Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Not So Sad Death of the Gingrich Campaign

Political Fantasy Meets Financial Reality

That the Newt Gingrich campaign has been an exercise in futility has been evident from the beginning.  Just after Mr. Gingrich announced, he took a two week trip to Greece causing his entire staff to resign.  He came back, announced he would run a “different” campaign, managed to win the state of South Carolina and then was pummeled into oblivion in Florida by the Romney machine.

After this humiliation Mr. Gingrich won his former home state of Georgia, and had he been a smart and intelligent man he would have then gracefully exited the race. But instead his massive ego propelled him forward, and finally his failures are catching up with him.  The campaign dismantling has now begun.

Newt Gingrich campaigns Tuesday. | AP Photo
Mr. Gingrich During a Brief Stop in Reality World

Newt Gingrich is cutting back his campaign schedule, will lay off about a third of his cash-strapped campaign’s full-time staff, and has replaced his manager as part of what aides are calling a “big-choice convention” strategy, communications director Joe DeSantis told POLITICO.

Michael Krull, a former advance man and a college friend of Callista Gingrich’s who took over the campaign after a staff exodus in June, was replaced last weekend by Vince Haley, who has worked for Gingrich for nine years and currently is deputy campaign manager and policy director.

No one (well actually everyone) should take this as an indication that Mr. Gingrich is quitting.  His strategy is to go to the convention where he believes the delegates will reject Mr. Romney and select him.

“We’re focusing exclusively on what it’ll take to win what we’re going to be calling a big-choice convention in August,” DeSantis said in a phone interview Tuesday night.

Sorry Mr. Gingrich, but as you well know, the Republicans are the party of the anti-choice, just ask anyone who is in favor of abortion rights.  And yes, this Forum should be more sympathetic to a losing candidate, except in this case Mr. Gingrich is just so difficult a person to generate any sympathy for.

Federal Court Affirms Freedom of Religion – Specifically Freedom From Having a Religion Imposed Upon a Person

But Don’t Expect Religious Leaders To Stand for It

Thanks to Andrew Rosenthal of the New York Times we are referred to a Federal court case that had to decide whether or not federal money provided to a religious organization for social services can be used to impose its religious beliefs on people.

The facts of the case: The Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 allocated money to combat “a contemporary manifestation of slavery whose victims are predominantly women and children.”  In November 2005, the Bush administration gave the CCB a contract to administer the bulk of the money, and allowed it to stipulate that it would not permit any subcontractor to provide “referral for abortion services or contraceptive materials.”  That is, it permitted a religious organization to decide how to disburse (or not disburse) federal funds, muddling dogma with policy.

The case was taken to court by the ACLU (doing some good things at least on this one) and although the case became moot by the time it reached the court, the judge reached a decision in order to set out the proper law in this situation. 

March 23, 2012

It should be noted that contraception once again was an issue here.  The group would not subcontract with any organization that helped provide contraception to victims, which is clearly an imposition of their religious beliefs on persons who may not share their beliefs.

Here is the critical part of the decision.

To insist that the government respect the separation of church and state is not to discriminate against religion; indeed, it promotes a respect for religion by refusing to single out any creed for official favor at the expense of all others. See Kiryas Joel, 512 U.S. at 696

(“A proper respect for both the Free Exercise and the Establishment Clauses compels the State to pursue a course of neutrality toward religion, favoring neither one religion over others nor religious adherents collectively over nonadherents.”) (internal quotations omitted); Cnty. of Allegheny, 492 U.S. at 610 (“The government does not discriminate against any citizen on the basis of the citizen’s religious faith if the government is secular in its functions and operations. On the contrary, the Constitution mandates that the government remain secular, rather than affiliate itself with religious beliefs or institutions, precisely in order to avoid discriminating among citizens on the basis of their religious faiths.”).26

The Court decided that allowing the religious organization to refuse to use subcontractors who did not adhere to the religious beliefs of the organization receiving the funds was not accommodation but discrimination, in effect government support of a religious belief that prohibited activity that was both legal and widely accepted.

Yes, the decision will be appealed.  Religious groups of all kinds want to be able to take government funding to promote their beliefs.  They believe Freedom of Religion means freedom to impose their religion on others.  That was wrong in 1787, and it is still wrong today.

New Law on Crowd Financing Should Help Small Business Financing – And Also Help Stock Fraud Artists Make More Money

A Rare Win-Win in Financial Legislation for Investors and
Zero Mostel/Nathan Lane

The Congress has passed a reform of financial regulations that will allow small companies and start up companies to raise equity capital with far less of the disclosure requirements and investor protections associated with larger firms.  Generally this is a good idea and the provisions of the new law seem reasonable.

The JOBS Act would designate a new category of “emerging growth” companies that could conduct initial public offerings of stock while being exempt from certain financial disclosure and governance requirements for up to five years. It would also provide a new form of financing to small companies. Through crowd-funding, or the sale of small amounts of stock to many individuals, companies could solicit equity investments through the Internet or elsewhere, raising up to $1 million annually without being required to register the shares for public trading with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Most importantly, small start up companies can get access to capital markets if they are not planning on raising a lot of money.

