Thursday, September 27, 2007

New student aid law a huge step forward.

Today President Bush signed a landmark piece of legislation that was sent to him by the Democratic Congress. The legislation, called the College Cost Reduction and Access Act, does what the Republican Congress failed to do: help financial aid keep up with the skyrocketing costs of college that have made it unaffordable for millions of would-be students.

The bill will expand the PELL program by $11.4 billion over the next five years and increase the maximum PELL grant from $4,310 in 2007 to $5,400 by 2012. While this is not everything that it could be (with many students even at state universities having to pay upwards of $25,000 annually for tuition, fees, books, room and board, and other expenses), it does represent a realization of how fast college costs have been increasing as state and federal budget cuts force college boards to increase tuition and fees by large amounts and on a yearly or almost yearly basis.

Beyond that, the bill does a lot of other things. For example, it allows active duty members of the military to defer their payments while they are in the service, and even for a year after they leave. It is amazing to me that with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, this had not been attended to earlier, but I guess it takes a Democratic Congress to do more for our servicemen and servicewomen than just say nice things about them and wave a flag around. It also cuts the interest rate on Federally backed student loans in half, making repayment easier for students who leave college with a mountain of debt and then have to pay it back while they are just starting on their careers.

In fact, if those careers involve teaching, the bill goes even farther-- it gives students the option to actually have student debt forgiven if they teach for at least a few years after college. Local school districts are limited by their budgets and often cannot afford to compete for the best talent from universities because they can't pay as much as they could earn in the private sector. But this provision in the law amounts to a huge strengthening of the hand of school boards, as a teaching job will now be much more competitive with private sector jobs even though the school board may not have to spend a dime more than they would have. More to the point, this represents a real and concrete investment in education.

The President issued a terse signing statement in which he expressed his displeasure with certain aspects of the law (though he did sign it) but nevertheless it is a law today.

And don't let anyone lie to you-- this was a huge achievement by Congress with the reluctant agreement of the President. It is a very big step forward.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

More thoughts on the Jeffs verdict, polygamy and child abuse.

I would like to clarify something regarding the last post I put up regarding the conviction of Warren Jeffs as an accessory to rape, as well as several others (notably the post I did on the Lost Boys of Colorado City and Hildale) in which I've been quite critical of Jeffs and the FLDS Church (which I will again mention has nothing at all to do with and has been completely disavowed by the mainline LDS Church, of which I am a member and which banned polygamy over a century ago.)

One of the jurors who served on the Jeffs jury (identified in today's Arizona Republic as Jerry Munk) summed it up best when asked about the defense argument that the victim, Elissa Walls, never cried rape or talked to her family members about her experience or feelings about it while it was happening.

"She was fourteen," Munk said. "She didn't have to say anything for a rape to occur."

Exactly. And I will even say that I think that Utah's law, which grants a three year near-age exemption in the case of underage children makes a heck of a lot of sense, especially when compared, for example, to the Georgia law that is responsible for Genarlow Wilson continuing to sit in prison and rot and then register as a sex offender for having consensual teenage sex with another student at the high school he went to.

I've always said that I don't care what goes on between consenting adults. My problem with FLDS is that they are responsible for a great deal of evil in the lives of their own children, forcing teenage girls to be raped and abandoning teenage boys to make their way in the world with practically no preparation or knowledge about how to survive in it.

Polygamists, including FLDS are free to practice their religion. But they can let their children wait until adulthood to be able to make adult decisions. To be honest, I've never thought that polygamy itself should be a crime (especially since it leads to many grey areas, with the worsening economy making it more and more common for more than two unrelated adults to live together, with or without any of them having a formal marriage; are they going to make it a crime only if some of them are having more than a monogamous relationship within the household? And how do they determine that?) For that matter, many people, including muslims (1/5 of the world's population) belong to religions which allow the practice of polygamy. If a muslim man with three wives were to come to America from someplace else, are his wives no longer married to him? According to our own laws, they can't all be, but likely he has a valid marriage certificate for each of them from whatever country they were married in.

