Precedent vs Ideology will be important in the Health Care Decision

From TPM:

Since [ the new deal era ], the high court has overwhelmingly supported congressional authority to make economic regulations — from the 1942 Wickard v. Filburn case, which upheld laws restricting wheat production for personal consumption, to the 2005 Gonzalez v. Raich ruling, which decreed (with the help of Scalia and Kennedy) that Congress may override state laws permitting medical marijuana patients to grow cannabis for personal use. The administration will argue that both laws reflected broad exercises of Congress’s power on the scale of mandating insurance coverage.


Despite the favorable precedents, progressives have a nagging fear that the five Republican-appointed justices will hand down a partisan decision on the scale of Bush v. Gore, to deliver a blow to President Obama. After that unprecedented 2000 ruling, some liberals take little comfort in scholars’ view that political pressure doesn’t usually carry the day in the chamber, that the high court’s longstanding tendency is to make gradual, not radical, shifts in jurisprudence on core Constitutional questions.

A Supreme Court decision in favor of the health care mandate would reflect a century of precedent. A decision against it would reflect the same philosophy that resulted in the 2000 decision to stop Florida from recounting its own votes, which is that federal power over states’ rights can only be used to enforce conservative ideology.

US Supreme Court

An Overt Display of Dishonesty

A while ago I expressed my concern about the cross-the-board spending cuts that are scheduled to kick in if a budget deal can’t be reached. As Republicans get ready to brazenly renege on a deal that they never really intended to keep, I find myself even more concerned.

But I was off on one point. I thought the most significant factors were that Democrats don’t feel strongly enough about cutting military spending and that Republicans are willing to sacrifice the military in order to cut vital services for the poor and middle class. As it turns out, the most significant factors are that Democrats don’t feel strongly enough about cutting military spending and Republicans don’t give a rat’s ass about keeping their promises.

I felt that Republicans would be more willing to let the cross-the-board cuts kick in than Democrats would because Democrats are more afraid of being branded as the party who weakened our national defenses than Republicans are afraid of being branded as the party who allowed people to die because they couldn’t afford shelter, food, or health care. What I didn’t realize is Republicans felt they could get whatever they want simply by lying.

Apparently the Republicans feel they can earn points by overtly behaving like charlatans, as long as the only people they’re lying to are Democrats. I hope they’re wrong. I hope that the Right wing base won’t actually cheer such a public act of chicanery because if it does, we will be at the brink of having a one-party government ruled by maniacs with the support of middle class citizens convinced that the reason they can’t get ahead is the poor have too much of their money. I don’t see such a future as being good for anyone but the ruling class.

Chess board and pieces


So let me get this straight: The payroll tax deal which was passed with bipartisan support in the Senate and would guarantee that the payroll tax cut will be in place for two months until a more permanent deal can be secured, will probably be scuttled. But, according to Boehner, it might be saved by a conference that will secure the deal for a year. But we don’t know what Republicans will demand in exchange for that deal or how Democrats will react to those demands.

All this to protect us from “Uncertainty”.

64th: Don’t be Mislead by Last Minute Smears

I recently received a creepy flier in the mail accusing Bill Barlow of voting to make it possible for convicted felons to work at your child’s school or coach their soccer team. The flier also says “Barlow was 1 of 26 out of 100 Delegates who said ‘YES.’”

I don’t know what vote is Rick Morris talking about. The flier doesn’t say. It’s as vague as Morris’s other accusations against Barlow. Whatever vote Rick Morris is talking about, the “1 of 26 … who said ‘YES’” phrasing is interesting. It doesn’t say anything about the “No.” votes.

Who's Watching Our Kids at School

I looked through the Legislative Information System and found no recorded votes on any bill related to felons or convictions with 26 yea votes. This means that the vote Rick Morris is talking about, unless he’s simply making it all up, was probably a voice vote. These votes are usually one of a few votes that a proposal will go through on its way through the General Assembly, and rarely do more than a handful of delegates even participate in the vote. So these 26 yeas probably represent unanimous support for a bill, not to be passed, but just to be pushed along to the next phase.

Bill Barlow has been strong supporter of tough-on-crime legislation. He voted to expand the death penalty to accomplishes and voted against limiting the death penalty to ages 18 and up. He voted to increase restrictions on sex offenders, including a rather tough bill to prohibit convicted sex offenders entry onto school grounds or other property. And he has voted to increase funding for police.

