Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Drill, Baby, Drill!: Obama Administration to Announce New Energy Policy

According to several news sources, the Obama Administration will soon announce plans to allow drilling for natural gas and oil along massive stretches of the Atlantic coast, the Gulf of Mexico, and the northern Alaska coast. The policy will open many offshore areas to drilling that were previously subject to a 20-year moratorium enacted due to environmental concerns. The moratorium lapsed during the Bush Administration.

Reuters has more details:
The administration has been weighing the pros and cons of offshore drilling since it took office and put the brakes on a Bush-era proposal that called for drilling along the East Coast and off the coast of California.
For more than 20 years, drilling was banned in most offshore areas of the United States outside the Gulf of Mexico because of concerns spills could harm the environment.
Congress allowed the prohibition to expire in 2008 and former President George W. Bush lifted a drilling moratorium that year.

Environmental groups and some lawmakers continue to raise concerns about the impact increased drilling would have on coastal areas.
Although Obama indicated interest in drilling during the presidential campaign, both the New York Times and Reuters suggest that the new policy could represent an olive branch to the oil industry and moderate Democrats and Republicans ahead of the climate control legislation that he will soon promote.  But if the New York Times graphic outlining the newly approved drilling areas is correct, then environmentalists and coastal tourism companies (particularly in Florida) will have a lot to say about this move.

What Is Really In The Healthcare Reform Legislation

The recently passed healthcare reform legislation has caused a lot of dramatic debate and protest among voters.  It often seems, however, that many people (proponents and opponents) lack knowledge about the actual content of the legislation.

There are some useful summaries available for learning purposes, however.  In particular, I have recently discovered two helpful summaries of the legislation.

I received one summary (pdf) from a healthcare provider, who is also a reader of Dissenting Justice.  The Senate's Democratic Policy Committee authored the document, which describes in great detail the implementation timeline for the legislation. 

The other document was prepared by Eric Peterson, a lawyer at the prestigious firm Dorsey & Whitney, LLP.  As stated on the Dorsey & Whitney website, Peterson practices healthcare law, and he represents "hospital systems, physician practices, retail and internet pharmacies, insurers . . . other health care providers and payors," and "medical device and pharmaceutical manufacturers." 

Implementation Timeline: Reflecting the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and the Health Care and Education Reconcilliation Act (Democratic Policy Committee) (pdf)

Health Care Reform Is Here (Eric Peterson).

See also: 10 Ways Healthcare Reform Could Impact You

Monday, March 29, 2010

Ricky Martin (Finally) Comes Out

Ricky Martin -- the Puerto Rican singer of Living La Vida Loca and Menudo fame -- came out today. Although I suppose some people were surprised by the revelation, anyone with even elementary gaydar probably already knew.

Martin says he came out because he was tired of hiding and wanted to live an honest life.  Better late than never.  Kudos.

RNC Gives Donor $2,000 For "Meals" At Lesbian S&M Club

The Washington Post dropped a bombshell today after combing through the RNC's Federal Elections Commission filing.  Apparently, the RNC reimbursed a donor in the sum of $1,946.25 for "meals" at Voyeur West Hollywood.  Voyeur is a lesbian-bondage themed nightclub. 

The article also details lavish spending at posh hotels and the expensive use of a private jet. The article will undoubtedly result in greater scrutiny of RNC Chair Michael Steele. Steele has demanded that the donor return the funds.

The donor who received the reimbursement is Erik Brown. Brown lives in Orange, California. Brown has donated $10,000 to Republican candidates. No More Mister Nice Blog quotes a web-based bio for Brown, which has since been stripped of its content, as follows:
Erik is married to Alison Brown, a graduate of Chapman University and an MBA student at UCI’s Merage School of business.... A former director of the Sunday school, Alison and Erik reside in Las Flores, California and are actively involved in the ministries of their local church.
Interesting.

UPDATE: No More Mister Nice Blog has a screen capture of Brown's pre-scrubbed bio.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Say What??? Conservatives Complaining About the Elimination of Corporate Welfare Associated With Socialized Medicine

Now, I have heard everything. Conservatives are bascially complaining about the elimination of corporate welfare associated with a socialized medical plan (i.e., Medicare). Dissenting Justice detailed part of the story in an earlier post. Here is a brief summary.

The healthcare reforms have eliminated a double-benefit that corporations received if they paid for prescription costs of Medicare beneficiaries.  Under the old plan, the government subsidized 28% of the costs associated with the companies' drug expenditures, but companies also got to deduct the full amount of their expenditures -- including those covered by the 28% subsidy -- on their tax returns. Basically, companies received money from the government and were able to write off that same money as an expense -- rather than having to claim it as income or treat it as neutral.

The healthcare legislation does not eliminate the subsidy. The healthcare legislation does not make the subsidy taxable. Instead, the healthcare legislation simply disallows the corporate tax write-off for businesses that take advantage of the subsidy. In other words, companies can no longer deduct as a business expense the drug costs paid for by the federal government. Instead, they can only deduct their own share (or 72%) of those expenses.  The reform sounds quite reasonable -- except to conservatives.

Moved by dramatic press releases by corporations that will no longer get to double-dip, conservative media are fuming and using the corporate press releases to condemn the healthare legislation. Some conservative commentators have misrepresented the impact of the legislation, arguing that it eliminates the subsidy (which it does not do). Legal Insurrection, for example, asserts that "the chickens already are coming home to roost" as a result of healthcare reform and that the legislation causes the "cutback of subsidies for prescription drug benefit programs for retirees."  The Volokh Conspiracy similarly contends that the legislation forces companies to write-down substantial amounts of money because it enacts the "loss of a tax-free subsidy. . . ."

Conservatives are simply wrong on this issue.  Consider how two liberal rags, the Wall Street Journal and the Dallas Morning News, analyze the contested reform (yes - sarcasm).

The Wall Street Journal reports that:
Beginning in 2006, companies have received a 28% federal subsidy, up to $1,330 per retiree, tax-free, to help pay for prescription-drug coverage. Until now, companies could deduct the subsidy from their taxes, essentially getting a second benefit from the money. Under the new law, companies will no longer be able to deduct the subsidy, but it remains tax-free (emphasis added).
The Dallas Morning News offers a similar analysis:
Previously, companies could get tax-free subsidies to help pay for prescription drug coverage for retired workers and, on top of that, could deduct those subsidies from their total tax bill.
Under the new law, the original subsidies will still be tax-free, but the companies no longer will be allowed to deduct the subsidy from their total taxes (emphasis added).
My Take
It is unclear why -- outside of an utter lack of understanding or a desire to criticize anything associated with the healthcare legislation -- conservatives are rallying to defend the corporations. As numerous media outlets have reported, the legislation simply eliminates a double-benefit for corporations; it does not, however, repeal the subsidy or make it taxable. Accordingly, conservatives are effectively complaining that the federal government is getting rid of corporate welfare associated with socialized medicine (i.e., Medicare). That's a pretty difficult position to reconcile with conservative values.

The REAL Reason Companies Like AT&T Are Whining Over Healthcare Reform

Conservative media have been buzzing over recent press releases from companies like AT&T, Deere & Co., and Caterpillar, Inc., which claim that these business will lose millions or even up to $1 billion dollars as a result of healthcare reform. These reports, however, do not tell the full story.

The "losses" result from the elimination of a tax loophole that effectively operated as a double-subsidy for these (and many other) companies. Under the loophole, the government subsidized 28% of companies' expenditures on prescription drugs for Medicare beneficiaries. The government, however, allowed these same companies to deduct 100% of their expenditures on prescription drugs for Medicare beneficiaries -- including the 28% given to them by the government.  The new law eliminates this excessive incentive by capping the deduction at 72% (100% minus the 28% subsidy). The subsidies, however, remain tax-free, just as they were before the reform legislation was enacted.

