Saturday, October 27, 2012

The Vote

In a CNN appearance shortly before the 1994 Congressional elections Mary Matalin correctly predicted the Republican sweep of both Houses of Congress because her party’s voters were well organized. When the host asked if that meant a low turnout would favor her party she gave an answer evocative of the l930s song, “No No a Thousand Times No.” The sanctity of voting was such that she chose not to publicly acknowledge the obvious fact that what was not good for the nation was good for her party, a situation that persists to this day.

But my how political protocol regarding voting has changed in just eighteen years! Newly elected Tea Party type Republican governors and state legislatures have unabashedly passed laws that selectively diminish voter turnout. Among other things they involve stricter, in some cases virtually impossible ID requirements or curtailing early voting, both of which make it harder for poorer and many older voters who tend to vote Democratic. Most of these laws have been declared unconstitutional by the courts, at least for this election.

The pretext is alleged large scale voter fraud. This has been a pet Republican project for some time in spite of the fact that supporting evidence is non-existent. David Iglesias, New Mexico’s U.S. Attorney General, was fired by Bush’s Justice Department for not pushing it hard enough. In Congressional testimony he said that he had no case. Removing absentee ballot boxes from county court houses on election night, as was done in Florida in 2000, is a much more efficient way to steal votes than by impersonating other voters one at a time..

Any way you slice it the thrust of the Republican Party’s efforts is to inhibit the right to vote, which by their measure evidently ranks somewhere beneath the right to own an assault weapon. Whatever their grain of logic lies in the three cornered hats some of their more enthusiastic members like to wear. After all it was the hallowed Founding Fathers who limited voting rights to white male landowners. Since they had it right the first time why did they allow for those damned amendments? Well, maybe ten was OK, or better yet two.

I close this by reluctantly suggesting that you imagine what this country would be like with these folks in control. It’s nearly certain that should they win it all this time they’ll be running the country for more than four years. My reluctance comes from a wish not to spoil your day.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012


The following was emailed by David Siegel, owner of Westgate Resorts, to 7,000 employees.

“If any new taxes are levied on me or my company, as our current president plans, I will have no choice but to reduce the size of this company…Rather than grow this company I will be forced to cut back. This means fewer jobs, less benefits and certainly less opportunity for everyone.”

To keep this from sounding worse than it is, let’s give Mr. Siegal the wiggle room to which he is entitled. He didn’t say he was going to fire people if Obama is reelected, only if new taxes are levied on him or his company. Of course letting the upper end of the Bush tax cuts expire does qualify as a new tax on him.

This isn’t quite “vote for Romney or else.” But it certainly could be taken as such by any of the 7,000 recipients of these missives. I suspect there might be legal ramifications and if so I hope they’re pursued. But my first thought is of the effect on the employees. Their votes may be confidential. But after receiving this message they’ll probably be very careful of what they say around the water cooler. You never know who’s listening. Some true believers won’t have to change a hair. But what of those of any political persuasion who simply don’t like this heavy handed way of dealing with their right to vote? They can’t even complain about this for the same reason. Given the tone of the message we can rule out paranoia. I’m not making a prediction here, just mentioning what has to be happening now.

In ways this approach verges on McCarthyism and in some ways is even worse. Then it had a lot to do with who belonged to various suspect groups. What’s involved now is  literally and directly freedom of speech! Many of the victims then were show business people of greater financial means than the people who make the beds in these resorts. The prosecutors then at least claimed, with varying degrees of inaccuracy, to be working in the national interest. Mr. Siegal is by his own words acting in his own interest.

This is happening during the administration of a Democratic president whose party holds a majority in one House of Congress. Imagine having a president for whose election these tactics have been used with a Congress controlled by his party. Of course there’s always the Supreme Court.

Getting back to Mr. Siegel, here’s a question I’d like to put to him. If his top personal tax rate rises from 35% to 39% he says he’ll reduce the size of his business. This business provides him personal income, therefore by reducing it this income would be even less than it would have been even after the tax increase.. It doesn’t sound all that bad, at least not to me. He’s an extremely wealthy man who owns “Versailles,” the biggest new house in the nation. I wouldn’t blame him for easing up a little at his age. Would he be satisfied getting by with a little less? Not bloody likely!

Friday, October 12, 2012

Rewriting History

The following is part of an email I received from a right wing friend.

“What gets me worse is how Bill [Clinton] dismantled the requirements to buy houses (no money down and no resources) and Bush put up with it.”

My but these people are picky about their history, nearly as much as their science! They don’t think they’re rewriting it because in their view history has yet to be written. You see the whole housing bubble was started by Clinton. He felt that that more home ownership would cause voters to think more like Democrats than Republicans, just like privatizing Social Security. Poor old W just had to suffer with this for another eight years.

Among these folks are those who believe that we should have and could have won the Vietnam War, despite the fact that after we’d given up and lost it the “domino theory,” on which the whole effort was based, turned out to be something of an overstatement. I suspect that at this moment there may be elves in the Republican brain trust trying to write a story to justify invading Iraq. One of them might even be Mrs. Clarence Thomas. I’m sure we haven’t heard the last on this subject.

