Sunday, February 28, 2010

Definitive Proof That Obama Wants Socialized Medicine

Very subtly -- yet surely -- proof has arrived to demonstrate that President Obama wants socialized medicine. The Tea Party folk and "professional" Republican politicians have made this argument incessantly, and it now appears that they are absolutely correct.

Obama just had his first physical as president, and rather than going to one of the many private hospitals in the country, he went to the National Navy Medical Center --a (gasp) government-run hospital. Not only is the hospital government-run, but it also takes many patients on government-run health plans, like TRICARE -- the socialized plan of choice for Joe "You Lie" Wilson and his family. TRICARE, like all other health plans, only pays for allowed procedures; in other words, it "rations" care. How Bolshevik!

Shame on you, Obama. And shame on the other people who utilize socialized medicine!

Note: Sarcasm to the extreme.

Australian Study Shows Possible Link Between Marijuana and Psychosis

Australian mental health researchers have possibly found a link between marijuana use and psychosis. According to a Yahoo News report (via HealthDay.com):

Australian researchers asked nearly 3,100 young adults averaging about 20 years of age about marijuana use. They found that almost 18 percent reported using the drug for three or fewer years, about 16 percent for four to five years, and just over 14 percent for six or more years.

Among the participants, 65 had been diagnosed with a "non-affective psychosis" such as schizophrenia, and 233 had at least one positive item for hallucination on a diagnostic interview conducted for the study.

"Compared with those who had never used cannabis, young adults who had six or more years since first use of cannabis [i.e., who commenced use when around 15 years or younger] were twice as likely to develop a non-affective psychosis and were four times as likely to have high scores on the Peters et al Delusions Inventory [a measure of delusion]," wrote Dr. John McGrath, of the Queensland Centre for Mental Health Research, Park Centre for Mental Health in Wacol, and colleagues. "There was a 'dose-response' relationship between the variables of interest: the longer the duration since the first cannabis use, the higher the risk of psychosis-related outcomes."
The researchers also found a connection between hallucinations and marijuana, but the link is unclear. Many of the people who experienced hallucinations began doing so at a young age, and they also commenced using marijuana at an early age. The researchers beleive that marijuana could have enhanced a predisposition in the individuals for hallucinations.

Al Gore Op-Ed: We Can't Wish Away Climate Change

Al Gore has written a very passionate defense of the science pertaining to climate change. Conservatives -- who never accepted the arguments in the first place -- have used recent revelations of faulty data among some scientists in the field to discount and belittle decades of research. Gore takes on these and other arguments.

Here is a clip:
I, for one, genuinely wish that the climate crisis were an illusion. But unfortunately, the reality of the danger we are courting has not been changed by the discovery of at least two mistakes in the thousands of pages of careful scientific work over the last 22 years by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. In fact, the crisis is still growing because we are continuing to dump 90 million tons of global-warming pollution every 24 hours into the atmosphere — as if it were an open sewer.

It is true that the climate panel published a flawed overestimate of the melting rate of debris-covered glaciers in the Himalayas, and used information about the Netherlands provided to it by the government, which was later found to be partly inaccurate. In addition, e-mail messages stolen from the University of East Anglia in Britain showed that scientists besieged by an onslaught of hostile, make-work demands from climate skeptics may not have adequately followed the requirements of the British freedom of information law.

But the scientific enterprise will never be completely free of mistakes. What is important is that the overwhelming consensus on global warming remains unchanged. It is also worth noting that the panel’s scientists — acting in good faith on the best information then available to them — probably underestimated the range of sea-level rise in this century, the speed with which the Arctic ice cap is disappearing and the speed with which some of the large glacial flows in Antarctica and Greenland are melting and racing to the sea.

Because these and other effects of global warming are distributed globally, they are difficult to identify and interpret in any particular location. For example, January was seen as unusually cold in much of the United States. Yet from a global perspective, it was the second-hottest January since surface temperatures were first measured 130 years ago.

Similarly, even though climate deniers have speciously argued for several years that there has been no warming in the last decade, scientists confirmed last month that the last 10 years were the hottest decade since modern records have been kept.

The heavy snowfalls this month have been used as fodder for ridicule by those who argue that global warming is a myth, yet scientists have long pointed out that warmer global temperatures have been increasing the rate of evaporation from the oceans, putting significantly more moisture into the atmosphere — thus causing heavier downfalls of both rain and snow in particular regions, including the Northeastern United States. Just as it’s important not to miss the forest for the trees, neither should we miss the climate for the snowstorm.
Read the full essay here: We Can’t Wish Away Climate Change.

My take: I emphatically agree that flaws in some scientific research collected by a few scientists cannot diminish the findings of researchers who have studied this issue for years. One can and should debate policy, but playing games over scientific data is silly. At the same time, the individuals responsible for producing poor research should be taken to task by their peers (rather than fire-breathing bloggers and media). Their mistakes have enabled this political circus.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Quake-Related Tsunami Hits Hawaii; Robertson Silent on Cause

The earthquake in Chile has triggered a tsunami that has hit various places including Hawaii. The damage, however, did not live up to predictions. According to the Associated Press:
The tsunami was causing a series of surges that were about 20 minutes apart, and the waves arrived later and smaller than originally predicted. The highest wave at Hilo measured 5.5 feet (1.7 meters) high, while Maui saw some as high as 2 meters (6.5 feet).
No word yet on whether Pat Robertson has a twisted explanation for the earthquake. This earthquake was was stronger than the one in Haiti. Robertson stated that slave-freeing Satanism caused the devastation in Haiti. Maybe Robertson will blame President Obama for the tsunami; he is from Hawaii.

Yahoo Sports Writer Says Figure Skating Is Not a Sport

Dan Wetzel -- a sports writer for Yahoo -- says that figure skating is not a sport. Wetzel concedes that figure skaters are athletes and that their craft requires "speed, strength, agility, dexterity, balance and conditioning." Wetzel, however, argues that figure skating cannot qualify as a sport because picking the winner involves subjectivity:
A sport requires a quantifiable way to determine a winner and a loser. There can be no debate about the scoring system. A puck must go into a net. A skier must get down the hill fastest. A short-track speedskater must finish ahead of the pack.

For safety reasons – you can’t have all the bobsleds go down at once – a clock is used to determine the winner in some sports. The clock is not subjective, though.

Figure skating is about what a human judge interprets as success. They bring their own biases, beliefs and preferences. It’s abstract. As such, it should be properly defined as a competition, not a sport.
I agree that figure skating involves subjective judging -- especially the artistic impression marks -- but there are established rules and required elements in figure skating. Failure to include these elements results in a designated point reduction. A 2-foot landing on a jump or a fall also results in a specific reduction.

Furthermore, having numerous judges -- rather than one -- allows for the results to get very close to an objective outcome. Kim Yu Na won by a mile. No one came close.

Furthermore, by Wetzel's definition, a lot of things that he would probably consider "sports" are not sports. In particular, sports that involve referees making decisions about player infractions -- i.e., football, hockey, and basketball -- involve a lot of subjectivity. A "bad" call can determine the outcome of a game.

Referees can also judge a player's progress, and this involves subjectivity as well. Was the player "out of bounds," where was the end of "forward progress," did the player's knee "touch the ground" before catching the ball? These questions involve subjective decision making. It is not scientific.

The situation with referee errors became so bad in the NFL one year, that the league made penalty review available; still, controversies exist. Numerous referees help weed out erroneous calls, but this is exactly what helps make figure skating more objective.

Finally: who cares? An Olympic sport is whatever the Olympics Organization accepts as a sport. From the very inception of the modern Olympics, sports that combine artistry and athleticism (like gymnastics and figure skating) have always been a part of the games. So, I am going to sit back and enjoy all of the games before they end. I advise Wetzel to do the same!

