Thursday, May 31, 2012

May 31, 2012--The Digital Divide Revisited

Walking the streets of Manhattan it looks as if the digital divide, of great concern during the 1990s, has been bridged.

Pretty much everyone is so hooked up to something digital that bulky people texting while dodging cars and buses are another traffic hazard. Unless you give them wide berth they are as likely to crash into you as rampaging taxis and, increasingly, bicyclists.

The concern then about the divide was as much cultural as socioeconomic. The evidence was clear--affluent folks were two or three times more likely to own or have access to computers and wireless devices than low-income people. Of special concern was the divide between children--without access to the increasingly essential Internet, the digitally deprived would fall further and further behind those who could Google or get help with their schoolwork from Wikipedia.

Forget emailing and texting--back then social networking still meant actually talking with flesh-and-blood friends. Not Facebook's virtual version.

Government officials and progressive foundations worried about this and so did people who wanted to sell us things. The more Americans who had the capacity to go on line the better Amazon would do. So telecommunication companies were required to expand low-cost broadband access to inner cities as well as rural communities, particularly to schools and libraries.

As a result, the United States is doing better, but access inequalities persist--though 65 percent of all families have broadband access at home, only 40 percent of households with annual incomes of less than $20,000 do while half of Hispanic and 41 percent of African-American homes lack broadband connectivity.

This is just the beginning of the story. There is yet another equally worrisome divide.

According to a recent article in the New York Times, Internet-connected lower-income children are wasting more time on line than more advantaged youngsters.

In households where neither parent is a college graduate, kids spend an hour a day more playing video games, Facebooking, texting, and watching TV than children who have better educated parents. An astonishing 11.5 hours per day as compared with "only"10 hours for other youngsters. And this gap is widening.

Further, since less well educated parents are not as computer literate as more affluent adults and since they have less time to spend with their children because they have to work more jobs to stay afloat, they aren't as able to monitor what their children are up to while on line.

There is a current TV commercial in which a mother pokes her head into her son's bedroom to check to see what he's doing on his computer. She asks something like, "How's your homework coming, Jimmy?"  He quickly clicks on Wikipedia, hiding the fact that he's been surfing what we presume are Websites where child predators are lurking.

These real threats aside, spending all day on YouTube is not a good thing.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

May 30, 2012--Compassion

"What's missing is compassion," I said to our friend Rich over coffee at Balthazar. "Remember the notion of compassionate conservatism?"

"Indeed I do. It was well expressed during the Bush presidency." Rich said, "With No Child Left Behind. Recall when George Bush said that children learning to read was a civil right?"

"At the time I was very impressed. In fact when Congress passed the law, with Ted Kennedy taking the lead in the Senate, when I was invited to the White House to attend the signing ceremony, though I had voted for poor Al Gore and am a lifelong liberal, I eagerly attended and enthusiastically applauded the president."

"With all its flaws that was the best of compassionate conservatism," Rich said.

"So what happened?"

"September 11th and all that followed from that, very much including but not unrelated, in 2008, the collapse of the economy."

"How's that?"

"Fighting two wars on borrowed money contributed to the recession and over time things got so partisan that they pushed compassion aside."

"It became." I said, "every person for himself. Or herself. Like in The Hunger Games, which I know you had a big hand in bringing to public attention."

"Yes, a dystopia emerged where scarcity--except for the top five or ten percent--caused a breakdown in the Golden Rule. Ironically while the society became more religiously fundamentalist."

"Doesn't that always happen? That compassion is harder to sustain when times are hard?"

"Usually, yes, but during the Depression Roosevelt got Congress to pass compassionate legislation--Social Security, unemployment insurance, public works."

"That was historically unusual. To be so generous when times were desperate."

"There was also a great deal of fear. Not just among individuals but also that the entire system of capitalism was threatened. That people were so despairing and hopeless that they would overthrow the economic system and bring about socialism or, worse, communism."

"But what about other times when progressive or compassionate polices were instituted?"

"Harry Truman's Fair Deal," Rich reminded me, "and Lyndon Johnson's Great Society were politically possible only because the economy at the time was doing fairly well."

"But then?"

"At other times when it was doing poorly, as now, fear and self-interest took over. Another way to track this," Rich said, "is to look at public attitudes toward immigrants--legal as well as illegal. All sorts of anti-immigrant quotas became law during hard times early in the 20th century. But after Ronald Reagan embraced policies that helped bring the country out of the Carter recession he got Congress to agree to grant amnesty to undocumented people. Something Republican's today conveniently forget. And during the Clinton years, when the economy was even stronger, there were bipartisan calls to be compassionate toward all immigrants."

"True, but look at us now."

"Right," Rich said, "at the state and national levels there is a mean-spirited approach. Seal the borders, round them up, and send them home. Even during the Obama presidency, during his first three years, more undocumented immigrants have been deported than during all eight Bush years."

"Another thing Republicans pretend isn't true."

"We need a truly progressive taxation system," Rich said, even though, I knew, if we had one he personally would have to pay many thousands more in taxes, "But just as important--perhaps more important--we need a progressive compassion system."


"Meaning that when things are at their worst for average Americans we should be at our most generous. Empathy should be at its height when conditions are most dire."

"Who is it who said that the measure of a civilization is how it treats its weakest members?"

"I don't recall," Rich said, smiling, "but I wish it had been me."

Getting up to leave, I said, "It just was."

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

May 29, 2012--"Shop Around"

At a recent town hall session, Mitt Romney was asked about the bill stalled before Congress that, if passed, would keep student loan rates fixed at 3.4 percent rather than, as of July 1st, doubling.

He hemmed and hawed for a few moments before suggesting to the student questioner that if he didn't have the money to go to college, rather than expecting the government to pay for him, he should "shop around" to find a college he could afford. Presumably a technical or community college. Romney did quickly add, that if you serve the country by joining the military then "of course" it was all right for the government to provide financial assistance.

Not surprisingly, he didn't talk about how neither he nor any of his five sons had to do any shopping around for a less expensive college nor did he or they have to join the army, putting their lives and bodies at risk in order to get any help from Uncle Sam. (Incidentally, none of the six of them for patriotic reasons opted to join up.)

Then late last week, to show he cares about education, not just making money and allegedly creating jobs in the process, he issued a 35-page white paper and made a speech about schooling.

About what to do to improve public education there is not much difference between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. They both continue to cling to policies that have not been proven to work--actually, that have been proven not to work: Vouchers, charter schools, and high-stakes testing is their answer to how to reduce educational inequality.

Vouchers to help low-income children pay for private schools have been around for many years and all careful assessments of whether or not they contribute to closing achievement gaps indicate that low-income kids attending private schools with vouchers do not do any better than those "left behind" in public schools. And rigorous assessments of how well charter schools do sadly indicate that not only do they drain talent and resources from other public schools but about a third of their students are more likely than comparable students not enrolled in charters to do poorly. It looks as if charters in too many instances have a negative impact on student attainment.

But persist Obama and Romney do in insisting that this is the way to go to improve public education.

