Archive for the ‘United States Politics’ Category
Yesterday evening, Shirley Temple Black passed away at 85.
As I don’t normally write about movie stars, you might be wondering why I’m writing about Mrs. Black. I’ve made an exception for her, mostly because of her second career as a diplomat for the United States . . . and partly because she was an extraordinary woman in her own right, someone most people could use as an example to emulate.
This obituary from the New York Times clearly illustrates why Mrs. Black was such an astonishing woman. Here’s a few words from that obit:
Mrs. Black returned to the spotlight in the 1960s in the surprising new role of diplomat, but in the popular imagination she would always be America’s darling of the Depression years, when in 23 motion pictures her sparkling personality and sunny optimism lifted spirits and made her famous. From 1935 to 1939 she was the most popular movie star in America, with Clark Gable a distant second. She received more mail than Greta Garbo and was photographed more often than President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
. . .When she turned from a magical child into a teenager, audience interest slackened, and she retired from the screen at 22. But instead of retreating into nostalgia, she created a successful second career for herself.
After marrying Charles Alden Black in 1950, she became a prominent Republican fund-raiser. She was appointed a delegate to the United Nations General Assembly by President Richard M. Nixon in 1969. She went on to win wide respect as the United States ambassador to Ghana from 1974 to 1976, was President Gerald R. Ford’s chief of protocol in 1976 and 1977, and became President George H. W. Bush’s ambassador to Czechoslovakia in 1989, serving there during the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe.
The obituary also discusses Mrs. Black’s public discussion of her own breast cancer — widely credited for popularizing the need for breast cancer care, treatment, and discussion (as it used to be stigmatized, and women often suffered in silence — hard to believe in 2014, but real nonetheless), her divorce (she was married to John Agar, Jr., before marrying Mr. Black at age 21), and how difficult it was initially to come down from the dizzying heights of child stardom to become her practical, level-headed adult self.
Mrs. Black was a Republican at a time when you could be a moderate and still be successful in politics. She was a powerful woman because she was smart — she was well-regarded by Henry Kissinger, who was himself no fool — and because she never stopped trying to improve herself, her mind, and the world around her.
I’ve admired Mrs. Black’s adult career for years, but I admire it even more now that some of the missing pieces (like her early divorce) have been filled in thanks to the excellent obituary at the New York Times.
We have lost an extraordinary woman with the passing of Mrs. Black. She was an American original, and she will be greatly missed.
Well, folks, it’s official: the federal government has re-opened for business. And it only took sixteen days for the United States Congress to get it done.
Consider me underwhelmed.
During the past sixteen days, many people far from the halls of Congress were hurt due to the Congress’s collective intransigence. The law of unintended consequences seems to apply, considering people as diverse as mollusk fishermen in Maine and Alaska, restaurant owners in rural Wisconsin and Oregon, and federal park goers the nation over had their lives interrupted.
And what good did all this do? Not a blessed thing, as it made the United States look like idiots — far worse than laughingstocks — in the eyes of the world. Here are just a few things pointed out by Ed Schultz on his “The Ed Show” program on MSNBC in the past few weeks: Most countries around the world are appalled by how the Congress shut down the federal government, including Germany, France, Russia, and the UK. Even Syria said they do better by their federal employees than we do, and that’s pretty bad.
But guess what? There’s one organization or country that’s known to be even worse than Syria, and even they are taking potshots at the United States. None other than the Taliban (yes, that Taliban) actually said Congress is “sucking the blood” from the American people.
(Words fail me, knowing that.)
So how low can this Congress go, anyway? They’ve already proven by this latest fiasco they’re all about petty political gamesmanship rather than doing the will of the American people. If they had been about the will of the people, the government wouldn’t have been shut down for one hour, much less sixteen whole days.
Because of the Congress’s obduracy, we now have China, of all nations, wondering why the American people aren’t in open revolt.
And that’s saying something.
Don’t get me wrong. There are still some good legislators, though not many. (My personal favorite Senator is Bernie Sanders of Vermont, an Independent.) These legislators want to do their jobs and work for the best interests of the American people by doing “the art of the possible,” (read: compromise) and they’re no doubt just as tired of these stupid partisan games as the rest of us.
