Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Last Call

Time for a haircut, boys.
President Barack Obama's pay czar on Tuesday ordered executive compensation at prominent bailed-out firms to be cut by 15 percent, amid voter anger over Wall Street pay.

Kenneth Feinberg said 119 executives at AIG, Chrysler, Chrysler Financial, General Motors and its troubled former finance arm GMAC would see their cash rewards slashed by a third and their total pay cut by 15 percent versus last year.

All five firms received taxpayer money to stay afloat during the financial crisis, which continues to weigh on US economic recovery.

Feinberg also sent a letter to more than 400 firms who got government bailouts before February 2009, asking them to disclose details of the top 25 executives receiving annual pay of more than 500,000 dollars.

It marks the first time the government will look into pay at a broad swath of firms that took government bailout funds.
While I don't see this as anything more than symbolic, sometimes symbols can be powerful.  Having said that, there's stronger stuff coming.
The Senate Banking Committee cleared a financial system overhaul bill to head to a Senate vote late yesterday. Connecticut Democrat Chris Dodd, chairman of the committee, pushed the bill through with a 13-10 vote that went straight down party linesnone of the committees Republicans approved the bill.

The bill would give the Federal Reserve more oversight over the largest financial institutions and allows shareholders more of a voice in executive compensation, among other provisions.
FINALLY, the Dodd bill moves forward.  I fully expect all 41 Republicans to filibuster it.  But if the GOP wants to run on saving the bankers, let them.  I'm betting in an election year, at least one GOP Senator will be looking to make a deal on passing financial reform.

Then again, the GOP clearly isn't that bright.

Unleash Joe Biden, Big F'ckin Deal Edition

Health care bill signing?  UNLEASH JOE BIDEN! *bangs Joe Biden Unleashing Gong*
Beyond the ebullient atmosphere, shout-outs and cheers at the White House signing ceremony of the health care bill, there’s another moment that is being rewound and played again and again: Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s overheard, overly effusive aside to President Obama.

At the end of his introduction of the president, Mr. Biden, who is known for ad-libbing to the point of getting him in a little trouble, turned to Mr. Obama, embraced him and elaborated on the historic nature of the day.

“Mr. President, this is a big … deal,” he said, adding an adjective between the big and the deal that begins with “f.” 
I love this man.  I really do.

Obama doesn't even flinch, either.  He's stone cold.  I love it.

The Violence Continues

The right wing noise machine unleashed this beast, and it will continue to rampage.
Authorities in Wichita and some other cities across the country are investigating vandalism against Democratic offices, apparently in response to health care reform.
And on Monday, a former Alabama militia leader took credit for instigating the actions.
Mike Vanderboegh of Pinson, Ala., former leader of the Alabama Constitutional Militia, put out a call on Friday for modern “Sons of Liberty” to break the windows of Democratic Party offices nationwide in opposition to health care reform. Since then, vandals have struck several offices, including the Sedgwick County Democratic Party headquarters in Wichita.
Vanderboegh posted the call for action Friday on his blog, “Sipsey Street Irregulars.” Referring to the health care reform bill as “Nancy Pelosi’s Intolerable Act,” he told followers to send a message to Democrats.
“We can break their windows,” he said. “Break them NOW. And if we do a proper job, if we break the windows of hundreds, thousands, of Democrat party headquarters across this country, we might just wake up enough of them to make defending ourselves at the muzzle of a rifle unnecessary.”
Cause enough terror, you may not have to kill people.  What a great thought.   Then again, what do you expect from people so terribly uninformed about reality?  The latest Harris poll on Republican beliefs includes these results:
  • 67 percent of Republicans (and 40 percent of Americans overall) believe that Obama is a socialist.
  • 57 percent of Republicans (32 percent overall) believe that Obama is a Muslim
  • 45 percent of Republicans (25 percent overall) agree with the Birthers in their belief that Obama was "not born in the United States and so is not eligible to be president"
  • 38 percent of Republicans (20 percent overall) say that Obama is "doing many of the things that Hitler did"
  • Scariest of all, 24 percent of Republicans (14 percent overall) say that Obama "may be the Antichrist."
 So yeah, this extrapolates out to millions of Americans who believe this crap.  Bet you can find a group of them who have no problem with breaking office windows at Democratic party office buildings nationwide.

Bet you can find a group that will want to do much, much worse acts.

When will we read their stories in the news?  I'm betting pretty damn soon.

