Monday, June 26, 2017

The AHCA is Making Me Sick

I’m sorry I skipped a post last week.  I was at an Orioles game on Monday night and just never got back on track to write.  Tuesday I took delivery of my new 55” Ultra-HD TV, so I needed to sit and play with THAT all night. 
Scarlett Johanssen makes any TV look great.

Then I had jury duty on Wednesday, after which I was too worn out from sitting still, to write anything meaningful.
(Once again, I didn’t get seated on a jury.  I was called in with the first group of the day, but after 2 freakin’ hours of questioning jurors, they filled the jury (and 3 alternate spots) before they got to me.

I was just worried that I was going to get stuck as an alternate again, where you sit through the whole trial but are then dismissed if all 12 jurors are still around.  I termed the resulting condition of hearing all the evidence by being kept from doing any adjudicating, “Judicial Blue Balls.”  I don’t recommend it.)

Since I’ve been away, the Senate has excreted its version of the House health care bill.  Written by 13 white men, squirreled away in secret, it is every bit as oppressive as the House bill.  The CBO report came out this afternoon, stating 22 million people will lose their insurance, including 15 million by the end of next year.

This whole thing stinks from top to bottom, from the process to the result.

The Republicans have shown, once again, that they are immune to shame or charges of hypocrisy, by writing the bill in secret, limiting access, and then attempting to pass it with zero hearings and insufficient scrutiny.  You know… all the things they charged the Democrats with doing on the ACA, except the Dems had dozens of hearings and it took months to move their bill through Congress. 

In a nutshell, Republicans charged their opponents with terrible things that they didn’t actually do, and then they did all of those things themselves.  That’s hypocrisy.  Really, that’s worse.  That’s lies on top of hypocrisy.  But why quibble?  They know that no one will care by the time we have the next elections.

Both House and Senate bills have proved to be vastly unpopular with American voters.  As such, one might think that would impel our Congressmen to scrap such a hated idea.  But one would be wrong because Republican’s don’t give a rat’s ass what the American voters think.  They only care what the Koch Brothers think, along with the other filthy rich donors who keep their re-election campaigns flush with cash.

And the Koch Brothers want the massive tax cut that goes with the ACA repeal, so that’s what they’ll get.  It’s really that simple.

So far, a couple of Senators have declared that they can’t support this bill.  Some think the bill goes too far, others don’t think it went far enough.  But it doesn’t matter because it’s all completely for show.

Those who think it goes too far, have to say that because they’re in tough re-election fights and have to appear responsive to the Will of the People.  As with the House version, a few amendments or adjustments will be tacked on that sound good but solve very little, and these brave legislators will fold and fall back into line as they’re told to do.  I would expect two pre-chosen holdouts because two is all they can afford to lose.  There are 52 Republican senators and the GOP wins a 50-50 tie, with VP Pence casting the winning vote.  It will be very good theater.

Last time it was Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska who got the honors of appearing principled.  Maybe it will be someone else’s turn this time.

On the other side of the GOP holdouts, you have the mirrored problem.  Two of these guys are from the deepest of red states, (Texas, Utah) whose citizens have been fooled into thinking the ACA is some kind of Commie plot.  So, their senators also must appear to support the Will of the People and hold out for a more draconian bill.

Make no mistake, they will vote for passage too because they will shoulder significant blame if the ACA is left standing because of their abstention.  And by that, I mean blame from the Koch Brothers, not their constituents.  The Koch Brothers want their tax cut, period.  The rest is just details.

With the intense heat coming down on the GOP, you can see how hard they stick to their guns.  They are willing to take an incredible amount of bad press in order to financially fellate the 1-percenters.  To paraphrase the great sage James T Kirk, “The needs of the 1 (percent) outweighs the needs of the many.”  And they know they are bullet proof. 

The next time the key senators have to run for re-election, they know that all that Koch money will be used to manufacture some “outrage” issue which can be used to deflect attention away from their fat cat pandering.  

And in the House?  Forget about it.  The last couple special elections have shown that GOP seats are so well gerrymandered, they can survive amid huge opposition money streams.  They’re bulletproof as well. 

So the rest of us can hold all the protests we want and write letters all day and all night, march mile after mile, and blog furiously into the night, but it won’t make a lick of difference. 

Sure, with a concerted effort, plus increased attention and a lot of dough, maybe Democrats can flip a few Senate seats in 2020.  (Only a couple Republican senators are up for re-election in 2018.) 

