Thursday, December 20, 2012

Where I agree with Sen Grassley...

Chuck "Death Panels" Grassley gets something right?  The Mayans may be correct after all.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Guns: The culture will change

I won't pretend to have any great insight into why something like Sandy Hook happens, but I know that our gun culture will change. While hundreds of young people get killed every week in our streets from senseless acts of violence, the event in Connecticut seems to have struck a nerve in our body politic.

The NRA has abrogated all moral standing by remaining silent, not just this week but every week that irresponsible gun ownership leads to murder. Why did Adam Lanza have access to guns? Where are the public service announcements about locking up guns?

In an unbelievable news item from today, an 11 year-old boy brought a gun to school in Utah yesterday telling teachers that it was for his own protection in the wake of Sandy Hook. The boy placed the gun to the head of a 6 year-old schoolmate. Ammunition was his backpack.

The kid got arrested, but some adult belongs to that gun. That adult gun owner needs to go to jail. Period. They are not fit to be mingling in our society and an example needs to be made. Whoever has a registered firearm needs to be responsible about it's proper use and the message needs to be loud and clear. Whether the parents approved of the kid taking the gun or not, some adult is ultimately responsible.

I cannot understand why responsible gun owners aren't screaming about this and every instance of senseless misuse of firearms, whether it's shooting sprees in schools and movie theatres, gas station robberies, or shooting up pictures of the president for fun. Instead all we hear is the fear of the government abridging their rights or the fear of someone coming into their house or business. Fear. How about the fear that the NRA's silence on responsible behavior is putting more kids at risk?

On Saturday morning, the NRA, Gun Owners of America, and every gun manufacturer should have been on TV and radio urging every gun owner to lock up their guns. In fact, with the recent increase in mass shootings and chronic gun violence, one would think that the gun makers would have an ongoing, visible media campaign to increase awareness.  What do we hear? Silence. Granted, the nation was numb from the events of Friday at Sandy Hook, but a Sandy Hook happens every single weekend in Chicago or Miami or Oakland-- every damn week-- so the numbness should have festered into a raging fireball of rage by now.

Instead of encouraging responsible behavior, the gun makers trump up idiotic reasons for us to buy more guns, blaming Obama or Nancy Pelosi. The gun culture will change because the national consciousness has been awakened. It's not the president or the politicians who dictate that consciousness, it's us.

The real threat to gun ownership is not Nancy Pelosi; the real threat is that gross negligence is going to lead to public outcry for stricter gun laws. While it may be fun to fantasize about your "man card" or other nonsense related to your tiny penis, eventually the adults in this country will step in to protect the children... by whatever means necessary, second amendment be damned.

I have no idea what kind of laws will be passed in the wake of Sandy hook, but I know something will be done and people will be angry on both sides: either the new laws will be too much or too little.  I also know that laws alone will not change our gun culture; there is no one law or one tenet of behavior that will suffice. A new consciousness about guns-- one that does not glorify violence, does not allow irresponsibility, does not tie guns to manliness-- is necessary, and it's coming.

We can have our guns, but we will (finally) have to grow up.

Monday, December 10, 2012

We're about to transfer more public wealth to health insurers.

Ahhhh, now I get it.

Digby has unearthed a key point in the circle jerk about raising tax rates and cutting entitlements. Avik Roy, Forbes blogger and one of Romney's health care advisers, floats the notion that all the talk of raising Medicare eligibility to 67 years is really about working towards the eventual privatization of Medicare.

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Roy says:
"I have to respond to this interesting hyperbole about Medicare death sentence. If you raise the retirement age for Medicare, we have the Affordable Care Act as the backstop. Everybody under 400% poverty level is still covered with the affordable care act in place. So what we are really talking about is means testing Medicare by raising the retirement age. People who are upper income, above 400% of the poverty level won't be subsidized if they're younger retirees. It's where entitlement reform should go, to expand it into the retiree population."

Here's the deal. Raising the eligibility age for Medicare doesn't save taxpayers any money since the vast majority of those individuals will qualify for the Affordable Care Act subsidy to purchase health care from the private insurers or get Medicaid. Even though they won't be on Medicare these folks will still have government supported health care, only a more expensive form. Roy knows this.

In other words, instead of paying for care directly through Medicare, the US taxpayers will be transferring revenue to the likes of Aetna and United Health Care to act as middlemen for the administration of health care. This adds another layer of unnecessary bureaucracy. Medicare already has very low administrative costs so why add insurers to the administrative mix?

This is the exact opposite of what we should be doing. The more cost-effective solution is to lower the eligibility age for Medicare to age 55 years, with these younger individuals who choose Medicare paying the risk-adjusted cost plus some margin. This does a couple things:

1. It immediately adds healthy, paying people to Medicare, increasing it's solvency.

2. It provides a comparison of younger Medicare patients with private insurance customers for head to head analysis to see once-and-for-all which payer method is more cost-effective. My bet is on Medicare with its economies of scale and huge market power to drive costs down.