This case is not, however, about freedom of religion. It's about a crime involving children. There are already legitimate examples of where laws do limit what churches can do. For example, if a church believed in human sacrifice the person who carried it out and those who helped them could still be held liable for murder (for example, Sara Maria Aldrete, who was the high priestess of a bizarre cult located in Matamoros, Mexico and who is known to have murdered several people in ritual sacrifices including a University of Texas student named Mark Kilroy who was kidnapped for the purpose.

However, I know of no doctrine within polygamous religions which mandate that children younger than eighteen must be married. They can wait until eighteen. At that, I would point out that eighteen is indeed an arbitrary number-- I've certainly known some fourteen year olds who probably knew more about sex and its consequences than a lot of older adults, and I've also known thirty year olds who are remarkably ignorant about it (likely that group also includes many FLDS-raised men, who were cast out as Lost Boys in order to unbalance the gender ratio for the benefit of polygamists, years ago with no social skills at all, having never been permitted to talk to a female other than their mothers and still survive just on the edges of society). But since there is no test for maturity, we as a society have set eighteen years old as the age at which we consider a person to be an adult. So at the very least, I hope that the FLDS realizes from yesterday's verdict that children at least must be protected and nurtured, and with that perhaps even educated so that they can make their own decisions or survive in the world outside of the confines of the border straddling community.

One can hope that, anyway. Though knowing what I do about FLDS (which is more than many people know) my belief is that they will consider it an act of persecution by the outside world and maybe even a step towards the apocalypse.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Bush suggests opposing junta in Myanmar, three years after his campaign broke the law to buy campaign wear from there

Today George Bush tried to shift the focus away from his botched job in Iraq and focused on the demonstrations led by Buddhist monks in Myanmar (formerly Burma) against the dictatorship there.

I would love to see the junta go, and there is no doubt that they are among the worst violators of human rights in the world, but it is interesting that the President should discover this now.

He certainly didn't care about it in 2004, when his campaign broke the law to purchase campaign gear from Burma!

The official merchandise Web site for President George W. Bush's re-election campaign has sold clothing made in Burma, whose goods were banned by Bush from the U.S. last year to punish its military dictatorship.

The merchandise sold on includes a $49.95 fleece pullover, embroidered with the Bush-Cheney '04 logo and bearing a label stating it was made in Burma, now Myanmar. The jacket was sent to Newsday as part of an order that included a shirt made in Mexico and a hat not bearing a country-of-origin label.

Poor Bush. I'd call him a hypocrite for this, but I'm not sure that's the whole story. The truth is, he's accumulated so much crap by now that he can't even keep track of it all.

Warren Jeffs convicted.

Breaking news: The jury up in St. George has convicted FLDS leader Warren Jeffs of being an accessory to rape. Justice has been served in the case of Elissa Walls, who at the age of fourteen was forced into a marriage with her nineteen year old cousin by Warren Jeffs.

I don't expect that despite the conviction the FLDS will just disband and go away, and we have to keep in mind that it remains as it always has been, a very closed and tight-knit community. However, this is nevertheless a victory for justice, and it sends a clear message that whatever the polygamists do (and I've said many times that I don't care what kind of relationship consenting adults have, including polygamous ones), that children should be left alone and allowed to make their own decisions.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

America's Hessians may also be involved in arms smuggling.

Hot on the heels of the alleged killings of over 20 Iraqi civilians by mercenaries employed by Blackwater USA, comes a new allegation, that Blackwater Hessians are involved in illicit arms sales. Specifically, the probe focuses on evidence that some mercenaries employed by Blackwater bought assault rifles and other weapons while they were home in America and sold them to willing buyers in Iraq-- which I'm sure it isn't hard to find some. The company itself has denied involvement and called claims that the company itself was involved in illegal arms sales 'baseless' but has pointedly not said the same about its employees, in light of a statement by State Department Inspector General Howard Krongard this week which seemed to confirm an ongoing investigation into arms smuggling by Blackwater employees.

