Archive for the ‘What’s Happening’ Category

The Bubble Boy Cured

November 20, 2014

One of the funniest episodes of the sitcom Seinfeld was The Bubble Boy, which naturally featured a boy with a severe immune disorder who lived in a “bubble”. The main characters of the show; Jerry, Elaine, George and George’s girlfriend Susan are all going  on a trip to Susan’s family’s cabin with a stop along the way for Jerry to meet a young fan of his who happened to be a bubble boy. Driving in two separate cars, the group becomes separated and George and Susan arrive at the bubble boy’s house not knowing where Jerry and Elaine are or how late they might be.

 

This episode aired back in 1992 and advancing technology has rendered the premise of a party being lost and separated obsolete. In our age of ubiquitous cell phones, Jerry Seinfeld and his friends could have easily kept in touch with one another. Even better, recent advances in medical research may soon make the whole concept of keeping children with severe immune disorders in sterile environments, or bubbles, as obsolete as the iron lung or bleeding with leeches. Here is the article from Time with the good news.

Alysia Padilla-Vaccaro and Christian Vaccaro owe their daughter’s life to stem cells. Evangelina, now two, is alive today because she saved herself with her own bone marrow cells.

 

Evangelina, a twin, was born with a severe immune disorder caused by a genetic aberration that makes her vulnerable to any and all bacteria and viruses; even a simple cold could be fatal. But doctors at University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) Broad Stem Cell Research Center gave her a new treatment, using her own stem cells, that has essentially cured her disease. She’s one of 18 children who have been treated with the cutting-edge therapy, and the study’s leader, Dr. Donald Kohn, says that the strategy could also be used to treat other gene-based disorders such as sickle cell anemia.

Known to doctors as adenosine deaminase (ADA)-deficient severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID), it’s better known as “bubble boy” disease, since children born with the genetic disorder have immune systems so weak that they need to stay in relatively clean and germ-free environments. Until Evangelina and her sister Annabella were 11 months old, “We were gowned and masked and did not go outside,” says their mother Alysia Padilla-Vaccaro. “Our children did not physically see our mouths until then because we were masked all the time. We couldn’t take them outside to take a breath of fresh air, because there is fungus in the air, and that could kill her.”

 

The only treatments for SCID are bone marrow transplants from healthy people, ideally a matched sibling; the unaffected cells can then repopulate the immune system of the baby with SCID. But despite being her twin, Annabella wasn’t a blood match for her sister, nor were her parents. Padilla-Vaccaro and her husband, Christian, were considering unrelated donors but were concerned about the risk of rejection. “We would be trying to fix one problem and getting another,” she says.

That’s when the doctors at the Children’s Hospital at Orange County, where Evangelina was diagnosed, told her parents about a stem cell trial for SCID babies at UCLA, led by Dr. Donald Kohn. “As soon as they said trial, I thought, ‘my kid is dead,” says Padilla-Vaccaro of the last resort option. But a dozen children born with other forms of SCID—in which different mutations caused the same weak immune systems—who were successfully treated by Kohn convinced the couple that the therapy was worth trying. Kohn had one spot left in the trial and was willing to hold it for Evangelina until she matured more. Born premature, she was diagnosed at six weeks old and needed more time for what was left of her immune system to catch up to weather the procedure.

When she was two months old, Evangelina was admitted to UCLA and had bone marrow drawn from her tiny hip. It contained the stem cells that go on to develop into all of the cells in the blood and immune systems. Kohn treated them with gene therapy, co-opting a modified virus to carry the healthy ADA gene so it could infect the stem cells from Evangelina’s bone marrow. The idea was that by transplanting these healthy ADA-containing cells back into Evangelina, she would soon be making her own healthy immune cells. And because they were made from her own cells, her body wouldn’t reject them.

“After the transplant of this miraculous tube of stem cells, which literally took five minutes, we had to just wait and see for a good six weeks,” says Padilla-Vaccaro. “The week after Christmas [in 2012], Dr. Kohn came in and told me, ‘It worked.’ It worked. Those words…besides the birth of my children, that day will always be the best day in my life.”

There is more about how Dr. Kohn developed his procedure.

This is truly wonderful news and I hope that the techniques used in cases like this can be used to treat or cure other genetic diseases. As Glenn Reynolds might say, faster please.

 

Game Over for the Planet

November 19, 2014

Here is another message I just received from Moveon.org.

Dear MoveOn member,

In just hours, the Senate will vote on whether to push forward the Keystone XL pipeline—a disastrous and dangerous proposal that would, in the words of leading climate scientists and environmentalists, be “game over for the planet.”1

Either the Senate will send President Obama a Keystone pipeline bill TODAY—and we will need him to promise to veto it; or the Democrats will defeat the measure by one vote, which means that in just seven weeks, a new Republican majority will send him the pipeline—and we’ll need him to veto it in January.

Either way, President Obama is our last line of defense. So we’re joining with allies to mobilize grassroots support demanding that the president commit to vetoing the pipeline bill—today or early next year.

Will you chip in $3 to help stop the Keystone XL pipeline—and to push Democrats and President Obama to be bold in the fights ahead?

Yes, I’ll chip in.

We’ve already begun fighting back. We’re helping organize rallies outside wavering senators’ offices. We’re mobilizing calls to senators. And we’re providing organizers on the ground with access to MoveOn tools and connections to MoveOn members.  

