Saturday, November 30, 2013

BATTLE STATIONS!! Big Tobacco Taking Aim At YOUR E-Cig

 It's Time to "Kiss the Girlfriend"
Clearing the air is lots easier when there's no cigarette smoke

MeanMesa is an old smoker.  Even when considered over generously, that claim is more than substantiated by decades of pack a day plus cigarette use.

There have been a few -- very few -- attempts to quit, but the picture was never a pretty one.  There's something a little degrading about a grown man scratching off the dry wall with his bloody finger nails, not to mention the look of pale, condescending terror in the faces of all those victims in his household while the train wreck is unfolding.

So, in terms of "kissing the girlfriend," there is little comfort to be extracted from denial.  This old bird is a nicotine addict.

With that out of the way, let's have a short little story to introduce this post.

MeanMesa makes a habit of planting someone who needs a little help in the spare bedroom.  The young man just prior to its current resident was also a heavy smoker, but this new fellow, looking around the dingy walls covered with years of tar and nicotine got the idea that he would "inspire" the landlord to paint the apartment which serves as the Galactic Headquarters of Short Current Essays.

It All Started With A Paint Job

Well, the maintenance man came, buckets or paint, ladders and rollers in hand, and painted the whole thing -- some shade of suspiciously industrial "white like" cream color.

Looking at all those newly painted ceilings and walls brought a "moment of clarity."

The visual comparison between what they looked like now and what they looked like before emboldened this young associate to propose the unthinkable.  "We should both quit smoking."

The words landed on MeanMesa like the "Arizona asteroid."  A rationalizer with long experience, the response was easy and instant.  "At this age, this geriatric codger has not the slightest inclination to spend the precious short remainder of his life in a state of bitter, anti-social insanity -- the inevitable state which would automatically follow such a decision.  In any case, if these things haven't killed MeanMesa yet, it probably portends a natural destiny to die from something else."

This young room mate almost instantly produced an e-cig, informing MeanMesa that he intended to use this new contraption instead of cigarettes.

Further, he emphasized in a sort of irritating, patronizing tone that this decision of his was not at all similar to the brutal prospect of simply quitting, that is, anything similar to the history of such attempts in MeanMesa's long past --  memories of cruel, self-inflicted hyperbole such as cold turkey, line in the sand or die trying.  

Instead, he continued, the e-cigs would continue to provide the nicotine needed to assuage MeanMesa's openly admitted addiction, but in a much healthier way, that is, without the carcinogenic smoke and additives found in commercial cigarettes.  He immediately added more even more persuasive nonsense about "feeling better" and "not having brown stuff dripping down the walls."

For "icing on the cake," this little trouble maker offered up the significant cost savings the change would bring.  At the time this household of two smokers was plunking down around $200 a month for the old cancer sticks.

[The cost of sustaining two functioning e-cigs is now around $35/month.]

The metamorphosis from cigarette smoker to e-cig user revealed the primal depths of the cigarette smoking habit.  One on occasion MeanMesa suddenly  froze while trying to "light" the e-cig battery with a cigarette lighter while working on the computer!

It doesn't stink.  It doesn't stain. It doesn't smoke. [image source]
The rules for the change were intentionally not dramatic.  A carton of the old cancer sticks was tucked away in the freezer, and the plan was simple.  Whenever the craving for a "burning" cigarette became too strong, just smoke one.  However, as one week turned to another, there were more and more days without any cigarette at all!  

And, this was unbelievably easy!  Without "Jonesing" for nicotine -- now quietly supplied by the e-cig -- these "cigarette breaks" became less and less satisfying.  The fantasy of "how good it will taste" became a disgusting reality accompanied by smashing half an unsmoked cigarette in the ash tray.

Now, for the amazing part of the story.

A month after replacing that last cigarette with the e-cig, MeanMesa jumped in the swimming pool and swam a mile without getting winded!  It has been two and a half years since that last cigarette.

With that in mind, let's get to the Big Tobacco Attack part of this post.

Big Tobacco Will Do Just About Anything
Including "buying" JUST ABOUT ANYBODY.

Even more than the millions Big Tobacco was forced to spend advertising the horrible consequences of smoking, the e-cig has driven a "stake through the heart" of the gigantic industry in a way no legislation could dream of doing.  As more and more smokers discover that they, too, can make this money and health saving change, cigarette sales have started dropping for the first time.

We can all remember the brazen corruption of John Boehner as House Minority Leader passing out tobacco lobbyists' checks on the House floor to protect the subsidies for cigarette makers. [Read the whole December 2010, Examiner article here.]

Did Rep. John Boehner, the House Republican Minority Leader who is likely to become the next Speaker of the House actually hand out tobacco company checks as bribes to legislators before a US House vote?

Yes, he did…and he even admits that he did it.

We should hardly be surprised that Big Tobacco has "gotten out the Big Guns" and, of course, the check books to regain control of the nicotine addiction market they have spent so much developing over the centuries.  Even a cursory review of the recent history of their behavior paints them in a picture dismally familiar to the "American free enterprise oligarchs" who pulled a similar scheme selling Indian opium in China century ago.

