Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Florida Governor Charlie Crist Will Run As An Independent

Florida Governor Charlie Crist will soon announce that he will run as an Independent in the upcoming US Senate race. Although Crist was once a Republican superstar, he now trails conservative Marco Rubio by double-digits in most polls surveying Republican primary voters.

Florida does not have open primaries, and Tea Party voters have a stronger voice in the South than in other parts of the country.  They also have a much stronger voice in Republican primaries than in general elections.

Polls show a much tighter race if Crist runs as an Independent. Crist will announce his decision tomorrow during a  press conference according to several media sources.

For more analysis, see: Chris Cillizza's Weak Analysis of Charlie Crist's Possible Independent Senate Campaign.

San Francisco Bars Official Travel to Arizona

San Francisco has barred official government travel to Arizona. The move is in response to the controversial (and probably illegal) Arizona law that requires law enforcement to arrest individuals suspected of being in the US illegally.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Tim Tebow Is a Muslim Commie Socialist!

The sports media's meltdown in response to former Florida quarterback Tim Tebow going to Denver in the first round of the NFL draft is getting creepy. In fact, some journalists are becoming so unhinged that they are beginning to remind me of the lunatic Tea Party members who claim President Obama is a Muslim commie socialist.

The commentary regarding Tebow is bothersome for many reasons. First, it strikes me as highly unprofessional that many journalists are merely reporting their own shock -- as if this alone constitutes a legitimate story line.

Tebow was the starting quarterback during a national championship season, the backup quarterback for another national championship season, and he was one game shy of playing as the starter for a second national championship. He also won the Heisman Trophy and shattered virtually every offensive passing record in the Southeastern Conference.

These statistics do not guarantee that Tebow will succeed in the NFL, but they make the "shock" rhetoric sound petty and offensive. There are many reasons to justify picking Tebow in the first round. The fact that individual journalists thought it might not happen does not alter this reality -- nor does it make their utter shock newsworthy.

Second, much of the criticism holds Tebow to a much higher standard than other players. One of the most perplexing arguments I have heard states that Tebow must improve in order to succeed in the NFL. That argument, however, applies to every player drafted. It also applies to workers in every profession. I have never seen a great NFL player succeed without experiencing any growth beyond college. I would never tell my law students to rest on their laurels.  Tellingly, the journalists who float this line do not provide the names of any player whose performance stagnated after college, but who, nonetheless, was a superstar professional athlete. Such a player does not exist.

Furthermore, regardless of their stellar college performance, most quarterbacks do not lead NFL teams in their first year. Instead, they spend their early years learning to read professional defenses and adjusting to the obstacles that professional quarterbacks encounter. 

Despite the fact that all great college players -- especially quarterbacks -- must grow in order to succeed in the NFL, the anti-Tebow commentators single him out for this observation. There is no justification for this disparate treatment.

Finally, many of the journalists are as ill-mannered as the rowdiest Tea Party protesters. A Denver radio show host, for example, recently asked Tebow whether he was going to force his religion on other players. Another one said I expect you to fail.  Tebow, showing great poise, said I will work to prove you wrong.

Final Take
Tebow is a really young guy who is apparently driven to succeed. I applaud all young individuals who are trying to succeed when many others are not. To all of the naysayers: Give the guy a break! Let him learn. Allow him to grow. Give him a chance to work. Wish him well. Then, let's see what happens on the field. If he fails, you can say, "I told you so." But right now, your analysis comes across as if you want him to perform badly. You might as well dismiss him as a Muslim commie socialist.

UPDATE: I guess I was not far off the mark. Check out this just published story: Boston radio host says Tebow draft party like ‘lily-white’ ‘Nazi rally’.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Fear of the Unknown: People Are Still Confused About Healthcare Reform

A Kaiser Family Foundation tracking poll shows that Americans are widely confused about healthcare reform. 55 percent of respondents said that they were confused about the law.  56 percent of respondents said that they did not know how the law would affect them personally.

The poll also confirms results from previous surveys. Although only 46% of respondents said they support the legislation (compared with 40% who oppose it), when informed about specific portions of the legislation, large majorities supported the measures.

My Take
The fact that people like the healthcare legislation once they learn of its content speaks volumes about the reform process. First, the Obama administration has done a poor job marketing the reform.  Second, the media have done a terrible job educating the public about the substance of the legislation (as opposed to the political theatre surrounding it). Finally, opponents of the reform had done a great job distorting its content and fomenting fear among the public. Neither group should be proud of its work.
See: Kaiser Health Tracking Poll -- April 2010

Friday, April 23, 2010

Republicans Seem Absolutely Horrified That Crist Will Run As An Independent

Republicans appear even more desperate in their effort to isolate Florida Governor Charlie Crist. Crist is pondering an Independent candidacy in the upcoming Senate race. Polls show him losing the Republican primary to rightwing candidate Marco Rubio.  Other polls show Crist winning or running a close second in a 3-way general election contest.

Several big name national Republicans have moved to support Rubio now that Crist has publicly stated that he might run as an Independent. Yesterday, the GOP sent a stern warning to Republicans who want to support an Independent Crist: do so and risk getting kicked out of the party:

In a memo sent to party officials Thursday, the state party's general counsel decreed that because party officials -- from local precinct captains to national committee members to legislators -- signed an oath to support Republicans, they would be obligated to oppose Crist's unaffiliated campaign and ask for any donations to be refunded.

