Friday, March 30, 2012

March 30, 2012--Medical Care

As the Supreme Court, in its politically-partisan wisdom, debates the, to them, constitutionality of the Affordable Healthcare Act (commonly known as Obamacare); and, as most observers of the Court feel, are preparing in June to declare all of it unconstitutional, if this happens, there is a simple solution to America's health care needs.

In place of the existing 2,700-page law, the Congress should pass and the president should sign a one-sentence, seven-word bill that states:

All Americans shall be covered by Medicare.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

March 29, 2012--Tyrannies of the Weak

In 1956, during the presidency of Dwight David Eisenhower, as the Suez Crisis was heating up, in a letter to a close advisor and friend, Swede Hazlett, DDE wrote that at a time when--

Nasser and the Suez Canal are foremost in my thoughts, in the kind of world that we are trying to establish, we frequently find ourselves victims of the tyrannies of the weak.

In general, American policy at the time was to support colonial peoples attempting to win national independence. In this situation, Eisenhower said--

We unavoidably give to the little nations opportunities to embarrass us greatly.

The great Western nations had no choice, he felt, but to swallow their pride, accept the insults, and attempt to work, as he said, to--

--bolster the underlying concepts of freedom.

Even though, he concluded, this was--

--frequently costly. Yet there can be no doubt that in the long run such faithfulness will produce real rewards.

This from the second volume of Stephen Ambrose's fine two-volume biography.

Where is there such insightful, courageous leadership today?

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

March 28, 2012--The Statute

Below is the actual and full language of the so-called Florida Stand Your Ground statute:

A person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place [than his or her house] where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.

This is in the language that the National Rifle Association pressed the Florida state legislature to pass and that the governor (Jeb Bush) signed into law. He says now that he did not pay that much attention to it, that it seemed routine to him.

I am tempted to say, "Tell that the Teyvon Martin."

We do not as yet, and who knows if we ever will know fully what transpired the day George Zimmerman shot and killed Tayvon Martin.

Zimmerman has his story and Martin is dead,

Having said that, if we can for a moment ignore what may or may not have happened, a close look at the text of the statute suggests the NRA's, the legislature's, and governor's actual intent.

The full statute covers the right to use deadly force if a home owner or even a car owner opts to do so in defense of his or her property. Stand Your ground is embedded in the larger law and is a contemporary version of the historic Castle Doctrine that might in Florida more appropriately be called the "Home and Auto Doctrine."

The term Castle Doctrine derives from the English common law dictum that "an Englishman's home is his castle." This concept was established as English law by 17th century jurist Sir Edward Coke, in 1628 in the Institutes of the Laws of England. This was brought by colonists to the New World, who later removed "Englishman" from the phrase, and subsequently became simply the Castle Doctrine. The term has been used to imply a person's absolute right to exclude anyone from his or her home.

"Make My Day Law" arose at the time of the 1985 Colorado statute that protects people from any criminal charge or civil suit if they use force--including deadly force--against an invader of the home. The law's nickname is a reference to the line "Go ahead, make my day" uttered by Clint Eastwood's character Harry Callahan in the 1983 film Sudden Impact.

The Florida law goes beyond the Castle Doctrine and the Make My Day Law in that it expands permission to use deadly force beyond one's home and car and covers situations where someone "reasonably believes" (whatever that means) it is "necessary" to do so to "prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself."

But it expands the definition of when it is permitted to "meet force with force, including deadly force." By the Florida law, anyone can use deadly force, again if he or she "reasonably believes" it is necessary "to prevent the commission of a forcible felony" on someone other than him or herself.

If this doesn't allow and even encourage vigilanteism I do not know of a better example.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

March 27, 2012--Pat Robertson's Bounty

Recently, the coach of the New Orleans Saint's football team was suspended for a year without pay because of his team's placing "bounties" on their opponents. The team established a pool of $50,000 and players were paid bounties for causing physical harm to the other team--$500 for causing a brain concussion; $1,000 for knocking the quarterback unconscious; Up to $10,000 if he needed to be carried off the field on a stretcher; and, who knows, even more if he was never again able to play football.

There was a $10,000 waiting for any of the Saints’ defensive players who seriously crippled Brett Favre, the Minnesota Vikings quarterback, in the 2010 National Football Conference playoff game.

Televangelist Pat Robertson has now placed his own bounty on former Denver Bronco's quarterback Payton Manning. This because the Broncos, he feels, treated Tim Tebow "shabbily" by signing Manning and trading Tebow to the New York Jets. On his TV show Robertson said that an injury to Manning "would serve them right."

Robertson came to the aid of the Tebow after the signal caller, who prominently prayed on the field during games, was shipped off to the New York Jets in a trade with Denver.

"The Denver Broncos treated him shabbily," Robertson said on his show, "The 700 Club."

"He won seven games, he brought Denver into the playoffs, for heaven sakes. [Indeed, for heaven's sakes.] I mean, they were a nothing team. He rallied them together with spectacular last-minute passes and, you know, when they beat Buffalo — I mean, Pittsburgh, excuse me — it was a tremendous victory." It sounds like Robertson is quite the NFL fan.

He had also came to Tebow's defense in December by blasting a "Saturday Night Live" parody that featured Jesus visiting the NFL star in the Broncos' locker room and chided Denver for signing four-time MVP Manning despite his missing all of last season because of a series of offseason neck surgeries.

"And you just ask yourself, OK, so Peyton Manning was a tremendous MVP quarterback, but he's been injured. If that injury comes back, Denver will find itself without a quarterback. And in my opinion, it would serve them right."

Too bad the NFL commissioner doesn't have the power to suspend Robertson.

Monday, March 26, 2012

March 26, 2012--Outside the Arc

Outside the arc is 19.75 feet if you're a high schooler; 20.5 feet if you're a woman; 20.75 if you're a guy; and 22 feet even if you're a pro . . . in the NBA.

The arc is the 3-point line. If you can manage to keep both feet and all your toes beyond or outside it, and shoot the ball through the net hanging from the basketball rim, you get 3 points.

In my day, there was no such line and the only way to score 3 points was to hit your shot, get fouled in the act of shooting, and make the free throw.

But to the basketball gods, this was too boring, what with baseball trying to become more entertaining by juicing the ball so steroided-up sluggers could hit more home runs. Small ball, which emphasized hitting behind the runner so he could advance to second or third base or sacrificing yourself with a well-placed bunt to accomplish the same result was deemed to be too stodgy.

Too boooorrrring.

For basketball, too, the old rules were thought not to be jazzy enough. So they devised the 24-second clock during the 1954-55 season which required NBA teams to shoot the ball within that time frame so they no longer could slow the game down by what was then called "freezing" the ball.

But this too was too boooorrrring.

So then during the 1979-80 season the NBA established the 3-point shot.

I am reminded of this because during the past couple of weeks I have found myself watching more basketball than is healthy for a normal adult. I have become sort of swept into March Madness, that three-week period that comes, like the spring, every March when the best college basketball teams compete for the national championship. The madness commences with 64 teams, then gets cut in half to 32, after that to the Sweet Sixteen, the Elite Eight, the Final Four, the Whatever Two (there is not as yet an alliterative name for the semifinalists), and then the overall winner.

I said "sort of" swept into the tournament because I have very little interest in college basketball, only marginal interest in the NBA version; but this year I have been watching because a very sick friend from North Carolina is passionate about his Tar Heals. I watch them especially so my friend and I have something to talk about other than CAT scans and chemo. He, more than I, wants respite from the real madness he is enduring.

To give me something else to think about while hoping that UNC's talented point guard, Kendall Marshall, will be able to play in spite of a broken hand, I have been thinking about my own short-lived basketball career (it ended after high school). Especially about how we tried to play like a team, always moving without the ball; always looking for the open man (really boy); weaving the ball, as it was described at the time; not worrying about the clock; all the while attempting to keep the score low so we could could steal a win even if my team, the Rugby Rockets, managed to score only 25 point. In total--not in a quarter or a half.

Needless to say there was no 3-point line.


Watching this past few weeks, it appears that most of the Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight are obsessed with 3-pointers.

In games this past weekend, for instance, Kansas, which beat NC State (not my friend's UNC), scored a total of 60 points, attempted 21 3-pointers, making 6, so that 18 of their points were from outside the arc.

And Louisville, which defeated Michigan State by a score of 57-44, attempted 23 3-pointers, made 9 of them; and thus 27 of their 57 points--or 47 percent--were from 3-point land.