While this post could rattle on and on about the different strategies we can expect in this latest challenge to Big Tobacco's glory, a specific example may suit just as well.

A Quick Visit to the Local News

MeanMesa's abusive cable contract presents the local broadcaster, KOB, on Albuquerque's Channel Four.  Because the other local stations have long ago succumbed to the right wing check books and become thinly veiled, salivating camp followers of Murdoch's FOX Empire, MeanMesa relies on good old Channel Four [ABC] for local news -- coverage which is, generally, pretty good quality.

However, last week the Channel Four folks, while preparing their weekly allotment of time-fillers, put together a special in their series "4 On Your Side" titled "Clearing the Air on E-Cigs" in which was intended to inform viewers with pertinent facts about the product.  The reporter found a sympathetic doctor from the local Presbyterian Medical Group for this "revealing" and "riveting" interview.

An excerpt is presented below.  [Watch the video or read the entire transcript here. ]

"4 On Your Side"
"Clearing the Air on E-Cigs"

Part of not having rules means regulators aren’t watching over what goes inside the e-cig.  No one knows that better than Denise Gonzales, M.D. of the Presbyterian Medical Group. 
"I had a patient I took care of in the ICU who used e-cigs,” Dr. Gonzales explained.  “It's very likely that the fluid he vaporized and inhaled was contaminated.  He got a very particular type of bacterial infection in his lungs from bacteria that grows in contaminated water.

Dr. Gonzales said her patient thought e-cigs were a safer alternative than traditional smoking, but turned out to be very wrong.

"This patient required artificial life support and was on a ventilator.  I had to go in and take biopsies of his lungs and treat him with antibiotics,” Dr. Gonzales said.  “He was a young person, only 19 and stayed in the hospital for two weeks."

There are no standards about the water the manufacturers puts in the e-cig cartridge.  So if the e-cig is made in China or any other foreign country, chances are the water inside comes from that same factory.

Countries like Portugal, Australia and Mexico have created regulation surrounding e-cigs.  Some blame a 2010 appellate court ruling for the U.S. being behind the ball in creating regulation.  U.S. courts determined that so long as e-cig companies aren't marketing themselves as a way to cure traditional smoking or any other disease, the product doesn't have to be tightly controlled by the FDA.

Although all this sounds "palatable" enough, just think about it for a moment.

Refresh your memory. What, exactly, was causing the young man's medical problem?

The implied answer is easy. It was poison water from China, right?

MeanMesa could not avoid a "mental LMAO" while listening to the "reporting." The problem is that this old blogger makes a trip to the "vapor store" at least once a month to purchase the fluid our household E-Cigs use. On those trips, the man at the counter always asks a few questions such as:

"What flavor would you like?"

"What nicotine level are you using?"
With this information carefully provided, he steps back a few feet to MIX the vapor fluid MeanMesa just ordered. Everything he is doing is quite visible. There are no secrets.
There is, most assuredly, NO contaminated water imported from China in the recipe.

Next week, Big Tobacco will probably announce that their latest, totally scientific E-Cig research proves the product will create unwanted pregnancies.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Up Close and Personal with MeanMesa's "Doughnut Hole"

 The Sickly History of US Health Care

When Bush W.'s cronies were finally ordered to pass the Part D of Medicare at 3:00 o'clock in the morning, the thing had no room left for any additional "gifts" to its highly lobbied Big Pharma sponsors.  The Congressional "magic" had already been woven into its false pattern as an "entitlement benefit," designed to provide relief for seniors eating cat food so they could buy their medicine.

At first glance the thing might have looked like its authors had decided to expand Medicare coverage to include pharmaceuticals for seniors, but closer examination revealed that it was a thinly disguised, magnificently vague, wealth redirection scheme directly targeting the already bulging wallets of the pill makers.  The law made negotiating medicine prices illegal.

(image source)
That was the legislative gizmo which guaranteed that a massive new wave of "hard earned business profits" would flow from the Medicare Trust into the coffers of pharmaceutical corporations without any disturbing interruptions from administrative bargaining or troublesome calculations for "fair market" pricing.  The oligarchs had been salivating over the Trust for years, and while their Congressional servants were authoring Part D, their masters had insisted it would emerge in a scantily clad "constituent concern costume" designed to obscure its real purpose.

Well, those sky high prices weren't the only carefully engineered glitch in the works.  In an intellectually impressive moment during the demonic design of the bill's features, some right wing think tank denizen dreamed up the fabulously arcane concept of the doughnut hole.

Further this was not any sort of "common sense" style doughnut hole, either.  This one was a doozey.

Part D In a Happier World

(image source)
Part D's design would make it only partly driven by the cost of purchasing prescriptions under the plan. Had this been the case what we term the "doughnut hole" would have amounted to an annual "cap" on "covered expenses."

