Wednesday, January 30, 2013


Not too many months ago the prevailing wisdom had it that we are a right of center nation. If this is still the case the point spread has narrowed. Obama’s reelection is more a symptom, the cause being Romney’s now famous forty seven percent, the proverbial picture worth a thousand words, Gun control is not as clear cut an issue. But to the extent that it is I feel a strong breeze from left field. All in all I feel better being a Democrat today than a year ago. Faint praise is better than none.

There are the usual dark clouds on the horizon, one of them particularly ominous. That is talk of a plan by Republican legislatures and governors in major swing states to give their electoral votes to presidential candidates according to the number of Congressional districts won by a candidate.* All that can be said in favor of this system is that it is legal and currently in place in two smaller states, Maine and Nebraska. The argument against it is that if it had been effect in the last election Mitt Romney would be president and the five million more voters, roughly four percent of the electorate, who saw Obama as the better candidate, would have counted for nothing. With public opinion nearly unanimous in favor of popular vote over electoral votes in deciding presidential elections, Republicans are now pushing to eliminate the popular vote in deciding how the states’ electoral votes will be cast. It doesn’t require a road map or GPS to see where this is headed and why.

The Tea Party onslaught of 2010 brought us Republican governors and state legislators who have gerrymandered Congressional districts until the 2020 census, to the point where even though Democratic Congressional candidates drew a million more votes nationally last November, Republicans still enjoy a substantial majority in the House. What this new plan would do in effect is gerrymander presidential elections.

Neither side should be trusted with this much power, but particularly these people. We’ve heard this “they’re all bums” business for quite a few years. I don’t know who the right wing considers our biggest bums. But I suspect Bernie Sanders, technically an independent, and Barney Frank rank high on the list. Are they as far removed from reality as the other guys’ top bums? You can start with their experts on rape and work from there. It’s no contest.

Most dangerous is the portion of voters they court and to whom they cater who claim the need for more weaponry to match that of the government. To me these people are a permanent part of the Republican constituency until I’ve heard otherwise and I haven’t heard a thing yet. Any political party that demands its presidential hopefuls deny evolution has enough wrong with it to be unfit for the privilege of governing the United States. To allow it to govern to its heart’s content is unthinkable.

*This was written several days ago when I was sans computer. Since that time four governors of the states in question have said that they don’t intend to follow this course. Both they and the legislators are up for reelection next year. Don’t breathe easy yet. They’ll still have two more years to do their dirty work.

Addendum: Some people have responded to my last letter by saying that Obama was born in Hawaii, not Kenya. This is all left wing media fiction. Just ask Donald Trump.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Fourteenth Amendment

The first sentence in section 4 of the Fourteenth Amendment reads, “The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned.” (The italics are mine.) There’s no hint of equivocation here, particularly compared with the Second Amendment that begins with a “well regulated militia” as a reason, if not the reason for including “the right to keep and bear arms” in the Bill of Rights. The language of the Fourteenth Amendment assumes the wisdom of the law from the git-go and takes the trouble to make certain it goes as far as its writers intended. Most of us know that legalese and common English are not always compatible. But for legal scholars to say that there is no Constitutional basis for the president to invoke this law is going too far. Most of us were taught in high school civics that Congress makes the laws, the Supreme Court adjudicates them as circumstances require and the president enforces them as he sees necessary. I don’t think it’s stretching the point to assume that preserving the credit of the United States is a necessity.

But in my opinion all this is academic. Barack Obama has said he won’t invoke the Fourteenth Amendment and I’m confidant it’s because he knows he won’t have to. There’s a proper time to debate fiscal differences. But it’s not when the nation’s credit standing is being used as collateral and most Americans seem to know this. Apparently Republicans have recognized this by postponing the expected debt ceiling showdown for three months to come up with a solution to what is now their problem. They’re generally pretty good at these things. But it looks as though they’ve bit off more than they can chew. Perhaps a good conduct medal might mollify them.

November’s decisive election has to have emboldened our first president of color. He is now the only Democratic since FDR to win the office with successive majorities. There seems to be more spring in his step. Yes, “lame duck” presidents are less empowered than first termers. But I’d prefer the former giving it all he’s got to the latter doing the job tentatively. Barack Obama has more than his share to give and by now his opponents know this, even his most militant detractors. After all, it’s no small trick for a man born in Kenya to be twice elected president of the United States..

Friday, January 18, 2013

National Rednecks

NRA tactics have reached a new low with a TV ad claiming that Barack Obama, whose children are protected by the Secret Service, is not concerned with the safety of other schoolchildren. The ad is based on his refusal, at least until now, to advocate placing an armed policeman in all our public schools, a suggestion made by Wayne LaPierre, grand mufti of the organization.

The merits of this claim are without empirical evidence. Virginia Tech, the scene of our largest mass shooting to date, had its own police force at the time. Granted, this by itself doesn’t disprove the idea. But the fact that the one room schoolhouse has become a piece of folklore is a convincing, if not overwhelming, argument to the contrary. Our most recent mass murderer had clearly given forethought to his actions and would have been unlikely to pick a classroom that happened to be occupied by a campus policeman with the intuition to know where trouble would occur.

Then we have the suggestion of arming teachers, presumably with handguns. Rifles are hard to conceal and so cumbersome to pick up and aim at a culprit already holding an assault weapon pointed in one’s direction. Every picture I’ve seen of people firing pistols, other than John Wayne types in movies, showed them using both hands. But most important, pistols are notoriously inaccurate, even in the hands of expert marksmen like our teachers, and just might hit students in the general vicinity of the intended target.