Companies seeking to raise $100,000 or less must also provide tax returns and a financial statement certified by a company principal; those raising up to $500,000 must provide financial statements that are reviewed by an independent public accountant.

The downside, of course, and there always is a downside in finance is this will open up a whole new market for stock fraud.  Thousands of people will start companies for the sole purpose of raising money, which they will pocket. A nice set of fake financials will convince investors that their money was lost in a good but flawed enterprise.

One might call this the ‘Producers’s model after the Mel Brooks film and play that illustrated how to do something like this in entertaining detail.

a few detractors worry that the measure will bring back the “boiler rooms” of the 1990s Internet stock bubble, where hucksters peddle stock tips to unwitting amateur investors. Pension funds, the lobby for older Americans AARP and the chairwoman of the securities commission had opposed aspects of the bill.

This commentator has difficulty generating sympathy for those who are swindled in financial schemes, usually finding that except in cases where the person was mentally incapacitated the victims are usually a victim of their own greed.  The good news here is that the amounts a person can lose is limited, and in many cases the victims will be intelligent and wealthy people who just did not do their homework. 

But the laws of economics cannot be over-ridden, and those laws say everything has a cost.  In this case the cost of providing easier access to capital for some companies will be the loss to investors from fraud and mis-representation.  There is just no way to avoid it. 

Friday, March 30, 2012

NRA Praises Florida Shooter George Zimmerman; Rick Santorum Wants Laws Against Reporting His Exact Words; University of Kentucky to Join the NBA

And Other News That Didn’t Happen, But Could Have

Weighing in on the issue of whether or not Floridian George Zimmerman should be charged with a crime for shooting an African American teenager walking through the neighborhood with a can of iced tea and some Skittles, the National Rifle Association said that it was considering awarding Zimmerman its highest medal of honor.

“What he did was in the best traditions of the NRA” the spokesperson said.  “We think this is exactly what gun ownership is for, and this is why we work so hard to protect the rights of all Americans to gun down people walking in their neighborhoods.  The fact that the potential criminal was wearing a hoodie is just further evidence of how right we are.”

The spokesperson did not respond to a follow up inquiry over whether or not New England Patriot coach Bill Belichick, who frequently wears a hoodie while coaching should be shot.

Following his cursing of a New York Times reporter Presidential hopeful Rick Santorum explained that the Times has for months been reporting exactly what he (Mr. Santorum) has been saying instead of changing the words to something more favorable for him.  Mr. Santorum explained that it is a gross violation of journalistic ethics to report what he says verbatim, as everyone knows that if voters really understood what Mr. Santorum was saying he would get almost no votes.

“This is what happened in Pennsylvania in 2006 when I suffered a massive loss” Mr. Santorum added, “and if the Press had just not reported my positions so accurately I might have won.”

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas advised court watchers not to assume that his vote on the health care law was an automatic “no”.  Justice Thomas said he only made up his mind two days after the law was passed, and that he had yet to seek permission from Justice Scalia to vote the way he wanted to.  The Justice went to say that not only was any law supported by Democrats Unconstitutional, but that several parts of the Constitution itself were Unconstitutional.

In Britain the Chancellor of the Exchequer said that the government would offset the damage to the British economy from firing several hundred thousand public employees by cutting the top income tax rate on the highest income group.  (no wait a minute, that did actually happen.)

The University of Kentucky has submitted an application to join the professional basketball league, the NBA.  Kentucky officials said that for years they had been operating as a professional team and now they wanted to share in the profits legally as opposed to having to lose control of all the money they were making and divert it to things like education.

Newt Gingrich is now charging $50.00 for anyone to have a picture taken with him.  (that’s also true).  The cost of not having your picture taken with Mr. Gingrich, don’t ask, you can’t afford it (thanks to Groucho and Chico).

The Best News, Maybe Ever, in the Conflict over Abortion Rights – Todd Stave, A Victim Fights Back

And in a Rare Act of Journalism, Washington Post Exposes Reprehensible Tactics of Abortion Rights Opponents

The battle over abortion rights which includes protesting is one sided.  Those who are opposed to abortion rights mount huge disruptive protests against those who provide abortion services, and sometimes they destroy the property and the lives of men and women who are exercising a legal right to perform abortions. Those who support those rights do very little demonstrating.  They certainly do not target anti-abortion rights individuals.

Ricky Carioti/THE WASHINGTON POST - Todd Stave
at his home in Rockville, Md. Stave founded a group,
 Voice for Choice to turn the tables on the anti-abortion protesters
 harassing his family. The group now has about
three thousand volunteers.

Now the Washington Post has a story of how one man is fighting back, not to deny protesters the right of free speech, which he defends, but to fight back at their harassment and vicious tactics that are aimed at disrupting and maybe destroying people’s lives.  First of all the individual, Todd Stave,  who is the target is not conducting abortions himself, he is merely the property owner leasing the building.

