Archive for March 2013

When A Friend Dies

March 30, 2013

When someone one knows dies suddenly, most of us react with a sense of shock.  How could this have happened?  We usually also experience a rush of “what I should have said, or what I would have wanted to have said to that person, that I can not say now”.  It is almost like a feeling of being cheated.

The sudden death is a situation where regardless of ones grief, you remain in charge.  It was the other person who died suddenly.  “I was not not responsible for having unfinished communications”.

It is different when someone is diagnosed with a terminal condition.  The shoe is now on the other foot.  There is time to make contact and share what ever there needs to be said.  And when the allotted time has passed and death has occurred, this time the words unsaid haunt us.  Now it is “why didn’t I make a greater effort to have communicated?”  And the time for excuses like “I thought death would not have come so quickly”.

So it is with a similar feeling that has struck me with NPR’s announcement that they will end production and broadcast of “Talk of the Nation” after 21 years of life.  The terminal disease is not clear but death is schedule to arrive July 1, 2013.  But how does one speak to a dying show?  What does one say?

Neil Conan, the show’s host will leave NPR indicating that the show’s death was not welcomed.  NPR suits have spoken of a wonderful replacement “Here and Now”.  And in my opinion, Robin Young has been a wonderful show host and will most likely continue when “Here and Now” replaces “Talk of the Nation”.

So what would I like to say?


A few years ago NPR’s management dirtied their underpants when they dismissed Bob Edwards.  While many excuses were put forth, there is little doubt that Edwards had gotten under the skin of too many GOP Congressional leaders including Vice President Dick Cheney.  Edwards represented too much liability for NPR’s desire to retain government funding.  Ironically, time has shown that Edwards was fair in his news reporting and NPR was weak in its defense of the 1st Amendment.

Now it is Neil Conan’s time to die (at least on NPR).  Conan, himself, is relatively uncontroversial.  He asks good question and tries tirelessly to question his guests fairly.  On Wednesdays when Ken Rudin joins Conan for a session of the “political junkie”, the audience is treated to 30 minutes of stimulating political discourse without anyone shouting at anyone.  The end of this combination will leave radio less rich.

Hopefully, like Edwards, Conan will rise again and find a spot on Sirius radio.

Knock-Knock, Anyone Home?

March 28, 2013

Today’s newspaper carried an Associated Press article which makes you wonder.  The article covered a just released report by an “actuary group”.  The bottom line, the Affordable Care Act would result in increase of over 30% for certain health insurance policies.  Whoa.

The AP reported that this increase was do largely to the inclusion of previously uninsured “pre-existing condition” Americans.  Hmmm.

A 30+% increase is quite large.  But what a quandary that presents.  Repeal Obamacare, save the 30% and dump several million Americans back in the land of no health insurance.  Hmmm.

One might also remember the huge fight that took place over the individual mandate.  Government officials told us that everyone needed to be insured so that the new revenue from previously uninsured Americans could cover the cost that this mostly healthy cohort would cause.  In essence, the individual mandate was supposed to be a sop for insurance companies.

Consider the following.  Most everyone of us will go through a cycle of being healthy and low cost (to insurance companies) when we are young to varying degrees of “unhealthiness” and much higher cost when we are older.  Everyone.

So why do insurance companies not use “average” health cost by placing all of us in the same pool?  Why should someone working for a large employer pay less for insurance than an individual who is self employed?

There are many reasons given.  One of the most popular is that Americans who take care of themselves (healthy lifestyle) deserve to pay the lowest possible rate.  Hmmm.  For sure there is some truth about lifestyle choices, but most medical opinion is that “genes” are the real game changers.

If this AP report’s prediction turns out to be correct, it may hasten the necessary questions to be asked.

How can this “exceptional” country, USA, be satisfied with health care that is the most expensive in the world (twice as much or more), receive mediocre outcomes, and still not include all Americans?

DOMA Doomed?

March 27, 2013

The Defense of Marriage Act is somewhat like “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”.  Both represent compromise legislation.  Both laws anticipated the trends already underway.  When these laws were passed, evidence was mounting, homosexuals were not strange people.  In most regards they were just like everyone else.

The military rap was that gays would destroy “unit cohesion” (quietly the brass was whispering that gays were not brave like the rest of the military).  As it has turned out, gays have distinguished themselves and performed just as well as anyone else.  So, no more “Don’t ask, don’t tell”.