Of course after a brief suspension following the shooting incident Blackwater was ordered back to work over the objections of the Iraqi government and is back to doing the same tasks it has done in the past-- tasks involving security and escorting of convoys, including military supply convoys and individuals that normally in past wars have been assigned to the military. And the truth is that our already overstrained military, overextended even farther by the 'surge' to a troop level that they cannot maintain permanently (hence the call for a troop reduction back to pre-surge levels by the Bush administration despite the failure of the Iraqi government to make any progress towards a political solution-- the stated objective of the 'surge.') Hence the reliance on mercenaries (most, but not all of the Blackwater employees are Americans, but there are also many foreign mercenaries, some former members of armies known to have committed large scale atrocities in the past.) Bill Berkowitz' expose in March of 2005 (a month before the infamous Fallujah incident involving the death of four Blackwater employees) focused on their recruiting efforts among the armies of the former apartheid regime in South Africa and the Pinochet regime in Chile-- both well schooled in human rights violations.

Well, is this latest news about gun-running surprising? When you hire mercenaries then you have to expect them to act like--- well, mercenaries.

When I first wrote abou Blackwater, back a couple of years ago, I wrote,

What has changed is that mercenaries today are no longer 'independent contractors' as they traditionally have been. Because they are now managed and formed into commando units by companies like Blackwater (as well as DynCorp and a few others), it is only necessary to contract with the company. Because rules of engagement for paramilitary forces are not well defined, our government has found them useful in missions that the traditional army might not be able to undertake for political reasons, for example, operations that carry a high risk of civilian casualties, military operations within the borders of the United States or against U.S. citizens, or operations in which it is foreseen that some of the traditional rules of engagement might not apply. If the mercenaries break some of the rules, there is either the benefit of deniability, or the ability to fire the 'security contractors' without admitting guilt.

And that may be the case here. Blackwater can in fact deny direct involvement in either the shooting incident or the arms smuggling, and fire the employees found to be directly responsible while setting the tone and officially following the same loose 'hands-off' policy that the Defense Department claimed to be following when the Abu Graib scandal broke.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Warren Jeffs Trial

I wrote last year upon the occasion of the arrest of Warren Jeffs, the leader of the FLDS polygamist cult,

So Warren Jeffs has presided over a community in which 13 year old girls are raped, and 13 year old boys are dumped on the street with nothing and told not to come back....

Over the past three years, under the leadership of Arizona authorities, primarily Attorney General Terry Goddard, along with authorities in Utah, progress has been made in gaining control over the group. The resources of the church (which includes all the polygamist homes-- none of the people who live in them actually own their building) have been ordered by a judge to be controlled by a group of outside trustees for the benefit of the community and individuals within it. Where crimes are discovered, they have been prosecuted, and in particular Jeffs will now be prosecuted.

And that will hopefully be the beginning of the end for this nightmare of what amounts to sexual slavery, or of exile, for the children of Colorado City and Hildale.

As I've said many times, I don't care what any consenting adult does with any other consenting adult, but in this case, there is much justice that needs to, and I hope will, be served in our court system.

Jeffs is specifically being tried in St. George for his role in forcing a then-fourteen year old girl to marry her cousin. Today his defense got their turn and tried to undermine the testimony of the victim (who is now 21 and has fled the church) by getting her to say she never cried 'rape.' In fact, her case is somewhat unusual in that she was actually her cousin's first wife, and her cousin was 19 at the time, while some young girls have had to marry men as old as in their sixties and become plural wives.

WHAT?! That's supposed to be a defense? How likely is it that a fourteen year old, who has been told by someone who she believes is a prophet of God (Jeffs) that she will be eternally damned if she does not go along with it, will scream 'rape' when she is being ravaged by someone who as far as she knows is her lawful husband? I'd like to ask whether any female children growing up in Colorado City or Hildale were ever advised to scream, 'rape' if they were married against their will.