But there are way too many sitting in Congress right now who don’t want to do anything at all. These are the ones actively harming the country.
I blame Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) for most of this latest mess. I realize he didn’t start it — Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) is usually credited instead — but Boehner had the power to bring a vote to the floor at any time in the past sixteen days. He just didn’t do it.
When a politician would rather pursue his own agenda instead of the good of the country, it’s time for that politician to go.
I’m not the only person ever to think this, either. The words Oliver Cromwell spoke in 1653 certainly seem to apply. But if you don’t have time to read all of Cromwell’s historic speech, you should at least read this one (a paraphrase of Cromwell’s), delivered by British Conservative Member of Parliament Leo Amery to outgoing Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain in 1939 after Chamberlain’s policy of appeasing Adolf Hitler hadn’t worked. Consider, please, that Amery was one of Chamberlain’s best friends when you read the following words:
You have sat too long for any good you have been doing lately. Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!
Honestly, isn’t this what all Americans want to say to Speaker Boehner right now? (If it isn’t, what planet are you living on?)
What a mess.
The federal government has been shut down, all because the Congressional Republicans wanted to defund the Affordable Care Act (popularly known as “Obamacare”). The Rs did not get their wish as the ACA was funded anyway . . . but the government is still shut down until further notice.
Does this make any sense to you? Because it surely doesn’t make any to me.
“But Barb,” I can hear you saying now. “You’re a political junkie. Surely you knew this was coming, so why are you so bemused?”
I did know this was coming, yes. But I don’t understand why anyone — especially a cool political operator like Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) — would want to shut down the United States government. Because, as Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) said on Rachel Maddow’s Monday evening late night show at 11 p.m. CDT, “This is a disaster.”
Now, Schakowsky was talking specifically about the people who will be “furloughed” due to the Congress’s overall inaction tonight — many of them making less than $30,000 per year. Those are the people who do not have the resources to withstand even a day without pay, much less weeks or months . . . and the knowledge that the current Republican leadership has absolutely no endgame in progress (that is, any way to avoid doing what they’ve just done) makes this even worse.
“But Barb,” again you say. “The Republicans do not like Obamacare and are standing on principle. Isn’t that a good thing?”
Um, no, it isn’t.
Obamacare was funded anyway. So the people who aren’t going to get paid now that the government has been officially shut down are the lower wage workers Rep. Schakowsky mentioned, right along with people who work in the federal park system (shut down), much of NASA (shut down), much of the Department of Defense (yes, the active duty military will be paid, thank goodness, but the civilian analysts helping to analyze threats have all been effectively laid off for no good reason, something Boehner and his compatriots among the Rs had to know), and many, many more.
All of this gets even worse, folks, when you consider that Congress will still be paid even though most of the rest of the government is shut down. And that is not just wrong — it’s completely and utterly hypocritical.**
All night long, I’ve tried to understand why the Republicans — supposedly the party that wants to “keep the United States safe” — would want to cause this catastrophe. Because it’s obvious that shutting down the government is likely to harm national security.
But then again, I suppose the Rs weren’t satisfied with simply harming the people just trying to get by — those G-1 and G-2 workers out there who have been indefinitely “furloughed” (meaning: sent home without pay).
So, why did all this happen, anyway? Was there any rhyme or reason to it whatsoever? Or is this all the equivalent of the political theatre of the absurd?
The pundits, whether they’re on MSNBC, Fox News, CNN, or some other station, all seem to blame the radical right-wing Tea Party Representatives right along with freshman Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) for the current government shutdown. (Fox News is complimentary toward these people, while the others are all condemnatory. But the person mostly being named as being the prime mover here is, for better or for worse, Senator Cruz.)
To my mind, though, the one person who is responsible beyond a shadow of a doubt is Speaker Boehner. Boehner’s been in the U.S. House of Reps. since 1990, which means Boehner saw what happened the last time the government shut down. At that point, Newt Gingrich (R-GA) was the Speaker of the House, and things did not go favorably for him or his party due to Gingrich’s insistence on shutting down the government to get his own way.
