Why health care had to go first

July 21, 2011

If you wanted to know why health care had to go first, just look at how paralyzed DC is now. Obama knew his popularity and legislative majorities would be temporary. His historic majorities gave him and his caucus a once in a lifetime chance to get HCR passed. Should he have gotten a bigger stimulus passed first; sure. Should he have forced the senate to move faster on HCR? Of course. But he knew that the economy was not going to turn around in time for the midterms and he knew that his party would take bath regardless of what he did. The democrats had picked up many marginal seats in a climate of utter disdain for GWB and the republicans in 2006 and 2008. Those feelings would not carry forward to the 2010 elections. Plus, Obama knew that the electorate would not be the same that elected him. Like Clinton before him, he knew that this was his one and only shot to get HCR passed. Don’t expect him to trade it for tax hikes whatever the press may report.

While not perfect, like Medicare and Social Security before it, it will be improved and people will learn to rely on it; they will elect politicians who will fight to protect it. That was the genius of FDR and LBJ.

Happy New Year

December 31, 2010

Grand Bargain

December 5, 2010

Republicans want a permanent extension of the Bush Tax Cuts but face a situation where they know they will not get it. Democrats have many priorities stalled by Republicans and will not get most of what they want either. So why not do this: In return for a vote on a permanent extension of the tax cuts, Democrats would get a vote on the Defense Reauthorization Bill (including the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell), a vote on the START treaty, a vote on all judicial and executive branch nominees (and a promise for a vote on Elizabeth Warren if she would be nominated next year to run the Consumer Financial Protection Agency), and a vote on a two year extension of unemployment + hundreds of billions of dollars of infrastructure spending.  I would want a vote on other things but I won’t press my luck.

If presented with this deal, we could see where both parties’ real priorities lay.

Update: I would probably add votes on the DREAM Act and a 1-2 year payroll tax holiday.

As bad as Bush?

November 14, 2010

Last April, I detailed the abuses of power of the previous administration regarding, among other things, the indefinite detentions of certain captured individuals.  Well it turns out the Obama administration is claiming the same power.  After coming into the office advocating the closing of Gitmo and the trying of suspected terrorists and others who attacked our country, it seems that the Obama administration might simply detain certain individuals indefinitely.  One of the most prominent people that Obama and his DOJ said would be tried in federal criminal court was Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the man suspected as being the mastermind behind 9-11.  President Obama said he would be tried in federal court in NYC.  Well, now it turns out that because of political pressure from Congress and NY politicians, KSM will not be tried in NY or anywhere.  Rather, he will be detained indefinitely based powers claimed under the laws of war.  Will he be tried in NY any time in the future?  Maybe.  And most likely only if others being tried in NY courts are convicted of terrorists bombing.  If those others are found not guilty, Obama will most likely not try KSM in federal court.  That is an interesting way of determining whether to give someone Due Process, a right to an open and fair trial, and right to confront one’s accusers–whether we know we will win.

To those who defend this unprecedented grab of power, I have a few questions:  What if it turns out that we are wrong?  What if KSM did not mastermind the attacks on NY and Washington in 2001?  What if the man in Gitmo is not KSM?  Would we stand for indefinite detention of American citizens whether captured here or abroad?  Our history and constitution teach us that the executive branch has no right to indefinitely hold people.  In fact, the only individual right specifically enumerated into the original constitution, before the Bill of Rights, was the right to habeas corpus–the right to force the executive branch to justify its detention of an individual.

At its historical core, the writ of habeas corpus has served as a means of reviewing the legality of executive detention, and it is in that context that its protections have been strongest.

See Ins v. St. Cyr. Furthermore, the bill of rights added the right to be free from deprivations of liberty without due process of law (5th Amendment), the right to a trial (6th Amendment), and the right to confront one’s accusers (6th Amendment).  All of these rights are being denied to those at Gitmo.    

I am glad to see Republicans are going back to their version of being deficit hawks

November 8, 2010

Republicans ran on a “platform” of fiscal restraint and being deficit hawks.  Without getting into a debate about whether tax cuts are “spending” (from a budget perspective, whether you have less revenue coming in or are spending more money, the consequences to the budget are the same–more deficits), so far all of the Republicans proposals will not only not reign in the deficit but will make it worse.

First, let’s start with the tax cuts:  Obama and the Democrats are proposing to make the Bush tax cuts for people making $250K and less permanent and let the tax cuts on income above $250k / year expireThe Republicans propose to make all of the tax cuts permanent. According to the Congressional Research Service (pp. 12-13), the cost of Republicans plan (over the cost of the Obama plan) will increase our deficit by $818bn ($678bn in  reduced tax revenue + $140bn in increased debt service)over the next 10 years alone

Personally, I think we should allow the tax cuts on the top earners to expire and extend the middle class tax cuts only temporarily.  Eventually, we should return to the Clinton-era tax rates.

Second, the Republicans are proposing to repeal the $500bn reduction in future Medicare spending included in the Health Care Reform bill.  It should be made clear that under the HCR Medicare spending won’t be reduced.  Rather, the increases in Medicare spending will be $500bn less than was the law before.  According to Politifact:

It’s true the federal government will reduce the growth of future spending on Medicare over the next decade. The reforms to Medicare will result in $500 billion in savings over 10 years. But the law does not eliminate $500 billion out of the current budget for Medicare. There are no cuts to guaranteed Medicare benefits.

In fact, spending on Medicare will actually increase over the next decade, reaching $845 billion in 2019, up from $499 billion in actual spending in 2009, according to the nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation. Without reform, Medicare spending in 2019 was projected to be $943 billion. . . .

The $500 billion in savings will come from a mix: Higher insurance premiums for wealthier seniors, reductions in payments for Medicare Advantage plans, a new panel to oversee reimbursement rates, and smaller-than-expected increases in payment rates to hospitals and other service providers each year.

So right off the bat, the Republican policies, if enacted, would increase our federal deficit by almost $1.4tn over the next 10 years and much more after that.  In the coming days, I will detail where we will need to cut if we want to reduce future deficits.  They are proposing only to reduce spending by $100bn / year.  Therefore, their policies, if all enacted (including the spending cuts), would still increase the deficit by $400bn over the next 10 years and that assumes their fanciful cuts of $100bn / year.  They have still not come forward with a credible proposal of where those $100bn are coming from.  It seems unlikely they will be able to do so since they have said that cuts to defense spending is off the table as are cuts to social security benefits and Medicare.

More Support for Hiring Gov. Ed Rendell

November 6, 2010

On Wednesday, I wrote that Pres. Obama should think about hiring outgoing Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, in part, because of his ability to connect with white, working class white voters.  They make a larger chunk of the industrial midwest and will be key to Obama re-election campaign.

On Thursday, writing in the New Republic, Jonathan Cohn made the same recommendation:

Obama is having trouble with white, non-college educated voters, particularly in the industrial midwest. Whether that’s a function of the policy decisions Obama has made or the way Obama has explained them, [Ed] Rendell and [Tom] Strickland might be able to help. Both have proven track records of winning over precisely these sorts of voters in precisely that region. (Strickland came damn close to winning on Tuesday, despite the powerful Republican currents of the day. As my colleague Noam Scheiber observed, he did so with a brutally effective dose of populism.) I particularly like the idea of Rendell in the administration because he’s obstreperous. When he thinks the people around him are screwing up, he says so–loudly. That’s not exactly in line with the administration’s “no drama” motto but, right now, a little drama might be helpful.

Put Rendell in as Transportation Secretary and he will jump start one of the largest jobs programs we have seen since WWII and the New Deal.

On Nancy Pelosi, a former Bush Speechwriter made Exactly the Same Point in March

November 5, 2010

David Frum, a former GWB speechwriter said back in March when the HCR was passed:

Legislative majorities come and go. This healthcare bill is forever. A win in November is very poor compensation for this debacle now.

