Thursday, June 22, 2017

GOP Hacks Wreck Healthcare Exchanges, Blame Democrats


I am retired, sixty-three years old, and too young for Medicare. My wife and I buy our insurance coverage through the federal Healthcare exchange. Wednesday, I received an e-mail from our carrier, Anthem Blue Cross-Blue Shield. It was titled: Anthem will Discontinue many ACA Health Plans in 2018. 

In describing their decision to exit most of the exchange markets in Wisconsin, Anthem's note stated, "Unfortunately, uncertainty in the Wisconsin health insurance market does not provide the clarity and confidence we need to offer affordable coverage to our members in 2018." (underline mine)

In another statement, the company expanded on their reasoning, saying that selling into the exchanges has "become increasingly difficult due to a shrinking and deteriorating individual market, as well as continual changes and uncertainty in federal operations, rules, and guidance."

GOP politicians wasted no time. The same hacks responsible for the "continual changes and uncertainty in federal operations, rules, and guidance" started pointing their fingers elsewhere. They celebrated our inconvenience and gleefully blamed the law that has brought America's uninsured rate to historic lows.

Granny-starver Paul Ryan predictably said, "Because of Obamacare, many Wisconsinites will now have to scramble to find new plans and new doctors. " Ryan further stated, “This law has failed our state. Obamacare is clearly collapsing, and we have to step in before more families get hurt.

Urine-fixated Scott Walker chimed in about Anthem's move from our state's exchange: "Obamacare is collapsing. Growing uncertainty in the health insurance market was created by Obamacare’s costly regulations and it is causing higher premiums and a lack of options. "

Jim (If Obama is for it, I'm against it !) Sensenbrenner posted on Facebook, "Today’s announcement that Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield will be dropping out of the Wisconsin health insurance market is devastating to thousands of families in our state. It’s another unfortunate example of the ongoing failures of the disastrous Obamacare law..."

All is not dire. We are not in the mythical ACA death spiral that the GOP has been lying about for seven years. We will still have plenty of choices of insurance carriers in Wisconsin. In fact, of 3,144 total US counties, only 44 are in any risk of having no exchange insurer next year.

However, changing health insurance is a hassle. I will have to deal with a new carrier. I may have to change doctors. So will an estimated 14,000 other Wisconsin residents. But it is not the fault of the Affordable Care Act. It is not the fault of Democrats. I don't even blame Anthem for leaving the exchange.

We are not stupid. The ACA markets were stable until the Republicans gained complete control in Washington. They were stable until Trump started threatening to renege on the government's obligation to pay cost-sharing subsidies. They were stable until Trump's executive order to stop enforcing the individual mandate. They were stable until all of the uncertainty of Congress's mean-spirited attempt to rip the American healthcare system to shreds.

No, Anthem Blue Cross/Blue Shield leaving Wisconsin is not the fault of the Affordable Care Act. As the insurer clearly stated, it is the fault of deep uncertainties at the federal level. 

It is the fault of Congressmen like Jim Sensenbrenner and Paul Ryan, who have worked tirelessly to take heathcare away from their constituents. It is the fault of Sen. Ron Johnson, who said that the ACA is the greatest assault on freedom in his lifetime. It is the fault of our Governor, who has done everything possible to sabotage our healthcare. It is the fault of an incompetent President, who continues to cripple the law through his Executive Orders.

Republicans are in complete control of both our state and federal governments. GOP politicians have weakened the healthcare marketplace by their own purposeful actions. They created this mess. In an act of unmitigated gall,they are blaming the Democrats, Obama, and the ACA. Sorry. This is on them. 


Friday, June 16, 2017

My IQ Is One of the Highest

Trump is unlike any president in US history. He is a walking casebook of mental issues. Psychologists have diagnosed him as a classic example of narcissistic personality disorder. Some have called him a sociopath. Others have suggested that, based on his erratic behavior and gibberish statements, Trump could have Alzheimer's. 

Today, I would like to explore one aspect of our President's disturbing, multi-troubled psyche. He has a dangerously inflated self-image The man believes that he is highly intelligent, but is not. There is a name for that form of self-delusion. It is called the Dunning–Kruger effect.

The Dunning-Kruger effect is a common human bias in which people who are unskilled in a field vastly over-rate their abilities in that field. They don't know how little they don't know. In Trump's case, he believes that he is much smarter than he actually is. He believes that his mental abilities make him superior to the rest of us. He is ignorant and is ignorant of his ignorance.

