Monday, August 31, 2009

Sarah Palin Goes to Asia for Speaking Gig

What will Sarah Palin soon have in common with Alan Greenspan, Bill Clinton and Al Gore? She is going to Hong Kong in September in order to deliver the keynote address at the CLSA Investors Forum, an annual invent for global investment advisors. Oy vey.

Well, this is probably why the Bloggacuda left office -- to make money. I, unlike other liberals, do not have a problem with that. I am not sure how long her "fame" will last. She should squeeze out every dime before it ends. The list of prior speakers (Clinton, Gore, etc.), however, clobber Palin in terms of intellect and knowledge of global finance.

Source: MSNBC

A Scary Big Government Alert: Cheney Wanted to Bomb Iran During Final Days of Bush Presidency

During a Fox News interview, former Vice President Cheney stated that he urged President Bush to bomb alleged nuclear weapons sites in Iran during the last days of his presidency. Cheney was ultimately unconcerned that the offensive would inevitably erode stability in the Middle East, a region that is already shaken from ongoing unrest, including United States-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed.

The Wall Street Journal has the full details. Here's a snip:
"I was probably a bigger advocate of military action than any of my colleagues," Mr. Cheney said in response to questions about whether the Bush administration should have launched a pre-emptive attack [against Iran] prior to handing over the White House to Barack Obama. . . .

Mr. Cheney's views were at odds with those of other top officials at the time. Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had said repeatedly during those final months that a strike against Iran would make the Middle East more unstable and would raise the risk on American forces in neighboring Iraq and Afghanistan. . . .
Now that's big government! I'd rather pay for healthy Americans than endure the human and emotional costs of three wars (of dubious necessity).

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Selective Outrage: Conservatives Invoked Reagan's Death to Promote Liberal Stem Cell Policies

Some conservatives are experiencing a meltdown because people close to Ted Kennedy have used the occasion of his death to promote one of his greatest passions -- universal healthcare. But many of the supposedly outraged conservatives have hypocritically invoked Kennedy's illness and death in order to argue against the very reforms that Kennedy favored during his life.

Conservatives' Selective Outrage Over Death and Politics
Conservatives are exhibiting "selective outrage" over the appropriateness of mixing death and politics. In 2004, the year that Ronald Reagan died from Alzheimer's disease, former First Lady Nancy Reagan, other members of the Reagan family, and many members of Congress -- including conservatives -- used his illness and subsequent death to encourage President Bush to adopt more liberal policies related to the use of stem cells. Some researchers believe that stem cell research could be useful in the search for a cure for Alzheimer's disease.

Nancy Reagan
Former President Reagan died on June 5, 2004. During the month prior to her husband's death, Nancy Reagan sensed that the end was near. So, she made a public plea for President Bush to loosen restrictions on the use of stem cells. The former First Lady said that:

Ronnie's long journey has finally taken him to a distant place where I can no longer reach him. . . .Because of this, I'm determined to do whatever I can to save other families from this pain. I just don't see how we can turn our backs on this.
Orrin Hatch
After Reagan died, 58 Senators, including 14 Republicans, sent Bush a letter urging him to ease restrictions on stem cell research. During a June 13 interview with the Times (UK), conservative Orrin Hatch, who signed the letter, specifically invoked Reagan's death in order to promote stem cell research:

Perhaps one of the smaller blessings of Ron's passing will be a greater opportunity for Nancy to work on this issue. If someone like Nancy Reagan cannot change the president's mind, I don't think anybody can.
Trent Lott
The same article quotes conservative Senator Trent Lott, who makes a similar appeal to Reagan's death. Lott said that:

I hope that affection for the Reagans and just plain human sympathy for the terrible ordeal that afflicted them both over the past 10 years will prompt some second thoughts in the administration. . . .I suspect there are many in the White House who hope that it just goes away. But I don’t think Nancy gives up anything that is close to her heart that easily.
Arlen Specter
Senator Arlen Specter
(who at the time was a Republican) happily stated that Nancy Reagan would have a "profound effect" on the issue. Specter also signed the letter to President Bush.

What Is Wrong With Doing What Kennedy Wanted?
I only found one article (published on June 17, 2004 in the Chicago Sun-Times) that makes any substantial criticism of the political use of Reagan's death. This article, written by conservative commentator Robert Novak, criticizes Democrats for embracing Reagan for political gain. Novak, however, does not criticize conservatives who did the same thing.

Novak was trying to portray Democrats as hypocrites for embracing Reagan in death, but not in life. But if this is an accurate criticism, conservatives today should not express outrage towards Democrats who are using the moment of Kennedy's passing to bring attention to healthcare reform. Instead, they should attack conservatives who have cited to Kennedy's illness and death in order to distort the content of pending healthcare reform proposals and to undermine a central goal of Kennedy's political advocacy.

Shortly before his death, Kennedy wrote a letter to Duval Patrick, the governor of Massachusetts, urging him to appoint an interim Senator until the state could hold a special election to choose a replacement. Kennedy's aides said that he was concerned that Democrats would lack an important vote on healthcare reform unless his replacement was seated. In other words, during his last days, Kennedy himself encouraged his supporters to take the necessary steps to complete his unfinished business.

Democrats who remember Kennedy by advocating healthcare reform are simply implementing the Senator's last wishes. Republicans, however, are feigning outrage in order to defeat Kennedy's work on healthcare reform. I think it is abundantly clear which side is behaving inappropriately.

PS: Kennedy's supporters actually know that he shared their political goals. It is not clear -- but probably doubtful -- that Reagan would have supported very liberal stem cell policies.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

BREAKING NEWS: GOP Proposal Would Abolish Military, Public Schools, Fire and Police Departments and the Entire Federal Government

The GOP has pushed its argument regarding the uselessness of government to the logical conclusion: It has adopted a political platform that urges the abolition of the United States military, public schools, fire and police departments and the entire federal government. Dissenting Justice has been investigating the details of this developing story for over two weeks. Today, the GOP has authorized Dissenting Justice to release information regarding the plan.

Chairman Steele Endorses the Plan
The dramatic development comes after weeks of Republican criticism of Democrats' efforts to nationalize the healthcare industry and to control all aspects of medical practice, including the delicate decision to pull the plug on grandma. RNC Chair Michael Steele lauded the decision, stating that:
I was starting to sound like a fucking idiot blasting socialized medicine while trying to defend other government services. If Obamacare sucks, then it is likely that all other government services suck too. This brilliant plan will keep those pinko Nazi liberals off my back while I continue bringing hip hop to the GOP.
The Plan's Architect: Senator John McCain
Senator John McCain disclosed to Dissenting Justice that he devised the no-government strategy. Since his unsuccessful election bid, McCain has struggled to compete with louder and more outlandish conservatives like Sarah "the Bloggacuda" Palin, Chuck "Over My Grandma's Dead Body" Grassley, Dick "Am I Still V.P." Cheney, and Rush "Please Hush" Limbaugh.

McCain believes that his provocative proposal could give him more prominence and stature among conservatives. If the plan does not work out as he intends, McCain says that:
I would either retire or move to the political center again. It doesn't really matter to me at this point. I'm getting up there in age, you know. But if Obamacare passes, the government would immediately order me to die. So, I cannot think about failure at this point.
When asked by Dissenting Justice why he would propose abolishing the government after a long career in Congress and less than one year after he tried to become president, McCain said: "I lost. Besides, I never claimed that I was entirely consistent."