Warren Jeffs is simply put a man who has done a great deal of harm to the young people in his community. Two years ago, I blogged on The Real Lost Boys: And it's Usually Not a Happy Ending about the young teenage men of Colorado City and Hildale who are dumped out into the world possessing rudimentary construction skills, zero social skills and in many cases have never read any book other than the Bible or the Book of Mormon. Many of them end up in prison, on drugs or dead, while others live on the fringes of society in small groups all over southern Utah looking for whatever work they can find.

And the Lost Boys continue to be an overlooked issue (though last year Jeffs and his associates settled a civil suit filed by six of them). However this trial is focused on what happened to the girls.

And that is just as ugly, if not uglier than what he has done to the boys. Young girls forced to marry, often to men old enough to be their father (and then being their fourth or fifth wife at that.) They are raped, and forced to obey, with the knowledge that they will be beaten if they do not (and with the always present admonition from Jeffs that damnation awaits them if they don't obey.) Then later they have to raise their own daughters to a similar fate, and pray that their sons are among the lucky few who get to stay.

I hope that this prosecution is successful. Deconstructing the web of lies, bondage and misery that is at the core of FLDS will take time, but a successful prosecution of Warren Jeffs will be a giant step in that direction.

I hope God has a sense of humor. Otherwise, I'd want to avoid Nebraska right now.

Nebraska State Senator Ernie Chambers is suing God. He is claiming that God has made and fulfilled numerous terroristic threats, including "fearsome floods, egregious earthquakes, horrendous hurricanes, terrifying tornadoes, pestilential plagues, ferocious famines, devastating droughts, genocidal wars, birth defects, and the like." Anyway, at least we know Senator Chambers has a pretty good onomatopoedic vocabulary.

He says he wants to make a point about frivolous lawsuits.


I wonder if God was also trying to send Senator Chambers a message Saturday when the Cornhuskers lost at home, 49-31 to number one Southern California.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

President outfoxes us and gets us to 'stay the course.'

Last December I wrote a post called, Don't buy into George Bush's Iraq trap.

In it, I discussed what were then new plans for a so-called 'troop surge.' While I was wrong in predicting that the proposed troop surge would never even occur, it seems that I was right in my basic premise-- that it was all about framing the argument in a way that would allow the administration to 'stay the course.'

I wrote back then,

is shifting the frame of the debate. Instead of it being between 'stay the course' (his position) and 'withdraw' (the progressive position) which he would certainly lose, what he plans to do is try and get people debating the 'surge' (i.e. ratcheting up the war.) Those opposed are then debating against increasing troops, and as such are by default arguing only to not increase them (i.e. maintaining current levels-- 'staying the course.') He knows he doesn't have the votes in the new Congress to win, but what he is trying to do is play the Democrats for chumps, and get people to forget that we were talking about how to get out. Then he can lose the vote in Congress but still end up 'staying the course' (what he wants anyway). Only then that will become the the Democratic position (because it was in opposition to his 'new' position), and then if Iraq continues to deteriorate (as it will) and we continue to lose American troops (which we will) then it becomes the fault of Democrats.

In other words, he is trying to unload his lemon onto us.

If we fall for that, then we really are stupid. But unfortunately, based on what I've heard, there are some on the left who seem ready to take up this no-win debate.

Fast forward to today. The 'surge' is well underway, and this week the President announced that there will be a reduction of 30,000 troops by the middle of next year-- in other words back to the level they were at just before the 'surge'! Yup, you got it-- he is well on his way to maneuvering us into staying the course!!