However, one important thing they do not agree about is what to do about federal government guaranteed college student loans.

Though kicking and screaming Romney finally came around to the view that is is not a politically good idea to allow rates to double to 6.8 percent while mortgage rates hover just below 4.0 percent and banks are paying less than 1.0 percent on CDs, he does want to re-privatize college loans.

A bit of student loan history--

Before Obama took office the government loaned banks the money to make loans at very low rates--about 1.0 percent. The banks in turn made student loans recommended by colleges' financial aid offices--in other words, the banks did no due diligence whatsoever before issuing the loan checks. Thus, they incurred almost no administrative expenses.

Interest accrued during the four college years and after graduating students paid the banks back at rates ranging up to 6.0 percent per year. More than 95 percent of students paid back their loans in full. In those cases where they defaulted, the government paid what was owed plus interest back to the banks. Thus, these loans were called "guaranteed"--the students weren't guaranteed the loans but the banks were guaranteed the profit.

In sum--the banks got essentially "free" money from taxpayers via the federal government, they cut the checks after doing no diligence, and they were guaranteed payback plus a good return on their "investment."

Sound like free enterprise to you? Sounds like a version of socialism to me.

Obama changed all that. The banks were cut out of the picture--as was their automatic profit--and the money saved by the Department of Education making the loans (at a savings of about $6.0 billion a year), was pumped back into the financial aid mix. As a result lowest-income students who were eligible for Pell Grants saw the maximum allowable grant more than double. Which helped assure that like the Romney boys they too would not have to "shop around" for low-cost higher education.

From his Bain Capital days, where working the tax system via special loopholes (more corporate socialism) was the basic MO and low-cost government money was used to leverage buy-out deals, Romeny wants to bring back the same kind of taxpayer-subsidized system to, as he puts it, get the government out of the student loan business.

And, as he now thinks it alright to keep student loan interest rates at 3.4 percent, he and his Republican colleagues want to "pay" for that (getting "only" 3.4 percent rather than the previously preferred 6.8 percent), according to the New York Times, by "abolishing an Obama adminisration preventive health program."

This kind of approach is right out of the Ryan Budget playbook--take your pick: do you want students to be helped to pay for college or do you want to help people get annual medical checkups?

You choose because you can have both.

This is a literal, vivid example of what America would look like under a Romney-Ryan administration.

Friday, May 25, 2012

May 25, 2012--Extra-Long Weekend

I am being lazy but will return on Tuesday.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

May 24, 2012--What's Fair Is Fair

The Obama camp has their pants in a bunch. Because of what Newark mayor Cory Booker said on Meet the Press last weekend. He really stepped in it. Probably ruining his own political future and seriously denting the ulta-controlled Obama campaign.

In case you missed it here's what Obama-supporter Booker said:
I have to just say, from a very personal level, I’m not about to sit here and indict private equity. To me, it’s just we’re getting to a ridiculous point in America, especially that I know I live in a state where pension funds, unions and other people are investing in companies like Bain Capital. If you look at the totality of Bain Capital’s record, they’ve done a lot to support businesses, to grow businesses. And this to me, I’m very uncomfortable with. 
The last point I’ll make is this kind of stuff is nauseating to me on both sides. It’s nauseating to the American public. Enough is enough. Stop attacking private equity. Stop attacking Jeremiah Wright.
His comments about Bain Capital not only are already being featured in ads for Mitt Romney, but they are undermining the Obama attack on Romney's self-proclaimed primary asset--at Bain he created jobs while Obama, in the White House, failed to do so.

Romney doesn't want to talk about being governor of Massachusetts, where under his leadership tens of thousands of jobs were lost (Massachusetts ranked 47th out of 50 states in job creation during his tenure) but he does want to tout his Bain experience.

Obama's people will remind us about Massachusetts, but Obama himself, and Joe Biden, are enjoying taking shots at Romney's time at Bain.

Now they have to deal with what Booker said. Some of this includes moaning about how "unfair" it is for Romeny to be jumping all over the mayor's comments. He isn't running for president, right? So why make a big deal over what he said?

But aren't Booker and what he said fair political game? After all, he had been anointed by the Obama campaign as one of their designated surrogates. He's urban, he's cool, he is (was) a rising star in the Democratic Party, and of course his a crossover African American who appeals as much to white people as black folks.

This complaining about how Romney's campaign is being unfair fails to mention that they has hitherto been gleeful about running ads with video of what Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich said about Romney during the primary race. Why is it OK for them to do that while out of the other side of their mouths decrying Romney's doing the same thing?

I see little difference. Just hypocrisy.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

May 23, 2012--Onanism

Sensing that the current Supreme Court may strike down all or part of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), further, feeling that perhaps the Court is so ideologically and politically conervative that it will look favorably on all challenges to Obama's initiatives, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (the political arm of the Church in America) has joined a host of non-church catholic institutions in a law suit to overturn the Obama's administration's requirement that places such as Georgetown University and Notre Dame not be required to allow their healthcare insurers to pay for contraceptive services for their employees--even though the institutions themselves are not beíng asked to pay for them.

Their argument, one that we have heard recently--that this infringes on religious freedom and the separation of church and state--conveniently ignores many issues.

First, some of these same players are not such defenders of the separation of church and state when it serves their purposes. For example, they claim we are a Christian nation and the Constitution does not say anything about issues such as prayer in school. Thus, they would like to reinstitute it. They say, get the government out of the classroom and get it out of telling us what kind of healthcare we need to provide.

Places such as Notre Dame and Georgetown, to be consistent about keeping the federal government out of their business, would make a better, consistent case if they turned down all forms of governmental involvement.

If they did, half their students would have to drop out because they couldn't secure federally guaranteed loans or Pell Grants. If it weren't for all the government contracts and grants they have secured through the years, they would have to shut down most of their research projects. And their hospitals would go out of business if it weren't for Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements. All taxpayer funded.

Further, what is this centuries-long obsession about contraception? There is very little in the Bible that addresses the issue.

Yes, God calls for humans to "be fruitful and multiply." And also in Genesis, and only there, there is one story that can be construed to be about contraception--the story of Onan and his sister-in-law, Tamar.

After his brother, Er, died, his father, Judah, directed Onan to impregnate Tamar so that the family line would continue. (His father, by the way, did not tell Onan to marry Tamar--just to get her pregnant.)  Onan is then described as having out-of-wedlock sex with her but withdrew before he ejaculated, "spilling his seed on the ground." As a result, God killed him for his "wickedness."

That's it: two references wide open to interpretation by biblical scholars--be fruitful and multiply and, claimed subsequently by the Church to apply all men under all circumstances, do not spill your seed on the ground.

Ironically, there are three forms of birth control permitted to observant Catholics--their preferred, abstinence; second, the rhythm method; and, if all else fails, coitus interruptus--or onanism.

The good news--none of these require medical insurance. Nor does the onanist have to be put to death.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

May 22, 2012--Vav-Chip

While flipping through Monday's New York Times, there, unexpectedly in the first section, not the sports section, was a picture of Citi Field, home to the New York Mets, filled to the rafters.

