Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

The new Robert’s Supreme Court

Linda Greenhouse of the NYT comments:

A Supreme Court quiz: Who offered this paean to judicial restraint: “If it is not necessary to decide more to a case, then in my view it is necessary not to decide more to a case”?

That was nearly 11 years ago, only eight months into his tenure. It was before Citizens United erased limits on corporate spending in politics, before Shelby County v. Holder eviscerated the Voting Rights Act, before Chief Justice Roberts swung for the fences in the Parents Involved case to bar formerly segregated school districts from trying to preserve integration through the use of racially conscious student assignment plans. (Only Justice Anthony M. Kennedy’s separate concurring opinion in that 5-to-4 decision retained some leeway for school districts looking for strategies to prevent resegregation.)

And now we have Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer, a case argued last week that presents the question whether a state that provides grants to schools for upgrading their playground surfaces can constitutionally disqualify a church-run nursery school from eligibility because of its religious character.

“Having eight was unusual and awkward,” Justice Alito said, according to The Journal article. “That probably required having a lot more discussion of some things and more compromise and maybe narrower opinions than we would have issued otherwise, but as of this Monday, we were back to an odd number.”

That’s a bold statement that hardly needs translation, but here’s mine anyway: We’ve got our mojo back. Consensus? That was so 2016. And the Roberts court in 2017? Now it begins.

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Dancin With the Stars or “Why is there an Exemption for Representatives, Senators, and Washington staff?

After being confronted by TPM reporter Alice Ollstein about the exemption for Washington elected officials and their staff, it was obvious they were caught off guard. Read some of the answers dancing around the issue.

New Jersey Republican Representative Tom MacArthur who proposed an amendment allowing states to opt out of key PPACA requirements. Read what he and other Republican House Representatives had to say when they were asked about the exempt to the latest AHCA amendment I had writen about.

Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-NJ); he is working to fix the language in question.

Rep. MacArthur puts out statement saying Congress shouldn’t get special treatment, they are working to fix exemption.

Rep. Scott Desjarleis (R-TN); “I don’t know about that. That’s a good question,”

Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-VA).; “I’ll have to read the language more closely,”

Rep. Chris Collins (R-NY); “I didn’t know there was [an exemption for members of Congress]. I don’t know what you’re talking about,”

Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC), ” because D.C. is not a state, it can not apply for or receive the same waivers states can under their bill.”

Rep. David Brat (R-VA) “an exemption for members of Congress seeking to deregulate the health care market “would be, politically, completely tone deaf.”

Other Republicans: “the carve-out would have to be addressed with a new piece of legislation for complicated parliamentary reasons. A senior leadership staff member confirmed that they are working on a ‘stand-alone effort’ to undo the exemption, which lawmakers would vote on at the same time as the larger health care package.

Freedom Caucasus member Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-VA): “the fix has to come through a separate bill. Did not know whether D.C. could get the same waivers as a state under the legislation; but, Griffith said it did not matter because ‘liberal’ D.C. wouldn’t seek a waiver in the first place.

Republican lawmakers and staff: it was inserted in the first place in order to ensure that it could pass the Senate under what is known as the Byrd Rule, though they did not fully explain why.

The Byrd Rule dictates that strict budgetary legislation that does not increase the federal deficit after 10 years can be fast-tracked through the Senate on a simple majority vote.

Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX); the Byrd Rule was ‘the genesis’ of the exemption provision, but promised that “every member of Congress is going to vote to make sure we are treated like everybody else.”

Again Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC): It was a provision that, from a fatal standpoint, would not allow us to address it because jurisdictionally on the budget reconciliation instructions, that were narrowly tailored to two different committees of jurisdiction. To fully address that would had to have gone over to another area which would have made it fatal.” huh?

And the truth?
Health care law expert and professor at Washington and Lee University, Tim Jost: “D.C. is clearly defined as a state in the Affordable Care Act. And I don’t see anything in the AHCA that changes that, including this provision,” he said. “The provision provides for congressional coverage through the marketplace, and the language is clear [regarding the exemption].”

I think most of these reps are residents of the state they represent in Congress, so why wouldn’t they be exempt from the exclusion as defined by the amendment?

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Congressional Republicans looking Out for Your Health, Healthcare Insurance, and Their’s Too . . .