Militarily, it could be argued that the surge has achieved some objectives, but then the same could be said of the initial 2003 invasion of Iraq as well. Politically the reconciliation which the surge was supposed to ensure still has not happened. If sectarian killings are down it is largely because so many predominantly Sunni or predominantly Shi'ite areas have been 'purified' (as Iraqis call it) and segregation created by driving out those minorities who did live there. On top of that, August showed an uptick in the number of civilian deaths. While this figure may to a degree reflect a series of bombings that killed 500 in one day in northern Iraq, it is clear that the surge has not stopped violence in Iraq, but at best has given it a brief respite. And even the most heralded 'success' in Iraq, the Sunni leaders in Anbar banding together to drive out al-Qaeda, was already happening before the 'surge' began and really has little to do with it.

But let's be clear what this was. It was a maneuver to buy a year for the President's failed policy so he could run out the clock on his mess, and it is no more or less than that.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Bush unifies the world, America-- against him.

Six years ago, nearly everyone in the world was united in support of the U.S. and President Bush. Six years ago he had 90% approval.

Today most people in the world are united again. And so are most of the American people. In opposition to the same President and his ruinous war in Iraq.

The only real claim that comes close to the elusive 'victory' they can point to after six months of the surge is that Sunni sheikhs in Anbar province have kicked out al-Qaeda. But that was already starting to happen before the surge, and the political reconciliation that was supposed to happen, has not happened.

Meanwhile, American deaths and maimed continue to pile up, and the cost of the war is rapidly approaching half a trillion dollars. I hope that when the Bush tax cuts are set to expire in 2010 that Democrats have the fortitude to respond to righties who claim it will be a 'tax increase' by simply saying, "all that the previous administration spent on Iraq was borrowed, and now it's time to pay the bill for it."

That line would even find a lot of supporters for returning to the Clinton tax rates.

See, isn't Bush a miracle worker? Everything he touches turns to garbage-- and it's something you can count on.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Liberal and conservative brains function differently.

A researcher in Chicago has come up with empirical, scientific evidence that the brains of liberals and conservatives operate differently. And in particular, it appears that liberals show more flexibility in their thinking.

Judy Peres
Chicago Tribune
Sept. 10, 2007 12:00 AM

CHICAGO - The differences between liberals and conservatives may run deeper than how they feel about welfare reform or the Iraq war: Researchers reported Sunday that their brains may actually work differently.

Psychologist David Amodio, a professor at New York University, found that the brain's anterior cingulate cortex is more sensitive in people who consider themselves liberal.

The region helps people shift gears when responses would be inappropriate, backing the notion that liberals are more flexible in their thinking.

In the study, 43 students registered their political attitudes from extremely liberal to extremely conservative. Then they completed a computer test called "Go/No-Go" while their brain activity was tracked.

Subjects were told to quickly press "Go" each time the letter M flashed, but not when a W was displayed.

Amodio said the "Go" stimulus came up 400 out of 500 times, so "they're sitting there getting in the habit of pressing this button. But 20 percent of the time, the 'No Go' stimulus comes up; it's unexpected."

Subjects who rated themselves more liberal had higher scores for accuracy, Amodio said. But, more important, they also showed stronger electrical activity when the "No Go" cues were presented, indicating that more neurons were firing.

So liberals show more flexibility in their thinking, and it is because more neurons are firing. Aside from proving the old adage that conservatives only know one way to accomplish anything, it seems to suggest that liberals' brains are working harder.

So next time you meet a conservative, don't judge him or her too harshly. Conservatism may not be a matter of choice. It may be that he or she is suffering from a mental condition that causes a slower, less adaptable mode of thinking, of which conservatism is only a symptom.

Hmmmm... Most synapses have some kind of a chemical stimulus. So maybe we can work on developing a 'liberal pill,' which if taken in the proper doses will cure the conservative of this debilitating condition and allow for more rational thinking.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

THAT'S HOT! OK Paris, now sue me.

In my last post I said that there are some words (in particular the post was about the use of the 'n' word) that should never be used. In the last paragraph though I linked to a post I did last January opposing an attempt to make it illegal.