"They're covering the Mets as news?" I wondered out loud.

"What are you talking about?" Rona asked, half interested. "Did anything newsworthy happen there?"

"Not really," I said, "expect maybe considering their no-name lineup they're doing better than than $200-million Yankees. Could be that that's worth a news story."

"Let me see," she reached across to snatch the paper away from me.  "Look at this more carefully, the stands are filled with ultra-orthodox Jews."



"There to watch the Mets play the Blue Jays?  But aren't the Mets on the road up in Toronto?"

"How would I know. You know I don't like baseball, except the Yankees when Mariano is pitching."

"All these Jews were at Citi Field on Sunday," I said, looking more closely at the paper, "it seems for a rally--let me see if I have this right--yes, to oppose the use of the Internet."

"It's not Kosher or something?"

"Not exactly. It was because of all the 'filth' on the Internet, as the rabbis told the crowd. And it was a big crowd. At least 40,000. Ironic, since average attendance there when the Mets play is only about half that. In fact, it says here, the organizers also had to rent nearby Arthur Ashe Stadium to hold the overflow crowd of another 20,000. Incredible."

"Let me see," Rona again took hold of the paper. "Just as I expected."

"What's that?"

"They only allowed men to attend. The rebbes think they know their flock. Just men are interested in 'filth'? They'd be horrified to know about what goes on these days at bachelorette parties."

"What does go on at those parties? Chippendale dancers?"

"You're so out of it. That was 50 years ago."

"So now . . . ?"

Ignoring me, Rona said, "If they wanted to they could have segregated the women up in the stadium's third tier. In the cheap seats. Just like in the shuls where the women are relegated to the balcony and have to sit behind a curtain. So the men praying below won't see them and be tempted."

"Listen to this one," I said, having retrieved the paper, "to make sure everyone could hear and understand their exhortations the rabbis had their words projected on the Jumbotron screen, which usually flashes 'Let's Go Mets!'"

"My favorite thing," Rona offered, looking over my shoulder, "is that one the sponsors of the rally was Ichud Hakehilos Letohar Hamachane--not exactly a household name--but a company that sells software that filters out 'inappropriate' Internet content for the ultra-orthodox."

"Sort of like a Jewish V-Chip?"

"From the Hebrew alphabet, the Vav-Chip."


Monday, May 21, 2012

May 21, 2012--Boring White Guys

This is how Mitt Romeny's shortlist of potential vice presidential candidates is being described. With the exception of Marco Rubio, Florida's Cuban-American senator, the list includes white guys such as--

Swing-state Senator Rob Portman of Ohio. Not a household name but then again neither was Dan Quayle when George H. W. Bush plucked him from obscurity and look how well that turned out. Though most close political observers concluded that Bush managed to get elected more on Ronald Reagan's coattails than because Quayle brought youth and energy to the ticket. Yes, he had great hair; but like Palin he was not noted for his gray matter. Remember his famous, "A mind is a terrible thing to lose"?

Portman, unlike Quayle, probably does know how to spell "potato," but what is he best known for? Before he was elected to the Senate he served as the younger Bush's Trade Representative and then head of the Office of Management and Budget, and we know what happened to the budget during Bush's tenure--the deficit more than doubled because spending under Bush-Portman surged out of control. This on his resumé is not what Romney needs.

Then there is the equally bland white-guy governor of Indiana, Mitch Daniels. Though he is known as a deficit hawk, largely by laying off tens of thousand of Indiana teachers and other state workers, he is better known nationally as also having served as the head of Bush's OMB. And, another deficit, he doesn't have big hair. Rather he has a very obvious comb-over. Not quite the confection that is Donald Trump's. His feels too retro even for backward-looking Republicans.

Former governor of Minnesota Tim Pawlenty has been widely mentioned. Unlike Daniels he actually did a pretty good job during his time in office. He balanced the budget and didn't get in trouble trashing all unionized workers. But he doesn't look like or come off as a potential commander in chief. He's too milquetoasty and has a pencil-tin neck. It's too bad, but necks as well as hair count these days.

Then of course there is the governor of another key swing state, Virginia's Bob McDonald. Selecting him would probably not just put voters to sleep during his speeches but also would remind them--especially women--that he presided over the passage of the new Virginia law that mandates that women seeking abortions have sonograms so they can see the toes and fingers of their unborn fetuses. The last thing Romney wants to do is get himself into more trouble with women voters. McDonald, then, is a non-starter.

One governor who could spice up the ticket is New Jersey's Chris Christie. Not your usual GOP boring white guy. Though Jersey Shore continues to be popular and The Sopranos was a must-see, Christie could wear thin quickly when under a national spotlight. What's fun about him--his seeming naturalness and tough vernacular--after the jokes begin to sound stale and predictable, our enjoying him might turn into concern about what kind of person we want one heartbeat away from the presidency--a cartoon character or someone who knows something about the world. And after voters stop chuckling at him, they might note that he is more pro-choice than the Republican base would like. He's no Bob McDonald.

So what about Marco Rubio, the Cuban-American senator from the biggest swing-state of them all, Florida?  He is among the most highly-touted of potential VP wannabes. Polls show that he would help Romney in Florida but not in other important states where Obama has huge poll leads among Hispanics. This should remind non-Hispanics that not all Latinos are alike. There is great diversity among them, with Mexican-Americans, Puerto Ricans, and Latin-American Americans far out weighing Cuban-Americans. And there is not that much interest among these Hispanics in what Cuban-Americans are about, To them, for example, Castro is not so much of a big deal. Then there are all sorts of financial corruption charges circulating around Rubio. How he played fast and loose with campaign funds. The ever-cautious Romney doesn't need this kind of grief.

But after finally watching the movie Game Change that focused on John McCain's selection of Sarah Palin as his running mate, I had some additional thoughts about what Romney might do to boost his chances in November.

In retrospect, as ditzy as Palin turned out to be, let's recall that after McCain choose her and especially after her remarkably effective acceptance speech at the GOP convention, the game did in fact change--the McCain-Palin ticket soared to the lead in the polls.

 It was only after Palin revealed herself to know nothing about anything (remember her disasterous interview with Katie Couric where Palin said she read "all" the newspapers and Tina Fey really went to work on her) that Obama-Biden retook the lead.

So, since Romney has problems with independent women voters, what would selecting Condi Rice do for his ticket?

She would strengthen his foreign policy cred. But, I know, forget it--she would link Romney to her boss, George W. Bush, and she is too wishy-washy about abortion to satisfy the fervent Republican base. (Again recall that McCain didn't pick his actual first choice--Joe Lieberman--for the same reason and then without any vetting choose Palin.)

What then about Governor Nikki Haley of South Carolina? She's ethnic--from a South Asian family but also a Christian, which could do Romney's white-bread image some good. She is the first person of color and the first woman ever to have won statewide office in this bastion of conservatism. But since she was elected there have been some potentially damaging stories about her having been loose with her taxes and that she may have a history of fooling around with members of the press and even staffers. So much then for Governor Haley.

