Friday, December 15, 2017

Good news and bad news amid rumors of war

Let's recognize the good news first: the odd pronouncement on October 13 from President Trump that he was "decertifying" the international "deal" which restricts Iran's production of nuclear material did NOT mean that the U.S. was ceasing to abide by the agreement. Trump's (almost certainly false) determination that Iran was not compliant merely started the clock for Congress to have 60 days to restart economic sanctions. Heard any rumors of such an action two months later? Nope, crickets. The Israeli press is reporting on this, but the U.S. press has barely mentioned that the clock ran out without action. Joshua Keating at Slate predicts we'll probably get another round of Trump blustering against Iran followed by Congressional inaction starting in January, but he concludes

... Trump [is] fulfilling campaign promises, not accomplishing any real-world goal. It’s domestic politics, not foreign policy.

If that is somewhat reassuring -- though insane and dangerous -- the bad news is utterly dire: here's Daniel W. Drezner writing in the Washington Post about how the Trump people are pushing toward preventive war on North Korea:

I have spent the past week talking to people who are closely connected to the East Asia folks within this administration, however, and now I am seriously fazed. The message I heard was clear. Trump officials working on North Korea have developed the odd consensus that Pyongyang will use its nuclear arsenal to attempt a forcible reunification with South Korea. And if that is the goal, then time is running out for military options that would stop that from happening. ... The Trump national security team seems convinced that North Korea cannot be deterred, and war is the inevitable outcome.

What is equally disturbing is the lack of public debate on this question. Say what you will about Operation Iraqi Freedom, but the Bush administration took seven months between talking about it and doing it. In that time, administration officials secured congressional authorization and tried to do the same at the United Nations Security Council. There was also a vigorous public debate on the question. With North Korea right now, there is a lot of chatter but no visible debate. Indeed, if the Trump team is leaning toward a preventive attack, a debate is the last thing officials want, for tactical reasons. It is impossible to have a public debate about a surprise military strike.

... Maybe Trump’s national security team is trying to bluff its way into getting North Korea to back down. But having seen this White House shoot itself in the foot repeatedly, I now worry that Trump, Kelly and McMaster actually think there is a military solution.

Drezner was a supporter of the Iraq war, so it's not difficult to doubt his policy judgment, not to mention his good will toward humankind. But he's got the essence of this right. We are being led toward a catastrophic, unfathomably cruel, and unnecessary war in violation of international law by foolish men. Insofar as this is a democracy, we will own this crime.

Friday cat blogging

If I can't occupy your lap, I'll distract you from the wastebasket.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Heart-lifing signs for a winter day

Seen in the bowels of public transit this morning. The HMO where I am lucky enough to have insurance is doing the right thing for itself and others, again.

And why was this retiree out early on BART? I was on my way to join others at immigration court to support a bail hearing for one of the many snatched up by ICE (Trump's "deportation force"). But so many people turned out, I didn't get in. There was no more room in the court room or waiting room for all the well-wishers. That's what defending as many as possible should look like. A good morning, indeed.

Resistance to the Trump/Republican drive to deport our neighbors is remarkably broad and strong. According to a Public Policy institute of California survey issued today:

An overwhelming majority of Californians (86%) say there should be a way for undocumented immigrants to stay in the United States legally if certain requirements are met -- only 12 percent say they should not be allowed to stay in the US legally. Findings were similar in January (85% should be a way to stay, 13% should not be allowed to stay), and in PPIC surveys since January 2016 more than eight in ten have said there should be a way for undocumented immigrants to stay legally. Strong majorities across parties say un documented immigrants should be allowed to stay, including 93 percent of Democrats and 68 percent of Republicans. Ninety four percent of Latinos agree, as do overwhelming majorities of African Americans (90%), Asian Americans (89%), and whites (81%). At least eight in ten across region al, age, education, and income groups say undocumented immigrants should be allowed to stay in the country legally if certain requirements are met.

An admonishion

Blogging on numerous topics will resume when I've thought some more. Busy today.

Yes, I know I've headlined an mispelling ... goes with the pic.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Jones victory afterthoughts

It's fun when we win, isn't it? Alabama friends are beside themselves with delight.

David Wasserman summed up how it happened succinctly:

No doubt about it: Major, metro Alabama and the Black Belt came through for Jones. Voters in rural white counties didn’t move much towards Jones, but they utterly failed to turn out for Moore.

