Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Mississippi: America’s Third World Country

Wednesday, May 11th, 2022

Although I have been there only once, I can’t help thinking about Mississippi.

Mississippi has recently been in the news, of course, because its 2018 Gestational Age Act will be upheld in the same Supreme Court decision overruling Roe v. Wade, which we discovered from Justice Samuel Alito’s leaked first draft opinion for the majority.

This is not Mississippi’s first foray into restricting abortion. In 2007, the state passed its version of an abortion Trigger Law, which “bans all abortions unless necessary to save the life of the pregnant woman or if the pregnancy was caused by rape and charges have been filed with law enforcement,” and which takes effect immediately following the state attorney general certifying the Supreme Court has overturned Roe v. Wade. The Trigger law had 19 male legislative sponsors and zero female sponsors. Regardless, Mississippi has been ready for this for 15 years.

But has it been ready for what comes next?

Matthew Walther, editor of The Lamp, a Roman Catholic literary journal, and a person who will never be accused of favoring abortion, sees predictable and unpleasant consequences after Roe is no longer the law of the land. In his 10 May 2022 guest essay for the New York Times, “Overturning Roe will disrupt a lot more than abortion. I can live with that,” Mr. Walthern acknowledges what very few anti-abortionists want to admit.

Research over the years has suggested that an America without abortion would mean more single mothers and more births to teenage mothers, increased strain on Medicaid and other welfare programs, higher crime rates, a less dynamic and flexible work force, an uptick in carbon emissions, lower student test scores and goodness knows what else.

But Mr. Walther, despite envisioning a gloomy horizon, “can live with that.” I cannot restrain myself from pointing out that Mr. Walther is of the male persuasion and, consequently, faces little likelihood of ever having to “live with” personal pregnancy.

Nonetheless, he makes a good argument, which brings us back to Mississippi.

A few points worth considering:

  • Poverty: According to the Department of Agriculture, 20.29% of Mississippi’s adults and 27.6% of its children live below the poverty line. This is the highest poverty rate in America where the national average is 11.4%.
  • Income: The median family income in Mississippi is $45,081. This is the lowest in the nation. According to the National Census Bureau, the national average in 2019 was $65,712.
  • Education: Only Texas, at 84%, ranks lower than Mississippi, at 85%, for the percentage of high school graduates. The national average is 89.6%. Only West Virginia, at 21%, ranks lower than Mississippi’s 22% for the percentage of college graduates. The national average is 31.28%.
  • Life Expectancy: At 74.4 years, Mississippi has the lowest life expectancy rate in the nation. Of note, the life expectancy rate for Mississippi’s men is 71.2 years.
  • Fetal Mortality: Mississippi’s fetal mortality rate, the number of deaths at 24 or more weeks of gestation per 1,000 live births, is 6.6. This is the highest in the nation. The national average is 3.68. If that isn’t enough, fetal deaths have lately doubled among unvaccinated pregnant women who suffer COVID-19 infections, State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs said during a Mississippi State Department of Health press conference in September, 2021.
  • Infant Mortality: The Infant Mortality Rate is the number of infant deaths per 1,000 live births. At 8.27, Mississippi’s is the highest in the nation, far exceeding Louisiana’s rate of 7.53, which is the second highest.
  • Maternal Mortality: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Mississippi’s maternal mortality rate is 20.8, again, the highest in the country, where the national average is 17.4, which is the highest among all members of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). A maternal death is defined by the World Health Organization as, “the death of a woman while pregnant or within 42 days of termination of pregnancy, irrespective of the duration and the site of the pregnancy, from any cause related to or aggravated by the pregnancy or its management, but not from accidental or incidental causes.”
  • Maternity Leave: Mississippi has no guaranteed Maternity or Sick Leave in its state laws.
  • Smoking: According to the CDC, 20.4% of Mississippians smoke. This is the fourth highest in the nation.
  • Autopsies: Something you probably have never have considered until now: Autopsy backlogs. According to the National Association of Medical Examiners (NAME), 90% of all autopsies should be completed within 60 days of death. The NAME has never accredited Mississippi, which has the highest backlog in the nation. The Mississippi State Medical Examiner’s Office was waiting for about 1,300 reports from as far back as 2011, records sent to the Associated Press in early April show. Around 800 of those involve homicides – meaning criminal cases are incomplete.
  • Abortion: According to the Mississippi Department of Public Health, the state has about 3,500 abortions annually. This represents 4.3 abortions per 1,000 women of reproductive age.
  • Finally: Mississippi ranks highest in the nation for Percent of Births to Unmarried Mothers, Cesarean Delivery Rate, Preterm Birth Rate, and Low Birthweight Rate.

Reading the above, one might be forgiven for thinking  there is a significant population in Mississippi who are actual victims of the state’s inability, or outright refusal, to carry out its first responsibility: to provide for the security and safety of its citizens.

Thinking about this, I have to ask: Given how well it’s doing now, how in the world is Mississippi going to cope with 3,500 new births per year? On CNN this past Sunday, Jake Tapper interviewed the state’s Republican Governor, Tate Reeves. That interview offered a glimpse of what is likely coming, a catastrophe becoming worse than it already is, which is considerable.

Tapper: Mississippi, as you know, has the highest rate of infant mortality in the United States. You have the highest rate of child poverty in the United States. Your state has no guaranteed maternity leave that’s paid. The legislature in Mississippi just rejected extending post-partum Medicaid coverage. Your foster care system is also the subject of a long-running federal lawsuit over its failure to protect children from abuse. You say you want to do more to support mothers and children, but you’ve been in state government since 2004. Based on the track record of the state of Mississippi, why should anyone believe you?

Reeves: I believe in my heart that I was elected, not to try to hide our problems, but to try to fix our problems. We are focusing every day on fixing the challenges that are before us.

Good luck, Governor. You and all those “unborn” children who are about to be “saved” are going to need a lot of it. And so are the Mississippi women who are about to become the state’s newest victims.