Read the rest of this entry »

Good News for President Obama

November 4, 2010

It seems one of my fears from the election night will not materialize.  Soon-to-be former Senator Russ Feingold will not challenge President Obama in the 2012 primaries.

Defeated Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold, who considered a White House bid in 2008 and would be the most plausible candidate on Obama’s left flank, has “no interest” in such a challenge, his spokesman said today.

“While a lot of other Democrats ran away from their support for the Recovery Act and health insurance reform, Russ Feingold didn’t, he stood by those votes and President Obama’s effort to do the right thing,” said spokesman John Kraus in an email. “I would chalk up any Beltway chatter about Russ running against President Obama as simply Washington getting wee-wee’d up on the first day of new election cycle that is two years away.”

Feingold “has no interest in challenging President Obama in 2012,” Kraus said.

While Nancy Pelosi was essentially voted out of office last night, she made me proud

November 3, 2010

She used her position as Speaker to attempt to move legislation that she thought was in the best interest of this country.  And she did it not simply to get re-elected or have her caucus hold power.

When I was an 18-year old in my freshman year of college, I started studying political science in school.  And the first theory of politics that I learned is what is the dominant theory today:  rational choice.  It is politics seen through the eyes of an economist.  At its core, the theory says that legislators act for one reason, and only one reason:  to get reelected.  I thought this was frightening and too cynical.  But after years of studying it and observing it, I saw little evidence to repudiate it.

That was until Nancy Pelosi came to power.  She got her caucus to support liberal versions of health care reform legislation, cap and trade and wall street reform.  She did this knowing her and her members would get killed for the votes and probably knowing the Senate would not vote for any of it or would water it down.

While this might be the definition of insanity, she made me any many other liberals proud to see someone stand on principle and act not out of self-interest but what she thought was in the best interest of the country.  Disagree with every vote she cast.  But no one can say she ascended to the speakership just to wield power and to keep it.  She went there to make a difference.  If you are going to have power, you might as well try to use to move the country forward.  If not, what is really the point.  I can’t believe it is just to have power.  But then again, I am a true believer.

I should note that LBJ did the same thing with the 1965 voting rights act and medicare.  He famously said to his aide, Bill Moyers, we just lost the South for a generation.  He was right and they lost it for more than taht.  But at least we got the VRA.  And at least we got health care reform and wall street reform.

After Getting Crushed in the Midwest, President Obama should

November 3, 2010

appoint outgoing Pa. Governor and my former professor Ed Rendell to be Transportation Secretary.  While Gov. Rendell admittedly has a big mouth that he likes to run, he has connected with white working class voters in Pa.  While he is a phili native, he won convincingly across Pa in 2006.  He knows how to connect with voters in the rust belt the same way that Joe Biden and Bill Clinton (now) do.  He would be a great spokesman for the administration to the industrial midwest, which is something they need as they basically have no one left there.  And certainly no one near as effective as him.

And as important, he has been a loud and repeated voice for infrastructure spending during the recession.  Our road and bridges are in great disrepair.  Infrastructure spending would solve that problem and put millions to work like in the New Deal.  Additionally, it will stimulate (yes, I used that word) the manufacturing and raw materials sectors.

In case Russ Feingold thinks of Challenging the President from the left in 2012

November 2, 2010

he should think twice about it.  I have a fondness for the now former Senator because of his votes against the Patriot Act and the Iraq War (though I did not support his campaign finance reform).  But when incumbent Presidents lose, it is usually because of a challenge from his flank.  George Bush 1 was challenged from his right by Pat Buchannan, Jimmy Carter was challenged from his left by Ted Kennedy and LBJ was challenged by Eugene McCarthy.  In each election, the President did not win re-election.  While President Obama may be a disappointment, do you really think that a President Palin, Haley Barbour or John Thune will be better for liberals????

Even if the Democrats maintain control of the Senate tonight….

November 2, 2010

do not be surprised that by the seating of the Senate in January they have lost control bc both senators Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson have switched parties. I think they need to hold 52 seats at the end tonight to maintain control.

If you think they are coming to solve our country’s problems…

November 1, 2010

think again.  I never thought Republicans were serious about solving our economic crisis.  But over the past few weeks, two quotes solidified it for me.  On October 7, I was sitting at my breakfast table enjoying a bagel and my NYTimes.  There it was on the front page.  An article entitled:  “Some in the G.O.P. Find Soft Spot for Bill Clinton.”    I almost choked on bagel.  I will always have a spot in my heart for the former President.  But I am a die hard liberal.  I think he was the most gifted politician of any generation.  But like many great men, he was personally flawed.  And it turns out,looking back at it in hindsight,  many of his policies were also flawed (See, e.g., Commodities Futures Modernization Act and Welfare Reform).  That said, when he left office unemployment was at record lows, the budget was in surplus and the Fed was worrying about paying off our debt.  But for those of you who do not remember that time, the Republicans accused the President of being a murderer, drug dealer, and communist.  And if that was not bad enough, after losing seats in the 1998 mid-terms, the Republicans impeached the President over lies about sex.  But here they are longing for President Clinton.

I bring all of this up because there is a quote from Congressman Paul Ryan (R-Wi) who is supposed to be one of the “serious” Republicans.  He is slated to be the Chairman of the Budget Committee if the Republicans take control in January.  Anyone who has looked at our long-term budget picture knows that our long-term deficits will mainly be the result of 3 (or 4) things:  Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security (and the Bush Tax Cuts if they are made permanent).  But in the late 1990s Congress and the President had a chance to solve or at least improve the social security part.  And why didn’t they?  “If it were not for Monica Lewinsky, I think we would have Social Security straightened out now.” said Rep. Paul Ryan.  So we could have solved the Social Security crisis but the Republicans thought it was more important to impeach the President.  Yeah, they are really serious about solving our problems.

And then there is Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky).  What is his number one goal?  Solving unemployment?  Ending the two wars?  Reducing our long-term budget deficits???  Ah, no.  His number one goal is:  “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.”  And his counterpart in the House, Rep. John Boehner said “This is not a time for compromise, and I can tell you that we will not compromise on our principles.”

More work to do

October 26, 2010

As then candidate Obama said at his acceptance speech in Denver over two years ago, “We have some more work to do.” While I would be the first to admit, these first 20 months have been anything but perfect, do not let perfect be the enemy of the good. Ask yourself one thing before you vote next Tuesday, is the republican alternative really better? Or am I just disappointed? Would I have liked to see a public option? Immigration reform? DADT repealed? Absolutely. But do I think those would be more achievable with John boehner and Mitch McConnell running congress? You have got to be kidding me.

Go Out and Vote (Democratic)

October 26, 2010

For those of you who supported the President two years ago but are thinking of sitting out this election or voting Republican because you are disappointed with the President, think twice before doing that. While I am disappointed too in what I view as missed opportunities for more progress, if you think it will get better with Republicans running the Congress, you are deeply mistaken. Do not think you are going to get a replay of the 1990s after 1994. While the Republicans that were elected that year were far more conservative than those who came before them, there were still Northeastern Republicans and Rockefeller and Eisenhower Republicans. The Republicans that might be elected next Tuesday would make Barry Goldwater and George W. Bush blush. They have made it crystal clear that unlike the Republicans of the 1990s, they will not compromise with the President to move this country forward. Their only goal is to make him a one-term President.

Bad News if You are Taking Final Exams

May 12, 2010

Because I have one more final exam left, I thought this was “sort of” funny and “sort of” a worst nightmare.

Anyone who has taken a law school exam can relate.

This is What it Has Come To.

May 10, 2010

I am the first to admit that there is a cultural and political divide between people who live on the coasts and those that live in middle and southern part of the country.  But if the best you can come up with to go after Elena Kagan’s is the fact that she is not like you and your evidence is that she did not get her driver’s license until her 20s, you really are grasping for straws.  But there is the National Review, doing just that:

this passage  nicely captures Elena Kagan’s remoteness from the lives of most Americans:

Kagan … is such a product of New York City that she did not learn to drive until her late 20s. According to her friend John Q. Barrett, a law professor at St. John’s University, it is a skill she has not yet mastered.

