Friday, July 17, 2009

Nobody Asked Me, But...

1) Not that I think abortion should be illegal or anything to abrogate a woman's right to choose, but it seems to me that these folks would have had strong moral backing if they chose to step in on the part of the anti-abortion crowd. This is a very sad story when we should be celebrating their lives.
2) Wrists In The News.
3) Just in case you thought swine flu was no longer a problem...Argentina has been under a national lockdown for over a week now.
4) "Less of a problem" is not "no longer a problem."
5) I don't know if this is pure speculation or if there's a real trend here, but good news in the housing market.
6) It was forty years ago today...give or take.
7) Yea. The way a chigger gets under the skin until you kill it.
8) This is one "endangered species" I will not mourn. Phugliest shoes in the world.
9) Wine and beer at Starbucks. Look forward to overpaying for badly stored chablis made with sour grapes and rebottled Old Milwaukee.
10) I guess this guide is for rich parents of kids who won't take advantage of what life has gifted them to get into college. "Now, Johnny, when the admissions officer asks if you shot anyone, just smile oddly."

Thursday, July 16, 2009

You Talk A Lot....

When a candidate is being questioned for confirmation, one way to know whether it's a slam dunk or if it's a rocky road is how much the candidate him or herself actually speaks. The same is true for a suspect, if you ever get into that situation: the more the cops talk, the less likely they're convinced they have the right man.

As of Wednesday morning, the senators had spouted 50,082 words.

In response Judge Sotomayor had been able to utter barely 20,000 words (20,728, to be exact).

Monday was the worst day: Senators 23,175  Sotomayor 942.

Some "hearing." Maybe they ought to call it a "talking."

Clearly, this is a stall tactic designed to make the Senators look good under the "advise and consent" clause of the US Constitution. Things got so bad that Al Franken felt the need to do what is arguably the stupidest thing ever in a Senate confirmation hearing: do shtick
FRANKEN: OK. I -- we're going to have a round two, so I'll ask you some more questions there. What was the one case in "Perry Mason" that Berger won?
Admittedly, this was after some very piercing questioning about Internet regulation and privacy rights in which Sotomayor actually DID have the chance to expound on her views.
In point of fact, there's not a whole lot "there" there, as the only legitimate complaint about Sotomayor has been one, and only one, quote of hers with respect the whole "wise Latina woman," and even there, the context in which she spoke (to an audience of, um, wise Latina women) and the speech itself (on how important it was for wise Latina women to be role models for the community).
A remark she has already expressed regret about. Her rulings and her track record suggest a centrist judge with empathy and compassion for those who deserve it, and stern justice for those who don't.
Could we ask for a better judge? Too many of the "old white men" that have been the hallmarks of the Reagan/Bush administrations have never set foot in a ghetto, never seen the inside of a tenement or housing project, never walked the streets of their own neighborhoods terrified of the next dark alley.
Sotomayor has. I think it's safe to say she knows the difference between need and greed, between those who ask us for help and those who beg us for a free ride. She's seen people in actual need, dealt with them in her life outside of the law.
And she's seen scammers and crooks who hide behind the masks of pain and need. This has clearly shaped her use of the law to promote justice. And since the Supreme Court is all about the interpretation of the law, it would be easy to fall back on the patriarchal "Founders intent" viewpoint as so many fasc-- I mean, conservatives have.
It's easy, in other words, to rule on law in the vacuum of textbooks and precedents. You make the law as strict as possible, and ignore that there are hundreds of millions of people out there, each with a different story, each affected differently by the law. And it should not be policy of the government of the United States to treat anyone unfairly, if avoidable.
The rigid, dogmatic thinking, logic and ice cold, of the past 233 years must be changed to incorporate our new understanding of humanity and humankind. This is what I think Sotomayor brings to the court.
And why the Senate won't need her to speak.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Finally, Someone Takes A Stab At The Right Thing!

WASHINGTON (AP) — House Democratic leaders, pledging to meet the president's goal of health care legislation before their August break, are offering a $1.5 trillion plan that for the first time would make health care a right and a responsibility for all Americans. Left to pick up most of the tab were medical providers, employers and the wealthy.

