Daily Archive: 02/06/2014

Feb 06 2014

Punting the Pundits

“Punting the Pundits” is an Open Thread. It is a selection of editorials and opinions from around the news medium and the internet blogs. The intent is to provide a forum for your reactions and opinions, not just to the opinions presented, but to what ever you find important.

Thanks to ek hornbeck, click on the link and you can access all the past “Punting the Pundits”.

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New York Times Editorial Board: A Missing Argument on Contraceptives

One of the most anticipated showdowns of the Supreme Court’s current term will take place March 25, when the justices are scheduled to hear two cases brought by secular, for-profit corporations whose owners want an exemption, based on their religious beliefs, from the requirement that employers’ health plans cover the full range of contraceptive services without a co-payment.

The question before the justices is whether the requirement, part of the new health care law, violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, a statute designed to give even greater protection to religious exercise than the Supreme Court had deemed constitutionally required in a 1990 ruling. [..]

Oddly, the Justice Department has relegated to a footnote what may be the strongest single argument against allowing the two companies to deny their workers contraceptive coverage that they would otherwise be entitled to under the health care law. That would be the Constitution’s establishment clause enforcing the separation of church and state and barring government from favoring one religion over another or nonbelievers. But that is exactly what would happen if the restoration act were to be read as a congressional order requiring federal courts to grant private for-profit employers an exemption that would effectively allow them to impose their beliefs on employees to deny them a valuable government benefit.

Richard (RJ) Eskow: Post Office Banking Could Be the Start of Something Big

It seems like an idea whose time has come. With one in four American households partially or entirely excluded from the current banking system, and with the U.S. Post Office in search of additional revenue, why not use the postal system to offer banking services to lower-income households?

In fact, this is an idea whose time has already come, more than once. Many nations — among them Great Britain, Japan, Germany, Israel, and Brazil — provide or have provided some form of postal banking services. So did the United States, until 1966.

It’s hardly a radical idea. The U.S. system was voted into law in 1910, during the presidency of William Howard Taft. In any case, a better way to describe it would be as a beginning.

Juan Cole: Broken Democracy: Republicans Poised to Take Senate, Americans Reject Their Platform

A lot of political analysts think it is entirely possible that the Republicans will take the senate next November. This development won’t change much, in all likelihood, if it does occur. The Republican majority in the House of Representatives can already block most legislation, and in 2013 it dedicated itself the the proposition that the country must be punished for re-electing Barack Obama, by being denied virtually any new needed legislation at all. The Republicans won’t have a two-thirds majority in the Senate, and so won’t be able to over-rule an Obama veto.

What is odd, and damning of the current American political system, is that the Republican Party’s major platform positions are roundly rejected by the American people. That is, they are ideologically a minority party. And yet they manage to win elections. [..]

The system is obviously broken. Cutting down the role of big money in our politics, and reforming our districting processes, is key to fixing it. Until then, our politics will continue to lurch to the right even as the public is left of center, and that is a recipe for trouble down the road.

John Nichols: Harry Reid Knows Opposing Fast Track Is Smart Policy and Smart Politics

There are a lot of reasons Senate majority leader Harry Reid shot down President Obama’s State of the Union request for a congressional grant of fast-track trade promotion authority to negotiate new free-trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Reid has a history of skepticism when it comes to trade deals, having opposed the North American Free Trade Agreement, permanent normalization of trade relations with China and a host of other arrangements that were favored by Wall Street interests.

Reid has a skeptical caucus. Only one Senate Democrat is on record in favor of granting fast-track authority, which would allow the administration to negotiate the TPP deal without meaningful congressional oversight or amendments. And that senator, Montana’s Max Baucus, is preparing to exit the chamber to become US ambassador to China. Senators who are sticking around, like Ohio’s Sherrod Brown and Massachusetts’ Elizabeth Warren, are ardently opposed.

Yet Reid’s rejection of Obama’s request was not a show of skepticism. It was an expression of outspoken oppositio

Robert Reich: Why Widening Inequality Is Hobbling Equal Opportunity

Under a headline “Obama Moves to the Right in a Partisan War of Words,” The New York Times‘ Jackie Calmes notes Democratic operatives have been hitting back hard against the President or any other Democratic politician talking about income inequality, preferring that the Democrats talk about equality of opportunity instead.

