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Saudi apologia

The New York Times has a rather remarkable story in today’s paper, telling us that Saudia Arabia’s “justice system” is not really all that bad, because some people who might otherwise get their heads or hands chopped off, don’t. Consider the case, the Times tells us, of Bandar al-Yehiya, who, Allah be praised, did not get his head chopped off after all:

Saudi Arabia’s justice system is regularly condemned by human rights groups for violating due process, lacking transparency and applying punishments like beheading and amputation. Criticism has grown as Saudi cases have made news abroad: a liberal blogger caned for criticizing religious leaders; activists jailed for advocating reform; a woman held without charge for more than two months for driving a car.

Such rulings have prompted comparisons to the Islamic State, which regularly beheads its foes and also claims to apply Shariah law.

But Mr. Yehiya was saved because of checks in the Saudi system on the use of harsh punishments. His case wound its way through a yearslong odyssey of law and tradition. Mr. Yehiya reformed in prison, sheikhs and royals appealed for his life, and he was ultimately spared by a daughter of the man he had shot dead.

Mr. Yehiya’s reprieve was the product of a justice system little understood outside the kingdom, one that is based on centuries of Islamic tradition and that prioritizes stability and the strict adherence to Islamic mores over individual rights and freedoms.

via The New York Times

The system is indeed merciful:

A Riyadh judge recalled a case of four thieves who had broken into someone’s living room and stolen the furniture, television and refrigerator. The crime met the conditions for amputation, but the judge allowed them to confess to a lesser charge and sentenced them to two years in prison and 100 lashes each.

Only a hundred? Why, they’re positively soft over there. What a kind and caring judge.

The point of the article is to favorably contrast our esteemed ally’s “justice” system with the “justice” meted out by our enemy, ISIS. The fact is, both systems are barbaric. And I fully realize that compared to most of the civilized world, we are also barbarians. You might say that American justice is to European justice what Saudi justice is to ISIS justice. The fact that we look good compared to the Saudis speaks volumes about just how bad their “justice” system is.

One must wonder about the motivations behind this article, which reads more like a PR man making the best of a bad situation than objective reporting. If the same humane system was used in, let’s say, Iran, it’s hard to believe the Times would be invoking “tradition” in order to justify it, or would be highlighting those parts of the system that somewhat mitigate its harshness, which, at least in Mr. al-Yehiya’s case may come down to something that is a universal in all societies: who you know makes a difference. The guy whose head is chopped off is the guy about whom “sheikhs and royals” remain silent. Same as it ever was.

Underestimating the criminal mind

Gretchen Morgenstern reports in this morning’s Times about a Public Citizen’s shareholder’s proposals to hold the top executives at Citigroup at least financially responsible for their criminal activities:

.. [The proposal] would require that top executives at the company contribute a substantial portion of their compensation each year to a pool of money that would be available to pay penalties if legal violations were uncovered at the bank. To ensure that the money would be available for a long enough period — investigations into wrongdoing take years to develop — the proposal would require that the executives keep their pay in the pool for 10 years.

via The New York Times

This proposal seriously underestimates the resourcefulness of the criminal mind. Citigroup is opposing the proposal, which is non-binding in any event, but these executives are smart people, sociopaths that they may be. It won’t be long before they see it as a gift.

When someone makes a proposal like this it is always best to game it out; try to figure out how you could get around it, or, better yet, turn it to your advantage.

Bearing in mind that their Boards of Directors are stacked with their fellow criminals, who are always willing to enable them, what are they likely to do? Each and every one of those directors would be easily convinced that withholding a dime in salary from their poor, misunderstood compadres would be terribly unfair, and that it is therefore only fair for the corporation itself to pick up the tab for the sequestered payments. The obvious solution is to simply increase the executive pay in an amount equal to the sequester. That way, if their criminal activity is uncovered, they basically lose nothing, while if they manage to escape detection, they get the money back, which essentially turns it into a bonus for a criminal job well done.

