AIDS Advances May be Compromised by Legislative Inaction

by Walter Brasch

Researchers at Temple University in Philadelphia may have found an entry-way to the cure for AIDS.

Once the HIV virus enters the body it can lie dormant for years. It can also evolve into AIDS.  But, until now, it could never be removed.

It’s far too early to claim an AIDS cure-there still has to be several years of clinical trials- but this may be as close to a solution as scientists have come.

There can be a lot of politics in medical science, but the researchers at least have the wisdom to know they must work together and focus upon the people not the politics.

Even if there is a cure for AIDS, even if there are significant advances in the treatment and cure of other communicable diseases, it may not mean much if patients can’t get the medical treatment they need because obstructionists are doing their best to separate the people from the solution.

Two hours west of Philadelphia is Harrisburg, the Pennsylvania state capital. This is where Gov. Tom Corbett and his well-oiled legislature shut down 15 of 60 public health clinics, have plans to shut down nine more to “save” about $3 million a year, and laid off 73 nurses and support staff. In July, the state Supreme Court issued an emergency injunction to prevent the state from shutting down more health clinics, and is reviewing a petition to force the administration to reopen the other clinics. Under the Corbett administration, Pennsylvania ranks 43rd of 50 states in per capita public health spending, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The governor also vetoed a budget item to spend $2 million a year from tax revenue generated by oil and gas companies to do research about the effects of fracking upon the people’s health, to provide health care information, to treat those who may have been affected by air and water pollution from fracking, and to establish a health care registry that would help identify problems. But he was more than willing to give all kinds of tax breaks to oil and gas companies, including Royal Dutch Shell, a foreign corporation, which he handed a $1.7 billion tax credit. If the state taxed gas extraction companies at a rate at least that of other states, there would be at least another $500 million a year that could be used to help protect the people’s health and their environment.

More than 50 times, the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives has tried to wipe the Affordable Care Act (ACA) off the books. This quixotic mission will continue to fail for two reasons. First, the Supreme Court of the United States, which has a majority of conservatives, ruled the Act is constitutional. Second, all evidence shows the Act has led to better health care and at least 2.3 million Americans covered who couldn’t get insurance prior to the passage of the ACA. More than eight million Americans have already signed up for ACA coverage, and are now receiving better health care at lower insurance rates.

Further, because of the ACA, more than 5.5 million senior citizens and disabled have saved about $4.5 billion on prescription drugs in the past three years, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Fourteen “red” states have chosen not to be a part of the ACA, their legislatures adamantly refusing to agree to anything that President Obama has proposed, even if it means the people suffer. The impartial Rand Corp. estimates these states will spend about $1 billion more taxpayer funds than if they expanded Medicaid under ACA provisions. Because of their refusal to agree to the ACA, almost four million residents of their states will continue to be uninsured, forcing the state and hospitals to pay for emergency medical care for low-income individuals. (In Pennsylvania, with a Republican governor and legislature, if the state agreed to implement the ACA, the savings would be about $600 million the first year.) However, the rabid Right Wing has continued to sling a barrage of lies and half-truths, usually picked up, channeled, and reported by the mass media. The time and money devoted to this political gesturing by Right Wing politicians could better be spent on funding research to find cures for Ebola, multiple sclerosis, numerous forms of cancers, and dozens of other life-threatening diseases.

This is the same Congress that had blocked funding to improve the VA system, while spending $3 million this year alone to investigate what they have created as the Benghazi Scandal. It’s already been investigated and re-investigated. Senior military commanders and impartial diplomats have already told the truth, but the House still wants to throw out its chest and throw a junior-high tantrum. Think of what that $3 million can do to help the nation’s homeless, about one-fourth of them veterans.

Members of Congress believe they have to travel all over the world on what they call “fact-finding tours.” These tours often find facts in tropical island nations.  And now, thanks to a decision by the apparently misnamed House Ethics Committee, members of Congress don’t even have to report if their trips were funded by lobbyists. Think of what several million more dollars can do to help improve the health of the impoverished rather than help members of Congress get sun tans.

It’s just politics. But, how many more will suffer and die from our misguided priorities.

Dr. Brasch’s latest book is Fracking Pennsylvania, which looks at the health, environmental, economic, and political effects from fracking.]

 

Passing Gas to the Consumer

by Walter Brasch

Gas prices at the pump during the July 4th extended weekend were the highest they have been in six years. This, of course, has little to do with supply-and-demand economics. It has everything to do with supply-and-gouge profits.