Manifestations of Trump's strong Dunning-Kruger bias abound. Here are just a few times that Trump publicly boasted about his imaginary superhuman mental abilities:

In defending his lie that thousands of New Jersey Muslims celebrated the 9/11 tragedy, Trump said, "I have the world’s greatest memory. It’s one thing everyone agrees on." Trump later did not remember saying this.

In defending the fact that he attends very few of his daily intelligence briefings, Trump said,"I get it when I need it. I'm, like, a smart person."

In May 2013, Trump tweeted, "
Sorry losers and haters, but my I.Q. is one of the highest -and you all know it! Please don't feel so stupid or insecure, it's not your fault."

At a campaign rally, Trump famously uttered, "I went to an Ivy League school. I’m very highly educated. I know words, I have the best words."

When asked what experts he was conferring with on foreign policy, Trump replied, “I’m speaking with myself, number one, because I have a very good brain and I’ve said a lot of things."

For years, Trump has told anyone who will listen that he graduated from Wharton School of Business with honors. He led people to believe that he graduated with an MBA at the top of his class from one of the nation's top business schools. In reality, he went there two years and, with credits transferred from another school, got an undergrad degree. He was nowhere close to graduating with honors.

Trump somehow never seems to exhibit the "great brain" that he constantly professes to have. He will not read long memos. Aides claim that briefing papers on every subject, no matter how complex, must be condensed to a single page and have no more than nine bullet points. At the recent NATO summit, our allies were requested to keep speeches to four minutes, due to Trump's short attention span.

Presidents Clinton and Obama are voracious readers. Jimmy Carter has written more that 30 books. Even W frequently enjoys a good book. But not Trump. In an interview, Megyn Kelly recently asked what book he last read. Trump's reply was “I read passages, I read areas, chapters, I don’t have the time."

In a Fox interview, Tucker Carlson asked him the same soft-ball question about what he reads. Trump's rambling answer was, "Well, you know, I love to read. Actually, I’m looking at a book, I’m reading a book, I’m trying to get started. Every time I do about a half a page, I get a phone call that there’s some emergency, this or that. But we’re going to see the home of Andrew Jackson today in Tennessee and I’m reading a book on Andrew Jackson. I love to read. I don’t get to read very much, Tucker, because I’m working very hard on lots of different things..."

The actual author of The Art of the Deal, Tony Schwartz, said last year, “I seriously doubt that Trump has ever read a book straight through in his adult life.” During the eighteen months that he spent with Trump, Schwartz said that he never saw a book on Trump’s desk, in his office, or in his apartment.

So the leader of our country is an ignoramus who doesn't read. He doesn't take time to learn any subject at more than a superficial level. He has already demonstrated that he knows nothing about NATO, or our allies, or global warming, or healthcare. He knows nothing about hundreds of other subjects on which he makes critical decisions. More than once, Trump's ignorance has made us an international embarrassment.

Trump lacks the intellectual curiosity and smarts to study the important policy issues. But that is not all. Thanks to his severe Dunning-Kruger bias, he is not even interested in getting the input of our country's top experts. He doesn't need the views of the State Department. He knows more than top government scientists. He thinks the vast intelligence apparatus is wrong. He knows more about defeating ISIS than the generals. After all, he is, like, a smart person. 

Friday, June 9, 2017

A Tsunami Is Coming !

At last weekend's Democratic State Convention, you couldn't walk ten feet without hearing somebody talking excitedly about 2018. Party activists clearly sense a Democratic tidal wave in the mid-term elections.

The party opposing the President traditionally makes gains in the midterm. And 2018 will likely be no exception. Since 1862, the President's party has gained seats in both houses of Congress in only two midterm elections-those of 1934 and 2002. 

The 2010 election, Obama's first mid-term, was an awful year for the Democrats. According to the President, "We were shellacked !" We lost the US House of Representatives, going from a 255-178 majority to a 193-242 minority. We lost six Senate seats. We went from a three-governor advantage to a nine-governor disadvantage.

Wisconsin certainly did not escape the 2010 devastation. Assembly Democrats went from a 50-45 majority to a 38-60 minority. State Senate Democrats went from an 18-15 majority to a 14-19 minority. An Ayn Rand disciple beat progressive 3-term Senator  Russ Feingold. Even worse, we turned the governorship over to Scott Walker, creating the giant shit hole we still inhabit today.

