U.S. GOVERNMENT DROWNED IN BATHTUB!

13 08 2011

Nashville’s municipal elections are over, and to nobody’s surprise, there were few surprises.  All incumbents save one were handily re-elected,including Jason Holleman,  and the measure to obstruct sale of the Fairgrounds to a private developer was passed by a truly impressive margin.  There will be five runoff elections in September, with participation likely to be even lower than the 20% turnout for this election.  May I point out that instant runoff voting,” a system in which people get to indicate a second choice as well as a first, ends the expense and bother of delayed runoff elections?  Just sayin’, as they say.

The one incumbent who failed to make the cut was Anna Page, a fairgrounds privatization advocate whose district just happens to include the fairgrounds.  She lost by twelve votes to Tony Tenpenny, who opposed redeveloping the fairgrounds but is, alas, a political conservative.  It’s funny how people can be in touch with reality in some ways, and out of touch in others–and I’m sure there are people who say that about me–or worse.  But….losing by only twelve votes.  Think about that.  I’m sure Ms. Page is.

I actually voted against the Fairgrounds amendment, but only because it seemed to require that auto racing continue at the Fairgrounds. I view automobile racing as one of the many modern equivalents of gladiator sports, as well as a prodigious waste of precious fossil fuels and a nasty source of pollution, so, while I was in sympathy with the overall aim of the preservationists, I couldn’t see voting for something that dumb.  But I don’t mind a bit that the measure passed.  The will of the people–to keep public property public–prevailed, at least in this case.

Nationally, we were not so lucky.  In spite of overwhelming popular sentiment for higher taxes on both wealthy corporations and wealthy real people, and growing questions about the wisdom of massive military spending, the debt ceiling deal our so-called government agreed to is a complete reverse-Robin Hood measure that shifts even more of this country’s dwindling wealth from the poor and middle class to the obscenely wealthy.

Grover Norquist is famous for saying he wants to “shrink the government down to the point where we can drown it in the bathtub.”  Well, folks, that’s what happened, and we didn’t even have to elect a Republican President to do it.  Mr. Hope and Change wrung his hands and tsk-tsked, but ultimately did nothing to stop it, like an abused wife who doesn’t like it when her husband beats the kids, but isn’t going to call the police on him.  After all, he says he’s sorry and gives the kids candy, doesn’t he?

In fact, you might be excused for thinking that Obama, deep down, wouldn’t mind getting rid of that pesky kid known as “government spending for the public good.”  Not so long ago, he appointed a commission to review Social Security and Medicare, and even his supporters complained that it seemed strangely stacked against our country’s already tattered social safety net.

But, before we get into the messy details, let’s back up and remember that Democrats and Republicans unquestioningly raised the debt ceiling for the Cheney/Bush junta seven times during the eight years of the junta’s rule, nearly doubling US debt–which stood at just under $6 trillion when Bill Clinton left office, and had ballooned to $11.3T by the time Cheney left office.  And did the Republicans insist on “fiscal responsibility” in exchange for those raises?

No.  Cheney cut taxes (mostly on the wealthy) twice, floated an unfunded, enormously expensive subsidy to the prescription drug industry disguised as a way to help Medicare recipients buy the drugs they are told they need, and burned nearly a trillion dollars in the bonfires called Iraq and Afghanistan, fires that the Obama administration has cheerfully continued to feed with our tax dollars and loans from the Chinese.

The Nobel Committee must be wondering if they can revoke a Nobel Peace Prize.

I digress–like every other real solution to America’s problems, ending our spending on foreign military adventures is “off the table.”

Back to the debt ceiling/budget cuts question–the point is, that it was completely disingenuous, if not outright hypocritical, of the Republicans to suddenly stand up for “fiscal responsibility” around the issue of raising the debt ceiling.  It has never been tied to budget cuts before–and we’re talking 74 raises in the debt ceiling since 1962–that’s quite a precedent, so it’s no wonder  many of Obama’s liberal supporters were flabbergasted when he failed to challenge the Republicans on this, and instead played right into their hands.  You start to suspect he’s secretly one of them.