But the only effective course of action is to play the long game, like the Republicans did, and pack state and local governments with progressive people.  Then maybe we can change some of those congressional boundaries the Republicans are going to court to defend.  And THEN, we can think about taking back the House of Representatives. 

But until that happens, all we can do is howl from the cheap seats while the press leaps at every distraction thrown their way.  Meanwhile, conservatives will work on what they do best, conserving their own power and directing the money trough upward, back to their corporate benefactors.

And if you think that’s cynical, I just had another thought.  Perhaps the Republicans know that every person who dies because they can’t get subsidized insurance is just one more opposition vote they no longer have to overcome.  If gerrymandering doesn’t work, they’ll win through attrition.

It’s like what the Reagan Administration said when gay men and drug users were dying at the onset of the AIDs epidemic… “It’s not like we’re losing “our” people…”

You know, because they’re the Family Values party and that’s what Jesus would do.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Odd Bits – The Batman and Batsmen Edition

Every couple of years, the Pittsburgh Pirates play a couple of games here in Baltimore, against the Orioles.  These are my two favorite teams so I always go see a couple of games from the series.  (This year they play two here, a Tuesday and Wednesday, and then two in the Burgh, in September.)

While you see me reference the Orioles more frequently, due to my proximity to Camden Yards, I still consider the Buccos my favorite team.  The black and gold runs deep.  And given that I have three different Pirates game jerseys and precious little chance to wear them, I had to take advantage of the opportunity.

I went to the Tuesday game by myself, although I met Sitcom Kelly and her Sitcom Mother and Sister, for pre-game beers.  But they were sitting under the deck to the right of home.  I had a seat 14 rows behind the Pirates’ dugout.  
The view from Section 52.

As such, there were a good many Pirates fans around me.  I ended up talking to one guy from Pittsburgh who was there with his family.

Pirates first baseman John Jaso tossed the kid a ball when coming off the field. 
John Jaso

I could have had a shot at it but Dad had me boxed out.  (Don’t judge… the kid will probably lose it down a sewer somewhere.)

So about halfway through the game, the Dad gets a message that we were both just on TV, on the Pittsburgh local broadcast.  I thought that might happen.  The local production likes to find their fans with the team on the road, and I was sitting in a cluster of them. 

Then whoever was watching the TV feed took a screen shot and sent it.  I had him text it to me, and voila.  Here I am on TV again

While I am talking to the Man in the Yellow Hat, that does not give you license to call me Curious George.

Pirates took a 2 run lead into the 9th, but the O’s tied it on Jonathan Schoop’s 2nd HR of the night…

I couldn’t complain; it was a heck of a game.

The next night, Sweetpea came with me.  We had seats in the club level, looking down the first baseline.
Our view from Section 244.

We chilled there for a couple of innings before going back to forage for food.  As we walked around, we ran right into my brother and his friends, talking to my brother-in-law from Cincinnati and his friends.  I knew they were both going to be there, but I was waiting for my brother to give me the high sign to join him in his company suite and figured I’d triangulate w/ the BIL at that point.  So they beat me to it.  We hung out and chilled there for a while and then watched the end of the game from the suite.
Sweet view from the Suite.  And it looks even better with a couple of crab cakes on your plate.

This time, the Pirates gave up a 4-run lead in the bottom of the 9th.  The O’s tied it on a homer by rookie, (and Sweetpea’s favorite player) Trey Mancini, and won it in the 11th on another Mancini HR.

While the endings didn’t go my way, both games were wildly entertaining.  No complaints from me.  Now I’m back to “Let’s Go O’s!”

Dimming the Bat Signal
It was with a great nostalgic sadness that I learned of the passing of Adam West, TV’s venerable Batman, from the campy 60s series.

I say it’s campy now, but at the time, when I was in early grade school, that shit was deadly serious.  Every afternoon, my brother and I would race home to see who the big villain was this week, or how Batman and Robin were going to get out of diabolical deathtrap in which they were ensnared.  When the show was over, we’d run outside to relive the episode, sometimes with our “official” bat capes and masks, sometimes with a dish towel tucked into our collars.
It wasn’t until I watched some of the episodes again, as an adult, that I saw how genuinely funny it was.  There was so much stuff I missed.

For example, in one episode, the police were questioning a bad buy in an empty room, save for one giant un-shaded light over the crook’s head.  On the wall, there was a sign by the switch: “SUBTLE INTERROGATION LIGHT.”

