Saturday, March 31, 2012

It's not just about health care.

Are we on the verge of a constitutional revolution? The marathon arguments in the Supreme Court this week on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act have raised the real possibility that parts or all of the statute will be overturned. The predominant view of constitutional scholars, most of whom thought there were no serious questions about the constitutionality of this statute, suggests that the Court cannot declare the law unconstitutional without a fundamental re-thinking of our constitutional framework (unless the Court comes up with a rationale somewhat like its unprincipled decision in Bush v. Gore, that has no application beyond the present case). If instead the Supreme Court decides on some principled basis to find that Congress has no power to impose a health insurance mandate, that would imply that we are heading back toward a narrow interpretation of the Commerce Clause that was thrown out back in the Roosevelt era. If the Supreme Court overturns the Medicaid expansion, the Court would be calling into question the nature of the federal government's spending powers that have been taken for granted for decades.

I will admit I am somewhat alarmed by the prospect. If the Supreme Court adopts a Tea Party view of the Constitution necessary to overturn the Affordable Care Act, that will most likely have implications way beyond health care, and way beyond the political implications for either party this year. Conservatives may think they are advocating a return to the "good old days" of old-fashioned constitutional thinking, when the federal government actually had much more limited powers and responsibilities. That kind of constitutional thinking did not bring about any good old days, however. It brought about . . . the Civil War.  It brought about . . . the Great Depression. In both those cases, the country decided we needed to expand the federal government's powers to prevent such crises from occurring again.

In our own time, we only need look to Europe to see how difficult it is for a weak union to deal with a major financial crisis. Conservatives like to warn us of the dangers of European welfare programs and worker protections. They should worry about the capacity of a weak federal government to maintain the economic strength and cohesion necessary to compete in a global economy. That is where Europe is failing, and where the United States would fail also if we were to try to return to the imagined glory days of a weak federal government.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Free speech in Congress

Apparently the House of Representatives has a very strict rule against wearing any sort of headgear, a rule that required that Congressman Bobby Rush be gaveled into submission and escorted off the House floor, while he was quoting Bible verses promoting love and tolerance.


This rule evidently has exceptions, however, for Yankee baseball caps:

and also for Congressmen who wish to wear ridiculous beanies to mock the Obama administration's energy policies:

Monday, March 26, 2012

Health Care and the Constitution

By my standards as an attorney, I'm not fully prepared to comment on the argument taking place in the Supreme Court. Although I've studied constitutional law, and I've read a couple of the Court of Appeals cases on each side, and I've read some articles by constitutional law experts, I haven't read the briefs, and I haven't looked up all the relevant cases. Of course, lots of other people seem to be offering opinions on this topic, and I'm sure most of them haven't read all the briefs or looked up all the cases either. 

Still, I can't give a fully-polished lawyer's argument, so I'll just offer a couple of impressions. One is that the Supreme Court is overdoing this. Three days of argument on a question that doesn't that much more difficult from lots of other questions they have to decide? Especially considering that the argument for upholding the statute seems much stronger than the argument for finding it unconstitutional. Part of me would like to see the Supreme Court issue a quick decision saying this is an easy case, of course this statute is constitutional, let's move on. On the other hand, this is a landmark piece of legislation that affects everyone in this country, so maybe it makes sense to give it special attention, just so everyone understands that the Court is giving this case extra special attention.

There are a couple of questions I'd like to ask the justices if I had the chance. One is to ask why are they not troubled by the fact that I'm already being taxed to pay for their health insurance. I'm being taxed to pay for every federal employees' health insurance. I'm being taxed to pay for every veterans' health insurance. I'm being taxed to pay for health care for poor people, and I'm being taxed to pay for the health care of everyone over the age of 65. So why exactly is it such a problem that the government is asking me to chip in to pay for my own health insurance?  If it's good enough for federal employees and veterans, and the old and the poor, it ought to be good enough for the rest of us.

There is a practical reason why something like a mandate, or a tax, is required to make sure that everyone has access to health insurance. That is because the system is becoming unaffordable unless we have a way of making practically everyone pay into it. But there is also an evolution in our moral, and maybe also in our constitutional thinking that justifies the idea of universal health insurance, an idea that  is taken for granted in every single other advanced country, but encounters enormous resistance only in America. That evolution would recognize health care as a right of every citizen. and has to concede that the every man for himself philosophy just plain won't work anymore to protect us from catastrophic health problems that can strike any of us. But the fact that we need to make that leap also explains why those opposed to the idea of universal health insurance are fighting so hard against it. Because this argument might be seen as the last stand of the every man for himself philosophy that some take to be fundamental to American values.