Edited: This article was updated to include examples of a quantifiable merit in figure skating.

Massive Earthquake Hits Chile

A massive earthquake has struck in Chile.

From the New York Times:

A powerful 8.8-magnitude earthquake struck Chile early Saturday, shaking the capital of Santiago for 90 seconds and sending tsunami warnings along much of the Pacific basin.

Chile’s TVN cable news channel was reporting 122 deaths, with the toll expected to rise, as communications were still spotty around the center of quake, near the city of ConcepciĆ³n in the south. Chile President Michelle Bachelet declared a “state of catastrophe" . . . .

The quake downed buildings and houses in Santiago and knocked out a major bridge connecting the northern and southern sections of the country.

It struck at 3:34 a.m. local time and was centered about 200 miles southwest of Santiago, at a depth of 22 miles, the U.S. Geological Survey reported. The epicenter was some 70 miles from Concepcion, Chile’s second-largest city, where more than 200,000 people live.

Phone lines were down in Concepcion as of 7:30 a.m. and no reports were coming out of that area. The quake in Chile was more powerful than the magnitude 7.0 earthquake that caused widespread damage in Haiti on Jan 12, killing at least 230,000, earthquake experts reported on CNN International.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Tea Party Attempting Unconstitutional "Recall" of Democratic Senators

As much as Tea Party members whine that Congress is violating the Constitution, one would expect the group not to advocate clearly unconstitutional measures itself. Well, this logic has not influenced the Tea Party movement.

According to the Washington Times, the Tea Party movement is trying to "recall" several Democratic senators before their terms in office expire. The Washington Times reports that several states have "recall" measures that cover federal officeholders. There is a major problem with these laws: they violate the Constitution.

As the Supreme Court held in Powell v. McCormack, the Constitution establishes all of the requirements for members of the House and Senate. In Powell, the Court held that Congress could not alter those requirements. The House tried to block Adam Clayton Powell from taking his House seat on the grounds that he had engaged in financial impropriety. The Constitution, however, did not allow the House to block Powell, because he had met all of the requirements of office listed in the Constitution.

In US Term Limits v. Thornton, the Supreme Court extended Powell and held that states lacked the authority to alter the requirements of members of Congress as well. Thornton involved a challenge to an Arkansas law that established term limits for members of the House and Senate. The Court held that the law violated the Constitution. There is nothing unique about a "recall" statute that would make it permissible.

Nothing in the Constitution permits the recall of members of Congress -- although the Constitution does allow each house to "expel" a member. The only power that voters have over members of Congress comes through the normal electoral process. That process takes place every six years for members of the Senate and every two years for members of the House. The Tea Party crowd will have to wait until the targeted senators complete their terms. Yes -- the law applies to everyone.

Rangel in Hot Water

A House ethics panel has found that Representative Charlie Rangel violated House ethics rules when he went on corporate-funded trips paid for by the Carib News. Although four other members of Congress attended the trips with Rangel, they were cleared of any wrongdoing. Apparently, the ethics panel imputed to Rangel his staffers' knowledge of the actual sponsorship of the trips. As stated by Politico:
The committee did not find sufficient evidence to conclude, nor does it believe that it would discover additional evidence to alter its conclusion, that Rep. Rangel had actual knowledge of the memoranda written by his staff . . . However, the report finds that Rep. Rangel was responsible for the knowledge and actions of his staff in the performance of their official duties.
Rangel, however, objects to this conclusion:

I don’t want to be critical of the committee, but the common sense dictates that members of Congress should not be held responsible for what could be the wrongdoing of, or mistakes occur, as a staff unless there’s reason to believe the member knew or should have known. And there’s nothing in the record to indicate the latter. . . .So I have to now deal with my lawyer as to what the hell do they mean that something’s imputed. Does it mean that no matter what a staff member does if the member doesn’t know it that the member could be charged and admonished publicly for it?

Perhaps the findings are not as bad as the headlines, but this is not good news for Rangel.

Actor Andrew Koenig Dies from Apparent Suicide

Actor Andrew Koenig who starred in the 1980s sitcom Growing Pains has died from an apparent suicide. His father, Walter Koenig, says that his son "took his own life." The elder Koenig offers sobering advice for people struggling with depression, as his son did: "If you are one of those people who can't handle it any more, know people are out there who really care before you make that final decision . . . Talk to somebody." Koenig was 41.

Oy Vey: Michael Steele Says Obama Should Have Had Healthcare Summit Last Year. He Did!

Apparently, Dissenting Justice has a soft spot for underdogs. While other Democrats rushed to condemn Sarah Palin (even before she imploded on the national stage), I argued that they should treat her seriously and hear what she had to say. When Michael Steele was chosen to head the RNC, I also parted from liberals who raced to skewer him. After President Obama and the New York Times went after New York Governor David Paterson, I supported him (until the latest news emerged about possible undue influence in an assault case). I even pleaded with liberals to extend due process to Illinois Governor Rob Blagojevich, who absolutely deserved the benefit of a rational process like any other accused individual. And I argued, rightfully, that in the absence of a showing of improper conduct, Roland Burriss deserved his Senate seat.

Supporting the underdogs, however, comes with risks. Palin turned out to be an intellectual lightweight. Burriss might have actually purchased his Senate seat. Paterson might have used the weight of his name to convince a complainant to withdraw charges against an aide.

Meanwhile, Michael Steele has certainly failed to bring a sophisticated voice to the RNC. Instead, he has provided much comic relief. In the latest round, Steele argues that President Obama should have held a healthcare summit last year. Great -- but there is a major problem with this argument: President Obama held a healthcare summit last year! Caught in the embarrassing moment, Steele says that last year's summit "didn't count." Interesting.

This is not the first time that Steele has been caught in the headlights. Last August, for example, Steele stuttered while trying to defend his blatantly contradictory positions supporting Medicare and demonizing public-sponsored health plans as "socialized medicine."

Nevertheless, I will continue supporting underdogs -- when it is the right thing to do!

Here is video footage of Steele on the healthcare summit.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

2 Generals Horrified by Gays and Lesbians

The New York Times reports that Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the Army chief of the staff, and Gen. Norton A. Schwartz, the Air Force chief of staff, oppose the move to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell. DADT is a statute that excludes known gays and lesbians from military service. President Obama has promised to seek repeal of DADT. Recently, Senator Joe Lieberman has said that he will introduce a bill to repeal the legislation.

Casey, appearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, said that "I do have serious concerns about the impact of repeal of the law on a force that’s fully engaged in two wars and has been at war for eight-and-a-half years. . . We just don’t know the impacts on readiness and military effectiveness." Schwartz testified before the House Armed Services Committee and stated that “[t]his is not the time to perturb the force that is, at the moment, stretched by demands in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere without careful deliberation. . . ." Studies, however, show that the presence of out gays and lesbians would not disrupt military service.

The Defense Department advanced similar arguments to support discrimination against gays and lesbians during the Bush administration. Bush's Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who also heads the department in the Obama administration, also advanced those claims. Gates, however, now supports lifting the ban.

My Take
I am always humored when military personnel argue that the mere presence of an openly gay or lesbian person could disrupt service or demoralize the troops. The nation expects members of the armed forces to abandon their families and loved ones, invade countries, slaughter opposing forces, and protect national security. But these same "warriors" are apparently so fragile that they will have a nervous breakdown if they have to serve alongside known gay or lesbian individuals. If this is the case, then perhaps they are not tough enough for military service in the first place.

"Healthcare Lite": Does The White House Have a Fallback Position?

According to the Wall Street Journal, the White House has prepared a scaled-down healthcare reform package that would accomplish far less than the Obama administration's current proposal. Ezra Klein of the Washington Post, however, says that this is not true.

Klein chides the Wall Street Journal for pushing the idea that the White House is considering "health-care lite." Klein, however, concedes that since August, the White House has debated the merits of a lighter reform package.