After suffering through years of abusive commercial health insurance policies, most Americans would have seen this and simply nodded.  "It's only to be expected that after Medicare Part D spends a certain amount on money on your prescriptions that you will hit the cost limit and further coverage will be dropped."

In fact, this is precisely what most Americans think this is how the "doughnut hole" provision works.  Part D will pay part of the cost for prescriptions until the "spending cap" is reached, and after that, you're on your own.

They would be wrong.

A Typical, Toxic, Republican "Poison Pill"
Let's see if we can trick the old people.

So, now we must pretend that we are the Republican Congressman writing the Part D legislation.  We certainly want it to LOOK like a pharmaceutical plan which would pay part of seniors' prescription costs -- but only up to a certain point, of course.  We have already "paid off" our Big Pharma sponsors with the part of the bill which makes it ILLEGAL to actually negotiate the price of pharmaceuticals, so the program will be paying the "full price" for this medicine.

Wait.  Where in the world will we be able to establish that "full price?"

Not a problem.  Just ask the pharmaceutical manufacturers what the "full price" will be, and that's it!

However, there is more to the scheme.

Everyone who has listened to the "news" in that last few years has heard about the "doughnut hole."  Just about all those folks would instantly tell you that the "doughnut hole" begins when a senior's annual prescription costs have hit $2,970.  This, not by accident, implies that a senior might have Part D coverage for the first $2,970 worth of prescriptions, that is, when Part D had paid $2,970, the senior would enter the "you're on your own" phase, that is,  the "doughnut hole."

Well, THAT is NOT the way it works.

Part D was designed to NEVER pay $2,970 for a senior's annual drug costs.  This includes ALL seniors with Part D coverage, and it includes ALL years for which they had Part D coverage.

Instead, Part D is carefully designed to pay part, usually around 60-70% of the annual prescription costs -- and this is the important part -- until the senior has "spent" $2,970 TOTAL.

That "TOTAL" is the "total" of the Part D coverage when ADDED to the co-payments, that is, when ADDED to the money the senior has paid "out of pocket."  To explain this a little more clearly, let's have a look at MeanMesa's "benefits letter" for October, 2013.

MeanMesa's October Medicare Part D Report

From this report we see the amount of prescription benefits paid by Medicare under Part D, and we see the amount paid by MeanMesa "out of pocket" in co-payments.

Medicare Part D paid:  $2,302.08

MeanMesa paid: $677.74

Year-to-date amount for "total drug costs:" $2,979.82

Because the Year-to-date total costs reached $2,979.82 which exceeded $2,970, MeanMesa's Part D Medicare benefits ended.  THIS is the way that Part D actually works in real life.  Medicare paid $2,302, but because MeanMesa paid another $677, the "cap" for Part D was exceeded.

This means that Medicare will offer no coverage for prescriptions for the rest of 2013 -- happily only a little more than a month.  MeanMesa has a "pill splitter." and the prescriptions already on hand can be "stretched" at half doses through most of the month of December.

Always remember, this is actually much better than it was before the Bush cronies paid off their health insurance bosses.  America has the "best health care" in the world -- for about the top 30% of income earners.  There will be a follow up post on this topic describing MeanMesa's twisted efforts to get a prescription from a Medicare doctor to a compounding laboratory pharmacy to keep $2,000 dollars worth of prescription expenses from driving this senior into the doughnut hole again in November of next year.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

"Give 'em Hell, Harry!" We've Been Waiting.

A Tale of Two Harry's

(image source)
Perhaps the most contemporary similarity between the two Democrats is associated with the "nuclear option."  For the first Harry this was quite material.  It amounted with an atomic bomb falling from a US bomber over Hiroshima, Japan.

Even before Little Boy had detonated, the world had changed.  Permanently.

For the second Harry the "nuclear option" amounted to a change in the paralytic "rules" of the United States Senate.  While such a decision may have represented a "contemplative challenge" for the "contemplative body" led by the old Senate Majority Leader, it represented a desperate last glimmer of hope for the rest of us.

"Give 'em Hell, Harry" (image)
We have watched in horror as the Republican servants of the oligarch class have declared and executed their war on the democracy.  The casualties of that war have visited an unprotected, undefended public in election crimes, a cynical Supreme Court majority, wild, violent divisiveness and economic collapse.  No American without the corrupt access and influence provided by lobbyists and a servile media has emerged unscathed.

"I don't give them hell.  I just tell the truth, and they think it's hell."   President Harry S. Truman

Even the hypnotized, brain dead minions still willing to elect more Republicans in the aftermath of these attacks have suffered in unconscious terror after being thoroughly pummelled by the controlled media's desolate, unceasing, propaganda fear campaign.

MeanMesa has posted on this grisly "downturn of events" before:

This is not merely geriatric hyperbole.  This young nation has never found itself so precariously close to the "tipping point" heralding the voluntary dissolution of our democracy.  While we have stupendous resources and accomplishments at our disposal, we are committing national suicide with the dull blade of junior high school ideology.

