Breaking pledges

Republican lawmakers are bailing on the formal pledge they made not to vote for a tax increase.

Grover Norquist’s anti-tax pledge has been a sacred and unchallenged keystone of the Republican platform for more than two decades, playing a central role in almost every budget battle in Congress since 1986. But Norquist and his pledge, signed by 95 percent of congressional Republicans, are now in danger of becoming Washington relics as more and more defectors inch toward accepting tax increases to avert the “fiscal cliff.”

On Monday, Sen. Bob Corker (Tenn.) became the latest in a handful of prominent Republican lawmakers to take to the airwaves in recent days and say they are willing to break their pledge to oppose all tax increases.

“I’m not obligated on the pledge,” Corker told CBS’s Charlie Rose. “I made Tennesseans aware, I was just elected, the only thing I’m honoring is the oath I take when I serve when I’m sworn in this January.”

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) also suggested Monday that Norquist’s anti-tax pledge would not dictate the GOP’s strategy on the fiscal cliff, raising questions across Washington about whether Norquist’s ironclad hold on the Republican Party has loosened. . . .

Even House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) expressed dismay with Norquist’s pledge and his role in the GOP at the time. . . .

Last November, 100 House members, 40 of them Republicans, wrote a letter to Congress’s deficit-reduction “supercommittee” urging it to consider all options — a vague pronouncement that, at least in theory, endorsed tax increases forbidden by Norquist. A number of House members, including freshman Rep. Scott Rigell (R-Va.), said openly that they no longer felt bound by the pledge they had signed when running for office. Rigell was reelected this month. . . .

And now, with severe cuts in line if Congress doesn’t reach a deal on the fiscal cliff, coming to an agreement is paramount. Analysts have a hard time forecasting a deal that doesn’t include tax increases — especially after President Obama won reelection, having run in large part on letting tax cuts for the wealthy expire.

Some Republicans are bowing to that version of reality. Over the weekend and on Monday, Sens. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.), Saxby Chambliss (Ga.) and Corker (Tenn.), along with Rep. Peter T. King (N.Y.), said they would be willing to violate the pledge under the right circumstances.

via Will the fiscal cliff break Grover Norquist’s hold on Republicans? – The Washington Post.

Now I can agree that it is foolish to bind oneself in a pledge like this.  There may well be a time when it is in the republic’s interest to raise taxes.  Perhaps this is such a time.  But it is still highly unethical to violate one’s word.  (And how about Scott Rigell not feeling bound by the pledge because he made it while running for office?  As if campaign promises, by definition, don’t need to be kept!)

But if lawmakers no longer believe in what they once pledged, they still are obliged to keep that pledge.   The honorable course of action would be to resign their office so that their governor can appoint someone who has not made the pledge.

Communist official wins Nobel Prize for Literature

Two years ago, Chinese author Liu Xiaobo won the Nobel Prize for Literature, but he was not allowed to leave the country to receive it and is currently in jail for opposing the Communist government.  This year another Chinese author won the prize, Mo Yan, who is no dissident.  From Indian journalist Preetam Kauschik:

In 2010 the Chinese Dragon virtually breathed fire when the Nobel Prize for Literature was given to dissident Liu Xiaobo, who is serving an 11-year sentence for his pro-democracy views. Officials in China went into a fit of rage. They summoned the Swedish ambassador in Beijing for a dressing down. China issued a statement that the award could jeopardize relations between the two countries.

However, 2012 saw a more cheerful face of the Dragon when the Swedish Academy gave the Nobel Prize for Literature to Mo Yan, who is an important member of the ruling Communist Party of China. Official networks went viral with the news to celebrate Mo’s triumph. This time the liberal world stomped its feet in anger and anguish. . . .

Liao Yiwu, a close friend of Liu and a celebrated Chinese writer living in exile in Germany, was stunned by the Swedish Academy’s decision to honour Mo. He was upset with having to see Liu and Mo on the same page. He told Der Spiegel, “Mo Yan… is a state poet. I am utterly bewildered. Do these universal values not exist after all? Are they so arbitrary that a Nobel Prize can be awarded to someone behind bars and stripped of their rights one year and another year to someone in the service of the very people who put people behind bars and strip them of their rights?”

Liao is not alone in attacking the Swedish Academy for picking Mo for the literary honor. Almost the entire liberal establishment was as stunned as Liao. But the Academy stuck to its guns.

A Swedish Academy member defended Nobel Prize in Literature-winner Mo Yan, saying the Chinese novelist’s win “has nothing to do with politics, friendship or luck.” Goran Malmqvist, a sinologist and one of the 18 members of the Swedish Academy, told Xinhua that he felt irritated at media accusations against Mo.

The critics, however, insisted that the decision was flawed. They said that as a member of the Communist Party of China and vice president of the China Writers Association Mo did not qualify for the award. . . .

