Friday, September 28, 2007


Republican Debate in Baltimore

I am writing this before reading any accounts of the debate by other bloggers and before hearing or seeing any news accounts or analysis of it. Last night at 6 PM I turned on the television to the Los Angeles PBS television station, KCET, expecting to watch and hear THE NEWS HOUR WITH JIM LEHRER. Instead, the station chose to show, in real time, the debate in Baltimore, that started at 9 PM Eastern time. The station aired a repeat of the debate later in the evening at 9 PM Pacific time.

I was tempted to turn to another channel in disgust and disappointment at not being able to watch my favorite TV news broadcast. However, I thought to myself, perhaps this debate will be a bit interesting. I persuaded myself to keep an open mind and listen, for a change, to what a bunch of Republicans had to say.

The big four among Republican candidates were not there. The implication was that they didn't want to waste their time speaking to an audience of largely black citizens, most of whom were going to vote for a Democratic candidate anyway. The others, who were there, and starting with Mike Huckabee, a former governor of Arkansas, made apologies for the absence of Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney, John McCain, and Fred Thompson. The others present were Ron Paul, Sam Brownback, Tom Tancredo, Duncan Hunter, and Alan Keyes. Tavis Smiley was the mediator. The reporters asking questions were Cynthia Tucker, Ray Suarez, and Juan Williams.

For most of the evening I thought that Governor Huckabee was the most reasonable and sane of the group. He recognized that health care, education, an unemployment are serious problems for Blacks in our country, more serious than they are for Whites. He had some useful suggestions for trying to solve these problems. However, he lost me on the question of what do do about the genocide that is taking place at present in Darfur, a province of Sudan. His response to the question was to change the subject to the "genocide" that occurs in this country when a million abortions occur every year.

I thought that Senator Brownback gave a compassionate and reasonable answer to the Darfur question. We should certainly do all in our power to help the people who are experiencing the genocide. The other candidates gave various responses to the question. One, I believe Representative Hunter, asserted that we have no responsibility for what happens in Darfur.

Representative Ron Paul has been celebrated among us liberal bloggers as a Republican who opposes the war in Iraq and wants the troops brought back post haste. He does indeed have that view. He also favor low taxes and letting people, especially small business people, keep all their money. In some ways he came across as a complete nut. Actually, he is a Republican of the 1930's in that he opposes everything the New Deal accomplished, including our involvement in a foreign war.

Messrs. Tancredo and Hunter believe that our greatest problem is that we aren't keeping all those Mexicans out. We're letting them in. We should enforce our laws regarding the hiring of illegal immigrants. If that were done effectively, the illegal immigrants among us would have to go home. In addition, we must build a fence with agents to patrol it to keep the Mexicans on their side of it. It would help the Black community greatly if we were to get rid of all the illegal immigrants; then the jobs that they take would be available to Blacks. Further, since the Blacks are citizens, they would be able to negotiate for higher wages and better working conditions than the illegal workers receive.

I thought that Alan Keyes were completely out of place among Republican candidates for office - any office. He speaks in the manner of the Baptist Minister to a conservative congregation. If government does anything, it should bolster the family. The welfare system tended to fracture the family in that it encouraged the father to live apart from the mother and the children so that they could more easily justify the welfare payments. He made up some history to support his point; he alleged that before the welfare reforms of Lyndon Johnson and earlier of Franklyn Roosevelt Black people lived in families and things were quite all right. He is another nut.

On balance, I thought that, at the end, the least objectionable of the candidates was Senator Brownback.

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Wednesday, September 26, 2007


The Strength of Hillary Rodham Clinton

It is said that many Democrats favor Senator Hillary Clinton over the other candidates for President because she is "strong." She is said to be stronger than Senator Obama. Nobody even compares her with the third most popular person in the race, former Senator John Edwards. (He's my favorite.) Her husband once said that the American public prefers a candidate who is strong but wrong to one who is right but weak, or perceived to be weak. Actually, it's the perception of strength or weakness that counts, not the real strength or weakness of the candidate. Senator Clinton has a manner of speaking and expressing herself that gives the public the perception that she is a strong person.