Further, all those still with voices, while urging us to "fight on," have abandoned us.  Matters seem to patiently slip from "bad to worse," while only the whimpering noise of maudlin laments roll out endlessly from our own Congressional "generals."  Not a single response, not even the most genial retaliation, has slowed the relentless advance of the oligarchs' coup.

Is "coup" too strong a term? (chart source)

The top 20% now, officially and quite legally, own 80% of the entire United States, and they intend to own the rest of it.  And, they clearly intend to own us, too.  A similar chart showing the wealth of the top 1% would be even more disturbing. This is the aftermath of the laws passed by these complaining fools.

Theoretically, in a representational democracy this trend would have been stopped long ago.  The relentless drive to plutocratic hegemony is nothing new.

President Theodore Roosevelt was famous for stopping the monopolistic oligarchs of his day. President Franklin Roosevelt was famous for redirecting the national wealth from the pockets of the oligarchs to the mouths of the hungry, ordinary citizens. President Harry S. Truman was famous for stopping the war profiteers of WWII. 

The theoretical "stopping" might have been led by the sitting President, but the "nuts and bolts" of grinding through the imbalance would have been the task of Congress.  This time while the President is doing what he can, instead of stopping this slide back to the economic model of 1700's European royalty, OUR Congress is promoting it!

Now we're ready to discuss the "second Harry."

Senate Filibuster Rules and Reid's "Nuclear Option"

One major part of the oligarchs' "death grip" on the economy -- and the democracy -- has been the glacial tide of GOP Senate filibusters.  Plenty has been published about this obstructive subversion of Senate rules, so MeanMesa won't "add logs to the fire."  But before we move on, take another look at the chart [above] to make sure you mistakenly consider that the US economy and the US democracy are not "joined at the hip."

Parasitic leeches such as oligarchs don't mistakenly send their private politicians to suck blood at the wrong spot.

For the six years following the first election of President Obama Senate Republicans, no doubt following orders, have filibustered almost every bill that has reached the floor of the Senate before it could face a vote.

Senate filibuster history (Maddow blog)
To "map" Dr. Maddow's chart to the corresponding administrations, Nancy Pelosi took the House Speakership with the 110th Session in January, 2007.  President Obama took the Oval Office in January, 2009, during the 111th Session.  Harry Reid became Senate Majority Leader in January, 2009 during the 111th Congressional Session.

What the chart shows is the Republicans' tactical response to becoming a minority party.  What the chart doesn't show is the continuing deterioration of the United States as it was continually prevented from solving its own current difficulties -- most of which were initiated during the Bush W. autocracy.

Senator Harry Reid [D-NV] (image source)
Reid has now followed through with his threat to hold a simple Senate vote -- "simple" in the sense of being a vote requiring only a "simple" majority of 51 Senators -- to change the Senate rule which has made the Republican obstruction of judicial nominations possible: the filibuster cloture rule -- Rule 22.

Typically, this type of GOP filibuster in the current Senate occurs to prevent bills nominating Federal judges and prosecutors from Senate committees from reaching a full Senate floor vote.  Republicans have used the filibuster to block all sorts of normal Senate work -- and in this case, most notably Obama administration nominations for judicial posts.

This particular tactic has grown so bad that the Obama Administration has been unable to nominate and confirm appointments to Federal judgeships so frequently that the Department of Justice has warned that the system itself is beginning to fail.  The Republicans, through their almost inevitable filibuster, have required a cloture vote that takes 60 votes.

This is precisely what Majority Leader Reid has addressed with his rule change.

Map: Senate Democrats Nuke the Filibuster
The Senate vote on blowing up the filibuster, mapped.

[Go to the SLATE article here.  The map {below} is an interactive graphic on the original page.]

  Rule 22 vote (image source)
"After years of threats, Majority Leader Harry Reid finally took the “nuclear option” today and heavily limited the power of filibustering. Senators will no longer be able to filibuster votes to approve executive branch nominees and judicial nominees for lower courts, which means the president’s nominees will henceforward require only 51 votes instead of the 60 required to defeat a filibuster. Senators will still be able to filibuster Supreme Court nominations.

The rule change will prevent the minority from stifling executive functions by withholding nominee approvals, but it could also affect the ideological make up of the executive and judicial branches. The map above shows how senators from each state voted on the issue."

 Aside from denoting which Senators deserve public pillorying after the vote, the pink zone displays the fading glory of the Republican Party.  Beyond a clutch of deep South bigots and a patchy quilt of "fly-over" country through the nation's middle, the "tea bag hordes" showed up short.

Instantly after the vote, heavily soiled Republican Senate Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell, began a litany of threats of GOP "vengeance." Thoroughly dispatched Republican "war expert" John McCain parroted out similar vitriol.

But however frightening these threats may have been, MeanMesa sees only a field of wounded, yet still quite fickle, Democrats facing a few still bombastic archers with visibly empty quivers.  There are, very honestly, few more injuries left for these hateful geriatric hate mongers to inflict on our country.

