Thursday, November 20, 2014

Who Will Save Atlantic City? Certainly Not Carl Icahn And Chris Christie

>




New Jersey voters reelected Chris Christie with their eyes open; after a first term of breathtaking-- even for New Jersey-- corruption and non-stop, unabashed catering to Big Bucks special interests, they knew exactly what they were getting. And now the chickens are coming home to roost. New Jersey's economy is in turmoil as their governor spends his time jockeying for position inside his crazy right-wing ideological political party. This is falling hard on working families all over New Jersey, but right now it is absolutely devastating Atlantic City, whose vibrant gaming and tourism industry Christie had pledged to protect and make prosper.

Carl Icahn is just the kind of billionaire vulture capitalist who Christie gravitates to; working with predators like Icahan to disadvantage unions is his vision-- his only vision-- of building an economy. Today Icahn is threatening to shut down one of the major Atlantic City hotels unless he gets huge tax breaks from the state. "Carl Icahn is not the savior Atlantic City so desperately needs," editorialized the Courier-Post yesterday.
The billionaire investor, who controls the Taj Mahal, has offered to rescue the struggling casino. He’s willing to invest $100 million-- but only if owner Trump Entertainment Resorts can get $175 million in aid from New Jersey and Atlantic City and if the company can get out of paying into workers’ pensions and health insurance to the tune of $14.6 million a year.

The state said no. The city said no. And the workers said no. But while Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney and Mayor Don Guardian have held firm in refusing to throw good money after bad, the 2,953 people who keep the casino running have far less power. U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Kevin Gross ruled last month that Trump Entertainment could cancel its collective bargaining agreement with UNITE HERE Local 54, eliminating the company-sponsored pension and health plan.

Instead, workers will get a 401(k) and an extra $2,000 to buy insurance through Medicaid or the Affordable Care Act health exchanges. Generous, isn’t Icahn, to allow taxpayers to share the honor of subsidizing compensation for rank-and-file workers while scaling back the company’s investment in them?

...In an open letter to the members of Local 54, he cast himself as a perpetual underdog who is the casino’s only hope... As a man who is not afraid to stand up to low-paid workers in order to maximize shareholders’ profits.

Rather than present the concessions he seeks as an investment in a more prosperous company that will benefit workers and Atlantic City in the long run, Icahn uses threats and speculation to cow them into giving him what he wants. Unfortunately, his plan to turn workers against their union and government against government seems to be working.

On Monday, Taj Mahal employees begged Mayor Don Guardian to reconsider. Guardian declined, noting that the company had already received massive tax breaks before it stopped paying its taxes. Yet while he’s drawn the line at giving any more of his suffering city’s money to a foundering company, he’s still trying to get the state to step in with a solution.

Given what Atlantic City has been through this year-- losing four of its 12 casinos and shedding some 8,000 employees-- no one wants to be standing near the next domino when it falls.
State Senator Ray Lesniak (D-Elizabeth) is a Jersey reformer who's battled the transactional, transpartisan political bosses for his entire career. He's probably best known for his pioneering environmental bills like the Environmental Cleanup Responsibility Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Pesticide Control Act and for an across-the-board progressive vision for the state, from marriage equality to abolishing the death penalty. But Lesniak, who won his last reelection battle 75.5- 24.5% and is the chairman of the Senate's Economic Growth Committee, has been the force behind a plan to legalize (and regulate) sports betting in Atlantic City casinos-- the same way it works in Las Vegas.

State Senate President Steve Sweeney has taken on Icahn and says he's working tp prevent Atlantic City from becoming "another Detroit." Last week he said he's introducing legislation that would redirect casino tax revenue to keep the city and schools running, and require casino operators to provide health benefits for their employees as a condition of holding a state license.
Highlights of the proposed legislation include:

Requiring casinos to pay $150 million in lieu of property taxes for two years so city officials would know how much they could count on to pay the bills, with future payments tied to gaming revenues instead of property taxes.

Redirecting about $25 million to $30 million a year from the investment alternative tax to pay down the city’s debt. Casinos pay a 1.25 percent on gross gaming revenues and 2.5 percent on internet gaming revenues to pay for economic development programs. About $30-$40 million is sitting in an account unspent.

Finding $72 million in “cost savings” from the cost of running city government and the board of education.

Amending casino licenses to require operators “provide a baseline health care and retirement package” for their workers, in response to the judge’s decision last month to allow Taj Mahal billionaire investor Carl Icahn to void its contract with the union.
Icahn says if he doesn't get his way, he'll shut down the casino on December 12, laying off a thousand workers and delivering another ghastly blow to Atlantic City's and New Jersey's struggling economy. To much power for the one percent? For decades, Icahn has built his immense fortune using the bankruptcy process to hurt workers and destroy companies. Workers say the current crisis in Atlantic City is the latest one that Icahn has created and profited from. But to Chris Christie, he's... a job creator.


Labels: , , , ,

What's The Matter With White Folks Today?

>

No, not a new Bennelton ad

Just as Boehner announced his roster of all white male committee chairs (plus a gal to take care of the cafeteria and bathrooms), Bernie Sanders was on NPR with Steve Inskeep talking about, among other things, how the Democrats have been losing white working class voters to the anti-working family rightists. He worries, as do most progressives, that the Democratic Beltway insiders have decided to throw their lot in with the Big Business and Wall Street interests and abandon the FDR coalition of working class Americans.

When contemptible party apparachik Debbie Wasserman Schultz's says she's leading an investigation into why the Democrats failed so miserably November 4 so that she can prove it wasn't her fault, clearly saner minds are needed if the Democrats are going to more than just muddle through. Bernie's ideas about why the part failed 2 weeks ago probably don't have much in common with the view from Wasserman Schultz, Steve Israel and the Beltway Dems. "To see where the Democratic Party is, I think, it's important to understand where America is," he began. "And where America is, is that today we are seeing the collapse, the continued collapse, of the American middle class. You have working-class families who have given up the dream of sending their kids to college. My family never had any money. My father came ... from Poland without a nickel in his pocket. He was able to send two of his kids to college. That dream is now not a reality for a whole lot of folks in this country.

And then people look out and they say, 'Gee, the wealthiest people are doing phenomenally well.' And where are the Democrats? Do people see the Democratic Party standing up to Wall Street? Any of these guys going to jail? Not really. The average person is working longer hours, lower wages, and they do not see any political party standing up and fighting for their rights. What they see is a Republican Party becoming extremely right wing, controlled by folks like the Koch brothers. But they do not see a party representing the working class of this country." White working class voters, desperate, confused and rightfully pissed off, are falling into the arms of their class enemies. Bernie:
I am focusing on the fact that whether you're white or black or Hispanic or Asian, if you are in the working class, you are struggling to keep your heads above water. You're worried about your kids. What should the Democratic Party be talking about, Steve? What they should be talking about is a massive federal jobs program. There was once a time when our nation's infrastructure-- roads, bridges, water systems, rail-- were the envy of the world. Today that's no longer the case.

