Archive for 2012

Health Care: Roberts Betrays Right-Wing Court Coup

Friday, June 29th, 2012

In every presidential election season, you can count on the mainstream media to overwrite the trivial and underplay the essential, a double-barreled M.O. based on a reflexive reverence for conventional wisdom and an addiction to instant gratification. More specifically:

1. They undercover what is important in favor of over-blowing the immediate. Hence: let’s hyperventilate about every daily national preference poll, while giving short shrift to what the surveys show about the status of the Electoral College, and excitedly inform readers and viewers that every bump in the road – The jobs report will doom Obama! The out-sourcing story will kill Romney! — is a crucial turning point in the race, when actually not much is happening at all.

2. Campaign reporters, with the exception of the one or two who will ask dutiful questions in the debates, all but ignore the whys and wherefores of what is arguably the most significant power any president has: the appointment of Supreme Court justices, and how the differences in whom the candidate will choose as nominees shape the nation for decades into the future.

That’s our takeaway from Thursday’s surprise court decision, in which Chief Justice John Roberts sided with the center-left minority to uphold Obama’s Affordable Care Act. It’s riotous to see how the right immediately turned on Roberts —  “Roberts’s Folly!” screamed National Review while the repulsive Daily Caller blasted out “Roberts Revolts!” as conservative operative Richard Viguerie prudently compared the ruling to the Dred Scott decision — who’s finally been revealed as a sleeper socialist who’s been part of the black helicopter conspiracy all along.

To his credit, Roberts finally lived up to what he told the Senate Judiciary Committee during his confirmation hearings, when he famously compared judges to “umpires” and promised to “call balls and strikes and not to pitch or bat.”

Ironically, the other great public service Roberts has performed is to bring huge and widespread attention to exactly how politically active and purely ideological the court’s right-wing cuckoo caucus has become.

Perhaps the normally unflappable James Fallows goes a bit far in a terrific piece about the court when he describes the Scalia/Thomas/Alioto cabal’s water-carrying for the Republican Party as a “coup.”  And E.J. Dionne’s delusional demand that Antonin Scalia resign from the Supreme Court because he says so suggests that all the love he got from his California fans during his recent West Coast book junket may have gone to his head. So it’s left to the reliable Joan Walsh to put the matter more delicately in a swell takedown of the evil Scalia:

It’s becoming hard to ignore, and hard to reconcile with democracy: The man who wrote the decision making George W. Bush president, and then acknowledged it was so eccentric and singular it couldn’t be used as precedent for anything else, is at the heart of a project that began in the ’70s to remake American society by rolling back protection for consumers and workers and unfettering corporate power from its Progressive Era and New Deal regulations…

The modern American right has decided it doesn’t accept even democratically elected Democratic Party leaders, and does what it must to thwart or eject them from power. The Scalia court has become one more tool in that project, and the brash justice’s contemptuous words ought to ring in the ears of all Democrats as they head to the polls in November.  

And here we thought that that annoying ringing in our ears was just one more symptom of our steady physical deterioration. Good to know!

The best political team on television: As feckless and behind the curve the MSM is, it nevertheless is rare that big broadcast operations like CNN and Fox News are completely, utterly and stupidly wrong in reporting the news. But when you’re 100% sure how something is going to turn out, it’s obviously hard to quickly adjust to the fact that your preparations were 100% useless. (Kudos to Tom Goldstein’s SCOTUSblog which got it right almost instantly.)

In any case, while right-wingers sputter with rage and insist that Roberts’s betrayal will merely make them work twice as hard to defeat the communist, fascist, Muslim, Kenyan Obama in November, it’s worth keeping in mind that the biggest stakes in the election involve the guys and gals in the black robes.

For those keeping score at home, here are some vitals about the current geriatric ward court, which suggest the next president may have an outsize opportunity to shape the court for many generations to come:

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 79; Antonin Scalia, 76; Anthony Kennedy, 75; Stephen Breyer, 73; Clarence Thomas, 64; Samuel Alito, 62; Sonia Sotomayor, 58; John Roberts,  57; Elena Kagan, 52.

It’s hilariously ironic to hear right-wingers – who piously supported the Supreme Court’s horrific 5-4 decision in Citizens United – complain that the ruling on the Affordable Care Act was illegitimate. “Just because a couple people on the Supreme Court declare something to be ‘constitutional’ does not make it so. The whole thing remains unconstitutional,” argued ersatz legal scholar Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky.

Forget that pesky 1803 Marbury v Madison thing and the notion that, “It is emphatically the province and duty of the Judicial Department [the judicial branch] to say what the law is.”

Of course it’s almost equally ironic to listen to Democrats now embrace and defend a Supreme Court they were prepared to attack, especially when Roberts’ rationale for upholding the constitutionality of the law was to declare it a “tax,” which Democrats had fervently argued it was not.

