Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Keystone again?

In what should be no surprise, the Republicans are trying to exploit the Ukraine crisis to push for their favorite domestic policies. This time, it's the Keystone XL pipeline and natural gas fracking. The Plain Dealer actually republished a column from Glenn Garvin of the Miami Herald in which he claims that approving the Keystone pipeline will put real pressure on Putin and Russia. What? A pipeline that will be finished in a year, if it were started today, and will deliver 830,000 barrels of oil a day, once it reaches full capacity, to Texas refineries. That is less than 1% of the current market's global capacity of 92 million barrels a day. This is supposed to affect the current situation in Crimea? The Republicans will find it a bit more difficult than in 2001, when they used 9/11 to pass the Patriot Act, a tremendous hit to our civil liberties. They had that one on the shelf waiting for a moment, and they used it. Let's hope that the Obama administration and the Democrats in Congress know better this time.

O'Brien strikes again

Here's something I wrote a while back, after Kevin O'Brien of The Plain Dealer wrote one of his usual ranting anti-Obamacare columns, this time touting two of the Republican "alternatives." Secure in his employer-provided health care, Kevin O'Brien appears to be so consumed by his hatred for Obamacare that he overlooks the numerous flaws in the Republican plans he cites. Both appeal to those who wish to shift more of the burden of paying for health care onto sicker people and the tax burden onto the middle class. The Patient CARE Act is the more interesting of the two, but its problems are numerous, even if you take the Republicans at their word and stick with their second, smaller reduction in the employer tax break for health insurance. This plan would leave many more people at greater financial risk, would allow states to force people onto particular insurance plans, would allow insurance companies to sell substandard insurance policies by removing minimum coverage requirements, would allow insurers to continue to refuse to cover pre-existing conditions in the previously uninsured, and would disrupt the existing system far more than Obamacare. It would be great unless you're sick or poor. The so-called 2017 Project isn't much better. It would restrict the uninsured with pre-existing conditions to high-cost, low-benefit "high-risk" pools that would be out of reach of many poor people. It would rely on tax credits that would be too small to purchase reasonable insurance (how much of a policy can you get for $100/month?). It resurrects the idea of buying insurance across state lines, which leads to a race to the bottom in terms of coverage. Finally, it resurrects tort reform, which has not reduced medical costs where it has been enacted. It's fairly simple. Rather than "freeing us from shackles," O'Brien simply wants the uninsured to stay uninsured. If that costs some lives, so be it -- at least he won't be paying for it.

Georgia on my mind

It's funny. The recent Russian invasion of Crimea has Republicans practically climbing all over each other to make it President Obama's fault. From Benghazi to the entire Obama foreign policy to his "mom jeans" to "weak, indecisive leadership" to "all talk and no action." The ones who don't blame Obama blame Hillary Clinton. Some blame both. You have to wonder why they take such perverse pleasure in undercutting the US government in such a time of crisis. But no matter; they have a model for the Obama administration to follow. They express a longing for the return of the "muscular" foreign policy of the Bush Administration. So, let's take a look, shall we? In 2008, when George Bush was President and Condoleeza Rice was Secretary of State, the Russians invaded another independent state: Georgia. They did a lot more damage to the country, too. The Bush Administration's "muscular" military response? Nothing. That's right, nothing. Bush did pretty much exactly the same thing that Obama is doing now, and after the Russians had killed several thousand Georgians. And the same Republicans who are attacking the Obama administration today were apologists for the Bush administration then. For example, Charles Krauthammer ridiculed the Obama administration's response to the Crimea invasion, saying it was "unwise to take [military action] off the table." What about six years ago? Ever the lapdog Republican, Krauthammer said "Let's be real. There's nothing to be done militarily." Typical. Is it even worth mentioning how George Bush "looked into Putin's eyes and saw his soul." I'm not surprised. This is, after all, the Republican Party. Policy has no place there, only politics.

Dave Joyce suddenly finds his voice?