``Any member who fails to formally revoke his or her public support and request the return of any contributions made to a candidate running against the candidate of the Republican Party would be in violation of the RPOF Rules and would be subject to removal from party office and membership on Republican executive committees,'' said the memo from Jason Gonzalez, who used to be the general counsel of Crist and ousted chairman Jim Greer.
My Take
As a progressive, I would certainly prefer a staunch liberal to either Crist or Rubio. But, Kendrick Meek, the Democratic contender, is largely unknown, and I am not sure that Florida will elect him as Senator.

Crist can provide a moderate alternative to Meek and Rubio. Given the "purple" status of Florida, Crist could indeed win the general election. This is exactly why Republicans are scrambling to isolate and marginalize him.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Chris Cillizza's Weak Analysis of Charlie Crist's Possible Independent Senate Campaign

Washington Post columnist Chris Cillizza has attempted to distinguish Florida Governor Charlie Crist from Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman. Many commentators (myself included) have compared Crist and Lieberman. 

Lieberman lost the Democratic primary in Connecticut because many liberals opposed his stance on the Iraq War. Lieberman, however, ran as an Independent and won the election by drawing votes from moderates and from his loyal supporters among Democrats.  Similarly, Crist faces deep anger from conservative Republicans because he has embraced moderate and liberal causes (including the stimulus package).

While the conservative base of the Republican party despises Crist, he maintains a lot of support among moderate Republicans, Democrats, and Independents. Indeed, a recent Quinnipiac poll shows that Crist would lose the Republican primary in a landslide, but that he would defeat Republican Marco Rubio and Democrat Kendrick Meek in a 3-way general election.

Despite these similarities, Cillizza describes independent runs by Lieberman and Crist as fundamentally distinct. Cillizza makes several claims to support his argument.

First, Cillizza argues that the Florida Senate race would involve a "real" 3-way race, while the Connecticut contest did not. Cillizza overstates this "distinction."

Polls consistently show that Meek is relatively unknown. This situation will remain unchanged while the media continue to focus on the battle between Crist and Rubio and the possibility that Crist will run as an Independent. If Crist abandons the Republican Party, the media will direct all of their analysis (again) on Crist's campaign, leaving Meek to struggle for attention. 

Polls also show that Crist would trounce Meek in a two-way competition, but that Meek would fair better against (but still lose to) Rubio. The 3-way race is only "real" in Florida because no Republicans would support Meek, but many Democrats would vote for him or for Crist. Very few Democrats, however, would vote for Rubio. A potential 3-way race is competitive because Crist has the power to draw moderates from both parties (and from among Independent voters) -- which is precisely what makes this contest like the one in Connecticut. 

Cillizza, however, predicts that by running as an Independent, "Crist runs the real danger of lacking any sort of electoral base to depend on." Cillizza's argument, however, does not appreciate the complexity of the Florida electorate -- which has proven to be among the most "purple" in the nation (see here). Cillizza's observation also contradicts his own claim that a 3-way race in Florida is "real." The race is competitive precisely because Crist's base consists of moderates from both parties and from among unaffiliated voters.

Second, Cillizza argues that Lieberman could frame his abandonment of the Democratic Party as a principled stance. Crist, however, would look more opportunistic, because polls show he has no chance of winning the primary. This difference is not meaningful because under the rules in Florida, Crist can only decide to run as an Independent  before the primary. He cannot choose the path that Lieberman pursued and run as an Independent after losing the primary election.

Cillizza's final two arguments are too speculative to merit much discussion. Specifically, he predicts that Crist will encounter difficulty raising money and putting together a team of advisers. These issues might very well hinder Crist's rumored Independent run, but they do not seem so inevitable that they distinguish Crist's run from Lieberman's.  In 2006, Cillizza predicted deep hardships for Lieberman following his primary defeat, but Lieberman ultimately won the 3-way contest as polls indicated he would. Given this history, Cillizza should take a more nuanced approach to Crist's possible Independent campaign.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Republicans Are Scared That Charlie Crist Will Run As An Independent

Everyday, another Republican politician lends support to Marco Rubio, the candidate who is challenging Florida Governor Charlie Crist in the upcoming Senate election. A recent poll, however, shows that while Rubio would trounce Crist in the Republican primary, Crist would win a 3-way general election against Rubio and Democratic candidate Kendrick Meek, if he decided to run as an Independent.

There is a simple explanation for these poll results. Crist is a centrist. He embraced the stimulus package and other policies of the Obama administration. Furthermore, he recently vetoed a controversial bill that would have ended tenure for public school teachers and linked their salaries and recertification to student performance on standardized tests. Republican leadership strongly favored the legislation.

Florida is a purple state. Bill Clinton lost Florida by less than 2 percent of the vote in 1992, but he won the state in 1996.  George W. Bush won Florida by a hair in 2000 and by a few points in 2004. And in 2008, Obama carried the state by a slight margin. The state has a number of Independent voters, and registered Republicans and Democrats have crossed party lines in recent elections. Crist's appeal among moderate voters makes him a viable threat in a general election (which is what makes this analysis so bankrupt).

By contrast, Florida has closed primaries. Thus, only Republicans can vote in the primary pitting Crist against Rubio. Typically, a party's base is most influential in primary elections. And in the South, this means that conservatives have a loud voice in Republican primaries. Conservatives are not happy with Crist-the-moderate. The general election, however, is a completely different ideological contest. If Crist ran as an Independent, there is a strong possibility that he would defeat the Republican and Democratic candidates.