To me, boooorrrring!!!

But I have a solution.

Keep the 3-pointer, but change the rule for their use. Restrict them to the final five minutes of each half for college games and to the second and fourth quarters of NBA games. Thereby, when a team is trailing by a wide margin they can potentially catch up more quickly than if only 2-pointers are allowed. This rule change would make ends of quarters and halves and games more exciting.

Fuddy-duddies like me would be happy watching more team play and those seeking high scores and thrilling long-distance shot-making would also have their version of fun.

I think I'll run this idea by my friend after his next chemo treatment. My guess--he'd get rid of 3-pointers altogether. He's that wonderfully old fashioned.

Note--Kendall Marshall was unable to play and UNC lost to Kansas.

Friday, March 23, 2012

March 23, 2012--Stand Your Ground

At first under the radar and now coming to wider public attention is what mobilized conservative Republicans have been up to for many years at the local and state levels.

The most recent example--the shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida.

The shooter, a heavily-armed community watch volunteer, was not prosecuted nor even investigated because he was allegedly following the Stand Your Ground law passed in 2005 by the Florida legislature. It allows anyone who just feels threatened to shoot the person who is making him nervous or aggressive.

We have been spending a part of each year in Florida since about 2005 and, though I try to keep up with the local news, this was my first awareness that this law exists. Now I know as do millions of others who likely also did not know about it. Nor did I know that more than a dozen other states have similar laws.

Also recently, even the relatively well-informed have been learning about the laws being promulgated at the state level around the country to make it more difficult for women to obtain contraceptives and, of course, abortions. The trans-vaginal-probe outcry in Virginia was the first extreme proposal to gain national attention; and with the spotlight on Virginia and its reactionary governor we also learned about similar kinds of legislative aggression against women's reproductive rights. Among many other places the "war on women's health" has been underway in Texas and Arizona (to limit insurance coverage for contraceptives), Mississippi (where there is a "personhood" debate about when life begins), and Utah and Arizona (where legislation would require that abstinence be the only topic taught in sex education classes).

This Republican counter-cultural movement began, also substantially unnoticed, a few decades ago when there was a grassroots effort to get ultra-conservatives elected to local school boards so that they could end bilingual teaching as well as ban from the curriculum the inclusion of evolution and the history of American diversity.

Many of these newly-empowered school board members next ran for city council seats and after that became state legislators, members of Congress, and in some cases governors. Wisconsin's Scott Walker, who with other like-minded governors has declared war on unions, is a living example of this sort of political trajectory.

The current race for the Republican nomination has brought some of these realities to public view. Rick Santorum, more than anyone else, because of his emphasis on religious, cultural, and so-called "values" issues, has motivated the media to pay more attention to what has been happening locally until now largely out of national scrutiny.

So thank you former-senator Santorum for helping to expose how effective conservatives have been in waging the culture war. It is now up to those who have been paying attention to other matters to get their act together.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

March 22, 2012--Returning Heros

One of the best examples of how the federal government and the private sector can work together to create jobs is the effort to hire Iraqi and Afghanistan war veterans.

Here is the good news from a recent story from CNN Money:

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- More veterans are coming back from war and getting back to work in the civilian job force, thanks to efforts by both employers and the government, as well as the improving economy.

The jobless rate for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans has fallen to 7.6%, well below the overall U.S. unemployment rate of 8.3%, and nearly five percentage points below the 12.5% rate for veterans a year ago.

Many employers make it a point to hire vets. Dawn Halfaker, a former military police captain who lost her arm in Iraq in 2004, is among them. She founded her consultancy Halfaker and Associates in 2006, with the intention of hiring wounded warriors like herself.

"I know what it's like to get injured and have your career taken away from you," she said. "So I want to make sure my company is a vehicle to offer opportunities to other warriors."

Nearly half of the 170 employees at Halfaker and Associates are veterans, and 10% of them are disabled.

Best jobs if you're leaving the military

Some firms have formal military recruiting programs, and others are creating or expanding them. This week Disney (DIS, Fortune 500) announced "Heroes Work Here," a program it says will recruit 1,000 vets over the next three years.

The government wants to encourage more efforts like this. "This past year saw the passage of a number of bills specifically designed to support veteran hiring and training," said Adriana Kugler, chief economist for the U.S. Department of Labor, which produces the BLS statistics.

Kugler cites the Returning Heroes and Wounded Warriors tax credits, both of which went into effect in November.
Returning Heroes provides a credit of up to $2,400 to employers who hire a vet who's been unemployed for at least four weeks. It was expanded to give $5,600 to employers who hire veterans who've been jobless for over six months.

The Wounded Warrior tax credit is worth up to $4,800 for companies who hire disabled veterans. This credit was doubled in November for the long-term unemployed, giving a tax break of up to $9,600 to companies that hire disabled veterans who've been unemployed longer than six months.

There are other efforts in the works. President Obama has proposed the Veterans Job Corps initiative, which calls for $1 billion to hire 20,000 vets over the next five years to work in jobs related to environmental protection and maintaining roads and levees.

Cool businesses fueled by military surplus

He's also proposed a $5 billion program to hire police officers and firefighters that would give priority to veterans.
Savvy job-seeking veterans are aware of the tax breaks that are already on the books, and they don't hesitate to tout them in interviews.

"We've had a couple of candidates say, 'Hey, if you hire me, you'll get a tax credit,'" said Holly Mosack, chief recruiter at Advanced Technology Services in Peoria, Ill.

Mosack, a former Army captain and a veteran of the Iraq war, said 30% of her company's 3,000 employees are veterans, many of whom are placed in machine jobs at factories.

This was one of Barack Obama's campaign promises that is being delivered in spades.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

March 21, 2012--More Fun

At news stands even in bad-old New York City, magazines such as Hustler come wrapped in Saran Wrap so you can't leaf through them and have their raunchy covers shielded with opaque plastic. This protects children and other sensitive folks from inadvertently seeing something inappropriate or potentially offensive.

But I was surprised the other day while standing in the checkout line in Publix to find the latest issue of Glamour magazine similalry shielded.

When I pointed this out to Rona, she said, "I haven't looked at Glamour in ages. To be covered like this it must have become very explicit."

I looked at the other magazines to see if maybe Publix too had changed and was now selling Maxim and Playboy and perhaps even Hustler. But they still had just the usual mix--People, US, Vanity Fair, Vogue, and of course supermarket tabloids such as the National Enquirer, Star, and the Globe.

"We should take a peek at the cover, shouldn't we?" I whispered, "Especially since it's the only one that's hidden."

"Only for the sake of doing research," Rona said.

So I slowly peeled back the plastic shield and first saw in the upper right-hand corner the headline--"Sexy Hair Ideas."

"That doesn't qualify," Rona said. "That isn't that offensive."

"Maybe it's this cleavage." I had the Glamour cover half revealed and there was a picture of Jennifer Lawrence (whoever she is) in a dress that revealed about three inches of modest cleavage.

"There's more cleavage showing in the Enquirer picture of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt and it's unshielded. So that can't be the problem."

"I'm stumped," I said as I removed the rest of the plastic sleeve. "Wait. This must be why they have the cover blocked."

"It could be--'The Old School Sex Trick You Should Bust Out Again.' It's full of snarky double entendres. Trick and Bust.

"If anything," Rona said, "that sounds very conservative--you know, old school. Isn't that what conservatives are advocating--old school values?"

But also in the lower right-hand corner, in block letters, there was the teaser--"More Fun in Bed."

"That's got to be the reason for hiding the cover," I said.

"Exactly," Rona nodded, "In the current political climate you're not supposed to have fun in bed. You're supposed to not use contraception and sex in bed is reserved for making babies."

See for yourself--below, is the offending Glamour cover:

Hot stuff, no?

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

March 20, 2012--While Rick Santorum Applauded

At a rally last week in Baton Rouge, LA, Rick Santorum was introduced by Dennis Terry, pastor of the Greenwood Springs Baptist Church.

Not only did Santorum not denounce what he said, in a video of Terry's remarks, Santorum is seen standing and applauding.

