McConnell’s Rudderless Ship of State

The Ford-Kavanaugh was always just a “she said, he said”- never  anything else. Mitch McConnell, Trump, and the Republicans of the Judiciary committee made sure of that by: 1) limiting the Ford hearing to one day and 2) limiting the FBI investigation to….we don’t know for sure, because 3) they also put a shroud of secrecy on the report.

So now: 1) we have a Supreme Court Justice who may, as many of his college and high school friends claim, have lied his way onto the Cour; 2) an FBI now subject to political control; and 3) appointments to the Supreme Courts clearly based on politics over qualifications.

The idea behind lifetime Supreme Court appointments was to guarantee independence from political winds. It was to be the rudder of the ship of state, so that whenever Congress or the President tried to steer the ship for their own purposes, the Court would bring it back on course.

The Kavanaugh confirmation, by completing the politicization of the Court, has effectively eliminated the rudder. The person responsible is not, as we might assume, President Donald Rudderless Trump. It is Senate Leader Mitch McConnell.

McConnell, from Alabama, Georgia and Kentucky, is a very smart, long-range thinker, with genteel Southern manners and no-holds barred political combat skills. A Senator since 1982, he has been heavily involved in the ascension of every Republican now on the Supreme Court. For the last 20 years or so, he has been singularly dedicated to turning, not just the Supreme Court, but the entire justice system conservative.

As of August of this year McConnell’s Senate has confirmed 60 conservative judges (91% white and 81% percent male). McConnell’s deputy chief of staff, Don Stewart, told Bloomberg in late August: “In August alone, the Senate confirmed another 15 judges — with eight more locked in for next week. These are judges who will be in place for decades”.

Kavanaugh is McConnell’s proudest moment. Although he doesn’t speak directly to Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s age and fragility, he has said he’d gladly add another conservative to the Court in 2020.

While McConnell has been Senate Leader, the Court has weakened the Civil Rights Act of 1965 by allowing states with a history of voter discrimination to no longer have Federal supervision of their voting laws. It has decimated the notion of “one man one vote with the “Citizen United” ruling, which now floods elections with corporate and Super Pac money. Gerrymandering (drawing voting districts to benefit one party) has spread across the country. Concurrently, conservative southern legislatures have slowly and steadily weakened Roe v. Wade.

And that was pre-Kavanaugh.

While Trump takes bows for Kavanaugh’s confirmation, Mitch MCConnell quietly sips a mint julep and predicts the Democrats’ outrage will soon blow over.

Maybe not.

Unlike Dr. Ford, whose entire family had to move out of her house and still can’t go back because of threats, Kavanaugh complained tearfully  about receiving threats, but has not had to move. He’s a whiny choirboy  and people know it.

In sworn testimony Kavanaugh shouted clear bias against Democrats and the “left”.  Democrats will shout that from rooftops. There was no real investigation by the FBI, so the notion that Kavanaugh lied will not blow over. 2400 law professors, one ex Supreme Court Justine, and plenty of Kavanaugh’s fellow students say he is not qualified for the Supreme Court. Even traditionally apolitical country singer Taylor Swift reacted to her own Senator’s conservatism by getting thousands of young people to register for the November election.

But the biggest reason it won’t blow over is what the McConnell Court can now do to the country.

It can allow further weakening of the Civil Rights Act of 1965. It can legitimize gerrymandering. It may not overturn Roe V. Wade overtly (after all, Kavanaugh did say it was “settled law”), but it can hand it to the states to overturn, thereby dividing the country even more. It can allow insurers to eliminate pre-existing condition guarantees in healthcare coverage, and reduce Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and other social programs. It can weaken the First Amendment by allowing the banning of refugees based on their religion. It can undermine the rule of law by protecting the President from prosecution while in office (as Kavanaugh has proposed).

All these and more are highly possible with a politically aligned, rudderless, conservative Congress, President, and Supreme Court.

If that scares you, vote in November.

Share this column:

What a Supreme “Sham”!  What “Crap”!

Ever since Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony last Thursday I’ve been thinking about what she said, why she said it, and how she said it.