I believe that with the tragedy at Sandy Hook School in Newtown the tide has turned and the gun fanatics will be on the defensive until further notice. The time it has taken for us to reach this point is not to our credit. The victims at Virginia Tech were young adults, not cute children, and I’m certain a similar event at an inner city school would not have aroused the public to this extent. Still it looks as if a majority of the nation has seen the light. I hope the bereaved relatives and friends of the victims will be able to find a bit of solace in the fact that the loss of these young lives may eventually save the lives of many more.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

How High The Debt

It didn’t require prescience to write, as I did recently, that the “fiscal cliff” alleged crisis was a dress rehearsal for the fight over the debt ceiling. We’re no longer talking about a mere government shutdown. We had one of them with the Gingrich Congress in 1995 and survived nicely. Anything unresolved on January 1 could have been corrected retroactively. But now we’re talking about the United States defaulting on its debt for the first time in its history. Should this happen the consequence would be domestic and international monetary anarchy.

Contrary to what I had implied, I now see the Republicans as having no leverage in this matter. What may now seem like the party’s slow death throes would become instantaneous with default. It would not be a “hail Mary” pass with which the team behind could win with luck, but a kamikaze attack where everyone loses.

The word “compromise” has a legitimate place in how we incur the expenditures that comprise our national debt. But it has no place in whether we honor it, unless we are willing to accept Third World status. International faith in our credit is such that we are now able to borrow money at virtually no interest. This privilege would disappear overnight if we become deadbeats.

What has yet been barely mentioned is that the biggest losers from default would the barons of finance. The threat to their portfolios does not come from Democrats or what is left of establishment Republicans, but from fringe Tea Party types who were put in Congress by Wall Street money and can be removed the same way. Or maybe they could get belated Christmas presents. Rumor has it that politicians can be bought.

The game of fiscal cliff has been played and Republicans did passably well considering the hand they had dealt themselves. But if the president means what he says that was the final game. There are only fifty two cards in the deck and the credit of the United States, to which one might add integrity, is not one of them.

Monday, January 7, 2013

To Our Health

We have the highest per capita medical expenses in the industrialized world and are near the bottom in some of the incidental things like life expectancy. So I guess you can say we are being taken by the medical complex. Or maybe we just weren’t put together as well as other people. Of course there’s the outside chance that we’re being played for suckers by contributing to folks who want to make a whole lot of money from us rather than to a government agency that would be happy to break even.

But it looks like we’re stuck with what we have for awhile, with a slight measure of relief from some of the Obamacare changes due next year. Most of us have our own horror stories. These may not feel so bad because insurance is paying the bill, if you can manage to forget who’s paying the insurance. My latest scam involves a $2,200 charge for a blood test and a reading by an expert that took all of fifteen minutes from beginning to end, not including my initial waiting time. That doctor must be some expert!

The way the division of labor works in the medical profession, you have these doctors who know a lot about treating almost everything and those who know a real lot about treating just one thing. Sounds reasonable! So they all get paid the same, right? Wrong! The doctors who treat one thing, known as “specialists” are paid much more than those who know a little less about a lot more things, known as “general practitioners” or “GPs.” Naturally more financially savvy medical students are choosing to be specialists, leading to a shortage of GPs.

Consumers or patients don’t always know what ails them so they generally first go to GPs who, because they are scarce, have more work than they can handle. If my recent experience is a guide they are inclined to send patients to apprentices, at this point an exercise in futility for me.

I have three suggestions to handle this problem; one, lower specialists’ fees to those of GPs; two, raise GP’s pay to the level of specialists and three; this will keep them all away, stock up on a lifetime supply of apples.

Friday, January 4, 2013

The Good and The Bad

I’ve just received two emails from people who disagree with my views on gun control. They cite a shooting in San Antonio two days after the Newtown disaster, in which a man, after killing his ex-girlfriend in a restaurant, went to a theater next door looking for more victims and was shot by an armed off duty county deputy. They question why this event, which they feel confirms their views on the subject, didn’t receive the same media attention as the Newtown murders. The answer to this is simple. The shooting of one person to save the lives of others while admirable and newsworthy, isn’t in the same league as the killing of 20 preschool children, among others.

They consider the San Antonio incident a strong argument against the need for more gun control. It would be, but only if there was disagreement over the arming of the deputy, a properly authorized law enforcement official. The culprit’s possession of a lethal weapon might be another matter depending how he acquired it. If he purchased it from a licensed dealer after having passed a proper background check then the shooting was simply one of those things. If he bought it at a gun show, over the internet or from a friend, there are those of us who feel a little scrutiny would have been in order.

The gun people seem to think that the best way to reduce the homicide rate is to allow anyone who wants a gun to have one, or even a dozen. The sky’s the limit. In this case marksmanship just might be a consideration. After all we want to be sure the right people get shot. Bystander injuries at Time’s Square came from police shooting at and missing the perpetrator, so we can assume that even New York’s finest might need more practice.

But the big hole in the pro gun argument is that “the best thing to stop a bad person with a gun is a good person with a gun.” Suppose more bad people own guns, and more of them, than good people. How can we tell the difference? I suppose you could just ask them. Maybe the good old honor system would work after all. Just have a good guy box and bad guy box and have would be gun owners check one. You’re next Dr. Jekyll.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Letter To The New York Times

The text of the "Good War" in 1991 is devoted to mistakes in its operation. A bigger question is whether this "war of necessity" had to be fought at all. The article reads that Iraq's attack had "caught the White House flat footed despite intelligence warning of the Iraqi's military preparations." This ignores the fact for the better part of the month preceding the invasion Saddam Hussein had been telling the world, including the American Ambassador April Glaspie, of his plans and had his troops on the Kuwaiti border for days preceding the invasion. We can only guess at President George H.W. Bush's motive for not warning Saddam of our response. His popularity in the war's aftermath was such that had Saddam acted a year later he would probably have won reelection in a landslide.