According to Klein, Rahm Emanuel pushed the idea of aiming low, believing that comprehensive reform either could not pass or that it would cost Democrats votes in the midterm elections. The Wall Street Journal also reports that Emanuel pushed a smaller package, but the article states that he did not design the alternative policy. Klein says that Emanuel pushed the idea again after Scott Brown won the Massachusetts senate race. According to Klein, however, advocates of the comprehensive plan won the debate on each occasion.

The Wall Street Journal article relies on anonymous sources. Klein's does too, but Klein's sources are from within the White House, while the Wall Street Journal does not cite White House sources -- even anonymously -- a factor that for Klein raises suspicion of attempted "sabotage."

Query: Dana Milbank's recent Washington Post article that reads like a personal marketing statement for Rahm Emanuel also states that Emanuel pushed a much smaller reform package. According to Milbank/Emanuel, President Obama's failure to listen to Emanuel was a terrible mistake. Could the Wall Street Journal article represent a last-ditch effort by Emanuel's people to bring attention to healthcare lite?

Update: Klein says that the Wall Street Journal has now updated the article without saying so; the new version drops a quote from an anonymous, senior White House official. But the clever Klein made a screen-capture of the original article.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Maryland Teacher Called Police to Remove Student From Class for Refusing to Recite Pledge of Allegiance

In January, a Maryland school teacher called two police officers to escort a student from her classroom because the 13-year-old exercised her constitutional rights and refused to stand and recite the Pledge of Allegiance. The student also refused to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance on the previous day of school.

The teacher's attempt to force the student to recite the Pledge of Allegiance violates the constitutional doctrine stated by the Supreme Court in the 1943 ruling West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette. In Barnette, the Court overruled prior caselaw and held that forcing students to salute the flag and recite the Pledge of Allegiance "transcends constitutional limitations on [the school officials'] power and invades the sphere of intellect and spirit which it is the purpose of the First Amendment to our Constitution to reserve from all official control" (emphasis added).

The teacher's conduct also violates state policy. A Maryland student handbook states that: "You cannot be required to say a pledge, sing an anthem, or take part in patriotic exercises. No one will be permitted to intentionally embarrass you if you choose not to participate" (emphasis added). The other students in the class mocked the defiant student as police escorted her away from the classroom.

On the first day that the student refused to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, the teacher yelled at her. Now, the teacher must apologize -- thanks to a settlement negotiated by the ACLU.

A Polite Jeb Bush Calls Sarah Palin An Idiot

When Jeb Bush calls you an intellectual lightweight, you know there is a problem. But that is what he said about Sarah Palin (h/t TPM).

Here's the video. The Palin discussion begins at 18:38.




PS: Hearing Bush criticize President Obama on government spending (given his brother's awful expansion of government) is comical.

Tea Party Members Blow Gasket Over Scott Brown's Job Bill Vote

Massachusetts Republican Senator Scott Brown recently voted, along with 4 other GOP members, for cloture on President Obama's $15 billion jobs bill. The Tea Party goers are not amused, and they are blasting Brown's and his daughter's Facebook pages with angry commentary (Gawker and Wonkette have absolutely devilish takes on the subject). Apparently, the concept of a "New England Republican" escapes them.

Query: The Republicans originally agreed to a much larger jobs bill -- $85 billion -- but Harry Reid slashed it to its current level. Why didn't the Tea Party folks flip out over the original Republican position, which was more expensive? Perhaps, they did not complain because the original bill was laden with business tax cuts (as is the final bill) or because Fox spun Reid's decision as an act of partisanship. If conservatives voiced complaints with the original bill please send me the links. Thanks.

South Carolina Tea Party Leader Backs Illegal Proposal to Ban US Currency

Recently, Dissenting Justice analyzed a proposed law in South Carolina that would ban the use of federal currency in the state. The proposal would violate blatant provisions of the Constitution and federal statutory law. Nevertheless, Michael Pitts, the Republican lawmaker who introduced the measure, wants to protest what he views as excessive spending by the government and to prepare for a collapse of the national monetary system.

Although Pitts' measure is not formally connected to the Tea Party movement, a local representative of the protest organization says that he likes the idea. According to an AOL News report, Ron Parks, a South Carolina Tea Party organizer, "Pitts' bill is something the movement could get behind. . . because it's in 'agreement with what we stand for, in that it would stabilize a monetary system in South Carolina.'"

Ironically, the Tea Party movement frequently complains that federal policies violate the Constitution. Nevertheless, a Tea Party organizer says that group could "get behind" a blatantly unconstitutional state law.

Rahm Emanuel: Ghostwriter for Dana Milbank?

Recently, Dana Milbank wrote an article that passionately defends White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel against a torrent of criticism. Many commentators have argued that Emanuel has been an ineffective strategist for the White House and have openly called for President Obama to fire him.

When I first read the article, I immediately suspected that much of its content probably came directly from Emanuel or from people close to him. The article barely pretends to approach the subject of Emanuel's performance objectively, and it is laced with anecdotes and perspectives that only Emanuel or someone very close to him could have provided.

For example, the article reports that Obama has rejected Emanuel's advice on various strategies and followed the advice of Valerie Jarrett, David Axelrod, and Robert Gibbs. Milbank portrays Obama as the victim of the latter's bad advice. Milbank, however, would not know the specific moments of conflict between Obama's senior advisers unless someone very close to the White House informed him.

An article in Politico makes a plausible case that Milbank merely transcribed Emanuel's views. Others have also speculated about Milbank's source. In particular, Cenk Uygur of the Huffington Post argues that "Dana Milbank transcribed an article written by Rahm Emanuel today in The Washington Post. Never has an article been more clearly written to support a political benefactor."

In response to the Politico story, Milbank has denied that he spoke to Emanuel for his article. But it is less clear, however, whether Milbank spoke to someone very close to Emanuel. Milbank simply says that Emanuel's "people were. . .disinclined to help me with this column, out of fear of just the reaction that would occur: people would suggest he spoon fed it to me." Even if Emanuel's people were "disinclined" to contribute, this does not mean that they ultimately refused to speak to Milbank. If Milbank did not speak to Emanuel or persons close to him, then his portrayal of conflict in the White House lacks credibility. If Milbank spoke to Emanuel or his people, then he should have disclosed this fact. Either way, the story has a cloud over it.

RELATED STORY: OK, We Get It: The Washington Post "Hearts" Rahm Emanuel!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Run: Facts! CBO Says Stimulus Created 1-2 Million Jobs in Q4

Although only 6% of the public believes that the stimulus has created jobs, private economic forecasters have concluded that the statute has created over 1 million jobs. Now, the Congressional Budget Office -- which provides nonpartisan fiscal analysis of government policy -- has reached a similar conclusion. According to a CBO report, the stimulus was quite successful in the last quarter of 2009:
CBO estimates that in the fourth quarter of calendar year 2009, ARRA added between 1.0 million and 2.1 million to the number of workers employed in the United States, and it increased the number of full-time-equivalent jobs by between 1.4 million and 3.0 million. Increases in FTE jobs include shifts from part-time to full-time work or overtime and are thus generally larger than increases in the number of employed workers.

The CBO estimates are larger than some earlier reports (particularly from the White House) because those reports were based on self-reporting by direct recipients of stimulus funding. Those numbers, however, do not include subcontractor hiring to complete projects demanded by stimulus recipients. The figures also do not include the "multiplier" effect of stimulus subsidies, job creation, etc. In other words, the earlier numbers do not account for new jobs created because people have more money to spend due to stimulus funds.
This is particularly good news for the Obama administration. Nevertheless, the overall unemployment rate must fall substantially before voters will have more optimism about the economy. Still, this news provides a factual counter to the empty rhetoric that the stimulus was irrelevant on the issue of jobs. Well, even Republicans who initially floated this argument quietly disagree with it today!

