Take Five (Odds & Sods edition)

Take-FiveONE: Season of the Which?

“Silly season” used to refer to a specific time of year when substantive news was temporarily replaced with outsized coverage of trivial events, quirky happenings, fluff, and the occasional 15-minute political or celebrity scandal. Much like “election season” before it, the term has become meaningless; both “seasons” are now essentially perpetual.

The notion of anything being recognized by huge segments of the corporate media as “important, substantive news” has of course become absurd. They don’t need to bother, since everything is already treated with the monotonous, insincere gravitas they freely bestow on the newest controversy over Justin Bieber or Black Friday brawls or minor clinical studies of caffeine toxicity in rats. Come World War III, I expect to breathe my last with Wolf Blitzer yammering some idiocy faintly at the far edges of my fading consciousness, having screwed up my part of the end of the world by turning on CNN to see what the hell was going on.

But why shouldn’t the media be mired in an endless silly season when one of the two major political parties is too? And Republicans get more ludicrous by the day. Booking Rand Paul to headline the opening of the “African American Engagement Office,” the Michigan GOP’s minority outreach center? Check. George Bush the Lesser’s Chief of Staff carping about President Obama and his administration “misleading” the American people? Check. A white Republican winning office in a predominantly African American district by conning voters into thinking he’s black? Check. Rating Ronald Reagan the nation’s greatest Chief Executive and Barack Obama its worst? Check.

I use the word “silly” with regard to Republicans only because it’s more polite than saying “completely unhinged” or “out to lunch” or “a danger to themselves and others” or “just flat-out batshit.” They embrace a shopworn collection of ideas long ago proven to be unworkable, inequitable and fundamentally anti-American. They put forward candidates with no respect for or knowledge of the political institutions they yearn to become part of. They pander furiously to old-fashioned populism while working strenuously for the elites. They loudly level accusations of class warfare whenever Democrats rightly point out how Republicans themselves declared class warfare and have waged it, brutally, for decades. They play the race card by accusing liberals of playing the race card. With the exception of a very few bravely dissenting voices in their ranks, they hold women, the poor, minorities (visible and invisible), gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered persons, immigrants, the New Deal, the Great Society, the Affordable Care Act, TANF, SNAP, community organizers, the Girl Scouts, the United Nations, the Peace Corps, and most of Europe, the Middle East and Asia in contempt. They’d hate Africa and South America too, if they ever thought about them much.

Republican silliness has left federal agencies hamstrung and courts unable to administer timely justice. It has severely hampered recovery from the worst downturn since the ’30s, a downturn directly caused by Republican profligacy. It has damaged the nation’s credit and credibility, strained international relations, undercut meaningful efforts to combat climate change, advance equality of opportunity, equality of rights. This kind of silliness sickens societies. Its season needs to end.

TWO: North to Alaska

My friend Linda in Anchorage, noting my unwholesome fascination with asshat Republican governors, suggested I check out Sean Parnell. Names like Scott, Snyder, Brewer, LePage, Perry, Walker, Kasich and Haley often make national headlines, but Parnell’s profile has been lower, if only because anyone succeeding Sarah Palin would seem, pending further evidence, unremarkably normal by comparison. Yet Linda’s blunt description of Parnell as a “disaster” looks pretty accurate as far as I can tell.

Case in point, Parnell recently refused to expand Medicaid under the ACA, putting his state on par with such shining exemplars of civilization as Florida, Mississippi, Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia and Kansas. He even described Medicaid expansion as a “failed experiment” and “hot mess,” which will probably wow the zero-information voters he’ll be relying on for reelection next year. Others are less than wowed:

The Anchorage and Alaska chambers of commerce, the Anchorage NAACP, the Alaska Federation of Natives, the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, AARP Alaska, Anchorage Faith and Action-Congregations Together, and numerous Democratic legislators and candidates all have pushed for the new coverage.

Asked why he was going against such a diverse list of Alaska groups, Parnell said “each one of those groups you’ve named are responsible for their membership. I’m responsible for all Alaskans.”

Parnell’s definition of “responsible” is, to say the least, idiosyncratic:

Expansion would have benefited 40,000 or more Alaskans, many of them low-income adults without children who currently have no health insurance. It also would have helped hospitals and doctors by reducing the amount of uncompensated care they have to write off and would have brought billions of federal dollars into the Alaska economy.