The original law is analogous to a hypothetical situation where Congress gives people money to pay the interest on their mortgages, but then allows them to deduct their entire mortgage interest expenditures on their tax returns. As attractive as that scenario sounds to me as a homeowner, I recognize its excess.  The same setup for businesses is excessive, in my opinion.

I do realize, however, that the companies might ultimately shift these costs back to the government in subsequent years by reducing coverage of prescription drugs.  Ironically, given their criticism of the legislation, conservatives apparently want more expenses for the government and more handouts to companies.  This, however, is not a conservative value.

UPDATE: The Wall Street Journal reports an additional aspect of the subsidy structure that benefits companies. Companies can receive the subsidy to cover expenses for prescription drugs that retirees eventually pay. That "loophole" remains.

JUST ADDED: Say What??? Conservatives Complaining About the Elimination of Corporate Welfare Associated With Socialized Medicine

10 Ways Healthcare Reform Could Impact You

Several media outlets have reprinted an article on healthcare reform that originally appeared on Investopedia -- a Forbes digital company. The article details many of the benefits (and some costs) provided by the recently enacted healthcare legislation.

With so much negative propaganda floating around, the article is a refreshing read. Although it does not fully discuss the costs associated with the legislation, it informs readers what they have "bought." This is an important part of the discussion that neither the White House nor the opponents of the legislation has adequately addressed.

Here are some details:
1. Your Kids are Covered
Starting this year, if you have an adult child who cannot get health insurance from his or her employer and is to some degree dependent on you financially, your child can stay on your insurance policy until he or she is 26 years old. Currently, many insurance companies do not allow adult children to remain on their parents' plan once they reach 19 or leave school.

2. You Can't be Dropped
Starting this fall, your health insurance company will no longer be allowed to "drop" you (cancel your policy) if you get sick. In 2009, "rescission" was revealed to be a relatively common cost-cutting practice by several insurance companies. The practice proved to be common enough to spur several lawsuits; for example, in 2008 and 2009, California's largest insurers were made to pay out more than $19 million in fines for dropping policyholders who fell ill.
3. You Can't be Denied Insurance
Starting this year your child (or children) cannot be denied coverage simply because they have a pre-existing health condition. Health insurance companies will also be barred from denying adults applying for coverage if they have a pre-existing condition, but not until 2014.
4. You Can Spend What You Need to
Prior to the new law, health insurance companies set a maximum limit on the monetary amount of benefits that a policyholder could receive. This meant that those who developed expensive or long-lasting medical conditions could run out of coverage. Starting this year, companies will be barred from instituting caps on coverage. . . .

7. You'll Have More Options
Starting in 2014 (when you will be required by law to have health insurance), states will operate new insurance marketplaces - called "exchanges" - that will provide you with more options for buying an individual policy if you can't get, or afford, insurance from your workplace and you earn too much income to qualify for Medicaid. In addition, millions of low- and middle-income families (earning up to $88,200 annually) will be able to qualify for financial assistance from the federal government to purchase insurance through their state exchange.
The full article is available here: 10 Ways The New Healthcare Bill May Affect You.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Finally -- Chutzpah From the White House: Obama Makes 15 Recess Appointments

President Obama has announced that he will make 15 recess appointments.  The nominees were all tied up by partisan politics for an average of 214 days each.

Naturally, Republican have criticized the appointments -- even though presidents from both parties have made them. According to the Associated Press, President Bush made 170 recess appointments, while President Clinton made 140.

Urban Meyer Apologizes to Fowler, While Some Gators Praise His Conduct

Given the viral nature of the news that Urban Meyer recently had a temper tantrum, I am not surprised that he has apologized.  The story started when Meyer expressed anger towards Orlando Sentinel reporter Jeremy Fowler. Fowler quoted Deonte Thompson, who, when comparing Tim Tebow and John Brantley, described Brantley as a "real quarterback." Thompson meant to imply that Brantley was a more conventional quarterback, but Fowler's article did not give the quote such a gloss. Fellow Gators pressured Thompson, and when Fowler showed up at a Gator practice, Meyer let him have it (see video below).

Meyer's anger sparked a flurry of articles, most of which demanded that he apologize. Some articles also foolishly opined that he was mentally ill -- a conclusion that was even more over-the-top than Meyer's rant. Given the negative coverage, Meyer's apology comes as no surprise.

Although Meyer has apologized, according to ESPN, several Gator players are proud to have a coach that stands up for them:
Florida quarterback John Brantley and several teammates applauded coach Urban Meyer's recent outburst Friday, saying it's nice to see him come to receiver Deonte Thompson's defense.

"Coach has our back," Brantley said. "That's what you want to see out of your coaches. We trust our coaches and they trust us, and that's what we want to see. . . ."

"He got our back and we got his back," center Mike Pouncey said.

Defensive backs coach Chuck Heater called the whole situation "real positive."

"Urban's a real passionate guy about his players, as we all are, so yeah, I think it's real positive from that standpoint," Heater said. "Everybody sees it and everybody gets it."
Although I believe that Meyer was too headstrong, I agree with the sentiment his players expressed.  I also believe that the media coverage of this issue has been overblown.  Reporters ridiculously speculated that Meyer was mentally unfit. This was too melodramatic and did not represent appropriate analysis of the situation.  Meyer's apology, however, should lay this story to rest.

Eric Cantor "Targeted" By a Stray Bullet

Earlier this week, House Republican Eric Cantor accused Democrats of seeking "political gain" by discussing several threats they had received following the healthcare vote. During the same press conference, however, Cantor hypocritically revealed that he too had been "directly threatened."  Specifically, Cantor claimed that someone shot a bullet into his office and that he had received harassing emails. Cantor refused to disclose the emails.

Richmond police have determined that no one shot a bullet at Cantor's office. Instead, the bullet was randomly fired.  According to the New York Times, the police have made the following determination:
A preliminary investigation indicated that the incident in question took place around 1 a.m. Tuesday, when a bullet was apparently fired into the air, striking the office window as it traveled back downward, the Richmond police said in a statement.

The bullet struck the window with enough force to break a pane, the police said, but did not penetrate the blinds inside the window. The bullet landed about one foot inside the office, which Mr. Cantor had occasionally used for meetings, the police said.
There are enough lunatics in the world; so, I do not doubt that violent people could target Republicans. But for Cantor to suggest that Democrats were seeking political gain while claiming victimhood himself reeks of hypocrisy.  Perhaps Cantor was trying to help mitigate the political damage to the extreme right that the recent violence could potentially cause -- which means that he was simply seeking political gain.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

ESPN Article Uses Pseudo-Psychology to Criticize Florida's Urban Meyer

Just added: Urban Meyer Apologizes to Fowler, While Some Gators Praise His Conduct

Recently, University of Florida football coach Urban Meyer angrily scolded Orlando Sentinel reporter Jeremy Fowler. Fowler apparently quoted player Deonte Thompson, who compared former Gator quarterback Tim Tebow and current quarterback John Brantley. An edited version of the quote left the impression that Thompson held Tebow in low esteem. This outraged a very protective Meyer, who expressed his anger towards Fowler.  Here's how the story unfolded:
"You never know with Tim," Fowler quoted Thompson on his blog. "You'll think he's running, but then he'll just come up and pass it to you. You just have to be ready at all times. With Brantley, everything's with rhythm, time. Like, you know what I mean, a real quarterback . . . ."

Then, two things happened: A truncated version of the quote appeared on various sports blogs, and it spread quickly. Ripped out of context, it sounded as if Thompson were using "real quarterback" against Tebow, the way my wife might contrast me with Sean Connery, who she thinks is a "real man."