3. It allows soon-to-be retired workers to have health insurance independent of their employer, thus allowing more part-time work, mobility, and also relieving employers from having older members in their insurance risk pool.

If my hypothesis is correct, such an experiment would show that Medicare operates better than private insurers and we could eventually allow even younger workers to participate. Of course, the last thing corporate health insurance executives want to occur is such a comparison, and their mouthpieces in Congress will gladly trade higher marginal income tax rates in order to privatize Medicare.  Somewhere Grover Norquist is groaning.

Much to our dismay it appears that some Grand Bargain will be made to annul the "fiscal cliff" and that bargain will include the beginnings of a privatized Medicare system and the resultant huge transfer of public wealth to private health insurance companies via the Affordable Care Act subsidies. 

Pro-tip: If such a Grand Bargain includes raising the Medicare age, shares of United Healthcare (UNH), Aetna (AET), Wellpoint (WLP) and Cigna (CI) should all do well. 

Friday, December 07, 2012

Howard Dean: "We've got to do something about the deficit in this country"

Finally, a voice of reason in the budget sequester/ tax hike debate. Howard Dean, former governor, former DNC Chair and former presidential candidate, appears to be the only adult in the discussion. We already have a bipartisan budget deal, it's been in place for 18 months, so let it play out.

Here is a defense contractor CEO whining about having to cut her budget. Gov Dean points out that there have been no substantive defense budget cuts in 30 years and the greatest risk to our national security is not some outside threat but rather the federal deficit that is approaching 100% of our GDP.

Hickton, the defense contractor CEO, states that the budget deal has no direction and is unfair to the defense industry. Bullshit. It's an across the board reduction in spending, and it's only $600 billion. The direction is clear: we will be spending less money. It's no secret that these projected cuts have been in place for over a year. What have these companies been doing to prepare? Hoping? Ugh.

CNBC leaves no doubt that they want some other deal than what has been passed.. In fact, I have yet to see or read anything in the mainstream media that likes the budget deal that was enacted in 2011 and is about to take place. Too much austerity, too many tax hikes, blah, blah, blah.  Now we have toi endure the "we will not be safe with defense cuts" hysteria?  Please.

The fact remains that this was a bipartisan deal with the goal of eliminating the need for any debt ceiling debate every 8 or 9 months.

Gov Dean states the obvious: we'll get a recession. So? Clean out all the detritus from the economy, the creative destruction that should have happened 4 years ago.  One advantage is that the US dollar would get stronger, helping savers and workers in necessary industries.  

At the end of this clip, Mandy fatuously parrots the mantra that "we need a deal". No we don't.  We already have a deal. Let Congress go on vacation now.

Saturday, December 01, 2012

Let's go over the cliff...

A couple weeks ago I said that the hardest job in DC was Boehner's, and I stand by it.

Obama is playing 11-dimensional chess and the GOP thinks it's checkers. They don't even know the game.

Disclosure: I don't give a damn how or even if the fiscal cliff (god how I hate that term) is resolved. My taxes are going up regardless, and I'll lose nothing from government cuts, so who cares? Cut defense by 1/3. Fine with me.

My financial adviser at Edward Jones sent me an email about the fiscal cliff (Ugh that term!)) and it shows that in the long run we may be better off if nothing is done. If the GOP wants a balanced budget and austerity, this is the way to do it. Let the Bush tax cuts expire, cut federal spending and.... voila!  

Recession now but it's short-lived and we get better GDP by 2014

The deficit hawks in the GOP should love going over the fiscal cliff

If the Republicans want to hold US workers' tax cuts hostage, there's nothing the president can do about it. At some point after January 1, Boehner and McConnell are going to realize how difficult it will be running for re-election after they've raised income taxes on everyone. The president offered to rescind the tax hikes for 98% of taxpayers, but McConnell in his infinite ignorance "laughed" at it. Psychopathic reaction.

And Boehner has yet to offer any plan. From the Guardian:

Boehner was then asked: Do you think the White House is trying to squeeze you? Boehner said he was always ready to work with the other party. But when asked what the GOP wanted to see cut from entitlements, Boehner was no more forthcoming than usual:
"You can look at our budget for the last two years, there are plenty of specific proposals."
A reporter then pointed out that even under the fabled Paul Ryan budget plan, cuts to Medicare wouldn't take affect for years, and didn't Boehner want something more quickly? Boehner did not answer.

And why on earth would President Obama, or the GOP leadership for that matter, sign onto a Ryan budget plan that was rejected by voters in the recent election? 

Check mate. 

Friday, November 30, 2012

Does the universe have a purpose?

Okay the first minute is the most important. The last minute or so just conjectures about the irrationality of any purpose. Hey, if there is a Supreme Being who are we to know why It waited 14 billion years to make humans?

No, the real issue is that IF there is a purpose then how the hell can any one human know better than any other human what that purpose is? There is no empiric evidence of a purpose. If a purpose exists humans obviously don't  know it.... by definition.