When asked how he made the decision to abolish the military in which he served with valor, McCain said that:
Those crazy Democrats almost got me killed in Vietnam, which was unfair. The government should never choose who lives or dies. Only the private sector should make decisions like that. When the government gets involved, it's like communism, which was what we said we were fighting over there in Asia.
When Dissenting Justice reminded McCain that he volunteered to serve in Vietnam, he responded: "You guys really do your homework, don't you?" McCain also said that he "wonders whether the outcome of the Vietnam War would have differed if the private sector handled the situation." McCain seems to have a lot more faith in the private sector, concluding that: "Socialized national security systems are probably just as bad as socialized medicine or even Social Security."

Seniors Respond
Even though the GOP plan would cause the immediate end of Medicare and Social Security, some seniors applaud the Republican proposal. Bonnie Franklin, a 75-year-old retired nurse who lives in Milford, Connecticut, says the plan "proves that Republicans are more interested in the health of the nation than the Democrats." Franklin, who has no income other than Social Security, says that: "Democrats believe the government can do everything. Spend. Spend. Spend. When will it all end?"

When Dissenting Justice asked Franklin how she planned to survive without Social Security and Medicare, she did not reply. Instead, she looked very confused. Dissenting Justice then told Franklin that the federal government administers Social Security and Medicare and that the abolition of the federal government would end those programs. Upon hearing this information, Franklin abruptly stormed out of the interview, yelling: "I wasn't born yesterday, kid. You are just trying to be cute. Have fun interviewing me. Not!"

No Specific Details
Although the plan lacks any specific details, the Republicans promise to provide them later. "Don't get all concerned over minutiae," said Steele. Steele argued that:
The opposing party does not have to supply specifics. All we need to do is criticize. Get it? We are clearly going beyond the call of duty. I am so tired of the liberal media saying the same things over and over again. Get a real job people.
The next day, Steele called Dissenting Justice and apologized for making his comments. Steele said that he had "taken himself out of context."

The Deceit and Hypocrisy of Minister Mike Huckabee

Mike Huckabee -- Baptist minister and politician -- has some repenting to do. Huckabee joined a chorus of conservatives who warned Democrats not to politicize Kennedy's death during debates over healthcare reform. Apparently, unmoved by his own words, Huckabee then hypocritically suggested that under "Obamacare," Kennedy would have been urged to take his life:

Proponents deny that this bill will devalue older people’s lives or encourage them to except less care to save money. But it was President Obama himself who suggested that seniors who don't have as long to live might want to consider just taking a pain pill instead of getting an expensive operation to cure them. Yet when Sen. Kennedy was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer at 77, did he give up on life and go home to take pain pills and die? Of course not. He freely did what most of us would do. He choose an expensive operation and painful follow up treatments. He saw his work as vitally important and so he fought for every minute he could stay on this earth doing it. He would be a very fortunate man if his heroic last few months were what future generations remember him most for.
Huckabee is not alone in his hypocrisy.

Huckabee's comments are also deceitful. Patients have a constitutional right to refuse life-sustaining medical treatment (even conservative Supreme Court justices agree with this). Medical professionals already provide this information to their patients, but organizations like the American Medical Association have concluded that they should do so with even greater frequency.

When people refuse life-sustaining measures, medical professionals often give them palliative treatment to ease their pain and discomfort. I do not know what happened to Kennedy during his last months or days, but it is probably safe to assume he was given prescription painkillers following surgery and probably during the last days of his life. It is also likely that Kennedy's doctors told him at some point prior to his death that they could not do anything else to treat his cancer. It is also possible that they told him last year that surgery would only momentarily delay the inevitable consequences of the cancer.

The proposed healthcare reform would facilitate these types of healthy conversations between patients and medical providers, and President Obama has never stated anything to the contrary. The pending measure would not devalue seniors or urge them to end their lives, as Huckabee's comments suggest. The minister is simply exploiting the public's discomfort with issues related to death and dying for political purposes.

Huckabee, Death Panels and Rationing of Care
Finally, I find it appalling that Huckabee states that "most of us" would have elected the expensive surgery that Kennedy chose to undergo once he discovered he had cancer. It is abundantly clear that most people without health insurance would not have chosen the path that Kennedy followed. They would not have been able to pay for it.

Moreover, it is not even clear that most people with health insurance would have pursued this treatment option, given the stage and type of cancer Kennedy had. This is exactly why it is important for people to receive counseling concerning their medical options. Huckabee does not know how most Americans would have responded to the information that Kennedy's physicians gave him.

Kennedy strongly supported liberal healthcare reform. Although Huckabee discusses Kennedy's "heroic last few months," his distortion of the pending legislation undermines Kennedy's legacy. If conservatives block universal coverage, millions of Americans will continue to live without health insurance. When these uninsured individuals become severely ill, they will not have the ability to demonstrate their "heroic" drive to live. Medical care in the United States will remain drastically different for the "haves" and "have nots" (have = insured). If conservatives truly want to condemn people who support "death panels" and "rationing" of care, they need to look in the mirror.

Friday, August 28, 2009

FactCheck Shakes Down a Nasty Chain Email Filled With Lies About Healthcare Reform

The teaser says it all: "A notorious analysis of the House health care bill contains 48 claims. Twenty-six of them are false and the rest mostly misleading. Only four are true." Looks like one side of this debate cannot argue without lying.

See: Twenty-six Lies About H.R. 3200.

Conservatives on Kennedy's Death: Do As We Say, Not As We Do

Before and after his death, Republicans invoked Ted Kennedy's illness to argue against healthcare reform. Now, they are warning Democrats of political warfare if they invoke Kennedy's name to rally support for healthcare reform.

Much of Kennedy's work as a Senator, however, involved the very type of reform that Democrats have proposed. I think it is abundantly clear who, if anyone, could appropriately invoke Kennedy's name regarding healthcare reform.

Media Matters has more details on this issue. Here's a snip:
Following Sen. Ted Kennedy's death, several conservative media figures -- including Rush Limbaugh -- have attacked Democrats for purportedly attempting to use his passing to stifle debate and enact health care reform legislation. But conservative media figures -- also including Limbaugh -- have used Kennedy's death to attack health care reform, baselessly suggesting that if reform passes, elderly cancer patients -- as Kennedy was -- will be "denied" treatments or that their treatments will be "rationed."
Here's the link: Conservative media attack Dems for playing "death card" while using Kennedy's death to attack health care.

Michael Steele Reduced to an Idiot on NPR; Accuses Interviewer of "Trying to Be Cute"

Michael Steele appeared on NPR Thursday in order to promote the highly deceptive and hypocritical GOP Healthcare Bill of Rights for Seniors. Earlier this week, Steele wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post that portrays the Democrats as opponents of Medicare and the Republicans as guardians of the plan. Steele also reiterates Republicans' disapproval of government-run healthcare. Of course, Steele's commentary fails to acknowledge that Medicare (and the Veterans Administration and Medicaid) is a government-run, public health plan. Republicans, however, typically demonize public health plans as "socialized medicine."

Suddenly, Republicans Hate Government-Health Plans -- Except for Medicare
NPR's Steve Inskeep questioned Steele about the Republicans' hypocritical denouncement of government-run health plans and their blatant effort to scare seniors by portraying the Democrats as hostile to Medicare. Steele could not provide a good answer to this line of questioning:
INSKEEP: I'm still having a little trouble with the notion that you're going to write that you're going to protect Medicare, that you're going to preserve this program to make sure that this government-run health care system stays solid in the long term...
Mr. STEELE: Let's get it to run right.
INSKEEP: ...and yet you are opposing, quote, government-run health care.
Mr. STEELE: Exactly. Well, wait a minute. Just because, you know, I want to protect something that's already in place and make it run better and run efficiently for the senior citizens that are in that system does not mean that I want to automatically support, you know, nationalizing or creating a similar system for everybody else in the country who currently isn't on Medicare.
None of the proposals for healthcare reform would "nationalize" healthcare or create a "system for everybody else in the country who currently isn't on Medicare."

