“Michelle” and My Aching Toe

Broken ToeI was planning to write more tonight. Unfortunately, I had a small accident. I was going to take a badly needed bath. So while I was waiting for the tub to fill, I grabbed my guitar and tried to play Paul McCartney’s beautiful and unique “Michelle.” As usual with just about anything I do, I lost track of time. Suddenly I realized that and so I wanted to get back to the bathroom before it flooded. I put the guitar back in its usual place and rushed out the door. But… My foot got caught in the guitar strap.

I did not fall. I did, however, come to a sudden stop and my right toes got jammed down on to the floor. It hurt. But no more than a badly stubbed toe. I figured within 30 seconds it would all be over. Well, I probably should have iced it, but I have no ice. And it is two hours later and it still hurts quite a bit. I suspect it will be fine tomorrow. I think it is most likely a sprain, because where it hurts is along a line that runs about a half inch from each of my toes. More than anything, it bruised my ego. I feel like a total idiot. And why do I even have that strap on the guitar? I never use it!

Anyway, here is Paul McCartney singing the song for our First Lady:

Update (2 November 2013 11:10 am)

Now it is just my big toe. It could be a little fracture. I’m walking pretty funny. And slow. But after much pain, I got my foot in a shoe. It does feel better there!

The Abortion Mess in Texas

Jesus: Don't Make Me Come Back ThereWhat happened in Texas this last week is really bad. And I am not especially talking about what it means for reproductive rights. As you have probably heard, on Monday, the US District Court in Austin stopped part of Texas’ new anti-abortion law from going into effect because it was likely unconstitutional. Then today, the US Court of Appeals overturned that finding, claiming that the law likely was constitutional. What this reversal says to the people is that the judicial system is not objective in the least and will come to wildly different partisan decisions one on top of the other.

I’m not claiming that the original court decision was politicized. As it was, abortion rights activists were unhappy with it. It was a pretty typical, middle of the road, decision based upon the law. It only struct down a small part of the law as it was. But what it looks like to outsiders is that there are pro-choice judges on the district court and anti-choice judges on the appeals court. The second half of that is true. And the terrible thing is that the conservatives win when the people decide the whole system is rigged. But then, we’re pretty used to this. The conservative have a long history of making sure the government doesn’t work and then turning around and screaming, “We need to get rid of the government! It doesn’t work!”

Of course, the last thing that conservatives want to do is get rid of the government. There is no doubt that the conservatives want as big a government as the liberals. More and more, I think the conservatives want a much bigger government. They want an ever increasing military, despite the fact that we spend almost as much on our military as the rest of the world combined. They want everyone spied on all the time. They want lots of big government contracts for rich industrialists. They want welfare to be a bunch of big checks cut to fundamentalist churches. And most of all: they want a government worker in every operatory to make sure no woman ever gets an abortion!

Let me speculate a bit toward the future. Let’s suppose that the Christ fanatics got their way and Roe v. Wade was overturned. What would they do? The first thing would be to get the Supreme Court to find that all abortion is illegal. The anti-abortion crowd will not be happy that innocent “children” are being “murdered” in California and New York. Once they got that, they would move on to birth control. We are already seeing that. A large faction of the anti-abortion movement is against birth control and it doesn’t take much to figure out what they are really about. After that: no abortions anywhere and no birth control, there would still be more to do. They would want to make sure that all pregnant women took care of themselves. Can you say, “Death penalty for pregnant drug addicts”? I thought you could! Bottom line: much of the anti-choice movement is fascist.

The appeals court decision found that the law did not cause an “undue burden” on women’s right to get an abortion. But with the closed clinics, women in west Texas will have to travel hundreds of miles to get care. If that is not an undue burden, when why not just make abortion illegal throughout the United States. The women would still be able to go to Catholic Italy and get a legal abortion. I don’t see the big distinction between 600 miles and 6,000 miles.

Regardless, the whole thing is a mess. I’m sure that the anti-choice ideologues are certain of the justness of their cause. But it really bothers me. To me, it is all about compassion. In the name of the unborn—proto-humuns without lungs, brains, or (if you ask Thomas Aquinas) souls—these people seem to be willing to inflict the worst cruelty on actual breathing, thinking, and (if you listen to them) soulful people. What’s more, the Biblical justification for banning abortions is not at all clear. But the Bible is very clear on hubris—on what God thinks of people who put themselves in his position. In the end, their argument against abortion is very simple: their pastor told them it was wrong. There’s no God there—no Jesus there. Just their hubristic certainty that they and those around them know what God wants.