Okay, the Holy Spirit can imbue us with the *feeling* of a purpose. Yes, that can be. We have a word for this: Emotion.  I have no doubt that some humans have a feeling that the universe has a purpose just like some humans might feel that the Cubs are a good baseball team.

It happens, but it's not based on anything observable in reality.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Dollar

Now here's something you'll never see on Fox Business channel, or any business channel for that matter.

GDP and job growth in the 2000's was due exclusively to dollar devaluation.

During the election season all we heard about was jobs, jobs, jobs. Why aren't there any jobs?

The real question rather is why was there any job growth at all from 2001 to 2008? The answer is clearly because the dollar was devalued 41% over the decade.

It's not magic: unless you have some innovation like the internet in the 1990's to increase your GDP you get no economic growth and no growth in jobs. The only way out is to devalue the dollar so the jobs that are created are paid with relatively worthless currency.  The upshot is that not only the new workers, but ALL workers are paid with the devalued dollar.

Only when the world was ending in 2008 was the free fall in dollar value halted. Now we are Japan: with a rising cohort of dependent pensioners and a currency that cannot be devalued any further. Okay, we aren't as bad off as Europe, but relative to the last two decades we have a lot more drag on the economy.

The 1990's saw GDP growth due to the internet boom, so the US dollar was spared.

Modest Proposal:

We need a new growth industry.  One of the few things the US does with any competitive advantage is provide military firepower. I suggest we monetize this by contracting our services to global bidders for a price. Why provide it for free?  There was a time when global security was the loss leader: we made the world safe so that our industries could sell to the world markets, but that advantage is dwindling. Now we are making the world safe so that our competitors can compete with us and out-sell us.

Security is expensive. Why is the US bearing the burden for free? If our UN and NATO partners don't want to pony up then maybe we should accept bids from other potential customers.

Just sayin'.

Where did the debt come from?

My comments:

1. Assuming that McCain had been elected in 2008, the stimulus which accounts for 6% of the current deficit might have been lower than the $800B, but it still would have substantial given the Great Recession, so that  amount would still be in the 4% range conservatively.

2. The needed increased spending on entitlements was completely foreseeable in 2001, and ignored. Reforming entitlements today is merely stealing defined benefits from future retirees because of poor fiscal management over the past decade. Paul Ryan is the worst in this regard, doing nothing for 10 years and then lopping off Medicare.

3. Bush was a Grade A moron, no question, and Dick Cheney's "deficits don't matter" mantra was criminal crony capitalism, taking our Treasury and transferring it to his buddies in the defense and oil industries.  But the Democrats share most of my wrath because they are after all the authors and de facto guardians of our social safety nets. Most Democrats went along with war funding year after year as well as Medicare Part D and many signed onto the Bush tax cuts.  The Democrats need to be more vigilant of the robber barons who inhabit the Republican party; they cannot enable the grifters and then cry foul when the system breaks down.

Monday, November 19, 2012

George Will to GOP: "Quit despising the American People"

Money quote:

"...quit despising the American people, particularly because a lot of what they're despising them for are Republican policies. When Mitt Romney said, "So many Americans aren't paying taxes," yeah, because the Republicans doubled the child tax credit for conservative reasons, yes, because they expanded the Earned Income Tax Credit, as Ronald Reagan did, because they thought it was an effective anti-poverty program."

Saturday, November 17, 2012


Quote of the Day:

"I've never lost a game. I just ran out of time."
-Michael Jordan

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The toughest job in DC: Speaker of the House

I don't envy John Boehner. 

True story: last year we were staying at Disney World's Grand Floridian and my buddy (whose son was the reason for the trip) and I were at the only smoking bar at the resort. I was having my usual Beefeater on the rocks and contemplating a fat maduro-wrapped selection when in comes an entourage of tall men in black suits and the Speaker looking all orange-tan as he lit up his cigarette.

"You guys secret service?" I asked one young gentleman in a black suit.

"Umm, yeah," he grunted.

I add, "Man, the president is a lot darker than he looks on TV."

A couple of them look at me, give the crook eye, and the only African-American one laughs.

I fire up my stogie and lean back to blow some smoke rings.

But Boehner seems like a decent guy in person. He was gracious to the vacationers who came up to shake his hand and get pictures taken. He comes from a working class background and probably has a better understanding of the nation's plight than most people in Washington.

The New York Times has a story about how the Speaker has called on the House to get into line and work with the president on pressing issues such as the fiscal cliff. Elections have consequences and the Democrats won; holding the nation hostage does nobody any good. This is what Boehner has to deal with:

"What we've seen in the past is the speaker goes, negotiates with the president, and just before we vote, he tells us what the deal is and attempts to persuade us to vote for it," said Representative John Fleming, Republican of Louisiana. "We're just not very happy with deals being baked, then we're asked to stay with the team and support the speaker."

Mr Fleming is "not happy." Please get over yourself. Were any of us happy when the previous administration bankrupted the nation with wars and Medicare Part D and unpaid-for tax cuts? Were any of us happy with TARP bailout deals that were made in smoke-filled rooms? Were we happy when the GOP balked at raising the debt ceiling, spooking the capital markets and lowering the US credit rating?

