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Chernynkaya On March - 29 - 2012

 

 

You can access all the past editions of The Daily Planet on the green Category bar on the top of each page under the heading PlanetPOV.

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BUDGET

WIC’s Fresh Produce Program Cut 30 Percent

In the appropriations bill for 2012, funding for the Women, Infants and Children Farmers Market Nutrition Program(WIC FMNP) was cut by approximately 30 percent. WIC’s FMNP helps provide underserved families across the country with fresh produce, and is not only a critical subsidy for families that might not otherwise have sufficient access to high-quality, nutritious food, but also for the small and mid-scale farmers and farmers markets that operate in low-income communities and rely on WIC’s FMNP dollars as a major source of revenue. By some estimates the 30 percent cut will decrease benefits for 300,000 families.

Congress is currently beginning deliberations on the 2013 budget; Just Food and Wholesome Wave have organized a campaign to demand that funding for WIC’s FMNP be restored in next year’s budget to its 2011 level of $20 million. The Senate Agriculture Appropriations subcommittee is accepting comments on the 2013 budget until March 30th; to join the campaign you can send a copy of this letter(or write your own) to the Senate subcommittee [email protected], or contact your Senators directly.

Federal money may be hard to come by these days, but we can’t afford (nor should we tolerate) reducing vital support to the families who need it the most.

 

 

 

CAMPAIGN 2012

Romney Justifies Denying Health Care To People With Pre-Existing Conditions: ‘We Can’t Play The Game Like That’

As Mitt Romney tries to distance himself from Obamacare, he ran into some trouble last night when he got stumped by comedian Jay Leno. Leno asked Romney what he would do to help people with preexisting medical conditions, who are often denied coverage today by insurance companies worried about increased costs.

Romney’s answer was essentially nothing. Someone who has forgone insurance doesn’t deserve to get medical coverage, Romney suggested, because, “we can’t play the game like that.” Asked what he would do to help people with pre-existing conditions, Romney replied:

ROMNEY: People with pre-existing conditions, as long as they have been insured before, they are going to be able to continue to have insurance.

LENO: Suppose they haven’t been insured before?

ROMNEY: Well, if they are 45 years old and they show up and say I want insurance because I have heart disease, it’s like, ‘Hey guys. We can’t play the game like that. You’ve got to get insurance when you are well and then if you get ill, you are going to be covered. […]

We’ll look at a circumstance where someone is ill and hasn’t been insured so far, but people who have the chance to be insured –- if you are working in the auto business for instance, the companies carry insurance, they insure their employees, you look at the circumstances that exist –- but people who have done their best to get insured are going to be able to be covered. But you don’t want everyone saying, ‘I am going to sit back until I get sick and then go buy insurance.’ That doesn’t make sense. But you get defined rules and get people in who are playing by the rules.

[…]

Barring insurance companies from denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions is one of the Affordable Care Act’s most popular and important provisions. The problem, for Romney, is that this can only function when coupled with an individual mandate (as he well knows), the constitutionality of which the Supreme Court considered yesterday.

Without the mandate, healthy people could forego buying insurance until they became sick, thus driving up costs for everyone and potentially collapsing the system as there may not be enough people paying into the system to cover the costs of all the sick people. Moreover, there are people who, from a young age or even birth, have pre-existing conditions due to congenital diseases.

Under Romney’s current plan, since they have no existing history of coverage, it’s conceivable people born with pre-existing conditions would be completely unable to ever get insurance. Insurance companies have already said that without the mandate, they’d go back to denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions.

Romney himself seems to understand this, telling Leno, “you have to find rules that get people in” to the insurance market so they don’t freeride. A former governor of Massachusetts named Romney came up with just a such a rule — it’s called the individual mandate. But now that Romney is running for president for Pete’s sake, he hates mandates, and so he has literally nothing to offer people with pre-existing conditions expect for a scolding about how they should have purchased insurance earlier.

 

 

Obama Campaign: Romney ‘Out of Touch’ on Pre-Existing Conditions

Democrats and the Obama campaign are pounding Mitt Romney for what they call a wildly out-of-touch comment on pre-existing conditions during his appearance on the “Tonight Show.”

Romney told Jay Leno on Tuesday that uninsured Americans who are sick should not be able to obtain coverage.

“If they are 45 years old and they show up and say, ‘I want insurance because I have heart disease,’ it’s like, ‘Hey guys. We can’t play the game like that,’” Romney said. “You’ve got to get insurance when you are well and then if you get ill, you are going to be covered.”

Romney opposes a federal health insurance mandate, which would require people who are “well” to obtain coverage, thereby preventing health care costs from being borne by taxpayers and the medical system when the uninsured get sick. He supported a mandate as governor of Massachusetts.

He has also called for a full repeal of the Affordable Care Act, which provides financial subsidies aimed at expanding coverage to millions more Americans who are currently uninsured.

“Only in Mitt Romney’s world of tax cuts for billionaires and elevators for his cars would denying health care coverage to Americans with pre-existing conditions make sense,” said Obama campaign spokeswoman Lis Smith.

“But to most Americans, ensuring insurance companies don’t discriminate against people with pre-existing conditions means the difference between solvency and bankruptcy and life and death,” she said. “With every day of this campaign, Mitt Romney shows why Americans can’t afford his out-of-touch and extreme policies.”

Romney told Leno he does support carry-over coverage for people with pre-existing conditions who switch jobs, so long as they have always been insured.

“People who have been continuously insured, let’s say someone’s had a job for a while and been insured, then they get real sick and they happen to lose a job, or change jobs, they find, ‘Gosh, I got a pre-existing condition I can’t get insured,’ I’d say no, no, no. As long as you have been continuously insured, you ought to be able to get insurance going forward,” Romney said.”

“People with pre-existing conditions, as long as they have been insured before, they are going to be able to continue to have insurance,” he said.

 

 

Supreme Court Won’t Save GOP on Health Care

Though Republicans are hoping the U.S. Supreme Court declares President Obama’s health care law unconstitutional, David Frum points out the GOP has no alternative and says they will be punished for it by voters.

“Republicans will need a Plan B. Unfortunately, they wasted the past three years that might have developed one. If the Supreme Court doesn’t rescue them from themselves, they’ll be heading into this election season arguing, in effect, Our plan is to take away the government-mandated insurance of millions of people under age 65, and replace it with nothing. And we’re doing this so as to better protect the government-mandated insurance of people over 65 — until we begin to phase out that insurance, too, for everybody now under 55.”

 

 

Romney calls in to Wisconsin voters from Texas, embraces Walker and Ryan[…] “One of most humorous I think relates to my father. You may remember my father, George Romney, was president of an automobile company called American Motors …  They had a factory in Michigan, and they had a factory in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and another one in Milwaukee, Wisconsin,” said Romney. “And as the president of the company he decided to close the factory in Michigan and move all the production to Wisconsin. Now later he decided to run for governor of Michigan and so you can imagine that having closed the factory and moved all the production to Wisconsin was a very sensitive issue to him, for his campaign.”

MORE>>>

 

 

 

McClatchy: How Mitt Romney wielded power as Massachusetts’ governor

[…] “He called me in for a meeting, I figured there’d be engineers and contractors, but the governor did the whole show,” said state Sen. Steven Baddour, the Democratic chair of the transportation committee. “He walked us through what had transpired and why. What had happened to the epoxy that was supposed to be holding up the ceiling. It was impressive.”

The response was vintage Chief Executive Officer Romney. Focused and direct, an approach he honed at the private equity firm Bain Capital and applied to the governorship — with mixed results.

Romney’s campaign touts what it says was his success at turning the state’s economy around — patching a massive budget shortfall while keeping a campaign promise to not raise taxes. And there’s his signature achievement: working with Democratic lawmakers to pass the state’s landmark health care law, which he signed in 2006 with the man he’d tried to unseat in 1994, Sen. Edward Kennedy, at his side.

Lawmakers and political observers, though, paint a portrait of a chief executive who was uncomfortable with Massachusetts’ clubby politics and never seemed invested in the state.

“Ultimately he’s a disappointment because of the great expectations,” says Thomas Whalen, a political historian at Boston University. “The general attitude was, this was a stepping stone for him for something bigger.”

Republican lawmakers credit Romney’s focus on the bottom line for averting disaster when he took office.

“We were in crisis, the budget was in freefall,” said Dan Winslow, a Republican state representative who served as Romney’s chief counsel for his first two years. “We didn’t have political power, we were vastly outnumbered, but Mitt pledged no new taxes and we were able to turn it around.”

Policy experts in Massachusetts agree that Romney didn’t increase income taxes, but he did increase fees and fines. Business groups also gripe that he raised corporate taxes (the administration says it closed loopholes). They agree he balanced the budget — but note it’s a requirement of state law.

The health care law — which came together late in Romney’s term — was Romney at his wonky best. He got personally involved in hammering out the complex details of how to provide coverage for the state’s uninsured.