Stave is the landlord of a medical clinic in Germantown that offers abortions. Reproductive Health Services Clinic became a big focus of anti-abortion protesters when it was leased to LeRoy Carhart, one of the few doctors in the nation who acknowledges performing late-term abortions.

Also, he is not attempting to stop protests at abortion clinics, in fact he even defends the rights of protestors to do so.

There are always protesters outside the office park property quietly praying or holding a vigil, with signs, rosaries, statues of Mary and bloody, gory posters of mangled fetuses.

“Totally appropriate. It’s their right. They are protected by the First Amendment. And outside the clinic is probably the most appropriate place for them to express their views,” he told me this week.

But the protestors were not willing to stop at just exercising their right.  They mounted a full scale disruption of the private life of  this individual. 

But his harassers crossed the line last fall, when a big group showed up at his daughter’s middle school on the first day of classes and again at back-to-school night. They had signs with his name and contact information as well as those awful images of the fetuses.

“What parent wants to have that conversation with an 11-year-old on the first day of school?” he fumed.
There should be no mistake about what is going on here.  These groups have moved beyond peaceful and lawful protest to acts of terrorism.  Terrorism can be defined at coercing individuals to behave in a way that they otherwise would not behave through acts that create intimidation and fear.  These so-called protesters are not exercising their right to free speech, they are trying to terrorize their targets and the fact that they do what they do completely eliminates any legitimacy or morality to their position.  That the courts allow such activity is testament that the courts themselves do not understand those who exploit free speech to engage in terrorist activity.

But this gentleman has struck back with the help of thousands of friends, some of whom he didn’t even know he had.

 Friends asked him how they could help. He began to take the names and phone numbers down of anyone who contacted him with an unwanted call. And he gave those lists to his friends and asked them to call these folks back.

“In a very calm, very respectful voice, they said that the Stave family thanks you for your prayers,” he said. “They cannot terminate the lease, and they do not want to. They support women’s rights.”

This started with a dozen or so friends, then grew. Soon, there were more than a thousand volunteers dialing.

If they could find the information, Stave’s callers would even ask the family how their children were doing, and mention their names and the name of their school. “And then we’d tell them that we bless their home on such and such street,” giving them their address.

In some cases, the family of a protester who called Stave’s home could get up to 5,000 calls in return.

Of course, this merely resulted in these reprehensible people engaging in even more reprehensible acts because that what’s reprehensible people do.

While he was out in California, his neighborhood was canvassed with fliers depicting Stave in a Nazi uniform, with graphic photos of Holocaust victims and mangled fetuses. And it had all of his contact information as well as phone numbers and addresses for other family members.

“It wasn’t random. They knew I’d be gone and they wanted my daughters and neighbors to find them,” he said.

On Monday, a protester showed up outside of his brother-in-law’s Rockville dental office, protesting abortion where molars were being extracted.

“How was your trip to San Francisco?” the protester asked Stave, when he arrived at the dental office to confront him.

Seriously? Confronting patients getting cavities filled with horrifying posters of a ripped up fetus is a reasonable protest tactic?

And these folks don’t seem to care if children are around for the show. One year, the March for Life protesters leaving the Mall poured into the playground of my child’s pre-K school, slapping stickers on their jackets and putting fliers into the hands of 4-year-olds . The police were called to get them out.

So yes, this will continue.  But hopefully the publicity of the WP story along with the revulsion even rational opponents of abortion rights should feel at these tactics may mean that some of this will end.  In the meantime, anyone who doubts the age of heroes is over would be mistaken.  Mr. Stave is surely one, one man with the courage to confront and fight evil.

Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. Faces New Accusations of Illegal Activity in Australia

Does Anyone See a Pattern Here?

The News Corp. is a world wide conglomerate that owns, among other things Fox News and the Wall Street Journal.  It is a news organization dominated by Conservatives and an organization whose sees its mission as the promotion of Conservative positions using the news media to do so.  In an environment of a free press, it has every right to do so.

But as a business the News Corp. does not live up to a very high standard.  Its actions in Britain involved cell phone hacking of a young murder victim and here family, and the charges of massive payoffs of police for information.  The company has paid hundreds of millions to settle claims against it.  Some of its senior staff in Britain have been charged with crimes.

So it is no surprise that in Australia the company has come under suspicion for illegal activity in trying to monopolize markets in that country.

The report came a day after a BBC documentary made similar accusations against NDS Group in Britain, saying that it had paid a consultant to “crack” and publish on a pirate Web site the smart-card codes of a pay service that was started by ITV, the country’s free broadcaster. News Corporation has denied the claims made in the BBC program, “Panorama.”

The new e-mails, which the newspaper said had come from the hard drive of Ray Adams, a former commander in the Metropolitan Police in London who served as head of operational security for NDS Group in Europe from 1996 to 2002, appeared to show that a secret unit within the company called “Operational Security” promoted a wave of high-tech piracy that damaged the News Corporation rivals Austar and Optus at a time when the company was positioning itself to be the dominant player in the Australian pay TV industry.