Hey Whaddya Know, They Like It!

The main argument we're hearing from the craziest GOP wingers is that America hates this particular health care reform bill (law! HA!  Feels good to say that.)  "The polls show..." is pretty much the first three words of any Mitch McConnell/John Boehner/Eric Cantor presser.

They may not have been fond of the bill.  But the polls show Americans like this law now that it's passed.
Americans by 9 percentage points have a favorable view of the health care overhaul that President Obama signed into law Tuesday, a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll finds, a notable turnaround from surveys before the vote that showed a plurality against it.

By 49%-40% those surveyed say it was "a good thing" rather than a bad one that Congress passed the bill. Half describe their reaction in positive terms, as "enthusiastic" or "pleased," while about four in 10 describe it in negative ways, as "disappointed" or "angry."

The largest single group, 48%, calls the bill "a good first step" that should be followed by more action on health care. An additional 4% also have a favorable view, saying the bill makes the most important changes needed in the nation's health care system.
A good first step.  You hear that, Dems?   You've still got work to do to make this law better.  The Senate reconciliation fixes are a start.  The road continues on, and pretty clearly, Americans want you to keep going down that road.

As angry as they are about this, the GOP is right when they say this is not the end of the health care debate.

As BooMan says:
Next up, the Republicans will go to court to challenge the mandate. They'll lose, of course, but they'll score political points like crazy because no one wants to be compelled to buy insurance from a private corporation. The answer, which should be repeated like a mantra, is, "I agree with you, so let's create a publicly-administered alternative. If you don't want to pay for CEO bonuses, cut out the middle man and buy the public option."

The more unpopular the Republicans make the mandate, the more we can re-channel that unpopularity to support for a public alternative. It's a trap that we must set. 
I like that idea very much.

The Loud Noises Party

Teabaggers don't always have a fallback excuse to cover why they are truly angry (Obama Derangement Syndrome) but they sure are good at making LOUD NOISES against whatever they are told is bad.  David Frum, bless his little Republican heartheart, went and asked them why they are so angry.  Steve Benen:
Former Bush speechwriter David Frum enlisted some interns this week to survey Tea Party activists protesting in D.C. earlier this week. The goal was to get a sense of the activists' understanding of taxes -- ostensibly, the "movement's" raison d'etre -- and factual knowledge.

Bruce Bartlett reported today on the survey's results, and found that for an anti-tax group, "they don't know much about taxes."

Indeed, it appears much of the Tea Party crowd is simply clueless about the issues they claim to care the most about, wildly exaggerating federal tax rates, how much a median family pays in taxes, and what's changed since President Obama took office.
In short, no matter how one slices the data, the Tea Party crowd appears to believe that federal taxes are very considerably higher than they actually are, whether referring to total taxes as a share of GDP or in terms of the taxes paid by a typical family.
Tea Partyers also seem to have a very distorted view of the direction of federal taxes. They were asked whether they are higher, lower or the same as when Barack Obama was inaugurated last year. More than two-thirds thought that taxes are higher today, and only 4% thought they were lower; the rest said they are the same.
As noted earlier, federal taxes are very considerably lower by every measure since Obama became president.... No taxpayer anywhere in the country had his or her taxes increased as a consequence of Obama's policies.
There were no questions in the survey about health care policy, but it stands to reason that these same folks are basing their opposition to the Democratic plan based on little more than confusion.

Bruce added that "it's a bad idea for so many participants to operate on the basis of false notions." It is, indeed. We're talking about a reasonably large group of people who seem to have no idea what they're talking about, revel in their own ignorance, and nevertheless seek an active role in the process.
So yes, when teabaggers tell you that taxes are going to go up like they have been, Obama has CUT TAXES FOR THEM.  Obama's payroll tax cut put billions back in American paychecks, and he gets zero credit (ok, 4% give him credit) from these ignorant meatheads.

So no, they don't have any clue what they are talking about on taxes.  They are lying, plain and simple.  Even though they GOT A TAX CUT FROM OBAMA.