Further, if this were actually a "nuclear bomb" as implied by the Senatorial term, "nuclear option," it would be an impossibly small one.  Far from a wide reaching "defanging" of the McConnell filibusters, it amounts to little more than the extraction of single rotten tooth.  It deals exclusively with the filibustering of judicial appointments leaving all the other critical affairs of the nation firmly in the quivering, extractive grip of the cynical GOP.

A Few Final "Love" Notes From MeanMesa

To Mitch McConnell:

"You disgust every American who isn't listening to the media mouth junk broadcast by the networks your bosses own."

To Harry Reid:

"You have allowed the entire national needs of the United States to languish for five years as a result of your cowardice.  The rest of us do not -- and can not -- fear the future the way you do, probably because we don't have jobs as Senators."

To the Senate:

"Don't walk the streets of your constituencies without security.  The public opinion polls don't tell the half of it.  There's an important difference between 'disapproving' and 'infuriated.'"

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Raising Taxes: A "Tax and Spend" Primer

Making Peace With Your 1040

A Few "Cosmic Thoughts" 
Concerning the Mechanism of Government
Tax and Spend.

It's easy to look around the country, see the wide spread dilapidation in all the visible infrastructure and then settle in to complain about the state of the government.  Well, the concept, "state of the government," can be refined quite usefully into a "job performance evaluation" -- granted that one knows exactly what the "job" of the government actually is at the start.

If there is to be a "job performance evaluation," we will need to begin with a "job description."

We can immediately start to compile our list of "duties" which will comprise the "job" of government.  It gets quite long right away.  There's the defense of the nation, the maintenance of the infrastructure, public education, the general health of the people [sometimes minimally considered to be absolutely nothing beyond plague and epidemic prevention], the operation of a justice system and so on.  When all the most common ideas have been listed, all of us will be easily able to add "our own favorite thing" at the end.

No matter what all gets included, most of what's listed, more or less, meets with our approval as citizens.  This stuff is important to us.  We generally like to live the way we are living, and the things on the list make that possible.  In fact, we can quite comfortably say that, again, in general, we depend on the things on the list.
In our modern political environment we could also, easily, locate another citizen who would almost automatically disagree with everything on the list, too.  Consequently, to "regain the solid ground," we'll have to plunge directly to the fundamentals.


1. Every citizen understands that the government will need to collect the resources necessary for the country's operation from us, that is, the government must "collectivise" resources -- continually accumulate enough money to do its job.

2.  Next, through the tormented course of representational democracy, the government must "collectivise" need, that is, the government must determine needs which are, generally,  at least as universal as the criteria for collecting the resources.

Government is a mechanism to collect resources -- collectivize our labor and money -- and collectively spend it for things we collectively need -- or collectively want.  The rest is simply the giant pile of arguments we cough up immediately as we disagree about the exactly what is to be included in the "collectives."

Our national record of taxing and spending (chart source)
There's more merit to the old adage "tax and spend" than may first appear.  Taxing and spending is the mechanism of government. Taxing and spending is the purpose of government.

It is the means through which we meet the challenges presented to us as a culture, that is, as an economic civilization.

The chart [above] may present the sterile statistics of the performance of the national economy, but it also tells a story -- a story about the people of the United States, their government -- and their appetites.  As the accumulated wealth contained in our economic civilization increased, our appetite for its benefits increased along with it.  In a very general, "big picture" way, the rising curve on the chart paints the picture of Americans insisting that the conditions of life here -- our standard of living -- reflect the corresponding increases in the great wealth of our nation.

The steady increase in government spending -- again, considered without all the caveats and arguments -- shows an economic civilization more and more inclined to operate the "tax and spend" mechanism at constantly increasing rates.  As we grew accustomed to the benefits made possible by "collectivising" an increasing amount of revenue, both the direct amount of spending and the rate and distribution of taxation, became commensurately more comfortable for us.

At least for the majority of us.

Is What We're Doing Making Sense?

So far, we have avoided the question: "Should we be spending tax revenue for this or that specific thing?  Does such spending, in fact, meet the test of 'collective need' or 'collective want' mentioned above?"

When, as tax payers, we bring out the national budget for our individual "line item Vetoes," we seem to instantly become the equivalent of 16th Century fish mongers.  National interests vaporize as "someone else's responsibility" while the discourse migrates to "who gets what."

The burning question of the day ceases to be couched on the prospect of directing, as voters, the advancement of the country, but instead on the abhorrent possibility that some other citizen may get something I won't be getting -- something someone else will be getting, but which I will be subsidizing with my taxes.

A shocking example of this emerged in the predictable recent flood of complaints about the ACA.  Tax payers -- no doubt parroting an attractive talking point they'd heard somewhere -- lamented: "I'm too old to get pregnant, so why should I have to join the collective effort to insure child birth expenses for other women?"   

Another example also appearing in the same discussion is even more telling: "My kids are adults, so why should I have to pay for public schools?"

Yes, the utter selfishness is shocking, but perhaps the even more troubling conclusion must be drawn with respect to the almost non-existent degree of responsibility these citizens acknowledge for their duties as participants in running the country.  A difficult minority of such citizens has been carefully groomed to embrace this cynical attitude, and they have been susceptible to such "grooming" thanks to a media targeting their ancient "fears and desires."