The story gets worse. While supposedly giving prudent consideration to Medicaid expansion, Parnell’s administration commissioned a study on the subject by the Lewin Group (a subsidiary of the cuddly, community-minded folks at UnitedHealth Group). The study was delivered in April, although Parnell mysteriously claims it only got to his desk mere weeks ago. After months of public records requests for it were refused, the study was publicly released on November 15, just prior to Parnell’s announcement:

Asked whether withholding a study while he and others were thinking it over was a novel interpretation of the state law that requires state records to be made public with few exemptions, Parnell said no one asked him personally for the report. He said he would need to consult with attorneys for more explanation.

Even the Lewin study acknowledges that at least 20,000 of the state’s poor will have no health coverage absent Medicaid expansion. What to do, what to do? Could Parnell’s predecessor have the answer? Of course not, but Sarah Palin recently took time out from promoting a book she’s pretending she wrote, to offer up a synopsis of… hey, let’s just go ahead and call it Sarahcare. Ironically, just reading through it can make a person feel sick:

“The plan is to allow those things that had been proposed over many years to reform a health-care system in America that certainly does need more help so that there’s more competition, there’s less tort reform threat, there’s less trajectory of the cost increases, and those plans have been proposed over and over again. And what thwarts those plans? It’s the far left. It’s President Obama and his supporters who will not allow the Republicans to usher in free market, patient-centered, doctor-patient relationship links to reform health care.”

But the current Republican-dominated political scene in Alaska isn’t all poorly informed heartlessness and grossly uninformed pseudo-policy. Happily, after a long convalescence, Stubbs, feline “mayor” of Talkeetna, is back on the job:

The owner of Stubbs the cat, Talkeetna’s honorary mayor, says he’s settling back into his creature comforts months after being mauled by a dog and severely injured…

A number of city councils have written to Stubbs, with mayors in at least four states — both near and far — offering their sympathies since the attack.

“Even the mayor of Wasilla sent him a card,” [owner Lauri] Stec said.

Stubbs is back to spending time at the bar of Talkeetna’s West Rib Pub, mingling with the citizenry and knocking back catnip water. Stec, who manages the pub, reports that the mayor’s spirits are improving steadily:

“He’s into his routine again and probably being just a little extra-loving, because it’s so nice for him to be social again…”

It’s encouraging to know there’s at least one politician in Alaska who actually cares about people, even if he’s a cat. What a shame Stubbs can’t take on Parnell next November. Continue reading Take Five (Odds & Sods edition)

The Differing Prices of Freedom and Profit

Recycling is a noble goal except when it comes to politics. Unless it’s a way forward, pushing the same ideas year after year is ignoble and ignorant. But yet again, we see the return of the single note of the dead horse of the tax cut, with the Republicans grabbing the crop and flailing away, going nowhere. Soundly rejected at the polls, they keep the idea alive that tax cuts are an idea that America can ride.

Rather than prosperity, their argument is really about power. In a government the size of America’s, more important than legislative power, the power to make laws, is budget power, the power to buy and cut, to control the purse. The advantage of politicizing the balance sheet is that buying and cutting happens outside of the public’s eye. Name the builder who got the plumbing contract for your local schools; name the company that makes the cockpit canopies for jet fighters; or the manufacturer of something as common as the military’s MREs (ready to eat meals); I can’t. Through government, we spend lots of money on things we don’t know about and have no idea how much they they cost. We also spend money on services—health care, food—that impact people directly, and these programs are well known.

The Republican path to power doesn’t involve innovation or efficiency; nor is its end goal savings. Their hunger for power recycles the buzz words “tax cut” because it opens the way to changes in the balance sheet and advances the Republican drive for power on different fronts at the same time.

One of the unique properties of democracy is that rights are expanded through government. By the same authority of government, rights can be diminished. For those with intra-gender preference, the expansion of rights to marriage, open military service, survivor’s benefits, child adoption, non-discrimination and job opportunities is tied directly to the powers of government, state and federal. The contraction of rights, say in a woman’s right to choose, also results from attacks led through government, aimed at the money spent to create the opportunities of reproductive choice. State legislation barred money from being used for choice procedures and has piled on building requirements that make it almost impossible to operate a clinic; the costs of the required modifications are too high. Continue reading The Differing Prices of Freedom and Profit