Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Damn Data

It's like the teleprompter thing: like Barack Obama is the only president who ever used one. But this insane trope is even more widely bazooked by teabagging crazy people. Every time our president takes a couple of "vacation days," they scream the scream of the screaming screamer. His "kind" are lazy, donchaknow, is the sub-rosa whistle. And yet it's stupid and demonstrably false on every level: There's never been, and probably never will be again, a president who took as many days "off" as GW Bush.

Like most presidents, Obama invariably will be criticized for taking time off for a vacation — and, in this case, to a wealthy enclave in deep blue Massachusetts. 
But Obama has taken far less time away from the White House than his predecessor, George W. Bush, who spent weeks at a time at his ranch in Crawford, Texas. Obama has taken 87 days off, compared with 399 days for Bush at a similar period in his presidency, according to CBS News’s Mark Knoller, who keeps detailed records of presidential travel.

And, of course, in defense of all of them, it's not like a president is ever really off, or out of reach. Still, the strident stereophony from the right about Obama's trips to Hawaii or M. Vineyard are even more pathetic than most of their bogosity.

[Image source]

Grading Grades

Addressing problems in public education is a worthy enterprise, and lots of people buy into the idea of charter schools as a solution; even people capable of thinking -- i.e. liberals -- have jumped on board in many areas, including my state. In theory, why not give them a try, right? But the problem is in the execution. First and foremost is that the main drivers are conservatives who fear actual education, who'd rather have the opportunity, on the public dime, to diseducate their kids and keep them free from the effects of learning to think for themselves. (Maybe the biggest problem is the ability of charter schools to select the brightest and most advantaged kids, leaving the rest in ever-disintegrating remainder schools.) There are, of course, many well-intentioned people behind the charter school movement, and many that do very well. Still, the main movers, as seen from my perch, are those with a conservative/religious agenda. Gotta get rid of that evolution stuff, and get god back at the lectern.

Lots of studies have questioned the superiority of charter schools, but they remain the teabagging ideal. So it's interesting to learn what happens, at least in a particular instance, when one of them fails to perform, and when it's run by a big Republican donor.

... And that's when things got interesting. The Associated Press reported yesterday that Tony Bennett -- Indiana's former schools chief who has since become Florida's education commissioner -- "frantically overhauled" its school grading system last fall in order to ensure the Republican donor's charter school got an "A," even though it earned a "C."
[T]rouble loomed when Indiana's then-grading director, Jon Gubera, first alerted Bennett on Sept. 12 that the Christel House Academy had scored less than an A.
"This will be a HUGE problem for us," Bennett wrote in a Sept. 12, 2012 email to [then-chief of staff Heather Neal, who is now Gov. Mike Pence's chief lobbyist]. Neal fired back a few minutes later, "Oh, crap. We cannot release until this is resolved." [...]
A weeklong behind-the-scenes scramble ensued among Bennett, assistant superintendent Dale Chu, Gubera, Neal and other top staff at the Indiana Department of Education. They examined ways to lift Christel House from a "C" to an "A," including adjusting the presentation of color charts to make a high "B" look like an "A" and changing the grade just for Christel House. 
Wait, did that say Bennett and his team looked at "adjusting the presentation of color charts" to make a "B" look like an "A"? Yes, yes it did. 
Oh, and did I mention that the Republican donor in question had directly contributed $130,000 to Bennett before he scrambled to improve the donor's school's grade? Because that happened, too...
Well, knock me over with a teabag. Fudging facts, paying off paying off. Guess this'll open some eyes, huh? Wake those people right up.

Voted out of office in Indiana, and now head of public education for the state of.... Florida. Woke up? Yeah. Right.

[Image source]

Tuesday, July 30, 2013


Whether it's how Reagan's trickle-down theories saved the country, or that he ended the Cold War, Republicans love to rewrite history. Now it's Mitt Romney's turn. His "47%" comments were taken out of context. He didn't say it, is what he told Dan Balz, in an extensive interview:
...I interjected, “But when you said there are 47 percent who won’t take personal responsibility — ” Before I finished, he jumped in. “Actually, I didn’t say that.. . .That’s how it began to be perceived, and so I had to ultimately respond to the perception, because perception is reality.”
Well, what he said was "And so my job is not to worry about those people -- I'll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives. What I have to do is convince the 5 to 10 percent in the center that are independents, that are thoughtful, that look at voting one way or the other depending upon in some cases emotion, whether they like the guy or not, what it looks like." Had he not said the "personal responsibility" thing, maybe he'd have a case. But he did. So he doesn't.

At this point, though, who cares? He's still plenty rich, his family loves him, and if it helps him to live with himself, fine. He's become, as they say, not much more than a presidential footnote. But if he's no longer the R spokesperson, he sure still does their rewrite thing like an old pro.

[Image source]

Another One Bites The Dust

A favorite claim of the Obama-haters is that Obama care will cost jobs, by forcing employers to reduce worker hours in order to avoid providing benefits. It is, of course, parroted all across right-wing media.

Comes now a report (from a "left-leaning" research institute) that contradicts the trope, based on, you know, facts:

Opponents of Obamacare say it will kill jobs, and they specifically say provisions forcing employers to offer health insurance to workers will encourage smaller businesses to cut jobs and cut hours. But a new report finds that, if anything, fewer people are working part-time this year than the year before.
The report, from the left-leaning Center for Economic and Policy Research, says data show companies have not been cutting hours in anticipation of the law. It contradicts business owners who say they’ve already started cutting back. CEPR researchers found that just 1 million workers, roughly 0.6 percent of the labor force, work between 26-29 hours a week. Two-thirds of them said they did so by choice, not because they were forced to.
I can't judge the accuracy, but it's interesting. It's also evidently the case that public pressure, i.e., the bottom line) has influence as well: the parent company of Olive Garden and Red Lobster backtracked on their plan to do the dirty, after public outcry and its effect on profit projections. (The above article mentions that, as well.)