I would say if you go out on the street and you talk to people and say, "Which is the party of the American working class?" People would look to you like you were a little bit crazy, they wouldn't know what you were talking about, and they certainly wouldn't identify the Democrats.
People have been talking about Dana Milbank's opinion piece in Tuesday's Washington Post in which he tries to delineate the limits to populism. It's not encouraging.
Warren’s populism is appealing-- not fiery or vengeful but compassionate and grounded in fairness. She also has the virtue of being correct: People don’t feel improvement in the economy because the gains haven’t been shared evenly, income inequality has widened and wages haven’t increased along with stock prices and corporate profits.

Yet there’s a limit to how far Warren, and the Democrats, can go with their little-guy theme, for one simple reason: They can’t afford it.

More than ever in America, elections are purchased, not won. And that money comes from corporate and wealthy interests. Run against corporations and you lose that money-- and the election.

...This leaves Warren well-qualified to ask what she calls a “fundamental question”: “Who does the government work for?”

The answer is easy: The people who bought it.
Responding to all this in Slate, Jamelle Bouie goes off in a way different direction from Milbank's defeatism. He correctly identifies the problem for the Beltway careerist Democrats as not really embracing populism to bring the party any credibility with the working class Americans-- regardless of how the Republicans try to divide them up-- Bernie Sanders is talking about. "The Democratic Party," he reminds us, "styles itself a fighter for the working class. But a substantial part of that class-- the white part-- wants nothing to do with it." Democratic politicians didn't get their votes-- didn't get their votes hugely.
The recurring debate of how to win these voters, or at least a portion of them. In a recent feature for the Washington Monthly, for example, Ruy Teixeira and John Halpin argue that Democrats can capitalize on the generational divide in the white working class. The key fact is that “white working class” is a big category with a large number of different kinds of voters, including millennials, who fall to the left on most national issues. “Today’s young white working-class voters are notably more liberal on issues concerning the role of government” than their older counterparts note Teixeira and Halpin. And significantly these young whites are “significantly more open to rising diversity than the white working class as a whole.”

The conclusion is straightforward. Democrats don’t have to worry about alienating these voters with their cosmopolitanism. If they can just embrace a populist, forward thinking agenda-- in which they tackle stagnation and explicitly attack the wealthy engineers of extreme income inequality—they can win these younger whites who are comfortable with diversity and want a more level society. As Noam Scheiber writes for the New Republic, commenting on Teixeira and Halpin’s piece, “The politics of this approach work not just because populism is a ‘message’ that a majority of voters want to hear. But because, unlike the status quo, it can actually improve their economic prospects.”

Implicit in all of this is the assumption voters will believe the pitch. That they’ll hear the case for stronger programs, higher minimum wages, and higher taxes on the rich, and believe Democrats are advocating for them, and not some other group.

The problem is I don’t think we can make that assumption.

After all, working-class whites didn’t leave the Democratic Party over insufficiently populist policy and rhetoric. The liberal economic reforms of 1960s-- and Medicare in particular-- paid benefits to white working-class families throughout the 1970s and ’80s, even as the group moved to a decisive break with the Democrats. No, the proximate cause of the break was the Democratic Party’s close identification with black Americans, who-- after the riots of the late ’60s and ’70s-- became identified with urban disorder and welfare.


Specifically, whites were bewildered and infuriated with liberals who defended rioting communities-- correctly noting the decades of deprivation and abuse that led to those violent outbursts—and pushed anti-poverty programs to address the underlying conditions. Black incomes rose while at the same time, many white incomes were beginning to stagnate or even fall. Why was the government spending our tax dollars on them, working-class whites asked, when they destroy their neighborhoods and refuse to work, and we’re losing our jobs and our homes? In Nixonland, historian Rick Perlstein captures the basic attitude by relaying this comment from a white construction worker, directed at George McGovern, “They’re payin’ people who are on welfare today doin’ nothin’! They’re laughin’ at our society! And we’re all hardworkin’ people and we’re gettin’ laughed at for workin’ every day!”

Part of this was just racism. For most of the post-war era, whites were empowered by the federal government to separate themselves and their lives from black Americans. For the white middle class, federal aid built white suburbs and white schools, and for the white working-class, it built segregated housing projects and cities. The civil rights revolution brought blacks and black demands to their doorsteps, and for the white working class-- which couldn’t just leave for the suburbs-- it fueled a backlash.

But part of it was something broader. After all, there wasn’t a backlash to government programs writ large. Then, as now, working-class whites are ardent supporters of Social Security and Medicare. But to them, our retirement programs came with an implicit social contract: If you work and contribute to society, society will care for you into your old age. By contrast, you didn’t have to work to benefit from anti-poverty programs, in fact, you could riot and still receive government benefits. To these whites, the New Deal and its successor programs rewarded self-reliance and independence. The War on Poverty didn’t. And they hated it.

...Working-class whites are physically closer to the poor. And to them, as Kevin Drum notes, the poor are often “folks next door who don’t do a lick of work but somehow keep getting government checks paid for by their tax dollars.” It doesn’t matter that working-class tax rates are relatively low, and that anti-poverty programs are a small part of the federal budget. What matters is that they pay taxes but don’t get the same kind of benefits.

...Democrats can adopt populist rhetoric, but there’s no guarantee working-class whites will buy it. Indeed, in parts of the country-- like the Deep South-- it’s a lost cause. The Democratic Party is too associated with blacks and too associated with welfare to win over enough whites to make a difference.

Put another way, for a new rhetoric of populism to work-- or at least, attract the winnable whites identified by Teixeira and Halpin-- it needs to come with a commitment to universal policies that working-class whites like and support. (It’s no coincidence that the most liberal working-class whites belong to private and public sector unions.)

But the United States doesn’t have a political party to support that kind of social democracy. Instead, it has the Democratic Party, a collection of disparate interests which-- at its best-- is nervous about economic liberalism and hesitant to push anything outside the mainstream. And worse, it has a presidential frontrunner who-- more than anyone else-- is connected to the kinds of elites and the kinds of policies that would push the party away from the muscular liberalism it needs.

Labels: , , , ,

Why Dan Malloy Won Reelection And Mary Landrieu Will Lose Her Runoff... By A Lot

>


Animals smell fear-- and it emboldens them. Tuesday most Democrats did the right thing for America and humanity by voting against the Keystone XL Pipeline project. The calculus about how much more poison the earth could take wasn't on the minds of the fearful Democrats who crossed the aisle to vote with the Republicans and their Big Oil allies. Their calculus was about winning reelections (some, like Mark Warner for example, in 6 years) and political advantage back home and with campaign donors in return for failing to find the intestinal fortitude it would take to display some courage. In Wednesday's National Journal Josh Kraushaar plays up a Beltway interoperation of what happened as Obama dividing the Democratic Party.
President Obama's biggest problem over the next two years may not be coming from recalcitrant Republicans, but from members of his own party blanching at his activist agenda over the final two years of his presidency. While the midterm election results suggested widespread dissatisfaction with the president's policies, Obama nonetheless is planning to press forward on several polarizing decisions in his final two years. It could help advance his legacy, but come at the expense of the Democratic Party's long-term health.