As someone observed, if a state election gave the same disproportionate weight to rural areas as the Electoral College does in presidential contests, Roy Moore would be a Senator. But, so far, that's not how it works; majorities win.

Perry Bacon made a pertinent observation:

One of the important features of the Jones-Moore campaign is that even though the Democrat was running in a heavily Republican state, he was not forced to take any stands that really differ from Democratic orthodoxy. He made no specific commitments to back any part of Trump’s agenda. He is likely to be the 49th “no” vote on most Trump initiatives.

That's important. Democrats from very conservative states, like West Virginia's Joe Manchin, sometimes awkwardly try to shore up their elect-ability by adopting a few conservative positions. Jones didn't do that in the campaign, actually running as pro-choice, so he's not likely to do it in office either. (Except maybe on guns ...)

After all the discussion about how evangelical voters were sticking with the alleged-pedophile, Bacon also put out this chart (using PRRI data) showing the current national religious breakdown. Self-identified evangelical Christians make a lot of noise (and the label certainly fits most Alabama Republicans.) But the actual picture is more varied and getting more nuanced every year.
We're a much more religiously diverse country than it sometimes seems.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

That's right!

Democrats gearing up for 2018

I'm not going to venture a prediction about the Alabama Senate election today; if Democrat Doug Jones somehow pulls it out, it will be a heck of a statement about the Heart of Dixie state not wanting to be embarrassed in the rest of the country.

But the chart above points to a different and better trend nationwide for November 2018. Democratic House candidates are coming out of the woodwork -- and raising significant money.

I checked in on the nearest contested seat to San Francisco, District 10 in California's Central Valley; at this time Ballotpedia lists eight aspiring Democratic candidates -- and one who has already fallen by the way side. The district voted for Hillary Clinton by a margin of 2.9% in 2016; the incumbent Republican Congressman, Jeff Denham, voted for repeal of Obamacare last spring. Confronted by constituents who pointed out the large number of MediCal (Medicaid) enrollees in the district who would be hurt, he resorted to weaseling, insisting the repeal would be bipartisan. This kind of willful deception will certainly be a feature of the contest next fall.

According to Politico's Target Book, several of the Democratic challengers are well funded, including Josh Harder and TJ Cox. Two of the aspiring Congresspeople are nurses: Dotty Nygard and Sue Zwahlen. The California primary election which will decide which of this crowd gets to run against Denham in November is June 5. Let's hope the losers will put national necessity above personal ambition and throw their weight behind whoever wins. At that point, outsiders can meaningfully throw ourselves into electing the choice of the people in the district.

Dems have lots of reasons to be hopeful as we approach the 2018 vote. Amy Walter of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report sees plenty of signs of a wave election, an outpouring of Democratic support that sweeps up many contested seats.

I am having a nagging sense of deja vu - a feeling like I've been here and heard these same arguments before. Way back in 2006, my boss Charlie Cook was warning that the year was shaping up to be a wave year. I argued that unlike the last wave election of 1994, the party holding the White House was much better prepared. Republicans in 2006 had significant financial advantages. They had structural advantages. And, Democrats couldn’t sneak up on Republicans as Republicans had to Democrats in 1994. Obviously, my theory was wrong and Charlie was right.

... Getting a tax bill across the finish line isn’t going to be enough to change the mood of the country. It is going to take something much more significant to do that. A good economy is helpful to the GOP as it can cut down on some of the headwinds coming at them right now. But, it’s not clear to me that it’s enough to fundamentally alter the way voters see Congress, the GOP and the President.

... Democrats have a narrow path to 24 seats - even with a big wave or tailwind. But, do not ignore what’s right in front of us. A wave is building. If I were a Republican running for Congress, I’d be taking that more seriously than ever.

This is a good outcome we all can help make happen.

Monday, December 11, 2017

GOPers love the "poorly uneducated"

You probably know this, but clear communication counts. The fact checking site Snopes rates this as true.

The 2017 tax reform bill eliminates personal deductions for state and local taxes (primary sources of public school funding), while offering tax breaks for parents who send their children to private schools.

They haven't actually passed this monstrosity yet. If you've got a Republican Senator or Congresscritter or know someone who does, NOW is the time to make a stink.

