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Last updated Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Get real: Senator Chris Coons urged his colleagues on both sides of the political aisle to forget the rhetoric and get down to business. In his first speech of the new Congress on the Senate floor he zeroed in on the need for sincere bipartisan effort to fix what’s wrong with ‘Obamacare’ while recognizing that a lot more is right about it and must be preserved. “The Affordable Care Act has helped millions of Americans. It also can be improved to help many more,” he said. While it’s unlikely that threatened repeal of the landmark law will come to pass, a contentious continuation of the all-or-nothing approach would obscure the fact that millions of Americans have already benefitted significantly. Claims that a majority of the people are opposed to the law reflect propaganda and scare tactics, not reality. Most of the bad-mouthing apparently has reached the majority of our population who were satisfied with the health care coverage they had. Coons, however, cited the case of a Delaware woman who was unable to obtain insurance in the past who is now being financially supported in her battle against breast cancer. “It is because of the law that millions of Americans now have access to quality and affordable health insurance that was once desperately out of reach for them,” he said. While Republicans have to realize that repealing the law or dismantling its key components would be tragic for many “who have had their lives changed or even saved by this law,” Democrats must be willing to accept changes to lower premium costs for both individuals and small businesses. Coons already has earned a reputation as being a strong proponent of bipartisanship in both word and deed. I hope that a congressional consensus will agree with the Delaware senator when he urges members of both houses to come together and seize the moment.

Reverse index: With gasoline prices lower than they have been for quite a while and apparently still heading down, it’s better than an even chance the General Assembly will approve an increase in the state’s gasoline tax, which it rejected last year. County Councilman George Smiley suggested the increase, if it comes about, be indexed to future pump prices. “When gas goes up, it (the increase) should go away,” he said at a finance committee meeting. Although up-to-date data wasn’t available, the meeting was told county government could save as much as $1 million on budgeted fuel cost this fiscal year.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Say it ain’t so: Word that Du Pont has sold its theater business to the Grand Opera House lends further credence to the belief that, after all these many years, Uncle Dupie is abandoning Wilmington. When the company announced a couple of weeks ago that it was pulling its people out of the Du Pont Building and relocating them to its Chestnut Run site, it was quick to emphasize that soon-to-be-spun-off Chemours Co. will be set up in the downtown building – at least for the time being. More recently, the local press quoted Du Pont’s chief executive, Ellen Kullman, as saying Du Pont would continue to operate the hotel and theater. Neither, the lady reportedly said, is a burden nor a drain on company profits. Who can you believe these days? Take the spin off the current press release and tell it like it is – the Grand has stepped in, offering to save the city from having its iconic purveyor of the theatrical arts go dark. I certainly hope it is up to the task and succeeds. I like to consider the decision to resurrect the venerable name ‘Playhouse’ something of a good omen. But I believe we’re well down a proverbial slippery slope. When the three cousins – Alfred, Coleman and Pierre – saved the Du Pont company in 1902, a century after its founding, and began turning the family owned explosives manufacturer into a diversified chemicals company, their first step was to move the front office from the banks of the Brandywine just outside of the city to the Equitable Building at Ninth & Market Streets downtown. The Du Pont Building and its theater followed in a few years. Since then the city and company have served each other well. Now, more than another century later, I fear that their association is terminating – quite possibly to the detriment of both.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Voters shunning ‘D’ and ‘R’: Political deadlock preventing Congress from enacting meaningful legislation is the probable cause of the apparent shift away from the traditional two-party system. According to an article in Christian Science Monitor, a record number of voters are taking a walk away from both of the majority parties. The newspaper reports that a recent Gallup poll found the number of self-declared Independents has climbed to 43%, leaving Democrats and Republicans far behind at 30% and 26%, respectively. At the same time, 36% of Democrats and 42% of Republicans in the poll sample expressed unfavorable views of their own party.  That, I think, accurately reflects the political situation nationally and, to an extent, here in Delaware. The liberal-conservative spectrum has become so wide that the traditional labels have lost real meaning. Emergence of the so-called Tea Party within the Republican fold is only the most dramatic reflection of that. Left-leaning Democrats have shown an inclination to reject middle-of-the-road positions of their national leaders. It used to be common practice to claim there were few, if any, actual differences between candidates. Traditionalists will regard it as heresy, but I believe that, sooner or later, coalition governments will emerge. That would be preferable to creation of splinter third – or fourth or fifth – parties which have no practical chance of gaining office. It wouldn’t be all that new. Conservative Democrats joined Republicans to oppose some of F.D.R.’s New Deal; mostly Republican Progressives were a factor in national politics in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Folk who hold Libertarian views today would have a voice as part of a coalition. Although it’s true that voters aren’t required to abide by formal party affiliation when they cast ballots – and many do not – Independents will, more and more, be the ones who decide elections. Institutionalizing that, I believe, wouldn’t be a bad thing. It might even reverse the trend to increasingly lower participation in the political process.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