“However salient reducing inequality may be,” writes Democratic pollster Mark Mellman, “it is demonstrably less important to voters than any other number of priorities, incudlng reducing poverty.”

The President may be listening. Wags noticed that in his State of the Union, Obama spoke ten times of increasing “opportunity” and only twice of income inequality, while in a December speech he spoke of income inequality two dozen times.

But the President and other Democrats — and even Republicans, for that matter — should focus on the facts, not the polls, and not try to dress up what’s been happening with more soothing words and phrases.

Howard Dean: Containing Health Costs Is Good But Not at the Expense of the Mentally Ill

Recently, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) put forth a proposed rule that would make unprecedented changes to the six classes of medication that are specifically protected under Part D. Historically, these protected classes have existed to ensure patients have access to critical prescription drugs. These proposed changes endanger that safeguard.

Patients suffering from mental illness are likely to suffer the consequences of this rule more than any other populations. The proposed rule would make significant changes to the availability of antidepressants and antipsychotics. Implementing these changes will bring additional risk to an already vulnerable population.

Mental health is an increasingly significant issue in the United States and resources, both private and public, should be targeted at fostering understanding, improving the lives of patients, and reducing the toll mental illness takes on our society. By limiting the number of drugs available to this population, regulators will create another barrier to treatment for patients suffering from mental illness.

Feb 06 2014

On This Day In History February 6

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

February 6 is the 37th day of the year in the Gregorian calendar. There are 328 days remaining until the end of the year (329 in leap years).

On this day in 1952, Elizabeth II becomes the first Queen regnant of the United Kingdom and several other realms since Queen Victoria, upon the death of her father, George VI. At the exact moment of succession, she was in a treehouse at the Treetops Hotel in Kenya.

Elizabeth II (Elizabeth Alexandra Mary, born 21 April 1926) is the Queen regnant of 16 independent sovereign states known as the Commonwealth realms: the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Jamaica, Barbados, the Bahamas, Grenada, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Belize, Antigua and Barbuda, and Saint Kitts and Nevis. In addition, as Head of the Commonwealth, she is the figurehead of the 54-member Commonwealth of Nations and, as the British monarch, she is the Supreme Governor of the Church of England.

Elizabeth was educated privately at home. Her father, George VI, became King-Emperor of the British Empire in 1936. She began to undertake public duties during the Second World War, in which she served in the Auxiliary Territorial Service. After the war and Indian independence George VI’s title of Emperor of India was abandoned, and the evolution of the Empire into the Commonwealth accelerated. In 1947, Elizabeth made the first of many tours around the Commonwealth, and married Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. They have four children: Charles, Anne, Andrew, and Edward.

In 1949, George VI became the first Head of the Commonwealth, a symbol of the free association of the independent countries comprising the Commonwealth of Nations. On his death in 1952, Elizabeth became Head of the Commonwealth, and constitutional monarch of seven independent Commonwealth countries: the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Pakistan, and Ceylon. Her coronation in 1953 was the first to be televised. During her reign, which at 58 years is one of the longest for a British monarch, she became queen of 25 other countries within the Commonwealth as they gained independence. Between 1956 and 1992, half of her realms, including South Africa, Pakistan, and Ceylon (renamed Sri Lanka), became republics.

In 1992, which Elizabeth termed her annus horribilis (“horrible year”), two of her sons separated from their wives, her daughter divorced, and a severe fire destroyed part of Windsor Castle. Revelations on the state of her eldest son Charles’s marriage continued, and he divorced in 1996. The following year, her former daughter-in-law Diana, Princess of Wales, died in a car crash in Paris. The media criticised the royal family for remaining in seclusion in the days before Diana’s funeral, but Elizabeth’s personal popularity rebounded once she had appeared in public and has since remained high. Her Silver and Golden Jubilees were celebrated in 1977 and 2002 respectively, and planning for her Diamond Jubilee in 2012 is underway.