Given  the fact that close to 40% of driving age NYers do not have licenses, it is not all that surprising that she did not get one until her late 20s.  Amazing that this is what it has come to.  But this is just another in a long line of thinly veiled attacks of those that live in places like NY, SF or LA (read:  the people who live there are  are not “real” Americans.).  They do not share your values.  I love the fact that areas that have a combined 45 million people out of  a total of 300 million, but they are not real Americans.

To be clear, I am taking it on faith that SG Kagan is a liberal based on clerkships and which Presidents she has worked for.  Because other than 3 (albeit important) law review articles, she has not said or written much.

My Head Starts To Hurt When I Try to Follow this Kind of Logic

April 14, 2010

For months now, Republicans, including Senate Republicans, have been arguing that Khalid Sheik Mohammad (the mastermind behind 9-11) should only be tried, if at all, in a military commission.  Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) said:

Simply moving the 9/11 trials from New York City is not a solution.  As long as these trials are in civilian court they will bring severe costs and dangers with them wherever they go. There is only one venue change—and one policy—that will work: military commissions.  For that reason, I am joining with my colleagues today to introduce bipartisan legislation that bars funding for the civilian trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his cohorts. These trials are simply too misguided, too costly, and too dangerous.  We must not treat terrorism as a matter of routine law enforcement—and we must not treat terrorists like the innocent civilians they target.”

Read the rest of this entry »

President Obama Should Not Nominate Someone Just To Avoid a Fight

April 12, 2010

No matter who President Obama nominates, short of it being John Yoo or Robert Bork, the Republicans are going to jump up and down and stomp their feet that the person is a liberal, communist, nazi, marxist,  judicial activist, who will substitute their judgment for that of the legislature or of the states or interpret the constitution to accommodate their policy preferences.

If he is going to have a fight on any nominee regardless of who he or she is, he should at least fight for someone he really wants (instead of trying to avoid a fight).

BTW, you should not pay any attention to Republicans who scream about judicial activism but support court challenges to Health Care Reform.  It will take great feat of judicial activism to not only overturn the legislation that passed both houses of congress and was signed into law by the president but also to overturn decades of precedents to get there.

SCOTUS Nominee That Would Most Excite the Democratic Party Base

April 12, 2010

If President Obama wanted to electrify his base, and not just his those who have JDs or follow legal decisions like sports, he would nominate Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.  While the selection of people like Professors Pam Karlan, Kathleen Sullivan or Larry Tribe would rev up the liberal legal community, most voters haven’t the faintest idea who they are, let alone what there stances are on legal issues.  While most people, including myself, do not know where Hillary stands, most people know who she is. And most who know who she is think she is pretty liberal.  She could turn out to fool everyone like C.J. Earl Warren or J. Stevens.  But I doubt that would happen.

If President Obama wants to help his party in November, there are few choices that would be better.  Plus, she is a former Senator and the Senate usually does not give its own a hard on confirmation.

One of the Most Interesting Article on Justice Stevens and Selecting a Nominee

April 10, 2010

I wanted to highlight one of the most interesting articles written about Justice Stevens and how important is it that the nominee meet some diversity requirement.  With any nomination opportunity as of late, especially for a Democratic President, there is always clamoring to pick this person, in part, because they are a woman, or that person, in part, because they are African American or that person because they are Jewish.  But Justice Stevens defied everyone when he became the leading liberal on the court.  Writing today on Slate.com,  Dahlia Lithwick and Sonja West wrote:

But if the retirement of Justice Stevens highlights a single value we should demand in a justice, it’s got nothing to do with race or gender or even professional background and everything to do with empathy for others.

Yes. That’s right. We just said the e-word. . . .

There may be no sitting justice who better exemplified the difference between diversity and empathy than Justice Stevens. He grew up white, male, heterosexual, Protestant, and wealthy. At no point in time was he a prisoner at Guantanamo Bay or a frightened teenage girl. And yet, over the decades, his rulings and written opinions repeatedly showed us that he could see the world through the eyes of those with very different life experiences from his own. In other words, he tapped his inner “wise Latina woman” when the case called for it, and we are all better for it. Stevens used empathy not to skew or manipulate his jurisprudence, but to consider the effects of his decisions on real people and to accept that the law can look quite different depending on where you’re standing. That’s part of what made him such a great justice, and it’s a quality the president should bear in mind in selecting his replacement.

So before you think President Obama needs to nominate a half-asian, half black, disabled, gay, Protestant, just think of Justice Stevens and his background.

When Thinking About Obama’s Supreme Court Nominee, Just Remember the Law of 5

April 9, 2010

As I said in post last year when Justice Souter announced his retirement, I warned that putting a liberal Scalia on the bench would be an epic mistake.  In that post, I said the most important rule to remember is the “Law of 5,” referring to the proposition that Justice Brennan lived by–“You can do anything with 5 votes.”  What we have seen in the past decade is Justice Stevens take on the role once performed by Justice Brennan.  With a Court evenly dividend between the “liberal” and “conservative” Justice with Justice Kennedy in the middle on many votes, Justice Stevens used the “political” skills acquired over a career of 34 years to convince Justice Kennedy to side with the liberals rather than with the conservatives many times.  Using those skills, Justice Stevens was able to shape areas such as the War on Terrorism, Death Penalty jurisprudence and the environment.  He did this by making compromises on the legal basis for many decisions, narrowing the results others or using his power to assign the opinions to Kennedy to get Kennedy’s vote.

Did he win all of these battles?  No, just look at cases such as Bush v Gore or Citizens United v FEC.  But he did get a majority for more liberal results more times than could be thought possible given the fact that for most of the past 20 years,  7 of the 9 Justices (including himself) were appointed by Republican Presidents.  It is this skill over all others and over any specific ideology that will be missed most by liberals.  And it is the skill to convince 4 others to join you that President Obama should keep front and center as he makes his decision on whom to nominate.

Let’s Get Ready to Rumble

April 9, 2010


Associate Justice John Paul Stevens, leader of the liberal wing of the Supreme Court, announced on Friday that he would retire at the end of this term, setting up a confirmation battle over his replacement that is virtually certain to dominate the political scene this summer.

And the Republicans, even before he retired and well before President Obama nominated a successor, have threatened to filibuster his choice. It is going to be a fun summer.  I just hope that the President picks someone who has done of one of the following things: (1) stepped foot in a trial court and litigated cases, (2) worked for or before an administrative agency for a significant period of time or (3) worked in state government in a significant capacity such as being a legislator or a state court judge.  I think one of the worst things he could do was nominate someone who has only been a law professor or appellate judge.  I think having actually seen what it is like to be in the real world gives a person a perspective that is almost wholly lacking on the Court now.

Where Will It End?

April 7, 2010

At his inauguration, President Obama said,

As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals.  Our Founding Fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations.  Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience’s sake

I have written numerous times about the Bush Administration utter disregard for the Constitution and the separation of powers.  I wrote numerous posts about their claims of Article II powers to incarcerate anyone they labeled a terrorist without charges, the right to counsel or the right to challenge their detention in court.  Now, it turns out that the Obama administration has upped the ante.  According to the NYTimes,

The Obama administration has taken the extraordinary step of authorizing the targeted killing of an American citizen, the radical Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who is believed to have shifted from encouraging attacks on the United States to directly participating in them, intelligence and counterterrorism officials said Tuesday.

