Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Last Call

Everything you need to know about America's economy in one chart:

Average Income by Family, distributed by income group.

The top 0.01% earns, on yearly average, about 900 times what the bottom 90% earns on average. To put in another way, Wall Street's average employee took home 4 times that in 2010.

In just bonus money.

You, my friend, are a serf. So am I. Egypt and Libya have more equal wealth distribution than we do. Those guys are in the streets fighting for every scrap of their democracy.

Meanwhile, we're too busy watching season 3 of Lost on our iPad Netflix streaming app and congratulating ourselves on how things are so much better here.

Anarchy On Your TV Screen, Part 2

It's generally accepted that Wisconsin is trying to bust state employee unions in order to bust private sector unions and all collective bargaining.

You're misinformed if you think the game stops there.  Townhall blogger Terry Jeffrey shows his cards.

With the entire nation watching, Wisconsinites are now debating whether the state's public school teachers ought to be required to pay 5.8 percent of their wages to support their own retirement plans and 12.6 percent of their own health-insurance premiums, and also whether their union ought to be able to negotiate a pay increase on their behalf that exceeds the rate of inflation without letting voters approve or disapprove that raise in a referendum.

What Wisconsin ought to be debating is whether these public school teachers should keep their jobs at all.
Then every state ought to follow Wisconsin in the same debate.

It is time to drive public schools out of business by driving them into an open marketplace where they must directly compete with schools not run by the government or staffed by members of parasitic public employees' unions. 

 You guys do realize that the endgame here is corporate rule, yes?  I mean, we're 75% of the way there already, but the goal here is to directly put all the powers and duties of government into private sector hands, and to then get rid of those who are dragging down profit margins, yes?

That's not "libertarianism" folks, that's The Grim Darkness Of The Future.  Give it 10 years at this rate.  Maybe 20.

Gone Off Half Koch-ed, Or An Epic Koch And Bull Story

Steve M. figures this prank phone call from Ian Murphy of the Buffalo Beast to Wisconsin GOP Gov. Scott Walker in which Murphy pretends to be billionaire conservative David Koch will be nothing more than a footnote.  That's arguable.  But when you say stuff like this:

Koch: We’ll back you any way we can. What we were thinking about the crowd was, uh, was planting some troublemakers.

Walker: You know, well, the only problem with that —because we thought about that. The problem—the, my only gut reaction to that is right now the lawmakers I’ve talked to have just completely had it with them, the public is not really fond of this…[explains that planting troublemakers may not work.] My only fear would be if there’s a ruckus caused is that maybe the governor has to settle to solve all these problems…[something about '60s liberals.]…Let ‘em protest all they want…Sooner or later the media stops finding it interesting.

I have to say that Walker's in real trouble here.  More on this as it develops.

[UPDATE]  Yeah, I'd say Walker's in a lot of trouble.  Me, early this morning:

Does anyone think that when Walker releases his budget plan next week that those thousands of state employee layoffs won't be part of his plan to close the gap?

Walker, today on his little prank call:

Five minutes into the call, Governor Walker says he is planning to issue between 5,000 and 6,000 "risk notices" to state workers announcing that they are at risk of being laid off. He makes this statement in the context of what he is planning to do to put pressure on Democrats to cave into his demands, not what is necessary due to the budget crunch. "If they want to start sacrificing thousands of public workers to be laid off," he says, "sooner or later there's gonna be pressure on Senators to come back. We're not going to compromise."

Hell, laying off thousands of state workers is Walker's Plan "A".  Purely punitive, too.  This guy's career just plummeted into the Fox River near Appleton.

Welcome To The Pleasure DOMA

A major decision coming down from the President and AG Eric Holder today on the Defense Of Marriage Act means that the President and the Department of Justice have found that Section 3 of DOMA, which defines marriage as only between a man and a woman at the federal level, is unconstitutional and will therefore no longer be defended in court by the Justice Department.  Holder's statement in part (and emphasis mine):

In the two years since this Administration took office, the Department of Justice has defended Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act on several occasions in federal court.   Each of those cases evaluating Section 3 was considered in jurisdictions in which binding circuit court precedents hold that laws singling out people based on sexual orientation, as DOMA does, are constitutional if there is a rational basis for their enactment.   While the President opposes DOMA and believes it should be repealed, the Department has defended it in court because we were able to advance reasonable arguments under that rational basis standard. 