Look at his record.  He didn’t prosecute anybody on Wall Street for the crash–in fact, the Wall Street firms that triggered the crash are among his strongest supporters, and their executives became his closest advisers.  By contrast,  when the Savings and Loan bubble burst twenty years ago, thousands of bankers went to jail, over a financial peccadillo that was a fraction the size of the 2008 mess–$160 billion for the S&L’s,  $7.7 trillion for the subprime bubble.  Do the math–the 2008 crash was 48 times bigger than the S&L crash, and nobody went to jail.   Can’t say the bankers didn’t learn a thing or two in twenty years!  To cap it off, not only did Obama continue Bush’s policy of bailouts for the Wall Street firms who milked the economy, his program to help individuals who were losing their homes because they had been suckered into unrepayable mortgages turned out to be a useless piece of window dressing.

There’s the war crimes issue.  Obama not only took a pass on prosecuting Bush officials for atrocities they were clearly responsible for under international law, he continued and expanded those policies, including the assassination of American citizens who might be terrorists–but only ones who are out of the country, so far, so far as we know-.  What part of “innocent until proven guilty” and “right to a fair trial” does our government not understand?

When Bradley Manning tried to blow the whistle on our government’s criminal behavior, the Obama administration just put him in jail and tortured him.   Trial?  Manana.  What part of “a right to a speedy trial” does our government not understand?   And of course, Manning is only one of many who have been persecuted by this “hope and change” guy for the thoughtcrime of hoping to change questionable government behavior.

But it’s not like Obama has changed.  In one of his first Senate speeches, on the question of whether to investigate voting irregularities in Ohio that cost John Kerry the election, Obama asserted that he believed Bush had won the election fair and square and there was no need for the Senate to look into the matter, thus stiffing the Congressional Black Caucus.  That should have been enough to sink him right there, but no……

Obama wasted no time in putting GMO-pusher Monsatan–excuse me, Monsanto–in charge of the nation’s food supply by appointing Monsanto shill Tom Vilsack as Secretary of Agriculture.  Again, a totally Republican move–let the corporations run the government–“what’s good for General Motors is good for the country.”  Right.  But gee, Michelle has an organic garden at the White House–say it again, boys and girls:  “Window dressing.”

Our increasingly erratic climate is another crucial issue on which Obama’s approach has been to continue Republican policy, but with a kinder, gentler spin.  In spite of the Deepwater Horizon mess, his administration has approved the even more dangerous step of offshore drilling north of Alaska. In spite of Fukushima (not to mention Chernobyl and Three-Mile Island!), he remains committed to serious expansion of nuclear power.  After acting like he was going to slow down coal mining, which every responsible environmental scientist agrees needs to happen to keep the planet from going completely haywire, his administration has kept on approving mountain top removal mining, just like Bush (and Clinton) before him.  At Copenhagen, according to Albert Bates, who was there, Obama sabotaged the possibility of a real agreement and spun it like he had accomplished something.  This stands in sharp contrast to the Cheney-Bush approach, of course–they just sneered and hoisted the bird.  Some people loved it and some people hated it–but you know, the same is true of the public’s reaction to Obama–it’s just that the demographics of the lovers and haters has flipped.

It’s ironic–Obama is giving the Republicans everything they want, but can’t get when they’re in power.  Well, OK, abortion is still relatively legal and they said they weren’t going to defend the Defense of (Heterosexual-exclusive) Marriage Act–but ultimately, that’s just more window-dressing–and besides, they’re deporting  an Australian man who’s legally married to another man and citing DOMA as the reason.  Oh gee, they’ve declared that health insurance has to cover women’s’ birth control?  Great, if you can afford insurance–and, by the way, another subsidy for the pill-pushers.

Let’s take a music break–here’s a little James McMurtry for ya…a song called “God Bless America.”

So, the Republicans are on a roll.  They’re going to make sure that we don’t levy any taxes on wealthy Americans, whom they have renamed “job creators,” even though these so-called “job creators” haven’t created any jobs to speak of, lately, and in fact have been abolishing every American job they can possibly outsource for the last twenty-five years.  Rich people are “job creators”?  Can you say “big lie,” boys and girls?  How about “doublespeak”?

And reducing the debt by reducing taxes is another kind of double speak–the rate at which the government taxes the wealthy and big corporations has effectively declined by two-thirds over the last fifty years. Instead of raising money from taxation, the government generates income by selling treasury bonds, often to the rich people it used to tax.  This has the effect of reversing the cash flow–instead of corporate/high earner taxes going to help fund government operations, taxes from the middle class go to pay off the government’s debt to the wealthy.  In other words,cutting taxes on corporations and wealthy Americans drives the government deeper into debt–debt that will have to be paid off by the middle class, under the tax regime that has been imposed on us.