Read the rest of this entry »

If You Want to Know Why We Have So Much Bullying in Schools of Those Who Are Different, One Place to Look is at the Parents

April 7, 2010

This is from Mississippi, where a school district had lost the right to exclude a lesbian student from attending the HIS prom with her girlfriend.  What did they do?  The school district conspired with some parents to invite the couple to a “fake” prom and held the “real” one at a secret location.  Stay Classy, Mississippi.  From Gawker

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Still Fighting on the Wrong Side of History

April 6, 2010

Today, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell declared April to be Confederate History Month:

WHEREAS, April is the month in which the people of Virginia joined the Confederate States of America in a four year war between the states for independence that concluded at Appomattox Courthouse; and

WHEREAS, Virginia has long recognized her Confederate history, the numerous civil war battlefields that mark every region of the state, the leaders and individuals in the Army, Navy and at home who fought for their homes and communities and Commonwealth in a time very different than ours today; and […]

WHEREAS, this defining chapter in Virginia’s history should not be forgotten, but instead should be studied, understood and remembered by all Virginians, both in the context of the time in which it took place, but also in the context of the time in which we live, and this study and remembrance takes on particular importance as the Commonwealth prepares to welcome the nation and the world to visit Virginia for the Sesquicentennial Anniversary of the Civil War, a four-year period in which the exploration of our history can benefit all;

NOW, THEREFORE, I, Robert McDonnell, do hereby recognize April 2010 as CONFEDERATE HISTORY MONTH in our COMMONWEALTH OF VIRGINIA, and I call this observance to the attention of all our citizens.

So there it is.  A Governor that is a member of the party of Lincoln (or at least that what Republicans still claim) declaring a month to remember those fought to secede from the union to protect their right to keep slavery.  Those who still defend “states’ rights” from that period can dress up the divide between the North and the South any way they want.  But what it came down was the South’s continued insistence to keep a whole class of people in bondage.

And if you think we aren’t still feeling the effects today of the South’s insistence on keeping slavery, just look into why we have a Senate that gives the same amount representation to states such as South Carolina, Alabama and Virginia as it does to California, Texas and New York.

Lincoln would be horrified by the modern day Republican party just as he would of the Dixiecrats who joined during the struggle for civil rights in the middle part of the last century (which is how we got the modern GOP) and Nixon’s “Southern Strategy.”

Why Doesn’t Walmart Sell Health Insurance?

April 1, 2010

Now that the HCR bill has been passed and signed into law, I want to bring something up that I have been thinking about for a long time and something my dad raised with me this weekend:  Given its buying power, why doesn’t Walmart sell health insurance?  Currently, Walmart to sells many drugs for $4/30 day supply.  If any seller could drive down the cost of a product, it is Walmart.

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Thanks God For the Fact that Some Politicians Have No Filter

April 1, 2010

I am always struck by how few politicians have a filter between their brains and their mouths.  Usually this thought pops into my mind because a politician has stuck his foot in house.  Think Joe Biden.

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Scott Brown, Thank You

March 25, 2010

Now that Health Care Reform (“HCR”) has passed, I want to personally thank Senator Scott Brown (R-Mass.)  and the voters of Massachusetts who elected you.  By getting elected and denying the Democrats their filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, I believe you actually made it possible for the Democrats to finally pass HCR.  And here is why:

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From Yes, We Can to Yes, We Did.

March 24, 2010

While I had grave doubts that my, sometimes, dysfunctional party could get this done, and that President Barack Obama would ever put this on health care reform legislation

President Obama's Signature on Health Care Reform. March 23, 2010.

President Obama moved from his campaign slogan of Yes, We Can to Yes, We Did.  Led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Congressional Democrats proved the first thing I learned in College wrong:  that politicians only care about getting reelected.  While many will have the same fate as Congresswoman Marjorie Margolies-Mezvinsky , who provided President Bill Clinton the decisive vote he needed to get his 1993 budget passed, and lose their reelection campaigns because their vote on HCR, just remember how the Clinton Presidency turned out:  longest period of peacetime economic expansion.  Most people credit that 1993 budget for the expansion.  Without the courage of Congresswoman Margolies-Mezvinsky, it might never have happened.

Writing last week in the Washington Post, she said:

I voted my conscience, and it cost me.  I still remember how, after I voted, Bob Walker jumped up and down on the House floor, yelling “Bye-bye, Marjorie!” I thought, first, that he was probably right. Then, that I would expect better behavior from my kids, much less a member of Congress. And then, that he was a remarkable jumper.  I am your worst-case scenario. And I’d do it all again.

No doubt the law will have to be improved, but it really is an achievement of a lifetime.  Today, I came across this video of then Candidate Obama’s speech from the night he lost the New Hampshire primary put to music.

And then there is the leader of the Republican opposition:

Calling “This Childish Behavior Would Be An Insult To Children Everywhere”

March 24, 2010

That was Kevin Drum of Mother Jones describing the Republican antics today in the Senate.  Here is what happened:  During multiple Senate committee meetings being conducted today, Democratic Chairmen had to suspend the meeting, sometimes mid-sentence during a witnesses testimony.  Why might you ask?  Well it seems there is an obscure Senate Rule, (5(a)), which states:

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Yes, We Did!

March 23, 2010

(courtsey of Doug Mills/The New York Times)
Where Presidents Teddy Roosevelt, Harry Truman, LBJ, Richard Nixon, and Bill Clinton failed, President Barak Obama and the Democrats in Congress have enacted the achievement of a lifetime.  While it is not a perfect bill and does not ensure coverage for everyone, it is the single biggest step towards that goal since Medicare.  As  Representative Anthony Weiner repeated during the entire 14 month process, we cannot “let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”  And they did not.

I believe that the exchanges that go into effect will eventually be the means by which almost everyone purchases health care.  It is how federal civilian employees do it now and it works really well.  Do not be surprised if you see the acceleration of the adoption of those exchanges before 2014 (coupled with a repeal of the health insurance deduction and replaced with a tax credit similar to that that was proposed by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Or.) and Robert Bennett (R-Ut.)).

In the words of V.P. Joe Biden: “This is a big fucking deal.”

The Unconstitutionality of the “Stupak” Executive Order

March 21, 2010

Bart Stupak and the rest of his “Stupak 12” just got hoodwinked by the President.  The President and the group agreed to an executive order stating that the “Hyde Amendment” which is voted on every year to forbid HHS Deparment funds from being used to fund abortions applies to the health care reform bill.  In return, the Stupak “12” agreed to vote for Health Care Reform.  But the President, acting alone, cannot enact this restriction without Congressional authorization.

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Glad to See The New Republic Agrees with My Take

February 26, 2010

Today, in two blog posts, TNR writer Jonathan Cohn writes essentially the same I did yesterday:

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The Truth on Reconciliation

February 26, 2010

In my previous post, I described how almost all of our health care legislation in the past 30 years has been through reconciliation.  I do not want to leave anyone with the impression that health care reform this year is being passed through that process.  Health Care Reform has passed the senate on Christmas Eve 2009 with 60 votes .  It got passed a filibuster and received a super majority.  What will be passed through the house and senate with simple majorities, will be fixes to the bill, such as removing a provision which says that only Nebraska will get extra funding to expand Medicaid or only Florida will be exempt from the repeal of Medicare Advantage.  What is not being passed through reconciliation with a simple majority is the entire health care bill.  It is only these small fixes that Republicans will not let through for an up or down vote.  So when you hear Republicans complain that Democrats are “jamming health care through with a bare majority” pay no attention to them.  They are flat out lying.  The Republicans required a 60 vote majority to pass HCR and the Democrats got the required votes.  Only these minor fixes are being passed through on a majority vote.

Verdict from the Health Care Summitt: No Chance of Compromise or Agreement

February 26, 2010

Having watched or listened to about half of today’s health care summit, one thing is painfully obvious:  there is no chance of compromise.  And there is a simple reason:  the two sides do not want the same thing.  It is one thing to compromise and give and take if the goal of two negotiating parties is the same.  But here, what Democrats want and what Republicans want is drastically different.  What you heard from Republicans is they want incremental change so that may be an additional 3 million people will get coverage.  The Democrats, on the other hand, have had enough with incremental change, and aim to cover more than 30 million people.  Since both parties do not want universal coverage or incremental change to bring down some people’s premium and give a few more people coverage, there is nothing really to compromise.  Given that the Republicans do not aim to cover most, if not all, of the uninsured, there is nothing that Democrats can given them.