Lots of people hate the idea that the government is now in the business of making sure we all take care of each other. They hated Social Security; they hated Medicare and Medicaid; lots of them hate the whole idea public education; and they sure seem to hate the Affordable Care Act, even though it is based more on a private model than any of those prior pieces of socialistic legislation.  But these self-reliant people who think they have no use for government are just going to have to recognize that if they get very sick, they are going to end up in the emergency room, or needing an expensive operation, and the rest of us are probably going to end up paying for it. So it's fair for them to pay too. And maybe it's good for lots of people to gather outside the Supreme Court and give vent to these feelings. If this very conservative Supreme Court votes to uphold the constitutionality of this Act, as they should, that will help establish that it is not inconsistent with fundamental American values to protect the right of every citizen to affordable health care when they need it.

UPDATE: Even though I don't have full confidence in the Supreme Court deciding this issue, unfortunately we can't leave it up to the people either. A new CBS poll says that only 25% want to keep the Affordable Care Act intact, while another 29% would keep the law but get rid of the mandate. Yet something like 85% support the ban on insurance companies' ability to reject people for pre-existing conditions. That means that a solid majority would like to be able to wait until they get sick before they have to buy health insurance. They would probably also like to wait until their house burns down before they have to buy fire insurance, but people seem to get that that would not work. Why is it so hard to understand that the same principle applies with health insurance?

Saturday, March 24, 2012


I just watched Rick Santorum's new campaign video, and I have to admit, I recognized that horror film.

"Small businesses are struggling and families are worried about their jobs and their future."

Yes, that actually happened in 2007 and 2008 when the crash hit. In fact, the economic disaster of the Bush years put thousands of companies out of business, and it has taken years of changed policies under Obama finally to see those jobs slowly return.

"The wait to see a doctor is ever increasing."

That happened during the Bush years also, as employers found that exploding health insurance premiums caused them to cut back or drop coverage altogether. And the number of uninsured increased steadily during the Bush years. Millions have to wait in emergency rooms for treatment. Thousands filed bankruptcy to escape crushing medical bills. Yes, Bushville sure was a scary place, but eventually, when Obamacare finally kicks in, practically everyone is going to have coverage.

"Gas prices, through the roof."

I sure remember that too! We had a big spike every year under Bush, with gas prices finally hitting $4 per gallon in 2008.

"The freedom of religion, under attack."

Bush did claim to be a religious guy, so most people would probably say their freedom of religion was not under attack during his presidency. On the other hand, if your religion happened to be Muslim, Bushville might have been the worst place for religious liberty ever.

"And every day, the residents of this town must come to grips with reality that a rogue nation and sworn American enemy has become a nuclear threat."

That happened too! when North Korea, a country we actually went to war against, and with which we still have not achieved peace, acquired the bomb under Bush's watch.

Yup, that Obamaville sure was a scary place. Except that we already lived through that, and it was called Bushville.

Funny how the political opposition always has to talk about all the awful things that are going to happen under Obama in a couple of years, because the reality of what is happening today isn't very scary at all. At least not nearly as scary as the reality of four years ago.

Friday, March 23, 2012

The President Adopts Trayvon.

President Obama issued an eloquent statement today on the Trayvon Martin case, carefully avoiding saying anything that might prejudice the investigation, but still showing amazing empathy for the affected family. The most touching part came at the end, when the president said that if he had a son, he would look like Trayvon.

We have had presidents who could show empathy with the victims of tragedy before, but this statement still represents something different. From now on, a black teenager in a hoodie can no longer be viewed as the "other." He could be the president's son. He could be the son of any of us. That change comes not just because we have a black president, but also because of President Obama's ability to see the victim of this tragedy as one of us, as a member of our family, rather than as someone from outside our life experience on whom we should nevertheless take pity.