That is because however I may feel about the language, I don't believe that anyone has the right to wall off the lexicography. And that goes not only for reasons of my opposition to censorship based on the first amendment, but also the belief that no one should be able to wall off any commonly used phrase just to make a buck, or because they think they are so special that no one should be able to use it.

And that is where I find that I side with the Hallmark Greeting Card company, which is now being sued by Paris Hilton.

The issue is a card parodying Paris, in which they use her patented phrase, "That's hot." No, I don't mean just patented in the sense that say Donald Trump is associated with "You're fired" or the late Harry Caray was associated with, "Holy Cow." I mean, 'patented.' You see, Paris apparently took out a trademark last February on the phrase, "That's hot." Meaning that (at least as she sees it) if anyone (such as Hallmark) uses the phrase, particularly in the context of anything having to do with Paris, they either have to pay her or desist from using those words. I guess what with all that partying and her stint in jail, she doesn't have enough to do besides suing anyone who says, 'that's hot.'

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not against trademarks, patents or copyrights. They are necessary and protect legitimate intellectual and business property rights. My only beef is frankly the cost-- I've personally invented at least two things which would likely be profitable, but not being already wealthy I decided that the (at least a few years ago) $7,000 patent fee and scads of paperwork wasn't worth it for things which I'd then need to find a marketer for before I could see if they sold. But as far as trademarks are concerned, they do protect legitimate businesses from people who would try to cash in on their names or products and in the process steal business, compete unfairly and possibly damage the reputation of the legitimate trademark holders. For example, to cite where Paris' fortune came from, if I ever decide to open a hotel, I cannot call it the 'Hilton Hotel,' because that name has been taken and Conrad Hilton* spent a lifetime building it into an internationally respected name, and his heirs and successors have continued to operate it in a way that speaks to certain standards and beliefs. I would simply have to choose some other name.

But a catchword, especially one that a lot of people use (honestly, does anyone think that Paris was the one to come up with the phrase, 'That's hot' or even the one to popularize it? I expect that people said, 'that's hot' a long time before Paris ever did) just isn't something that anyone can or should have the right to segregate away from the rest of the language into their own private little room.

It is hard to see how Paris can claim that she is being harmed by the Hallmark Company either. They are making fun of her in the card. Parody is recognized as a protected form of expression, and besides that-- well if I had a nickel for everytime someone has made Paris Hilton the butt of a joke...

Ironically, Hallmark, which does have a trademark, has proprietary rights to the card and the images and text on it (taken as a whole). But for Paris to claim that they should be paying her for saying, 'that's hot' in a card which is poking fun at her shows that whatever Paris claims to have learned about reality from jail, it is only a claim. Like Leona Helmsley, she still thinks that there are some things that she only has the right to. So Paris, I'm telling ya, 'That's hot!' Now sue me too.

*--As a matter of fact, I've eaten at the small cafe known as the Owl (whose owners have since built a monstrosity of a building by the same name in Albuquerque) in the hamlet of San Antonio, New Mexico where the bar was the very same bar that Conrad Hilton served drinks behind at the age of eight when he was working in his father's saloon. Before I met my wife, she lived in a house just a couple of hundred yards from that small hole-in-the-wall (but dang, the green chili cheeseburgers....) I honestly doubt if Paris Hilton has ever been there-- too small, too isolated, too out of the way. But maybe she should go there. I'm sure that in the many long hours that young Conrad served drinks to customers behind the bar (of course that would be illegal today, but in those days....) he learned a few things about hard work, integrity and customer service.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Comedian kicked off stage for using the 'n'-word.

Kudos to Earl Graves.

Black comedian Eddie Griffin started into a comedy routine in which he repeatedly used the n-word. So Graves, the Black Enterprise founder who was in charge of the show, cut the power to Griffin's mike and announced to the audience that the act was over.

