Friday, February 17, 2012

Christie's Conundrum

I have no doubt that Governor Chris Christie will veto the marriage equality bill that passed in both houses of the New Jersey legislature. After all, no matter what you think of him, he follows up on his public pronouncements, and admitting that he made a mistake is an anathema to him.

Christie looks at everything through a political lens, regardless of the impact on the citizens of New Jersey. As Garden State Equality’s Steven Goldstein put it, “He won’t veto the bill because he’s anti-gay.  He’ll veto the bill because the 2016 South Carolina Republican Presidential primary electorate is anti-gay.”

Being the shrewd politician that he is, Christie has aligned his position with what he must think is a “win-win” situation.

First, he knows he won’t get the Vice Presidential nomination if Mitt Romney, who he supports, wins the Republican race. Both Christie and Romney are from  the Mean-Spirited-but-Relatively-Sane wing of the Republican party, and the GOP being the “big tent” party that it is, would have to balance the ticket with someone from the Mean-Spirited-but-Really-Crazy wing or the Fundamentalist Christian Jihadist wing. But Christie is still hedging his bets.

If Romney pulls an upset and defeats Barack Obama, Christie will be appointed Attorney General. While his tenure as US Attorney is unblemished by success, Christie figures he would have an easy time being confirmed by a Democratic but cowardly Senate, given that he would come across as “not as bad as Alberto Gonzalez.” And if Romney loses, the influence of the Mean-Spirited-but-Really-Crazy wing is diminished, setting up Christie as the front-runner for the nomination in 2016.

But Christie is no dummy. He’s got a conundrum to deal with. He knows that he’s on the wrong side of history with his stance on marriage equality. And he knows that the country’s attitude is changing. As younger generations become more politically influential and the older generations die off, the support for same-sex marriage will increase. And while a generational change takes more than four years, this has got to be part of Christie’s calculus.

Part of Christie’s appeal is his simplistic solutions to complex problems. So he’ll probably stand by his word and veto the marriage equality bill. But down the road, he may pull a Steve Sweeney and say he regretted that decision, especially after the legislature overrides his veto.

It’s just too bad that he’s loath to do the right thing from the outset.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Blunt – adj \ˈblənt\ : Not sharp

You have to admit. Republicans are adept at coming up with crazy solutions to today’s problems. Whether it’s Chris Christie cancelling a job-creating railroad tunnel leaving taxpayers with a billion dollar hole in the ground or Newt Gingrich telling elementary school kids to take time away from their studies and family to do janitorial work, Republican ideas put The Onion to shame.

Now it’s Missouri GOP Senator Roy Blunt who’s suggesting that we undermine the core principle of medical insurance by allowing any employer to deny any coverage that the employer has objection to. So an employer who is a fitness nut could opt out of providing insurance to his overweight employees. An employer could deny coverage for lung cancer, stating that smoking is a choice – ignoring the fact that non-smokers also get lung cancer. And a hyper-religious employer could opt out of providing mental health care if he believes prayer is a better solution.

The whole idea of insurance is a shared risk pool, and if a cafeteria plan is offered, the cost of coverage for individual diseases would skyrocket. Of course, no one knows what ailments will be suffered down the line, so Blunt’s plan would be functionally equivalent to no health insurance at all, in many cases. But since premiums are being paid, Blunt’s scheme would be a windfall to the insurance companies.

Blunt’s preposterous proposal takes the focus away from the GOP’s war on women. It moves the focus away from insurance for contraception by enabling denial of coverage for arbitrary aspects of medical care. Of course, the best solution to the soaring cost of medical services is a single-payer system like Medicare for all, but eliminating the insurance middle man is an anathema to both parties, who receive tons of political contributions from the medical-industrial complex.

So Blunt wins the Crazy GOP Idea of the Week Award this week. Even though his bill will never see the light of day, I’m sure the GOP will come up with another whopper next week.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Resuming the Madness

After a 34-year hiatus, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission approved a license for the construction of the first new nuclear reactor in the United States since before the Three Mile Island catastrophe. Two reactors will be constructed at a stated cost to ratepayers of $14 billion near Augusta, Georgia, the second largest metropolitan area in the state with a population of over a half million, plus another 30,000 troops stationed in nearby Fort Gordon. In addition to the cost to the Southern Company’s ratepayers, the construction is backed by an $8.3 billion federal loan guarantee paid for by you and me.

Proponents of nuclear power contend that it is safer than it has ever been. They say that a Fukushima-type disaster cannot happen here because we don’t have simultaneous typhoons and earthquakes. But the bottom line is that no man-made system is foolproof. Consider, for example, an area where safety is paramount and large sums of money are spent on continuous improvement: commercial aviation. Air travel is safer than ever, but tell that to the 50 people who perished in Colgan Air Flight 3407 three years ago. Tragic for sure, but other than to the families of those who perished, there has been no lasting effect.

The impact of nuclear accidents, however, lingers for generations.  The area around the Chernobyl plant is uninhabitable 26 years after that accident and will be so for the foreseeable future. No doubt, the same will be true for the environs of the Japan disaster. But that’s not the only legacy of nuclear power.

Today, the United States has no comprehensive plan for the disposal of waste products from commercial power reactors. Tons of highly radioactive detritus are generated each year, most of which is stored on-site – a tempting target for terrorists. This is just another problem that we are handing down to future generations.

A more sane and rational approach would be to divert those billions of dollars to clean, renewable energy. Solar power is cost-competitive with nuclear, and with some investment wind power is not far behind. Any accident at a renewable-energy facility will not linger for generations as it would for nuclear.

So if you’re planning on relocating to eastern Georgia, here’s a map with a 50-mile radius circle around the new plant. That’s the distance that the US Government recommended for evacuation after the Fukushima disaster. Maybe such an accident will never happen here. But if it does, the costs in lives, health, relocation, and economic losses will be overwhelming.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

New Jersey Legislature - Marriage Equality Videos

This post is an index of the videos from recent hearings in the New Jersey Legislature on bills S1 and A1 - "Marriage Equality and Religious Exemption Act".

Assembly Vote - February 16, 2012

Floor Speeches
Post-vote news conference
NJTV's Coverage

Senate Vote - February 13, 2012
Assembly Judiciary Committee - February 2, 2012

Testimony from Legislators
Testimony from Citizens

Post-Hearing Interviews

Testimony from Legislators