I’m happy that Mr. West made peace with his caped alter-ego, and was a regular at comic conventions and the like.  I’m sure he knew that his continuing safety was paramount to a legion of dish-toweled little kids like me.
Goodbye, Batman.  A grateful nation thanks you!

The Pen-Ultimate Series
So, what was it that happened last night?  Oh yeah, the Pittsburgh Penguins won the mudda fuckin’ Stanley Cup for the 5th time!  Holy crap!

But I have to start the story from last Thursday night.

I’d been having some trouble with my TV lately.  When I was watching Game 4 of the finals, all of a sudden the picture started freezing with a kind of strobe effect.  It made the screen appear like it was bleached out.  There was no depth or richness to the color.  It was annoying but I eventually “fixed” it by turning it off and on a few times.  That worked for the rest of the game and it stayed fixed throughout the week, and even during the day on Thursday, when I had the Comey hearing on.

(I was going to write some stuff about that, but what more is there to say at this point?  The Republicans just want to pretend President 45 was vindicated, claim vindication and move on.  So what else is new?)

Anyway, when I put the game on Thursday night, the problem returned, and turning the TV off and on didn’t do anything this time.  I was forced to watch the game like I was looking through a gauzy linen.  And that was a shame because this was the first game of the series where the Pens looked like themselves, winning 6-0.

Through the process of elimination, I determined that this was a problem with the TV, and not the network or the cable. 

I’d been poring over new TV models for the last couple years.  I got my TV, my first flat screen, a 46” Samsung, in 2009, just in time to watch the Pens win their third Cup.  With the way the tech has advanced since then, I've been longing for an upgrade, but you know how it is… I had a perfectly good TV and other things to replace kept arising.  (Washer, dryer, car, bedroom TV…)  I couldn’t justify the expense.

AND, if and when I join forces with Sweetpea, she already has an extremely nice TV.  I was planning on just ditching mine when the time came.

But now, my luck had just run out.  I’d have to replace the TV and there was no way I was going to get one delivered before Sunday.  (Yes, I know I could have just gone and bought one from whatever was in stock, but I A) wanted someone to set up the remote, B) set up the Wi-Fi (because this would be my first “smart TV”), C) take the old TV away.)

I went out to my local Best Buy on Saturday afternoon and made the purchase; a Samsung 7000 series 55” Smart TV.  And as I figured, it can’t be delivered until next week.

As I’ve written before, I’ve been spending my weekends with Sweetpea, but I’ve always come back home on Sunday night, before the start of the work week.  So if I were to watch the game at her place, I could either come home very late or just stay over another night.

Easy call.  I just had to bring clothes for work on Monday and decide on game attire.

For away games, I’ve been wearing my newest white Malkin #71 jersey, but the Penguins lost the last three times.  I felt it was time to do something daring, so I eschewed wearing any jersey and went with an old Pens t-shirt… the one I wore during Game 7 of the 2009 Cup Finals when the Pens won the Stanley Cup vs Detroit.
 It had a reliable recent history too because I’d also worn it during the Blue Jackets series when watching an away game at Sweetpea’s house, and the Pens won. 

So, it worked out, but damn if it wasn’t stressful.  As the score remained 0-0 throughout the 3rd period, I just kept thinking, “Please not overtime, please not overtime…”   Sweetpea had already gone to bed so it was only me there, living and dying on every shot.

Then, as you may know, Patrick Hornqvist knocked in a bank shot off the back of the goalie with a minute and a half left in the game.  I celebrated as loud as I could, without waking up the rest of the house.  Startled the hell out of the dog, though.

And that was all she wrote… the Pens added an empty netter but the result was already locked in.  My Penguins are the first team to repeat as Stanley Cup champions since 1998.
In retrospect, it was good that I was watching the game alone.  Watching the Pens skate the Cup always turns me into a sloppy mess, especially when it’s this guy’s turn.
Le Magnifique.

Congratulations to Sid, Geno, Phil, Flower, Murray, Kuny, and all the “kids.”  Great season.  Another amazing coaching job from Mike Sullivan. 

And as my nephew texted me, “Suddenly games in DC just became much easier to go to.”