The Republicans have made it clear, and the Obama administration has pretty much agreed, that cuts to the military portion of our budget–which is about half of it–are off the table.  But, somehow, in spite of the fact that it’s supposed to be funded independently of the main part of the government’s budget, Social Security is on the table.  Services offered by Medicare and Medicaid are likely to be cut–without any attempt to limit the profits of the pharmaceutical and illness care industries, even though that’s a major factor in increased medical costs.  The Environmental Protection Agency, the Food and Drug Administration, the Department of Education, and all Health and Human Services programs will likely be given a serious trimming.  Bottom line:  if you’re poor or middle class, and need help, there’s going to be a lot less help available–medically, educationally, and environmentally.

I have often been, and continue to be, sharply critical of the conduct of many of these government agencies.  They tend to be corporate-friendly, heavy-handed, and resistant to radical innovation–but they need to be reformed, not abolished or hamstrung.  Simply shutting them down will result in a tidal wave of corporate abuse of the environment, shoddy treatment of American citizens–the latest food contamination news is that Cargill has had to recall 36 million pounds of ground turkey, while the FDA was busy sending in armed storm troopers to arrest the head of a small raw-food co-op whose products hadn’t made anyone sick.  In a better world, it would be the head of Cargill who was getting perp-walked, and those who wish to produce or drink raw milk would be free to do so without fear of arrest.  And, of course, in an even better world, there would be no Cargill and we would all live within a few miles of a producing dairy cow and some free-range turkeys.  But we’re not there yet.  I hope I live to see the day!

That last paragraph reminds me of one of my pet peeves–the fact that Americans are far more often referred to as “consumers” than as “citizens.”  We need to change that meme.  “Consumers” implies a level of passivity–a “consumer” brings to mind the image of an overgrown baby suckling at a corporate bottle.  (Corporate persons do not have teats, after all!) and periodically needing to have its poop taken care of.  “Citizens,” on the other hand, participate actively in civic life, take care of their own poop and take care not to take any poop from the government OR private industry.  I would have a lot less problem with the Tea Party if they were as hard on corporations as they are on the government.  But, at this point, the Tea Party is a puppet of corporations who want to use populist outrage to smash the only thing standing in the way of corporate domination of America.  Barack Obama, alas, is not enough of a David to stand up to this Goliath.

And that gets us back to–what can we do about the orgy of destruction that the Republicans and their Democrat enablers have unleashed on the country?  One thing we can do is to challenge it, every step of the way–politically, legally, and by where we spend our money and how we spend our time.

Politically, there has been a noticeable uptick in interest in the Green Party, as the illusion of difference between Democrats and Republicans becomes plainer to more people.  Legally, the situation is somewhat daunting, due to Democratic complicity in the Republicans’ appointment of outright fascists to the courts and the Republicans’ unhesitating blockage of any even slightly-liberal-leaning Democrats to those positions, but some legal redress of grievances is still possible.

We need to remember the example of Vaclav Havel, who started out as a beatnik-hippie poet, courageously defending his right to own Velvet Underground records and publish weird poetry against the Monolithic, All-Powerful, Communist State, and, who, over the course of twenty years, sparked a revolutionary change in the outlook of the people of the former Communist bloc that ultimately toppled a once-monolithic, all-powerful state.  If they could do it, so can we.

At the personal level, the level of our own time and our own money, it’s important to cultivate skills of self-reliance, to simplify our lives, and help our friends do the same.  Everybody has different innate talents and developed skills, and, just as “it takes a village to raise a child,” it takes a couple of hundred real, live, fully-present people to make a village.  That looks to me like where we’re headed.  I’m not sure how we’ll get there.  But that’s what makes life interesting, isn’t it?

music:  Velvet Underground, “White Light/White Heat”





INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE

14 11 2010

Our “Truth in Strange Places” Award this month goes to Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen.  Long-time listeners and readers will recall that I have referred to our governor as a vampire, because he has profited so handsomely from the suffering of others.  The American health care system seems designed to make poor people out of sick people, which smells like bloodsucking to me.

So, I was startled when I found myself reading an interview with Governor Bredesen about his new book on health care, and nodding along in agreement, as he said

There are problems in the way we use insurance, but the insurance companies themselves aren’t the core problem. If we want to blame somebody, let’s look at other medical providers, like the pharmaceutical industry. In the book I use the example of [drug maker] Merck, where profits last year were equal to the earnings of all the companies in the Fortune 500 health insurance and managed-care category combined.