Over the past decade, the five largest oil companies have earned more than $1 trillion in profits. Last year, the Big Five-BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil, and Shell-earned about $93 billion in profits. Their CEOs last year earned an average of about $20 million. Included within the profits is $2.4 billion in taxpayer subsidies because it’s hard to make a living when your hourly wage, assuming you work every hour of every day, is only $2,283.

“We have been subsidizing oil companies for a century. That’s long enough,” President Obama said more than a year ago. The Senate disagreed. Forty-three Republicans and four Democrats blocked the elimination of subsidies. Although the final vote was 51-47 to end the subsidies, a simple majority was not enough because the Republicans threatened a filibuster that would have required 60 votes to pass the bill. A Think Progress financial analysis revealed that the 47 senators who voted to continue subsidies received almost $23.6 million in career contributions from the oil and gas industry. In contrast, the 51 senators who had voted to repeal the subsidies received only about $5.9 million.

For a couple of decades, the oil industry blamed the Arabs for not pumping enough oil to export to the United States. But when the Arab oil cartel (of which the major U.S. oil companies have limited partnerships) decided to pump more oil, the Americans had to look elsewhere for their excuses. In rapid succession, they blamed Mexico, England, the Bermuda Triangle, polar bears who were lying about climate change so they could get more ice for their diet drinks, and infertile dinosaurs.

This year, the oil companies blamed ISIS, a recently-formed terroristic fringe group composed primarily of Sunni Muslims, who have opposed Shia Muslims for more than 14 centuries. Think of the Protestant-Catholic wars in Ireland. Because ISIS was laying a path of destruction through Iraq, the oil companies found it convenient to declare that oil shipments were threatened, and then raise prices, salivating at their good fortune that terrorists had come to their financial assistance during the Summer holidays.

However, because the oil companies have laid a thick propaganda shield upon the America people to make them believe that fracking the environment and destroying public health, while yielding only temporary job growth, will lead to less dependence upon the Arab nations and lower costs to Americans, the Industry has to come up with some excuses to drill the taxpayers.

Through deft journalistic intrigue and a lifetime of investigative reporting, I was able to obtain insider information from the ultra secret Gas and Oil Unified Greedy Excuse Maker sub-committee (GOUGEM). I have not been able to verify the transcript, but in the developing tradition of 21st century journalism, that doesn’t really matter.

“We have a problem,” declared the GOUGEM Grand Caliph “We have run out of excuses. Last year, we had to find excuses not only for the Summer vacations, but also to justify our surreptitious funding of the Benghazi investigation.”

“There must be a hundred different ways to nail Obama for this year’s increase,” declared the Sunoco representative.

“What if we claim that Obamacare caused gas prices to go up for ambulances,” said a newly-appointed representative from the Hess Corp.

“Tried it last year, but we couldn’t get much traction,” said the Grand Caliph. “Only Fox, Limbaugh, and some guy broadcasting through a tin cup from his room at Bellevue picked it up.”

“Afghanistan!”  shouted the Marathon representative. “We’ve gotten good mileage from blaming the war for the cost of gas.”

“Yeah,” said the Tesoro rep sarcastically, “while we’ve been reaping enough excessive profits to build a water park at every one of our executives’ McMansions. I’m afraid the American people after 13 years have finally caught on to that scam.”

“If not Iraq and Afghanistan,” how about a new war? We invade Switzerland,” the ConocoPhillips rep suggested, “and claim we’re protecting the world from weapons of mass Swiss Army Knives. Every Republican and a few Democrats will back us on that.”

“It only works if there’s oil in Switzerland,” said the Shell rep, “and since we haven’t developed the technology to frack the Matterhorn, we’ll have to find another reason to raise gas prices.”

The BP rep suggested that the oil companies claim gas price increases were necessary because the price of Dawn detergent, used to clean oil-slicked marine mammals, went up.

The Chevron  rep said they could blame the Treasury Department for their underhanded tactics in locating the companies’ tax-free stash in the Caymans.  “How could anyone complain about us needing more income to pay our lawyers?” she declared.

The Valero rep wanted to blame the Veterans Administration. “We say we had to wait so long to get permission to raise gas prices that we had to do it ourselves,” he brightly said, and tagged that suggestion with the explanation that the companies could then claim they were being self-sufficient and not dependent upon the government. “The conservatives will love us,” he righteously declared.

After a few moments of idle chatter, something committees have perfected, the Exxon Mobil rep spoke up. “We don’t need an excuse.”

“You been inhaling too many fumes?” the Shell rep asked.

“Slip on a grease spot in one of your garages?” asked the Murphy Oil rep.

