Thursday, March 05, 2015

Thursday Morning Male Beauty

SCOTUS - How Obamacare’s fate will really be decided

Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in King v. Burwell, a suit brought by far right elements seeking yet again to sabotage the Affordable Health Care Act ("AHCA") and leave millions of Americans, including children, uninsured.  Naturally the opponents of AHCA have no proposed alternative plan and seemingly want those they see as "takers" left to die.  It's after all, the "Christian" thing to do if one is a far right Christofascist/Tea Party adherent. With the votes of Scalia, Thomas and Alito in the camp to destroy AHCA, the focus turns to Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Anthony Kennedy who will cast the deciding votes.  A piece in Salon looks at their dilemma.  Here are excerpts:

Oral arguments in King v. Burwell began and ended yesterday, and the Supreme Court will determine over the next few days whether the Affordable Care Act’s health insurance tax credits can be legally distributed in states that relied on the federal government to set up their insurance exchanges. The plaintiffs in this case argued vigorously that a hyper-literal interpretation of one short clause in the ACA should prevent those subsidies from going out, even though such an interpretation would put the law at war with itself and defeat its stated intention of making insurance affordable for all Americans.

The plaintiffs had sympathetic ears in at least two of the conservative justices: Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito. (Clarence Thomas, as is his custom, remained silent during the oral arguments, but his opinion of the ACA is no secret.) Scalia in particular was enthusiastic to see the law blown up from within, regardless of what Congress intended or what the rest of the law says.

The liberal justices did an effective job of tearing down the plaintiff’s arguments – Elana Kagan offered a great deconstruction of the petitioners’ case that put the plaintiff’s lawyer, Michael Carvin, in such an awkward spot that Alito had to come to his rescue. But what mattered most were the comments from the two justices broadly viewed as the “swing” votes in this case: Chief Justice John Roberts and Anthony Kennedy. Roberts didn’t say a whole lot and left people guessing as to what he’s thinking, but Kennedy was quite voluble, and what he said left liberals feeling confident and conservatives noticeably deflated.

For Kennedy, one the biggest issues confronting the justices in this case is state sovereignty. King v. Burwell does not pose a constitutional challenge to the Affordable Care Act, it simply seeks to have the text of the statue interpreted in a very narrow and outlandish way. Kennedy raised the possibility that interpreting the statute in accordance with the plaintiff’s argument would actually serve to create a constitutional crisis by coercing the states into acting to set up their own insurance exchanges.

Trying to figure out how the justices will rule based on their remarks during oral arguments is a dangerous pursuit, but if you’re looking for a basic lay of the land, it feels safe to say that there are three obvious votes against the Affordable Care Act (Scalia, Thomas, Alito), four obvious votes in favor (Kagan, Breyer, Ginsburg, Sotomayor), and two question marks in Kennedy and Roberts. Bloomberg View columnist Noah Feldman made the interesting argument that Kennedy, in pursuing the federalism angle so enthusiastically, was actually pressuring Roberts to be the one to vote to in favor of the ACA. It was Roberts who used the coercion argument to defang the ACA’s Medicaid expansion back in 2012, and Kennedy may have been unsubtly reminding him that this is his principle to stand on.

That, of course, assumes that the conservative justices will care about principle more than they do about destroying the Affordable Care Act. Either way, we’re in the thoroughly depressing situation in which the health insurance of millions of Americans depends on whether Anthony Kennedy and John Roberts can work out amongst themselves who will be the one to “betray” conservatives by adhering to principle and common sense and voting to protect the Affordable Care Act.

AG Mark Herring: School Boards Can Add LGBT Protections

Mark Herring speaking at our home - October, 2013
Back in 2002, Jerry Kilgore (R), then the Virginia attorney general and one many whispered about as being a closeted gay, issued a formal opinion ruling that local school boards across Virginia, could not add non-discrimination protections based on sexual orientation.  Kilgore, always a shameless whore when it came to pandering to the Christofascists, basically said that LGBT students - and teachers - were fair game for harassment and abuse.  Now, Mark Herring, the current Virginia Attorney General, has issued an opinion that reverses Kilgore's batshitery, proving yet again that elections can indeed make a difference.  Here are highlights from the Washington Post:
Local school boards have the authority to include sexual orientation and gender identity in their anti-discrimination policies, Attorney General Mark R. Herring declared in an official opinion issued Wednesday.

“Every Virginian has the right to live, learn, and work without fear of discrimination,” Herring (D) said in a written statement. “That’s a Virginia value, and one that we must guard even more carefully when it comes to our children.