So, when Republicans like Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani endorse Rubio, they are only trying to marginalize Crist and to make him unpopular.  They also want to let him know that he could suffer politically among Republicans if he runs as an Independent. But these calculations might not impact Crist's decision.  If Crist decides that he values winning over running as a Republican, he could jump ship and seek the Senate position as an Independent.  On this issue, the scenario looks a lot like Joe Lieberman's Independent run in Connecticut (except that the state is liberal, but open to moderate Democrats and Republicans).

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Chutzpah: Florida Governor Charlie Crist Vetoes SB6

Florida Governor Charlie Crist has vetoed SB6, a controversial bill that would have linked teacher salaries and recertification to student performance on standardized tests.  Although both Democrats and Republicans opposed the measure, support for the bill was strongest among Republicans.

Crist, a Republican, faces a tough primary challenge from conservative candidate Marco Rubio in the upcoming senate race.  Rubio has run a campaign that links Crist to President Obama, which harms the governor among the conservative base in the Republican Party.

Although Crist trails Rubio substantially in most polls, a new Quinnipiac poll shows that Crist would narrowly win the general election contest if he ran as an Independent. Crist, who has defied conservatives on issues like the stimulus and healthcare reform, has stronger support among Democrats and Independents than Rubio.

My Take: Congratulations, Florida! Crist acted sensibly, and I hope he runs as an Independent. The veto suggests that Crist has in fact decided to abandon the Republican ticket, because his defiance on this issue will likely further erode his support among conservatives.

See also: Will Florida Governor Charlie Crist Veto Controversial Merit Pay Legislation?

Will Florida Governor Charlie Crist Veto Controversial Merit Pay Legislation?

Update: Crist vetoed the bill.

Florida Governor Charlie Crist is sinking rapidly among Republicans.  Nonetheless, Crist enjoys significant support among Democrats and Independents. In fact, a recent Quinnipiac poll shows that Crist would win the general election for the senate if he runs as an Independent. Currently, Crist looks like a sure loser in the Republican primary.

Republicans are angry that Crist embraced the stimulus package -- which did a lot more to help public schools in Florida than the misguided merit pay legislation SB 6. The legislation would tie teacher salaries and recertification to student performance on a host of standardized -- yet undeveloped -- tests. Teachers overwhelmingly oppose the legislation.  Even award-winning teachers who stand to gain from the measure have condemned it.

The measure would likely make low performing "poverty schools" even less attractive to talented teachers because it would exacerbate existing pay inequities and job insecurity. But lawmakers apparently do not mind playing political football with something as vital as education.  Teachers should face quality evaluations, but standardized testing is woefully inadequate in this regard.

Hopefully, Crist will give up the dream of being the moderate Republican Senator from Florida and run as an Independent. Apparently, the Florida Republican base is a site of major Tea Party activity. The general population in Florida, however, is not as spellbound by the movement. 

If Crist vetoes the legislation, he will further anger Republican voters, but he will potentially generate even more appeal among Democrats and Independents -- who disfavor the legislation. Vetoing the legislation would also be consistent with the numerous other ways in which Crist has been a true Republican maverick. Will he do it?

The Palm Beach Post has an insightful editorial on this subject.  See: Crist has no weasel room: On merit pay, it has to be all or nothing

Update: This article has been edited to reflect the fact that the legislation would also base recertification upon student performance on standardized tests.

Quinnipiac Poll: Charlie Crist Would Win as an Independent

A new Quinnipiac poll shows that Florida Governor Charlie Crist would win the upcoming senate election if he ran as an Independent. Crist, however, faces an uphill battle as a Republican candidate.

The poll shows that Republican challenger Marco Rubio leads Crist by 23 points among Republicans. But in a general election 3-way contest with Democratic challenger Representative Kendrick Meek, Crist would win with 32 percent of the votes (followed by Rubio and then Meek).

According to the polling data Crist draws more support from Democrats and Independents than Rubio.  In a 2-way contest, Crist outperforms Rubio against Meek, although both candidates lead the Democratic contender.

Nearly 2/3 of Tea Party Supporters Turn to Fox for Political News

A New York Times/CBS News poll indicates that Tea Party supporters are wealthier and more educated than the general public. Despite their higher educational attainment, Tea Party members turn to very limited and even questionable sources for information regarding politics. According to the poll, 63% of Tea Party supporters receive the majority of their political news from the Fox News Channel; only 23% of Americans turn to Fox for news. Furthermore, 47% of Tea Party supporters say that television is their main source for Tea Party information.

That Fox is the primary source of political news for Tea Party supporters probably explains some of their outlandish beliefs, which Fox would not strongly challenge or refute. 

64% believe that Obama has increased taxes -- when the opposite is true.

56% of them believe that Obama's policies favor the poor -- an opinion that is difficult to reconcile with the group's animosity towards corporate and Wall Street bailouts.

92% believe that Obama is leading the country towards socialism -- despite him favoring and implementing Bush's bank bailout.

30% believe that Obama was born in a foreign country; perhaps they think Hawaii is not part of the US.

57% have a favorable view of former president George W. Bush -- although he proposed the financial bailout (which they claim to hate), substantially increased the deficit and squandered a budget surplus.

No, Virginia, The Tea Party Is Not As Diverse As A Benetton Ad

A New York Times/CBS poll finds that Tea Party supporters are wealthier and more educated than the population at large. Not surprisingly, the poll also finds that the group's typical supporters are Republican, white, male, married and older than 45.  Whites, men and conservatives are concentrated in the Republican Party. Thus, the poll results are not shocking -- although a couple of recent polls attempt to portray the Tea Party movement as a diverse Benetton ad.