One can certainly understand the motivation behind these proposals, given the government’s decision to give these guys a “get out of even being considered for jail” card. But the fact is that so long as jail is off the table, no corporate governance rule is going to make any difference.

Sunday sermon

This sermon is being written as I sit here on the first day of Spring, watching the snow fall. Our pilgrim fathers firmly believed that meteorological events were messages from god, expressing his anger or approval (usually anger, as it turned out)for the actions of man here on Earth. This attitude lives on. Witness the fact that Pat Robertson opined that Hurricane Katrina was god’s response to gay marriage.

So, I have decided to address myself to this issue: Why is god, if god there is, inflicting this never ending winter on us? What is he (ladies, I am cutting you a break here) trying to tell us. As I’ve noted in the past, I am uniquely qualified to address these deep theological questions, having earned a degree in theology from the nuns at Our Lady of Sorrows Grammar School.

First, let’s consider the basics. Given the western tradition of theology and philosophy within which all such questions should be addressed (we’re number one, after all), there are three possibilities with which we must grapple.

First, there is a god. That god is the all loving, merciful god of whom Jesus spoke, who, and this is puzzling, still feels it necessary, among other things, to randomly inflict pain and misery on people who’ve done nothing in particular to deserve it, stuff that even the Koch Brothers would think twice about inflicting, though in the end they probably would.

Second, there is a god. That god is the jealous, petty and arbitrary tribal god of the Old Testament, who encouraged his people to inflict needless suffering and death upon their enemies; those enemies, being in some instances, people who happened to live in places god’s people wanted to invade and take over with no justification whatsoever, except the sanction of their god. It is certainly easy to imagine this god inflicting this winter just for yucks, but we must give the devil his due (hmm, that may be an unfortunate choice of phrasing) and assume, at least for purposes of discussion, that if we are dealing with this god, he is trying to tell us something by inflicting this suffering upon his helpless people.

Third, there is no god. In that case, we are being told nothing, except that we reap what we sow.

Unfortunately, despite my advanced degree in theology, I can’t give a definitive answer to this question, but let us consider the possibilities.

First, let us assume the New Testament god. Obviously, he is a confused and conflicted character, since he himself has a great deal of difficulty acting in a manner consistent with his ideals, but giving him the benefit of the doubt, we must assume that he is sending a message that he is unhappy with us for not acting in a manner consistent with the teachings of his only begotten son. That is, we are not loving one another; we are not feeding the hungry, healing the sick, clothing the naked, etc. Well, he’s right about that, but if that’s his message, hasn’t he picked a rather funny way of delivering it? I mean, why not strike one of the aforementioned Koch Brothers with lightening, just for a start. That would certainly send a message, and a lot less ambiguously. In fact, that’s a real problem with both of the gods we are considering: they tend to speak rather cryptically. Sort of–almost–as if you can take their pronouncements any way you want. But getting back to cases, if that’s the message the kind and loving god is sending, why inflict this winter on New England when he’s given a relative pass to the rest of the country, including the South, where they are much more against loving their fellow man, feeding him, healing him (especially healing him) or clothing him. I mean we’re not perfect, but compared to them, we look pretty good. This is indeed a mystery. But then, god works in mysterious ways. So, we cannot exclude this god as being responsible for our woes. While we cannot understand why this self proclaimed loving and merciful god should inflict needless suffering on comparatively innocent people, it appears to be entirely consistent with his character. The poor guy means well, but he needs therapy.