We’re mobilizing because this is a hugely important fight on its own—and it’ll set the stage for the next two years.

When the Republicans take control of the Senate in January, we can expect a rush of right-wing, anti-climate, anti-science bills: a rollback of President Obama’s efforts to regulate carbon, bills to undermine his climate change agreement with China, and bills that give rein to the extractive practices of frackers, Big Coal, and Big Oil.

Following the midterms, some Democrats are feeling nervous—and they are hearing from the usual chorus of consultants and pundits who advise them that the way to win is to be more like Republicans. This is the kind of horrible advice that lost many Democrats their election—yet conservative Democrats continue to listen! And they won’t stop unless they feel sustained, passionate pressure from their grassroots base—the folks who they need to inspire in order to win future elections.

Will you chip in $3 to help us make sure Democrats stop the Keystone XL pipeline, stop listening to big oil and bad consultants, and fight for progressive values?

Yes, I’ll chip in to help stop Keystone XL and fight for progressive values.

This fight isn’t just a preamble to other environmental attacks—it foreshadows the large range of issues that the right-wing Republican leadership intends to tackle. We’ll face similar assaults on health care, women’s rights, equality, decent wages, Social Security, and civil rights.

In fight after fight, Republicans will push forward a radical agenda and then attempt to pick off a few Democrats to give them the supermajority they need, as well as the veneer of “bipartisanship.”

The only way to preserve affordable health care, see humane reforms in our immigration policy, ensure women make their own decisions about their health, and fully invest in Social Security is to make sure Democrats stand strong. And when the Democrats in the Senate falter, it will come to President Obama to be bold in the use of his veto pen.

Following the midterms, many Democrats are nervous. It’s our job to make them realize that the path to a stronger America, and to future electoral victories, isn’t through caving in—it’s through standing up for our shared values.

Whatever happens in the Senate today, we know one thing for sure: We’re going to need to be stubborn, strong, and stiff-spined for the next two years.

Can you chip in $3 to help us defeat the Keystone pipeline—and prepare for the fights ahead?

Yes, I’ll chip in.

Thanks for all you do.

Anna, Jo, Brian, Corinne, and the rest of the team

Are they serious? According to the geologists, this planet has been in existence for 4.57 billion years. In that time it has survived collision with an object the size of Mars, creating the Moon many other asteroid strikes including the one that caused the extinction of the dinosaurs, whatever caused the extinction of ninety-five percent of all life at the end of the Permian Era, ice ages, climate changes, and who knows what else; only to be finally destroyed by a single pipeline.

The trouble I have with the Greens, besides their bullying and obvious lust for power, is that they seem to have some idea that the Earth has existed in a delicate, stable equilibrium from the beginning and that now Man has arrived to upset the balance. I think they get their ideas about nature from Bambi. The truth is that the Earth has changed drastically over the eons, in terms of climate, atmospheric content and even geography. For instance, during the Mesozoic Era (the Age of Dinosaurs), the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere may have been as much as five times present levels, even without the nefarious activities of carbon polluters, causing a warmer Earth. Somehow life on the planet survived and even flourished. We have had ice ages over the last several millennia in which the glaciers extended not far north from where I am sitting, but the worst ice age, the glaciers extended almost to the equator. The only thing constant in the history of the Earth is that it is a dynamic, ever changing system. Even if everything the worst alarmists say about climate change were true, it would not mean the end for the planet. We might make ourselves very uncomfortable, perhaps even extinct, but the Earth will survive anything we could possibly do to it.

I should add that Canada is going to develop the tar sands regardless  of what we decide. If we don’t want the Keystone pipeline extended, they can just as easily sell the crude oil to China. I wonder which is a safer method of transporting oil, a pipeline or tankers. I should also add that if there is one thing needed to accomplish the goals Moveon.org says it wants, it would be a robust American economy powered by the recent surge in the energy industry. Rich countries with growing economies can afford to worry about decent wages and equal rights. Poorer countries mired in economic stagnation have to worry about surviving.

Obama Being Bold

November 18, 2014

I got an e-mail from Moveon.org praising Obama for going ahead with his progressive policies, even though the majority of the voters indicated that they do not like such policies. Remember, the voters did not give the Republicans a historic victory because they have developed a great love for Mitch McConnell or John Boehner. They hated what Obama and the Democrats have been doing. Anyway, here is the message.

Dear MoveOn member,

After the midterm election, many of us wondered: How would President Obama respond?

So far, we’ve been happily surprised. As The New York Times reports, “Mr. Obama has flexed his muscles on immigration, climate change and the Internet, demonstrating that he still aspires to enact sweeping policies that could help define his legacy.”1

These are welcome moves. It appears the President is setting his own course instead of listening to corporate lobbyists and consultants. As I told the Times, “The president has seen what happens when he doesn’t step forward and Democrats don’t inspire the public or their base—we win on the issues, but lose at the polls—so we can’t do worse. Let’s try being bold.2

Click here to sign a thank-you card to the president for his actions and rhetoric since the midterms—and urge him to keep being bold.

There have been other promising signs from national Democrats this past week. Most excitingly: Senator Elizabeth Warren gained a leadership position in the Senate Democratic Caucus. From championing student loan reform to reining in Wall Street, Warren is one of the most passionate and effective voices for the little guy (and gal). Having her in leadership is a huge deal.