Given their age, it is also not surprising that most Tea Party supporters believe that Social Security and Medicare are worth the expense. Along with defense spending, these two categories account for 53% of spending by the federal government. It is unclear how the federal government could substantially reduce spending and taxes without cuts to the largest categories of expenditure. The poll results also suggest that people disagree with government spending -- unless they directly benefit from the spending program.  The contradictory conservative rallying cry "keep the government out of my Medicare" sums up that principle.  Less is best unless there's more for me.

Hullabaloo has more comprehensive analysis of the poll results.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Are Americans Stupid, Brainwashed or Just Ignorant of Facts Regarding Federal Taxes?

Rasmussen has released a poll which suggests that Americans are either stupid, brainwashed or ignorant of facts regarding federal taxes. Here are some highlights from the poll, accompanied by a brief description of reality. 

* The poll finds that 2/3 of respondents believe that Americans are overtaxed.
According to the most recent data, however, 47% of American households will pay no federal income taxes. This figure does not include Social Security and other payroll taxes, but when these numbers are included, the data still show that roughly 50% of American households pay roughly just 13% of their income in taxes (which includes corporate taxes, federal income taxes, and payroll taxes for Social Security and Medicare).

* 55% believe that on average, Americans pay 30% of their income in taxes.
The latest data from the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center paints a completely different picture The vast majority of Americans do not pay anything close to 30% of their income in taxes. The actual projected mean for 2010 is 18.9% -- or 11% lower than the amount imagined by the poll's respondents. The effective federal income tax rate (which includes corporate taxes, federal income taxes, and payroll taxes for Social Security and Medicare) only reaches a mean of 30% or over for the taxpayers among the top percentile of the highest 4% of income earners.  The vast majority of Americans pay a lot less in taxes, and a large chunk of low income earners experience a net profit from the government -- because their credits and deductions exceed what they pay in taxes.

* Only 8% of Americans believe that Obama will cut taxes.
Obama has already cut taxes for most Americans! In fact, nearly half of the stimulus package was devoted to tax cuts.

* 43% of respondents believe that the average American should pay about 10% of their income in taxes in exchange for the services provided by the government.
The median effective tax rate for 2010 is 13.1% -- only slightly above the ideal share desired by the poll's respondents. Furthermore, many individuals actually have a net inflow of money from the federal government (see above).  The mean rate is 18.9, but this number is weighted higher than 10% not because of the tax load carried by "average" Americans, but because the mean liability among the top 2/5 of taxpayers is much higher than the rates for most people.

* Only 35% of the poll's respondents believe that most federal spending is on defense, Social Security and Medicare.
For fiscal year 2009, 53% of the federal budget went to defense spending (including Veteran's Affairs), Social Security and Medicare.

* 65% believe that the "middle class" pay a higher percentage of their income in taxes than the wealthy.
In reality, the numbers are very different. The mean tax liability for the middle quintile of taxpayers is 14.3%. For the next two quintiles, the figure jumps to 18.3% and 23.3%, respectively.

Dixie Carter, Dead at 70

Actress Dixie Carter died today at the age of 70. Although Carter is best known for her role as the savvy Julia Sugarbaker on the hit series Designing Women, my earliest memory of her dates back to the series Diff'rent Strokes.

Some media outlets are worrying over the cause of her death, which her publicist did not reveal. I say: celebrate her life's work, rather than prying into her death. If her family and friends want to reveal the cause, they will.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

What Will Obama Do To Avoid A Supreme Court Fight?

Justice Stevens has now announced his upcoming retirement from the Supreme Court, and commentators are speculating about whom President Obama will choose to replace him. Politico writer Glenn Thrush reports that Obama wants to avoid a "fight" with the Senate regarding Stevens' replacement.

According to Thrush, avoiding a fight means picking a "bipartisan" nominee. He lists three "top-tier" prospects: Elena Kagan, Diane Wood and Merrick Garland.  Thrush says that selecting Wood would "likely spark a serious battle" because she has liberal views regarding abortion. He describes Kagan and Garland, however, as noncontroversial choices.

Thrush also quotes Senator Diane Feinstein to support his conclusion that the Obama administration wants a bipartisan candidate.  Fenstein says that:
The Senate is exhausted. . . .We need 60 votes. I think we need a candidate who is bipartisan, who has the credentials who is respected on both sides of the aisle is what we need to have a quick confirmation. . .I don’t think we need a fight that drags through the summer.
Thrush reports that Rahm Emanuel will have a big role in the selection process.  According to Thrush, Emanuel will take the pulse of the Senate and make sure that Obama chooses a candidate who does not provoke a serious fight.

My Take
It is difficult to imagine how a bipartisan candidate to the Supreme Court would look. Because Republicans have decided to oppose virtually everything that comes from the White House, I suspect that even moderate to conservative candidates like Kagan could generate passionate opposition.

Furthermore, picking candidates favored by Republicans would probably require Obama to compromise the values of his electoral base. Conservatives did not elect Obama; liberals did. Kagan appeals to Republicans because she shares some of their expansive views regarding the power of the Executive during war -- some of the very practices that civil libertarians and Obama himself criticized during the Bush administration.

Additionally, if bipartisanship means a moderate or conservative nominee, this would shift the ideological makeup of the court farther to the right, which Obama was not elected to do. Stevens is solidly a part of the liberal bloc on the Court. Picking someone to the right of him would represent a victory for Republicans.  That Wood's views on abortion frightens conservatives who openly want to the Court to overturn Roe v. Wade should not dictate whether Obama picks her to replace Stevens.