The nation didn't buy the Republican bull shit that Obama caused the recession. We know what caused the recession and it's about time Mr Fleming figures it out too. Trickle down tax voo-doo doesn't create jobs just like birth control doesn't cause abortion and playing chicken with the fiscal issues due in 5 weeks is not going to be tolerated.

Most of the media seem to feel very comfortable telling Mr Obama how he should run his second term. That's crap. I'm going to do something different: I'm going to put this on Boehner. It's his turn to step up and do the right thing.

Mr Boehner is charged with herding these imbeciles into some coherent type of voting block. He knows that if he fucks up he will be held accountable. The president has made the initial gambit by asking the GOP to sign off on maintaining middle class tax cuts a priori, something everyone agrees on, but it seems even that is unacceptable to the wingnut branch of the Republican party. Why? I dunno, maybe because the President said it.  

Boehner will have to do what's right for the country, something he should have done years ago, and alienate the nutjobs in his own party. Fiscal cliff legislation can pass with a few House GOP votes and Boehner will have to split his caucus for the sake of legislating instead of his usual stonewalling. It was fun for a while, but now it's time to stop.

It's a tough job, Mr Speaker, man up and do it. 

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Avalanche on Bullsh*t Mountain

Watching Karl Rove do the "yabbita, yabbita, yabbita" is priceless.

It's not that I dislike conservatism, it's the opposite really: FOX news is setting back conservatism by a generation with this insanity. It's like what Jack Kevorkian did to the notion of euthanasia, stripping it of dignity and the moral high ground by driving around in a Chevy van with IV poles. 

Fox is doing the same thing to conservatism. This election was over months ago and Fox has acted like the family members on Family Feud when Gramps says the favorite meat in America is..."possum".

"GOOD Answer, Granpda!!!!"

"SURVEY SAYS: ...ummm, not possum." 

First of all, Obama has not been super-liberal as president, I mean his health care reform was practically written by the Heritage Foundation. Furthermore, there are conservative counterarguments to everything that has been broached by the left-wing, but nobody is making them. Instead we hear idiocy like "Obama's a Kenyan post-colonial socialist" and "Romney's gonna win in a landslide."

As long as Fox News stays on the air, disseminating its misinformation to a solid 43% of the electorate, we will never be able to get beyond this impasse.  At some point facts do matter.

"Lied to by the conservative entertainment complex"

David Frum is a smart Republican:

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Back in October I remember conversing with someone after the first Romney-Obama debate and stating that the election was essentially over and had been over for several weeks. 

For the Republican party to survive-- and the country would do well to have two viable parties-- they are going to have to come to terms with reality. Hanging onto the white majority males won't work in national elections mainly because white males are no longer the majority in most jurisdictions.

Facts matter. I understand the discomfort we have for many of Obama's policies, such as health care reform (the one I'm most familiar with), but ignoring facts have ruined the Republican party.

Our economy starts to fracture when 50 million have no insurance, so why do Republicans have no plan? Medicare is the most significant source of non-discretionary federal spending, so why is the Republican plan to do nothing for 10 years? 

The great irony is that Gov. Mitt Romney had the chops to school Obama on health care reform if he really wanted to because Romney is one who signed the prototype for the Affordable Care Act. Instead he chose to appease the nutjob wing of his party and throw his signature piece of legislation in the trash.

Further, Romney chose as his running mate someone whose budget proposals are ludicrous. Paul Ryan's solution to Medicare is not even a serious attempt, it was just a cynical ploy to get the over-55 crowd to play along by making that the completely arbitrary cut-off for not getting voucherized. 

Chris Matthews has said that we need the Republican party, and I agree. Where are the Jack Kemps, the Nelson Rockefellers, the Gerry Fords to provide some counter debate? 

I've heard commentators say that this election shows the need for someone like Marco Rubio to energize the Latinos to vote Republican. Much has been made of George P. Bush, the Hispanic nephew of George W. Bush, voicing interest in political office.

I disagree with this gambit and feel that it's another cynical attempt to paper over the party's real deficiencies-- like when McCain thought Sarah Palin would garner the women vote in 2008. Demographic groups are not that superficial; I think that most individuals vote for what they feel is in the country's best interests, and not just because someone's name ends in a vowel.

Republican voters need to bring their party back to sanity or it will go away. There really are conservative arguments to be made, but they are not being made in the "conservative entertainment complex."

(h/t Eric)

Saturday, November 03, 2012

The media is not liberal, they're liars

Maria Bartiromo is interviewing the president of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), one of the world's largest labor unions. Maria is touting a couple of her favorite themes: class warfare and taxes.