Three of the administration's biggest agenda items-- threatening a veto of bipartisan legislation authorizing construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, reaching a nuclear deal with Iran, and issuing an executive order legalizing millions of illegal immigrants-- divide Democrats, and unite Republicans. If the president moves forward with all of them, it would aggravate fissures in an increasingly-divided Democratic Party. And it would put Hillary Clinton, his party's expected 2016 standard-bearer, in an uncomfortable position even before she announces her candidacy. She's already avoided taking stances, if not outright rejecting the direction Obama is heading during his final two years in office.

The dirty secret in Washington is that while Obama (rightly) blamed Republicans for holding positions to the right of the American electorate, the president is pursuing policies that are equally as far to the left.
You can get very rich living inside the graft and corruption-greased Beltway. Money flows everywhere. It isn't worth it. "Approving construction of the long-delayed Keystone XL pipeline may not be the most consequential legislation," he continued, "but it is symbolic of the lengths the administration has gone to avoid a postelection bipartisan accomplishment. Embattled Sen. Mary Landrieu, on the ballot next month in a Louisiana Senate runoff, has been furiously lobbying colleagues to approve the pipeline, and won support from 14 Democrats in an unsuccessful vote Tuesday. A new USA Today poll of adults, conducted last week, found strong support for it-- 60 percent backing construction of the Keystone pipeline, with only 25 percent opposed. This month, the Pew Research Center found even 44 percent of Democrats supporting it, with 46 percent opposed. When Republicans take control of the Senate in January, it's expected to pass with at least 63 votes." Sad... but that's what happens when people move to Washington.

Dan Malloy is the governor of Connecticut, far enough from the Beltway to dispense with a very different kind of a advice to his fellow Democrats-- in the words of David Freedlander: grow a pair. Early polling data on Malloy's reelection race this year was not, to put it mildly, auspicious. He was down or tied in almost every poll-- in several by as much as 7 points. That didn't turn him into a DINO or make him quake in his boots.
In his first term, Dan Malloy enacted a hugely ambitious progressive agenda. This fall, he ran on that record-- and won. Now he’s got some advice for his dejected fellow Democrats.

When Dan Malloy was elected governor of Connecticut in 2010, he was the first Democrat to win an open race in the Nutmeg State since 1980. It would have been reasonable to expect, then, something of a cautious approach, one wary of shifting political winds in an otherwise reliably blue state.

Instead, Malloy enacted one of the most ambitiously liberal agendas of any governor in the nation, from higher taxes on the wealthy to a higher minimum wage, guaranteed paid sick leave for workers, protections for gays and immigrants, strict new gun-control laws, looser marijuana-possession laws, allowing the unionization of daycare workers, and outlawing the death penalty.

The result? A 25,000-vote victory out of more than a million cast in Malloy’s reelection bid against Tom Foley.

Now, having barely survived in a race that was not conceded, Malloy has some advice for his fellow Democrats. But first he wants to clear up a few things.

“‘Barely?’ Let’s stop with the barely. 6,400 [votes], that was the barely,” he said in an interview, referring to his even squeakier 2010 race, which he won by half a percentage point against Foley. “Twenty-five thousand-- that was a landslide!”

If his fellow Ds want similar results in the wake of a bloodbath of an election that was the 2014 midterms, Malloy says: “They can’t run as Republicans. Democrats can’t run away from what they have done. If there is a message out there, it is that we failed to embrace our successes because we thought that it would remind people that we are Democrats. Well, guess what? I am a Democrat. And I ran as a Democrat.”

Too many Democrats, in the face of national headwinds, ran as Republican-lite, Malloy said. And now many of those Democrats are heading home after long careers in public life, with some losing easily winnable races.

“What I think happened is people underestimated the ability of the voting public to put things in context,” he said. “If you are going to have a contest and it is going to be about who is the grayest, then Democrats lose. But the world is more black and white than it is gray, and if you fail to point that out, then don’t be surprised that you lost.”

In Connecticut, Malloy was saddled with underwater approval ratings since his first year in office, when he instituted the largest tax increase in state history. As the campaign season heated up, his opponent hammered away on the issue. Malloy was unconcerned, he says.

“I always felt that when we got to a serious contest in October, we would be OK as long as we stayed true to our principles and talked about what we accomplished,” he said. “Tom Foley wanted it put out that there we raised taxes. And he talked about it month after month after month after month. But once people started to pay attention, I pointed out what we did with the money, which was lower the crime rate, increase graduation rates, invest in infrastructure, create a Housing Department, create an Energy Department, create a Department of Aging. We did all of these things. It was the right policy, and ultimately people came around.”

Democrats elsewhere, he says, were scared of making contrasts, of owning up to their record and saying, “This is why we did what we did.”

“You didn’t point out the difference between who you are and who the other people are,” he said. “Because the other people are the people who drove the economy into the ditch. The other people are the people who want to make the rich richer and, quite frankly, if that makes the poor poorer, that is OK with them. And if you don’t point that out, don’t be shocked that people get confused.”

During the campaign, Malloy didn’t just embrace his record and his party. He did what only a few Democrats were willing to do: Embrace Barack Obama. The president headlined a rally in Bridgeport in the days before the election, at a time when other candidates, like Alison Lundergan Grimes of Kentucky, wouldn’t even cop to voting for Obama in his reelection bid.

“I was never going to run away from the president,” Malloy said. “It was not even in consideration. I support the president. I think the president has been right. I mean, look at the numbers, look at the job growth, sustained job growth-- the greatest in American history. The. Greatest. In. American. History. Why didn’t people run on that? So you know that a bunch of political people say, ‘Well, it is not deep enough, and some people are hurting.’ OK, but talk to the people who have benefited. That is a better way of doing it than the other way.”
Yesterday, in a letter to his supporters, Congressional Progressive Caucus co-Chairman Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), who was reelected handily, 55.6-44.4%, took a similar line. "There’s no one single reason why we lost two weeks ago," he wrote. "The pollsters and the pundits all have a million reasons. But, here’s what I know. When Democrats articulate our values, we win. When we try to be Republican-lite, we lose. In 2008 and 2012, we ran as Democrats. We talked about our values-– peace, justice and equality for all. We won. This year, Democrats across the nation joined the attacks against our party and our values. What happened? We lost. Big. So, where do we go from here? We build. We build a stronger Progressive Caucus in the Congress. We empower the grassroots. We push progressive legislation. And, we deliver real results. Then, we’ll prove to all our voters who stayed home that we really are on their side."

Labels: , , ,

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Have You Ever Done Anything To Stop Our Government From Torturing People? You Can

>


You may have noticed that we're not big on asking DWT readers to sign petitions. Groups like the DCCC ruined them just the way they ruined crowd-sourcing e-mails. They always use they as a means to get people to give over their contact information so that they can be preyed upon by people looking for contributions. Recently, though, we did urge people to sign a petition to keep Nancy Pelosi from appointing Wall Street's Jim Himes chairman of the DCCC. It appears to have worked. So let's try another! This one is a wide coalition effort that was organized by our friends at Daily Kos and the goal is to get outgoing Colorado Senator Mark Udall to officially expose the CIA's absolutely illegal use of torture, especially in the light of the breakdown in negotiations over releasing the report voluntarily. The Administration insists on redacting too much information, gratuitously. This is the petition:
The Senate Intelligence Committee's "torture report" is expected to detail shocking abuse of prisoners at the hands of the CIA during the Bush administration, and even possible CIA lying to Congress.