DOMA represented a “two-fer”.  First, it was a way to limit gay marriage to only those States that enacted laws permitting marriage.  No other State would be required to honor the marriage status if it did not also have gay marriage provisions.  Second, DOMA met the needs for all those who still wanted to punish gays by denying them Federal benefits available to “one man-one woman” marriages.

Sounds like discrimination to me.  If viewed in the light of the times, however, DOMA was a compromise which cried out, “be patient, wait a little longer until the majority of Americans are in favor of marriage equality”.  Has that time come?

From national polls, the answer is yes, the time has come to repeal DOMA.  Now the question is has the Supreme Court’s time come?

Poll after poll is showing clearly there is a wide difference in acceptance of same sex marriage by age group.  Younger Americans see DOMA as just discrimination and nothing more.  The Supreme Court, on the other hand, is packed with older Americans and is tilted in a conservative direction.  So how the Court will decide is not a slam dunk prediction.

Should the Court strike down DOMA (as it should), that will not be the end of the world for opponents of same sex marriage.  States still have to vote for making same sex marriage legal in their specific State.  And that may take some time.

Repeal of DOMA will, however, signal the beginning of the slippery slope.  As more States recognize marriage equality, the day will come when States that do not recognize or authorize same sex marriage will be seen as discriminating against a class of people.  Then just as interracial marriage became the law of the land, so will same sex unions.

So will the Supreme Court see its chance to be on the right side of history, or will it vote its age?


March 26, 2013

Laws prohibiting prostitution are often held up as laws about “victimless crimes”.  In a similar fashion, the Supreme Court this week will take up two cases which are also about “victimless crimes”.

Sweeping aside for a moment the whole notion of why Federal, State, or Local governments are in the business of marriage, the Supreme Court deliberations on California’s Proposition 8 and Congress’ Defense of Marriage Act deal indirectly with a concept where there is no victim.

While it is clearly true that certain religious organizations and many Americans strongly believe that marriage should be about one man and one woman, same sex marriage in no way impacts the quality of any heterosexual marriage nor does it eliminate any right or benefit authorized by government.

Those who seek to maintain laws that are exclusionary are special.  They seem to lack the capacity, I think, to look into a mirror and see themselves.  Instead what they see is everyone else as less perfect and out of step.   Those highly hooked in their religious dogma, go further.  They see others as doomed for eternity.

My question is, so what.

Just suppose same sex couples are doomed (this of course presupposes there is some spirit to “doom” and someplace for the doomed to go), in any case, how does their marriage effect anyone else here and now?

The New Jersey Caper

March 25, 2013

You may have missed the following article which appeared in some weekend newspapers.  For obvious reasons, government authorities and other interested groups were not in favor of wide publicity.  The article read in part:

A group of about 40 members of a Scandinavian white supremacist group, entered the US on Thursday evening under the cover of darkness.  Using two commercial fishing boats, the group motored through Townsends Inlet and headed north on the Intercoastal Waterway.  When they reached Ludlam Bay they went ashore, just east of the New Jersey’s Garden State Parkway.

After they had regrouped, they crossed the Parkway and headed inland.  The invaders soon came across the “Shady Oaks Campgrounds”, just off Route 50, and appropriated the empty summer trailers.  This would be their first camp in their new Country.

The mercenaries were discovered on Friday by some Campground owners who were checking on their property.  These owners alerted authorities who in turn rushed to the camp with the idea of apprehending some unorganized drug users and thereby restore peace and calm to the area.  To their surprise, law enforcement authorities were met with a hail of bullets and were forced to pull back.

Members from a couple of South Jersey gun and motorcycle clubs broke out their weapons, including an array of assault weapons, and decided they would end this standoff.  After a brief encounter, these locals were forced to withdraw (huffing, puffing, and bleeding)  because they could not “out gun” the invading trained militia.

Friday night, again under the cover of darkness, a US Marines Company from Camp Lejeune were airlifted into Atlantic City Airport and were quickly move to Seaville.  The Marines then surrounded the campgrounds sealing in the invaders.  When Saturday morning arrived, the Marines made contact with the invading group and asked them to put down their weapons and surrender.  The group refused and said they would kill anyone who tried to enter their compound.

Late Saturday afternoon, the Marines called in an airstrike which leveled the camp site killing most of the invaders.  Those remaining put down their weapons and were taken into custody.

Of course, this report is fiction.  It does, however, serve the purpose of revealing how hollow and senseless  claims made by gun rights groups.   They claim the right to bear arms (and in particular assault weapons) is necessary to protect them from the US government.  In the beer hall, such claims may sound attractive, but in the real world they are hollow and meaningless.