"We cannot allow this issue to be delayed. We cannot put it off again," Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce committee, said Tuesday. "We, quite frankly, cannot go home for a recess unless the House and the Senate both pass bills to reform and restructure our health care system."

Healthcare ought to have been a right in the Constitution from the get-go, but back then, people didn't see doctors unless they were dying. And the average age a man lived to was 40, a woman with children had an even shorter life expectancy.
See, it's in the Declaration of Independence and these asshats who always look to the "intent of the Founders" ought to reacquaint themselves with that document.
There's an awful lot of good in the proposal, as highlighted in these paragraphs:

Under the House Democrats' plan, the federal government would be responsible for ensuring that every person, regardless of income or the state of their health, has access to an affordable insurance plan. Individuals and employers would have new obligations to get coverage, or face hefty penalties.

The legislation calls for a 5.4 percent tax increase on individuals making more than $1 million a year, with a gradual tax beginning at $280,000 for individuals. Employers who don't provide coverage would be hit with a penalty equal to 8 percent of workers' wages, with an exemption for small businesses. Individuals who decline an offer of affordable coverage would pay 2.5 percent of their incomes as a penalty, up to the average cost of a health insurance plan.

In other words, you can't really opt out of the insurance. One way or another, we're not going to let you drag our healthcare costs up by treating the emergency room as your family physician anymore. By the same token, no employer is going to make an extra couple of pennies off the backs of his poor workers by depriving them of the most essential tool they need to do their jobs: their health. I know an awful lot of people who would give up the cafeteria/lunchroom or the soda and candy machines for affordable health insurance.
It's not perfect, it's not even that close to perfect, but it looks like it might be an interesting first step towards what this nation truly deserves: single-payer health insurance whereby NO ONE can make a profit off your body.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

A Welcome Breath Of Carbon-Neutral Air

That said, there are legitimate concerns with respect to cap-and-trade policies in an energy policy, centered mostly around how easy it is to game the system to benefit large polluters, as well as a moral objection to the introduction of free market solutions to essentially a social problem. Rather than seek a reduction in carbon emissions, cap-and-trade effectively shifts the burden, spreading it around.
To a degree, this is true, but it's also true that there is a heavy financial incentive on the part of those who have credits to trade not to pollute more (they have less income), and as time goes on, the price of credits will index up, thus negating the pollution incentive for the purchasers of credits.
It's a gradual withdrawal of carbon from the pollution cycle, and therefore manageable.
Palin raises a ridiculous point, particularly in light of what other criticisms of cap-and-trade amount to.
She claims:

American prosperity has always been driven by the steady supply of abundant, affordable energy. Particularly in Alaska, we understand the inherent link between energy and prosperity, energy and opportunity, and energy and security. Consequently, many of us in this huge, energy-rich state recognize that the president's cap-and-trade energy tax would adversely affect every aspect of the U.S. economy.

There is no denying that as the world becomes more industrialized, we need to reform our energy policy and become less dependent on foreign energy sources. But the answer doesn't lie in making energy scarcer and more expensive! Those who understand the issue know we can meet our energy needs and environmental challenges without destroying America's economy.

Cap-and-trade does not limit energy production in the sense that it sets a ceiling on it. If some company decides that it needs more energy, and it is willing to make the rather punitive payment to use it, then it is free to do so. Cap-and-trade is not a quota system with finite limits.
Indeed, if anything, these voluntary measures will help extend America's own fossil fuel supplies as companies recognize there is profit in protecting the environment.
And profit creates jobs. And jobs create an economy.
Now, you don't have to take my word for it. Here's Conor Clarke, subbing in for Andrew Sullivan:

Cap and trade creates revenue, which can be used to mitigate the costs for consumers. When the Congressional Budget Office did it's analysis of the distribution of the costs and benefits of the House's cap and trade bill, it found that the poorest quintile would actually benefit.