As I'm writing for my next newspaper column, the fact that Obamacare seems to be working in those states following its requirements, suggests that maybe the honorable and patriotic thing to do would be to let it play out, see how it's going, and fix problems as they arise. As opposed to the teabaggR attempts to kill the baby in its crib.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Outrageous, I Tell You. Outrageous!!

Evidently the latest crime against decent conservatives by the Kenyan America-hater was the barring of college Republicans from attending his appearance at the University of Central Missouri. Called them "a security risk." Naturally such blatant partisanship and unfair treatment of kids merely because they're conservatives has the intertubes of the RWS™ variety abuzz with outrage. And, by golly, I have to agree with them.

Or would, if there were a shred of truth to it. Turns out they'd showed up at the last minute, after seating was full and doors had been closed and locked, as is the routine practice at such presidential events.

Outraged that the same rules which applied to those who'd waited in line for hours applied to them as well, those poor (I'm guessing) kids turned to right-wing sources of screaming, who happily trumpeted the horror. (Receiving lots of shouty right-wing screeds and claims, I have a little rule: if it sounds impossible, it probably is, and further review is indicated. Of course, to the right-wing crazies, no claim of transgression by our president, no matter how obviously improbable, sounds impossible. By choice, they have no filters.)

As the preceding link shows, and as anyone with a dozen Betz cells to rub together would deduce, the story is bullshit.

I have confirmatory personal experience. When candidate Obama spoke in Seattle before the 2008 election, my wife and I joined a huge line several hours early. It was already probably half a mile long when we got there. We waited, though, like the optimists you've come to know here, and made it to within a few hundred standees before the doors were locked. Yes, locked. Unlike those hurt little Republicans, though, we hung around to hear the speech via speakers that had been set up, and were treated to Mr Obama stopping outside the arena to talk to the hundreds of us before he went in. (Ironically, I'd missed a message from the inside inviting me (long story) to join others on the platform from which Obama would be speaking; the message had said to bypass the crowd, proceed to the main door, and ask for so-and-so. Got it too late. Went to the door anyway, showed the guard the message. No dice. So even with that sort of juju, I couldn't get in. Poor me, huh? Shoulda called my buddy Rachel.)

In their sense of privilege, their outrage at being treated like everyone else, and the willingness of right-wing media to run with the story like town criers, we see all there is to see about the mendacity that's overtaken the Republican party.

[Image source]

Me And Rachel

Being the humble type, the last thing I'd do is mention that over on The Maddow Blog a few days ago they called for limericks to be submitted after a county clerk in Limerick PA took it upon himself to start issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Brave guy, since it's still against the law there.

They got well over a hundred entries. Couple days later they had a post that listed a handful of their favorites. Not that I'm the sort to provide a link.

Afterthought, 7/30: never satisfied with anything, it's occurred to me that I should have played on "wed" instead of "love," since that was what it was about. Shoulda gone like this:

There's good news if living in Penn
Sylvania if you are men
Or women who'd wed
Each other instead
Of opposite sex: now you can.

[Image source]

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Second Thoughts, And Sunday Column

Long-time reader and appreciated commenter (well, they were all appreciated, in their rarity) Eugene in San Diego sent the above cleverly-edited pic in response to my declaration of quitting my weekly newspaper column. Other than the fact that I don't have that much hair...

Anyhow, having met recently with the op-ed editor, nice guy, scion of a well-known senatorial family around here, I guess I'm gonna hang in there a while longer. So here's today's newspaper offering borrowed extensively from my previous blog, and intended to cool the crazies for a week:

Surgeons of all specialties share certain characteristics of the job: the specificity of each task, the ability do much good, paired, like the dual faces of Janus, with the ever-present possibility of causing great harm. There’s the need to compartmentalize, the requirement to be cognizant of the human being at the other end of the knife, while focusing on the work in a dispassionate way. But, to me, there’s no surgical specialty that compares to mine, general surgery, in its variety and breadth, and in the sharing of the number of secrets the human body holds. 
General surgery is both forebear and inheritor of it all: once, there were none but general surgeons, who took on whatever was required. Hardly a relic, handling only leftovers, the general surgeon, as other subspecialties have carved off a chunk and gone in various directions, remains the one who’s capable of being the family surgeon: operating on dad’s colon cancer, mom’s breast cancer, the kids’ hernias and, later, their appendicitis, maybe, or just some little lump. Thyroid problems. Gallbladder and pancreas, stomach and bowel pathology. Adrenals, esophagi; we embrace them all, and more. 
The true general surgeon, like I was, is going the way of the dinosaur, a mere six thousand years later. For many reasons, surgical trainees are increasingly opting for narrow subspecialties, confining their practices in ways both good and bad. But that’s not my point. My aim today is to share a couple of the secrets of operating inside a belly, where hidden spaces and planes and possibilities are there for the knowing, making an operation always thrilling and, when fully understood and properly done, the most intimate art form, the beauty of which is as transient as a Buddhist sand painting, a gift to patients that they’ll never fully apprehend. And, frankly, the absence of which is unlikely to matter much in most cases: unartful surgery will, usually, get the job done. Had the body no ability to heal itself, we couldn’t even begin. 
While still embryonic, your forming intestines float outside your body, part of the remaining yolk sac. Over time, they corkscrew into the belly, applying the colon to the inner surfaces, attached at the sides, mostly free across the top, deriving its blood supply from the center. It horseshoes around the small bowel, which is much longer and freer to slither and slide, while still sharing that midline blood supply. This central connection of the colon means, with the right technique in just the right place (there’s a virtual dotted line to follow, called the “white line of Toldt”) the colon can be delivered right out of the abdomen without disturbing its blood supply. That tender process, that nearly bloodless dissection, always excited me, like I’d been let in on something extraordinary, given a key to a puzzle box. 
Nearly separate from the main part of the belly cavity lies a space called “the lesser sac.” Entry leads you to a magically pristine tiny cavern, bounded by the front of the pinkish (when unsullied) pancreas and the back of the stomach. Access is essential for any kind of stomach or pancreas surgery; once inside – again, made simpler by finding exactly the right layer of cells – you can move around unencumbered. It’s as if it was made that way for surgeons to be there. A finger-size tunnel in: the Foramen of Winslow. There are safer portals, but it’s a neat name. 
If not a passageway, how’d you like to have a maneuver named after you? Theodore Kocher, nineteenth-century surgical pioneer, did: he noticed the wrapper holding the duodenum against the backside of the abdomen, and that opening it in just the right place allowed the freeing of that first part of the small intestine, as well as ingress into dangerously important territory of big vessels, the space behind the pancreas. “The Kocher Maneuver.” How cool. 
Everything early surgeons did was new and bold; their innovations still bear their names. But, inevitably, things change. There’s nothing I did at the end of my career that was like it was when I first learned surgery. Yet some I gave up reluctantly: hand sewing bowel, the way it was invented, made me feel connected to those surgical greats; not to mention the fact that the result was a lot more beautiful than a stapled connection. And if it took a couple minutes longer, it saved several hundred bucks worth of eventual scrap. That’s a concern of which I never let go.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