But it came together after Romney already had declared he wouldn’t seek a second term and as his aspirations for higher office grew more evident. The Boston Globe found he was out of state 212 days his last year in office — including a trip to Ames, Iowa, the site of that state’s Republican presidential straw poll — just three weeks after the tunnel accident. Such detours left many in the state frustrated — and the feeling persists.

MORE>>>

 

 

Adelson Isn’t Writing More Checks for Gingrich

 

 

 

CONGRESS

Eric Cantor’s ‘Small Business’ Bill Would Cut Taxes For Oprah’s Production Company And Pro Sports Teams

The House Ways and Means Committee today marked up a bill sponsored by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) that purports to give small businesses a 20 percent tax cut in order to spur hiring. We’ve already noted that the bill’s overly expansive definition of small business means super profitable hedge funds and law firms that don’t need additional employees would still receive a huge tax break.

And the bill’s problems certainly don’t end there. As Citizens for Tax Justice noted today, Cantor’s bill will also give hugely profitable operations like Oprah Winfrey’s production company and professional sports teams a big tax break:

While the legislation caps the amount of the deduction (at half of non-employee payroll), there is no limitation on the type or amount of income that business can have. So highly profitable operations like Oprah Winfrey’s production company or the Trump Tower Sales & Leasing office would both qualify for the deduction simply because they have fewer than 500 employees on payroll.

Who else would qualify? Professional sports teams (including teams owned by Mitt Romney’s friends) with their multi-million-dollar salaries to non-owner players. So would private equity firms, hedge funds, and other “small businesses” with income in the millions, or even billions, of dollars, along with most of the top law and lobbying firms inside the Beltway and elsewhere.

Adding insult to injury, many truly small businesses won’t qualify for the tax break because the cut is only available to businesses whose employees are non-owners. So a family business in which all the family members share ownership will get nothing at all, while Oprah’s production company walks away with a tax cut

This bill, like so many put forth by the GOP, fundamentally misunderstands the problems facing actual small businesses, which is that there’s no demand in the economy for their goods or services. Businesses simply have no reason to expand without the reasonable expectation of more customers, and giving an already profitable firm a big tax break won’t entice them to act any differently. As the chief economist for the conservative National Federation of Independent Business explained, “if you give a small business guy $20,000 he’ll say, ‘I could buy a new delivery truck but I have nobody to deliver to.’”

Instead, the GOP is hoping once again that its tax cut snake oil will have some effect. But as a new study released yesterday shows, “there’s no there there” when it comes to tax cuts promoting economic growth.

 

 

 

Sen. Rand Paul blocks Iran sanctions bill

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) on Tuesday blocked legislation that would impose a new sanctions on Iran.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) had hoped to quickly pass the bill by unanimous consent. But Paul objected and introduced an amendment stating that any use of military force against Iran must be authorized by Congress.

“Our Founding Fathers were quite concerned about giving the power declare war to the Executive,” Paul said on the Senate floor. “They were quite concerned that the Executive could become like a king.”

“Before sending our young men and women into combat, we should have a mature and thoughtful debate over the ramifications of and over the authorization of war and over the motives of the war,” he added.

The bill would penalize U.S. parent firms for certain Iran-related activities of their foreign subsidiaries and mandate sanctions for anyone that provides Iran with equipment that aids censorship or the suppression of human rights.

It would also formally state that U.S. policy is intended to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon and sanction uranium mining joint ventures with Iran’s government outside of Iran.

The bill has already been approved by the Republican-led U.S. House.

MORE>>>

 

 

ENERGY

 

The Lies of So Cal Edison

San Onofre is Shut; Let’s Keep It That Way

[…]Vice President Cheney’s old heart was no good (what a surprise!):  He had quadruple bypass surgery 24 years ago, then two angioplasties, and a heart monitoring device put in (later removed).  There wasn’t much left to do but replace the thing!  He reportedly was on the “waiting list” for a suitable donor organ for the past 20 months.

San Onofre Nuclear (Waste) Generating Station in Southern California is falling apart, and so they keep putting new parts in.  Last time, it was new turbine blades (for “greater efficiency” they said) and a new reactor pressure vessel head (because the old one was rotting, decaying, corroding, embrittling, rusting — you get the idea).

The time before that, a little over a year ago, it was four new steam generators, two per reactor.  The time before that it was something else, and something else the time before that.  Billions of dollars worth of parts — but billions more dollars worth of parts are NOT being replaced UNLESS they fail! And the new parts aren’t working, anyway.

The ratepayers are paying for everything, of course.  It’s always the ratepayer who pays, so the utility’s investors can make money.  The California Public Utilities Commission ensures that electricity rates will be sufficient so that the utility will make money.  How much?  Enough to keep the utility happy.

But Southern California Edison is not so happy right now, because their #1 cash cow isn’t giving any milk.  SanO has been completely shut down for nearly two months and isn’t likely to reopen any time soon.  So the utility is losing about a million dollars a day per reactor.  They could get most of the money some other way, because people NEED electricity and they can supply it, or at least help us exchange it with each other.  But nuclear reactors, once operating, are relatively cheap to maintain — as long as the ratepayer covers most extra costs.  And as long as someone (John Q. Public) takes the waste away eventually, or at least promises to (the federal government promised to, but hasn’t done so).  And as long as nothing goes wrong.  Then they can be very, very expensive, as they learned in Japan and the Ukraine, and as we hope NOT to learn firsthand here.

Your main pump — your heart — can fail in many ways.   The muscle of the pump can fail to get the proper bioelectrical signal that tells it to beat.  If this potential problem is noticed in time, a pacemaker can be implanted so that an artificially-produced electrical signal can be applied to the heart.

At the Brown’s Ferry reactor in Tennessee in 1975, a careless worker using candles to test for air leaks in an operating reactor started a fire that nearly caused a meltdown.  The electrical signals to the pumps (and everything else) were lost.  The practice of using candles to check for leaks in operating reactors has since been banned (gee… one would have thought…) but additional fire codes, created after the incident, have not been implemented at many reactors around the country — including San Onofre!

Dick Cheney lied about the agenda and the participants of his secret his pro-nuclear energy policy (and many other things).  Likewise, San Onofre’s owner/operators lie about just about everything, too.  Today (March 27th, 2012) a new report indicates that Southern California Edison misled the Nuclear Regulatory Commission — and everyone else — about the new steam generators.  SCE said they were designed as exact replacements for the old steam generators.  But it appears that in reality, their fluid flows were redesigned to increase output!  But apparently instead, the new design increased their own wear and tear!

Your heart beats about once per second for your entire life — more if you’re stressed or exercising.  First it contracts the upper two chambers, called the left and right atria.  Then while they’re still contracted, the lower two chambers, called the ventricles, contract.  Then it rests for a while, and refills will blood.

In your heart, there are two valves between the atria and the ventricles, and two more at the egresses from the ventricles.  These four valves do a nearly perfect job of preventing backflow.  In a sense the heart is two pumps. one side pumps blood to your lungs, the other side pumps blood that comes back from the lungs to everywhere else.  The two side pump in unison.  The pressurized flow of blood puts a strain on the valves, the heart, and the blood vessels of the system.  As they get old older, the blood vessels tend to harden and weaken, and their inner diameters get smaller due to build-up of “plaque” over time, which causes the heart to have to pump harder to get enough blood to wherever it’s needed (stomach when you’re digesting, brain when you’re thinking, muscles when you’re exercising, etc.).  Higher blood pressure is a strong indicator of an upcoming heart attack, and does extra damage to the blood vessels.  You want to keep your pipes pliable!  Keep your cholesterol low, because it is a good indicator of how quickly plaque is building up in your system.

The new steam generators at San Onofre are — like the rest of the plant — falling apart.  They are the direct cause of the reactors being completely shut down for the longest period in the plant’s history, with no end in sight.

Steam generators transfer the heat of the nuclear reactor from the primary coolant loop to the secondary loop.  The secondary loop turns to steam, but the primary loop is kept under enormous pressure so that it does NOT turn to steam — 2200 PSI (atmospheric pressure is under about 15 PSI).

San Onofre’s steam generator tubes have become prematurely weakened and have started to fail.  One tube ruptured during operation, causing that reactor to shutdown, and seven more tubes failed during subsequent pressure testing.  Premature wear was found on hundreds of additional tubes in the other reactor.

If only one tube ruptures, as happened last January, it can send fragments of metal through the system, which could block valves or fluid flow around the reactor core, causing  a cascade of further problems.  One rupture could even cause neighboring tubes to rupture in a cascade of tube failures.  This could lead to a catastrophic meltdown of the reactor!

If any of the four valves in your heart starts to fail, they can usually be replaced with “mechanical” heart valves (usually ball valves) or “biological” (tri-flapper valves) almost exactly like the originals, taken from pig hearts.  In any case, they are known as “artificial” heart valves.

Artificial heart valves sometimes fail due to a phenomena known as “cavitation” (see below).  The valve that takes the most flow and the highest pressure — the mitral valve (between the left atrium and the left ventricle) —  is also the one that is most prone to failure due to cavitation problems.