 

 

 

 

The Leak

Tuesday, May 3rd, 2022

At 8:30pm Monday night, Politico reporters Josh Gerstein and Alexander Ward dropped the biggest journalistic bombshell of a year filled with journalistic bombshells when they published a leaked first draft of the Supreme Court’s decision to overrule and strike down the 49-year-old Roe v. Wade decision, which made abortion constitutional, and therefore legal, in all 50 states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia. This ruling, which, according to experts, should be made official in a month or two, also affirms Mississippi’s ban on abortions after the 15th week. Today, the Supreme Court said the leaked draft is authentic, and Chief Justice John Roberts, calling it an egregious breach of trust and confidentiality, said an investigation would begin immediately to discover how it happened and who is responsible.

It is important to note this is a “First Draft.” There may be more. However, a vote has been taken, and we know the results. Between now and the official ruling, votes can change, but probably won’t.

Supreme Court leaks have happened before. In an ironic twist, the night before Roe v. Wade was announced in January of 1973, a Supreme Court clerk leaked the decision to the Washington Post.

Thinking about the decision and the leak, I would like to offer a few points for your consideration.

First, I can see no sense to this leak, which I think disgraceful and a betrayal of trust. The reason I see no sense to it is because it achieves nothing that would not have been achieved when the ruling is made public in its final form in a month or two. At that time there would still be ample opportunity for it to play out vis-à-vis mid-term politics. So, why now? Who gains what?

Second, right now we have no idea if this was politically motivated. If it was politically motivated, we do not know the motivation behind the person who leaked it. It could have been anyone with access to Court documents. Imagine a clerk leaves the decision lying around, or forgets to turn off a computer, whereupon somebody else decides to cause a little mayhem. The point is anything is possible in our current vacuum of ignorance.

Third, Justice Samuel Alito wrote this first draft of the decision. In Alito’s confirmation hearings he was asked about his previous writings regarding Roe, writings in which he wrote Roe was unconstitutional. He wrote that the Constitution says nothing about abortion and that abortion decisions should be left to the various states. He responded to those confirmation questions by saying he would “put aside” the things he argued when a mere lawyer and “think about legal issues the way a judge thinks about legal issues.” The interesting thing here is the decision he has now authored is a mirror reflection of what he wrote when a “mere lawyer.” He writes now that Roe was “egregiously wrong” from the beginning; that the Constitution says nothing about abortion; and that the matter should be left to the “elected representatives” in the various states. Makes one wonder.

I would note that the Constitution also says nothing about baseball, but on November 9, 1953, the Supreme Court upheld a prior, controversial decision that allowed major league baseball to operate outside of the Sherman Antitrust Act. Maybe Justice Alito would like to overturn that decision, too?

Fourth, this is NOT akin to the Pentagon Papers, as some are arguing. The only thing this has in common with the Pentagon Papers, which documented governmental lying about the Vietnam War, is the method by which we learned of it: a leak. We would never have learned of the Pentagon Papers but for the leak. Without the present leak, we would have learned of this decision in the near term – which we still will. This decision, regardless of whatever you think of it, and I condemn it in the highest possible terms, has nothing to do with governmental lying with respect to national security.

Fifth, At least one Supreme Court Justice, Brett Kavanaugh, lied during his confirmation hearing. When asked about Roe, he responded it was “settled as a precedent,” because “it has been reaffirmed many times over the past 45 years.” Apparently, he did not believe that, or he would not have voted to overturn Roe now. He certainly could have voted to allow Mississippi’s abortion ban after 15-weeks to stand without overturning “settled law.” We may be forgiven for wondering if Justice Kavanaugh lied about a few other things during his confirmation hearing.

A note about “settled law.” Settled law is settled until it isn’t, as in this case. I point out that the Dred Scott decision was once “settled law.”

Sixth, in a tangential development, reporters asked Senator Susan Collins, (R-Maine), her reaction to the leaked decision. You may recall, just prior to Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing she emerged from a meeting with him and said he’d assured her that Roe is “settled law.” She gave him her vote. Today she was asked about that and said:

“If this leaked draft opinion is the final decision and this reporting is accurate, it would be completely inconsistent with what Justice Gorsuch and Justice Kavanaugh said in their hearings and in our meetings in my office. Obviously, we won’t know each Justice’s decision and reasoning until the Supreme Court officially announces its opinion in this case.”

Seventh, Chief Justice Roberts also responded to questions about Roe during his confirmation hearing. When asked if Roe was settled law, he replied, “It is settled as a precedent of the Court, yes.” Roberts did not vote to overturn Roe in this draft decision.

Eighth, this seems one more reason to think we are now living in two countries, one Red, one Blue. Eventually, if we’re lucky, very lucky, we will find common ground when we once again begin electing leaders who aspire to embrace the values, the good ones, upon which America came to be. I don’t know about you, but that time cannot come soon enough for me, if it ever does.

My question is: What happens to this country if it doesn’t?

The Sunshine State Goes Darth Vader Dark

Saturday, April 23rd, 2022

In 1967, 55 years ago, the Walt Disney World Company proposed building a recreation-oriented development on 25,000 acres of property in Central Florida. The property sat in a remote area of Orange and Osceola Counties, so secluded that the nearest power and water lines were 10-15 miles away. Neither Orange nor Osceola County had the services or the resources needed to bring the project to life.

In that year, the Florida State legislature created a special taxing district for Disneycalled the Reedy Creek Improvement District (RCID)that would act with the same authority and responsibility as a county government.

Walt Disney World then moved ahead with its vision to turn 38.5 square miles of largely uninhabited pasture and swamp land, into a global destination resort that today hosts millions of visitors every year.

The Special Taxing District designation gave the Disney company significant tax benefits amounting to tens of millions of dollars every year. However, those special tax benefits came with special upkeep responsibilities.

The new legislation said Walt Disney World would be solely responsible for paying the cost of providing typical municipal services like power, water, roads, fire protection etc.

Local taxpayers, meaning residents of Orange and Osceola County, would not have to pay for building or maintaining those services.