Feb 06 2014

The Stray Dogs of Sochi

This will break your heart

Thank you, Keith

Racing to Save the Stray Dogs of Sochi

By David M. Herszenhorn, The New York Times

SOCHI, Russia – A dog shelter backed by a Russian billionaire is engaged in a frantic last-ditch effort to save hundreds of strays facing a death sentence before the Winter Olympics begin here. [..]

“We were told, ‘Either you take all the dogs from the Olympic Village or we will shoot them,’ ” said Olga Melnikova, who is coordinating the rescue effort on behalf of a charity called Good Will, which is financed by Oleg V. Deripaska, one of Russia’s billionaire oligarchs.

“On Monday we were told we have until Thursday,” Ms. Melnikova said.

A “dog rescue” golf cart is now scouring the Olympic campus, picking up the animals and delivering them to the shelter, which is really an outdoor shantytown of doghouses on a hill on the outskirts of the city. It is being called PovoDog, a play on the Russian word povodok, which means leash. [..]

Mr. Deripaska, an industrialist who largely made his fortune in aluminum, provided $15,000 to get the shelter started on land donated by the local government. He has also pledged about $50,000 a year for operations. He was also one of the major investors in the Sochi Games and paid for several huge projects, including an overhaul of the airport, a new seaport and the Olympic Village along the coast.

With the Olympics fast approaching, however, there was simply no time to build an indoor space for the shelter, especially because so much work remained to be done on hotels and other buildings for the Games. [..]

All of the dogs entering the shelter receive medical treatment, including vaccinations. All of them will be eligible for adoption, even to fans attending the Olympics. Spared execution – at least for the moment – the animals at the PovoDog shelter barked in a loud chorus as the sun slowly dropped into the Black Sea, which could be viewed in the distance.

According to the article, this is tarnishing the warm and cuddly image of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.Mahatma Gandhi (Indian Statesman and Philosopher)

Feb 06 2014

Keystone XL in Obama’s Lap

House GOP abandons plans to tie debt ceiling to O-Care, Keystone

By Peter Schroeder and Russell Berman, The Hill

February 05, 2014, 11:49 am

House Republican leaders have concluded that they cannot pass an increase in the debt ceiling without help from Democrats, abandoning plans to tie legislation either to ObamaCare or the Keystone pipeline.

GOP leaders had been looking at pairing legislation boosting the debt limit with either an authorization of the pipeline or  rolling back a portion of ObamaCare. But after presenting those ideas to members and huddling Wednesday, they determined neither would receive 218 votes from House Republicans.

It is now officially the Barack Hussein Obama Climate Change Death Funnel.

Feb 06 2014

The Failed War on Drugs

Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN):

“It is ludicrous, absurd, crazy to have marijuana at same level as heroin. Ask the late Philip Seymour Hoffman if you could. Nobody dies from marijuana. People die from heroin.”

“Every second that we spend in this country trying to enforce marijuana laws is a second that we’re not enforcing heroin laws. And heroin and meth are the two drugs that are ravaging our country,”

“And every death, including Mr. Hoffman’s, is partly the responsibility of the federal government’s drug priorities for not putting total emphasis on the drugs that kill, that cause people to be addicted and have to steal to support their habit.”

“When we put marijuana on the same level as heroin and crack and LSD and meth and crack and cocaine, we are telling young people not to listen to adults about the ravages and problems, and they don’t listen because they know you’re wrong.”

“You can’t name one person who’s died from a overdose of marijuana can you?”

Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) tore into deputy drug czar Michael Botticelli on Tuesday, highlighting federal drug policy’s failure to address the substances “ravaging our country” while still considering marijuana to be as dangerous as heroin.

Speaking during a hearing of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform focused on the Obama administration’s marijuana policy, Cohen urged drug policy officials to rethink marijuana’s classification as a Schedule 1 substance, which the Drug Enforcement Administration considers “the most dangerous class of drugs.” Other Schedule 1 substances include heroin, LSD and ecstasy, while methamphetamine and cocaine fall under the Schedule II definition.

It is time to refocus and admit that the war on drugs has been lost.

