Friday, November 22, 2013

Observations 11.21

I have to be very careful what I say here because I don't want to take anything away from what I said a few days ago. Florida Congressman Trey Radel is a hypocrite, of that there is no doubt, I stand by everything I wrote. While watching a video of Radel's press conference I found myself feeling compassion for a man who seems to have, or had, little of the same for people in his own condition. Sometimes in life events hit a little too close to home, for him and for myself. I don't need to get into my story, suffice to say I know how it feels. If you need to know that's what tags are for, you can find it, it's all in here somewhere.

My problems with Radel begin with his vote to require food stamp recipients be drug tested. To what end? Would he deny or revoke someone's food stamps if they tested positive for a substance? Maybe if they didn't seek some sort of Congressional mandated treatment because we know Radel thinks government should stay out of people lives. But wait, food stamp recipients are obviously poor, probably have no health insurance, and Radel is against the Affordable Care Act. Who is going to pay for tests or treatment? It's a stunningly crafted catch 22 for the poor.

Trey Radel stood in front of the cameras, the slightest hint of tears in his eyes, and asked for redemption and forgiveness. As he exited his press conference a reporter either began to ask a question or simply made a statement by saying " you voted to drug test people who have food stamps." The words hung in the air as Radel walked out and never looked back.

He asked for the very things he isn't willing to give the poor and I have a problem with that.

notes - Radel began rehabilitation in Florida Thursday afternoon, he has never raised the idea of resigning, and plans to take a leave of absence from Congress until just the end of  the year. He faces a maximum 160 days in jail for misdemeanor cocaine possession.

Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, also from Florida, told the Washington Post, "I don’t presume what is best for him. Other members have gotten in trouble. There but for the grace of God go all of us, perfect only God. I’m careful not to cast stones, because I live in a glass house as all of us do." Obviously this too doesn't include the poor.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Observations 11.20

Hypocrite, according to the Urban Dictionary, a person who engages in the same behaviors he condemns others for.

This morning Republican Rep. Trey Radel of Florida pleaded guilty to possession of cocaine. Radel, a freshman congressman, had been arrested in Washington earlier this month as he purchased cocaine from an undercover agent and also had cocaine in his apartment. Radel will enter in-patient treatment in Florida and has already been seeing a drug counselor in Washington. In court today Radel’s lawyer, David Schertler, said the congressman has been in treatment at the Executive Addiction Disease Program.

As the Pope said, who am I to judge, unless ....

Last month Radel voted in favor of the House version of the farm bill which included a provision that would require food stamp recipients be drug tested.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Observations from the Coffee Shop 11.19

Last week I started a post about our broken political system, which turned into a vent about Obamacare, and I wanted to get back to that. Yes the system is broken, it's not really a question open to debate, but what is startling is how much of it has nothing to do with the times or the economy but is by pure Republican design. There is a very good article in the latest issue of Rolling Stone that explains it all very clearly and is worth reading. Rather than get into it I'm posting some highlights of "How Republicans Rig the Game" and hoping that's enough to get you to read the entire article.

Illustration by Victor Juhasz for Rolling Stone
Something to keep in mind, yes gerrymandering  has gone on forever but not in the nationally planned, calculated, well funded, and computerized way it was after the last census.

"National Republicans have waged an unrelenting campaign to exploit every weakness and anachronism in our electoral system. Through a combination of hyperpartisan redistricting of the House, unprecedented obstructionism in the Senate and racist voter suppression in the states, today's GOP has locked in political power that it could never have secured on a level playing field.

"Explicit racial gerrymandering is illegal under the 14th Amendment and the Voting Rights Act. So Hofeller used a proxy for race, redrawing boundaries by identifying the wards where President Obama received the highest returns in 2008. According to court documents, this approach 'allowed black voters to be carved apart from their white neighbors and friends, on a block-by-block basis.'

"Pennsylvanians cast 83,000 more votes for Democratic U.S. House candidates but elected a 13-5 Republican majority to represent them in Washington; Michiganders cast over 240,000 more votes for Democratic congressional candidates than Republicans, but still elected a 9-5 Republican delegation to Congress. In Wisconsin Republicans prevailed by a five-to-three margin in House seats despite losing the popular vote by more than 43,000. In Ohio, only 52 percent of voters cast ballots for Republicans, but thanks to maps drawn in a Columbus-area Doubletree Hotel, referred to by GOP operatives in court documents as "the bunker," John Boehner's home-state delegation swings 12-4 for the GOP.

