Wednesday, June 15, 2016


Patience and Fortitude, not Petitions

I wish people would not write to me asking me to sign a petition (and send money) to a group advocating "support planned parenthood," "undo citizens united," "get rid of gerrymandering" or some other very worthy cause that can't possibly be achieved with the present congress.  "Citizens United" repeal requires either a decision by a different Supreme Court or an amendment to the federal constitution, neither of which can occur until after an election cycle that changes the nature of congress as well as a new President.  Why not try to do things in order?  Make some appointments to the Supreme Court (new President and Senate).  Elect more Democrats to the House and Senate.  Elect state legislators who believe in truly representative democracy instead of creating permanent Republican majorities in the House of Representatives.  I hate to turn these groups down.  They will think I don't care about the evils they write about.  I do care.  I just think they are using a wrong approach to achieve their goals.

Our constitutional system was designed to be slow-moving.  It takes years to amend the constitution.  Conflict between the President and Congress is built in.  The system is inefficient, expensive, and slow.  Sometimes we the people can't wait.  Sometimes we are enraged by a decision by one branch of the government (e.g., the Supreme Court).  One of these decisions led to the Civil War.  The alternative that we know of is a government with a single person or group making all the decisions, such as Argentina under the Generals, Pinochet in Chile, Hitler, Stalin, and the rest.  These are examples of governance that was efficient and rapid.  We don't know of any benevolent despotic governments in recent memory.  On balance, we stick with what we have and try to make things a little bit better.

Reverse "Citizens United"  A state legislature can't do a thing about the decision.  If enough state legislatures agree, they can propose and ratify an amendment to the constitution that declares that Money is not equal to Speech, and that too much money drowns out free speech.  Perhaps some future Present with a sympathetic majority in the Senate can appoint justices that will understand the disconnect between money and free speech.  In that case, it won't be necessary to amend the constitution.

Support Planned Parenthood  Here we are dealing with a dishonest political trick.  The members of congress who are part of the effort to defund the institution must be voted out of office.  They are using lies to justify their attack on the institution.  They know they are using false information, so merely trying to change their minds won't work.  "'Raus mit 'em!"

Gerrymandering  In most states the state legislature draws the boundary lines that define the districts from which federal and state legislators are elected.  By using data from previous elections, one can determine areas with majorities on one or the other of the two major political parties.  To gerrymander the state in favor of party A, one has to draw the boundaries so that districts that favor party A outnumber districts that favor party B.  Party B districts contain a high proportion of party B members.  Party A districts contain just enough party A members to make the districts "safe" for party A candidates.

These are some of the problems with our present governance.  Correcting them will take time, perseverance, patience, and hard work.  They are not going to be solved by sending petitions to a congress that will simply ignore them.

Saturday, April 30, 2016


Things that (don't) interest me

I'm feeling a little ornery this morning and felt like unloading a few complaints publicly.  Also, even though I am an old grouch, I still have good health and possibly as many as ten more years to enjoy this wonderful life.  And, believe it or not, life is wonderful.  It's certainly a lot better than the alternative.  I have two wonderful daughters who care about me.  They want to have frequent visits with them, either at their homes near Berkeley and Seattle, or at my home in Los Angeles.  We are planning a nice vacation trip by rail through western Canada some time later this year.  No old grouch could be any happier.  At the same time I still miss my dear wife who has been gone nearly nine years.

One thing that both interests and annoys me is the antics of my own political party, Democratic, to use the Koch brothers as a foil for fund-raising activity.  Every day I receive an e-letter about the latest gift of Charles and David Koch to the Republican party or some Republican candidate.  The Democratic fund-raisers paint the Kochs as agents of the Devil or even the Antichrist.  "The Kochs have given another ten million dollars to defeat Democratic candidate X and we have to match that money to stay competitive."  Of course it's a game.  I doubt that Charles Koch cares very much how much the Democrats are able to raise in a given month.  In fact, Mr. Koch has recently stated, in an interview on ABC that he doesn't like either of the current front-runners for the Republican nomination for President and believes that Hillary Clinton would be a better President than either of them.