Well, okay, I actually rolled my eyes at the first part of that and started nodding when he outed Merck’s excessive profits.  Bredesen made his money in the insurance biz, so he’s not going to accept the blame, and I suppose in a way he’s right.  While for-profit insurance companies are primarily concerned with making a profit for stockholders and only secondarily with providing adequate benefits to policyholders, it’s immaterial to them whether medical costs are inflated or not, as long as their income is sufficient to cover those costs.  As for-profit companies, they will do whatever they have to do to stay in the black, including denying life-saving procedures.  (As more than one wag has pointed out, “America already has ‘death panels’–they’re called ‘insurance companies’.”)

So, while he’s telling the truth about Merck here, it’s also a form of passing the buck.  Sure, Merck’s (very) gross profit contributes to the excessive cost of medical care, but so did the estimated $100 million dollar fortune Bredesen amassed while running HealthAmerica.  Remember, that hundred mil is just a part of the difference between what average Joes like you and me paid in for our insurance coverage and what Bredesen’s company paid out.  You can also think of that fortune as blood sucked from the bodies of the poor and sick by a vampire….yeah, I know, Halloween is over, but ’tis still the season….

Just for the record, Merck’s estimated profit for 2010 is in the range of $26 billion dollars, so I suppose the Guv thinks his personal hundred mil is chump change…”Hey, I’m not the bloodthirstiest vampire in the crypt!”

Tell it to the people who lost their Tenncare coverage, Phil.  See if they think you’re poor like them.  See if they think you’re not just as much a part of the problem as Merck.

More on Tenncare later.   What Phil had to say about Obama’s “health care reform” was a lot more on track:

….we put a structure in place in the 1930s—an insurance-based, employer-based system—and it’s outgrown its usefulness. It’s obsolete. We’re sitting here in America with frequently inferior care which is more expensive than anywhere else in the world. You’re not going to fix that by simply adding more people to the rolls or singling out particular enemies.

….The core problem is this: if you leave health care as an open-ended entitlement, where the people providing services get to define how much service is provided and how much to charge for it, you will never contain costs. The history of the last fifty years of health care is uniform in that regard. So let’s try to find a different way of doing it, one that disengages from the insurance model. That model is inefficient and it creates all sorts of bad incentives, ones where the incentive of any doctor or provider is to do more and charge more.

What Phil recommends is the “Mayo Clinic model,” which divorces physicians’ income from the number of patients they see and the number of tests and procedures they order, thus freeing doctors to spend more time with each patient.  One study found that this simple step cuts health care costs by over 50% for some groups of patients.

And, by the way, here’s what an official Mayo Clinic spokesperson had to say about the health care plan that Obama and the Democrats passed:

“The proposed legislation misses the opportunity to help create higher-quality, more affordable health care for patients. In fact, it will do the opposite,”

Back to Phil…here’s what he said about those notorious TennCare cuts:

The TennCare experience was very painful. It was somewhat politically painful for me—I had people sitting in my office twenty-four/seven for six months. But it was extraordinarily painful for the people who lost their health insurance because of it. What we were forced to do in the end was make reductions with a broadax rather than a scalpel. And it was very painful for the people who got lost in the cracks in that. The sense in the book that the system we have is not serving the needs of some of the people who most need it comes very strongly from that experience.

The other thing that comes from my experience with TennCare is that if we indeed consider some level of health care a basic right, let’s divorce it from being charity handed out by politicians and organize ourselves deliberately and fairly and without anybody having to grovel to get it. I’d love to go back to more of what Harry Truman’s vision was, which is that there is some underlying level where everyone’s treated the same. We’ve really gotten close to that with Medicare, and there’s no reason we can’t do it with the rest of the system.

So he’s coming mighty close to endorsing the “Medicare for all” paradigm in the book he wrote, even saying:

To pay for it, let’s give people vouchers that can only be spent on health care. That’s essentially what Social Security is, just reworked for medical care. Of course, it’s different in the sense that if someone isn’t a part of the Social Security system, you’re willing to not write them a check—whereas if they’re not part of the medical system you’re not willing to let them die in the street. But if you disburse a limited amount of money and say it can only be spent on health care, then you’re limiting the maximum amount of money that comes into the market, which creates some competition and value. Then, third, you create quality auditing systems to monitor what is being provided. What the book is about is how to do all this in a fair and responsible way.