A friend and admirer of Tebow, Thompson was mortified when he came under real criticism from some real Gators fans and real devout Tim worshippers who did not get his intended meaning.
Meyer let Fowler know how he felt. It was not a diplomatic moment. And, in my opinion, Meyer definitely needed to calm down. See the video footage below.
 
Yet, based on this single incident -- and the video only shows a brief moment of interaction between Meyer and Fowler -- journalism professor Roy Peter Clark has morphed into a mental health expert and deemed Meyer unfit for coaching.  Writing for ESPN, Clark argues:
University of Florida head football coach Urban Meyer has proved himself to be a bully and a hypocrite. His threats against an Orlando Sentinel reporter, Jeremy Fowler, on Wednesday confirm the coach's emotional instability, a sign that he may have been allowed to return way too early from his medical leave of absence.
Oh, Clark -- give us all a break! It is one thing to argue that Meyer was over the top. It is another thing to diagnose him with a mental illness, especially when you lack the credentials to make such a decision.
 
Clark's remedy for this situation is even more ridiculous than his criticism. He wants Meyer to apologize to Fowler and exalt journalists with a phony speech:
The dean of the journalism school should ask the president of the university to call Meyer on the carpet and make him apologize to Fowler in front of the other reporters. Meyer, if he had the guts, would then march over to the J-school and make this promise:
"Journalism students and teachers: I believe in good journalism and the First Amendment. I and my team have benefited from it. I believe that graduates of the journalism school are just as important as graduates of the football program. We're going to work with the players on their media skills so they can become successful professionals. The coverage you provide them, good or bad, will make them stronger. When we think you got it wrong, we'll tell you. We may even shout. But we'll never threaten or bully you. Our players are not children. They are men. We want them to learn how to be responsible for their words and actions, even as we hold journalists responsible for theirs."
Then they could all kiss and make up -- right? Clark seems desperate to make a serious controversy where only a minor one (possibly) exists. He is slinging baseless allegations of mental unfitness and constitutional violations, for what seems to be an uncharacteristic moment of extreme anger by Meyer. Yet, he is condemning the coach for a lack of professionalism. Clark's over-the-top analysis of the situation, however, is even more exaggerated and melodramatic than Meyer's response to Fowler. Maybe Clark is the real hypocrite.

Here's the video:


UPDATE: Clark's argument -- that Meyer is mentally unfit and needs to apologize -- is spreading like wild fires.  See, e.g., UGA: The Junkyard Blawg.  Fittingly, this website offers the only dissenting perspective.

Correction: Earlier, this article mistakenly identified Chris Low, not Roy Peter Clark, as the author of the ESPN article. Thanks to a reader for pointing out this error.

Pot May Become Legal in California

In November, California voters will decide whether to decriminalize small quantities of marijuana possession:
The initiative would allow adults 21 or older to possess up to an ounce for personal use. Possession of an ounce or less has been a misdemeanor with a $100 fine since 1975, when Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown, who was then governor, signed a law that reduced tough marijuana penalties that had allowed judges to impose 10-year sentences. Legalization supporters note that misdemeanor arrests have risen dramatically in California in the last two decades. The initiative would also allow adults to grow up to 25 square feet of marijuana per residence or parcel.

The law would also authorize local governments to permit and tax marijuana-related commerce:
But the measure, known as the Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Act of 2010, goes further, allowing cities and counties to adopt ordinances that would authorize the cultivation, transportation and sale of marijuana, which could be taxed to raise revenues. It's this feature of the initiative that supporters hope will draw support from voters who are watching their local governments jettison employees and programs in the midst of a severe budget crisis.
As always, November will be interesting in California.

Good Advice for Democrats

Former Representative Tony Coelho offers some good advice to Democrats in a Politico op-ed.  Here's  clip:

Democratic candidates must make this a debate about the bill’s individual components. Where does your opponent stand? Does he or she want to repeal the reform?
What exactly do Republicans plan on taking away from the American people?
Will they tell small-business owners in their districts that tax credits to provide health care for their employees will be repealed? Are they going to ask senior citizens to give back rebates for prescriptions not covered under Medicare? Will the Republicans throw the young people in their district to the wolves and take away their coverage? Will they tell those who were uninsured or denied coverage because of pre-existing conditions before this reform law passed that they are taking away their new coverage. . . . 
Be proud of what you have done and tell your constituents what is in the bill. Don’t let your opponent frame the debate.
Sounds about right to me.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Has the Tea Party Movement Shifted From Passionate Protests to Terrorism?

The Tea Party has always engaged in passionate activism.  A recent spate of incidents, however, suggests that some members of the movement have shifted from passionate protest to acts of terrorism.

Last week, members of Congress reported that Tea Party members hurled racist and homophobic epithets towards them. Another congressman said that he was spat upon while walking past a crowd of Tea Party protesters.

Today, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said that at least 10 House Democrats have reported receiving threats or being victims of harassment due to their votes in favor of healthcare reform. Democrats have urged Republicans to condemn this behavior.

And a most disturbing act also occurred today in Virginia. Someone slashed a propane gas line at the home of Representative Tom Perriello's brother. Earlier that day, Perriello's brother also received a threatening letter. According to several media reports, two Tea Party members posted the address to the home online -- mistakenly believing that Perriello lived at the location. Local authorities and the FBI are investigating the incident.

Terrorists use violence, physical intimidation and threats to accomplish political goals. Tea Party members who use the same tactics are indisputably terrorists.

Gates Supposedly Will Announce New Don't Ask, Don't Tell Rules

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is reportedly set to announce new rules that will relax enforcement of Don't Ask, Don't Tell -- the controversial policy that excludes known gays and lesbians from military service. It is unclear exactly what changes Gates will make. Nearly a year ago, he announced that the Department of Defense was studying ways, short of a repeal, to reduce the unfairness associated with the policy.

CBS Poll Shows Post-Healthcare Bounce for President Obama

Yesterday, Gallup released a poll showing a moderate bounce among respondents who support healthcare reform legislation. Today, a CBS poll shows a similar move in public opinion.

According to the CBS poll, public support for healthcare reform increased after the passage of the bill. The public, however, remains split in its opinion of President Obama's handling of healthcare reform:

CBS re-interviewed 649 adults, initially questioned for a poll conducted March 18-21, on Monday and Tuesday following the House vote.

Of those re-interviewed, 47 percent said they approved of the job the President is doing on health care, up six points from the CBS News Poll conducted just prior to the House vote. However, views of his handling of health care were still mixed, with 48 percent saying they disapprove. . . .

Support for the bill itself has also risen five points since the House vote Sunday night. Before the vote, 37 percent of Americans approved of the bill while 48 percent disapproved. Now those same Americans are more closely divided, with 42 percent expressing approval and 46 percent disapproval. Still, a third "strongly" disapproves.
It is probably too early to tell where public sentiment will settle. But, if recent polls are accurate, public opinion is shifting towards the positive column now that the healthcare debates are done.

Did a Muslim Socialist Foreign-Born Antichrist Nazi Bring Healthcare Reform to the USA? Many Republicans Think So!

A new Harris Poll finds that Republicans hold very curious beliefs about President Obama. Here are some snapshots from the poll summarized by The Daily Beast (the official data are forthcoming):
57 percent of Republicans (32 percent overall) believe that Obama is a Muslim

45 percent of Republicans (25 percent overall) agree with the Birthers in their belief that Obama was "not born in the United States and so is not eligible to be president"

38 percent of Republicans (20 percent overall) say that Obama is "doing many of the things that Hitler did"

Scariest of all, 24 percent of Republicans (14 percent overall) say that Obama "may be the Antichrist."
Piecing the results of the poll together, it appears that a significant number of Republicans believe that a Muslim socialist foreign-born Antichrist Nazi brought healthcare reform to the United States. Creepy.