The opinion, which reverses one issued in 2002 by Jerry Kilgore (R), then the attorney general, is likely to further raise Herring’s profile on gay-rights issues and perhaps boost his prospects with Democratic primary voters if he runs for governor, as expected, in 2017. Herring was already a hero to gay-rights activists and a lightning rod for conservatives after refusing to defend the state’s ban on same-sex marriage last year.

While written more than a decade apart, Herring’s and Kilgore’s opinions were both triggered by the Fairfax County School Board. Back in 2002, the board sought Kilgore’s opinion as it considered providing protections concerning sexual orientation.

It was deterred by Kilgore’s response, which said the Fairfax officials did not have the legal authority under the Dillon rule to amend its policies concerning sexual orientation. The Dillon rule limits local government bodies from creating policies where a state statute does not exist.

In November, noting that in October the U.S. Supreme Court let stand rulings that allow gay marriage in Virginia, the Fairfax board approved a new nondiscrimination policy that included protections for sexual orientation.

“The Supreme Court of Virginia has been clear that our constitution allows school boards to regulate for the ‘safety and welfare’ of children, and the General Assembly has been clear that school boards shall ‘provide that public education be conducted in an atmosphere free of disruption and threat to persons or property and supportive of individual rights,’ ” Herring said in his statement. “The law and the precedents are clear.”

Herring’s opinion quickly drew rebukes from conservatives. State Sen. Richard H. Black (R-Loudoun) said Herring was catering to “radical elements” and had overstepped his authority.

And Chris Freund, spokesman for the Family Foundation of Virginia, said: “The attorney general has once again placed his desperate desire to be the Democrat nominee for governor over the longstanding policy and law of Virginia. In doing so he has put at risk the welfare of students who have deeply held religious beliefs about human sexuality that a teacher or administrator could deem ‘discriminatory’ and single out for punishment.”
Note the typical lies from The Family Foundation ("TFF").  The opinion and the Fairfax County policy in no way harms those with "deeply held religious beliefs" other than barring them from bully and abusing others.  Sadly, as is always the case with  TFF, they only care about the self-centered, modern day Pharisee crowd of Christofascist who make the strongest case of anyone in this state as to why a decent and more person should walk away from Christianity.  TFF and its followers remains a pestilence on Virginia.

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

More Wednesday Male Beauty

The Feds vs. The Racists in Ferguson

In the wake of the murder of Michael Brown by a member of the Ferguson, Missouri police force, the Department of Justice has released a report summarizing the utterly devastating results of its investigation of the Ferguson Police Department.   Suffice it to say that racial discrimination is a huge problem and that the violation of citizens' - especially black citizens - constitutional rights was more or less the norm.   The findings are ugly, but I suspect that similar results would be produced if a similar investigation was conducted of many other police forces across America.   Moreover, the findings should be of little surprise when one of the national political parties engages in the use of "dog whistles" to stir white fear and resentment of blacks on a consistent basis.   A column in the New York Times looks at the report finding:  Here are highlights:
On Wednesday, the Department of Justice released the utterly devastating results of its investigation of the Ferguson Police Department.

The report contained charges that the Police Department and the municipal courts treated citizens less like constituents and more like a revenue stream, violating citizens’ constitutional rights in the process.

And it found that this burden was disproportionately borne by the black people in a town that is two-thirds black. This disproportionate weight is exacerbated when people are poor.
As the Justice Department report pointed out:
“Court practices exacerbate the harm of Ferguson’s unconstitutional police practices. They impose a particular hardship upon Ferguson’s most vulnerable residents, especially upon those living in or near poverty. Minor offenses can generate crippling debts, result in jail time because of an inability to pay, and result in the loss of a driver’s license, employment, or housing.”
The view that emerges from the Justice Department report is that citizens were not only paying a poverty tax, but a pigment tax as the local authorities sought to balance their budgets and pad their coffers on the backs of poor black people.

Perhaps most disturbing — and damning — is actual correspondence in the report where the authorities don’t even attempt to disguise their intent.
“In March 2010, for instance, the City Finance Director wrote to Chief [Thomas] Jackson that ‘unless ticket writing ramps up significantly before the end of the year, it will be hard to significantly raise collections next year. . . . Given that we are looking at a substantial sales tax shortfall, it’s not an insignificant issue.’ Similarly, in March 2013, the Finance Director wrote to the City Manager: ‘Court fees are anticipated to rise about 7.5%. I did ask the Chief if he thought the PD could deliver 10% increase. He indicated they could try.’”
Furthermore, the report made clear that “officer evaluations and promotions depend to an inordinate degree on ‘productivity,’ meaning the number of citations issued.”  The report read like one about a shakedown gang rather than about city officials.