Legal Eagles On Obamacare

Checking the news at lunch today and the comments on the blog, I'm putting forth Zach Roth's exploration of SCOTUS and health care reform and the possibility of the law being overturned on constitutional grounds, namely the argument involving the health insurance mandate and the Senate's Commerce Clause (emphasis mine):
Last September, David Rivkin and Lee Casey, former Justice Department lawyers during the Reagan and Bush 41 administrations who played prominent roles in support of the Bush 43 administration's detention policies, noted in a Wall Street Journal op-ed that in a 1995 case, U.S. v. Lopez, the Supreme Court invalidated a law that made it a crime simply to possess a gun near a school, holding that the law did not "regulate any economic activity and did not contain any requirement that the possession of a gun have any connection to past interstate activity or a predictable impact on future commercial activity." Likewise, Rivkin and Casey wrote, a health-care mandate also wouldn't regulate any "activity." "Simply being an American would trigger it."

Randy Barnett, a professor of constitutional law at Georgetown Law School, agrees. "The individual mandate extends the commerce clause's power beyond economic activity, to economic inactivity. That is unprecedented," he wrote in a Washington Post op-ed that appeared this weekend. "Regulating the auto industry or paying "cash for clunkers" is one thing; making everyone buy a Chevy is quite another."

A July 2009 paper (pdf) for the conservative Federalist Society by Peter Urbanowicz and Dennis G. Smith, two former HHS officials, took a similar view. "While most health care insurers and health care providers may engage in interstate commerce and may be regulated accordingly under the Commerce Clause, it is a different matter to find a basis for imposing Commerce Clause related regulation on an individual who chooses not to undertake a commercial transaction," they wrote. 
Now, that's one side of the argument.  The key here is the interpretation that the mandate law chooses to assess a tax against someone who is choosing not to engage in economic activity, and therefore outside the scope of regulation of the Commerce Clause.  That's a fair argument by itself, but Roth continues with the other side (again, emphasis mine):
 But this view is by no means widespread, even on the right. Numerous constitutional scholars say the mandate is well within the scope of what the court has defined as commercial activity -- pointing to the 2005 case, Gonzales v. Raich, in which the Supreme Court found that the federal government could criminalize the growth and possession of medical marijuana, even when it was limited to within a single state, on the grounds that doing so was part of an effort to control the interstate drug trade.

Erwin Chemerinsky, the dean of the UC Irvine School of Law, noted in an op-ed in Politico last October that health-care coverage is far more closely related to commercial activity, and the national economy, than is the private growth of marijuana. "In 2007, health care expenditures amounted to $2.2 trillion, or $7,421 per person, and accounted for 16.2 percent of the gross domestic product," he wrote. And, he argued, the Supreme Court has never said that only people who are themselves engaged in commercial activity can be regulated under the commerce clause. For instance, the court found that the Commerce Clause could be used to require southern restaurants and hotels to serve blacks, even though what was at issue was their refusal to engage in commercial activity.

Jack Balkin, a constitutional law professor at Yale Law School, extends that argument. In a recent blog post, he notes that in the Raich case, Justice Scalia found that Congress can use the Commerce Clause to regulate, as Balkin put it, "even non-economic activities if it believes that this is necessary to make its regulation of interstate commerce effective" (itals TPM's). People who don't buy health insurance, Balkin argues, aren't simply "doing nothing," as Rivkin, Barnett et al. claim. These people pass on their health-care costs by going to the emergency room, or buying over-the-counter cures. "All these activities are economic, and they have a cumulative effect on interstate commerce," writes Balkin.

Several respected conservative legal experts essentially agree that the court would have to radically break with past rulings to strike down the law. John McGinnis, a former Bush 41 administration Justice Department official and a past winner of an award from the Federalist Society, told TPMmuckraker that the court could rule in favor of the AGs only by taking a radical Originalist view of jurisprudence -- one that all but ignores precedent. "I think the only person who shares [that view] is Justice Thomas." said McGinnis, now a constitutional law scholar at Northwestern Law School. "It's a very difficult argument to make under current precedent."

Doug Kmiec, a former Reagan administration Justice Department official, and conservative legal scholar, echoes that view. "The idea that a regulatory requirement (whether to purchase insurance or to purchase a smoke alarm) violates the Constitution by exceeding the scope of the commerce power was rejected in the age when Robert Fulton's steam ships were at the center of case controversy and the proposition has not gained validity with the passage into the 21st century," Kmiec, now the Obama administration's ambassador to Malta, told TPMmuckraker.

And Orin Kerr, a professor at George Washington Law School, who has served as a special counsel to Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) and clerked for Justice Anthony Kennedy, likewise believes the bill is almost certain to pass muster. "I think it's very very unlikely that the mandate would be struck down as unconstitutional," Kerr told TPMmuckraker.
So, is it possible that it will be struck down?  Do the states have a point? They certainly have the right to sue, of course.  I honestly believe with this many state AGs behind it, the Supreme Court will have to take the case and make a ruling.  I believe given the arguments in this article that Obamacare's mandate provision would have no problem.