“We’ve always had an excuse,” the Shell rep whined. “Without an excuse, the motorist might not buy our gas.”

“Oh, they’ll buy,” said the Exxon Mobil rep confidently. “We’ve bought out and eliminated most of the alternative fuel sources, public transportation is in the pits, and no one walks. That leaves cars, and they all run on what we decide they run on.”

“So what’s your point?” asked the BP representative.

“It’s as simple as 1-2-3,” the Exxon representative stated. “One. We’re Big Business. Two. We’ve already bought the Republican-controlled Congress. Three. We don’t need to justify anything.”

By unanimous agreement, the gas bag cartel declared there would be a 10-cent a gallon hike by the end of Summer-and no excuse.

[Dr. Brasch’s latest books are the critically-acclaimed Before the First Snow, a journalistic novel; and Fracking Pennsylvania, an in-depth investigation of the health, environmental, economic, and political effects of horizontal fracturing.]

Holding the American People Hostage

by Walter Brasch

Judges who wish to assure that a jury has no outside influence will sequester them.

Legally, a sequestered jury is seized by authority and isolated from all outside influences.

The jurors are escorted into and out of the courtroom. They aren’t allowed to read newspapers, listen to radio news, or watch TV news, ‘lest they could be influenced by the media. They are escorted to and from meals, and isolated from other customers. They can’t discuss the case with family or friends. They can’t even go home at the end of the day; they’re housed in hotel rooms.

In the summer of 2011, a bipartisan “super-committee” was supposed to come up with a reasonable budget to eliminate $1.2-$1.5 trillion from the national deficit. The Congressionally-mandated sequester went into effect two weeks ago when Congress couldn’t come up with a better idea about the budget. The draconian cuts across all federal programs was supposed to be enacted only as a last-ditch measure. The concept was that Congress and the Administration would be so fearful of the results of the sequester, which the media and elected officials often called a “poison pill,” they would take the time to thoughtfully work out a proper budget, and the sequester would never happen.

But, the Republicans dug in their heels, refused to compromise, and even continued their vacations the last week before the sequester went into effect.

Republican Speaker John Boehner claims he doesn’t like the sequester, never liked it-although he praised it a year ago-and blames President Obama.

President Obama wanted to restore the tax rates that existed before the Bush tax cuts for those earning more than $250,000, while keeping the tax cuts for everyone else. Under Republican pressure, he eventually raised the limit to $400,000. The President further proposed a budget that would yield $1.1 trillion in spending cuts and $700 billion in increased revenue, primarily from closing federal tax loopholes and deductions that benefitted primarily the nation’s upper class. That proposal already included cutting back the deficit by $600 billion. (For those keeping track, George W. Bush came into office with a $236.2 billion surplus; by the end of his presidency, he left Barack Obama a $500 billion deficit and the worst Recession since the Great Depression of 1929.)

The Republicans, willingly jerked around by their Tea Party base, don’t want the restoration of the tax rates for anyone. Of course, they also don’t want to end billions of dollars of corporate subsidies, paid for through taxes upon the working poor. Until this past week, the Republicans didn’t even have a budget proposal of their own until they dusted off and put new polish on Rep. Paul Ryan’s slightly revised budget proposal from the 2012 campaign. That would be the budget proposal the American people rejected when they gave Barack Obama a resounding second term victory.

The Congressional Budget Office says the sequester could cut more than 750,000 federal jobs. Republicans like that idea, especially since most federal employees are also members of unions. But, those jobs include public health officials, social service workers, teachers, air traffic controllers, and others in critical jobs. Cutting social services appeals to the Republican mind-set, but cutting the number of air traffic controllers alone would cause not just a severe reduction of flights, but significant lost revenue for the airlines. Obviously, the Republicans, the party of corporate America, don’t really care.

And now we learn that the Republican leadership wasn’t honest with their own members, and didn’t tell them of the cuts the President had already agreed to, and the myriad compromises he had already made with the Republican speaker of the house and the Republican senate minority chair to try to avoid the sequester.

It may seem that Congress had no idea what the word “sequester” meant when it created this fiscal disaster. But the reality is that Congress does know. Its actions-or, rather, its failure to act- has left the American people isolated and held hostage by authority. This time, it’s not a judge sequestering a jury, but a Republican-dominated Congress sequestering all of the American people.

[Dr. Brasch’s latest book is the best-selling Fracking Pennsylvania, an in-depth investigation of the consequences of fracking by the natural gas industry. The book is available through amazon.com, greeleyandstone.com, or local bookstores.]