That all changed yesterday when Governor Ron DeSantis signed legislation revoking Disney’s Special Taxing District designation. Now, Disney will be paying taxes it did not up to now have to pay. It will also be relieved of having to  provide the municipal maintenance services it has provided for the last 55 years for Orange and Osceola Counties, whose combined population is about 1.8 million. With Disney and its 80,000 Floridian employees no longer picking up the bill, the responsibility for all those municipal services, including Police and Fire, now falls to the counties. Property taxes (the way municipalities raise revenue in Florida) will  increase substantially.

Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings is worried. “My primary concern is about any particular cost shifts that are mandated by the state to local governments,” he said in an interview with Orlando’s News 6. He should be worried.

Digging deeper, Sarah Rumpf of Mediaite notes repealing Disney’s status means that Orange and Osceola Counties, in addition to municipal services, are now responsible for Disney’s $2 billion bond debt—a 20% to 25% tax hike costing $2,200 to $2,800 per family of four. And if that’s not enough, since Disney’s RCID pays more and has better employee benefits than the Florida government, county workers taking on the jobs currently performed by Disney will likely have to take pay and benefit cuts. Yikes!

In another little twist, since both counties voted for Joe Biden in the 2020 election, Machiavellian DeSantis has found a new and improved way to stick it to opponents.

The creation, passage, signing and enactment of this legislation happened in four days.

The question is Why? Why all this political steamrolling? The answer is because Governor DeSantis, who brooks less dissent than Caligula, is upset because Disney’s CEO Bob Chapek had the daring temerity to criticize what has come to be known as the Governor’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill. Chapek even went so far as to apologize to his 80,000 employees for not condemning the bill earlier and more strongly.

The bill, officially known as the Parental Rights in Education bill, would ban classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity in kindergarten through third grade; lessons on those topics in other grades would be prohibited unless they are “age appropriate or developmentally appropriate,” a vague threshold, indeed. And parents would be allowed to sue over violations. It doesn’t take the Oracle of Delphi to see where this is headed.

The “Don’t Say Gay” bill is DeSantis throwing seasoned red meat to his right-wing carnivores in Florida. It is DeSantis showing his many followers exactly what he thinks of the LGBTQ+ population. It is discriminatory and downright bigoted. But in Florida, it resonates, and the Governor’s lapdog legislature is happy to walk three paces behind carrying the bags.

In the immortal words of that great American salesman and inventor Ron Pompeo, “But wait. There’s more!”

In response to the 2020 census, the Florida legislature was required to draw up new legislative maps. It did, and the gerrymandered result gave Florida Republicans a guarantee of two additional seats in the US Congress. However, this was not good enough for Governor DeSantis, who created his own maps, which guaranteed four additional seats. In DeSantis’s version, Republicans would be expected to win 20 of the state’s 28 congressional districts, a four seat increase from the 16 they hold now. The Republican-dominated Legislature, in happy subservience, approved the Governor’s maps, which he signed into law three days ago. In addition to giving the Republicans four more seats, the new maps eliminate two currently held by Black Democrats, one of whom is Val Demings, who is challenging Marco Rubio in next year’s senate election. In the game of Pool, we’d call this an Elegant Combination.

The map is expected to draw a near-immediate court challenge from Democratic-aligned groups that contend the proposal violates federal and state law because it dismantles and diminishes those two seats currently held by the Black Democrats. Recognizing Democrats would challenge in court the new maps, Republicans, planning ahead, even included in the final bill $1 million to pay for that fight. Trouble is, it’s not clear if that legal battle can be resolved before June, when candidates must qualify for the ballot.

If all this were real warfare instead of the political kind, we would say Governor DeSantis and his Republican army had just won a Battle of Annihilation.

 

 

 

 

 

Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s Confirmation Process Is A Repulsive Metaphor For Our Time

Thursday, April 7th, 2022

When Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer announced he would be retiring as soon as his replacement was confirmed by the Senate, he gave President Joe Biden perhaps the only chance he’ll ever have to make his mark on the Court.

Biden had promised to nominate a “black woman” if he ever had the opportunity—and that is precisely what he did in nominating Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, currently a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

Most people thought that because Brown Jackson’s appointment would not change the mostly conservative makeup of the Court in any way—a perceived liberal replacing a bona fide liberal—and because of her standing as the first Black woman in the Court’s history, and because she went through the confirmation process with the Judiciary Committee in 2021, one year ago, for her current position, her appointment would be approved in a show of bipartisanship that is ever so rare in today’s America. Most people thought a bipartisan confirmation process would allow Republicans to appear big-hearted and welcoming.

Well, “most people” were wrong. We were suckered into and down the rabbit hole of delusional thinking. Although three Republicans, Romney, Murkowski and Collins, have announced they will vote for her confirmation, the final vote will be anything but bipartisan. The voting is scheduled for 1:45 pm today. She will be confirmed, just not in the way Biden would have liked. After that, Congress will go back to the normal internecine warfare we’ve grown to know so well.

In the Judiciary Committee hearing on her nomination, the knives came out long and sharp. The vileness of the Republican strategy was exemplified Tuesday on the Senate floor by Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton, who fancies himself quite the  presidential contender, when he said, “The last Judge Jackson left the Supreme Court to go to Nuremberg and prosecute the case against the Nazis. This Judge Jackson might have gone there to defend them.”

Cotton’s execrable remark was apparently meant to suggest that not only is Judge Brown Jackson a Nazi sympathizer, she’s also a full-blown Nazi herself!

Why would this Harvard Law graduate and former Infantry officer say such a stupid and hateful thing? How could a demonstrably smart guy stoop that low? What could he possibly stand to gain from such a ridiculous statement? In defending himself, he said he attacked the Judge, because, when working for the Federal Public Defender Program, she defended three Guantanamo detainees, thereby making her sympathetic to terrorists.