The Plan

Added: Right after posting this, comes this evidence of a guiding hand, a miracle, some would call it.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Too Late

It's already here. That picture is of the North Pole:

Instead of snow and ice whirling on the wind, a foot-deep aquamarine lake now sloshes around a webcam stationed at the North Pole. The meltwater lake started forming July 13, following two weeks of warm weather in the Arctic. In early July, temperatures were 2 to 5 degrees Fahrenheit (1 to 3 degrees Celsius) higher than average over much of the Arctic Ocean, according to the National Snow Ice Data Center.

[Image from linked article]

Sabotage Or Treason?

The American Enterprise Institute is a conservative think-tank. One of its mainstays is not amused by his own party's destructive efforts:

I am not the only one who has written about House and Senate Republicans' monomaniacal focus on sabotaging the implementation of Obamacare—Greg Sargent, Steve Benen, Jon Chait, Jon Bernstein, Ezra Klein, and many others have written powerful pieces. But it is now spinning out of control. 
It is important to emphasize that this set of moves is simply unprecedented. The clear comparison is the Medicare prescription drug plan. When it passed Congress in 2003, Democrats had many reasons to be furious. The initial partnership between President Bush and Sen. Edward Kennedy had resulted in an admirably bipartisan bill—it passed the Senate with 74 votes. Republicans then pulled a bait and switch, taking out all of the provisions that Kennedy had put in to bring along Senate Democrats, jamming the resulting bill through the House in a three-hour late-night vote marathon that blatantly violated House rules and included something close to outright bribery on the House floor, and then passing the bill through the Senate with just 54 votes—while along the way excluding the duly elected conferees, Tom Daschle (the Democratic leader!) and Jay Rockefeller, from the conference committee deliberations....  
... Almost certainly, Democrats could have tarnished one of George W. Bush's signature achievements, causing Republicans major heartburn in the 2004 presidential and congressional elections—and in the process hurting millions of Medicare recipients and their families. Instead, Democrats worked with Republicans, and with Mark McClellan, the Bush administration official in charge of implementation, to smooth out the process and make it work—and it has been a smashing success. 
Contrast that with Obamacare. For three years, Republicans in the Senate refused to confirm anybody to head the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the post that McClellan had held in 2003-04—in order to damage the possibility of a smooth rollout of the health reform plan. Guerrilla efforts to cut off funding, dozens of votes to repeal, abusive comments by leaders, attempts to discourage states from participating in Medicaid expansion or crafting exchanges, threatening letters to associations that might publicize the availability of insurance on exchanges, and now a new set of threats—to have a government shutdown, or to refuse to raise the debt ceiling, unless the president agrees to stop all funding for implementation of the plan...
Elsewhere in the article, the title of which refers to R efforts as "contemptible," the author goes out of his way to say, after calling it sabotage, that the approach "is not treasonous." Interesting that he feels the need to bring the word up at all, isn't it?

[Image source]

Thursday, July 25, 2013


Maybe there's more to the story, but it's hard to imagine what. On its face, it's pretty damn disturbing:

Jeremy Scahill blasted the Obama administration on Thursday for its opposition to the release of Yemeni journalist Abdulelah Haider Shaye from prison. 
Shaye was jailed on terrorism charges after he reported on an American cruise missile strike in Yemen that killed many civilians. Though the charges were widely seen as trumped up, Shaye remained in prison at the behest of President Obama, who told Yemen's president that he should back off of a planned pardon of the journalist. 
Shaye was finally freed on Tuesday; the White House said it was "concerned and disappointed" about the release. 
Speaking on "Democracy Now," Scahill said that Shaye had been imprisoned "because he had the audacity to expose a U.S. cruise missile attack that killed three dozen women and children, and the United States had tried to cover it up." He harshly criticized Obama for pressing for his continued imprisonment.

Maybe the guy was deliberately lying to promote the cause of terrorists, in which case, it's not exactly journalism, unless you consider other water-carrying propagandists like him -- Hannity, Limbaugh, et al -- journalists. But Scahill has impressed me as brave and reliable. So, who knows? It seems it's too easy for presidents, even thoughtful ones, to go overboard in the name of what they see as protecting the US.