Section 3 of DOMA has now been challenged in the Second Circuit, however, which has no established or binding standard for how laws concerning sexual orientation should be treated.   In these cases, the Administration faces for the first time the question of whether laws regarding sexual orientation are subject to the more permissive standard of review or whether a more rigorous standard, under which laws targeting minority groups with a history of discrimination are viewed with suspicion by the courts, should apply.

After careful consideration, including a review of my recommendation, the President has concluded that given a number of factors, including a documented history of discrimination, classifications based on sexual orientation should be subject to a more heightened standard of scrutiny.   The President has also concluded that Section 3 of DOMA, as applied to legally married same-sex couples, fails to meet that standard and is therefore unconstitutional.   Given that conclusion, the President has instructed the Department not to defend the statute in such cases.   I fully concur with the President’s determination.

Consequently, the Department will not defend the constitutionality of Section 3 of DOMA as applied to same-sex married couples in the two cases filed in the Second Circuit.   We will, however, remain parties to the cases and continue to represent the interests of the United States throughout the litigation.   I have informed Members of Congress of this decision, so Members who wish to defend the statute may pursue that option.   The Department will also work closely with the courts to ensure that Congress has a full and fair opportunity to participate in pending litigation.

This one's big, folks.  It certainly means DOMA itself and the question of state gay marriage bans will go before the Supreme Court and relatively soon.  I'll keep an eye on this one.

[UPDATE]  Usual suspects are pissed off across the board.  Col. Mustard calls it a "massive power grab" (wonder what he thinks about the Patriot Act then), but the best reaction is from National Review's Shannen Coffin.

What puzzles me, however, is White House press secretary’s Jay Carney’s suggestion at today’s presser that President Obama is still “grappling” with the gay-marriage issue. If today’s letter from the attorney general to Congress is any indication, the administration has now fully committed to the idea that it is unconstitutional to deny marriage benefits to homosexuals. According to the letter, it is the administration’s position that discrimination against homosexuals is subject to strict scrutiny under the Equal Protection Clause and that all sorts of proffered rationales not borne out by “modern social science” — such as the procreative function of marriage — are categorically unreasonable or simply moral bigotry.

Anyone who thinks that the "procreative function of marriage" is the best argument against gay marriage and that Eric Holder and the DoJ should pursue that avenue of attack shouldn't be allowed anywhere near, say, couples infertility counseling or an adoption agency.

We Kid You Not ran an amusing and painful article that I had to share.

Here are nine of our favorite proposals that are -- we kid you not -- actually pending in state legislatures today.

Some are downright funny, others are downright awful.  I'm curious which ones will start the discussion.  I've placed a silent bet with Zandar on which one will get the comments popping.


This Week's WTH

Giovanni Di Stefano -- known as "The Devil's Advocate" -- tells TMZ, he wants the Prez to set Manson free.

Di Stefano -- who has also repped the likes of Saddam Hussein -- says Manson was nothing more than a cult leader, not a murderer -- Manson didn't do the killing.  Di Stefano says at worst, Manson is guilty of telling his followers to "do something witchy" -- never specifying murder.

Di Stefano complains, "Manson has been made out in America to be the Satan of the criminal justice system. He does not deserve the title."

Reprinted in its complete and pitiful entirety.

I can't imagine existing in a universe that Charles Manson and everyone involved with that night didn't spend a lifetime in jail.  But this guy is either delusional or nuts himself to think Charles Manson isn't exactly where he needs to be.  There is so much more than the murder of Sharon Tate, including dozens of missing girls that disappeared while in his circle.  I hope Obama had a nice laugh.

Three Games To Two, Your Serve

A federal judge yesterday found the insurance mandate in the PPACA to be fully constitutional, but of course our liberal media didn't say word one about it.  D.C. Judge Gladys Kessler tore apart the logic that a Florida and Virginia judge had used to attack the mandate as unconstitutional, saying the arguments "ignore reality".

"It is pure semantics to argue that an individual who makes a choice to forgo health insurance is not 'acting,' especially given the serious economic and health-related consequences to every individual of that choice," Kessler writes. "Making a choice is an affirmative action, whether one decides to do something or not do something. They are two sides of the same coin. To pretend otherwise is to ignore reality."