But the most astounding fact is that since 2000 the prestigious award has gone to three Chinese writers. Gao Xingjian, a Chinese dissident living in exile in France, was the first to receive the Nobel for Literature in 2000. A decade later Liu became the second Chinese to receive this award. And now Mo.

via Preetam Kaushik: The Dragon Goes Gangnam: China Celebrates the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Another winner of the prize, Herta Mueller, who survived communism in Romania, is protesting this year’s award, saying that Mo Ya is a defender of censorship.

I haven’t read any of this writer’s works, but I have no problem with the possibility that one of the greatest writers in the world is a Communist, an enemy of the freedom of the press, or otherwise someone who possesses a twisted ideology oris a bad person.   Mo Ya would hardly be the first good author–or Nobel Prize winner–with noxious ideas.  In fact, having noxious ideas may be an occupational hazard of the profession.   It is Romanticism that assumed that good writing is not just a craft but an expression of a noble soul.  Thus we have the cult of the artist.  In the world of the fine arts, art is sometimes defined as whatever an artist does.  (One exhibition consisted of displays of the artist’s bowel movements.)  Such idolatry of the artist trivializes art.

And yet, some ideologies are intrinsically harmful to good art and good literature.  Marxism is one of them.  The insistence that individual uniqueness is a bourgeois trait and that people exist only as members of a social class inevitably results in characters that are stereotypes.  Not only that, authors who create highly-individualized characters–a mark of good fiction–are generally condemned and even persecuted for their anti-revolutionary bourgeois tendencies, something enforced by the “writers’ unions,” of the sort that Mo Ya leads.  This is why, in the former Soviet Union, artists who were original, who tried to achieve aesthetic rather than political effects, who wanted to try something different than the one officially required style of “socialist realism,”  or showed other signs of being good artists nearly all found themselves in opposition to the Communist regime.

What most bothers me about this award is that the world’s literary establishment has evidently lost its distaste for totalitarianism.  As the world is more and more attracted to the “China Model”–economic dynamism + authoritarian government–the allure of democracy and freedom may be waning.  The assumption has been that free markets will beget free societies and democratic governments, but we now know that is not the case.  Money is the opiate of the people.  And that bodes ill, and not just for literature.

Puerto Rico votes for statehood

For the first time, the citizens of Puerto Ric0 voted to become the 51st state in the United States of America.  This can’t happen without Congressional action, but a referendum in the American territory went for statehood after Puerto Ricans voted it down in 1967, 1993, and 1998.

The vote was 61% for statehood, with 46% for maintaining the status quo.  Only 6% voted for out-and-out independence.

via Puerto Ricans favor statehood for first time – CNN.com.

President Obama owes Hispanics big time for his re-election.  Would this be a fitting award/symbolic gesture?  Republicans are seeing the need to attract more Hispanic voters.  Might they be hesitant to oppose statehood, even though this might mean two more Democratic senators?

Would you support Puerto Rico becoming a state?

Evangelicals vs. ‘Country Club’ Republicans

The Republican party and “conservatives” in general are far from monolithic.  There are different kinds of Republicans and different kinds of conservatives (social conservatives, fiscal conservatives, evangelicals, libertarians, neo-cons, paleo-cons, crunchy-cons, etc., etc.).  The main division in the Grand Old Party is between Republicans motivated by their faith and concerned with issues such as abortion–a group that is more populist and varied in income–and the so-called “Country Club Republicans” motivated by business interests, as in the Democrats’ stereotype of Republicans as being the party of the wealthy.  The Country Clubbers are blaming “evangelicals” for giving the party a bad image, but the “evangelicals” are blaming the Country Clubbers.  From Paul Stanley:

Leading evangelicals are pushing back hard against charges that social issues are weakening the GOP brand, asserting that the nation is rejecting the rich GOP “country club” image more than retreating on moral issues.

Over the past several decades, the Republican Party has primarily been formed along two major philosophical lines. The first are conservatives who not only want government to live within its means, but care deeply about social issues such as abortion and traditional marriage. The second group is more moderate in its views. Often referred to as “country-club” Republicans, they are mainly business types who care more about fiscal issues and try to avoid social issues at all costs.

Of course there are many that fall in between the two groups, and the distance between the two seems to grow farther by the day.

Bob Vander Plaats heads up The Family Leader, a pro-family group in Iowa that plays a key role in screening presidential wannabes when they come calling on the Hawkeye State.

“The moderates have had their candidate in 2008 and they had their candidate in 2012. And they got crushed in both elections,” Vander Plaats told The Washington Post. “Now they tell us we have to keep moderating. If we do that, we will win?”

Yet somehow the moderates look to their socially conscious brethren and blame them for the abortion gaffes of Senate candidates Rep. Todd Akin of Missouri and Indiana’s Richard Mourdock. . . .

And lest we forget, the Tea Party members fall into both camps but may tend to take an even harder stance on fiscal issues.Pam Wohlschlegel is the Florida State Coordinator for the Tea Party Patriots and describes herself as a fiscally conservative socially moderate. She is a Christian and Hispanic.