Griffin was 10 minutes into a comedy routine peppered with the N-word, asking the audience "Why are some black leaders telling us to stop using the N-word?"

An unexpected punch line came when Griffin's microphone suddenly went dead and Black Enterprise founder and bossman Earl Graves appeared onstage, like the fabled executioner at Harlem's Apollo Theater, to declare Griffin's set over and done with.

"We at Black Enterprise will not allow our culture to go backwards," said Graves. "Black Enterprise stands for decency, black culture and dignity and we will pay Mr. Griffin all that we owe him - but we will not allow him to finish the show if that's the way he's going to talk."

The crowd went wild. Graves got a standing ovation.

Griffin, who apparently wasn't finished making an ass of himself, reportedly wandered back onstage, hurled an obscenity at his audience and vanished.

There is no excuse for anyone, anywhere to use the 'n'-word. It shouldn't be illegal (as I blogged on last January when a community in Texas tried to make it illegal, but using it-- for any reason-- should be unacceptable.

Monday, September 03, 2007

After burying one daughter, family will pay an arm and a leg for the other.

There is a tragic story out of Chloride, in the northwestern part of the state, today about two sisters, ages 10 and 13 who were riding an ATV and fell into a mine shaft, over 100 feet deep. After spending the night in the mine one girl was found dead while the other was transported to a Las Vegas hospital where she is recovering from serious injuries from the accident. It is likely that the mineshaft, which was obscured by brush, is about a hundred years old (when prospectors often dug mines and simply abandoned them when they either didn't find what they were looking for or it ran out.) There has never been a comprehensive map or attempt made to fence off (or at least mark) the locations of these hazards-in-waiting. So most probably, nobody can be held legally responsible for this accident.

Not much is known about this situation yet, but it is known that the girls' family live in a small trailer among several others-- in other words, they are not wealthy. I don't know if they are covered by a health insurance plan or not(*- in the comments a commenter indicates that they ARE NOT insured), but even if they are, this tragedy will certainly cost them thousands of dollars. If they are not, then they will likely have to go bankrupt and still be on the hook for enormous hospital costs. Forget any possibility of paying for college-- in falling down that mineshaft, the cost was quite likely the surviving girls' future. In any other developed country (and even most developing nations) her cost of treatment would be covered or at least affordable. But in America, if her parents had any college savings it will go to pay the bills.

Right now, a small business in the town I live in is collecting change, mostly in nickels and dimes to pay the hospital costs of one of their employees. She was involved in a horrible accident last month in which her father was fatally injured and her mother is still hospitalized. The woman who works at the small business herself suffered a broken back, was in the hospital for a couple fo weeks and faces months of rehab. And her health insurance is of the cheap variety (what her employer offers), so they won't pay much of it. The change jar has collected so far about $900 in small change, nickels and dimes. Maybe that will pay for one night of hospitalization. But while recovering herself, burying her father and doing everything she can for her mother, she will get bills arriving likely in the tens of thousands of dollars.

Several years ago, a family here had to sell their farm to pay for the cost of cancer treatment for the patriarch of the family (who died of the disease despite the treatment.)

That's the worst part about medical bills. Not only are they a financial nightmare, but they hit people when they are down.

We need universal coverage that sets a maximum limit on the potential cost, NOW!

UPDATE: A commenter who appears to know about the family personally indicates that (as noted above) they are uninsured, with both parents working-- which they will have to take time off to care for their surviving daughter (Casie Hicks). A neighbor will help pay for the funeral for the other daughter, but today funerals (though still expensive) cost much less hospital bills.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Democratic candidates stick with DNC plan on primaries.

What happens when the immovable object meets the irresistable force?

I don't know, but get ready for what could be a bumpy ride.

