Friday, January 01, 2016

Reading between the lines

Governor Bevin has wasted no time with press releases and executive orders. I'm looking at these and trying to see what the next 4 years has in store for my adopted home state. The early signs I'm seeing are not good.

Bevin issued an executive order to accommodate one citizen, then promptly issued a press release about it. That's never good policy. It says that he's more interested in scoring political points than doing what's right. It's a waste of state resources for two reasons: it's only benefiting one citizen, and it's unnecessary. The citizen in question is of course Kim Davis, the bigoted bitch of a county clerk who embarrassed a majority of Kentuckians and Christians while simultaneously demonstrating she's unqualified to be a county clerk, because she doesn't understand that Supreme Court rulings are not open to interpretation. The order requires the creation of new marriage license forms, state wide, that don't contain the name of the county clerk - a problem that doesn't need fixing. Bevin is clearly saying that Kim Davis' bigoted views are worthy of accommodation.

That same day, Bevin also reversed a pay raise for state workers making minimum wage. This "raise" was already in our state's budget, which our state constitution requires to be balanced. He also issued a state-wide freeze on hiring. He further said that all open staffing requests would be reviewed to determine if those positions are truly necessary. These are purely symbolic measures; they say "I'm going to reduce the size of government." Even Wal-Mart is giving its minimum wage workers a raise. Not to mention our state currently is enjoying a $165,000,000 budget surplus.

That's right, we got more revenue than we expected, so there is no financial reason to issue a hiring freeze. I suppose if you're an ignorant fool then the "guv'mnt is too damn big" mentality is all the justification you need for such a move, but allow me to suggest an alternate perspective. The one "featured" job over at careers.ky.gov is "prison plumber." I'm just sayin', maybe the prison actually needs a plumber. Maybe that's not some unnecessary bureaucrat living off our tax dollars. Maybe if some poor soul is willing to face the risk and filth associated with fixing shitters in a prison, we should hire him, thank him, and offer him a competitive benefits package, because I can't imagine there are a lot of people waiting in line to fill that post once he quits.

And about that surplus. If we're $165M in the black, why on earth would Governor Bevin say that "our state is financially in trouble" so we need to overhaul medicaid, something his predecessor just did? In fact, Beshear hired an independent commission to analyze the impact of the changes he made to medicaid, and they concluded it delivered a massive financial benefit to the state. It's brought in $3 billion and 12,000 jobs. The Feds have paid for all of it so far, and that continues through 2016.  It's the same thing Ohio GOP Gov. Kasich did, because it's the right thing to do. Forbes praised Kasich for this "extraordinary example of successful conservative governance." I doubt they'll be writing any such articles about Bevin.

So overhauling Medicaid is not only unnecessary (because we just did it), it's financially stupid. Why is Bevin working so hard to undo Beshear's actions, when those actions are demonstrably helpful to the state? Even the way Bevin is going about this makes no sense. He's hired a Medicaid "expert" whose track record is having left Kentucky with a $389 million Medicaid shortfall during Ernie Fletcher's administration. We can't hire a prison plumber, but Bevin creates a high-paid bureaucrat job to solve a problem that doesn't need solving just so he can undo Beshear's legacy of expanding health insurance to the poorest people in our state? That makes no sense, and it looks to me like a bad sign of what we can expect over the next 4 years. 

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Wacko is relative

I read a well-written analysis on Politico today that will unfortunately never see the mainstream. People are too lazy, or too burned out on politics, or both for something like this to be presented to the masses. It doesn't fit in a "tweet" so people will tune out.

The full article is here. It aligns with a couple theories I have about the current race, specifically:

  1. Trump is getting disproportionate media coverage because his statements are so sensational that they sell a ton of ads. He's the gossip/reality star of the race and that's what Americans lust for these days so he's a siren's song to the major media outlets.
  2. His positions are so outlandish that they skew the curve for other statements made by his fellow GOP candidates. In other words, if you remove Trump from the equation, there are plenty of crazy statements being made by the other Republicans in the race, they just seem less crazy and get less air time relative to Trump
  3. The Democrats are making some wacky statements too, but they're about hippie/socialist themes, not starting wars, encouraging xenophobia and legislating religious beliefs into US law. 
  4. People are so turned off by the entire political process that they don't tune in. This creates a vicious circle, because it gives the candidates the freedom to say absurd things and know that the majority of the electorate isn't listening; they'll only hear what the media distills for them in conveniently digestible 140 character increments. That distillation process is also biased towards trying to sell ads, because that's what a media firm does. 
The process of saying crazy shit in the early part of a race to "stand out" and then later coming back to the center is nothing new. It's called "shifting the Overton window" and the article references it. What is new is the the extremes to which candidates are willing to go to stand out. Think of a number line with 0 as dead-center, moderate America (which is really where most of us are, FYI). 