But there’s no getting around it: The president will be the last line of defense in the next two years, as the Republican-controlled Senate and House muscle through bad bills on a range of fronts. He’ll be under tremendous pressure to make bad deals with obstructionists and extremists like Mitch McConnell and Ted Cruz.

For the next two years, President Obama will have the power to deliver real change—if he has the confidence to follow through with executive actions on issues like immigration reform and climate change, and to stand up to the radical right.

So we need to show support when the president does the right thing—and then push hard to make sure he follows through.

Click here to add your name to the card we’ll send the president. The card reads:

Dear Mr. President,Thank you.

Since the midterm election, you’ve indicated that you’re willing to show real leadership on tackling climate change, protecting a free and open Internet, and reforming immigration—pushing for bold steps in areas where Congress has failed to act.

You’re not alone: Americans from all walks of life want and need you to follow through, and do even more. We need you to use the power of the presidency to make meaningful change on these and other critical issues—like expanding access to health care, pushing for a diplomatic solution to rein in Iran’s nuclear program, raising wages, and building an economy that works for all of us, to name a few.

We urge you to act boldly, and promise to stand with you when you fight for all of us in the months ahead. (And yes, we’ll let you know when we disagree, too!) 

We’ll send President Obama this card, with the names of all the MoveOn members who have signed it—and a personal comment if you want to add one—so he knows that when he stands up for progressive values, we’ve got his back.

Add your name to the card—thank President Obama, urge him to be bold, and be a part of the movement to propel our shared agenda.

The president is showing the grit that inspired us to elect him. We need to get his back when he stands strong—and keep the heat on through the fights ahead.

Thanks for all you do.

–Anna, Alejandro, Nick, Justin K., and the rest of the team

They want him to go full Bourbon and double down on the very policies that lost him control of Congress. If I were more cynical, I would sign that card and do everything I could to encourage President Obama to pursue unpopular policies sure to be a millstone around the necks of every Democrat in 2016, Maybe we can have another tsunami. But, I am not that cynical. The country would be far better off if President Obama worked within the confines of the constitution and tried to meet the opposition halfway than if he tried to rule by decree. Trying to shove unwanted policies down the throats of the voters,, breaking the system in the meantime will only make things difficult for all of us.

king-Obama-2

He might lose his head.

 

 

The Comet and the Shirt

November 17, 2014

In earlier times people were afraid of comets. A comet in the sky was seen as a sure sign that impending disaster. It is not too difficult to understand why people would feel that way. Other heavenly bodies, such as the stars and planets move in predictable ways. The Sun rises and sets the same way every day. The Moon goes through its phases. The planets move across the background of the fixed stars. Eclipses were no doubt terrifying, but astronomers learned to predict them in ancient times. Comets, however, seemed to appear out of nowhere then disappear just as quickly. No one could tell what path they would take across the sky. Even the appearance of a comet inspired fear. The Sun and Moon looked circular and the stars and planets were points of light. A comet had a long tail streaming from it. To some the tail might look like a sword indicating divine displeasure with the inhabitants of the Earth. In any case, comets looked and acted like no other object in the heavens and that was enough to worry people.

It wasn’t until the eighteenth century that some of the mystery surrounding comets began to be dispelled. The astronomer Edmond Halley had come to believe that comets had to obey the same laws of gravitation discovered by Isaac Newton as any other object in the Solar System and beyond. He reasoned that comets orbited the Sun like the planets but they had to have extremely elongated elliptical orbits so that they would only come close enough to be observed after many years, perhaps centuries. Halley also noticed there were comet sightings approximately every 75-76 years apart and theorized that they were sightings of the same comet. He predicted that the comet, now called Halley’s Comet would return in 1758. Halley died in 1742, so he didn’t live to see his prediction come true, but his efforts showed that a comet was simply another celestial object with a motion that could be predicted, like any planet. There was nothing to fear from a comet.

Since Halley’s time, astronomers have come to learn more about comets and just this month the Philae lander from the European Space Agency’s Rosetta probe became the first man made object to land on a comet. The Rosetta probe itself was the first probe to actually orbit  a comet. This should be a proud moment for the European Space Agency and for Project Leader Matt Taylor. Instead, Dr. Taylor has found himself in the middle of a controversy and has been forced to make a tearful apology, because he wore the wrong shirt.

He helped mankind land on a comet, but Dr Matt Taylor may end up being remembered for his risqué sartorial judgement rather than his scientific acumen.

The space scientist broke down in tears today and apologised for wearing a gaudy shirt which featured cartoon images of women wearing bondage gear and firing guns.

During a press briefing this afternoon on the progress of the Rosetta mission, Dr Taylor, the lead scientist, appeared visibly upset and struggled to speak.

Eventually he said: “I made a big mistake and I offended many people and I am very sorry about this.”

Dr Taylor received a reassuring pat on the back from Andrea Accomazzo, the Rosetta flight operations director, as he went on to describe the current state of the mission.

In recent days the heavily-tattooed London scientist had become a firm favourite with the public for his unlikely appearance and enthusiastic interviews.

But the shirt has divided opinion, with many women in the science community accusing Dr Taylor of sexism.