New York police slow down: If it weren’t so preposterous I might think New York police and Gotham’s felon community had cut a deal. While the number of arrests for minor crimes dropped precipitously during the Christmas-New Year holiday

 NYPD cops told no vacations until work slowdown ends

and since, there also has been less dramatic but nevertheless noticeable decrease in reports of major criminal activity throughout the city. Between Dec. 29 and Jan. 4  low-level arrests for things like jaywalking or propping feet up on a subway seat dropped by 56%  and summonses were down 92% compared to the same time a year ago. The 14-block precinct that includes Times Square was among at least seven where not a single summons was issued for parking or moving violations. During  the past two weeks, reports of serious crimes were down to 3,704 from 4,130 in the same period a year earlier. The cops have been staging a work slowdown after accusing Mayor Bill de Blasio of taking an anti-police stance in response to protests when a grand jury declined to make an indictment following the choking death of a man being arrested. Some suggested the mayor indirectly contributed to the ambush murder of two officers while they were sitting in their patrol car. The police union has not sanctioned  the slowdown and claims it’s individually motivated. At issue is so-called ‘broken-window’ law enforcement. It has been argued for several years that making arrests for misdemeanors and minor infractions has contributed significantly to year-to-year reductions in the city’s major-crime rate. Police Commissioner William Bratton last Friday ordered everyone in the department’s command structure to see that rank-and-file officers go back to work at levels they’re supposed to. According to an article in the New York Post, word has gone out to the precincts. that there will be no more vacations, other time off, and even sick days without a doctor’s certification until activity returns to at least half of normal. Meanwhile, the strategy which has worked for so long with good results will now be open to question and possibly abandoned.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Mighty big haystack: It was inevitable, I suppose, that in the wake of the Charlie Hebdu tragedy in France the international security network would be blamed for falling down on its job. Even the Guardian, the British newspaper which ranks up there with the B.B.C. when it comes to accurate responsible journalism, was quick to report that the Brothers Kouchi were known for several years to French intelligence agencies. Why, it’s asked, were they not more closely watched. They also were on the U.S. Transportation Security Administration’s ‘no fly’ list. Do you know how long that list is? It takes up 3,171 pages, each with 30 names, on the agency’s website. That adds up to some 10,000 people whom the U.S. government believes may have terrorist links. Even using advanced computer technology there’s no way any agency can continually probe that proverbial needle in a haystack. Absent some overt act to arouse suspicion – even as simple as attempting to board an airplane – no police agency can be expected to do the impossible. They’re dealing with individuals who range from dedicated jihadists willing to give up their lives on behalf of an ill-directed cause to egotistical kooks looking to get a splinter of media attention. While mourning the victims of the attack in Paris the most we can expect is for police agencies, here and abroad, to maintain anti-terrorism vigilance to the extent that’s humanly possible.

Semantic fashion report: The current catchword-of-choice is ‘resonate’ – to evoke an association or strong emotion. Count how many times you hear it used – correctly or incorrectly, during the next few months.