Here is the pastor's rant:

I don’t care what the liberals say, I don’t care what the naysayers say, this country was founded as a Christian nation. The god of Abraham, the god of Isaac and the god of Jacob. There’s only one god, there’s only one god and his name is Jesus. (wild audience applause) I’m tired of people telling me that I can’t say those words. I’m tired of people telling us as Christians that we can’t voice our beliefs or we can’t no longer pray in public. I’m, listen to me, if you don’t America and you don’t like the way we do things, I’ve got one thing to say, GET OUT (wild audience applause).
We don’t worship Buddha. I said we don’t worship Buddha. We don’t worship Mohammed. We don’t worship Allah. We worship god. We worship god’s son Jesus Christ.

I believe the church is to be the conscience of the nation. The church needs to be the conscience of our state and our local community. Listen closely. Now hold on for just a moment. As long as they continue to kill little babies in our mother’s womb, somebody’s got to take a stand and say, it’s not right. God be merciful to us as a nation. As long as sexual perversion is becoming normalized, somebody needs to stand up and say, god forgive us, god have mercy upon us. And as long as they continue to tell our children they cannot pray in public schools or pray in open, public places today, somebody’s got to take a stand and say, god forgive us, god have mercy upon us. As long as they continue to tear down traditional marriage. Listen. God intended for marriage to be between a man and a woman and as long as they continue to attack marriage, somebody needs to take a stand and say NO! NO! NO! NO! (crowd erupts in wild applause)

I tell you my friend, I believe that Christians in America are the key to revival. I believe that Christians in America is the key to the economy turning around. I believe that Christians in America is the key to the jobless rate continuing to go down. I believe it’s a spiritual thing. If we’ll put god back in America, put god back in our pulpits, put god back in our homes and in our State House and then in Washington D.C., then we can have revival in America and the holy spirit will show up and great and mighty things will happen for this country.

Thankfully, we do not have to worry about a Santorum presidency, but his candidacy is lifting the rock and we are getting to see who and what live beneath it.

Monday, March 19, 2012

March 19, 2012--Illinois Rules

In tomorrow's Republican primary in Illinois, on the surface it looks as if 69 delegates are up for grabs. Look again.

Like the other 49 states and various U.S. territories such as Guam, Illinois has its own idiosyncratic way of determining how these delegates will ultimately be assigned.

If you have the inclination to look at the details here they are:

69 total delegates - 10 base at-large / 54 re: 18 congressional districts / 3 party / 2 bonus

Tuesday 20 March 2012: 54 delegates
--(3 from each of the 18 congressional districts) of Illinois' 69 delegates to the Republican National Convention will be directly elected in the Illinois Presidential Primary.

This is a so-called "Loophole" primary (a Delegate Selection Primary combined with an Advisory "beauty contest" presidential preference vote). The popular vote in the Illinois Republican Primary will have nothing whatsoever to do with the presidential preference of the 54 separately elected National Convention delegates.

Each candidate for delegate ... must file a Statement of Presidential Preference supporting a specific presidential candidate, or a statement that he/she intends to run uncommitted [SBE No. P-1E]. Note: There is no law or rule officially binding the delegates to the candidate.

Each of the State's 18 congressional districts CDs) is assigned 2 to 4 National Convention delegates- the number of delegates assigned to each district being based on the relative strength of that district's vote for the Republican presidential nominee in the previous Presidential election: a total of 54 district delegates to be directly elected by the voters and individually listed on the ballot with their presidential preferences indicated.

CD 1: 3
CD 2: 3
CD 3: 3
CD 4: 2
CD 5: 3
CD 6: 3
CD 7: 2
CD 8: 3
CD 9: 3
CD 10: 3
CD 11: 3
CD 12: 3
CD 13: 3
CD 14: 3
CD 15: 4
CD 16: 3
CD 17: 3
CD 18: 4

Friday 8 June - Saturday 9 June 2012: The Illinois Republican Party State Convention convenes in Tinley Park and chooses the remaining 12 delegates.

Illinois' 12 (10 at-large + 2 bonus) delegates are chosen by the State's Republican Party Convention will go to the Republican National Convention officially unbound.

In addition, 3 party leaders, the National Committeeman, the National Committeewoman, and the chairman of the Illinois Republican Party, will attend the convention as unbound delegates by virtue of their position.

Got it?

Fortunately, there will be no pop quiz tomorrow to see if you've have this memorized. There will be only the various pundits spin about the results--the popular vote vs. the delegate distribution vs. which candidate has the momentum.

Beyond that--

Are the same Republicans who came up with these and the other tortured rules capable of running the country? They talk about a small, unobtrusive government; but by the evidence of the primary rules they concocted for Illinois and elsewhere, what would they come up with for the rest of us?

Nothing good.

Friday, March 16, 2012

March 16, 2012--Ladies of Forest Trace: Obama, Oy Vey

“You haven’t had dinner with the girls in a long time. So how about coming on Friday? They have a nice menu—some kind of beef with a French sauce, which I of course can’t chew--but you will enjoy.”

“Sure, mom. It has been awhile. It will be nice to see them.”

“Make sure you wear a jacket. All the men wear them on Fridays. Not that there are that many men here. We’re mainly old ladies.”

“That’s not true, Mom.”

“In June I’ll be 104. What do you call that?” I couldn’t think of what to say. “The girls know you’re following the election and they have a few things they want to say to you.”

“That sounds ominous.”

“I need to warn you they’re not very happy.”

“With Obama?”

“Him too. Just remember to be on time. We eat at 5:00 but come to me at 4:00 so we’ll have time to talk before going downstairs.”

“I wonder what’s up,” Rona said when I told her about Friday.

“I think just that mom’s friends--some of whom reluctantly voted for Obama last time--they were all for Hillary—are feeling he hasn’t lived up to his promise.”

“Who ever has?”

“Good point. But if they feel my mother had a hand in convincing them to vote for him maybe . . .”

“Maybe they’ll blame you.”

“If so,” I smiled, “I’ll be ready for them.”

* * *

“So mom, what’s up with your friends?”

“I’m glad you remembered to wear a jacket,” she said, ignoring me while checking me up and down. “Though maybe the sleeves are a little too short and you could have worn something else besides a black shirt. The girls like bright colors. And it’s Friday night. Shabbos.”

Ignoring that I asked again, “What’s on the ladies’ minds? You made it sound as if they’re quite upset about something.”

“Well, they are. But I’ll let them tell you themselves, that is if they can stop for a minute talking about their grandchildren and great-grandchildren.”

Rona and I exchanged looks. “Let’s go downstairs. They’ll be waiting for us. Really for you. Especially Rona. They love Rona.”

“I thought we’d talk more before going down. Isn’t that why you asked us to come so early?”

“I just wanted to put my eyes on you. Last time you were here you looked so pale.”


“Now too. Do I need to worry about you? You look anemic to me. You should get your blood checked.”

“I do. I mean, I did. I’m fine. Really.” She was examining me skeptically. “I just try to stay out of the sun. It’s not good . . .”

“You’re telling me the truth? I know you lie to me when you have a cold. So I shouldn’t worry. But with my own eyes I can see you look like a ghost. Wear a hat but sit in the sun. You need some color. And vitamin D.”

I tried to indicate that I do take care of myself but she waved me off. She’s right—we don’t always tell her the truth about how we are feeling. We don’t want her worrying about us. She has her own issues to deal with.

“OK, now that that’s settled, we’re ready to join the girls. Did I tell you they have a nice menu tonight? Beef something. No for me. I’ll have my usual roast chicken if it's not too salty and watch you enjoy the beef. Promise me you’ll make sure to take care of your teeth.”

As expected the ladies were waiting for us in their usual cluster of whicker chairs close to the dining room. From there it is relatively easy, leaning on their walkers, to shuffle their way to the door.

Once settled and the orders taken—I choose the boeuf bourguignon, hoping it would be easy to chew so my mother wouldn’t have cause to remind me again about my teeth—without any preliminary chat, Fannie leaned across the table to get closer to me and said, “Look how things have turned out.”

“I’m not sure I understand what you’re referring to. Things?

“Your Obama.”

“Again, Fannie, sorry. I’m not following you.” Rona kicked me under the table. I didn’t know why. I thought I had taken Fannie seriously as I always try to do. Maybe it was a preemptive reminder to behave myself.

“Look what he’s bringing out,” Fannie said. Bertha on the other side of the table, though she is very hard of hearing, was nodding in agreement. “Before you say again that you don’t understand, let me explain to you.”

Ruth added, “Let her talk. Then you’ll know.” I smiled at her as well as at Bertha. I turned to Rona to show her I was on my best behavior.