Now News Corp. has denied all of this

News Corporation
, which has been roiled by accusations of phone hacking at its British newspapers, including the now-defunct News of the World, hit back at the report in a statement by its Australian wing.

“The story is full of factual inaccuracies, flawed references, fanciful conclusions and baseless accusations which have been disproved in overseas courts,” News Ltd. said in a statement.

And normally this Forum and others should give the benefit of the doubt to anyone or any organization accused for doing what the News Corp. is accused of doing.  But in this case given the history of the News Corp. the accusations are so consistent with what is already known about the organization that it is almost impossible to give Mr. Murdoch and his minions that benefit.  And if any group is arrogant enough to document illegal and unethical activities in e-mails, well, News Corp. would certainly be the one to do so.

In fact, all of this just makes everyone wonder what else the company has done that is ethically and legally questionable.  And that suspicion is only enhanced by listening to the moral pontificators of Fox News.

Florida Republicans Succeed in Suppressing Vote, Just Another Step Towards Eliminating This Messy Democracy Thing

Seems Like They Really Want to go Back to When the Only Voters Were White Males that Owned Property

It should be no longer an issue subject to conjecture that Republicans are on an extended campaign to suppress voting.  They believe that their voters are far more motivated than other voters, and that if they can just keep people like minorities and low income folks from the polls they will win elections they might otherwise lose.

So in Florida they have enacted legislation that makes it very difficult for third parties to help in registering new voters.

The state’s new elections law — which requires groups that register voters to turn in completed forms within 48 hours or risk fines, among other things — has led the state’s League of Women Voters to halt its efforts this year. Rock the Vote, a national organization that encourages young people to vote, began an effort last week to register high school students around the nation — but not in Florida, over fears that teachers could face fines. And on college campuses, the once-ubiquitous folding tables piled high with voter registration forms are now a rarer sight.

These new laws are prevalent, and almost all have been passed by Republicans.  Their excuse, they are just trying to prevent voter fraud.

Republicans, who have passed nearly all of the new voting laws, say the restrictions are needed to prevent fraud. Democrats note that such fraud almost never happens, and say that the laws will make harder for young people and members of minority groups, who tend to support Democrats, to vote.

but we all know what they are trying to prevent, Democratic voters.  After all if you cannot win an election on merit you have to try to win by other means.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Message to Conservatives – Here’s How You Can Win on Social Issues and Take Them Out of the Electoral Process

Just Live Up to Conservative Principles – That’s Not So Hard Is It?

[Editor’s Note:  This message is brought to Conservatives as a public service.  No need to thank us, a change in your behavior is thanks enough.]

Elections are generally fought along three main lines.  Economics and economic policy usually dominates.  Foreign policy is important many times, particularly when the nation is a war or is threatened with a war or even worse, threatened with a disruption of energy supplies. 

But what are called ‘social issue’ sometimes dominate.  These are issues like abortion rights, praying in public schools and all the issues surrounding people who are gay or lesbian.  These issues are incredibly corrosive and divisive, because positions are held with passion and a deep seated belief based more on faith than logic.  As much as possible they need to be gone from public discourse.  So for Conservatives, for whom these issues tend to be a driving force, here is a bit of advice on how you can get your way on these issues and hopefully, get them out of elections.

  1. Gay Marriage:  If you are against same sex marriage, don’t marry a person of the same sex.

  1. Homosexual Behavior:  If you think homosexual behavior is a sin and wrong, don’t engage in homosexual behavior.  If you are not a gay or lesbian individual, refraining from acting gay or lesbian should not be all that difficult.

  1. Praying in Public Schools:  If you want your child to pray in a public school, tell them just to pray silently.  No one will interfere with their right to do so because no one will know that they are praying.

  1. Abortion:  Since abortion is the result of an unplanned and unwanted pregnancy, work to maximize reproductive education and the availability of family planning practices.  Every unwanted pregnancy that is avoided is a potential abortion that is avoided.

  1. Contraception:  If you don’t believe that artificial birth control measures is correct, don’t use artificial birth control measures.

  1. States Rights:  If you believe in state’s rights then work to prevent laws that abuse state’s rights.  For example, fight against the proposed law that would allow a person living in state A where concealed guns are legal to carry a concealed gun into state B where concealed guns are illegal.  If states have the right to allow concealed weapons, then they have the right to prohibit concealed weapons and a law that forces states that don’t allow concealed weapons to allow them with individuals from another state is a gross violation of state’s rights.

  1. Physician Assisted Suicide:  If you believe this is wrong do not, we repeat do not allow a physician to assist you with a suicide.

  1. Health Care Mandate:  If you think it is wrong for the federal government to mandate that everyone should have health care insurance then use the hundreds of millions you are spending to fight that mandate to provide or subsidize health care for those who cannot get health insurance.