Ten or 20 years ago, GOP candidates might go to a "+2" to the right and the Dems might go to a "-2" to the left in the early part of the cycle. In this current cycle, the Dems are kicking it down to "-5" with stuff like 90% tax rates and free college for everyone. I don't like that, it's blatant pandering. Here's what I believe is a real problem: The GOP is taking it to "+20" with some of their positions, it's not just Trump, and it's working spectacularly well. Both parties are being more extreme in their rhetoric, but the GOP is going MUCH farther away from center than the Dems. Here are a few examples from the article:
  • Carly Fiorina’s conclusion that the minimum wage is unconstitutional 
  • Mike Huckabee’s pledge to defy Supreme Court rulings he deems incompatible with God’s law 
  • Ben Carson’s assertion that if the United States had set a goal of oil independence within a decade, moderate Arab states would have “turned over Osama bin Laden and anybody else you wanted on a silver platter within two weeks”
  • Rick Santorum’s claim that Islam is not protected by the First Amendment 
  • Chris Christie’s threat to shoot down Russian planes and launch cyberattacks on Chinese leaders
  • Ted Cruz called for putting the United States back on the gold standard 
  • Marco Rubio vowed to repeal Wall Street reform in its entirety and oppose abortion without any exceptions
  • John Kasich, supposedly the moderate in the GOP race, vowed to “punch Russia in the nose.”
These are all things the GOP candidates actually said, on live TV, during their first 75 debates. Many of these statements were not even contradicted by anyone else on stage at the time. Most of them are absolutely ludicrous. Yes, Bernie Sanders giving everyone free college is ludicrous too, but let's hypothesize on the amount of economic harm that would cause versus what every respectable economist believes would happen if we followed the dipshit idea of returning to the gold standard. Or following the theory, which has been roundly disproveds, that wall street will self-regulate. GOP extremism is potentially far more harmful to America. And besides, Obama apparently already made us a socialist nation, so there's nothing left for Sanders to do. 

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The death march to election day continues

I watched the 12/15 CNN debate and it was genuinely difficult to stomach. Here's what I heard:
  • America won't be safe unless we continue these endless wars and significantly increase defense spending
  • I'll demonstrate I'm tougher than Obama by making the current federal spying programs a lot more aggressive!
  • "The FBI has the authority to investigate 'un-American' activities." Yeah, it's called McCarthyism.
  • I promise to build a stronger, more heavily fortified wall on the Mexican border than _______.
So, overall I saw a complete lack of respect for the lessons of history or the constitution. Going to war in Iraq was a terrible mistake, BOTH times. No one has ever won a war in Afghanistan, ever. Lybia and Egypt are not new democracies, they're new problem spots in the region. Who in their right mind says "if we would just carpet  bomb Syria and then put some boots on the ground this would all get better?" Right, Ted Cruz. 

Kasich was again the only one who suggested that we need to come together as a nation, find common ground, and ditch this us versus them paradigm. The others promptly ran him over with a bulldozer. For most of the rest of them it was a contest of who could be more arrogant, the exceptions being Ben Carson who yet again shattered the stereotype that brain surgeons are smart, and Carly Fiorina who is the female equivalent of Mitt Romney - a disconnected elitist. 

I noticed something interesting when the talk turned to national security and the NSA spying program - Rubio & Bush openly criticized Cruz and Paul for even talking about the program. I figured that was just debate showmanship. Turns out that the head of the Senate intelligence committee (try not to laugh too hard at the fact that those three words appear on a door somewhere in DC) felt Cruz and perhaps Paul revealed too much detail about how much the program was expanded in its most recent renewal. Here's an excerpt:

"The backlash to Cruz’s remarks reinforces the lack of an open, democratic discussion of surveillance programs. And although elements of the programs must remain classified to preserve their effectiveness, the total blackout on information about them keeps the public from being able to make informed decisions about the lawmakers and officials they elect.