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Best CSPAN Ad Ever

February 25, 2010

Thank god my new car has XM radio so I can listen to this on the way to office hours for Corporate Tax.  Nothing like a little health care smackdown before discussing stock redemptions.  Hopefully, John Boehner can tell us how he gets his skin that color.  I wonder if he uses the same specialist as the late Michael Jackson.

Update on the Republican’s Budgetary Ideas

February 11, 2010

Previously, I said that Republican Paul Ryan had proposed a 75-year budget plan that would eliminate the federal deficits and debt over the time period.  I said that was great if that is all that you cared about.  I went on to explain that the only way he got there was by privatizing / eliminating much of the New Deal and Great Society.  But it is actually much worse than that.  When the CBO scored the plan and said it eliminated the deficits and debt, it was doing so using Ryan’s assumptions that his massive tax cuts would not decrease tax revenues (p. 4, other tax provisions)  There is no credible economist–Art Laffer is not a credible economist–who will tell you with a straight face that if you drastically cut income taxes there will be no effect on revenue.  Reagan’s tax cuts did not do it and neither did Bush’s tax cuts.  If there is a drastic reduction in tax revenue, his plan does not eliminate the deficits or the debt.  So not only does Ryan eliminate programs such as Medicare and Social Security, he does not even eliminate the debt after their elimination.

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More From Our Dysfunctional Senate–Aaron Sorkin Strikes Again

February 5, 2010

And Aaron Sorkin Strikes again.  In the West Wing episode entitled “The Constituency of One” Conservative Senator Carrick (Tom Skerritt), a Democrat from Idaho places a hold on a backlog of military promotions preventing a vote on their promotions so he can secure an expensive but faulty missile launcher to be built in his home state.  In the fictional Senate of the West Wing, one Senator, acting alone, could block the approval of military promotions for dozens of officers.  If only this just occurred in fiction.

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I Won’t Say They Have No Ideas, But No Ideas that Anyone Wants

February 2, 2010

Today, while the President released his budget for FY’11, Wisconsin Republican Paul Ryan released his own budget and legislative proposals.  His goal is to eliminate all budget deficits for the next 75 years.  And if implemented, the CBO says his plan will actually run a surplus over the next 75 years.  That is the same time frame where we are currently projected to run massive deficits, mainly because of health care spending that will sky rocket as a result of baby-boomers becoming eligible for Medicare.  Well that is the good.

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Inspired by the Supreme Court’s Decision in Citizens United, Corporation Decides to Run For Congress

January 31, 2010

I kid you not. If Corporations have first amendment rights, why not the right to vote or to run for Congress? Justice Stevens in dissent wrote: “Under the majority’s view, I suppose it may be a First Amendment problem that corporations are not permitted to vote, given that voting is, among other things, a form of speech.”

A progressive PR-firm has decided that it will run for Congress in Maryland and is entering the Maryland Republican primary. Here is there first ad:

In Case You Missed It Yesterday, Watch President Obama School House Republicans in a 68 Minute, Televised Q&A

January 31, 2010

While this type of Q&A happens frequently in England, it never occurs here (C-SPAN used to run it every Sunday night from the House of Commons).  President Obama took 68 minutes worth of questions from House Republicans and it was televised.  It got so bad for Republicans that they later told reporters that it was a big mistake to “let the cameras in”.  Furthermore, instead of televising the end of this bloodbath, FoxNews cut away with 22 minutes left.

These 68 minutes show how out of touch with facts and reality Republicans really are. The last question, from a so-called rising start, Jeb Henserling, who sits on the Budget Committee accused, Obama of running $1.3 trillion deficits A MONTH. A MONTH!! I do not know if he knows how to add, but that would be a yearly deficit of $15.6 trillion, which is more than our national debt. As Senator Moynihan (I think) used to say: you are entitled to your opinions but not your own facts. This forum was great for the President because he got to confront his opponents at the same time they made they ridiculous charges. If they are dumb enough to agree to it, Obama should do this more often.

When did our democracy go so far off the rails?

January 27, 2010

Why I am still hopeful that House Democrats will do what I suggested last week and simply pass the Senate’s bill and fix it through reconciliation, Senate Democrats (at least some of them) are making it difficult to believe that reconciliation will be a viable option.  For those who do not know, reconciliation is a procedure by which the Senate can pass certain measure (that have an impact on the budget and revenues) by a simple majority, without the possibility of a filibuster.  You know, the way a democracy is supposed to work.

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For Those Democrats Thinking of Back Down Now, Don’t. You Already Voted For Health Care Reform Last Year

January 21, 2010

For all of those Democratic congressmen who are thinking about abandoning health care reform now, don’t.  You already voted for last year.  Don’t think for a second that Republicans aren’t still going to run ads stating that you did (even if you vote against it now or prevent a vote on it).  Just remember John Kerry:  I was for it before I was against it.  At least if you pass it, you get something for that vote last year.  And that something, is something that FDR, Truman, LBJ, Nixon and Clinton could not do.  Don’t let the political capital you expended voting for it go to waste.

And as for Massachusetts, it does not matter for them if you pass the bill.  They already have universal coverage.  Disregard what those voters said last night.  It is not relevant.

Earth to House Democrats: Just Pass the Senate Health Care Bill

January 20, 2010

After last night’s debacle in Massachusetts, the House Democrats have only one thing to do: pass the health care bill the Senate passed last year. This will mean that the Senate does not have to vote again and Brown’s vote on the issue won’t matter. Is the Senate bill a great bill? No. But it is better than nothing. And more importantly, most of the bad parts of it can be amended later this year or next through reconciliation, which only requires 50 votes.

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When Your Are in a Hole, STOP DIGGING!!!

January 6, 2010

This is the “Fair and Balanced” We Have Come to Expect

January 5, 2010

I really have no further comment aside from the fact that the Sunday Morning shows should not be covering stories that appear on my TMZ app unless they involve politicians or policy makers.  I am just happy that my religion does not permit proselytizing.

What I Read on the Beach

January 5, 2010

While most people spend beach vacation reading page-turning fiction books, I spent my winter vacation reading Andrew Ross Sorkin’s Too Big to Fail: The Inside Story of How Wall Street and Washington Fought to Save the Financial System—and Themselves and Charles Gasparino’s The Sellout: How Three Decades of Wall Street Greed and Government Mismanagement Destroyed the Global Financial System.
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Negotiating Lower Drug Prices

December 11, 2009

The Senate is currently debating an amendment that would allow for the importation of prescription drugs from Canada to the U.S.  The reason that this amendment is being pushed is that drugs prices are much lower in Canada than they are here.  There is a simple reason for that—the Canadian government negotiates directly with the drug companies to purchase drugs for the whole country (Canada has a single-payer health system where the Government provides health care for all citizens).  This is in contrast with individual insurance companies, pharmaceutical buying cooperatives and individuals here negotiating with the drug companies.  The Canadian government has much more leverage and buying power than do these individual groups, which leads to lower prices for Canadians.

But instead of simply allowing our Government to negotiate directly with the drug companies, our esteemed Senate thinks it is a better idea to just allow our citizens to reimport the drugs from Canada and other places.  Even leaving aside the health risks of reimporting drugs, there is simply no sound economic reason why we need this convoluted system to get cheaper drugs.  Furthermore, there is no reason why American citizens need to pay higher prices for drugs than the rest of the world.  Most other industrialized countries allow their governments to negotiate directly with drug companies.  Like the Canadians, this allows them to get lower prices than the US, which bans the practice.  Why should Americans have to subsidize lower prices around the world.  JUST ALLOW OUR GOVERNMENT TO NEGOTIATE BETTER PRICES.

Why Not Open Up Medicare to Everyone?

