A Conservative Moron

Voters on Maryland’s Eastern Shore should now realize what an idiot they elected when they chose Republican Andy Harris over the incumbent Democrat Frank Kratovil.

Harris ran on a heavily anti-health care platform, attacking Kratovil on health care reform, even though Kratovil actually voted against the health care reform package.

So far so good, but when Harris arrived at the Monday orientation session for newly elected representatives, he demanded government sponsored health care for himself, not just when it was due on February 1, 2011, but 28 days earlier.

How ironic! No government sponsored health care for my constituents, but government health care for me, Andy Harris!

What a schmuck!

Sarah Palin 2012

The 2010 mid-term election was the first test of the tea party on a national stage, and the overall result must be encouraging.  A large part of the swing to the conservatives was engineered through and by the tea party. As a result they will remain a political force in the conservative movement to be reckoned with going into the 2012 presidential race.

In 2010, the main beneficiaries of the tea party movement have been the Republicans in regaining control of the House of Representatives. Now the tea party has demanded its pound of flesh: elected Republicans must keep their campaign promises or face defeat in their next primaries.

In the longer term, it is Sarah Palin who gains from the tea party’s successes. She has aligned herself very closely with the tea party movement, and this will stand her in good stead when she seeks the Republican presidential nomination in 2012.

Palin has been unfairly blamed for the failure of John McCain’s presidential bid in 2008. It is true that she put her foot wrong in a number of minor ways, but her selection as running mate revitalized a flagging campaign. And she was not allowed to campaign freely on her own merits.  Since then, she has shown herself to be a very effective campaigner.

Now with the showing of “Sara Palin’s Alaska” on TLC, we are seeing her in a different light. The program is non-political, but it nevertheless works as an effective promotion of Palin, softening her image and filling out the human aspects.

The old Republican guard, if there is still an effective one, may pale at the idea of Palin running, but as it stands at present, she must be considered the front-runner.

The Tea Party in a Republican House

The 2010 US elections have gone as expected, the Republicans taking the House, but not the Senate. This follows the usual pattern that takes place in a “mid-term” election. It also happened with George Bush in 2006, when the Democrats made the large gains.

Not surprisingly, the Republicans see the 2010 results as affirming their agenda. The gains made by the Republicans were greater than the usual mid-term swing, and this can be attributed to the influence of the tea party. Now the tea party has served notice that it expects its agenda to be followed; otherwise, it will work towards taking out those Republicans that do not cooperate.

Unfortunately, we don’t really know what the Republican agenda is, except to continue the huge Bush tax cuts to the wealthy, to overturn health care legislation and to make sure that Obama is not reelected in two years time. The agenda of the tea party Republicans is primarily to cut the deficit. It also includes getting rid of earmarks (pork barrel projects) and the health care legislation, and uncompromising non-cooperation with the Democrats.

Where does this take us? The Bush tax cuts, an overriding issue with the Republicans, run in direct conflict with the tea party’s desire to cut the deficit. Continuing the tax cuts would add $650 billion to the deficit. How does this sit with the tea partiers?

As for health care, labeled ObamaCare by its detractors, it is difficult to see how the Republicans can overturn it while the president has the power of veto. It is unlikely that the tea party wishes can be met on this issue. Also, despite the election results, 57 percent of voters are in favor of the so-called Obamacare, a percentage that is likely to rise as new provisions come into effect.

Non-cooperation with the Democrats is certainly possible. So is bringing the business of government that has to go through the House to a complete standstill. Will the Republicans do this and risk the consequences?

The truth of the matter is that tea party demands cannot be met 100 percent. The Republican Party is not so irresponsible as to make government impossible. At least some cooperation is necessary to ensure that the party is not blamed for stalemating and bankrupting the country.

Step Down, Nancy Pelosi

Nancy Pelosi has her place in history as the first woman speaker of the House of Representatives. This is her legacy and, after the 2010 mid term elections, she cannot add to it in any positive way.

It is time for her to step aside and have someone else to be the minority leader of the House.

While Pelosi has been an effective leader for the House Democrats, she is a negative polarizing force to the wider voting public. Her popularity has never been high, even among Democrat voters.

In the last elections, the Republicans seized on her unpopularity and  ran ads focused on attacking Pelosi as part of the strategy to win control of the house, ads costing around $65 million, an excellent tactical move that paid off handsomely. This expenditure shows what an asset to the GOP she has become. There is no doubt that a large part of the Democrats’ loss can be attributed to Pelosi.

It is the right thing to do for a leader to step down when there has been a loss of majority. In this case, there is even more at stake than doing the decent thing. It goes right to the top. The Republican Party would be very happy for Nancy Pelosi to continue as the minority leader, since she can do no more than assist them in the defeat of the Democrats and help them to win the presidential office in 2012.