In their questioning and public statements, it’s almost as if Republicans were describing an entirely different person. For example, they criticized her for being “soft on crime” and berated her for lenient sentences that go against judicial sentencing guidelines. But Judge Brown Jackson enjoys the full-throated support of the Fraternal Order of Police, the largest law enforcement labor organization in the United States, with more than 356,000 members. This organization rarely comments on judicial appointments, but they’re all in for her. Yet, still, on Fox News over the weekend, Senator Ted Cancun Cruz criticized Brown Jackson for her work as a public defender, arguing people go into that line of work because “their heart is with the murderers, the criminals, and that’s who they’re rooting for.”*

Ask yourself why, really why, Republicans are nearly united in their opposition to the Supreme Court nomination of Ketanji Brown Jackson, who, by all accounts, both deeply conservative and liberal, is eminently qualified for the appointment. Why did a number of Republican Judiciary Committee members, led by Cruz, focus so much on pedophilia? Why, in their 11.5 hours of questioning, were so many of their sanctimonious “questions” dripping with condescension, misogyny and naked racism? Why were they so very proud of that heroic accomplishment?

I will tell you why. It is because to this day 32% of Republican voters have continued to fall for the Big Lie and believe Joe Biden’s election was illegitimate (23%), or they’re not sure (9%).

It now seems the main goal in life for most Republican politicians, regardless of national interest, is getting reelected—they’ve become addicted to the power in the Washington they decry—, and to do that requires outright pandering to the Trump base and its enablers and supporters. Mustn’t upset Tucker Carlson and his 3.21 million misguided viewers.

American leaders, whose opportunistic ambitions know no bounds, are digging us a hole out of which not even light can escape. This is how democracies and empires die.

 

*Public Defenders do noble work for little compensation, representing people who would otherwise go unrepresented. They provide the legal representation the Constitution requires. The same thing John Adams did for the British soldiers accused in the Boston Massacre.

Rick Scott Is Going To Rescue America!

Friday, April 1st, 2022

Rick Scott is the junior U.S. Senator from Florida. Elected in 2018, Scott has now served in Congress for 39 months. In November, 2020, his Senate GOP colleagues elected him Chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC). His job is to get Republicans elected and reelected to the Senate.

Prior to the Senate, Scott was a two-term governor of Florida, succeeded by Republican Ron DeSantis. Before that, he was a businessman. We’ll get back to that later.

You would think the Chairman of the NRSC would be lock-step with Republican leadership in the strategy to take the Senate from the tenuous hold of the Democrats in the upcoming mid-terms. But this does not appear to be the case. Senator Scott is marching to his own drummer.

On Thursday, after no consultation with or cooperation from Senate GOP elites, Scott officially unveiled and launched the Rick Scott, 31 page, 11 Point Plan to Rescue America. The Rescue Plan has 117 agenda items.

This is not a surprise to GOP Senate Leader Mitch McConnell. Scott’s Plan has been discussed for more than a month, and as far back as 1 March McConnell publicly rebuked Scott for it. McConnell is fixated on making the mid-terms a referendum on President Biden, not on laying out a Republican plan he and the GOP establishment would have to spend the entire mid-term campaign defending. He wants Biden playing defense. Scott, on the other hand, wants America to know what Republicans will do if given control of the Senate. Right at the beginning of his Rescue Plan he says, “Americans deserve to know what we will do if given the chance to govern.” If Scott gets his way, now they will. And you have to hand it to him; he certainly doesn’t tap dance around the many issues facing the country.

Before diving into his 11 point, 117 agenda item plan, Scott lays out what the future will look like if nothing changes:

The militant left now controls the entire federal government…Among the things they plan to change or destroy are: American history, patriotism, border security, the nuclear family, gender, traditional morality, capitalism, fiscal responsibility, opportunity, rugged individualism, Judeo-Christian values, dissent, free speech, color blindness, law enforcement, religious liberty, parental involvement in public schools, and private ownership of firearms.

Wow! We need a plan to stop all that!

A few of Senator Scott’s 117 agenda items, guaranteed to be saliva-producing red meat for the trumpiest of trumpsters caught my eye.  For instance,

We will secure our border, finish building the wall, and name it after President Donald Trump.

Kids in public schools will say the Pledge of Allegiance, stand for the National Anthem, and honor the American Flag. We must foster national unity.

Teacher tenure at public schools must be eliminated

We will not allow political or social indoctrination in our schools. Teachers who refuse to comply will need to find new jobs.

We will close the federal Department of Education. Education is a state function.

Government will not ask American citizens to disclose their race, ethnicity, or skin color on any government form.

Our military will engage in ZERO diversity training, teachings on critical race theory, or any woke ideological indoctrination that divides our troops.

We will force prosecutors to prosecute. At present, many prosecutors in big cities are allowing criminals to go free with no justice, and they are doing it on purpose.

Immigrants will not be eligible to collect unemployment benefits or welfare for the first 7 years after arriving in the US.

No government assistance unless you are disabled or aggressively seeking work.

If Congress does not pass a budget, the members of Congress do not get paid. Full stop.

Other than disaster relief, the federal government must stop spending money on non-essential state and local projects until the budget is balanced.

All Americans should pay some income tax to have skin in the game, even if a small amount. Currently over half of Americans pay no income tax.

Enact term limits for the Washington ruling class – 12-year limits for Congress and government bureaucrats.

All federal legislation sunsets in 5 years. If a law is worth keeping, Congress can pass it again.

We will immediately cut the IRS funding and workforce by 50%.

Humans are born male and female, there are two genders, and to deny that is to deny science. No government forms will include questions about “gender identity” or “sexual preference.”

We will protect women’s sports by banning biological males from competing.

No tax dollars will be used to pay for any diversity training or other woke indoctrination that is hostile to faith.

We will not pay any dues to the United Nations or any international organization that undermines the national interests of the USA.

The weather is always changing. We take climate change seriously, but not hysterically. We will not adopt nutty policies that harm our economy or our jobs.

There are a few difficulties with a number of these policy tectonic changes. Ending Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid in five years being among the biggest. Also, Scott’s colleagues in Congress might have something to say about going without pay and getting sent home after 12 years. Increasing taxes on 50% of Americans may prove challenging for Republicans on the campaign trail. Pulling billions of dollars from the states until we have a balanced budget might irritate a few Republican governors. And reducing the IRS’s funding and currently understaffed workforce by 50% would have brought tears to the eyes of mobster Al Capone.*

Although Senator Scott’s plan is dead on arrival, the problem is it arrived in the first place. It’s not about getting Republican senators elected; it’s about Rick Scott.