  1. Government Control of Health Care:  Since you believe that government should not interfere in health care, work to prevent any laws that impose government required procedures and government required behavior on the part of physicians and patients.

There Conservatives, do all that and you will prevail in your views without forcing them on others and who knows, you may even attract some intelligent and rational people to your side.

White Collar Criminals Like Embezzlers, Fraud Merchants and Most Government Officials Who are Convicted of Crimes are Stimulating a New Industry

And the New Job Holders Have to be Ex Cons!

Signs of renewed life in the economy are everywhere, and in the Wall Street Journal a feature story on Garrett Bauer illustrates how new industries are born every day.   Mr. Bauer is not a nice person, in fact he is not even an honest person.  Actually  he is a very dishonest person, a downright crook.

Mr. Bauer admitted in federal court in New Jersey in December to taking part in a $37 million insider-trading scheme that spanned 17 years while he worked at various proprietary trading firms in Manhattan. He pleaded guilty to securities fraud, conspiracy to commit securities fraud, conspiracy to commit money laundering and obstruction of justice.

So why the feature story?  After all the legal issues surrounding Mr. Bauer are fairly commonplace these days, in fact a Mr. Bauer type seems to be in the news daily.  But it turns out that Mr. Bauer is part of the inspiration for and the customer of a new business.

Advising panicky white-collar criminals on what life is like behind bars is a bull-market business, what with all the arrests on Wall Street for insider trading.

As America's lockups have become more crowded, so has the prison-prep industry, a field built for white-collar criminals with the means to pay for lessons on coping with strip searches and with getting along with a tattooed cellmate named Bubba.

Yes!, with so many Wall Street type people and government officials going to jail a new business has sprung up, advising the soon to be convicts how to survive prison.  And since the teachers must have hands-on (pardon the pun) experience they must be the convicted felons who are now released and eager to pass on their knowledge to the soon to be convicts.

Some consulting companies boast flashy websites, with media clips of their founders and toll-free numbers. "I Helped 100's During My 10 Years on the Inside…1998 To 2007," says the website of Larry Levine, the burly founder of Wall Street Prison Consultants, which includes videos of him wearing sunglasses indoors. "Now I Can Help You, Too!"

So what is there to learn?  Well there is the lingo for one, a newbie doesn’t want to stand out for not understanding or even worse, get into trouble for misunderstanding.

The schooling for incoming inmates includes lingo. A "cheese eater" is an informant. A "blanket party" is throwing a blanket over an inmate then beating him. "Diesel therapy" is when troublemaking inmates are shackled and driven around in the back of a prison bus. Misbehave often, and you risk taking a trip to the "SHU"—the Special Housing Unit—also known as "the hole" or solitary confinement.

And for reasons totally beyond the understanding of The Dismal Political Economist, for some reason canned fish is prized in prison and even functions as a sort of currency.

In a small reminder of his old life, Mr. Bauer also learned that he may still be able to trade to get things he needs: In exchange for $15 in canned mackerel a week, other men will make his bed and do his laundry.

Lastly, some things require no explanation and others require some explanation.  For this there is no explanation.

"Don't ever sit on another man's bunk," Gator said sternly, according to Mr. Boyce. Mr. Boyce and his friend both apologized and followed the advice. He also quickly picked up the "courtesy flush."

No we have no idea what a ‘courtesy flush’ is.  Or why one has to do it.  Furthermore, speculation is not a good idea in this instance.

Congressional Research Service Provides Evidence for the Lies of Rep. Paul Ryan’s Tax Proposals

And an Explanation as to Why He Refuses to Provide Details

On an almost non-partisan basis politicians support the idea of reducing tax rates and making up the lost revenue by what is called “broadening the base” which is another name for making taxable income higher.  Tax rates are applied to taxable income, and the differences between Gross Income and Taxable Income is the result of exemptions, deductions and exclusions written into the tax system.

The latest fraudulent scheme in this area is a proposal by Rep. Paul Ryan (R, Wi) who is regarded by many as a serious intelligent individual but who in reality is a tax fraud.  Mr. Ryan proposes to change the tax system to one of two rates, 10% and 25% and to make the changes revenue neutral by “broadening the base”.  This is done by eliminating those exemptions, deductions and exclusions.

The dishonest nature of Mr. Ryan’s proposal is that he will not disclose which of these items he will eliminate or how he will change any of them.  The obvious reason for this is that once the details are announced, those persons whose taxes will go up will be unhappy, and those persons who benefit from the economic activity generated by the provisions will be very unhappy.  Eliminate the mortgage deduction, for example, and incur the wrath of the real estate and home construction industries.

A second and less obvious nature of the dishonesty here is that the program won’t work.  Thanks to the excellent economic Forum of Jared Bernstein we have a reference to research done by the Congressional Research Service.  Here is their conclusion.