But gerrymandering only effects the House, the problems of the Senate are Republican made with the aid of the founding fathers. When the Constitution was written the largest state, Virginia, had 10 times the population of the smallest, Delaware, while today California has 65 times the population of Wyoming.

"Half of the U.S. population now resides in just nine states. Which is to say that the other 50 percent of Americans control 82 votes in the U.S. Senate.

"In today's Senate, 41 small-state Republicans can mount a filibuster on behalf of 28 percent of the country. And the departure from historical practice is shocking: LBJ faced one filibuster as Senate majority leader. Harry Reid, the current majority leader, has faced more than 430. Nearly half the filibusters of executive-branch nominations in the nation's history – 16 of 36 – have occurred under Obama."

The scariest idea of all may be the Republican one that would restructure the electoral system which decides presidential elections. Personally I think the entire system is outdated in the extreme and should just go but the Republicans have an idea of their own. Electoral votes would be divided among a state's congressional districts instead of on a state by state winner take all basis. Due to the above mentioned extreme gerrymandering under that system we would have a President Romney today.

But, frustrating as this rigged political system has become, there is always hope as the final lines of the article show.

"The GOP may have postponed its day of reckoning at the hands of a younger, browner, queerer electorate, 'They're holding back the tides,' says Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics, but sooner or later, they're going to get swamped."

Read the article than vote whenever you can.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Sunday Observations 11.17

Even though I've been told Halloween doesn't count the holiday season is fast approaching. You can tell by the damn store displays which only means the music can't be far behind. Actually I don't mind Christmas music, I have about a thousand songs on my iTunes but I only listen to them in the month of December, sometimes July. But this is all besides the point because I didn't bring up the holidays to talk about music, I have something in ways in rather extraordinary to report. Due to holiday commitments I needed a dress, yesterday I went dress shopping, I bought two dresses because my shopping partner and I couldn't agree and I wasn't about to go a second time.  One dress is black while the other is slightly longer and black, enough on the matter. That should be enough dresses to last me the rest of my life but now I may need shoes.

It being Sunday I should stay away from politics but this in a way combines sports and politics. The Washington football team should just change their name now before they are forced to do so. Longtime owner Dan Snyder says he never will change the name but NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell might soon have other ideas. The reasons given for not changing the name include tradition, as if it always having been called the 'Redskins' makes it right, and the team losing money. The latter reason is laughable because of all the new name merchandise the team could sell.

While I'm picking on Washington football I'll mention their quarterback Robert Griffin III, known to the world as RG3. Until he learns how to play football and wins something please just call him Robert. Robert is like the second coming of Cowboys' quarterback Tony Romo, another whom the world anointed savior and one the greats but Romo has yet to win anything that matters. Romo has won just one playoff game in his ten year NFL career and is probably better known for dating Jessica Simpson a few years ago.

Joe D. Horse Capture, currently Associate Curator at the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian, had a novel idea. Instead of changing Washington's name change its emblem, to a red potato.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Observations from the Coffee Shop 11.15

The system is broken, so totally broken that at times I have been shying away from politics. That's not completely true because I can only shy away for a short time before I'm right back in it but it says something that even I just want to run away sometimes. When you watch any main stream news everything has to be reported in apocalyptic tones while on the panel shows they endlessly debate the same thing, usually the wrong thing. Obamacare is just the current example.

The talking heads endlessly debated a broken website when in fact there was no debate, it didn't work very well. Anybody who has ever worked on the web knows that a large website never works well at first, remember Twitter's ever present fail whale? Now the debate has moved to people who have gotten cancellation notices from their insurers, also no debate here because they did. What nobody mentions is that in many cases the notices come from greedy insurance companies looking to make a fast profit and blame Obamacare because, you know, everything is Obamacare's fault. The people totally lost in the debate are the tens of millions who have no health insurance at all.

Politicians and talking heads making hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars a year have the best insurance policies their or their employers money can buy. They don't have to worry about not going for care because they don't have insurance. They don't have to worry about not going to a doctor because they spend so much for their insurance they don't have the money for a co-pay. They don't have to worry about anything at all.