Query: If the stimulus had substantial success later in 2009 -- yet unemployment remains high -- does this validate Paul Krugman's argument that the stimulus should have been larger and that it should have included more items of direct spending and fewer tax cuts?

White House Asks Republicans to Produce a Healthcare Plan

A post on WhiteHouse.gov by White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer asks Republicans to provide their plan to reform the nation's healthcare system. The White House posted President Obama's plan earlier this week.

On Thursday, President Obama will host a bipartisan healthcare summit. In advance of that summit, the White House has decided to highlight the absence of a specific Republicans plan:
You can read through [President Obama's] bipartisan ideas section by section, or you can select your health care status and find out what the proposal would mean for you. You can even submit a question for our policy staff to answer.

What you can’t do just yet is read about the Republicans’ consensus plan – because so far they haven’t announced what proposal they’ll be bringing to the table. To be sure, there are many Republicans who share the President’s conviction that we need to act on reform, and there are several pieces of Republican health care legislation out there. Previously we were told this was the House Republican bill. Is it still? We look forward to hearing whether this the proposal they'll bring. The Senate Republicans have yet to post any kind of plan, so we continue to await word from them. As of right now, the American people still don’t know which one Congressional Republicans support and which one they want to present to the public on Thursday.

President Obama has been clear that his proposal isn’t the final say on legislation, and that’s what Thursday’s meeting is all about. But after a year of historic national dialogue about reform, it’s time for both sides to be clear about what their plan is to lower costs, hold insurance companies accountable, make health insurance affordable for those without it, and reduce the deficit. A collection of piecemeal and sometimes conflicting ideas won’t do.

As we said today, we’ll be happy to post the Republican plan on our website once they indicate to us which one we should post. We hope they won’t pass up this opportunity to make their case to the American people.
This post represents a shift in strategy by the White House. President Obama's new communications strategy will include more aggressive engagement with his political opponents. Although the post sometimes comes across as "taunting," it will probably score some points with people who want more substance (in whatever form) and less criticism. It is important to note, however, that President Obama only posted his specific reform plan this week, and his failure to do so earlier led to criticism among Democrats.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Truth or Dare: McCain Says He Was Misled Regarding the Bailout

Senator John McCain, who faces a tough reelection battle, says that he was misled regarding the details of the bailout. McCain says that he believed that the bailout would focus on the housing crisis, but that the money went to Wall Street companies, like AIG, and to the auto industry.

But Wall Street firms, including AIG, helped to create and were negatively impacted by the housing crisis. Also, the bailout legislation is drafted broadly and allows the government to purchase bad assets from "financial institutions" and other companies, regardless of whether the assets are mortgage-related.

Sen. Scott Brown Joins Democrats to Push Jobs Bill to a Vote

Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown crossed the aisle today and sided with Democrats to push a jobs bill to a vote. Brown explained that he acted as an "independent voice."

Sen. Lieberman Will Introduce Bill to Repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"

Senator Lieberman (I-CT) will introduce a bill to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" -- a statute that prohibits known gays and lesbians from participating in the armed forces. James Kirchick, writing for the New York Daily News, suggests that Lieberman could "frustrate and perplex" liberals by introducing "the most significant piece of socially progressive legislation that Congress will deal with this year." But Lieberman's position on DADT should not erase his bad standing with liberals.

According to recent polling data, 75 percent of the public -- including former Vice President Dick Cheney -- supports lifting the ban. Accordingly, Lieberman is not out of step with public opinion.

Furthermore, while repealing DADT is important for social justice, this topic is not as controversial as it once was. President Obama, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, and Joint Chiefs Chair of Staff Mullen all support the repeal of DADT -- as do many members of Congress. Although he probably opposes DADT, I suspect that Lieberman is also looking for some liberal credentials after losing points with the Left due to his moderate stance on healthcare reform and his support of John McCain during the 2008 presidential election.

Finally: White House Offers Detailed Healthcare Reform Plan

As promised, the White House has released a detailed proposal to reform the nation's healthcare and insurance systems. The White House proposals seeks to bridge the gaps between the House and Senate bills. The White House, however, used the Senate bill as a model.

Here are some of the substantive changes, as summarized by the New York Times:

To begin with, Mr. Obama would eliminate a controversial special deal for Nebraska — widely derided by Republicans as the “cornhusker kickback” — that called for the federal government to pay the full cost of a Medicaid expansion for that state. Instead, the White House would help all states absorb the cost of the Medicaid expansion from 2014, when it begins, until 2017.

And while the president adopts the Senate’s proposed excise tax on high-cost, employer sponsored insurance plans, Mr. Obama makes some crucial adjustments based on an agreement reached in January with organized labor leaders, while also trying to avoid the appearance of special treatment for unions. Most crucially, the president would delay imposing the tax until 2018 for all taxpayers, not just for health benefits provided through collectively-bargained union contracts. . . .

And the bill offers the Senate’s less restrictive language on abortion; it does not include the so-called “Stupak amendment,” which would bar insurers from offering abortion coverage to anyone buying a policy with a federal subsidy. The absence of the Stupak provision, named for Representative Bart Stupak, the conservative Michigan Democrat, could complicate matters for Mr. Obama in the House, where conservatives, led by Mr. Stupak, are adamant that the provision be included.

Mr. Obama largely adopted the Senate’s approach to paying for the legislation, including a proposed increase in the Medicare payroll tax for individuals earning more than $200,000 a year and for couples earning more than $250,000.

He opted for the Senate’s proposal to create state-based insurance exchanges, or marketplaces, rather than a single national exchange as proposed by the House. . . .

Until now, President Obama has remained fuzzy regarding the specifics of healthcare reform. Instead, he has supported broad and general proposals and left much of the details to Congress.

Many critics contend that his muted voice on the issue has allowed conservatives to distort the terms of the debate and made the White House come across as lacking leadership. A recent Newsweek survey shows that respondents oppose the Democrats' healthcare proposals -- until they hear the details. These results suggests that people generally lack knowledge of the actual details regarding healthcare reform.

Some liberals are upset that President Obama accepted and promoted compromises (on matters like the public option) to appease moderates like Senators Joe Lieberman and Mary Landrieu. This new proposal might not alleviate the Left's frustration with the White House. But, perhaps, it will help provide the final political push to pass some semblance of reform.

Yes, It Is Hypocrisy: Condemning the Stimulus, Spending the Stimulus

Bloomberg joins several other media outlets to detail the hypocrisy among Republican members of Congress who opposed the stimulus package, but who lobbied for money that the statute allocated. In particular, many Republicans said that the stimulus would not create jobs (or had not created jobs), but then lobbied for funds on behalf of constituents claiming that the money would help create jobs. A prior entry on Dissenting Justice covered this topic.

According to Bloomberg:
Alabama Republicans Jo Bonner and Robert Aderholt took to the U.S. House floor in July, denouncing the Obama administration’s stimulus plan for failing to boost employment. “Where are the jobs?” each of them asked.

Over the next three months, Bonner and Aderholt tried at least five times to steer stimulus-funded transportation grants to Alabama on grounds that the projects would help create thousands of jobs.

They joined more than 100 congressional Republicans and several Democrats who, after voting against the stimulus bill, wrote Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood seeking money from $1.5 billion the plan set aside for local road, bridge, rail and transit grants. The $862 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act passed last year with no Republican votes in the House and three in the Senate.

Bonner said opposing the stimulus doesn’t mean he shouldn’t help Alabama projects compete for grants. “It is my role to ensure that their request is considered by the federal agency,” he said in an e-mail. . . .

Indiana Republican Steve Buyer, who last year called the stimulus bill a “sham,” wrote LaHood -- a former Republican congressman from Illinois -- to seek $80 million for a highway construction project that “is vital to the economic health of North Central Indiana” At the end of the letter Buyer wrote: “Ray, appreciate your personal attention. Steve.”