But seven months after the Senate Intelligence Committee voted overwhelmingly to release the report to the American people, the White House is stonewalling Congress and demanding "redactions"--blacked-out sections and information-- before making its contents public.

But there's a way around that-- and before the end of the year, we have a rare chance to make it happen.

Members of Congress have an absolute right to free speech, and a member could enter the report into the Congressional Record in its entirety-- just as the Pentagon Papers were in 1971-- without fear of prosecution.

That's exactly what transparency advocates are calling on outgoing, staunchly anti-torture and pro-transparency Sen. Mark Udall to do.

Sign the petition to Sen. Mark Udall: If you enter the torture report into the Congressional Record, we'll have your back.

Our Message to Sen. Mark Udall:

Before leaving office, please submit the Senate Intelligence Committee's torture report to the Congressional Record. We know that you are considering undertaking this heroic and courageous act, and we and countless others will support you if you choose to do so.

We will deliver a copy of this petition and a list of signers to Sen. Mark Udall, Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein and President Obama to make sure our message is heard.

Blue America
CREDO
Daily Kos
Demand Progress
Digby's Hullabaloo
Fight for the Future
Just Foreign Policy
The Nation
RH Reality Check
RootsAction.org
USaction
Win Without War
You can sign it here. Because we really don't ever want more of this crap:




And this is the letter Blue America is sending out to all our members in the morning:

There have a been many dark days in America during the past decade but the revelation that the government had authorized the torture of prisoners has to be one of the darkest. It took a lot of painstaking journalism to uncover what we know even as the government did everything in its power to cover up the details, going so far as to destroy evidence and immunize the perpetrators from prosecution.

Nonetheless, the Senate Intelligence Committee went to great lengths to compile a 6,000 page report on this ugly chapter in our history. It was approved for release by a majority of the committee many months ago but the White House insisted on a further review and approval process even going so far as to insist that pseudonyms be redacted. They are still dragging their feet.  If they have their way the report will be issued with every word blacked out except  "the" and "end." As of yesterday, the outlook for its release any time soon looked bleak.

The Senate is going to lose one of its foremost civil libertarians at the end of this congress. Senator Mark Udall, who lost his seat  in the midterm election, has been among the few in congress who performed his oversight duties as a member of the Intelligence Committee with independence and integrity and he will be missed.

But he could do one last act of conscience before he goes: as a sitting Senator, he can place the Torture Report into the congressional record as former Senator Mike Gravel did back in 1971 with the Pentagon Papers.

Udall himself has said he is considering it: Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.), who was defeated in the midterm elections, has threatened to read the unredacted report into the Congressional Record on the Senate floor, a rare and provocative move that is nevertheless protected by the Constitution's "speech or debate" clause.
"I'm not going to accept the release of any version of the executive summary that doesn't get out the truth of this program," Udall told the Denver Post last week.

"Not only do we have to shed light on this dark chapter of our nation's history, but we've got to make sure future administrations don't repeat the grave mistakes."
We are hoping that Senator Udall will cap his Senate career with this act patriotism and we have joined with several other groups to petition him to do it. If you would like to sign on to this request along with us, you can click here.

This isn't an easy thing to ask of any Senator. But torture isn't just another issue. It goes to the very heart of who we are as a country. Senator Udall can help this nation face up to what happened and let the government know that it must never, ever, happen again.

Thank you for all you do to make this world a better place.

Labels: , ,

On immigration: As the president prepares to make his big announcement, we ponder what it means to be an American

>


You can watch the president here. The message from the White House is: "It's time to fix our broken immigration system. Tomorrow night, President Obama will address the nation on new commonsense steps he's taking to fix as much of it as he can. Tune in tomorrow at 8pm ET on http://WhiteHouse.gov/Immigration-Action #ImmigrationAction."

by Ken

Howie passed along the clip of the president talking about what he's going to do tomorrow on immigration, wondering if I was thinking about writing about it. Not so much, I replied. Then it occurred to me that I do have something to say.

There's a paragraph I simply adored early on in a funny and charming (in a goofy kind of way) short story by Dave Eggers published in the November 17 New Yorker, "The Alaska of Giants and Gods." The story is about a 38-year-old woman named Josie who, on impulse, has just dragged her two children to Alaska -- to an RV parked in a campground outside Seward, to be specific. Josie isn't exactly strong on personal direction. (As we'll read later, "Josie paged through the years of her life, trying to remember a decision she had made that she was proud of, and she found nothing.)

Here's the paragraph, preceded by the paragraph that, you know, precedes it. I wasn't going to include it, because it's not what tickled me so, but some of it sets up "my" paragraph (which I've boldfaced to make it look like it's more important to me, which it is), in ways I didn't want to deprive you of. Here it is:
She had been born a blank. Her parents were blanks. All her relatives were blanks, though many were addicts, and she had a cousin who identified as an anarchist. But otherwise Josie's people were blanks. They were from nowhere. To be American is to be blank, and a true American is truly blank. So Josie was a truly great American.

Still, she'd heard occasional and vague references to Denmark. Once or twice she heard her parents mention some connection to Finland. Her parents knew nothing about these nationalities, these cultures. They cooked no national dishes, they taught Josie no customs, and they had no relatives who cooked national dishes or had customs. They had no clothes, no flags, no banners, no sayings, no ancestral lands or villages or folktales. When she was thirty-two, and had wanted to visit some village, somewhere, where her people had come from, none of her relatives had any idea at all where to go. One uncle thought he could be helpful. Everyone in our family speaks English, he said. Maybe you should go to England?
I just love this. In fact, I think it's almost the opposite of what it means to be an American, since it seems to me that most Americans are perennially acutely aware of where we came from. It's maybe the thing we most nearly have in common as Americans -- that we came from someplace else. Though I suppose there are "real Americans" who are as blank as Josie. Either way, it seems to be what, more than anything else, makes us Americans.

And as always I come back to the seeming paradox that a nation of immigrants can be as obtuse and hateful as the anti-immigration loonies are, with their total-nutjob fantasy of Islamic terrorists slithering across the Mexican border bearing ebola. (Be afraid, people!) Of course, if you think about it awhile --  though not too long, I would suggest -- it makes a kind of hilarious and appalling sense.

By the way, as best I recall, the narrator of "The Alaska of Giants and Gods" doesn't tell us whether Jose ever actually went to England.
#

Labels: ,

The New Committee Chairs

>


Yesterday we talked a little about the battles for position inside the two House conferences. It's all been sorted out and these tare the new Committee Chairs that the Republican Steering Committee will submit to the full GOP conference for a rubber stamp. Boehner pretty much keep the extremists out of important positions, depending, of course, on how you define "extremist."