Congress Finally Passes Comprehensive VAWA

By a vote of 286-138 Congress finally passed a comprehensive Violence Against Women Act today and sent it to the President for signing.  The previous VAWA expired and Republicans refused to renew it with expanded protections for women who are LGBT, immigrants or Native Americans.  All women, regardless of circumstances, deserve to be protected against violence. 138 Republicans still don’t believe that.  They include:

Mike Kelly

Tim Murphy

Tom Marino

Joe Pitts

Keith Rothfus

Scott Perry

The No News News Media

by Walter Brasch

There was a lot of news this past week.

Some of it was even reported by the news media.

First, there was a football player from Notre Dame who either did or didn’t know that his girlfriend was or wasn’t real, but died sometime during the season. Six column headlines for several days announced the fraud. Network news and talk show hosts rehashed it almost daily.

Two weeks ago, Lance Armstrong admitted he was a dope. Or maybe he just took dope. The news media kept sending urgent flashes all week of what he was going to tell Oprah. And then he told Oprah, and now we’ll be reading stories about it until Schwinn adds a jet engine to a 3-speed.

Subway is accused of making foot-long hoagies that are 11 inches, a problem that the executives wisely didn’t say was due to shrinkage in cold weather. The media seized this major fraud and, ignoring anything Congress or Wall Street was doing, slathered layers of hype on a story that should have died with three paragraphs in one day.

Of course, there was the inauguration. That became another way for bloviators and pretend-journalists to push their own agendas. They told us how unpopular this President is-attendance was way down from the first inauguration. Only 500,000 attended.  They didn’t tell us that second inaugurations always have much fewer people watching them in person than first inaugurations. And, that figure of 500,000? A little short of the actual number of one million. They said the inauguration was over-long and overpriced, although most of it was paid for by private donations. Something they didn’t mention was that the costs and day’s activities were about the same as for the previous president, and most presidents of the latter 20th century-Democrat or Republican.

Some of these pundits suggested that the President didn’t have a mandate, although he easily won by more than five million votes, and a near landslide in the Electoral College. A few of the more extreme even suggested he had stolen the election-how else could he have won over the nice businessman who bought and sold companies and helped improve the economy of Switzerland and the Canary Islands?

For the rest of the networks, the focus was on a constant blather of what would Michelle Obama be wearing. Whose dress? Whose gloves? This, of course, was mixed into all kinds of gushes and comments about her new ‘do. You know, the one that had bangs. The day after the inauguration, the media was all over the story of the BeyoncĂ© kerfuffle. Did she or didn’t she lip synch the National Anthem? Truly great news coverage there.

Hillary Clinton testified before the Congressional Inquisition of Televised Republicans trying to make their bones to either enhance their own chances for re-election or to block what they think may be her plan to run for the presidency in 2016. This would be some of the same people who thought she was faking a concussion to avoid testifying in the first place.

The Eastern Sports and Outdoor Show, scheduled for Harrisburg, Pa., Feb. 2-10 was cancelled this past week. The Expo is the largest in North America, but the organizers decided that in the wake of the Newtown murders, they would put a temporary moratorium on the sale of military-style assault weapons because they believed “the presence of MSRs [military style rifles] would distract from the theme of hunting and fishing, disrupting the broader experience of our guests.” Only a dozen or so of the 1,200 vendors were affected; most were selling clothes, rifles, turkey calls, tents, and anything related to outdoor sports. But, one by one vendors, the media, and dozens of celebrities-all with NRA encouragement and support-decided not to attend, somehow believing that a hunting and fishing exhibition that didn’t allow the purchase of assault weapons was somehow anti-American and gave a message that those who did attend were opposed to the Second Amendment. The Harrisburg Patriot-News reported that the cancellation led to a loss of $43 million in the local economy.

More than 32,000 will die from gun violence by the end of the year, according to the Brady Center. This past week, 78 Americans, including four pre-teens, died from gun violence. And, during this past week, as has been the case for hundreds of previous weeks, the NRA leadership, with the egos of a gang of schoolboys who overdosed on testosterone, continue to defy all attempts to reach sensible solutions to allow the purchase of guns, yet reduce the violence.