On the other hand, Bill Barlow has also supported bi-partisan legislation like that championed by Governor Bob McDonnell to streamline the civil rights restoration process for ex-offenders who have proven themselves worthy of a second chance. Thanks to Governor McDonnell’s efforts, along with Republican and Democratic legislators, a non-violent felon, after serving his sentence and clearing all court costs and fines, can, after another two years of proving to be a good and productive citizen, request to have his civil rights restored. So maybe Rick Morris is upset that Bill Barlow has worked with his Republican counterparts and Governor McDonnell in order to pass important, sensible, bi-partisan crime legislation.

I don’t know what vote Rick Morris is talking about in his creepy flier. I do know:

  • There were no final votes in the house on any crime legislation with 26 yeas.
  • Bill Barlow has repeatedly voted for tough-on-crime legislation.
  • Rick Morris’s creepy flier is vague and provides absolutely no information to back up it’s outrageous accusation.
  • Rick Morris’s creepy flier arrived late in the campaign, leaving little time for Bill Barlow to respond to this vicious smear.

I’m pretty certain that Rick Morris’s campaign staff combed through the legislative records, and in their efforts to paint Bill Barlow as a weak-on-crime liberal, the best they could come up with was a procedural vote to push a legislative proposal up for further consideration. And “26 out of 100” is almost certainly misleading, since this vote was probably unanimous with only 26 delegates even bothering to participate.

In fact, Bill Barlow’s voting record on crime as well as other issues would be distressing to many liberals. I certainly don’t like his votes on the death penalty. But I’m not supporting Bill Barlow because I agree with everything he does. I’m supporting Bill Barlow because he supports public schools, the police, tax credits for small businesses, and has honestly, faithfully, and intelligently served his constituents for two decades.

Bill Barlow is being attacked by an opponent who falsely accuses him of everything from fiscal irresponsibility to putting “felons ahead of the safety of our children”. We simply should not support such a dishonest politician.

This Tuesday, vote for the honest guy. If you’re in Virginia’s 64th, vote Bill Barlow.

Cutting Military isn’t a Win, but the Deal is Alright

I’m hopeful that the future won’t be quite the disaster that Paul Krugman predicts with his chronic and pessimistic Obama-bashing, but still I agree more with Krugman than anyone who says this budget deal was a win for the Democrats or for the American people.

For one thing, I’m not ready to cheer just because much of the cuts will be from the military. The idea that cuts in the military balance out cuts in education, health services, and other programs is just plain false and perpetuates the myth that Democrats don’t like the military and that it’s somehow a win for them if the military is defunded. Despite all the talk about supporting the troops, Republicans have proven more willing to start wars then to provide the men and women who fight them with adequate supplies and numbers. And the Tea Party, crazy as they are, seem to be the only people in town who realize the military is part of the government. So they’re just as happy about our weakened defenses as they are about our crumbling infrastructure.

In the near future, there will be economic ups and economic downs. Partisans on each side will take credit for the good and blame others for the bad, and nobody will know for sure how different things would have been if their own side had won more. But important government programs have been cut, and It seems pretty clear to me that our military will be weaker, our infrastructure will suffer, we will loose ground in the technology race, fewer of our children will be adequately educated, and jobs that would have been created by the effort to avoid all of these pitfalls will not exist.

Furthermore, when the threat of cross-the-board cuts, including cuts to the military looms over the bi-partisan negotiating team, the Democrats will be at a disadvantage because they will not be as willing to cut off vital supplies for our fighting men and women as the Republicans will be to allow cuts in children’s health care, education, and other investments in our nation’s future.

So I agree with Paul Krugman’s stance that this hasn’t really been a win for liberals. Where I depart from Paul Krugman’s thinking is on blaming Obama and the Democrats for being too weak. Instead, I agree with Al Frankin:

Unfortunately, in a game of chicken, the player most concerned about protecting the full faith and credit of the United States is put in the most difficult position.

So I have to disagree with Deaniac’s assertion that Obama “ate Boehner’s Lunch”, but, as Daniel Markovits more realistically explains, the Democrats came away with a much better deal than a “rational observer would have predicted”, considering the risks Republicans were willing to take with the nation’s economy in order to get what they wanted.