One thing to remember when discussing healthcare is that Republicans have no plan of their own other than the good old way. They don't want to fix Obamacare, they don't want to adjust it, they don't want to use it as a starting point, they want it gone. The good old way is to have the most expensive system in the world, spend more per capita than any other nation on Earth, and as a reward for all that spending have the 39th longest life expectancy. That puts the U.S. behind every European country, Canada, Japan, and South Korea. All those countries with the hated socialized medicine. Also ahead of the U.S. are Hong Kong, Israel, Chile and Cuba.

I think whenever there is a debate or discussion about healthcare at least one person involved in the discussion should be somebody with no health insurance at all. That way maybe, just maybe, we could have an honest discussion about this mess.

note - This wasn't meant to be an Obamacare vent, it just ended up that way. I was going to write about the broken system because I just read a good article on why the system is the way it is, because that was the Republican plan all along. I'll get to that later.

update - Just a small update and not of the good kind because my life expectancy number was off a bit. The number I used was a five year average. Yesterday afternoon I saw a tweet from Mother Jones' David Corn that included a link to the CIA's World Fact Book. The CIA estimates that in 2013 the U.S. will finish 51st in life expectancy, worse than the number I had used and putting among others Jordan, Greece, and the European Union (as a whole ahead) of us. I think a well done is called for.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Observations from the Coffee Shop 11.12

This is another update of sorts. I've read a lot of memorials, tributes, and good-bye's since Lou reed passed away but two stick out and I wanted to share them.

The first is from The New Yorker and was written by Patti Smith. "Before I slept, I searched for the significance of the date, October 27th, and found it to be the birthday of both Dylan Thomas and Sylvia Plath. Lou had chosen the perfect day to set sail, the day of poets, on Sunday morning, the world behind him." Smith also told The Hollywood Reporter, "We all owe him a debt. Most of us that owe a debt are not very happy to own up to it. Sometimes you like to imagine that you did everything on your own. But I think with Lou, everyone will stand in line to say 'thank you,' in their own way."

The second is from The New York Times, "The Real-Life Stories Told in ‘Walk on the Wild Side," and was written by Times culture reporter Guy Trebay. "That was the era of fun for fun’s sake, fun art," Viva said, referring to the world and city of "Walk on the Wild Side." "I have no idea what kids do for fun anymore."

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Observations from the Coffee Shop 11.9

I thought I would take a minute to update some of my recent posts.

On Tuesday Illinois became the 15th to legalize same sex marriage. Governor Pat Quinn has announced that he will sign the bill on November 20 at the University of Illinois with marriages beginning June 1, 2014.

As was expected when I posted Thursday morning the U.S. Senate passed ENDA, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, later that afternoon by a vote of 64-32. Ten Republican Senators voted for the bill. ENDA has now passed the Senate for the first time and is supported by President Obama along with a majority of Americans. However ENDA is not supported by House Speaker John Boehner and it's unlikely the House will ever vote on it. In calling for a House vote Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he thought Republicans would have to allow a vote "if they have any hope of having a president candidate that can be a viable candidate or they think they can elect some Republicans and they want to hang onto the House."

Meanwhile the Aloha State of Hawaii is on the verge of becoming the 16th state with same sex marriage after the Hawaiian legislature passed it's bill 30-19 early Saturday morning east coast time. The Hawaiian Senate will vote and likely pass the House's amended bill on Tuesday and Governor Abercrombie will sign it. Maybe because of the time difference, or because it came after the celebration of Illinois, the vote in Hawaii just doesn't feel as good as some of the others. I try to follow these state debates as much as possible, the Hawaiian special session has been downright exhausting and at times hateful.

At other times the session became a farce as over 5,000 witnesses testified and 30 amendments were proposed by same sex marriage opponents, most simply to slow the inevitable passage as long as possible. One amendment would have created a task force to further discuss the impact of marriage equality. Further discussion twenty years after the Hawaiian Supreme Court first ruled on same sex marriage, a ruling that started the marriage equality movement, and after 57 hours of testimony this week. Other 'highlights' included an out lesbian representative voting against marriage equality, more recesses than a first grade class in summer school, and the argument that marriage equality would scare away Asian tourists. My favorite quote came from Republican Representative Bob McDermott who argued, "people of religion are now the minority, they're the ones we never take care of."