As the quoted text indicates, Bonner has floated the curious argument that opposing the stimulus and lobbying for stimulus money are not inconsistent. Even if one were to buy that assertion, it is absolutely inconsistent to argue, as Bonner does, that the stimulus will not create jobs -- but then demand money for constituents on the grounds that the stimulus will create jobs.

Bloomberg also reports that several House Democrats who voted against the stimulus are also waiting in line to get money for their districts. Rather than educate voters and take principled positions, members of Congress are trying to play both sides of the issue.

Toyota and Washington: Follow the Money Trail

The Washington Post has an excellent article that details the financial connections between Toyota and members of Congress who sit on committees that oversee the auto industry. Many of these individuals will also preside over upcoming hearings investigating the company's recall of over 8 million cars worldwide, including the United States, due to sudden acceleration.

According to the Washington Post:

* During the last 10 years, over 40% of the 125 members of three committees investigating Toyota received $135,673 from the Toyota dealers' PAC, dealership owners and employees, and staff at Toyota's U.S. operation.

* During the last 10 years, members of Congress received an additional $1 million for their campaigns through donations made to state parties and PACs.

* Toyota Motor North America also made significant donations to charities and other nonprofit groups with ties to members of Congress, including financing events honoring or entertaining members of Congress.

* Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV, who chairs the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, will preside over a hearing concerning Toyota on March 3. In 2008, Toyota Motor North America spent $45,000 in "lobbying funds" to hold an awards ceremony, at which the auto maker honored Rockefeller. The day after the gala, Rockefeller's press release described Shigeru Hayakawa, President of Toyota Motors North America, as someone the Senator was "proud to call a friend."

* Rep. Jane Harman (D), represents California -- the state with the largest Toyota operations. Harman represents a district covering Torrance, where Toyota is based. In 2008, Harman and her husband owned a financial stake in Toyota between $116,002 and $315,000.

* Finally, Toyota has hired bipartisan and Democratic lobbying groups to represent it on the Hill.


None of the activities described above seems illegal. Nonetheless, they raise questions regarding the extent of "industry capture" and the upcoming hearings. None of the individuals receiving money from or who hold financial stakes in Toyota have recused himself or herself from the upcoming hearings.

More Toyota: Internal Document Trumpets Savings Made After Avoiding Earlier Safety Recall

An internal memorandum released to Congress by Toyota reveals that the automaker saved $100 million in after it persuaded federal regulators to end a 2007 investigation into sudden acceleration in Toyota vehicles. This year, however, Toyota has recalled over 8 million vehicles worldwide due to dangerous problems with sudden acceleration.

Another document released to Congress describes the Obama administration as "not industry friendly." Apparently, the upcoming hearings will deliver theatrics - if not substance.

Toyota Document Describes Democrats as "Not Industry Friendly"

Typically, I view Congressional hearings that force industry representatives or private individuals to testify as unnecessary moments of political grandstanding. The upcoming Toyota hearings will probably provide more of the same. The hearings, however, could take on an even more melodramatic tone if Democrats press Toyota regarding a document that labels the Obama administration as unfriendly to industry.

The document was included in a batch of materials subject to a Congressional subpoena. It appears to be a rather routine "slideshow" assessment of the new legal and business environment after shifts in power in Congress and the White House. Politico has a copy of the document and provides the following summary:
The “Activist Administration & Congress – increasing laws & regulations” is listed as one of “Toyota Challenges,” as is “Massive government support for Detroit automakers.”

The July 2009 presentation also says the Department of Transportation and National Highway Transportation Safety Administration “under Obama administration” is “not industry friendly,” and anticipates a “more challenging regulatory and enforcement environment.”

It says the NHTSA “new team has less understanding of engineering issues and are primarily focused on legal issues.”

“While the administration may have changed, the bureaucracy itself has not and we must ensure that government regulators give every possible consumer concern its due diligence,” said Republican Oversight spokesman Kurt Bardella.
On the surface, this document seems unrelated to the recall. Nevertheless, lawmakers could pay attention to it. Toyota's fear of regulation seems likely to invite questions -- given its need to recall 8 million cars across several different models. Stay tuned!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Ignorance Reeks: Americans Loathe Healtchare Reform -- Until They Learn the Details

A recent Newsweek poll confirms that public opinion often rests on ignorance or hypocrisy. The poll surveys public opinion regarding healthcare reform. When asked whether they agreed with President Obama's healthcare reform plan, 49% of respondents disagreed, while only 40% agreed. When these same respondents hear details about the plan, however, 48% support it, while 43% disagree. Here's a clip from the analysis:
The NEWSWEEK Poll asked respondents about eight health-care-reform provisions that Obama and many Democrats in Congress have generally supported. It found that the majority of Americans supported five of those provisions, three by particularly large margins. Eighty-one percent agreed with the creation of a new insurance marketplace, the exchange, for individual subscribers to compare plans and buy insurance at a competitive rate. Seventy-six percent thought health insurers should be required to cover anyone who applies, including those with preexisting conditions; and 75 percent agreed with requiring most businesses to offer health insurance to their employees, with incentives for small-business owners to do so.

Not all Democrat positions received such high marks. Imposing a fine on individuals who do not buy health insurance was the least popular provision, supported by only 28 percent and opposed by 62 percent. Fifty-five percent opposed the so-called Cadillac tax on the most expensive health-insurance plans.
The Newsweek article concludes that the poll shows that President Obama has done a poor job explaining the details of his reform plan to the public. I wholeheartedly agree. One of the most frustrating aspects of the push to reform healthcare has been the weak voice of the White House on the subject.

The Obama administration cannot rely upon the media to do the important work of explaining the plan to the public. Rather than discussing the merits of the plan, the media report political battles and rightwing hysteria (death panels, socialism, etc.). The failure to market the plan effectively has already diminished some of the Democrats' public support, and this problem could very well harm the party in the mid-term elections.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Toyota Camry Tests Positive for Steroid Use; CEO to Testify Before Congress

In a random drug test, the Toyota Camry has tested positive for steroid use. Now, Congress is hauling Akio Toyoda, the CEO of the company, to testify in hearings with national security implications. . . .

Not really, but Toyoda will appear before Congress to discuss recent safety recalls by the world's most popular car manufacturer. I tend to think that Congressional hearings questioning private individuals and businesses (e.g., for steroid use and other infractions) are usually a colossal waste of time. Before he testifies, Toyoda will undergo intense preparation from the company's legal and public relations teams. He will likely deliver a prepared statement and respond to questions with previously crafted answers.

On the other side of the room, members of Congress will engage in a fair amount of grandstanding about the safety of the American people (especially the children) in front of rolling cameras. I suppose that with public disapproval of Congress at historically high levels, lawmakers will skewer Toyota in order to convince voters that they are actually working on pressing issues.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

More South Carolina Shenanigans: Law Would Prohibit Use of U.S. Dollars in the State

South Carolina is one of the nation's poorest states. Many of its citizens are struggling to survive with even less than they had before the global economic crisis. Instead of working on concrete solutions for the people of South Carolina, several of the state's "leaders" continue to engage in shenanigans.

In June 2009, Governor Mark Sanford vanished from the state for a week to consummate an adulterous relationship in Argentina. But Sanford became infamous before this escapade when he rejected stimulus money that his state desperately needed to provide unemployment and welfare benefits to needy persons and to avoid deep cuts in the state's already troubled public school system. The legislature reversed his horrific decision.

To make matters worse, Lieutenant Governor Andre Bauer recently analogized providing assistance to poor people to giving food to "stray animals." Bauer said: "You're facilitating the problem if you give an animal or a person ample food supply. They will reproduce, especially ones that don't think too much further than that." Translation: Let them die.