1. The look on Maria's face tells it all as Ms Henry answers the question about class warfare. "No, really? Oh, wow", as if to say, "I can't believe someone would could not see class warfare."  Her disgust is obvious. Bartiromo's implication is in reference to the Occupy Wall Street crowd. My take: Yes there is class warfare in this country and the rich are only side waging it. Why else would we see bailouts for bankers and not homeowners? The average Wall Street salary is $362,950 per year while the average nurse makes $73,000

The wealthy have their media outlets carrying water for them, convincing the working class to disarm themselves in the class war. The result is that we see nothing wrong with CEO's making an unprecedented almost 400X the average worker's salary; we see no ill effects with the highest 1% accumulating 30% of the nation's wealth, the most since the gilded age. Maria wants the union president to apologize for negotiating fair wages and working conditions. Please. Nobody in this discussion is begrudging the wealthy and high income earners their fortune, but to beat up a union leader and imply she is waging class warfare is absurd and untrue.

Now we have a leveraged buy-out specialist within a hair's breadth of the presidency. 

2.  Ms Henry notes that "we all pay taxes" and Maria clarified that she meant "income taxes, and not everybody pays income taxes." Under Maria's definition Mitt Romney would be part of the "47% who don't pay taxes" since his taxes were capital gains on the carried interest loophole and not income taxes. 

Every employed worker has 12% of their compensation contributed to payroll taxes and since this money is put directly into the general revenue fund it is treated no differently than income tax. Bartiromo's argument would be valid if payroll taxes were sequestered as a true pension and health care fund, i.e., Al Gore's lockbox that was so damn funny back in 2000. There is no lockbox; our social security and Medicare was spent in Iraq and on TARP. Our pension goes to fund wars and roads and corporate welfare for Exxon just like all other revenue; therefore, Bartiromo is making a false differentiation between payroll tax and income tax. 

Bartiromo knows this and she is using this interview with a union boss to purposely deceive the viewers and spew her venom towards working people. Her disdain is unveiled. This shrill demeanor is not new for CNBC, the home of Rick Santelli's teaparty rants. 

Bill Griffiths sits and watches the trainwreck, wishing like hell he had not come out of retirement.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Show us some magic, Mr. Romney

Mitt Romney promises another vision for the federal government with a smaller role to be played in disasters like Hurricane Sandy, leaving more responsibility for states and the private sector. On an ideological level, I don't have a problem with that: why should taxpayers from Arizona fund hurricane relief in New Jersey?

Excellent! Currently, Mitt Romney is a private citizen, a wealthy businessman, an ex-governor, a high-profile executive with TV cameras following him around every minute at a time when millions are in need of disaster relief.  What an excellent opportunity for him to show us the magic of the private sector stepping into the breech in real time. 

What is Mitt Romney doing?

We see images of Mr. Romney loading trucks with canned goods and water bottles. We see Mr. Romney smiling, shaking hands with Ohioans at a "non-political" (yeah, right) event...just when millions are battling the elements a couple states away, thousands are in need of immediate relief, transportation, power, food, shelter. 

But the Red Cross doesn't want canned goods or water bottles, they are asking specifically for donations of money and blood products to supplement the logistical efforts of the government authorities. 

From the Red Cross website:

Unfortunately, due to logistical constraints the Red Cross does not accept or solicit individual donations or collections of items. Items such as collected food, used clothing and shoes must be sorted, cleaned, repackaged and transported which impedes the valuable resources of money, time, and personnel.
The Red Cross does accept bulk quantities of product and services when these items meet our service delivery needs. These donations typically come from manufacturers, suppliers, and/or distributors that can package the items in bulk, palletize them and transport them directly to Red Cross sites. 
Mitt Romney seems to be doing the exact opposite of what is needed.

I'm not a political operative or a disaster relief professional but my guess is that Mitt Romney's day yesterday could not have been more misspent: either as a presidential candidate, as a resourceful executive or as just a concerned private citizen, his day was wasted. 

He's an executive. What the hell was he doing? Loading water bottles!? Why wasn't he on the phone calling his private sector connections and executive buddies to get some shit done?  You know, executive stuff: get some blood drives organized, some corporate donations pledged, some money moving to where it's needed. 

I would have been impressed if I had seen Romney 10 days ago at a desk calling plywood or sandbag suppliers to get some material "palletized"; or having Walmart and Costco pledge truckloads of food for shelters. That should have been the photo op: proactive administration. I know he didn't do that, because if he had done that I'd have those images scorched into my LCD TV screen by now. 
In his defense, Mitt did make an undisclosed personal donation of money to the Red Cross. As a private citizen, he can continue to do this...and maybe even more easily if he continues to be a private citizen.
Sure, Obama is going to be all presidential, cavorting with the governors, "assessing damage", cheer-leading the FEMA folks...that's the nanny state model that the Romneys of the world so loathe.   "[Mr Obama]  has worked incredibly closely with me since before the storm hit,"  Gov. Christie (R-NJ) said.  

But Big Government™ is so damn useless, so let's see how the other model would work.

There are two competing views of the role of the federal government. In the extreme, the left will argue for an overriding nanny state with cradle to grave benefits and a mitigation of every threat with such things as disaster relief. The right sees a world with little government intervention and they claim that disasters like hurricanes should be managed by states accompanied by largess from the private sector.