Rather than accusing Democrats of being weak, we need to make them stronger. It’s our job to ensure Republicans don’t have the power to get want they want through threats rather than fair negotiations.

This debt deal wasn’t the result of a Democratic president with a fighting chance caving in to empty threats. This was a Democratic president facing down an opposition willing and able to put our economy in jeopardy unless their demands are met, and actually coming away with a surprisingly acceptable deal, even if it shouldn’t be called a “win”. We should praise Obama’s negotiating skills, not criticize him for giving too much away.

Who’s Compromising?

In broad terms, Republicans want to slash programs and avoid tax hikes. Democrats want to do neither, but have offered a bills which drastically cuts programs and raises taxes on only on the wealthiest Americans. Republican have not deviated from their stance. So what to people mean when they say Democrats need to work harder?

I’m not asking to be sarcastic. There is a huge gulf between what we citizens are hearing from our leaders and our news sources. From what I hear, Republicans haven’t given an inch on anything and Democrats keep offering more cuts in hopes of getting Republicans to agree on something. I’m interested in knowing what people think Republicans have done so far in the name of compromise.

To be fair, I think I’m right. I don’t think anyone’s going to say anything that will make me think the Republicans aren’t putting their careers over the future of our nation. I think we Americans, especially those of us with busy lives who can’t spend hours each day analyzing proposals, can’t possible know all of the details and can’t predict the future. But I believe that the wealthiest Americans, including our politicians, will do very well no matter how hard the rest of us are hit. I think Republicans are taking advantage of our ignorance and pandering to populist, simplistic concepts such as lowering taxes and cutting government programs because supporting these simple, popular ideas will earn them political points and will be good for their financial supporters. And they’ve proven that no matter what happens, they can blame the president.

So, if this starts a conversation, I admit that I’m not entering with a clean slate. It’s more like this: I think the Earth is round and revolves around the sun. If someone told me otherwise, I’d think that person was an idiot. If lots of people told me otherwise, and among them were people who I think are reasonably intelligent, I’d still think they’re wrong but I’d be willing to listen to their arguments. In that light, I’d be interested in hearing why anyone believes it’s the Republicans who have been negotiating honestly.

All you need to know won’t fit in this post

Daniel Mitchel wrote a post a few months ago, but I just came across it recently. Although it’s old news now, it illustrates something important enough to bring up: Simplistic factoids which are replacing real news.

The post is titled “The Chart That Tells You Everything You Need to Know About Whether Public Workers Are Over-Compensated”, and refers to the following diagram:

Chart showing monthly quit rate of 1.6 for private sector and about 0.5 for gov't

This “chart” consists of two big blue rectangles. This chart tells more about what Mitchell thinks of his target audience’s mental capacity than it does about anything else. It’s just two numbers, people. Does Mitchell’s readership really need a big blue and yellow diagram to explain two numbers? Do these two numbers really tell you everything you need to know?

Here’s a few things that the chart doesn’t tell you:

1) A lot of government workers do their jobs because they want to serve the public, even when it’s a public that doesn’t appreciate what they do. Government workers place special needs children in loving homes, defend innocent people who wouldn’t otherwise get a fair trial, help people find jobs, pull people out of burning buildings, remove dangerous people from society, and carry out other vital functions. They do these jobs because it makes them feel good, even though they might make more money fighting their way up a corporate ladder.

2) Almost nobody takes a government job expecting to get rich, but many people take government jobs expecting stability. They hope to do their jobs, get fair pay and benefits, and eventually retire. This kind of person doesn’t quit one job seeking a better opportunity in another.

3) As Sam Hananel, of the Associated Press noted, “A disproportionate number of federal employees are professionals, such as managers, lawyers, engineers and scientists. Over the years, the federal government has steadily outsourced lower-paying jobs to the private sector so that blue-collar workers cooking meals or working in mailrooms now make up just 10 percent of federal employees.”

4) Some private sector jobs really suck. Crazy, abusive bosses and business models that make a point of treating workers poorly because they want high turnover affect the size of the big blue box, but shouldn’t be counted as the standard against what any job should be measured.

You can agree with me or disagree. You can even bring up facts that you feel contradict mine. But at least admit that an intelligent person doesn’t need a bar graph to compare two numbers and, more importantly, two numbers isn’t all the information you need to know if you want to understand the appropriate compensation for government workers.