Cap-and-trade attempts to quantify the social costs of business decisions. If I litter, I create a job for a sanitation worker, which means a wage must be paid. In addition, I help feed a vermin population, which means a health official must be hired.
American society has always been predicated on the quantifiable. It's the Flatlanders' best method of proving their superiority. I can compare my wallet to yours, and if mine has more, I'm a better person.
Which might be true, but probably is not. As Warren Buffett so often points out, nobody gets anywhere in this world without the support of the people and society around him or her. Those who can shunt aside as much of the costs of success as possible to hidden and unmeasurable resources make pure profit.
Which is why it's important to account for these as closely as possible. Level the playing field, and open the books.
Who knows? Maybe it will even turn Alaska into a powerhouse state!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Ice Age Meltdown

It's been very interesting to watch the dynamic of the Republican party over the past six or seven months, ever since losing the 2008 election in a landslide.
For example, the intramural backstabbing is beginning in earnest on the one person who probably stood the best strategic chance of reuniting the party quickly, Sarah Palin:
What is remarkable is the contempt Palin has engendered within her own party and the fact that so many of her GOP detractors are willing, even eager, to express it publicly -- even with Palin an early front-runner for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination.
Some admit their preference that she stay in Alaska and forget about any national ambitions.
"I am of the strong opinion that, at present day, she is not ready to be the leading voice of the GOP," said Todd Harris, a party strategist who likened Palin to the hopelessly dated "Miami Vice" -- something once cool that people regard years later with puzzlement and laughter. "It's not even that she hasn't paid her dues. I personally don't think she's ready to be commander in chief."
And Harris was polite, compared to some of the vitriol!
What I find most interesting is that this is the precise venom spewed by the conservatives and Republicans for the past sixteen years as they held sway over, first, Congress, then the Presidency and finally the Supreme Court. Liberals and Democrats were not only attacked, they were mutilated.
Having seen a country grow tired of these divisive tactics and having seen their power slip like an ice cube down a glacier on a sunny day, Republicans have not learned to put the flame-throwers down, instead finding the one target left that they can legitimately hose down.
Each other.
It is more than cruel sport, this picking apart of Alaska's departing chief executive. The sniping reflects a serious split within the Republican Party between its professional ranks and some of its most ardent followers, which threatens not only to undermine Palin's White House ambitions -- if, indeed, she harbors them -- but to complicate the party's search for a way back to power in Washington.
There's the power brokers on the one hand, the rank-and-file on the other hand. The brokers know how to get things done. The rank-and-file knows how to get people nominated. Palin stood a chance at pushing the rope that is the Republican party towards unity. Her massive appeal with the masses would have put her in good stead with the powers that be if she learned to be a bit more flexible in how she is being handled.
Indeed, I suspect part of the problem the GOP has now, and perhaps the problem the Democrats finally shed with Barack Obama, is the need to micromanage even their candidate for President (nominally the party leader). The Republican party has been the slave to a formula laid down in the 1980s by Lee Atwater, reinforced by Newt Gingrich, and then set in stone by Karl Rove, a strategy of attack without mercy, propose with as little detail as possible, and spin, spin, spin.
And as the last twenty five years have shown, it works. For a while.
It didn't hurt the GOP that the Democrats threw candidates against the wall men who had no business running...Michael DUKAKIS?!?!?! John Kerry????...which only reinforced the general notion (which they then incorporated) that the GOP was invincible. It also didn't hurt the GOP that demographics were on their side, as manufacturing jobs, generally held by more conservative elements of society, fled the bluer states into the redder states, replacing dying agricultural jobs.
Now that those jobs are being offshored, it's left conservative men and women angry, but has also marginalized the GOP as a regional powerhouse and nothing else.
Hard to say where this ends. My suspicion is the Republican party will cleave open and a third party will emerge, which will pretty much guarantee a Democratic hegemony for a decade easily, and perhaps two, until a candidate emerges for either of the two fractions of the GOP that can heal the wounds and attract followers from the other party.
Perhaps this is Palin's ultimate goal.