I ignore her personality and her manner of speaking. In thinking about positions she has taken, about her unwillingness to concede that her vote for the resolution that allowed the President to start a war with Iraq was a mistake, and in particular about her health care plan, I see her as a politician who is cautious and unwilling to take a position or support a proposal that she thinks would be unpopular with a significant part of the public. She knows, for example, that most Republicans still support the war and believe that it was the right thing to do. In her campaign for the Presidency, she hopes to get a few Republican votes. She knows that although most Democrats favor a single-payer plan to achieve universal health coverage most Republicans and many independent voters distrust a government-run health insurance plan. She also knows that the insurance industry is implacably opposed to any plan that will reduce the number of potential insurance purchasers.

She is not willing to take on and oppose publicly the insurance industry or the independent voters who still think that we should not leave our armed forces in Iraq to prevent a genocidal civil war. I do not think that this cautiousness indicates that she is a particularly strong person.

It comes down to something a friend once said to me. His name was Henry Whitelock and he called himself a conservative Democrat. I was appalled at some of the things that a particular political leader was saying. Henry agreed that they were appalling things, but he liked to hear them said. Senator Clinton has a manner of speaking that suggests great personal strength. People like to hear her speak in that manner. People perceive her to be strong. It doesn't matter that perhaps she is wrong about some of the issues.

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Wednesday, September 19, 2007


Senator Clinton's UHC Plan

There was an article in the newspaper today about Senator Clinton's plan for universal health care, or universal health insurance. It struck me that the outline of the plan was similar to the plan that Governor Schwarzenegger has proposed for California. As I understand it, the Clinton plan has the following elements:
  1. Persons who are satisfied with their present health insurance will be allowed to keep it. They will not be required to enroll in the new plan.
  2. Everyone, including healthy young people, will be required to buy health insurance. Adding these health people to the existing insurance pools will make it possible for insurance companies to reduce their premiums to make health insurance more affordable.
  3. A government-sponsored plan will be set up for people who don't like the existing choices of health insurance or who are unable to afford health insurance, either through poverty or through a preexisting medical condition.
  4. Large companies that do not provide subsidized health insurance for their employees will be required to pay a fee or tax, whatever you call it.

I have mixed feelings about this plan. Of course, I recognize that the devil is in the details. Perhaps if I knew all the details, I would like it, or hate it. Now I have mixed feelings.

First, the plan keeps in place the private insurers. Insurance companies, with their bureaucracies dedicated to maximizing the profit for their companies by denying benefits are a major cause of the rapid increase in medical costs. Clinton does not do anything to rein in the insurance industry. Instead, she hopes to keep the industry quiet and not run "Harry and Louise" ads against it.

Second, I would like to know more about the government-sponsored insurance for those who can't or won't buy private insurance. Perhaps this feature can grow and eventually become a single-payer insurer. Perhaps it will wither because insurance companies will offer loss-leader policies to healthy individuals who are considering choosing the government plan. This is a feature that would cause me to support the plan if I believed that it would grow into a single-payer. If I believed it would wither, I would oppose the plan.

Third, to her credit, Senator Clinton is trying to craft a plan that has some chance of enactment at present - or after George Bush leaves office, for he will certainly veto any form of universal health insurance that has a government component.

At any rate, I'll have to wait for more details before I decide whether to support or oppose it. (Not that my position will have any effect)

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Saturday, September 15, 2007


The Competence of Presidents

I've been thinking a lot lately about our current President. He's managed to get himself and the country into an awful mess in Iraq. It was clear rather early on that the plan to invade, depose Saddam, install a replacement, secure some lucrative oil rights, and leave had failed and was a big mistake. Instead of trying to correct the mistake, our President persisted in the original plan, which now morphed into an occupation of a country whose government had simply crumbled after Saddam Hussein was removed.

We've had many Presidents who were not particularly intelligent, who were not deep thinkers or intellectuals, and yet managed to do the job of being President without bringing shame or disrepute on themselves or the nation. In fact, the job of being President has evolved in such a way that any person of ordinary intelligence and reasonably good sense can do it. A President is surrounded by advisers. All sorts of ideas are floated in discussions with him. He doesn't have to be a deep thinker or intellectual; others around him will do those things for him. All he has to do is to recognize when he or his administration has made a mistake and try to correct it.