Astrophysicist Katie Mack said earlier this week “I don’t care what scientists wear. But a shirt featuring women in lingerie isn’t appropriate for a broadcast if you care about women in science”

Here is Dr Taylor wearing the offensive shirt.

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Maybe the shirt is in poor taste, but so what? This man landed a probe on a comet. Surely that is more significant than his sartorial choices. After all, no one expects scientists to be fashion plates. What sort of person in their right mind is offended by this? Why do they conclude that Dr Taylor is sending some sort of misogynist message against woman in science? WHy can’t they seem to understand that this might simply be a shirt he happens to like?

With these sort of busybodies, nothing can ever be simply a personal preference with no great cultural message. No act can be a neutral one devoid of political meaning. No one can be a bystander or aspire to simply live their own life and mind their own business. You are either for social justice or against it and Gaea help you it you are perceived to be against it. These people are bullies and totalitarians, the worst sort since they are convinced in their minds that they are eternally on the side of the angels.

I think that Dr Taylor has done us all a great disservice by apologizing for offending people. He has nothing to apologize for and making apologies only enables the bullies. Instead of apologizing, we need to start telling them where they can stick their perpetual feelings of victimization.

 

Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot

November 15, 2014

That was a book written by Al Franken back in 1996, obviously to show he possessed the maturity needed to become a US Senator. This title is the personal opinion of Frankin’s. There are many who might disagree with the opinion that Rush Limbaugh is an idiot, including Mr. Limbaugh but the question of whether Rush Limbaugh is or is not an idiot is not one that is readily decided by any observations and cannot really be determined to be objectively true or false. On the other hand, the statement that Rush Limbaugh is in favor of sexual assault or rape is a statement that can be determined to be true or false based on Rush Limbaugh’s own statements. This is not simply a personal opinion. If someone takes Rush’s words out of context to make the accusation that he believes that sexual assault is acceptable behavior, they are making a statement that is false and potentially damaging to Rush Limbaugh’s reputation. If someone makes the statement, knowing it to be false,with the intention to cause damage to Rush Limbaugh, that is defamation and Rush Limbaugh can take legal action against them.

This is not just a hypothetical case. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee really did make such statements in a campaign to have advertisers boycott Rush Limbaugh’s show and Rush Limbaugh is really considering legal action against them. Here is the story from the Daily Caller.

Radio host Rush Limbaugh has threatened to sue the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) for defamation, The Daily Caller has learned.

Limbaugh retained the services of lawyer Patty Glaser and demanded that the DCCC “preserve all records in anticipation of a lawsuit for defamation and interference” after the Democratic Party group led a campaign against Limbaugh based on out-of-context statements the host made about sexual assault. Limbaugh’s legal team delivered a letter to DCCC representatives Monday informing them of the legal threat. Limbaugh has also demanded a public retraction and apology.

The Limbaugh team is currently proceeding from the standpoint of litigating and has not yet made a decision as to whether the DCCC could make any concessions at this point to prevent the lawsuit.

The DCCC “has intentionally disseminated demonstrably false statements concerning Rush Limbaugh in a concerted effort to harm Mr. Limbaugh, and with reckless disregard for the resulting impact to small businesses across America that choose to advertise on his radio program” according to the GlaserWeil law firm’s letter to the DCCC, which was obtained by TheDC. “Mr. Limbaugh clearly, unambiguously, and emphatically condemned the notion that ‘no’ means ‘yes.’”

“Let’s be clear: Rush Limbaugh is advocating for the tolerance of rape” the DCCC stated in a September fundraising email after Limbaugh mocked Ohio State’s new mandatory sexual consent guidelines. (RELATED: Democrats Attack Rush Limbaugh On Way To November Loss)

Limbaugh’s team said that the DCCC’s campaign against Limbaugh provides grounds for a defamation case, based on legal precedent.

“The DCCC may believe it to be immune from liability by quoting words, taken out of context. This is untrue,” Glaser said. “There is significant on point precedent in the 9th Circuit for holding an organization responsible for falsifying meaning through selective quoting. In Price v. Stossel, the court held that, if a party accurately quotes ‘a statement actually made by a public figure, but presents the statement in a misleading context, thereby changing the viewer’s understanding of the speaker’s words,’ that constitutes defamation.”

I don’t much care for litigation of any sort, but I hope Rush Limbaugh goes ahead with this lawsuit. The progressives have shown over and over that telling the truth is simply not an action they value very highly. If slander is useful to gain power and destroy their opponents, they have no trouble with slander. Maybe legal action will teach them better.

Jesus Was Married with Children

November 13, 2014

This is the “explosive” claim made by a just published book, according to ABC News.

A new book based on interpretations of ancient texts features an explosive claim: Jesus Christ married Mary Magdalene, and the couple had two children.

In “The Lost Gospel,” set for release Wednesday, authors Simcha Jacobovici and Barrie Wilson argue that the original Virgin Mary was Jesus’ wife – not his mother – and that there was an assassination attempt on Jesus’ life 13 years before he was crucified.

The writers say they spent six years working on the book. Their arguments are based on an ancient manuscript dating back nearly 1,500 years, one they say they found in a British library, translating the text from an Aramaic dialect into English.

Mark Goodacre, a professor of religious studies at Duke University, is skeptical of the book’s findings.