California Begins Process of Releasing 6,500 Inmates

California has begun the process of releasing 6,500 inmates over the next year. Due to a series of tough-on-crime initiatives, the prison population in California has increased a whopping 750% since the mid-1970s. Now, the prison system accounts for 11% of the state budget -- that is currently in a state of crisis.

Last year, a federal appeals court ordered the state to release 40,000 inmates over the next two years due to dangerous overcrowding and the state's inability to meet the health needs of the prison population. That ruling is still in effect.

See also: Federal Appeals Court Orders California to Release 40,000 Inmates

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Gallup Poll Shows That Plurality Supports Healthcare Reform

According to a Gallup poll conducted the day after healthcare reform legislation passed, 49% of the public supports the legislation, while 40% does not. This is up from a March 9 poll, when 48% of respondents opposed the reform measure, but 45% did not.

It is unclear whether this represents a true bounce or a momentary blip. But a few factors suggest that the level of public opposition could soften over time. First, at the start of the reform debates, the public overwhelmingly favored healthcare reform. After months of protests and distortion by opponents and shoddy management by the White House, public opinion shifted against the proposal. That public opinion could now return to its former state is not surprising.

Also, public opinion is highly malleable as a general principle.  Once the media and politicians begin to shift attention to other issues, the emotion surrounding healthcare reform will likely subside. This will probably lead to a reduction in opposition to the measure.

Furthermore, several polls have reported that respondents oppose healthcare reform -- until they learn of the substance of the measure. If the Democrats and the media educate the public about the content of the reform legislation, it is possible that voter opinion will modulate toward the positive side.

Political affiliation affected voter response. Democrats overwhelmingly endorsed the reform measure, while Republicans overwhelmingly opposed it. Moderates were virtually split down the middle.

Biggest Losers in Healthcare Reform Debates: The News Media

The news media remain the biggest losers in healthcare reform debates.  For the most part, mainstream news sources have not provided much analysis of the actual content of healthcare reform.

Not surprisingly, polls continue to show that people disagree with healthcare reform -- until they actually hear what the legislation contains. In fact, a new poll shows that most people believe that, for Republicans and Democrats alike, reform is simply about political battles, rather than policy. The media must accept some responsibility for public ignorance.

Rather than focusing on the substance of reform, the media have instead reported the political dramas related to reform. This has undoubtedly shaped public opinion about the motivations of members of Congress.  The public knows less about the merits of healthcare reform than it knows about the rantings of the Tea Party protesters, the conflict between moderate and liberal Democrats, the declining favorability ratings of Congress and the President, Sarah Palin's belief that Obama is a socialist, and Rush Limbaugh's promise to leave the country if reform passes.  The media reporting resembles a dressed-up version of the Jerry Springer Show. Well, at least Springer does not pretend to have an interest in anything other than drama. 

Today, the headlines show that the media are now focusing on whether the Republicans or the Democrats will lose more politically from healthcare reform. Numerous stories report the obvious fact that the issue could shape the November elections (yay -- more drama!). Other stories examine Nancy Pelosi's favorability ratings.  Numerous articles report that states are going to sue over healthcare reform  -- without even analyzing the merits of these lawsuits. The legal "battle" is all that matters.  The focus of today's news stories reveal that the authors are in fact the biggest losers of all.

Monday, March 22, 2010

More on the Constitutionality of Healthcare Reform: A Warning to Conservatives

According to multiple news sources, several state attorneys general are poised to bring legal challenges to the healthcare reform legislation.  According to most sources, the legal challenges will center around the constitutionality of the individual mandate.

Commerce Clause and Taxation Power
Most legal analysis I have found on this subject concludes that Congress has at least two sources of authority to mandate the purchase of health insurance. These include the commerce clause and the taxation power. The individual mandate is literally drafted as a tax on uninsured individuals. It is also part of a larger statute regulating interstate commerce -- which is a standard that the Supreme Court, including Justice Scalia, has approved to test the legitimacy of regulations of noneconomic activity. I have written on this subject before. Please feel free to read that analysis.

Irony
There is an interesting irony in many of the conservative objections to the individual mandate. Conservatives argue that Congress cannot use its commerce power to compel individuals to enter into commerce (i.e., purchase health insurance). While I would argue that Congress is really using its commerce and taxing power to entice people to cover the risks associated with their own health, that is a side argument.

Most importantly, conservative arguments in this area unwittingly support more expansive regulation. Here's why.

Conservatives believe that Congress cannot mandate that individuals purchase insurance. In order to avoid this outcome, Congress could have raised taxes on everyone, created a public plan, and fully subsidized participation by indigent uninsured individuals. This alternative is more expansive than the voted upon exchange system, coupled with a mandate. The latter option uses a market based approach. The public plan, however, represents government sponsorship of health care.  Yet, because the public plan would not involve coercion, it is presumably fine under existing commerce clause and taxation precedent -- according to conservative logic.

Clearly, conservatives cannot contest a public plan on constitutional grounds, as this is the same as Medicare, Medicaid, TRICARE, SCHIP and other government-sponsored plans.  Accordingly, Congress could have chosen this more expansive route, but this is certainly not what conservatives want.

Misstatements
Conservatives also argue that Congress has never used its commerce power to force individuals to engage in commercial activities. That point is not true.

Take two leading cases on the commerce clause: Wickard v. Filburn and Gonzales v. Raich. In Wickard, the Court upheld a production limit on wheat as applied to someone who produced and consumed "home grown" wheat. Congress did not want suppliers to produce more than the statutory maximum because doing so would result in lower prices.  The law was a basic price control. But for the homegrown wheat consumer, enforcement of this requirement would mean individuals had to purchase wheat on the open market.  The Court, however, validated this outcome.

In Raich, the Court (a 7-2 majority, including Justice Scalia) upheld the enforcement of federal drug laws that ban possession of marijuana. The Court concluded that the federal government could enforce the laws against someone who used homegrown marijuana for medical purposes. Consequently, the individual would have to purchase some alternative treatment on the open market (as in Wickard). This outcome, however, did not render enforcement unconstitutional.

Similarly, with respect to the insurance mandate, Congress has determined that the alternatives to having almost universal coverage are an impediment to commerce. Removing this impediment will require a few consumers who are uninsured to purchase insurance, but this is not a novel concept. It is true that the regulations in the other cases did not directly mandate that individuals engage in commerce, but this was the impact of the regulations in those cases.

Distraction
Even assuming that the Supreme Court finds the mandate unconstitutional, the Court would not then invalidate the entire statute. Instead, it would only invalidate the mandate itself. This would leave intact the many other components of the legislation that conservatives presumably loathe. Many conservatives, however, seem to believe that if the mandate is declared unconstitutional, that they have defeated healthcare reform. That is untrue. They will simply have defeated the mandate, which President Obama campaigned against in the first place.

Furthermore, if the Court invalidates the mandate, Congress could implement a voluntary public plan option (see above). It could also expand the income limits for Medicaid or lower the age requirements for Medicare to cover many uninsured individuals. Also, Congress could (and almost certainly would) continue to subsidize the purchase of insurance by individuals who cannot afford to do so. Accordingly, attacking the mandate does not seem to carry much promise for opponents of the legislation.  It could, in fact, open the door to more expansive approaches.

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

UPDATE: It is unclear that a state attorney general would even have standing to bring a suit in federal court regarding the mandate. The mandate applies to individuals, not to state governments. Also, the mandate does not take effect immediately. Federal courts could avoid this litigation altogether if standing does not exist.