Our two greatest economic disasters in the past hundred years took place at the crest of long periods of Laissez Faire economy. Yet we have people, proclaimed as experts, who believe that less supervision is the answer to our current problems in an economy that already has less than at any time in thirty years. Yes that thirty years!

I don’t preclude the possibility that our guys may have dabbled with history to support a point here or there. If they did Mrs. Thomas would probably know. But if anybody is keeping score I’m certain they’re well ahead of us in this department. I close my case with Ann Coulter who believes that Senator Joseph McCarthy was a great patriot.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Debate (Dehook, Deline, Desinker)

After dismissing thoughts of suicide over the presidential debate I did a Rip Van Winkle for a couple of days, no newspapers and no TV. Since my return I’ve managed to gather a few thoughts on the subject.

The debate itself was mostly a replay of that old economic battleground, Keynesian versus Laissez Faire. While the subject is relevant to how each man might perform as president the major part of the discussion was void of specifics on how either would manage the economy for the next four years. The exchange might be informative in an economics class, but hardly to a majority of voters.

Within these limits Romney was the clear and, more important, popular winner. He was critical, but not disdainful of his opponent. While Obama was speaking he looked at him directly with that frozen smile. In the same role Obama was looking at anything except his opponent. This demeanor didn’t help John McCain’s cause four years ago in what seemed to be an attempt to put Obama in his place. Worse yet was Al Gore’s incessant groaning while W was speaking. I’d have thought Obama team would have figured this one out given how sharp it was the last time around. This oversight may decide who the next president will be.

I attribute the lack of substance in the debate itself to moderator Jim Lehrer. The situation required more than theoretical questions. I understand his concern over seeming partisan by asking for a comment on Romney’s 47% statement. But being on record as not being “concerned” with nearly half of the nation is as relevant as any question that was asked. That it was not a public statement, but one made in presumed privacy to selected supporters who paid $50,000 to each hear him, only adds to its importance. Contrast Lehrer’s timidity with Bernard Shaw’s question to Michael Dukakis in 1988 as to how he would reconcile his opposition to the death penalty with the possibility of his wife being raped and murdered. He might as well have added by Willie Horton.

It will be sad, tragic and until recently barely credible if this event leads to the election of this wooden man whose words and actions personify his class, which is driven largely by billionaires whose worst fear is becoming mere millionaires. Pulling this one off without unsolicited help from Barack Obama and Jim Lehrer would have put him in a league with Merlin, Houdini and Rasputin.

Friday, October 5, 2012

To Your Health

My last mailing consisted of a copy of a letter sent to the New Have Register in which I mentioned the “possibility” that our health care is “over-priced.” This isn’t my first letter that has been rejected by the Register, but I don’t think it was the quality of writing when compared to some of my letters that have been printed there. My strong suspicion is that the editorial department is afraid of offending the medical community.

This hasn’t been the case with insurance and pharmaceutical companies, two of the four groups that comprise our health care system. They have been excoriated by voices in the media including the Register. Why are hospitals and doctors, the other two components, treated with such deference?*

In the case of hospitals, I’ve mentioned a friend whose insurance company was charged $2,000 for an hour in the recovery room following a colonoscopy. Even if half the cost of this “service” was to compensate for freebies in the ER, a thousand would still be excessive. In 2005 I was denied release from a hospital until I’d signed a waiver for refusing a pacemaker that an outside cardiologist later assured me was unnecessary. This leads to the question of why hospitals have stopped admitting personal physicians to check on their patients. The cost of medical care, hospitalization in particular, has risen well above inflation. I doubt that the labor and materials required cost that much more, certainly not enough to justify these prices.  

My most recent of several experiences with “questionable” charges by doctors was a $2,200 bill for a blood test and reading by a hematologist, a process that took fifteen minutes from beginning to end. It’s my understanding that price fixing is the rule in medical procedures, with occasional discounts as doctors see fit, and I think that’s proper. A system that encourages people to look for cheaper doctors leaves a lot to be desired. But if medical expenses are too high it follows that these fixed prices might also be. I find reports that some doctors are refusing to treat patients at Medicare prices disturbing and revealing, another example of the pervasive “everyone for himself” attitude.  

I have no specific solution to suggest. But to me an inescapable conclusion is that the price of health care makes a stronger argument for more government rather than less.

* To complete the picture I should acknowledge the existence of indirect beneficiaries of our insurance money. Start with lobbyists and work up from there.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Letter to the Editor New Haven Register

It’s the prevailing wisdom of many sensible people that since Medicare is losing money more will eventually have to be contributed to the system, less received from it or a combination of the two. This may be an inescapable conclusion unless one considers the possibility that our health care is overpriced. We have the highest per capita cost of any nation yet we are well down the list in results, such as life expectancy. Granted we are paying for care for the uninsured. But there are numerical limits to this line of reasoning. Take a look at what your insurance company is paying for your health care and decide for yourself if that limit is being exceeded