March 31, 2016

Thank You, Donald Trump

Yesterday, Donald Trump accomplished what had seemed impossible. He simultaneously pissed off both pro-choice and anti-choice activists. The candidate told Chris Matthews that, should abortion again become illegal, women undergoing abortions should suffer some legal penalty.

It’s easy to understand why the pro-choice community—perhaps I should say the freedom for women community—was appalled by Trump’s remark. It suddenly became clear that Trump not only wanted to restrict women’s freedom; he wanted to punish them as well. If Trump loves women, as he frequently claims, thank God he doesn’t dislike women. Perhaps he would put them all in jail. Who knows?

It is less obvious why abortion opponents were equally appalled by the Republican front-runner. It turns out that that community has consciously avoided suggesting that women having abortions should face punishment. The anti-abortion crowd has demonized abortion providers but has not wanted to tarnish their “pro-life, pro-women” image they have so carefully (and cynically) cultivated.

Well, Trump has given the freedom for women movement a gift. If abortion is murder, as the “pro-lifers” contend, then why would we not punish women if abortion is again outlawed? If a woman hires a hit man to, say, kill her husband, do we not punish the woman as well as the actual murderer? Well, abortion doctors do not go around looking for pregnant women on which to ply their trade. No, desperate, pregnant women seek them out. If abortion is murder, is this not solicitation to murder?

It turns out that the “pro-life” activists are even nastier and more radical than we thought they are. Good to know.

Thank you again, Donald.

P.S. Trump, having been criticized by virtually everyone, of course, quickly retracted his anti-woman remark.

Donald Trump

March 28, 2016

Four Political Limericks

Over the past week, I’ve written limericks about the major presidential candidates—Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Hillary Clinton, and Bernie Sanders. I first posted the limericks on Facebook, which yielded some useful feedback. I have now revised the poems and posted them on my Web site. You can read the final products in “Political Limericks for 2016.”

Donald TrumpTed Cruz
Hillary ClintonBernie Sanders

March 21, 2016

Why a Democrat Must Select the Next Supreme Court Justice

The importance of filling the currently vacant Supreme Court seat with a justice considerably to the left of the idiosyncratic Antonin Scalia cannot be overestimated. The image below is meant to suggest what is really at stake. Although most Americans will be oblivious of the actual significance of filling the seat once occupied by Justice Scalia, this issue alone is reason enough to vote for the Democrat in November, no batter who it is, and not for the Republican, no matter who that is.

What allowing a Democrat to select the next Supreme Court could mean.

Click on the image for a larger version.

March 20, 2016

Taking Republican Thinking to Its Logical Conclusion

Republican Senators conveniently have found (i.e., invented out of thin air) the principle that a president should not be granted a Supreme Court nominee in his last year in office. Supposedly, this is so that “the people,” through the upcoming presidential election, will have a say in who is appointed. Of course, “the people” never have a direct voice in Supreme Court nominations, and they have twice elected President Barack Obama. President Obama has exercised his constitutional duty in nominating Judge Merrick Garland.

If one is to take Senate Republicans seriously, putting aside the obvious fact that they simply do not want the balance on the Supreme Court to change and are willing to use any political chicanery they can think of to to postpone it, then the principle should be taken to its logical conclusion.

The Senate of the 114th Congress comprises 54 Republicans, 44 Democrats, and 2 Independents. Republicans control the Senate by virtue of their majority. However, the terms of 24 Republicans and 10 Democrats expire next January. They are, in other words, in the final year of their terms. One might just as well argue that the short-term Senators are really in a situation no different from that of President Obama. Shouldn’t these short termers recuse themselves from voting on Supreme Court nominees, letting voters determine who gets to make decisions regarding the Supreme Court? If Senators in their last year of office are recused from voting on Supreme Court nominees—maybe they should refrain from voting on anything at all—we would effectively have a Senate of 30 Republicans, 34 Democrats, and 2 independents, i.e., a Democratic majority.

Of course, all this is silly. Presidents are elected for four years; Senators are elected for six years. Their powers expire on their last day in office and not before.

Let the Senate refuse to deal with the Garland nomination. President Hillary Clinton can then nominate a young, genuine liberal to the court. Then the Republicans will be sorry. Both political and poetic justice will be served.

On the Senate Republicans’ Principle

The Republican principle is simply to oppose President Obama.

Click for a larger image.

March 17, 2016

March 16, 2016

Sometimes a Space Makes a Difference

Open compounds often become closed compounds over time. For example, “rail road” long ago became “railroad.” More often than not, whether a term is written as an open or closed compound does not really affect meaning. I, personally, object to “fundraising,” rather than “fund raising,” but I have no trouble understanding text using either rendering.

Not always is meaning preserved when words are run together, and surprising results can emerge when the words in question are not nouns or adjectives. This thought came to mind as I read a story from Huffington Post about LGBT rights in Africa. The article contained this sentence:
As new laws have been signed this year, I could be put in prison for life in Uganda if I were to marry a man, and I could go to prison for 14 years in Nigeria if I were to have a meal with other LGBT people and just talk—my parents could go to jail as well if they didn't turn me into authorities.
What should have been written, of course, is “turn me in to authorities,” not “turn me into authorities,” which sounds like some sort of magic trick.