On first blush, the Old Testament god appears to be the more likely candidate. Here’s a guy who would feel totally comfortable heading up ISIS or Al Qaeda. The term “arbitrary and capricious” comes to this lawyer’s mind. The term “psychopath” might occur to a psychiatrist. He stops at nothing to get his way, even though the point is often unclear. He insists on killing even when the thought appalls his followers. How do I know? The Bible tells me so. So, maybe Pat is right. Maybe we New Englanders (and the whole Northeast to a certain extent) are being singled out for punishment because we have not been sufficiently intolerant. I mean what’s with this gay marriage stuff, not to mention our relative reluctance to ignore the sick, take food from the hungry, etc. What argues the most against this theory is that, whether or not the punishment fits the crime, it has not been sufficiently brutal. It’s not his style. I mean it’s been pretty inconvenient, and some people have even died as a result of this brutal weather, but it just can’t stand comparison to killing everyone on Earth except a boatload of zealots; killing thousands of Egyptians for a situation they did not create, or any of the other atrocities that are documented at the link above. No, when this god sends a message he speaks loudly, carries a big stick, and smashes everything in sight.

That leaves the last alternative. You reap what you sow. We’ve ruined the earth’s climate and are suffering the consequences, and when you look at it that way, New England is making out fairly well. Cold winters suck, don’t get me wrong, and I’m sick of shoveling snow, but at least we’re not heading toward the years of drought that will be visited upon large swathes of our beloved land. But, in a way, this brings us back to god number one. Maybe he’s asking us to look at the whole thing in a global context, and interpret this as a reward, since ultimately almost everyone else is going to have it a lot worse than us. As a theologian I can’t outright dismiss that possibility, but I consider it unlikely. He’s just not capable of thought that nuanced. If there’s a god at work, I think it’s god number 2, and he’s just teeing up.

We’re number 1!

On a number of occasions I’ve noted that we here in the rational states lead the nation in a number of respects. We may, for instance, be godless, but somehow we also manage to have the lowest divorce rates and the lowest rates of births out of wedlock. But, being rational, I’m bound to admit it when we lead the pack from behind, as Connecticut does on a very important measure. We are the number one “sinkhole” state:

… California ranks as America’s 7th worst “Sinkhole State,” as the State Data Lab, a project of Truth in Accounting, calls them. It figures the taxpayer burden in each state by adding up the outstanding state debt, such as bonds, and the amounts that these states have promised to pay but haven’t funded yet, such as pensions and retiree healthcare benefits – the “unfunded liabilities.”

That these “unfunded liabilities” can bite viciously in all directions has been made clear by the municipal bankruptcies of Detroit, MI, Stockton, San Bernardino, Vallejo (all three in California), Jefferson County, AL, and others.

But taxpayers in six other states are far worse off in terms of these liabilities than we are in California. The taxpayer burdens in Connecticut and Illinois weigh over twice as much on each of their respective taxpayers as the burden in California. By comparison, the profligate state of California is practically a paragon of fiscal rectitude. So based on data by State Data Lab, here are the 10 worst “Sinkhole States”:

via Wolf Street

Read the article at the link, and you’ll see that we here in the Nutmeg State are not only number one, but we win (or should that be “lose”) going away.

How to explain our dismal record? Well, I don’t know, but that won’t stop me from conjecturing about some of the causes. Like many of the worst things that have happened in this fair land, I suspect bi-partisanship is the cause. Republicans don’t like to pay for things, as you may have noticed. Democrats believe in paying for things, in theory, but they’re quite shy about saying so in practice, and can’t get out of the defensive crouch they assume every time Republicans accuse them of wanting to raise taxes. Connecticut had, counting Lowell Weicker, Republican governors for 20 years before Malloy came along. Yes, Weicker gave us the income tax, but I don’t recall him using it to pay for things like pensions. In the face of gubernatorial resistance, the Democratic legislatures (Republicans have never had a majority, if I’m not mistaken) have made no attempt, if they were ever so inclined, to properly fund the pensions that the state promised to its workers. Why bother to do that if, when the shit hits the fan, you can just accuse those workers of being greedy and insist that they take a cut, like the present governor of Rhode Island (a purported Democrat) did to the workers there. Did someone say contracts? To borrow and distort a phrase from Leona Helmsley “contracts are for the big people”.

A prediction: When the day of reckoning comes, somehow we’ll find a way to make sure that certain pensions, for retired judges, legislators etc., come through unscathed. It will be the greedy run of the mill state workers that get the shaft.