So we know a political tsumami is possible, in which the party in power is routed nationally and statewide. It happened for Republicans in 2010. It can certainly happen for Democrats in 2018. Let's look at some data to see if we are being realistic, or merely hopeful.

Congressional Republicans are not making themselves any friends. Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, and their unshackled gang of maniacs are running amok. They are trying to take healthcare away from 24 million Americans. They are gutting important environmental protections. They are dismantling the social safety net, education funding, and scientific research. It is no wonder that many Congressional Republicans are afraid to hold town hall meetings. For all of their efforts, Congressional GOP popularity is dropping fast.

An average of six generic Congressional polls taken between April and June show the Democrats ahead by 6.5%. A May Quinnipiac poll gives Democrats a huge 16% edge. For comparison, before the Democratic bloodbath of 2010, Republicans held just a 5% lead in the generic Gallup poll.

The midterm elections are a referendum on the President. Having Trump as their leader does the GOP no favors. Ham-handed bungling of international affairs, a rudderless domestic policy, and a scandal-a-day administration add up to a failed Presidency. Trump's approval rating is at record lows. An average of ten recent polls gives him a 39% approval, and it's falling fast. Quinnipiac has him at 34%. Trump will have very short 2018 coattails, to match his tiny hands.

Faced with the Trump disaster and a feckless GOP Congress, more Americans are self-identifying as Democrats. In a June Gallup poll, 45% of Americans identify as Democrats (or lean Democratic), while only 38% identify as Republican (or lean Republican). This 7% gap has jumped from only 3% in November.

On top of poor approval for GOP politicians, there is an unprecedented energy and excitement from the progressive base. The election of President Trump has taught us our lesson. We will certainly not sit out 2018. One only had to attend the Madison Women's March, or the Milwaukee March for Science, or the State Democratic Convention to see that people are fired-up and ready to go. One only has to go to any of Sensenbrenner's town halls, or local meetings of activists in the blood-red W.O.W. counties to see the renewed high-voltage grass-roots energy.

Sensing blood in the water, many Dems are stepping forward to run in 2018. Sensenbrenner already has a declared opponent- Shawn Rundblade. Glen Grothman has two-  Scott Olmer and Dan Kohl. Although no serious candidates for Governor have formally announced, the election is still seventeen months away. Many great experienced progressive candidates are floating their names to run against the highly-vulnerable Walker.

Even in scarlet red-area Assembly races, serious candidates are stepping forward. Last year, District 24 Republican Dan Knodl ran unopposed (Germantown, Brown Deer, River Hills, N. Glendale). This year, two great candidates have already announced a challenge to Knodl, the Tea Partier who jammed Right-to-Freeload through the Assembly.

The President's party has traditionally lost seats during midterm elections. Add in low GOP party affiliation, a big Democratic advantage in generic Congressional polling, and Trump's abysmal approval numbers and we have the makings of a good 2018 for progressives. Throw in a charged-up army of grass-roots activists and we just might have ourselves a Democratic tsunami !

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Political Name-Calling

The far-right has long been enamored with personal insults. When losing on-line arguments, conservatives frequently retreat to stock juvenile responses like "Libtard, go find your safe space !" or "Well, you're a snowflake !".

So it was no surprise when Donald Trump, master of the second-grade insult, successfully took over the Republican Party. Rattling-off ironically-projective names like "Little Marco", "Low Energy Jeb", "Lyin' Ted", "Crazy Bernie" and "Crooked Hillary", Trump spoke to the party faithful at a level that they could understand.

Trump is by no means the first to introduce name-calling into right-wing politics. There is a tradition of name calling by conservatives. Years of vilification turned the perfectly-good and noble term, "liberal", into a sneering pejorative. Since 1940, many conservatives have refused to use the adjective, "Democratic", insisting on ignorant, nails-on-chalkboard terms like "Democrat Party".

No, name-calling by the right is certainly not new. However, the ascendance of Trump and his alt-Right supporters have taken name-calling to a whole new level. A entirely new dictionary of stupid invectives has entered our political discourse, making it even more difficult to hold a civil debate on policy. Derogatory names like "beta", "cuck", "libtard", "buttercup", "cupcake", and "snowflake" are common on chat sites where the Right congregates.