Finally, I find it very odd to argue against fighting for a Supreme Court pick. Since 1967, Democrats have only appointed 3 justices to the Supreme Court, including Sonia Sotomayor. Supreme Court justices have lifetime tenure. They interpret the meaning of the Constitution.  Their views influence the practice of law and the operation of government. Obama promised change. To accomplish change in an area this important requires -- and indeed, should inspire -- a fight. 

Thrush reports that by avoiding a fight, Obama can focus on his domestic agenda. The Supreme Court, however, should constitute a central part of his domestic agenda.

Dawn Johnsen Withdraws: Why Not a Recess Appointment?

Almost two weeks ago, President Obama announced that he would make 15 recess appointments of individuals whose nominations to various positions were mired in partisan shenanigans.  Yesterday, Dawn Johnsen, a well respect, liberal constitutional law professor, withdrew her name from consideration for head of the Office of Legal Counsel in the Justice Department.

Johnsen faced nonsubstantive opposition from conservatives in the Senate, who simply stalled her nomination just as they delayed the 15 others who recently received recess appointments.  So, I wonder why Obama did not include Johnsen on the list of 15 appointees.  I suspect Johnsen saw the news about the recess appointments and wondered the same herself.

According to the New York Times, an anonymous White House source says that Obama did not include Johnsen on the list of 15 recess appointments "because that would have undermined the effort to put the Office of Legal Counsel’s work above the partisan fray."  The White House, however, has not consistently follow this line of reasoning. 

Obama has repeatedly said that he wants to rise above partisanship (not simply regarding the Office of Legal Counsel).  The recess appointment of the 15 other nominees, however, lead to predictable partisan outcry.  Both parties condemn recess appointments when the other party makes them.  Besides, it is clear that partisan lines are firmly drawn in Washington.  I am not convinced that Obama can avoid partisan bickering on any matter of critical importance.

Note: Salon's Gleen Greenwald is trying to figure out what happened with Johnsen as well.  See: The death of Dawn Johnsen's nomination.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Justice Stevens Retiring

This news is not really a surprise, but it is now official: Justice Stevens is retiring from the Supreme Court in June. Stevens, appointed by President Gerald Ford, has served on the Court for 35 years.  Stevens has been a leading liberal voice on the Court for the last twenty years. 

President Obama will now make a second appointment to the Supreme Court. Stevens' retirement will not likely shift the ideological makeup of the Court, as Obama will probably appoint another liberal to replace Stevens.

Bart Stupak Retiring

Bart Stupak, the House Democrat from Michigan, who held up healthcare reform due to concerns over abortion, will announce his retirement today.

Source: The Atlantic.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Washington Post Sports Writer Likens Tiger Woods' Infidelity to Bank Robbery

Thomas Boswell, a sports writer for the Washington Post, is agonizing over the possibility that Tiger Woods will win the Masters. Boswell says that a Woods victory would come too quickly after his recent sex scandal:
If Tiger Woods wins the Masters on Sunday after all the damage he's done to golf, I plan to rob a bank on Monday; maybe then I'll win a Pulitzer Prize.
Will the madness ever end? Robbing a bank is a crime; there are always victims; it inherently involves force and coercion. Having consensual sex is not a crime; neither is it coercive or violent.

Bowell's article is riddled with platitudes and moralizing.  Boswell also lets the reader know that he feels that Woods disappointed him.  Well, I feel let down by people in the media (like Boswell) who should know that "heroes" are products of social construction and that no one is infallible under any complex set of social norms. Boswell was a fool to allow the squeaky clean narrative around Woods to convince him that Tiger only had sex with his wife. Boswell (and many others) was woefully naive.

Also, Boswell's article, like the Woods scandal itself, reveals America's silly and contradictory uneasiness with sexuality.  There are so many other things besides having consensual sex that Woods could have done to anger me. The sex thing really does not impact me at all. It strikes me as an issue for him and his family to address and analyze.

But in the United States, people like to pretend that most sex is dirty. To Boswell, having sex outside of the traditional heterosexual marital setting makes Woods flawed and unworthy of future accomplishments and praise. Dirty sex is like committing a violent crime.  At the same time, however, Americans are avid consumers of sex and sexual imagery. This country's bipolar cultural treatment of sexuality is dizzying -- and riddled with hypocrisy.

See also: Oh the Hypocrisy: Augusta Chair Rebukes Tiger Woods.

Oh the Hypocrisy: Augusta Chair Rebukes Tiger Woods

Billy Payne, the head of the Augusta National Golf Club, delivered an address yesterday that included a strong rebuke of Tiger Woods. The written comments wreak of phony moral outrage. Here is a clip:
His future will never again be measured only by his performance against par, but measured by the sincerity of his effort to change. I hope he now realizes that every kid he passes on the course wants his swing, but would settle for his smile.
Payne also said that Woods' behavior was egregious and that he "did not live up to the expectations of the role medal we saw for our children." Bleh.

Payne also stated that:
We at Augusta hope and pray that our great champion will begin his new life here tomorrow in a positive, hopeful and constructive manner. But this time, with a significant difference from the past. This year, it will not be just for him, for all of us, who believe in second chances.
All of the moralizing was enough coming from Woods himself. Now the Masters host has joined the melodrama.

When a reporter asked Payne whether he believed that "responsibility" and "role model" status should compel the Augusta club to open its doors to women, he paused and said that was a private issue for the club. Er -- so is Woods' sex life!