[Image source]

Fair Warning From One Of The Good Guys

Just as I was embedding the videos, came the news of the House narrowly voting to reject restricting the scope of data gathering. Those in favor of restrictions were many liberal Democrats, joining, ironically, with teabaggRs afraid of giving power to the black guy. The White House worked on the moderate Republicans. I didn't know there are any in the House.

[The full speech can be heard here]

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Who's Got Next?

Larry Summers? Larry "Bad with women" Summers? Me, I'd have gone with Joe Stiglitz; but being an Amherst man, he's probably too smart to take the job.

[Image source]

Tales From The Operating Room

Kevin MD, probably the most widely read and longest surviving of the medical blogs, with whom I used to have the occasional online intercourse, as it were, back in the good old days of Surgeonsblog, has been running my lengthy and multi-part series, deconstructing an operation. In which I tried to provide as much detail of colon operation as possible, to let the reader in on what happens in the OR. The latest installment has just been posted (about number five of ten). Since I don't have much to say at the moment (how much of the same old shit from the same old shitters can one take and make interesting?) I'm posting it here, for a little sampling (in addition to Kevin's site, the entire series can be found here as well):

Would you know what I mean if I describe whistling without whistling? Barely pursing the lips, making little quasi-audible windy sounds while inhaling and exhaling, in tune yet nearly silent? Unless there’s music playing, that’s what I do when I operate. And for reasons about which I have absolutely no clue, I nearly always “whistle” The Caisson Song. I’ve always wondered if anyone in the room noticed. I suppose if anyone did, they’d eventually recognize it as a sign of contentment. 
“Over hill, over dale, looks like things are going well …” 
So it’s “hi hi hee” to cut the colon free. I grasp the sigmoid again, and pull it upward then downward, looking to see where the bottoms of the loop fall, determining how much looser I need to make it before removing the damaged portion. Having mobility not unlike that of the sigmoid, the rectum can be made to stand up and out of the pelvis with a few judicious snips of its surrounding peritoneum. No matter how extensive the diverticula, they always spare the rectum. (The anatomic definition of the rectum is a little loose, not unlike the actual organ. I consider it to be the part of the colon that starts below the pelvic brim, and continues to the anus.) 
And since I’m doing the writing, in our patient the diverticula trail off markedly at the upper end of the sigmoid, as is typical, so the resection is less extensive. I unzip the white line a little higher, maybe up to above the left kidney, and achieve enough mobility to get point A to point B after the sigmoid is in a pan. And now, what used to be the most annoying part of the operation: clearing the chosen spots for division, and making them ready for the placing of clamps. 
The blood supply to the colon comes, more or less, from the center of the abdomen and radiates out like the hands on a clock. Taking the clock analogy beyond its limits, if you want to remove — as in this case — a section of colon from three to five o’clock, to get to the blood supply you make a pie-shaped pair of cuts from those numbers to the center of the dial. The difficulty is in direct relation to the amount of fat within the mesentery. Once in a while — rare enough that it makes you want to be able to record it in your brain and replay it in your dreams — you can hold the bowel up and see right through the mesentery. It takes a very skinny person. More beautiful than the wings of a mayfly, it’s spectacular calligraphy on wetted rice paper, the vessels visible in their spidery and laddered connections; clamping them off — individually, precisely — is exhilarating and easy, as if there were no choice but to do it. 
Most often, though, it’s hardly that beautiful. In my early years of training, the process frustrated me. Turns out, there’s a trick: the fat in the mesentery nearly always thins out right at its border with the colon. Grasping the colon over the top, I can usually feel the lower edge of the bowel; pushing toward myself from the opposite side, feeling my way to that edge with my middle finger, I come at it from my side with the tip of a curved clamp. Judging the resistance to be sure I’m not punching through bowel, looking over to the other side to confirm, I push the tip onto my middle finger, and wiggle it through. “Two-oh tie.” (It’s a thread without a needle on it.) 
I push the clamp further through, spreading my fingers to let it pass between them on the other side, and then I open the clamp. Joanie directs the end of the tie between the jaws of the clamp, and I pull it back through, bringing my end to the top so it’s around the bowel, and I click it into the clamp. Point A. I repeat the process at my selection of point B. Now I literally have a handle at each end of the bowel where I’ll divide it. And having made that little hole, I’ve opened the peritoneum on each side of the mesentery and can insert the tip of a scissor. The fat recedes. I can easily move it off the bowel surface and, turning the scissor centrally while pulling backward on my suture-handle, incise the tensed peritoneal layer with a push of the blades all the way to the root of the mesentery, from which the vessels fan out. This unroofs the underlying fat, and I can scrape at it with the closed scissors, pulling it away from the vessels hidden underneath. 
And there they are. To make ready for clamps, I punch through the mesentery above and below each vessel that I see. And here’s a situation that distinguishes elegant surgery from the brutal: it takes only a moment to clear each vessel separately. Some surgeons do, some don’t. Having gotten to the base of the mesentery, you can just “walk” back up to the edge of the bowel with a series of clamps, not really seeing any of the vessels you’re dividing, grabbing them by inference, along with globs of fat. It works, as long as you don’t take an enormous bite (if you do, when you release the clamp as you tie a tie, the glob may fall away and bleed.) But in my view, it means choking off a wad of fat which will die and inflame and generally add to the work of healing. Plus, it looks bad. And when you see each vessel, you can save some time by applying clips instead of clamps and ties. Which is what I do. 
It’s like jazz (the Caisonnity-sonitty song?): winging it with regard to when I squeeze on a clip, and when I feel like using clamps and ties. (I never leave a clip near the bowel surface: it’d be in the way of the anastomosis.) Given the same curtain of blood vessels on two different days, the music might sound different, who knows? “Clip… Clip… ‘Nother one… Clamp… Clip… Clamp.” Get a feel. Go with the flow, the size and the nearness of the vessels. And, after all the upstream ends of the vessels have been controlled, I may or may not clamp the back-leak ends before I divide them. Depends on the size of the resection, how much I can control with my left hand. Sometimes I click a clamp ex post facto. If so, I never waste time tying them off, since it’s all coming out — unless the resection is so big that we’ve run out of clamps. 
For a total colectomy, I might use the LDS stapler, which clips both sides of a vessel and divides it all in one beautiful gas-powered “k’chzzz,” delivered from a very satisfying pistol-grip. I don’t trust it for big vessels; I add another clip on the business end before pulling the trigger. One way or another, I scissor through the vessel after controlling it, usually whisking the instrument to my wrist (as previously described) when receiving the next clip or clamp. So now we’re ready for the coup de grace. The sigmoid colon is free of its attachments. Holding it up, the mesentery hangs off it like a bib, maybe dangling a clamp or two. 
“Couple’a betadine laps.” For beauty, and for infection protection, I drape the field around and under the bowel with lap pads soaked in povidone/iodine: luscious chocolate brown drapery covering the entire field, with only the bowel loop visible above it. A presentation fit for royalty. Museum quality, it ought to be in a lighted display case. With two OR lights aimed right at it, it is. 
It takes four long intestinal clamps: two delicate ones that stay (for now) with the patient, and two who-cares ones that go away with the specimen. The former I place with the handles aiming at my assistant, the latter toward me. Picking the first pair, she holds hers, I hold mine and I slice between them with a #10 scalpel, the one I used for the initial incision. I wipe the cut end of the bowel with a betadine-soaked sponge. Ditto for the second pair. Then I hand off the bowel, hanging like an abandoned hammock between the two clamps, drop it into a pan, along with the now-contaminated knife. I like the heft of it in my hands, the rattle and clang of the clamps and knife in the metal pan. With a total colectomy, the weight of the specimen is such that the receptacle dips in the outstretched hands of the nurse. Now that’s surgery! 
“What should I call it?” the circulator asks. (She wants to know what to write for the pathologist.) “How about ‘Dave?’” I say, as usual …