A 38-year-old sergeant died from wounds received near Kabul, Afghanistan. The U.S. had invaded Afghanistan to find Osama bin Laden, but he became a lower priority less than a year later. The Bush-Cheney administration almost abandoned the war in Afghanistan and turned to Iraq. More than 7,600 American and allied soldiers were killed, and more than 50,000 wounded in both wars. President Obama, fulfilling a campaign promise, ended the war in Iraq and is months from ending the one in Afghanistan.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) who numerous times promised to reign in the abuse of the filibuster that blocked any meaningful legislation or presidential appointments, turned wimp this past week. He and minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who once vowed his top priority was solely to prevent Barack Obama from serving a second term, may have been last seen hugging, kissing, and preparing to be married in Massachusetts.

This past week, the stock market hit new records, and it looks President Obama may receive some of the credit for helping to stop the Great Recession, something that upsets Republicans, delights Democrats, and has no meaning to anyone homeless or unemployed.

Yes, there was a lot of news this past week. Some of it may some day actually be reported.

Dr. Brasch’s latest book is Fracking Pennsylvania: Flirting With Disaster. It is available from www.greeleyandstone.com at a pre-publication discount.]

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Critz Challenges Altmire Petitions

Congressman Mark Critz is challenging Congressman Jason Altmire’s position on the April primary ballot by contesting 942 of the signatures of his nominating petitions.  Altmire filed 1651 signatures and 1000 are required for the federal office.  If successful Critz would eliminate his opponent without firing a single shot in a heavily watched race.  Because of reapportionment Pennsylvania lost a Congressional seat and Republicans controlling the process (along with Democrats Bob Brady and Mike Doyle) pitched these two incumbent Democrats against each other.

The rules for gathering petition signatures are strict and every candidate is provided with a list of the rules when filing to run with the Pennsylvania Department of State.  In addition these rules are listed on its website.  There’s really no excuse to violate them as widely as it appears Altmire did.  Critz alleges that a staffer for his opponent circulated petitions while not residing within the District.  That would disqualify every signature on those petitions.  In this instance that would mean 610 signatures.  Subtracting that figure from the 1651 filed and he’s perilously close to being disqualified.  Only 42 additional ones need to be disallowed.

Here’s the list as supplied by the Critz campaign:

610 Defective Circulator’s Affidavits

115 Line Information Omitted

87 Illegible

85 Nicknames or Initials

79 Not Registered

66 Omitted or Incorrect Municipality

64 Line Information in the Hand of Another

38 Not Registered at Address

33 Not Registered Democrats

24 Invalid Dates

22 Duplicate Signatures

17 Struck Before Filing

16 Struck by Pennsylvania Department of Commonwealth

12 Signed After Circulator’s Affidavit Dated

8   Printed Signatures

1   Printed and Signed Different Names

Judges often won’t disqualify for minor mistakes such as listing the wrong municipality or dates depending on the individual case.  They tend to define their decisions based upon the intent of the voter.  If that is clear they’ll uphold the signature.  There certainly appear to be enough justifiably contested signatures here to threaten Congressman Altmire’s career.  If, indeed, one of his staffers not living in the District filed as the circulator he has no legitimate legal recourse to uphold those 610 signatures and his career will be over.  There’s no excuse for such a mistake but a confidential source told me earlier this week there, indeed were, problems with a circulator.

Most of the new District lies in Altmire’s old District so most of the voters there know him better than Critz.  That could also work to his disadvantage in a Democratic primary though because his voting record shows he’s actually an elephant in a donkey costume.  Critz hasn’t been in office long having succeeded the late John Murtha in the old PA-12.

I’ve had my problems with both of these conservative Congressmen in the past, particularly with the way Critz was selected by the Pennsylvania Democratic Party after Murtha died.  He’s far superior to Altmire, in my estimation and should be the choice for Democrats in this election.

Update:  From the Critz campaign:  “Actually, the 610 number is attributed to multiple circulators. His staffer accounts for 385.”

This means there were more circulators not eligible to do so for Altmire.  Really bad judgment by someone high up in that campaign if true.

Length of Unemployment at All Time High

A blog post by Sean Brandon, originally published at Third and State.

While the U.S. unemployment rate fell to a 32-month low of 8.6% in November, the average duration of joblessness hit an all-time high – 40.9 weeks. This number has more than doubled since the start of the Great Recession in December 2007. Nevertheless, it should come as no surprise amid lingering unemployment. There are four job seekers for every job opening these days.

With long-term unemployment at its historic worst, Congress must decide whether or not to continue federally-funded extended unemployment insurance benefits that are scheduled to begin phasing out at the end of this month

Should Congress fail to act, 281,000 jobless Pennsylvanians will lose their unemployment benefits between December and June, with the bulk of benefits expiring in the first quarter of 2012, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry.

This should concern each and every taxpayer because unemployment insurance serves two vital purposes.