It is time the public confronts the notion that the 2nd Amendment right to bear arms is related (in 2013), in any way, to protect citizens from a government they do not agree with.  Just as police forces provide first level personal protection, the ballot box and free speech should be the method of shaping government policy and protecting each of us from policies we do not like.


Universal background checks, reduced size ammunition clips, and outlawing assault weapons are not going to assure there will never be another Aurora or Sandy Hook.  In a civilized society, however, where rule of law is bedrock, the notion that we facilitate disturbed citizens and enable them to turn their personal ideas or mental illnesses into mass killings seems incongruous.

Those who choose to own firearms take on the responsibility of both safe use as well as safe keeping.  There is plenty of room for wide spread gun owner ship for hunting, sport, and personal safety.    The position of those who say there should be no limits is commonsense-wise inconsistent with good order.

Smaller Government

March 22, 2013

Pennsylvania’s Republican controlled State Legislature and Governor are sounding (and acting) like they are serious about ending the State Liquor Control Board’s retail operations, and all the surly stores that go with it.  This is such wonderful news that  I am about to take back all the bad things I have ever said about the GOP as a tribute to this sensible act.  Hurray, hurray.

Pennsylvania is the largest US purchaser of wines, and yet still manages to offer mediocre wines at high prices.  Oh, if you want beer, you have two choices.  You may frequent a “beer distributor” and buy your beer in case amounts (no less, sorry), or you can go to a neighborhood bar (taproom in Pennsylvania) and purchase a six pack at naturally higher prices. 

Surrounding States like New Jersey and Delaware, which both have privately owned alcoholic beverage stores, offer wider selections, all available in one store, at equal or lower prices, plus the distinct advantage of a courteous and attentive staff.  Hmmm.

This decision should have been made long ago as it relates to business and customer service.  Why has it taken so long?  The State liquor system employes a lot of people and accounts for a lot of patronage positions.   Hmmm.

In an age where the State is trying to privatize the State Lottery and the State Turnpike, reduce aid to higher education, and whose roads and bridges are decaying, State Liquor outlets doesn’t make the grade.    


Spring Surprises

March 20, 2013

When Spring arrives, many Americans’ thoughts turn to baseball.  It is true that for the next three weeks, basketball will be king, but that’s for the here and now.  Baseball is for the “forever”.

Most fans’ favorite teams have been reconstructed during the off season and are poised to either win again, or this time, upset the more favored teams.  Fans “know” their hearts will swell with pride come July, unless they are Red Sox fans where pride will dissolve into disappointment when the team crashes in August.

Never the less, Spring is such a hopeful time.

Against this backdrop, it was interesting to see much of the reaction to the Republican National Committee’s report on the 2012 Presidential election and what had to change if the GOP wanted to win.  Probably the biggest objection centered on efforts to make the campaign shorter and eliminate caucuses.  One only needs to remember what was the circus like process that just occurred to understand the wisdom in this recommendation.  Rand Paul, Rick Santorum, and Sarah Palin all weighed in that the primary process was just fine as is.  Hmmm.

The GOP is up against a perplexing problem.  If the GOP selection process was effective in building a platform and in selecting the standard barer, why should they expect to win in 2016?  The demographics are pointing in the wrong direction.

Like most baseball teams that grow old or follow poor strategies, it turns out they don’t win.  Baseball teams “rebuild” when that occurs.  Baseball teams may change from being a “power team” to a “hit, run, and steal” team.  But what most teams realize, you can’t be both at the same time.

The GOP can be about individual liberties and smaller government, or they can emphasize fiscal discipline and effective government.  They simply can’t be both.   Unless the GOP strategy serves the needs of a demographic majority, the one they select won’t win either.

Spring brings hope.  I hope the GOP thinks about this.


A Day Of Infamy

March 19, 2013

Ten years ago, the US invaded and occupied the sovereign nation of Iraq.  News reports today are recalling that the war had “wide support” from both elected officials and the public.  What is that suppose to mean?

The press reports that 75% of Americans supported the war.  That is pretty strong support.  Within a few years after the going got really tough, support evaporated.  I am proud to say I was one of the 25% and saw the war for what it was.  A regime change project premised on superior military force.  (See PNAC)

I was living in Duesseldorf in March 2003.  My english speaking press was the International Herald Tribune, then a JV between the New York Times and the Washington Post.  Between the IHT and the German media, anyone could get a different perspective on what evidence actually existed to justify military action.  The preponderance said (1) there is no imminent threat, (2) there was no hard evidence of any nuclear program, and (3) there was absolutely no connection between Iraq and al Qaeda.