Use of the term, "snowflake" by the Right is especially ironic. A "snowflake" is someone who is too easily offended, or too fragile. By this definition the Right's leader, Donald Trump, is the most fragile snowflake of them all. He constantly complains about the people who are "mean" to him. At a Coast Guard graduation ceremony, Trump recently whined, "Look at the way I've been treated lately. Especially by the media. No politician in history has been treated worse or more unfairly !"

In an extreme example of projection, conservative darling Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke frequently uses the term "snowflake" in describing progressives. This is the same David Clarke who ordered his deputies detain a man at the Milwaukee Airport for looking at Clarke in a mean way.

One of the silliest of alt-right insults is the term "SJW", short for Social Justice Warrior. The alt-right sneeringly uses this term as an insult. This is absurd. What is wrong with social justice? What is wrong with standing-up for the oppressed, the weak, those who have no voice of their own? What is wrong with insisting that every group in society should have the same rights and freedoms ?

Some of the most admired people who ever lived were social justice warriors, standing-up for the oppressed. Abraham Lincoln was an SJW. Susan B. Anthony was an SJW. Father Damien was an SJW. Martin Luther King was an SJW. Gandhi was an SJW. Mother Theresa was an SJW. Jesus Christ was an SJW.

In the Right's new topsy-turvy reality, people who should be society's heroes, the best among us, are derided as "social justice warriors". Misogynists, racists, xenophobes, and traitors like our President are held-up for admiration. Such a scrambled view of the world is hard to comprehend.

In our deeply divided country, political discourse has become increasingly hostile. Our President has made juvenile name-calling seem normal. An entire slanguage of new insults has entered our debates from the alt-right. If we ever want to return to functional bipartisan government, if we ever want to return to civil discussion, the silly political name-calling has got to stop. 

Friday, May 26, 2017

I Agree with Bob Gannon

"I Agree With Bob Gannon" are five words that I never imagined that I would ever string together. Gannon is the Republican State Representative from District 58 in Washington County, covering West Bend, Jackson, and Slinger. Gannon's anti-worker, anti-woman, anti-education, guns-everywhere-anytime-by-anybody agenda is so extreme that no rational human would agree with him. The loony Gannon once had to apologize to Rep. Peter Barca for angrily flipping him off during an Assembly debate.

After a tragic shooting at a Madison mall, Gannon called for even more indiscriminate shootings, saying, "Wisconsin does not have a death penalty law, but with significant practice and careful aim, law abiding citizens can help clean our society of scumbags."

By any measure, Gannon is on the far-right fringe. He was an early endorser of the batshit-crazy candidate for State School Superintendent, Lowell Holtz. He recently sponsored a celebration of failed President Trump's First 100 Days- at a local firing range. His two Facebook sites are compendia of divisive, far-right sentiments, including a photo-shopped picture of Chelsea Clinton reading "Nana Goes to Prison" to her toddler, and an ultra-ironic statement that Gannon would "not vote for a candidate under investigation by the FBI".

So there are very few topics on which I agree with Gannon. However, there was a recent Assembly Bill, pushed by Gannon, that I heartily endorse. I was shocked ! The bill, AB 243, provides $50,000 for a study to look at the feasibility of assisting people on unemployment in moving to where there are jobs.

Passed by the Assembly on April 10 by a 84-13 margin, the bill is now in the hands of the State Senate. The proposal is for conducting "a study regarding the feasibility of establishing a program, using a social impact bond model, to assist claimants for unemployment insurance benefits under chapter 108 of the statutes by offering them mobility grants to relocate to areas with more favorable employment opportunities."

Over my technical career, I was fortunate to have worked in a field in which a relocation package was standard with job offers. Hiring companies paid for all moving expenses, house-hunting trips, and temporary housing. Some companies would, through an agency, purchase your home if you couldn't sell it. Others provided an up-front one month salary for incidentals.

Being the beneficiary of this kind of inducement, I always wondered why everyone who was out of work could not get the same sort of help in moving to a new job. After all, there are areas of the country with high unemployment, while other areas are screaming for workers. Low-income unemployed workers usually cannot afford to move themselves. For many lower-paid positions, employers cannot afford to pay to move workers. However, the Federal government certainly could help here.

The Assembly-proposed study, to be conducted through the Department of Workplace Development, certainly doesn't go far enough-but it is a good start. Rather than work through a social contract bond model, It would be better to have direct government funding of the program.

And a state-directed program would likely only provide grants for movement within Wisconsin. A better option would be a Federal program, which would not have such limitations. Under a Federal program, the unemployed could move anywhere in the country.