Virginia Doubts

Virginia Thomas, the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, said she was “extending an olive branch” when she called Anita Hill to ask her to apologize for accusing Thomas of sexually harassing her, nineteen years ago. She also wanted “some full explanation of why you did what you did with my husband…”

Clearly, this is no “olive branch”; it is only a little short of demanding that Hill admit to fabricating the harassment charge—in other words, it is an attack. In response, Hill publicly restated that her testimony was “truthful.”

What is interesting here is not the respective statements of Thomas and Hill, but the reason why Virginia Thomas chose to act as she did. What was her motivation?

The answer is that it is not about Clarence Thomas or Anita Hill, so much as it is about Virginia. It seems very likely that she knows in her heart, or at least suspects, that Clarence Thomas was not truthful, even if she consciously does not admit to it.  What she wants is to have her suspicions put to rest, and the only way to do this is for Anita Hill to retract the accusations.

Well, the accusations will not be put to rest, because Hill reaffirmed them. So, poor Virginia will have to continue with that doubt in her heart.

Added Later:

It looks like Virginia Thomas has her confirmation after all. Lillian McEwan, Clarence Thomas’ one time lover has now confirmed that Thomas had an obsession with pornography and that he ogled women’s breasts and was preoccupied with bra sizes—in other words, she backed up what Anita Hill said in 1991.

Yes, Virginia, the worst Supreme Court justice ever is indeed the pervert as alleged. You should have kept your mouth shut.

Legalizing Marijuana – Again

Before when I wrote on California’s Proposition 19 (“Legalizing Marijuana” July 14, 2010), I said, “If the latest proposition is passed, the main benefit would be the decriminalization of marijuana together with a steep drop in prices that would make trafficking the drug unattractive to criminal elements, and there would be some state income from taxes.” This is an argument that has been made in favor of the proposition. But the monetary benefit is actually illusionary.

There cannot be any income from taxes on pot under the Fifth Amendment. The Supreme Court has already ruled (unanimously) that it is unconstitutional to require anyone to pay taxes on marijuana because to do so is to admit to a violation of federal law (Leary v. United States, 395 U.S. 6, 1969). Even if Proposition 19 passes, the use of marijuana remains illegal under federal law. It would not be long before a tax case comes to court and cities like Oakland, who are banking on income from taxes on pot, will find that those coffers will remain empty.

Any savings from decriminalizing marijuana will have to be redirected to the demands of regulation, which are part of the proposition. Drug enforcement will still be required not just for the regulation of marijuana, but also for the increased trafficking of other drugs. The “criminal elements” are unlikely to enter the legitimate marijuana business, but they will find an increased market for harder drugs, given the legal availability of such an excellent gateway drug.

There is no need for this proposition. Under the present policy in California, all you need is a doctor’s note and you can buy your “medical” marijuana. Most people who buy medical marijuana don’t actually need it. Ask around. In the past, I have used a doctor who would give me a “note” for the price of a beer. As it happens, not one note was for pot, but had I wanted one, he would have written it.

Meg Whitman’s Housekeeper

What is the typical politician’s reaction when he is caught out? Deny, lie, shift the blame. This appears to be Meg Whitman’s strategy when the story came out that she had fired her housekeeper of nine years for being an illegal immigrant. Whitman had taken the stand that employers of illegals should be held accountable, so then she had to get rid of the evidence that she was one of those employers. When her dirty little secret came out, she began to deny, and apparently lie (in the face of evidence), and she blamed the housekeeper and her lawyer, and her opponent, at having conspired to make political capital out of her actions.

How much effect this incident will have on the campaign is not easy to predict. The Whitman camp has doubled her ads on Hispanic television in an attempt to counter negative effects. I believe that the fact that she hired an illegal immigrant is not the main issue. What is the most important aspect of this incident is how she treated her housekeeper of nine years. That part is clear. She fired her without compassion, told her that she never knew her, cast her off like one would throw away garbage. Then it was cover up time until the word got out, and the strategy changed to deny, lie and blame others.

Whitman would have been much better off to have taken the initiative in the first place, admitted to having made a mistake, and given some hope to the dismissed housekeeper, perhaps even helping her attain legal status. That is what a compassionate person would have done. We know now what Whitman is not.

Tax Cuts for the Rich

Republicans are pushing for the continuation of the Bush tax cuts for the rich. On the one hand, they criticize the present administration for the size of the budget deficit, yet on the other, they want the tax cuts to continue. They say that we can’t afford $20 billion dollars in assistance to the unemployed, but we can afford the $650 billion in tax cuts for the rich.