Almost 50 Percent of US Households Will Pay No Taxes for 2009

According to estimates by the Tax Policy Center, 47 percent of US households will escape federal income tax liability for 2009.  Tax cuts implemented by President Bush and expanded by President Obama have lessened the income tax exposure for nearly 1/2 of American families:
In recent years, credits for low- and middle-income families have grown so much that a family of four making as much as $50,000 will owe no federal income tax for 2009, as long as there are two children younger than 17, according to a separate analysis by the consulting firm Deloitte Tax.
Households that have no income tax liability, however, often pay other taxes, including state and local sales and property taxes, cigarette and gas taxes, and payroll taxes that fund social security. Nevertheless, many of these households end up earning a "profit" from the federal government because they get more in tax credits than they pay in taxes.

Despite this reality, many people are convinced that the federal government is gobbling up their income.  Even the most passionate tax critics are deeply mistaken about the rate of taxation. Earlier this year, Bruce Bartlett published an article in Forbes that surveyed participants in a Tea Party rally regarding their views of federal income taxes. The respondents had grossly unrealistic perceptions about the rate of taxation in the United States. In particular, most of them believed that the federal income tax rate was 3 times its actual level.  And 2/3 of them believed that the Obama administration had increased their taxes -- when the opposite is true.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Update: Someone With A Brain Writes An Apology for Virginia Governor Regarding Slavery

Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell has issued an apology for his failure to include a reference to slavery in his proclamation designating April as Confederate History Month. Earlier today, McDonnell tried to justify the omission by claiming that slavery was not a pertinent aspect of Virginia's secession from the United States.

Suddenly, McDonnell has changed his mind. In a strongly worded statement that screams "ghostwritten," McDonnell has apologized for the omission.  He has also produced an addendum to the proclamation that recognizes the "inhumane" institution of slavery and its role in the Confederate rebellion.

Here is a snip from McDonnell's apology (viewable in full on the Washington Post website):
The proclamation issued by this Office designating April as Confederate History Month contained a major omission. The failure to include any reference to slavery was a mistake, and for that I apologize to any fellow Virginian who has been offended or disappointed. The abomination of slavery divided our nation, deprived people of their God-given inalienable rights, and led to the Civil War. Slavery was an evil, vicious and inhumane practice which degraded human beings to property, and it has left a stain on the soul of this state and nation. In 2007, the Virginia General Assembly approved a formal statement of "profound regret" for the Commonwealth's history of slavery, which was the right thing to do. . . .
Here is the text of the addendum to the proclamation:
WHEREAS, it is important for all Virginians to understand that the institution of slavery led to this war and was an evil and inhumane practice that deprived people of their God-given inalienable rights and all Virginians are thankful for its permanent eradication from our borders, and the study of this time period should reflect upon and learn from this painful part of our history. .
Was honesty really that difficult, Governor McDonnell?

Wishy-Washy Voters Hate Congressional Incumbents -- Well, Sort Of

Today, Gallup released a poll that confirms a contradictory pattern regarding voters' attitudes towards congressional incumbents. The poll shows that only 28% of respondents believe that congressional incumbents deserve to be reelected. When it comes to their own representative, however, 49% favor reelection.

These numbers suggest that, despite the unpopularity of Congress, incumbents might not face a bloodbath in November. Starting with 49% of voter support -- prior to any significant campaigning -- is not a bad position.

The numbers definitely show that voters loathe members of Congress in the abstract, but they are relatively mixed or supportive of their own representative. Does anyone else find these results fickle? Gallup only focuses on the fact that the level of support for incumbents is the lowest in its polling history, but the pollster does not mention the gap between generic incumbents and the respondents' own representatives.

Cowardly Virginia Governor Says Slavery Not a "Significant" Part of State's Confederate History

Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell set off a firestorm when he decided to proclaim April as Confederate History Month. Now, McDonnell has caused more tension because his proclamation fails to reference (and certainly does not criticize) slavery. 

When pressed, McDonnell explained that he chose only to focus on issues that were the most pertinent to Virginia:
[T]here were any number of aspects to that conflict between the states. Obviously, it involved slavery. It involved other issues. But I focused on the ones I thought were most significant for Virginia.
Republican Governor George Allen first recognized Confederate History Month in 1997.  His successor, Republican James Gilmore, did so as well, but his proclamation condemned slavery.  The next two governors -- Democrats Mark Warner and Tim Kaine -- declined to celebrate Confederate History Month, believing that doing so strained race relations.

My Take
McDonnell certainly has the right to recognize the Confederacy, but his pathetic attempt to downplay the role of slavery in Virginia warrants massive condemnation. As a colony, Virginia was the earliest site of African slavery. Also, Virginia was one of the leading destinations for slaves from Africa.  Furthermore, Virginia had the largest slave population when the Civil War began -- even though smaller states like Mississippi and South Carolina had larger percentages of slaves relative to the general population. 

Tellingly, when Virginia decided to join the Confederacy, western counties in the state decided to secede from Virginia -- creating the state of West Virginia. Contrary to conditions in eastern Virginia, slavery was virtually nonexistent in western Virginia, which made the state's decision to join the Confederacy unpopular in the western counties.

If McDonnell is as courageous as his supporters claim he is, then he should own up to all aspects of his celebration of the Confederacy. Running from the ugly parts of history does not negate history or its lingering effects.

McDonnell's deceitful cowardice reminds me of the Mississippi parents, students and school officials who held a secret prom, while sending Constance McMillen, an openly lesbian student, to a fake event. It is clear that McMillen has more courage than the homophobes in the town. McDonnell should exhibit the same courage and embrace all of the aspects of Confederate History Month.  If he does not feel comfortable doing so, perhaps he should rethink the decision to celebrate this loathesome history in the first place.