On the other hand, my opinion matters not in the end, but given the precedent and the arguments, especially Jack Balkin's argument that refusing to buy health insurance passes insurance costs on to others who do have it, that the Senate Commerce Clause does apply here.

After all, the idea of a mandate as cost control precisely because of Balkin's argument was the centerpiece of the Republican Party's ideas on health care cost controls.  Republicans like Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley were for the mandate before they were against it.  He thought it was constitutional then, no problem.

Now it's just being used as an excuse to try to stop health care reform.  Let's not forget the partisan politics behind why all these Republican AGs are suing in the first place.

Jonah Goldberg Loses It

Not that he ever had it, but if he did, it's long gone after today.
A few points.

1. The Left, since the 1960s, has been the aggressor in the culture war. Liberals often object when conservatives point this out, but they brag about it amongst themselves. They are, after all, the "agents of change," "forces of progress," "enemies of the status quo," etc. And when they meet resistance to the wheel of history or efforts to roll it back, they scream "culture war!"
So you freely admit that conservatives have no ideas, never try to change the status quo, are bankrupt of progress and that nothing ever gets done in this country unless a bunch of pissed off liberals get together and change things.  I appreciate that.   Well, that's not entirely true, it's just all your ideas are dedicated to stopping the Left from changing things for the better.  Righty-o.
 2. Culture wars erupt because liberals urge expansion of the size and scope of the government, intruding into virgin territories of civil society where the party of government then imposes its preferred way (sometimes, as in the case of civil rights, this was justified). Culture-war issues sometimes erupt wholly in the private sector, but when they do, the intensity is much lower because tax dollars aren't in play (and remedies involve boycotts, not roll-call votes).
See my response to point #1.  Thanks.
3. The expansion of the size and role of government in this legislation is in and of itself a cultural issue. As we've been discussing around here quite a bit, part of America's exceptional nature is that we do not look to the state for help the way many other countries do.
You know, except for Social Security, Medicare, police, firefighters, schools, state-run universities, state-provided infrastructure like bridges and roads to drive on to work, state-run entities that safeguard the food we eat, the water we drink and the air we breathe, that deliver us electricity and sanitation, oh and the fact that this article appears on the internet, invented by DARPA back decades ago.  Yeah, America never looks to the state because as we all know, the state can't do anything right.  Except for all the places where the state quietly keeps its contract with the American people to protect and preserve.  Where it doesn't, it needs to be improved.  Your response rather is to destroy it and put a profit margin on it instead.
4. But on another level, this legislation is a superconducting super collider of culture-war conflagrations. It will throw off new and unforeseen cultural spectacles for years to come (if it is not repealed). The grinding debate over the Stupak amendment was just a foretaste. The government has surged over the breakwater and is now going to flood the nooks and crannies of American life. Americans will now fight over what tax dollars should cover and not cover. Debates over "subsidizing" this "lifestyle" or that "personal choice" will erupt. And when conservatives complain, liberals will blame them for perpetuating the culture war.
Well yes, that's because you're the ones that choose to see this as the superconducting super collider of culture-war conflagrations" and all.  See, to a conservative, government is something we use to impose our will on the other 6.4 billion people on Earth, but if they try to govern the 300 million here, well, that's tyranny.  And these are the same jokers who have no problem impeding the personal liberty of a woman to choose an abortion if she wants to.  That particular "nook" or "cranny" of a woman's womb, well that has to be "flooded" with government.


Not Fooling Anyone, You Know

Steve at NMMNB has Time's Mark Halperin figured out to a T.  Halperin starts out this week by warning that the Republican have no chance to repeal Obamacare.  But, as Steve points out, Halperin goes on to hand the GOP a number of talking points they can use as they lose the repeal fight and long after.  Halperin blames...the liberal media! (Surprise!)
So if right-wingers actually shout racist and homophobic slurs at Democratic lawmakers, or spit on them, and it's reported -- that's media bias! If people get benefits and their lives are thereby improved and the press reports that -- that's liberal media bias too! I suppose if a teabagger takes a shot at someone and it makes the news, that'll be bias, too.