Many details of a relocation program would have to be worked-out. Grantees would have to secure a job by a legitimate employer before qualifying for relocation funds. There would have to be some way of connecting people with assured jobs before initiating a move. There might be some partial recoup of the money, from both the employer and new employee. There should be assurances that there would be no compulsory moves. But the basic idea, of governmental financial assistance for people to move to where they can work, is a good one.

I seldom agree with Bob Gannon. However, in this one rare case, we concur. A program is needed to assist the unemployed in moving from depressed areas to where they have work. Assisting workers in moving from Great Plains ghost towns or hard scrabble Appalachian coal towns or the industrial rust belt can help America in so many ways. Employers can get good workers. Workers can regain the self-esteem and prosperity of having a regular job. Government gains new taxpayers and the financial burden of relief programs is lightened. Everybody wins!

Friday, May 12, 2017

Keeping Politically Current

Because of the high-speed train-wreck in Washington, and because of the slow-motion ship-wreck in Madison, Wisconsin progressives must keep-up with the latest political news. However, none of us has unlimited time to devote to current events. We have our lives to live, our careers to focus on, and our families to occasionally acknowledge.

We all must make the most efficient use of the time we spend absorbing the news. We must seek-out the best, most condensed, and most reliable news sources. All political geeks have their own favorite TV news broadcasts, newspapers, blogs, and pod-casts. Today, I would like to share some of my favorites that are focused on national politics. A future blog will cover especially useful sources for state and local politics.

Websites- My two favorite progressive websites are Daily Kos and Huffington Post. Both are excellent portals for connecting to other media sources. Daily Kos carries reader-submitted blogs without editing, so the quality of the writing is variable. Daily Kos is useful because some of the blogs summarize articles in top-notch newspapers, like the New York Times and Washington Post, that give very limited free web access. They also have a handful of paid staff writers. For example, Joan McCarter does a great job in covering the GOP attempts to destroy the American health care system.

I have followed HuffPost for years. This site has a professional staff of decent writers, who cover politics in almost real-time. Huffington also links to important stories in high-quality, non-fake media sources. They serve as a one-stop source for links to progressive columnists in top newspapers.

There are a zillion progressive Facebook sites that specialize in sensationalist click-bait stories. You know, the kind where some Republican is EVISCERATED, or HUMILIATED, or SCHOOLED and has a MELTDOWN. These stories invariably end-up a big nothing-burger. However, even though the stories are unreadable, the pictures and clever made-up captions are often funny and worth a quick look. I follow Occupy Democrats, Americans Against the Republican Party, and Hate Liberals? Bite Me. You probably have your own favorites.

TV- The only political TV show that I watch faithfully is Rachel Maddow on MSNBC. Rachel continues to bring a great in-depth approach to her stories. Unfortunately, most of the rest of MSNBC is becoming unwatchable. Chris Matthew's pomposity, along with their new stable of right-wing blowhards like Gretta Van Susteren, Nicholle Wallace, and Joe Scarborough don't bode well for the future of the network.

Video Blogs-I regularly listen to video blogs by two progressive pundits. Robert Reich, former Labor Secretary in the Clinton administration, and current Stanford professor, is very good. His Facebook page lists stories from only the highest level, most trusted, news sources. Most weeknights, he does a "Resistance Report", in which he calmly and sagely comments on recent political news.

At the other end of the emotional scale, but no less smart, is Keith Olbermann. The former MSNBC host does a political video rant most week nights on GQ, the men's fashion website. Olbermann's show, called The Closer, is guaranteed to make you angry, make you sad, or spur you to political action. He ends each episode by urging people to "Resist !"

Cartoons-My favorite political cartoonist is Clay Bennett, who publishes in the Chattanooga Times Free Press. He has been especially clever in his coverage of Trump. If you "like" Clay's Facebook page, his new cartoons are posted on your newsfeed.

Columnist- Of all of the liberal columnists, my favorite has to be Jonathan Chait, who writes for New York Magazine. Chait covers a wide range of political issues. Every one of his articles is clear, well thought-out, and very well written. Chait is also on my FB newsfeed.

Those are my favorite progressive sources of national political news. You might already follow some of these, and have many favorites of your own. How do you spend your on-line, political information time?