“I don’t think that there is any credibility in these claims at all,” Goodacre said. “There is simply no evidence in this text or anywhere else that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene, much less that they had a couple of children.”

This is not the first assertion that Jesus was married. A fragment of an ancient Egyptian papyrus known as the “Gospel of Jesus’s Wife” was unveiled in 2012, containing the phrase “Jesus said to them, ‘My wife,” although the document was written centuries after Jesus died.

The 2003 novel “The Da Vinci Code” by Dan Brown also highlighted the possibility of Jesus’ having been married to Mary Magdalene.

This is simply ridiculous. The earliest and presumably most reliable biographical materials we have about Jesus of Nazareth are the canonical Gospels written from about AD 70-100. As I have said before, these writings are entirely credible accounts of a Jewish preacher who managed to get himself crucified. The writers were familiar with the geography and customs of first century Judea and if the writers were not really Matthew, Mark, Luke and John,(the Gospels were written anonymously) they were certainly written by men very much like them. Most of the other “Gospels”that appear in the news these days were written by members of various Gnostic sects more than a century after the crucifixion. These accounts tend to be rather fanciful and divorced from the context of the historical background of first century Judea. The Jesus they present is more of a mythological figure than a historical one.

Could Jesus have been married? There is something like a twenty year gap in the Gospels between the finding in the temple at the age of twelve and the beginning of Jesus’s public ministry. It is likely that in that period, Jesus of Nazareth lived a more or less ordinary life, perhaps taking up the carpenter’s trade of his foster-father. An observant Jew of his cultural background would have been expected to get married and have children. Except for groups like the Essenes, celibacy has never played a role in Jewish culture. It is possible that there was a Mrs. Jesus and a Jesus Jr. It might seem to be incompatible with the role of a Messiah to get oneself crucified leaving a widow and orphans, but the discovery that Jesus had a family wouldn’t change any fundamental Christian beliefs about him or discredit Christianity.

There is, however, no mention of a wife and children anywhere in the canonical gospels. When Jesus’s mother and brothers went to fetch him, surely believing that he had lost his mind, (Mark 3:31-34) there was no mention of an abandoned wife. When Jesus returned home to Nazareth, people recognized him as the son of Mary and the carpenter and the brother of James, Joseph, Simon and Judas. No one mentioned a wife or children. There was no grieving wife at the cross. Mary Magdalene was a female follower of Jesus, but there is no indication they were married.

Perhaps the church suppressed the knowledge of Jesus’s wife. As I have said, the Gospels were written from around AD 60-100, before there was much of an organized church. In the Apostolic and immediate post-Apostolic period when the Gospels were written, Christianity was still mostly a heretical Jewish sect that had begun to appeal widely to Gentiles. Christian congregations were small, autonomous and informally organized. The more elaborate hierarchy of priests, bishops, etc did not begin to appear until well into the second century. There wasn’t anyone who could suppress divergent views and indeed the early church was plagued with all sorts of movements later deemed heretical. We do not, obviously, have the original copies of any books of the New Testament, but scholars are reasonably certain that the New Testament we have matches what was originally written. There are fragments of manuscripts dating fairly early that match more complete, later manuscripts. The Church Fathers often quoted scripture in their writings, so much that if every copy of the Bible were destroyed, we could still reconstruct much of the New Testament from their works. The quotations match the New Testament we possess. There was no rewriting of the Bible by the emperor Constantine or at the Nicene Council, or anywhere else.

If Jesus had left descendants, would they not have played a role in the leadership of the early Church? Jesus’s brother James was apparently a leader of the Jerusalem Church. (Acts ch 15, Galatians ch 2) Why not Jesus’s sons? The descendants of Mohammed are still esteemed in the Islamic world as are the descendants of Confucius in China. Only the descendants of Aaron could be priests in Israel. Where are the descendants of Jesus?

Why this book getting any attention? If Simcha Jacobovici and Barrie Wilson had written a book contradicting what was generally known about any other historical person, say Julius Caesar, based on an interpretation of an obscure manuscript, they would be regarded as cranks and generally ignored. With Jesus Christ, however, any story, no matter how unsubstantiated, provided it departs from the orthodox conception of who he was is given admiring attention. It would seem that a great many people in the media are intensely interested in promoting the idea that either Jesus never existed or that he is not what Christians believe him to be.

Veterans Day

November 11, 2014

Today is Veterans Day. This day began as Armistice Day, November 11 1918 being the day that Germany signed the armistice that ended World War I. President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed the first Armistice Day in 1919 to celebrate the courage of the men who fought and died in that war. The day was changed in 1954 in order to honor the veterans of all the wars of America.

I don’t have anything else to say except Thank You to all of the veterans who have served your country. You are better men and women than I am.

 

The Election of 1828

November 10, 2014

The election of 1828 was a rematch between the two major candidates of 1824, John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson. Jackson believed, with good reason, that he had been cheated out of the presidency in the last election and he was eager for revenge. For his part, Adams had not had a particularly successful presidency in part because of the irregularities of his election and the continuing hostility of Jackson’s supporters. Adams couldn’t imagine that a man like Jackson could possibly be competent to be president.