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

It Were Ever Thus

[Image source]

The Measure Of A Man

I've stopped being amazed by any statement coming from today's Republican leaders. Or, at least, I no longer believe they'll never top their previous high water mark for stupidity. The latest example that ought to make us all slap our foreheads or cover our faces in shame for our country comes from the nicotine-tainted lips of the estimable Speaker of the House. Getting tired of having it pointed out to him how little he's accomplished by way of legislation, he's come up with a new yardstick. Judge us not by the laws we've passed, is his plea. Judge us by the laws we've repealed.

Oh god oh god oh god. In its incredible idiocy, it's orgasmic. In its clueless self-negation, practically poetry. Even if it made sense, it wouldn't make sense. And let's not forget: he said it on a Sunday head-talker show; and the host, the only one remaining to whom at least a few ascribe a shred of credibility, didn't point out the obvious. THE OBVIOUS! He asked to be judged using a criterion by which he's failed miserably. They have, in fact, passed a law now and then. Repealed? Not a damn one. Zero. Nil. Naught. Nada. None, nohow. Nor will they. Count on it. If brainlessness were paint, Boehner's could replace the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

Okay, maybe to John Boehner, repeal means voting to repeal, which they ai. Not actually repealing, which they ain't. To do so, as even he must know by now, they have to legislate. Pass a law to end a law. Get it agreed upon by both houses, and signed by the president (or have his veto overruled.) Unhappened.

One must suppose that the Speaker considers their forty votes to repeal Obamacare something by which to be judged. Unlike the well-known definition of insanity, Boehner thinks, first, that doing something doomed to failure over and over is somehow admirable; and, second, that their vote was actual repeal. He'd like to be judged by his repeated allowing of a for-show-only exercise which has accomplished nothing but wasting of time and the filling of the Congressional Record with enough hot air to float the Capitol to Plymouth Rock.

So, do let's. Let's for once give Boehner what he demands: let's judge him by that by which he'd be judged. And with him, his whole sorry posse of excuses for legislators.

I lied: it really is pretty amazing, even considering their already-accumulated pile of steaming amazements.

[Image source]

Monday, July 22, 2013

Right Now In Puget Sound

Rains here all the time. Horrible place, really. Please stay away. Traffic's already bad. (Seriously, it is. That part is true.)

[Images source]

Racing To The Bottom

Clearly, no one -- especially a black President of The United States -- can discuss race in this country without being willfully misunderstood, nor without entirely predictable and physically repulsive responses from our America-loving, Jesus-following right wing brothers and sisters. President Obama's semi-spontaneous appearance at the White House press conference (spoken without a teleprompter) brought forth words with which virtually all Americans ought to be able to agree, were those Americans not fully predisposed to hate on them; were they able to listen for themselves, without the deliberate attempts of right-wing propagandists to prevent them from hearing what was actually said, by preemptively shouting it down. Take Sean Hannity, for example:

"Now the president's saying Trayvon could've been me 35 years ago," Hannity said on his radio show. "This is a particularly helpful comment. Is that the president admitting that I guess because what, he was part of the Choom Gang and he smoked pot and he did a little blow — I'm not sure how to interpret because we know that Trayvon had been smoking pot that night."
Good one, Sean. No doubt it got huzzahs and hurrahs from his dead-brained and hate-filled listeners. Ha ha. God forbid he'd actually consider the point, which, in fact, was in no way an attempt at divisiveness, nor a disagreement with the jury's decision. Mr Obama's words, the full transcript and audio of which is here, were statements of the reality of racial history and of impediments to understanding on both sides. Hannity, unable to control his assholery because he has nothing but assholery in his very being, chose completely to ignore the point. He wants to prevent his listeners from having unfiltered access.