He got to pick Intelligence and Ethics on his own and he opted for, respectively, Devin Nunes, the Boehner suck-up who famously accused Justin Amash (R-MI) of being an Al Qaeda tool, and Charlie Dent. Candice Miller will stay on as Administration Chair ("Look we have a girl!") and Pete Sessions is Rules Chairman again. Here's the rest:
Agriculture- Mike Conaway (R-TX)
Appropriations- Hal Rogers (R-KY)
Armed Services- Mac Thornberry (R-TX)
Budget- Tom Price (R-GA)
Education & the Workforce- John Kline (R-MN)
Energy & Commerce- Fred Upton (R-MI)
Financial Services- Jeb Hensarling (R-TX)
Foreign Affairs- Ed Royce (R-CA)
Homeland Security- Michael McCaul (R-TX)
Judiciary- Bob Goodlatte (R-VA)
Natural Resources- Rob Bishop (R-UT)
Oversight & Government Reform- Jason Chaffetz (R-UT)
Science, Space, and Technology- Lamar Smith (R-TX)
Small Business- Steve Chabot (R-OH)
Transportation & Infrastructure- Bill Shuster (R-PA)
Veterans’ Affairs-Jeff Miller (R-FL)
Ways & Means- Paul Ryan (R-WI)
No real surprises there, although there were a couple of contested races. It was a good day for Boehner loyalists and not a good day for Tea Party extremists looking to cause dissension in Zombieland.



UPDATE

Ranking members were announced for the sclerotic party today:
Appropriations- Nita Lowey again
Budget- Chris Van Hollen again
Energy and Commerce Committee- Frank Pallone
Financial Services- Maxine Waters again
Rules- Louise Slaughter again
Ways and Means- Sander Levin again
Agriculture- Collin Peterson again
Armed Services- Adam Smith again
Education and the Workforce- Bobby Scott
Foreign Affairs- Eliot Engel again
Homeland Security- Bennie Thompson again
Judiciary- John Conyers again
Natural Resources- Raul Grijalva
Oversight- Elijah Cummings again
Science, Space, and Technology- Eddie Bernice Johnson again
Small Business- Nydia Velázquez again
Transportation and Infrastructure- Pete DeFazio
Veterans’ Affairs- Corrine Brown

Labels: ,

Again... The Question Of Effective Wall Street Regulation

>

Elizabeth Warren and Joe Manchin, Senate Banking Committee

Monday evening, the Wall Street Journal published an OpEd by two members of the Senate Banking Committee, the most conservative Senate Democrat, Joe Manchin (D-WV) and one of the most progressive, Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), The Fed Needs Governors Who Aren't Wall Street Insiders. Wall Street banksters were petrified and furious when Warren was put on the Banking Committee, but Manchin's appointment to the same committee helped calm them down a bit. They expected him to balance out her populism. The OpEd may worry them. She's pretty persuasive and he's not as Wall Street-oriented as they had hoped he would be.
We joined the Senate Banking Committee to try to make the banking system work better for American families. That's why we're concerned that the Federal Reserve-- our first line of defense against another financial crisis-- seems more worried about protecting Wall Street than protecting Main Street. Fortunately, this is one problem the Obama administration can start fixing today by nominating the right people to fill the two vacancies on the Fed's Board of Governors.

The Board of Governors is responsible for supervising the country's biggest banks. It's also responsible for overseeing the regional Federal Reserve banks, including the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. For decades, the Board of Governors and the New York Fed have been responsible for supervising Wall Street banks, but after the 2008 crisis and the regulatory lapses it revealed, Congress gave the Fed even more oversight authority. According to the new chair of the Board of Governors, Janet Yellen, the Fed's obligation to supervise the big banks is now "just as important" as its better-known obligation to set interest rates and conduct the country's monetary policy.

Two recent reports highlight that the Fed isn't very good at supervising certain banks. In September, Carmen Segarra, a former bank examiner at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, released secret recordings she had made of meetings at the New York Fed in 2012. The recordings revealed that New York Fed employees had identified concerns with a proposed Goldman Sachs deal with Banco Santander, calling it "legal but shady." The New York Fed didn't attempt to make Goldman address these concerns. The recordings also showed Ms. Segarra's superiors pressuring her to soften her finding that Goldman did not comply with federal regulations on conflicts of interest. While the recordings offered important new insights, they ultimately confirmed the old suspicion that the Fed is too cozy with big banks to provide the kind of tough oversight that's needed.

An October report from the Fed's Office of Inspector General provided additional confirmation that the Fed is failing to oversee the big banks. The report found that the New York Fed had failed to examine J.P. Morgan Chase 's Chief Investment Office-the office that incurred over $6 billion in losses in the infamous 2012 "London Whale" incident-despite a recommendation to do so in 2009 from another Federal Reserve System team. The report concluded that the New York Fed needed to improve its supervision of the biggest, most complex banks.

Lax supervision isn't an abstract or academic problem. The stakes couldn't be higher. Just this summer, the Fed and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. determined that 11 of the country's biggest banks had no credible plan for being resolved in bankruptcy. That means that if any one of these banks makes more wild bets and loses, the taxpayers would have to bail it out to prevent the economy from crashing again. We're all counting on the Fed to monitor the big banks and stop them from taking on too much risk, but evidence is mounting that this faith in the Fed is misplaced.

While there will be a congressional hearing this week to examine what's wrong at the Fed and to consider changes in the law, the administration shouldn't wait for Congress to act. The president is responsible for nominating people to serve on the Fed's seven-member Board of Governors. Currently, two of the seven seats on the board are vacant. The president has the opportunity to move the board in a new direction-and to make that change for the long haul, since governors can end up serving terms of 14 years or more.

The president should use that opportunity to address the Fed's supervisory problem. The five sitting governors have a variety of academic and industry experience, but not one came to the Fed with a meaningful background in overseeing or investigating big banks or any experience distinguishing between the greater risks posed by the biggest banks relative to community banks. By nominating people who have a strong track record in these areas and who have a demonstrated commitment to not backing down when they find problems, the administration can show that it is taking the Fed's supervision problem seriously. Nominating Wall Street insiders for the Board of Governors would send the opposite message.

If regulators had been more willing to protect Main Street over Wall Street before 2008, they might have averted the financial crisis and the Great Recession that hurt millions of American families. So long as the Fed and other regulators are unwilling or unable to dig deeply into dangerous bank practices and hold the banks accountable, our economy-and our country-remains at risk. The administration has a chance to protect the families that are still struggling to recover from the last financial crisis. It should not pass it up.
This morning, Matt Stoller laughed in the face of claims of sacrosanct Fed independence, pointing out that the Fed is stuffed to the gills with industry lapdogs. And with bankster-lackey Jeb Hensarling just reelected as Chairman of the powerful-- and lucrative-- House Financial Services Committee, Stoller points out that "defenders of the banking industry's culture of corruption aren't going down without a fight. It's not just Republican politicians."
Now that the Republicans control Congress, get ready for more. Don't take my word for it: listen to Alvarez, who said at that same conference that "there’s certainly things we think could be revisited in Dodd-Frank," before bitterly adding, "as perfect as it was." This is remarkable, a public servant at an institution created by Congress opining on what Congress should be doing.