“You know we didn’t support him. I am sure your mother, who is a darling—everyone here loves her--told you we were for Hillary. When I was a girl, my mother, all the women, weren’t allowed to vote. And with my older sister Yetta I marched in parades with the Suffragettes. So when Hillary ran, though we had questions about her voting for Iraq, we very much wanted to support her and have a woman living in the White House. Not as the president’s wife, but as the president.”

“I know about that. And I fully understand your position.”

“We weren’t going to vote at all,” Esther said. “We weren’t going to vote for McCain and that woman from Alaska. I refuse even say her name. We were so upset that Hillary wasn’t running that we thought we would just stay home.”

“Or not fill out an absentee ballot,” Bertha said.

“First she tells you to be quiet so I can talk,” Fannie looked sternly at Bertha, “but now she can’t keep herself quiet.” Bertha gestured as if zipping her lips and shrugged, smiling at me.

“I don’t want you to get upset,” Fannie said, putting her hand gently on top of mine, “but I need to be frank with you. It’s because he, Obama’s black, or as you young people say, African American.”

Rona took hold of my other hand to keep me from blurting out what she knew I was feeling.

“I’m not prejudiced. That your mother can tell you.”

“She’s not,” my mother said, “She marched for civil rights. In Alabama.”

“Actually, in Mississippi. But no matter. It’s the same thing. And I have had many blacks as friends.” Rona squeezed my hand harder. “So that is not the issue.”

“What is it then?” I couldn’t help myself from asking as benignly as possible. “What are you trying to say?”

“At our age it takes us a little longer to make our points.”

“Sorry. Please, go on.” Rona, pleased, stroked my hand.

“It’s what he is bringing out. Take the primaries, for example. In Alabama and where I was, Mississippi. Did you watch the results?” I nodded that I did. “On CNN?”

“I switched among all three news channels to see what they were saying. How they were spinning things.”

“On CNN they had exit polls.”

“How do they do those?” Ruth asked.

No one answered and Fannie continued, “If you were following them, what struck you the most?”

“I’m not sure,” I muttered. To tell the truth there was so much data that I felt overwhelmed by them.

“The numbers about the most Christian voters.”

“I remember that. You mean the voters who called themselves Evangelicals.”

“What exactly they are I do not know. But I remember Wolf saying, or maybe it was that darling John King, that more than 80 percent of the Mississippi voters and 75 percent of those in Alabama were those kind of Christians.”


“And most of them voted for Santorum or Gingrich.”

“As would be expected, no?”

“Yes and no.”


“Yes because they don’t like Mormons.”

“But Santorum and Gingrich are both Catholics,” I said, “and to many evangelical Protestants Catholics are not much better than Mormons.”

“I’m sure that for some Evangelicals Catholics are preferred. But even though they said they think Romney would be better for the economy and has a better chance to beat Obama, still they didn’t vote for him. I think he came in in third place in both states.”

“True. But I’m still not quite getting your point. Especially why this is all Obama’s fault because he’s African American. Wasn’t he born that way?”

“She’s getting to it,” my mother said. “While she is, make sure you eat something. With all the talking your beef will get cold. Is it tough?”

“It’s excellent, mom. And not too chewy.”

“Maybe I should have ordered it then. But it’s probably too salty for me. I have to watch my blood pressure. You should too with our family history.”

“As I told you, mom, I try to be careful about what I eat and . . .”

Fannie cut me off, “Let’s worry about salt another time. We don’t get to see you that often and I want to answer your question because it’s a good one.”

“I forgot,” Bertha said, “Which one is that?”

“About why it’s Obama’s fault,” Fannie picked up the thread.

“Mind you, it’s not his fault as you say because he didn’t do anything to make himself black.” Everyone nodded in unison to assure me that they weren’t biased. “But his being black brings out the worst in some people.”

“Too many people,” Ruth interjected.

Fannie agreed and continued, “Those people who say they believe Romney has the best chance to beat Obama, who they hate--That is not too strong a word for how they feel about Obama--they voted for Santorum and Gingrich over Romney in spite of this. Because . . .”

“Because why?” Bertha asked, sounding frustrated. “It’s getting late and I get confused when I’m tired.”

“Because,” Fannie said, staring directly at Bertha, “Because they are so obsessed about religion that they see being a Mormon the same as being in a cult. Like the Hairy Krishnas. And as a result they will vote for people who they feel have less of a chance to beat Obama in November. That’s what I mean about Obama. That the very fact of who he is is making them so meshuga that they will vote for the weaker candidates who will likely lose.”

“Don’t misunderstand Fannie,” my mother said, “she wants Obama to be reelected and feels Santorum and Gingrich would lose more easily than Romney, but she is always very worried about anyone who is ultra-orthodox. Like Santorum. And even the Jews who are. Those in Israel, for example.”

“One of my grandsons was here for a visit,” Ruth said, “during the Florida primary. He’s very liberal but out of curiosity went to a Newt Gingrich speech sponsored by some Republican Jewish organization in Boca.”

“The joke was,” Bertha said, “that how could this be—there aren’t any Republican Jews in Boca.”

“Well, he reported,” Ruth said, “that a very large hall was filled with Jews who were cheering and applauding every time he talked about letting Israel bomb Iran. That the people at the speech seemed to care more about Israel than the United States. And this upset him.”

“And the rest of us,” Fannie said.

“They cheered the loudest when Gingrich said that Obama is the worst enemy Israel ever had. Which, of course, is untrue. I could make a list of presidents were anti-Semites. Starting with Eisenhower and then Johnson and Nixon. Just listen to the tapes.”

“Show them what they handed out,” my mother urged.

“This button.” Ruth searched in her pocketbook and slid it across the table to me. It was nearly three inches in diameter and had printed on it—Obama, Oy Vey. “Something, no?”

“What she is trying to say,” Fannie interjected, “is that this is another sad example of the prejudice that Obama brings out. Even among people who should know better. People like all of us who lost family members during the Holocaust. We more than anyone else should care about all minorities.”

At the mention of the Nazis, silence settled over the table.

“Time for dessert,” my mother said, trying to break the spell of remembrance, “I recommend the pistachio ice cream. Back in Brooklyn it was your favorite.”

“Only after Chinese food,” I recalled.

“So order the chocolate. Unlike the pistachio, you don’t have to do any chewing.”

* * *

After dinner we walked my mother back up to her apartment. “Do you want anything to eat? I have some nice cheese and cake. Fresh. Downstairs you both ate like birds.”

“We’re fine, mom,” Rona said, “We ordinarily don’t eat that much, and it was delicious. Not salty at all.” We again exchanged smiles.

“None of the girls mentioned something else that came out of those exit polls.”

“What’s that, mom?”

“About how many voters in the South think Obama is a Muslim.”

“I saw that,” I said, “45 percent in Alabama and 52 percent in Mississippi. And many more suspect he is. Shocking.”

“When you put that together with his race it unleashes religious and racial biases. You know what I think is the worst thing?”

“What’s that?”

“How many of these haters hate the idea that he and Michelle are living in the White House. Sleeping there. I’m serious. This is very, very upsetting to those people.”

“Hopefully not too many feel that way,” I said. “Though I agree with you. Let’s hope, though, that come November . . .”

“All the girls here and all over the country know what’s at stake.”

“Amen to that,” Rona added.

We were stirring, signaling it was time for us to get on the road. “One last thing," my mother said, "be sure to remember to have your blood pressure checked.”

Thursday, March 15, 2012

March 15, 2012--Gingrich--Let's Make A Deal

All along I thought the reason Newt Gingrich was staying in the race was either (1) because he loves being on TV and promoting his and Calista's various money-making schemes; and/or (2) that he so hates Romney after what Romney did to him in Iowa--burying his candidacy in an avalanche of negative ads (which, by the way, only told the truth about Newt)--that he wants to hang around so he can take public shots at Mitt.

But now, after not winning in Alabama or Mississippi and with no plausible path to the nomination, Gingrich continues to vow he will stay in the race until the Republican convention in Tampa in August. This will, of course keep him on TV and will help boost his lecture fee after the contest is over to maybe $75,000 a shot, up from the current $60K. But doesn't his staying in the race actually help the hated Romney by taking conservative votes away from Santorum? Wouldn't getting out of the contest and endorsing Santorum be the best way to derail Romney and expiate Gingrich's hatred for him?