 Instead of looking at the world from the point of view of a so-called neighborhood watch patroller on the lookout for bad guys who might threaten or scare us, we should try to see the world from the point of view of a kid walking home from the corner store with a candy and soda. That kid deserved better than to be treated with suspicion and distrust. He deserved to be treated as parents would want their son to be treated.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012


Political campaigns live in search of the perfect metaphor, the one defining (I almost said unshakeable) image that captures a candidate, or an opponent, in voters' minds. It seems that Mitt Romney has gone out his way to help us find the perfect metaphor, but none of them--his wife's couple of Cadillacs, his delight in firing people, his dog abuse, his 15% tax rate, his love of right-sized Michigan trees--quite captured the man. Until today, when one of the candidate's senior advisers--someone who knows the candidate better than almost anyone--managed to find exactly the right tool to describe Mitt Romney. For the rest of the campaign, it seems inevitable that at every Romney event, the candidate will be followed (I almost said dogged) by troublemakers bearing red plastic toys.

Sure Romney's defenders will try to argue this was no big deal. Every candidate, Democrat or Republican, tacks toward the center after the nomination contest is over, to try to win over the critical moderates and independents. But in Romney's case there was always something more than that going on. There was always the sense that you never knew where the guy really stood, that he would say anything to get elected, that he could turn himself into a blank slate at will on which to write something new for today's purpose, that he is making it all up as he goes along. Now, fair or not, we finally have the visual image we've been searching for to capture that uneasy sense in the minds of much of the electorate. And what could be even worse for Mitt Romney is that now he will have to spend the rest of the campaign trying to prove that he will stick to positions that are unpopular with large segments of the electorate. Otherwise, any deviations will prompt the derisive epithet. Sorry Mitt, you can run, but you can't hide from the barrage coming your way.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

What bully pulpit?

Ezra Klein has an interesting article in this week's New Yorker summarizing the work of George Edwards and a number of other political scientists that tends to show that presidents' powers of rhetorical persuasion are not as great as they (and we) tend to think. When presidents take a strong stand on a particular issue--say, George W. Bush's initiative to privatize Social Security accounts, or Barack Obama's push for the American Jobs Act--and go barnstorming around the country to gain support, these studies have shown that they persuade hardly anybody who is not already inclined to agree. In fact, they tend to push people away who might have agreed with the idea in the past. We saw this happen, for example, with the individual mandate in the health insurance reform act. An idea that was championed by a number of prominent Republicans suddenly became anathema to them just because President Obama adopted it.

So not only is it a lot harder to persuade people to accept a new idea than we think, but the mere fact that an idea is espoused by someone of the opposite party--even an idea that people used to agree with themselves--makes people more likely to reject it. This means that the main purpose of a president's taking positions and articulating them strongly is to rally their own troops to the cause, not to gain new adherents from the other side. We think of Barack Obama as a much more effective communicator than George W. Bush, but somehow Bush was able to get his party faithful as well as some Democrats to line up in support of his priorities like education reform and prescription drugs for seniors. On the other hand, Bush couldn't even get his own party strongly behind immigration reform or Social Security reform. That tells us that the politics of an issue matter a lot more than the president's skill in selling his position. Obama, with all his oratorical skills, can't seem to get anyone from the opposite party to agree with anything he proposes. If Obama came out in favor of apple pie, Mitch McConnell would probably start talking about the dangers of apple pie. On the other hand, Obama manages to get nearly all of the Democrats in Congress to support his initiatives, which is not a small achievement. But it shows how polarized our politics have become, even when the president is espousing fairly middle of the road ideas.

Klein ends up concluding that it is our political system that limits the president's ability to persuade. Congress has become increasingly ideologically divided, more like a parliamentary system. And a parliamentary system without a prime minister doesn't seem to work very well. The president can only achieve consistent results legislatively when his party has the votes. The bills that get passed with bi-partisan support tend to get through by means of back room deals, with little public attention. It is by NOT talking about an issue that the president is sometimes about to take the heat off of the opposition members who support those bills. David Axelrod is quoted in the article as saying the administration did not push for the payroll tax cut until after the midterm elections for that reason.

How does a president with great persuasive powers, who came into office promising a new kind of politics that is less adversarial and less ideologically driven, manage to create change in this hostile environment? Ironically, just by espousing a bi-partisan approach, President Obama seems to have made the whole idea of bi-partisanship even less palatable to an opposition party that is intent on making Obama look like a partisan ideologue even when he suggests something they agreed with yesterday. So far, it seems the president has done a good job exposing just how extreme the Republicans have become in opposing anything and everything (but maybe I just think that because I'm already sympathetic to his position). But if they are going to be that intransigent, it seems that they do risk marginalizing themselves by their strident opposition.