OK, back to Romney's having difficulty attracting Hispanic, non-Cuban-American support. What would selecting a female, Mexican-American do for him? That would check off two demographic categories. Assuming, of course, that he could find one with the appropriate level of experience who actually knows something about Russia. And reads the New York Times.

Perhaps perfect for him would be to reach out and pick Susanna Martinez, governor of swing-state New Mexico.

Thus far she is operating a little below the national radar; but if she checks out--and so far she does: as yet no skeletons have been found in her closet, there do not appear to be any boy or girlfriends hovering, no pending tax fraud charges, no hanky-panky with campaign funds, and she doesn't claim she can see Russia from her front porch--again, if she can pass scrutiny, she could prove to be the ideal running mate.

She sounds perfect to me. A real game-changer. Think about it--a Romney-Martinez ticket could actually turn out to be a winner.

I am hoping, therefore, that he selects Joe Lieberman. He's retiring from the Senate and needs a job. And has terrific hair.

Friday, May 18, 2012

May 18, 2012--No Mocking Matter

If you watch Saturday Night Live, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, The Colbert Report, Real Time with Bill Maher, MSNBC, any of the network late night talk shows, or follow liberal blogs such as the Daily Kos you would think that Mitt Romney is more a subject for ridicule than a serious candidate.

We hear endless jokes about his now infamous family trip to Canada with his dog strapped on the roof of the car and about his daily gaffs--"Corporations are people, my friend"; how he pals around with NASCAR owners; offers to make $10,000 bets; and how he likes to "be able to fire people."

He deserves to be criticized for these and even held up to mockery, and maybe it's OK for Al Sharpton on his MSNBC show to insist on calling him "Willard," Romney's actual first name (though it wouldn't be cool to call Barack Obama by his actual first name--"Barry"); but these folks, if they want to help reelect Obama, had better start taking Mitt Romney seriously.

After a bruising Republican primary campaign during which Romney was dismantled by Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, a campaign that focused on the predatory capitalism of Romney's old company, Bain Capital, and how the hated Obamacare is actually modeled after Massachusetts Governor Romney's Romney-Care; and now after similar attacks on Romney by Barack Obama and especially Vice President Joe Biden, how is Romney actually doing?

One would assume not very well.

In fact, he is doing exceptionally well--

During April his campaign raised almost as much money as Obama's--and I am not talking about his PAC groups which are out-raising Obama's by at least three to one--and all the national polls have him either in a statistical dead-heat with Obama or leading.

With the economy likely to continue to be uncertain and with a still large undercurrent of racism, Romney's candidacy is no laughing matter.

No matter how terrible a candidate Romney appears to progressives and comedians to be, no matter how funny all the jokes, unless he is taken seriously, he has a very good chance of winning in November.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

May 17, 2012--Facebook Junk

Of course I can't prove it's not a coincidence, but during the weeks leading up to Facebook's Initial Public Offering (IPO), I have been bombarded by a wave of on-line, unsolicited advertisements.

My e-mail Junk Box has been fuller than ever. Whereas previously I would receive about a dozen a day, I have been inundated daily by at least three-times that number.

The reason I am suggesting Facebook may be responsible for this intrusion is because, during the run-up to the IPO, investors and Wall Street wonks have been raising questions about Facebook's ability to make money from all the information they have about their nearly 1.0 billion users.

The only way to cash in from the data they have gathered about us is through targeted ads on our Facebook pages, selling our personal information to others, or by eventually branching out--perhaps like Amazon--to sell us stuff. Recall, Amazon started out selling just books. Now you can buy almost everything there, including, they announced last week, designer clothing.

I of course liked it better when Amazon was in the book business, but admittedly at that time they were losing money.

You be the judge. Here's a sample of the junk e-mails I received this morning: They promise to show me "Photos of 50-plus Senior People Near Me!" 
Mate1, where I can "View Photos of Beautiful People In My City!" 
The LASIK Vision Institute where they offer "LASIK Vision Specials Starting at $299 Per Eye!" Act Now! they urge. that promises I can "Pick Up a Healthy Habit that Feels Good!" 
AIG Direct Inc. The U.S. government-bailed-out insurer offers "$750,000 of Term Life Coverage for Less Than $32/Month!" 
The next one, considering Mate1 and, comes as no promises that I can "Search Singles Online Free!" 
And then there is something called the Pimsieur Approach SPANISH that will help me "Break the Language Barrier in Only 10 Days!"

What's to be gleaned from this?

Clearly that I am old (the LASIK and SeniorPeople pitches) and that, this time wrong, they assume I am single.

On the other hand, since I've been married for nearly 30 years maybe they sense I'm ready to . . . .

What is it that Facebook's artificial intelligence software knows about me that has not as yet registered in my consciousness? I hate to think.

In the meantime I'll look up the HotTub folks. My achy bones could use some hot-tubbing.

And I should also stop worrying about Zuck the wunderkind. He'll be worth a few billion by 4:00 Friday afternoon. Maybe then he'll check out JDate. He'll be quite a catch.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