Doctors and Patients
Inskeep also challenged the Republican argument that Democrats want to come between patients and their doctors. Steele conceded that private insurance companies already do this. He also conceded that insurance companies are not perfect:
[T]here are issues in the insurance market that we can regulate a little bit better and that we can control better to maximize the benefits to the consumers. That's something that, yeah, we can rightly reform and fix.
At this point, Inskeep pointed out the contradiction in Steele's desire for regulation and the drumbeat of criticism by conservatives who say that Democrats want to invade the private sector. Steele appeared very confused by the reality of his conflicting positions:
INSKEEP: Wait a minute, wait, wait. You would trust the government to look into
[fixing insurance companies]?
Mr. STEELE: No. I'm talking about the - I'm talking about private - I'm talking about...
INSKEEP: Who is...Mr.
STEELE: ...citizens. I'm talking about...
INSKEEP: You said that's something that should be looked into. Who is it that should look into that? Mr.
STEELE: I'm talking about those who - well, who regulates the insurance markets?
INSKEEP: That would be the government, I believe.
Apparently lacking a good response, Steele attacked Inskeep:

Mr. STEELE: Well, and so it - wait a minute, hold up. You know, you're doing a wonderful little dance here and you're trying to be cute, but the reality of this is very simple. I'm not saying the government doesn't have a role to play. I've never said that. The government does have a role to play. The government has a very limited role to play.
Medicare Cuts: Costs or Services?
Republicans have repeatedly argued that Obama's plan to cut costs associated with Medicare would lead to service reductions. After tough questioning by Inskeep, Steele endorsed cost-saving measures himself:
INSKEEP: So you would be in favor of certain Medicare cuts?
Mr. STEELE: Absolutely. You want to maximize the efficiencies of the program.
I mean, anyone who's in the program would want you to do that, and certainly those who manage it want you to that.
This is the exact position that Obama has taken. Furthermore, although Republicans constantly accuse Democrats of planning to cut Medicare costs by cutting services to seniors, they fail to acknowledge that John McCain proposed to cut $1.3 trillion from Medicare and Medicaid. Mitt Romney endorsed cuts to Medicare as well. And for the purpose of full disclosure, Obama argued that McCain's proposal would cut services -- which is the same argument that the GOP is now making with respect Obama's plan.

PS: Here is the transcript of Steele's NPR interview.

I have defended Steele in the past, but I will not defend his distortion and hypocrisy.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Onion Takes on the Birther Movement

The latest entry from The Onion gives satirical treatment to the "Birther" movement -- a cross-section of fanatics obsessed with the widely discredited notion that President Obama is not a "natural born" citizen of the United States. Recently, a conniving blogger created an obviously fake Kenyan birth certificate (using an Australian birth certificate as a template) that memorialized the birth of "Barack Obama." The individual sent the fake birth certificate to Birther leadership. News of the "smoking gun" put the movement in a state of rapture -- until the media exposed the fraud.

Read The Onion report: Afterbirthers Demand To See Obama's Placenta.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Another Classic Has Died: Senator Edward Kennedy, 77

Senator Kennedy has died, after a nearly one-year struggle with brain cancer. Kennedy was 77.

I still remember some of my earliest moments seeing Senator Kennedy. When I was a young child, he ran for president against Jimmy Carter. Although it was a highly contested battle, Kennedy delivered a searing speech at the Democratic National Convention.

After that, I recall his extremely passionate argument against Rehnquist becoming Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. The closing words were: "too extreme to be Chief Justice." Later, in law school, I could appreciate his words.

Kennedy was a very passionate and tireless liberal who fought for very important social issues. There aren't too many politicians on either side of the aisle with the drive to fight and with his great speaking ability. He will be missed. Another "classic" has died.

The Associated Press has published a detailed article on Kennedy's life: Mass. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy dies at age 77.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Facebook Ad Tells Palin's Readers That the Bloggacuda Is Spreading Lies About Healthcare Reform

Sarah Palin has become a blogger of late, using Facebook as her platform. Hence, I have decided to call her the "Bloggacuda."

Palin used her Facebook page to launch the deceptive claim that paying for the expense of end-of-life treatment means that the government will create "death panels" for seniors. A liberal union-affiliated political group is tired of Palin's deceit and is running an ad on her Facebook page that informs readers that the Bloggacuda is spreading lies.

Greg Sargent of the Washington Post blog "Plum Line" has the scoop: New Ad Targets Palin’s Facebook Supporters, Tells Them She’s A Liar. See also: Group Runs Facebook Ad Asking Palin to "Stop Lying."

REPEAT AFTER ME: Medicare = Public Plan = Government-Run Health Program = Government-Sponsored Health Plan

The Republicans have shamelessly attempted to scare seniors away from Democrats by preaching the horrors of government-run health plans. This argument, however, is absolutely bankrupt, particularly because Medicare, the primary healthcare payer for all seniors, is the largest public plan in the nation. The federal government designed and enacted Medicare. The federal government determines the amount of reimbursement for doctors and the type of services that are covered. Taxpayers pay for the expenses associated with Medicare. Doctors and patients, as usual, get to select the treatments they pursue.

Prior to Medicare, seniors could only get full health insurance coverage at an extreme cost. Most seniors had only partial coverage or none at all. Full coverage in the private sector was not an option for most seniors, just as full coverage in the private sector is not an option for millions of Americans today.

Republicans, however, opposed Medicare and have always described it as one of the main problems of LBJ's administration -- joining social security enacted during FDR's administration. According to the conservative script, Medicare = social security = welfare = evil "entitlement programs," enacted by "big government" and "big spending" liberal Democrats. Today, however, Republicans are pretending to favor Medicare, while generally describing public plans as socialized medicine. Seniors should find this approach insulting. Sane Republicans should find it embarrassing.


Possible Part II: Veterans Administration = Public Plan = Government-Run Health Program = Government-Sponsored Health Plan.

GOP's "Pack of Lies for Seniors"

Apparently, the Republicans believe that they can make a run for seniors by continuing to scare the hell out of them. It all started with Sarah Palin's "death panels" lie. Now, they are fueling the notion that the Democrats are a threat to Medicare -- even the conservatives have blasted Medicare and the notion of "public plans" for decades.

On Monday, the Republicans released a Bill of Rights for Seniors. RNC Chair Michael Steele also published an op-ed in the Washington Post that analyzes the Republicans' platform for seniors. Steele's op-ed simply regurgitates deceptive talking points that conservatives have circulated around the Internet since the beginning of healthcare reform debates. The GOP's "Bill of Rights for Seniors" is nothing but a "List of Lies."

Steele makes 5 broad points in his essay. Each one tells a different lie.

Lie #1: Democrats Want to Raid Medicare; Republicans Want to Save It
Steele argues that "[Obama] and congressional Democrats are planning to raid, not aid, Medicare by cutting $500 billion from the program to fund his health-care experiment." Steele's argument that Democrats are the opponents of Medicare while Republicans are fans of the plan is absolutely bogus.