Friday, March 16, 2012

Happy St. Patrick's Day

In honor of the holiday, a replay of the President's speech last May on his triumphant return to his Irish roots:


Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Road We've Traveled

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Science lessons from plants

Tonight I went out into my garden, just as Rick Santorum suggested, to talk to my plants. (By the way, congratulations Rick on Mississippi and Alabama!) I told the plants that carbon dioxide was dangerous, just as Rick Santorum said I should tell them. To my surprise, the plants backed up Santorum 100%. "Dangerous?" asked my plants. "Are you kidding? We love carbon dioxide. The more we get, the faster we grow. We eat the stuff up like candy."

After I got over the shock of hearing my plants respond to my assertion, I will admit I was kind of discouraged, since I am one of the people who has been taken in by the world-wide conspiracy of climate scientists who say that man-made carbon emissions are contributing to global warming. Were my plants really telling me not to worry about that?

Just as I was starting to turn back to the house, one of my plants reminded me there might still be cause for concern. "Don't forget," said the plant, "we're just plants. We don't find carbon dioxide dangerous. But you might."

I slapped my forehead. "Of course," I said to the plant. "You're . . . a plant. I'm a human being. Just because you say that carbon dioxide is good for you doesn't mean it's good for me. Maybe it's like those studies done on mice that don't necessarily extrapolate to humans."

"It's worse than that," explained the plant. "Weren't you paying attention in biology class? Mice and humans both take in oxygen and expel carbon dioxide, while plants do the opposite. Carbon dioxide is actually poisonous to humans, though not in the minute quantities found in the air."

"Oh yeah, I do vaguely remember something about that."

"One more thing," the plant told me. "Even if breathing carbon dioxide were perfectly safe, that has nothing to do with whether increasing concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are contributing to global warming. We plants love all the carbon dioxide, but we are going to wilt pretty fast if the heat turns everything to a desert around here. So turn down the carbon dioxide a bit, will you?"

"Wow," I responded. "You're pretty smart, for a plant. It's amazing to find a plant more knowledgeable than a presidential candidate."

"In this case," said the plant, "that's not saying much."

(still from Little Shop of Horrors)

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Social Networks and Political Campaigns

Political messages continue to reverberate in new ways. Can the social web counter the influence of money in politics and the immense power of paid political advertising? That was one of the themes of a couple of political panels I attended at SXSW Interactive, that explored the ways in which these networks can transmit, filter and change the messages of political campaigns. Campaigns are still learning how to use these tools, and aren't always comfortable with the result. For one reason, campaigns can't always control the message they want to project, once they allow it to be copied and commented on by supporters who may have somewhat different concerns. As an example, whenever President Obama tries to connect via twitter or some other on-line forum, the number one question is always about legalizing marijuana, an issue he would prefer to skirt. All the Republican campaigns have also had to adjust their messages to the concerns of their most partisan supporters (gay marriage, abortion, etc.), even though they know that right wing positions on these issues will probably cost them votes from moderates and independents.

The Obama campaign still appears to be ahead of the curve in their grasp of the power of social media. Even some Republican-leaning political professionals I heard today admitted that they are still catching up. For example, President Obama's website is well tailored for mobile devices, and can switch to Spanish language. Rick Santorum's website is not even adapted to mobile. The Obama family knows how to use sites like Pinterest, while others are shying away, which will make it more difficult for these candidates to connect with voters.

Negative ads and false claims by political campaigns are known to be effective in the short term, but also seem to have turned off a lot of potential voters. Getting them involved will prove a challenge this year. One example that might encourage some of these discouraged voters can be seen in the remarkable grassroots campaign to defeat stricter protections against internet piracy. Whatever people think about that issue, it demonstrates the power of people against powerful moneyed interests. People will kick money's ass, said Heather Smith, President of Rock the Vote, if they understand how important it is to participate.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Content Strategy

At SXSW Interactive in Austin, Texas, they can fill a large ballroom to capacity with a crowd eager to learn more about Content Strategy. And they can do that while there are dozens of other things going on at that moment. When the organizers started the interactive part of what was first a music festival and then added a film festival, they didn't quite know what interactive was. As one of the presenters reminded me, what interactive actually was at that time was CD-roms. Anybody remember those?  Now the interactive portion dominates the event, and a lot of the talk is about social media, and future methods of content distribution.