That just doesn't happen-- except at the Fed. Democrats allow this to occur because of their childish presumption that the Fed should be ''independent" of politics. What this in fact means is that the Fed is accountable to bankers rather than voters.

So what, specifically, does Alvarez want to change?

Let's go down the list. He said he wants to take a de-regulatory posture for smaller institutions, which is fine until you realize that "small" at the Fed can mean institutions with billions of dollars in assets.

Alvarez is also seeking to gut derivatives regulation. During the passage of Dodd-Frank, one particularly controversial measure was called the "swaps pushout rule." This provision bans banks from gambling on exotic derivatives using taxpayer dollars. Alvarez doesn't like it, saying, "You can tell that was written at 2:30 in the morning and so that needs to be, I think, revisited just to make sense of it." This is a typical posture by legal advocates, pretending something they don't want to enforce is poorly written. It's not. Alvarez is just a Greenspan guy, a believer in deregulation.

Then there are the new rules on credit rating agencies like Moody's and Standard & Poor's. These institutions were so corrupt that, at the height of the crisis, their employees joked that they would slap AAA on securities structured "by cows." Well, restrictions on those agencies, according to Alvarez, "really did not work and it doesn't work and it’s more constraining than I think it is helpful." It's good to know that Alvarez doesn't think that laws passed by Congress are helpful, and that they should be repealed. It seems, though, that such behavior is best conducted by bank lobbyists rather than the head lawyer of the Fed.

One wonders why Fed Chair Janet Yellen allows this kind of behavior to go on within her institution. While it's true that regulatory agencies can't regulate the behavior of every single employee at every single bank, the culture on Wall Street is something that is definitively set by public servants and private leaders throughout the banking world.

When a whistle-blower shows evidence of embarrassingly weak regulators currying favor with predatory sharks, the reaction is important.

Yellen and Dudley might proudly bleat that malfeasance will not be tolerated. But if they allow subordinates to go to banking conferences and tell the lawyers who represent banks that the Fed doesn't want to regulate, that is a cultural signal. It says to insiders that they can go along, ignoring what is clearly only meant for public consumption and PR purposes. The only way to counteract this signal would be to fire Alvarez. And the only way for Democrats to credibly argue they have reigned in Wall Street is to drop their silly pretense that the Fed should be "independent." They must reread the Constitution, and recognize that monetary policy is clearly within Congress' purview.

It's an open debate whether regulators can change the culture on Wall Street. But one thing is not open for debate. Regulators who don't want to change the culture on Wall Street, won't.

Labels: , , , , ,

Keystone XL Pipeline Defeated By One Vote-- For Now

>


Chris Mooney has been doing some terrific reporting for the Washington Post, primarily on Science. Last week's look at the correlateions between a primitive or fundamental interpretation of Bronze Age religious traditions and a fear or misunderstanding of science is enlightening. He wanted to examine whether religious belief rather than political ideology, better explains why some people resist the science on issues like climate change, evolution, and stem cell research. The results varied but he concludes that "when people deny science, they do it because they think it conflicts with their personal identity. But many elements go into each of our identities, with both politics and religion constituting vital components for many people."

Predictably, Mooney wrote about the Keystone Pipeline fight just as the Senate began their debate yesterday. A party of ideological science deniers, House Republicans (with 31 Democrats from the Republican wing of the Democratic Party) passed the bill November 14. In an ill-conceived fool's errand to try to save Mary Landrieu's doomed political career (or ease her way into a cush job on K Street), Harry Reid allowed a vote in the Senate yesterday. Although there was a last minute rumor that Dick Durbin would be the 60th vote, McConnell and Landrieu only managed to come up with 59-- one short. The bill is dead... until the Republicans take over in January. Then it will pass an the Republicans and their Big Oil allies won't have the votes to overturn a presidential veto. 14 conservative Democrats crossed the aisle to help the Republicans destroy the planet. No profiles in courage in this lot:
Michael Bennet (D-CO)
Tom Carper (D-DE)
Mary Landrieu (D-LA)
Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND)
Joe Manchin (D-WV)
Mark Warner (D-VA)
John Walsh (D-MT)
Jon Tester (D-MT)
Bob Casey (D-PA)
Claire McCaskill (D-MO)
Kay Hagan (D-NC)
Joe Donnelly (D-IN)
Mark Pryor (D-AR)
Mark Begich (D-AK)
Filled with misinformation from from corporate media and the lack of any effective pushback from the Democrats, most Americans (65%)-- including even most Democrats-- support the Keystone XL Pipeline. Incongruously, the same survey finds that "when it comes to another issue making headlines-- a proposal to tighten greenhouse gas emissions from power plants-- the public favors stricter limits, by exactly the same margin as the Keystone pipeline (65% to 30%).

The bill, Mooney explains, "goes around a process typically handled by the executive branch. Indeed, the bill passed by the House does not merely take the process of deciding on the pipeline's approval out of the hands of the State Department. It also states that the State Department’s final supplemental environmental impact statement on Keystone “shall be considered to fully satisfy” the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and “any other provision of law that requires Federal agency consultation or review.”
"What this bill will do, if it ends up being enacted," says Zoldan, "is take the fact-finding process…away from an executive agency, and say that it’s automatically deemed to be in compliance with the law." This may be one reason why a spokesman for Democratic Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware recently said the senator would opposes the bill because "it’s not Congress’s job to issue construction permits."

Zoldan thinks that if the bill were indeed to become law (somehow surviving President Obama's presumed veto), environmentalists might have a good case for a lawsuit over it. More generally, he explains, Congress ought to pass laws that have a general nature, and then let the executive and the judiciary apply those laws to specific situations, individuals, or companies.

Another way of putting it? Congress really ought to have more respect for the categorical imperative: "Act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law." Or, when making laws, make sure they apply to everyone-- or every company.
Vermont's two senators, Patrick Leahy (D) and Bernie Sanders, opposed the bill for more fundamental reasons. Leahy:
This pipeline is one of the most striking examples of how our unquenchable thirst for oil is destroying our environment. This destruction will continue until we move forward with the implementation of a comprehensive, national energy plan. The debate over the Keystone pipeline will not move us toward a sustainable energy future. Instead this pipeline ties us to an energy policy of the past, while simultaneously accelerating our impact on the climate. These tar sands require an energy-intensive process, rife with pollutions and harmful emissions, to get them out of the ground, extract them, and refine them.

We should not rubberstamp a project like this that poses such serious risks to the Nation’s and the world’s environment, and to our communities’ safety. I am astounded by the fact that in its first year of operation, the existing Keystone Pipeline-- which was billed as the safest pipeline in history when it was built in 2010-- has spilled 12 times in its first year of operation. That is more than any other pipeline in U.S. history.

These spills are even more worrisome because the tar sands oil is so hard to clean up after a spill. Just ask the communities along the Kalamazoo River in Michigan, where it has cost more than $1 billion-- so far-- to clean up a tar sands spill in 2010. Now, more than four years later, it is still a mess, and landowners continue to wait for help to restore property damaged by the spill and to rebuild the ravaged pipeline.