Free speech for me, but not for thee

If you spend much time at left leaning blogs you have no doubt read more than one comment about the tendencies of right wingers to express rather strange ideas about rights. For example, it is a common argument on their part that gay marriage somehow tramples on their right to religious freedom, inasmuch as they apparently feel that their right to that freedom necessarily implies a right to impose their “values”, such as they are, onto others.

Is it good news or bad news that this sort of thing is not unique to the land of the the free, but is apparently widespread? In fact, there are folks abroad who make our Southern citizenry look like pikers in the victimization game. Consider this story, from today’s New York Times.

Apparently, the head of an Italian fashion house had this to say about in vitro fertilization:

Stefano Gabbana and Domenico Dolce have found themselves at the center of a viral social media campaign after the pair criticized in vitro fertilization and nontraditional families in an interview with the Italian magazine Panorama. “I am not convinced by those I call children of chemicals, synthetic children,” Mr. Dolce told the magazine. “Rented uterus, semen chosen from a catalog.”

“The family is not a fad,” Mr. Gabbana added. “In it there is a supernatural sense of belonging.”

Apparently this didn’t sit well with Elton John, who along with his husband has two “synthetic” children. He called for a boycott of the label.

The first reaction of the fashion kings was so breathtakingly shameless it no doubt made Pat Robertson jealous:

Mr. Gabbana struck back against Mr. John on Instagram, calling him a fascist and posting “Je Suis D&G” in an echo of the “Je Suis Charlie” cry after the attack in January on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.

That’s right. When Elton John used his freedom of speech to tell one and all he would no longer buy the overpriced crap these guys produce, he was just like the guys who killed those cartoonists for exercising their freedom of speech. But John’s freedom to speak isn’t the issue; the issue, according to Gabbana and Dolce, is their freedom of speech, the only freedom that counts. Like their brethren here in the states, they believe that when they speak, there should be no consequences. (This rule applies only to those on the right; those on the left who speak freely must not only suffer the consequences, but they must shut their mouths.) So, if we bring this thinking a bit closer to home, if I walk into a Bess Eaton and they are showing Fox News, not only must I not protest, I cannot turn around and get my coffee and carbs elsewhere. I must plunk down my money there, or I am depriving Bess Eaton (corporations are people remember) of its right to free speech. And lets not even get into my longstanding one-man boycott of Walmart. I hesitate to speak for the Founders, but I will anyway: Jefferson and Madison would be perplexed.

Lest you think I am misinterpreting their initial defense, consider their frantic attempt to backtrack:

On Monday, Mr. Dolce and Mr. Gabbana tried to stem the backlash. In a statement issued through the company on Monday — the same one he posted on Instagram — Mr. Gabbana said: “We firmly believe in democracy and the fundamental principle of freedom of expression that upholds it. We talked about our way of seeing reality, but it was never our intention to judge other people’s choices.”

So you see, it is about free speech, and apparently also about their right to be completely disingenuous. The offending quote was nothing more nor less than a judgment about “other people’s choices”, but according to Gabbana and Dolce it was nothing of the sort. Orwell would understand, though one doubts he would approve.

Surprise from the land of the Mormons

This is truly amazing. From the state that just voted to kill people by firing squad, we have a piece of legislation that is so far ahead of its time that it’s stunning:

With just a point and a click, you can browse a face book of felons, a new government website that will warn of the danger these criminals pose to society.

Only these are not the faces of sex offenders and serial killers. These criminals are mortgage schemers and inside traders, most likely armed with nothing more than an M.B.A. or a law degree.

Their faces will soon appear online courtesy of the Utah Legislature, which on Wednesday approved a measure to build the nation’s first white-collar offender registry, appending a scarlet letter of sorts on the state’s financial felons. The registry — quirky even by the standards of a legislature that this week reinstatedfiring squads as a method of execution — will be replete with a “a recent photograph” of Utah’s white-collar offenders and, in case they try to run or hide, their “date of birth, height, weight, and eye and hair color.”

via The New York Times

Now, I’m waiting for the newspaper stories about towns trying to restrict where they live and how close to a bank or credit union they can go.