“Sure, we can talk about the capabilities of Section 702,” said Jake Laperruque, a fellow at New America’s Open Technology Foundation, referring to a different NSA program that scoops up data straight from the physical infrastructure of the Internet. “But it’s hard to have a meaningful debate about it when you can’t tell the American people whether a few hundred or a few million of them are being swept up in a warrantless surveillance program.”

I thought the GOP was supposed to be for small government and protecting individual liberties? Yet all they could do was try to out-do each other in terms of how authoritarian they would be in terms of domestic and foreign policy. Absolutely pathetic. 

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Let's talk about terrorism, Islam, and France

Well, that didn't take long. The French authorities had barely cleared the bodies of the victims from the massacre scenes in Paris before US politicians started turning tragedy into an opportunity for grandstanding. I'd act surprised, but really I'm not. Those issuing policy statements today in the aftermath of these attacks are some of the most classless politicians we've got. Specifically, Trump, Carson, Cruz and Gingrich. They were not alone, they were just some of the most egregious. Their statements varied from "see, that's why we can't help the Syrian refugees" to "this is why Muslims are so dangerous" to "if the French were allowed to carry more guns this might never have happened." I'm not going to repeat the exact statements, but these are the main messages. NBC has the details here. Take a hard look at these statements, because so many of them are simply variations on "we need more war" and "don't trust brown people."

I saw several friends post a piece by Dr. Omar Hamada, an OB/GYN from Tennessee (and special forces veteran, I'm sure he was never exposed to any propaganda...) who wants to help Christians out there be extra Jesus-y in their response to this tragedy by pointing out that "Islam is a religion of death, violence and subversion." Praise be to Him, and thanks for the 5 second, inaccurate lesson in comparative religion. Psst, you may want to look into a little thing called "The Crusades" there, Mr. Good Christian, before you go talking about violent religions.

Most Americans dislike the French. We make fun of them mercilessly. Everyone seems to know a joke about how the French military never wins any wars, how they're a snobby culture who are lazy at work or whatever. I, on the other hand, have been to France, and I can confirm that it's impossible to get anything done quickly at work there. They take August off. No shit. They're also some of the warmest, friendliest people I've ever worked with. They know how to enjoy life. We make fun of their worker's benefits because were jealous. Our employers treat us like shit, and we're used to that. They start with 6 weeks vacation, 6 months maternity leave, and this wacky thing called job security. I remember when Leo Apotheker (HP CEO) woke up one day and gave all US workers a 5% pay cut, but he had to ask the French if they wanted to volunteer for it because they have actual worker protections.

I also learned that every French town has an "Avenue des Etats Unis" (US Avenue) in much the same way every US town has an MLK drive. Why? They never forget how we helped them defeat the Nazis. It's part of their history, and they are genuinely appreciative of our efforts in WWII. How many Americans know that we absolutely would not have won the revolutionary war without the French? I guaran-damn-tee you that every Army historian knows it, because it's true. The freedoms we celebrate with flag t-shirts and fireworks would not exist without major assistance from the French, yet most Americans are completely ignorant of that.

It gets worse, actually. Let's hop in a time machine and go back to early 2003. We were on the war path, trying to rally a coalition of the ignorant to buy into our absolute bullshit intelligence that Iraq had WMD as justification for an immediate invasion. Colin Powell did a good job peddling that bullshit, and got a few allies to join us. France was not one of them. They urged restraint. They said that war was premature, that it would turn into a real shit show. This wasn't just then-President Jacques Chirac; 75% of French citizens agreed with him. Turns out they were right. It has been a shit show. We've lost a TRILLION dollars and a few thousand lives, all while creating a power vacuum across the region that allowed ISIS to form. And how did we respond to France in 2003 when they dared to oppose our lynch mob? Freedom fries.