First, these benefits go to individuals and families who have suffered through the longest and deepest economic downturn since the Great Depression. As a society, the more fortunate have a moral obligation to help the less fortunate in their time of need. The money is being spent on necessities like rent, utilities, food, and clothing – not Cadillacs.

The second point is an echo of the first – money is being spent in the economy. Those eligible for extended unemployment insurance are cash-strapped and immediately spend their benefits to pay for rent, groceries and other necessities. Spending in our economy creates jobs. This is why many economists regard government spending on unemployment insurance as an effective means to both support and create jobs for the unemployed.

A policy brief from the Economic Policy Institute estimates that continuing extended unemployment benefits through 2012 would increase the U.S. Gross Domestic Product by $72 billion while only costing $45 billion. The extension is also expected to save or create 560,000 jobs, boosting tax revenue that will cover $26 billion of the cost of extending benefits.

Opponents contend that extended unemployment insurance creates a disincentive for unemployed workers to return to work. In a recent study titled Unemployment Insurance and Job Search in the Great Recession, author Jesse Rothstein finds that only one and half out of every 100 workers delay taking a job to remain on unemployment. In other words, any disincentive to work from extended benefits is a tiny factor in driving up unemployment. For the vast majority of people who are unemployed, it’s about the lack of jobs.

President Obama has called for the extension of unemployment insurance benefits for the long-term unemployed through the end of 2012. Now we’re waiting on Congress to act.

The U.S. has never failed to extend unemployment insurance with the jobless rate this high. Now would be a terrible time to start.

On The Question Of Virginity, Or, “Starter? I Can’t Make Her Stop!”

I got a weird little story about my friend Blitz Krieger to bring to you today.

He’s had a crazy car problem, he has, and over the past few months he thought he had found a solution – in fact, he thought he had found the solution of his dreams – but in the end, he’s discovered that the things you dream about often don’t go according to plan.

The way it’s worked out for him so far, it’s been a lot of anticipation followed by a sudden wave of frustration, but I feel like he’s a lot better off having his particular problem with his car…because if he’d had cancer instead, he’d surely be dead by now.  

The community is always embarrassed by the drag queens because straight society says, “A faggot always dresses in drag, or he’s effeminate.” But you got to be who you are. Passing for straight is like a light-skinned woman or man passing for white. I refuse to pass. I couldn’t have passed, not in this lifetime.

–Sylvia Rivera, describing the founding of Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR), quoted in the book Becoming Visible: An Illustrated History of Lesbian and Gay Life in Twentieth-Century America

So here’s what happened to Blitz: he waited forever to buy his first car because he wanted, more than anything else in life, to drive his “perfect” car: a 1982 American Motors Eagle SX/4.

It’s a wild car: it was designed as a small hatchback…with a V-8 engine…and “switchable” 4WD…which allowed it to travel easily in snow in a way that virtually no other passenger car at the time could manage.

So he waited all this time, and two years ago, in California, he literally found a little old lady from Pasadena who sold him his “Dream Car”, which, ironically, was the same brown color as Al Bundy’s Dodge.

It drove great for about six months, but it’s been suffering from a strange malady that presents as a horrible grinding noise when he tries to start the car. He has no idea what to do – and standing in the way of a solution is an obsession that I find a bit strange:

He is absolutely determined that he is not going to go to just any mechanic.

Instead, Blitz told me that since it’s the first time the Dream Car needs to be repaired, he intends to go to a mechanic who has never worked on any car before his – and he says he wants to do this because he feels the experience of having the work done this way will make it more “special” for the both of them.

It took him almost a year to find someone, but when he did, it was truly perfect: he met a woman named Jenna Talia who wanted more than anything to be a mechanic.

She’d been studying through one of those “learn at home” programs, and, amazingly, she had an attitude similar to my friend Blitz’s: she knew about how to fix a car from what she’d read in a book, but she refused to actually repair one until she got the chance to work on her Dream Car – and even more amazingly, her Dream Car…was a 1982 American Motors Eagle SX/4.

They actually met on the bus (Blitz, naturally, refused to drive any other car except the Dream Car), and after a few months of knowing each other, Blitz proposed that Jenna might work on his car in his garage, and she agreed.

Fun Fact I Just Made Up: In a recent poll, 32% of voters thought the Iowa Caucuses were a country located near the former Soviet Georgia.

So we’re going out last Saturday night, and I get a call from Blitz asking if I could come by and pick ’em both up there at his house, and I’m OK with that, because with two drinks in a night being a big evening for me I’m more or less a permanent designated driver.

