated against HPV will encourage her to have premarital sex. She is adamant. She will not approve the vaccination! So the physician says, “Well, let’s just do the flu shot today and we can talk more about the HPV vaccination another time” (little did the physician know that there are those that claim the flu vaccination is "the most dangerous vaccine is the U.S." -- see again, Health Impacts News, whose Managing Editor and Founder, Brian Shilhavy, has a “BA in Bible and Greek from Moody Bible Institute, and an MA in Applied Linguistics from Northeastern Illinois University.”).

Well, this mother must be an outlier, right? Unfortunately, no. Mrs. ‘Tightlips’ is part of a conservative ‘abstinence-only’ movement that apparently would rather see their daughters (or sons -- men can get cancer from HPV) die from cancer than have pre-marital sex (it is the second leading cause of cancer deaths among women).
I should have remembered this outbreak of anti-science, because Rick Perry kept apologizing during the 2008 Republican presidential debates for signing an executive order making the vaccine mandatory in Texas for all sixth-grade girls. “I made a mistake,” he said -- oops! And who could forget Michele Bachmann claiming on Fox and ‘Today’ that the vaccine caused mental retardation. Was she talking about herself? Did she get vaccinated? I doubt it. There must be another explanation.
As of July 30, 2015, 4 out of 10 adolescent girls and 6 out of 10 adolescent boys have not started the recommended HPV vaccine series, leaving them vulnerable to cancers caused by HPV infections.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Pro-Life Republicans? Where?

Republicans will do absolutely nothing about gun violence in America. Republicans oppose paid maternity leave (the US is one of only 3 countries not to do so (Oman and Papua New Guinea are the other 2). Republicans are attempting to axe Title X Family Planning. More than half of Republicans in the Senate and almost half of Republicans in the House voted against the creation of Medicare, and House Republicans have vote over 50 times to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Republicans believe people need to starve before they'll 'really' look for work (Republicans believe that policies like disability insurance or the Earned Income Tax Credit take away a key motivation -- hunger).

People stand in line waiting to fill boxes with food at a Las Vegas food pantry.
Republicans oppose a plan from the chairman of the FCC to subsidize broadband Internet for poor Americans. Republicans want to send children born in America of undocumented immigrants back to where they DON'T come from. Republicans oppose diplomacy to address the Iran Nuclear Issue courting the possibility of armed conflict. Republicans won't even say "climate change" unless to brand it a "hoax," and climate change is already causing hundreds of thousands of deaths due to drought, failure of crops, flooding, and extreme weather. Republicans "Pro-Life?" Hardly.

Monday, August 17, 2015

We Should Have Stayed In Iraq -- Oh, Really?!

Is Obama responsible for the rise of ISIS and the chaos and conflict raging in the Middle East? Republicans, especially the now unrepentant Jeb Bush, say Obama's decision to pull troops out of Iraq caused this debacle. Nonsense. "One can argue the single most consequential decision that brought us to today’s deplorable situation is the decision to invade Iraq." This from the conservative National Review. No kidding!

As for pulling out of Iraq, Shortly before Obama took office in January 2009, his predecessor, George W. Bush, finalized an important agreement after about a year of negotiations with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Called the Status of Forces Agreement, it spelled out the withdrawal of all American troops by the end of 2011.

The agreement failed over a demand by the U.S. that American troops be given immunity from prosecution by Iraqis, a very touchy political issue within the Iraqi Parliament. Obama was not going to allow American troops to be judged by Iraqi courts after the disaster that was the Bush Administration's prosecution of the war.
No immunity meant no residual troop presence. In an October 2011 news conference, Nouri al-Maliki said, "When the Americans asked for immunity, the Iraqi side answered that it was not possible. The discussions over the number of trainers and the place of training stopped. Now that the issue of immunity was decided and that no immunity to be given, the withdrawal has started."

One can easily imagine how "enraged" Republicans would've been had Obama agreed to allow American troops to be prosecuted in Iraqi courts for alleged crimes. They might've started throwing shoes!