Cavitation problems could certainly be the cause of San Onofre’s problems right now — or it could be “plaque” (scale) buildup on the steam generator tube’s walls.  Perhaps the problems were caused by radiation from the “scale” buildup or from other radioactive materials in the primary coolant loop.  Or it could be manufacturing defects, or even damage during shipping which was overlooked during inspection when the steam generators arrived at the plant (we were told they were thoroughly inspected).  Perhaps they were damaged during installation, or any number of other things.  Bad filtration of the primary or secondary coolant could leave all sorts of crud swirling around in the system that shouldn’t be there.  Perhaps SCE was trying to increase the operating pressure and/or temperature, so they could spin the turbine faster and make more money?  That’s what some people are suggesting, but since the investigation is closed to the public, we can only guess.

The utility is already “warning” us that summer blackouts are possible a few months from now.  But instead of doing something realistic about it, they want us pay for them to replace the steam generators AGAIN (and thousands of other worn-out parts) with any replacements they can find — even if they work at a reduced capacity — and then replace them AGAIN after they’ve redesigned them and — this time — gotten the proper federal approvals — perhaps by simply going back to the original design (if they can find the blueprints)!

Hey, fellow ratepayers: Got deep pockets?  We’re going to need them!  All this work will almost surely be done entirely at the ratepayer’s expense.  And Southern California Edison will say they need to do it in order to keep our lights on.  But it’s really to make money for themselves at the risk of Fukushima USA here.

The fact is, Southern California Edison has plenty of time to get ready for summer’s increased energy load, AND for no longer having San Onofre ever again.

One small thing they should do immediately is begin an emergency program to install hundreds of thousands of devices to prevent people from using washing machines, dish washers, dryers and air conditioners during a power shortage.  SCE has already installed thousands of these devices over the years, but they could redouble or triple that effort.  It would make a significant difference during peak demand periods!

Another thing SCE could do is get the extra transmission lines installed that they claim they’ll need.  But hey!  That sounds fishy because there’s supposed to be more than enough power lines coming IN to Southern California so that San Onofre won’t melt down from an extended “station blackout” even during peak summer energy use periods!  (It was a prolonged station blackout that made the meltdowns in Fukushima inevitable.)

Southern California Edison could be building offshore wind turbines instead of hiring more gasbags to tell the public that we need San Onofre.  We don’t! Nuclear power is an utterly failed technology.  It was originally pushed on an unsuspecting public which was told that the “fission products” from splitting the atom could and would be properly contained forever — a pipe dream at the time it was claimed, which has been proven utterly false.

It was pushed on an unsuspecting public with claims that nuclear power would be “Too Cheap To Meter,” and that these were “Atoms for Peace.”  And we were told about a theory called “Hormesis” — the idea (still believed by those in the nuclear industry but denied throughout the rest of the scientific community) that a little bit more radiation, randomly administered any old way, is good for you, no matter how old you are, no matter how much radiation you’ve already absorbed in your life, and no matter how much you will absorb in the future.

In reality there is no safe dose, as admitted by numerous government agencies!  And yet the nuclear “health physics professionals” and everyone else in the nuclear industry will STILL tell you a little radiation is GOOD for you, so why worry about a big accident as long as it’s diluted???  It’s poppycock.

Thanks to Fukushima and Chernobyl, and so many times before, dust storms of plutonium, uranium, and other dangerous radioactive elements have been scattered by the winds, the sea, and the blowing dust, to people all around the globe (people who never benefited from ANY reactor’s electricity).  In a closed system like earth, people everywhere will inevitably suffer and die for generations to come.

We don’t want SanO to be the cause of another nuclear tragedy, and we don’t need it to happen:  Keep San Onofre shut down.  Don’t restart it.  Don’t restart ANY reactor — shut them ALL down!

Fukushima was a wake-up call to those living within 50 miles — or a thousand miles — of any of the ~450 operating nuclear power plants around the world.  The nuclear industry wants to keep making money, to keep going as if Fukushima never happened.  Their apologists, the health physicists, continue to insist that indeed, nothing DID happen in Fukushima — or Chernobyl, for that matter.  Thousands have already died from Chernobyl, and thousands will die from Fukushima, but their deaths are scattered in time and all over the planet, and so the “health physicists” ignore those deaths, denying any connection to any nuclear accident.  But realistic data by highly qualified scientists, in study after study, points to an enormous problem: Nuclear power kills.  SanO is shut.  Let’s keep it that way.

But unfortunately, San Onofre’s operators, Southern California Edison, would LOVE to get a completely new reactor instead!  And our governor might even help them do it!

Completely new reactors are forbidden by state law here in California until there is a solution to the problem of nuclear waste (which probably means never).  Governor Jerry Brown, once on the protest lines against Diablo Canyon, now is so scared of global warming (and so beholden to the energy companies who financially supported his re-election) that he says he would LIKE to see new nukes in California — as long as someone else will pay for them, of course.  Meanwhile, the ones we have are (naturally…) falling apart.

Billions of dollars have been wasted trying to keep them running against all rhyme or reason.  Now the ratepayers are being asked to spend billions more.  No way!

Nukes?  No thanks!

 

 

 

ENVIRONMENT

 

Good news: Government policy contributes to huge drop in Amazon deforestation in Brazil

 

Roughly half of the 70 percent decline in deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon between 2005 and 2009 can be attributed to policies enacted by the Brazilian government, asserts an analysis published by the Climate Policy Initiative (CPI), a group funded by George Soros. The measures helped avoid 62,000 square kilometers of deforestation and 620 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions that would have otherwise occurred.

The study used regression analysis to isolate the effects of agricultural prices and other macroeconomic factors from policies enacted to slow deforestation, including improved monitoring and enforcement, expanded protected areas, and financial incentives for compliance with environmental laws. These policies were put into motion following a sharp spike in deforestation in 2003 and 2004. In 2008, the federal government strengthened environmental protection by establishing blacklists for municipalities with high deforestation rates. Blacklisted municipalities lost access to low interest credit and faced heightened monitoring. The only path towards getting off the blacklist was establishing a land registry to demonstrate compliance with forest laws and reducing deforestation.

CPI aims to next determine what specific policies were most effective in reducing deforestation, according to co-author Juliano Assunção, director of CPI’s Rio de Janeiro branch and professor at the Department of Economics at the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro (PUC-Rio).

The study could have implications for efforts to reduce deforestation elsewhere. Other tropical countries already look toward Brazil as a model for cutting forest loss without sacrificing economic growth. For example, Indonesia recently adopted a national growth plan that includes reductions in deforestation and forest degradation.

But the effectiveness of government policy in reducing deforestation in Brazil has recently sparked a backlash among some agricultural producers in the country, which are now trying to weaken some environmental laws, including the Forest Code, which restricts the amount of forest a landowner is allowed the clear. Last year ruralistas — a coalition of agribusiness interests — attempted to push through a substantially weakened version of the code, although the Senate version of the bill retained some of the original safeguards against forest clearing. Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff is expected to vote on the measure in coming weeks.

 

HEALTH

 

Cancer Death Rates Drop Again; Doctors Hopeful

Cancer death rates for men, women and children steadily decreased from 2004 to 2008, according to a new report from four major national cancer tracking groups. The declines in death and new cases of cancer reflect progress against the disease in terms of prevention, diagnosis and treatment, but experts say rising obesity may present a new challenge in the fight against cancer.

From 1999 to 2008, cancer death rates declined by an average of 1.7 percent per year for men, 1.3 percent per year for women and 1.5 percent annually for children, according to the report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Cancer Society, the National Cancer Institute and the North American Association of Central Cancer Registries. The report was published online today in the journal Cancer.

MORE>>>

 

 

HEALTH CARE

Chart of the Day: The Affordable Care Act and Women

Since the Supreme Court is hearing oral arguments this week on the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. Obamacare), it’s worth pointing out what the law would actually do. Here’s one example, from the Washington State-based progressive group Fuse Washington, on the difference between health insurance prices for women and men pre- and post-ACA:

 

 

Yglesias: How Hard Is It To Explain ObamaCare?

A lot of people, including former White House spokesman Reid Cherlin, seem to think it’s extremely difficult to explain and defend the core elements of the Affordable Care Act to people:

Whatever its downsides, the Affordable Care Act delivers some pretty serious benefits: tens of millions more Americans covered, no more getting dropped because of pre-existing conditions, closing the Medicare donut hole, slowing the explosive growth of health care costs, and on and on. It’s just that it’s so goddamn hard to explain the thing—whether you’re the guy answering questions from reporters or the guy answering questions from the nine justices who will decide the bill’s fate.

It’s true that the law covers a lot of ground and that if you want to explain each and every provision you’re in for a long afternoon. But as a journalist who writes a lot about public policy, I don’t think that the main element of it is nearly as complicated as the Obama administration has convinced itself it is.

The issue is that they wanted to ban insurance companies from discriminating against people on the basis of their health status. But what people who’ve enacted this kind of non-discrimination rule on a state level have found is that this pushes premiums up too high because nobody wants to sign up for insurance until they’re already sick. So the government will fine people who don’t pay into the system, but also will provide tax credits to make sure it’s affordable for everyone. The legal issues are (a) does Congess have the authority to regulate the insurance industry in this way, and (b) do they have the authority to take the steps they deem necessary and proper to make the regulations work?