UPDATE: Facing political heat, McDonnell has suddenly shifted his position. See: Update: Someone With A Brain Writes An Apology for Virginia Governor Regarding Slavery.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Despicable: Mississippi Town Sends Lesbian Teen to "Fake Prom"

Constance McMillen is the Mississippi teenager who protested her school's decision prohibiting her from bringing a female date to the prom. Rather than allowing the same-sex couple to attend the prom, the school canceled the event.

But a strange thing later happened.  Parents and students secretly organized two proms. One prom was for the vast majority of students at McMillen's high school. The other was for McMillen, her date, 2 developmentally disabled children, and 3 others. Despite the small crowd at the lesbian-disability kid prom, the school principal and teachers attended the event as chaperones (I wonder if they were part of the scam).

Christianity and morality are so sweet in Dixie. This is pathetic and shameful.

Here's a bit of personal advice to McMillen: Take the $30,000 scholarship you recently earned and run very far from this community. You are too courageous, smart, and egalitarian to remain in such a hateful and deceitful community. 

Monday, April 5, 2010

Is the Tea Party "Mainstream"?

Recently, participants in the Tea Party as well as pollsters and pundits have attempted to describe the movement as "mainstream."  If the Tea Party movement organized to "protest" the center of political power in the US, then the effort to "mainstream" the organization seems counterintuitive. Holding aside this contradiction, I am intrigued by Greg Sargent's analysis in the Plum Line. Sargent seeks to debunk recent polls and commentary that portray the average Tea Party participant as the person next door. According to Sargent, this is only true if nearly 9/10 of your neighbors are white conservative Republicans or Independents. Here is a snip:
Folks pushing the idea that the Tea Party is mainstream and bipartisan are seizing on this headline from The Hill over the weekend:


Survey: Four in 10 Tea Party members are Dems or independents

Turns out, though, that this story is about a poll released last week by a Republican-leaning firm that found 57% of Tea Partiers are self-identified Republicans, 28% are independent and 13% are Dems. So yeah, 41% are either indy or Dem, with Dems making up a small majority of that group.

But a total of 85% are either Republican or independent. Given that experts say the ranks of independents are swollen these days with defectors from the GOP, these numbers suggest the Tea Party crowd tilts overwhelmingly to the right.
The new Gallup poll illustrates this even more starkly. The 28% of Americans who identify themselves as Tea Party supporters break down this way:

* Forty-nine percent of Tea Party supporters are Republicans, 43% are independents, and only eight percent are Dems. That means a huge majority — 92% — are Republicans or indys, and again, many of those indys could be former Republicans or lean GOP anyway.

* Seventy percent of Tea Party supporters say they’re conservative, and only 22% say they’re moderate. And who knows what they even mean by that word to begin with.

* A whopping 79% of Tea Party supporters are non-hispanic whites. Only 65% of Americans were non-hispanic whites as of 2008. . . .
If the Tea Party wants to protest mainstream politics, it is unclear how the mainstream label helps the organization. It is also doubtful that the label accurately describes the group.

Florida Doc Who Opposes Health Reform Does Not Seem to Know What Is In the Legislation

Jack Cassell is the Florida urologist who recently created a stir after he placed a sign in front of his office directing Obama supporters to seek care elsewhere. Cassell says he is angered by healthcare reform. 

During a recent interview, however, Cassell struggled to describe the content of the legislation, and he even expressed some far-fetched ideas.  For example, Cassell claimed that the legislation cuts "all supportive care, like nursing homes, ambulance services . . . ."  When pressed, however, Cassell, referring to the legislation, said that "I can’t tell you exactly what the deal is."

It is unclear what particular policies Cassell, a self-described Republican, is referring to in the interview.  At one point, he seems to be concerned about Medicare cuts, but John McCain proposed deeps cuts to Medicare. In fact, Obama hypocritically made the same arguments against McCain's plan that Republicans are now using against Obama. Ah, progress.

Alternatively, Cassell could have been referring to proposed 21% cuts in Medicare reimbursements, but these cuts are not part of the healthcare reform legislation. Instead, these cuts were enacted by statute in 1997, but since that time, Congress has delayed the cuts each year. 

Recently, the liberal House (i.e., The Evil Nancy Pelosi House of Representatives, blah blah blah) voted to increase Medicare reimbursements -- an outcome Cassell seems to prefer.  The more conservative Senate, however, voted to delay the cuts once again, which means that the 21% cuts remain valid law. Ironically, Cassell, a self-described "fiscal conservative," is upset about proposed cuts to an expensive federal program that is closer to socialized medicine than anything the healthcare reform legislation enacts. 

Cassell also mentions cuts to hospice care.  But the Bush administration slashed hospice spending.  Apparently, this did not move Cassell to protest. The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, however, sued to block the cuts. Where was Cassell then?

Note: The interviewer responds to Cassell by discussing a cut in tax deductions that companies can claim if they fund retirees' prescription drug purchases. I do not think this is what Cassell had in mind.

For a tape of the interview and related commentary, see: Doctor Against Treating Obama Supporters Admits Not Knowing What’s In Health Reform Bill.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Same-Sex Divorce? In Texas? Yes!

This issue will likely make it to the Texas Supreme Court.  A pair of state judges have ruled that state law allows gays and lesbians to end their marriages in Texas. State law bans same-sex marriages, but at least to these two judges, it does not ban same-sex divorce.