Ditto Appeals Court Judge Brett Kavanaugh. And the President and the Senators.

What she said was clear. She has been sexually assaulted by Brett Kavanaugh when she was 15 and he was 17. She feared testifying, having been chased out of her home by … Who? Good ol’ boys? Evangelicals? Anti-abortionists? Misogynists? All of the above?

But she also feared for the Supreme Court, which is why she testified. She wanted the Senate to know her story before they advised and consented.

How she said it was also clear. She was specific and open, without a hint of deception. She spoke carefully and respectfully. No anger. No self-pity. No entitlement. Even though it required reliving the trauma of the assault, she soldiered through. Her vulnerability was palpable, as was her determination.

If, as some have suggested, she was acting, move over Meryl Streep.

Judge Kavanaugh was also scared: of losing his nomination, his position on the Appeals Court, his teaching job at Harvard, his coaching job in girl’s soccer.

In his case, fear led directly to anger.

He furiously proclaimed his innocence. He blamed a conspiracy of Clinton sympathizers, Democrats, and left-wing opposition groups out to destroy “my family and my good name”. He flip-flopped between self-righteous rage and self-pitying tears, stuffing his tongue into his cheek and gulping water in between.

Instead of calm and candor, he offered belligerence, entitlement, and evasion. Heavy teenage drinking? (“I liked beer. I still like beer“). Drunken spells? (“do you like beer, Senator, or not?”). Blackouts?  (“I don’t know, did you have blackouts?”).

He lied about the 80’s slang he used in his 1982 calendar.

“Boof”? (Kavanaugh:“That refers to flatulence”) No, it refers anal sex.

“Devil’s triangle”?  (Kavanaugh: “a drinking game”) No, it describes sex between two men and one woman.

“Beach Week Ralph Club — Biggest Contributor,” (Kavanaugh: “That probably refers to throwing up. I’m known to have a weak stomach.” No, “Ralphing” refers to vomiting from too much booze.

The contrast between his and Dr. Ford’s temperament and integrity was stark and disturbing. She was measured and open; he was a teenager caught partying on a school night.

Republican Senators showed their anger, too. Senator Hatch was angry that Democrats would focus on teenage years (“He was an immature high schooler. So were we all.” Senator Cornyn was outraged at the hearing itself: “I can’t think of a more embarrassing scandal for the United States Senate since the McCarthy hearings.”  Sen. Graham just raged – the whole thing was “crap!” A “scam!”

He was right. In fact, the hearings last week were just a distraction from the real show: the culmination of a decades long Republican effort to pack the Court with conservative, anti-abortion Justices, an effort they feared this soft-spoken woman might scuttle.

When Justice Scalia died in 2016, Republican Senator Mitch McConnell stalled – for 14 months – and stopped Obama’s replacement choice of moderate Merrick Garland. When Trump won, he was given a list of replacements by one of the most conservative groups in the country, the Federalist Society. And highly conservative Brett Kavanaugh was on a fast train to the Supreme Court.

With Ford’s accusation that train screeched to a halt. Trump, McConnell, and other Republicans accused Democratic Senator Diane Feinstein of pulling a “McConnell”: holding Ford’s accusation until the last-minute in order to stall the confirmation process until after the November elections.

How underhanded! How dishonest! (Sanctimony is often the escort of hypocrisy).

They scheduled just one day of hearings, ostensibly to hear her accusation and his response, but really just to appease the public. The real goal was to make the vote look legitimate.

So, yes, “a scam”, Senator Graham. And “crap”. But your side ran the scam, not the Democrats.

But for one Republican, Sen. Jeff Flake who partnered with Democratic Senator Chris Coons, the scam looked unstoppable. Last Friday, Flake and Coons demanded – and got – an FBI investigation.

The scope of which, from the number of witnesses interviewed to the lack of subpoena power, was immediately curtailed by Trump, McConnell, Graham, Grassley, and the rest of the angry old white men of the Senate.  (surprise!).

At this writing, the FBI investigation is reportedly complete – after only 4 days – and the vote is scheduled for the full Senate this week. What’s in the report? Will the Senators vote on character, integrity, and judicial temperament? Or will they kowtow to the angry old white men?