May 16, 2012--Obama at Barnard: Take 2

I woke up yesterday morning to the latest polling results:
Mitt Romney's support among registered voters who are women has grown and is slightly above President Barack Obama's, according to a poll released Monday. The CBS News/New York Times poll shows Obama's support among female voters dropping five points over the last two months, from 49% to 44%. Romney is up 3 from 43% to 46% within that coveted demographic, according to the survey. The margin is still within the survey's sampling error, however. 
What's going on here, I thought, well before I could get some caffeine into my system. Considering his policies that attend to women's issues, and Romney's opposition to them, shouldn't Obama be well ahead?
As I thought about this, I wondered that perhaps Obama's focus on equal pay for equal work, contraception, women's health care, and abortion, though these positions resonate for all the women I know, maybe that is his problem--they relate to the kinds of women I know more than to the kinds of women I do not know.
I was reminded of the possibility when I thought back over last Sunday's Chris Hayes' show on MSNBC. On first viewing I thought it to be excellent--on Mother's Day he had a panel of primarily feminist authors who spoke with uncommon insight (at least for TV) about the contradictions and tensions in women's lives as they struggle to balance work, family, and child-rearing responsibilities.
But on second viewing I realized that though from time to time Hayes or one of his guests speculated that some of these issues were class, race, and ethnically-based, and therefore not necessarily generalizable, his panel did not include any Latinas or anyone who could talk about women's issues from the perspective of the unemployed or working poor.
And then on Monday there was Obama's commencement address at Barnard College, one of the few remaining women's colleges.
My first take was that it also was excellent. For me he hit all the right notes as he challenged the nearly 600 graduates to think of themselves as roll models as they embark on careers and in doing that they should strive to seek seats at the head of the table.
He reminded them than more than half of all college grads are women as well as more than half of all those earning masters degrees and doctorates.
I couldn't have said it better, so I thought.
But then again I took a second look at it and came to feel that though he was attempting to speak to all women, and many men as well, if I were a women struggling to make ends meet, if I had never been able to go to much less complete college, if I were worrying about losing my house and my office job, I wouldn't be thinking about becoming the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, something Obama also referenced at Barnard.
From this perspective his speech seemed tone deaf and even politically counterproductive. This unconscious elitist attidude could help explain why he is losing ground with women while people like me find ourselves puzzled.
Better, the Barnard speech could have been his version of a Sister Souljah moment. 
Rather then concentrating so exclusively on the kinds of things on the minds of Ivy League graduates he could have said something that included the following:
Like you, I went to an exclusive college--Columbia right across Broadway. Like you, though we may have had to struggle to pay the tuition and do well, with our degrees, even in the current economy, we have significant advantages. For this we should consider ourselves fortunate. 
But, and this is a very big but, there are millions of young people in America who, though they are willing to work hard, do not have our advantages. 
In many cases they are again forced to move back to live with their parents because they can't find jobs or make enough money to pay rent and their student loans. There are millions more who never got a chance to go to college or had to drop out to work to support themselves or their families. 
There are further, millions of single mothers who are not any older than you who are facing even more daunting challenges.
In other words, you--and I--have done well and will most likely continue to do so. 
But let's not fool ourselves as to how far our privileged example can be thought to represent the truth. 
With that awareness what do I recommend?
First, acknowledge the complicated truth about your and other's lives. Understanding the truth is always a good place to begin. 
Then, do everything you can to help raise awareness about the implications of these inequalities. 
And, if you are inclined, and I hope many of you will be, find things to do--full or part-time--to show respect for and work to improve the lives of those less fortunate. The vast majority of Americans.
I am not a speech writer (as should be evident from this!) but Obama is an excellent one and has a brilliant staff to help him. 
What was missing at Barnard, however, wass an awareness that can reach those who are disenfranchised and are entitled to be heard and to feel an emotional connection to their leaders and to the rest of us who are, in spite of everything, managing to do well.
Like those of us who might have tuned in to Chris Hayes on Sunday or listened in on Obama at Barnard. 

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

May 15, 2012--Government Regulations

From Bloomberg News:

President Barack Obama's “tsunami” of new government regulations looks more like a summer swell. Obama’s White House has approved fewer regulations than his predecessor George W. Bush at this same point in their tenures, and the estimated costs of those rules haven’t reached the annual peak set in fiscal 1992 under Bush’s father, according to government data reviewed by Bloomberg News.  
The average annual cost to businesses under Obama is higher than under his predecessors, the Bloomberg review shows. The increase is estimated to total as little as $100 million or as much as $4.1 billion, or at most three one-hundredths of a percent of the total economy.

There has been, though, a tsunami of criticism of Obama's regulations policies. It is claimed by political opponents that it is because of these liberal, anti-business policies that the economy is stalled.

It may be closer to the truth that the economy in certain sectors is stalled because of shenanigans such as those recently revealed by JPMorgan Chase. Investment abuses that could in fact have been prevented with the proper kind of, sorry, regulations. The Volcker Rule, if passed by Congress, would have prevented that.

But what is being prevented is the passage of the Volcker Rule itself thanks in large measure to the heavy-handed lobbying of JPMorgan's ever-arrogant CEO, Jamie Dimon.

Monday, May 14, 2012

May 14, 2012--Ladies of Forest Trace: Uncle Ben & Danny

“I am feeling much better.” It was my 104-year-old mother calling. “I know you gave me up for dead; but as who-was-it said, ‘The reports of my death have been exonerated.’”