 

 

 

IMMIGRATION

NYT editorial: A Dream Act Without the Dream

Republican politicians have overwhelmingly embraced an approach to immigration reform that offers only misery, arrest and punishment to the undocumented. That is popular with party’s hard-right base, but toxic with Hispanic voters — which has led some Republicans to come up with proposals that seem to shimmer with promise but lead to the same no-future dead end.

Take Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, who has recently been floating his stripped-down version of the Dream Act, a bill to legalize young unauthorized immigrants — Americans in all but name — who serve in the military or go to college. Mr. Rubio’s idea to make it palatable to his party is to offer them legalization without citizenship. “You can legalize someone’s status,” he says, “without placing them on a path toward citizenship.” He warns that if Dream Act youths became citizens, they could — horrors — someday sponsor family members to enter legally. This idea is nothing more than some newly invented third-class status — not illegal, but not American.

It’s the Dream Act without the dream and should be dismissed out of hand, along with similar half-measures embraced by Mitt Romney and other Republican presidential candidates, who endorse legalization for military service but not college, and not citizenship in any case. Representative David Rivera of Florida has offered a limited Dream Act only for those who join the military and has said that he would file another only for youths younger than 18-and-a-half who earn four-year college degrees and wait 10 years to adjust their status.

The only Dream Act worth passing is simple. It tells high schoolers who want to make something of themselves, for the good of the country, to go ahead. Join the military or go to college and take your place as full-fledged citizens in the only country you know. That Republicans reject this shows how far they have strayed from American ideals of assimilation and welcome.

 

 

JUSTICE

 

Fugitive Slave Mentality

Before he temporarily stepped down from his position last week as chief of the Sanford, Fla., police department, Bill Lee Jr., gave an explanation of his decision not to arrest George Zimmerman for killing Trayvon Martin. Lee said he had no reason to doubt Zimmerman’s claim of self-defense. Though Lee is no longer in the spotlight, his words linger for at least one compelling reason: his explanation bears an eerie resemblance to cases brought under the Fugitive Slave Law during the Antebellum period. Today, a legal standard that allowed the police chief to take Zimmerman at his word recalls the dark past of slave-owners claiming their property. The writings of Martin Delany, the African American political philosopher and activist, shed light on the uncanny resemblance.

During his trip through the free states west of New York to solicit subscriptions for the North Star, the newspaper that he and Frederick Douglass published, Martin Delany regularly corresponded with Douglass.  One of his letters to Douglass, dated July 14, 1848 (Bastille Day), details the events of the so-called “Crosswhite affair,” which involved a court case brought under the Fugitive Slave Law of 1793.  The presiding judge for the case was John McClean, associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.  Delany’s philosophical analysis of McClean’s charge to the jury is enlightening.  A little background may be helpful.

In 1843 Adam Crosswhite, his wife Sarah, and their four children, after learning that their master Frank Giltner intended to break up the family, fled Carroll County, Ky., where they lived as slaves.  After traveling through Indiana and southwest Michigan, the family settled in Marshall, Mich.,  where a fifth child was born, and where close to 50 blacks, many of them escaped slaves from Kentucky, already resided.  Only a few years had passed when in 1847 Frank Giltner’s son, David Giltner, and his nephew, Francis Troutman, came to Marshall with two other Kentuckians to arrest the Crosswhites and reclaim them as Frank Giltner’s property under the Fugitive Slave Law. That law authorized slave owners residing in one state to enter another state to recapture their property.

Soon a crowd of more than 200 people gathered at the Crosswhite home, some of whom strongly supported Michigan’s status as a free state.  One man, Charles Gorham, a local banker, protested Troutman’s attempt to seize the Crosswhites, after which Troutman was arrested, tried, and fined $100 for trespassing.  In the meantime, the Crosswhites were spirited out of Marshall and escaped to Canada.

Delany’s discussion of the Crosswhite affair came more than a year later when he arrived in Detroit during a trial (Giltner v. Gorham) in which suit was brought against Gorham and other members of the Marshall crowd concerning their role in hindering the arrest and abetting the rescue of the Crosswhites.  Ultimately the jury was hung and the case discharged, yet Delany dwells on it due to what he considers to be the implications of McClean’s charge to the jury.  In particular, Delany responds to the judge’s elaboration of his charge in his reply “to an interrogatory by one of the counsel for defense”:

It is not necessary that the persons interfering should know that the persons claimed are slaves.  If the claimant has made the declaration that they are such, though he should only assert it to the fugitives themselves — indeed, it could not be expected that the claimant would be required the trouble of repeating this to persons who might be disposed to interfere — should any one interfere at all, after the declaration of the claimant, he is liable and responsible to the provisions of the law in such cases.

Delany’s main point against McClean is that the fact that the judge holds interfering persons to be criminally accountable shows that he takes the 1793 Fugitive Slave Law to carry the presumption that any individual, having declared that one or another “colored” person is an escaped slave (whom he is entitled to arrest), is simply to be taken at his word, and so cannot legally be interfered with in his effort to arrest that colored person.  In conclusion, then, Delany reasons that the Fugitive Slave Law reduces “each and all of us [that is, each and all colored persons] to the mercy and discretion of any white man in the country,” and that under its jurisdiction, “every colored man in the nominally free states…is reduced to abject slavery; because all slavery is but the arbitrary will of one person over another.”

On Delany’s account, the effect of the Fugitive Slave Law, at least as Judge McClean interprets it, is to subject all unowned black persons to the domination of all white persons.  For by requiring that the self-proclaimed slave catcher be taken at his word, the law leaves unconstrained the ability of any white person to arrest and seize any black person.  In effect, it renders all titularly free blacks vulnerable to the power available to all whites in exactly the way that, according to Frederick Douglass, a black slave is vulnerable to the power exercised by his or her white master.

The affinity to the Trayvon Martin incident is perhaps obvious. Chief Lee’s statement that Zimmerman was not arrested for lack of evidence sufficient to challenge his claim that he had not acted in self-defense (“We don’t have anything to dispute his claim of self-defense”) appears to imply that, absent such evidence, a white or otherwise non-black man (there is some controversy as to whether Zimmerman should be identified as white, or Hispanic, or both, although no one seems to be claiming he is black) claiming self-defense after killing a black man is simply to be taken at his word.  It is hard to resist the thought that race matters here, for who believes that, had an adult African American male killed a white teenager under similar circumstances, the police would have taken him at his word and so declined to arrest him?

In contrast to Judge McClean, Lee does not propose that, if a certain sort of declaration has been issued, interference with a white man’s attempt to seize a black man would be illegal.  Rather he argues that, if a certain sort of declaration has been issued — “I acted from self-defense”— a white or other non-black person who has admitted to killing a black person cannot legally be arrested if the police have no reason to dispute the truth of his declaration; or more technically, if in keeping with sections 776.032 and 776.013 of the Florida Statues the police have no “probable cause” to believe that Zimmerman did not “reasonably believe” that killing Martin was necessary “to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself.”  Though the two cases are different, we should notice that Lee, like McClean, intends to highlight considerations that legally constrain action (interference in one case, arrest in the other ) in the face of an assault on an African American. This should give us pause to worry that Florida’s Stand Your Ground legislation, in its application to cases where whites (or other non-blacks) kill blacks and then claim self-defense, could prove to be the functional equivalent of a fugitive slave law.

In short, it appears that whites (or other non-blacks) may hunt down blacks with immunity from arrest so long as they leave behind no clue that they were not acting to defend themselves; or, to echo Martin Delany, that Florida’s Stand Your Ground law threatens to render some citizens subject to the arbitrary wills of others.

If it seems a stretch, finally, to paint Zimmerman in the image of the slave catchers of yesteryear, recall that he himself invited the comparison when, while stalking the African-American teenager against the orders of a 911 police officer, he complained, using an expletive to refer to Trayvon, that they “always get away.”

 

 

Trayvon Martin Updates

 

 

Voter ID lawsuits headed directly to Supreme Court

Madison – Two lawsuits challenging Wisconsin’s law requiring voters to show photo identification at the polls are headed directly to the state Supreme Court.

Two separate appeals courts on Wednesday sent appeals of lower court decisions blocking the law directly to the Supreme Court.

One lawsuit was brought by the NAACP’s Milwaukee branch and Voces de la Frontera, an immigrants’ rights group. The other was brought by the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin.

Earlier this month, two different Dane County circuit court judges issued injunctions blocking the law before Tuesday’s presidential primary.

The state Department of Justice appealed both decisions to the appeals court, which sent the cases to the Supreme Court.

The law’s opponents say it will disenfranchise minority groups, the poor, students and senior citizens who lack photo identification.

 

 

Oklahoma Court Rejects Ultrasound Measure

An Oklahoma judge has struck down a state law requiring women seeking abortions to look at an ultrasound image and listen to a detailed description of the fetus before they can proceed. There may be hope; then again, the bill’s author is now sponsoring one to grant personhood to a fertilized egg.