But you mustn’t think that this contest was nothing more than a personal quarrel between the two candidates. This election was nothing less than an epic struggle to determine who would rule the new republic, a small moneyed elite based in the East or the sovereign people, as least according to Jackson’s supporters. Adams’s people viewed it as a battled for control between rule the respectable stakeholders in the country and rule by an ignorant mob. The United States was becoming more democratic. In the election of 1828 only two states, Delaware and South Carolina still had their state legislatures choose their electors. Everywhere else, the Electors were chosen by popular vote.

The second party system was still developing and both candidates were theoretically of the same party. There were no caucuses this time. King Caucus was finished. The two candidates were nominated by state legislatures and special conventions. Vice President John C. Calhoun opted to run with Andrew Jackson so John Quincy Adams selected his Secretary of the Treasury, Richard Rush as his running mate.

As President, Adams had favored a more centralized government with protective tariffs to promote industry, a national bank, and federal support for internal improvements such as building roads and canals. Adams also believed that the federal government should promote education and science. In this, he was, perhaps, ahead of his time. Many of his countrymen did not see any use for such frivolities. Adams did come across as rather too intellectual for many Americans at the time, who valued the practical wisdom of a man like Jackson.

It was a little harder to determine what policies Jackson favored since he didn’t have much to say, at first. In general, he seemed to prefer a more decentralised Union with a smaller government closer to the people. Jackson tended to oppose using the federal government to sponsor internal improvements, believing this to be mostly a duty of the states, though he did agree to using surplus federal revenue to help the states fund such improvements. He believed the government should live within its means and not borrow. He passionately opposed the idea of a national bank.

If Jackson was a little vague on the policies he preferred, he was not at all uncertain about the means to win elections and obtain office. He understood that the key to success in politics was organization. Jackson did not share his opponent’s, and the founding fathers’, disdain for political parties. He believed that parties were essential to preserving democratic rule and liberty. Immediately after the election of 1824, Jackson and his supporters began to build up a party organization to oppose Adams in Congress and prepare the way for Jackson’s campaign in 1828. This party organization was first called simply the “Friends of Jackson”but before long they began referring to themselves as the Democratic Party. Thus was formed one of the two great parties that have dominated American politics.

This new Democratic party began promoting Jackson’s cause with partisan newspapers, parades, rallies and all the paraphernalia of what came to be American presidential campaigns. They referred to Jackson, the war hero, as Old Hickory and carried around hickory sticks. They made much of the corrupt bargain that had placed Adams in the White House against the will of the people.  Jackson was a man of the people against those East Coast Elites championed by Adams, another emerging theme in American politics. Jackson was not as educated as Adams, who knew his Greek and Latin, but he had the practical common sense of the common man. It might be fair to say that Jackson was the first truly American politician.

John Quincy Adams and his supporters tried to fight back. They overcame their dislike of parties and organized themselves into the “National Republicans“. They had their own newspapers, parades, rallies, etc, but somehow they couldn’t match the enthusiasm of Jackson’s supporters. They relentlessly attacked Jackson’s character and supposed wartime heroics. Six men who Jackson had had hanged for desertion were transformed into martyrs who had served their time and only wanted to go home. Jackson was said to have indulged in gambling, cock fighting, slave trading, drunkenness, theft, lying and even murder. Jackson’s mother was a prostitute brought over to America by British soldiers. Once again the  irregularities of Andrew Jackson’s marriage to his wife, Rachel, were brought up, and Anti-Jackson newspapers referred to them as a “convicted adulteress and her paramour husband”. Rachel Jackson died soon after the election and Andrew Jackson was convinced that these slurs had killed her. He never forgave his enemies for that.

The election was not a close one. Jackson received 642,553 popular votes (55.9%) and 178 electoral votes. Adams got 500,897 popular votes (43.7%) and 83 electoral votes. Jackson swept the nation except for New England, Maryland, Delaware,and New Jersey which went to Adams. New York’s Electors were split 20 to 16 in favor of Jackson.

The Election of 1828

The Election of 1828

 

Andrew Jackson got to be president, but there is no need to feel sorry for John Quincy Adams. He went on to have a distinguished career in the House of Representatives where, among other things, he fought the good fight against slavery.

Going Bourbon

November 7, 2014

After the end of the Napoleonic Wars and the exile of Napoleon in 1815, the victorious allies decided to restore the Bourbons to the throne of France. They didn’t last very long. Somehow, neither brother of the executed Louis XVI ever stopped to wonder why the French people had  begun the French Revolution. The restored monarchy was supposed to be a constitutional monarchy but the last two Bourbons insisted on ruling as absolute monarchs and enacted the same sorts of policies that had gotten them overthrown the first time. By 1830, the French had had enough. Charles X was obliged to abdicate and leave the country. Years later, in 1871, after the disaster of the Franco-Prussian War and the overthrow of Louis Napoleon III (the famous Napoleon’s nephew), the French were once again called to create a new government. There was some talk of restoring the Bourbons. They sent emissaries to Charles X’s grandson Henry who responded that he would be delighted to come back to France and be king, as long as they forgot all that silly talk about constitutions and the rights of man. The French had had their fill of autocratic kings and emperors and opted to create the Third Republic. Talleyrand said that the Bourbons had “learned nothing and forgotten nothing”. It didn’t occur to them that they ought to change with the times.