I was wondering how it was going with the car, and what I saw was stunning: the upper half of the engine was sitting in the living room, entirely disassembled. There were rockers and rods and all kinds of stuff there, neatly arranged for easy reassembly, and it looked like they had really put a lot of effort into the thing, but it was clear that they just couldn’t get it quite figured out…which isn’t surprising, considering it was the first time for both of them.

And you could see, in just that first second, that the two of them were some kind of frustrated. But it gets worse: Blitz told me that this was her third “diagnosis”, and that, now that she was actually face-to-face with a real car, she seemed to be entirely confused about exactly what to do.

Apparently things had gone so bad that Jenna wouldn’t even leave his house at night to go home until she could get things figured out…and, from what he’s telling me, he’s ready to throw her out, buy a different car, and get that car fixed by a mechanic who’s been there and done that – a lot.

To put it another way, he’s ready to dump his virgin mechanic…for a slut.

Now here’s the really crazy part of the story: I’ve had a bit of experience with cars breaking down over time, and I knew what was wrong from the beginning, as many of you probably did, too: the starter was bad – and that’s located on the very bottom of the engine, not the top, which means everything they’d been doing was pretty much pointless.

But I couldn’t tell them that in the beginning…because, again, it would’ve just spoiled the experience…and I sure wasn’t gonna say “I told you so” now…so even though I could have offered them both useful advice about how ignorance ain’t bliss, they surely didn’t want to hear it.

So look, folks, we could have a lot more fun following out this comic premise, but there’s a bigger point: I don’t want a virgin mechanic, and surely not a virgin doctor – and they don’t even allow virgin pilots to carry passengers.

What is it about sex (and politics, for that matter) that makes people think they’ll be able to simply “get it” with no experience at all? What is it that makes them think that celebrating their own ignorance is the best way to show they’re ready to take on something that, frankly, requires a bit of trial…and error…before you really get it right?

I don’t know the answer, but the next time someone tells you how their ignorance makes them a lot smarter about something, do me a favor and think about Blitz and Jenna and the Dream Car – and the living room full of engine parts – and if that person’s running for office, run the other way. Quickly.

I’d appreciate it; so will you – and if I know Blitz, he will, too.

Does God send natural disasters as punishment?

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Congress Passes Trade Deals while Families Suffer

A blog post by Mark Price, originally published at Third and State.

Unemployment in most places is higher than it has been in decades, and worse still unemployment rates have started rising again as private-sector job growth has stalled and the public sector continues to shed jobs. The economy needs a boost, but Congress is making no progress towards passing a jobs bill. You might be tempted to think Congress can agree on nothing. Well, it depends on what you mean by nothing.

The economic benefits are projected to be small (blogger’s note: even according to people whose models capture gains from trade but not the downside). A federal agency estimated in 2007 that the impact on employment would be ‘negligible’ and that the deals would increase gross domestic product by about $14.4 billion, or roughly 0.1 percent.

This 112th Congress is building a solid record of having a negligible effect on employment. Meanwhile, back in the real world, a story that just breaks your heart.

What [Chelsea] Hines wants most are answers – and the confidence that one day she would be able to support a family.

Hines, the Drexel Hill camper, graduated from high school in June and now works in a pizza parlor, hoping she can get enough financial aid to attend Delaware County Community College.

She turns over half her earnings to her family – two working parents, and two brothers, 20 and 13.

The 20-year-old was laid off from a job in a lumber yard. Her father, a news junkie, earned a journalism degree in college and drives a truck. Her mother works as a school secretary, moonlighting as a hairdresser.

‘It’s not enough,’ Hines said. ‘It’s never enough.’

They lost their home to foreclosure. Now they live in a rental home down the street.

‘A lady came and locked the door of our house,’ Hines said. ‘It was a very saddening experience to have a stranger tell me that I can’t live in my home. I walk by it every day. There’s a padlock on the door and nobody lives there.

‘I don’t understand why my parents, who both have jobs, can’t afford to live in a rowhouse,’ she said.

On Protecting The Innocent, Or, Is There A Death Penalty Compromise?

I don’t feel very good about this country this morning, and as so many of us are I’m thinking of how Troy Davis was hustled off this mortal coil by the State of Georgia without a lot of thought of what it means to execute the innocent.

And given the choice, I’d rather see us abandon the death penalty altogether, for reasons that must, at this moment, seem self-evident; that said, it’s my suspicion that a lot of states are not going to be in any hurry to abandon their death penalties anytime soon now that they know the Supreme Court will allow the innocent to be murdered.