In the headlong rush to crowd into the front of the Presidential primary field, (in which nearly half the nation may follow the designated 'starters' of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina and vote on the first party sanctioned date of February 5-- unofficially dubbed 'super-duper Tuesday'), several states are now jumping the gun. Florida, Michigan and Wyoming either have moved or plan to move their nominating primaries or caucuses into January, upstaging the four states which are now sanctioned by both parties as the first caucus, the first in the west, the first primary and the first in the south. The DNC has responded by saying they will refuse to seat delegates from states which jump the gun at the national convention.

In yesterday's Washington Post, Donna Brazile, who managed Al Gore's 2000 Presidential campaign and who now serves on the DNC's bylaws committee, lucidly spells out the party's reasoning that we must follow the rules at this point.

And it seems that in the struggle between the party and the states, the party is winning and the Presidential campaigns are getting the point, as the top six Democrats have now agreed to not participate in any states which jump the gun. I doubt if there will be much media attention on a race for a bunch of delegates which won't be seated at the convention and which is slugged out to the finish between Dennis Kucinich and Mike Gravel.

There are to be sure both some benefits and risks that go with standing firm on the primary start date.

The biggest risk of course is the possibility of alienating voters and party activists in the states which are being punished in this way. In Florida, in particular, the issue of voter disenfranchisement among Democrats still rubs an especially raw wound. Florida has 27 electoral votes which in each of the last two elections provided the margin by which George W. Bush was elected to the White House. And in Florida, Democrats can point out that the bill which was pushed through the legislature and signed by Governor Charlie Crist was pushed by Republicans (though only one Democrat in the legislature actually voted against it.) In Michigan, which gave 17 electoral votes to Democrats in each of the last two elections, they don't even have that excuse; it was Democrats in the legislature and Democratic Governor Jennifer Granholm which are pushing for an early primary. Certainly Florida and Michigan are important, large states and there is a risk of alienating voters in a key state which may cost us the November election. Wyoming is also talking about moving its primary to January 5, but the chance of a Democratic Presidential candidate being competitive there (unless perhaps Dave Freudenthal is on the ticket) is about as remote as the chance that when Dick Cheney leaves the White House he will retire to and actually live in the vacation home in Jackson Hole he bought while he was living in Texas in order to duck the requirement that the Presidential and Vice Presidential candidates not be from the same state.

Right-leaning talk show hosts are already blasting the DNC for making this decision and 'dictating' to the states, although they seem to forget that pretty soon the RNC will have to make a similar decision (though with the enthusiasm that GOP candidates are already ginning up in states like Florida and Michigan it may be much harder to make them comply if the decision is to hold the line-- and nothing could make the RNC look weaker than to make a decision like this and have the candidates ignore it, especially with Democratic candidates falling in line with the DNC-- which is why I predict the RNC won't hold the line with the states.)

Another risk (though a minor one) is that Republicans competing in Florida and Michigan will steal all the headlines for a few days. I doubt if that will mean much in the overall scheme of things though.

The rewards are less tangible though clear enough. The biggest one is order. The primary system, already twisted and warped to the point that nominees will be chosen in a window of less than a month and have to then wait most of a year for the general election, was in danger of spiraling completely out of control. Standing firm was a choice the party had to make, and fortunately had the guts to make.

A second reward is that if the GOP doesn't similarly stand firm and the Republican primaries degenerate into a contest between states instead of between candidates, Democrats look like a stronger party with stronger leadership. I don't know whether that will translate into a lot of votes in November though since most swing voters choose between candidates, much more than between parties.

A third reward if the Democrats stand firm and the Republicans don't is that then while Democrats could take their lumps in Florida and Michigan, it's worth noting that Iowa (where the first caucus is almost as revered a tradition as Hawkeye football and voters consider they have a 'right' to it), New Hampshire (where the first primary is similarly revered) and Nevada have a total of 16 electoral votes that will be in play for both parties in November. South Carolina has eight, but if it goes Democratic in November then the election is already in the bag.

Either way, this decision by the DNC to stand firm against the states is dicey. But it is right, it is principled, and I'm glad they are doing it.
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