Mark Levin warned that President Obama might go “full Mussolini” after the election, but I think there might be a danger of his going full Bourbon, doubling down on the sort of policies that have caused such enormous losses for the Democrats in 2010 and 2014, especially if he follows the advice that Katrina vanden Heuvel gave in this article in The Nation.

If I were advising the White House right now, I would encourage President Obama to take advantage of the end of this year’s election cycle—the next fifty or so days—to immediately try to change the subject, in a big way.

The Obama administration should act right away to use its executive powers to take steps to deal with long-ignored issues that need to be dealt with for the good of the nation.

This cannot be done quietly. To change the media narrative, issues acted upon will have to be controversial enough to dominate the news. President Obama should embrace good progressive public policy while expecting—indeed, hoping for—a massive outcry from the wing-nut section of the GOP.

Controversy is not the enemy here. And issue clarity—or issue polarization—can be helpful, if the administration seizes the initiative and chooses public policy issues on which to fight.

The president should go big right now, undertaking a quick series of high-profile executive actions on issues that the Republican House has not acted upon, and will never pass. President Obama should be very visible, with photo ops and speeches and social media and grassroots backup and appearances on Between Two Ferns, moving hard and fast from one executive action to the next.

Here are a few suggestions. (And I’m sure people as smart as John Podesta and David Axelrod can think of a couple more.) Whatever is decided, act big—and act fast.

Why not draw the line in the sand this week?

She then gives a list of issues Obama should act upon, with  basically the same sort of policies that caused the catastrophic losses for the Democrats this week.

1. Start with serious immigration reform. Announce a serious executive action, to make up for the fact that Beltway Republicans will not act on this critical issue.

Go to the South Valley of Texas and/or the Arizona border, and make appearances with some of the little girls and boys who are trying to come to the United States to avoid their dangerous, hard-scrabble lives in Honduras and Guatemala.

Pick a fight with Rick Perry and/or Jan Brewer, if need be, and be glad that you’re in a high-profile fight with them. Let the right-wing come unglued—which they will!—and don’t back down when Steve King and Louie Gohmert and Ted Cruz and Sarah Palin start calling for impeachment. Not only will the wing nuts threaten impeachment over perfectly legal executive actions, and their actions dominate the airwaves, it will turn off independents and moderates, and create a no-win situation that leaves most of the Republican presidential candidates twisting in the wind. (Remember: they can’t get sixty-seven pro-impeachment votes in the Senate, any more than they could when Bill Clinton was impeached—and the foolish, overwrought attacks on Clinton helped clarify to most Americans that the GOP was the big problem in DC.)

Americans hate the idea of amnesty for illegal immigrants. They hate politicians who try to grant amnesty for illegal immigrants. This is one issue that really, really hurt the Democrats this election cycle. Americans do not hate the idea of amnesty because we are a bunch of racists. We welcome legal immigrants. The trouble with amnesty is that most Americans do not believe that someone who cuts ahead in line should be rewarded for their behavior. It seems unfair to the people who filled out all the paperwork and waited patiently in line. If the Republicans decide to impeach Obama over this, it will not be a repeat of the impeachment of Bill Clinton. Obama’s supporters will not be able to dismiss this as a matter of personal peccadilloes. This will be a president trying to push policies by executive order that the majority of the American people reject. I think that even a few Senate Democrats might go along with taking some action to stop Obama from granting amnesty through executive order, even if to save their party from another defeat.

2. For the next two years, do everything you can to create a climate legacy that will stand the test of time—a legacy that will look better and better as the decades go by, and the atmosphere heats up more and more.

Cancel the Keystone XL Pipeline before the right wing can draw a breath after your immigration actions. Then, Mr. President, elevate climate change as an issue, the way you took on healthcare reform (only without bothering to try to pass anything through John Boehner’s House).

Meet with China and India on climate issues, before the next round of global climate meetings. Set aside big chunks of public land and ocean, and hold photo ops in spectacular natural settings as you do so—very few executive acts are so popular with most of the public.

Host a national teach-in with real climate scientists, on C-Span, and use it to drive a nail in the coffin of the fake, corporate-funded, “climate denial” science.

Pull together a meeting of coastal mayors to talk about what “resilience” steps to take to prepare for the next Superstorm Sandy—this is not only necessary, it’s a good way to raise the issue of needed infrastructure spending.

Take the climate disruption issue head-on, and make it part of the Obama legacy. No previous leaders have met the challenge of global warming, a threat that affects both national and world security. President Obama could be the first to take it on. Future generations will thank him.

Global Warming/Climate Change is at the bottom of issues the American people are worried about right now. If President Obama follows this advice he will be easily caricatured as a President bent on destroying the US economy. I should add that China and India are not going to cooperate in destroying their own economies and condemn their people to perpetual poverty just so Obama can have a climate legacy.

4. Go up to the edge of normalizing relations with Cuba. Send Attorney General Eric Holder down to Havana to work out the details.

I understand that current law prevents a president from fully normalizing relations with Cuba, but there are a series of executive actions that a president could take that would weaken the embargo, increase American prestige in this hemisphere, and help stabilize working relationships with Cuba on a series of bilateral issues.

Even better, President Obama can take these executive actions just before the entire hemisphere meets at the Summit of the Americas in Panama in May, actions that will enhance his reputation—and America’s reputation—across Latin America.