Mr. Koch and I are in agreement on that point.

Another thing that doesn't interest me is the campaign in some far-away State, like Indiana, Maryland, or Florida, of some Democratic candidate trying for the nomination in that state for its Senator in the federal legislature.  Perhaps I should be interested, but as of now I don't know anything about any of the candidates vying for the candidacy.  Which candidate do I like as Senator from Maryland?  There are at least three of them and they're all Democrats, so  I'm happy with any one of them.

A friend and I walk three mornings a week.  Our route is a bit longer than one mile and it takes us an hour or more, allowing for stopping to talk with other walkers that we meet.  Afterward we go to our favorite McDonald's restaurant for coffee and conversation with other old farts.  One morning I got into an argument with another of the regulars about the Affordable Care Act.  I stated that the law was actually the Republican plan worked out by Senator John Chafee in 1993-94 and later enacted into law in Massachusetts while Mitt Romney was governor.  My friend wouldn't hear of it.  The law was enacted by Democrats when they had majorities in Congress.  Republicans were locked out of the hearings and their amendments were ignored.  I thought, it's true that there were no Republican votes for ACA.  He thinks it means that the Republicans were locked out.  I think it means that the Republicans refused to have anything to do with it because it was part of their goal of trying to undermine President Obama,

It's time for my lunch.  Keep watching for my next rant.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016


Spat about Universal Health Care in 1993

I don't know whether Senator Sanders and Secretary Clinton actually penned the accusations or whether their staff members did, but no matter, here is my attempt at summarizing the quarrel:
Clinton:  Senator Sanders today espouses universal health care legislation.  In 1993 and 1994 he was no help in trying to enact the health care system my husband and I put together.  In fact, he opposed the proposal.
Sanders:  I proposed then and I propose now the adoption of a single-payer plan, like the one in Canada.  I could not support the Clinton plan in 1994.
Clinton:  It was politically impossible to have enacted a single-payer plan in 1993 or 1994.  The only plan that had a chance of passing was the one that we put together.  Senator Sanders should have supported it.
My comment on this exchange is that (1) there was no chance of enacting the Clinton plan either.  It was too complicated and nobody understood it.  It was developed in secret, by experts, with no public input or comment; (2) In addition to the Clinton plan and Single Payer, neither of which gathered any support from Republicans, there was a Republican plan, put together by Senator John Chafee of Rhode Island.  The Chafee plan was later enacted in Massachusetts when Mitt Romney was governor of that state.  It is also the basis of the Affordable Care Act, enacted when Barack Obama was President.  It's now called "Obamacare."  The term "Chafeecare" would be more appropriate.

Chafee put together a plan that used the features of the existing scheme of insurance to cover medical costs.  He added the requirement that everyone should buy health insurance, just as houses and automobiles are protected by universal insurance coverage.  That way, an unexpected medical expense could be paid by an insurance system in which everyone contributes money in the form of premiums.  With universal coverage, those premiums would be affordable, just as home and auto insurance premiums are.  I have not seen Chafee's plan and know only that the Romney plan in Massachusetts was based on it.

My point is that President Clinton made a strategic blunder in not trying to incorporate Chafee's plan into what he proposed.  He should have persuaded Chafee to get some Democratic Senators to sign on to his plan and make it truly bipartisan.  We could have had "Chafeecare" in 1994 if President Clinton had been willing to share the credit with a Republican senator.

Monday, February 15, 2016


Good bye, Antonin Scalia

One of my goals is to outlive my enemies, not just personal enemies but public persons with whom I have profound disagreements.  Justice Antonin Salia was one of my "public" enemies.  Today I can relax with the knowledge that I have outlived him, at least.  There are more.