So I was wondering what I was doing attending this packed panel session on content strategy, not even being sure what the term meant. I was having difficulty thinking of content as a strategy. These content strategy experts talked about how we have to think about the structure as well as the content of content. That's actually not such a new idea. If you think about magazine publishing, for example, you might start with the structure first. Articles have to fit within a certain page capacity and layout. In the digital world, it might be easier to think of content first, since the structures should be infinitely flexible, and the capacity is infinite. Constrained by old ways of thinking, however, we still organize digital content in more traditional-looking formats. No matter how we publish, however, we still have to think about the structure or container for whatever we are creating, even though we can't always control it, as content moves about the web in different forms. I started thinking that what these experts were talking about might apply to what I'm doing.

Content strategy also involves thinking about how content supports an organization's goals. Even if all I'm doing is writing a personal diary for however many people might want to read it, it still needs a theme and purpose to be of any value. And since I've also been thinking about how to improve a website for a mediation organization I'm involved with, I realized that content strategy is just a fancy name the techies here at the conference have for what anybody who creates anything needs to think about to make their creations more accessible and valuable.

South by Southwest is a great place to learn about the future--the future of the web, the future of journalism, the future of how people are going to access what you're reading right now. One discussion I attended talked about how independent web publishers are worried about becoming the slaves of facebook and twitter and the like, which have become such dominant forms of disseminating content. Another panel addressed the future of long form journalism in an age of short attention spans. Surprisingly, there seem to be more outlets for such in-depth content in today's world. But the content still has to come from the same place it was generated when Homer or Thucydides were creating content. The difference is that we can now distribute content electronically, instead of orally or manually. Now it's easier and cheaper than ever to make it public, there are more ways than ever for people to find it, and it can get disseminated faster than ever before.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

What Smoking Gun?

Apparently the tape that Andrew Breitbart was talking about before his death, which has now been released, shows Barack Obama as a law student embracing Professor Derrick Bell.  On the Breitbart site, they are saying  that "this video is a smoking gun showing that Barack Obama not only associated with radicals, he was their advocate." 

A smoking gun? Really? To check that, I pulled out my trusty paperback copy of David Remnick's Obama biography The Bridge, and flipped to the index under Derrick Bell. Lo and behold, there are several pages on the guy, including, on page 214, a description of exactly what can be seen on the supposed "smoking gun" tape, including that the young Obama hugged Bell in front of a cheering crowd.

I'm not surprised if whomever had custody of this tape did not want it released during the 2008 campaign, since any tape showing a youthful Obama appearing at any sort of campus rally would feed into the image the right has been trying to create for years, that Obama is in reality some kind of fearsome student radical type. But the truth is, as people Remnick interviewed for his book tell it, Obama never really fit that image:
Everyone remembers Obama in much the same way: that he held generally progressive views on the political and racial controversies on campus, but never took the lead. He always used language of reconciliation rather than of insistence.
The Bridge, p. 214.  Think about it. Harvard is a notoriously political campus, known for its ongoing strife among the faculty and administration over diversity and other issues. Derrick Bell was the first black professor on the Harvard Law School faculty, and got into frequent spats with the administration over the pace of hiring additional black law professors. And Barack Obama was the first black president of the Harvard Law Review, which was a very big deal at the time.  How would Barack Obama not speak up in support of Derrick Bell at that time and place? Not that there was anything particularly radical about standing up for Bell, but in doing so, what seems most notable about Obama's speech is its lack of militancy, its attempt to ingratiate himself and Professor Bell with all sides in the controversy, as well as early signs of the eloquent speaking qualities we have come to know so well. What we can be most thankful for is that Obama has since learned to keep his hands out of his pockets when he speaks.

Smoking gun? Yes, this is proof positive that even back in law school, Barack Obama was showing all the signs of becoming exactly the kind of leader that we see in him every day.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Monday, March 5, 2012

Loose talk

From President Obama's speech to AIPAC this week:

I would ask that we all remember the weightiness of these issues; the stakes involved for Israel, for America, and for the world.  Already, there is too much loose talk of war.  Over the last few weeks, such talk has only benefited the Iranian government, by driving up the price of oil, which they depend on to fund their nuclear program.  For the sake of Israel’s security, America’s security, and the peace and security of the world, now is not the time for bluster.  Now is the time to let our increased pressure sink in, and to sustain the broad international coalition we have built.  Now is the time to heed the timeless advice from Teddy Roosevelt:  Speak softly; carry a big stick.  And as we do, rest assured that the Iranian government will know our resolve, and that our coordination with Israel will continue.
Maybe because it's an election year; maybe because there is also pressure within the Israeli government to take action against Iran; maybe because people are frustrated over whether sanctions against Iran will be effective; maybe for some other reasons, we are hearing a steady drumbeat for military action against Iran.