Feb 06 2014

How Will the ACA Impact the Work Force.

On Tuesday, the Congressional Budget Office released it’s latest report on the Affordable Care Act’s impact on the economy. In the report it estimated that the work force would be reduced by 2.3 million workers by 2021 (pdf). Needless to say, the right wing media and Republicans seized on this as proof positive that Obamacare was a “job killer.”

Well not so fast, this is what the report said:

CBO estimates that the ACA will reduce the total number of hours worked, on net, by about 1.5 percent to 2.0 percent during the period from 2017 to 2024, almost entirely because workers will choose to supply less labor-given the new taxes and other incentives they will face and the financial benefits some will receive. Because the largest declines in labor supply will probably occur among lower-wage workers, the reduction in aggregate compensation (wages, salaries, and fringe benefits) and the impact on the overall economy will be proportionally smaller than the reduction in hours worked. [..]

The estimated reduction stems almost entirely from a net decline in the amount of labor that workers choose to supply, rather than from a net drop in businesses’ demand for labor.

In other words, this isn’t about jobs, it’s about whether or not workers will choose to work less in order to hold on to their eligibility for subsidized health care or Medicaid.

The Washington Post‘s fact checker, Glenn Kessler clarified:

First, this is not about jobs offered by employers. It’s about workers – and the choices they make.

The CBO’s estimate is mostly the result of an analysis of the impact of the law on the supply of labor. That means how many people choose to participate in the work force. In other words, the nonpartisan agency is examining whether the law increases or decreases incentives for people to work. [..]

Some might believe that the overall impact of the health law on employment is bad because it would be encouraging people – some 2.3 million – not to work. Indeed, the decline in the workforce participation rate has been of concern to economists, as the baby boom generation leaves the work force, and the health care law appears to exacerbate that trend.

Moreover, the argument could go, this would hurt the nation’s budget because 2.3 million fewer people will pay taxes on their earnings. That’s certainly an intellectually solid argument – though others might counter that universal health care is worth a reduction in overall employment – but it’s not at all the same as saying these jobs would be lost.

On the brighter side, before a House hearing on Wednesday the Director of the CBO Doug Elmendorf made this argument:

“The reason we don’t use the term ‘lost jobs’ is there is a critical difference between people who like to work and can’t find a job – or have a job that’s lost for reasons beyond their control – and people who choose not to work,” he explained. “If someone comes up to you and says, ‘The boss says I’m being laid off because we don’t have enough business to pay,’ any other person feels bad about that and we sympathize for them having lost their job. If someone says, ‘I decided to retire or stay home and spend more time with my family and spend more time doing my hobby,’ they don’t feel bad about it – they feel good about it. And we don’t sympathize. We say congratulations.”

Matt Iglesias at Mother Jones makes a very salient point about the impact on the job force:

Obamacare will reduce employment primarily because it’s a means-tested welfare program, and means-tested programs always reduce employment among the poor.

If, for example, earning $100 in additional income means a $25 reduction in Obamacare subsidies, you’re only getting $75 for your extra work. At the margins, some people will decide that’s not worth it, so they’ll forego working extra hours. That’s the substitution effect. In addition, low-income workers covered by Obamacare will have lower medical bills. This makes them less desperate for additional money, and might also cause them to forego working extra hours. That’s the income effect.

This is not something specific to Obamacare. It’s a shortcoming in all means-tested welfare programs. It’s basically Welfare 101, and in over half a century, no one has really figured out how to get around it. It’s something you just have to accept if you support safety net programs for the poor.

It’s worth noting, however, that health care is an exception to this rule. It doesn’t have to be means tested. If we simply had a rational national health care system, available to everyone regardless of income, then none of this would be an issue. There might still be a small income effect, but it would probably be barely noticeable. Since everyone would be fully covered no matter what, there would no high effective marginal tax rate on the poor and no reason not to work more hours. Someday we’ll get there.

Optimistically, people leaving jobs or working less may be an opportunity for someone else to take their place. On the other side it could increase costs for employers who would then reduce the number of people they hire. This is an educated guessing game that we would not be engaged in if there were single payer or a public option that leveled the playing field.