What happened to 3? This isn’t really a bad idea and we should be prepared for a post-Castro Cuba. I don’t think there are many Americans concerned with Cuba right now.

5. Use changing national attitudes on marijuana to weaken the wasteful and ineffective war on drugs. Better yet, use presidential executive power to weaken our harsh and racist criminal injustice system.

Reclassify marijuana as a less-dangerous drug. Commute sentences of nonviolent pot prisoners (a disproportionate number of them young African-Americans!).

Appoint a blue-ribbon presidential commission on drug reform and criminal justice reform, with a mandate to report back quickly on issues from marijuana legalization to curbing police brutality to eliminating three-strikes-and-you’re-out policies to reforming harsh sentencing to ending the militarization and weaponization of local and state police departments to stop and frisk to racial profiling.

Again not an altogether bad idea, but this really should be a state and local affair. There is no reason the President couldn’t work with Congress on this issue, except, of course, that Obama doesn’t play well with others.

6. Nominate Tom Harkin to the Federal Reserve Board.

Why?

7. In the proud tradition of Franklin Roosevelt, issue a Good Jobs Executive Order that would reward companies that pay their workers a living wage, allow them a voice at the workplace without having to go on strike, adhere to federal workplace safety and fair labor standards and limit the pay of their chief executives to some reasonable ratio to that of their average workers.

The companies most likely to be rewarded would be those with connections in Washington. Just what we need, more crony capitalism.

8. Nominate a diverse set of progressives to fill every judicial vacancy at every level, and then make this a huge national throwdown fight when they are not approved. Given the poor public view of the runaway, activist, Citizens United–tainted Supreme Court, judges could become one of the big issues of the 2016 campaign.

I bet it would become a big issue, Obama stacking the courts with extreme progressive ideologues to fundamentally change the country even after his term ends. One of the reasons so many people are coming to dislike this president and progressives generally is their view that the constitution is more of a guideline than an actual set of rules for the government.

I think that it could rightly be said of Katrina vandel Heuvel that like the Bourbons, she has learned nothing and forgotten nothing about the experience of the recent election. Let’s hope that Obama, unlike the Bourbons can learn from experience.

Maybe we will.

Maybe we will.

 

 

The Great Tsunami of 2014

November 5, 2014

I expected the Republicans to make some gains yesterday, the opposing party usually does in midterm elections. In my more optimistic moments, I even considered the possibility that there would be a Republican wave. This didn’t seem too unlikely considering the unpopularity of President Obama at the moment. My optimism was tempered by the knowledge that the GOP has an uncanny knack for screwing up elections at the last moment. Still, a wave seemed possible. I never expected what actually happened, a complete rout of the Democrats. This was not just a wave but a tsunami.

Here are some numbers. The Republicans gained at least seven seats in the Senate gaining the majority. Previously, the Democrats held 55 seats to the Republican’s 45 but now the ratio is 52 Republicans and  45 Democrats. The race in Alaska has not been called yet and there will have to be a runoff in Louisiana. Also, in Virginia Democratic Senator Mark Warner has apparently won reelection in a close race but his opponent Ed Gillespie has not conceded and there may be a recount. There is then the possibility of the Republicans picking up three more seats in the Senate.  In the House of Representatives the Republicans  gained 12 seats expanding their majority from 233 Republicans to 199 Democrats to 244 Republicans to 180 Democrats. This is the largest majority the Republicans have had in the House of Representatives since 1946.

 

On the state level, the Republicans have increased the number of Republican governors by two. Previously there were 29 Republican governors and 21 Democrats. Now there will be 31 Republicans and 17 Democrats. The Republicans made impressive gains in state legislatures. Of the 98 chambers, two per state (except for Nebraska which has a non-partisan and unicameral legislature), the Republicans controlled 59. Now they will control 67 chambers and in no fewer than 24 states the Republicans will control both the state legislature and the Governor’s mansion. This is the best they have done since the 1920s.Winning control of  state governments is even more significant than the federal government since most of the real “action” in law making still takes place at the state level. The national media, based in New York and Washington tends to over emphasise the importance of Washington D C and does a real disservice by tending to neglect the actions of state governments.

Mere numbers don’t tell the whole story. The Republicans made serious inroads into what should have been safe Democratic territory. There are new Republican governors in Illinois, Massachusetts and Maryland. All of Arkansas’s seats in the House of Representatives are held by  Republicans for the first time in 141 years. There seem to be more Black Republicans this year. Mia Love from Utah was the first Black Republican woman in the House and Tim Scott was the first Black  from South Carolina to be elected to the Senate since the Reconstruction era. Also from South Carolina, the Indian Republican Nicki Haley was reelected. Republicans also made gains with the Hispanic vote. Perhaps the idea that the Republican Party is doomed to irrelevance because of demographics should be reexamined.Need I remind the reader that Alan West, Ben Carson and Ted Cruz are all Republican heroes despite not being White?

Well it was an amazing election, perhaps even a historical one, but I hope the Republicans don’t blow it over the next two years. They should keep in mind that 2016 could be just as bad for them as 2014 was good. In the meantime, while gloating is unseemly and I certainly shouldn’t do it, I hope I can be forgiven for enjoying what is best in life, just a little.

 

There was a lot of lamentation of Democratic women, and men, last night.


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