We can only hope.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Share this column:

And now, time for Other News.

It seems, every day, we only get one kind of news – political – and usually it’s about our dysfunctional government. Boring, huh.

So, to provide a little relief, here is some Other News – stories not about You Know Who, or his tweets, or his Supreme Court nominee. And not about his Demotractors, either.

* In East Orange, New Jersey, Wayne Carmichael, a drunken school bus driver, hit several cars, 2 traffic poles, and a hydrant on his route last Thursday. He incurred minor injuries, not to be confused with the 9 year old student who had no injuries, but did have a great excuse for not having his homework.

* Drunken Wayne’s school bus ride is not to be confused with the one in Valparaiso, Indiana, where the totally and completely sober bus driver, Joandrea McAttee, turned the wheel over to three kids, aged 11,13, and 17, while other kids on the bus videotaped the whole thing. No accidents, but Joandrea was arrested while picking up her paycheck later. First things first in Indiana, you know.

* Breaking NEWS! Meghan Markle (the Duchess of Sussex to you plebeians) actually did wear “something blue” at her wedding. A piece of the blue dress she wore on her first date with Harry was sewn into her wedding veil.

* The Grand Canyon bosses have refused to allow Will Smith to do a Bungee jump into the Canyon for his 50th birthday. The Navajo Nation will lend him one of their gorges instead. Who said Navajo’s aren’t fun?

* California businessman Rocky Del La Fuente ran in 9 primaries this year: Hawaii, California, Washington, Wyoming, Minnesota, Vermont, Rhode Island, Delaware, and Florida. He lost all 9, but boy did he rack up frequent flyer miles. And, yep, they were all legal because residency is only required after you’re elected. He says he’s running for President in 2020.

* In mid-July a teenager in Indonesia spent 49 days adrift in the Western Pacific Ocean. He was a lamplighter in a wooden fish trap or “rompong”. It had been anchored 78 miles off the coast of North Sulawesi when it broke loose and drifted 1200 miles into Indonesia waters before a Panamanian vessel saw it. He lived on rainwater and fish. Hey, enough about him; how was your summer?

* The waters off Oregon now have a season of low oxygen every year. It’s no threat to humans – yet. But it does kill off some sea creatures. A rare event in the 20th century, it happens every year now. But remember, there is no such thing as climate change.

* Have you heard of the $1 million dollar math problem? Me either. But there is one. It’s also called the Everest of Mathematics. I’ve heard of Everest. I have a friend who climbed it (she’s good at math, too, but that’s another column.) It involves prime numbers (those that can only be divided by themselves and 1). No one has been able to list them until now, maybe. Sir Michael Atiyah of Scotland’s University of Edinburgh claims to have developed the formula. But Jorgen Veisdal, of Norway’s University of Science and Technology thinks Sir Michael’s math is fuzzy.  Stay tuned. The $1 million  dollar award is offered by The Clay Mathematics Institute of Peterborough, New Hampshire. Not Amazon Prime.

* Beyonce’s former drummer, Kimberly Thompson, requested a restraining order against the singer for practicing “extreme witchcraft”, including “dark magic and “spells of sexual molestation”.  A judge denied the order. Maybe it was the “extreme” part.

* Dunkin’ Doughnuts is dropping the “Doughnuts”. Fortunately, not the actual doughnuts, just the word. Dunkin’ folks say they want to be “beverage led” to “modernize the Dunkin’ experience”. Now I can dunk all kinds of things into my coffee: my sandwich, a Starbucks croissant, potatoes skins, the dog’s nose… I’ve felt so constrained all these years. Life is good!

* According to a Jenny Craig survey, people in a relationship gain 17 pounds during the first year and 36 pounds overall. Men out-gain women. Married men averaged 22 new pounds, women 13. I guess according to Jenny  (who was married), you can be happy or skinny – your choice.

That’s Other News for today. You can go back to the regular news now.

Oh! Wait! Almost forgot. President Trump may be considering a post-Presidential career in standup comedy. He did his first set at the UN Tuesday morning and, I am told, totally cracked up the audience.