It would be nice if all of our questions could be answered with a “yes” or a “no”, or if policies could be substantiated with three-word-chants, or if everything we need to know about a subject could be illustrated with two pretty blue boxes on a yellow background. But some things can’t be properly understood without knowing the details. That’s why Herman Cain’s pledge not to sign any bill longer than three pages is an outrageous celebration of simple-mindedness.

All I need to know about astrology might be summed up in a little chart, because I don’t do anything that requires any knowledge of astrology. But if I was planning on making decisions based on the stars, I would read up on the subject. If you’re actually going to vote, or support political causes, you need to know more than what’s being told to you by people who don’t respect your intelligence. Don’t trust anyone who shows you a simple diagram and tells you that it’s all you need to know.

Calling for NPR to Support Themselves Misses the Point

I started reading Fox News so I can develop my own “fair and balanced” opinion of how biased their reporting is. Now WHRO, an NPR affiliate, has Fox to thank for getting me to renew my membership this year.

Fox News illustrates two good arguments for supporting NPR. One, as you might guess, is that Fox is such a source of misinformation that it’s important to have professional news sources to counter their right-wing spin. But Fox actually illustrates another good reason, and it’s one that you might not expect.

Most of Fox’s reporting is factual, with a right wing bias but not so distorted as to be untrue. Unfortunately, many of their articles are so distorted. An example of an article so misleading that it’s basically untrue is Fox’s reporting of Democrats opposing a troop funding bill. Democrats didn’t oppose troop funding, they opposed the anti-abortion and anti-environmental riders that were attached to the bill. The story didn’t mention the riders, and that information was too integral to the story to be left out without dishonest intent.

If Fox eliminated the overtly dishonest articles, they could still have a right wing bias. They could concentrate on the positive aspects of U.S. military actions, report gaffs made by Democrats, and point out the downsides providing medical care for poor children. But their reporting could still be factual and there agenda would, as it does now, lead them to occasionally pick up stories that other news agencies miss. Thus, even a news organization with an agenda can be a valuable asset to keeping the public informed, as long as the reports were honest.

Similarly, while we can debate NPR’s so called liberal bias, it’s still true that they pick up on stories that other agencies miss. No news source can report every story; editors have to make choices. And while some news agencies actually to try to be “fair and balanced”, it is impossible for any agency to block out self-interest from the decision making process. Thus, the source of funding in any news agency has an affect on the stories that agency chooses to cover. NPR’s unique funding model doesn’t make them liberal (imho), but it makes them different from news sources that rely solely on commercial funding.

Most news agencies are competing for the same corporate dollars. This doesn’t mean that commercial news cannot be trusted at all, but it means that the need to stay afloat will have an affect what stories they choose to report. Since the same wealthy companies advertise on different stations, it’s unlikely that any of the ad-funded news sources will put their heart into investigating a story that will upset their biggest sponsors. Additionally, newspapers and news stations are being gobbled up by corporate giants, so in reality there aren’t that many sources of news out there anymore. Thus, if we rely solely on commercially funded news, some important stories will go unreported or under-emphasized.

Another problem with commercial news is America’s shrinking attention span and addiction to entertainment. Today’s potential news customers need to have their attention grabbed by headlines, and the headlines that promote fear and anger are the ones that grab attention. Consider a scenario where a foreign leader makes vague remarks which may indicate hostile intent. The headline, “Foreign Leader calls for Destruction of America” grabs attention better than “Foreign Leader’s Words Constitute Possible Threat to U.S.” It is clear that in order to stay afloat with commercial funding, news agencies are forced to exaggerate threats and make people fearful or hateful of foreign nations, local crime, or poor people scamming the system and stealing tax dollars.

The solution is to have at least one news source that has an alternate funding model. Unfortunately, NPR depends so much on commercial funding that they’re not independent from corporate sponsors, but the money they get from contributers and the small amount of money that they get from the government has the effect of splitting their loyalty. They are obliged to serve the public good, not just to support commercial interests.

People who call for NPR to alter their content so they can fund themselves completely miss the point. As Donald Kaul notes, NPR can survive without government funding, “It’s not that much money”. But public funding “enforces a responsibility that private institutions don’t share.”