And what about Rick Scott? As I mentioned above, before getting into government, Scott was a “businessman.” He co-founded Columbia Hospital Corporation in 1987. Columbia later merged with another corporation to form Columbia/HCA, which eventually became the nation’s largest private for-profit health care company with Scott as Chief Executive. According to The New York Times, “[in] less than a decade, Mr. Scott had built a company he founded with two small hospitals in El Paso into the world’s largest health care company – a $20 billion giant with about 350 hospitals, 550 home health care offices and scores of other medical businesses in 38 states.”

Sounds good, right? Quite the businessman.

But there were problems. In March of 1997, the FBI, the IRS, and the Department of Health and Human Services arrived with search warrants. Four months later, Scott was forced to resign by his Board. He didn’t leave willingly, but when he did, he left with a settlement $9.88 million and 10 million shares of stock worth $350 million. Columbia/HCA pleaded guilty to 14 felonies and agreed to a $600+ million fine in what was at the time the largest health care fraud settlement in U.S. history.

The company admitted to systematically overcharging the government by claiming marketing costs as reimbursable, by striking illegal deals with home care agencies, and by filing false data about use of hospital space. It also admitted to fraudulently billing Medicare and other health programs by inflating the seriousness of diagnoses and to giving doctors partnerships in company hospitals as a kickback for the doctors referring patients to HCA. It filed false cost reports, fraudulently billing Medicare for home health care workers, and paid kickbacks in the sale of home health agencies and to doctors to refer patients. In addition, it gave doctors “loans” never intending to be repaid, free rent, free office furniture, and free drugs from hospital pharmacies.

And that’s not all. In 2002, HCA agreed to pay the government an additional $631 million, plus interest, and $17.5 million to state Medicaid agencies, in addition to $250 million paid up to that point to resolve outstanding Medicare expense claims. The entire fiasco cost the company $1.7 billion.

All on Senator Scott’s watch.

There’s one last twist. In a civil suit deposition connected to the case (there were a lot of civil lawsuits), Senator Scott invoked his 5th Amendment rights 75 times.

Somehow, all of that has been forgotten, and Scott has managed to be a governor, a Senator, and, I’m guessing, a man, a businessman, who has his eyes on the biggest prize of all, the one up for grabs in 2024.

Rescue Plan, indeed.

*Capone was a nationally famous, Chicago-based killer and crime boss who went to prison in 1931 for tax evasion.

 

Last Week Today: Mr. & Mrs. Thomas, Cory Booker’s Sermon, And The Loss Of A Titan

Saturday, March 26th, 2022

Last week was a crazy week in America. Trying to sum it up requires leaving out much. This column is a bit long, but its tragedy is there was not enough space to wax eloquent about the NCAA Basketball Tournament. Go Peacocks!

At home with the Thomases

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and his wife Ginni have made more news in the last week than either of them has in the last ten years.

First, the Justice was admitted to hospital a week ago for an infection with flu-like symptoms (which were not Covid-19). In and of itself this was big news, especially with the backdrop of this week’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearings on the nomination of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to fill the soon-to-be-vacated seat of Stephen Breyer. Thomas was released on Friday, and is apparently healthy again, which makes many people happy and many others not so much.

Next, the Supreme Court released an 8 to1 decision on Thursday in which Justice Thomas spent 23 pages of a 60 page ruling in a dissent involving a condemned man in Texas who filed a motion to have his pastor present, “laying on hands” as he prayed over him in the death chamber. Twenty-three pages of “No.”

Finally, on Thursday night there was the bombshell story broken by the Washington Post’s Bob Woodward and Robert Costa of Ginni Thomas’s involvement in the attempts to overthrow the results of the presidential election to keep Donald Trump in power.

Trump’s Chief of Staff Mark Meadows had turned over a trove of emails and texts to the House Select Committee investigating the January 6th insurrection (Meadows has since stopped cooperating with the Committee). Among the texts were 29 back and forths between him  and Ginni Thomas — 21 sent by her, eight by him. Typical of the lot was this one from Thomas:

“Help This Great President stand firm, Mark!!!…You are the leader, with him, who is standing for America’s constitutional governance at the precipice. The majority knows Biden and the Left is attempting the greatest Heist of our History.”

In her texts, Mrs. Thomas was disparaging of Vice President Mike Pence (“We are living through what feels like the end of America. Most of us are disgusted with the VP…”) and complimentary of Sidney Powell, the attorney who promoted incendiary and unsupported claims about the election, and who led the “stop the steal” legal team, along with with Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal attorney, and John Eastman, the lawyer who wrote the eight-point plan by which he asserted Republicans could keep Trump in power. Of Powell, Mrs. Thomas wrote she should be “the lead and the face” of the battle. Thomas wrote, “Sounds like Sidney and her team are getting inundated with evidence of fraud. Make a plan. Release the Kraken and save us from the left taking America down.”

This story will develop further in the coming days; there is no way it couldn’t. It cannot prove anything but awkward for Justice Thomas, especially when one considers that the Supreme Court will, as it already has, inevitably hear cases stemming from the insurrection. Thus far, Thomas has refused to recuse himself from these cases. Continuing that refusal would be saying to the American public, as well as to his Supreme Court fellow Justices, that, while he may have had knowledge of his wife’s intimate involvement with the attempt to overturn the election and keep Trump in power, they did not discuss it in any husband and wife interplay and her profoundly strong views about the election never influenced his thoroughly impartial decisions.

Perhaps. Mrs. Thomas recently told the Free Beacon,“But we have our own separate careers, and our own ideas and opinions too. Clarence doesn’t discuss his work with me, and I don’t involve him in my work.”

Right. Perhaps.