Fair and balanced reporting on Social Security Disabilty

Dean Baker makes an obvious point, therefore one that those claiming that the Social Security Disability program is abused totally ignore:

Wall Street Journal Soon to Run Piece on Improper Denials of Disability Claims

That’s inevitable, since any fair-minded newspaper that ran a column on improper approvals would surely want to balance it out. For those who missed it, the Wall Street Journal had a column by George Mason economist Mark Warshawsky and his grad student Ross Marchand complaining about a limited number of administrative-law judges who approve disability appeals at a very high rate.

The piece referred back to data from 2008, which showed that 9 percent of Social Security administrative law judges had approval rates of more than 90 percent in a year when the overall approval rate was 70 percent. They conclude that these judges cost the disability program more than $23 billion due to wrongly approved claims.

The takeaway is that there are clearly judges who error on the reject side as well as the approval side. It appears that SSA has taken steps to limit unwarranted approvals. It is not clear that measures have been taken to address the problem of judges wrongly denying appeals. We should not want to waste money on undeserving claims, but we also should not want to see workers who are genuinely disabled being denied the benefits for which they have paid. It is far from clear that at present the program errors more in awarding undeserving claims than in denying deserving ones.

via Beat the Press

Of course, the Wall Street Journal will not be publishing a companion piece, as Baker knows so well.

This is something I know a bit about, as most of my legal practice is in this area, and I can assure anyone who wants to listen that the number of wrongly denied claims far exceeds those wrongly granted.

Here’s a bit of the flavor of what we get from the judges who are looking to deny. Among other things, the judge is supposed to assess the claimant’s credibility; what the judge believed, what he or she didn’t believe, and why. Obviously, if a claimant’s overall level of activity is greater than they allege they are capable of, then you can assume they’re stretching the truth a bit. On the other hand, there are some logical leaps that are a bit over the top. I have a case presently in federal court involving a relatively young man with a very bad knee problem. The doctors to whom Social Security sent him for examination actually said he could not do sedentary work, which is the standard for obtaining disability at his age. Such a fidng by the agency’s hand-picked docor is a rare event. But the judge would have none of it, because the claimant couldn’t be believed about the level of his disability. Because why? Here’s why:

The claimant’s allegation of disability based on his medically determinable severe impairments is only partially credible. The claimant told Dr. X that he lived with his two children, ages 4 and 5, and he continued to drive (Exhibit 1F), which implies that he cares for them. At the hearing, the claimant testified that he lives with his younger, 9 year old son and his girlfriend, who works as a manager of a wine and spirits shop. He said that he has a driver’s license, has no car, but drives rarely. The claimant testified that he came to Connecticut in 2009 by airplane. He said that since living in Connecticut, he has traveled to Florida to visit a friend. The claimant testified that he passes time by lying in bed and watching television. He said that he socializes with his girlfriend, but they do not go out. This level of activity is inconsistent with the allegation of total disability. (Doctor’s name X’d for privacy reasons)

Got that? The guy’s knee problems can’t be as bad as he says because he watches TV lying down and he took a plane twice in 5 years. Also, he has a girlfriend, and he takes care of his kids. This reasoning is absurd on its face even if you don’t know that the judge was mischaracterizing the evidence about his childcare, his driving, and his traveling. We are now awaiting word from a federal magistrate about whether watching television lying down really proves that a guy’s knee problem isn’t as bad as he claims.

This is not unusual. This is normal. In fact, even the TV thing is widespread. I’ve had judges say that watching television proves that a client’s mental health problems are not as bad as they claim. Not one has ever explained why the ability to watch television proves a thing about one’s mental health, although, to be fair, it is not as far fetched as the claim that it disproves a knee problem.