Looking at matters purely from a Newt-self-interest perspective, the only meaningful perspective when it comes to him, how does Gingrich benefit by staying in beyond the PR value of getting invited to Meet the Press?

Even though Romney is faltering and not rolling up victory after victory, he continues to gather delegates (the real name of the game) and will very likely wind up at the convention with nearly enough to win the nomination. He might need only a couple of hundred to put him over the top.

How to garner these? Who to turn to for Help?


All Romney would need to do is offer Gingrich the vice presidency. Unlikly, you say, considering the animosity?

Well, self-interest is about the most powerful force in many people's lives and self-interest, "hatred" aside, would likely propel Newt to accept the deal.

What about making the same deal with Samtorum? Less likely since he will likely have too few votes to be guaranteed the nomination with Gingrich's delegates. And a ticket of two red-meat conservatives is less appealing that one with a moderate (Romney) and a conservative (Newt).

Let's recall who wound up on the ticket with John F. Kennedy. His arch rival, Lyndon Johnson.

In sum--Newt will stay in the race to stop Santorum, not his soon-to-be new best friend, Mitt Romney.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

March 14, 2012--Santorum's Brotherhood

In a long interview with the New York Times, Khairat el-Shater, head of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt attempted to ally fears that though the Brotherhood will control the emerging Egyptian government, they do not have plans to turn the largest of Arab counties into Iran with mullahs in charge, women in burkas, and Israel under the gun.

He is a multimillionaire and made his money through the free market of capitalism. Thus, he said, American and western corporations should not be reluctant to invest in the new Egypt.

Senator John McCain and his traveling companion, Lindsey Graham came away from a recent meeting with Mr. Shater, feeling that we will be able to work with him. They said they value his "cool effectiveness."

"He is the behind-the-scenes guy,” said Senator Graham, adding, “Very impressive.”

Shater does, though, assert that recent elections that gave control of the country to the Muslim brotherhood was a vote to turn Egypt into an "explicitly Islamic state." Senator Graham had no comment about that.

Nor did the senators notice that though the Brotherhood is a secretly hierarchical organization, with Shater securely atop it, he claims that he favors "open democracy." The Egyptian version of the Brotherhood, however, requires members to swear obedience to the directions of its leaders in the group's religious, political, and charitable work. How the two are compatible we will have to wait to see.

My suggestion--remain skeptical.

In Mr. Shater's own words:

The Islamic reference point regulates life in its entirety, politically, economically and socially; we don’t have this separation between religion and government. The Muslim Brotherhood is a value-based organization that expresses itself using different political, economic, sportive, health-related and social means. You can’t take one part from one place and another part from another — this isn’t how it’s done.

I couldn't help noticing that what Mr. Shater had to say is not so different from what we have been hearing from the increasingly-powerful Rick Santorum who decries the fact that in America we have "absolute" separation between church and state. I suspect that the former senator would be happy to see his version of Christianity as the "reference point" regulating "life in its entirety." And that he, too, would like to see our politics "values-based" as long as those values were derived from his religious views.

After his victories yesterday in Alabama and Mississippi we'll see how he does next Tuesday in less-evangelical Illinois.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

March 13, 2012--Returning the Favor

Ohio state Senator Nina Turner (D) isn't happy with bills that seek to control women's access to contraception and abortion. She has joined a trend across the nation by introducing a bill that would require men seeking a prescription for erectile dysfunction drugs to see a sex therapist, receive a cardiac stress test and "get a notarized affidavit signed by a sexual partner affirming impotency." Sex therapists would be required to present the option of "celibacy as a viable lifestyle choice.”

"The men in our lives, including members of the General Assembly, generously devote time to fundamental female reproductive issues—the least we can do is return the favor," Senator Turner said. "It is crucial that we take the appropriate steps to shelter vulnerable men from the potential side effects of these drugs."

She continued, "When a man makes a crucial decision about his health and his body, he should be fully aware of the alternative options and the lifetime repercussions of that decision. Men will be more easily guided through the process of obtaining treatment for impotence so they can better understand and more effectively address their condition."

Senator Turner isn't the only legislator to introduce a "Viagra bill" or amendments in response to what mostly male legislators have been proposing around the nation.

In Illinois, for instance, state Representative Kelly Cassidy (D) introduced an amendment to a bill requiring ultrasounds before a woman can get an abortion that would require men to watch an explicit video about the side-effects of erectile dysfunction drugs. Particularly that 4-hour erection problem. And, Missouri state Representative Stacey Newman (D) is promoting a bill that would allow a man to obtain a vasectomy only when not doing so could cause him serious injury or death.

Some may consider these moves to be ironic gestures, but they should be considered as serious as those being enacted into law that violate women's privacy and put men in control of women's bodies.

Monday, March 12, 2012

March 12, 2012--War On Women?

I've seen what's going on politically and in the wider culture described as a War On Women or a War On Women's Health. It may be either or both of these, but more fundamentally it's a War On Women's Sexuality.

This should be no surprise since America is more a puritanical than a libertarian country. Just ask Hester Prynne the hounded protagonist of Hawthorne's novel The Scarlet Letter.

Many men of conservation persuasion contend that all the "trouble" with women began when the Pill became available and women, as a result, for the first time had full control of reproduction. With that secured, they went on to demand other forms of equality--in the workplace, in the management of their own and the family's money, and even began to press for a role in combat. It was get-your-own-coffee time and, inspired by the research of Masters and Johnson, men began to quiver when they heard, "I-am-entitled-to-an-orgasm-of-my-own." Now it was flaccid men's turn to beg off, moaning, "Honey, I have a headache."

Other men of yet stronger right-wing views feel things for them turned south when women were given (note "given") the right to vote. The next thing you know, they feared, they'll want to be senators, governors, Secretary of State, and even president.

At work one might find oneself reporting to a female supervisor (or "boss," if you prefer) and when you turn on your nightly news you might find an anchorwomen there in place of Chet and David and Walter and Dan.

For those men still attending church often there would be a female minister telling them to repent for their sins and after church there was no escape since country clubs had long been pressured to admit women. Weren't the three religions of the Book in large part the place where one turned to find misogyny rationalized as Divine?

So when we hear Tea Partiers and others saying, "I want my America back," high on the list of what they mean is a life again dominated by white men with women put back in their places, which means not at the pulpit, not in the corner office, not in a foxhole, not on TV unless it's Miss America time, not on the basketball court except to cheer, and not demanding to be on top. Literally.

It would not be inappropriate to see all of this as a War On Women, but it is more accurately described as a War On Women's Sexuality since so much of the frustration and anger we are witnessing among men is because they are no longer in charge of women's, the weaker sex's bodies. If they can regain control by taking away the Pill, banning abortions, even forbidding the use of contraception, all essential to women taking pleasure from sex, the women would drift back from "indulging" themselves in the workplace, have babies, and stay home where they belong.

Friday, March 09, 2012

March 9, 2012--Ladies of Forest Trace: Lifeweary

“I’m feeling very old.” My nearly 104-year-old mother was on the phone.

“Well, mom, to be honest with you, you are getting old,” I said but quickly added er to make it, “You are getting older.”

“I didn’t call for you to tell me how old I am. That I myself already know. I was hoping you would say something to make me feel better. I’ve been down in the dumps all morning.”

“Sorry to hear that, mom. And I’m sorry I didn’t come up with something to ease your mind.”

“It’s not my mind that needs easing. It’s the rest of me.”

“Are you trying to tell me something about how you’re feeling? I mean, do you have any symptoms that are concerning you? Like shortness of breath or palpitations.”

“None of those thank God. But I’m not myself.”

“Which means?”

“Look at my arms--I know you can’t because you’re on the phone--but they have black patches.”

“That’s probably from the baby aspirin you take to thin your blood. This is normal for someone your age.”

“Again about my age. Why do you keep reminding me about it?”

“Because you brought it up. You called and said you’re feeling old.”

Very old,” she corrected me.

“Is that it? Some normal bleeding under your skin? You know that’s not serious and . . .”

“Of course I know that. It’s other things too.”

“Such as?”

“None of the food tastes good to me any more. I mean the food I can chew.”

“I know you’re having trouble with meats.”

“Other things too. I can’t live on scrambled eggs and bananas.”

“Sorry to hear that.”

“I’m not feeling good or happy. There is too much change here where I live. New people, new staff, new chairs in the lobby. At this point in my life I like things to stay as they were. Even change for the better upsets me.”