Speaker Boehner knows better than this. He has to know better than this. But for whatever reason, he either couldn’t get his Republican caucus to listen to him, or he just didn’t care to set them straight.##
So here’s where we stand at this hour: The federal government has shut down. The low-wage workers will be hurt badly by this, the defense contractors will be hurt badly by this, NASA will be hurt badly by this . . . and the Congress will still get paid for their overall intransigence.
It’s at times like this that I truly wonder about the state of American democracy. Seriously.
**Before anyone says it, I am aware that the Rs wanted to level the playing field and make sure that everyone in the Congress, the White House, and elsewhere in the government that’s currently exempted from the ACA would have to abide by the same rules as everyone else. I agree that this makes sense, and had the House tried to talk about this earlier this year — long before now — I’d have been happy to entertain the idea.
Now, though? What sense does it make?
##I’m not enamored by the way the Congressional Democrats have acted, either. But the Ds in the House have no real power, while the Ds in the Senate have at least tried to do their jobs, as they’ve been trying to get the House to come to the bargaining table since late March or early April. The R-driven House refused to do so, which is why I blame them far, far more than the Ds.
Folks, I’ve been working on a short story for an anthology this past week. Between that and editing, I just haven’t had time to do anything else — no books got reviewed over at Shiny Book Review (SBR), no blogs got written since early last week, and even though I’ve had much to say as there have been plenty of targets (Wisconsin’s R Governor Scott Walker actually had the nerve to compare himself to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, if you can believe that), I just haven’t had the time or energy to spare for blogging.
However, as I have sent off my story to a friend for a quick read-over, I have enough time to comment very quickly on a few things. So here goes:
I think it’s ridiculous that people are praising Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig for his “vision” and “good sense” in suspending a number of baseball players today, the most high profile player of the lot being Alex Rodriguez. (The others include OF Nelson Cruz, SS Jhonny Peralta — yes, that’s how he really spells his name, it’s no misprint, and SS Everth Cabrera.) As former Brewers pitcher (and current New York Met) LaTroy Hawkins said today on Twitter:
PLEASE STOP PRAISING
And here’s my take on Bud Selig, again from Twitter:
Otherwise, I’m keeping an eye on the national political scene, as per usual, even though nothing’s getting done as the House of Reps (not to mention the Senate as well) are on a five-week paid vacation right now.
My take on that? Who the Hell else gets paid for doing absolutely nothing, then goes around telling people they’re “fighting Washington” as have the House Rs (or, if that doesn’t read well to you, the House GOP as led by Speaker John Boehner)?
I’m sorry. If you are an elected public official, as John Boehner is, you’re not fighting Washington — you are a part of Washington. Thus, you are a part of Washington’s dysfunctional culture. And you can either fix it, or not . . . but if you refuse, don’t be surprised when you’re thrown out the door next time around. (Or if your own seat is saved, your position may not be — which is why Boehner is likely to be the minority leader of the House next time if his inaction and lack of leadership keeps up.)
Granted, the House Ds aren’t doing much of anything, either, save bloviating and grandstanding — but they have no power, as there are far too many Rs to make anything the Ds do worth the time. Which is why I, personally, blame the Rs far more than I do the Ds.
Finally, I’m very glad that the current Wisconsin law as signed by Gov. Walker that restricts abortions has been placed in abeyance — that is, an injunction has been filed that blocks the law — by a federal court judge. I think that law needs to be studied in depth before it’s implemented, if it ever is. Because on its face, it’s yet another biased law by a bunch of people who, to be charitable, don’t seem to know what the Hell they’re talking about.
More blog updates when I have ‘em . . . and thanks for reading, as always.
Folks, sometimes I truly do not understand Washington, DC, whatsoever.
Former Republican United States Senator Chuck Hagel, of Nebraska, who has been nominated by the Obama Administration to become the next Secretary of Defense, has been effectively filibustered by the U.S. Senate on a 58-40 vote in favor of Hagel — with one Senator, Orrin Hatch (R-UT), only being willing to vote “present.”