 

 

MEDIA

Fox News Ratings Down 17%

Fox News Channel’s ratings for March of 2012 are down 17% from the same time in 2011, even with the ongoing drama of the Republican presidential nomination process.

The network has also lost 5% of its ratings in the first quarter of 2012, compared to a year ago.

Fox still has a considerable lead over competition from MSNBC and CNN, and is far ahead of its competitors. MSNBC has moved ahead of CNN to be the number two cable news networks in total viewers.

CNN programming has been a disaster. The network lost 50% of its viewers, compared to March of 2011.

 

 

PBS “FRONTLINE” online viewing re: Murdoch Scandal HERE

 

 

 

MILITARY

U.S. suspends food aid to North Korea: Pentagon official

The United States has suspended food aid to North Korea because Pyongyang has broken its promise to refrain from missile launches and cannot be trusted to deliver the aid to those who need it, a Pentagon official said Wednesday.

The United States had previously warned that any launch would jeopardize food assistance, but the official’s comments at a congressional hearing marked a tougher stance and made clear plans to deliver aid had already been scrapped.

 

A planned rocket launch next month by North Korea “reflects their lack of desire to follow through on their international commitments and so we’ve been forced to suspend our activities to provide nutritional assistance to North Korea,” Peter Lavoy, acting assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific affairs, told lawmakers.

In light of North Korea’s actions, the United States had “no confidence” that it was possible to “to ensure that the food assistance goes to the starving people and not the regime elite,” Lavoy said before the House Armed Services Committee.

Under a deal reached last month, North Korea had agreed to a partial nuclear freeze and a missile test moratorium in return for US food aid.
North Korea has scheduled what it calls a satellite launch between April 12-16 and the regime insists it is for scientific purposes.

The United States and other countries say it would in fact be a long-range missile test banned under UN resolutions.

“This planned launch is highly provocative because it manifests North Korea’s desire to test and expand its long-range missile capability,” said Lavoy, adding that it violated UN Security Council resolutions.

Just weeks two weeks before North Korea announced plans for the launch, the regime had agreed to a moratorium on long-range missile launches in return for food aid, he said.

“During those discussions, the United States made it very clear that a satellite launch would be a deal breaker,” he said.

 

 

 

POLITICS

Sen. DeMint: People With Pre-Existing Conditions Actually Got Better Health Care Before Obamacare

WASHINGTON, DC — Though one of the key successes — and most popular aspects — of the Affordable Care Act is the provision banning insurance companies from denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions, Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) thinks they were better off before the law passed.

ThinkProgress spoke with DeMint outside a tea party rally nearby where the Supreme Court heard oral arguments on the constitutionality of the individual mandate. The second-term South Carolina senator called the pre-existing condition clause simply an “excuse for government to run health care.” We asked whether people with such conditions would get less health care under Obamacare than they did prior to its enactment. “They probably will,” declared DeMint.

DEMINT: I can guarantee you people with pre-exisitng conditions are going to get less health care—lower quality health care—under Obamacare than they would under a state-run plan.

KEYES: Do you think they get less health care under Obamacare than they did before Obamacare was enacted?

DEMINT: They probably will. It will definitely cost more for everyone and it will be inefficient and it won’t be as patient-focused. And so we need to make sure that we do the thing the right way and there are ways that everyone can have insurance, and that’s our goal.

Watch it:

While DeMint may think care will be worse for those with pre-existing conditions, this is simply not true. Nearly 50,000 people previously turned down because of a pre-existing condition have already been able to receive health care because of the ACA and the new Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan that the law created. Already, health care reform has stopped discrimination against children with pre-existing conditions. By 2014, that same law will apply to all adults, ensuring that everyone with an existing medical problem is able to get the care they need.

Republicans are currently pushing for the repeal of the ACA as the Supreme Court hears a case on the constitutionality of the individual mandate section of the law. If the mandate were to be repealed, health insurers would likely have to once again deny coverage to those with pre-existing conditions, because it would be unsustainable to have an insurance pool made up of only “high risk” people.

Yet for DeMint, that world where insurance companies could deny health insurance to people with pre-existing conditions is not only preferable, but somehow better for such people. If Republicans get their wish, DeMint’s vision may soon be realized at the expense of health care for millions of Americans with existing medical problems.

 

 

Conservative Group Authors Xenophobic Bill in Tennessee To Limit Foreign Teachers

 

 

Frum: Conservatives Love Obamacare – When it’s Singaporecare

The hard part isn’t having principles. The hard part is remembering them.

Was it only yesterday that conservatives argued that state-mandated health and retirement savings accounts were the secret to a well-functioning national healthcare system? Singapore and Chile were the star examples—Singapore even more than Chile. Here’s the online magazine of the American Enterprise Institute praising the Singapore health model in 2008:

What’s the reason for Singapore’s success? It’s not government spending. The state, using taxes, funds only about one-fourth of Singapore’s total health costs. Individuals and their employers pay for the rest. In fact, the latest figures show that Singapore’s government spends only $381 (all dollars in this article are U.S.) per capita on health—or one-seventh what the U.S. government spends.

Singapore’s system requires individuals to take responsibility for their own health, and for much of their own spending on medical care. As the Health Ministry puts it, “Patients are expected to co-pay part of their medical expenses and to pay more when they demand a higher level of service. At the same time, government subsidies help to keep basic healthcare affordable.”

The reason the system works so well is that it puts decisions in the hands of patients and doctors rather than of government bureaucrats and insurers. The state’s role is to provide a safety net for the few people unable to save enough to pay their way, to subsidize public hospitals, and to fund preventative health campaigns.

Here’s a glowing report on Singapore from Cato’s Michael Tanner:

Singapore provides an excellent model for such a system. In 1984, Singapore began to require that a certain portion of CPF contributions be put into “medical savings accounts” to provide funds for hospitalization. These accounts operate as part of the country’s Central Provident Fund system that also provides retirement. Currently, six percent of an employee’s salary is put in a medical savings accounts until the account balance reaches approximately $8,522. As long as that balance is maintained, additional contributions are automatically placed in the individual’s ordinary pension account.

Funds in medical savings accounts can be withdrawn to pay for routine, low-cost health expenses. At the same time, nearly all Singaporeans have private health insurance (with a large deductible) to provide protection against catastrophic illness.

Singapore’s system has been remarkably successful in holding down health care costs. Not only have Singapore’s health care costs been rising at a rate below that of most other countries, but, measured as a proportion of total private consumption, health care expenditures have actually declined since 1986. At the same time, the Singapore government spending on health care has also declined, both as a percentage of the country’s total social service budget and as a percentage of total government spending (Heng and Low, 1991).

As we all know, a healthcare mandate is tantamount to the extinction of economic freedom. Yet the Heritage Foundation’s 2012 index of economic freedom in the worldranks mandate-loving Singapore the second-freest country on earth. The United States drags along in embarrassing 10th place, behind 6th place Canada—which relies of course on a single-payer government healthcare monopoly.

 

 

State by State Voter ID Requirements

[Interactive]

 

 

POLLS

CNN poll: Dem Party, 48 Fav, 45 Unfav; GOP, 35 fav, 58 unfav.

 

 

 

 

 

Obama Holds Large Lead Over Romney

 

A new CNN/Opinion Research poll finds President Obama with a double-digit lead over Mitt Romney, 54% to 43%.

Said pollster Keating Holland: “President Obama currently wins majority support among groups that have been problematic for him in the past, including men, older voters, and suburbanites. He has a solid lead among independents as well.”

Obama’s approval rating has also inched over the 50% mark for the first time since last May, when the polls were still registering the after effects of the death of Osama bin Laden.

 

 

President Obama pulling away from Mitt Romney in three swing states

Earlier Paddy posted a new ABC News-Washington Post poll in which Mitt Romney trailed President Obama by 19 points. Willard’s approvals were at only 34% as opposed to 53% for the president.

Now, per The Hill, a new  Quinnipiac University poll shows President Obama leading the GOP presidential candidates in critical swing states Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

The president’s best numbers are in Florida. He’s beating Romney there 49% to 42%, and Rick Santorum 50% to 37%.

In Ohio, the president leads Romney 47 percent to 41, and Santorum 47 percent to 40, according to Quinnipiac.

The closest contest is in Santorum’s home state of Pennsylvania, where Obama leads Romney 45 percent to 42 percent, and leads Santorum 48 percent to 41.

The Hill has more.

 

 

ABC News: Record Number See Romney Negatively; Obama Outpaces Him in Popularity

Mitt Romney trails Barack Obama by 19 points in basic popularity as the 2012 presidential contest inches closer to the main event, with a record 50 percent of Americans in the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll now rating Romney unfavorably overall.

Thirty-four percent hold a favorable opinion of Romney, the lowest for any leading presidential candidate in ABC/Post polls in primary seasons since 1984. His unfavorable score is higher than Obama ever has received; it’s been exceeded by just one other Republican candidate this year, Newt Gingrich, and by only one top candidate in 28 years, Hillary Clinton in 2008.