As I said the Hawaiian Senate will pass the bill next week, the Governor will sign it, and Hawaii will become one of the sweet sixteen. You just have to smile and say mahalo to the Hawaiian Legislature.

Current betting is on New Mexico becoming number 17.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Observations from the Coffee Shop 11.7

Later today, possibly early afternoon, the full U.S. Senate will vote on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act which would prohibit discrimination in hiring and employment on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. First proposed in 1974 ENDA has been submitted to every Congress since Senator Edward Kennedy introduced it to the Senate in 1994. It has failed to pass both Houses of Congress every year and this year probably won't be any different. ENDA should pass the Senate with a clear majority but I don't see it getting a vote in the House where Republican Speaker John Boehner is once again scared of his own shadow. Boehner, whose office likes to tweet with the hashtag #FairnessForAll, said Monday he wouldn't bring the bill up for a vote.

In a poll taken in May 73% of those polled favored some kind of job protection while only 22% were against it. In a recent poll, which I can't seem to find, 80% of those asked actually thought it was already illegal to fire someone for being gay. It should be noted that even in Mississippi, the state with the lowest level of support, 63% support protection. Boehner's usual claim that a bill will cost jobs is mute because most large corporations have rules against such discrimination and 21 states ban it.

I just wanted to take a moment this morning to honor the 29 states where it is still legal to fire someone because of their sexual orientation. It is legal to fire someone for simply being born.

Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wyoming.

Well done.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Observations 11.5

Today Illinois became the fifteenth state to legalize same sex marriage and couples may begin applying for marriage licences on June 1, 2014. I'm sure I could write more but I think champagne is called for so I'll leave it to President Obama.

The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release November 05, 2013

Statement by the President on Marriage Equality in Illinois

Tonight, I applaud the men and women of the Illinois General Assembly, a body in which I was proud to serve, for voting to legalize marriage equality in my home state.

As President, I have always believed that gay and lesbian Americans should be treated fairly and equally under the law.  Over time, I also came to believe that same-sex couples should be able to get married like anyone else.  So tonight, Michelle and I are overjoyed for all the committed couples in Illinois whose love will now be as legal as ours – and for their friends and family who have long wanted nothing more than to see their loved ones treated fairly and equally under the law.

I also commend the members of the General Assembly for approaching this issue in a fair and open way, and for recognizing the importance of our commitment to religious freedom by engaging the religious community in this conversation.  Throughout this debate, they've made it clear that this is about civil marriages and civil laws, and made sure that churches and other institutions of faith are still free to make their own decisions that conform to their own teachings.

As I said in my Inaugural Address last January, our journey as a nation is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law, for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.  And tonight, I’m so proud that the men and women elected to serve the people of the great state of Illinois have chosen to take us one step further on that journey to perfect our union.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Observations 11.4

The Winter Olympics in Sochi begin in 94 Days.

"Russia’s law makes it unclear whether public displays of affection, coming out on television by mentioning an athlete’s loved one, or even hugging your partner after winning the gold medal could result in fines or deportation. Putin would like us to think gays and lesbians are welcome during the Olympics, but no one will feel safe and welcome while this law is in place," Andre Banks co-founder of All Out.

What if living your dream meant living a lie?

Published on Nov 4, 2013

Russia is in the midst of a violent crackdown against lesbian, gay, bi and trans people - fueled by laws that make it a crime to be open about who you are and who you love. The Olympic games are our best chance to end to Russia's outrageous anti-gay laws -- but to do it, it's going to take lots more of us to hear about what's happening in Russia. Watch this beautiful 2-minute video, and please share it with your family and friends.

La Russie est en proie à une répression violente contre les personnes lesbiennes, gays, bi et trans -- alimentée par des lois anti-gays qui rendent illégal le simple fait de parler en public de son identité. Les Jeux olympiques sont notre meilleur espoir de mettre fin à ces lois anti-gays -- mais pour réussir, nous devons être beaucoup plus nombreux à parler de ce qui se passe en Russie. Découvrez cette magnifique vidéo de deux minutes et partagez-la avec votre famille et vos amis.