Oh yeah, remember that little episode? I do. Congressman Bob Ney (R-OH), head of the House Committee on the cafeteria menu (no shit) decided to rename French Fries to Freedom Fries, officially. He also renamed French Toast to Freedom Toast, just for good measure. "Ney, whose committee has authority over the House cafeterias, directed the change, after colleague Walter Jones, R-North Carolina, circulated a letter suggesting such a move. Jones said he was following the example of a local restaurant owner in his North Carolina district." Shortly thereafter, Jim Saxton (R-NJ) introduced a bill that would prevent French companies from getting any contracts for reconstruction of Iraq. Odd that, before we even ramped up the war, we were already thinking about how lucrative the contracts to rebuild the place would be, so much so that we were considering protectionist legislation to be sure those contracts get funneled to our campaign donors right here in the USA ...

So while the current crop of windbags leading the GOP has rushed to use this as a campaign opportunity to point out that it's not just the Mexicans we need to worry about, let's remember our history. If we'd listened to the French, and not gone to war until we had real evidence of WMD, maybe we could've saved a trillion dollars and not helped create ISIS, and maybe a handful of assholes claiming allegiance to ISIS wouldn't have massacred Paris Friday night. After 15 years of endless wars in the Middle East, maybe more war isn't the answer.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Call a spade a spade

I talk a lot about politics because I love this country, and because I believe that an engaged and informed citizenry is one of the most important things we can have to ensure our future. Because of this, I find the current state of political discourse in this country alarming.

  1. At some point it became "impolite" to talk about politics. Our founding fathers would be furious at this, because it's the ability to freely talk politics that separates us from fascist, totalitarian regimes. 
  2. The media is a circus, and we can't wait for the next act. Good journalism is nearly impossible to find. The republican debate last week was more like Wrestlemania than a proper political debate. 
  3. Ignorance has become fashionable. Don't understand the issues? Don't care for science? No time to actually research a topic? Can't be bothered to know US History? Welcome to American politics in 2015 where you'll fit right in!
I know this stuff isn't new this year, but it seems to have reached a boiling point, or maybe a point of no return. In an environment like this, I find the rhetoric coming from the GOP candidates particularly objectionable. I know it's campaign season, and politicians have been exaggerating and lying for years, from all parties. Still, the commentary, positions, and lack of civility have convinced me that the GOP is officially off the deep end.

I caught some flak from friends on facebook a few weeks back when I stated that the GOP leadership hates black people. True, I was guilty of a lack of civility myself in making such a comment, but that general sentiment is supported by a growing mountain of evidence: voter ID laws, mandatory minimums, drug testing welfare recipients, refusal to raise the minimum wage (when even Wal-Mart has now done so). "But those laws don't target black people!" Actually, they do, but you either already knew that because you look into the issues, or you listen to Faux News in which case a freight train of truth wouldn't change your mind from what Hannity & O'Reily tell you to think of as reality.

This week, the broader political conversation took a turn for the worse when Donald Trump failed to correct a town hall questioner who made two false statements about the President and then went on to say that Muslims are one of the problems that America faces today. If you're at the podium when someone says things like that, you correct them, I don't care if the setting is the international pure-bred poodle convention, because that's called intolerance and it's unamerican regardless of your political affiliation. Let's list some countries where cultural and religious intolerance existed: Nazi Germany, Iran, North Korea, As much as I don't like Chris Christie, I will give him credit for calling Trump out on this.

A couple days later, another GOP candidate, Ben Carson, was quoted as saying that we should not have a Muslim President. He said it's inconsistent with the Constitution. Yet the Constitution clearly states that there can be no religious requirements to hold public office. Also, that's yet again an intolerant, ignorant position to take. No one called him out. No one from GOP HQ said "hey, quit calling yourself a Republican, those aren't our values, we respect all faiths."

Then there's the "kick 'em out and build a wall" rhetoric around immigration. That IS unacceptable, yet the GOP candidates try to out-do each other with xenophobic comments. Scott Walker even suggested building a wall with Canada. CANADA!

If you don't like other religions, other cultures, other races, that's your choice. Contrary to the most common GOP rebuttal, no one is trying to force everyone to like everyone else, that would be silly. If you think Muslims and Mexicans and "the gays" are what's wrong with this country, then you're woefully ignorant, but you are still entitled to your opinion. But for a major political party to accept, tolerate, and even promote that kind of thinking is a national shame. If you're a Republican and you're not speaking out about this craziness, then, like it or not, you're part of the problem. I am a Republican at heart who will continue to operate as an independent until the GOP returns to its senses. The GOP candidates are spreading messages of intolerance, ultra-nationalism and xenophobia, and those are not representative of my values. 