Even those who feel NPR has a bias know that NPR’s news staff is among the best in the industry. NPR doesn’t just reprint news releases; they send reporters out in the field and get eyewitness accounts. They run polls, examine documents and conduct extensive interviews. They analyze data, and produce the most in-depth reports of any news organization, such as their explanation of Mideast protests. Their funding model, part donation, part commercial sponsorship, and part public support, allows them more flexibility than any other news agency to follow information and report as they see fit.

A lot of stories that you’ve heard were originally broken by NPR, and might not otherwise have been picked up by other news agencies. As Paul Glickman wrote in the OCRegister, “NPR broke the story that the Obama administration was grossly underestimating the amount of oil flowing into the Gulf each day.” In that same article, Mr. Glickman quotes Ted Koppell, “I have been an unabashed fan of NPR for many years and have stolen untold excellent ideas from its programming.” Only NPR was brave enough to break the story about Trent Lott’s support for Strom Thurman’s presidential campaign (during which Thurman said, “… there’s not enough troops in the army to force the Southern people to break down segregation and admit the nigger race into our theaters …”), and NPR was the first news agency to explore illegal employment practices in the U.S. Justice Department. NPR just received awards for reporting on Pakistan, the injustices of the bail bond system, and an epidemic of rape on college campuses.

The politicians who call for defunding NPR are, for the most part, the same politicians who’s popularity depends on same fear and hatred that commercial news agencies depend on. They are the first to call for military action; the first to call for eliminating aid to the poor; the first to call for deregulation, etc. Sometimes those viewpoints are correct. Sometimes war is necessary. Sometimes aid programs cause more harm than good. Sometimes regulations are too restrictive. But military action might be ill advised, and mire us in long wars in nations that were never really much of a threat to begin with. Pulling aid to the poor is not only mean, it’s sometimes short-sighted and self-destructive. Enforcing regulations might prevent environmental or financial disasters. If we’re going to make intelligent decisions, we should hear different points of view.

You don’t have to like NPR to acknowledge the professionalism of NPR’s staff. You don’t have to agree with NPR’s choices to understand that without an alternatively funded source of news, many important stories will go unreported. We are smarter when we have more viewpoints to consider.

The bottom line is, politicians who call for defunding NPR are trying to make us more ignorant by eliminating one of the only news agencies not funded by the same sources that fund the others. We would all suffer from the loss.

Time to Look at Net Neutrality Again.

Now that we’ve avoided the shutdown, it’s time to take another look at the Net Neutrality debate. It’s easy to ignore. The Net Neutrality issue is technical, has arguments for and against it, and involves predicting how emerging technologies will affect society.

To get an idea of how eliminating net neutrality rules might play out, imagine that in the frenzy of reducing government, we decide to take the “adopt a highway” campaign to a new level and sell off our roads to private companies. After all, the U.S. highway system is a giant socialist program which takes away our freedom, so why not turn it over to millionaire businessmen who will surely act to preserve freedom for average Americans?

If corporations controlled our highways, it would be reasonable for those corporations to charge for access. Acme Road Building and Maintenance Corp might charge Home Depot a premium to have an exit ramp built in front of their parking lot. Your local hardware store wouldn’t have enough money for similar access. The road company might not see an advantage in paving Main Street, and the death of small businesses will accelerate.

The fact that Acme doesn’t want to provide the same service to all customers when they can get more money for more service is normal. So it’s important for people to understand that despite the right wing rhetoric, the current Net Neutrality rules allow exactly that kind of free market capitalism to occur. Most Net Neutrality advocates say the current rules are too weak.

Current rules allow exactly what Net Neutrality opponents seem to be calling for, so it might be difficult to understand what the fuss is about. Back to Acme. If Acme was owned by the same people who owned Home Depot, then we might have a problem. It would be bad news for Lowes and very bad news for your local hardware store. Potential customers might find it difficult to get to any hardware store other than Home Depot. They might not even know that competitors exists. And that would be bad news for anyone who wants to choose where to purchase their next riding lawnmower. It certainly would not be a blow for free choice in America. Larry Downs sums it up in Forbe’s

The new rules would prohibit wireline broadband providers from blocking their customers’ access to particular websites (perhaps from content providers who compete with the access provider) and would impose extensive new disclosure requirements of how broadband operators manage their networks.

Mr. Downs argues against Net Neutrality by saying existing anti-trust laws can cover any abuses. But it wasn’t existing law that put an end to abuses by Verizon and Comcast; it was public outrage. How effective will public outrage be when our primary carriers of news and opinions are able to control what news and opinions we have access to? The goal of Net Neutrality rules is to preserve free choice by preventing services and information providers from being blocked out.

My road analogy is one of many analogies. The internet unique and still growing and analysts turn to existing models in their attempts to predict and explain the best ways to handle this new phenomenon. An opposing point of view likens net neutrality rules to requiring package companies to pick up and deliver packages without charge. That particular article also suggests that emergency calls may be dropped if all traffic had to be treated equally and a 911 call had to compete with a neighbor’s viewing of a Victoria’s secret show. The emergency call analogy is just sleazy alarmism. Even within the scope of net neutrality rules, emergency calls can be given higher priority than lingerie videos. Your 911 call is more in danger from deregulation than it would be from too much regulation. The package analogy is also flawed, because it neglects to mention that the price of package delivery is kept low, in part, by competition provided by a government sponsored parcel service. Conceivably, we could dispense with net neutrality rules by creating government sponsored ISPs to compete with Verizon, AOL, and Charter.

The internet is becoming the primary medium for news and information. That makes Net Neutrality a supremely important issue. Although the most famous Net Neutrality example involves a dispute between Comcast and Netflix, Net Neutrality issues are a lot more important than your ability to download the Justin Bieber documentary.

America-On-Line, both a content provider and an ISP, recently purchased the Huffington Post and put Arianna Huffington in charge of all of their content. What if Ms. Huffington didn’t not want you to watch Fox News? Without net neutrality rules, AOL wouldn’t have to provide access to Fox for its subscribers. “So What?”, you may say. “Choose another ISP”. But free choice fails in regions with only one ISP to choose from. In fact there are still many regions with none. How much “free choice” do you currently have when choosing an internet service provider? Mobile internet service ( 3G, 4G, etc.) might soon be the primary means of internet access in America. The current watered down rules don’t even apply to mobile internet. They should.

We should treat the internet with the same care that we treat other vital services. Our most important services have been provided by government agencies or private agencies under government regulation. Our military, the best in the world, is made up of government agencies. Phone service, electricity, fire protection, the U.S. highway system, and a number of other vital services are all highly regulated services. When you consider those products and services that the United States is best at providing, it will be clear that regulation has a hand in making it that way. Would you prefer U.S. beef or beef from a nation that doesn’t regulate its food industry?

Net Neutrality rules are about preserving choice, not eliminating it. But more importantly, they’re about protecting one of our most vital resources: information. I’m all for free market, but there are some things that I want my government to protect. Information is damn near the top of that list.

For action or more information, visit Save the Internet. I think it’s a silly name, too.

Abortion Legislation Poisons Emergency Spending Bill

Maybe I’m overstating this, so my FB friends and the few people who stumble upon my blog can correct me if I’m wrong, but Republicans adding anti-abortion legislation to an emergency spending bill that was intended to keep the military paid during a war is so insanely dishonest and sociopathic that it’s beyond any kind of “different points of view” or “we all want what’s right but just disagree” kind of discussion.

The point here is not that Republicans and Democrats disagree about abortion, it’s that Republicans could not have slipped that in and expected it to pass. They did not put it there to sneak it by. They put it there because they knew Democrats would oppose it, and they wanted to say “Democrats oppose bill to fund troops”. This represents an astounding waste of time in the last hours before a government shut down. We have no bill, no emergency spending for our troops overseas, and Republicans deliberately did this in order to blame the Democrats.

Is the American public too stupid to notice?

Here’s a quote from Fox:

The latest White House summit came hours after the House passed a stopgap budget bill that would fund the government for one week and the military for the rest of the year, though Senate Democrats oppose it and the president has vowed to veto it.

The Republican-authored package passed on a 247-181 vote, mostly with GOP support. The vote was a last-ditch attempt to avert a government shutdown as Congress nears the Friday deadline, and the chances of that happening didn’t seem to improve as of Thursday afternoon.

The abortion rider is not even mentioned in this article. NOT EVEN MENTIONED. Only “fund … the military for the rest of the year”, and “Democrats oppose it”.

I’m trying to “fair and balanced” but this morning, I just can’t do it. This is absolutely disgusting.