Sixty votes were needed in order to end this stalemate. And the Senate could only muster 58. (Plus Hatch’s “present” vote.)
Here’s the four Republicans who voted against the filibuster and for Senator Hagel: Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Thad Cochran of Mississippi, Mike Johanns of Nebraska and Susan Collins of Maine.
Only four Senators voted for their former colleague, a well-respected, decorated military veteran. And a member of their own political party.
(Plus Hatch, who voted present — thus proving he was unwilling to vote against Hagel even if by doing so he looked timid, at best.)
What is wrong with the Senate, if they can’t even vote to confirm a respectable, responsible guy like Senator Hagel?
Look. I lived in Nebraska for several years. I know Hagel to be a political conservative, but he is honest and principled and understands the military extremely well. He has the courage of his convictions.
Hagel will make an admirable Secretary of Defense, as he would most likely be mighty unwilling to spend lives needlessly. And having a former military veteran as the Defense Secretary has to help, doesn’t it?
Well, apparently not if you’re a Republican Senator. Even when it comes to one of your own retired colleagues.
Now we get to wait ten days until another vote can be taken.
All I can say is, I remain unimpressed by what I’ve seen out of both houses of Congress this year. And I echo what Harry Reid had to say as quoted by this article via the Huffington Post:
Reid decried the outcome immediately after the vote Thursday evening, emphasizing the need to relieve outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta of his obligations and confirm Hagel at a time when the country continues to face military challenges.
“There is nothing going to change in the next 10 days about the qualifications of Chuck Hagel,” Reid said.
“I’m going to go call Chuck Hagel when I finish here and say, I’m sorry — sorry this has happened. I’m sorry for the president, I’m sorry for the country, and I’m sorry for you, but we’re not going to give up on you,” he added.
One final thought: Hagel will be confirmed, and deserves to be confirmed. So all of these machinations merely make most of the Republicans look foolish (save the four who voted against the filibuster, thus for Hagel). And that doesn’t give me a whole lot of hope for our country whatsoever.
Earlier today, news broke that the United States Postal Service (USPS) wishes to eliminate mail delivery on Saturday. (Supposedly, packages will still be delivered, but nothing else.) This is despite the fact that Congress, as a whole, has opposed eliminating Saturday mail delivery as it would be disastrous for rural communities, as many of the US Representatives have said — including Republican Rick Crawford (R-Arkansas) — along with Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont, a long-time US Rep. before ascending to the Senate) and Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine).
I picked these three members of the US Congress for a reason — none of them, not one, are Democrats. (Yes, Sanders caucuses with the Ds. But he still isn’t a D.) Which shows there’s bipartisan support to keep the Post Office open six days a week, both a sensible and logical decision.
It may not seem like it to those of us who live in cities, but post offices are desperately needed in smaller communities. There are places with only one post office for the town or municipality (and that one being the only one for miles around). There are states that are largely rural (Nebraska, for one). Having mail get delivered only five days per week would be incredibly harmful to Nebraska, much less Alaska . . . especially as in the latter, people get oil mailed as well as food, medication and paychecks.
For that matter, those of you who believe all checks are electronic need to think again, too. There isn’t always a viable alternative to a paper check, especially if you’re sending in a bill. Many companies charge you a “convenience fee” to pay by debit card or other electronic means, which is why checks are here to stay, at least for the foreseeable future. And if you think your car company, for example, is going to be more likely to give you a break due to your payment being late due to a postal service cutback, think again.
Senator Sanders was blunt about the impact of these potential cutbacks, especially considering how a bill he’d proposed last year passed the Senate with ease — but was never taken up whatsoever by the House:
“Providing fewer services and less quality will cause more customers to seek other options. Rural Americans, businesses, senior citizens and veterans will be hurt by ending Saturday mail,” Sanders added.
Amen, brother! Amen.
While the Los Angeles Times article about the proposed cutbacks pointed out another possible reason for the USPS to make this announcement at this particular time:
The announcement came with little advance notice to lawmakers, who were preparing to renew an effort to pass postal legislation this year.