Given the barriers to eliminating or reducing most tax expenditures, it may prove difficult to gain more than $100 billion to $150 billion in additional tax revenues through base broadening. This amount could have a significant effect on reducing the FY2014 budget deficit—reducing the projected $345 billion deficit by 30% to 43%. This additional tax revenue, however, is equivalent to about 6% to 9% of projected FY2014 individual income tax, and, consequently, would not allow for significant reductions in tax rates (about a one or two percentage point reduction for each bracket).

So there you have it, Mr. Ryan’s plan, immediately endorsed by Mr. Romney is a flat out fraud.  So don’t expect enactment any time soon.  But do expect Mr. Ryan to be treated with dignity and respect and given access to all the talk shows.  And yes, he did recently indicate he would accept the Vice Presidential nomination. 

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Commentary on the Supreme Court and Its Position on Health Care Law Exposes Naïveté of Judicial Observers

They Actually Think the Court Decides the Law on the Legal Merits

Much is being made of the fact that the Conservative Supreme Court Justices were hostile during oral arguments in support of the health insurance mandate contained in the health care law.  For some reason so-called ‘experts’ expressed surprise that the Justices had animosity towards the law.  Here is CNN’s so called court expert, Jeffrey Toobin

"This law looks like it's going to be struck down," Toobin said earlier today on CNN. "All of the predictions including mine that the justices would not have a problem with this law were wrong."

Toobin and others had been forecasting a decision in favor of the law by as much as an 8 to 1 vote, the opposing vote being that of Justice Thomas, whose ability to judge any legal issue on its legal merits is in question and who almost always decides to vote based on his personal preference for public policy.

Regardless of whether or not one thinks the health care mandate that everyone must have health insurance is  good policy, the right of the government to require it is legally unquestionable.  The government already requires various forms of insurance.  All employees must purchase disability insurance through the Social Security program.  They must also purchase health insurance for retirement in the Medicare program.  Employers must purchase unemployment insurance for their employees.  This is just not a legal question anymore, and has not been so for decades.

The Conservative Justices of the Supreme Court rarely decide a significant case based on the legal merits.  They will vote their personal preferences, and the four Conservatives on the Court will vote against the health care mandate regardless of any legal justification.  They legislate from the bench and that is why Conservatives are so vociferous in their denunciation of judges legislating from the bench. They know they do it all the time and want to hide that from the public.

Everyone knows the vote will come down to Justice Kennedy.  If he votes to uphold the law, the Chief Justice John Roberts will also vote to uphold the law, so that he can assign himself the writing of the majority opinion.  So the vote will either be 6 to 3 in support of the law, or like Bush v. Gore, 5 to 4 against it, with the Conservative majority appointed by Republicans once again making a political rather than a legal decision.

$5,000 Stomach Ache Exposes the Fallacy of Republican Concept of Market Forces to Control Health Care Costs

But Don’t Worry – All Those Conservatives Have Gold Plated Government Provided Health Insurance

The answer that Republicans and Conservatives have for the rising cost of health care is to allow market forces to work.  Give consumers control over the health care decisions and a competitive market will force down prices.  This is the position of Mitt “I like to be able to fire people” Romney and all the others on the Conservatives side.

Market forces and free markets are great in many circumstances, in fact in most circumstances.  A good example of a competitive market is the auto industry.  Consumers can take their time and become educated on automobiles, consult pricing across the country through the internet, read unbiased reviews of various models and do all the necessary research to make an informed decision.  Organizations like the Better Business Bureau and others provide info on dealer integrity.

Health care is the exception.  To begin with it takes a 4 year college degree, a 4 year post graduate degree and a whole lot of research on top of that to make informed decisions on health care.  Also, a patient frequently does not have the time to gather information as most health care decision require immediate attention.  As far as availability of information and third party unbiased reviews are concerned, forget about it.

So the idea that consumer in a free market situation will use competition to drive down health care costs is absurd, health care being an exception to the market as optimal allocator of resources rule.  This absurdity is illustrated by a Los Angeles Times columnist who gives us the story of a stomach ache that ran up over $5,000 in medical costs.

The story of 11-year-old Ella Moser's $5,000 tummy ache begins in October, when her Studio City parents called their pediatrician one night and were advised to go to an emergency room, just to be safe.

The parents had a high deductible plan, the kind Republicans are pushing as one solution to health care costs because that means the patient, not the insurance company is on the hook for a lot of money.  So here is some of what Ella Moser’s father faced when he had to take his daughter to the emergency room.

The cost for just walking in the door of the emergency room? That came to $1,288. The ultrasound nicked him an additional $1,135. A comprehensive metabolic panel (blood analysis) was billed at $1,212.

Moser was also charged $158, accidentally, for the saline solution he had turned down. The total came to $4,852.55, not counting separate bills that would arrive later and total nearly $1,000, including $540 for pathology and $309 for the doctor.

And that comprehensive metabolic panel that cost over $1,200, yes it is available for less, much less.

That's a test, Dr. Moser said, in which a technician draws blood for chemical analysis, and it takes just minutes. Moser questioned not only the charge, but the usefulness of the test in his granddaughter's case.