And the racial disparities as charged by the Justice Department are unconscionable.  According to the report, “Ferguson’s approach to law enforcement both reflects and reinforces racial bias” and “there is evidence that this is due in part to intentional discrimination on the basis of race.”

Whatever one thinks about the case of the [Michael Brown] killing and how it was handled in the courts, it is clear that Brown’s death will not be in vain. It is clear that the frustration that poured out onto the streets of Ferguson was not without merit.

Once again, the oppression people feel as part of their lived experiences, and can share only by way of anecdote, is bolstered by data.

When people say “Black Lives Matter,” they’re not referring only to the lives lost, but also to those stunted and controlled by a system of power that sees them as pawns.
The cynic in me cannot help but wonder what percentage of the city officials and police officers engaging in these despicable conduct nonetheless go to church every Sunday and pat themselves on the back and congratulate themselves for their piety and godliness. It is with good reason that I no longer refer to myself as a Christian.  What moral and decent person would want to be associated with racists and bigots and hypocrites?

Quote of the Day: Slams Alabama Supreme Court

As noted in a post last night, the Alabama Supreme Court in a move reminiscent of the 1950's and 1960's issued a ruling ordering state court judges to ignore a federal court ruling invalidating Alabama's ban on same sex marriage.  The Alabama Supreme Court took this move despite the fact that the U. S. Supreme Court had refused to stay the lower federal court ruling thereby signally that a high court ruling striking down same sex marriage bans is likely towards the end of June this year. - which disseminates stories from Alabama's largest newspapers - seems to be over Alabama ALWAYS being on the wrong side of history and took the Alabama Supreme Court to task over its insane ruling.  Here are the money quotes:
The Alabama Supreme Court has ordered Alabama's probate justices to stop issuing same-sex marriage licenses.

In doing so, the state's highest court has muddied the legal waters of Alabama, contradicting U.S. District Judge Ginny Granade's ruling that the Alabama Marriage Protection Act is unconstitutional and that Alabama's probate system should license same-sex marriages.

Our state leaders have argued that the federal court system's decision subverts the will of the majority, that an unelected federal judge should not holder greater authority over Alabama than her elected state judges or be able to overturn an Alabama law.

We feel compelled here to reiterate that the point of Granade's ruling is the U.S. Constitutional guarantee that in no state can the majority impose its will on minorities when it comes to unalienable rights.

Yesterday's decision does not change the definition of equal or unalienable in Alabama. It only delays the state's recognition of it.

The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to provide the final word on same-sex marriage in June; and we believe that Alabama's Supreme Court will find its decision does not hold legal weight.  . . . the [U.S.] Supreme Court denied Alabama's request for a stay, and that should have been the final word on the matter. History has demonstrated that, in constitutional matters, federal courts trump state courts. 

We continue to believe that, in June, the Supreme Court will rightly hold that the unalienable rights of Americans include the right to marry, for all. 

So how does one explain the action of the Alabama Supreme Court?  Two words - elected judges.  Sadly, in Alabama, the Christofascist have largely hijacked much of state government and justices on the Court fear having to face the knuckle dragging Christofascists come the next time they must stand for reelection.  Virginia's appointed judiciary has its problems, but compared to an elected judiciary, it looks pretty remarkable. 

Conflict in Teabaghistan: David Koch Backs Marriage Equality

One can only assume that there must be exploding heads across Teabaghistan as the "godly folk" come to the realization that one of their puppet masters, David Koch, one of the insidious Koch brothers, supports gay marriage and has joined in an amicus brief to the United States Supreme Court asking the Court to strike down state marriage bans nationwide.  If the cretins in the "family values" crowd figure out that their theocratic agenda has been betrayed - a big if, admittedly, given the general stupidity of the Christofascists/Tea Party - the spittle will be spraying in veritable sheets like windblown sea foam.    A piece in the Washington Free Beacon looks at Koch's participation in the amicus brief.  Here are highlights:

Libertarian avid Koch is backing a federal challenge to same sex marriage bans, signing on to a Supreme Court brief urging the court to overturn state-level prohibitions on the practice.

He will join hundreds of other prominent right-of-center thinkers, activists, and public figures in asking the Supreme Court to prohibit states from outlawing the practice under the 14th Amendment.
Koch, the vice president of Koch Industries and the world’s sixth wealthiest person, is a deep-pocketed donor to Republican and conservative groups.