So what if there was a way to create a compromise that balanced the absolute need to protect the innocent with the feeling among many Americans that, for some crimes, we absolutely have to impose the death penalty?

Considering the circumstances, it’s not going to be an easy subject, but let’s give it a try, and see what we can do.

Let’s Fix An Error Dept.: Apologies are in order, because in our last story we identified The Riverside Church in Manhattan as the place where George Carlin learned to be Catholic – and that could not have been more incorrect.  Bad research was the culprit here, and it’s something that we’ll obviously be working to improve. So, once again: sorry, and my bad.

Now if all the states want to limit the imposition of the death penalty to just the guilty (and after what we just saw in Georgia, that’s no longer 100% certain), one way you could do it would be to make it a lot harder to prove guilt – and that’s what we have in mind for today’s proposal.

As you may recall, we convict today with a “burden of proof” that is described as “guilt beyond a reasonable doubt”; as we now know, it is possible to prove guilt, beyond a reasonable doubt, even when there’s a whole lot of reasonable doubt to be found.

In Davis’ case, he was given a chance on appeal to prove his innocence, and despite this conclusion from the Judge hearing the case…

“Ultimately, while Mr. Davis’s new evidence casts some additional, minimal doubt on his conviction, it is largely smoke and mirrors…”

…Davis was still executed.

So the way I would get at this problem would be to change the burden of proof in these cases: if you want to execute someone who is facing an aggravated murder or other capital charge, instead of “guilt beyond a reasonable doubt”, I would require “guilt beyond all doubt”.

If you can’t get to guilt beyond all doubt, but you can prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, then you could impose no sentence harsher than life without parole.

If this proposal had been in effect in Davis’ case, there could have been no execution after he argued that he was denied the effective assistance of counsel, because that would have erased “all doubt”; after that he would have had the rest of his life to demonstrate that he was wrongly convicted.

There are going to be a few reasons people might not like this proposal, and I’ll try to address some of them briefly:

Right off the bat, many will complain that because of the new burden of proof it will be virtually impossible to have executions at all; I would tell those folks that if that were to occur…then the system is working. The entire purpose of this plan is to make executions an extraordinarily rare occurrence and to move just about everyone on Death Rows nationwide to a “life without parole” future.

Beyond that, many will say that capital punishment is morally unacceptable under any circumstances, and to those folks I would respond that y’all make a pretty good point…but at the moment there are a lot of Americans who do not hold that moral position – and they have strong feelings too – and unless we can move them to a different point of view, then the best chance we have to prevent the innocent from being executed is to find some sort of compromise like this one.

(Don’t believe me about that “strong feelings” thing? How many of the readers here would be OK with the death penalty for Osama Bin Laden, if he were proved “beyond all doubt” to have been the person behind 9/11?)

A similar line of thought is expressed in the idea that we are seeing more and more voters who do oppose capital punishment, and with a bit of patience, this problem will go away.

After what happened to Troy Davis, I think there’s more urgency now than there was in times past, and that’s because we now see that at least one State will quickly kill a prisoner in order to “clear the case”, suggesting to me that patience is not as good an option as it was before.

Finally, I suspect many will feel that the effort to pass a proposal like this one would distract from the effort to end the death penalty, which is, again, a pretty good argument.

To those folks I would respond that we may get some states to end the death penalty today, but there are a lot of other states that are not going to want to give up the death penalty for some time to come (remember the people who cheered Rick Perry’s execution record?), and if we aren’t going to be able to end the death penalty completely, then I think we have to offer some sort of compromise; a compromise based on the concepts of “killing the innocent isn’t The American Way” or “you could still execute Osama” could appeal to voters who simply won’t give up on the death penalty altogether.

So that’s what we have for you today: even though I personally would prefer that we end the death penalty and just go to life without parole for all these crimes, I don’t think we’re going to achieve that in a lot of states; with that in mind I’m proposing a compromise that would protect the innocent by ending virtually all executions, even as it allows an extraordinarily difficult to reach exception that could satisfy those who absolutely do not want to see the application of the death penalty come to an end.

It’s an imperfect compromise, I’ll admit – but in a big ol’ swath of America that runs from roughly Florida to Idaho, it may be the best compromise we can make right now, and right now, in those places, that might have to be good enough.

Entirely Off The Subject Dept.: We are still trying to get signatures for the petition to change the name of Manhattan’s W 121st St (one block from Seminary Row) to George Carlin Street, and we need your help; you can sign right here. The goal is to reach 10,000 signatures by Monday, so…get to it.

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