John Forsythe Dead, 92

John Forsythe, who played Charlie on Charlie's Angels and Blake Carrington on Dynasty has died at the age of 92. I still remember watching both shows -- and in particular looking on in horror while Blake Carrington murdered his son's lover in a fit of homophobic rage. Yet, the character remained popular!

How Can Grey's Anatomy Get Some Shine Again: Bring Back Preston Burke

Grey's Anatomy is fading. With two of the original interns (George and Izzy) now gone, and one of the best "adult" doctors (Addison) having left a long time ago, the show is losing its steam. 

At its best, Grey's was cutting edge and brave. The writers had chutzpah and pushed daring story lines in order to keep intrigue alive. If Shonda Rhimes brought back Isaiah Washington as Dr. Preston Burke, numerous possibilities for explosive drama would emerge. A love triangle could develop between Preston, Cristina and Owen; a power struggle could develop between Derrick, Preston, and Richard. Also, the show could only improve with the return of a highly talented actor, whom many fans still adore.

Washington was wrong to cause strife on the job with his homophobia. But, he has paid his dues.  The exile can now end.

Besides, ABC-Radio has picked up the Don Imus show, after Imus made bigoted racial and gender comments on-air and lost his job at CBS. ABC airs Grey's Anatomy and forced Rimes to get rid of Washington. Charlie Sheen is pushing CBS for more than $1 million an episode, despite having assaulted his wife and pressing a knife against her neck. Keeping Washington off the air smacks of disparate treatment.

Furthermore, I think it is unseemly to punish artists (and athletes) due to politics alone. I thought the boycott of the Moscow Olympics was ridiculous. I thought that Al Shaprton needed to lay off Imus. I thought that Clear Channel's ban of the Dixie Chicks was sickening. Likewise, keeping Washington off the air is disappointing, and it deprives television viewers of a rare commodity: actual talent.

Biggest Job Bump in Three Years -- But Unemployment Remains the Same

The economy added 162,000 jobs in March -- falling just short of the 190,000 jobs that economists predicted. This is the largest one-month bump in jobs in three years. Nonetheless, the unemployment rate remains the same (9.7%).

48,000 of the new jobs were temporary government positions with the Census Bureau. Nevertheless, the private sector added 123,000 new jobs.

Oops: Army Secretary Will NOT Ignore Don't Ask Don't Tell

Recently, media outlets reported Army Secretary John McHugh's statement that he would not enforce Don't Ask Don't Tell when servicemembers reveal their sexual orientation to him. Now, McHugh has retracted that statement.

McHugh has interviewed servicemembers to get a sense of their views about the policy.  During the course of those interviews, some of the individuals have come out as gay or lesbian. Although the Defense Department has stated that it will no longer apply the policy to people who are outed by third parties, this rule does not cover individuals who come out on their own. Accordingly, McHugh's statement was more liberal than current practice.

Nevertheless, military officials insist that they wants to hear what gays and lesbians think about the policy. Accordingly, the Defense Department might hire a private contractor to interview gay and lesbian servicemembers. I am glad to see our tax dollars working efficiently.

McHugh will not recommend discharge of the individuals who have already come out to him. He says he cannot remember who they are. 

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Army Secretary to Ignore Don't Ask Don't Tell

Secretary of the Army John McHugh says he will simply ignore Don't Ask Don't Tell. McHugh says that it is "counterproductive" to pursue discharges of gays and lesbians, while he is simultaneously interviewing servicemembers about the anti-gay policy. Apparently, some gay or lesbian individuals have revealed their sexual orientation to McHugh during the course of his research.  McHugh says he does not want to penalize them for being open and honest. This sounds like a great approach.

McHugh's statement goes farther than the recent move by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. Gates recently announced that the military would no longer discharge individuals whose gay or lesbian status was revealed by a third party. McHugh, however, will not enforce the policy against individuals who come out on their own.

Is the Health Insurance Mandate Really a "Mandate"?

Several blogs, including Tax Prof Blog, recently analyzed a statement by the Joint Committee on Taxation (a nonpartisan committee that advises Congress on tax matters) which declares that the IRS lacks the power to enforce the individual mandate.  The new healthcare legislation imposes a penalty, presumably collectible by the IRS, upon people who fail to purchase health insurance (and who do not fall into an exempted category).  According to the Joint Committee on Taxation however, the legislation does not give IRS the authority to collect the penalty, even if this is what Congress intended:
The penalty applies to any period the individual does not maintain minimum essential coverage and is determined monthly. The penalty is assessed through the Code and accounted for as an additional amount of Federal tax owed. However, it is not subject to the enforcement provisions of subtitle F of the Code. The use of liens and seizures otherwise authorized for collection of taxes does not apply to the collection of this penalty. Non-compliance with the personal responsibility requirement to have health coverage is not subject to criminal or civil penalties under the Code and interest does not accrue for failure to pay such assessments in a timely manner.
In an updated post on TaxProf Blog, Theodore Seto and Bryan Camp, two tax law professors, have argued that the IRS still has the power to enforce the penalty. They concede that the legislation appears to deny IRS the power to collect the penalty by levying wages. Nevertheless, both professors argue that IRS could still deduct the penalty from any refund to which the taxpayer is entitled. Camp argues additionally that the IRS has the power to place liens on private property and to foreclose those liens in order to collect the penalty.

Although it is just a tiny part of the healthcare reform statute, the mandate has been the source of a lot of political commentary. Also, several states have filed lawsuits contesting the constitutionality of the mandate. Most legal analysts have predicted that those suits will fail.

Note: Thanks to reader Josh for this news tip.
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