Wasn't it only ten years ago that our nation fell victim to a similar drumbeat--only that time it started within the White House--for war against Iraq? And wasn't that drumbeat based on similar fears that that country had acquired, or was about to acquire, weapons of mass destruction? And that if we didn't take action soon, it would be too late to prevent a larger conflict? I'm sure I don't need to remind people that it turned out that no weapons of mass destruction existed. It turned out there was no hurry. It turned out there was no reason not to give inspections and sanctions more chance to work.  

I feel confident that this administration is going to resist the drumbeat building now against Iran. I also feel confident that if we do resort to military action, that action will be based on good intelligence showing that military action is necessary. Whether Americans agree or disagree with the foreign policy actions of the Obama administration, haven't they repeatedly proven--in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, Egypt, Syria--that they undertake military action, or refrain from doing so, based on realistic assessments of the costs and benefits of using force? They do not bow to political pressure. That means that those who are responsible for the drumbeat (mainly the opposition political party) must know they will not pressure this administration to act. All this loose talk will do is create an issue on which to differentiate Republicans from Democrats.

These opposition political candidates know that they have the luxury of  fanning the flames of war, without having the responsibility to decide whether or not to actually start a war. But they ought to be a bit more careful about misleading the American people, and creating tensions on the other side of the world, merely because that seems expedient for them politically at the moment.

(photo from druminar)

Conspiracy Theories

I just started reading Hellhound on his Trail, a book by Hampton Sides about the hunt for James Earl Ray, Martin Luther King's assassin, and my initial reaction is that the truth of this story is amazing enough without imagining that it is even more complicated. To support the existence of a widespread conspiracy in the King assassination would require a vast number of participants, reaching into some of the highest levels of government. Yet there is a cottage industry of people who will not let such speculation die, requiring a counter-cottage industry of debunkers trying to disprove each new wrinkle of the alleged conspiracy. 

What explains the widespread fascination with conspiracy theories? From the King and Kennedy assassinations, to various conspiracy theories about the Clintons, to the 9/11 "truthers," and on to the birthers who are still preoccupied with proving that Barack Obama was not born in the United States, there is no end of people who remain fixated on complex, shadowy operators behind the scenes who are really running things. It is hard for admirers of the Kennedys or King to imagine that the ordinary, pathetic creatures who seem to have pulled the triggers could take down these legends. Other conspiracies may be explained by the idea that it is too frightening for many people to believe that a bunch of ordinary people who don't really know what they are doing any more than the rest of us, are actually in charge of running our government or our economic system. They would rather believe that a race of super-intelligent reptile people, or something like that, are actually controlling us. 

Conspiracy theories, of course, come from both the political right and left. Recently I was reading one more or less left wing theory that sees the Bush family as the most powerful behind-the-scenes operators, suggesting they were behind the attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan, and explaining how they remain in power even when Democrats like Clinton or Obama obtain the Oval Office by making sure that government continues to favor the rich and powerful. If you believe in such a  conspiracy, all you have to do is notice that the elder Bush and his son Jeb recently paid a courtesy call on President Obama just before the secretive Alfalfa Club dinner. That's all the proof that conspiracy theorists need to supposed that some sinister deals were being cooked up. (One amusing report of this meeting states that it was held in "complete secrecy," but also publishes a photo that the White House released on Flickr. I guess these days you can't count on the White House to know how to hold a secret meeting!)

It seemed to take only a few minutes after the untimely death of Andrew Breitbart before right wing conspiracy theories began to arise about how Breitbart must have been silenced because he was about to reveal some dirt on President Obama. So once again the president's opponents, who have been searching in vain since the 2008 campaign for some scandal with which to tag Obama, have been thwarted. As with most conspiracy theories, the belief that some sinister plot must have occurred, comes first. The details of how Breitbart was supposedly murdered will inevitably keep changing as more facts are uncovered. The plot always thickens, until only the most ardent conspiracy buffs can keep track of all of its arcane twists and turns.

For all her craziness, at least give the birther queen Orly Taitz some credit for recognizing her obligation to prove her claims in court, where she always loses. That is the standard conspiracy theories should be required to meet. We have to rely on the judicial system to protect us from the ability to believe almost anything.