Monday, June 5, 2017

Odd Bits - The Environmental Edition

Once again, President 45 has isolated our country from the rest of the civilized (and even the UN-civilized) world but moving to pull out of the Paris accord to fight climate change.  Every country in the entire world, including North Korea, all the crooked South American regimes, all the oil-ocracies in the Middle East, all the crazy warlord-ridden African nations, all of them except Syria and Nicaragua, have signed onto the accord.

Sources say that one of the reasons he pulled out is to seek revenge on the European countries who didn’t sufficiently kiss his ass last week during the G7 meetings, especially France, whose new boy-leader dared to engage in a handshake-as-bigger-dick contest with him.  Apparently, Marcon had advanced warning about Trump’s inclination to use handshakes from world leaders a means to express his own dominance, by pulling them toward him as the other man is letting go.  So French guy beat Trump at his own game and now he’s so butt-stung, he’s delivering a giant F-U to Europe, the world, and anyone else who doesn’t want to see the world turn into a Martian landscape.

Personally, I don’t think that was an over-riding reason Trump pulled out… I think it’s more like the gravy.  You know, it’s a small added bonus to stick it to some people who didn’t suck up enough, especially not compared to the Saudis.  The Middle East portion of his trip featured massive ego stroking.  You have to hand it to those dictatorial autocracies; they really know how to spit-shine an ego.  And all they got in return was a massive arms deal.

So now our “leader” is praising ruthless royal families and nutso dictators while insulting and quarreling with our most faithful allies.

There it is… Isolationism: The Millennial Edition

Now, I’m not going to get into the facts and figures, hypotheses and counter-hypotheses of climate change.  To everyone in the civilized world, except Republicans, the science is clear. 

The thing that made it clear for me is the graphic on this link.  Here, it shows the progression of average global temperature from 20,000 BC until today.  When climate critics claim that we’re just undergoing a natural cycle, like the planet has experienced before, you can see how full of shit they are.  These “cycles” are gradual increases and decreases that played out over thousands of years.  Nowhere in history has there ever been a jump in temperatures like we’ve experienced in the last 100 years. Or even the last 16.

But because Republicans are bought and paid for by the fossil fuel industry, they are forced to call the sky green and the grass blue and throw as much crap at the wall as possible to refute accepted scientific findings.  All because big business doesn’t want to spend money on anything that doesn’t positively impact their bottom line in the next quarter. 
It doesn’t matter if the planet burns up, or the coastline moves miles inland, they must protect their stockholders, right.  (And by extension, the executives whose bonuses are tied to profits and stock price.)  Granted, they may have been swept out to sea but more stock for the rest! 

London Bridges
After yet another terrorist attack in London, our tweet-happy president took the opportunity to politicize another country’s tragedy by applying our country’s politics to it.

First, he took the London mayor’s “Don’t be alarmed” comment completely out of context, you know, the way Fox “News” does every day.

The tweet:

The actual quote from the mayor: “Londoners will see an increased police presence today and over the course of the next few days,” Khan said on BBC. “No reason to be alarmed.”

See, this is why Fox “News” and the Republicans who fall in with them are frauds.  The “No reason to be alarmed” part was about a separate subject, the police presence, not the likelihood of further attacks.

Trump knew the difference… they all know the difference, but they don’t care.  He knows his base will believe him without question and an even greater number won’t read any further than the headlines or the lone tweet.  So he gets to reinforce his prejudicial viewpoint, the truth be damned.

And if you’ve paid attention over the last year, “truth” is irrelevant in conservative politics.

The other tweet was just as odd:

Maybe he’s right about this one because we SHOULD be having a gun debate, even though the terrorists didn’t use guns.  Because there’s a reason for that!

Seven people died in the London Bridge incident, which is tragic, but you can bet the death toll would have been much higher if guns were as easy to obtain in England as they are in the US.

There were reports of one guy fending off the terrorists by throwing a restaurant table and chair at them.  Think that’s going to happen if the bad guys were wielding semi-automatic weapons rather than cutlery?

If they had guns, they could have mowed down dozens in mere seconds.  Knives and motor vehicles aren’t nearly as efficient.  So no, the argument is not to ban knives and trucks, like conservatives pretend liberals should want to do; it’s to double the efforts to remove access to semi-automatic rifles.

Seven families have to grieve for their loved ones, taken too soon and that’s terrible.  But that’s better than dozens of families… or hundreds.   

It’s plain and simple: England’s restrictive gun policy saved lives.  But better we have all that “freedom,” to offset our massive death toll, right?