Oh, did I mention the case about the lady with a paralyzed stomach who couldn’t havve been as bad off as she claimed because she didn’t get life threatening surgery that was mentioned, but never recommended, by her doctor? And then there was the case…

Charter School Madness

The right, be it the religious or corporate variant, is ever so good at making their positions sound like the opposite of what they are. They don’t oppose abortion and birth control; they are “pro-life”; they don’t pass anti-union laws; they pass “right to work” laws. The media, often enabled by people on the left who accept their terminology, lets them get away with it.

Here’s the latest example of Newspeak, from the Boston Globe:

The highly charged charter school debate, waged for years in the Legislature, could soon become a constitutional court fight, launched by three prominent lawyers who believe students in Boston and other urban districts are being denied their right to a quality education.

Paul F. Ware Jr., Michael B. Keating, and William F. Lee, who are partners at three top law firms, say the lawsuit they will file to overturn the state cap on the number of charter schools will break ground on two fronts.

“This is, frankly, an issue of civil rights, and this is an issue which the Legislature, for one reason or another, has failed to act on,” said Keating, a past president of the Boston Bar Association. “It is not inappropriate, in those circumstances, to seek judicial relief.”

via The Boston Globe

Yes, you read that right. This is a “civil rights” issue, having nothing whatsoever to do with advancing the interest of the charter school industry. The article says that the lawyers will be basing their case, in part, on an argument that charter schools provide better educations than public schools. It matters not that this is not so, or that there is every reason to believe that charter schools will get even worse as they approach their goal of privatizing public education. It is really hard to see how a business model based on using poorly paid disempowered teachers is likely to result in better educational outcomes, particularly after competing public school systems have been destroyed by the more generously funded, laxly regulated, and lobbyist protected charter schools.

But perhaps I’m overly cynical. Well, no. I smell more than one rat, for it looks like the newly minted governor of Massachusetts is ready to take a legal fall, which may, in fact, be the real motivation for this lawsuit:

The lawyers will name as defendants James A. Peyser, Governor Charlie Baker’s secretary of education, as well as the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. They are being targeted because, as of January, they are responsible for enforcing the law, even though they disagree with it.

Baker is a strong proponent of lifting the cap and Peyser is a nationally known charter school advocate who helped build the charter-school movement in Massachusetts.

Watch for some real vigorous defense of the statute from that duo. Okay, the state’s attorney general is a Democrat, and we might expect her to go her own way but as we’ve learned here in Connecticut, the push to destroy public schools is one of the few areas of bipartisan agreement. In fact, that’s one way of knowing, if you knew nothing more, that it must be a terrible idea. In any event, even if she wants to defend the law, it will be difficult without the cooperation of her client, who would, no doubt, subvert her at every turn.

This case is not about civil rights. It is about shoveling public money into private pockets.

Deja vu all over again

Count me as one that dreads a Hillary Clinton presidency. While she will be better than the alternative, there is no chance that she will be the Franklin Roosevelt we need. Wall Street has had a friend in Obama in the last 6 years, and that will not change under Hillary. Nonetheless, I take no pleasure from the ginned up email controversy, because it 1) won’t appreciably deter Hillary from getting the nomination and 2) is grossly unfair in a manner eerily reminiscent of what are now almost bygone times.

Once again we have the New York Times setting out to destroy a Clinton, and once again the evidence of wrongdoing is remarkably sparse. There’s a full discussion here, from which we learn, among other things:

But after reading the rest of the Times piece with a fine-tooth comb, I found no mention of any specific regulation that was actually violated. And that’s because there wasn’t one: The regulation to which they seem to be referring was signed into law nearly two years after she left the State Department, as USA Today later clarified in an amazing feat of actual journalism:

The laws and regulations regarding the handling of electronic communications among federal agencies has undergone several changes in recent years, including an amendment to the Federal Records Act that President Obama signed into law in November, 2014. The bill requires that e-mails dealing with official matters that are sent from a personal account must be forwarded to an official account within 20 days.
A September 2013 bulletin from NARA suggests federal employees “should not generally use personal email accounts to conduct official agency business.” The bulletin suggests exceptions could be “emergency situations” or on occasions where the employee is contacted through their personal e-mail account.