It's the same trick which made the Old Testament such a big seller.  The awkward problem accompanying this strange phenomenon inevitably arises from the fact that in 2013, the United States is simply unable to function socially or politically as a patriarchal Bronze Age society.

MeanMesa has previously riled incessantly about the price we pay for failed education, but in this example, we see a large demographic of citizens apparently completely unaware of how this thing runs.  Rather than basing their democratic considerations on some actual news and, perhaps, information gleaned from high school civics classes, they are prey to manipulative, emotional propaganda issuing forth from the thousands of hours of biased editorial media they hear every week.

This post would not "dare to trod" on the incendiary ground where decisions are made concerning "appropriate government spending" compared to "inappropriate government spending."  [For those with an interest in joining this debate, there are more than 600 posts on this blog, and most of them deal with precisely this question.]

 Yet, however it is to be done, we find ourselves -- as citizens -- "trapped" with the unavoidable responsibility of "drawing the line" somewhere.

The quite imaginary, yet also quite "perfect," line to be drawn will divide government spending between the funds legitimately expended for the operation of the country in, more or less, its present conditions and funds illegitimately expended for things much more directly aimed at increasing the wealth of only a few citizens.

The inconsistency of rapidly increasing wealth among the top 10% -- or even 1% -- occurring simultaneously with rapidly increasing debt, economic depression  and austerity in government spending is a nightmarish contradiction.  Observing a sizable minority of citizens embracing such a painful paradox under the constant onslaught of media and political propaganda and amid a sinister void of understanding about the structure of the country's economy and government reminds MeanMesa of a conversation with a suicidal maniac carrying a pistol.

Can We Really Be Convinced 
to Go Through With Economic Suicide?

"Winning" in this artificially imposed debacle means surviving it.   

"In the lap of sweet victory," that is, once past the present conflict, we will return to a representative government clumsily collecting tax revenues -- with an entirely rewritten tax code -- and clumsily directing national resources to national needs in a way grudgingly satisfying to the a majority of citizens most of the time.

It is the ultimate test determining "good governance" from "bad governance."  Absent compelling exceptions such as wars or natural disasters, when this primary function cannot be conducted successfully by a government, it is prima facie evidence of bad governance.

Friday, November 15, 2013

US Democracy Braces for a Decade Under Minority Rule

We have to all act like Southerners now. (image source -David-Horsey)

The US Under Minority Rule
Wait -- we haven't been invaded.

There are "minorities," and then there are "minorities."

When it comes to minority governments, MeanMesa cannot mentally dispatch the lesson of Iraq.  After the invasion, that is, even after the ostensibly "sectarian slaughter" of the civil war had begun, the nation of Iraq still suffered continuing violence based almost solely on the fact that the Iraqi Sunni minority were convinced that they were, in fact, the Iraqi majority.

For years the Sadam Hussein regime had employed Baathist "ground troops" to provide the marching muscle needed to support the autocratic dictatorship.  Because these Baathists were recruited from the Sunni population, the worst part of the autocracy's brutal mayhem was, naturally, directed at the understandably rebellious Shi'a majority. 

The point here is that this arrangement placed the Sunni minority in a situation making the "majority" versus "minority" misperception one which could very conveniently be quite durably "re-interpreted."  With this carefully fabricated error firmly in place the Sunni predictably saw events unfolding in Iraq through a very twisted frame of reference -- one which obscured the political reality of the country, and one which caused plenty of bloody, violent trouble for the US invaders.

All this is included in this post because it has such a very disturbing similarity to contemporary US domestic politics.

In the United States voters are quite realistic about winning and losing elections.  They theoretically vote for candidates, parties and platforms they find attractive, and when candidates win those elections, these voters expect, roughly, at least, some semblance of the same issue to be present in the subsequent practices of governing.

Further, elections in the United States squarely embrace the "majority rule" idea in our Constitution.  A majority of votes should result in that elected majority in power after the election.  Our Founders obviously thought that this would be a clever way to keep citizens sufficiently satisfied to avoid frequent civil wars. Although every election's outcome will inevitably leave some voters frustrated, the idea was that their collective commitment to democracy and their "good natures" would see them through until the next election when they would, again, have a chance to steer things more toward their own way.

This theory for representational democracy depends on voters actually voting.  In 2010 the large majority of Americans had no appetite at all for the "tea bag philosophy" of hopeless austerity and mindless 1950's ideology, yet when the election results came in, the country had regressed socially by a half century. 

A "Tea Bag Revolution?"  Not Hardly.

However, right here we have to "drill down" to expose some of the deeply buried realities at play.  Passing by the essentially irrelevant, dusty hordes of illiterate tea baggers protesting with their misspelled signs amid the wheelchairs and summer flies, we need to consider the ambitions of the corporate oligarchs who have sponsored such a grotesque effort at political influence.  