How can they defend that? Well, according to the Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell, “There is no evidence that the Bush tax cuts actually diminished revenue. They increased revenue because of the vibrancy of these tax cuts in the economy.” This is complete hogwash! President Clinton left office with a surplus. When the Bush tax cuts took place in 2001, the surplus turned into a deficit, and we have had a deficit every year leading up to the crash.

We already know that this economic concept does not work, no matter how “vibrant” we may limn it to be. President Reagan said the same thing, that his tax cuts would reduce the deficit. Instead they blew out the deficit to three times the amount.

Now Republicans are insisting that the tax cuts are an essential tool to increase employment. We have had nearly ten years to see if increased employment is a benefit of the tax cuts. What do we find? Since the tax cuts were instituted, there has hardly been any job growth, and, of course, in the last couple years with the economy in its inevitable decline, the tax cuts have done nothing to counter the loss of jobs and the severe decline in family income.

There is absolutely no evidence that the continued gift of $650 billion to those who need it the least will produce one single job. We are better off putting that money back into revenue.

California’s Budget Mess

Once more California is in financial crisis mode because the Assembly cannot pass a budget. The longer the budget is stalled, the more costly it is to the state. This situation occurs every year and it is one that the state can ill afford, especially at a time of economic downturn.

The reason why this happens is that because a shortsighted voter initiative requires the state budget to be passed by a two-thirds majority vote in the State Assembly and Senate. While one party can have a simple majority, it is impossible for one party to have two thirds. At present the Democrats hold the simple majority, but the dilemma will be exactly the same when the Republicans hold the majority. So even when they do reach a compromise, it is always a budget that cannot work, a budget that contains a large dose of wishful thinking needed to get it passed. Add to this an intransigent governor, as at present, and there is a triangle of opposites that must be accommodated. Since he has a line item veto, the budget is further compromised.

In a situation like this, a super majority is really not a majority. It flies in the face of basic democratic principles. The power is held by the minority party in order to make up the required two-thirds. The fate of the budget can therefore end up depending on the vote of one assemblyman in the minority party – a situation that has happened. It is unconscionable that one person should be able to hold the whole state at ransom. That is not democracy!

In addition to the impasses, there are no senior members on either side in the Assembly who can exert their influence to facilitate the budgetary process. This is due to another shortsighted voter initiative, which prevents assemblymen from serving more than three terms of two years each. So far-reaching decisions end up being made by rookies and sophomores.

The financial mess that California finds itself in cannot be fixed until both those initiatives are overturned.

There is a chance that the undemocratic two-thirds majority will be overturned this November through Proposition 25 (2010), which restores the simple majority to the budgetary process. Opponents of the proposition see tax increases implied in the initiative, or at least that is what they will use in an attempt to defeat it. Such increases are not in the proposition.

It is possible that following passage of Proposition 25 (2010), a budget could pass on a simple majority with tax increases, just as a budget could pass with deep cuts in social services. The governor still remains as a factor that has to be accommodated. And the electorate can vote out those who supported the undesired aspects in the budget, or recall the governor, or vote in a new governor next time. In other words, it is the democratic process at work.

Legalizing Marijuana

In November, California voters will decide whether to fully legalize marijuana (Proposition 19). The state has already legalized marijuana use for medical purposes. If the latest proposition is passed, the main benefit would be the decriminalization of marijuana together with a steep drop in prices that would make trafficking the drug unattractive to criminal elements, and there would be some state income from taxes. The main personal advantage would be that it will be much easier and cheaper to get high.

The disadvantages, however, are significant. Decreased social inhibitions mean an increase in risky behavior, leading to more accidents. And there are health risks similar to tobacco. Marijuana has toxic elements, like cyanide and tar that is higher than in cigarettes; it causes mouth cancer; it increases pressure on the heart and narrows arteries in the brain, reducing cognitive abilities; and there is more. As with tobacco and alcohol, the taxes are nowhere near enough to cover the health and safety costs to society.

Significant loss of cognitive abilities by long-term marijuana users was brought home to me as a college professor.

When I was teaching freshman English, I noticed a pattern among some of the argumentative essays. They were characterized by a curious but complete inability to present a cogent, reasonable argument. Since a number of the essays in this group advocated (poorly) the legalization of marijuana, I referred to these failures as the “pothead” essays.

One day when I was with a student who had written a classic “pothead” essay, though not on marijuana, I decided on an experiment. I said, “Would you mind if I asked you a personal question?” He answered, no. So I said, “How long have you been smoking pot?” A large smile spread over his face. “How did you know?! I’ve been smoking it since I was thirteen and it hasn’t affected me one single bit.” Well, my friend, it had! I had deduced that he was a hardened user from the essay he turned in.

California voters have not always voted in their best interests, so there is an excellent chance that Proposition 19 will pass this November. More is the pity. We are still struggling with the impact and costs of smoking. Legalizing marijuana will only increase the load on society.