Wednesday, January 29, 2014

You riled 'em up, GOP. Now you have to deal with 'em.

Last night, the President gave his State of the Union speech for 2014. The thing is, there wasn't just one response to it. There was the "official" Republican response from Cathy McMorris Rodgers (I'm not clear if she's Fred Rogers' evil twin, or if that lady from the Harry Potter books doesn't just wear pink any more), and then there was the Tea Party response (because, as my momma always said, "stupid is as stupid does"), and then, only on Youtube, Rand Paul gave his own "Tea Party Response," speaking for the Batshit Insane caucus.

Let's all take a moment to enjoy the current dynamics playing out within the Republican Party. They've split into a bunch of tiny, warring factions, each out to stab all the others in the back. They're trying their best to hide it, but they really aren't doing a good job, as last night proved.

The problem, you see, is that in 2008 the Republicans felt that, in order to defeat Obama, instead of taking up a more reasonable stance on a few key issues, they needed to mobilize the morons and the low information voters. Unfortunately, some of the newly-active mouth-breathers refused to retreat to their sofas and soap operas after the election, and kept right on chanting, picketing, and writing increasingly incoherent diatribes and tweets.

Social media had given them new access to vast fields of topics that they knew nothing about, and they felt that it was their duty to prove how little they knew. And the best way to do this was to elect people just as stupid as they were: enter Ted Cruz, Louis Gohmert, and all of their ilk.

While there may have been some dissension in the GOP during Obama's first term, things really started coming to a head during the government shutdown debates back in September, when the nominally intelligent Republicans realized that their new, hyperpartisan friends were not just willing, but actually eager, to see the government collapse - after all, the wet dream of any dedicated small government enthusiast would have to be government disappearing completely.

People like Libertarian Fox Business wonk John Stossel wanted lawmakers to "shut down more," and "I'm hoping the shutdown will wake people up... and say 'hey, maybe we don't need all this stuff.'" (A philosophy that ignores the 24 billion dollars that the 16-day shutdown cost the taxpayers, or the billions lost by businesses across the country that are more difficult to calculate.)

The most prescient (or in this case, conniving) saw it coming months earlier: Karl Rove, in the runup to the upcoming midterm elections, basically told his donors "yes, I wasted $300 million in 2012, and if you don't give me more money, the Democrats will win again!"

That's a venal and dishonest strategy, in that it ignores the fact that most of the money he takes from the gullible rich will be going to fight the new breed of rabid Tea Partiers that he helped create.

Speaker of the House John Boehner has become openly dismissive of the Tea Party fringes. And he isn't the only one. And the Tea Party, on their part, has no love for the establishment Republicans, even the ones who danced to their tune as hard as they could (just not to the point of destroying the economy).

Millions of dollars are being raised, on both sides, as Republicans prepare to square off against other Republicans for the future of the Republican philosophy.

The best result that we can hope for, really, is that nobody learns any lessons from the trouncing they're about to get, and the GOP stays divided through the 2016 elections. In the meantime, though, I'm just going to sit here with my popcorn and watch the fireworks.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Talking to The Man

Every so often, I like to send little notes to the members of Congress in my state. (Sometimes I'll send them to Congresscritters in other states, too. But let's not talk about that.) Mostly, this just gets me on mailing lists and doesn't do much else. But I'm an optimist by nature, so I keep trying.

This time, I thought I'd wander over to the "contact Tom" button on Senator Tom Udall's (D-NM) site.

(Can I call you Tom? As much as you've emailed me, I feel I should be allowed to.)

I couldn't help noticing that a number of Democrats are caving in to the Republican talking point that any extension of unemployment benefits should be "paid for."

Well, if that's the case, how are we paying for all of the corporate subsidies that my tax dollars are going to? Gas and oil companies get massive subsidies every year, and none of them are struggling. But families in your state are.

What about the $1.1 billion we pay out to distillers every ten years, to allow them to produce flavored vodka? (That one's covered in Section 5010 of the tax code, if you're wondering.) What about the $80 million worth of sugar we bought back from domestic sugar producers (a $3.3 billion dollar industry)?

See if you can "pay for" the unemployment by reducing the subsidy to any industry that's consistently turned a profit in the last decade. This wouldn't even be a hard sell. You could point out that the majority of unemployment insurance goes to families with children, and you personally don't see the benefits to the country that comes from forcing children to starve.

You could point out that long-term unemployment hurts the economy, and while there are people who would like to see the US economy destroyed, none of them should be in Congress.

You can even finish with "And if extending unemployment benefits is such a distasteful subject, I would like to ask why our Republican colleagues have been blocking every effort to create any type of jobs bill for the past six years?"

Give it a shot, Senator. See how far it could take you.
As always, I doubt it will accomplish anything, but let's see what happens.

Monday, January 06, 2014

Who remembers Nicaragua?

So, on Face the Nation this weekend, Peggy Noonan called New York mayor Bill De Blasio a "Sandinista" – she tried to walk it back almost immediately, as soon as the host called her on it.

But, you know, it's a funny thing: that idea seems to be the latest right wing talking point. In November, Rush Limbaugh called De Blasio a Sandinista and a communist, as did the pundits on Fox "News."

So let’s be clear what’s going on here: the right wing is assuming (perhaps justifiably, considering how they’ve destroyed education) that nobody knows who the Sandinistas were. But before we get to them, the first thing you should know is that the Somoza family ran Nicaragua for 43 years (either directly or through puppets); they were wonderful guys, who kept power through assassination and torture; their relations with the US finally fell apart finally when the Nicaraguan National Guard was caught on tape gunning down ABC reporter Bill Stewart (and his translator Juan Espinoza) in early 1979.