Thoughts on the Nomination of Merrick Garland

A few minutes ago, President Barack Obama nominated Judge Merrick Garland to fill the Supreme Court vacancy caused by the death of Antonin Scalia. As soon as the White House press conference on the lawn was over, Senator Mitch McConnell reiterated his position on the Senate floor that “the American people should have a say” on the next Supreme Court justice. (Of course, the elected the current president twice. Apparently, this doesn’t count.)

I had hoped for the nomination of a young, liberal, Protestant candidate, preferably a woman and preferably an ethnic minority.Frankly, I am disappointed by Mr. Obama’s appointment. On the other hand, a nominee of the sort I had hoped for had  a vanishingly small chance of actually being confirmed.

Judge Garland clearly was chosen because he is an experienced, centrist judge, who has already been confirmed by the Senate for a position on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Objectively, he is one of the best qualified conceivable candidates for elevation to the high court. He is older than most Democrats expected or hoped for. Judge Garland has but a single problem. He has been nominated by a Democrat when the Senate is controlled by a hateful band of ultra-partisan Republicans.

Does Judge Garland have a chance of being seated on the Supreme Court? Probably not much of one. A groundswell of support from the country might change a few Republican minds in the Senate, but an excellent, though centrist, nominee is not likely to ignite much Democratic passion.

Politically, the nomination of Judge Garland may be quite savvy. If he is not confirmed, as seems likely, and a Democrat wins the presidency, as also seems likely, the next nominee will surely be someone more liberal or even—Republicans would hate this—Barack Obama himself. In other words, although Senate Republicans may not want to confirm—or even consider—Judge Garland, they may be forced to confirm someone much less to their liking.

The best (and even likely) scenario is this: the Senate fails to act on the president’s nomination, Hillary wins the election, the Republicans lose their Senate majority, and President Hillary will be able to nominate and have confirmed whoever she wants on the court.

March 14, 2016

March 5, 2016

A Suggested Tool for Debate Moderators

Back in October, I wrote about ways I thought our political debates could be improved. (See “Suggestions for Presidential Debates.”) Since then, debates among Republican candidates have become increasingly bizarre, crude, and dysfunctional. More than anything, Republican debates have become chaotic. Moderators have lost control of the dialogue, and the candidates have taken to simultaneously tossing angry insults at one another.

Mute the micOne of the ideas I offered last fall to improve debates was
4. Enforce time limits. The time limits for candidate responses to questions are never aggressively enforced. This is particularly irritating when a candidate goes on and on without answering the question asked. … If the rules of the debate allow for one-minute answers, for example, a candidate’s microphone should be cut off by a studio technician after 60 seconds. Presidents, after all, have to be able to use their time wisely, as they get no more of it than the rest of us.
Since I made that suggestion, the problem with debates has become less one of candidates talking too long than one of candidates speaking out-of-turn and talking (or yelling) over others. Such behavior has made the “debates” entertaining—in the same way that mud wrestling is entertaining—and has revealed something of the character of the would-be presidential nominees. It has not revealed much about the philosophy or program priorities of the debate participants, however.

Clearly Mr. Trump and Senators Rubio and Cruz cannot be trusted to conduct polite discourse without additional discipline. Were they a bit more civilized and less inclined to act like kindergarteners, a talking stick and an occasional word from a moderator might engender more enlightening and comprehensible exchanges.

As it is, Republican debates really require aggressively controlled microphones. The moderators should have buttons at their desk, one for each candidate and one for themselves. When a button is pressed, all microphones except that of the indicated speaker should be muted. If a candidate speaks out-of-turn, whatever is said will not be heard over the air. If a moderator needs to cut off a candidate for whatever reason—God only knows what new outrage might present itself—a single button will silence the offending debater and give the moderator the floor.

Would the candidates agree to using such a mechanism? Why give them a choice?

Bill Maher on the Virtues of a Woman President

Bill Maher was in good form on HBO last night. The quote below is from his opening monologue on Real Time with Bill Maher. (Click on the image for a larger view.)

Could there ever be a better argument for a woman president than the fact that the members of the other party are arguing over their dick size?

Donald Trump’s Real Message

In a New York Times column, Paul Krugman observed that Donald Trump is implicitly promising to make America “white again.” This inspired the graphic below. Click on the image for a larger view.


March 3, 2016

“Medical Abortions”

Earlier today, I listened to a discussion on the Diane Rehm Show about the Texas Supreme Court case involving restrictions on abortion clinics. I was struck by the distinction made between “surgical abortions” and abortions induced by taking pills, which are generally referred to as “medical abortions.”

Abortion pill
Abortions performed by surgical means (e.g, D&C), seem aptly and, even in the rhetorical minefield of women’s health issues, objectively named. It is not clear to me that the term “medical abortions” favors either side in debates over abortion generally. On the other hand, it hardly seems a precise designation. One certainly hopes, for example, that a surgical abortion is indeed a medical procedure—performed by a real doctor in a clinical environment—rather than, say, performed by a woman at home with knitting needles.

We should have a more specific term for abortions effected by the likes of RU-486. I suggest that, rather than “medical abortion,” we should use a term like “medicinal abortion” or “pharmaceutical  abortion.”

I wonder how “medical abortion” became synonymous with abortion-by-pill.

Update, 3/30/2016. The FDA has just changed the label instructions for RU-486 (mifepristone). The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists released a statement that refers to “medication abortion,” which is surely a more precise term than “medical abortion.”