Proposed Law Would Reject Dollar as Legal Tender
Now, State Representative Mike Pitts, a fourth-term Republican, is the latest South Carolina politician to make the wall of shame. Pitts has introduced a bill that would ban the use of U.S. dollars in the state. Instead, commerce in the state would require silver or gold coins. The Palmetto Scoop explains the "logic" behind the measure:
Pitts said the intent of the bill is to give South Carolina the ability to “function through gold and silver coinage” and give the state a “base of currency” in the event of a complete implosion of the U.S. economic system.

“I’m not one to cry ‘chicken little,’ but if our federal government keeps spending at the rate we’re spending I don’t see any other outcome than the collapse of the economic system. . . .

“To me, something I can hold tangible in my hand I can put more value in, especially under the current rate of inflation. . . In the case of total economic collapse, a barter tool is going to be worth a whole lot more value than paper with ink on it.”
Pitts has the right to criticize the nation's economic policy. His effort to pass this measure, however, is a colossal waste of state resources.

The Measure Would Violate the Constitution
The Constitution endows Congress with the power to "coin money [and] regulate the Value thereof." States do not retain the power to issue their own currencies; accordingly the 10th Amendment would not legitimize the measure.

Pursuant to its explicit constitutional authority, Congress has made U.S. currency the "legal tender for all debts, public charges, taxes, and dues." The federal law would trump the South Carolina measure due to the supremacy of federal law (established by the Constitution).

By contrast, the Articles of Confederation, which the nation scrapped because it was woefully inadequate as a governing document, prohibited Congress from coining money unless 9 of the then 13 states consented. Under the Articles of Confederation, states retained the power to create their own currency. This archaic system, which prevented the formation of a national economy, no longer exists.

Confronted with the reality that his proposal would violate the Constitution, Pitts comes across as a Tea Party-conspiracy theorist and accuses the federal government of "consistently" violating the Constitution (two "wrongs" make a right). While Pitts makes nonspecific assertions that the federal government perpetually exceeds the scope of its powers, his proposal would violate explicit provisions of the Constitution and federal statutory law.

Final Take
Rather than wasting time proposing blatantly unconstitutional legislation, Pitts should endeavor to do something useful for the people of his state. This is the type of conduct that should enrage voters. It is a wasteful stunt and nothing more. Citizens of South Carolina deserve better representation than this.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Mount Vernon Manifesto: More Rightwing Hysteria

Yesterday, the economist Thomas Sowell echoed the rallying cry of Tea Party participants in an essay warning readers that "politicians" (i.e., Democrats) are robbing them of their freedom. Sowell, however, fails to identity any actual rights that politicians have stolen from the public.

Today, a group of conservatives has released a document called the "Mount Vernon Manifesto," which similarly asserts that the federal government is robbing people of individual liberty. The document, however, fails to specify any particular right that the government has infringed.

The document also contends that the federal government has exceeded the scope of its constitutionally delegated powers. The document, however, does not provide even one example of an unconstitutional exercise of federal authority.

Vague Allegations of Rights Infringement
Rather than providing specific examples of rights infringement, the Mount Vernon Manifesto argues in very vague and unsubstantiated terms that the government has improperly constrained individual liberty. This flaw makes the document read like a paranoid conspiracy theory, rather than a credible statement about the status of constitutional rights.

The document borrows from the Declaration of Independence as a blueprint for its analysis of liberty. In so doing, the document purportedly "asserts self-evident truths based on the laws of nature and nature’s God. It defends life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It traces authority to the consent of the governed. It recognizes man’s self-interest but also his capacity for virtue."

Neither the Declaration of Independence nor the conservative manifesto, however, supplies a concrete listing of specific liberty interests. Similarly, the Mount Vernon statement does not demonstrate how the government has denied such rights.

The Mount Vernon Manifesto Is Not Even Inherently "Conservative"
Although the Mount Vernon Manifesto repeatedly claims to advance conservative values, the document is not even inherently conservative. The substance of "self-evident" liberty interests will depend upon the perspective of the beholder.

Liberals believe that "liberty" and the "pursuit of happiness" extend to sexual freedom, autonomy over reproductive choices, and even to imposing affirmative obligations on the government to make liberty meaningfully accessible to all citizens. Social conservatives, however, do not believe in these rights. In other words, the same (ambiguous) text in the Constitution and Declaration of Independence can support a host of different values -- liberal or conservative.

This observation applies with equal force to the portion of the document that advocates limited government. Since the ratification of the Constitution, all commentators have agreed that the document limits the power of the federal government. The precise boundaries of those limits, however, have been subject to vigorous debate throughout American history.

Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson did not see eye to eye on this subject. Both intellectual camps that they represented made reasonable appeals to history, tradition, and to the text of the Constitution to support their arguments.

The Mount Vernon Manifesto, however, treats history in completely uncomplicated terms. It assumes -- incorrectly, that the Framers viewed the boundaries of federal power and individual rights in unified terms, but that modern politicians have corrupted the system of government. This is a deep and fatal inaccuracy.

Final Take
The Mount Vernon Manifesto is clearly a political document. It is not designed to approach U.S. history and the Constitution in the nuanced terms that an honest portrayal requires. The failure of the documents' authors to specify concrete governmental invasions of liberty or excessive and unconstitutional use of governmental power renders the document meaningless as a serious statement on the status of government and history. Apparently, the authors are in pursuit of other agendas.

UPDATE
At least one commentator agrees with my conclusion that the document is "meaningless" as a serious document regarding government policies and liberty. Daniel Larison, writing for the American Conservative Magazine, observes that:
The statement itself is so anodyne, unobjectionable and filled with stock phrases that no one to the right of Olympia Snowe could have that much to say against it. The statement was written specifically to be as inclusive, vague and undemanding as possible. It was done this way so that every movement faction could accept it without complaint. It reads like remedial instruction on civics from the Claremont Institute, and the actual politics of most of the signatories have about as much to do with “the Founding” as does Claremont’s distorted understanding of the same. If I thought it worth the time, I might pick apart some confused ideas about “the conservatism of the Declaration,” but as far as conventional movement conservative rhetoric goes this is unremarkable stuff.

There is no danger here of an unreasonable “purity test.” The standard being set by this statement is so low that anyone in the conservative movement could claim to agree with everything in the document and still merrily go about his way violating both the letter and the spirit of the principles to which he supposedly just subscribed. The statement is so generic and so divorced from any contemporary policy debate that everyone from Marc Thiessen to Ron Paul could endorse it without the endorsement having any effect on their current policy views. Any consensus this broad and unrelated to actual policy is pretty meaningless (emphasis added).
UPDATE II
Jesse Walker of Reason.com argues that:
[T]he manifesto's rhetoric. . .is so all-inclusive and platitudinous as to be practically meaningless. Even the plank on foreign policy is carefully phrased so that both hawks and doves can embrace it: The text supports "advancing freedom and opposing tyranny in the world" while adding that we should "prudently" consider "what we can and should do to that end," a resolution that depending on your concept of prudence could entail anything from cutting a few dictators' share of the foreign aid budget to invading China (emphasis added).

Does the Public Read? Sadly, No. . .

A recent CBS-New York Times poll finds that only 6% of Americans believe that the $787 billion stimulus package actually created new jobs. Of course, the poll, echoing other recent surveys, also indicates deep disapproval of Congress, disapproval of President Obama (much less than Congress, however), and widespread anger about the direction of the country.

The low number of Americans who believe in the effectiveness of the stimulus shows that skepticism does not correlate with party affiliation. A wide cross-section of Americans doubt that the stimulus has created jobs.