We do not need more empty assurances from the oil industry. Before the Valdez spill in Alaska, Exxon executives told us their oil tankers were safe.  We heard similar promises from BP, which insisted that it could handle an oil spill in a deep-water drilling operation. The images from both of those spills are still fresh in our memories.

Proponents argue that this pipeline will help our energy security here in the United States. But this tar sands oil is not headed to Americans’ gas stations to help lower the price of gas here at home. No, TransCanada is bypassing the refineries in the Midwest and heading straight for the coast so this oil can be used in export markets, pumped on ships headed for China. That may be good news for the Chinese, but it is the American people who are stuck with the safety risks, health challenges, future environmental disasters and the rapid acceleration of our contribution to climate change.

These facts are clear: The Keystone pipeline significantly worsens the problem of carbon pollution, and it is not in our national interest.

Labels: , , , , ,

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Congressional Freshmen Pick Their Class Presidents-- Ted Lieu (D-CA) And Ken Buck (R-CO)

>

Presidents: Ken and Ted

This year's House Republican freshman class is over twice the size as the Democratic freshman class-- 41 to 17. Both classes elected their respective class presidents this week (Freshman Orientation Week), after the new members had a chance to meet and feel each other out. The Republicans picked extremist Colorado crackpot Ken Buck. The Democrats were more discerning and strategic, electing one of California's most accomplished and up-and-coming political stars, Ted Lieu.

Blue America endorsed Ted Lieu and we've done a lot of writing about him here at DWT. A principled and effective progressive state legislature, he's always been about doing the nitty-gritty work it takes and building the coalitions to lead on difficult legislation and pass bills others shied away from. Ted led where others watched and waited. He wrote and passed bills to protect consumers from unscrupulous mortgage lenders, something that didn't endear him to the banksters and passed a bill to prevent the state of California from cooperating with constitutional domestic spying from the CIA and NSA, something that didn't endear him to the Military Industrrial Complex. He passed the first law in the nation to ban anti-gay conversion "therapy" and landmark environmental and Climate legislation that set California greenhouse gas limits way ahead of the rest of the country.

Another freshman Blue America candidate, Bonnie Watson Coleman, who was the assertive progressive Majority Leader of the New Jersey state Assembly was an early backer of making Ted the freshman class president. She understands political courage and ability better than most and saw both characteristics in Ted. After the vote she told me that the freshman class has many seasoned local and state elected members and that Ted stood out as a natural leader.

Ted's statement: "I am deeply honored to be elected by my colleagues as Class President, and look forward to working with this incredibly diverse and talented Democratic Freshman Class to tackle the important issues facing our nation. We will seek areas of cooperation with our colleagues across the aisle and also fight to protect and advance our core Democratic values."


A Stanford alum who graduated magna cum laude from Georgetown University Law, Ted is a decorated Lieutenant Colonel in the Air Force Reserves-- and couldn't offer a greater contrast to the garbage the GOP freshmen elected. Buck, graduated from the University of Wyoming Law School and worked for Dick Cheney and then for the U.S. Attorney's Office where he was reprimanded for various ethics offenses. A radical right Weld County District Attorney, he spent his time pursuing an extremist ideological agenda and losing cases for unconstitutional violations of basic American rights. He was one of the 2010 cycle's pro-rape Republicans and he lost a race for the U.S. Senate. Obsessed with anti-Choice psychosis, much of his career has been spent vilifying and attacking women and pushing crackpot personhood amendments and anti-contraception schemes. Naturally, he's also an anti-LGBT fanatic, a science denier who doesn't believe in man's role in Climate Change, a gun-worshipper, opposes health insurance for working families and wants to privatize just about everything the government does... and-- big surprise-- abolish the Department of Education. He made a cynical deal with Cory Gardner this cycle to let Gardner run for Senate unopposed by the Tea Party in return for him running for Gardner's congressional seat in the reddest district of Colorado (R+11).

Here's a list of all the new Members. First the 17 Democrats:
Ruben Gallego (D-AZ)
Mark DeSaulnier (D-CA)
Pete Aguilar (New Dem-CA)
Ted Lieu (D-CA)
Norma Torres (D-CA)
Gwen Graham (Blue Dog-FL)
Mark Takai (D-HI)
Seth Moulton (D-MA)
Debbie Dingell (D-MI)
Brenda Lawrence (D-MI)
Brad Ashford (Blue Dog-NE)
Donald Norcross (D-NJ)
Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ)
Kathleen Rice (New Dem-NY)
Alma Adams (D-NC)
Brendan Boyle (D-PA)
Don Beyer (New Dem-VA)
These are the 41 Republicans, many of them-- most of them-- borderline insane and dangerous to the the country:
Gary Palmer (R-AL)
French Hill (R-AR)
Bruce Westerman (R-AR)
Steve Knight (R-CA)
Mimi Walters (R-CA)
Ken Buck (R-CO)
Carlos Curbelo (R-FL)
Buddy Carter (R-GA)
Jody Hice (R-GA)
Barry Loudermilk (R-GA)
Rick Allen (R-GA)
Bob Dold (R-IL)
Mike Bost (R-IL)
Rod Blum (R-IA)
David Young (R-IA)
Bruce Poliquin (R-ME)
John Moolenaar (R-MI)
Mike Bishop (R-MI)
David Trott (R-MI)
Tom Emmer (R-MN)
Ryan Zinke (R-MT)
Cresent Hardy (R-NV)
Frank Guinta (R-NH)
Tom MacArthur (R-NJ)
Lee Zeldin (R-NY)
Elise Stefanik (R-NY)
John Katko (R-NY)
Mark Walker (R-NC)
David Rouzer (R-NC)
Steve Russell (R-OK)
Ryan Costello (R-PA)
John Ratcliffe (R-TX)
Will Hurd (CIA-TX)
Brain Babin (R-TX)
Mia Love (R-UT)
Dave Brat (R-VA)
Barbara Comstock (R-VA)
Dan Newhouse (R-WA)
Alex Mooney (R-WV)
Evan Jenkins (R-WV)
Glenn Grothmann (R-WI)

Labels: ,

Might anti-Obamacare zealots live to regret throwing every tool they could think of at the ACA?

>


If the Supreme Court gives the wingnuts their way in the King v. Burell challenge to the ACA, it will mean a mess, yes, says James Surowiecki, but not the end of Obamacare.

"Obamacare’s opponents may win when the Supreme Court finally decides King, sometime next year. But it could turn out to be a fight they’d have been better off losing."
-- The New Yorker's James Surwiecki, in
"On Obamacare, the G.O.P. Lays a Trap for Itself"

by Ken

It's not as hard as you might think to be a jerkwad incompetent right-wing scumbag, because as you maraud your way through life, destroying everything you can get your grubby mitts on, you can always fall back on Rule No. 1 in the Jerkwad Incompetent Right-Wing Scumbag Handbook:

(1) It's always somebody else's fault.

Until it isn't. And even then, it still is.

It's only if you really, absolutely can't even pretend to find someone else you can point a finger at that you discreetly slip down to Rule No. 2 in the JIRWSH:

(2) Quick, ferchrissakes change the subject.