Friday, May 5, 2017

Political Triage

Yesterday's House vote to steal healthcare from millions of Americans made one thing perfectly clear. We must take back the House in 2018. We cannot allow this slithering mass of helminths to spoil all that is good about America. All progressive hands need to be on deck for the next House election cycle.

2018 will give us a golden opportunity to throw the smirking GOP Congress out on their social-Darwinist butts. The President's party has historically lost Congressional seats during mid-term elections, and next year should be no different. The record-breaking unpopularity and incompetence of their fearless leader only makes our job easier.

I would like to boot-out every single Republican who voted for this bill. However, to regain Congress, we need to play it smart. We need to spend our limited efforts and campaign cash where they will do the most good.

Many of us live in Congressional districts where no amount of effort on our parts will change the outcome of our local House race. Gwen Moore and Mark Pocan will easily win Milwaukee and Madison. Jim Sensenbrenner will win his Waukesha and Washington County-based district. But those of us that live in these three districts can greatly affect the outcome of the five other Wisconsin House elections. Our calls and door-knocks and dollars could make all the difference in electing additional Wisconsin Democrats to Congress. They could make all the difference in the taking-back the House.

Several national organizations assist people in overwhelmingly red or blue districts who want to have an impact on next year's Congressional elections. Swing Left is targeting 65 close Congressional races for 2018. The organization matches activists with races where they can meaningfully get involved as volunteers or as donors. Unfortunately, none of Swing Left's targeted seats are in Wisconsin.

Just as groups like Swing Left help to direct money and volunteers to where they will make the most national impact, we could and should do the same within our state. At the risk of angering many, I believe that we should put less effort into those races that we have no chance of losing and those that we have no chance of winning. Instead, we should focus on the races that are in the middle. We should focus where we have the best and most reasonable chances of pulling-off a gain. This sort of political triage will give us the most realistic chance of election eve pick-ups for the progressive cause.

Below, I list the eight Wisconsin congressional districts, along with the 3-election average winning margin (for 2012, 2014, and 2016). For comparison, I also include the Cook Partisan Voting Index, an indicator of the relative partisan lean of each district.

District      Incumbent           Margin % (Ave 3 elections)     Cook PVI

    1              Ryan                     25.0 R                                       R+5
    2              Pocan                   36.9 D                                       D+18
    3              Kind                     20.6 D (Ave of 2)                      Even
    4              Moore                   55.9 D                                      D+25
    5             Sensenbrenner     38.0 R                                      R+13
    6             Grothman              20.5 R                                      R+8
    7             Duffy                     18.7 R                                      R+8
    8             Gallagher               22.5 R                                      R+7

It is no big surprise that Pocan and Moore (Districts 2 (Madison) and 4 (Milwaukee)) are safe for the Democrats. This is an instance of the GOP's partisan redistricting jamming as many Democratic voters as possible into just a few districts. These districts shouldn't require large investments of volunteers or campaign money to remain in progressive hands. On the other hand, Dems must play strong defense to hold Kind's 3rd District, a district that Trump won by 4%.

Sensenbrenner's 5th district, with a 38% R margin, is even more lopsidedly Republican than Madison is Democratic. In the bluest of election tidal waves, we stand little chance of flipping the 5th. Democratic volunteer efforts and cash are much better spent going after the weakest Republicans-Duffy, Grothman, and Gallagher. A flip of 11.3% of voters from R to D would turn any of these three districts blue. Such a flip is within reason when we consider the "yes" votes by these three heartless buffoons on the Trumpcare bill, as well as Trump's own deep unpopularity.

As much as I would love to see Lyin' Ryan return to Janesville, such a defeat is much less likely than Democratic pick-ups in Districts 6, 7, or 8. Instead of a big, expensive, and likely futile effort to unseat the smirking Eddie Munster, we should work smart and do all we can to demote him to Minority Leader.


Friday, April 28, 2017

The House Anti-Science Maniacs

There are numerous reasons that people Marched for Science last week. Many of us feel the need to defend science against an unprecedented assault by a wave of know-nothing politicians. For example, the President has packed the Executive Branch with the wackiest gang of science deniers, creationists, polluters, and education profiteers imaginable.

However, that doesn't tell the whole sad story. Congress has its own gang of anti-science maniacs. Perhaps the craziest of all is Chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, Lamar Smith (R-TX). Smith's powerful Committee makes US science policy and controls the purse-strings for a slew of agencies, including NASA, DOE R&D, the National Science Foundation, STEM education, EPA research, and the National Weather Service.