Share this column:

The Kavanaugh Question

In case you’ve been vacationing in the Carolinas for the last week, you might want to know that Republicans are trying to confirm US Appeals Court Judge Brett Kavanaugh for Supreme Court Justice. Like everything else in Congress today, his hearings are really just an extension of the war between Republicans and Democrat that has been waged since… well, the 1980’s.

Which is, interestingly, around the time 17 year old Brett Kavanaugh allegedly sexually assaulted 15 year old Christine Blasey.

And, in case you were in – I don’t know, Venezuela – before going to the Carolinas, you might want to know Senate Democrats are determined to torpedo Kavanaugh’s confirmation because, aside from hating all things Republican, they want revenge for Senate Leader Mitch McConnell’s stonewalling of Obama’s Supreme Court pick for 14 months. That’s 5 months longer than it takes to make a baby.

Which brings us back to teenage Brett Kavanaugh, who, according to (now) Professor Christine Blasey Ford, and to put it delicately, attempted to forcibly practice baby-making on her.

She writes that Judge Kavanaugh “physically pushed me into a bedroom”, and, along with his friend, Mark Judge (Yep, his real name- you can’t make this up, folks)  “locked the door and played loud music precluding any successful attempt to yell for help”. Then “Kavanaugh was on top of me …They both laughed as Kavanaugh tried to disrobe me…put his hand over my mouth…”.

Apparently it was so much fun that drunken Judge jumped on top of drunken Kavanaugh, who was already on top of terrified Blasey, whereupon “the pile toppled,… and I was able to take this opportune moment to get up and run across to a hallway bathroom.”

As evidence she provided her therapist’s notes from 2012 and a recent lie detector test, given by an ex-FBI agent, which she passed.

The Republicans now have to defend Kavanaugh. I see possible six lines of defense for them:

1) “He said; she said”. Judge Kavanaugh denies it all. He cites her lack of specificity about the location and date, and claims she imagined it or confused him with another guy. His friend Mark Judge refuses to testify.  The risk: Because Mark won’t testify, its his word vs her lie-detector test and 2012 therapist’s report.

2) “I was drunk.” Kavanaugh admits to memory problems from drunken blackouts as a teenager and “I don’t recall ever doing that and I am not that kind of guy.” The risk: the possibility of a blackout drinker on the Supreme Court.

3) “Statute of Limitations”. The “Statute of Limitations” is past and everyone is “innocent until proven guilty”, so he’s innocent until…. forever. Risk: None of that disproves her accusation or facts.

4) “Different time; different rules”.  It was just a loutish teenage pass, and what is considered criminal now was simply considered bad behavior then. The risk: As a judge, will he uphold yesterday’s standards or today’s?

5) “Boys will be boys”. A variation of #2 and #4, this could be supported by the recent knowledge that a person’s brain isn’t fully developed until age 24 or 25. The risk: that requires a full mea culpa from Kavanaugh.

6) “The Conspiracy Response”. This can range from small  (the Democrats waited until the 11th hour to bring this up) to large (Ford, her shrink, even the ex-FBI lie-detector operator, are actors.) Regardless, the whole thing’s a scam. They refuse an FBI investigation. The risk: a scam? Really?

As for the Democrats, without a thorough FBI investigation or witnesses to question, they have only one option:

Senator: “Judge Kavanaugh, we’d like your opinion on a case involving a 53 year old man and a 51 year old woman. She says the man sexually assaulted her when he was 17 and she was 15 – and his friend witnessed it. Her story has been verified by a lie detector test given by an ex-FBI agent and a therapist from an interview 6 years ago.

Kavanaugh: “As a judicial candidate, I can’t respond to hypothetical cases.”

Senator: “Yes, you’ve told us that many times. This is not a hypothetical case. It’s real.”

Kavanaugh: “Oh…”

Senator: “The 53 year old denies the entire event, categorically. His friend says he doesn’t “recollect” anything, but refuses to testify.”

Kavanaugh: “As a judicial candidate, I cannot comment on an on-going case that I might, at some future date, have to decide.”