Obama, for his part, remains above water – 53 percent favorable, 43 percent unfavorable in this poll, produced for ABC by Langer Research Associates. It’s Obama’s third consecutive month with a rating more than 50 percent positive, after dipping to 47 percent in September, the lowest of his presidency.

 

 

 

SCOTUS

Reminder: Ginni Thomas works for The Daily Caller, thinks ACA is “socialism.”

Rep. Paul Ryan, the House Budget Committee chairman, is now at the center of one of the biggest questions for the nation — will we move toward serious solutions to our economic problems or will Washington cower and play politics as usual?

The Wisconsin Republican’s stance and work on this turning-point question for the nation may just be the single greatest reason to oppose term limits.

In his 14th year in Congress, the forty-two year old Ryan has learned enough about government to wage effective fights on Capitol Hill and to clearly explain to Americans the challenges this nation faces in a way they can understand. In Congress, Ryan is the leading crusader to reform America’s entitlement programs in order to get the nation’s long-term debt under control. His courageous plan to do so, “The Path to Prosperity,” passed the House in 2011 and has been widely praised on the right (even as President Obama and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich attacked it.)

For placing himself at the forefront of this debate, Ryan was named as one of four runners-ups for Time magazine’s “Person of the Year” in 2011.

The Daily Caller’s Ginni Thomas recently talked to Ryan in his congressional office and discussed the economic crisis facing America, what gives the congressman hope and whether he considers himself “establishment” or “tea party.”

Click below for links to the following questions.

Did President Obama dupe American voters into socialism with slogans of “hope and change”?

MORE>>>

 

 

Your Restrained, Non-Activist Conservative Jurisprudence

From Jon Cohn’s report:

Alito seemed particularly concerned that, because of the mandate, young, healthy people would have to pay more for their insurance, because they would effectively be subsidizing the sick. In a direct response to the government’s argument that the law’s minimum coverage requirement is “necessary and proper,” Scalia responded that it was clearly necessary but not proper – and that government could avoid the problems of the insurance market by simply not requiring insurance companies to cover people regardless of pre-existing condition, as the law will do.

Note that neither of these are legal arguments in the way that they have been understood for the last eighty years. This is basically Alito and Scalia saying that it isn’t constitutional to have social insurance. We should cut the garbage: these guys are hacks, pure and simple.

I’m actually a little surprised that anyone thought that either of these guys would vote to uphold.

 

 

Weigel: Does Antonin Scalia Know What’s in the Affordable Care Law?

There was in a strange moment in today’s severability argument at SCOTUS. Justice Antonin Scalia referred to a deal that Sen. Ben Nelson once made, to make a hypothetical point about what could take down the law.

“If we struck down nothing in this legislation but the — what’s it called, the Cornhusker kickback, okay, we find that to violate the constitutional proscription of venality, okay?” asked Scalia, talking to Paul Clement. “When we strike that down, it’s clear that Congress would not have passed it without that. It was the means of getting the last necessary vote in the Senate. And you are telling us that the whole statute would fall because the Cornhusker kickback is bad. That can’t be right.”

The deal that Scalia was referring to — legendary in conservative anti-Obamacare circles — was not a classic “kickback.” Nelson negotiated for indefinite, unending Medicaid funding for his state. That ended up as part of the bill that initially passed the U.S. Senate on a 60-40 vote.

Here’s the rub: It’s not actually part of the law. Democrats removed the Nebraska deal in the final tortured negotiations that passed the PPACA in the House. When it got to the Senate again, Democrats only needed 51 votes to pass it; Nelson, who’d gotten the bad press from the deal AND nothing to show for it, glumly voted no.

Here’s another rub. In early coverage of Scalia’s zinger, the fate of the “kickback” is totally left out. It might be because no one in the room pointed out the mistake. Or it might be that Scalia, and lots of other people, have internalized the conservative case against the law.

 

 

Esquire: Tony Scalia’s Retirement Has Started Early

 

 

How bad was Verilli on Tuesday? [Pretty bad.] AUDIO

 

 

 

Justice Kennedy and the Search for a “Limiting Principle”
[…] After Tuesday’s hearings, Lyle Denniston, a reporter at the excellent SCOTUSblog, summarized things thus: “If Justice Anthony M. Kennedy can locate a limiting principle in the federal government’s defense of the new individual health insurance mandate, or can think of one on his own, the mandate may well survive. If he does, he may take Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., and a majority along with him. But if he does not, the mandate is gone.”

Time after time during Tuesday’s hearing, Justice Kennedy and his conservative colleagues pressed Donald Verrilli, the solicitor general, on where the federal government’s power to oblige people to purchase products in the marketplace would end. Justice Scalia, trotting out an argument first raised in the D.C. Circuit by Judge Laurence Silberman, asked whether the feds could mandate purchases of broccoli. Chief Justice Roberts asked about cell phones. Perhaps the key exchange came when Justice Alito said to Verrilli, “Before you move on, could you express your limiting principle as succinctly as you possibly can?”

A number of commentators have criticized Verrilli for failing to provide a pithy answer. But what he said was perfectly comprehensible. Rather than attempting to establish a broad legal right on the part of the federal government to force people to buy things if it is in the public interest, he restricted his argument purely to the health-insurance market. Citing the Necessary and Proper Clause of the Constitution, Verrilli said that as part of a “comprehensive scheme” to reform health care, the government could regulate behavior that might well undermine these efforts, such as the failure to purchase health insurance. Secondly, under the Commerce Clause, which I referred to yesterday, the federal government could regulate the “timing of payments by imposing an insurance requirement … when you will get the care in that market, whether you can afford to pay for it or not and shift costs to other market participants.”

Now, there aren’t many commodities sold in a market that people will receive whether they pay for them or not, thus creating the potential for shifting costs onto other people. Broccoli isn’t such a commodity, and neither is a cell phone. Some of the liberal Justices pressed Verrilli to go broader. Justice Breyer, citing the 1819 McCulloch v. Maryland case, in which the Court approved the founding of the Second Bank of the United States, suggested that the federal government had the right to create commerce where none previously existed—a bone of contention to Kennedy and others—and that this principle could be used to make people buy other things, such as burials. But Verrilli stood his ground, saying he was making a narrower case restricted to health insurance.

For fans of high principles and impassioned debates, this wasn’t very satisfying. I, for one, would have enjoyed seeing Verrilli challenging some of the conservative Justices on their own grounds, and defending the individual mandate on the grounds of economic efficiency and cost-benefit analysis. Ever since the rise of the “law and economics” movement, conservatives like Roberts have elevated efficiency concerns to a potentially decisive role. And it’s patently clear that if you want to make retain a private insurance market and make it work efficiently, providing affordable coverage to more people, you need some form of individual mandate.

But given the makeup of the court, I think Verrilli made the right choice. If they had been forced to acknowledge the existence of a hitherto unnoticed general principle that justifies an extension of government interventions in the marketplace, the five conservative Justices would certainly have balked. In restricting his argument exclusively to health insurance, the solicitor general provided Justice Kennedy, in particular, with a potential out—a way to approve the individual mandate as a one-off that doesn’t apply to other commodities. Kennedy, in his final words, appeared to be moving in this direction. Young people and others who don’t buy health insurance come “very close to affecting the rates of insurance and the costs of providing medical care in a way that is not true in other industries,” he said. Come June, when the case is finally decided, this just might turn out to be the limiting principle that saved Obamacare.

 

 

Yes, there is a `limiting principle’

At this point, it seems likely that Obamacare’s fate will hinge on whether Justice Roberts or Justice Kennedy come to believe there is a “limiting principle” under the government’s theory of the individual mandate. If either one, or both, can see that there is a clear limit to federal power in a universe where the mandate is constitutional, the law may be upheld. If not, the mandate could go down.

So here’s a limiting principle: Under the mandate, Congress still does not have the power to regulate activity or inactivity that doesn’t have a substantial impact on interstate commerce.

This comes by way of Charles Fried, the former Solicitor General to Ronald Reagan, a supporter of the law. In an inteview with me, he responded to the various lines of questioning advanced by the conservative bloc of justices yesterday.

“There is a limiting principle,” Fried said. “Congress can’t regulate something that isn’t interstate commerce.”

At yesterday’s hearing, Kennedy suggested that it is beyond Congress’s authority to force people to purchase something they do not want. “Can you create commerce in order to regulate it?” Kennedy asked.

Fried rejected the logic on display here. He said that under the mandate, Congress isn’t “creating commerce,” it’s merely regulating how inevitable commerce will be paid for.

“You’re not compelling commerce here,” Fried said. “That assumes the commerce is the insurance. But the commerce is the health care. You’re regulating how it’s paid for. They’re not creating commerce; they’re creating the way you pay for it.”

In another potential threat to the law, Justice Alito argued that under the government’s theory — that everyone will need health care at some point — the government could also force you to buy burial insurance, since everyone dies. Another version of this argument: Since everyone has to eat, the mandate would empower government to force you to eat broccoli.