I have to confess here that I haven’t yet read Phil’s book, entitled Fresh Medicine, so I’m not in a position to comment on what he considers “a fair and responsible way,” but what I perceive here is that, from his strongly capitalist, free market perspective, he’s trying to design universal access to health care without mandating that everybody has to buy private insurance, which, he seems to agree, is not the most cost-effective way to make Americans both healthier and less financially vulnerable in the event of a catastrophic health problem.  And sure, I’m in love with the idea of a national health service that  incorporates holistic practices, but if somebody’s got a way to improve the skewed system we’re currently stuck with that will actually get through our legislative process, there are compromises I could live with.

I’ve saved the best for last:

I don’t want to be a Cassandra, but we’re in a difficult financial situation in this country, and we’re going to have to deal with entitlements very soon. So let’s start addressing the issue now, particularly as related to health care, and not wait until China stops buying our bonds. Let’s start getting things set up so that when the whole issue comes to a head, we’ll be ready.

Got that?

Let’s not wait until China stops buying our bonds.

That thrilled me to the core.  It let me know that I am not just a lunatic fringe, nutjob doomer for thinking the US is approaching the end of our financial choke-chain leash, and the Chinese could just decide to snap it tight around our throats any time.  Our own governor, a conservative guy whom I have excoriated on numerous occasions,  sees it that way.  You can hardly get a more independent confirmation than that.  And,  with Obama and the US bankers making threatening noises about Chinese currency manipulation, it is clear that we are on the brink of a financial war, a war the US is almost certain to lose.  When that poop comes through the air intake, affordable health care is going to be among the least of our worries.

So, Phil–you may be a vampire, but you’re a lot more clear-headed than I had suspected.  Thanks for your, yes, Cassandran pronouncements–hey, I believe you.  But then, I’m a Cassandra too.

music:  Material:  “Words of Advice for Young People”





TEA PARTIES: BOSTON….OR WONDERLAND?

10 04 2010

When I read about the shenanigans perpetrated by the Republican Party lately, I don’t just wonder “What are they thinking?”  I wonder if they are thinking at all, or if they are merely DNA-powered robots in an extremely reactonary, defensive response to the fact that everything that has ever given them security and a sense of self is vanishing like smoke.

There’s plenty of evidence that there is no thinking involved here, most prominently the “Obama is a Marxist/Socialist!” movement, which I commented on last month.  That post, in which I decried the absurdity of calling Obama a “socialist” and pointed out some of the many ways he does the bidding of the capitalist, corporatist masters of America, prompted a reader who identified himself as “Commieblaster,” from College Road in Olive Branch, Mississippi (oh, the irony!), to comment “Obama isn’t a socialist, he’s a Marxist,” and direct me to his website, www.commieblaster.com.

Well, fair is fair.  If Mr. Commieblaster is open-minded enough to read me, I owe it to him to pay a visit to his domain, and so I did.  Oh, my.

“Eighty members of Congress are Socialists!”  he warns.  What, in his book, makes them “socialists”?  Primarily, it seems, association with an organization called “Democratic Socialists of America,” whose website opens with these words:

Democratic Socialists believe that both the economy and society should be run democratically—to meet public needs, not to make profits for a few. To achieve a more just society, many structures of our government and economy must be radically transformed through greater economic and social democracy so that ordinary Americans can participate in the many decisions that affect our lives.

So….the tea partiers, who are reacting to what they perceive as an autocratic government, also feel threatened by the idea that “ordinary Americans” ought to be able to “participate in the many decisions that affect our lives”?   Go figure….

DSA’s site also features a number of articles complaining about Obama’s rightward course  and an interview that specifically addresses “Why Obama is Not a Socialist.”  Other criteria for being a “Socialist,” according to Mr. Commieblaster, include supporting Hamas rather than Israel (which was once described as “the most socialist country outside the Eastern Bloc” and where the government still has far more influence on the private sector than in the US), and entertaining the possibility that Mumia Abu-Jamal was framed.  So…does that make sense to you?

Shortly after hearing from Mr. Commieblaster, I ran across an article written by that ol’ devil Commie, the last Marxist left standing, Fidel Freaking Castro himself, in which Castro said flat out

BARACK Obama is a fanatical believer in the imperialist capitalist system imposed by the United States on the world. “God bless the United States,” he ends his speeches…..