But Republicans who hope to rally the public against this newly-branded “tax” are on a fool’s errand. As Democrat Brad Bannon explained at a U.S. News forum:

By a 5-4 majority, the court ruled the individual health insurance mandate is constitutional. Four justices (Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, and Ruth Bader Ginsberg) ruled that Congress’s power to regulate interstate commerce justified the mandate. The fifth justice, Chief Justice John Roberts, disagreed but said the law was legitimate by virtue of Congress’s authority to levy taxes. All that matters is that the justices said the mandate was constitutional. It doesn’t matter that the justices traveled on different roads as long as they got to the same place.

Repeat: All that matters is that the justices said the mandate was constitutional. That’s the essential political fact.

Do we really have to listen to this guy bray until November? Whether Obamacare (and, by extension, Romneycare) is a tax or a penalty or a thingamajig is politically irrelevant. What matters is that millions of young people can stay on their parents’ insurance policies, that pre-existing conditions won’t disqualify people from getting insurance, that large insurance pools can be created for small businesses and the uninsured, and that companies with more than 50 employees will have to provide coverage for employees – all popular provisions of the law.

The Supreme Court on Thursday gave Romney an opportunity to stand down on the issue of health care (where he has no real alternative plan) but instead the Latter Day Shapeshifter doubled down. “This is a time of choice for the American people. Our mission is clear,” he said. “If we want to get rid of Obamacare, we’re going to have to replace President Obama.”

But as David Firestone succinctly explained, Romney’s arguments against the ACA are simply false.

Much of what he said, and what he has said all along, is factually untrue. The law doesn’t add “trillions to our deficits and to our national debt.” It actually lowers the deficit, as the Congressional Budget Office has repeatedly noted. There is no evidence that it is keeping businesses from hiring. It won’t force 20 million Americans to lose their insurance – not just a made-up number but also a made-up concept. People who have insurance now will be able to keep it, as the president said today.

What it will do, and what Mr. Romney never mentions, is provide coverage for nearly 30 million Americans who lack it. That group, totally off Mr. Romney’s radar screen, didn’t come up in his speech today, except indirectly in an exceedingly vague line: “We also have to assure that we do our very best to help each state in their effort to assure that every American has access to affordable health care.”

We wonder if Romney will now redact the Courts & The Constitution section his campaign web site that says (as we write this):

As president, Mitt will nominate judges in the mold of Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Scalia, Thomas, and Alito. These justices hold dear what the great Chief Justice John Marshall called “the basis on which the whole American fabric has been erected”: a written Constitution, with real and determinate meaning.

And thank you for that.

Dems’ Idiocy on Pensions Recalls ’70s Tax Fiasco

Monday, June 25th, 2012

Not since the disco era, when a young Jerry Brown and a tone-deaf Legislature dithered away their chance to head off Prop. 13, has Sacramento seen such a spectacle of fatuous folly as legislative Democrats now display over pension reform.

Then, a too-little-too-late Sacto measure failed to cool simmering anger about property taxes, which boiled over with the landslide passage of 13.

Now, months after an older and wiser Governor Brown sent lawmakers an eminently sensible package of pension reforms, Democratic legislative leaders ho-hum that they’ll get around to it, maybe, eventually, sometime, as labor types insist retirement costs ain’t no big deal anyhow..

In taking this laid-back approach to retirement reform, the Democrats and unions foolishly disdain the concern of taxpayers, who perceive pensions as a visible symbol of pigs-at-the-trough government spending. In the process, their arrogance puts further at risk the 50-50 chance of voters passing Brown’s $8 billion tax increase initiative in November.

“The thing with Sacramento is there are a lot of urgent issues,” Dave Low, chair of the union coalition Californians for Retirement Security, smugly told Peter Henderson of Reuters, who further reported that Low “argues that the economy may have improved enough by the time of the next election that pensions will not be as pressing an issue.”

Seriously? Next up: Dave tells cat and duck to chill – red hen’s all over that bread-baking thing.

Quick trip in the way-back machine. For those condemned to repeat who don’t remember the not-so-distant past: In the late 1970s, the combination of a real estate bubble, an auto-pilot system of setting property tax bills and a growing state surplus made over-burdened homeowners look to Sacramento for tax relief.

As Roger Rapoport detailed in his essential “California Dreaming,” Jerry Brown, fresh off his zesty, first failed campaign for president, spent a year-and-a-half bickering with lawmakers over three measures to provide relief for local taxpayers. When his pet bill was defeated in 1977, the governor reacted with a classic Moonbeam formulation:

“It’s like a shotgun wedding and the bridegroom isn’t quite ready to go to the altar,” the Governor explained after losing. “The senators should go home and meditate.”