Republicans have for a long time opposed Medicare. Ronald Reagan joined the American Medical Association's campaign against Medicare during the 1960s, describing the idea as "socialized medicine." Republicans have a long history of opposing "public plans" and describing them as socialism. Although Steele's op-ed does not admit this point, medicare is a public plan.

With respect to Medicare cuts, every major presidential candidate -- Democrat and Republican -- who proposed healthcare reform also advocated cutting Medicare costs. John McCain, for example, wanted to slash $1.3 trillion dollars from Medicare and Medicare over a ten-year period. Mitt Romney also frequently discussed the need to cut spending on entitlement programs, including Medicare.

Furthermore, Steele argues that the Democrats want to cut $500 billion from Medicare, but he neglects to discuss additional funding to the program that they have proposed. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that taking into consideration both cost cutting and increased spending, Obama's plan would trim $219 billion from Medicare over 10 years -- which is much less than Steele's figure and than what McCain proposed. Steele's analysis of this issue is hypocritical and factually inaccurate.

Lie #2: Healthcare Reform Gets in the Way of Seniors and Their Doctors
Steele shamelessly argues that: "The government-run health-care experiment that Obama and the Democrats propose will give seniors less power to control their own medical decisions and create government boards that would decide what treatments would or would not be funded."
Although Steele paints a picture of a scary "government-run health-care experiment," he neglects to describe Medicare as a government-run health program. Under Medicare (and Medicaid and Veterans health plans), the government already determines what types of treatments are covered and the reimbursement for those procedures. Steele's argument describes a fantasy world where Medicare is presumably a private entity where doctors and patients can do whatever they want, unconstrained by governmental coverage decisions. Private insurance does not operate this way either. Steele is either ignorant or a liar. Neither option is good.

Also, Republicans strongly support the Hyde Amendment, which bans coverage of abortion for Medicaid recipients. Republicans, have in fact, demonized proposed healthcare reform by falsely stating that it would fund abortion services. This type of governmental intrusion into the doctor-patient relationship is apparently fine for Republicans. So, in addition to being ignorant or a liar, Steele is a hypocrite.

Lie #3: Obama Wants to Ration Care Based on Age
Steele says that care should not be rationed based on age. No version of healthcare reform proposed by any Democrat would do this. Steele is lying yet again.

Lie #4: Democrats Will Dictate End of Life Care for Seniors
Steele repeats the discredited "death panel" lie told by Sarah Palin and Charles Grassley. He claims that end-of-life care "becomes troublesome when the government gets involved." Perhaps that is true, but Steele's description of the Democrats' proposals is intentionally deceptive. The proposals would only compensate doctors who provide end-of-life counseling to patients. The proposals do not mandate the care.

This is the same thing as a governmental decision to pay for mammograms or a heart surgeries (which government insurance plans already do). Paying for treatment or counseling does not mandate it, nor does it get the government "involved" in the treatment. Steele is lying yet again.

Lie #5: Democrats Are Ending Veterans' Benefits
Steele argues that "we need to protect our veterans by preserving Tricare and other benefit programs for military families." He leaves the impression that Democrats want to discontinue these programs, but he can only state that some Democrats proposed raising premiums for Tricare -- which are far less than insurance premiums on the open market. Why? Tricare is a public plan -- the kind of government-sponsored plan that Republicans claim will lead to socialism, communism, and Armageddon.

Perhaps seniors could benefit from a "Bill of Rights." Unfortunately, the Republicans have only given them a pack of lies.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Obama Administration Takes Same Position on Rendition As Bush Administration

Earlier this year, in response to an article in the LA Times, I criticized liberals who defended the Obama administration's plans to utilize rendition. Rendition, as practiced by the CIA, involves the transfer of a "suspect" from one country to another without the judicial or administrative oversight normally associated with extradition. Under rendition, individuals are usually snatched without warning and without access to counsel.

During the Bush presidency, many civil libertarians criticized rendition on four grounds:

1. Rendered individuals were transferred without the ability to contest the transfer before a judge; 2. Rendered individuals could not consult an attorney prior to transfer (or even after transfer); 3. Rendered individuals were often rendered for the purpose of torture - or this was the inevitable consequence of their transfer; and 4. Rendered individuals were often "disappeared" and confined in secret CIA prisons.
But after the LA Times article reported that the Obama administration would continue the practice of rendition, many liberal commentators blasted the article and attempted to distinguish Obama's and Bush's rendition. Obama, they argued, would not render individuals to torture or permanent detention. Bush, however, sent people away for torture and indefinite detention.

Yes, We Will . . . Use Rendition
On Monday, a member of the Obama administration (speaking anonymously) informed the New York Times that Obama would continue the practice of rendition, but that it would no longer operate as a method of outsourcing torture or detaining individuals indefinitely. Furthermore, the official reported that the Obama administration would use diplomatic means to prevent the torture of individuals subject to rendition. Earlier this year, CIA Director Leon Panetta also said that rendition would continue during the Obama administration.

Remarkably, Obama's proposed policy is identical to Bush's. Bush denied sending individuals to torture and to black cells. But Bush certainly snatched individuals without allowing them to consult with counsel or to challenge their removal before a judge or administrative agency. Furthermore, the Bush administration said that it would utilize diplomatic means to make sure that individuals subject to rendition did not face torture.

Human rights groups have criticized all of the four major aspects of rendition. They have also condemned as ineffective the use of diplomacy to prevent torture. Human rights advocates argue that because torture occurs "behind closed doors," diplomatic efforts cannot prevent it.

It has become increasingly clear that the Obama administration will continue several practices related to rendition that the human rights community assailed during the Bush administration. In addition, Solicitor General Elena Kagan and Attorney General Eric Holder have already defended the use of indefinite detention under conditions that do not involve a "theater of war." If the government applies this theory to individuals subject to rendition, then the remaining distinctions between Bush's policy and Obama's policy would evaporate.

Although some human rights groups, including the ACLU and the Center for Constitutional Rights, have criticized Obama regarding rendition, the outcry is minimal compared with the protests over rendition during the Bush years. Of course, Obama's rendition program has not substantially begun. The "first" case was only recently documented.

For earlier articles related to rendition on Dissenting Justice, see:

Elevating Form Over Substance: Liberals Now Argue that They Oppose the Label of Bush's Program, Not the Substance

Major Flip-Flop by Human Rights Watch: Organization Waiting for Obama to Develop Kinder, Gentler Rendition Program

Will Defenders of the "Kinder, Gentler" Rendition" Beat Up the United Nations?

"Extraordinary Rendition" Remains Under Obama Administration

Still a Flip-Flop: My Fellow Liberals Push Back Against Allegations of Inconsistency Concerning Rendition

Rendition, Secrecy and Torture: Inseparable?

Obama's "Interesting" Comments About Rendition

Panetta: Rendition Will Continue, Would Ask Obama to Authorize Harsher Interrogation Methods "If Necessary"

Obama's "Interesting" Comments About Rendition

What Liberal Media?

The media's coverage healthcare reform has been atrocious. Most of the reporting has focused on sideshows -- like scuffles at public meetings held to discuss the issue. Reporters pay attention to spectacle because they would rather create and exploit controversy than educate and inform the public.

Creating drama is a quick and easy way to generate traffic, which, in turn, fuels revenue. Engaging in sustained and helpful dialogue, however, takes time and may not lead to short-term spikes in traffic. Our legal system, however, gives extraordinary protection to news sources because they supposedly comment on matters of great public importance. Much of the contemporary reporting, however, falls short of this lofty ideal.