But Fried rejected this logic of unlimited government power, too. He pointed out that the theory of the mandate also requires the absence of such a mandate to have a major impact on interstate commerce. That’s the case when many people don’t have health insurance in a world where insurance companies can’t discriminate against those with preexisting conditions. It’s not the case with burials or broccoli. In neither case does the absence of mandating those purchases have far reaching effects on interstate commerce.

Alito’s argument, Fried said, “assumes that somehow not having burial insurance has a substantial economic impact. The uninsured in health care have a substantial effect for interstate commerce.”

Fried boiled down his limiting principle this way. Even in a world with an individual mandate, “Congress cannot mandate a mode of provision for payment when there’s no claim and no showing that without the mandate, there will be a substantial effect for interstate commerce.”

So there’s a limiting principle for you.

 

 

Steve Benen: About that ‘limiting principle’

Going into the week, there were plenty of phrases related to the Supreme Court’s hearing on the Affordable Care Act that may seem obscure to the American mainstream, but were likely to be bandied about quite a bit. Like it or not, we were going to hear about the “necessary and proper” clause, the commerce clause, and “severability.”

But we’ve also been introduced to the “limiting principle,” which was referenced literally 16 times during yesterday’s proceedings. What’s that all about?

Ezra Klein talked this morning to Harvard law professor Charles Fried, solicitor general under President Ronald Reagan, a constitutional law scholar who believes the health care mandate is obviously permissible. Ezra asked about the “limiting principle” that’s gotten so much attention.

Klein: Tuesday’s arguments seemed to focus on the question of a “limiting principle.” So is there a limiting principle here?

Fried: First of all, the limiting principle point kind of begs the question. It assumes there’s got to be some kind of articulatable limiting principle and that’s in the Constitution somewhere. What Chief Justice John Marshall said in 1824 is that if something is within the power of Congress, Congress may exercise that power to its fullest extent. So the question is really whether this is in the power of Congress.

Now, is it within the power of Congress? Well, the power of Congress is to regulate interstate commerce. Is health care commerce among the states? Nobody except maybe Clarence Thomas doubts that. So health care is interstate commerce. Is this a regulation of it? Yes. End of story.

Here’s another thing Marshall said. To regulate is “to make the rule for.” Does this make a rule for commerce? Yes!

The “limiting principle” phrase may be largely unfamiliar, but it’s not complicated: Congress is limited in its regulatory powers. Conservative justices seemed to argue yesterday that these powers do not extend to requiring American consumers to purchase insurance they may not want, and as part of the activity/inactivity dynamic, be considered part of a market they’re not participating in.

Fried’s point is that these justices are missing the point — and they are.

The Commerce Clause empowers the federal government to regulate interstate commerce; the American health care system is interstate commerce; and the Affordable Care Act regulates the health care system. Ergo, the ACA fits comfortably within the confines of the Commerce Clause. Q.E.D.

As for the activity/inactivity question, yes, there may be folks who don’t want to buy insurance, and they would be penalized under the law. But under our system, those folks still get sick, still go to the hospital with medical emergencies, and — here’s the kicker — still get care. 

Of course, when the uninsured get this care, and can’t pay for it, the costs are passed on to the rest of us — it makes the entire system more expensive, with hospitals and medical professionals providing care without compensation from the patient. As a consequence, those who would choose not to get coverage have a significant impact on the larger health care system, which is precisely why the notion of a mandate enjoyed broad, bipartisan support up until late 2009. There was never any doubt as to its constitutionality.

It’s also one of the reasons so many legal scholars find the case itself so bizarre, and consider the favorable outcome such a no-brainer.

 

 

Yup: Killing health reform would actually have consequences

Peerless Supreme Court watcher Lyle Denniston has just posted a piece taking stock of today’s argument over the fate of Obamcare without the mandate, and he finds a surprising silver lining for the White House:

The Supreme Court spent 91 minutes Wednesday operating on the assumption that it would strike down the key feature of the new health care law, but may have convinced itself in the end not to do that because of just how hard it would be to decide what to do after that. A common reaction, across the bench, was that the Justices themselves did not want the onerous task of going through the remainder of the entire 2,700 pages of the law and deciding what to keep and what to throw out, and most seemed to think that should be left to Congress. They could not come together, however, on just what task they would send across the street for the lawmakers to perform. The net effect may well have shored up support for the individual insurance mandate itself.

The dilemma could be captured perfectly in two separate comments by Justice Antonin Scalia — first, that it “just couldn’t be right” that all of the myriad provisions of the law unrelated to the mandate had to fall with it, but, later, that if the Court were to strike out the mandate, “then the statute’s gone.” …

Congress’ capacity to react in a sensible way also came into some question, particularly from Justice Scalia and, in a way, from Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, both of whom seemed to harbor doubts that the lawmakers would be up to the task of working out a new health care law if this one failed, either totally or partially.

Yes, it turns out that health reform is complicated, and killing the mandate at its core might have a serious impact on the rest of the law. Which makes the decision over the mandate’s fate kind of a momentous one, because allowing all those other provisions to crash and burn with the mandate might actually have far reaching consequences, particularly since it’s all but certain that Congress isn’t up to the task of replacing the law with anything else in the way of reform!

It’s good to see that these tangential matters are at least part of the conversation, and that the real world consequences of doing away with the largest social reform since the 1960s — one that will impact one sixth of our economy and millions of Americans — just might play a small role in affecting the final decision. Isn’t it?

 

 

GOP Justices Ignore the Founders

 

 

Is The Right Getting Punk’d By SCOTUS On ‘Obamacare’?

Conservatives emerged from Tuesday arguments with an air of confidence that the Supreme Court will hand them a victory and strike down the heart of “Obamacare,” emboldened by the fact that swing Justices John Roberts and Anthony Kennedy sounded far from convinced that the law’s requirement to buy insurance passes constitutional muster.

Forecasting the individual mandate’s “imminent demise,” The Washington Examiner’s Conn Carroll declared Tuesday, “Today’s oral argument makes it sound like the five conservative justice will find that there are limits to congressional power.” Other conservatives were equally hopeful.

They might be getting punk’d.

A similar scene took place last fall, when the D.C. Court of Appeals took up the case. As news outlets reported at the time, Judge Laurence Silberman — a Reagan appointee who was elevated by President George W. Bush — was among those hammering the administration’s lawyer with questions about the individual mandate and the limits of power.

Forbes declared, “D.C. Appeals Court Points the Way to the Defeat of Obamacare’s Individual Mandate.” Conservatives then sounded triumphant too.

The American Constitution Society reported at the time:

Silberman appeared dissatisfied with DOJ attorney Brinkmann’s efforts to meet their request for a “limiting principle” putting judicially enforceable boundaries around Congress’ commerce power. In addition, [the judges] noted that the fact that Congress had never enacted a provision quite like the ACA mandate might be an appropriate basis for judges to set aside the presumption of constitutionality normally to be accorded to laws passed by Congress.

Randy Barnett, an architect of the “Obamacare” challenge, also also chimed in:

The low point for the government was when Judges Kavanaugh and Silberman pressed counsel for about 10 minutes for a single example of any economic mandate that would be unconstitutional under the government’s theory of constitutionality. To their evident frustration, she refused to provide any such example.

Less than two months later, Silberman cast the deciding vote to uphold “Obamacare.” In his majority opinion, he located the “limiting principle” he was looking for on his own, and knocked down the heart of the conservative argument. The judge declared that not buying health insurance was hardly an economic “inactivity” because the uninsured directly impact the system regardless.

Silberman’s blow to the GOP in that case is particularly noteworthy because he’s not known for being friendly to Democrats. In 2004, journalist Michelle Goldberg charged that Silberman “has often behaved as if his paramount role as a federal judge is to protect Republicans, persecute Democrats and slander anyone who disagrees.”

On Tuesday, Kennedy and Roberts aggressively questioned an at-times stumbling U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli about the breadth of federal power if the mandate is allowed to stand. Later they expressed some sympathy with the argument Silberman made about the uniqueness of the health care market.

It’s too early to know where the justices will come down — the Supreme Court might yet strike down “Obamacare.” But Silberman’s initial skepticism should serve as a cautionary tale: Conservatives’ confidence — and liberals’ gloom — may be premature.

 

TRANSCRIPT & AUDIO: Supreme Court: The Health Care Law And Medicaid Expansion

 

 

WAR ON WOMEN

 

The Pill Makes Women Richer

Not only is birth control helping women not get preggers, it’s also making women richer. Widespread availability of oral contraception—a.k.a. “The Pill”—has played a major role in closing the gender wage gap since the 1980s, according to a new working paperfrom the National Bureau of Economic Research.

During the 1980s, the gap in median annual wages between women and men closed rapidly; women working full-time earned 60 percent of what their male counterparts earned in 1979, but earned 69 percent of men’s wages by 1989. There were a number of good reasons that gap narrowed so quickly—the women’s movement of the ’60s and ’70s, the increase in the number of women getting college degrees, and the protections afforded women by the 1964 Civil Rights Act and a series of legal decisions. But the researchers found that use of “The Pill” accounted for 10 percent of the narrowing of the wage gap in the 1980s:

Its diffusion to younger, unmarried women improved their ability to time births, altered their expectations about future childbearing, and reduced the cost of altering career investments to reflect their changed expectations. The timing of its diffusion during the 1960s and 1970s also fits well with the slow growth in women’s wages during the 1970s (as younger women invested more in their human capital) and the rapid convergence in the gender gap during the 1980s (when these women enjoyed the returns on their human capital investments and accumulated labor market experience).