December 8, 2009

In the latest effort to get a “public option” in the health care reform bill, 10 senators are negotiating to open Medicare up to some people who are 55-64, but require them to “buy-in” to the system.  In this proposal, certain people from the ages of 55-64 would be able to purchase insurance through the Medicare system that currently insures our seniors.  (It is unclear if this program would be available to all people ages 55 to 64 or only those who cannot get insurance now).  This will give all of the benefits of Medicare to a larger pool of people without the government having to set-up a whole new “public” insurance program.  This will alleviate the federal government from having to set-up a new public insurance program because the infrastructure already exists.  And from all of the polling data, Medicare seems to be extremely popular with its beneficiaries.

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Health Care: Co-Payments and the Internet

December 8, 2009

As the debate about health care reform has unfolded, at least one thing has emerged that almost everyone has agreed upon:  we are spending too much on health care.  Currently, we spend about 1 out every 6 dollars on health care or 16% of GDP.  On a per capita basis, we spend almost double what the next highest country spends.  And yet, on almost every important indicator from infant mortality to life expectancy to doctors per capita, we lag significantly behind most other OECD countries.  Therefore, it is certainly possible to get better outcomes while spending less money.

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Alternate Universe

December 3, 2009

Over the past year, I have been following the health care debate closely. But only recently have I realized how ridiculous parts of the debate are. Well, that is not exactly true. It has just gotten more ridiculous since August.

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New Chapter in My Life and On This Blog

December 3, 2009

For those of you who do not know, Monday was my last day as an associate at Irell & Manella.  In January, I will be a student again, pursuing an LL.M. in tax at Loyola Law School.

Based on feedback from many of you, my future posts will be substantially shorter.  This should allow me to post more regularly.  On occasion, I will post more lengthy entries.  But that will be the exception, not the rule.

One of the Reasons Supply-Side Economics Does Not Make Sense To Me

November 3, 2009

In his column in the Sunday NYTimes, former GW Bush economic advisor and current Harvard Economics Professor, N. Greg Mankiw argues against the Health Care bill because of the way that the insurance subsidies are structured.  He contends that it would discourage workers from working to their full potential.

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Solutions Other Than Prohibiting Principal Investing By Commercial and Investment Banks

October 29, 2009

In my last post, I advocated prohibiting investment and commercial banks from investing their own capital for gain. But there is another possible solution: these firms should cease being publicly traded companies and return to being general partnerships.

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Limiting Bankers’ Pay Completely Misses the Point

October 27, 2009

Before I turn to health care later this week, I wanted to return to a topic that I have written about before, namely compensation on Wall Street. Over the past few days, much has been written about Ken Feinberg’s decisions on the pay packages of the 25 highest paid executives of the seven companies who have received, and still retain, the most TARP funds (e.g., Citigroup, Bank of America and A.I.G.). There has been much discussion about the optimal way to pay Wall Street firm employees. What is the optimal ratio of guaranteed cash to stock? How long should the stock take to vest? Should the companies be required to put claw back provisions into their employment agreements with their bankers and traders so that if the employee’s investments go bad, the company can get their compensation they paid out back? But all of this misses the point in my mind. Read the rest of this entry »

Dear Senators, Please Leave the Baseball Analogy on the Field!

July 14, 2009

For those of you who know me, know that I am a baseball fanatic.  I believe it is the best sport to watch, especially come playoff time.  But if I have to hear one more Senator discuss whether a nominee is a good umpire, impartially calling balls and strikes in our legal system, I might have to throw a baseball through my television.  [Update:  according to SCOTUSblog.com, no fewer than nine Senators made reference to umpire or umpires during the first day of hearings on the nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor for a seat on the Supreme Court]

Back in 2005, then Supreme Court nominee John Roberts stated during his confirmation hearing:

Judges are like umpires.  Umpires don’t make the rules; they apply them.  The role of an umpire and a judge is critical.  They make sure everybody plays by the rules. . . . I have no agenda, but I do have a commitment.  If I am confirmed, I will confront every case with an open mind.  I will fully and fairly analyze the legal arguments that are presented.  I will be open to the considered views of my colleagues on the bench.  And I will decide every case based on the record, according to the rule of law, without fear or favor, to the best of my ability.  And I will remember that it’s my job to call balls and strikes and not to pitch or bat.

While this was a simple analogy cooked up, I am sure, by some Republican PR or advertising flak, it does a disservice to the public in educating them on how hard it is to make decisions as a Supreme Court Justice.  Justice Roberts would have you believe that being a judge is the simplest of tasks:  applying clear rules to clear facts and coming to a conclusion.  Reality could not be further from this simple analogy.

First, the rules of baseball are a model of clarity as compared to the text of the Constitution or federal statutory code.  For example, take the subject of Justice Roberts’ analogy:  calling balls and strikes.  According to Major League Baseball Rule 2.00:

The Strike Zone is defined as that area over homeplate the upper limit of which is a horizontal line at the midpoint between the top of the shoulders and the top of the uniform pants, and the lower level is a line at the hollow beneath the kneecap. The Strike Zone shall be determined from the batter’s stance as the batter is prepared to swing at a pitched ball.

While this rule is clear and not open to interpretation, anyone who has ever played or watched baseball knows that each umpire has a slightly different strike zone.   Some umpires call more high strikes than low ones; some have a wider strike zone than others. Even MLB umpire John Hirschbeck has

acknowledged something pitchers and hitters have long known: each umpire calls balls and strikes a little bit differently.  Some guys have a tighter strike zone, but if the ball is over the plate at the right height, that’s a strike no matter who you are[.]  Up and down, the same thing. Some guys are a little tighter. They want that ball, in their minds, to be right on the plate.  Other guys say that if it nicks the corner, that’s good enough for me.

Unlike the rules of baseball, the Constitution is hardly clear enough to simply apply it to all situations and easily come to a conclusion.  For instance, the First Amendment provides:  “Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech[.]”  What does this mean?  Does it mean that while Congress cannot abridge the freedom of speech, a state or locality can?  Does it mean that the Amendment only protects verbal speech, but not written speech?  What about television or the internet?  Does it protect commercial speech as much as it does political speech?  Does it protect obscenity and pornography?  None of these questions are answered by reading the Constitution?  Justices, the federal and state governments, citizens and corporations have been fighting it out since the dawn of our republic.

But what makes constitutional interpretation so much harder than being an umpire is that as a society, we cannot even agree on how to interpret the Constitution.  Should we simply apply the “meaning” of the text when we can ascertain it?  What meaning:  intention of the drafters?  The meaning the public would have attached to it when it was drafted?  How about what a modern society would interpret it to mean?  Can that meaning change over time or is static, fixed at the time of adoption?  Because we cannot even agree on these basic ground rules, it is either naïve or disingenuous to say that judges are and should simply be umpires calling balls and strikes.  I urge all Senators to stop using this analogy and concentrate on some of the questions posed here that have been bedeviling generations of Americans since the founding.

In Defense of Bankers’ Bonuses and Union Contracts

June 30, 2009

Over the past year, two groups have been unfairly scapegoated for our country’s economic problems:  (1) bankers and (2) unions.  In particular, many people have blamed the incentives embedded in bankers’ compensation scheme for the near bankruptcy of the entire industry.  Many people also blame unions for the down fall of the auto companies.  But I believe both positions are misguided at best and flat out wrong at worst.

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I am Back!!

June 30, 2009

After a few week hiatus, I am back blogging.  As I said to one of my former law school professors, this whole work thing gets in the way of blogging.

Do Republicans Not Understand That The Internet Has Changed Politics Forever

May 20, 2009

I was not intending to use this blog to score “cheap” political points, but with the Republicans’ acerbic comments regarding the Speaker of the House in the face of their utter, bald-face hypocrisy, I feel I must write this post.  On Monday, the former, now disgraced Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich stated:

“To have the person third in line to be president say that the CIA misleads us all the time is so utterly irresponsible and such an attack on the men and women who are risking their lives … that she disqualifies herself for being speaker of the House.”