Chairman Smith has used his position to conduct a personal war against climate science. He issued subpoenas for e-mails from NOAA climate scientists. He accused government scientists of falsifying data. He used the official Science Committee Twitter account to publicize anti-science articles from alt-fact Breitbart. Several times, he gave keynote speeches at climate-change denial conferences sponsored by the Koch-and-Exxon-funded Heartland Institute.

Smith is certainly no moderate. He was one of the first Congressmen to endorse Trump for President. He was one of the earliest supporters of the presidential candidate who tweeted that climate change is a hoax created by the Chinese to make us less competitive. In January, Smith spoke from the House Floor, "Better to get your news directly from the President. In fact, it might be the only way to get the unvarnished truth."

In a Heartland keynote speech in March, Lamar Smith spoke to the global-warming denying attendees: "Next week we’re going to have a hearing on our favorite subject of climate change and also on the scientific method, which has been repeatedly ignored by the so-called, self-professed climate scientists."

True to his word, on March 29, Smith wasted taxpayer money by holding a hearing on "Climate Science: Assumptions, Policy Implications, and the Scientific Method". For his sham of a hearing, Smith invited three global warming skeptics to testify. In the interest of "balance", he also invited one proponent of current scientific consensus on climate change. If Smith had invited speakers in actual proportion of scientific viewpoint, he would have had his three skeptics and ninety-seven scientists convinced of the fact of human-caused global warming.

Smith, who has absolutely no scientific training, led-off the proceedings by lecturing the audience on his view of the scientific method, claiming "Much of Climate Science today appears to be based on exaggerations, personal agendas, and questionable predictions, (rather) than on the scientific method." In Smith's world, the only scientifically-valid research agrees with the climate-change denial myths peddled by his corporate donors. (by the way, Smith has received more than $700,000 from the oil and gas industry over his career.)

Dr. Michael Mann, the sole witness defending the overwhelming consensus of scientific thought on global warming, was repeatedly attacked and bullied by all eight of the Republican Congressmen who spoke at the hearing. The three climate change deniers were given softball questions and treated with deference.

The entire Science and Technology Committee is an embarrassing sham. Of the twenty-two Republicans on the 38-member Committee, fully eighteen are declared climate change deniers. The other four committee Republicans have voiced more nuanced stances on the subject. Typical of the GOP members are:

Barry Loudermilk (R-GA), who stated, "Some politicians and bureaucrats believe in whatever theory gives them an opportunity to take money from the energy sector and spend it themselves in the name of saving the planet."

Jim Banks (R-IN), who is quoted saying, "I believe that climate change in this country is largely leftist propaganda to change the way Americans live and create more government obstruction and intrusion in our lives."

Andy Biggs (R-Arizona), who said, " I do not think that humans have a significant impact on climate. The federal government should stop regulating and stomping on our economy and freedoms in the name of a discredited theory.

Remember, these scientifically-illiterate politicians are the people who make US Science policy and fund government-sponsored research. The House Committee is full of shills for energy companies and fossil-fuel front groups. They are willing to ignore the truth in order to keep those campaign contributions coming in. The Committee is a national embarrassment. 

Global warming is real, human-caused, and is having adverse effects on us, our economy, and our planet. Both the Trump administration and the House Science Committee, as chaired by Rep. Lamar Smith, have declared war on the peer-reviewed research of climate scientists. In the formulation of US policy, fringe views that support a corporate agenda are being allowed to trump real science. That is just one of many reasons to keep Marching for Science. 

Saturday, April 22, 2017

March for Science-Milwaukee 2017

My wife and I were among the massive numbers of people around the world who marched for Science on April 22. We took part in the Milwaukee event, which started at 2:00PM downtown in Red Arrow Park. Speakers went for about an hour, followed by a two-mile march to the County Museum and back again. The crowd was estimated by the organizers to be more than 3,000 people (I think it was more).

Because the march coincided with Earth Day, many of the attendees came with the environment as their main focus. Others were concerned about the current administration's outright rejection of science, scientists, and adequate science funding. My own reasons are outlined in my entry of March 30, "Why I Will March for Science."

Unlike most recent protests, there wasn't a great deal of anger expressed by the participants. The mood was more of frustration and resignation at the stupidity of current national and state decision-makers.

The chants were a little lame. (Give me a H...a I...a S... What's that spell?). The skies were a beautiful blue and the temperature a comfortable 52 degrees. The standard marching gear was science-themed T-shirts, light jackets, and a smattering of lab coats (I dug-out my own for the occasion).

