Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Republican Media- No. 36

"This right of privacy," Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun wrote for the majority in Roe v. Wade on January 23, 1973, "whether it be founded in the Fourteenth Amendment's concept of personal liberty and restrictions upon state action, as we feel it is, or, as the District Court determined, in the Ninth Amendment's reservation of rights to the people, is broad enough to encompass a woman's decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy.”

Over the past 36 years, "this right of privacy" has been questioned not only by most constitutional scholars on the right, but by many on the left.  Being less conserved with the United States Constitution, however, conservative politicians have focused their arguments elsewhere.

And so it went in November, 2010 when former Arkansas governor and GOP presidential nominee Mike Huckabee, who has continually decried the opportunity of a woman to seek an abortion, was asked on Fox and Friends about the full-body scan recently adopted by the Transportation Safety Administration at the nation's airports.     He remarked

I’ve said, ‘OK, Mr. Obama, take your wife, your two daughters and your mother-in-law to Washington Reagan National Airport and have them publicly go through both the body scanner and the full enhanced pat-down in front of others.   If it’s OK for your wife, your daughters, and your mother-in-law, then maybe the rest of us won’t feel so bad when our wives, our daughters and our mothers are being put through this humiliating and degrading, totally unconstitutional, intrusion of their privacy.'

I wrote at the time

Reverend Mike Huckabee has himself discovered a right to privacy in the United States Constitution, thereby acknowledging a sound legal basis for the 9873 Court ruling which granted to women the right to terminate a pregnancy. Much obliged, Governor; you have given needed assurance to those of us unsure of the constitutional foundation of abortion rights. Welcome to the pro-choice community.

I waited in vain for Huckabee to walk back the remark, to claim he "misspoke" or to issue some other statement distancing himself from his assertion that there is a constitutional right to privacy, the cornerstone of the Supreme Court's 1973 ruling largely legalizing abortion.

But there was none.  And now we have another conservative Republican and ardent opponent of reproductive choice making the same claim, this time while speaking to a small group of constituents.  A Facebook rumor sparked this exchange one week ago between Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley, whom the Daily Kos' Kailie Joy Gray notes has a 100% rating from the National Right to Life Committee and a 0% rating from NARAL (h/t to Scott Keyes of Daily Kos):

CONSTITUENT: They’re saying that they’re going to start, in 2013, putting microchips in government workers and then any kid that enrolls in school, starting in pre-school, will have a microchip implanted in them so that they can track them. [...] Is that true?

GRASSLEY: No. First of all, nothing can be done to your body without your permission. It’d be a violation of the constitutional right to privacy if that were to happen.

Privacy for me, not for thee.  It has now been one week.  Nevertheless, we'll see if the national media, which in 2010 ignored the assumption of a pro-life enthusiast of a constitutional right to privacy, will similarly ignore  the acceptance in 2013 of a fundamental pro-choice argument from a pro-life, sitting United States Senator.  Waiting, waiting...

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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

At Least Labor Responds

Pete Kasperowicz of Politico reported yesterday

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on Tuesday blamed Washington's failure to avoid the coming sequester on President Obama's "non-stop" campaigning, which he said has deprived Congress of any White House leadership on this issue.

Boehner spoke on the House floor shortly after noon — something he rarely does — after several Democratic members of the House called on House GOP leaders to work harder on a sequester replacement.

"I hear my colleagues on the other side of the aisle complaining about the president's sequester," Boehner said. "It's the president that insisted that this sequester be part of the Budget Control Act a year and a half ago."

Slightly confused, the Speaker is wrong on one charge and partially right on the other.

President Obama is not engaged in "non-stop" campaigning, for he has run his final campaign.  Were Boehner to have charged the President with being interested in his legacy as well as the best interests of the country, his claim would have been legitimate, if not justified.

Someone here is involved in non-stop campaigning- but it isn't President Obama.  It's Speaker Boehner, campaigning to remain Speaker Boehner.  Jake Sherman of Politico explains

The speaker agreed to a tax hike just a few months ago — days later, 12 of his Republican colleagues voted against his reelection as speaker. Sure, aides realize that they will get pressured privately by a handful of Republicans to accept tax increases to head off the sequester, but such pleas won’t move Boehner. Starting off this new session of Congress by hiking taxes again would be akin to political suicide for the Ohio Republican.

Blaming Obama for the sequester, Boehner is not completely wrong which, for him, is a major accomplishment.   William Black remarks

that President Obama had twice blocked Republican efforts to remove the Sequester.  President Obama went so far as to issue a veto threat to block the second effort.  I found contemporaneous reportage on the President’s efforts to preserve the Sequester – andthe articles were not critical of those efforts.  I found no contemporaneous rebuttal by the administration of these reports.

In fairness, the Republicans did “start it” by threatening to cause the U.S. to default on its debts in 2011.  Their actions were grotesquely irresponsible and anti-American.  It is also true that the Republicans often supported the Sequester.

Barack Obama should drop basketball and golf (or at least golf) from his game and engage deeply in chess, a board which he sees clearly while others don't.  Black adds

President Obama has revealed his real preferences in the current blame game by not calling for a clean bill eliminating the Sequester.  It is striking that as far as I know (1) neither Obama nor any administration official has called for the elimination of the Sequester and (2) we have a fairly silly blame game about how the Sequester was created without discussing the implications of Obama’s continuing failure to call for the elimination of the Sequester despite his knowledge that it is highly self-destructive.

The only logical inference that can be drawn is that Obama remains committed to inflicting the “Grand Bargain” (really, the Grand Betrayal) on the Nation in his quest for a “legacy” and continues to believe that the Sequester provides him the essential leverage he feels he needs to coerce Senate progressives to adopt austerity, make deep cuts in vital social programs, and to begin to unravel the safety net.  Obama’s newest budget offer includes cuts to the safety net and provides that 2/3 of the austerity inflicted would consist of spending cuts instead of tax increases.  When that package is one’s starting position the end result of any deal will be far worse.

Though at times he has overestimated the GOP's willingness to be reasonable, Obama is focused on his goal, which the threat of extreme austerity in form of the sequester helps facilitates.  Fortunately, though neither of the two (small "p") parties, the President or House Republicans, has called for elimination of the sequester, the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party is stepping up as 

The AFL-CIO is coming out today for a repeal of the sequester. The labor federation will press the case in the days ahead that the sequester perpetuates destructive government-by-crisis, and that more austerity — replacing the sequester with other spending cuts — is exactly what the country doesn’t need at a time of mass unemployment and lackluster growth.

“We need to repeal the sequester,” Damon Silvers, the policy director of the AFL-CIO, told me in an interview this morning. “It’s bad economic policy, and it feeds a dynamic that encourages hostage taking. We are calling on elected officials not to play this game of substituting one bad thing for another bad thing. We’re insisting that our elected officials not buy into this inside Washington game of manufactured crises.”

This morning, the AFL-CIO’s executive council voted unanimously to call for repeal of the sequester, and I’m told the AFL-CIO planning to organize events designed to mobilize behind this goal in the days ahead.

Notwithstanding the popular proposal by the Progressive Caucus to replace the sequester, the left has been slow to respond to the economic threat it poses.  However, as Digby understands, "it's finally come to understand that if they don't take a position against these cuts, the Obama administration's 'offer' to cut vital programs and otherwise degrade the Democratic party's slim hold on its principles will be the leftward pole of any negotiation."

Grave long-term damage to the nation is likely unless congressional Democrats recognize themselves as one of the three major legs of the economic tripod, essential to balance the right-wing pressure brought by Boehner's GOP. Democrats must realize what the Ohio Republican does not, or pretends not, to understand: Barack Obama will not run for any political office again, which frees him to undermine Social Security and Medicare, no matter their success or popularity with the American public.

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Tuesday, February 26, 2013

"The Best Health Care System In The World"

Hullabaloo's David Atkins links to this Time magazine article about what he identifies as "the appallingly inefficient and immoral U.S. healthcare system.  He concludes

Be sure to read the whole article, of which this section is but a small excerpt. The essence of the problem is that our nation's long-term deficit problem is largely a healthcare problem. And the healthcare problem is that insurance companies and providers are bizarrely overcompensated in a seller's market without the buying power of a national single-payer system.

If the so-called deficit hawks truly cared about our nation's finances they would work to institute a Medicare-for-all system that brings per capita costs in line with those of other countries. But, of course, we all know that the Very Serious People don't really care about the deficit. They care about slashing earned benefits for the middle class as a moral crusade against "government dependency." The nation's finances and well-being are beside the point.

It's not surprising that roughly 60% of personal bankruptcies in the USA are due primarily to medical costs.  Costs are so beyond the pale that even if an individual is insured, he or she may be left holding the figurative bag.  Times' Steven Brill describes the plight of Steve H., who went to a hospital in Oklahoma and was charged for an implantable device called a

Medtronic stimulator, and that’s where most of Mercy’s profit was collected during his brief visit. The bill for that was $49,237.

According to the chief financial officer of another hospital, the wholesale list price of the Medtronic stimulator is “about $19,000.” Because Mercy is part of a major hospital chain, it might pay 5% to 15% less than that. Even assuming Mercy paid $19,000, it would make more than $30,000 selling it to Steve H., a profit margin of more than 150%. To the extent that I found any consistency among hospital chargemaster practices, this is one of them: hospitals routinely seem to charge 21⁄2 times what these expensive implantable devices cost them, which produces that 150% profit margin.

As Steve H. found out when he got his bill, he had exceeded the $45,000 that was left on his insurance policy’s annual payout limit just with the neurostimulator. And his total bill was $86,951. After his insurance paid that first $45,000, he still owed more than $40,000, not counting doctors’ bills. (I did not see Steve H.’s doctors’ bills.)

Another of the 1,937 reasons only a single-payer system, such as Medicare-for-all, can substantially improve upon the nation's pay-for-fee system is illustrated as Brill explains

The chargemaster, I learned, is every hospital’s internal price list. Decades ago it was a document the size of a phone book; now it’s a massive computer file, thousands of items long, maintained by every hospital.

Stamford Hospital’s chargemaster assigns prices to everything, including Janice S.’s blood tests. It would seem to be an important document. However, I quickly found that although every hospital has a chargemaster, officials treat it as if it were an eccentric uncle living in the attic. Whenever I asked, they deflected all conversation away from it. They even argued that it is irrelevant. I soon found that they have good reason to hope that outsiders pay no attention to the chargemaster or the process that produces it. For there seems to be no process, no rationale, behind the core document that is the basis for hundreds of billions of dollars in health care bills...

No hospital’s chargemaster prices are consistent with those of any other hospital, nor do they seem to be based on anything objective — like cost — that any hospital executive I spoke with was able to explain. “They were set in cement a long time ago and just keep going up almost automatically,” says one hospital chief financial officer with a shrug.

At Stamford Hospital I got the first of many brush-offs when I asked about the chargemaster rates on Janice S.’s bill. “Those are not our real rates,” protested hospital spokesman Orstad when I asked him to make hospital CEO Brian Grissler available to explain Janice S.’s bill, in particular the blood-test charges. “It’s a list we use internally in certain cases, but most people never pay those prices. I doubt that Brian [Grissler] has even seen the list in years. So I’m not sure why you care.”

Orstad also refused to comment on any of the specifics in Janice S.’s bill, including the seemingly inflated charges for all the lab work. “I’ve told you I don’t think a bill like this is relevant,” he explained. “Very few people actually pay those rates.”

But Janice S. was asked to pay them. Moreover, the chargemaster rates are relevant, even for those unlike her who have insurance. Insurers with the most leverage, because they have the most customers to offer a hospital that needs patients, will try to negotiate prices 30% to 50% above the Medicare rates rather than discounts off the sky-high chargemaster rates. But insurers are increasingly losing leverage because hospitals are consolidating by buying doctors’ practices and even rival hospitals. In that situation — in which the insurer needs the hospital more than the hospital needs the insurer — the pricing negotiation will be over discounts that work down from the chargemaster prices rather than up from what Medicare would pay. Getting a 50% or even 60% discount off the chargemaster price of an item that costs $13 and lists for $199.50 is still no bargain. “We hate to negotiate off of the chargemaster, but we have to do it a lot now,” says Edward Wardell, a lawyer for the giant health-insurance provider Aetna Inc.

That so few consumers seem to be aware of the chargemaster demonstrates how well the health care industry has steered the debate from why bills are so high to who should pay them.

As Brill suggests, Medicare pays less than insurance companies which pay less than individuals, who in the exceedingly unlikely event they are aware of the chargemaster, still would have less bargaining power than even insurance companies. That leaves the wealthy with an advantage over the rest of us in this fee-for-service process.  Brill adds

To the extent that they defend the chargemaster rates at all, the defense that hospital executives offer has to do with charity. As John Gunn, chief operating officer of Sloan-Kettering, puts it, “We charge those rates so that when we get paid by a [wealthy] uninsured person from overseas, it allows us to serve the poor.”

A closer look at hospital finance suggests two holes in that argument. First, while Sloan-Kettering does have an aggressive financial-assistance program (something Stamford Hospital lacks), at most hospitals it’s not a Saudi sheik but the almost poor — those who don’t qualify for Medicaid and don’t have insurance — who are most often asked to pay those exorbitant chargemaster prices. Second, there is the jaw-dropping difference between those list prices and the hospitals’ costs, which enables these ostensibly nonprofit institutions to produce high profits even after all the discounts.

The "Saudi sheik" has more leverage in negotiations than do people of modest, or even somewhat affluent, means.    Fortunately, there is a "growing cottage industry" of

medical-billing advocates. They help people read and understand their bills and try to reduce them. “The hospitals all know the bills are fiction, or at least only a place to start the discussion, so you bargain with them,” says Katalin Goencz, a former appeals coordinator in a hospital billing department who negotiated Janice S.’s bills from a home office in Stamford.

Goencz is part of a trade group called the Alliance of Claim Assistant Professionals, which has about 40 members across the country. Another group, Medical Billing Advocates of America, has about 50 members. Each advocate seems to handle 40 to 70 cases a year for the uninsured and those disputing insurance claims. That would be about 5,000 patients a year out of what must be tens of millions of Americans facing these issues — which may help explain why 60% of the personal bankruptcy filings each year are related to medical bills.

“I can pretty much always get it down 30% to 50% simply by saying the patient is ready to pay but will not pay $300 for a blood test or an X-ray,” says Goencz. “They hand out blood tests and X-rays in hospitals like bottled water, and they know it.”

Still, some hospitals will not compromise on their chargemaster's bill.  Even when they do, Goencz (who charges $97 an hour for the phone calls she makes) and others in the profession typically will be unable to negotiate the bill down to the fees Medicare pays. Brill remarks

It’s not a great deal to pay off $1,000 for a four-mile ambulance ride on the layaway plan or receive a 50% discount on a $199.50 blood test that should cost $15, nor is getting half off on a $7,997.54 stress test that was probably all profit and may not have been necessary. But, says Goencz, “I don’t go over it line by line. I just go for a deal. The patient usually is shocked by the bill, doesn’t understand any of the language and has bill collectors all over her by the time they call me. So they’re grateful. Why give them heartache by telling them they still paid too much for some test or pill?”

So there is a flagrantly exorbitant bill based upon fees which vary from provider to provider and are typically without merit.   Individuals in the know- and sufficiently assertive- can negotiate with hospitals, usually to little or no avail.  Those few who are aware of billing advocates can hire them, but may be stymied in their efforts to lower the bill.  If (as is usually the case) they are successful, the patient still will probably be required to pay more than Medicare or Medicaid would pay for similar services.

The late Paul Harvey would end his commentaries with the simplistic "and now you know the rest of the story."   Similarly, during (and after) the debate over the Affordable Care Act, the right tossed around charges of "government health care" intruding upon "the best health care system in the world" with government" coming between you and your doctor."  After reading the Time article, you may not know the rest of the story, but like myself, you will be especially impressed with the skill conservative propagandists have demonstrated in demonizing health care reform.

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The Cloak of Cultural Liberalism

Blue in the Bluegrass quotes Firedoglake quoting The New York Times, whose reporter Thomas Kaplan writes "Bucking a trend in which states have been seeking to restrict abortion, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is putting the finishing touches on legislation that would guarantee women in New York the right to late-term abortions when their health is in danger or the fetus is not viable."

BITB succinctly comments

Don't fall for it. The biggest obstacle to progressive legislation on all issues, including abortion, is the money influence of the financial industry. 

We know who owns the repugs, and know what to expect from them as a consequence.  Far more dangerous are the Democratic politicians whose social liberalism hides their eagerness to betray the working class.

Give her (or, less likely, him) a 98%.  The ranks of such Democrats are growing, unfortunately, and include such individuals such prominent politicians as Bill Clinton, Cory Booker, and Ed Rendell.  Though surrogates of Barack Obama, all three criticized their party's presidential nominee when in May, with Mitt Romney's nomination was all but certain, the President had the temerity to point out

When you're president, as opposed to the head of a private equity firm, then your job is not simply to maximize profits.  Your job is to figure out how everybody in the country has a fair shot. Your job is to think about those workers who get laid off and how are we paying them for their retraining?”

I think there are folks who do good work in that area, and there are times where they identify the capacity for the economy to create new jobs or new industries.  But understand that their priority is to maximize profits. And that's not always going to be good for communities or businesses or workers.

It should come as no surprise that private equity enthusiasts are held in high esteem by the mainstream media, nor that the former have been generously supplied with funds by the industry.     (For Clinton, see here; for Booker, here; for Rendell, here.)   But as the aforementioned blogger suggests, we should not be impressed by the cultural liberalism which "hides their eagerness to betray the working class."  The analysis is excellent, but would have been more timely and potent if she had included an additional phrase.  Following the word "abortion," the words "and same-sex marriage" should have been added.

As Karen Heller of The Philadelphia Inquirer reported last month, executive director Carol Tracy of the Women's Law Project has noted abortion "is absolutely critical to women's participation in society, and certainly in the workplace.  Roe is the core. It's the basis for all other women's rights.  If you can't control your reproductive health, you can't fully participate in society."

Tt is not accidental, however, that while advocating policies enriching the 1% at the expense of the 99%, Clinton, Booker, and Rendell all have come out in support of same-sex marriage, Andrew Cuomo's signature issue.  Same-sex marriage has nothing to do with power arrangements, and support for the policy keeps the former President, the would-be New Jersey Senator, and the former Pennsylvania Governor invited to all the right parties... where, perhaps, they can exchange hugs and handshakes with individuals such as this this man.

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Monday, February 25, 2013

Wrong Then, Wrong Now

Perhaps he does this about every four years.

If you're old enough, you remember when George F. Will, though conservative, had a handle, however tenuous, on reality.  Not so anymore.

In February, 2009 Will wrote a column attacking what he believed to be the hysteria behind the predictions of global warming.  He concluded by claiming "according to the U.N. World Meteorological Organization, there has been no recorded global warming for more than a decade, or one-third of the span since the global cooling scare."

Will's column was widely debunked.  In one instance, author Chris Mooney wrote

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) is one of many respected scientific institutions that support the consensus that humans are driving global warming. Will probably meant that since 1998 was the warmest year on record according to the WMO -- NASA, in contrast, believes that that honor goes to 2005 -- we haven't had any global warming since. Yet such sleight of hand would lead to the conclusion that "global cooling" sets in immediately after every new record temperature year, no matter how frequently those hot years arrive or the hotness of the years surrounding them. Climate scientists, knowing that any single year may trend warmer or cooler for a variety of reasons -- 1998, for instance, featured an extremely strong El NiƱo -- study globally averaged temperatures over time. To them, it's far more relevant that out of the 10 warmest years on record, at least seven have occurred in the 2000s -- again, according to the WMO.

Will additionally had contended that there was a global cooling consensus in the 1970s.  He included exceedingly brief quotes from the New York Times, 5/21/75; Science Magazine, 12/10/76; International Wildlife, 7/75; Science Digest, 2/73; Christian Science Monitor, 8/27/74; and four other references.  Mooney, however, noted that a recently published Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society examined studies between 1965 and 1979 (inclusive) and concluded "emphasis on greenhouse warming dominated "the scientific literature even then."

Fast-forward to February, 2013.   In a column inspired by his belief that the concern that the upcoming sequester will damage the economy considerably is mere hype, Will attempts to draw an analogy to what he still claims was a fear of global cooling in the 1970s.  In it, he refers to- you guessed it- the New York Times of May 1975, Science Magazine of December 1976, International Wildlife of July 1975, Science Digest of February 1973, and the Christian Science Monitor of August 1974.

In the aforementioned study (pdf), Thomas C. Peterson, William M. Connolley, and John Fleck, found 71 papers which discussed a factor which would affect the global climate from a period of decades to a century.  They found seven (7) suggesting global cooling, 44 implying warming, and 20 which were neutral.   "A major cooling of the planet," Will quotes The New York Times- twice- was "widely considered inevitable."  Apparently, ten percent (10%) of experts is considered "widely" in the world of George Frederick Will, master of disinformation.

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Sunday, February 24, 2013

Thank Goodness For That Surge

It is my favorite line in literature, one I most recently quoted in this Valentine's Day post about Simpson-Bowles.   Shilling for the tyrant Napoleon, Squealer rhetorically asks "One false step and our enemies would be upon us.  Surely, comrades, you don't want Jones to come back?"

Well, when you put it that way, of course we don't!

And so we go to the infamous grilling (transcript here) by John McCain, member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, of former Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE), whom President Obama has nominated to head the Department of Defense.   The exchange- presented in its entirety below- began as the  Arizonan's opening statement ended:

Even as late as August 29th, 2011, in an interview — 2011 — you’d — in an interview with the Financial Times, you said, I disagreed with the president — Obama — his decision to surge in Iraq, as I did with President Bush on the surge in Iraq.

Do you — do you stand by that — those comments, Senator Hagel?

MR. HAGEL: Well, Senator, I stand by them because I made them. And –

SEN. MCCAIN: You stand by — were you right?

MR. HAGEL: Well –

SEN. MCCAIN: Were you correct in your assessment?

MR. HAGEL: Well, I would defer to the judgment of history to sort that out, but I’ll –

SEN. MCCAIN: I think — we — committee deserves your judgment as to whether you were right or wrong about the


MR. HAGEL: I’ll explain why I made those comments, and I believe I had, but –

SEN. MCCAIN: I want to know if you were right or wrong. That’s a direct question. I expect a direct answer.

MR. HAGEL: The surge assisted in the objective. But if we review the record a little bit –

SEN. MCCAIN: Will you please answer the question? Were you correct or incorrect when you said that the surge would

be the most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since Vietnam? Were you correct or incorrect?


SEN. MCCAIN: Yes or no?

MR. HAGEL: My reference to the surge being both dangerous –

SEN. MCCAIN: Are you going to answer the question, Senator Hagel? The question is, were you right or wrong? That’s a

pretty straightforward question.

MR. HAGEL: Well –

SEN. MCCAIN: I will — I would like to answer whether you were right or wrong, and then you are free to elaborate.

MR. HAGEL: Well, I’m not going to give you a yes or no answer on a lot of things today.

SEN. MCCAIN: Well, let the record show that you refused to answer that question.

Now please go ahead.

MR. HAGEL: Well, if you would like me to explain why –

SEN. MCCAIN: Oh, I actually would like an answer. Yes or no.

MR. HAGEL: Well, I’m not going to give you a yes or no.


MR. HAGEL: I think it’s far more complicated than that. As I’ve already said, my answer is I’ll defer that judgment to history.

As to the comment I made about the most dangerous foreign policy decision since Vietnam — was about not just the surge but the overall war of choice going into Iraq. That particular decision that was made on the surge, but more to the point, our war in Iraq, I think was the most fundamentally bad, dangerous decision since Vietnam. Aside from the costs that occurred in this country to blood and treasure, aside what that did to take our focus off of Afghanistan, which in fact was the original and real focus of a national threat to this country — Iraq was not — I always tried to frame all the different issues before I made a decision on anything.

Now just as you said, Senator, we can have differences of opinion.


MR. HAGEL: That’s essentially why I took the position I did.

SEN. MCCAIN: It’s fundamental difference of opinion, Senator Hagel. And Senator Graham and I and Senator Lieberman, when there were 59 votes in the United States Senate, spent our time trying to prevent that 60th. Thank God for Senator Lieberman.

I think history has already made a judgment about the surge, sir, and you’re on the wrong side of it. And your refusal to answer whether you were right or wrong about is going to have an impact on my judgment as to whether vote for your confirmation or not. I hope you will reconsider the fact that you refused to answer a fundamental question about an issue that took the lives of thousands of young Americans.

MR. HAGEL: Well, Senator, there was more to it than just flooding a zone –

SEN. MCCAIN: I’m asking about the surge, Senator Hagel.

MR. HAGEL: I know you are, and I’m trying to explain my position. The beginning of the surge also factored in what General Allen had put into place in Anbar province, the Sunni Awakening.We put over, as you know, a hundred thousand young — (inaudible).

SEN. MCCAIN: Senator Hagel, I’m very aware of the history of the surge and the Anbar Awakening, and I also am aware that any casual observer will know that the surge was the fundamental factor, led by two great leaders, General Petraeus and Ambassador — (inaudible).

MR. HAGEL: Well, I don’t know if that would have been required and cost us over a thousand American lives and thousands of (wounded ?).

SEN. MCCAIN: So you don’t know if the surge would have been required? OK.
Senator Hagel, let me go back — go to Syria now. More than 60,000 people have been killed in Syria. Do you believe that we should be more engaged in Syria?

Twelve (12) times John McCain (in one form or another) asked former Senator Hagel, with whom he once was fairly close, whether he still believed the surge in Iraq was a mistake.   Once, the Nebraskan gave the correct answer, replying "I would defer to the judgment of history to sort that" but in Senator McCain's uncomplicated worldview, only "yes" or a "no" is a legitimate answer.

But the twelfth effort at getting a simplistic answer out of the nominee is the most telling, and wonderfully ironic.  After asking "So you don't know if the surge would have been required," McCain added "let me go back- go to Syria now.  More than 60,000 people have been killed in Syria.  Do you believe that we should be more engaged in Syria?"

Yes, Senator McCain, more than 60,000 people have been killed in an effort to overthrow a regime probably more deadly and dangerous than that of Saddam Hussein. Truth is, the election (such as it was) of Nouri al-Maliki as Prime Minister of Iraq seems to be having a significant impact on that civil war in Syria.  On December 1 The New York Times reported

The American effort to stem the flow of Iranian arms to Syria has faltered because of Iraq’s reluctance to inspect aircraft carrying the weapons through its airspace, American officials say.

The shipments have persisted at a critical time for President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, who has come under increasing military pressure from rebel fighters. The air corridor over Iraq has emerged as a main supply route for weapons, including rockets, antitank missiles, rocket-propelled grenade and mortars.

Iran has an enormous stake in Syria, which is its staunchest Arab ally and has also provided a channel for Iran’s support to the Lebanese Islamist movement Hezbollah.

To the disappointment of the Obama administration, American efforts to persuade the Iraqis to randomly inspect the flights have been largely unsuccessful...

Regarding the arms shipments, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton secured a commitment from Iraq’s foreign minister in September that Iraq would inspect flights from Iran to Syria. But the Iraqis have inspected only two, most recently on Oct. 27. No weapons were found, but one of the two planes that landed in Iraq for inspection was on its way back to Iran after delivering its cargo in Syria.

Adding to the United States’ frustrations, Iran appears to have been tipped off by Iraqi officials as to when inspections would be conducted, American officials say, citing classified reports by American intelligence analysts.

Iran’s continued efforts to aid the Syrian government were described in interviews with a dozen American administration, military and Congressional officials, most of whom requested anonymity to discuss intelligence matters.

“The abuse of Iraqi airspace by Iran continues to be a concern,” an American official said. “We urge Iraq to be diligent and consistent in fulfilling its international obligations and commitments, either by continuing to require flights over Iraqi territory en route to Syria from Iran to land for inspection or by denying overflight requests for Iranian aircraft going to Syria.”

Iraqi officials insist that they oppose the ferrying of arms through Iraq’s airspace. They also cite claims by Iran that it is merely delivering humanitarian aid, and they call the American charges unfounded.

Oh, of course, they're unfounded, and Orethall James Simpson would have found the murderer of Nicole Simpson and Ron Goldman if only O.J. hadn't been diverted by committing an armed robbery.  Meanwhile, those shipments of arms to Syria through Iraq continue, a few years after the smashing success of the surge John Sidney McCain is so enamored of.

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Saturday, February 23, 2013

Obvious, Finally

I come not to bury Rush Limbaugh, but to praise him.  He has now made clear what any objective observer (which, obviously, excludes most of his listeners) always knew about him.

Oh, we knew he is contemptuous of the American people- and not of a small portion, or only of liberals, but of most Americans.  On July 17, 2012 (as noted here two days later) Limbaugh stated

But how many people care about that?  I'm asking you a question.  How many people want to do what it takes to become prosperous?  They don't have to anymore.  How many people want to understand the role wealthy people play in a prosperous society?  How many people want to do what it takes to become one of those people, versus how many of them are content just to sit there and resent them and have the government take care of them to one agree or another?

He asks rhetorically "How many people want to do what it takes to become one of those people, versus how many of them are content just to sit there and resent them and have the government take care of them to one degree or another?"  Consumed with a sense of entitlement, those lazy Americans.

In September, 2007, Rush had characterized American service members who advocate withdrawal from Iraq as "phony soldiers."

Then there were the remarks last May made upon the announcement that Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin had renounced American citizenship, apparently in order to avoid paying $67-$100 million in post-IPO taxes.  (That 15% capital gains tax is a real killer.) Limbaugh compared that to his decision to move from one state (New York) to another (Florida) for a lower tax rate, a decision made yearly by millions of Americans who wouldn't think of moving out of the country, let alone renounce their citizenship.  But to Limbaugh, Saverin's decision was no different.

And now, confirmation of what Rush Limbaugh thinks of America.  Thursday, he minced no words when he stated

Ladies and gentlemen, for the first time in my life, I am ashamed of my country. To be watching all of this, to be treated like this, to have our common sense and intelligence insulted the way it's being insulted? It just makes me ashamed. Seriously, man. Here we get worked up over $44 billion. That's the total amount of money that will not be spent that was scheduled to be spent this year.

In truth, we're gonna spend more this year than we spent last year. We're just not gonna spend as much as was projected. It's all baseline budgeting. There is no real cut below a baseline of zero. There just isn't. Yet here they come, sucking us in, roping us in. Panic here, fear there: Crisis, destruction, no meat inspection, no cops, no teachers, no firefighters, no air traffic control. 

Rush Limbaugh is ashamed of his country.  No liberal spin- he said so.  And he did not deny it even the following day when he maintained

Anyway, my point with all this is that for 25 years, folks, we've been dealing with the same premise: "Unless we spend another dime, the country is going to cease to exist." And for 25 years I have responded to each premise on what I call an intellectual, point-by-point basis refuting every claim. The purpose of this program has been to create as large a body of informed voting citizens as possible. While we've been largely and profoundly successful at that, the left has beaten us.

They have created far more low-information, unaware, uneducated people than we've been able to keep up with. We've had a profound impact in improving, increasing that universe of people -- citizens -- who are in the arena of ideas now, who are informed and educated. I've always had a Civics 101 view of the country: People get what they want, they vote what they want, and they get the way they vote.

And if a majority of people are educated and informed and know what's going on, liberalism -- and these powerful forces that have ill intent to the country -- can be defeated. Yet despite overwhelming success in creating more and more people who are informed and active and involved, the left has control of the education system -- control of the pop culture, movies, TVs, books, music. We've just been outnumbered.

One journalist/writer, who would put it no differently were he on Limbaugh's payroll, contended that on Friday "he began to clarify what he had meant, in order to fend off accusations that he’s 'ashamed' of himself. On the contrary, Limbaugh continued to insist that he’s 'ashamed' of the liberal direction in which the country has gone, despite his best efforts to “inform” the people."

Limbaugh (who claims he is right 99.5% of the time) would never be ashamed of himself, nor did he even say that he was ashamed of himself, instead explaining he is ashamed of his country.  On Thursday, he used the word ashamed twice:  "Ladies and gentlemen, for the first time in my life, I am ashamed of my country. To be watching all of this, to be treated like this, to have our common sense and intelligence insulted the way it's being insulted? It just makes me ashamed."  For what it's worth, on his website  (which he does not personally maintain) the first segment was entitled "For the First Time in My Life, I Am Ashamed of My Country."  The following day's segment, which contained the near-explanation, was entitled "What Makes Me Ashamed of My Country."

Rush Limbaugh is ashamed of the United States of America.  Not only "ashamed" of its political leaders or of the direction of the nation, but ashamed of the country.  It won't stop him from routinely accusing Democrats, explicitly and implicitly, of being unpatriotic.  Nor is it likely to stop his dittoheads from listening to the guy, but it does provide a little useful context for evaluating his oft-bigoted, consistently hyperpartisan, rant.

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Friday, February 22, 2013

Offensive Provision

Roll Call recently described the principles announced by the Gang of Eight (Senators) for immigration reform as a

call for undocumented immigrants to jump through a number of hoops before being granted even “probationary legal status.” For example, the group would require current undocumented immigrants to pass a background check, pay fines and pay back taxes before earning a provisional status that allows them to live and work in the United States. They would mandate that those immigrants also “go to the back of the line” as they apply for a green card and would require them to pass another background check, learn English, take civics education and prove they have worked in the U.S. before a green card could be granted.

USA Today reported that a competing plan, that of President Obama, leaked shortly after the Gang of Eight released its framework, stipulates that immigrants

would need to pass a criminal background check, submit biometric information and pay fees to qualify for the new visa. If approved, they would be allowed to legally reside in the U.S. for four years, work and leave the country for short periods of time. After the four years, they could then reapply for an extension.

The plans have received their share of criticism, whether from the left, which believes fewer obstacles should be placed in the way of legalization of "undocumented" immigrants or workers, or from Republicans such as Marco Rubio who want to be assured that any reform provide a steady stream of cheap labor.

But one tenet of both proposals, and one criticized by no one, is the need for a "background check" because everyone agrees that individuals present in the country illegally must obey the law.

Maybe not.   Under current law, Wonkblog's Suzy Khimm notes, "non-citizen immigrants convicted of what’s known as an “aggravated felony” face automatic penalties that make it far harder for them to be spared from deportation."  She explains

Obama’s draft bill would it possible for more immigrants convicted of minor criminal offenses to remain in the United States by giving judges far greater discretion to decide whether they should be deported. The proposal would redefine an aggravated felony to encompass crimes that carry at least a five-year penalty. It also would require fraud offenses to result in at least $100,000 in losses for victims rather than the current $10,000 to be classified as aggravated felonies.

That doesn’t mean that all immigrants convicted of more minor crimes would be granted a reprieve from deportation: Rather, it would give immigration judges greater leeway to decide whether they should be deported or get a second chance. (Under Obama’s draft bill, undocumented immigrants would be disqualified from receiving legal status if they serve more than a year in prison for a crime they’ve committed.)

Although beyond the scope of Khimm's analysis, there may be more fine print in the background check requirement.  Section 123 of Obama's draft substitutes the words "entered by a court" with "entered by a court (provided that... direct appeals available as of right have been exhausted or waived."   An individual's immigration status thus might remain in limbo for many tears, an ironic outcome of a reform intended to remove uncertainty in the law.

This section also modifies Section 1101 of Chapter 8 of the U.S. Code, which defines numerous terms as applied to immigration.  Section 123 proposes "An adjudication or judgment of guilt that has been dismissed, expunged, deferred, annulled, invalidated, withheld, or vacated, an order of probation without entry of judgment, or any similar disposition shall not be considered a conviction for purposes of this Act.”.

Were this provision to be included in legislation, an applicant merely would have to convince a judge to expunge his/her record or vacate the conviction.   A judge, finding that the penalty for an offense (fine, probation, incarceration, etc.) has been served, might decide that the individual has paid a price for the offense, and simply vacate the conviction or expunge record of the offense.  And so, voila! The illegal immigrant no longer is held to the requirement of obeying the law.

When executives of major banks are not held accountable for their offenses, it is tempting to conclude that neither should illegal immigrants.  Tempting, but wrong.  Dispensation would not be granted all illegal immigrants, but rather those with superior access to the courts. Individuals favored would be ones with sufficient resources to hire the right attorney, or who have been lucky enough to go in front of the right judge in the right state.  All others need not apply.  The courts would work for some lucky duckies and not for others while enormous power is vested in judges.

Background checks are meaningless unless, well, they mean something.  If definitions of "aggravated felony" and "conviction" are distorted to conform to a predetermined outcome, the notion that illegal immigrants must obey the law is neutered and a mockery is made of the concept of a nation of laws and not of men (or women).

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Thursday, February 21, 2013

Still Too Big To Fail

A few years ago, Time Magazine ran a breezy and sketchy, if somewhat thought-provoking article entitled "25 People to Blame for the Financial Crisis" beginning in '07-'08.   It said

President Clinton's tenure was characterized by economic prosperity and financial deregulation, which in many ways set the stage for the excesses of recent years. Among his biggest strokes of free-wheeling capitalism was the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, which repealed the Glass-Steagall Act, a cornerstone of Depression-era regulation. He also signed the Commodity Futures Modernization Act, which exempted credit-default swaps from regulation. In 1995 Clinton loosened housing rules by rewriting the Community Reinvestment Act, which put added pressure on banks to lend in low-income neighborhoods. It is the subject of heated political and scholarly debate whether any of these moves are to blame for our troubles, but they certainly played a role in creating a permissive lending environment.

In an interview on CNN soon after publication, Clinton denied that either repeal of Glass-Steagall or his Administration's housing policies contributed to the financial collapse.  He was half right.   Ellen Seidman, head of the Office of Thrift Supervision in the late '90s, explains

CRA enforcement became a lower priority for bank regulators after 2001. My successor at the Office of Thrift Supervision, in fact, led an effort-eventually thwarted-to unilaterally loosen CRA regulations for institutions with more than $1 billion in assets. See 70 Fed. Reg. 10023. Nevertheless, CRA regulations were eased more generally in 2005. See 70 Fed. Reg. 44256.

The years that coincided with reduced CRA enforcement are also the years when CRA-covered entities wandered deeper into "higher priced loans," a category that includes, but is not limited to, "exploding ARMs" and other particularly pernicious kinds of loans. Thanks to the valiant efforts of late Fed Governor Ned Gramlich, starting in 2004 we have data about "higher priced loans." In that year, bank, thrifts and their subsidiaries-the entities covered by CRA-made about 37% of high cost loans. By 2006, the bank, thrift and subsidiary percentage was up to 40.9%. That a lack of interest in CRA enforcement coincided with CRA-covered entities getting into higher priced lending does not seem to me an argument for less CRA enforcement. Rather, it's an argument for better enforcement of a statute that, when well enforced, had proven its worth in helping both borrowers and communities.

Finally, it is nevertheless the case that CRA-covered lenders are not the source of the problem. One of CRA's major failings, in fact, is that it only applies to banks and thrifts. Remember all the investment banks who demanded product and then sliced and diced loans until it was impossible to understand their quality?They're not covered. Neither are the independent mortgage banks, the kinds of firms that have gone bankrupt or nearly so because of their abysmal lending practices, who regularly made about 50% of the high cost loans. Bank affiliates, another uncovered group, made about 12% of the high cost loans.

However, the Commodity Futures Modernization Act, a/k/a Gramm-Leach-Blilely, signed by the President as Bill Clinton was heading out the door, did play a major role in the housing collapse.  It wiped out major provisions of Glass-Steagall, including the prohibition on any financial institution being involved in both commercial and investment banking. In so doing, it made a prophet of North Dakota's Byron Dorgan, who on the Senate floor stated "I'll bet one day somebody's going to look back at this and say 'How on earth could we have thought it made sense to allow the banking industry to concentrate through merger and acquisition to become bigger and bigger and bigger. How did we think that was gonna help this country?"

Further deregulation of the financial services industry, especially the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act signed by President Bush in 2005, helped precipitate the collapse of the housing industry.  Dodd-Frank did not end "too big to fail" and now we learn from Dealbook, a New York Times blog, that

Criticized for letting Wall Street off the hook after the financial crisis, the Justice Department is building a new model for prosecuting big banks.

In a recent round of actions that shook the financial industry, the government pushed for guilty pleas, rather than just the usual fines and reforms. Prosecutors now aim to apply the approach broadly to financial fraud cases, according to officials involved in the investigations.

Lawyers for several big banks, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said they were already adjusting their defenses and urging banks to fire employees suspected of wrongdoing in the hope of appeasing authorities.

But critics question whether the new strategy amounts to a symbolic reprimand rather than a sweeping rebuke. So far, the Justice Department has extracted guilty pleas only from remote subsidiaries of big foreign banks, a move that has inflicted reputational damage but little else.

The new strategy first materialized in recent settlements with UBS and the Royal Bank of Scotland, which were accused of manipulating interest rates to bolster profit. As part of a broader deal, the banks’ Japanese subsidiaries pleaded guilty to felony wire fraud.

But the new 'get tough policy' is really the same old, same old.   The article continues

Critics point to the UBS case. Before UBS signed the deal, Japanese authorities assured the bank that a guilty plea would not cost the subsidiary its license, a person involved in the case said. While the case has weighed on the stock price, the subsidiary is operating normally and clients have stayed put, according to people with direct knowledge of the case.

Prosecutors defend their effort, saying it was born from painful experiences over the last decade.

After Arthur Andersen was convicted in 2002, the accounting firm went out of business, taking 28,000 jobs with it. The Supreme Court later overturned the case, prompting the government to alter its approach.    

Matt Taibbi describes the authors as

worried desperately over the issue of whether or not the Japanese subsidiaries would keep their licenses after these guilty pleas. As is often the case – I've personally heard this excuse about a dozen times coming from DC types – regulators are terrified of repeating an Arthur Andersen situation, i.e. punishing a company and seeing massive job losses as a result...

The Arthur Andersen case has become like Wall Street's magic mantra – you hear the name whispered anytime any company gets in trouble. This is a tactic straight out of Blazing Saddles, with banks essentially taking themselves hostage, putting guns to their own heads as they creep sideways out the door: "Back off! Prosecute us and all these jobs will die!"

And prosecutors, just like the idiot town leaders of Mel Brooks's Rockridge, are screaming, "They're just crazy enough to do it!"

And that would be why we need fewer enablers of corporate crime, such as the former President, and more individuals who will face down reluctant bank regulators and, in some fashion, tell them (video, below)

Anyone else want to tell me about the last time you took a Wall Street bank to trial? I just want to note on this, there are district attorneys and U.S. Attorneys who are out there every day squeezing ordinary citizens on sometimes very thin grounds and taking them to trial in order to make an example, as they put it. I'm really concerned that too big to fail has become too big to jail.  That just seems wrong to me.

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Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Die Quickly, Or At Least Get Lost

They were all over Alan Grayson.  In September, 2009,  U.S. Representative Alan Grayson said (video immediately below the quote) on the House floor

It’s my duty and pride tonight to be able to announce exactly what the Republicans plan to do for health care in America… It’s a very simple plan. Here it is. The Republican health care plan for America: “don’t get sick.” If you have insurance don’t get sick, if you don’t have insurance, don’t get sick; if you’re sick, don’t get sick. Just don’t get sick. … If you do get sick America, the Republican health care plan is this: “die quickly.”

Righteous outrage erupted.  Typical were the reactions of two Tennessee Republicans. Jimmy Duncan charged "That is about the most mean-spirited partisan statement that I've ever heard made on this floor and I, for one, don't appreciate it."  Marsha Blackburn maintained "It's fully appropriate that the gentleman return to the floor and apologize."

Republicans and members of the media were aghast but Grayson did not apologize and, after being defeated in 2010, was returned two years later by voters in his district.   And he still is unapologetic.  In an appearance with John Fugelsang (picked up by Susie Madrak) on Current TV, he noted "As I pointed out three years ago, their health care plan is: 'Don't get sick. And if you do get sick, die quickly.'"

Grayson pointed that the GOP response to periodic massacres and extreme, extraordinary weather events (e.g., Hurricane Sandy) is similar to that of the health care needs of Americans.    And he probably didn't even know about Kathryn Playford (hat tip to Hullabaloo's Digby):

Working full time and yet not being able to afford health insurance coverage literally sticks in Kathryn Playford’s throat.

The office manager for a self-storage facility and office park in North Augusta says she has put off surgery for an enlarged thyroid for years because she lacks health care coverage.

“Eventually, it may enlarge to the point where I can’t breathe,” Playford said.

The governors of Georgia and South Carolina have decided not to expand Medicaid coverage to more uninsured despite high rates of working families with no coverage.

In South Carolina, nearly half of the 766,304 uninsured, or 359,107, are working and 19.3 percent of people employed in the state lack insurance, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey 2011.

In Georgia, 22.7 percent of the employed lack health insurance, and working families make up 48.3 percent of the uninsured.

The states turned down the expansion under the Affordable Care Act despite the fact that it would be fully funded for the first three years and would not dip below 90 percent federally funded in subsequent years.

In Georgia, the expansion would offer Medicaid coverage for individuals making nearly $16,000 a year and for families of four making around $32,000 a year. Within that adult population, 50.6 percent are uninsured, according to Census data.

“I would argue that those are the people that are really getting the burden of the state not investing more of its state dollars” in Medicaid, said Tim Sweeney, the director of health policy for the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute.

Advocates in a coalition called Cover Georgia will gather Tuesday at the state Capitol to rally for the state to reconsider Medicaid expansion.

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal has said the state cannot afford it and that the federal government might not be able to continue funding it in the future.

It's not only Kathryn Playford, and it's not only Georgia and South Carolina.  In all, according to the map below, 13 states have decided not to participate in Medicaid expansion and four states (including New Jersey under the leadership of media darling Christopher J. Christie) are leaning against participating.

At worst, a few years down the road, states which extend health care to additional poor individuals will have to put up one (1) dollar for every nine (9) donated by the federal government.  Alan Grayson was- and is- right, though with a twist.  The states which reject expansion (most dominated by the G.O.P.) are adopting their own program:  "don't get sick- and if you do, don't bother us."

Where the States Stand
Via: The Advisory Board Company

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Monday, February 18, 2013

Avoiding Citizenship

USA Today reports today

A draft of a White House immigration proposal obtained by USA TODAY would allow illegal immigrants to become legal permanent residents within eight years.

The plan also would provide for more security funding and require business owners to check the immigration status of new hires within four years. In addition, the nation's 11 million illegal immigrants could apply for a newly created "Lawful Prospective Immigrant" visa, under the draft bill being written by the White House.

If approved, they could then apply for the same provisional legal status for their spouse or children living outside the country, according to the draft.

Roughly fourteen paragraphs later, Alan Gomez writes that acquiring legal permanent residence status "then clear the path for them to apply for U.S. citizenship."

Details are sketchy, but color me skeptical of the likelihood that a comprehensive immigration reform bill would provide a realistic path to citizenship.  Ten days ago, The Wall Street Journal had observed

House Republicans took a skeptical view Tuesday of opening a path to citizenship to people now in the country illegally, pointing to a fundamental disagreement with a bipartisan effort in the Senate to change immigration laws.

Still, the first House hearing of the year on the subject suggested that some Republicans are newly open to changing immigration laws and offering legal status short of citizenship to some of the estimated 11 million people in the country illegally. Many leading Republicans opposed such a step in the past, calling it a form of "amnesty" for lawbreakers.

"Are there options that we should consider between the extremes of mass deportation and a pathway to citizenship?" asked Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R., Va.), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, who has opposed some prior proposals to grant legal status to illegal immigrants.

Committee members, including Mr. Goodlatte and Rep. Lamar Smith (R., Texas), probed witnesses for alternatives. Among options that surfaced was offering permanent legal status to illegal immigrants.

"They want to come out of the shadows. They want to be able to be legal," said Rep. Raul Labrador (R., Idaho), a committee member, of people now in the country illegally. "If we can find a solution that is short of pathway to citizenship…but better than just kicking 12 million people out, why is that not a good solution?"

Because it's not.    But when the Gang of Eight Republican and Democratic Senators issued its outline of immigration reform last month, center-right blogger Micky Kaus realized "on first glance it certainly looks like a cynical effort designed to allow Hispanicked Republicans to seem tough while voting for amnesty: Look at all those drones! Yes, the undocumented will be able to legally steal your job–but, hey, they won’t get to vote!"

Most Democrats (including the President) want illegal immigrants already in the country to have an opportunity to remain, work hard, contribute to the Social Security system, and not constantly have to fear being arrested or detained by law enforcement, as did this man.  Republicans recognize a need to shed their image as anti-Hispanic bigots but are loathe to offer a serious chance of citizenship to individuals likely to continue to vote Democratic.  They would, additionally, be at the mercy of employers if they cannot attain citizenship, a happy outcome for their corporate base.

This does not end well.

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Sunday, February 17, 2013

Race And More

A year ago, the Village Voice's Tim Dickinson found 

the Obama administration has quietly unleashed a multi­agency crackdown on medical cannabis that goes far beyond anything undertaken by George W. Bush. The feds are busting growers who operate in full compliance with state laws, vowing to seize the property of anyone who dares to even rent to legal pot dispensaries, and threatening to imprison state employees responsible for regulating medical marijuana.

With more than 100 raids on pot dispensaries during his first three years, Obama is now on pace to exceed Bush's record for medical-marijuana busts. "There's no question that Obama's the worst president on medical marijuana," says Rob Kampia, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project. "He's gone from first to worst."

In late October, Mother Jones' Alan Serwer reported Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced it "has reached a new record number of deportations for Fiscal Year 2011: 396,906 removals of unauthorized immigrants."   Although Director John Morton implied that most individuals deported were egregious violators, only 87,547 of the 215,698 were sent away for homicide, sexual offenses, drunk driving, or "drug-related crimes."

And last Friday, Mother Jones' Gavin Aronsen pointed out

Despite the amped-up claims that President Obama is just waiting to crack down on gun owners, a new report reveals that his administration has been pursuing significantly fewer gun crimes than the predeceeding one. Under Obama, federal weapons prosecutionshave declined to their lowest levels nearly a decade, according to a new report from the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, a research group associated with Syracuse University.

After 9/11, the Bush administration's firearms prosecutions shot up, peaking at about 11,000 cases in 2004. In 2012, the feds prosecuted fewer than 8,000 gun cases.

And then there is the expansion of the national security state at the expense of civil liberties and the continual coddling of the big banks.

Observing the federal government's assault on medical marijuana, eagerness to deport illegal immigrants, and its disinterest in prosecution of firearms cases, Digby remarks

The Latino community voted for Democrats because they are better on their issues than the Republicans and not one right winger voted for the Democrats because they deported more undocumented workers. Maybe they thought they could appease the gun lobby by prosecuting fewer gun crimes. (I don't think that's worked out.)  Maybe they thought that people think marijuana is a threat to the nation and they had to step in. But the votes in states across the land show that just isn't true.  (Arkansas --- Arkansas! --- came within four points of legalizing medical marijuana in 2012.)

She could have added: not one right winger voted for the Democrats because the Administration is raiding more marijuana dispensaries than did the previous administration, nor because they've gone easy on prosecution of individuals for violating firearm laws. And among the reasons precious few conservatives crossed over to vote for Barack Obama is because they find they find the idea of Barack Hussein Obama, a black community organizer from Chicago, as a moderate (let alone conservative) literally incredible.  But for roughly the same reason, few left-wingers voted for the Republicans despite President Obama's pursuit of policies intended to wash away any notion he is a Democrat.

The symbolic significance attached to Obama's election and re-election accounts for a significant portion of the hardening of attitudes toward the President among both conservatives and liberals.  Moni Basu on November 8 gushed

A black man is returning to the White House.

Four years ago, it was a first, the breaking of a racial barrier. Tuesday night, it was history redux. And more.

In the midst of national splintering and a time of deep ideological animosity, Americans elected President Barack Obama to a second term. And thousands rejoiced in his victory, one that seemed sweeter and, perhaps, more significant.

That was restrained compared to the normally august New York Times, which four years earlier had gushed

Barack Hussein Obama was elected the 44th president of the United States on Tuesday, sweeping away the last racial barrier in American politics with ease as the country chose him as its first black chief executive.

The election of Mr. Obama amounted to a national catharsis — a repudiation of a historically unpopular Republican president and his economic and foreign policies, and an embrace of Mr. Obama’s call for a change in the direction and the tone of the country.

But it was just as much a strikingly symbolic moment in the evolution of the nation’s fraught racial history, a breakthrough that would have seemed unthinkable just two years ago.

The legendary and occasionally humorous comedienne Joan Rivers would characteristically ask: can we talk?  If we can, we would acknowledge that many conservatives react to Obama in the same way as do many liberals- as a black man, a constitutional lawyer who has not only traveled, but actually lived, abroad.   Even now, you and I are hoping that, contrary to the record of the past four years, there is an inner progressive lurking in the body of the 51-year-old from Chicago by way of Hawaii.  Some even believe there is.

Digby, ever-clear eyed about the President, recognizes "the one group of people one would expect to reward the president for these stances --- the right wing --- is the one group that hates him with a blinding passion and will never even give him credit for waking up in the morning." But if we are to heed Joan Rivers' signature greeting, we need admit that the right does not have a monopoly on a knee-jerk, unyielding response to a centrist President.

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Saturday, February 16, 2013

Insane Or Otherwise

Saying “government can’t control the weather” sounds plausible enough," Jonathan Chait writes, and is "a way to take a position that doesn’t sound completely insane to audiences but is, in fact, completely insane. In this way, it is the quintessential Marco Rubio utterance."   Tuesday, Rubio uttered

There are valid reasons to be concerned about the President's plan to grow our government. But any time anyone opposes the President's agenda, he and his allies usually respond by falsely attacking their motives.

When we point out that no matter how many job-killing laws we pass, our government can't control the weather – he accuses us of wanting dirty water and dirty air.

I don't know what Rubio means when he accuses Obama of "accus(ing) us of wanting dirty water and dirty air."   (Neither do most Republicans- but it feels good.)   Even before hearing the President's message live, Rubio probably had seen a copy of the SOTU* message and noted Obama's vicious, partisan attack: "But for the sake of our children and our future, we must do more to combat climate change."

In claiming the President "and his allies" usually respond to criticism by "falsely attacking their motives," Rubio follows the script described by Thomas Frank:

Conservatism, on the other hand, is the doctrine of the oppressed majority. Conservatism does not defend some established order of things: It accuses; its rants; it points out hypocrisies and gleefully pounces on contradictions. While liberals use their control of the airwaves, newspapers, and schools to persecute average Americans — to ridicule the pious, flatter the shiftless, and indoctrinate the kids with all sorts of permissive nonsense — the Republicans are the party of the disrespected, the downtrodden, the forgotten. They are always the underdog, always in rebellion against a haughty establishment, always rising up from below.

All claims of the right, in other words, advance from victimhood. This is another trick the backlash has picked up from the left. Even though republicans legislate in the interests of society’s most powerful, and even though conservative social critics typically enjoy cushy sinecures at places like the American Enterprise Institute and the Wall Street Journal, they rarely claim to speak on behalf of the wealthy of the winners in the social Darwinist struggle. Just like the leftists of the early twentieth century, they see themselves in revolt against a genteel tradition, rising up against a bankrupt establishment that will tolerate no backtalk.

And so it is that Rubio carries water for his corporate benefactors (Obama generally eschews attacking motives; myself, not so much) and makes what Chait identifies that "completely insane" statement, "government can't control the weather."

Although neither government nor anyone else can control the weather, the weather can be influenced, imperfectly, such as by cloud-seeding.  Still, no one claims the power to have a tremendous influence on weather, which is less susceptible to modification than is climate.  But now we begin to understand the Republican idea of American exceptionalism circa 2013: change our lifestyle slightly to save the planet- can't be done!

The fairly uncomplicated chain of events which Chait realizes the Senator "is capable of grasping" is merely

1. The government has a bunch of rules that control how much coal, oil, and whatnot gets burned.
2. The more greenhouse gasses we burn, the warmer the climate gets. It’s science.
3. The warmer the climate gets, the more frequently we have extreme weather events. This is also science.

Chait argues that Rubio is choosing not to deny that burning greenhouse gases results in a warmer climate but

Denying the link between greenhouse gas emissions and climate change remains as firmly ensconced as ever in the Republican liturgy.  But the party's reputation for scientific ignorance has proven to be at least a slight embarrassment among general election audiences...

So what’s going on here is that Rubio wants to uphold the Republican position without coming across to non-Republicans as a total yahoo. So he is not directly questioning the carbon-climate link, but instead moving his skepticism to the climate-weather link.

Senator Rubio took advantage of the ignorance of many conservatives of the difference between weather and climate.   Consider how often a cold spell (or, worse, snow) is accompanied by a layman (layperson? laywoman? lay?) using the occasion to deny the reality of global warming.  And if he continues to take positions which don't sound completely insane to audiences- but are inaccurate and probably dishonest- we will have Marco Rubio to kick around until at least July, 2016.

*SOTU, POTUS, VPOTUS, FLOTUS: abbreviations are the new jargon of Washington.

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Friday, February 15, 2013

More Slick Than Slick

When Marco Rubio gave the Gas and Oil Party's official rebuttal (transcript here) to the President's State of the Union message on Tuesday, he paused midway through for a swig of Poland Spring (owned by Nestle, a member of ALEC) and drew widespread derision.  The conservative Allahpundit on the conservative website Hot Air contended "If you exclude the 101 replays on Maddow’s show, you’re still at 100 replays for the day. On Fox, the clip ran an average of once every 90 minutes over 18 hours; on CNN a bit more than every 30 minutes, with Wolf Blitzer accounting for most of that; and on MSNBC, naturally, every 20 minutes."

The obsession with the water break threatened to obscure the brazen dishonesty of Rubio's message.   Recognizing the Floridian as "a slick one," the not-so-nice but insightful Steve M. finds

The difference between Rubio this year and the other legendary SotU response gaffer, Bobby Jindal in 2009, was that Jindal passed up a golden opportunity to make the round of talk shows poking fun at his much-mocked rebuttal. As I said at the time, Jindal had the chance to do what Bill Clinton did when his speech at the 1988 Democratic convention was criticized for long-windedness -- Clinton went on The Tonight Show,where Johnny Carson good-naturedly mocked the speech. We like our politicians human and affable. Clinton's political career turned out OK, wouldn't you say?

Marco Rubio is nothing if not affable. (That's why he's dangerous.) He's already shown up on Fox & Friends with a water bottle in hand. But not just Fox -- he went on Good Morning America (outreach!) and joked about the incident as well. Oh, and since he's a Republican, he tossed in a light, not-too-pious-by-heartland-swing-voter-standards reference to the Almighty, saying, "God has a funny way of reminding us we're human."

Rubio, whose political action committe now has an official Marco Rubio Water Bottle for sale, is determined to ignore the present and erase the past.  Referring to the "free enterprise system," he contended

But President Obama? He believes it's the cause of our problems. That the economic downturn happened because our government didn't tax enough, spend enough and control enough. And, therefore, as you heard tonight, his solution to virtually every problem we face is for Washington to tax more, borrow more and spend more.

This idea – that our problems were caused by a government that was too small – it's just not true. In fact, a major cause of our recent downturn was a housing crisis created by reckless government policies.

Only a few minutes earlier, the President whom Rubio claimed believes the"solution to virtually every problem we face is for Washington to tax more, borrow more and spend more" had stated

It is our unfinished task to make sure that this government works on behalf of the many, and not just the few, that it encourages free enterprise, rewards individual initiative, and opens the doors of opportunity to every child across this great nation.

The American people don't expect government to solve every problem. They don't expect those of us in this chamber to agree on every issue. But they do expect us to put the nation's interests before party....

Let me repeat: Nothing I'm proposing tonight should increase our deficit by a single dime. It is not a bigger government we need, but a smarter government that sets priorities and invests in broad-based growth.

Perhaps the Florida Senator, having expected to hear an address by a Democrat, became confused when he heard principles of small government, deficit reduction, and federalism popular among Republicans before Rubio's time.  Or maybe he just made it up.  More serious, though, was Rubio's repetition of the Republican shibboleth that "a major cause of our recent downturn was a housing crisis created by reckless government policies."

Paul Krugman notes

Every piece of this revisionist history has been refuted in detail. No, the government didn’t force banks to lend to Those People; no, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac didn’t cause the housing bubble (they were doing relatively little lending during the peak bubble years); no, government-sponsored lenders weren’t responsible for the surge in risky mortgages (private mortgage issuers accounted for the vast majority of the riskiest loans).

The idea that government, not Wall Street or anyone or anything in the private sector, precipitated the economic crash is a dangerous article of faith among Republicans, a sizeable number of Independents, and even a few Democrats and accounts for much of the conservative hysteria surrounding Dodd-Frank (itself weak tea). Further, it endangers prospects of any financial reform.   Some cite the Community Reinvestment Act by name, while others know that it just must have been government forcing banks to lend to unworthy people (which somehow never include them, their relatives, or their friends).   Recently, Mike Konczal of Wonkblog thoroughly debunked Rubio's charge that government created the housing crisis central to the economic crisis.  Even before the right-wing fantasy took hold, Robert Gordon of The American Prospect dispelled it when in 2008 he explained

CRA was enacted in 1977. The sub-prime lending at the heart of the current crisis exploded a full quarter century later. In the mid-1990s, new CRA regulations and a wave of mergers led to a flurry of CRA activity, but, as noted by the New America Foundation's Ellen Seidman (and by Harvard's Joint Center), that activity "largely came to an end by 2001." In late 2004, the Bush administration announced plans to sharply weaken CRA regulations, pulling small and mid-sized banks out from under the law's toughest standards. Yet sub-prime lending continued, and even intensified -- at the very time when activity under CRA had slowed and the law had weakened.

Second, it is hard to blame CRA for the mortgage meltdown when CRA doesn't even apply to most of the loans that are behind it. As the University of Michigan's Michael Barr points out, half of sub-prime loans came from those mortgage companies beyond the reach of CRA. A further 25 to 30 percent came from bank subsidiaries and affiliates, which come under CRA to varying degrees but not as fully as banks themselves. (With affiliates, banks can choose whether to count the loans.) Perhaps one in four sub-prime loans were made by the institutions fully governed by CRA.

Most important, the lenders subject to CRA have engaged in less, not more, of the most dangerous lending. Janet Yellen, president of the San Francisco Federal Reserve, offers the killer statistic: Independent mortgage companies, which are not covered by CRA, made high-priced loans at more than twice the rate of the banks and thrifts. With this in mind, Yellen specifically rejects the "tendency to conflate the current problems in the sub-prime market with CRA-motivated lending.? CRA, Yellen says, "has increased the volume of responsible lending to low- and moderate-income households."

 Marco Rubio starts off with a nod to his party's theocons, stating "I'm blessed to represent Florida in the United States Senate," then plays the poor boy card with "I still live in the same working-class neighborhood where I grew up." And he couldn't possibly want to hurt the elderly because "My neighbors are retirees who depend on Social Security and Medicare."  He neglected to mention that he'll be getting away from his neighbors if he gets close to the $675,000 asking price for his house.

But Rubio's ideas can cause more damage than his hypocrisy.  Krugman recognizes

For here we are, more than five years into the worst economic slump since the Great Depression, and one of our two great political parties has seen its economic doctrine crash and burn twice: first in the run-up to crisis, then again in the aftermath. Yet that party has learned nothing; it apparently believes that all will be well if it just keeps repeating the old slogans, but louder.

The party has learned nothing about policy.  But it is still learning about politics, hoping to put old wine into new bottles.  As Steve M. notes of Florida's junior senator "laugh him off at your peril"

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