Though many members of Congress insist they would have to approve the cutback, Donahoe told reporters that the agency believes it can move forward unilaterally. The current mandate for six-day delivery is part of a government funding measure that expires in late March.
“There’s plenty of time in there so if there is some disagreement” with lawmakers, “we can get that resolved,” he said.
Or in other words, the USPS did this to force the Congress to act.
Here’s the main problem with the USPS, folks. It’s that the Congress requires the Post Office to pre-fund retirements and health care fees for seventy-five years. (No misprint.) No other company in the world is forced to do such a thing, yet the Congress put this onerous burden on the Postal Service because it helps the Congress mask the deficit a little bit.
But change is not the biggest factor in the agency’s predicament – Congress is. The majority of the service’s red ink comes from a 2006 law forcing it to pay about $5.5 billion a year into future retiree health benefits, something no other agency does. Without that payment – $11.1 billion in a two-year installment last year – and related labor expenses, the mail agency sustained an operating loss of $2.4 billion for the past fiscal year, lower than the previous year.
So because the Congress has “fuzzy math skills,” the rest of us get screwed. (How typical.)
My view is simple: The Post Office should not eliminate Saturday delivery. The main reason for this is logistical. Right now on Mondays, there’s twice as much mail to be delivered. With the possible elimination of Saturday delivery as well, there would be three times as much mail to be delivered — but with the same amount of carriers. What sense does this make?
The US Senate plan, which was passed in April of 2012, should be followed. There should be a two-year moratorium placed on the Post Office eliminating one day a week from their delivery system, while every other way of cutting costs should be pursued. (Let’s hope the Senate will include rolling back the onerous requirement of pre-funding retirements and health care costs for seventy-five years, as that’s the main reason why the USPS is so far in the red.)
At the end of two years, if there’s no other way to proceed, then a day should be picked in the middle of the week to eliminate as that would be likely to be less harmful than the elimination of Saturday delivery.
So the way to fix the current problem is this — the US House of Reps needs to act. They need to pass a bill that goes along with the bill that has already passed the Senate in order to keep the USPS from unilaterally acting in a way that would be seriously harmful to rural residents.
“The postmaster general cannot save the Postal Service by ending one of its major competitive advantages. Cutting six-day delivery is not a viable plan for the future. It will lead to a death spiral that will harm rural America while doing very little to improve the financial condition of the Postal Service,” Sanders said.
So, the USPS has shown its hand. Many are upset about it, including Sens. Sanders and Collins and Rep. Crawford, the President of the National Association of Letter Carriers, Fredric Rolando, and talk show host and MSNBC analyst Ed Schultz.
(And if you haven’t guessed yet that I’m upset as well, you need to up your reading comprehension skills a bit. Seriously.)
Now, will the Congress as a whole act? Or will they do what they’ve generally done for the past four or five years — sit on their butts, point fingers, and otherwise be useless wastes of time and space who are getting paid for what seems like very little reason?
It’s all down to you, Congress.
Act responsibly. (Please.)
Folks, even though I can’t stand it when people snipe at each other over the election (as I said in my previous blog in a “quick hit”), there are legitimate issues that need to be discussed. To wit: health care.
Now, why am I bringing this up? It’s simple — I just read two heartbreaking columns in the New York Times online edition by writer Nicholas Kristof (the second one is called “Scott’s Story and the Election”) about the life and death of his friend, Scott Androes. Scott, you see, was self-employed, didn’t make a whole lot of money in his later years, and went without health care because he didn’t have health insurance.
Many people do this, in this day and age.
However, Scott’s story turned tragic when he found blood in his urine. At this point, he went to the doctor; after some twists and turns, it turned out that Scott’s PSA was extremely high (4 is normal; Scott’s was over 1100) and that he had Stage 4 Prostate Cancer. He started getting the treatment he needed — fortunately his local hospital was quite good and wrote off most of the care he needed (this was essential, as the cash cost was $550,000 — no misprint) — but it was not enough. Scott Androes died at only 52.