During the event, I kept wondering how we have arrived at this low point in our nation's history. How did we get to the point where we feel that we must defend science from our political leaders? Why is a March for Science even necessary? How did we elect a President that makes his decisions based on the mandates of big oil and coal rather than on facts? How did we elect a Vice President that rejects the foundation of modern Biology? Are we headed towards a new Dark Age?

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Well, You Know, We Don't Want to See It Changed

The US Constitution describes two ways that amendments can be made. The first way- the route by which all 27 existing amendments have been enacted- requires a 2/3 approval by Congress, followed by ratification by 3/4 (38) of the states. The state approvals are granted by state legislatures.

The second, untested way to amend the Constitution is to have the legislatures of 2/3 (34) of the states call for a Constitutional Convention that would propose amendments. Any amendments coming out of such a Convention must then be approved by 3/4 of the states. This unproven method is currently advocated by Tea Party groups and the right-wing ALEC organization, in an attempt to bypass the US Congress in implementing a Federal Balanced Budget Amendment.

In late March, a set of bills passed through a joint committee in the Wisconsin legislature that would add our state to the list of 29 calling for a new Constitutional Convention. After Wisconsin, only four more states would be needed to initiate the radical step that would open-up our US Constitution to a frightening and potentially disastrous re-write.

I have two problems with this development. First, I do not believe that we should have an amendment mandating a balanced budget at all. Second, if we must have such an amendment, a Constitutional Convention is a dangerous way to do it.

I don't know anyone who believes that our country should run budget deficits in perpetuity. We should and must get our fiscal house in order. We know how to do it. We did it within recent memory. We had our last balanced budgets in 1998-2001, under President Clinton. However, I question the wisdom of doing it through a Constitutional Amendment.

Unless we resort to bookkeeping tricks, a balanced budget Constitutional Amendment will be catastrophic to our economy. Instead of gradually and wisely growing out of our debt problem, (as we have been doing the last eight years), it would impose immediate and drastic financial shocks to the nation. It would be a Sequester on steroids. Austerity did not work in Europe and it won't work here.

In addition to the self-imposed financial shocks, a Balanced Budget Amendment would remove the flexibility that government has to even-out the economic cycle. We should run surpluses during good times and stimulate the economy during bad times. A Balanced Budget Amendment would force government to raise taxes and slash government at the worst possible time, during a recession.

An amendment would cause problems when we are faced with war or major calamity. We should not be forced to starve children to pay for clean-up of a new, New Madrid earthquake or a war with Belgium.

OK, so you are not convinced. You still believe that we must have a Balanced Budget Amendment to force our government into fiscal sanity. If we really have to enact such an amendment, let's do it the old fashioned way, the careful and deliberate way that has worked for all 27 of our current amendments. Let's do it by involving our elected representatives in Congress.

A new Constitutional Convention runs the risk of a "run-away" situation, in which the unelected delegates go way beyond the original intent of the meeting. While the delegates are convened, why not propose a bunch of other amendments? How about a "person-hood" amendment? Or a rewrite of that pesky First Amendment? Or a repeal of the Second? And Congressional term limits? Why not simply start from scratch?

Barry Goldwater opposed such a Convention, saying, "[I am] totally opposed [to a Constitutional Convention]…We may wind up with a Constitution so far different from that we have lived under for two hundred years that the Republic might not be able to continue.” Anton Scalia put it a little less eloquently, "I certainly would not want a Constitutional Convention. I mean whoa! Who knows what would come out of that?"

The Wisconsin GOP-sponsored bills would have the delegates to this important Convention be unelected political appointees. Three would be named by the State Senate President, three by the Assembly Speaker, and one by the Governor. If formed today, the seven-member Wisconsin delegation would be 100% Republican. So much for representative government.

A Constitutional Amendment for a balanced budget is a well-meaning and naive dream, with likely dire consequences for our economy. Instead of allowing us to gradually grow out of the deficit problem, it would impose an austerity death spiral. And convening a Constitutional Convention to get us there is another dangerous proposition. 

Rather than adding a new amendment to impose a balanced budget, we should re-evaluate the policies that got us here in the first place. We should elect politicians who will increase revenues, trim the bloated military budget, and promote wise economic growth policies. The current GOP Congress and the Trump administration are going in exactly the opposite direction.