What Liberal Media?
Although conservatives often describe the media as "liberal," this label is inaccurate. Mainstream news sources are opportunistic, rather than liberal. Politically, they are most likely centrists, but they could lean right or left, depending on what is popular at the moment. The same "embedded" media personalities that salivated as shock and awe erupted, gushed with enthusiasm and emotion in response to Obama and his anti-war narrative.

During the wave of patriotism surrounding the Iraq War and the silencing of critical speech, Peter Jennings was the only major United States news anchor who raised serious questions about the appropriateness of the war. By the end of Bush's second term, when public support for the war had plummeted, no self-respecting reporter had anything decent to say about Bush or "his" war.

Now, the so-called liberal media is proving once again that it only operates to generate profits and to remain close to power (which are related goals). Throughout 2008, the media adored Barack Obama. He could do nothing wrong. Media figures moved swiftly and vigorously to rebuke Hillary Clinton, Bill Clinton, John McCain, Sarah Palin, Latino voters, poor white and uneducated voters, racism, anti-elitism, and any other perceived obstacle to Obama's election victory.

Although I am a progressive, I was stunned that my liberal colleagues embraced such a clear lack of criticism among mainstream news sources. They seemed unable to recall that an uncritical media stood idle during John Kerry's "swiftboating." The mainstream media almost universally failed to contextualize statements by Al Gore, which became fodder for late-night television and conservative commentary (he never said he "invented" the Internet).

Hillary Clinton became evil incarnate during the Democratic primaries. Now, conservatives are complaining because she has pretty much escaped criticism as Secretary of State. Bill is now the media darling because of his "diplomacy" in North Korea. Just a few months ago, the Clintons were awful racists destroying their legacy, the Democratic Party, the first "serious" black presidential candidate, and the possibility of "change" in the United States.

And the "Dean Scream" was a gross distortion that only a few networks conceded weeks later. The media, however, was comfortable using it to knock out Dean to boost the limping campaign of more mainstream Kerry.

During the Democratic primaries, the media often described criticism of Obama as rooted in racism. Although some criticism directed towards Obama was indeed racist and xenophobic, the media engaged in absolute overreach on this issue. Keith Olbermann, who at times seemed like he longed to become First Lady, launched into a nearly 30-minute tirade criticizing Hillary Clinton for supposedly saying during an interview that she remained in the race just in case someone killed Obama. Olbermann intentionally twisted and distorted Clinton's words. The newspaper that conducted the interview agreed. But this side of the story received very little attention.

Times have definitely changed. When Obama delivered his "race" speech in Philadelphia, some media commentators described it as surpassing any racial discourse ever uttered in the United States. When Obama said that the police acted "stupidly" when they arrested Henry Louis Gates, the reviews were mixed.

With respect to healthcare debates, the media never really gave the Democrats' reform agenda competent analysis by honestly discussing public opinion (the public actually wants a public plan) and discussing the merits and drawbacks of the legislation (as opposed to the theatrical politics surrounding it). Walter Cronkite is definitely dead.

One other point: Some "liberal" media commentators continue to take their cues from Obama, going as far as contradicting their prior arguments and isolating liberals for criticism and describing the center as "pragmatic" and smart. But I cannot bring nearly as much to this subject as Glenn Greenwald of

Check out Greenwald's recent commentary on this and other aspects of the media:

The Beltway Consensus: The Left Is to Blame for Health Care Battle

Bush Critics: Still Evil, Crazy Extremists

Fringe Leftist Losers: Wrong Even When They're Right

For criticism of the media on Dissenting Justice, see:

Excuse Me Dana Milbank, Your Sexism Is Showing (Again)

Isn't It Ironic: E.J. Dionne's Column on Politics, the Media and Obama

Reader Challenge: How Has Obama Changed DC?

LA Times Joins the Hillary Media Makeover

"Scratching and Surviving" Less Newsworthy Than Politicians at Labor Protests: Scant Media Coverage of Republic Windows Workers After Sit-In

"Change" Has Arrived: NYT's Frank Rich Criticizes Obama For the First Time!

2008's Biggest Losers: The Media

Absolutely Shocking News Alert!

Oy Vey: Liberals Dominate Media Because They Want to "Change the World," Says WaPo Ombudsman

Why I Don't Trust the Media, Part 1000: Palin-Africa Story a Hoax

After the Obamercial: A Hint of Criticism Amidst Effusive Praise

2 Politico.Com Reporters Concede Media Biased, Blame McCain

ABC News Takes on Issue of Media Bias and Concludes: It Exists

Another Study Proves That 1+1=2, Or That the Media Love Obama, Hate McCain/Palin, and Who's Biden?

On Low Roads and Hypocrisy: The Media, Sexism and Hillary Clinton

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Is Healthcare Reform "Unconstitutional"? No -- Why Rivkin and Casey Are Wrong

FOR UPDATED DEVELOPMENTS, SEE: More on the Constitutionality of Healthcare Reform

David Rivkin Jr. and Lee A. Casey, two very conservative partners (see sample of their writings following this article) at the law firm Baker Hostetler LLP, have co-authored an op-ed in the Washington Post that attempts to challenge the constitutionality of pending healthcare reform legislation. Specifically, Rivkin and Casey argue that Congress lacks the authority to require everyone (with a few exceptions) to have health insurance. Rivkin and Casey argue that neither the Commerce Power nor the power to "tax" authorizes Congress to mandate universal coverage.

The Commerce Clause authorizes Congress to regulate commerce with "foreign nations," "Indian tribes," and "among the several states." As Rivkin and Casey acknowledge, for six decades beginning in the 1930s, the Supreme Court interpreted the Commerce Power quite expansively. During that time it became a major source of power authorizing the enactment of measures as diverse as federal criminal laws, environmental laws, labor laws, securities laws and civil rights. The Rehnquist revolution, however, has led to a conservative shift (the degree of which is debatable) in the Court's interpretation of the Commerce Power.

Although the Court has seemingly shifted to a more restrictive analysis of the Commerce Clause, it has not completely abandoned showing deference and flexibility to Congress. In the 2005 Gonzales v. Raich decision, the Court upheld Congress' authority to regulate the "intrastate, noncommercial cultivation, possession and use of marijuana."

Rivkin and Casey argue that Raich cannot justify the individual insurance mandate because the Court found that the Controlled Substance Act (CSA) regulates "economic" activity, while a mandate to enroll in a health plan does not. There are two serious problems with this argument: It misreads Raich, and it fails to recognize the economic impact of uninsured people on the medical services and health insurance markets.

Requiring Health Insurance = Prohibiting Use of Medical Marijuana?
In Raich, the Supreme Court held that Congress could regulate the intrastate use or possession of medical marijuana for three reasons. First, the CSA represents a valid exercise of the Commerce Power because the statute "regulates the production, distribution, and consumption of commodities for which there is an established, and lucrative, interstate market." Second, considered in the aggregate, the use or possession of medical marijuana substantially affects interstate commerce because it increases the availability of marijuana in the nonmedical and interstate markets. Third, regulating the use or possession of medical marijuana is "an essential part of the larger regulatory scheme" accomplished by the CSA.

Justice Scalia wrote separately, concurring in the judgment, and he based his arguments exclusively on the fact that the marijuana prohibition is part of a broader commercial regulation (the CSA). Only two justices (O'Connor and Thomas) dissented.