Romney's model has merit. He wants to be a technocratic executive who "gets things done" by marshaling the forces of the private sector. This week we are in the vortex of a presidential campaign, an incredible natural disaster, and all the concomitant media coverage that goes along with these events, and Romney, the guy who wants to change the way we think about these things, had an opportunity to demonstrate how this would work. 

I'm not convinced. I don't believe in magic.

 "Red Cross does not accept or solicit individual donations or collections of items." 

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

How responsible is the president for the indefinite detention law?

Each year Congress is required to pass the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which provides the funds for our military and also spells out the authority of the president when it comes to war powers, detentions, interrogations, etc.

I am not a lawyer, but I am trying to make sense of what this all means. Back in grade school I remember learning that the Constitution protects the rights of US citizens (and really everyone) from things like warrant-less searches and detention without trial. The most recent years NDAA's seem to throw this concept out the window.

What follows is my mental machinations about what this means for the upcoming election. Is Obama evil for having signed this law and implementing it's statutes?

Granted, my reasoning will seem like a blatant apology for President Obama, but I'm open to clarification and discussion.

Here is the roll call vote on 2012 NDAA:

Senate 88 Yeas, 12 Nays
House 299 Yeas, 120 Nays

Broadly bipartisan passage in both houses in an era when NOTHING has broad bipartisan support. Why is that?

Now let's say the president vetoed this law, thereby limiting his power to incarcerate suspected war criminals...and the inevitable happens, ie, another attack on US assets occurs.

You know another attack will occur because that's the world in which we live.

What is the first thing that will be said when an attack occurs? Answer: The GOP will scream: "If the president had not ignored his role as protector of the homeland then this would not have happened."

The Congress has basically said, "We are afraid of having any more events occur and therefore we have willingly given up the rights of our constituents, the American people."

Some background

One of the first acts of Obama's presidency was to attempt to try Khalid Sheik Muhammad in federal court in 2009, but this was met with unrelenting opposition to the rule of law.

What is the president to do? 

Khalid Sheik Muhammad, the alleged 9-11 mastermind, was arrested in 2001 and held without trial under the previous administration. Upon taking office, Obama's DOJ under Holder set up a federal trial in New York criminal court which was met with an unrelenting shitstorm of opposition by Republicans and Fox News who shrieked that such a trial would put New Yorkers at risk and the expense for security was too great. Muhammad was then transported to Gitmo and Congress promptly passed 2011 NDAA that specifically prohibited transfer of any prisoners from Gitmo to US soil, thereby preventing any transfer of KSM.

From April 2011 ABCNews:

Attorney General Eric Holder today placed the blame squarely on Congress for creating conditions where the Department of Justice cannot try them in a federal court, saying their decision would gravely impact U.S. national security and counterterrorism efforts.
They "tied our hands in a away that could have serious ramifications," he said today. "In reality, I know this case in a way that members of Congress do not. Do I know better than them? Yes."
Mohammed was to have been tried in New York City, but city officials strongly objected to the move and Congress refused to appropriate funds to house Guantanamo inmates on mainland United States and to provide funds for a trial of extraordinary expense.
Holder said he stands by his decision to try the terror suspects in U.S. federal courts, but was forced to resume the military commission because realistically, "those restrictions are unlikely to be overturned in the near future." He added that the Obama administration still intends to eventually close the detainee center altogether, as the president had announced after becoming president.
Obama, both as candidate and as president, strongly objected to the military tribunals set up by the Bush administration. In 2006, he said their structure was "poorly thought out" and immediately upon taking office, he signed an executive order to close the detainee center at Guantanamo Bay. He later said that the tribunals "failed to establish a legitimate legal framework and undermined our capability to ensure swift and certain justice."

Let's say you are the president. What are you going to do with KSM and others? Let them go?

What are you going to do when the US military, the CIA or the FBI finds a suspected terrorist? Let them go?

Congress has made it clear that trying them on US soil is near impossible, and the KSM trial is ongoing in Gitmo as I type.

NDAA 2012

Okay, so the 2012 NDAA has a twist: a clause that provides for detention, not just of foreign nationals but, of US citizens as well.

I don't have an answer why this is so, but obviously Congress is okay with it since they wrote and passed the law, and I honestly don't think Obama could have vetoed it, so this leaves the courts to decide, and the case is in fact winding its way through the courts now.  Civil libertarians are incensed; namely, Chris Hedges is the challenger of this provision in court. From Truthout :

Government lawyers asked late Friday for an immediate stay of Forrest's ban on the use of the military in domestic policing and on the empowering of the government to strip U.S. citizens of due process. The request for a stay was an attempt by the government to get the judge, pending appeal to a higher court, to grant it the right to continue to use the law. Forrest swiftly rejected the stay, setting in motion a fast-paced appeal to the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and possibly, if her ruling is upheld there, to the Supreme Court of the United States. The Justice Department sent a letter to Forrest and the 2nd Circuit late Friday night informing them that at 9 a.m. Monday the Obama administration would ask the 2nd Circuit for an emergency stay that would lift Forrest's injunction.