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Surrounded by idiots

Two news stories caught my attention today:

1) Scott Walker says that building a border fence on the Canadian border is a good idea
2) Chris Christie says he wants to hire FedEx to track immigrants

The only people to whom "ideas" such as these appeal are idiots. "FedEx tracks stuff, let's hire 'em to track those Mexicans!" Yeah, brilliant idea. You willing to get a tracking number assigned so that the guv'mnt can track you? Didn't think so. Me either, really. The idea of tracking humans, citizens or otherwise, is so fundamentally un-American that it boggles the mind. Let's talk about civil liberties, freedom, small government, and the ability to move freely across borders. These aren't just rights that we believe American citizens should have, they are rights we believe every human has. These are our principles. Of course, the GOP never let a double standard get in the way of some good ol' xenophobia.

And a fence on the border with Canada? Are you nuts? Because Donald Douchebag revives the 100 year old argument that we should build a wall with Mexico, Scott "I can see Canada from my porch!" Walker has to up the ante to get some media coverage so he unrolls his build a wall with Canada idea. Actually, Our border with Canada is the longest border in the world at 5524 miles long. Fencing from Lowe's is $30/section, so that adds up to $214,529,613 in materials + $729,996,600 in labor so let's call that a cool billion. Oh, you wanted something more sturdy than powder coated steel? And it'll take more effort to install than the one in my yard? Considering I crossed the border in question myself once, in a @#$% CANOE, yeah, it might take some engineering. At least now the residents of Wisconsin can commiserate with the residents of Louisiana in the contest for governors who are stupid AND out of touch.

In what twisted, ignorant world do ideas like this actually WIN you supporters, rather than losing them? Ah, that would be today's GOP.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Yes, governor Jindal, we should talk about mental health

This month's mass shooting event, oh wait, we've had two. I mean the one in Lafayette, Louisiana. Fun fact: over the past twenty years, the average number of days between mass shootings in the US has been cut in half. This one in Louisiana was committed by a guy that had definite mental health issues. Mental health is often a factor in mass shootings (for the record, guns are a factor in 100% of them). Bobby Jindal, Louisiana's governor, in his terrible press conference about the event, noted that we should have better screening for mental health issues before we sell people a gun. Oddly, this makes him a left wing nut relative to the rest of the GOP field. The NRA is ready to run him out of town on a rail for suggesting something that most Americans, and even most gun owners, think is pretty logical: let's not sell guns to crazy people.

Here's the rub - governor Jindal himself just finished cutting mental health benefits state-wide. He did this to compensate for the spectacular revenue shortfall that he himself created by making some big tax cuts. He's not alone in this:

"national and state level Republicans have consistently attempted to slash government spending on mental health care and public employees like police.
The biggest expansion of mental health care in recent years came in the Affordable Care Act, which, of course, Republicans tried to fully repeal. Many House Republicans also voted against a Bush-era move towards requiring insurers to treat mental illness like physical illnesses.
State Republicans have frustrated another major attempt to increase access to mental health services: the Obamacare Medicaid expansion. Medicaid is the single largest payer of mental health care in the country, as treatment remains prohibitively expensive for many poor and middle-class Americans. But only one Republican Governor has agreed to accept federal funding for expanding Medicaid services.
The Congressional GOP’s plan to block grant Medicaid would only exacerbate this problem. Moreover, budget cutting during the Great Recession has slashed state funding for mental health care, a steep decline that Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell (R) proposed to accelerate after the shooting in Connecticut." (full article here).

It's also important to note that those with mental illness are not necessarily violent. While some conditions have a greater pre-disposition to violence, most do not, so we don't want to get in the business of assuming that the mentally ill are all waiting to arm themselves and go postal. It's the hypocrisy that gets me though: let's blame the mentally ill and then cut the funding to treat them. #GOP_Logic.

Since 80% of these mass shooting events are done with guns obtained legally, we need to talk about gun laws and mental illness together. They're not mutually exclusive. The GOP/NRA arguments against better gun control have been proven illogical time and again. In fact, most gun owners support better safeguards specifically designed to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill. It's 1% of gun owners and 1% of gun shops that cause the majority of issues. That, plus the NRA successfully convincing people that "gun control" means Obama is coming to your house to take your guns.