Koch Industries general counsel Mark Holden confirmed on Tuesday that Koch will sign his name to the brief. Holden said he did so in his personal capacity.

“I believe in gay marriage,” he told Politico in 2012. A former vice presidential candidate on the Libertarian Party ticket, Koch is in line with that movement’s thinking on the issue, despite his support for a party that frequently opposes gay marriage.

The Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin on Tuesday reported some of the brief’s other signatories, and on the argument they’re presenting:

The brief’s signatories include former Republican National Committee chairman Ken Mehlman, conservative pundits S.E. Cupp and Alex Castellanos, former White House chief of staff Ken Duberstein, former Mitt Romney senior advisers Beth Myers and Carl Forti, conservative economists Doug Holtz-Eakin (formerly director of the Congressional Budget Office) and Greg Mankiw (formerly on the Council of Economic Advisers), former senator Alan Simpson (R-Wyo.), former homeland security adviser Fran Townsend and former Massachusetts state Senate minority leader Richard Tisei.
In the brief, the signatories argue that they “have concluded that marriage is strengthened, and its value to society and to individual families and couples is promoted, by providing access to civil marriage for all American couples—heterosexual or gay or lesbian alike. In particular, civil marriage provides stability for the children of same-sex couples, the value of which cannot be overestimated. In light of these conclusions, amici believe that the Fourteenth Amendment prohibits States from denying same-sex couples the legal rights and responsibilities that flow from the institution of civil marriage.”
One can only assume that Tony Perkins, Bryan Fischer, Maggie Gallagher and the Catholic bishops are writhing in convulsion with spittle driveling from their mouths at this development.  It will be interesting to see if Koch's signing on to the brief diminishes the acceptance of the Koch brothers' ploys to use religious extremism and racism in the GOP base/Tea Party.

Wednesday Morning Male Beauty

Another GOP Meltdown Bodes Ill for 2016

Yesterday, after gaining all kinds of negative publicity, John Boehner and his band of GOP cretins among the House of Representatives punted on Home Land Security funding and passed a spending bill for the coming year.   That's the good news.  The bad news is that now the GOP will face another show down a year from now in the lead up to the 2016 presidential election when it will be important that the GOP can show that it can govern - a concept lost on the Christofascist/Tea Party darlings of the GOP base.  Kathleen Parker has again ceased, at least temporarily, drinking the GOP Kool-Aid and writes in the Washington Post that the GOP is setting itself up for failure in 2016.  Here are column excerpts:

I’m getting that deja vu feeling as House Republicans these past several days have failed to alter the public’s perception that they’re incapable of governing. 

This week marked Episode 2, Season 2 in the series “Homeland Security Face-Off.” Subtitle: “How Republicans Forfeit the White House in 2016.”

We’ve seen this all before. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) tries to get his conference to act rationally, but the 52 or so whose mission is to act disruptively at any opportunity force the House majority into a “bad deal,” to borrow from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s description of our current negotiations with Iran. 

President Obama, much of the media and the tea party gang share common cause in placing blame for the House’s fumblings on Boehner’s leadership. But comparisons to previous speakers are too facile. Times change.

Lest the tea party faction or the Freedom Caucus construct an effigy in my image, allow me to note that, yes, they are doing their people’s bidding. These folks who prefer shutdowns to compromise were elected to stand on principle, no matter the consequences. Given that most are in no danger of being challenged in their home districts, they seem perfectly content to oblige.

But principles defended at the expense of pragmatic application is the business of priests.

Here on terra firma, if you lose, you lose. You may be reelected as approval for your zeal as a live-free-or-die, stand-with-Bibi, “Duck Dynasty” patriot, but to what effect if one’s ability to bring about change is neutered in the process?

Not even Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), who is a member of the tea party, has been able to whip his brethren into line. Herding cats? Loading frogs into a wheelbarrow? There is yet no simile or metaphor adequate to describe the moment. How about this: They are like the football player who intercepts a pass, then turns around and runs the ball over the opposing team’s goal line.

Insisting that Homeland Security funding be attached to the president’s executive actions to curtail deportations of immigrants here illegally — a predictably losing gamble for Republicans — was a touchdown for the other team.

Whether this solution changes public perception sufficiently — and whether it can hold up through the Republican primary process — is yet to be seen. In the meantime, what we do know is that a Republican can’t win the presidency if the party more widely is considered not ready for prime time.