The headline refers to the President's characterization of his voters after the Nevada primary in 2016.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Slouching toward apocalypse

We can take it as a given that, in order to encourage his white evangelical Christian supporters to turn out for aspiring-Senator Pedophile in Alabama, President Predator decided to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and move the U.S. embassy there. For his evangelical Christian base, this was even more attractive candy than anti-abortion federal judges. Ever since the Israelis occupied the city fifty years ago, the U.S. and Europe have been refusing to confer this mark of legitimacy on that conquest. The "peace process" between expansionist Israel and their subject Palestinian population has long been a sham and the U.S. claim to be an "honest broker" nothing but hegemonic flimflam. Still Trump was ready to roil multiple unstable countries and get some number of protesting Palestinians killed for domestic political gain.

Harry Enten at 538 lays out Trump's political math:

Today, Israel is a voting priority for many evangelicals. A 2015 poll noted that 64 percent of evangelical Christian Republicans say that a candidate’s stance on Israel matters “a lot,” compared with 33 percent of non-evangelical Republicans and 26 percent of all Americans.

And evangelical Christian voters, unlike Jews, represent a significant percentage of Republican voters. Some 26 percent of the electorate identified in the 2016 elections as born-again or evangelical Christian, and 81 percent of them voted for Trump over Hillary Clinton. Capturing evangelical support is essential for Republican candidates; as of 2014, evangelical and born-again voters represented the plurality (45 percent) of voters who are Republican or who lean Republican.

Those of us who are not part of this particular Christian subtribe, "dispensational pre-millennialists," may not realize why advancing Israel's power matters so much to these people. They believe that they are seeing Biblical prophecies of end-times being played out right now, that Jesus will return only when the Jews retake Jerusalem, destroy the Islamic holy mosque which has occupied what was the Temple Mount for centuries, and then rebuild King David's temple. Bloody battles will ensue (no kidding!) and the Jews will accept Christ and all will be hunky-dory for a 1000 years. This is the lovely fable which some 50 million Americans absorbed from such texts as The Late Great Planet Earth and the Left Behind series. They believe it with all their hearts and unhappy souls. And they believe that a serial liar and sexual predator can serve as God's instrument to make it all happen.

Diana Butler Bass, a scholar who writes on U.S. culture and religion, grew up in this tradition though she long ago left it. She's good at conveying how it feels:

When I was a teenager in the 1970s, I attended a "Bible church," a nondenominational congregation that prided itself on a singular devotion to scripture. We read the Bible all the time: in personal Bible study and evening Bible classes. We listened to hourlong Sunday morning sermons. For us, the Bible was not just a guide to piety. It also revealed God's plan for history. Through it, we learned how God had worked in the past and what God would do in the future.

Central to that plan was Jerusalem, the city of peace, and the dwelling place of God. It was special to the Jews because it was the home of Abraham and David. It was special to us because it was where Jesus had died and risen. We believed that ultimately, Christ would return to Jerusalem to rule as its king. We longed for this outcome -- and we prayed that human history would help bring about this biblical conclusion.

Jerusalem was our prophetic bellwether. God's plan hung on its fate. Whenever Israel gained more political territory, whenever Israel extended its boundaries, it was God's will, the end-times unfolding on the evening news. Jerusalem, as the spiritual heart of Israel, mattered. Jerusalem was God's holy city, of the ancient past, in its conflicted present, and for the biblical future.

Almost a decade ago, the documentary Waiting for Armageddon followed an evangelical pastor on a congregational bus tour through holy sites in Palestine; various teachers make sure the tourists understand they are seeing arenas of fortunate future carnage.

"There will be an ultimate final battle and it will be a lot of fun to watch ..."

"Christ will come back with a sword at this side ... we're going to be behind him with swords in our hands ... we're going to be his army ... the blood from this battle will be as high as a horse's bridle..."

When not anticipating such jubilant slaughter, this chilling film shows the group belting out the "Star Spangled Banner" under a U.S. and an Israeli flag while riding on a boat on the Sea of Galilee.

Though some references show when it was made (in the film, rumors of war look to Babylon in Iraq, not Gaza and Sana'a), the documentary holds up frighteningly well. Many (most?) evangelicals still believe this ugly stuff; they still want to make it happen; and now they have a friend in the White House.