Raich could indeed justify the insurance mandate. The proposed reforms seek to reduce costs, inefficiencies and inaccessibility in the health insurance and medical services markets. These markets are inherently interstate and commercial. Caring for uninsured persons unduly increases the costs associated with health insurance and medical services and diminishes access and coverage for consumers who desire these services. Finally, requiring universal coverage is an essential part of the Congressional scheme designed to lower costs and expand access in health insurance and medical services markets.

Although the Constitution gives Congress the power to "tax" and to "spend" in the general welfare of the country, Rivkin and Casey argue that the Tax Power cannot justify mandatory coverage because Congress cannot use this power to circumvent the constraints imposed by the Constitution. To support this argument, Rivkin and Casey reached deeply into the vault and retrieved the 1922 case Bailey v. Drexel Furniture. In that case, the Court invalidated a 10% tax on the profits of companies that used child labor. The Court held that even though the Tax Power is very broad, Congress could not use it as a pretext to accomplish an otherwise unconstitutional end. There are major differences between Drexel Furniture and proposed healthcare reform.

First, in Hamer v. Dagenhart, decided just 4 years prior to Drexel Furniture, the Court explicitly invalidated a federal law that banned the use of child labor. Because the Court had so recently held that Congress could not prohibit child labor, it was easy to view the onerous tax in Drexel Furniture as an improper attempt to evade prior case law.

Over time, the Court has expanded the scope of the Commerce Power and explicitly overruled Dagenhart. This same doctrinal evolution authorizes Congress to mandate individual coverage. Clearly, if Congress can mandate coverage under the Commerce Power, then taxing or imposing a penalty upon individuals who fail to pay would not contradict Drexel Furniture.

Final Thoughts
On some level, I agree with Rivkin and Casey who argue that raising taxes and funding "universal care" (rather than mandating universal coverage) would provide a "neater" solution to these issues. But this is not a politically popular solution. The fact that a cleaner solution exists, however, does not make the one that Congress has proposed unconstitutional. The current case law permits Congress to regulate health insurance and medical services markets. Requiring universal coverage is an essential component of that broader regulatory effort.

Note: Jonathan Adler, writing for the Volokh Conspiracy, has a similar take:
While I agree that the recent commerce clause cases hold that Congress may not regulate noneconomic activity, as such, they also state that Congress may reach otherwise unregulable conduct as part of an overarching regulatory scheme, where the regulation of such conduct is necessary and proper to the success of such scheme. In this case, the overall scheme would involve the regulation of "commerce" as the Supreme Court has defined it for several decades, as it would involve the regulation of health care markets. And the success of such a regulatory scheme would depend upon requiring all to participate. (Among other things, if health care reform requires insurers to issue insurance to all comers, and prohibits refusals for pre-existing conditions, then a mandate is necessary to prevent opportunistic behavior by individuals who simply wait to purchase insurance until they get sick.)
Note: My essay only addresses the Congressional authority claim. Whether some individuals could successfully assert an individual right against the mandate is a different question. Because the mandate operates like a tax, it is difficult to imagine a successful "rights" claim.

Note: Speaking of "wrong," look at this essay by the same duo: David B. Rivkin Jr. & Lee A. Casey on Amnesty International on National Review Online.

Or this nugget: Tortured Logic on Torture.

Despite all of the evidence to the contrary, Rivkin and Casey still deny that the Bush administration engaged in torture: The Memos Prove We Didn't Torture -

Glenn Greenwald Mercilessly Dismantles Marc Ambinder

Former Director of Homeland Security Tom Ridge has admitted that President Bush manipulated terrorism warnings for political gain. Nevertheless, Marc Ambinder of The Atlantic says that mainstream journalists rightfully dismissed liberals who reached this conclusion about Bush during his presidency. Ambinder argues that these individuals were only acting out of "gut hatred" for Bush (translation: a reasonable person would not hold that opinion). Glenn Greenwald responds with grand intellectual rage (the best kind). He also argues that journalists who gave Bush the benefit of the doubt deserve criticism -- not lefties who questioned his motives (agreed). It's a great read!

See: Fringe Leftists Losers: Wrong Even When They're Right

PS: Ambinder subsequently "apologized."

Friday, August 21, 2009

Breaking News: Sarah Palin Proposes "Big Guv'ment"

Sarah Palin gives punditry another try today, with this interesting Facebook note: No Health Care Reform Without Legal Reform. Because healthcare reform is legally based, I was a bit confused, yet intrigued, by the title. Palin, however, makes her case quickly.

Palin wants to tie healthcare reform with tort reform. Tort reform is just as central to old-school Republican platforms as are preaching the horrors of socialized medicine, blaming illegal aliens for the nation's woes, and opposing abortion and same-sex anything.

Palin extensively quotes Stuart Weinstein, a medical doctor and a longstanding proponent of tort reform. She also references experiences with tort reform in Alaska and Texas. Palin argues that reforming the tort system is essential for lowering costs. I will not even debate Palin's claim -- because others have addressed the argument already.

Instead, I have some more fundamental questions for the former Governor.

Big Guv'ment
Medical malpractice suits are rooted in state tort law (for the most part). By what authority can the federal government take control of this specific aspect of state court systems, legislatures, juries and law practice? This seems to undermine three mainstays of conservatism: states' rights, federalism and deregulation.

If, as many conservatives have argued, healthcare reform represents a severe intrusion into the interests of states and private citizens, then a federal law that caps liability for medical malpractice suits does the same. The reform Palin proposes would regulate damage awards in 50 states. It would interfere with the jury process and administration of justice in every state. It would prevent private parties from seeking remedies that the law in their states otherwise make available.

Just as Palin argues that "Obamacare" would interfere with patients, their doctors and insurance companies, PalinLaw would interfere with patients, their lawyers, and juries. And speaking of "death panels," PalinLaw would allow the federal government to set the maximum value recoverable in a wrongful death action in all states. So, to borrow from Senator Grassley, if the doctor kills "grandma" PalinLaw would determine the maximum value that grandma was worth. If this is permissible, then conservatives should abandon or at least temper their rhetoric opposing healthcare reform (and other national policies).

Don't Hold Uninsured Patients Hostage to Fulfill Political Agendas
Second, why should the public hold healthcare reform hostage to bring about tort reform? Congress should not enmesh the explosive question of healthcare reform with the equally controversial topic of tort reform. This is just another argument for doing nothing.

Under Palin's logic, the public should tie healthcare reform with a cure for cancer. Cancer adds greatly to healthcare costs. So do heart attacks and heart disease -- and to a much greater extent than litigation.

If the public waits until medical researchers find a solution for these issues, then the cost of reforming healthcare would plunge. This would alleviate the concerns that many people have regarding the expense of a system overhaul. Wait, wait, wait and do nothing.

The Debate Over Seniors and Healthcare Reform: A Slew of Contradictions and Inaccuracies

The debate over healthcare for seniors has included numerous contradictions and inaccuracies. The topic became an unnecessary lightening rod after several conservative politicians falsely asserted that the pending House legislation would create "death panels" to determine whether the elderly could live or die. Although numerous commentators have discredited this idea, the issue of healthcare reform and seniors remains subject to distortion and contradictions.

Fear Surrounding Medicare
Many seniors are also nervous because President Obama seeks to cut billions of dollars from Medicare over 10 years. These savings would theoretically help to offset the costs associated with broader healthcare reform, including the implementation of a public plan.

Although cuts to Medicare are a legitimate concern for seniors, the discussion of this issue has involved highly inaccurate portrayals of the proposed legislation. Furthermore, some conservatives (including seniors) have reacted to the proposed Medicare cuts in a way that contradicts their purported ideology.