Romney: Unconscionable Hypocrisy

Mitt Romney says that the passage of healthcare reform legislation represents an "unconscionable abuse of power." Romney, however, promoted and endorsed a remarkably similar plan while he was the governor of Massachusetts.

Romney is clearly trying to position himself for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012. In order to do so, he has decided to condemn the healthcare legislation, even though the national plan and the Massachusetts plan he endorsed share many central components. 

I doubt that Republicans will allow Romney to remake his image. They already ridicule the Massachusetts plan as "RomneyCare."  He will likely lose in 2012 because of his "liberal" past.

House Passes Healthcare Reform Meaure 219-212; Reaction

The House of Representatives has passed a measure to reform the US healthcare and insurance industries.  The strictly partisan vote was 219-212.

Although I am generally pleased with the measure, I have a few concerns.

First, even though the Congressional Budget Office predicts that the measure will save money during the next ten years, the CBO cannot project too far into the future. Thus, the ultimate costs are not known. Congress must combine this with cost-saving features. Repealing some aspects of the Bush tax cuts and winding down the two wars will help some, but other cuts probably must take place.

Second, the abortion executive order is quite disturbing. It is one thing to deny coverage of abortion services for persons in public health plans. It is a completely different proposition to mandate that everyone have health insurance or face legal sanctions, provide subsidies for poor people (which is the equitable thing to do), but then restrict the availability of abortion services for poor women who buy the mandated coverage. Although I doubt that the Supreme Court would find this unconstitutional, it is a highly disturbing aspect of the reform package.

Third, I am upset with the lack of a public plan.  The public plan would have provided the strongest path for health insurance cost containment.  The Republicans favored simply handing people money (tax credits) to purchase insurance, which would have probably driven up costs. The Democrats promised not to do this, but this essentially what they have done with their version of a market solution.

Finally, the so-called healthcare debates have been awful. The White House was mercurial and evasive on the subject at times, which lengthened the process and led to uncertainty among supporters.  The rightwing distorted reality and fomented loud, angry and often wrongheaded opposition. It has been quite unpleasant.

Nevertheless, this is historic legislation.  Having anxiety about the process and the future does not mean that this is the wrong decision. Many great moments are filled with uncertainty.  I believe that this is one of those moments.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Jack Balkin Takes Randy Barnett to Task Over Healthcare Reform

Jack Balkin saved me a lot of time. I fully concur in his arguments responding to Randy Barnett's memo (also known as an op-ed in the Washington Post) to lawyers who will soon challenge healthcare reform legislation.


Note: I have already written on this issue. See:

Very Hot Air From "Hot Air" -- Regarding Healthcare Reform

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

Conversative Blog Claims Video Debunks Stories of Bigotry Among Tea Party Movement

As passionate as the Tea Party folks are about politics, I think they should just embrace whatever biases move them. Their defenders, however, are trying to debunk stories, confirmed by multiple sources, of several racist and homophobic incidents involving Tea Party protesters who converged upon Washington, DC last week.

The Dana Show blog has posted 23 seconds of video that purportedly prove that no Tea Party participant hurled any epithets towards members of Congress. The video proves no such thing.

First, the footage is too short to capture everything that occurred during last week's protests. Also, and most importantly, because there were so many people chanting during this particular clip, audio could only capture clearly what the broader group was chanting (sounds like "kill the bill"). This does not disprove the reports that individuals in this boisterous group made racist and homophobic comments. Instead, it shows that with respect to one person's video recording, the louder shouting drowned out individual commentary. Individuals on the ground almost certainly heard more than the video captured.

I have not seen many conservatives agree that this audio disproves the allegations of bias. Perhaps they are not persuaded either.

Finally, The Dana Show went on and on about how persons making these allegations intend to discredit arguments against healthcare reform and the Tea Party movement generally. I disagree. People can have legitimate arguments on some issues while subscribing to racism and homophobia. Racism and homophobia, however, are deplorable and worthy of our attention -- just as much as government spending. The Tea Party movement is not exempt from scrutiny or criticism.

Here is the video footage:

Nancy Pelosi: She Who Saved Comprehensive Healthcare Reform

The New York Times joins Politico with an article that gives House Speaker Nancy Pelosi much of the credit for comprehensive healthcare reform. Sheryl Gay Stolberg, Jeff Zeleny, and Carl Hulse report that after Scott Brown won the Massachusetts Senate election, the prospects for comprehensive reform died. White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel urged President Obama to abandon the more elaborate package and to pursue piecemeal legislation. Pelosi dismissed this approach as "Kiddie Care."

The New York Times article confirms much of the substance of the Politco article, but it adds factual details. The New York Times describes a partnership between Obama and Pelosi that developed once he trusted her instincts on reform more than his most senior advisor.

Here is a clip from the article:
In a series of impassioned conversations, over the telephone and in the Oval Office, [Pelosi] conveyed her frustration to the president, according to four people familiar with the talks. If she and Harry Reid, the Senate Democratic leader, were going to stick out their necks for Mr. Obama’s top legislative priority, Ms. Pelosi wanted assurances that the president would too. At the White House, aides to Mr. Obama say, he also wanted assurances; he needed to hear that the leaders could pass his far-reaching plan.
“We’re in the majority,” Ms. Pelosi told the president. “We’ll never have a better majority in your presidency in numbers than we’ve got right now. We can make this work.”

Now, in what could become a legislative Lazarus tale — or at least the most riveting cliffhanger of the Obama presidency so far— the House is set to take up the health bill for what Democrats hope will be the last time.

For Mr. Obama, who vowed earlier this month to do “everything in my power” to see the bill to fruition, the measure’s passage would be an extraordinary triumph. Its defeat could weaken him for the rest of his days in office.
Only a month ago, several journalists wrote off comprehensive healthcare reform and asserted that Emanuel was right to advocate less. Today, it appears that the opposite is true.

See also: Pelosi Convinced Obama to Reject Emanuel's "Kiddie Care" Proposal and to Pursue Comprehensive Reform.

How Many Tea Party Folks Attended DC Rally: "Thousands," "25,000" or "100,000"

Conservative blog Gateway Pundit claims that  "over 100,000" people attended Saturday's Tea Party protest in Washington, DC. GP, however, cites a Fox News article that directly contradicts this claim. According to Fox, "thousands" of people attended. Fox also quotes Representative Michelle Bachman who says that "25,000" people attended. 

Washington, DC officials have discontinued a prior practice of estimating crowd size at rallies. Also, following a march held last year, Tea Party organizers misrepresented attendance figures and even posted pictures from an event in 1997 that had more participants.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Pelosi Convinced Obama to Reject Emanuel's "Kiddie Care" Proposal and to Pursue Comprehensive Reform

Politico writers Carrie Budoff Brown and Glenn Thrush report that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi convinced President Obama to renew the push for comprehensive healthcare reform after Scott Brown won the election to replace Senator Edward Kennedy. If the Brown and Thrush article is accurate, then it soundly refutes the notion that passing healthcare reform legislation would vindicate Rahm Emanuel.

Emanuel, as several media sources have reported, preferred a piecemeal approach to healthcare reform.  According to Brown and Thrush, however, Pelosi rejected this strategy and dubbed it "Kiddie Care." The article also reports that Obama was torn between Pelosi's comprehensive approach and Emanuel's incrementalist proposal. Due to Pelosi's advocacy, Obama finally embraced the comprehensive plan and rejected Emanuel's advice.

Despite the upcoming passage of a comprehensive reform package, Politico writer Ben Smith recently argued that the reform legislation would vindicate Emauel.  Liberal bloggers immediately blasted the idea. Now, Smith's own colleagues have finished ripping his theory to shreds.