It was a mistake to invade Iraq with such a small army. I do not blame Mr. Bush for making that mistake. He had convincing advice from people he trusted that the plan would work. For a while it seemed that the plan had worked and Mr. Bush made his famous announcement from an aircraft carrier that the mission had been accomplished. But then things started to go wrong. The government services in Iraq ceased to function. Unlike the occupation of Germany and Japan after WW-2, the police stopped policing; the electricity stopped; the sewage disposal system stopped; nothing worked. The Baghdad museum was looted. Oil pipelines were cut. Thieves stole the copper wire from the electrical distribution grid. It was clear that something had gone badly wrong.

At that point the President should have known that he or his administration had made a mistake and that he should start work on correcting the mistake. Instead, he papered over the mistake with a statement in which he stated a new purpose for our presence in Iraq and kept the same policy. Because of his failure or refusal to recognize and try to correct the original mistake, I regard Mr. Bush as an incompetent President. His incompetence has nothing to do with his intellect, his education, his IQ, his personality, his commitment to his religious and ethical beliefs, or even certain other policies that have nothing to do with Iraq. His incompetence is simply his inability or refusal to admit to a mistake and to try to correct it.

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Monday, September 10, 2007



This is a proposal advanced by a group of Republicans in California. On the face of it, it seems more fair and “democratic” than our present system in which all the electoral votes of a State go to the candidate who wins a plurality of votes in that State. California Democrats, who oppose this change, argue that unless other States also adopt a similar method of assigning their electoral votes this change in California election law would guarantee Republican victories in the next several Presidential elections. Proponents of the measure who are not concerned with giving the Republican Party a temporary advantage in Presidential elections argue that California has been noted as a leader among States. Changes enacted in California are usually copied in other States. An example is term limits for State legislators.

There is something fishy about proposing to allot electoral votes according to Congressional Districts instead of simply dividing them up in proportion to the votes obtained by the various candidates for President. In most States, Congressional Districts have been gerrymandered to favor incumbents or whichever Party controls the State Legislature. We have seen that even a strong shift in public opinion away from or toward a particular political party does not have the result of a large gain of Congressional members for that party. Most Congressional districts represent “safe” seats. They would also represent safe votes for one of the two major political parties. Even if all fifty States changed their election laws so that electoral votes would be decided by Congressional Districts, with the two extra electoral votes assigned to the winning candidate in the State, the result would be no closer to the ideal of a direct popular vote than the present winner-take-all system of assigning electoral votes.

A better reform is the one in which several “large” States assign their electoral votes to whichever candidate wins the national popular vote. If a set of States that collectively have a majority of the electoral votes (268) enact such a law, the result is that the President would be elected by popular vote in every election. Even this reform is not ideal. Third party candidates would still have no chance of obtaining even a single electoral vote. There is also the question of how the electoral votes of the States that adopt this procedure should be awarded if no candidate won an actual majority of popular votes.

The many apparent flaws in our system of electing a President continue to intrigue me. I expect to be blogging about some of them soon.

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Saturday, September 01, 2007


Back on Line

I've been silenced, if that's the right word, for several days. My computer died. The diagnosis was that the hard drive was defective. Fortunately, I was lucky enough to find a good repair shop where a new drive was installed and much of the information on the old drive was retrieved and copied to the new one. The operating system has been upgraded, also. I now have WindowsXP instead of WindowsME. I'm told it's a better system. It's too soon for me to judge.

Lots of juicy things have happened while I was off line that other bloggers have undoubtedly been writing about. Think of it: Alberto Gonzales has resigned; Karl Rove has resigned; Senator Craig has resigned; Senator Warner has decided not to run for reelection. The first three resignations are to me an improvement in the body politic. Warner's leaving represents a real loss. He is one of the few Republicans that I can call a reasonable man even though I disagree with some of his positions.

A very dear and close friend is now having home hospice care. This friend has late stage Alzheimer's disease. One effect is the change in the voice quality. The individual now has difficulty speaking and seems to have to force the word out. Hospice care, provided by Medicare, is a substitute for the HMO that formerly provided medical care for this friend. Apparently the HMO doctors decided that they could no longer do anything beneficial for this friend. The end was coming and nothing in the arsenal of medical practice could do more than delay it. Life might be extended by installing a feeding tube and an IV drip; my friend had previously stated that nothing like that was to be done. So, relatives and close acquaintances of this friend are now simply waiting for the end. The end will be near when my friend will no longer take food or drink, but will instead peacefully starve to death. The hospice people have assured the relatives that the end will not be painful or even unpleasant for the patient. The survivors will grieve.


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