The current administration’s militarist policies, its plunder of natural resources and unequal exchange with the poor countries of the Third World are in no way different from those of its predecessors, almost all of them extremely right-wing, with some exceptions, throughout the past century.

That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement, is it?

Perhaps Commieblaster would say that Castro is dissembling (the devil is, after all, “the father of lies”), but actions speak louder than words, and the evidence still stands that, with every move they have made, from bailing out banks in the financial crisis to promoting coal and nuclear energy development to subsidizing for-profit health insurance to creating a nationwide broadband system by helping out Comcast, the strategies that Obama and all those “socialists” in Congress have employed have propped up the capitalist system, even in the face of overwhelming evidence that highly centralized, private, for-profit systems are the least sensible, efficient, and economically viable means to promote the common good of the American people.

But I’m not going to talk about that right now.  I’m going to keep examining the reactionary, right-wing mindset that looks at Democratic party corporate shills and sees Marxist-Leninists.  Commieblaster is, as far as I know, just another guy on the street like me.  Let’s look at what happens when the people he supports are elected to office and actually get to act on their vision.

We don’t have to look far to do that, because our own state legislature here in Tennessee is dominated by tea-party types.  What have they been up to lately?

Exhibit A:  A committee of the Tennessee House recently sent four bills on to the whole legislature.    To quote Jeff Woods of the Nashville Scene:

Two .. measures are state constitutional amendments …to ban the individual mandate and the other to decree that the free enterprise system will live forever in Tennessee.

(The other) Two… are identical–both bills that supposedly would nullify the law’s mandate that all Americans buy insurance. There are two of these bills because their respective sponsors, Rep. Susan Lynn and Sen. Mae Beavers, are running against each other in August’s primary and anxious to take sole credit for this monumental achievement.

They all passed by voice votes to loud cheers from tea partiers…..

And…two things stand out about this example.  The first is that our country’s first Republican President, Abraham Lincoln, fought and won a civil war in this country  over the question of whether states have the power to nullify Federal law.  The decision was, they can’t do that.

Well, times have changed, you might argue.  OK, how about this one:  our most recent Republican administration likewise argued strongly that states did not have the power to nullify Federal law….in the words of that notorious socialist, Antonin Scalia,

The regulation of an intrastate activity may be essential to a comprehensive regulation of interstate commerce even though the intrastate activity does not itself “substantially affect” interstate commerce. Moreover… Congress may regulate even noneconomic local activity if that regulation is a necessary part of a more general regulation of interstate commerce. …The relevant question is simply whether the means chosen are “reasonably adapted” to the attainment of a legitimate end under the commerce power.

In other words, the Federal Government can tell the states to sit down and shut up.

But hey, Scalia said that in the Raich vs. Ashcroft case, which was about whether the federal government had to recognize California’s medical marijuana laws, and everybody knows that anything goes when you’re trying to stamp out the evil weed…but the Bush junta also successfully swatted down Oregon’s assisted suicide  law and California’s attempts to raise mileage standards on cars. So….states can nullify federal law if Republicans want to fight the gummint, but when Democrats try to insist on states’ rights, it’s not OK.  That seems to be the underlying principle here, does it not?

Exhibit B:  Our state legislature has, by overwhelming majorities and without debate, passed a law requiring all medical facilities that perform abortions to post the following language prominently (in 40-point type) in their waiting rooms, or face serious fines if the signage is absent:

“Notice: It is against the law for anyone, regardless of the person’s relationship to you, to coerce you into having or to force you to have an abortion. By law, we cannot perform an abortion on you unless we have your freely given and voluntary consent. It is against the law to perform an abortion on you against your will. You have the right to contact any local or state law enforcement agency to receive protection from any actual or threatened criminal offense to coerce an abortion.”

Lawmakers soundly rejected an amendment that would have included language pointing out that it is also against the law to force anyone NOT to have an abortion.  In their perception, pro-abortion pressure from Planned Parenthood and domineering husbands is much more of a threat than anti-abortion pressure from fundamentalist churches and domineering husbands. Senator Beverly Marrero, one of the only two State Senators who had the courage to vote against this bill (the other was Andy Berke), said of it

We all know this legislation is purely political, designed to increase the anti-abortion bona fides of lawmakers up for re-election this year.

I couldn’t agree with her more.