Unfortunately, we have some of the same kinds of thinking coming from our highest courts. Maybe the fundamentalist Christians are right: Satan has come to America, but he dressed to look like Jesus.

Editing Cranky Girl Limerick

Crank Girl

Over the weekend, I found this Cranky Girl comic strip. I’d never seen it and now that I’ve looked into it, it’s pretty good. Of course, it’s not quite up to Pearls Before Swine. (Rat is my hero!)

What I was struck with was that it had a limerick in it. And it’s not a bad one! I do think that Crystal Jones (If that is her real name!) kind of screwed up the rhythm on that last line. Also some other minor things bother me. I can’t even draw a stick figure correctly, so I’m not complaining. But I think it would have been better like this:

Our poor cranky girl felt so misled
When she won a free facial and ped
It sure stuck in her craw
When she got to the spa
Seems her lips were too small for her head!

But I don’t know. I’ll have to run it past the Grand Poobah of all things limerick, Mad Kane. But she may be madangry at me; she never responded to my birthday limerick—which I worked very hard on!

Selective Conservative Outrage

SNAPLet me see if I can put some perspective on this week in politics. Today, 47 million Americans are seeing their Supplemental Nutrition and Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits cut as a temporary program comes to an end. Of these, 47% are children; 8% are senior citizens. But according to the Republicans in Congress and on Fox News, 100% of them are loafers who refuse to get a job because of the SNAP gravy chain. Never mind that 41% of SNAP-receiving households have at least one employed person.

You aren’t going to see much reporting on this issue in the conservative media echo chamber. That’s because they will be too busy wringing their hands about all those unfortunate people who are losing their health insurance because of Obamacare. In case you haven’t heard, these are people who currently buy really bad insurance on the individual market. Obamacare dictates that if companies are going to sell insurance, it has to be of a certain level. So all of those useless policies that people think cover them but end up abandoning them when they go to use them will be gone—or close to it. We Heart ObamacareIn 2009, the New York Times reported that roughly 75% of people filing for bankruptcy for medical bills had insurance. One of the biggest things that drives this—and the reason Obamacare is forcing some insurance policies to be canceled—is yearly and lifetime limits on the amount of care that will be paid for.

A lot of people misremember what Michael Moore’s film Sicko was about. It starts with a rundown of how many people in the United States are uninsured and how horrible the system is. And then he said, “This film is not about them.” Sicko is about how even those lucky enough to have health insurance are screwed. So the fact that there are some people in America who currently live with the delusion that they have insurance should not be seen as a good thing. Forcing them to get insurance that will actually do what they think their current policies will do is a feature of Obamacare and in no way a bug.

But how many people are we really talking about? Listening to Fox News you would get the impression that half the people of the nation are losing their current health insurance plans. Luckily, economist Justin Wolfers put together a chart to show what we are talking about:

Obamacare Winners and Losers

So we are talking about 3% of the population. And as I’ve discussed, those people really aren’t losing. Rather than paying for a false sense of security, they will be paying more for a real sense of security. Still, that it upwards of 10 million people. But that is 20% as many people as are seeing their food budget go down today. And those who are being forced to get better insurance can afford it. The conservatives don’t even have crocodile tears for the 47 million poor people who cannot.

GOP Filibuster Abuse Never Left

FilibusterIt’s been a quiet week in Washington, where all the staff members are strong, all the pages good looking, and all the Republicans well below average. It has been a quiet week. The big story of this week is the same as it was last week: the Obamacare website. Normally, reporters claim this kind of stuff isn’t worthy of coverage. It’s old news! But they keep at it because the Republicans keep pushing it. Of course, it isn’t the only old news. Benghazi is back thanks to a really pathetic bit of agitprop by 60 Minutes. And that brings us back to the oldest of stories: the continuing Republican use of the filibuster as de rigueur.

First, there was Lindsey Graham’s stupid tweet Monday, “I’m going to block every appointment in the US Senate until they are made available to Congress.” One has to be surprised, “Oh! So you’re saying that you have reasons for your filibusters now?! How exciting!” Of course I’m just being silly; the occasional politician may claim a reason for a filibuster, but they were planning on it regardless.