“I think I understand that. As I get older I like my routines.”

“That too. My hairdresser where I used to go every Thursday is no longer there.”

“But doesn’t she come to the house now to do your hair?”

“Yes. But that’s change too. She doesn’t have all the things she had at the beauty parlor. The sink where she does my hair. I mean, did my hair. Here she has to wash it in the sink in the bathroom. On a chair she drags in from the kitchen. The dryer she brings is different than the one they had at the beauty parlor. The one I’m used to. Everything is changing and it’s making me feel upset and old. As I told you, very old.”

“What about your programs on TV? You like CNN and Bill O’Reilly.”

“Only for entertainment,” she was quick to add.

“I know. You always tell me that. Though I suspect you like some of the things O’Reilly says.”

“Not true,” she snapped. I liked hearing the energy in her voice. I was hoping talking about politics would help bring her out of her despondency.

“I’m not sure how much longer I can go on. Everything happening in the world is upsetting me. And here at home as well. I’m 104 and . . .”

“Not until the end of June,” I said. “No need to make yourself older than necessary.”

“I agree. I shouldn’t do that. I know I can be my own worst enemy.”

“We’ve talked about that. How you should try to notice when you begin to do that and then look for ways to distract yourself. Watch something entertaining on TV. Stop watching all the bad news.”

“All the time Breaking news. Breaking news. Plane crashes, tornadoes, bombings. It goes on day and night.”

“Exactly. So listen to music. Call someone you haven’t heard from in a long time. One of your young great-nieces and nephews. You like talking to them.”

“I do do that and it does help. But I’m feeling tired and depressed. Even what the girls are saying over dinner is upsetting me.”

“In what way? What’s going on?”

“You know I try not to talk politics with them. But because of the election some of them are watching the debates and speeches. I am sensing that they are thinking about voting for Romney or, even worse, Grinch.”

“You’ve mentioned that to me before. But what about you? What are you thinking?”

“I’m thinking that Romney will be nominated and could win the election. What happens if gasoline hits $5.00 a gallon in September? Or Israel is at war with Iran? Or unemployment goes back up? Any of these things are possible; and if they happen, watch out.”

“And you’re thinking?”

“That maybe Obama isn’t up to it.”

“To being reelected?”

“That too. But maybe not up to being president.”

“I’m surprised to hear you say that. Are you watching more FOX News than just Bill O’Reilly? Maybe you’ve also been watching Sean Hannity?”

“No. Him I can’t stand. No one is influencing me. I read the Herald and they carry stories from your New York Times. I read those too. Before doing the crossword puzzle. Maybe we need someone else who can work better with Congress.”

“To me it’s a nightmare to think of someone like Romney as president working with a Republican Congress. That could be the end of us.”

“You’re saying this to make me feel better? Talking to you is making it worse.” Before I could say anything, she added, “I take that back. You and your brother and my daughters-in-law always make me feel better. Especially the girls. They’re like daughters to me.”

“I’m glad to hear that. We love you and want you to feel as good as possible.”

“Just as possible? How about just good? With no as possibles?” She chuckled so I knew she was doing a little better.

“I stand corrected.”

“About me you don’t have to worry. I’ll be voting for Obama. Over all he's doing very well. In spite of all the Republicans who from day one wanted to see him fail, he’s accomplished a lot. Not perfect, but a lot. He improved how we are seen around the world and made sure the recession didn’t become another Depression. About that I’m old enough to be an expert.”

“That I know. I’ve heard the stories about how you and your family struggled to live through the Great Depression.”

“And I’ll make sure all the girls vote for Obama. Like the last time. Remember four years ago how I convinced everyone to get over his defeating Hillary and that they should vote for him?”

“I do. That was very impressive.”

“If I live until November and am feeling well, I’ll be doing it again. No hanging chads for the ladies!”

“That’s what I like to hear.” I hoped by focusing on working for Obama that she was feeing more optimistic about the future. The world’s and hers.

“While I have you on the phone, one more thing.”

“Sure, mom, anything.”

“I’m doing the Times puzzle and need a little help. If necessary look up the answer on your computer. About crosswords I don’t mind a little cheating.”

“Go on.”

“Six letters, ending in SA. What’s the ‘Potemkin Steps locale’?”

I mused out loud, “Somewhere in Russia but not Moscow.”

“As I said, six letters and I’m sure of the S and the A.”

“I have Google up on my screen and am typing in P-O-T-E-M . . .”

But before I could finish, with a firm voice she said, “Not necessary. I figured it out. It’s ODESSA. Not far from where I was born.”

Thursday, March 08, 2012

March 8, 2012--Misspeaking

In recent days Rick Santorum and Rush Limbaugh have gotten themselves in trouble for, it is claimed by them, "misspeaking,"

Santorum for saying and repeating that listening to John F. Kennedy's 1960 speech about the inviolable separation of church and state made him want to "throw up." and within the same week calling Barack Obama a "snob" for wanting to require that everyone go to college.

Limbaugh, more infamously, got into big trouble for calling Sandra Fluke a "slut" and "prostitute" for wanting health insurance to pay for medically-prescribed contraception.

When they each realized how much political and financial damage they caused themselves--Santorum arguable lost the Michigan primary and Limbaugh is hemorrhaging sponsors for his radio show--they both attempted to dial back what they had said.

First, here is what Santorum said about JFK's speech:

I don't believe in an America where the separation between church and state is absolute. To say that people of faith have no role in the public square? You bet that makes me want to throw up. What kind of country do we live in where only people of non-faith can come in the public square and make their case? That makes me throw up. And that should make every American throw up.

When he realized that his comments had unleashed a firestorm he backtracked, indicating that he had been careless in his choice of words.

So, let me clean up his language and then see how the rest of what he said sounds:

To say that people of faith have no role in the public square? You bet that upsets me. What kind of country do we live in where only people of non-faith can come in the public square and make their case? That makes me feel upset. And that should make every American feel upset.

This emendation has him and every American just feeling upset. Fine. That's better than becoming nauseous and throwing up when hearing our first Catholic president affirm the original intent of the Founders Santorum so claims to revere. But what remains of the content, Santorum's main point?

That all remains intact. He does not see the Constitution as calling for a clear separation of church and state. In other words, he is all right with America becoming a theocracy where religion guides public policy. This is not exactly Jeffersonian.

And what about his comment that Obama is a "snob" for wanting everyone to go to college? In Santorum's words:

President Obama once said he wants everybody in America to go to college. What a snob!

There are good, decent men and women who go out and work hard every day and put their skills to the test that aren't taught by some liberal college professor trying to indoctrinate him. I understand why he wants you to go to college. He wants to remake you in his image.

Under fire and realizing these comments were costing him votes, Santorum again claimed that he misspoke. So let's extract the offending "snob" quote from his comments. In place of it, how about, "What an elitist"?

He remains on shaky political and historical ground. We also still find him not telling the truth. In his first State of the Union address President Obama was careful about the details of his call to extend post high school educational opportunities for students, including vocational training.

Here are Obama's exact words--

And so tonight, I ask every American to commit to at least one year or more of higher education or career training. This can be community college or a four-year school; vocational training or an apprenticeship. But whatever the training may be, every American will need to get more than a high school diploma. And dropping out of high school is no longer an option. It's not just quitting on yourself, it's quitting on your country — and this country needs and values the talents of every American.

And now for Rush Limbaugh. On February 29th, about Sandra Fluke, he said:

What does it say about the college coed Susan Fluke [sic], who goes before a congressional committee and essentially says that she must be paid to have sex? What does that make her? It makes her a slut, right? It makes her a prostitute. She wants to be paid to have sex. . . .

Can you imagine if you're her parents how proud of Sandra Fluke you would be? Your daughter goes up to a congressional hearing conducted by the Botox-filled Nancy Pelosi and testifies she's having so much sex she can't afford her own birth control pills and she agrees that Obama should provide them, or the Pope.

On March 1st Limbaugh added that Fluke is . . .

. . . having so much sex, it's amazing she can still walk". He also asked "Who bought your condoms in sixth grade? . . . So, Ms. Fluke and the rest of you feminazis, here's the deal. If we are going to pay for your contraceptives, and thus pay for you to have sex, we want something for it, and I'll tell you what it is. We want you to post the videos online so we can all watch."