Understand, I never met Mr. Scalia.  I have read that, as a person, he was sociable, gregarious, friendly, and quite likeable.  I would certainly have liked to have met him.  Perhaps I wouldn't now be rejoicing at having outlived him.  Perhaps I should be a bit more truthful about why I rejoice in his death.  I rejoice that the Supreme Court is now evenly divided between Conservatives (Thomas, Alito, Roberts, Kennedy) and Liberals (Ginsberg, Kagan, Sotomayor, Breyer).  Cases that divide Liberals and Conservatives, such as Abortion, Gay marriage, voting rights, and gun control will not be decided by the Supreme Court.  The decision by the last appellate court will stand.  For example, there is a case coming up regarding labor unions.  The Conservatives hate labor unions and would decide the case in a way that is most crippling for organized labor.  With Scalia, the decision would be five to four against the unions.  Now the decision, if it comes to the Court, will be a tie: four to four.  The court will no longer, for the time being, be a reliable tool for the ultra-conservative rich business people in their attempts to squash what little is left of organized labor in the United States.

This stand-off will persist as long as Obama is President and McConnell is the Majority Leader of the Senate.  The Senate will not confirm any nominee to replace Scalia that Obama might propose.  It will be a pretty exciting election next November for us Supreme Court junkies.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015


I may be missing something

about the contest among the Republican candidates for the Presidential nomination, and about the implausible (to me, at least) popularity of Mr. Trump and Dr. Carson.  I remember the campaign and the election of 1952 when General Dwight Eisenhower prevailed mightily over Governor Adlai Stevenson.  I was a Stevenson fan and thought he was too good a person to be our President.  We didn't deserve Mr. Stevenson.  As it turned out, I was right.  We didn't deserve him and we didn't get him.

I feel about Bernie Sanders about the same way I felt about Adlai Stevenson.  I couldn't understand then why anybody would prefer General Eisenhower as President.  I can't understand now why anyone would give even a second's thought about either Donald Trump or Ben Carson in comparison to Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton.

What I missed in 1952 was the Korean War.  Eisenhower said he would personally go to Korea to work out a peace deal with the two Korean factions.  Stevenson didn't say squat about Korea.  I didn't care about Korea.  I had already been drafted and rejected as physically unfit to serve in the army.

What is it that the people are thinking about today that I am ignoring?  Not Syria, certainly.  No candidate, Democrat or Republican, has said a word about Syria.  It doesn't seem to be an issue in any of the debates.  Any other war?  No.  The Republicans are talking about cutting taxes, especially on people with incomes greater than million dollars a year.  With any of their schemes, people with incomes under a million would pay more.  They'd have to, unless the government stopped providing expensive services, such as the Military.  I don't think the Republicans propose decreasing the military budget.

Mr. Trump has achieved popularity among old white men by his proposal to round up six million or so brown Spanish-speaking people without citizenship identification and carting them to the border and expelling them.  Years ago I wrote in a blog that this action would be impossible to carry out fairly because Americans don't carry passports for routine daily identification.

Then, what is it I am missing?  Why is Donald Trump's popularity in the same league with that of Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders?  Write to me.  Open my eyes.

Saturday, October 31, 2015


More about Santa Susana

In a previous post on this subject, written about a year ago, I commented about the different pollutants that need to be removed or cleaned up.  There are two types: radioactive and chemical.  Radioactive pollutants can be removed by waiting.  Radioactivity dies.  Radioactive elements have finite half-lives.  Of course some of them have very long half-lives, such as potassium and uranium.  They are present almost everywhere.  Radio-potassium is the main source of the earth's heat.  It will be around for a long time.