"Illegal Aliens"
Many conservative opponents of healthcare reform contend that Democrats are cutting Medicare benefits in order to finance the provision of healthcare to "illegal aliens." Every plan under consideration, however, excludes undocumented individuals from coverage. Nevertheless, people continue to raise this scarecrow argument as a basis for opposing reform.

Although sound arguments (and even Supreme Court precedent) could justify the provision of medical care to certain classes of undocumented individuals (like children), the proposed legislation does not provide such coverage. Federal law, however, already requires emergency rooms to treat everyone who seeks care, and many undocumented individuals receive medical services in emergency rooms. It would be unconscionable to deny care to individuals in an emergency setting. People can disagree with this assertion -- but this is already the status of the law; the proposed reforms have nothing to do with this issue.

Furthermore, in certain emergency situations, denying care to an undocumented person could result in a lack of treatment for a United States citizen. For example, an undocumented pregnant woman who arrives at an emergency room in labor needs medical care for herself and for her child. The child is a United States citizen even though the mother is not. Post-natal services could also benefit the undocumented mother and the citizen child. It might also be impossible to determine whether someone is undocumented or not before rendering care (e.g., a person incapacitated by a car accident, stroke, etc.). Finally, as a reader (Broadsnark) points out in the comments section, treating undocumented individuals can advance the health of the public (think: preventing the spread of contagious disease).

The Democrats/Obama Want to Cut Costs; Costs = Services
Many conservatives argue that cutting Medicare costs will lead to the inevitable erosion of services. Conservative organizations and politicians have exploited this issue in an effort to alienate Democrats and seniors, who are faithful voters who tend to favor Democrats. Although this strategy might generate some benefits for Republicans, the conservative portrayal of Democrats as the enemies of Medicare is awfully hypocritical and dishonest for several reasons.

First, every major presidential candidate who promised to reform the healthcare system also discussed cutting Medicare costs. In October 2008, the Wall Street Journal reported that John McCain intended to finance his healthcare plan (which would have provided tax credits to purchase insurance) by slashing expenditures associated with Medicare and Medicaid. Douglas Holtz-Eakin, McCain's senior policy adviser, argued that McCain's plan would cut costs without compromising care: "It's about giving them the benefit package that has been promised to them by law at lower cost. . . ." Independent analysis estimated that McCain's plan would have stripped over $1 trillion from Medicare and Medicaid.

The following footage from an April 2008 townhall meeting in Allentown, Pennsylvania shows McCain making the case for reducing Medicare expenditures, while maintaining the quality of care.

(Article continues below the video)

Even Mike Huckabee -- the most conservative of the Republican contenders -- advanced cost-reduction as a method of reforming the healthcare system. Although Huckabee never created a detailed reform package, as governor of Arkansas and as a presidential candidate, he emphasized prevention of illness as a way to cut costs and to make healthcare affordable.

The "erratic" Mitt Romney also endorsed Medicare expenditure cuts. While he was Governor of Massachusetts, Romney presided over the implementation of universal healthcare in state. Nevertheless, during his presidential campaign, he repeatedly emphasized the need to cut costs of entitlement programs, including Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

Despite the bipartisan support for cutting Medicare costs, many seniors now accuse Democrats of attempting to compromise their well being. Some of these individuals have apparently sought solace in conservative membership organizations. But conservatives -- not liberals -- have been very hostile to Medicare (see below).

Conservatives Oppose "Public Plans," Including Medicare
Conservatives who portray Democrats as the enemies of Medicare are acting in a shamefully hypocritical fashion. Conservatives have a long history of opposing and criticizing Medicare. In the 1960s Ronald Reagan gave his voice to "Operation Coffeecup," a political movement organized by the AMA to block the passage of Medicare. Reagan and other conservatives described the proposed legislation as "socialized medicine" and argued that it was a step towards totalitarianism. In an October 2008 speech, Sarah Palin approvingly quoted Reagan's statements regarding the oppressive nature of Medicare.

Medicare is the largest public health plan in the nation. Conservatives have a long history of describing public plans as socialized medicine. Using the frightening (but empty) rhetoric of socialized medicine, conservatives attacked Medicare, the failed Clinton reforms in 1992, the State Children's Health Insurance Program (Bush vetoed additional funds for this program two times), and the current proposal for a public plan option.

Accordingly, conservatives who portray liberals as a threat to seniors, who rely almost exclusively upon Medicare for their healthcare needs, are engaging in utter hypocrisy. Seniors who benefit from Medicare, but who accept the conservative rhetoric of "socialized medicine," are also behaving like hypocrites.

Final Thoughts
I am interesting in hearing more about Obama's proposal to cut costs related to Medicare. Part of the reduction would come from lower drug costs, and he has already negotiated a deal with pharmaceutical companies. Undoubtedly, many of the cuts would result from a reform in the way the government compensates Medicare providers, and it could include raising premiums on wealthier seniors.

Although cutting costs does not translate necessarily into a compromise in the quality of healthcare, it might result in a different mix of available services. But this should not defeat the plan. Medicare already covers and denies coverage for certain services. Private insurance companies do so as well -- and the notion that individuals can negotiate around this is gross distortion. Try going on the "open market" and getting coverage for a pre-existing condition.

I am interested in having an honest discussion regarding Medicare and cost reductions. Unfortunately, fearmongering keeps getting in the way.

UPDATE: I neglected to mention that during the presidential campaign, Obama equated McCain's proposed cuts in Medicare expenses with cuts in services. So, he on some level, he is receiving the same criticism that he offered McCain. FactCheck.Org has written on this subject.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

I'll Take the "Wise Latina" Over Two "Death Panelists"

People who opposed the appointment of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court often cited her discussion of race, gender and judging. Although Sotmayor's analysis of this issue was tentative and layered, critics assailed her for suggesting that a "Wise Latina" would analyze issues better than other judges.

After less than one week on the bench, I definitely prefer the Wise Latina to Justice Antonin Scalia and Justice Thomas, who are clearly vying for positions on the imaginary "Death Panels" that the Obama administration is supposedly creating. In two recent death penalty cases, Scalia and Thomas voted against the inmates and in favor of execution. Sotomayor only voted in one case -- joining the liberal dissenters and voting for a stay of execution. The Supreme Court split in the cases, with a majority voting for the inmate in one case and against the inmate in the other.

The Troy Davis Case
The Justices gave more analysis in the Troy Davis appeal. In the Davis case, the Court ordered the trial judge to give Davis -- a Georgia black man convicted of killing a police officer -- the opportunity to present newly discovered evidence that was unavailable at the time of his trial. Davis argues that this evidence would prove his innocence.

Since the time Davis was convicted, most of the lead prosecution witnesses, including several individuals who identified Davis as the shooter, have recanted. Several of them assert that another prosecution witness, who was at the scene of the crime and who identified Davis as the killer, was in fact the shooter.

The Davis case has attracted the attention of many powerful individuals, including Jimmy Carter, Pope Benedict XVI, and former prosecutors and judges -- who believe Davis should have the opportunity to present newly discovered evidence that establishes his innocence.

We Do Not Care If You Are Actually Innocent: You Must Die
Justice Scalia and Thomas disagree with Davis and his supporters. Scalia's characteristically passionate dissent in the case makes him look like a bloodthirsty reaper. Scalia's dissent (in which Thomas joins) contends that even if Davis could establish his "actual innocence," this would not create a basis for a federal court to prevent his execution.