Out of curiosity, I went online to see what a lab might charge for a comprehensive metabolic panel.

Any guesses?

Some labs advertise prices as low as $39.

See, Republicans would apparently have expected the father to halt the proceedings, take several days to research the usefulness and cost of the test and then arrange for someone other than the hospital to do it.  Right.  But that is the fantasy world Republicans live in.

No person is at fault here.  The father did what all of us fathers would do, protected his daughter’s health regardless of the cost.  The hospital erred on the side of safety, no one wants an 11 year old girl to suffer a serious health problem because of the cost of care.  No the system is at fault here. 

And this is a system that does not treat everyone equally.  Every Republican (and Democratic) legislator is supplied government health care or provided with health insurance.  And they get the gold plated kind.  And this is not to say they shouldn’t get it, but that they should not deny to others that which they will not deny to themselves.

The Supreme Court is hearing arguments on the ACA and will determine its fate later this year.  Of course, for the Justices this is not a personal issue, their government provided health care is almost certainly the finest in the nation.  Justices like Scalia and Thomas no doubt consider this their right, but only theirs, not anybody elses.

And the good news, Ella Moser is fine.  It was just a tummy ache.

Wisconsin Recall Election to Test Efficacy of an Old Economic Law – The Law of Diminishing Returns

And Provide a Preview of the Fall Campaign – Can Huge Amounts of Money Convince Voters to Vote Against Their Preferences

Early this summer is the date for the expected recall election of Gov. Scott Walker in Wisconsin.  After winning election in the Fall of 2010, Walker and his cohorts in the legislature passed laws which effectively ended collective bargaining for public employees (except for those public employee unions that favored Mr. Walker). This resulted in a recall election for state senators, that failed to hand control of the state senate back to Democrats.

It did, however, provide the impetus for a recall election of the Governor, a drive that reached about 1 million signatures on the petition to do the recall.  The Democrats will have a primary to select a candidate, after which the recall election will beheld.  Although called a recall the election will really be another election for Governor, with the person with the most votes serving the rest of the term of the current Governor.

The Governor is going to have money on his side, massive amounts of money.  Huge amounts of money.  He already has a lot of money. Although this somewhat biased report in favor of Walker in the Washington Post implies the spending will be equal

Millions of dollars are pouring into Wisconsin from wealthy conservatives nationwide, and labor unions are preparing to pump resources into the campaign of whichever Democrat faces off against Walker

The fact is that billionaire Conservatives are donating far more to the Walker campaign then unions and other supporters will raise for the Democrat. Walker himself already has a campaign war chest of over $12 million.   The money battle will not be equal, Democrats will be swamped.

In economics there is a concept called The Law of Diminishing Returns.  It states that as you consume more of something, each additional or marginal unit provides less satisfaction than the previous unit.  The recall election in Wisconsin will test this law as it applies to money in politics. 

The point here is that even though the Republican forces will have an overwhelming advantage in advertising, the Law of Diminishing Returns states that each additional ad will have less effect than the one before it.  In fact it is possible that the effects may diminish so much that they will be negative, that is, ads for Walker will cause his supporters to vote for the Democrat because they are disgusted and revolted by the negative Republican advertising.  We will see.

Money is important in politics where TV advertising is necessary in an election where  it is required to introduce a candidate and his or her issues. But no one in Wisconsin needs an education on the issue here, it is the performance of its Governor.  Many voters will be turned off by billionaires outside of Wisconsin trying to influence the election. So the result in Wisconsin will be a test as to whether or not the ugliness of massive amounts of negative advertising will matter more or less in determining the outcome.

“I don’t understand why these tea party groups stay with Walker,” says Freeman, 44, a fast-talking, ruddy-faced, keys-on-the-belt-loop career counselor who put her business on ice for the duration of the campaign. She thinks Walker’s campaign will ultimately alienate some tea party members. “You want to really tick off a Badger? Tell them their campaign’s being run by people from out of state.”

In the rest of the United States, the same thing will be happening in the fall election, even though the Obama campaign seems oblivious to that fact.  Hundreds of millions of dollars of outside money from Conservative billionaires who want the country to operate on their principles will flood the air, and this will be far more than any outside money raised by the Obama supporters.

But will that make a difference?  Will voters be influenced to vote against Mr. Obama by the massive negative ads or will they recoil in horror at the prospect of billionaires trying to buy an election and vote and support Mr. Obama?  Wisconsin will provide a pretty big clue, and that is just one more reason why the recall election there is important.

Why This is a Pretty Picture

Because Not All Men Are Cretins (yes, present company excepted)

Carey's first "self-portrait in tutu" was taken on
April 18, 2003 near Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Because most news is concerned with bad things (which is a good thing since it means bad things are rarer than good things and thus pop into the news more) here is a picture of a man doing a good thing.

Bob Carey is a photographer, and Yahoo has the story of his donning a pink tutu and being photographed in it as a way of supporting his wife who has breast cancer.