Chemical pollutants have no natural half-lives.  They can last forever and should be removed, if possible.  I recently attended an information meeting presented by the California State DTSC (Department of Toxic Substances Control) and the Boeing Corporation.  Regarding the chemical pollutants, one of the speakers stated that it probably isn't possible to remove it.  The primary pollutant is Tri Chlor Ethylene or TCE.  It's a cleaning liquid.  It has sunk into the soil to great depths and has gotten into the ground water.  Any water from a well near the Santa Susana Field Laboratory contains TCE.  As a means of protecting the public, the Boeing Corporation has built a plant that pumps contaminated ground water, filters out the TCE and pumps the cleansed water back into the ground.  Experiments are under way to see if other techniques are more effective than filtering.  For example, one could use chemistry to convert TCE into some other compound, perhaps something harmless or something easier to remove from the water.  There is also a proposal to use specially designed bacteria to metabolize the TCE into something else.

I am cheered and optimistic at the progress that has occurred already toward producing a "clean" area that can be used as a park or a wilderness area.

More involvement in Syria

A headline in this morning's newspaper (October 31, 2015) reads that the United States (i.e., the President) has decided to get more involved in Syria than we have been.  This means more military support for the "good guys," otherwise known as the faction that we think we can influence if they take over the governing of Syria.  We are about to repeat the mistake that Lyndon Johnson made in Viet Nam - of becoming entangled in a civil war that we should have stayed out of.

I am reminded of the story about a particular fly or beetle that loves the nectar of a particular large and spectacular flower.  Another kind of plant grows a flower that looks like the nectar flower.  At least it looks enough like the real thing to fool the hungry insect.  Insects are cursed with poor vision and are inherently near-sighted just because of the nature of their eyes.  This particular bug sees the fake flower and dives into it to obtain the sweet nectar.  Of course there is no nectar.  The flower is an insect trap.  The bug is large enough and strong enough that it can eventually climb out of the flower.

What does it do next?  If it has any sense, it would fly away and look for a different flower, one that  has some nectar.  No, the bug not only has rather poor eyesight but also a very dim memory.  It looks at the flower, forgets that it has just struggled to escape from it, and dives back in, hoping to satisfy its thirst.  I don't know how many times the poor bug repeats this adventure.  I do know that the United States, i.e., President Obama, is acting just like this bug.  We've invaded or gotten involved in civil wars in Viet Nam, Afghanistan, and Iraq.  In Viet Nam we eventually got out and now, after fifty years or so, we have good relations with a stable government in that country.  It is a government that would have come into being despite anything that we might have done to prevent it.  Our adventure in Viet Nam was a waste of time, money, and lives.  The value of our involvement was the lesson that we should have learned.  We didn't.  Later we repeated the adventure in Iraq and Afghanistan.  We are now struggling to disengage ourselves from those quagmires, and we propose to repeat the adventure in Syria.

Those who refuse to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.  G. Santayana

Friday, September 25, 2015


Boehner and Francis

There were two startling news items recently, one of them this week.  One, John Boehner has resigned his position as Speaker and additionally his seat in the House, effective at the end of October.  Two, Pope Francis has given priests permission to forgive women who have abortions.

In both cases, the person involved (Speaker or Pope) recognized the need to accept reality.  Boehner no longer controls the Republican party.  The Pope recognizes that the Church must serve and comfort the people, not please God.  God has everything He or She wants.  The people need help, comfort, advice, love, help.  They have very little.  For hundreds of years Popes have been telling the people to worship God and don't do things that displease Him or Her.  Now Francis is saying that the clergy are the servants of the people, not of God.

Between now and the end of October, Boehner can get business done with the votes of Democrats and those Republicans who despise the Tea Party faction.  There will be no government shut-down.  Planned Parenthood won't be shut down.  There won't be any more votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act.  The Republican Party is split between the crazies and the moderates.  Boehner has fallen on his sword but those Republicans who didn't want to follow the lead of the Tea Party are relieved.  A new coalition can be put together that eliminates the Tea Party faction.  There may be a new alignment in Congress that will make Mr. Obama's last two years in office less hectic and more pleasant.

I salute John Boehner and Pope Francis for daring to leave behind unworkable policies.

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