On ABC Radio, he went further:

“I think she has lied to the House, and I think that the House has an absolute obligation to open an inquiry, and I hope there will be a resolution to investigate her. And I think this is a big deal. I don’t think the Speaker of the House can lie to the country on national security matters,”

I think this is the most despicable, dishonest and vicious political effort I’ve seen in my lifetime.” “She is a trivial politician, viciously using partisanship for the narrowist of purposes, and she dishonors the Congress by her behavior.”

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Update: Why President Obama Should Not Declassify Documents Showing What Information We Gained As A Result of Torture

May 19, 2009

According to the Plum Line Blog:  Fox News correspondent (yes, ever once in a while I will quote Fox News), Jonathan Hunt, says the Pelosi focus is a distraction from a real debate about torture:

“Instead of this debate being about national security, what is and isn’t torture, what the Bush administration should and shouldn’t have allowed and whether anybody in that administration should now be prosecuted, the Republicans are now able to frame this debate as to whether Nancy Pelosi is fit to continue as Speaker. So they are not about to let their foot off the gas in any way, shape, or form.

This is exactly why any focus on what the Speaker knew or did not know is irrelevant and simply a distraction.  She had no authority, on her own, to authorize torture or to suspend Constitutional or statutory protections or prohibitions.  Furthermore, it is also irrelevant to any criminal inquiry what we learned from torture.  All that matter is whether the waterboarding and the other interrogation techniques used by the Bush Administration were legal.

Why President Obama Should Not Declassify Documents Showing What Information We Gained As A Result of Torture

May 18, 2009

Since President Obama took office and the possibility of criminal prosecutions for the torturing of detainees became a reality, supporters of the Bush Administration have been screaming that this is simply the criminalization of policy differences.  Now, former VP-Cheney, in his effort to justify the use of torture, has called on President Obama to declassify certain documents he argues will show that the Bush Administration’s torture policy kept us safe.

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A Response to Doug

May 16, 2009


This post is in response to the lengthy comment left by my friend and former colleague Doug.  Because of the length of my response, I felt a new post was justified.

First, Doug, thanks for the thoughtful, though misguided response but you did not grapple with the main thrust of the post—that it is ludicrous to claim that the Speaker is somehow guilty of conspiracy to commit torture by failing object to torture.  In my post, I tried to stay away from the Speaker’s moral culpability in the matter.  But if failure to object is the standard, very few, if any, Congressmen acquitted themselves very well during this period.  To her credit, at least the Speaker voted against the authorization to go to war.

But since you addressed your comment to whether the Speaker has any culpability in this matter, I will address your claims in succession.  I have put what my response in italics.

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Have You No Sense of Decency? Will This Charade Ever End?

May 15, 2009

As those of you who read my blog know, I read the Corner blog at Nationalreview.com regularly, to see what the sometimes intelligent but mostly hysterical political right is saying.  Today, Andy McCarthy (former SDNY terrorist prosecutor) writes about whether Nancy Pelosi is guilty of conspiracy to commit torture.  His argument, unless I am missing something, is that Speaker Pelosi is guilty of conspiracy to commit torture, because she knew either that the Bush Administration was committing torture or was about to commit torture and did nothing about it.  The heart of his argument is:

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May 14, 2009

Since President Obama proposed his stimulus, conservatives have been shrieking at the top of their lungs that President Obama is seeking to ration health care. There primary piece of evidence is inclusion of funding ($700mm) for what is known as Comparative Effectiveness Research (“CER”). What CER seeks to do is study the costs and benefits of certain medical treatments, procedures or drugs. For example, it would study whether physical therapy is more effective than shoulder surgery for healing an ailing shoulder. What people like Betsy McCaughey, author of the Bloomberg Op-Ed cited above, argue is that this is will lead to the Government deciding which treatments your doctor will be able to prescribe, and not you and your doctor. For example, if the Government believes that therapy is more cost effective for a certain amount of benefits as compared to surgery, you will not be able to choose surgery. In the end, according to Ms. McCaughey, the Government will simply ration health care as it sees fit. As will come as no surprise, I find many problems with the position advocated by these conservatives.

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Andrew Sullivan Has the Same I Thought I Do About the President and Vice President’s Oath

May 11, 2009

Sullivan writes on his blog:

Here’s how [Cheney] recounts it in his interview yesterday:

Now, if you’d look at it from the perspective of a senior government official, somebody like myself, who stood up and took the oath of office on January 20th of ‘01 and raised their right hand and said we’re going to protect and defend the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic, this was exactly, exactly what was needed to do it.

Here’s the actual oath:

I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God.

My italics, of course. Is Cheney’s ultimate defense is that he didn’t understand the oath he took?

This is similar to what I wrote about here.

It’s Like the NYTimes Read My Blog

May 7, 2009

In today’s NYTimes, Adam Liptak, in an article about replacing Justice Souter, wrote:

The first rule of the Supreme Court, Justice Brennan would say, holding up his open hand, is to get to five — meaning persuading five of the nine justices. . . “The replacement to Souter is not going to make an ideological majority for progressives,” said Abner J. Mikva, a former federal judge who taught with Mr. Obama at the University of Chicago“The new justice has got to be someone who can persuade Kennedy and maybe even Alito.” Justice Anthony M. Kennedy is the court’s swing justice, and Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., a conservative, is the court’s newest member.

Like I said before, the only thing that matters is 5.  While it would be nice to have a Justice who could write memorable opinions, if they are mostly dissenting opinions, it won’t matter.

Another State on the Right Side of History: Maine Becomes the 2nd State to Enact Gay Marriage

May 6, 2009

Maine joins Vermont as the 2nd state to legislatively approve gay marrige.  Today, Democratic Gov. John Baldacci signed a bill legalizing gay marriage.  Next up, New Hampshire.

Hopefully This Will Bring a Smile to Your Face

May 6, 2009

Hopefully this brings a smile to your face. If not, there is something seriously wrong with you.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “Gizmodo – Best Video I’ve Seen Today …“, posted with vodpod

No Liberal Scalias

May 6, 2009

With President Obama set to name his first nominee to the Supreme Court Democrats and liberals are debating whether the President should name a “Liberal Scalia?”  On February 3, 2009, Dahlia Lithwick wrote on slate.com, “Indeed, the most consistent aspect of the liberal grousing about the court is that there is no left-wing counterpart for Justice Antonin Scalia.”

But appointing a liberal Scalia would be a mistake of epic proportion.  There is no doubt Justice Scalia is incredibly smart, and a very gifted writer.  In person, he is one of the funniest people I have heard speak.  His intellect and writing skills make his opinions some of the most memorable you will read.  Readability of writing and clarity of legal principles is what many liberals desire.

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Let the Speculation Begin: Justice Souter is Retiring at the End of the Term

May 1, 2009

Pete Williams of MSNBC News is reporting that Justice David Souter will retire at the end of the term.  If President Obama does not select a Hispanic (and there will be a lot of pressure to do so), my two “dark” horse picks for the seat are Professor Pam Karlan of Stanford Law School and if he picks a white male, Seth Waxman, former Solicitor General, now a partner at WilmerHale.

I make these “crass” political statements about selecting people based on race and sex, not because I think it is a good criteria for selecting Justices, but, rather, because I live in the real world and know every news story between now and when Obama selects someone will focus on women and Hispanics.

Update: I chose not to put any sitting judges on my list of candidates, because Pres. Obama indicated that it was important to have non-judges on the Court.  If he were to put a sitting judge on the Court, my money is on Judge Diane Wood of the 7th Circuit in Chicago.

Update #2: It’s official, Justice David Souter will retire at the end of the term (seemingly regardless of whether a replacement has been confirmed).  Here are President Obama’s remarks to the WH press corp regarding the retirement.

Question for the Readers of This Blog: Obligation to Deal with Unions

May 1, 2009

I am no expert on labor law.  As we watch Chrysler go into bankruptcy, many on the Right blame the unions for the American car companies’ problems.  They say that the American car companies are at competitive disadvantage to their foreign competitor (even those with plants in the U.S., mainly in the South) because the U.S. companies have unionized workers (and very high health care costs as a result) and the foreign ones don’t (needless to say this leaves out the fact that the Southern states have given generous tax breaks to the foreign car companies).