Senator: “Good point, Judge. But this case can’t go to court; it’s past the statute of limitations.”

Kavanaugh: “Oh…”

Senator: “So, based on those facts, as an experienced and principled judge, would you have reasonable doubt about making this man a Supreme Court Justice?”

Share this column:

Avoiding a $108,951 Heart Attack

Imagine you have a massive heart attack. Yes, you, a 44 year old high school swimming coach and Ironman competitor, history teacher, father, and all around good guy.

Now imagine you’re rushed to the hospital in the nick of time. They put in four stents and you’re saved. Then you get a bill for $108,951, nearly twice your yearly salary – this after your insurance company already paid $55,840.

(A reasonable bill – for everything – according to industry experts, would have been between $26,985 and $36,800.)

“They’re giving me another heart attack”, you think.

That happened to a guy in Austin, Texas. Until the press got the story. Then the hospital, St. David’s Healthcare, known for exorbitant billing and run by the immense for-profit HCA Healthcare, immediately reduced the charge to … uh….$782.29. Oops!

Such is the state of US healthcare costs today.

Politicians love to argue about universal healthcare. Republicans say it smacks of socialism (it does), which is really communism (well, no), which is one step away from devil worship (I’ll leave that up to you). Democrats say it’s righteous (being righteous, they would know), is embedded in the Declaration of Independence -“life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” (hey, two out of three ain’t bad), and should be paid for by rich people (anyone worth more than them).

While Obamacare brought 21 million people into the system, it also brought more bills. Covering all those people is one thing; making the system effective and cost-efficient is another.

Some examples: The US has a higher rate of healthcare deaths than comparable countries. US adults have slower access to doctors and nurses. Our use of the ER is nearly twice that of comparable countries. We spent an average of $8233 per person on healthcare in 2010; 33 other developed nations averaged less than half that – $3268. We have a shorter life expectancy than average. We have fewer doctors than other countries.

A recent article by Ryan Cooper inThe Weekoffers some interesting insights.

A frequent argument cites the “fee for service” model for high costs. But studies show that when insurance companies paid some providers a flat fee per patient per year, costs didn’t go down. Another argument is that, because Americans rarely see all their bills, they overuse the system. That, too, was disproven by studies.

However, studies do support two big differences between our system and those of other countries: administrative costs and drug prices.

Any visit to a doctor’s office illustrates administrative costs. Clerks outnumber the doctors. Why? Complying with a maelstrom of rules and regulations required by the government and the many insurance companies. To lower costs most doctors now join groups.

Insurance companies also pressure doctors to see more patients in less time.

So, what was once a reasonably pleasant 20 – 30 minute visit with your family physician is now a 45 to 60 minute ordeal of presenting your insurance information, sitting in a packed waiting room, filling out medical and HIPA forms, and eventually seeing the doctor for – maybe – 10 to 15 minutes.

Ryan’s Solution: cut administration by reducing government regulations and get insurance companies to standardize procedures and rules.

Americans frequently pay roughly twice what other developed countries pay for drugs. One reason, in 2003 Congress prohibited Medicare, the biggest provider in the country, from negotiating with pharmaceutical companies.

Ryan’s Solution: Let Medicare, the biggest buyer in the country, negotiate with pharmaceutical companies, which would lower prices for everyone.

Ryan is just one of many people studying healthcare. Recently, some big names in private enterprise, frustrated at government inaction and incompetence, also produced some solutions:

1) To cut insurance costs, Amazon, Berkshire-Hathaway, and JP Morgan recently announced a joint project to establish their own health system. That’s over a million people. Stock prices of insurance and pharmaceutical companies tumbled.

2) To educate more doctors, New York University announced free – yes, free – tuition for medical students.

3) To cut drug costs, 500 hospitals, including the Mayo Clinic, just formed a not-for-profit drug company, Civica Rx, to negotiate with makers of generic drugs.

While not changing the whole system, a lot of people are certainly sending a message to government, healthcare providers, and insurance companies alike.

Will their solutions heal a clearly ailing US health system? Let’s hope so. They’re certainly a step in the right direction.

And, at least, a start on eliminating that second heart attack.

Share this column: