Thursday, June 28, 2012

Republicans win a philosophical battle on the ACA

The libertarians and Republicans won a big victory in the ACA ruling today. Five justices, including Roberts, think the mandate cannot be supported under the Commerce Clause of the US Constitution. The five justices, Roberts, Alito, Thomas, Kennedy and Scalia, have a cramped, late 19th Century view of the Commerce Clause, and had the audacity to take seriously the dumbest argument to hit the Supreme Court since it held the State of New York could not regulate bakers' hours in Lochner.

To think that broccoli is like health insurance is to be absurd. Roberts actually wrote a ridiculous hypothetical that broccoli might one day be found by scientists to stop cancer and then, if Congress mandated everyone to buy broccoli, that would be unconstitutional. The issues of access, so large for health insurance, are simply ignored. He took a science fiction hypothetical to argue against a practical way (albeit a way I have long opposed from a public policy or legislative standpoint) to incentivize people to purchase health insurance. And they also took seriously the ridiculous point about activity v. inactivity, which Mark Tushnet had demolished at least two years ago, and which, frankly, can anyone really say they never saw the inside of a hospital from birth forward?

Roberts did his usual twist of nearly overruling something and giving a small open door to wait for another day. The tax argument was arcane and narrow, and while libertarians may still object, they had a good day.

I realize corporate tee vee and ray-dio media's shallow pundits and reporters are saying it's a victory for Obama, I guess it is in that narrow short term political sense. But this was a victory for those who would undermine the deference the judiciary is to provide to the legislature when it comes to economic regulation. The decision of the five right wing justices to substitute their judgment for Congress on this important policy with regard to Commerce Clause jurisprudence is one we should watch in the coming years.

Not really any links as I am limited for time this week and frankly, I don't think it is necessary...:-)

ADDENDUM: More time than I thought. Just for fun, for others' comments, here are some links of bloggers, starting with:

Jack Balkin

Andrew Koppelman

who are two law profs, and then

Tom Sorocca, a writer who wrote an interesting article on the decision at Slate.com

and

Goerge Zornick at The Nation.

It bothers me that Obama chose the most reactionary "solution" to the health care access and cost crisis, which enabled the right wing the opportunity it needed to limit the scope of the Commerce Clause and even worse from a short term view, deprive Medicaid to millions more people because of the way Republicans and assorted right wingers in State governments will use the portion of the decision denying the Medicaid expansion's constitutionality. Heckava job, Obammy!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

From Ben Nelson's mouth to God's ears...

If the US Supreme Court overturns part or all of the ACA, then I pray, really I pray, the odious Ben Nelson is correct, and the US moves toward and into Medicare for All.

Man, that would be so great! Even as Ben Nelson cries in his soup...

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The question is why people didn't vote for Nader...

In 2000, there was a real choice, and it was Ralph Nader. Nader knew more and could speak more powerfully about what really ailed America than any steam dried politician, as we remember the Al Gore who ran more like Romney in 2012, and had Joe Lieberman as his VP, and Martin Peretz as his foreign policy adviser. Yeah, that Al Gore. The one before he grew a beard and became more like his lamented, late father, Al Gore Sr.

This article by Ron Rosenbaum in Slate about Nader is must reading. It reminds us we did have a choice, but our binary thinking, well, yours not mine, led people to stay in the Property Party duopoly.

Heck, I was such a DFH, I voted for Nader in 1996 and 2000...And funny, I voted for Kerry in 2004 and it didn't make a bit of difference. Kerry still lost. Just as it won't make a difference whether I vote in CA for Obama or Jill Stein of the Green Party this fall. Obama wins or loses due to low information voters who just vote for the other guy when they don't think the current guy did so good by them....In Bush Jr.'s case in 2004, the low information voters said, "Well, we can't change presidents in the middle of war, even though we don't really like the war and don't understand why we're there anymore..." That's just how low information voters make decisions, and we who value public policy details and analysis often forget that.

But let's not beat up any longer on Ralph Nader. He is truly one of the great Americans and it is our failure as a nation for not voting for the better against the varying evils in 2000, or for that matter, even in 1996.

E.O. Wilson continues to make his point...

Read Wilson's article in today's NY Times. There is something a bit airy about his explanation, but I find it eerily reminiscent of Stephen Jay Gould's point that we are sinners and saints, both, and vegetarians and meat eaters both, and the construct of culture and biology is not quite made, but not quite apart as much as we thought, and those of us who are against eugenics have hoped.

The attack* on Wilson in the recent NY Review of Books by a noted anthropologist seemed devastating, until I asked myself: How does all the things Wilson gets wrong about the study of human behavior in the pre-historic age really undermine Wilson's overall arguments, as set forth in the NY Times article today?

The answer is this: Even if Steven Mithen is right about each point of ancient human anthropology, Wilson's point remains the same, which is that there does seem to be kinship selection that had biological consequences over time. I think a fundamental misreading of Wilson has been going on for decades, and I bought into it too long myself. Reading Wilson leads me to see his caveats and qualifications. He knows we don't have sufficient answers yet that connect culture and biological inheritances. He does, however, believe it is coming, and in some limited cases, is already here. But he again is cautious and qualifying about what is happening today. In this, Wilson is a philosopher in the oldest sense, and he has about him a sense of Charles Darwin's willingness to make some larger somewhat speculative conclusions, which he recognizes as fairly speculative, after a bunch of specific observations and citations of other studies, including studies in which he has participated.

Wilson, in short, is an optimist about the direction of science, but remains a skeptic in the particular experiments and observations of the present--the way a scientist should be. I am glad this man in his early 80s is continuing to fight for the future of science, and is not content to rest on past praise and not afraid to re-confront those who were vicious to him years ago.

* It is behind the subscription wall, but I was able to secure a copy of the issue and read it the other day.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Public workers as Pastor Martin Niemoller

So the new public worker union leader, Lee Saunders, says unions are at a "turning point." And public sector employees wonder about the lack of sufficient solidarity among their fellow workers in the private sector.

Sorry, public sector employees, but unions were at a turning point in the 1980s, and most public employees and their leaders like you didn't give a damn at the time.

I know. I was there as a Democratic Party activist in the 1980s and up through the early Clinton years, before I went into the Reform Party with Ross Perot and then the Green Party with Nader after 1996.

Gerald McEntee, the former leader of the public employees unions in the 1980s and 1990s, was a fervent supporter of any corporate Democrat, especially Clinton. He gave hardly a worry about the hollowing out of America's industrial base and the decline of private employee unions. He didn't care that the NAFTA was a codification of the trends that were undermining blue collar workers' lives. As long as his public employees' union was doing fine, he didn't understand why any of us were so angry at Bill Clinton for siding with the plutocracy that was already rearing its horrible head, torso and arms. I recall too many conversations with public workers who simply did not care at all about the plight of private employee union workers. I met Republican public employee union members who said they hated unions and hated the private sector unions who said they deserved what they got for not being able to compete with peasants in third world factories.

Well, here is my inside message to public employee workers around the nation: First, the rich and powerful came for the poor in the 1970s, and public employees didn't care. They were not poor. Then, they came for the private sector workers in unions in the late 1970s and into the 1980s. The public employees didn't care. They were not in the private sector. Then, when the nation was reeling from the bursting of the last big bubble in real estate, after most middle class American workers ran out of credit after first running out of sufficient income to pay the bills, they have come for the public employees and their pensions and unions. But there was nobody left in the once thriving and now suffering middle class of workers to care. Hat tip to Pastor Martin Niemoller.

As readers of this blog know, I have not joined that chorus of private sector workers who attack public employee unions even as I have been in the private sector my entire adult life. I don't subscribe to the American cultural penchant of attacking my fellow workers for the good things they have. I believed in the 1980s, and believe now, the fault is with those in the elite corridors of power, both in the private and public sectors. The economic elite have reasserted themselves as strong as they ever have since the 1880s, let alone 1920s. Would that the public employees' unions more solidly supported their private sector union brothers and sisters 20 and 25 years ago, as I and a few other activists were saying then. Then, unions would not be as moribund as they are today.

Again, unions are not at a "turning point." They are already dead. It will take an even greater crisis to revive them, and as I have said, we lack a language of equality and socialism in our political discourse such that even young Occupy sit in students often talk the language of elite business libertarianism, not the language of Eugene Debs and Michael Harrington.

The woman behind Paul Krugman

Robin Wells is one of the great unsung economists. Here is a rare interview with her from PBS.

It was noted in a great New Yorker article some years ago that she is Paul Krugman's muse. She really taught him why we live in outrageous times in terms of elite control of our economy. She helped him understand the need to be outraged about the ignorance and arrogance of the international banking and corporate elite, and how they will always want everything their way, all the time, and really have no values that are not predatory and grasping.

And as someone around their age, I'll say this: Robin is pretty! Good for you, Paul!

Finally, here was my post about that New Yorker article, where I reminded readers that Paul Krugman would not have been in the position he is today had he not initially been a player who believed in the rhetoric of "free trade" and the Reaganite-Clintonite nostrums that continue to do so much damage to our nation. Robin ruined his chances to become Timothy Geithner, and good for her. We need Krugman's voice more than we needed another banker-wanker for Obama to have chosen.

Addendum: I forgot to also link to Krugman's and Wells' latest article in the NY Review of Books. I think Krugman realizes his wife deserves more notice and more credit. He made sure to include her as co-author of a recent textbook they wrote, too.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Must see Jon Stewart segment...again

Stewart nails three issues at once: (1) Republican fealty to bankers that is beyond self-parody (at one point, Stewart just looks at the camera with a face that implies there is nothing left to mock); (2) Republican corruption from banker contributions; and (3) Republican recklessness, where they water down legislation so it is not as effective as it should be in regulating abuses, and then complain that the legislation is not effective in regulating abuses.

That Democratic Party leaders from Obama on down are subject to (1) and (2), and often (3) is just another reason to be depressed. But there is still something to be said about the Republican leaders in terms of those tendencies. It is so extreme, so over the top as to be impervious to satire. All that is left are direct quotes and ridicule.

The two funniest and most penetrating lines from Stewart were his last line about breaking "s**t" and the line that explained the difference between losing money, as JP Morgan did, and spending money, as in building a highway. This was a difference that Republican Senators did not grasp.

Overall, the Stewart commentary exposes once again the sad state of affairs for anyone who believes in the very idea of "public policy."

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Public programs less expensive than voucher programs

Michael Lind makes a very good case at Salon.com. Read it here.

Robert Kuttner made a similar point back in the 1980s with his book, "The Economic Illusion," which showed that universal programs, as opposed to means-tested programs, are both more efficient and more effective in reducing or abolishing poverty, and helping people overall.

Yet, corporate media presents almost wall to wall the opposite messages. And the wildest thing is that the corporate media is so often called "liberal." Imagine that.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

The US is still the land of opportunity, right? Not so fast, folks

Joseph Stiglitz, who used to be a pure pro-free traitor, has long since found that maybe those trade treaties and gutting of the industrial base was not such a great idea--though he continues to deride mercantile solutions that are working well for China, India and Brazil.

On purely domestic policy, however, Stiglitz has definitely found his inner Michael Harrington. Stiglitz is saying loudly and clearly that inequality in America has reached a point where "old Europe" has more social mobility than the U.S. He also says a rich person's child in the U.S. has a better chance of remaining in the upper class even with little higher education or not doing well at higher education than a lower class child who excels in higher education, even at elite colleges.

Still, one thing not dealt with in the interview or the article I link to below is the anxiety in the middle and even upper middle class where college debt incurred by students eats away at many of the advantages of a college education, especially at any non-elite college. Stiglitz does, however, hit that issue spot on in his book, "The Price of Inequality: How Today's Divided Society Endangers Our Future" (see pages 94, 95, for example).

Stiglitz's policy prescription is also something both Romney's and Obama's advisers and Obama and Romney are against: Stiglitz calls for redistributing the wealth which has accrued to the top 1%, and instead pursuing mass stimulus in the form of jobs to rebuild the nation's infrastructure, subsidizing education opportunities for the middle class as well as poor, and research and development of new technologies, particularly with respect to energy consumption (solar and wind, for example). Imagine that? I wonder who else says something like that...:-)

Read the article and watch the video here.

It is in this fundamental issue that the two parties have failed our nation. We as citizens are certainly responsible, too. Our binary voting patterns are a main symptom of that responsibility. We foolishly assume Obama must really be agreeing with us and Stiglitz when in fact he does not. And never will. Never. Instead, Obama continues to rely upon banker Geithner and various Goldman Sachs and Citibank executives. Stiglitz has been left out in the cold, like Krugman, Robert Reich, Dean Baker and others. As Stiglitz said early on about the Obama administration advisers, at the time Obama was pushing through policies to benefit banks, not Americans as a whole, Obama's advisers are "either in the pocket of the banks or they're incompetent."

Wild note: After the video, the Scottrade ad was playing Argent's "Hold Your Head Up" in the background. Wild indeed! I love that song, and have long loved Rod Argent's work, dating back to his leadership with Chris White in the Zombies.

Sunday, June 03, 2012

This is not really surprising, is it?

Read this investigative article about how the "stand your ground" law has operated in a place like Florida.

Good luck trying to stand your ground if you're black. It is great luck--please note sarcasm!--for a white man who uses the stand your ground law when he has shot and killed a black man who was unarmed.

Hat Tip to Digby for linking to the article.

If this doesn't show someone once again how racism infects the Zimmerman-Martin incident, then we really have nothing to talk about with such a person.

How Obama loses...and I have nothing to do with it

So over at TBogg's place, he posted a query to folks like me who can't abide Obama and semi-snarkily asked us to explain how we think Romney will be better for us than Obama. I decided to join the fray, at comment number 37 and boy oh boy did TBogg's minions who believe in their fella go wild. They were just screaming with their fingers in their ears until a few decided that maybe we should explain ourselves a bit more. I did so around the 200 comment and while TBogg made a nice point about my pushing the Putin-flexible scenario too far (I should have said Obama's flexibility in foreign affairs will be more trade treaties and another war), I think the good Obama fans at TBogg's place are starting to see I'm not dumb in my thinking.

And my thinking is this: If you live in a State like CA that votes reliably Democratic in presidential elections, see how things look in October. If it looks like Obama would win anyway, vote for Jill Stein of the Greens (or for any Libertarian Party stalwarts, vote for Gary Johnson). If you're in a state like Ohio, it's still a tough call.

The best argument an Obama fan can make is that Romney is worse on the cultural issues like abortion, gay marriage and the Supreme Court nominations. The answer here is that we'll just have to fight rear guard actions with the filibuster and, if the Republicans have the guts to do what Democrats lacked and kill the filibuster, then in individual Senate races. Not a pretty picture and one that gives me pause about not re-electing Obama. Of course, if the Dems hold the Senate this year, then Romney will have a real hard time getting an anti-abortion justice to replace Ginsburg.

But that is and remains the best argument for Obama.

The best argument for voting Green, Libertarian, etc. is that even if it results in a President Romney, Romney's attempt to undermine Social Security and Medicare will fail because Democrats will line up more strongly to oppose such an attempt than if Obama is re-elected. If Obama is re-elected, Republican Senator Tom Coburn has already spilled the beans (scroll down the link to the last question and answer) that Obama will pursue the Grand Bargain that fatally undermines Social Security and Medicare. He gives the Democrats in the Senate and House cover they don't have if Romney is pushing that agenda.

On civil liberties and war, anyone who reads Glenn Greenwald knows Obama has embraced the essential positions of Cheney-Bush administration. So Obama buys us nothing but exposing our party tribalism of "It's only okay if my party embraces such policies."

So there it is. It's a lot closer question than we might imagine. Women's rights vs. saving Social Security and Medicare.

There is no hope that Obama will stop the decline of the American middle class. Instead, that class will continue to decline under Obama. Will it decline further and faster under Romney? Maybe. I won't discount that. But the degree is not so significant as we see what happened when Scott Walker tried to muscle out public employees in Wisconsin. Walker may survive the recall, but he was wounded.

I think the argument that most got TBogg and his buddies (and I have to say I enjoy TBogg's invective most of the time and he is on my Blogroll) is where I forced them to recognize that Obama hates them, too, and David Axelrod positively despises them too. Yes, they truly hate and despise you and me. I quoted David Frum, GW Bush's former speechwriter, who memorably said: The Republican Party leaders fear their base. The Democratic Party leaders hate their base.

The sad part is that I know I won't believe Obama even if he suddenly pivoted my way for this election campaign. I distinctly recall the Austin Goolsbee mini-scandal in the spring of 2008. The Obama camp denied it at the time, but it was clear when Goolsbee and Geithner were chosen to lead his team of economic advisers that the story was true. And then the way Obama rammed through the anti-worker trade pacts with places like South Korea and Columbia gave final proof to the lie during the campaign (MF Blog readers knew Obama was a "free traitor" way back in 2006). By the way, Columbia has led the world with murders of labor leaders over the past two decades (see here and here) and continues to lead in murders of labor leaders. Funny how this topic of clear human rights violations does not make the Sunday morning discussion shows, the nightly cable talk shows, etc. Corporate media sure knows how to prioritize our thinking...

Anyway, the Obama administration announced in April of this year they would move ahead with complete implementation of the trade pact with Columbia, relying on an empty promise that has obviously not been fulfilled in the two years since the Labor Action Pact had been signed with Columbia.

To take Frum's formulation into something specific: Obama and his administration advisers hate labor unions as much as Romney does. They have to deal with them in the same party, unlike Romney, but the Obama administration never misses a trick to insult and ignore the pleas of the labor leaders and labor unions at home and abroad. But they are cultural liberals, which so far means a gay or lesbian soldier can scream on the frontiers of Afghanistan before getting killed: "I"m queer and I'm here!"

Yes, progress.

So how does Obama lose? Because the 20% of American voters who are low information voters who swing back and forth between the two wings of the Property Party (Democratic and Republican) are going to look at themselves, decide the economy did not improve under Obama and vote for "the other guy." Same way the independents as they are called swung for Obama in the last weeks of the 2008 election. People like me have NOTHING to do with it. We don't count except as helpless whipping boys and girls of corporate Democratic Party elitists who again already hate us.