“I think it was Mark Twain, mom, who said the reports were exaggerated.”
“He’s one of my favorites. I’m almost old enough to remember when he died.”
“I know you’re doing better. Everyone who knows and loves you was so worried. You seemed close to . . .
“Close to nothing good. I had almost given up. Everything seemed hopeless. No matter what I tried didn’t help. Though you should have realized I wasn’t ready to go because every Thursday I still had Anna come over to do my hair.”
“I did notice that and it did give us hope.”
“So now I’m on borrowed time. Not that that hasn’t been true for years. After all, how many people live this long?
“Not that many; and, except for episodes like the one you experienced in April, very few even close to 104 are in such good shape.”
“You call hobbling around with a walker and half the time not knowing what day it is good shape? I’d hate to think about what bad shape would be for you.”
She chuckled at that, which induced a brief spell of coughing, and the laughter as much as anything else was encouraging. Back in April, among other things that had changed for her had been her almost total loss of humor.
“If I ever get to be anything approaching your age I hope to do as well as you.”
“I won’t be around, but we’ll see what you’ll say if you can’t catch your breath after going to the bathroom.”
“Still, mom . . .”
“But that’s not why I called. To talk about going to the bathroom, though I could say a thing or two about that.”
“There doesn’t have to be a reason to call, you should . . .”
“I know, you say, ‘Call whenever I want.’ But I don’t want to interfere in your lives. You and Rona need to live your lives and not be thinking about me all the time.”
In fact, we try to do that, but it’s not always easy being close to her during winters and now living at some distance. “At least,” I keep saying to her, “we’re always in the same time zone and if we’re needed we can be there in just a few hours.”
But not to get into thoughts of that kind yet again, I asked, “So why then did you call?”
“Because I was thinking about Ben. Your father’s brother. Your Uncle Ben.”
“I think I know why.”
“I haven’t thought about him for such a long time. He died so many years ago, poor thing.”
“He wasn’t such a poor thing, mom. He was a gentle soul and came into his own—forgive me for saying it—when his mother died.”
I thought--more death and dying mothers. At this stage of my life, and hers, I suppose this is inevitable.
“Yes and no.”
“Yes and no what?”
“He didn’t exactly come into his own then. A gentle soul, yes, but into his own, no.”
“After his mother was gone didn’t he have his friend Danny come to live with them; and didn’t they . . .”
“They did though no one, not even his brothers and sister ever talked about or acknowledged Danny. Except to make fun of him. Because, they said, he was from Mexico. Not because of the other thing.”
I knew what she meant but asked anyway, “The other thing?”
“We’re too old, the both of us, and the world has finally changed enough so we don’t have to talk this way about such things.”
“I agree.”
“I have been thinking about Ben again this week and Danny, who in fact was a wonderful person, because of what the President said about marriage. Actually, I prefer the way Joe Bitten talked about it—how it begins with love.”
“I agree with that too. How Vice President Biden framed it.”
“It’s not just about what to tell children with two fathers, as Obama said. Though this of course is very important. Ben and Danny didn’t have children. At that time that too would have been impossible. Your Uncle Ben, who was a public school teacher, would have lost his job if Danny was known to be more than his Mexican friend.”
“I know.”
“The girls were talking about this last night at dinner. Before Canasta. How for women—and some of the ladies were Suffragettes—and for colored people, I mean black people, there was no place to hide. No closet. Isn’t that what you call it? The closet?” I nodded, “When we tried to get the right to vote, when they did, there was no place to hide. To be invisible. Want to or not, everyone was on the front lines. Which was very hard. But that also made it good.”
“I’m not following you. Hard but good?”
“Hard is obvious, but as Fanny said yesterday, because we had no choice. We felt we had to get involved. We couldn’t let ours sisters carry the burden alone; and for black people discrimination followed them everywhere and so, want to or not, everyone, even if they didn’t march or say a word about civil rights, they couldn’t just disappear into the background.”
“And for Ben and Danny?”
“They could pretend they were just friends. Housemates after your grandmother died and there was an extra bedroom. Her bedroom. What an awful lie they felt they needed to live. Yes, there was a place for them to go to hide the truth—no one could know for certain what they were by just looking at them. But that truth was just that they loved each other. That was their crime. But in doing that, by lying, they denied to the world who they really were. You would call it their identity. No?”
“I would.”
“And so I was thinking about them since last week when President Obama finally said what he said. What they would have thought. And would if anything have done. There is of course no way to know. Ben died nearly 30 years ago and at that time it took great courage to come out of the bedroom.”
“You mean closet.”
“Yes, yes, and to stop lying about yourself. It was very dangerous to do so. And of course no politician then would have been talked about marriage. Hardly any of them at the time had the courage to say publicly that two men or two women could love each other in that way. It was considered a sickness. To most others, a sin.”
“Sadly true.”
“Again last night, one of the girls, Esther, who knows her religion, asked if any of us knew what Jesus said about same-sex love. Did he consider it a sin?  No one knew. What about you? Do you?”
“Yes, but I prefer you tell me what you and the ladies discussed.”
“That Jesus said nothing, not one word about it. So, Esther asked, why are all those preachers going around talking about homosexuality as an abomination? If their Jesus didn’t have a problem with it.”
“Good question,” I said, “But there is, though, in Leviticus, in the Old Testament, talk about how men lying with other men should be killed.”
“I know something about Leviticus. Number 18, I think Esther said it is. But most of what is prohibited is incest. Admittedly a terrible thing, and it also calls for those who commit it to be put to death. I think it says stoned to death. About this I am hearing nothing. Or about the dietary laws in Leviticus. How come Jerry Falwell isn’t telling his people not to eat shrimp?”
“Maybe because he died about four years ago.”
At this my mother got a good laugh. “I’m not happy he died, but to think about him talking about lobster and bacon makes me laugh.”
“But it does sound to me like a selective reading of the Bible.”
“The word is hypocritical.”
“Yes, that.”
“I’d have more respect for these so-called reverends if, as Fundamentalists, they would speak about incest and oysters as much as they do about homosexuality.”
“They do talk about incest but only when they want to deny women the right to an abortion even if their fathers made them pregnant.”
“We are getting off the subject,” my mother said, “And I am beginning to feel a little tired.”
“So tell me more about what you have been thinking about Ben. Uncle Ben.”
“I’ve been thinking about how when we visited he would sit alone in the sun porch where he had all his books. To sit at the kitchen table with his mother and sister and brothers, where they would make fun of him, about what kind of a man was he to be teaching children. Shouldn’t he be doing something more manly. Which of course was code. And what about all his books. He always, they said, was hiding behind his books. Again, what kind of man did that?”
My kind of man,” I said. “It was Uncle Ben and my 6th grade teacher, Mr. Ludwig, who turned me into a lifelong reader. It’s only because of them that . . .”
“And didn’t you have something of the same problem?”
“What same problem?
“I hate to remind you, but how did your own father feel about your reading?”
“Oh, that. He much preferred to see me playing basketball. I think he was afraid that if, like Ben, I became devoted to books I would turn into a . . . “
“And what are the ladies saying about Obama?”
“About him the girls are feeling very good. To tell the truth they don’t all agree about this marriage business but they do agree that they are very proud of him. It is reminding them why they voted for him. To do, to say these kinds of things.”
“And you?”
“If I’m still alive, I’ll be working hard again to make sure they all vote for him.”
“So Florida . . .”
“Exactly. But I have to run. I mean try to get myself and my walker downstairs for dinner. Tonight I’m sure they’ll want to talk about what that Romney did to that poor boy in high school.”
“I’m interested in hearing that. But go. There’s always tomorrow.”
“Easy for you to say.”

Friday, May 11, 2012

May 11, 2012--Flexible Funding

About twice a year I hear from my bank, Citibank.

Usually it's to let me know that they are raising their fees for overdrafts or require a higher minimum balance for my checking account. But every once in awhile there is something in the mail that they say is to inform me about an improvement in service or a special offer because I am a "valued customer."

As an example of the former, last year they wrote to tell me they were improving service for clients who have safe deposit boxes.

"To serve you better," the letter began, "access to your safe deposit box will be from 10:00 to 2:00 on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays."

This sounded good to me--I always appreciate improvements in service--until Rona pointed out that at present access to safe deposit boxes was during all banking hours--from 8:00 to 4:00. "How is this serving you better? They're cutting their costs by cutting hours and have the chutzpah to claim it's to serve you better. If I were you, in protest I'd switch to my bank, HSBC."

"You mean the one that's about to get out of the retail banking business? Then what will we do?"

Then there are the special offers available only to Citibank's "valued customers. People like me, I suppose, since I recently received one.

The letter began--"Dear Steven Zwerling" and I was duly impressed. Here is one of the world's largest banks and they know my name.

It continued:

"Recently, we've been speaking directly to valued customers like you, to learn what you want most from your banking relationship."

Also good--Citibank is "speaking directly" to us to actually listen to customers in order to find out what we value so they can improve our "relationship." In a heartless world how comforting it is to know such relationship are so valued.

"Read on," the always skeptical Rona said.

And so I did:

"That's why we are proud to announce our Custom Credit Line, designed for customers like you. Custom Credit makes it easy to borrow, and makes your banking relationship more rewarding."

I looked up at her with a self-satisfied smile. "You're always so cynical. Can't you see they value me and our relationship and want to make things more rewarding for me?"

"This I have to see," Rona said, "Keep reading."

So I did:

"Get the funds you need, when and how you need them," the letter continued in bold type. "With credit lines from $1,500-$50,000. Your Custom Credit Line is a highly flexible, easy-to-access account. It lets you spend the way you want on the purchases that matter most--whether it's a much-needed home repair or that one-of-a-kind gift for someone special."

"That could be you," I said, again smiling.

"Keep going," Rona said, "you haven't gotten to the fine print yet."

"Which would be . . . ?"

"You're so gullible. How much they'll be charging valued customers like you to make your relationship with Citibank even more rewarding."

"Let me see. Oh, here it is," I muttered.

"Speak up, I can't hear you. What the APR rate?"

"Twenny-poin-four-nin," I mumbled.

"How much? You're mumbling.

"Here. See for yourself." I handed the letter to Rona and started to go downstairs.

Before I could, feeling good about herself, she read, "20.49 percent. Now that sounds rewarding to me. And I can see that anyone who would agree to this would be a very valued customer indeed."