Like Santorum, as Limbaugh saw sponsors slipping away and realized that this might cut into his income, he too apologized for using two inappropriate words--"slut" and "prostitute." I will leave to you to do your own emending.

I have no suggestions. However, attempting to be as generous as possible, what can one do about his perverted demand that since taxpayers will allegedly be paying for Ms. Fluke to have sex she should film herself and put the tapes on the Internet?

Thankfully, from the look of things, Limbaugh and Santorum are slipping toward deserved rejection and ultimate obscurity.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

March 7, 2012-- Hadarat Nashim

While Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu debate the fate of the Middle East--whether or not and when to bomb Iran's nuclear facilities--back home in Israel another kind of war is being waged: the one about the role of women in an increasingly ultra-orthodox religious environment.

A number of recent incidents there have brought this to full public attention. Ironically, not unlike here in the United States where Rick Santorum, Rush Limbaugh, all the Republican presidential candidates, and every GOP senator with the exception of Olympia Snow have signed on to limit medical coverage for women's access to contraception. (Note--no one is talking about not having medical insurance pay for vasectomies.)

In Israel, so similar to what transpired recently in the U.S. Congress, at a women's health and Jewish law conference, women were barred from speaking from the podium; ultra-orthodox men spat on an 8-year-old girl who they deemed was immodestly dressed (this could have meant her skirt ended only at mid-calf); the chief rabbi of the army air force resigned because the army refused to give in to his demands that religiously-orthodox soldiers should be allowed to opt out of participating in army-sponsored events where women were allowed to sing on stage, including singing the national anthem; posters appeared all over the city depicting the Jerusalem police chief as Hitler because he instructed bus lines with mixed male and female seating to drive through orthodox neighborhoods; and vandals blacked out the faces of all women whose images appeared on publicly displayed advertising posters.

This movement even has a high-toned new phrase--hadaret nashim, which is Hebrew for "the exclusion of women"-- and it is being hotly debated.

The ultra-orthodox, or Haredim, who deny the legitimacy of the state of Israel--to them it will not exist until their version of the Messiah appears--have nonetheless becoming an increasingly powerful force in the Israeli government. Without their support in the Knesset, Netanyahu would not have the votes needed to have been elected prime minister. Their influence derives from their high birth rate (on average ultra-orthodox couples have seven children) and as a result now number more than one million in a total population of 7.8 million.

In addition, the Haredim do not contribute proportionately to the Israeli economy, nor do most of their young people serve in the military. Also, the government offers direct per-child subsidies to large families, which constitutes a huge burden on Israeli taxpayers. And since the community places Torah study above all other activities . . . allowable only for men, few have have jobs and thus the unemployment rate for men is over 60 percent.

Sharia is coming to israel and orthodox Jews, not Islamists, are leading the effort. Though they haven't yet gotten around to calling women who use contraception prostitutes and sluts.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

March 6, 2012--Tax Pledge

Grover Norquist is president of Americans for Tax Reform and is so influential that some have called him our 101st senator. As evidence of that power he has gotten almost every Republican member of Congress to sign a no-new-taxes pledge.

In his new book, Debacle: Obama's war On Jobs, he claims that Obama has already raised hundreds of billions in taxes and if reelected will raise them by trillions (yes, trillions) more.

His current favorite GOP candidate for president, Mitt Romney, claims that Obama has implemented 19 new taxes. Both Norquist and Romney fail to note that Obama supported and signed legislation to cut hundreds of billions in payroll taxes, agreed to extend the Bush era tax cuts for at least two more years, and included hundreds of billions of dollars of tax cuts in his stimulus plan.

Indeed, if reelected, Obama wants to extend the Bush tax cuts but only for individuals making less than $250,00 per year though he would cut taxes further for middle-income people. But in regard to the claim that he has already raised taxes 19 times, here are the facts from about all nineteen:

Items that are clearly taxes, and that are already in effect

• Increasing the federal excise tax on tobacco. Obama signed legislation raising taxes on cigarettes and other tobacco products soon after taking office; that money goes to pay for children's health insurance programs. The law went into effect in 2009.

• A 10 percent excise tax on indoor tanning services. This tax is narrowly targeted at tanning bed users, but it is still a tax. This took effect July 1, 2010.

• Increasing corporate taxes by making it more difficult for businesses to engage in activities that reduce their tax liability. This appears to refer to the closing of a half-dozen existing exemptions and credits relevant only to large international corporations. (We wrote about this recently.) While this is a provision targeted narrowly at big conglomerates -- and while it’s popular as a way to keep deep-pocketed countries from sheltering excessive amounts of income -- our experts said it does count as a tax increase. Obama signed the bill into law on Aug. 10, 2010.

• Imposing an annual fee on manufacturers and importers of branded drugs, based on each company’s share of the total market. While some industry-specific levies are intended to help foot the bill for regulatory processes, this one is more of a revenue raiser for the more general goals of the health care overhaul. It took effect on Jan. 1, 2011.

Items that are clearly taxes, but which are not yet in effect

Listed in chronological order of date they will take effect:

• Increasing the hospital insurance portion of the payroll tax from 2.9 percent to 3.8 percent for couples earning more than $250,000 a year, or $200,000 for single filers. Takes effect Jan. 1, 2013.

• Applying the 3.8 percent hospital insurance tax to investment income for couples earning more than $250,000 a year, or $200,000 for single filers, for the first time. Takes effect Jan. 1, 2013.

• A 2.3 percent excise tax on manufacturers and importers of certain medical devices. This is a narrowly targeted tax, but still a tax (and will likely be reflected in consumer prices once it begins). Takes effect Jan. 1, 2013.

• Raise the 7.5 percent adjusted gross income floor for the medical expenses deduction to 10 percent. People who would have qualified for the deduction this year would pay more. Takes effect Jan. 1, 2013.

• Annual fee levied on health insurance providers, based on each company’s share of the total market. Same logic as the levy on branded drug companies cited above. Takes effect Jan. 1, 2013.

• Limiting the amount taxpayers can deposit in flexible spending accounts to $2,500 a year. While the Obama camp says this provision is intended in part to stop abuse of the system, our experts consider it a tax because it increases taxable income. Takes effect Jan. 1, 2013

• Eliminating the corporate deduction for prescription expenses for retirees. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, certain employers were not only "qualified to receive a subsidy equal to 28 percent of covered prescription drug costs for their retirees," but the employer also was entitled to an income tax deduction for the subsidy. The idea behind providing both a subsidy and a tax deduction was to reduce taxpayer costs for the Medicare drug plan by encouraging companies pay their retirees’ costs, but the way it was structured was criticized by some as double-dipping. No matter the justification, our experts agreed it was still a tax hike. It takes effect Jan. 1, 2013.

• Increasing taxes on health insurance companies by limiting the amount of compensation paid to certain employees that they can deduct from their taxes. According to Congress’ Joint Committee on Taxation, this will be effective for compensation paid in taxable years "beginning after 2012, with respect to services performed after 2009." Once again, this is narrowly targeted at health care company executives -- not a popular group -- but it’s still a tax.

• A 40 percent excise tax on employer-provided "Cadillac" health insurance plans costing more than $10,200 for individuals and $27,500 for families. Takes effect Jan. 1, 2018.

Items about which there is no consensus over whether they’re taxes

• Reduce the number of medical products taxpayers can purchase using funds they put aside in health savings accounts and flexible spending accounts. The definition of which items qualify and don’t qualify for flex spending plans seems to us to be more like the kind of decision made by regulators than lawmakers responsible for writing the tax code.

• A mandate for individuals to buy health insurance and for employers to offer it to their workers. This one is a doozy, because the answer is crucial to the court case that challenges the entire health care law. Because the courts will ultimately decide whether the federal government is levying a tax on people who can afford health insurance but choose not to buy it -- or whether the government is simply using the tax code to enforce a criminal penalty, as some critics of the health care law say -- we won’t take a side on this question.

Items where there is a strong argument that they are not taxes

• Exclusion of unprocessed fuels from the existing cellulosic biofuel producer credit. This provision -- which is already in effect -- was included in the health care bill even though it has nothing to do with health care. Though its inclusion as an unrelated item suggests that revenue-raising is the primary intention, it was actually intended to fix a legislative oversight.