Exhibit C:  My state representative’s “weekly update” informed me about HB 3280 which, to quote from the bill summary

..revises the substances that give rise to the offense described above in (1), so that it would be unlawful to operate or be in control of a motor driven vehicle while under the influence of any intoxicant, marijuana, “drug, substance or combination thereof, affecting” the central nervous system instead of a “narcotic drug or drug producing stimulating effects on” the central nervous system.”

“Any substance that affects the central nervous system”?  What substance that we take into our bodies doesn’t affect our central nervous system?  The bill was aimed at making it illegal to operate a motor vehicle under the influence of anything that might negatively affect a person’s judgement and response time, but, taken literally, makes it illegal to drive under the influence of coffee, food, or any of the many prescription drugs that have “do not operate heavy equipment” warnings on their labels.  I take one of those, metoprolol, and I can’t say that I or anyone close to me has observed it affecting my judgement or co-ordination.   Of course, this  It will  probably be used mostly to persecute people whose urine tests positive for marijuana, in spite of overwhelming evidence that marijuana metabolites in urine are not an indication that one is “under the influence of” marijuana, and despite research by the National Highway Traffic Safety Board that pretty well exonerates marijuana as a cause of hazardous driving.

Well, maybe I shouldn’t get my dander up too much about this, just yet.  Although it passed the House unanimously, so far it’s bogged down in committee in the Senate, which is taking up more important things like allowing mountaintop removal in Tennessee, in spite of the fact that the state generates far more revenue from people coming to appreciate our scenery than it does from people destroying the scenery to pull a little coal out from under it.  And that’s just one argument.

And there’s a bill that will insist that all driver’s license tests shall be conducted in English,unless the applicant’s stay in the country has been

approved and authorized by the United States department of homeland security for a specific purpose, including investing, overseeing investment, or providing needed services to companies or businesses in Tennessee, and for a specified period of authorized stay,

In other words, rich foreigners are welcome; poor ones are not.  This one, too, has yet to emerge from the committee thicket, and the state’s business interests are speaking up against it, so sense may yet prevail in this case.

We also have the spectacle of our supposedly Democratic governor worrying that more people will find out they’re eligible for Medicare and sign up for it, easing their own medical expenses but increasing the state’s.

I could tell you more, but I think I have gone on just about long enough.

Into this tea party atmosphere, more reminiscent of Wonderland than Boston, strides Howard Switzer, who is once again the Green Party’s gubernatorial candidate.  I wish we had a horde of people running for state legislature positions to back him up, but alas, it ain’t happening this year.  You can find Howard’s blog at switzer4governor.blogspot.com/

Naomi Wolf, author of The Shock Doctrine, has found a new popularity among the tea partiers, and in a recent interview she said she has some faith that their questioning of authority will, in the long run, be beneficial.  I hope she’s right.  I am concerned that the tea partiers will turn out to be the 21st century version of the SA, the “brown shirts” who provided the populist muscle that brought Hitler to power and were quickly disposed of as a political force once he and his corporate conspirators consolidated their hold on Germany.  On the other hand, Hitler did not have to contend with shrinking resources and a shifting climate, both forces that are more than equal to the task of toppling a civilization.

Unless they do come to their senses, the tea partiers, who seem to have the momentum in US politics at this point, will continue to spend their energy in irrelevant, illusory, paranoid pursuits, codifying intolerance and ignorance, and squashing any dissent other than their own.  I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

music:  Greg Brown, Worrisome Years





BUSH TO BALANCE BUDGET ON BACKS OF SICK AND POOR

1 02 2008

Is that really news?  Sure, these programs are growing out of control because the insurance companies and the medical establishment are out of control.  The answer is to drive a stake through the heart of the health care vampires, not to cut coverage.  But in our corporate welfare state, that answer is politically incorrect….

from the New York Times:

The budget would not touch payments to insurance companies for private Medicare Advantage plans, even though many Democrats and independent experts say those plans are overpaid.

In the next five years, the largest amount of Medicare savings, by far, would come from hospitals: $15 billion from an across-the-board reduction in the annual updates for inpatient care; $25 billion from special payments to hospitals serving large numbers of poor people; and $20 billion from capital payments for the construction of hospital buildings and the purchase of equipment.

In addition, the president’s budget would reduce special Medicare payments to teaching hospitals, including many in the New York area, by $23 billion over the next five years.








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