In effect, this is on a fast track to the SCOTUS and a decision will be made one way or another. 

If that section of the NDAA is struck down as unconstitutional then the DOJ will be forced to revise its practices. This is how a free and open society solves these issues.

And if there is some negative consequence, ie, a strategic attack on the USA by a suspected terrorist who is released due to the court decision, then the president can say that he was only following the law and couldn't legally hold the suspect(s). 

On the other hand, if the SCOTUS upholds the law then the lefties have absolutely no gripe with the president. The checks and balances have spoken.

My guess is that Obama welcomes this court challenge and has purposely fast-tracked it so that a decision can be made before Romney might become president, thereby putting it down in writing that such detentions are unconstitutional. If Obama had vetoed the 2012 NDAA you could bet that the same provision would find it's way into the 2013 NDAA, so let's have the SCOTUS settle this once and for all.

The most cynical side of me says that the GOP supported the indefinite detention section of the 2012 NDAA for the express purpose of setting off the left-wing against the president thereby depriving him of his voting base. I believe they are just that politically decrepit. 

To wit, Matt Stoller, a former Democratic operative and Washington staffer, has penned a scathing opinion against Obama and is calling for a third party vote in protest.  

Somewhere Karl Rove is smiling.


As an aside, the right-wing press is making a case for Obama's negligence for having not used drones on the crowd outside the Benghazi consulate on 9-11-12.  Imagine if the US had used drones and killed women and kids protesting in the streets (remember that many of the facts were not known when the attack was occurring), what would be the outcry?  

This president cannot win, it's either too much force, or not enough.  I see a president under siege form all sides. Every time an attack occurs, and note that there were more embassy and consulate attacks per year under Bush's watch, Obama is wrong no matter what he has done.  

The left wing is at his throat about civil liberties and drones, and the right is at his throat about being an apologist for terrorists and terror suspects.

It's unrelenting.

Okay, I plead guilty of being an unapologetic shill for the president. I honestly don't see any point at which he could win these arguments. If he had vetoed the 2012 NDAA then he would take the heat for every malefactor that climbs on board a plane with C4 up his ass. If he signs the 2012 NDAA, with its indefinite detention clause, then he is abridging the rights of US citizens.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

"Stab yourself in the Eye with a Pencil!!!"

Rarely is political satire so perfect.

Maybe these religionists should go back to to the Socratic notion, adopted by Aquinas, of ensoulment, thereby allowing the woman an option in the first trimester while also giving conservative politicians religious cover. Odd that the only solution to the Gordian Knot crafted by these troglodytic lawmakers is to go back to the Middle Ages.

(h/t Bob Cesca and Jay)

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Jesus 'n' Mo on Metaphor

(h/t WEIT and JesusandMo)

Benghazi and "acts of terror"

From tonight's debate:

From the President's 9/12 Rose Garden remarks (the morning after the attacks):

No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation, alter that character, or eclipse the light of the values that we stand for.  Today we mourn four more Americans who represent the very best of the United States of America.  We will not waver in our commitment to see that justice is done for this terrible act.  And make no mistake, justice will be done.

Sunday, October 14, 2012


Quote of the Day:

"No, do not carry me."
-Derek Jeter, Yankees Shortstop, being helped 
from the field with a fractured ankle. 

 The best of a generation (Note: he left with his glove on)

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Ryan's Voucher system could work, so do it now

Paul Ryan in 2009:

...and 2010:

Which is fine, make it a voucher system and control federal costs for these programs from the bottom up.  Ugly as it may be it could work. I ask this: if this is such a promising solution then why wait 10 years to do it?   Do it now.

Instead Paul Ryan's solution to the rising costs of Medicare, the biggest driver of federal health care costs and deficit spending, is to do NOTHING for TEN years. Nothing. He will allow the system to grow annually at 8%, which means that Medicare will more than double in cost, and perhaps triple when you account for the growing population, and then in one fell swoop cut expenditures to $8,000 per person by handing out vouchers.

To use a tortured cliche, this is the ultimate scenario of kicking the can down the road...and it's political pandering.

As seemingly unpopular as Obamacare may be, it is the only rational way to reform health care. Nobody else has broached a plan even remotely more feasible since Hillarycare in 1993, which was summarily executed at conception. Does Obama's Affordable care Act contain a lot of regulation? Yes. Will it dramatically cut health care expenditures? No, but the cost curve can be bent downward.  Will it work? I don't know, but I do know that doing nothing for ten years is insane.

Both Ryan and Romney have a fundamental problem with mandating individuals to purchase health insurance. So do I. But I have an equally strong aversion to mandating health care providers to see patients without ability or willingness to pay. So let's allow everyone freedom. Nobody has to buy insurance, nobody has to pay for health care, and nobody is required to provide it either.  Win-win-win.  The problem with this approach, of course, is that the Republicans are too squeamish to repeal EMTALA-- the law that mandates emergency care regardless of payment-- and too squeamish to control Medicare costs.