Here's the trailer. The entire film is available on YouTube and well worth watching.

Saturday, December 09, 2017


Take it from somebody who has seen this play out:

... the Republican Party has not learned from the mistakes of the Catholic bishops. True, some Republicans are appalled by Moore’s candidacy, but the leader of the party and its national committee have publicly endorsed Moore.

Moore supporters are operating out of the same playbook as the bishops did before they wised up and changed their policies. The accusations are denied. The credibility of the victims is challenged. “Why did they not come forward earlier? Why did they wait so long?” Then the actual offense is minimized. “She was consenting.”

Bishops, because of the shortage of clergy, were often persuaded to keep a priest in ministry because there was no one to take his place. Likewise, the Republicans faced with a narrow majority in the Senate are willing to compromise their ethics in order to maintain their power.

Jesuit Father Thomas Reese, Religious News Service

Friday, December 08, 2017

I didn't need this

It's time to start trying to get in shape again after months of travel and too little exercise. So I headed off this week to run over the delightful little mountain just south of San Francisco: 5 or more trail miles and 1000 vertical feet. It's a pretty isolated place; often I don't see anyone else on my usual circuit.

So I encounter this posted by the parks department:
Apparently this guy has been molesting women who run these trails. Two attacks were reported in October and November. There's no indication the authorities have caught the perp.

Yes, I decided to run my usual circuit anyway. And all was well. But I am mightily annoyed that I have to carry this anxiety. I am not willing to let this guy keep me away from one of my favorite routes. So far, he's done nothing worse than grope; my calculation would almost certainly be different if he'd been violent. Am I crazy?


Motivated by seeing our elections hijacked by some combination of the Koch brothers, Putin, Donald Trump and a bunch of rightwing knuckle draggers, unexpected candidates are joining the fray all over this year. David Ermold is running against Kim Davis to be the county clerk in Rowan, Ky. The long serving incumbent refused to issue a marriage license to Ermold and his male partner in 2015, defying the Supreme Court decision legalizing same sex marriage. I have no idea if the challenger has a chance, but it's a gutsy move.

Friday cat blogging

Reflections almost hide this noble creature surveying the street. Does the animal know she's nearly invisible?

Encountered while Walking San Francisco.

Thursday, December 07, 2017

A reckoning is coming ...

And that reckoning has become partisan. That's a good thing. In order for a social change to take root, at least one of our major political parties has to adopt it. Change doesn't emerge from political position papers; it bubbles up among constituencies. Parties take up formerly unthinkable causes -- think racial integration, or transgender rights, or sensible gun control, or even what I think are crackpot nods to "religious liberty" -- when the change has already percolated through parts of their base. Leaders find they have no choice and "evolve." After awhile, the novelty becomes just part of what we expect from Democrats (somewhat frequently) or Republicans (less frequently -- who needs novelty when you have plutocrats?).

So John Conyers had to go despite his record as the longest serving Congressman and Black Caucus groundbreaker. Al Franken has to go, despite being a pretty darn good Senator with a sense of humor. I would expect Congressman Kihuen to go soon enough. Men who think it their right to impose their sexual desires on women will discover such conduct is an impediment for career advancement among Democrats. Women who want to work in politics will be more likely to be believed when one of these guys violates their limits. Given the deep, deep extent of male certainty that men are entitled to women's attractiveness and availability, there will be back-sliding, awkwardness and actual transgressions. But gradually, we'll all learn the new dance. It's worth demanding that Democrats get serious about this because after this amazing moment, it can happen.

Meanwhile Republicans are yoked to President Predator and (most likely) Senator Pedophile. They are in no position to respond to this social change, even if they wanted to, and even when it bubbles up from some of their base, as it certainly must. In this moment of change, GOPers may still be able to win elections. But having the Democrats draw the contrast to their newfound principles will still help peel off some doubters.