On the other hand, Hannity's assholery perfectly illustrates why there's no getting through to today's sorry excuse for conservatives, nor desire on their part to think in new ways. It suits them to be education-rejecting, reality-ignoring, conversation-unable troglodytes, preferring wallowing in their prejudices over participating in progress; over seeing through their self-generated fog.

The only glimmer of hope, as President Obama said, is that the youngest generation seems a little less susceptible to the indoctrinations their parents swallowed like what it is that teabaggers swallow. Even so, it's an uphill battle, because this generation of hate-prefering and lie-believing teabaggers is doing everything possible to see to it that their kids, and yours and mine, are prevented from thinking for themselves: trying like hell to make this a theocracy; working like slaves to ruin public education. (According to some, thankfully, it's not working.)

So, thanks, Sean Hannity, for so clearly illuminating what humanity is up against. And not just in race relations: in anything that requires thinking beyond oneself, thinking with big words and compound sentences, for the common good, for the survival of the nation, and of the planet.

[Image source]

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Good God

Well, here's something interesting. Turns out there are growing numbers of religious people in America concerned about doing the right thing. Progressives. Thinkers. They are, of course, young people.

While politicians like Rick Perry and pundits like Bill O’Reilly may clog up a lot of media airtime, the proportion of religious conservatives in the United States is shrinking with each successive generation, and close to 20 percent of Americans today are religious progressives, according to a new survey conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute and the Brookings Institution. 
Religious conservatives account for 28 percent of the total population (38 percent are religious moderates and 15 percent are nonreligious), but religious progressives already outnumber them in the millennial generation
... Twenty-three percent of Millennials (ages 18-33) are religious progressives, while 17 percent are religious conservatives. Among Millennials, there are also nearly as many nonreligious (22 percent) as religious progressives. 
Religious progressives are also significantly more diverse than religious conservatives: 
Catholics (29 percent) constitute the largest single group among religious progressives, followed by white mainline Protestants (19 percent), those who are not formally affiliated with a religious tradition but who nevertheless say religion is at least somewhat important in their lives (18 percent), and non-Christian religious Americans such as Jews, Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims (13 percent). Notably, white evangelical Protestants constitute only four percent of religious progressives... 
They also tend to value different things in their faith: 
Nearly 8-in-10 (79 percent) religious progressives say that being a religious person is mostly about doing the right thing, compared to 16 percent who say it is about holding the right beliefs. A majority of religious conservatives (54 percent), on the other hand, say being a religious person is primarily about having the right beliefs, while 38 percent say it is mostly about doing the right thing. (All the boldings are mine.)

One might be excused for thinking that, when it comes to religion, holding the right beliefs and doing the right thing would be indistinguishable. Not so for the perversion of the Christian religion that's taken hold of the teabagging Republican party nowadays, in the form of reactionary and highly selective literalism, used to justify the most hateful and divisive -- not to mention patently false -- of beliefs. On the other hand, knowing the Catholics that I do, it's not surprising to me that that denomination represents the highest percentage among the progressive thinkers. Even the conservative ones I know are open to new ideas and enjoy talking about them. (Seems paradoxical, given historical Papal rigidity [haven't yet figured out the new guy], doesn't it?) Anyhow, as usual, the only hope is the younger generation; and the biggest concern is that the current one will have screwed things up irreparably before the next group is in charge.

[Image source]

Sunday Column

This one is, I think, my penultimate one. Next week I'll sign off with the Bachmann essay that I published here a week or two ago, thinking the paper was going with that one. Anyhow, for a complex of reasons, I'm gonna bag the column thing. Maybe it's because it's actually been pretty successful, with a strong preponderance of positive reaction. Can't handle success, maybe. But, mostly, it's a feeling that I have no business writing a column that lots of people actually read. Here, on the blog, there's only a few dozen regular readers (triple digit page views, but, compared to the newspaper, it's pitiful potatoes), and they're anonymously scattered all over the world. The column is read by friends and neighbors.

Plus, it's clear that, as with this blog, minds don't get changed. Preaching to the choir, arguing with the fully Foxified. (I did hear from one man, months ago, pre-election, that my column on Mitt Romney had opened his eyes and changed his mind. So that's, what, one for infinity?) So without further ado, a local and general one:

Because democracy depends on free and fair elections by well-informed voters, these are depressing times. Increasingly we see the attempts of one party to suppress voting among minorities and the elderly, no matter that they’re perfectly legal and registered citizens. Faster than you can say “whites only,” the moment the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act, they were at it again. Fanned by the flamers at Fox “news,” the fire is fueled by the falsehood of fraudulent voting, virtually non-existent nowadays. But if you’re the sort that believes right-wing media, you’ll think it’s everywhere, like Bill O’Reilly’s latest ghostwritten book. 
The “well-informed” part is fast becoming hopeless, too, with education under attack by those preferring to transfer public funds to private schools, where Biblical truths and Foxified falsehoods will render future voters unable to tell fact from fancy. (Did you hear about the Texans (!) who booed and walked out on Bill Nye for saying the moon reflects the sun’s light?) But, regarding the “free and fair” part, there might be a twinkle of hope, right here in Washington. 
I was a little disappointed when universal mail-in voting happened, and it wasn’t when I realized I’d misheard the “all mail” part. It was because I liked driving to the nearby Lutheran church, checking the parking lot on the way in to see if there’d be long lines, finding the same nice ladies at the same folding tables, trying to recall which precinct was mine. Much as I enjoyed inserting and punching the cards, the sound and retro feel of it, switching to electronic machines didn’t bother me much when it happened. I worried some about the fact that the makers of the software were a right-wing company, and that I’d seen videos of easy hacking, and of votes credited to one candidate when another had been selected. I didn’t dwell on it, though I probably should have. I always stuck the “I voted” sticker on my shirt, too. 
There’s no excuse for what we saw last time around in a number of red states with Republican-controlled legislatures: intolerably long wait times in minority districts; early voting curtailed when large numbers of them were showing up; voter identification requirements that excluded people who’d been voting legally for years with no problems, now turned away because they’d had no way to comply. By design, the restrictions affected mostly Democratic voters, and those legislators made no attempt to hide it: “We knew it would prevent Democrats from voting,” they said in Florida. “This will give our state to Romney,” they crowed in Pennsylvania. If your ideas are pre-failed, suppressing rational voters is all you have, I guess. 
Much has been made of examples of registration fraud, numbering in single digits. (As with debt and deficit, some people have a hard time understanding the difference between registration and voter fraud.) Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck, as Fox told their viewers round the clock, had shown up on signature rolls gathered by ACORN. Despite the fact that it was ACORN who discovered and reported the fakery, and who got burned by their own signature gatherers, and that no fraudulent vote was ever cast, it put ACORN, an asset to poor communities in important ways besides voter registration, out of business. (Hear about the guy who forged several THOUSAND signatures on petitions to get Newt Gingrich on the ballot in Virginia?) 
I’m unaware of any examples of voter fraud since mail-in voting began in Washington. First time around, I had to reopen the envelope before I figured out where to sign. But I don’t miss the other stuff all that much, and if it allows legitimate voters a chance to cast a ballot when they might otherwise have been unable, it’s a good deal. Were mail-in voting to become the law of the land, long lines and on-site intimidation would become things of the past. (Fox looked long and hard, in 2012, before they found a single so-called New Black Panther, one guy holding doors open for ladies; Tea Partiers sent minions all across the land to hassle minority voters.) 
There’d be howls, of course, roaring from the reddest of revanchists. Funny, isn’t it? In the battle over who loves democracy more, it’s Democrats who value expanding suffrage to all who are eligible; and Republicans who aim to restrict it at every turn. Just one more thing to ponder, as I try and fail to make sense of what’s happened to our politics.
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Friday, July 19, 2013


Lindsey "It pains me to say this, and pretty much everything else" Graham has had an epiphany:

“Cordray was being filibustered because we don’t like the law” that created the consumer agency, said Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina. “That’s not a reason to deny someone their appointment. We were wrong.”
The fact that Republicans were opposing Cordray out of ideological hostility to the agency itself, and not because of the nominee, was a key distinction Dems tried to draw as justification for threatening to change the rules by simple majority. Here is a GOP Senator on record confirming the Dem argument.
Gee, Lindsey, ya think? And do we think this might have anything to do with a claim by Nate Silver that Rs have a decent shot at regaining a majority in the Senate in 2014? Let the pre-outrage and flip-flopping begin.

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Worst. Socialist. Ever.

For an America-hating anti-capitalist, that Obama guy sure has a lot to learn:
Five years after the financial crisis, Wall Street banks are recovering splendidly. Record profits are becoming routine, and earnings are way, way up. Today, we learned that Goldman Sachs made $1.93 billion last quarter, or double what it made in the same quarter last year. Last week, we learned that JPMorgan Chase made $6.5 billion in the second quarter, or more than $72 million per day. And on Thursday, we're expected to learn that Morgan Stanley — the last of Wall Street's Big Three — made something like $900 million in the quarter. 
The lesson of all this? When Wall Street CEOs and other prognosticators warn about the apocalyptic effects of new regulation designed to make the financial industry safer, the best response is to turn around and walk away...
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Thursday, July 18, 2013

Excellent Question

When we hear from Wayne LaPierre, I'll be sure to get back to you.

Spin This!

Teabaggers might have to scramble to spin this. If anyone can, of course, it's they.

Health Plan Cost for New Yorkers Set to Fall 50% 

Individuals buying health insurance on their own will see their premiums tumble next year in New York State as changes under the federal health care law take effect, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced on Wednesday. 
State insurance regulators say they have approved rates for 2014 that are at least 50 percent lower on average than those currently available in New York. Beginning in October, individuals in New York City who now pay $1,000 a month or more for coverage will be able to shop for health insurance for as little as $308 monthly. With federal subsidies, the cost will be even lower. 
Supporters of the new health care law, the Affordable Care Act, credited the drop in rates to the online purchasing exchanges the law created, which they say are spurring competition among insurers that are anticipating an influx of new customers. The law requires that an exchange be started in every state...
Time for another congressional vote to repeal it, I guess. What'll that make? # 39, or 40?

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Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Teabagger Nightmare

This explains everything: it shows why there might still be hope if we allow the next generation the means to grow up; and it explains, precisely, why teabaggRs are doing everything they can to stop it from happening.

Horrible People, Yet Again

Surprising news, possibly even encouraging. Turns out, outside of Congress, there remain a few conservatives who have it in them to be appalled at their party, as constituted (no, not in that sense) in the halls of Congress. Over at The American Conservative, there's collective and collected outrage. And well there should be: elected teabaggRs have, without shame, just upped the welfare, the government handouts, for big agriculture, while drastically cutting spending on food stamps. If there's a more clear example of who they are and what they've become, I can't think of one.
This is egregious whatever you think of the food stamp program, and it’s indicative of why the endless, often-esoteric debates about the Republican future actually matter to our politics. Practically any conception of the common good, libertarian or communitarian or anywhere in between, would produce better policy than a factionally-driven approach of further subsidizing the rich while cutting programs for the poor. (My emphasis.) 
Another voice, in the same article (and, to repeat, these are conservative writers):
Reasonable people can disagree, in other words, about what kind of conservatism would best serve the common good. But everyone should agree that any alternative would be preferable to a Republican Party that doesn’t seem to think about the common good at all. (My emphasis, again.)
And yet, there seems to be no limit on what teabagging voters will tolerate. The more selfish, the less concerned about a concept of common good, the more it (to their way of thinking) keeps them from paying taxes no matter the long-term consequences, the happier they are with it.