Right-wingers are going to run with what Halperin says here. They're going to say that "even the liberal Mark Halperin" "admits" that the press isn't going to play fair. They're going to blame any positive poll response to health care reform and the Democrats on sinister media propagandizing, just as Halperin described it. Halperin helps them argue to their base that the jackbooted fascists are being enabled by a propaganda army of a press.
If this looks familiar, it's because it's the same prospect they used in 2007 and 2008 to try to sink Obama.  (Google "In the tank for Obama" sometime.)  That worked out well and of course Obama and the Democrats were destroyed, McCain/Palin won in a landslide and the GOP controls the House and Senate.

Oh wait, I see.  Halperin's using psychic jujitsu!

Zandar's Thought Of The Day

Mildly annoying anonymous troll guy's not going to be so much of a problem here in the future, just so you know.  Hasn't occurred to 'em that harassing folks on company time has gotten the notice of the people in charge.

Have a nice day.

Bibi Blows Raspberries

Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu attended this week's AIPAC conference in DC yesterday, and made it pretty clear that Israel sees itself as the senior partner in its relationship with the US.
In a speech to a pro-Israel lobbying group, Mr. Netanyahu reiterated that Israel had no plans to freeze housing in Jerusalem, the trigger for a recent dispute between Israel and the United States. He rejected the administration’s contention that Israel’s policies were impeding the peace process.

“The Jewish people were building Jerusalem 3,000 years, and the Jewish people are building Jerusalem today,” Mr. Netanyahu said to the group, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. “Jerusalem is not a settlement; It’s our capital.”

Earlier Monday, Mr. Netanyahu met for 75 minutes with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, in the first of a series of meetings expected to reveal whether the United States sticks to its hard line with Israel on settlements. He later met with Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., and he was scheduled to meet President Obama on Tuesday.

The flurry of meetings is designed to calm the waters after nearly two weeks of tension between the United States and Israel, amid a diplomatic row that both countries have portrayed as the gravest in years. But judging by Mr. Netanyahu’s comments, it is far from clear that he plans to satisfy the demands that Mrs. Clinton made of him in a phone call 10 days ago. 
Nor should anyone be surprised by this.  The proponents of "American exceptionalism" in US foreign policy have one glaring blind spot, and that's letting Israel dictate to us what we can and cannot do.  Hillary Clinton continues to try to talk to the Israelis, but it's clear that when it comes to action, Israel will do what it wants, US be damned.

On the other hand, there is some agreement between our two countries:
On one topic — Iran — Mr. Netanyahu and Mrs. Clinton seemed largely in agreement. “Iran’s brazen bid to develop nuclear weapons is first and foremost a threat to my country, Israel,” the prime minister said, “but it is also a grave threat to the region and to the world.” The Israeli people, he said, “always reserve the right of self-defense.”

In making her own tough statements on Iran, Mrs. Clinton acknowledged that the process of building support for sanctions in the United Nations was taking longer than expected. “Our aim is not incremental sanctions, but sanctions that will bite,” she said. 
The trick of course is that Israel believes everything it is doing falls under the "right of Israeli self-defense", particular the parts that the Obama administration isn't fond of.

Picking Up Your Ball And Seceding From The Union

The Insaneo Twins, GOP Reps. Steve King and Michele Bachmann, took to the streets Sunday night to tell the teabaggers what the next step of Operation Crazy Pants was.
KING: I just came down here so I could say to you, God bless you. … You are the awesome American people. [...]
If I could start a country with a bunch of people, they’d be the folks who were standing with us the last few days. Let’s hope we don’t have to do that! Let’s beat that other side to a pulp! Let’s take them out. Let’s chase them down. There’s going to be a reckoning!
Yeah.   Boy, I remember doing my US history research paper senior year of high school on the Second Civil War when Medicare passed in 1965, and the Confederate States Of People Who Hate Gubmint Health Care led a war against President Johnson's Union troops.

Seriously, guys.  This is a sitting member of Congress saying the teabaggers should "start a country" and "beat the other side to a pulp", "chase them down", and "take them out."

Over health care legislation.  How long before one of these nutjobs "takes out" a congressional staffer, or a lawmaker, or a White House staffer?  We've got irresponsible idiots like King, who I remind you is a sitting member of Congress, advocating violence and secession here against the government and the people who in a democracy voted for the Democrats who campaigned on...surprise!...passing health care legislation.

If you're that upset with the government you're a part of, resign, King.  Hit the road.  But don't call for violence against people just because you guys lost fair and square.


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