According to the House Rules Committee, then controlled by the Democrats, Congress in 2008 "enacted a $1.01 per gallon tax credit for the production of biofuel from cellulosic feedstocks in order to encourage development of new production capacity for biofuels not derived from food source materials. Congress is aware that some taxpayers are seeking to claim the cellulosic biofuel tax credit for unprocessed fuels. … The provision (in the health care bill) would limit eligibility for the tax credit to processed fuels."

Beyond the question of whether it simply corrects an error, it can be argued that this provision is not a tax since "there’s no logic requiring that unprocessed fuels qualify for tax credit. If this is a tax increase, then one should, presumably, treat as a tax the fact that fountain pens are not eligible for a tax credit, as they could have been, but weren’t included in this tax credit." (The change has already taken effect.)

• The health care law’s "medical loss ratio" provision. Insurance companies will be required to spend either 80 percent (in the individual- and small-group market) or 85 percent (in the large-group market) of the money they receive from premiums on medical care and health care quality improvement, rather than on administrative costs. The provision took effect in 2011. The intention behind this provision is to shape how insurers spend premium dollars, making it more quality regulation than a revenue-raising tax.

• A $50,000 penalty per non-profit hospital if they fail to meet new "community needs assessment." This falls into the same category as the previous item -- a provision intended to regulate insurers’ practices rather than generate revenue.

• Increased penalty for purchasing disallowed products with health savings account, to 20 percent. This is a penalty for a violation, not a tax.

It’s worth pointing out that a number of these provisions are quite narrowly targeted, and some are likely popular among the public, such as those aimed at health-care executive compensation and tax-shelter strategies by billion-dollar multinational corporations. By contrast, as we have noted, the most expansive of Obama’s tax policies went the other direction, reducing taxes for 95 percent of working families.

And a final note: The president doesn’t have the authority to raise taxes on his own. He can only do so with the consent of Congress, which is what happened in each of these cases.

Our ruling

Of the 19 provisions Romney is citing, we conclude that 13 may be reasonably defined as taxes (though of those, only four are already in effect). Of the remaining six provisions Romney cites, we find two that are subject to disagreement and four that are probably not taxes at all. So, more than two-thirds of the 19 provisions Romney cited are pretty clearly taxes, but many of them are narrowly targeted at groups from tanning-bed users to health company CEOs.

On balance, we rate the statement Half True.

In addition to the Politifact analysis, the Norquist-Romney claim that Obama has cut $500 billion from Medicare is a distortion of the truth--"Obamacare" cuts that amount over ten years from the projected increases in the federal cost of Medicare. The cuts are really savings and will be the result of reducing abuse, inefficiencies, and abuse--not from cutting benefits as the Republicans have been charging. In fact, the Obama plan increases Medicare benefits such as closing the donut hole for prescription drugs--a significant cash savings for seniors.

So much for the facts. Though PolitiFacts did not assign dollar amounts to Obama's new taxes, in total, even including those that are not taxes, the bottom line is less than $100 billion in new "taxes."

Monday, March 05, 2012

March 5, 2012--Achievement Gap

On Friday, Morning Joe again devoted an entire show to education. It is commendable and remarkable that they have done this periodically because hardly anyone in the public square is paying any serious attention to education. That is expect for governors such as Chris Christie, Mitch Daniels, and Scott Walker who have been demonizing teachers unions as the sole cause of the nation's education failures.

Oh yes, they have one other thing in common--political ambition.

Morning Joe covered familiar ground--the role of governors in improving public schools (participating were Connecticut's and Maryland's); education reformers such as former Washington, DC superintendent Michele Rhee and the chair of the board of Communities In Schools; and union representatives, including AFT president Randi Weingarten. And, yes, a 4th grade math teacher from Newark. His contribution was to point out that his students do not have enough money to buy pencils and, from his $50,000 a year salary, has been buying and distributing them.

He was of course making a bigger point--that a school district such as Newark which spends nearly $17,000 per student per year should be able to do a lot better.

The other guests' bigger point was that we have to (1) spend more money than at present; (2) "empower" teachers; and (3) employ "authentic accountability" methods to determine who are and aren't effective teachers.

Lost entirely in the discussion was anything about about what actually goes on in classrooms and the gathering evidence that the achievement gap between rich and poor students is expanding rapidly. Nor was there any conversation about the relationship between the two--how affluent children are taught in school (and prepared at home to achieve) and the instructional methods that are being employed.

Recent studies have shown that though the gap between white and black students has been narrowing the divide between poor and more privileged students has been widening.

“We have moved from a society in the 1950s and 1960s, in which race was more consequential than family income, to one today in which family income appears more determinative of educational success than race,” said Sean F. Reardon, a Stanford University sociologist. Professor Reardon is the author of a study that found that the gap in standardized test scores between affluent and low-income students had grown by about 40 percent since the 1960s, and is now double the testing gap between blacks and whites. (See linked New York Times article.)

These data are clear and disturbing.

Equally disturbing is the fact that educators have been aware of this for decades but have spent too much of their time, as they did on Morning Joe , asking for more money (when there is no evidence that money is the solution) and blaming unions for protecting ineffective teachers. In some districts unions are indeed a problem, more devoted to protecting incompetent members than the fate of their students, but weakening teachers unions is also not the silver bullet. Throught the south teacher unions are weak and schools are among the worst.

Again, what has been missing in the debate is a close look and critique of what is actually going on in classrooms. Over the years there has been much methodological innovation. Some of it even rigorously evaluated and, in the process, we have learned a lot about what doesn't work and what does when it comes to teaching low-income students--white low-income students as well as those of color.

Success For All, as one example, is a proven approach to teaching reading, and if it were to be widely adopted would do much to close the literacy achievement gap. The resistance to do so stems from educators who believe they know best what's good for their students. There is a professional reluctance to emulate other people's methods, even if they have been proven to be more effective than what is going on in individual classrooms, schools, and districts.

And when there is a movement to gravitate toward common methods, often the decision is made at the state level and the methods imposed are of dubious value. In Florida, to cite one case, the Education Department pressed all schools to adopt Math Connects as the state-approved approach. This in spite of the fact that there was little independent research that showed it to be effective. The only evaluations were those few sponsored by the for-profit company, Macmillian/McGraw-Hill, that developed and licensed the system.

And so Florida's school children continue to languish near the bottom in math achievement in comparison to other states. This is not the result of unions protecting incompetent teachers or lack of money. It is because of irresponsible leadership that grasps at one unproven panacea after another while excuses and finger pointing continue and students and the nation are the sad losers.

Friday, March 02, 2012

March 2, 2012--Day Off

I will resume on Monday.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

March 1, 2012--Hot Yoga

We have friends here and in Maine who are always slipping off to sessions of hot yoga. When we ask them about it, they speak ecstatically.

Up to now, I thought that this meant they did their thing in a hyper-heated studio. The extra-hot heat, they universally say, is not enervating but allows them to get loose and to contort effortlessly into all sorts of double-jointed positions that are beyond my imagining much less attempting.

But, now, not to doubt the reports of any of our friends, the bad-old New York Times is blowing the whistle on a very different kind of hot yoga. Yoga that leads to sex with the instructor. (See linked article.)

They begin by citing one recent example of improper behavior--John Friend founder of Anusara Yoga taking sexual advantage of his prominent position in the yoga field who announced he is stepping down as the leader of one of the world's fastest-growing versions of yoga so he can engage in "self-reflection, therapy, and personal retreat." To cynical me, all very yoga-sounding.

But deeper in the article the ever-thorough Times , in the weekly decidedly non-gossipy Science Section, claims that from its beginning in medieval India, modern, or Hatha yoga began as an offshoot of Tantra and that at its heart Tantra seeks "to fuse the male and female aspects of the cosmos into a blissful state of consciousness." Again, to the cynical part of me, though this too is yoga-sounding, at least it is derived from the spiritual origins of yoga. Far from what apparently goes on in John Friend's ashram.

Tantric cults were often steeped in symbolism and who knows what else. According to the Times again, one Tantric text encouraged devotees to "revere the female sex organ" and enjoy "vigorous intercourse."

Hatha was devised as a way to speed up the Tantric agenda. Its various poses, deep breathing, and simulated sex acts were used to hasten "rapturous bliss."

But about 100 years ago, the founders of yoga as we now know it did what they could to purge Hatha yoga of its Tantric "stain," concentrating instead on improving fitness and health.

That sounds good to me. But obviously not to Mr. Friend, who, by his practices, appears to be a yoga fundamentalist, wanting yoga, at least for him, to be returned to its Tantric roots.