The fabricated goals on the inflamed tea baggers' signs are NOT the goals of the plutocrats funding and organizing their "inflammation."

No, the "puppet masters" could not care less about 99% of the drivel presented by their staggering, yet useful, tea bag minions -- gays getting married, abortion clinics and doctors, immigration bills and so on.  However, these same "puppet masters" are brutally addicted to that last 1% of the tea bag messaging -- taxes.

In fact, long ago when the tea bag "movement" was just being launched by the corporate lawyers employed in the Freedom Works think tank, the term "tea" was initially presented as an acronym for "Taxed Enough Already."  The Freedom Works CEO, failed politician Dick Armey, soon realized that his largely illiterate, comically zealous, stumbling, mumbling "ground troops" found any question concerning the US tax code incomprehensibly complex and quite beyond their cognitive capacity.

Yet, when it came to the directing motivation for all this public relations imaging, the scheme of the oligarchs funding it remained hidden behind the media's command mission to create a maelstrom of tea bag fog and feathers.

The unseen "big picture" scheme of the money class defined their two precious goals:

1. The development of a large majority of American voters -- both right and left -- strongly dissatisfied with the government, and,

2. Employing that dissatisfaction politically to maintain and protect the advantages of the tormented US tax code they had invested so much to create.

As the calendar pages unfolded toward the 2010 mid-term election, the media had carefully groomed a deep, stoic malaise among most normal voters.  While the mouth foaming tea bags were infuriated under the continuous teasing of the likes of the Freedom Works think thank, the more rational voters had been fed a daily ration of hopeless inconsistency with faux "comparisons" between the new President's campaign and his Administration's actual performance amid the brazen "red meat" GOP saboteurs in the Congress.

The oligarchs' goal was a tactical increase in the Congress -- especially in the House of Representatives, and the plan was to make this possible by a frontal attack on the state legislatures begun even before the Bush autocracy had finally collapsed.  While the rest of the country sat at home bewildered by the relentless pain of an unceasing economic catastrophe -- and losing confidence in the President, the Super PAC cash trucks were rolling into state Republican campaign offices.

The freshly minted tea bag majorities in the state legislatures would have, as their first order of business, the task of further and even more drastically gerrymandering their state's Congressional districts.  They dutifully grabbed the census results along with the instructions from the craven owners of the Republican Party.

Under the provisions of our Constitution when a population minority is concentrating resources to "take command" of the government -- or even, as is the case now with the House, a crucial part of the government --  the conflict need not be decades long at all. If a maximum of the assets can be effectively applied for a period of a single year or less, that is, applied precisely when the census has been completed, and the Constitutional mandate for establishing Congressional election districts "comes due," a political equivalent of blitzkrieg can be inflicted upon the democracy in a way the Constitution's authors never imagined.

The GOP's "Miracle" of 2010

State Legislatures Pre-2010 -( Source)
By the time the 2010 mid-term arrived half the states in the country had been redistricted into snake-like swarms of screaming tea bag voters surrounded by vast, innocuous districts filled with more sensible -- and more despondent -- citizens.  Before the coup state legislatures across the country looked like the map on the left.

This partisan picture generally reflected the state of the nation's politics.   In blog 2008 blog posts David Burns recapped the statistical model presented by the New York Times with what he calls a "bubble map."

The 2008 "Bubble Map" (image source)
"It’s good to see the overlap of these bubbles because it shows that red and blue co-exist in the same places. It’s a finer distinction than the red state/blue state point of view." [Read the article here.]

The Burns article continues with a chart showing the "shift map" which indicates the change in votes with respect to Parties.

The 2008 "Shift Map" (image source}
"Another striking map is the Voting Shift map which shows where each party received more votes in 2008 than they did in 2004. There’s a very identifiable red streak from Texas to West Virginia that’s interesting because it’s so well defined, localized and contained." [Read the article here.]

These models of American voting proclivities paint a fairly coherent picture of the country's political "mind set" for the period.  In the anticipated political "flow of things" this political environment would have continued to produce Democratic majorities in the Congress for some time, at least, for several subsequent elections.

So, what happened?  What political manipulation led to the current state of affairs?

Sadly, the answer has very little to do with political manipulation.  Instead, it has everything to do with election manipulation.  For a clearer view of the scheme which ultimately produced the current madness of John Boehner's admitted ballot minority delivering control of the House of Representatives we can look directly down "the dragon's throat."

How the Minority Saw 2010

Here is an excerpt from a November, 2010, post by Citizen Link, a self-identified Public Policy Partner of Focus on the Family. [Visit the site here.]

According to the National Conference on State Legislatures (NCSL), voters handed over to the Republican Party 19 state chambers previously dominated by Democrats.  This translates into a pickup of six Senate chambers and 13 House chambers (see NCSL map below).

To put this in perspective, Democrats lost 20 chambers to Republicans in 1994, and gained none. Conversely, Republicans lost 21 chambers to Democrats and gained one chamber following Watergate.

The conference also reported that the GOP received an overall net gain of at least 675 state-level seats – the most since 1928 – allowing it to gain control of chambers even in traditionally liberal states.