They have to do the heavy lifting or get out of the weight room.

Here's how it'll work: Frank and Zelda are healthy when they turn 65 and get their $8,000 per year voucher and buy health insurance. Frank has chest pain diagnosed as unstable angina and a mild heart attack when he's 66. His premiums go up and they dig into their savings to make up the difference.

The following year, Zelda is diagnosed with breast cancer, undergoes a mastectomy, radiation therapy and chemotherapy. Their premiums double but they have enough savings to cover it for a while. The years go on and Frank develops vascular dementia and has some cognitive difficulties. Zelda has never managed their finances and has always deferred to Frank for those decisions.

At age 72 Frank decides that they cannot afford health insurance anymore and stops paying the premiums. Their kids are not involved and Frank does not include them in the decision. Six months later Zelda has a recurrence of the breast cancer and the doctor recommends placement of a port-a-cath and six cycles of chemotherapy.

Upon reviewing Zelda's insurance coverage, the oncologist's and surgeon's offices notice that there is no active policy and Frank has stated that they do not have enough savings to pay the several thousands of dollars in initial costs. Both physicians are willing to donate their services, but costs will be staggering for the operating room, the chemotherapy, nursing care, laboratory studies, xrays, and CT scans.

Social service is consulted and paperwork is started to see if Zelda qualifies for Medicaid. She does qualify, but her assets-- their house and IRA account-- must be spent down by a certain percentage to cover some of the medical costs. During this application, Zelda's care is delayed for two weeks and the surgeon will not get paid for another 90 days.

Frank has become distraught that his wife has a terminal illness, their assets are being spent, and he has guilt that his poor decision-making has worsened this calamity. His chest pain recurs. Frank neglects to seek medical attention because of his lack of insurance, the lack of available funds and his shame for his part in the situation.

Two weeks later, Frank has had a massive myocardial infarction and is admitted to the ICU. While Zelda keeps vigil in the ICU she neglects two cycles of her chemotherapy. Three weeks later she is diagnosed with lung metastases. 

If you think this scenario is far-fetched, then you know nothing about delivering health care.

MY COMMENT: Vouchers seem like a good idea, but in practice I cannot fathom how seniors would be able to navigate the health insurance morass with any skill. Evening news shows would be chock full of commercials for Vouchercare with former Congressmen and Paul Ryan's mother touting these private insurance products. 

The final cost to taxpayers will be increased when you factor in all the "free" care and the need for Medicaid to mop up after all the uninsured seniors floating around. And the stress put on families would be immense. No modern industrialized nation treats seniors in this manner, and my hunch is that neither Romney nor Ryan would be in favor of this plan when it came to it's implementation. If it were a panacea, they would want it now.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Monday, October 08, 2012

Preventing Unintended Pregnancies by Providing No-Cost Contraception

Significant reductions in both teen pregnancies and abortion were accomplished by providing comprehensive contraception counseling and the reversible birth control method of choice.

From Obstetrics and Gynecology (the Green Journal):

OBJECTIVE: To promote the use of long-acting reversible contraceptive (LARC) methods (intrauterine devices [IUDs] and implants) and provide contraception at no cost to a large cohort of participants in an effort to reduce unintended pregnancies in our region.

METHOD: We enrolled 9,256 adolescents and women at risk for unintended pregnancy into the Contraceptive CHOICE Project, a prospective cohort study of adolescents and women desiring reversible contraceptive methods. Participants were recruited from the two abortion facilities in the St. Louis region and through provider referral, advertisements, and word of mouth. Contraceptive counseling included all reversible methods but emphasized the superior effectiveness of LARC methods (IUDs and implants). All participants received the reversible contraceptive method of their choice at no cost. We analyzed abortion rates, the percentage of abortions that were repeat abortions, and teenage births.

RESULTS: We observed a significant reduction in the percentage of abortions that were repeat abortions in the St. Louis region compared with Kansas City and nonmetropolitan Missouri (P<.001). Abortion rates in the CHOICE cohort were less than half the regional and national rates (P<.001). The rate of teenage birth within the CHOICE cohort was 6.3 per 1,000, compared with the U.S. rate of 34.3 per 1,000.
CONCLUSION: We noted a clinically and statistically significant reduction in abortion rates, repeat abortions, and teenage birth rates. Unintended pregnancies may be reduced by providing no-cost contraception and promoting the most effective contraceptive methods.

Western societies that have the lowest rates of unintended teen pregnancies all have comprehensive health care and contraceptive counseling that begins at an early age. The ridiculously obvious implication for the United States is that all the moralizing and religious bullshit in the world doesn't lower abortion rates one bit, but education and birth control do.
As an example, Roman Catholics are destined to go to hell yet they abort fetuses and use birth control at the exact same rate as the general US population. Abortion cannot be mandated away neither by law nor even eternal damnation. 
Obamacare  holds the greatest promise for our nation attaining more reasonable rates of unintended pregnancies that cripple young people financially and medically.   
Note that this study used comprehensive counseling and did not just hand out birth control pills.