But, but, Republicans sputter, what about that last Democratic predator president, Bill Clinton? Sorry guys, but the electorate is outgrowing its anchor in the Clinton era. Here's Ronald Brownstein explaining the transition we're living through:

The baby-boom generation, which has voted reliably Republican in recent years, has been the largest generation of eligible voters since 1978. But in 2018, for the first time, slightly more Millennials than baby boomers will be eligible to vote, according to forecasts from the Center for American Progress’s States of Change project. Higher turnout rates among baby boomers will preserve their advantage among actual voters for a while. But sometime around 2024, Millennials will likely surpass them. The post-Millennials, Americans born after 2000 who’ll enter the electorate starting in 2020, will widen the advantage. This generational shift will trigger a profound racial change: While about 80 percent of the baby boom is white, over two-fifths of Millennials and nearly half of the post-Millennials are not.

Where boomer women of all colors thought aggression from powerful men was just something you had to put up with, younger cohorts are learning higher expectations. They can certainly sometimes be cowed or silenced, but they have far more peer and social support for "silence breaking."

Meanwhile, a few conservatives even realize they have their own ancient skeleton in their closets; read Jay Kaganoff calling on Justice Clarence Thomas to resign. Change is happening at a most unexpected moment.

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

The bill is too damn high: the medical market fails us

Why didn't the Affordable Care Act (ACA) -- that's Obamacare -- rapidly earn more fans when it managed to add 20 million people to the number covered by some kind of health insurance? Because, from the point of view of many (most?) of us who have tried to access medical care whether or not on Obamacare, that necessary good still cost an arm and leg -- or at least too damn much!

Elisabeth L. Rosenthal's An American Sickness: How Healthcare Became Big Business and How You Can Take It Back dissects the grim truth:

In the past quarter century, the American medical system has stopped focusing on health or even science. Instead it attends more or less single-mindedly to its own profits.

Rosenthal is a physician with a degree from Harvard Medical School and and journalist with twenty-two years experience working for the New York Times on a variety of beats including Beijing, bird flu, and environmental degradation. Back in New York, she covered adoption of the ACA and moved on to researching the cost of U.S. medicine. (She's now editor-in-chief at Kaiser Health News.)

In this utterly readable volume, Rosenthal lays out through anecdote and expertise what has gone wrong in the delivery of medicine. Separate chapters explain how all facets of the system have organized themselves over the last 25 years to extract maximum cash from largely defenseless patient/consumers. We're being ripped off every which way -- by insurance companies, hospitals, doctors, drug makers, medical device vendors, lab testing and other ancillary service contractors, and increasingly by monopolistic health conglomerates.

The second half of the book is as deep and detailed as Rosenthal's description of the problem. She is full of ideas about how to fix this foul cesspool of exploitation of human helplessness. She explains what individual patients should question and what they should protest; she even provides sample letters. She makes suggestions for how play various parts of the system off against each other, such as insurance companies, doctors, and pharmacists; make 'em work for your business. She has solid suggestions for collective political remedies, particularly in the area of strengthening and making responsive the various state-level insurance commissioners. (This caught my attention because California made this an elected position by initiative in 1988 and some subsequent occupants been quite useful to patients.) There are numerous state and regional regulatory tweaks that could help some.

But ultimately the federal government is going to have to root out the greed that defines the healthcare system. Obviously with the party representing the One Percent in power, that's not currently happening. But we can and will demand better; it is our lives at stake. Rosenthal reminds us, patients do have allies within the system:

There are many great doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and others working their hearts out, even in these troubled and troubling times. Even as the healthcare sector faces a future of great financial uncertainty and humiliating bureaucracy, many of the best and brightest students are flocking to medical school. They're doing it because they want to take care of patients ... We have to remind everyone who has entered our healthcare system in the past quarter century for profit rather than patients that 'affordable patient-centered, evidence-based care' is more than a marketing pitch or a campaign slogan. ... When the medical industry presents us with the false choice of your money or your life, it's time for us all to take a stand for the latter.

Here are Rosenthal's Rules for understanding the U.S. medical system to ponder; click to enlarge:
Want to think about how serious this is? We understand what is happening. Today in a discussion of how Republican tax cuts aim to undermine Medicare, one elder offered a suggestion:

I was discussing this legislation with my younger sister, and pointed out the obvious, which is that I probably will not survive long since I am facing a 9K copay on my cancer drug alone when I go on Medicare in a couple of months (this is not hyperbole). She suggested that when the time comes to expire, maybe I could plant myself near an entrance to the Senate chamber. I know the timing would be difficult, but I am intrigued by the idea. Could be my last act as a public educator.

Rosenthal would recognize this sentiment and this determination.
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