It is, as Paul Krugman recently wrote, as if Republicans have gone from not caring about the less fortunate than themselves, but actually relishing sticking it to them.

Something terrible has happened to the soul of the Republican Party. We’ve gone beyond bad economic doctrine. We’ve even gone beyond selfishness and special interests. At this point we’re talking about a state of mind that takes positive glee in inflicting further suffering on the already miserable. (Yes, mine.)

And so it needs to be said, yet again: horrible, horrible people. If only those contrary conservative voices were representative of their party. But, of course, they're not. And it'll be a long, long time -- if it happens at all -- before they once again have influence. Gerrymandered teabaggRs, constant propagandizing by their "trusted" (i.e., never causing them to question anything) news source, ensures that teabaggers will have influence long enough to deal the final blow.

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Tuesday, July 16, 2013

A Matter Of Definition

This entire commentary is so short I'm printing it all. It's by Robert Reich, here.

Permit me an impertinent question (or three). 
Suppose a small group of extremely wealthy people sought to systematically destroy the U.S. government by (1) finding and bankrolling new candidates pledged to shrinking and dismembering it; (2) intimidating or bribing many current senators and representatives to block all proposed legislation, prevent the appointment of presidential nominees, eliminate funds to implement and enforce laws, and threaten to default on the nation’s debt; (3) taking over state governments in order to redistrict, gerrymander, require voter IDs, purge voter rolls, and otherwise suppress the votes of the majority in federal elections; (4) running a vast PR campaign designed to convince the American public of certain big lies, such as climate change is a hoax, and (5) buying up the media so the public cannot know the truth. 
Would you call this treason? 
If not, what would you call it? 
And what would you do about it?
Well, I suppose it might not be treason. But it's not all that far from it, when it's put the way Mr Reich puts it. Opposition politics is one thing; but the deliberate and wholesale blocking of a freely elected president's agenda, using Senate rules in ways they've never been before, solely for the promotion of a narrow set of aims that seeks to enrich the privileged few at the expense of the needs of the country; when it's done by deception and disinformation aimed at confusing and distracting voters; well, looked at that way, it's something unprecedented in its cynicism and destructiveness. So, maybe, yeah. It is.

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Covers It

The above is the perfect contextualizer of my previous post. Pretty amazing.

Justice. Or Justice?

Since I'm neither any sort of legal expert, nor privy to what went on in the jury deliberations, I can only speculate, and admit my thoughts have no value at all. But, to make sense of the not-guilty verdict in the Trayvon Martin trial, I assume that, rightly or wrongly, the jury considered the events leading up to the confrontation irrelevant; that once they were fighting, Zimmerman had the right to defend himself. If that was it, well, then, I suppose it makes sense. I'd like to think it was that simple; not about who was of which race or vigilantes; not about hunting a kid down because he had a hoodie and Skittles. In his own neighborhood. Walking. Just about a single moment in a scene that had had an earlier beginning, considered immaterial.

If a guy A is tailgating guy B, honking his horn, giving the finger, trying to get him to move out of the way, waving his gun at him; and guy B finally slams on his brakes, gets out of his car, reaches into window A and starts punching, and guy A shoots him, is guy A's behavior when the cars were moving relevant? Maybe, in the narrowest legal focus, not. Guy B could have stayed in the car. Maybe that's the way the jury saw it, and/or was so instructed.

On the other hand, the law holds a bartender responsible for letting a drunk leave his joint and drive a car. And, as a recent article noted right after the verdict, there's a black woman spending twenty years locked up for firing a warning shot, which, contrary to the implications of the article, sort of confirms the Trayvon outcome, in that the claim was "stand your ground" didn't apply. (But, c'mon... twenty years??)

Here's a piece by Ta-Neishi Coates that sees the legal outcome the way I proposed it: according to Florida law, the jury had little choice. And then, in convincing fashion, he takes it much further, where it needs to go:

When you have a society that takes at its founding the hatred and degradation of a people, when that society inscribes that degradation in its most hallowed document, and continues to inscribe hatred in its laws and policies, it is fantastic to believe that its citizens will derive no ill messaging.
It is painful to say this: Trayvon Martin is not a miscarriage of American justice, but American justice itself. This is not our system malfunctioning. It is our system working as intended. To expect our juries, our schools, our police to single-handedly correct for this, is to look at the final play in the final minute of the final quarter and wonder why we couldn't come back from twenty-four down.
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Monday, July 15, 2013

Better Not Drive Home...

Story of the day:

One fan at Sunday's game between the Cleveland Indians and Kansas City Royals at Progressive Field grabbed four foul balls, a once-in-several-lifetimes achievement.
Greg Van Niel, a season-ticket holder who wasn't sitting in his usual seat, got the four souvenirs during the Indians' 6-4 win. 
"Three of them were catches and one was a ball I picked up off the ground," Van Niel told the team. "The third one I think was the hardest one — I think I ended up sprawled across a few rows, and I got some cheese on myself. But the other ones were just a matter of being in the right place at the right time." 
Yeah, four times. 
Van Niel described one of his grabs, on a ball hit by Indians leadoff man Michael Bourn, as being highlight-reel worthy. 
"Michael Bourn hit one that was off the fa├žade, and that's where I was in the cheese fries," he said. "(That) one was crazy acrobatics. I was strewn across three rows, and I needed some assistance getting back."
I'm thinking the guy has used up all his luck, and better not drive for a while, or spend much time outdoors. And I have to assume he pushed a couple of little kids out of the way. I mean, who had the cheese? Kept all the balls, too, apparently. Teabagger, I'm thinking.

Around here, when grownups get foul balls, they usually give them to a nearby kid. But, then, it's Seattle, where the fans have less to cheer about than at other places.

[lmage source] [That source link is relevant!]

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