Dave Joyce is my US Congressional representative. He's recently discovered that he's shocked -- outraged -- that Barack Obama has expressed his "willingness to bypass Congress" through executive orders and the various tweaks to the Affordable Care Act implementation, and sent a letter to the local paper expressing his opinion that Mr. Obama's actions are unconstitutional. He practically has the vapors. I assume that right now he's somewhere in Washington, sitting in a chair, fanning himself. As many have pointed out, President Obama has issued far fewer executive orders than his predecessors -- the fewest in over 100 years. And the various tweaks accompanying the implementation of Obamacare are permitted by the law and accepted precedent. I don't think that goes far enough, however. Why has Mr. Joyce suddenly chosen to express his deeply-held concerns about executive power? He is, after all, an attorney. Surely he has long-standing reservation, about George Bush's "breathtakingly robust" view of executive power. What about Mr. Bush's extensive use of signing statements, explaining exactly which parts of laws passed by Congress he planned to enforce, and which he would ignore? Or the series of Bush administration acts beginning with expanding the rules of interrogation, to asserting executive supremacy when combating terrorism, to indefinitely detaining US citizens it deemed enemy combatants, all intended to expand executive authority? After all, the Republicans held Congress at that time, and could have expressed their reservations about executive overreach. The Bush administration began plans to expand Presidential power in January, 2001 -- as soon as they took office. There were no surprises here. If this is so bad, even unconstitutional, now, why wasn't it at that time? Where were Republicans like Mr. Joyce and their principled stances? It's tempting to view Mr. Joyce as a hypocrite, only concerned about Presidential power when there's a Democrat in the White House. I'm sure he'd rather his constituents see him as someone with responsible apprehension about executive overreach. The timing of his statements makes that difficult.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Authoritarianism again?

What is it about conservatives and authoritarianism? I can only shake my head after reading a number of postings and comments saying that the campus security officer at U.C. Davis should not feel bad about pepper-spraying peaceful protestors. After all, he told them to move, right? And if a cop tells you to move, you'd better do it or prepare to face the consequences, as disproportionate as they might be.

And what the heck is up with Megyn Kelly? Pepper spray is a food product? Really? That's almost as good as Rush Limbaugh saying waterboarding and prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib is "sort of like hazing, a fraternity prank."

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Krauthammer at it again

Charles Krauthammer's hypocrisy always amazes, even if it doesn't surprise. It's nice to see that the worst conservative intellect this side of David Brooks hasn't lost anything.

His latest WP column was just reprinted by the local paper, which likes to lean rightward on Sundays. There have been weeks where there are only right-wing pieces in the Sunday Forum section. I guess he's a reliable mouthpiece for conservative thought.

Besides Krauthammer's usual specious criticisms of the Obama administration, there are three things that struck me about the column:

1. Krauthammer scoffs at revenue raised by a hypothetical tax increase as a "rounding error," because it would have dropped last fiscal year's deficit from $1.29 trillion to "only" $1.21 trillion. That's /$80 billion/. Eighty billion dollars is a rounding error? When a few million to fund public broadcasting and Planned Parenthood are unaffordable luxuries? When funding FEMA to the tune of $1 billion for disaster relief is worth a government shutdown?

I guess $80 billion is not worth getting only when it comes from the wealthy.

2. The Tea Party "program" of lower taxes, less (social) spending, and less deregulation is what caused the economic crisis, and the calls for reduced federal spending has helped prolong it. How is this something worth defending as having intellectual value? It's like Paul Ryan's economic plan.

3. How is it fair to grumble that the Occupy Wall Street protestors shouldn't complain if they don't offer a solution to the problems? It was, after all, good enough for the Republicans, with no Krauthammer objections.

Connie Schultz

I'm catching up on some topics from the past month. Sorry for the delay.

I'm saddened at Connie Schultz's departure from The Plain Dealer, but not surprised. It's hard to work without management support, and Schultz's publicly humiliated and demoted her. I'll miss her columns, which were an antidote to The Plain Dealer's continuing rightward trend.