Brave Constance McMillen Visits The Ellen Show

Ellen Degeneres recently hosted Constance McMillen on her show.  McMillen is the Mississippi teenager who requested to attend her high school senior prom with her girlfriend.  School officials canceled the prom to prevent her from bringing a female date.  Here is the inspiring video:

Some Tea Party Members Engage In Abusive Racist and Homophobic Behavior

Several liberal blogs are reporting that Tea Party members hurled the N and F words towards House Democrats James Clyburn and Barney Frank and spat on Emanuel Clever. The racist homophobes were protesting an upcoming vote on healthcare reform:
A staffer for Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.) told reporters that Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) had been spat on by a protestor. Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), a hero of the civil rights movement, was called a ["nigger"] And Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) was called a "faggot," as protesters shouted at him with deliberately lispy screams. Frank, approached in the halls after the president's speech, shrugged off the incident.
But Clyburn was downright incredulous, saying he had not witnessed such treatment since he was leading civil rights protests in South Carolina in the 1960s.
"It was absolutely shocking to me," Clyburn said, in response to a question from the Huffington Post. "Last Monday, this past Monday, I stayed home to meet on the campus of Claflin University where fifty years ago as of last Monday... I led the first demonstrations in South Carolina, the sit-ins... And quite frankly I heard some things today I have not heard since that day. I heard people saying things that I have not heard since March 15, 1960 when I was marching to try and get off the back of the bus."
Homophobia and racism are pervasive social forces, and fear and anxiety often bring out the worst biases in people. Hence, these developments, though quite disturbing, are not shocking. Furthermore, the Tea Party movement began its healthcare protests in a circus-like atmosphere; apparently, things will remain that way until the bitter end.

South Dakota Police Chief Says Cops Followed Rules By Outing Lesbian

Chief Steve Allender of the Rapid City, South Dakota police department says that his officers followed protocol when they outed Jene Newsome to Air Force authorities.  This decision subsequently led to her discharge.

My Take
I highly doubt that "protocol" requires officers to  peak through a kitchen window, read documents on a table, and report the existence of a lesbian marriage to military authorities.  Despite the suspicious facts of the case, Allender refuses to say that the officers acted with ill will. He says that it is difficult to know what motivates others. That is true, but homophobia is a pervasive social fact. The officers knew exactly what would happen if they reported the marriage. They likely did so to create those results. Allender should not try to deny the obviously spiteful and petty behavior of his staff. Instead, he should work to root out all forms of pernicious bias from the police department.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Are Tea Party Members Protesting Out of Ignorance? Yes -- According to Forbes Article

Bruce Bartlett's latest column in Forbes analyzes the views of Tea Party members regarding taxes -- a primary source of their movement's anxiety. It turns out that most of the Tea Party members who responded to a recent survey regarding federal tax policy have highly distorted views about the magnitude and direction of taxation in the country.

Here is a clip from Bartlett's article:
Tuesday's Tea Party crowd, however, thought that federal taxes were almost three times as high as they actually are. The average response was 42% of GDP and the median 40%. The highest figure recorded in all of American history was half those figures: 20.9% at the peak of World War II in 1944. . . .

Tea Partyers also seem to have a very distorted view of the direction of federal taxes. They were asked whether they are higher, lower or the same as when Barack Obama was inaugurated last year. More than two-thirds thought that taxes are higher today, and only 4% thought they were lower; the rest said they are the same.


As noted earlier, federal taxes are very considerably lower by every measure since Obama became president. And given the economic circumstances, it's hard to imagine that a tax increase would have been enacted last year. In fact, 40% of Obama's stimulus package involved tax cuts. These include the Making Work Pay Credit, which reduces federal taxes for all taxpayers with incomes below $75,000 by between $400 and $800.

According to the JCT, last year's $787 billion stimulus bill, enacted with no Republican support, reduced federal taxes by almost $100 billion in 2009 and another $222 billion this year. The Tax Policy Center, a private research group, estimates that close to 90% of all taxpayers got a tax cut last year and almost 100% of those in the $50,000 income range. For those making between $40,000 and $50,000, the average tax cut was $472; for those making between $50,000 and $75,000, the tax cut averaged $522. No taxpayer anywhere in the country had his or her taxes increased as a consequence of Obama's policies.
I suspect most Tea Party members would simply deny this information.

Perpetual Critic Sarah Palin Takes on Palestinian-Israeli Conflict

Sarah Palin believes the Obama Administration was simply wrong to criticize Israel's plans for building new settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The Obama Administration's criticism of Israel has sent Palin (and other right wingers) into a rage.

Now that the decorated General Petraeus, however, has emerged as the source of the Obama Administration's criticism, Media Matters wonders how conservatives (who claim to admire Petraeus) will react.  I suspect that Palin believes her "common sense" (which is simply an excuse for not reading) beats years of experience as a commander in the region. According to conservative pollster Rassmussen, however, people support Obama on this issue.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Former US NATO Commander: Gays Ruined Dutch Army

John Sheehan, a former NATO commander and Marine General told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the presence of out gay soldiers weakened the Dutch army.  According to Sheehan, because the Netherlands allowed openly gay soldiers to serve, the country's military was poorly led and unable to defeat Serb forces.  This led to the massacre of Bosnian Muslims, according to Sheehan.

Senate Armed Services Committee chair Carl Levin agreed that the Dutch soldiers were poorly led, but he forcefully rejected Sheehan's effort to link their performance to the presence of gays:
But to slip over -- or slide over from that into a suggestion that it's something to do with the fact that homosexuals were allowed in the -- in the Dutch army suggests that, somehow or other, homosexuals are not great fighters. . . .
Dutch Ambassador Renee Jones-Bos also disputed Sheehan's comments, citing to numerous studies of the Dutch performance -- none of which implicates gay soldiers.

Sheehan's comments are absolutely bankrupt. 23 of the 26 NATO members allow out gays and lesbians to serve in the military. Only the US, Turkey and Portugal do not. Under Sheehan's "logic," NATO itself is ineffective due to the presence of gay soldiers. His argument cannot withstand serious scrutiny.

CBO Numbers: Good News for Democrats

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has released preliminary numbers regarding the Senate healthcare bill with reconciliation fixes. The CBO analysis is good news for Democrats.

According to the CBO preliminary numbers (a final report is forthcoming):
The bill will cost $940 billion over the first 10 years and reduce the deficit by $130 billion during that period. In the second 10 years -- so, 2020 to 2029 -- it will reduce the deficit by $1.2 trillion. The legislation will cover 32 million Americans, or 95 percent of the legal population.
The CBO preliminary release has given Democrats needed momentum. Republicans, however, are scrambling to dismiss the numbers.

Weekly Standard Reports Bogus Claim That Health Reform Would Make 46% of Doctors Quit Medicine

The Weekly Standard (and other conservative media) has reported the results of a survey that purports to show that healthcare reform will cause nearly 1/2 of primary care physicians to quit practicing medicine. This survey and the Weekly Standard's use of it are wrong on many levels.

First, the survey states that nearly 1/2 of doctors would retire early if the public option were passed. The public option, however, is officially off the table. Nevertheless, the Weekly Standard headline declares that health reform will cause 46% of primary care doctors to leave the profession.

Also, it is unclear how the pollster conducted the survey. The pollster does not provide cross-tabs. So, the background of the respondents is unclear.  Also, the methodology is undisclosed.  It is impossible to determine whether the views the survey reports represents a random sample of US physicians.

Finally, many conservative media, including the Weekly Standard, falsely claimed that the New England Journal of Medicine compiled the study.  This prompted the NEJM to submit a disclaimer.  The Weekly Standard subsequently submited a correction. The Medicus Firm, a doctor placement company, conducted the study in December 2009. 