Cory Booker’s paean

As any rational person knew it would, this week’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearings on the nomination of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court had some predictable moments. We knew that certain Republican senators on the committee would take the national TV spotlight as an opportunity to demonstrate the fine art of political grandstanding. We were not disappointed. In fact, Senators Cruz, Hawley, Blackburn, Graham and Cotton exceeded our wildest expectations. The disrespect, utter poor taste, condescension, outright misogyny, and, let’s face it, naked racism on display by these five, while probably greeted with applause in their MAGA base, showed them for the woeful human beings they really are. That Judge Jackson took it all with grace and dignity, while responding cogently to their dog-whistle “questions” and sanctimonious, self-righteous speeches with exponentially more intelligence than they exhibited, was a credit to her beyond anything her cynical detractors could imagine.

But toward the end of the inquisition of the fifth female, and the first black female, ever nominated to the nation’s highest court, Senator Cory Booker’s turn came. He was fifth from the end of the ordeal. At that point, questions didn’t matter. Like an old time gospel preacher, he delivered a sermon on racial progress that reduced the hypocritical Torquemadas to burnt ash. Booker told Jackson:

“Your family and you speak to service, service, service. And I’m telling you right now, I’m not letting anybody in the Senate steal my joy. … I just look at you, and I start getting full of emotion.

“And you did not get there because of some left-wing agenda. You didn’t get here because of some ‘dark money’ groups. You got here how every Black woman in America who’s gotten anywhere has done. By being, like Ginger Rogers said, ‘I did everything Fred Astaire did, but backwards, in heels.’ And so I’m just sitting here saying nobody’s stealing my joy. Nobody is going to make me angry.”

I want to tell you, when I look at you, this is why I get emotional. I’m sorry, you’re a person that is so much more than your race and gender. You’re a Christian. You’re a mom. It’s hard for me not to look at you and not see my mom. I see my ancestors and yours. You faced insults here that were shocking to me. Nobody’s taking this away from me.  Republicans are gonna accuse you of this and that. But don’t worry, my sister. Don’t worry. God has got you. And how do I know that? Because you’re here, and I know what it’s taken for you to sit in that seat. You have earned this spot. You are worthy. You are a great American.

This was an emotional moment that broke through Judge Jackson’s week-long, iron-like wall of rectitude.

With the conservative bent of the current Supreme Court, it is a given that Judge Jackson’s presence won’t change much. But you never know. Over time, things can change.

The loss of Madeleine Albright

Speaking of formidable women, the nation has lost a great one.

As the first female U.S. Secretary of State and one of the few women in leadership on the global stage during the 1990s, Madeleine Albright — who died Wednesday at the age of 84 — stood firm against dictators and tyrants from the Balkans to Haiti to Rwanda.

Throughout her life, she demonstrated a steadfast belief that democracy would triumph over authoritarianism and that the United States had to lead for it to happen.

Born in Czechoslovakia just before World War II, she came to the United States at age 11 as a refugee from the Nazis and communism and graduated from Wellesley College in 1959. After her twins were born prematurely, she learned Russian staying in the hospital with them. She knew Russian would come in handy later in life. She earned a doctorate in government from Columbia University in 1976, and at the age of 39 reentered the workforce, having been shut out for many years prior due to the sin of being a woman. She always advised other working moms that “women have to work twice as hard.”

She joined the Clinton administration as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations in 1993, and in 1997 she became the first woman ever to be Secretary of State.

She was an ardent defender of democracy; her time in Czechoslovakia gave her a first hand look at what the other side was like, the other side that is now doing all in its power to eliminate an entire country of 44 million people. Her final Book Fascism: A Warning is exactly that, a warning we had best heed.

Madeleine Albright will be missed — Greatly.

 

How Much Does Truth Matter In America Today?

Friday, March 18th, 2022

In 399 BCE, the Greek philosopher Socrates was accused of corrupting the youth of Athens and impiety, in that he “failed to acknowledge the gods that the city acknowledges.” He was tried, found guilty on both charges by a jury of male Athenians chosen by lot, and condemned to death.

Socrates real crime was in challenging his students to think critically. He asked political and philosophical questions and did not accept trite answers. Athenian leaders and other intellectuals resented his elenctic method of questioning, because it threatened their own credibility.

The trial of Socrates is an early example of a state restricting the knowledge its citizens can access and debate, and ever since then autocrats have done exactly that to get and maintain power.

In the 20th century, Adolph Hitler rose to power by building his own falsity factory and feeding the German people only a single version of “the truth.” And today, Vladimir Putin, a modern-day a devil disguised in a bespoke suit of skin, has imposed a crude and draconian crackdown on anyone who doesn’t toe the company line. I find it interesting that yesterday Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, defending Putin from nearly worldwide condemnation, called him a, “very wise, prescient, and cultured international figure.” That’s rich.

Here in America, we daily face similar attempts, some subtle, some not, to package lies and sell them as gospel truth. They pummel us from all sides. The tragedy is that so many of us open wide and swallow.

A case in point can be found in many states that are now restricting what teachers can teach and what books their students can read. Right now, in eleven states, teachers and librarians can be prosecuted for violating restrictions recently enshrined in law by their legislators and governors.

Reading these laws (I did), one gets the impression they were mostly written by the same person. Their focus is race and sex. They all contain the the following language taken from Texas that prohibits teachers from introducing a concept by which:

(vii)  an individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of the individual’s race or sex;

Right on page one, in South Dakota’s summary of its new law it says it aims to “protect students and employees at institutions of higher education from divisive concepts.” Whatever they are.

Similar versions of these restrictive laws have been passed in Arizona, Florida, Idaho, Iowa, North Dakota, Oklahoma,. South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Mississippi.

FutureEd has done a good job of cataloguing both the enacted legislation and the bills currently under consideration devoted to racism and sex. You might want to visit. There are 96 of them, nearly all of them in red states.

Imagine yourself a history teacher in any of these states. How do you cover The Mud Sill speech of South Carolina Senator James Henry Hammond, delivered in the U.S. Senate on 4 March 1858, without causing some “discomfort”? That’s the speech in which Hammond said:

In all social systems there must be a class to do the menial duties, to perform the drudgery of life. That is, a class requiring but a low order of intellect and but little skill. Its requisites are vigor, docility, fidelity. Such a class you must have, or you would not have that other class which leads progress, civilization, and refinement. It constitutes the very mud-sill of society and of political government; and you might as well attempt to build a house in the air, as to build either the one or the other, except on this mud-sill. Fortunately for the South, she found a race adapted to that purpose to her hand. A race inferior to her own, but eminently qualified in temper, in vigor, in docility, in capacity to stand the climate, to answer all her purposes. We use them for our purpose, and call them slaves.

