Monday, May 16, 2016

Last Call For Eight Is Enough, Con't

The Supreme Court unexpectedly dropped a decision on Obamacare's birth control coverage mandate on Monday. Well, they sort of dropped a decision, which really wasn't a decision.

The Supreme Court on Monday sent a case dealing with religious exemptions in Obamacare contraception coverage back to lower courts in an attempt to get the sides to figure out a compromise. The unsigned unanimous order, though not technically a tie, suggested the court could not reach a more definitive majority without a ninth justice.

“The Court expresses no view on the merits of the cases,” the justices wrote in their opinion in Zubik v. Burwell. 
At issue was what the Obama administration called an “accommodation” for religiously-affiliated nonprofits such as hospitals, universities and charities, who could fill out a form to opt out of paying for the coverage. The plaintiffs in the suit, citing the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, said that plan still improperly involved them in coverage that violated their religious beliefs. 
Just last month, the parties in the case submitted an unusual second round of briefs at the request of the court, which said it needed more information about a possible compromise. In its opinion Monday, the court said that middle ground would have to be worked out by a lower court.
“The parties on remand should be afforded an opportunity to arrive at an approach going forward that accommodates petitioners’ religious exercise while at the same time ensuring that women covered by petitioners’ health plans ‘receive full and equal health coverage, including contraceptive coverage,’” the justices wrote.

So the case is going back down to a lower court with instructions to work it out, which means it was a 4-4 tie and both sides agreed to punt for now.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor, joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, wrote a separate concurrence emphasizing they joined the opinion because it did not decide the case. 
“Today’s opinion does only what it says it does: ‘afford[s] an opportunity’ for the parties and Courts of Appeals to reconsider the parties’ arguments in light of petitioners’ new articulation of their religious objection and the Government’s clarification about what the existing regulations accomplish, how they might be amended, and what such an amendment would sacrifice,” they wrote. 
The two female justices also rejected what the religious groups posited as an easy compromise, the creation of a separate, contraception-only plan. “Requiring that women affirmatively opt into such coverage would ‘impose precisely the kind of barrier to the delivery of preventive services that Congress sought to eliminate,” Sotomayor and Ginsburg wrote. 
The case could end up back at the Supreme Court, if the lower courts are still split in the new proceedings and one or the other parties appeals. For now, with a seat left vacant by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia and Republicans refusing to even hold a hearing on President Obama’s pick to succeed him, the future is uncertain.

I would have to say that my gut is telling me this decision was a notice to the GOP Senate to get on with the replacement of Justice Scalia already, as the decision is very specific in saying that the court had no opinion yet and wanted people to find a compromise already, hint hint.

Besides, once Scalia's seat is filled, you'd better believe that any 4-4 tie cases of this magnitude would end up right back before the court again down the road, so the court is just trying to speed all this along so they can get back to work.

The Other Castro Problem

Indicating both that it's the right thing to do, and that he's serious about remaining a contender for Clinton's veep, HUD Secretary Julian Castro is tackling the issue his most strident critics on the left are blasting him over: fixing how the agency handles foreclosed homes and loans.

Targeted by progressive activists hoping to kill his chances of being Hillary Clinton’s running mate, Juli├ín Castro is set this week to announce changes to a hot-button Housing and Urban Development program to sell bad mortgages on its books. 
The changes, which HUD officials will brief stakeholders and activists on during a conference call on Monday, could be made public as early as Tuesday — depending on when department lawyers give the green light to publishing them in the Federal Register.
Story Continued Below

But they won’t take effect before the next auction of HUD mortgages, scheduled for May 18. 
Castro’s actions could potentially defuse an issue that activists have been using to question his progressive credentials — and he’ll be doing it at the moment the running mate search has begun to get serious at Clinton campaign headquarters. 
Among the changes, according to people with knowledge of what’s coming: The Federal Housing Authority will put out a new plan requiring investors to offer principal reduction for all occupied loans, start a new requirement that all loan modifications be fixed for at least five years and limit any subsequent increase to 1 percent per year, and create a “walk-away prohibition” to block any purchaser of single-family mortgages from abandoning lower-value properties in the hopes of preventing neighborhood blight. 