"And an idiot," I added sheepishly.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

May 10, 2012--What the Hell It's For?

In his epic biography of Lyndon Johnson, in the just-published 4th volume, The Passage of Power, Robert Caro writes--

But although the cliché says that power always corrupts, what is seldom said, but what is equally true, is that power always reveals. When a man is climbing, trying to persuade others to give him power, concealment is necessary: to hide traits that might make others to be reluctant to give him power, to hide also what he wants to do with that power; if men recognized the traits or realized the aims, they might refuse to give him what he wants. But as a man obtains more power, camouflage is less necessary. The curtain begins to rise. The revealing begins. 
When Lyndon Johnson [as Senate Majority Leader] had accumulated enough power to do something--a small something--for civil rights in the Senate, he had done it, inadequate though it may have been. Now suddenly [after John Kennedy had been assassinated], he had a lot more power, and it didn't take him long to reveal at least part of what he wanted to do with it. On the evening of November 26, the advisors gathered around the dining room table in his house to draft the speech he was to deliver the following day to a joint session of Congress were arguing about the amount of emphasis to be given to civil rights in that speech, his first major address as President. 
As Johnson sat silently listening, most of these advisors were warning that he must not emphasize the subject because it would antagonize the southerners who controlled Congress, and whose support he would need for the rest of his presidency--and because a civil rights bill had no chance of passage anyway. And then, in the early hours of the morning, as one of those advisors [Abe Fortas] recalls, "One of the wise, practical people around the table" told him to his face that a president shouldn't spend his time and power on lost causes, no matter how worthy those causes might be. 
"Well, what the hell's the presidency for?" Lyndon Johnson replied.

In that speech, just five days after Kennedy's assassination, Johnson said--

"No words are strong enough to express our determination to continue the forward thrust of America that [John Kennedy] began. This is our challenge . . . to continue on our course. . . . No memorial oration or eulogy could more eloquently honor President Kennedy's memory than the earliest passage of the civil rights bill for which he fought so long. We have talked long enough in this country about equal rights. We have talked for one hundred years or more. It is time now to write the next chapter, and to write it in the book of laws."

This is what the presidency's for.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

May 9, 2012--Mr. Ludwig

Until 6th grade I was a non-reader. That is, except for comic books. To them I was addicted. I pored over Batman, Captain Marvel, and ravenously Superman but not anything from the library or suggested by my teachers.

Still I did well in school, largely, I suspected at the time, because my mother taught 1st grade there--PS 244--and her colleagues either felt sorry for me or, more likely, because Mrs. Zwerling had such a pitiable son.

I was remembering this the other morning while watching Morning Joe. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan was a guest, there to celebrate Teacher Appreciation Week. Joe Scarborough asked all five of the panelists if they had a favorite teacher in elementary school. Without pausing they each in turn recalled someone from 5th, 6th, or 7th grade who had a transformative impact on their lives. None got into the specifics but each recollection was fraught with obvious emotion.

As was mine as I thought back over my 6th grade year in Mr. Ludwig's class.

To this day I do not know why he singled me out for special attention. He was not a particular friend of my mother's. So it wasn't out of collegial empathy. Perhaps it was because I was tall for my age and he was the coach of the school's basketball team. Or perhaps, I like to believe, he saw some yet-unrevealed potential in me. Not just the fact that I was already more than six feet tall and thus destined to become the center of the Rugby Rockets, the eventual Brooklyn-borough championship basketball squad.

While getting me to practice my two-handed jump shot after school each afternoon, Mr. Ludwig subtly got me thinking about books. He perceived from my interest in super heroes an impulse toward a bolder life for myself beyond the limits and constraints of life in East Flatbush and the conventionalizing  agenda being pursued by my parents and extended family, all of whom wanted me to be a "good boy."

"I think you might like Two Years Before the Mast," he said after an especially successful workout--he knew I was feeling good about sinking two hook shots in an intrasquad game. "It's quite an exciting story."

When I didn't shrug off his suggestion, he said, "I'll see if the library has a copy." And two days later, after practice, as I was about to leave the gym, he surreptitiously slipped me a copy. When I got home and took it out of the manila envelop I discovered that it hadn't come from the library but that it was a new copy with an inscription--

In the hope that a young man will find adventure here.
Burt Ludwig

I did not know what first to note--the young man, when I very much still considered myself a boy. Or the Burt, at a time when no one knew the first names of any of their teachers. Or, I suppose in retrospect, what he meant by Yours.

The book sat on my bedside table for more than a week buried beneath a stack of Supermans. Never once did Mr. Ludwig--Burt Ludwig--ask if I had begun to read it much less if I was enjoying it.

Then, perhaps more not to disappoint him than out of eagerness to read the book--even such an unexpected gift--I finally extracyed it from the pile and tentatively--with considerable nervousness began to read--

The fourteenth of August was the day fixed upon for the sailing of the brig Pilgrim on her voyage from Boston round Cape Horn to the western coast of North America. As she was to get under weigh early in the afternoon, I made my appearance on board at twelve o'clock, in full sea-rig, and with my chest, containing an outfit for a two or three years' voyage, which I had undertaken from a determination to cure, if possible, by an entire change of life, and by a long absence from books and study, a weakness of the eyes, which had obliged me to give up my pursuits, and which no medical aid seemed likely to cure.
Immediately I was drawn in. Not that I required a respite "from books and study"--obviously quite the opposite--but because I too was beginning to imagine myself spending a year or two, or even more, across a closer, more modest body of water--the East River that separated Brooklyn from Manhattan. A journey of my own that I was eager one day to experience and would be my version of encountering the exotic.

Indeed the book turned out to be a transporting adventure that ultimately helped shape my own life as it more ambitiously and famously had changed Richard Henry Dana's.

He wrote about his two years before the mast, working as a common crew member aboard the aptly-named Pilgrim as it left Boston, sailed down the coast of South America before swinging around Cape Horn during the Antarctic winter, a winter of vividly described storms and terrible beauty, including looming icebergs and the scurvy that ravaged fellow sailors.

When I finished, which did not take more than a very few days--I could not put it down--I brought it back to Mr. Ludwig in the same manila envelop. "Thanks for letting me borrow this," I said after class and before practice. "It's the first real book I ever read," I confessed, as if he did not already know that, "And I plan to go to the library to see if there are any more books by him."

"I'm sure there are," Mr. Ludwig said, tousling my hair, "Including one about a journey around the world. But this book is yours," he handed it back to me, "to keep."


"Yes. And I hope during a long lifetime it will be the first of many."

Which in fact it turned out to be. Especially after I moved to Manhattan.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

May 8, 2012--Lower Back

Doing electrical work at floor level, I strained my back and sitting here presents some difficulties. Nothing serious and so I expect to be return tomorrow with something to say about Teacher Appreciation Week.

Monday, May 07, 2012

May 7, 2012--The Roberts Court

Last August, when heckled in Iowa about corporate taxes, Mitt Romney famously shot back, "Corporations are people, my friend." 