Or, how do you discuss the Cornerstone speech of Alexander Stevens, Vice President of the Confederacy, former U.S. Representative from Georgia, and future Governor of Georgia in 1882? In the Cornerstone speech, he said:

Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner-stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition.

It seems to me a violation of all that’s sacred to sugar-coat this stuff. In discussing it with intellectual honesty, a teacher is probably going to offend somebody somewhere, be it a student, a parent or a politician. The truth requires honest discussion of all of America’s history, both the good and the awful. An open discussion in the safety of a classroom where students are free to think critically, and are led by a teacher drawing out the best their brains have to give in the manner of Socrates is good for the students and for the future of America.

Painful though it may be, truth matters.

 

 

 

Thursday Thoughts

Thursday, March 10th, 2022

Is there any hope for Ukraine?

Years ago, when I was a young man starting down life’s bumpy road, I had a difficult decision to make. Should I take the right-hand fork, or the left? So, I went to my mother for advice. I described the issue and the choices. She let me talk, heard me out. Then, after pausing for a moment, she said, “Tommy, pick very carefully the barricade upon which you are prepared to die.”

I made my decision, didn’t look back, and, to quote Robert Frost, “that has made all the difference.” It helps to have a mother a lot smarter than you are.

Right now, we are now witnessing the wanton, senseless, cruel-beyond-imagining death of innocents and innocence in Ukraine. Ukrainian twenty-somethings, all born after their country achieved freedom from Soviet domination in 1992, have no memory of life in the Soviet Union, the USSR. They’ve studied it in school, their parents told them stories, but they haven’t lived it. It’s like a different galaxy, spinning its own way in the cosmic beyond.

Now, they and all Ukrainians who manage to survive this living nightmare, are faced with the prospect of being sucked back into that distant galaxy, which has turned and is now quickly spinning toward them. Their heroic defense, their country’s patriotic self-sacrifice, their refusal to lose, their you-shall-not-pass attitude, all of this inspires awe in the rest of us. But at the same time, one cannot help asking, “Is it worth it?” Is it better to save lives by surrendering, even though by surrendering you lose your country and maybe your soul? The Ukrainians say “No” to that. What do the rest of us say, though?

This problem is made no easier by Russia’s obvious war crimes as its military amps up its indiscriminate shelling and cluster bombing of civilians. Yesterday, they killed three and wounded 17 by bombing a maternity hospital in the city of Mariupol. The Russian government justified this by claiming the hospital was held by “local radical militias.” Wonder what kind of weapons the babies were firing?

I think of that now with profound sadness, as I contemplate the choice facing the U.S., its NATO allies and the European Union. Given that Ukraine will not surrender, do they keep playing the long game by continuing to tighten the screws of economic sanctions on Russia and its oligarchs, hoping  to cause sense to return to formerly (maybe) sensible people and bring an end to the suffering? Or, do they (we) tiptoe toward what might be Armageddon by becoming just a wee bit more militarily involved? Do we do whatever it takes to lickety-split get those Polish MIGS to Ukrainian pilots? Do we take the right-hand fork, or the left?

This is not a Hobson’s Choice.

By the way, Putin has already said he considers economic sanctions, and probably anything else we do, “akin to an act of war.” That is precious, indeed.

Real Earnings Release: Inflation is taking a heavy toll on the middle class and the poor

As the story goes, novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald is supposed to have once said to fellow novelist Ernest Hemingway, “You know, the rich are different from you and me.” Hemingway supposedly replied, “Yes. They’ve got more money.”

This morning, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released its monthly report on inflation and Real Average Earnings, which are earnings after inflation is factored in. The news is not good.

Real average earnings for all employees decreased 0.8 percent from January to February 2022, seasonally adjusted. This result stems from essentially no change in average hourly earnings combined with an increase of 0.8 percent in the Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers.

Real average hourly earnings decreased 2.6 percent, seasonally adjusted, from February 2021 to February 2022. The change in real average hourly earnings combined with an increase of 0.3 percent in the average workweek resulted in a 2.3 percent decrease in real average weekly earnings over this period.

Now, this announcement hits the middle and lower classes where they live, literally. The rich may have to put off buying the new Bentley, but the average Joe just got a cut in pay of 2.3%.

For the Republican Party, this is the most beautiful political fodder imaginable — they have someone to blame, Joe Biden. It’s all his fault. It’s a simple message, easy to deliver, and it will stick.

Of course, it’s not simple. It’s terribly complicated. We are at the center of a confluence of unfortunate events, global in nature, that have set the entire world back on its heels. This will get worse, especially when the Federal Reserve begins raising interest rates, which is momentary.

I, like most of you I think, fervently wish our elected officials could put their political opportunism and hypocrisy  aside, marshal their collective brains (such as they are), and work together to do what they can to help soften the blow that is gobsmacking so many vulnerable people. Is that too much to ask?

Right, and pigs will soon be seen flying past my great big third floor window.

 


 

Quo Vadis, Ukraine?

Monday, February 14th, 2022

A few years ago, a television interviewer asked former Secretary of Defense Bob Gates his impression of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Gates said, “I looked into his eyes and saw a stone cold killer.”

Today, that stone cold killer has more than 134,000 Russian troops and all the military hardware that goes with them massed on three sides of Ukraine’s borders, effectively putting the country in a straightjacket. For all practical purposes, the country’s capital, Kyiv, is encircled.

No one knows how this will turn out, but one thing can be said right now: This is an even bigger game of political chicken than the Cuban Missile Crisis of 60 years ago, which brought Russia and the U.S. to the brink of catastrophe. If a diplomatic solution isn’t found that gives Putin a face-saving off-ramp, Russia, Ukraine and all 30 NATO countries, including the U.S., could easily find themselves in another World War.