“Most tea partiers do not want to touch social issues,” Wohlschlegel told The Christian Post. “It’s not a topic we embrace because that is not what brought us together. When we get on social issues we allow liberals to define us. They turn a religious freedom issue into an issue by saying Republicans don’t like contraceptives. We should have been more forthright by saying that contraceptives weren’t the issue. Instead, it was about chemical abortions.”

via Evangelicals to ‘Country Club’ GOPers: Social Issues Aren’t Problem, You Are.

Did Mitt Romney fail to attract a majority of voters because he was was too militant in opposing abortion and gay marriage or because he represented “big money”?  Didn’t he downplay those social issues?  Before the Republicans lost with Romney, they lost with John McCain.   The point about tea partiers playing down social issues is also important, despite the way Democrats caricature this movement.

So should the Republicans emphasize social issues next time, or would that just be yet another way to lose?

The rooster crisis

What with the locavore movement, the organic food craze, survivalism, and the need to pinch pennies, lots of people have started raising chickens.  Even in big cities and suburbia.  Here in the D.C. area, counties and municipalities have revised local ordinances to allow chicken coops in back yards.  I salute those ventures.  But if you breed chickens, you are going to wind up with some males of the species.  Roosters don’t lay eggs; they aren’t cute enough to serve as pets; they tend to be mean; they fight if there are more than one of them; and–worst of all for city dwellers–they crow really loud early in the morning.  So now animal rescue agencies, animal control centers, and the Humane Society are getting overwhelmed by people bringing in roosters.

See Backyard chicken boom produces fowl result: Unwanted roosters – The Washington Post.

I think it’s great that people want to be farmers.  But if you are going to be a farmer, if only on a microscopic scale, you’ve got to think and act like a farmer.  What has been done with unneeded roosters, from time immemorial, is to eat them!

In the immortal words of Stephen Foster, referring to Susanna,”We will kill the old red rooster when she comes, when she comes.”  And then the next verse, “We will have chicken ‘n’ dumplings when she comes.”  [Sorry!  It isn’t Susanna or Stephen Foster.  As Todd points out in the comments, “She’ll Be Comin’ ‘Round the Mountain” is a completely different song.]  That last point acknowledges that roosters can be tough and so need to be stewed, but they can still be very delicious, and wound count as local, organic, homegrown food too.

I do understand the problem of squeamishness in wringing necks and chopping off heads–something that seems not to have been a problem with our forebears, however gentle and mild-mannered in other parts of their lives (I remember accounts of my sainted grandmother twisting the heads off of chickens)–but this could be an opportunity for a revival of another classic profession that would be local and a humane alternative to the factory-scale meat industry:  namely, the local butcher.

 

More Obamacare rules

Now that Obamacare has passed the hurdles of the Supreme Court and Obama’s re-election, there is a mad scramble to make the necessary preparations before the health care program goes into effect in 2014.  The government is adding more requirements of what health insurance companies will have to cover while also allowing them to charge higher deductibles.

The Obama administration proposed new rules Tuesday that would loosen some of the 2010 health-care law’s mandates on insurers while tightening others.

Certain health plans, for instance, would be able to charge customers higher deductibles than originally allowed under the legislation. But all plans would be required to cover a larger selection of drugs than under an earlier approach outlined by the administration.

Similarly, the law permits insurers to set their premiums for tobacco users 1.5 times higher than those for non-smokers. But insurers wouldn’t be allowed to impose the surcharge on smokers enrolled in smoking-cessation programs.

The changes were included in the fine print of three regulations the Department of Health and Human Services proposed to flesh out key parts of the statute. For the most part, the regulations — which will be open for comment until Dec. 26 — would simply codify mandates in the law or in earlier administration guidance.

Those policies include a prohibition on insurers denying coverage to people with preexisting medical conditions. They also limit how much plans can vary rates based on, for example, a person’s age. Most provisions will take effect in 2014.

But Tuesday’s proposals also included a few significant tweaks.

The suggestion to grant insurers greater flexibility in setting deductibles, for example, reflected concerns that health plans would have a hard time meeting the law’s original requirements.

Specifically, the legislation prohibits plans sold to small businesses from setting deductibles higher than $2,000 for individuals and $4,000 for families. But the law also limits how big a share of total health-care expenses must be paid out of pocket by individuals or families, including through co-pays and co-insurance.

Insurers have complained that it could prove impossible to design a package of benefits that meets that requirements while keeping the deductible below $2,000.

Administration officials agreed. So the proposed new rule would exempt insurers from the deductible limit if that’s necessary to achieve the plan’s overall cost-sharing target.

Karen Ignagni, president and chief executive of America’s Health Insurance Plans, a trade group, said in a statement Tuesday that the “additional flexibility” is a “positive step.” But she added that “we remain concerned that many families and small businesses will be required to purchase coverage that is more costly than they have today.”

via Obama officials tweak rules for health insurers – The Washington Post.

You think?  With all of these requirements, how could insurance NOT cost more?  But if deductibles are going to have to go up considerably, won’t that mean lots of families that won’t be able to afford health-care after all?


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