Could the jerkwad incompetent right-wing scumbags who've invested their entire beings in the proposition that Obamacare is the root of all evil be headed for a moment like this -- and of their own cock-brained doing?

New Yorker financial columnist James Surowiecki has taken an interesting look at the structural impact on the system of health-care law set up by the ACA in the event that the idiotic, hooligan challenge based on one tiny bit of sloppy text-drafting in the law gets the blessing, or rather curse, of right-wing thug-justices who are positioned to do, well, the sort of thing they do. The general assumption is that with the Supreme Court's recent announcement that it will hear the appeal in King v. Burwell, the right-wing thug contingent has not just the four votes needed to put a case on the docket but a likely and perhaps even in-the-bag fifth vote.

The problem, you'll recall, and I really hate to have to go into this again, is in a section of the ACA dealing with federal-government subsidies available to certain insurance buyers. The challenge is based on a misreading of admittedly careless language, by which "the State," clearly meant to refer to the government, is taken to mean any one of the 50 states. Never mind that the sentence in question, and the section in which it appears, can't be made to make any sense if read this way, or that it's clearly contradicted by everything else in the law, not to mention everyone involved in the frame and passing of the law. And never mind that there's an entire body of court precedent (yes, including the Supreme Court's) governing ambiguous legislative language, all of which leads to the obvious conclusion.

Never mind all of that, if you can twist this passage into meaning what it cannot possibly have been meant to mean, then you can twist your way to the conclusion that the indicated federal-government subsidies are available only to purchasers in states that have set up their own insurance exchanges, in accordance with the framework intended by the law. In states that have only the federal exchnges set up to provide coverage to people who live in states whose governments are controlled by jerkwad incompetent right-wing scumbags would, if you accept this idiotic misreading, purchasers would be ineligible for subsidies.

Again, this is a misreading that is impossible for anyone who is (a) reading in good faith, and (b) reading at or above, say, a fourth-grade reading level. Alas, the elite group that satisfies both conditions does not necessarily include a majority of the current U.S. Supreme Court.

As James S says in "On Obamacare, the G.O.P. Lays a Trap for Itself":
Republican politicians are, as of now, gleeful at the prospect of the Court delivering a blow to Obamacare. But, once the economic and political consequences of those disappearing subsidies kick in, Republicans could well end up wishing King v. Burwell had never seen the light of day.
Say what?

Let's back up a step. In a general way I think we all understand that a Supreme Court ruling for the mischief-making plaintiffs in King v. Burwell would be a devastating blow to the system set up by the ACA to bring as many people as possible into the insurance system, including especially the previously uninsured younger, healthier individuals, so that the whole shebang is workable from an actuarial standpoint, the way any system of insurance has to be. In order to pay out claims, enough people have to be paying in. Insurance 101.

But as James points out, one thing is emphatically not true even if the jerkwad incompetent right-wing scumbags actually pull off this judicial coup. This would not means the end of Obamacare -- or the scuttling of it, as James puts it. All the rest of the mammoth law would remain the governing law on health insurance in the U.S. As James puts it:
Even if the Court finds for the plaintiffs, the rules and regulations that Obamacare put in place will remain intact—insurance companies will still have to accept all applicants, without regard for preëxisting conditions, and they’ll still be prohibited from charging people with those conditions higher prices. And the tax increases that fund the subsidies and the cost-saving initiatives in the law won’t go away, either

SO WHAT WOULD IT MEAN?

"What a victory for the plaintiffs in King would do," says James, "is create two classes of citizens when it comes to Obamacare." Let's take this very slowly and methodically.

(1) First, James says, there are "people who live in one of the fourteen states that have set up their own exchanges, like California and New York." For them,
things will remain as they are now. Residents of those states will continue to be eligible for those federal health-insurance subsidies, depending on their income, which means, for most of them, that insurance will be quite affordable. And, because the subsidies make insurance so affordable, lots of healthy people (meaning mainly young people) in these states will continue to buy insurance, with the result that the risk pools in these states will be more balanced and not overloaded with people who are older or who are sick. That will help to hold down price increases in those states in the years ahead.
(2) "By contrast," James says, "life is going to get much harder for people who live in states that have not yet set up their own exchanges."
They’ll no longer be eligible for the subsidies, which means that many of them will have to pay hundreds of dollars more a month if they want to stay insured. Many of them won’t be able to afford that, which means they’ll return to being uninsured.
"And the problems won’t end there," he says.
Plenty of healthy, young people will decide to go without insurance, gambling that they won’t get sick. As a result, the risk pools in these states will be dominated by sick people (who will try, at all costs, to remain insured). Insurance companies will respond by raising the price of insurance to try to cover their costs, and that will drive more healthy people out of the market, leading to more price hikes, and so on.
"What these states may end up facing, in other words, is the insurance "death spiral" that the individual mandate and the subsidies were designed to avert.
Oops!


IN CASE YOU'RE NOT GETTING IT --

You're in good company. The Obamacare demonizers don't seem to be getting it either. As James says, "At first glance, this might all sound good from a Republican perspective."
After all, if Obamacare is an unacceptable imposition on individual freedom and an unworkable intrusion into health care, anything that makes it less effective would seem to be welcome.
This isn't where the story ends, though.
[T]he disappearance of subsidies is going to put governors and legislatures in states that haven’t established their own exchanges (nearly every red state) in a very difficult position. After all, their refusal—mostly politically motivated—to establish those exchanges will be the reason that their citizens lose subsidies, even as people in states like California and New York are reaping all the benefits of the law. The state legislatures will also, in effect, be responsible for insurance suddenly becoming far more expensive for millions of people. Finally, the politicians will also be putting a severe dent in the bottom line of insurance companies in their state, since the absence of subsidies guarantees that insurance companies are going to lose the customers they want (healthy people with low health-care costs) and get stuck with those they don’t (sick people whose health-care costs are sure to dwarf their premium payments).
Even if you're a jerkwad incompetent right-wing scumbag, you may begin to grasp that this could be not-so-good. Because in all likelihood you're also a self-serving opportunist. So let's go on.
The Republican hatred of Obamacare is so powerful, and Republican politicians’ fear of being challenged from the right is so strong, that there will undoubtedly be states where governors and legislatures hold firm and basically tell citizens that they can’t have, and shouldn’t want, the free money that the federal government is offering them. (Something like this already happened, after all, when some states opted out of Obamacare’s expansion of Medicaid, even though the federal government was going to pay almost all the costs.)  But, given that this will wreck the individual market for health insurance in these states, that it will (unlike Medicaid) affect plenty of middle-class voters, and that Democrats will be able to point to states where the subsidies are still intact as obvious success stories, staying true to conservative principles is going to be a very hard political sell—even in truly red states.

AND THE MORAL OF THE STORY IS:
Republican politicians have been able to reap the political rewards of inveighing against Obamacare without actually having to strip benefits from anyone. Now they’re going to have to put up or shut up. Obamacare’s opponents may win when the Supreme Court finally decides King, sometime next year. But it could turn out to be a fight they’d have been better off losing.
#

Labels: , , ,