That's three to two in the Obama administration's favor now.

The Justice Department welcomed the ruling, which was the "third time a court has reviewed the Affordable Care Act on the merits and upheld it as constitutional," a spokeswoman said in a statement.

"This court found -- as two others have previously -- that the minimum coverage provision of the statute was a reasonable measure for Congress to take in reforming our health care system," DOJ's Tracy Schmaler said. "At the same time, trial courts in additional cases have dismissed numerous challenges to this law on jurisdictional and other grounds. The Department will continue to vigorously defend this law in ongoing litigation."

Once again, this will come down to SCOTUS.  But the ruling is pretty clear on the Commerce Clause:

For all these reasons, the Court finds Plaintiffs’ arguments
against dismissal of their constitutional claim unpersuasive. The
crux of Plaintiffs’ arguments is that § 1501 is an unprecedented
attempt by Congress to regulate individual behavior, and therefore
threatens individuals’ freedom of choice. Appealing as this
emotionally charged argument may sound, the ACA is not as
unprecedented as Plaintiffs claim: as already discussed, Congress’s
broad power to regulate individual behavior under the Commerce
Clause is well established.

However, Judge Kessler did not buy the argument that the penalty imposed by the PPACA mandate was a "tax", actually citing Judge Vinson in Florida on the matter.  I happen to think that both Kessler and Vinson are right there, the penalty was never intended to be a tax but a fine. 

The third point is the argument in this particular case that the PPACA mandate violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and that forcing people to buy insurance places a burden on those who may object on religious grounds.  Judge Kessler had this to say:

Accepting these allegations as true, the conflict alleged
between § 1501’s requirements and Plaintiffs’ Christian faith does
not rise to the level of a substantial burden. First, Plaintiffs
have failed to allege any facts demonstrating that this conflict is
more than a de minimus burden on their Christian faith. Second, it
is unclear how § 1501 puts substantial pressure on Plaintiffs to
modify their behavior and to violate their beliefs, as it permits
them to pay a shared responsibility payment in lieu of actually
obtaining health insurance. See 42 U.S.C. § 5000A(b). In fact,
Plaintiffs specifically allege in the Amended Complaint that they
view this shared responsibility payment as “the lesser of two
evils” and therefore intend to pay it rather than purchase health
insurance. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 19, 33, 46. Finally, as Defendants point
out, Plaintiffs routinely contribute to other forms of insurance,
such as Medicare, Social Security, and unemployment taxes, which
present the same conflict with their belief that God will provide
for their medical and financial needs

In other words this argument has been tried before and has failed, if you buy this third argument, you could use it to object to any government activity under the General Welfare clause:  Defense spending, public safety, infrastructure spending, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, basically that you can conscientiously object to all forms of taxes and programs that directly help people.  Kessler booted that right out the window and rightfully so.

Still, that's yet another Federal judge who has directly ruled that the PPACA mandate is legally sound making three, and dozens more suits tossed as frivolous.  In the end, SCOTUS will have the final say...right around the 2012 elections.

GOP Warriors On Climate Science Try Not To Shoot Own Feet

House Republicans vow to crush the international conspiracy on climate science...if they were smart enough to understand it, that is.  Our old friend Virginia AG Ken Cuccinelli is getting the attention of Capitol Hill for all the wrong reasons.

Even dedicated opponents of climate action concede that hauling climate scientists before Congress and challenging their findings could easily backfire, as many representatives lack a sophisticated grasp of climatology and run the risk of making embarrassing errors.

“It’s a trap for a lot of members,” said Marc Morano, a former Republican staff member on the Senate Environment and Public Works committee and publisher of Climate Depot, a Web site that advances the arguments of climate skeptics. “They’re apt to make mistakes.”

Meanwhile, a planned investigation by Representative Darrell Issa of California into alleged instances of manipulation and fraud by climate scientists — broadly similar to those cited by Mr. Cuccinelli in his legal complaints — has been indefinitely postponed.

Yet as the Republican leadership puts the brakes on a climate science confrontation, Mr. Cuccinelli has forged ahead.

In the process, his critics say, he has not only made mistakes, but also twisted facts to bolster his case against the climatologist, Michael E. Mann, now a professor at Pennsylvania State University.