But is there any legal requirement that the U.S. companies negotiate with the unions?  Why isn’t all of the blame on the management of these firms?  The unions and their leaders have a responsibility to their members, not to the car companies.  There obligation is to get the best deal for their members.   Management and the Big 3’s Directors have the responsibility to get the best deal for their company, not the unions.  Unless there is a legal requirement to bargain AND come to an agreement with the unions, no one forced the Big 3 to sign the deals that gave the unions their CBAs and the health care coverage and other benefits.  I understand that they may have signed these deals for business or political reasons, but that is thierere decision and problem.

Any insight in the comments would be greatly appreciated.

Our Security vs. Our Ideals

April 30, 2009

“As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals.  Our Founding Fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience’s sake,” so said President Obama during his inauguration.

I have heard no more idealistic statement by a politician who actually held power since I started following politics more than 20 years ago.  It was such a refreshing view of our country’s dreams, hopes, and ideals, especially after 8 years of utter disgrace.

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West Wing Strikes Again: State’s Rights Activists Are Happy to Take the Federal Government’s Money

April 29, 2009

Aaron Sorkin and his show West Wing have a knack of predicting the future of politics. First, the show predicted that one day Vermont would help lead the country into legalizing gay marriage.

In Season 5’s episode entitled “The Supremes,” when President Josiah Bartlett (played Martin Sheen) faced two openings on the Supreme Court at the same time, he wanted to nominate Glen Close, an extremely liberal, pro-choice appeals court judge. But if he wanted to nominate her, the politics of the situation would also require him to nominate William Fichtner, a young, archconservative appeals court judge. At one point during the show, the two potential nominees were sitting in a in the room together in the White House and proceeded to debate (like “cats and dogs”) DOMA (the “Defense of Marriage Act”).

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Modest Proposal to Jump Start The Credit Markets

April 28, 2009

Open any newspaper or put on any news program, you are bound to see the same or similar headlines:  The global credit system is in a state of paralysis.  Simply, those institutions that normally lend to businesses and consumers (such as banks and credit card companies) have decided a more prudent course of action is to limit or entirely cut off credit lines, bank loans, credit revolvers, home equity loans or mortgages, or refuse to purchase corporate or high yield bonds.  While the equity markets normally get all of the headlines, it is the credit markets that is the lifeblood of the economy.  It terms of size, the credit market dwarfs the equity markets.  That is why Bill Clinton was so concerned with how the bond market reacted to his policy proposals.  Therefore, if we are going to get out of this deep recession, we need to somehow stimulate the credit markets, and get lenders to lend more money to businesses and consumers.

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Gay Marriage and Threats to Religious Freedom: Hiding the Ball

April 22, 2009

As someone who likes to know what people I disagree with are thinking, I frequently read conservative websites such as the National Review.  It does not take me long to realize how much I disagree with their contributors.

One of the frequent contributors to the website, especially on gay marriage, is Maggie Gallagher President of the National Organization on Marriage (“NOM“) (which ought to be called the National Organization on Heterosexual Marriage).

On April 8, Ms. Gallagher wrote:

Same-sex marriage is quite different from bans on interracial marriage in one powerful respect: It asks religious Americans to surrender a core belief — not only Leviticus (disapproval of gay sexual acts), but Genesis (the idea that God himself made man as male and female and commanded men and women to come together in a special way to image the fruitfulness of God).

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Vermont, Take Your Place at the Front of Line For Being the First to be on the Right Side of History

April 8, 2009

Today, the Vermont legislature overrode the veto of Governor Jim Douglas, and became the first state in the Union to legalize gay marriage through the legislation legislative action (as opposed to a judicial decision).

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“My” Solution to the Toxic Asset Fiasco–Revised

March 27, 2009

As I previewed two days ago, “my” solution to the toxic asset problem is for the government to buy these assets at the value the banks currently have for them on their balance sheets—what they have the securities marked at on their books (I use the scare quotes because I cannot remember if I came up with this idea on my own or read about elsewhere).  In return, the seller gives the Government essentially an insurance policy that they will pay for any losses the Government actually suffers, but only when those losses are suffered.  Essentially, the Government will not only be purchasing the assets, but also be purchasing a Credit Default Swap from the bank. Read the rest of this entry »

Email Subscriptions to This Blog

March 25, 2009

For those of you who want to be alerted when there is a new blog posting, you can simply click on this link and follow the directions.  This will alleviate the need to check back into the blog.


The Public-Private Partnership Does Not Solve the Root Problem: The Pricing of the Toxic Assets

March 25, 2009

The plan announced by Treasury Department to partner with private investment firms does not solve the root problem–the pricing of the toxic assets.  When one reads the Treasury’s plan, one would think that we simply have a liquidity problem–a lack of of capital in the private markets to buy up these assets.  But as has been reported,  there is plenty of capital sitting on the sidelines specifically waiting to buy these assets.  For example, back in July, Merrill Lynch sold toxic assets with a face amount or notional value of $30.6 bn to Lone Star Funds for 22 cents on the dollar–$6.7bn (and lent them non-recourse, except to the assets, 75%).

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Raw Deal for Taxpayers — Revised to Take Into Account the Cost of Debt Financing

March 23, 2009

This morning, the Treasury Department unveiled its “Public-Private Investment Program.”  This program is designed to entice private investors to “partner” with the Government to buy the so-called toxic assets (most of the assets are mortgage-backed securities).  But this is not a “partnership” in any sense of the word.  While profits will be split 50-50, the Government, and in turn the taxpayers, bears more than 92% of the risk.

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An Update On Mark to Market Accounting

March 21, 2009

In criticizing the Treasury Deptarment’s Bank rescue plan, Paul Krugman, on his blog, expresses the same fear I do if there is a “run on the bank.”  While he is not discussing mark to market in particular, the implication is clear:  unless creditors know what a bank’s assets would be worth now, in a forced sale, their assets will not be safe.

Mr. Krugman writes:

“Start with the question: how do banks fail? A bank, broadly defined, is any institution that borrows short and lends long. Like any leveraged investor, a bank can fail if it has made bad investments — if the value of its assets falls below the value of its liabilities, bye bye bank.

But banks can also fail even if they haven’t been bad investors: if, for some reason, many of those they’ve borrowed from (e.g., but not only, depositors) demand their money back at once, the bank can be forced to sell assets at fire sale prices, so that assets that would have been worth more than liabilities in normal conditions end up not being enough to cover the bank’s debts.”

Why We Need More Mark to Market Accounting, Not Less

March 18, 2009

As of late, there has been a lot of talk of doing away with or at least suspending Mark to Market Accounting.  Many on Jon Stewart’s favorite channel, CNBC,  have blamed it for the banks’ tenuous financial position.  They argue that if we did away with this accounting, the banks would actually look and be much healthier.  Leave aside for the moment that it was the banks’ dumb investments in illiquid residential and commercial mortgage backed securities that got them into this position, not the accounting.  Should we really be looking to suspend, repeal or in anyway minimize the use of mark to market accounting?

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Why Eliminating The Mortgage Interest Deduction Won’t Matter

March 18, 2009

When the Obama administration proposed that we lower the deduction for mortgage interest for those in the 33 and 35% tax brackets, you would have thought that he demanded people give up their first born.  But if we step back for a minute and get away from the hysteria that is sweeping the airwaves, we will realize that giving a tax break for mortgage interest does nothing to benefit anyone except mortgage bankers and real estate brokers; it certainly does not benefit home buyers.

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Hello world!

March 18, 2009

To all of my friends and readers, this blog represents something I should have done a long time ago:  put in one place all of my views, rants and screeds on the political, economic and financial world we live in.   Here, I will opine (and sometimes vent) on politics, economics and finance.

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