As the war progressed (even after Mission Accomplished), the tragic consequences began to add up.  We can measure the war’s cost in deaths, those badly injured, and dollars.  All were far too much.

We should also measure its cost in terms of opening Pandora’s box and unleashing sectarian violence of unbelievable proportions.  Iraqi killing Iraqi is just as heavy a responsibility as the thousand of military members who came home with limbs missing or debilitating head injuries.

Since the war began, many have called this a Republican War.  Many have blamed George W Bush and Dick Cheney.  And indeed the war happened on the GOP watch with the drum majors, Bush and Cheney.  I am not sure, however, that the charge Republicans take us to war is fair for all times.

It is clear, however, that former President Bush and Vice President Cheney were not up to the standards of their jobs.  Their shallow thinking, inch deep preparation, poor execution, and unashamed propagandized speeches are part of history.  The Iraq War is one of America’s darkest hours.

To be absolutely clear, the military fought the war and subsequent occupation bravely and with honor.  Soldiers sacrificed much only to return to a questioning country.  This seems grossly unfair considering our service men and women’s sacrifices, but it is the same national reaction as with Vietnam.

March 19, 2003 is a day that will live in infamy.


My New Next Door Neighbor

March 18, 2013

Reince Priebus, Chairman of National Republican Party, has news for all of us.  We are going to get some new neighbors.  The GOP is going to send out into the community paid Republican workers who will provide the GOP message directly to Americans.  Why?  Well, Mitt Romney lost the last election because not enough Americans understood the GOP message.


I’m not sure whether I should laugh at this preposterous notion or scratch my head and wonder how anyone could think the GOP message had not been communicated?  After the carnival which was the Republican primary process, and about $1 billion spent upon the Presidential campaign, one might say I did not like the message, but one cannot say I did not hear the message.

Women, minorities, gays and lesbians, those who respect science, those caught up in voting rules changes, and Hispanics have all heard a clear message.  Rebranding or more intimate messaging does not change the message.

The natural consequences of Priebus’s plan are that the GOP will lose by even greater margins in 2016, and Democrats will not sharpen their game in order to remain competitive.  They won’t need too.

Without two relevant political parties, all Americans are losers.



March 17, 2013

The Conservative Political Action Committee concluded its annual convention Friday with a straw poll.  CPAC’s selection narrowly favored Rand Paul, thereby launching his 2016 Presidential campaign.  But Rand was not the only darling of the Convention.

The usual, fiery orators who are content to make “throw them red meat” speeches, did so again even in the face of other realities.  Each of the speakers justify their comments with the statement (to the effect), “yes we lost the last election, but that is no reason to abandon our principles”.  On the surface that sounds laudatory.  On reflection, one must wonder what they are really thinking?

On the national level, the last election’s demographics were clear.  The GOP “principles” on women, gays, immigrants, and science failed the GOP in 2012, and are not going to cut it in the future.  Gaining the GOP Presidential nomination is another matter.  So the CPAC speeches might be just aimed at that target.


The more polished speakers, such as Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush refrained from saying really stupid things.  Paul Ryan, also a polished orator, pitched his deficit eliminating budget.  Ryan’s budget, however, relies on repeal of Obamacare (again with no plan on how to provide the coverage), and proposed tax reforms (oh yes, without any description of the exemptions that would be eliminated but the plan has been described as a tax break for the wealthy).  Hmmm.

Speakers with less substance, such as Michelle Backmann and Sarah Palin, said nothing but, what they said, was hailed by the audience as breathtaking.   Palin’s ignorant display of a 32 ounce Big Gulp while a clear statement on individual choice also showed an even greater lack of appreciation for “star appeal”.  Sarah was telling anyone looking on that unlimited intake of sugar bore no risk to ones health.  Sad.

If one considers the entire conference one is left with an unmistakeable impression that CPAC was not “packed” with anything sensible.  It would have been better labeled C-NAUGHT for the hollowness of the ideas and speeches.  Hmmm.

I am struck with thought that just possibly CPAC speakers are not serious about the White House.  Rather, the GOP sees itself as better suited as a perpetual minority party.  From this platform, the GOP can pontificate on how things should not be, and still keep getting elected in highly gerrymandered districts.

Hmmm.  Maybe C-NAUGHT is pretty clever.