Sherwood L. Boehlert, a retired Republican congressman from New York and a former chairman of the House Science Committee, is among those who have sharply criticized Mr. Cuccinelli’s tactics.

“I find no logical explanation for spending taxpayer dollars on this politically designed, headline-grabbing pursuit of his,” said Mr. Boehlert, whose panel in 2006 investigated nearly identical charges by climate skeptics that Dr. Mann had falsified results but found no evidence of wrongdoing.

More than 800 professors and scientists in Virginia have petitioned the attorney general to abandon his pursuit of Dr. Mann. As the university fights the investigation, a state judge has ruled substantially in its favor although a final decision has yet to be made. 

So Republicans have a problem.  They want a witch hunt against science and all its pesky consequences that would hurt the bottom lines of energy companies that donate millions to Republicans, but they don't know how to make it not look like a witch hunt against science.   Granted, it's difficult trying to avoid looking like an uninformed moron in front of the cameras when you're actively choosing to be ignorant of the situation, and even Republicans have figured out that they are in over their heads here.

"Because I say so" isn't going to cut it in a congressional hearing and they know it.  Cuccinelli is on his own.

I Do Not Think That Word Means What You Think It Means

Wisconsin's GOP Gov. Scott Walker seems to have terrible trouble defining the term "compromise" in any meaningful, recognizable way.

Walker warned of "dire consequences" if the AWOL Senate Democrats -- who left the state last week to prevent the Senate from getting the necessary quorum to vote on Walker's budget bill -- don't return to Madison immediately.

The people who will suffer if the Democrats stay away, Walker said, will be the very state workers they say they're trying to protect.

"Failure to act on this budget repair bill means at least 1,500 state workers will be laid off before the end of June," he said. "If there's no agreement by July 1, another 5-6,000 state workers as well as 5-6,000 local government employees would also be laid off."

Walker said that if the Democrats don't come home soon, the responsibility for those potentially 10,000 plus layoffs will fall squarely on their shoulders.

Walker again made it clear that he was not going to be the one to back down or yield to compromise.

"We're broke in this state because, time and time again, politicians of both political parties ran away from the tough decisions and punted them down the road for another day," he said. "We can no longer do that."

To recap, Walker gets what he wants -- stripping state employees of most of their collective bargaining rights -- or he's going to lay off thousands of them.  Keep in mind that the state employees' unions have agreed to Walker's pay cut demands already.  Stripping their bargaining rights will not resolve Wisconsin's budget problem, the action is purely punitive in nature.

And America doesn't exactly back Walker on this.

Americans strongly oppose laws taking away the collective bargaining power of public employee unions, according to a new USA TODAY/Gallup Poll. The poll found 61% would oppose a law in their state similar to such a proposal in Wisconsin, compared with 33% who would favor such a law.

Even Republicans are evenly split on this.  Democrats and independents overwhelmingly are against what Walker's doing.   Again, Wisconsin state employee unions have agreed to take an 8% pay cut.  But Walker refuses to listen.  It's his way or the highway.

But this is what Republicans mean by compromise:  You do 100% of what we say, and in turn you agree to enjoy being screwed over by it.  Does anyone think that when Walker releases his budget plan next week that those thousands of state employee layoffs won't be part of his plan to close the gap?

Of course the whole fight over union bargaining rights is to pull crap like this when nobody's watching.

Madison – Today, Governor Scott Walker signed Special Session Assembly Bill 5 which requires a 2/3s vote to pass tax rate increases on the income, sales or franchise taxes.
“I went to work today, met with my cabinet, and signed legislation that will help government operate within its means,” Governor Scott Walker said. “Wisconsinites can’t turn to raising taxes to balance their own family budgets when times get tough. This bill will ensure that we don’t kick the can down the road for a quick budget fix only to slap a long-term tax hike on the backs of Wisconsin taxpayers. I thank Senator Leah Vukmir and Representative Tyler August for their leadership on this issue.”
You know what other state requires a 2/3rds super-majority to raise taxes?  California.  So now that raising revenue is impossible in Wisconsin, guess where every dollar of that $3.6 billion shortfall is going to come from, Wisconsin?

Enjoy your Tea Party governance, folks.


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