Without the 40 percent of the Hispanic vote widely considered necessary to win — and enough independents and moderates who are turned off by the more-righteous-than-thou Freedom Caucus — a Republican doesn’t stand a chance.

The GOP ceased to be a party of rational thought and logic years ago now when the Christofascists - the Tea Party is truly a bunch of Christofascists parading under a different name along with white supremacists - were allowed to hijack the party base.  When those how blindly follow dogma unsupported by objective reality and knowledge, are allowed control, what we are now seeing is the only plausible outcome.  The insanity will continue. 

How to Stop the GOP Effort to Recreate the Gilded Age

The Republican answer to everything in terms of the economy is to cut taxes, for the rich, smash labor unions, reduce safety regulations, and allow vulture capitalism an unfettered free hand.  The results of this approach is that over the last 35 years, the wealth of the top 1% in America has collectively increased by $1 trillion.  Meanwhile, the wealth of the bottom 80% of society has shrunk by $1 trillion.  While giving lip service to concern about rising inequality in America, the Republicans basically have no solutions and are only too willing to allow things to continue while using racism, appeals to far right religion, and fear of foreigners to dupe Americans into voting for politicians who will continue the war on the middle and lower classes.  A column in the New York Times looks at some of what really needs to be done if the problem is to be addressed.  Here are highlights:
Summers’s analysis of current economic conditions suggests that free market capitalism, as now structured, is producing major distortions. These distortions, in his view, have resulted in gains of $1 trillion annually to those at the top of the pyramid, and losses of $1 trillion every year to those in the bottom 80 percent.

At a Feb. 19 panel discussion on the future of work organized by the Hamilton Project, a centrist Democratic think tank, Summers defied economic orthodoxy. He dismissed as “whistling past the graveyard” the widely accepted view that improving education and job training is the most effective way to reduce joblessness.  “The core problem,” according to Summers, is that
there aren’t enough jobs, and if you help some people, you can help them get the jobs, but then someone else won’t get the jobs. And unless you’re doing things that are affecting the demand for jobs, you’re helping people win a race to get a finite number of jobs, and there are only so many of them.
He adds that he is “all for” more schooling and job training, but as an answer to the problems of the job marketplace, “it is fundamentally an evasion.”

Summers dismissed as palliative such relatively modest proposals as supplementing the earnings of low-wage workers by increasing the earned-income tax credit and expanding eligibility for the refundable credit.

Even a 50 percent increase in the earned-income tax credit at a cost of $25 billion would barely address current income inequality, Summers said.
[A]ny attempt to correct the contemporary pattern in income distribution would require large and controversial changes in tax policy, regulation of the workplace, and intervention in the economy to expand employment and to raise wages.

To counter the weak employment market, Summers called for major growth in government expenditures to fill needs that the private sector is not addressing:
In our society, whether it is taking care of the young or taking care of the old, or repairing a lot that needs to be repaired, there is a huge amount of very valuable work that needs to be done. It’s much less clear, to use a modern phrase, that there’s a viable business model for getting it done. And I guess the reason why I think there is going to need to be a lot of reflection on the role of government going forward is that, if I’m right, that there’s vitally important work to be done for which there is no standard capital business model that will get it done. That suggests important roles for public policy.
In order to stem the disproportionate share of income flowing to corporate managers and owners of capital, and to address the declining share going to workers, the report calls for tax and regulatory policies to encourage employee ownership, the strengthening of collective bargaining rights, regulations requiring corporations to provide fringe benefits to employees working for subcontractors, a substantial increase in the minimum wage, sharper overtime pay enforcement, and a huge increase in infrastructure appropriations – for roads, bridges, ports, schools – to spur job creation and tighten the labor market.

Summers has advised Hillary Clinton on economic issues, and a key question looking toward 2016 is how much of the Summers agenda she is prepared to adopt, if she decides to run for president.

Many of the policies outlined by Summers — especially on trade, taxation, financial regulation and worker empowerment — are the very policies that divide the Wall-Street-corporate wing from the working-to-middle-class wing of the Democratic Party. Put another way, these policies divide the money wing from the voting wing.

Summers has forced out in the open a set of choices that Hillary Clinton has so far avoided, choices that even if she attempts to elide them will amount to a signal of where her loyalties lie.
Yes, Hillary will need to show her hand.  But meanwhile, it is noteworthy that EVERYTHING that is proposed as part of the solution is opposed by the GOP. Meanwhile, there is more upward social mobility in "Old Europe" than here in America.