The results of the Medicus Firm survey are quite similar to those of a widely discredited Investor's Business Daily/TIPP poll.  Both surveys, however, are vastly incongruent with other polls that measure the opinion of doctors regarding healthcare reform.

Apparently, Nate Silver No Longer Believes Liberals Are "Batshit Crazy"

Ben Smith's essay which asserts that passage of the healthcare bill will vindicate Rahm Emanuel's dismissal of liberals has triggered responses from numerous bloggers (see mine here).  Nate Silver's reaction interests me because he once described liberals as "batshit crazy" who challenged White House weakness on progressive aspects of the bill.

Now, Silver describes liberal protest as a rational reaction to President Obama's constituents who want him to fight passionately for their interests (I made the same point a long time ago).  Silver still agrees that the Senate bill is better than "nothing," but he has retreated from his heavy-handed comments regarding progressive protest:
Personally, I think the reason for the increase in support is mostly this: the Democratic leadership, and particularly President Obama, are now fighting for this bill tooth and nail. They didn't necessarily have to do this; they could have thrown in the towel, passed off some bipartisan crap that didn't do much to help the uninsured, and called it a day. That's what Rahm Emanuel wanted to do, as Chris Bowers points out. But that isn't what Obama did: instead, he's gone all-in on the thing, potentially staking his Presidency on the outcome. Liberals like the idea of being the scrappy underdog -- being the fighter -- and Obama, after a strangely aloof performance on the health care bill throughout 2009, has been fighting the good fight. . . .

The lesson for the White House, I think, is that liberals (like any other voters) react as much to tone as to substance. A bill might not meet every objective on the liberal checklist, but so long as you're Fighting Like Hell for it, liberals are usually going to be willing to fight for you too.
My Take
Liberals, whom Silver previously described as "batshit crazy," always wanted more "fight" from the White House -- although I believe that Sliver overstates the role of this fight in shifting liberal support. Liberals have also compromised now that all other options have expired. That is an integral part of politics and social movement activity.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Ben Smith Argues That Liberal Support For Health Bill Vindicates Rahm Emanuel

Apparently, Rahm Emanuel's media buddies could not resist the urge to write another love piece. Today, Ben Smith of Politico asserts that a new poll which shows that liberal voters support healthcare reform vindicates Emanuel. Emanuel has argued that the White House should not make concessions to liberals because they would come around eventually.

Smith's article, however, is too simplistic as an analysis of contemporary politics. First, the passage of reform legislation cannot vindicate Emanuel since, as numerous articles report, he favored a much slimmer bill and feared that a large one would not pass. If anything, the passage of this bill -- though smaller than what many liberals wanted -- proves Emanuel wrong.  Emanuel argued that comprehensive reform would not pass; he -- not the liberals -- was wrong.

Second, Smith misunderstands the debate among liberals regarding healthcare reform. Liberals have always favored reform, and many liberals always favored the Senate bill. Many liberals, however, were angry that the White House did not do enough to support more progressive and sensible measures like the public plan option. The public plan represented the most rational argument regarding cost containment (other than a single-payer system). Although President Obama advocated it during the campaign, he never forcefully backed it as president. This angered liberals, causing some people to argue that Congress should abandon the Senate bill and start the process again.

But after the "kill" option evaporated, liberals -- contrary to the White House line -- accepted compromise. The fact that liberals now support this good yet flawed bill actually proves Emanuel and the White House wrong.  White House staff circulated a narrative that portrayed liberals as unforgiving and unwavering ideologues (also known as "fucking retards"). Obama, on the other hand, was portrayed as the smart pragmatist.  The mainstream narrative about liberals was clearly inaccurate.

Finally, Smith makes the mistake of equating one battle with an entire war. The struggle over healthcare reform has emboldened many liberals.  Labor unions have threatened moderate Democrats with primary challenges.  MoveOn has promised the same. Even Obama has shown some needed spunk and told on-the-fence Democrats that he would not raise money for them if they voted against the bill. Liberals have always wanted a fight. The fact that they accept this mixed victory does not vindicate Rahm Emanuel in any way, shape or form. It simply shows that liberals can cut their losses and move forward when appropriate. It does not mean, however, that they have become a doormat for the White House or Rahm Emanuel. Perhaps, Smith's analysis is merely wishful thinking.

Robert Kagan: I Talked to Our "Allies Everywhere," And They Are All Mad At Obama

The Washington Post has published an article by Robert Kagan that bears a shocking title: "Allies everywhere feeling snubbed by President Obama."  Kagan wants readers to believe that he has talked to US allies "everywhere" and that they uniformly believe Obama has snubbed them.  Nice try.

Here is Kagan's "evidence" for his dramatic claim that US relations with its allies has worsened under the Obama Administration -- a meme shamelessly propagated by the some of the same conservatives who loathe the United Nations and who supported banning "french fries" during the Iraq War.  Notice the vague, unspecific and conclusory nature of Kagan's "analysis":
In Britain, people are talking about the end of the "special relationship" with America and worrying that Obama has no great regard for the British, despite their ongoing sacrifices in Afghanistan (emphasis added).

In France, President Nicolas Sarkozy [Note: a conservative] has openly criticized Obama for months (and is finally being rewarded with a private dinner, presumably to mend fences). [Note: Kagan never cites to any specific criticism.]

In Eastern and Central Europe, there has been fear since the administration canceled long-planned missile defense installations in Poland and the Czech Republic that the United States may no longer be a reliable guarantor of security.

Among top E.U. officials there is consternation that neither the president nor even his Cabinet seems to have time for the European Union's new president, Herman Van Rompuy, who, while less than scintillating, is nevertheless the chosen representative of the post-Lisbon Treaty continent. Europeans in general, while still fond of Obama, have concluded that he is not so fond of them -- despite his six trips to Europe -- and is more of an Asian president [Note: Well, given US's economic dependency on Asian nations, perhaps showing them deeper attention is a brilliant move.]

Relations with Japan are rocky, mostly because of the actions of the new government in Tokyo but partly because of a perception that the United States can't be counted on for the long term.
 
In India, there are worries that the burgeoning strategic partnership forged in the Bush years has been demoted in the interest of better relations with China.
Finally, after a long list of gossipy and conclusory statements that reads like a dressed-up National Inquirer essay, Kagan offers the following damning commentary:
This administration pays lip-service to "multilateralism," but it is a multilateralism of accommodating autocratic rivals, not of solidifying relations with longtime democratic allies. Rather than strengthening the democratic foundation of the new "international architecture" -- the G-20 world -- the administration's posture is increasingly one of neutrality, at best, between allies and adversaries, and between democrats and autocrats. Israel is not the only unhappy ally, therefore; it's just the most vulnerable.
My Take
This is one of the poorest attempts at journalism from the Washington Post since the recent publication of a string of Rahm Emanuel love essays. The article does not even pretend to offer any reliable factual support for the serious claim that the relationship between the US and its allies is deteriorating "everywhere."   Instead, Kagan simply repeats the same negative conservative chatter that already saturates the airwaves.  For an article that puports to offer such a dramatic finding of fact, Kagan's effort is grossly underwhelming.

See also: Obama’s Foreign Policy and The Right: What Memes May Come

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Absolute Lunacy From New Jersey: Appeals Court Rules That State Must Allow Recall Petition to Proceed

A New Jersey Appeals Court has ruled that state election officials must allow a recall petition of Senator Menedez to proceed.  This is a baseless ruling.  The best thing the court could say about the constitutional question is the following indecisive point:

To summarize, we neither declare the recall provision in our State Constitution as applied to a United States Senator definitively valid or invalid (emphasis added).
I have discussed this matter before (see here). The Supreme Court has repeatedly held that neither Congress nor states can alter the requirements and conditions for members of Congress. The Court has precluded Congress from refusing to sit duly elected members due to "unethical" conduct. The Court has also precluded states from establishing term limits for members of Congress.