And right on schedule, we have filibusters of non-controversial nominations. The Republicans filibustered Patricia Millett for the DC Court of Appeals. In this case, the faux reason isn’t that she is too liberal. As usual for Obama nominations, she’s a moderate. The reason is that the court leans conservative. If Obama is allowed to fill the three vacancies, the court will lean very slightly liberal. So the Republicans have come up with a argument that says the court already has enough judges on it. I won’t get into the specifics because (1) it is highly misleading; and (2) it’s not their real reason anyway.

To blunt the charge that the Republicans are sexist, they also filibustered Mel Watt to run the Federal Housing Finance Agency. You can say a lot of things about him: a sitting member of Congress; an African-American; extremely well qualified. But he is not—and I’m sure that Mr. Watt will confirm this—a woman. It appears he is the first sitting member of Congress to not be confirmed since before the Civil War. But I think it is wrong to say that Republican racism towards Watt is the reason. Much more likely is that it is Republican racism towards President Obama.

Rick Ungar over at Forbes wrote, Enough! GOP Once Again Proves Too Irresponsible to Handle the Filibuster. He notes that during the hearings for Millett, no Republican expressed any concern about her. He’s exactly right when he says, “The use of the filibuster to deny Millet’s nomination is but one more example of the Republicans simply refusing to recognize and accept that Barack Obama won the 2012 election and, having done so, gets to appoint people to fill vacancies in the federal court system.”

But here’s the thing. We can have a friendly game of chess. Or, if you are black and not that good a player, you can bring out the rule book and use every technicality against me. In fact, this used to happen. In the very old days of professional chess, some masters would simply take forever to move in order to force a draw in a lost game. As a result, clocks were introduced. If the game is important enough, people will throw out the norms of fair play and exploit the holes that exist in any rule book.

What’s going on in the Senate is very important. And the Republicans have not only been losing for a long time, they are likely to be losing a long time into the future. (Their only real chance is in 2014.) So they are quite understandably doing the only thing they can to exert force. But the filibuster dates from better times when the Senate was engaged in a much more friendly game of politics. Its time has gone. Actually: long gone. That was clear as soon as the nightly television news announced things like, “The Senate blocked Patricia Millett’s nomination by a vote of 55-38.” That’s right, she got 17 more votes and 59% of the vote but she didn’t succeed. And most observers just accept this as the way things ought to be.

My argument about this stuff has always been different than this. I see it only from a tactical standpoint. Minority rights are great and the Senate has a natural tilt toward conservatives. But once the Republicans have the White House and all of Congress, the Senate will eliminate the filibuster. (They did it before.) They will not stand for the minority being able to do to them what they have done to the Democrats the last 5 years. So the filibuster is going away. So why not at least get the advantage of pushing the courts a bit further back in the liberal direction? But no. It seems that Democrats would rather stand up for a very vile tradition (pdf), and then when the Republicans eliminate it, they can scream about how unfair it is.

What this whole thing shows is that the Republicans really do respond to power. When Harry Reid was hopping mad, the Republicans caved. Now that he’s cooled down, they are back to their old ways. The only way the abuse of the filibuster ends is if the filibuster ends. Sadly, the party who ruined the filibuster, will almost certainly be the party that ends it—gaining all the advantages that go along with that. Think the courts are conservative now? Just wait until President Cruz fills every open seat with nary a word from the Senate.

Bigot and Singer and Collette, Oh My!

Toni ColletteOn this day in 1920, “commentator” James Kilpatrick was born. You probably remember him on 60 Minutes battling it out with Shana Alexander. This is the first example of I know of where the media provided a very clear skewing of politics. Alexander was the supposed liberal, but she was actually more of a moderate and even conservative. Kilpatrick was just a bigot. Balance! His main work over the years was as an apologist for segregation. He was a vile man, but fully inside the mainstream of Republican politics—then and now.

Singer-songwriter Lyle Lovett is 56 today. I just wanted to play this song:

Other birthdays: sculptor Antonio Canova (1757); painter Konrad Magi (1878); publisher Larry Flynt (71); actor Marcia Wallace (1942); and baseball player Fernando Valenzuela (53).

The day, absolutely by default, belongs to the great actor Toni Collette who is 41 today. She came to prominence with a brilliant performance in Muriel’s Wedding. And over time she became awfully skinny. But her acting was always great. She especially stood out as the fiercely protective but flummoxed mother in The Sixth Sense and the resigned but making the best of it mother and sister in Little Miss Sunshine. Here she is in about the only decent scene I could find of her from The Sixth Sense:

Happy birthday Toni Collette!