Both the Federal Records Act amendment and NARA bulletin took effect after Clinton left the State Department in February, 2013.

Now that you know this, carefully read that second section from the original Times piece again and take note of the journalistic sleight of hand: “Her aides took no actions to have her personal emails preserved on department servers at the time, as required by the Federal Records Act.”

Catch that? To actually be damning, the words “at the time” would have to be at the end of the sentence: “Her aides took no actions to have her personal emails preserved on department servers, as required by the Federal Records Act at the time.”

There’s more, and the entire article is well worth reading. Whatever the rules should have been, Clinton was totally in compliance with what the rules were, and her actions were no different than those of her predecessors, who, being Republicans, of course get a pass.

If you’re old enough, you may recall that the Times set off in hot pursuit of the Clintons in the early 90s, running forever with a trumped up Whitewater controversy, which never was a scandal of any significance whatsoever. The Times took nearly 10 years to engage in a similar level of journalistic incompetence, when it chose to allow Judith Miller to help lie us into war.

So, the article is unfair, but I might even be able to live with that if I thought there was the slightest chance that these baseless attacks might derail Hillary’s candidacy. But that will not happen, for a very simple reason. The Clinton’s have been inoculated against right wing attacks, even if those attacks are pushed in the pages of the New York Times. The frenzied cacaphony of the Clinton haters has become political muzak, noticed only by the true believers who care about stuff like Benghazi. Everyone else ignores the noise, having long since absorbed the fact that the Clinton haters are irrational. The only way to beat Hillary is for some candidate to come along who will catch the imagination of the Democratic electorate, as Obama did in 2008. But that task is doubly hard this time around. Once burned, twice shy and besides, there’s no one out there who seems up to filling the role. Those of us who want Bernie to run, by and large, have no illusions about him winning, though we do think that he’ll get more votes than the smart money believes, thereby pushing the discourse leftward, to about where it was in the radical days of the mid nineties. So, nothing changes, really. We have a political season ahead of us that will feature fawning articles about the likes of the loathsome Jeb Bush, and hatchet jobs on Hillary. What else is new?

Safe for another year, what a relief

It’s hard to convey the inexpressible sense of relief that swept over me when I learned that we had avoided, first for a week, but now a blessed year, a shutdown of the Department of Homeland Security. Like everyone else, I was shaking in my boots at the prospect of losing the agency’s protection, even for a minute. Ever since 2001, I’ve felt secure, knowing it was there, sort of like a Big Brother, someone I could count on to provide protection from the terrorists that I feel sure would have gotten me by now, if not for its omnipresence and omniscience. Shame on the Republicans for holding it hostage to their demand that we treat immigrants like sub-human trash; shame on the Democrats for not giving in to those demands. After all, they always have before. All hail Netanyahu, for providing the cover John Boehner needed to allow rationality to prevail in the House, if only for a minute.

Perhaps it’s churlish to point out that in this country reason only prevails when the continued existence of something we may not really need is on the line. The Department of Homeland Security was given its Orwellian name (along with its companion tribute to Orwell, the Patriot Act) in part to aid in keeping Americans in a constant state of terror, the better to keep them distracted while their rights and livelihoods are steadily stripped away. Boehner would feel no pressure at all to step back from the brink if, say, the continued existence of food stamps was on the line. Were I a Republican crazy, the lesson I would take from this is that I picked the wrong target. I would attach the immigration rider to the next food stamp authorization bill, or the next bill funding education. Boehner would back me to the hilt, and Democrats would be forced to “compromise” because they would have none of the leverage they had on Homeland Security funding; that leverage being in the form of a media that, for the most part, (Fox News excepted) pretty much presumed that a DHS shutdown would be a threat to the Republic. That same media would consider starving little kids a mere political issue, with both sides equally to blame, a situation which always seems to call for Democratic surrender.