(photo from extra)

Sunday, March 4, 2012

AIPAC speech


Saturday, March 3, 2012

The War on Voting

Below is a chart put out by the DNC demonstrating the extent of voting fraud complaints in the United States. It's part of a useful series of graphics explaining the background of the current war on voting being carried on primarily by Republican-dominated legislatures. (In case people think the source of the chart is biased, it is based on statistics compiled during an investigation of voting fraud done by the Bush administration).

In this era of concern over excessive government spending, may I suggest to those politicians passing laws and conducting investigations into voter fraud, that they could get a lot more bang for the buck (about 40 times more) if those same resources were put into preventing people from being struck by  lightning.

As for UFO sightings, it seems that in comparison to voter fraud, they are a REAL PROBLEM.

Friday, March 2, 2012


The debate about contraception going on in Congress and on the campaign trail--who would have thought in the year 2012 we would be having a debate about contraception!--is fascinating for exposing attitudes toward women that haven't been spoken about openly, for the most part, in years. Thanks to Rush Limbaugh, as usual, for making the issue crystal clear. He is now facing well-deserved criticism for calling a law student who publicly demanded that health insurance cover the cost of birth control pills, a slut and a prostitute. She wants the public to pay her for having sex, said Rush.

A lot of the response to these hateful comments has pointed out that birth control pills have many other legitimate uses, and in fact, those uses were the focus of Sandra Fluke's testimony. And that is an entirely appropriate response. But I have to question whether Fluke's defenders should stop there. Anybody who truly believes in equal rights for women has to stand up for more than the rights of women to use birth control pills to treat medical conditions. Let's not dance around the fact that one of the purposes of birth control pills is . . . birth control.

Anybody remember seeing Sean Hannity getting outraged--outraged!--when a guest on his show questioned whether health insurance should cover Viagra? That is a medical problem, he said, versus a choice to have sex. Of course it must be covered.

In other words, all men must have the right to engage in whatever sexual activities they choose, casual or otherwise. Women, on the other hand, traditionally fall into two categories, the "good girls" who don't, and the sluts, who do. Men definitely want the bad girls who are willing to engage in casual sex to be available, but men like Rush Limbaugh also want to treat them like dirt in public. That outdated attitude must be put to rest once and for all.

It's time to stop acting morally superior if Sandra Fluke or any other woman demands access to birth control pills because she might want to have sex once in a while but would prefer not to get pregnant. If we believe in true equality for women, it's not enough to make the argument that birth control pills have other legitimate medical uses, although of course they do. We have to stop stigmatizing women who want the same freedoms men have.

 UPDATE: Cheers to President Obama for calling Sandra Fluke and telling her to tell her parents they should be proud of her. Exactly the right thing to say.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Putting it Bluntly

Why was the Blunt Amendment not simply laughed off the floor of the U.S. Senate? This is not just about women's right to make their own health care decisions, although that should have been reason enough to defeat it. This is not just about birth control, although why we would even be talking about denying women insurance coverage for birth control is beyond me.

The Blunt amendment would have gone way beyond the restrictions on contraception that have been the subject of so much discussion. It would have allowed any employer to refuse to provide coverage for any health care service at all, so long as the employer asserted that such coverage was contrary to his religious beliefs or moral convictions. Read it for yourself, and let me know if you think that is not what it says. Whatever an employer finds morally offensive--and perhaps some employers might find the whole idea of health insurance morally offensive--all they have to do is list all of the services that they don't want to cover, and they are off the hook. That is what this proposed statute would have allowed.

I can only think of two possibilities: One, the sponsors of this amendment have a plantation mentality of the workplace that considers it perfectly acceptable for employers to interfere with the doctor-patient relationship if the employer disapproves of the treatment the employee chooses. So if an employer has an objection to blood transfusions, or vaccines, or ultrasounds, or transplants, or whatever else a patient and doctor decide the patient needs, the employer has no obligation to cover such a procedure. Alternatively, these senators are just looking for a way to undermine the Affordable Care Act. They simply never accepted the idea that everyone should have a right to affordable health care, and found a sneaky way to try to repeal some of the central provisions of the law.

Every single Republican Senator--except for one who is retiring this year--voted for this truly terrible idea. Fortunately, the Democratic majority in the Senate defeated Blunt's proposal. People ought to remember that in November.

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