As political pressure grew, Capitol pols responded the next year with S.B. 1, a much-debated plan they were certain would head off Prop. 13, dubbed the Jarvis-Gann Initiative after its authors, the mild-mannered Sacramento conservative activist Paul Gann and his lunatic L.A. sidekick, Howard. Rapoport again:

Endorsed by the legislature, S.B. 1 went on the June ballot as Proposition 8 with the governor and many leading politicians believing that it would ensure the defeat of Proposition 13. Jerry remarked: “I think Proposition 13 will be defeated and I will do anything I can to see that happens. The Jarvis amendment is a tax trap.”

How that’s workin’ out, Gandalf?

Brown’s talent for reading the mood of the public, pretty well-honed by 1978, grew considerably sharper as he performed a spectacular tour de force in implementing Prop. 13, a one-for-the-ages flip flop that led to his landslide re-election.

Perhaps that’s why he, apparently alone among Democrats now resident in Sacramento, seems to think that the recent overwhelming votes in favor of public employee retirement reform in San Diego and – for heaven’s sake – San Jose are, you know, worthy of notice.

“The pension vote in San Jose, which is… a more liberal city than the state as a whole, is a very powerful signal that pension reform is an imperative. It’s really important.”

Tomorrow’s another day: Senate leader Darrell Steinberg, to his credit, keeps saying that he understands the importance of getting pension reform passed this year. But his actions: not so much.

Brown’s plan was banished months ago to a phony special committee. Republicans then wisely stole a march on Democrats by endorsing the governor’s package in toto; last week, the GOP tried to bring it up for a vote, another smart play, before the leadership played into their hands by crushing the effort.

“We’ve just witnessed my Democrat colleagues pass their half-baked budget based on closed door talks that shut out the public,” said GOP leader Bob Huff.  “Now they seem intent on denying the public a vote on pensions. Closed door deals and back room negotiations are hardly the recipe for meaningful reform.”

Calbuzz could not be more sympathetic to the plight of Steinberg, who appears to be the last sane person in the Legislature, and whose days consist of being pecked to death by ducks. That said, he may have grown so used to ignoring Republicans that he can no longer hear them, even when they make sense, and even if it’s in his own self-interest.

Steinberg told reporters last week the Legislature will pass some form of reform, if not before their month-long July vacation, then surely when they return in August. Ah, manana.

Let’s be blunt. Democrats, whose political livelihoods have steadily and increasingly become dependent on union money since Jerry Brown in his first term signed the legislation that gave state employees collective bargaining rights, are terrified of moving an inch on pensions without permission and marching orders from the labor groups that finance their campaigns.

News flash: the Coupal/Fox/Fleischman cabal, whose mission in life is torpedoing Brown’s tax plan, is not stretched out on the couch eating bon bons while the libs work through their issues. They’ve already begun directing voters’ attention to Dems trolling for more taxes without lifting a finger on pension reform, and they sound pretty reasonable making their case. Joel Fox last week:

California government desperately needs real pension reform and spending reform. Taxpayers cannot be relied upon to bail out the too generous offerings politicians have handed out to public employees in health and pension benefits while the taxpayers struggle to support their own health care and retirement funds.

Passing tax increases without first achieving serious reforms means we likely will be looking at more of the former and none of the latter.

Let’s face it, even when if Dems finally get around to pension reform (August! At the latest! Really!) – it’s a safe bet that what they pass will be neither as comprehensive nor as substantive as what Brown pitched back in January. Otherwise, why not vote on it now?

That will hand the anti-tax jihadists a swell opportunity to frame the legislation as faux reform, a fig leaf measure cynically passed as part of the campaign to raise taxes; by dragging their heels on pensions now, Democrats also strengthen the conservative argument for the union-busting “Stop Special Interest Money Now Act,” the misleading right-wing initiative aimed at draining labor’s political contribution funds. More: it also appears that Dems intend to put pension reform in line behind Brown’s request for authorization of $2.7 billion in bonds for the increasingly unpopular-with-the-public High Speed Rail project.

Secret memo to D.S.: There may be ways to make it easier for the GOP and Jarvis crowd to sink Brown’s tax increase. We can’t think of any offhand, but we’ll be sure to get back to you if we do.

Bottom line: As a practical matter, pension reform is not the most pressing fiscal issue facing the state, as we’ve stipulated before. As a political matter, however, it’s a sine qua non for convincing voters to raise their own taxes.

Gandalf is betting his governorship on his tax initiative. It’s a high-stakes, high-risk political play, the most ballsy, high visibility move by a prominent state leader to explain to voters why government needs revenue since Howard Jarvis bitch-slapped a 40-year old Jerry Brown and sent every politician in California scurrying for cover for the next third-of-a-century.

If Brown loses his bet, don’t look for anybody else to try it for the next thirty years, at least.