Friday, January 09, 2015

Danger alert: There it is – right on your windshield seemingly just a few feet in front of you – turn-by-turn travel directions, speed and other operating information, maps, text messages, Facebook alerts, song menus and other stuff you don’t want to miss while driving to wherever you happen to be going. Touted this week at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas were icon-rich

windshield displays now being installed by manufacturers of upscale automobiles and sold by tech firms for around $100. To my way of thinking the venue was appropriate. Here’s another opportunity to gamble for high stakes, your life or someone else’s. Known generically as ‘heads-up devices’ they’re small dashboard-mounted projectors which cast transparent images in front of the driver at eye level. They’re civilian versions of display devices originally intended for military aircraft. There, of course, is a huge difference between highly trained pilots and folks behind steering wheels on our highways. And the proximity of planes to each other is considerably more than between cars and trucks. Proponents say the displays enable a drivers to keep their eyes on the road instead of  fumbling for cellphones or engaging in other distractions. Safety advocates argue that the gadgets are, in themselves, serious distractions diverting drivers’ attention from the road ahead. In one article I read a company spokesman was quoted as saying the firm will rely on users to program settings that conform to local law, whether that means no texting or no calls at all. He acknowledged, though, that people might, on occasion, violate the rules even if safety instructions which come in the package clearly inform them of their responsibility. Cut me a break. A few years ago Delaware rather belatedly joined several other states in banning cellphone use while driving. How often do you go out without seeing blatant violations, not only on open roads but also in heavy traffic, while navigating shopping center parking lots and moving at much higher than legal speeds? I hope our legislators don’t lag behind the curve on this. That said, I’ll add that there not only should be a law but, more importantly, enforcement of the law – before the collision, not as part of the police accident report afterwards.

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Chuckle of the day: It's funny how the economy improved as soon as the Republicans took over Congress.* Believe it or not, the new Senate majority leader in his session-opening speech yesterday apparently gave his party credit for the impressive turnaround in the economy although it was only its second day in control of the entire Congress. Quoting from the text of his remarks in a press release issued by Senator Mitch McConnell’s office, this is what he said: “After so many years of sluggish growth, we’re finally starting to see some economic data that can provide a glimmer of hope; the uptick appears to coincide with the biggest political change of the Obama Administration’s long tenure in Washington – the expectation of a new Republican Congress. So this is precisely the right time to advance a positive, pro-growth agenda.” In a column in today’s Washington Post, opinion writer Dana Milbank writes, “He was referring, obviously, to news that the U.S. economy grew at a 5% rate in the third quarter, the fastest in more than a decade, furthering record highs in stocks. By McConnell’s logic, Americans began to spend freely in July, August and September because they had a hunch Republicans would win the Senate in November and take control in January.” In his speech McConnell called for ending the partisan gridlock which has prevented Congress from accomplishing much of anything during the past few years. “The American people have had enough,” he said. “The people we represent have lost faith in their government. They no longer trust Washington to do the right thing.” That’s certainly true, but, again, he seems to have lost touch with reality. The blockage has been in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. Now that he’s leading the more erudite upper chamber, it’s hard to expect any significant difference during the next two years. McConnell singled as much when his speech veered sharply from a high-plain ‘let’s all work together’ tone to yet another of his partisan attacks on President Obama – “I appreciate that bipartisan compromise may not come easily for the president. ... We’re calling on the president to ignore the voices of reaction and join us.” Remember, it’s the same Mitch McConnell, R.-Ky. who in 2010 said his “single most important” goal was for Obama to be a one-term president. He, of course, didn’t achieve that and, sad to say, is now focused on getting a Republican to the White House in 2016. Huffington Post.com questions whether the new leader isn’t already “putting future political aims before current legislative actions that might improve things now for all Americans.”
 * Paraphrase of a Huffington Post.com headline

 

All content, unless otherwise noted, by Jim Parks

 

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