In 1979, the Frente Sandinista de LiberaciĆ³n Nacional (FSLN) overthrew the Somoza regime by force: the only way possible when faced with a tyrant, with a secret police force and a prison full of anyone who spoke out against them. In 1988, Bill De Blasio traveled to Nicaragua, and came away with admiration for what the Sandinistas were accomplishing to help their people.

And, admittedly, the Sandinistas got a little repressive later on - mostly in order to fight the Contras (more on them later), but never, by any stretch of the imagination, did they get as bad as the government they replaced.

But Peggy Noonan was speechwriter for Ronald Reagan, who supported the Somoza regime. This was not surprising, because Reagan had this habit of supporting murderous thugs around the world, like the Taliban, the racist government of South Africa and their policy of apartheid, Augusto Pinochet in Chile, and many others. Essentially, it wouldn't matter how many of his own people a dictator killed or tortured: if they bought their guns from the US instead of the USSR, Reagan liked them. He was friendly that way.

In fact, one of the most memorable acts of the Reagan administration (you might have heard of it) was when they quietly sold arms to Iran (the same country that had just recently taken over their American embassy), and funneled the money to a terrorist organization called the Contras.

Remember the Contras? They opposed the Sandinista government. And they showed their opposition through the gentle, humanitarian tactics of rape, murder, destruction of entire towns, kidnapping, blowing up health care clinics, and targeting doctors for assassination. You know, just good, clean fun; these were the people Reagan supported.

So, let's draw a few lines: Peggy Noonan worked for Reagan, who supported the Contras, who were opposed to the Sandinistas. So I guess it's understandable that Noonan might think badly of the Sandinistas, as well.

Because she, too, apparently loves murderous thugs and hates freedom. At least, that’s the impression I get. Can anybody explain what it is that I might be misunderstanding?

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Pot calling the Kettle

I only talk about it once in a while, but my wife suffers from chronic pain issues. She's been seeing a number of doctors for a number of years, some better than others, trying to keep her going. As the years have gone on and the pain has gotten worse, she's ended up on gradually stronger and heavier doses of narcotics. And she hates it.

She's always been intelligent. She used to catch on immediately to the most subtle nuance. And then, as the cloud of narcotics around her head got thicker and heavier, she found it harder and harder to concentrate. She couldn't easily focus her attention on anything.

The tradeoff between being less intelligent and not being in pain was difficult for her. It was a different kind of pain, but there it is.

But New Mexico, unlike many more "civilized" states, has medical marijuana laws. And after our daughter suggested medical marijuana, she started doing her research. (OK, technically, our daughter suggested Marinol - she didn't think there was a chance in hell that her mother would smoke.)

New Mexico issues licenses to its known users, and the process for getting a license, while not particularly complicated, is rigid, structured, and annoying as hell.

We gathered all the documents that they wanted: the completed five-page application, a copy of her driver's license, her medical records, and certification from two different practitioners (her primary care guy, and her Pain Management guy).

(Weirdly, we also got a call from the Department of Health asking permission to contact a third doctor - she had an x-ray in her records, and they wanted to contact the radiologist who read it: possibly as evidence that she had cysts where he said she did - we've never really been certain.)

We had different problems getting the two medical authorizations. The first one, and easily the strangest one, was from our primary care guy. We've been seeing this short, elderly guy, and he wanted us to make an appointment with him. He'd apparently reviewed her records, and he sat down with her, looked her in the eyes, and asked her if she was aware of the possibility of the drug causing severe schizophrenia?

Yes, that's right. A medical doctor, concerned about Reefer Madness. (That was actually the incident that caused us to reevaluate our primary care provider.)

The second problem was came up later. It seems that the Pain Management doctor's paperwork didn't meet their requirements, and we'd been back-burnered for three weeks before we found out.

After a long and angry phone call with the Department of Health, I got them to finally explain what the problem was: the doctor's Physician's Assistant (PA) had filled out the paperwork for him - that, after all, is what PA's do. But she wasn't a Board Certified Pain Medicine specialist - the doctor was.

The next day, I overnighted updated paperwork from the doctor to them, and my wife now has a bright, shiny green card from the New Mexico Department of Health. It has a fascinating statement on the back: "card holders are legally permitted to use and possess up to six (6)ounces (170 grams) of usable marijuana." As opposed to all that unusable marijuana that people are caught with every day?

She also has a list of all the non-profit pot stores certified by the State of New Mexico (I think they should call them "dealerships"), along with an admonition not to disclose their locations. My wife is now a state-sponsored stoner.

So there's the trick: the government has a program, but they don't have a lot of inclination to help you themselves. You have to push them into doing their job, and you have to keep resubmitting anything they have a problem with - all it takes is one comma out of place, and everything comes to a halt.

She has a vaporizer (smoking irritates her throat, so we avoid that), and the store has some fairly high-quality pot, with names like "Wow" and "Shiska-berry", along with information on which of the various cannabinoids each brand contains.

And while she spends most days mildly buzzed, she no longer feels like her head is wrapped in cotton. She can concentrate on things for an extended period; she can read books again, and not have to go back over the same page three or four times.

There are conflicting theories regarding the use of marijuana; I just know this. It helps my wife, and that's what matters to me.