To determine how much of a role birth control might have played, the researchers looked at states that lowered their age of consent laws for medical care from 21 to 18. In those states, women could suddenly make decisions about contraception without parental involvement at an earlier age. This new age of consent doubled use of The Pill among women 18 to 20, the researchers found. The result was “a Pill-induced revolution,” as more women were planning for and opting into paid work. The NBER also found that the increased availability and use of oral contraception was responsible for 31 percent of the narrowing of the wage gap in the 1990s.

The main reason for this, the researchers conclude, is that, “as the Pill provided younger women the expectation of greater control over childbearing, women invested more in their human capital and careers.”

This is all the more interesting right now, as the country has been engaged in a heated debate over a provision in the new health care law that would guarantee all women access to birth control at no cost. One has to wonder what impact even greater access to contraception might have on wages going forward.

 

 

WEDGE ISSUES

 

 

 

 

GOP Leaders Make Mockery Of ‘Religious Freedom’ By Appointing Commissioners Who Advocate Fear Of Others

Yesterday, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) each made appointments to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, and both chose candidates known for infringing upon others’ religious freedom and fostering hate against minorities.

Boehner’s pick was Robert P. George, co-founder of the National Organization for Marriage, a group making headlines this week for its confidential memos revealing an intent to divide racial groups and scare parents as tactics to oppose marriage equality. George has explicitly participated in the effort to paint gays and lesbians as a threat to children through the Preserve Innocence project, for which he made a video warningabout President Obama’s appointment of Kevin Jennings as Assistant Deputy Secretary for the Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools. He also helped draft the Manhattan Declaration, which encourages Christians to defy the law to uphold their anti-gay, anti-choice beliefs. By working to ban same-sex marriage, George eagerly imposes upon the religious freedom of all faiths who support the freedom to marry.

George shares a connection to his fellow new appointee through their promotion of Islamophobia. McConnell appointed Zuhdi Jasser for his pick, founder of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy. Most see Jasser as a “mere sock puppet” for those who spread animosity about the Muslim community, and Jasser’s group in turn has called the leadership of many U.S. Muslim groups “malignant.” He has testified before Rep. Peter King’s (D-NY) “radicalization” of Islam hearings and supports spying on innocent Muslims. Both Jasser’s group and the Bradley Foundation (of which George is a board member) featured heavily in last year’s Fear, Inc. reportby the Center for American Progress, documenting the roots of the U.S. Islamophobia network. The Washington Post mistakenly described George as having a “less controversial profile” than Jasser.

These appointments are further evidence that the Republican agenda is not about defending so-called “religious liberty,” but about ensuring that their conservative values continue to have a prominent voice over other points of view.

 

 

Jesus for Jews

JERUSALEM — Last week on Monday morning, in the busy dining room of the Inbal hotel, Tim Burt, an associate pastor at Living Word Christian Center in Minneapolis, told me a story of mistrust.

Several years ago, his church held its first “Night to Honor Israel” — an opportunity, said Burt, for Christians “to demonstrate their love and support for Israel and the Jewish people.”

But three local Jewish leaders came to him and asked, “Why are you doing it? What’s the real agenda? What’s the story behind the story?” They were having a hard time believing there was no other motivation but love for Israel behind this, Burt explained.

How things have changed.

The night before I saw Burt last week, he and a group of 130 evangelicals from Minnesota and Texas spent a very special evening with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel.“Thank you for standing up for Israel,” the prime minister told the 800 people who had gathered for this year’s Jerusalem conference of Christians United for Israel, an American pro-Israel evangelical association.

Six years ago, CUFI was just being created. Today, with its one million members, it is by far the largest pro-Israel advocacy group in the United States. There are now 50 million Christian evangelicals in the United States, many also very pro-Israel. In a Pew Research Center surveypublished earlier this month, 40 percent of white evangelicals claimed that the United States is “not supportive enough” of Israel (only 17 percent of white mainstream Protestants and 14 percent of Catholics agreed).

But is all support good support? Though Netanyahu has long welcomed backing from Christian groups without much agitation, not all Israelis are so sanguine. Some question the religious motives of CUFI members — “When will they start proselytizing?” — or are uneasy about their politics, especially their resistance to compromise regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

It’s true that John Hagee, the founder and leader of CUFI, is not a man of nuance. Four years ago, he called Hitler a “hunter” who had been sent by God to chase the Jews out of Europe and “back to the land of Israel.” (This statement caused John McCain, then a candidate for the presidency, to reject Hagee’s endorsement.) Based on his reading of the Scriptures, Hagee opposes a two-state solution. He does not want Israel to give up land — the Holy Land — for peace.

Hagee says he supports Israel. But could he also support a left-leaning Israeli government? To this, his answer is always: Israel is free to make its own decisions. Should he ever be at odds with the country’s policies, he once told me, he would find other ways of expressing his support. He would, for example, give to hospitals or needy communities in Israel.

Some remain skeptical and say there’s a price to be paid for associating with evangelicals. Yossi Sarid, a left-wing Israeli commentator and a former leader of the Meretz Party, wrote last year that Hagee, Glenn Beck and “their swarm” are “anti-Semites, who are not even aware of their anti-Semitism and the extent of its ugliness.”

The founders of CUFI seem unfazed. “After two thousand years of Christian anti-Semitism, it is very hard for Jews to believe that Christians have suddenly embraced philo-Semitism in an honest and sincere way,” David Brog, CUFI’s executive director, explained to me in 2006, when the organization was founded. (He essentially told me the same thing again last week in Jerusalem.) And “if they have changed, what is to prevent them from changing back?”

That’s a good question, and CUFI’s doggedness in the face of constant suspicion may the best answer to it. If Hagee loves us this much, maybe we should find a way to love him back.

 

 

 

AND IN OTHER NEWS…

 

Unfortunate cover of The Rifleman

 

 

 

Adrienne Rich, Feminist Poet, Dies at 82: A Poet of Unswerving Vision at the Forefront of Feminism 

[…] Widely read, widely anthologized, widely interviewed and widely taught, Ms. Rich was for decades among the most influential writers of the feminist movement and one of the best-known American public intellectuals. She wrote two dozen volumes of poetry and more than a half-dozen of prose; the poetry alone has sold nearly 800,000 copies, according to W. W. Norton & Company, her publisher since the mid-1960s.

Triply marginalized — as a woman, a lesbian and a Jew — Ms. Rich was concerned in her poetry, and in her many essays, with identity politics long before the term was coined.

She accomplished in verse what Betty Friedan, author of “The Feminine Mystique,” did in prose. In describing the stifling minutiae that had defined women’s lives for generations, both argued persuasively that women’s disenfranchisement at the hands of men must end.

For Ms. Rich, the personal, the political and the poetical were indissolubly linked; her body of work can be read as a series of urgent dispatches from the front. While some critics called her poetry polemical, she remained celebrated for the unflagging intensity of her vision, and for the constant formal reinvention that kept her verse — often jagged and colloquial, sometimes purposefully shocking, always controlled in tone, diction and pacing — sounding like that of few other poets.

All this helped ensure Ms. Rich’s continued relevance long after she burst genteelly onto the scene as a Radcliffe senior in the early 1950s.

Her constellation of honors includes a MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant in 1994 and a National Book Award for poetry in 1974 for “Diving Into the Wreck.” That volume, published in 1973, is considered her masterwork.

In the title poem, Ms. Rich uses the metaphor of a dive into dark, unfathomable waters to plumb the depths of women’s experience:

I am here, the mermaid whose dark hair
streams black, the merman in his armored body
We circle silently about the wreck
we dive into the hold. …
We are, I am, you are
by cowardice or courage
the one who find our way
back to the scene
carrying a knife, a camera
a book of myths
in which
our names do not appear.

Ms. Rich was far too seasoned a campaigner to think that verse alone could change entrenched social institutions. “Poetry is not a healing lotion, an emotional massage, a kind of linguistic aromatherapy,” she said in an acceptance speech to the National Book Foundation in 2006, on receiving its medal for distinguished contribution to American letters. “Neither is it a blueprint, nor an instruction manual, nor a billboard.”

But at the same time, as she made resoundingly clear in interviews, in public lectures and in her work, Ms. Rich saw poetry as a keen-edged beacon by which women’s lives — and women’s consciousness — could be illuminated.

She was never supposed to have turned out as she did.

 

 

 

Earl Scruggs, bluegrass legend, dies

 

 

 

QUOTE OF THE DAY:

 

Art is made to disturb. Science reassures. There is only one valuable thing in art: the thing you cannot explain. ~~Georges Braque

 

Written by Chernynkaya

I am an artist and have lived in Los Angeles all of my life, except for a brief hippie period when I lived in SF. I am currently (semi-unwillingly) retired, but have had several careers.

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