Article Five of the NATO Treaty begins, “The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all…” Ukraine is not a member of NATO, and guaranteeing it never becomes one seems to be one of Putin’s major demands.

Only a fool would want to go to war against 30 NATO countries, and Vladimir Putin has never demonstrated he’s anybody’s fool. His build-up of troops has been precise and methodical. Keeping that kind of approach, it is entirely conceivable that without ever firing a single shot in a NATO country, Russia invades Ukraine, captures Kyiv, takes total control of the country, installs a provisional government, along with a puppet “president,” announces stability has returned to the area, withdraws most of its forces, and leaves Ukraine in much the same position it was prior to the breakup of the Soviet Union, which Putin has always maintained was the worst thing ever to happen to Russia. As far back as 2005, he called it “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century.”

But once an invasion begins, anything can happen. Poland, Romania. Slovakia and Hungary, NATO members all, sit on Ukraine’s immediate western border, and Latvia and Lithuania lie on the border of Belarus, just to the north of Ukraine, where Russia is conducting “war games” right now.

What can the U.S. and the rest of NATO do about this? As the Biden administration has said repeatedly, no American troops will fight alongside Ukrainians. Instead, it and its NATO allies will levy the severest economic sanctions possible. Our weapons will be….economics.

Now, does anyone really believe that if Russia annexes Ukraine (much like it annexed Crimea in 2014), the threat of the severest sanctions will deter it? It’s just a guess here, but it seems likely to me that Putin will find sanctions well worth it in return for the entire country of Ukraine.

This is tremendously sad to me. I have immediate family who spent a lot of time in both Ukraine and Russia and who wrote an award-winning Doctoral Dissertation on Ukraine’s Orange Revolution of 2004. I have learned that Ukrainians are courageous people who always seem to come up with the short end of the stick, but who persevere, nonetheless. They’ve always been somebody’s pawn, and today is no different. Many Americans probably never knew Ukraine existed until Donald Trump decided to mess with its national security by denying it essential, congressionally-approved and appropriated military equipment to defend itself against just this kind of exigency, all for his immoral personal gain.

Perhaps if the world had taken stronger action in 2014 when Russia took Crimea we might be in a better position now. But things have gone too far, right to the edge of the cliff, and it doesn’t appear anyone is willing to build a hammer big enough to deter what is more and more looking inevitable. The Ukrainians are determined to defend themselves to the last breath, but they’ll need a lot more than determination.

If Ukraine falls, it will change the face of Europe and  increase significantly the reach and power of Putin’s Russia in ways all of us will regret for a long time.

I fear this will not end well.

And The Nominee Is?

Wednesday, February 9th, 2022

More than 20 years ago, C-SPAN and its academic advisors decided to create a survey instrument, by which “historians, professors and other professional observers of the presidency” would be asked to rate all presidents in ten areas from best to worst. They conducted the first survey in 2000 and, using the same criteria, have repeated it since then every time administrations changed.

This year, 142 scholarly elites completed the survey that asked participants for evaluations in the following ten categories:

  • Public Persuasion
  • Crisis Leadership
  • Economic Management
  • Moral Authority
  • International Relations
  • Administrative Skills
  • Relations with Congress
  • Vision/Setting an Agenda
  • Pursuit of Equal Justice for All
  • Performance Within the Context of the Times

Abraham Lincoln has finished on top in every one of the surveys, including the fifth one just conducted following the change to the Biden administration.

It will come as no surprise to many that Donald Trump finished fourth from the bottom in this year’s survey, his first. He finished ahead of Franklin Pierce, Andrew Johnson and James Buchanan, and behind all the others. Even Warren Harding got more respect from the raters.

However, the historians, et al, were not asked to rate Presidents in terms of how consequential they were. And it is here I suggest Trump would finish in the top ten, perhaps even the top five. I base this on one thing and one thing only: His fundamental change of the American Judiciary, principally at the Supreme Court level. Trump succeeded in locking in a deeply conservative bench for decades to come. That was the result of the grifter and reality show star’s Faustian Bargain with Mitch McConnell, senate Majority Leader during the Trump years. Trump craved power and being adored by people who were in need of someone to adore, and McConnell wanted his legacy to be the establishment of a profoundly conservative court. They each got what they bargained for.

Trump had two other monumental accomplishments, of course. The first was passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, which was a Christmas present of the first order for the nation’s wealthy, a knife in the back for everyone else, and a means to a significant widening of the ever-growing divide between the haves and have nots. Trump’s second accomplishment was to give the Republican Party an opportunity to exercise noble leadership in the face of his insane narcissistic nationalism and autocratic desires culminating in the January 6th insurrection. Unfortunately, only two Republican leaders, Representatives Cheney and Kinzinger, answered the call. The rest of them, every one of them, became profiles in cowardice.

However, these other two Trumpian achievements can be changed. Congress can change tax laws, and Republicans can grow spines. But that Supreme Court thing? That is here to stay.

Which brings us to the imminent Supreme Court vacancy caused by the announced retirement of Justice Stephen Breyer.

When he was campaigning for President, Joe Biden promised if he had the opportunity to nominate a Supreme Court Justice, he would nominate a highly-qualified black woman. With Justice Breyer’s announcement, Biden has reaffirmed that pledge. He will submit his nomination to the Senate in the very near future. It will be a black woman.

How will Republican Senators react to the nominee, whoever she is? How will they approach the hearings to be held by the Judiciary Committee, chaired by Illinois senator Dick Durbin? Will they be able to restrain the natural gravitational urges of their more ambitious and inflammatory members to grandstand opportunistically? Will they be able to keep Trump out of it?

Nominations to the Supreme Court are highly political. History is replete with examples, and this one will be no different. But from here, deep in the winter of the Berkshire mountains, my guess is that with a few unavoidable histrionics from the grandstanding children, Biden’s nominee will sail through like a battleship through fog, with Republicans, trying to appear as honorable adults, saying they refuse to do to Biden’s nominee what the Democrats did to Bret Kavanaugh.

Not that it will make a bit of difference to the future rulings of the Supreme Court.