Scalia contends that federal statutory law would preclude any relief for Davis, even if he established his innocence. Accordingly, he concludes that ordering the district court to conduct an evidentiary hearing is foolish.

But as Justice Stevens argues, the statute cannot trump a constitutional violation. I suspect that several of the justices believe that knowingly executing a person who has sufficiently established his innocence would violate the constitution.

This Is Not Scalia's First Execution-Hungry Statement
This is not the first time that Scalia has expressed callousness towards a person facing execution. In McCleskey v Kemp, another Georgia case involving a black man convicted of killing a police officer, Scalia sided with the majority, which held that McCleskey failed to show that race impacted his own sentence. A study of the Georgia death penalty, however, made a strong case that race impacted the general application of capital punishment in Georgia (see prior blog posts here, here, and here).

Although the majority held that McCleskey failed to show racial discrimination in his particular case, during the Court's deliberation, Scalia sent a memorandum to the other justices that contained a shocking argument. Scalia conceded that juries and prosecutors make decisions based on race and that he did not need any more "proof" in McCleskey's case.

Scalia, however, argued that racism among jurors and prosecutors was "ineradicable." In other words, Scalia described racism as a natural part of the criminal justice system that courts could not end -- or, presumably, even remedy. Although I agree that racism is a serious problem in the criminal justice system, I also believe that courts have a constitutional obligation to remedy it.

PS: I never heard any conservatives reconcile their support of Scalia with their dislike of Sotomayor due to her vote against the Ricci plaintiffs. Voting against a party seeking a promotion is one thing; voting to send someone to the death chamber -- while conceding that race mattered -- epitomizes injustice.

Update: In the original post, I inadvertantly omitted a link to Scalia's dissent. I have updated the post to provide a link to the opinion -- which you can read here: Scalia's Dissent in Davis.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

CBS News Continues Misleading Reporting of a Backlash Against AARP

First Fox, Now CBS

Recently, Fox News reported that AARP was experiencing a backlash from members due to the organization's "support" (this is contested) of proposed healthcare reform. The Fox News item extensively quotes Stuart Barton, president of the American Seniors Association. Barton offers deep criticism of AARP, and says that his group has received many torn-up AARP membership cards.

The Fox report, however, fails to mention that ASA is a "conservative group" and that Barton opposes Democrat-sponsored healthcare reform - referring to it as "Obamacare." Nevertheless, Fox presents the organization's views as indicative of the views of senior organizations other than AARP.

But that was not Fox's worst omission. The report also fails to disclose that ASA is sponsoring a drive which gives 2 years of membership for the price of 1 year to individuals who mail in their torn up AARP cards. Both groups offer their members advocacy on important issues for seniors, as well as discounts and promotions with corporate partners.

It does not take much brain power to figure out that many of the individuals are simply taking advantage of a good deal, rather than expressing hatred of or disagreement with AARP. Furthermore, with major news media like Fox (and now CBS) giving ASA attention, the organization's membership drive is probably enjoying a tremendous amount of success. Finally, because it is probably impossible for ASA to confirm that new members have actually canceled their AARP memberships, people could send their torn-up cards to ASA, get a discounted membership with ASA, order a replacement card from AARP, and retain memberships in both organizations.

CBS News has joined Fox's abysmal reporting on this issue. A report by Sharyl Attkisson (see embedded video following this article) discloses the conservative nature of ASA, but Attkisson never mentions the organization's marketing strategy that offers a 50% discount to new members who mail in torn up AARP cards. That a competing organization is offering AARP members a financial incentive to mail in their torn membership cards is indisputably relevant to this story.

To make matters worse, Attkisson's report contains ample footage of ASA staff sorting through envelopes and removing torn AARP cards, which suggests a massive backlash. Instead, many of the individuals are likely taking advantage of ASA's competitive membership drive. Thanks to Fox and CBS, this group is receiving effective -- but deceptive -- marketing.

At the very end of the report, Attkisson finally decides to mention that AARP has over 40 million members, registers hundreds of thousands of new members per month, and that the organization considers a loss of "up to" 60,000 members as a "drop in the bucket." It is unclear whether AARP has even suffered a net loss of members. [Note: It has not -- see below: UPDATE II]

UPDATE: James Joyner raises a good point on the blog Outside the Beltway. Joyner describes the irony (edit: "complete hypocrisy") of conservative seniors and ASA leading the charge against AARP for supporting a plan that seeks to reduce the costs associated with Medicare. Conservatives often point to Medicare as representing the perils of public-sponsored healthcare. Also, it is the largest public plan in the country, but conservatives bash public plans as a step towards "socialized medicine." This "protest" does not reflect conservative values.

UPDATE II: According to an Associated Press article (that also fails to mention ASA's card-cutting membership drive), the loss of 60, 000 members is indeed a drop in the bucket for AARP. A spokesperson for AARP says that 60,000 members specifically cited AARP's stance on healthcare reform as they canceled their memberships (which means these particular individuals do not retain memberships in AARP and ASA). The spokesperson also said that AARP typically loses 300,000 members a month, and that during the same period that it lost 60,000 members (July 1 - mid-August) over healthcare reform, it gained 400,000 new members, and 1.5 million individuals renewed their memberships.

UPDATE III:Media Matters has done some digging on the personalities featured in the CBS report. Apparently, one of the ex-AARP'ers, Elaine Guardiani, is very conservative and anti-Obama even outside of the healthcare debates. Accordingly, she is a prime candidate to take part in an AARP smear campaign -- or ASA membership drive. Assuming this is the same Guardiani, here are her comments regarding healthcare reform:

Couple this with this headlong rush into control over every aspect of our lives by the current administration and the attack on our right to have "privacy" of our medical records and be able to choose our medical coverage without the government attacking our benefits and our right to care under penalty of law even if we can afford procedures they don't intend to provide or want to eliminate from our care if a government plana goes through. Since when is it illegal for me to be able to pay for something I can afford like medical procedures? This country is heading into Socialism at breakneck speed and it is being masked under the glib language of our president.

At age 64, Guardian will probably soon enroll in Medicare. It does not appear, however, that she has renounced Medicare -- the nation's largest public plan. Neither have the many conservative bloggers who view this story as an honest portrayal of reality. Conservatives, however, usually despise Medicare, and since it is a public plan, they should consider it one step closer to "socialized medicine." Instead, they are praising the alleged AARP protestors, even though a principal part of their protest surrounds Obama's pledge to lower costs associated with Medicare.

UPDATE IV: Poor CBS. Check out these links, which explain that CBS was either duped or the network voluntarily acted as ASA's marketing machine:

CBS News: Breathless Stenography

Are Senior Citizens Really Quitting AARP And Rushing To The Conservative American Seniors Association?

CBS Video

Speaking of a "Death Panel": Supreme Court Denies Stay of Execution, Sotomayor and 3 Others Dissent

Some conservatives have maligned the inclusion of voluntary end-of-life counseling in proposed healtchare reform, asserting that the provision would create a governmental "death panel" empowered to decide who lives or dies. But governmental death panels already exist in this country, and they decide who lives or dies quite frequently -- with strong support from conservatives.

On Monday, the Supreme Court voted 5-4 to deny a stay of execution for Jason Getsy whom the State of Ohio will intentionally kill (more honest than "execute") today at 10:30am. The four dissenters included liberals Sotomayor, Ginsburg, Stevens and Breyer. The five conservatives -- Scalia, Roberts, Alito, Thomas, and Kennedy -- voted against the stay.
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