The recall is a more invasive step than a term limit. Furthermore, the Framers considered but refused to adapt language that would have allowed for the recall of members of Congress. The only method the Constitution provides for "recall" is the expulsion process. That power, however, rests with Congress alone -- not the states.

The New Jersey court discusses this abundant precedent and concludes that it provides a strong argument against the constitutionality of the New Jersey recall provision. Nevertheless, the court morphs into a first-year law student and pretends that the absence of language in the Constitution or prior cases explicitly mentioning "recall" means that the question remains undecided and that it cannot invalidate a state constitutional ruling without definitive authority.

Most shockingly, the New Jersey court holds that the absence of precise language in the Constitution on this issue could mean that states retain the power to recall members of Congress. This is the exact argument that the Supreme Court rejected in the term limits ruling. The New Jersey court, however, cites to Justice Thomas' dissent in the term limits case to support this proposition. So, the New Jersey court actually behaved in a manner that is less sophisticated than first-year law students. They know better (at least my students) than to base an argument on a rejected point of law. Hopefully, the New Jersey Supreme Court will reverse this stupid ruling. Stupid is the best word I can use to describe it.

Rep. Grayson's ABSOLUTELY BRUTAL Email Response to Sarah Palin

Sarah Palin traveled to Florida in order to urge voters to oust the outspoken Democrat Representative Alan Grayson. Grayson's campaign, however, responded with an absolutely brutal email to supporters. I have highlighted some of the zingers.

Subject: Palin Attacks Grayson; Grayson Applies Calamine Lotion to the Resulting Reddish Skin

On Friday night, Sarah Palin came to Orlando, and attacked Rep. Alan Grayson. This is what she said:

"I got to meet quite a few candidates who are lining up in a contested primary who want to take out Alan Grayson. And I think Alan Grayson -- what can you say about Alan Grayson? Piper is with me tonight, so I won't say anything about Alan Grayson that can't be said around children. [Good one, Sarah!] But thank you, Florida, for allowing candidates in a contested primary to duke it out over ideas and principles and values, all with the same goal, and that is unseating those who have such a disconnect from the people of America. That's what the goal is here in this race against Alan Grayson. Please fight hard, and do this for the rest of the country. Fight hard, and send a conservative to Washington, DC."

Palin, the former half-term Governor, current-nothing and future-even-less, charmed the all-Republican audience with her folksy folksiness and her homespun homespunnery. Atypically, Palin was wearing clothes that she had paid for herself. At the end of the event, she shared her recipe for mooseface pie.

In response to Palin's attack on Rep Grayson, Grayson actually complimented Palin. Grayson praised Palin for having a hand large enough to fit Grayson's entire name on it. He thanked Palin for alleviating the growing shortage of platitudes in Central Florida.

Grayson added that Palin deserved credit for getting through the entire hour-long program without quitting. Grayson also said that Palin really had mastered Palin's imitation of Tina Fey imitating Palin. Grayson observed that Palin is the most-intelligent leader that the Republican Party has produced since George W. Bush.

When asked to comment about what effect Palin's criticism might have, Grayson pointed out, "As the Knave's horse says in Alice in Wonderland, 'dogs will believe anything.'" Earlier, as the Orlando Sentinel reported, Grayson said, "I'm sure Palin knows all about politics in Central Florida, since from her porch she can see Winter Park," which is part of Grayson's district.

Grayson said that the Alaskan chillbilly was welcome to return to Central Florida anytime, as long as she brings lots of money with her, and spends it. "I look forward to an honest debate with Governor Palin on the issues, in the unlikely event that she ever learns anything about them," Grayson added, alluding to Politifact's "liar, liar, pants on fire" evaluation of much of what Palin has said.

Scientists are studying Sarah Palin's travel between Alaska and Florida carefully. They hope to learn more about the flight patterns of that elusive migratory species, the wild Alaskan dingbat.
Seriously? Ouch.

Monday, March 15, 2010

UPDATE: Ken Cuccinelli Says: I'm Not A Birther

Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli says that he is not a birther. Cuccinelli responded to several recent blog posts that link to audio of him saying that it is not "beyond the realm of possiblity" that President Obama was born in Kenya, rather than the United States.  Cuccinelli says that he was giving a "hypothetical" answer to a "hypothetical" legal question.  The part about Kenya, however, was not phrased as a hypothetical. In fact, it was phrased as being possible (not merely hypothetical).

Is the Anti-Gay Virginia Attorney General Also A "Birther"?

Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli created a stir recently by demanding that public colleges and universities in Virginia rescind GLBT-inclusive policies. Governor Bob McDonnell quieted the storm by releasing an executive directive prohibiting sexual orientation discrimination by state workers.

Now, Cuccinelli is at the center of another potential controversy. Several blogs, including Huffington Post, have posted audio of Cuccinelli speaking during a campaign event. One attendee asks Cuccinelli about President Obama's birth and how to challenge his claim of birthright citizenship. Cuccinelli maps out a legal strategy for a possible lawsuit.  He also says that it is not "beyond the realm of possiblity" that Obama was born in Kenya, rather than the United States.

I have not found any official confirmation that Cuccinelli's voice is actually on the tape.  Several sources, however, claim that it is his voice.   See update below.

Here is the recording:



PS: I would like to hear the remainder of the discussion.

See also: Virginia blogger outs state attorney general as a birther

Update: UPDATE: Ken Cuccinelli Says: I'm Not A Birther

What A Joke: Republicans Deny Similarities Between Massachusetts Healthcare Refrom And Democratic Proposals

This one is from the surreal vault. Republicans are trying to distinguish Massachusetts healthcare reform -- endorsed by Mitt Romney and Senator Scott Brown -- from the federal proposals pending in Congress.

Last week, Brown described the Democrats' reform proposals as "bitter" and "destructive." David Axelrod, appearing on ABC's This Week, criticized Brown's statement, noting the similarities between the Democratic proposals and the Massachusetts policy.

Senator Lindsay Graham, who appeared after Axelrod, however, disputed Axelrod's comments: "No way in the world is what they did in Massachusetts like what we’re about to do in Washington." Graham explains that: "We didn’t cut Medicare — they didn’t cut Medicare when they passed the bill in Massachusetts. They didn’t raise $500 billion on the American people when they passed the bill in Massachusetts."

Graham's effort to distinguish the Massachusetts policy from the Democratic proposals is foolhardy. First, states cannot raise federal taxes, nor can they reform the Medicare program. So, Graham's explanation regarding the differences between Massachusetts policy and the federal proposals is ridiculous.

Furthermore, the Massachusetts plan and federal proposals are also quite similar in terms of substance. The Wonk Room has compiled a side-by-side comparison of the two packages, showing the dramatic similarities. Also, Think Progress nicely summarizes the similarities:
[T]he plan implemented by former Republican Gov. Mitt Romney in Massachusetts is very similar to the Democratic proposal. Both plans require people to purchase coverage and both provide affordability credits to those who can’t afford insurance. Both create insurance exchanges, both establish minimum creditable coverage standards for insurers, and both require employers to contribute towards reform.
Romney implemented the Massachusetts plan as governor of the state, and Brown voted for it as a member of the state legislature. Romney apparently wants to run for president again, and he believes he must portray the Massachusetts reforms in a false light in order to appeal to Republicans. Brown is trying to score points with the GOP as well, and he is distorting history to achieve this goal as well. Their weak effort to distance their prior stances from highly similar Democratic proposals, however, is not fooling anyone. The record is too clear to deny.
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