And why does all that matter?  Because nearly all HUD foreclosed properties were being sold to the banksters and not people who needed homes, and anti-Wall Street activists were slagging Castro for the practice (rightfully, in my view.)

HUD officials say that the timing isn’t a response to the activist pressure or the presidential campaign calendar. 
“It has always been our goal to get the policy right, regardless of arbitrary deadlines, and we expect to announce those changes this week,” said HUD press secretary Cameron French. 
But the changes come after two years of calls by activists — joined last September by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) — for major reforms to the Distressed Asset Stabilization Program. Their calculations — numbers that HUD says are way off — allege that during Castro’s tenure, 98 percent of problematic mortgages the department has sold went to Wall Street firms that they say were responsible for the housing crisis in the first place.

The number of people who believe that the pressure of activists didn't have anything to do with this HUD policy change can be counted on zero hands, and yes, it's something that Castro should have done two years ago, but it looks like this is getting fixed starting this week.  He gets credit for doing what activists wanted him to do here, enlightened political self-interest or not.

But it seems to me that, again, Castro remains on the short list for Clinton's veep selection in July.

We'll add our tag for him now, because I'm sure we'll be hearing more from him in the future.4:00

Dems Burning Up The Charts

Another month, another new record — for rising temperatures.

The latest NASA data reveals that April was the warmest month ever recorded on Earth. The new record marks the 12th consecutive month of record-high global temperatures, as the scientific consensus remains that human activity is contributing to detrimental climate change across the globe.

NASA data uses the average global temperatures between 1951 and 1980 as a control. April 2016 was 1.11 degrees Celsius above that 1951-1980 average, the sixth straight month that the average global temperature has exceeded that average.

According to Slate, Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, concluded that scientists can already predict with near certainty that 2016 will be the hottest year on record — a claim that's hardly astonishing because 15 of the 16 hottest years on record have occurred since 2001, according to AccuWeather.

And so Earth keeps getting hotter every year, and I'd say it was Republicans making sure we do nothing, but there are plenty of Democrats who are climate change deniers as well, including the coal billionaire favored to win as West Virginia's governor.

On Tuesday night, Jim Justice easily won the West Virginia Democratic gubernatorial primary and will face off against Republican state Senate President Bill Cole in the general election.

Justice is the richest man in West Virginia — the state’s only billionaire. He made his money as a coal executive and developer in his family’s businesses, and became a household name in the state after buying the state’s Greenbriar resort and making it profitable.

He also told West Virginians that he will make sure the state “mines more coal … than has ever been mined before.”

He denies the scientific consensus on climate change, telling the Register-Herald editorial board that he welcomes the discussion but just doesn’t know:

Until we have really accurate data to prove (that humans contribute) I don’t think we need to blow our legs off on a concept. I welcome the scientific approach to it and the knowledge. I would not sit here and say, “absolutely now, there’s no such thing” or I would no way on Earth say there is such a thing. I believe there’s an awful lot of scientists that say, “no, no, no, this is just smoke and mirrors.” I welcome the discussion, but I don’t know, I just don’t know.
Justice beat former U.S. district attorney Booth Goodwin and state Senate Minority Leader Jeff Kessler, netting 51 percent of the Democratic vote, boasting a seven-fold monetary advantage largely due to his own funds. Kessler raised the least in campaign donations, and made a name for himself speaking forcefully about the need to take climate change seriously. He supported Sen. Bernie Sanders in the presidential primary, who won the state and suggesting that firm commitment to climate action was not a disqualifying trait for West Virginia voters. Booth, endorsed by former Sen. John Rockefeller (D-WV), made a name for himself prosecuting former Massey Energy mine owner Don Blankenship for willfully conspiring to violate federal mine safety standards at the Upper Big Branch mine, where 29 people died in the worst mining disaster in almost a half-century.

Justice switched parties to be the Democratic party's loudest anti climate change voice, and he has the money to do it. The Republican in the race,  Bill Cole (which is really funny) is just as bad. So yes, your net governor of WV will do nothing about climate change, ever, and frankly neither will anyone in the state.

I know as a Kentucky Democrat that we can't afford to write off any state, but West Virginia makes that very, very difficult not to.


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