The public's deep skepticism regarding the success of the stimulus, however, conflicts with most of the published reports by analysts who have studied the effectiveness of the spending package. According to a New York Times article, prestigious economic research firms such IHS Global Insight, Macroeconomic Advisers and Moody’s Economy.com estimate that the stimulus package has added 1.6 million to 1.8 million jobs to the economy and that it could ultimately create up to 2.5 million jobs. In addition, the NYT reports that the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office "considers these estimates to be conservative."

What Explains the Disconnect?
A number of factors could explain the disconnect between public perception and reality. Although the stimulus has created jobs, unemployment remains very high at 10%. Also, many families are still struggling to pay their expenses.

But these factors, as significant as they are, cannot possibly account for the absolute inaccuracy of public opinion. Unfortunately, I suspect that a lot of the public does not take the time to research issues before forming opinions. Furthermore, while the news media happily report the anger and skepticism of Tea Party participants and other "angry" segments of society, they rarely critically engage the ill-founded claims of these groups.

The blog Outside the Beltway has an even less generous view of voters, contending that:
These sorts of polls are annoying. Most people simply have no basis for making judgments on technical matters like this; indeed, economists can only take a very educated guess. So, asking Joe Public about such matters is not very helpful.
I agree that the public, as the data demonstrate, lacks knowledge about basic facts related to the stimulus. Nevertheless, I believe that the public can and should educate itself on important social issues. At the same time, however, the news media has the solemn responsibility to inform voters rather than simply creating and reporting political division. Both camps have failed miserably in terms of public education.

The Economy: Housing Starts Surge

Housing starts increased 21.1% in January, as compared to January 2009. The higher-than-expected gain represents the greatest annual increase in new housing construction since 2004.

Bayh's Timing Does Not Help Republicans Either

The conventional narrative surrounding Evan Bayh's retirement from the Senate treats it as a downside for Democrats. Bayh represents Indiana, which is a Republican stronghold. Accordingly, many commentators believe that Republicans can extend their recent fortunes by picking up Bayh's seat.

But Bayh's timing brings risks to the GOP as well. Tuesday was the state deadline for candidates to submit paperwork indicating their intent to participate in the senate primaries. Bayh made his announcement on Monday. Republicans will have four (possibly even five) candidates in the primary who will battle each other ferociously for the nomination.

No Democrat, however, filed the required paperwork. Therefore, the Indiana Democratic Party will simply pick one candidate to run in the Senate election, bypassing an expensive and potentially mean-spirited primary.

According to The Hill, Republicans are "furious" and have asked Bayh to petition a court to extend the filing deadline. They hope that some Democratic candidates will come forward now that Bayh is out of the way. It is unclear, however, why Bayh, who is not seeking re-election, would have standing to petition a court to extend the filing deadline.

Voters Oppose Court Ruling on Campaign Finance

Voters overwhelmingly oppose the Supreme Court's recent decision in Citizen's United that invalidated bans on election spending by corporations. Although the Supreme Court does not typically issue rulings the differ dramatically from public opinion, a Washington Post-ABC News poll finds that 80% of voters disagree with the ruling.

The high level of public opposition likely encouraged President Obama to criticize the decision during his recent State of the Union Address. Justice Alito, one of the conservative Justices who favored lifting the spending bans, visibly disapproved of Obama's criticism.

The poll also finds that voters in both major parties disagree with the rulings. 85% of Democrats, 76% of Republicans, and 81% of Independents oppose the ruling. Despite the widespread opposition among voters, leading Republicans in Congress vow to oppose any legislative efforts to erect additional burdens on corporate spending (such as disclosure requirements, limits on bailout recipients, etc.). Furthermore, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell praised the ruling as a victory for free speech.

The GOP's Utter Hypocrisy Regarding Stimulus Funds

Think Progress has a very revealing report on Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty's hypocrisy regarding the use of stimulus funds. During a December 2009 interview on Fox News, Pawlenty scoffed at the idea of states using stimulus money to close budget gaps. Pawlenty argued that the stimulus would simply "delay the inevitable for most states." He also said that stimulus funding would represent a "Band-Aid" approach to states' fiscal crises and that states needed to reduce their spending commitments rather than seek federal assistance.

Apparently, Pawlenty has quietly shifted his position. Yesterday, he submitted a proposal to balance Minnesota's budget. Although Pawlenty proposes deep cuts in government spending for needy persons, he also proposes tax cuts for business. Also, nearly 1/3 of the money to close the state budget deficit would come from stimulus funds.

Pawlenty Is Not Alone
Pawlenty is not alone in his stimulus hypocrisy. A Wall Street Journal article lists the names of many Republicans who voted against the stimulus but who lobbied to secure stimulus money for their constituents. In letters supporting their constituents, many of the Republicans stated that the stimulus money would help create jobs. Republicans, however, continue to deny that the stimulus has created jobs.

Anti-Incumbent Fervor? A Big Contradiction

A CNN poll purports to capture a wave of anti-incumbent fervor. An analysis of the poll, however, shows a significant contradiction in voter opinion.

According to the poll, only 34% of voters believe that members of Congress should be re-elected. But, when asked about their own representative, the number increases to 51% favoring re-election. Although the latter figure is the lowest since CNN has polled the question (the date of the first poll is not listed), it shows a substantial contradiction in voter attitudes.

Voters overwhelmingly disapprove of Congress and do not want its members re-elected. Despite this deep anti-incumbent fervor, voters still want to re-elect the members of Congress who represent them.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Thomas Sowell Regurgitates Tea Party Hysteria Regarding Rights and Liberties

Thomas Sowell is a conservative economist, which does not bother me at all. His misguided effort to identify "rights" that politicians are taking away from the people, however, is exceedingly troublesome.

Autonomy Over Medical Decisions
The first stolen right that Sowell identifies is personal autonomy over medical decisions. Sowell argues that:
One of the most audacious attempts to take away our freedom to live our lives as we see fit has been the so-called "health care reform" bills that were being rushed through Congress before either the public or the members of Congress themselves had a chance to discover all that was in it.

For this, we were taught to resent doctors, insurance companies and even people with "Cadillac health insurance plans," who were to be singled out for special taxes. Meanwhile, our freedom to make our own medical decisions-- on which life and death can depend-- was to be quietly taken from us and transferred to our betters in Washington. Only the recent Massachusetts election results have put that on hold.
Sowell's argument that members of Congress did not have a chance to review the healthcare bills is somewhat laughable. The bills been available for some time now on legislative services accessible by the public.

Sowell's claim that the pending legislation would deprive people of the freedom is equally false for several reasons. First, Sowell's suggestion that people have an unlimited right to exercise control over their own medical decisions is not a right that most conservatives embrace. Conservatives tend to abhor abortion. President Bush signed the federal law prohibiting partial-birth abortions, which Clinton twice vetoed. The five conservatives on the Supreme Court defied precedent and affirmed the statute -- even though it interferes with a woman's control over her medical decisions. Justice Kennedy argued that Congress has the right to protect women from a decision they might later regret. So much for freedom.

Also, as demonstrated by the Terri Schavio case, many conservatives are uncomfortable with private control over end-of-life decisions. I suspect that a good majority of conservatives and liberals oppose physician-assisted suicide, but this is also a limit on personal autonomy. Federal law regulates the types of medical products and naturally occurring agents (like marijuana) that doctors can prescribe. Sowell's suggestion that we have an unlimited right to autonomy regarding medical treatment is false.

Furthermore, the healthcare legislation does not curtail personal freedoms. In fact, it enhances liberty. One of the most pernicious aspects of unregulated insurance markets is the exclusion of "pre-existing conditions" from coverage. The proposed legislation would end this practice, which would augment individual freedom.

The legislation also does not restrict consumer choices over specific medical decisions. First, people can keep their existing policies. The pending legislation, however, would create "insurance exchanges" that allow individuals and companies to shop for competitive prices. The pending legislation would require that participating companies offer a minimum level of benefits, but it would not establish maximum coverage for individuals. Sowell's failure to deal with the reform proposals honestly undermines his entire argument.