The Tutu Project started in 2003 when Carey donated a picture of himself wearing a custom-made ballet skirt as part of a fund raiser for the Arizona Ballet. Soon after, Linda was diagnosed with breast cancer. "It wasn't about her when I started," Carey tells Shine. But when she was recovering from surgery, he found it was the one thing he could do to take break. "It takes a lot of love for him to put that tutu on," Linda tells Shine. "And it makes us laugh."

  Since a picture is worth a thousand words, in this case the picture will suffice.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Supreme Court Recognizes Reality – Cigarettes Cause Disease and Death

Tobacco Company Must Pay Damages – Even to Families of People Dumb Enough to Smoke

An interesting situation has arisen with the Supreme Court.  No, not the debate on the Constitutionality of the health care bill, that argument is pretty boring even if the decision when it comes will be pretty exciting.  No, the situation that has arisen that the Supreme Court has dealt with is whether or not a person suing the tobacco companies for damaging their health must show the tobacco companies knew their products were killers.

Now most of us would not see that as a big issue.  Of course the tobacco companies knew their products caused cancer, heart disease and death.  We mean, what did they think would happen when people breathed smoke into their lungs?  Plus there is all that documentation out there about how tobacco companies knew and suppressed damaging information about their product.

Anyway a case against a tobacco company was appealed to the Supreme Court.

R.J. Reynolds lawyers argued that the case should be overturned because Florida judges aren’t making plaintiffs prove cigarette makers knowingly sold dangerous and defective products. People suing cigarette companies only have to prove addiction, and that their illnesses, or deaths of family members, were caused by cigarettes.

The Supreme Court has decided not hear the case. 

The cigarette company says that standard violates due process. But the Supreme Court — without comment — refused to hear their argument.

which means the lower court decision awarding the family of Benny Martin $28.3 million stands. 

Personally we are torn over the good thing which is a tobacco company being held accountable and the family of an individual dumb enough to smoke getting a windfall of $28.3 million.

But one thing everyone is certain about is that the Supreme Court had a good laugh deciding on this one.  One can imagine them sitting around and saying how much a waste of time it would be to require plaintiff’s to provide the tobacco companies knowingly sold products that would cause disease and death.  Sort of like requiring a person who had suffered a bullet wound having to prove that a gun was involved.  Yeah, something like that.

There is No Primary This Week – Some Random Thoughts on the Republican Race

And the General Election – If We Ever Get Around to It

Rick Santorum won the Louisiana primary and nobody except Rick Santorum really cares.  The result showed once again that Mr. Romney is not the favorite in the deep South, but it doesn’t matter.  The deep South will vote Republican, unless Fidel Castro is the GOP nominee, and that does not look all that likely at this time.

Jeffrey Phelps for The New York Times
Rick Santorum with his daughter Sarah Maria
 on Sunday at a rally in Racine, Wis.
He said that if he was nominated,
he would be able to defeat President Obama.

Mr. Gingrich and Mr. Santorum are both getting a little bitter, which is what happens when candidates losing a race have taken their chances of winning too seriously.  Mr. Gingrich got into the race to promote the Gingrich brand, and Mr. Santorum entered to preach his particular morality to the nation.  When they started neither expected to win and when for a brief moment they were taken seriously and at least given a chance to win, however unlikely, both became enamored with their candidacies. 

As a result the disappointment at the way things have turned out is showing that neither of these two gentlemen really have the temperament for high office.  Mr. Gingrich reacted badly from his defeat in Florida and Mr. Santorum apparently still feels that the Republican convention will reject Mr. Romney and select himself.  Now he’s getting a little mad at the press, as well he should.  When they accurately report what he says he just doesn’t come off all that well.

One has to wonder just how many hundreds of millions of dollars outside groups supporting Mr. Romney and attacking the President will spend in the general election.  Equally uncertain is how long it will take the Obama team to realize the importance and impact of that.  The guess here is $400 million and never.

The chances of the Democrats taking back the House are almost nil.  Gerrymandering and the shift of seats to Republican areas as a result of the 2010 Census means it is far more likely the Republicans will gain seats than lose them. 

The chances of the Democrats holding the Senate are not nil, but very low.  The idea that Bob Kerrey, a former Democratic Senator and Governor  can win in Nebraska is political fantasy.  Nebraska and North Dakota will switch, and Democrats are defending so many other tight races that it is highly likely they will lose enough to lose the Senate.

In the event the Republicans do gain seats in the House and take the Senate, look for them to declare victory in the fall elections even if they lose to Mr. Obama.  Then look for government to be even more ineffective in 2013 than it is now.  Yes, we know that a difficult accomplishment, to envision.

North Carolina is the last good chance for Mr. Romney to score a victory in a traditional southern state.  Look for him to make a major effort there even if the race is generally considered over by their May 8 primary.

People who foresee Mr. Romney having difficulty uniting Republicans in the fall do not understand the depth and degree of hatred Republicans have for Mr. Obama.  That will unite them, much the way that the same degree of hatred against Mr. Bush in 2008 united and motivated Democrats.