The reason Kristof cares (aside from being a compassionate human being) is that Scott was Kristof’s college roommate. Their lives diverged to a degree, but Kristof knew what was going on with his friend — knew that Scott Androes was, in general, a thoughtful and practical human being who tried his best to do what he felt was right. But because he was low-income in the latter years of his life, Scott skimped on health care because he couldn’t afford health insurance — something Kristof’s first column about Scott called, in its headline, “A Possibly Fatal Mistake.”
It’s wrong that the United States allows men like Scott Androes to die far earlier than they should, merely because they lack financial means to buy affordable health insurance. (Note that Kristof carefully explains that for many years, Scott did have enough money to buy health insurance and chose not to do so. But my guess is that in the last few years of Scott’s life, where he was only making $13,000 per year as a part-time tax consultant, Scott no longer had the means to buy the health insurance that may have saved his life.)
Kristof is right that when people lack health insurance, they are afraid to go to doctors. Thus, they put off regular screenings. Which means if problems are found later, they’re going to be harder to treat — if not impossible — and far more expensive to treat, to boot.
I know this full well, because my best friend, Jeff Wilson, died last year one week before his 48th birthday. (I wrote extensively about Jeff at the time; please see previous blogs about Jeff’s life, death, and my difficulties in coming to terms with his loss.) Jeff definitely is someone Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney needs to know about, as Romney has insisted that people supposedly do not die in the United States because they’re poor because “we have emergency rooms.” Yet that completely misses the point; people do die every single day because they lack money, they lack health insurance, and thus they don’t go to doctors when perhaps their illnesses are still treatable.
And in case I haven’t made the point strongly enough, here it is – my friend Jeff died because he was poor. Because he didn’t have medical insurance. And because he was afraid of racking up big bills he knew he couldn’t afford to pay, he didn’t go to the doctor soon enough.
That is the main reason why my friend, Jeff Wilson, one of the brightest and kindest men I’ve ever known, did not live to see his 48th birthday. And for anyone to say otherwise is completely and utterly ludicrous . . . which is why I have no sympathy for Republicans like Mitt Romney or his running mate, Representative Paul Ryan, when they insist that people don’t die in this country for lack of health care due to being poor.
Maybe Mitt Romney means well; I’d like to think he does. Maybe Paul Ryan means well, too — as he’s my U.S. Rep., I know his record rather well, so I have a much more jaundiced view of him than I do of Romney — and of course I’d like to believe that Ryan, too, means well.
However, the fact is that our health care system is completely and irretrievably broken. And while the Obama “Affordable Health Care Act” is far from perfect — I don’t think it went nearly far enough, and the burden on independent doctors to get portable health care records up and running is completely asinine — at least it attempts to do something about the problems with the health care industry in this country, rather than ignore it and do nothing.
Or worse, what Romney and Ryan are doing right now in their insistence on hammering home the hard right talking point that “no one dies in the U.S. due to a lack of health insurance,” which is at best misleading, and at worst is wrong to the point of absurdity.
All I’m saying is this: if you like Romney and Ryan, fine. But use your heads; think about the choices you’re making. And then ask this one important question: if you had no money, and you had a bad health condition, would you be more likely to wait because you were afraid to pay the bill? Or would you instead be virtuous (as the hard right in this country believes we all must be) and go in and rack up those big medical bills, then wonder how on Earth you’re going to pay for it all?
Even if you’re in the second category (and get the charity care deductions, manage to get things written off as did Kristof’s friend Scott), how can you believe that this is the right way for any society to behave, when better alternatives clearly exist? The city of La Crosse, Wisconsin, has a healthcare exchange that’s worked very well, for example. Championing that makes sense. So why don’t the right-wing candidates seem to believe that’s a viable strategy, rather than using this “us-versus-them” stuff that’s got us all in such an uproar that FB friends of long-standing are frothing at the mouth whenever any political comment is raised whatsoever?
That’s why I urge you to use your head for more than just a hat rack, folks; do your homework, and vote accordingly. Then do whatever you can to remember that compassion is not a lost art, and that we really do have more in common with our fellow man than not, which is why we should work together rather than allow ourselves to be any further divided by petty partisanship than we already are.