He was not endorsing the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision which in effect said the same thing--that corporations, like people, are constitutionally allowed to make unlimited contributions to political action groups. The free speech provision of the Constitution, Justice Kennedy for the majority wrote, applies to corporations in their peopleness. (My word, not his.)

Romney added, "Of course they are. Everything corporations earn ultimately goes to people." He choose not to point out, however, that this barely applies people such as himself who earn $20 million a year and pay less that 15 percent in taxes.
Though he was not referring to the effect of Citizens United on the electoral process, he and his PAC groups have been major beneficiaries of the SC decision: hundreds of millions of dollars of unrestricted corporate campaign contributions have flowed to his PAC groups which in turn have been able to run seemingly unlimited numbers of negative ads attacking his rivals--first Republicans and now President Obama.
As a sidebar, this is also true for Obama's PAC groups, though the total amount of money raised by Romney supporters dwarfs Obama's by more than 3 to 1
In Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the Supreme Court held that corporate funding of independent political broadcasts in elections cannot be limited under the First Amendment, overturning previous SC decisions. In effect they ruled that corporations are people. 
This view of corporations is not new--it goes back to the earliest history of the United States, but the SC's allowing corporations to participate in this direct way in national elections is in fact quite new.

Meanwhile, the Roberts court is seemingly also set to continue chipping away at what might be construed to be other individual rights. 

They are hearing an appeal to uphold Arizona's strict new anti-immigration law--Senate Bill 1070. I say seemingly chipping away because during recent oral arguments it was clear to knowledgeable observers of the Court that at least five justices are prepared to sustain the appeal.

SB 1070 "requires law enforcement, when making a lawful stop, detention, or arrest for another law, to make a reasonable attempt to determine the person's immigration status where reasonable suspicion exists that the person is not lawfully present in the country."

It also authorizes a peace officer to arrest a person "without a warrant on probable cause that the person has committed a public offense that makes the person removable from the country."

If a majority does in fact uphold the essence of the Arizona law, at least 25 other states are set to pass anti-immigrant statutes of their own similar to SB 1070.

Then there is the Affordable Care Act, more widely known as Obamacare. 

The Court again appears poised to find much of it unconstitutional. Especially the individual mandate which requires everyone not already covered to purchase health insurance by 2014. 

The question in this case will center around the SC's contemporary interpretation of the meaning of the Commerce Clause of the Constitution.

Health care constitutes 18.2 percent of America's Gross Domestic Product and is truly interstate by even the most casual definition. One may be insured in Ohio but can receive treatment in California; one's medication may be manufactured in New Jersey but purchased and used in Florida; a CAT scan machine may be manufactured in Massachusetts but shipped to and used in Nebraska.

Other than defense spending nothing is more interstate than the health care industry.

So why shouldn't we expect the SC to rule overwhelmingly that the economics of healthcare is as interstate as the Army?

If previous Court decisions have held that even wheat grown on one's own farm for one's own use is controlled by the Commerce Clause (Wickard v. Filburn in 1942), why wouldn't it be consistent to conclude the same thing about national health care?

My view--because in regard to this matter and the others cited the Roberts court is making decisions based more on political ideology than a strict interpretation of the Constitution. 

For justices who claim to be "strict constructionists," as opposed to "legislating from the bench," these decisions are right out of the Republican playbook. 

Recall how a similar mix of conservative-ideologue justices ruled 5-4 in 2000 to take the presidential election out of the traditional hands of the states (specifically Florida) and, ignoring the 10th Amendment in Bush v. Gore, handed the presidency to George W. Bush.

Citizens United, SB 1070, and the Affordable Care Act are just the latest examples of what Justices Roberts, Scalia, Thomas, and Alito are doing to American history and traditions--trampling them.

Friday, May 04, 2012

May 4, 2012--Day Off

Much to do, too little time. I will return on Monday

Thursday, May 03, 2012

May 3, 2012--It's Pakistan Stupid

The debate about President Obama's commitment to keep American forces in Afghanistan for at least the next 12 years is missing the essential point.

Obama couldn't say it explicitly Tuesday evening in his speech to the nation, but the real reason we are there is not to prop up the corrupt Karzai government, wipe out the heroin poppy crop, or even to keep the Taliban from putting women back in berkas and removing girls from school--it is because of where Afghanistan is . . . geographically: right next door to Pakistan.

We need to remain in the neighborhood so that we have access to al-Qaeda sanctuaries in Waziristan and require bases in Afghanistan to launch drone attacks across the border.

Further, Pakistan is, for other reasons, the most dangerous place in the world.

We worry about the possibility of Iran obtaining nuclear weapons in a year or two or three; but Pakistan already has 90 to 110 nukes and the systems needed to deliver them.

Even more worrisome is the possibility--not at all a remote one--that Islamic militants will overthrow the Pakistan government and thereby, in an instant, have all the atomic weapons they need to thoroughly terrorize the West.

I hate it but that is the new reality and why we need to maintain a large presence in Afghanistan, including well into the future.  After all, more than 65 years after the end of WW II, we still have 54,000 troops in Germany and 28,500 in Japan; and, since the 1950s, at least 29,000 in South Korea.

So add Afghanistan to that realpolitik list.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

May 2, 2012--Euro-Style

Except for some snide tone, this piece by Andrew Leonard at Salon is worth reading.

Indeed—why hasn’t Mitt Romney been talking about Europe and how Barack Obama wants to turn America into a European-style “social welfare state.” 

Perhaps because Europe isn’t working. Figuratively as well as literally:

An odd thing happened during Mitt Romney’s victory-lap speech after Tuesday’s Republican primaries: He didn’t once mention the word “Europe.”  The absence was jarring, because Romney’s claim that President Obama is dragging the United States toward a loathsome European-style “social welfare” future has been a staple of the former Massachusetts governor’s shtick ever since he started campaigning in earnest.  
It’s always been an easy line for him: Europe, Romney’s audience understands, is the land of the not-free. The continent gave birth to Karl Marx, for crying out loud! Every now and then, socialist political parties actually take power! But there is a big problem with Romney’s formulation. For the last year or two, Europe has been implementing, in real time, exactly the policies that Romney and congressional Republicans fervently believe are the best strategy for boosting economic growth. It’s called “austerity,” and it means cutting deficits, slashing spending, and chipping away at all those goodies the social welfare state provides.  
And guess what? It’s not working. Compared with the United States, Europe is in shambles. Unemployment is rising across the continent. Just this week, the United Kingdom, which has pursued an austerity regime so severe that it makes House Republicans drool with lust, slipped back into recession. In France, the socialist candidate for president (and likely winner), François Hollande, has been campaigning against austerity. Italy’s prime minister, Mario Monti, is expressing qualms. The latest news out of Brussels, according to the Daily Telegraph, suggests “a major shift in economic strategy” as fears spread “that excessive fiscal tightening will inflict unnecessary damage on a string of eurozone countries.” 
The evidence keeps amassing. Maybe, just maybe, John Maynard Keynes was right: Cutting government spending in the face of a weak economy is a recipe for further decline.