Ironically, Sowell does not discuss the "insurance mandate," even though this is probably his strongest argument. Although President Obama does not want to concede this point, the proposed legislation structures the mandate as a tax on uninsured people. Because the Constitution does not give people a right against taxation (see below), attacking the insurance mandate on grounds of constitutional liberty is a dead end.

The "Right" to Be Rich
Sowell's second argument is a bit convoluted, but it appears that he believes the government is trying to outlaw wealth:
Another dangerous power toward which we are moving, bit by bit, on the installment plan, is the power of politicians to tell people what their incomes can and cannot be. Here the resentment is being directed against "the rich."
Sowell, however, only engages in anti-tax rhetoric, rather than trying to prove his point:
You can see the agenda behind the rhetoric when profits are called "unconscionable" but taxes never are, even when taxes take more than half of what someone has earned, or add much more to the prices we have to pay than profits do.
Sowell hates taxation. He is not alone. But because the Constitution explicitly endows Congress with the authority to tax, no person or business can claim a "right" to be free of taxation.

Sowell's argument echoes many of the bald assertions of Tea Party participants, who contend that the government has taken away their freedom. I hold Sowell to a higher standard than the Tea Party crowd -- a standard he fails to reach.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Stunning News: White House Might Actually Release a Specific Position on Healthcare Reform

The White House recently sent out invitations for yet another round of talks regarding healthcare reform. A few bloggers -- and now mainstream media sources -- have noticed that the invitation includes the following language: "[W]e will post online the text of a proposed health insurance reform package" (emphasis added). If this in fact happens, it would represent the first concrete and specific legislative position on healthcare reform by the White House.

Many critics have faulted the White House for not taking specific positions during earlier stages of the reform process. Other commentators believe that White House leadership is essential to break the deadlock and to reach a compromise between the disparate House and Senate bills.

Perhaps, the White House has now stepped up to the plate. Or maybe this was the strategy all along -- for the White House to remain stealth until all of the "bloodshed" happened in the House and Senate and in public discourse. The merits of this possible strategy are certainly debatable.

Note: I first read about this last week on Nate Silver's blog. Ezra Klein reported it in the Washington Post today.

Senator Evan Bayh Retiring. What About Barbara Mikulski?

Senator Evan Bayh, who represents Indiana, announced today that he will not seek another term of office. Bayh's retirement should create a competitive opening for a Republican, because Indiana is traditionally a "red state."

Barbara Mikulski
A conservative blog reports that Senator Barbara Mikulski (another Democrat) will soon announce her retirement. Mikulski represents Maryland, which is fairly safe for Democrats in statewide elections. No major news source has confirmed this rumor.

5 1/2 Minutes of Fame: Joe the Plumber Says McCain Tried to Use Him

I was shocked, annoyed and amazed that characters like Joe the Plumber and Obama Girl became media sensations during the 2008 presidential campaigns. Now, I am shocked, annoyed and amazed that Joe continues to make the headlines. Well, at least this story is interesting enough to give a blurb.

Joe "the Plumber" Wurzelbacher became the face of the "beleaguered white middle-class male" whom John McCain's campaign needed to excite. McCain referred to Joe during a presidential debate, and he became a temporary celebrity -- i.e., the face of the victims of Democratic-led Nazism, socialism, oppression, brutality, etc.

Today, however, Joe has harsh words for McCain. During a radio interview held in connection with a Republican campaign event in Pennsylvania, Joe said: "I don't owe [McCain] s---. . . He really screwed my life up is how I look at it."

And while Joe eagerly projected himself into national politics, he says McCain used him: "McCain was trying to use me . . . I happened to be the face of middle Americans. It was a ploy." Really, Joe, you thought you were a colleague or buddy of McCain?

Joe also disapproves of Sarah Palin because she is campaigning for McCain. But Joe says he appreciates Obama, describing him as "honest." Yet, Joe says Obama's policies are "un-American." I see a possible role as a Tea Party delegate in Joe's future.

Utah Proposal: Cut the State Deficit By Cutting 12th Grade

Senator Chris Buttars, a Utah legislator, has offered a controversial plan for trimming the state's budget deficit. Buttars wants to make 12th grade optional in the state. Originally, Buttars wanted to get rid of the senior year altogether, but produced a "compromise" plan after receiving a torrent of criticism from parents, teachers, and students.

Source: Los Angeles Times.

WaPo's E.J. Dionne Says Obama Needs to Learn From Clinton

Washington Post columnist is happy that former President Bill Clinton has received a good prognosis from his doctor. Dionne believes that President Obama needs a healthy Clinton to advise him because, according to Dionne, the two have a lot in common and Obama could use some good advice.

Dionne observes that both men ran as "unifiers" but faced attacks from Republicans. Dionne also contends that both Obama and Clinton believe that they can use logic to convince their adversaries to shift positions.

Dionne argues that Clinton can help Obama navigate the challenges he now faces as president and to produce a winning "script" for his presidency:
I am pleased that after the scary tidings, Bill Clinton is doing well. And it may turn out to be providential that he burst into the news at precisely this point. It's hard to escape the sense that a young and promising Democratic president is too closely replaying the opening act of another young and promising Democratic president -- and that Republicans need only recite the same lines they came up with 16 years ago.
Obama needs to rewrite the script. And as a script doctor, Bill Clinton has no equal.
The substance of Dionne's essay is not groundbreaking. I have long argued that Obama shares a lot with the Clintons (both Hillary and Bill). What makes the essay extraordinary, however, is that many people in the media, including Dionne, parroted Obama's campaign rhetoric and portrayed him as the antithesis of the Clintons. The Clintons were divisive and insincere; Obama was the honest unifier.

Remember too that when Obama said that voters carry guns and cling to religion because they are "bitter," he singled out Bush and Clinton as the causes of voter frustration. Because he was running against Hillary Clinton, Obama avoided saying anything positive about the Clinton-era, and he marketed himself as an anti-Clinton Democrat.

During the presidential campaign, Dionne never challenged this script in his many articles on Obama, and in many ways he affirmed it. As Obama has moved from candidate to president, however, Dionne has begun portraying him in more complicated terms. In other words, he has approached Obama with the distance one would expect from a journalist.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Dan Quayle: Passing Healthcare Bill With Simple Majority Is Unconstitutional

Former Vice President Dan Quayle has projected himself in contemporary political debates by offering some interesting constitutional interpretation. During an appearance on Fox News, Quayle blasted the idea of Democrats using the reconciliation process to pass healthcare reform. This filibuster-free route would allow for passage of the bill in the Senate with a simple majority -- or 51 votes. Quayle says that doing so would violate the Constitution:
They're gonna go to budget reconciliation, which I believe would set a very bad precedent, because essentially -- if they could do it, and I don't know if they can do it, but if they could do it -- what you have done, effectively, is to take away the filibuster in the United States Senate. . . . So, therefore, you have 51 votes in the House and 51 votes in the Senate. That is not what our Founding Fathers had in mind. That is not the constitutional process (emphasis added).
Reality
Article I of the Constitution establishes and delegates power to Congress. Article I is silent regarding how many votes a particular bill must receive before it is sent to the President and with respect to the procedural rules for each chamber. Instead, the Constitution generally allows each chamber to determine its own rules (with some very specific exceptions).

Nevertheless, Article I clearly describes the actions of Congress that require a supermajority. For example, overriding a veto requires a 2/3 vote of each house. Also, a decision to convict the President during the impeachment process requires a 2/3 vote of the Senate. The Constitution, however, does not create the filibuster, even though it has a long history. The filibuster is a Senate rule -- not a constitutional mandate.

Finally, it is unclear where Quayle gets the "51 votes in the House" figure. A simple majority of the House consists of at least 218 votes.
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