Karl Kurtz with NCSL said the GOP not only took control of chambers, but also beefed up its presence.  Twenty-four seats were added in the Texas House, 16 in the Missouri House, 15 in the Kansas House, 14 in the North Dakota House, nine in the Wyoming House and eight in the Oklahoma House.

“Republicans gained seats in virtually every state,” Kurtz wrote. “The change was unidirectional. The only state in which Democrats appear to have made a net gain in both chambers is Delaware, where they netted one seat.”

  • Alabama: House and Senate (First time GOP has controlled both chambers since Reconstruction)
  • Colorado: House
  • Indiana: House
  • Iowa: House
  • Maine: House and Senate
  • Michigan: House
  • Minnesota: House and Senate (Senate in GOP hands for first time in history)
  • Montana: House
  • New Hampshire: House and Senate (Over 100 seats in the House went to GOP)
  • North Carolina: House and Senate (First time GOP Senate since 1870)
  • Ohio: House
  • Pennsylvania: House
  • Wisconsin: Assembly and Senate
This is especially important for the 2012 presidential elections, as states like Iowa, New Hampshire and Ohio are testing grounds for presidential candidates.
Republicans now have control of 55 legislative chambers, Democrats control 38 and two chambers – Alaska and Oregon – are split.  Three chambers are still undecided – Oregon, New York and Washington. This is a tidal wave reversal. Prior to the election, Democrats controlled 60 chambers, while the GOP held 36 and two chambers were split.

A few chamber switches caught even the most politically savvy off guard. The Maine House, Minnesota Senate and Oregon House were not considered “in play” this cycle; however, voters knew otherwise.

Republicans control both chambers in the following states:
  • Alabama
  • Arizona
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Idaho
  • Indiana
  • Kansas
  • Maine
  • Michigan
  • North Dakota
  • Ohio
  • Oklahoma
  • Pennsylvania
  • South Carolina
  • South Dakota
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • Wisconsin
  • Wyoming
All told, this conservative sweep through the states is significant, in terms of offering up and/or defending state marriage amendments, pro-life initiatives, fiscal discipline measures, and defending constitutional freedoms.

Review the NCSL’s 2010 Legislative and State Election Results.
Review the Census’ “Political Party Control of State Legislatures by Party: 1985 to 2009.”
Review the Census’ “Composition of State Legislatures by Political Party Affiliation: 2008 to 2009.” 

The "Rectangle" Amendment to the Constitution
Making Congressional Districts into Boxes

MeanMesa has proposed Constitutional Amendments in the past -- notably one concerning the legislative division of the Supreme Court into a group of six, equally "supreme," courts selected by lottery to hear cases.  You can read this post here:

That April, 2012, commentary was the prompted by the Citizens United decision, but since then, the Roberts Court has aggressively provided a subsequent series of decisions specifically targeting the country's Constitutional imperatives concerning elections and voter enfranchisement.  By the November, 2012, Presidential election approximately 4.5 Mn voters had either been directly  denied the rights guaranteed by the original Constitutional enfranchisement or had been confronted with labyrinthine new registration and identification requirements.

A 29th Amendment to the US Constitution would legally settle enfranchisement issues in all states and establish Federal Election Courts, but MeanMesa thinks it should also stabilize rules for setting boundaries of Congressional districts, affirming a durable and permanent remedy to the treasonous, cynical anti-democracy gerrymandering, the tactic frantically developed by the desperate remnants of the GOP as they confronted their continuing inability to win elections otherwise.

MeanMesa has also previously posted about the current democratic sabotage being inflicted by gerrymandering Congressional Districts.  You can read this post here:

Let's do some thinking.  

The problem we face issues from a variety of origins, but one of them is extremely obvious.  The Constitution, interpreted in a sly way to appease the Southerners still stinging from the Civil War, set out the process of establishing Congressional election district boundaries under state governments.  Since then, there has been no end to the mischief -- delivered opportunistically with resurrected waves of "alternating villains," that is, delivered at the hands of both Republicans and Democrats.

When democracy is being undercut by what is "present or absent" in the Constitution [or in its interpretation], it represents a Constitutional crisis and a threat to the democracy.  This isn't the only case of this kind of threat "knocking at the door" these days, but this is about specifically fixing this one.

Rather than simply continuing to "gore one ox after another," depending on whom is holding the sword at the moment, such an amendment could stabilize -- if not policy -- at least politics.  And, THAT would be a start.

In the historical picture of things, the Republican Party could very well be on its death bed at the time of this posting.  This means that another "Party" will quite possibly be rising up like a Phoenix to step into its vacated place.

There is simply too much "inertia" to consider adopting some form of government radically different than the famous "two party system."  In this event the importance of fair, Constitutional elections would be very great.  With one established Party [the Democrats] and a newly formed party [say, the Greens], continuing inequities in the election mechanism would not lead anywhere good.

Number 29 could be called the "Rectangle Amendment." [Read the post linked above.]

Just don't quit voting.