One Happy Republican House Representative
invisible hand If you have not been paying attention, it looks like the Republicans are getting ready again to submit another version of a PPACA/ACA repeal bill. New Jersey Republican Representative Tom MacArthur is proposing an amendment allowing states to opt out of key PPACA requirements. For example:

- Preventative Care: The PPACA has 62 preventative measures or Essential Preventive Care benefits which are no cost to a patient. Cholesterol screening, Type 2 Diabetes screening various immunizations for adults and children, breast cancer screenings, hepatitis B screenings, HIV tests, lead screening for children, etc.

- Community Rating: In the good old days when people had a heart attack , disorder, or illness; insurance companies would rate the individual and either insure them at a much higher rate or deny insurance to them. The PPACA acting like a true insurance pool spread the risk amongst the community adapting a more uniform rate for people. Two exceptions were smoking at 150% of the lowest cost individual and 300% for older people (Republicans wish to increase this to 500%). Where people with pre-existing conditions had to pay much higher rates or had no insurance, the PPACA established rates covering them and spreading the cost.

This new GOP amendment allows states to waive community rating. Insurers could again charge people based on their health and expected health care costs. The state would have to participate in the Patient and State Stability Fund (which would be underfunded) before it could waive out of Community Rating. The PSS is a pool of money in the AHCA that states can use to set up high-risk pools or shore up insurers that get stuck with really expensive patients (think of Corridor Risk and Reissuance programs which Republicans defunded).

Initially, the AHCA as proposed by Republicans would have resulted in an estimated 24 million people becoming uninsured over 10 years with a loss of 14 million in one year. We would be back to pre-PPACA with no single payer, universal, public option, Medicare-for-all in sight. The change in the Community Rating would target those with severe illness or disorders, the elderly, and those with pre-existing conditions. Removing the Preventative Care portion of the PPACA targets women and children and again patients would have to pay for them. There is just the healthy left or healthy today and the rest of the populations gets to fend for themselves. That would certainly lower healthcare insurance costs until the healthcare industry sucked it up in increasing prices. Not quite sure who the Republicans are tossing a bone to with this amendment, the healthcare industry or healthcare insurance companies?

As Vox’s Sarah Kliff points out; when the PPACA came into play, all Representatives and staffers had to purchase healthcare insurance on the individuals exchange. What was good for the gander was also good for the goose so to speak. I seem to remember differently; but, let’s go with this for now. There was quite a bit of grumbling going on in Congress when this was proposed.

invisible hand Fast forward to today’s amendment by New Jersey Republican Representative Tom MacArthur; it appears Congress now likes the PPACA when it comes to their healthcare insurance. If Representatives and staffers live in one of those states waiving out of Preventative Care and Community Ratings, Congress is exempt from the wavier. Looking at section 1312(d)(3)(D) of the amendment (sixth page) there is an exemption for those who will not be included in a state’s waiver. Senators, House Representative, their staffers and I am sure every other staffer in Washington, the Cabinet and their staffers, Bannon, etc. are all excluded from any state wavier on healthcare. I am glad they are looking out for us and the people who vote for them.

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The real world

Via Diane Ravitch’s`blog comes this bit of news…the real world is business is a meme underlying our conversations in politics.

Well, this is good news!

Ohio Governor John Kasich’s proposal that teachers should be required to “job shadow” a business to learn about “the real world” has been shot down (thanks to Ohio Algebra Teacher for sharing!).

Democrats’ counterproposal that Kasich be required to spend 40 hours annually job shadowing people who work in public schools. That won’t pass either, but it was a nice response.

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7 Islands and 3 Branches

Jeff Sessions said “I really am amazed that a judge sitting on an island in the Pacific can issue an order that stops the President of the United States from what appears to be clearly his statutory and constitutional power,”

There has been considerable discussion of the phrase “an island in the Pacific”. With that phrase, Sessions made it clear that he considers Hawaii to be a second class state — not a real American state like Alabama. I have no doubt at all that he believes this largely because a majority of residents of Hawaii aren’t white. Our Attorney General is deeply racist and only sometimes able to hide this fact.

A Justice Department spokesperson added insult to insult by saying that Hawaii is indeed an island in the Pacific. This is true. Also Bora Bora is an Island in the Pacific. But Judge Watson didn’t issue his order while sitting on Bora Bora or the Island called Hawaii. he was sitting on Oahu, not Hawaii. The US State of Hawaii is an archipelago including 7 large islands only one of which is the island called “Hawaii” in the Pacific.

Sessions personally displayed spectacular geographic ignorance saying “I wasn’t diminishing the judge or the island of Hawaii, that beautiful place, give me a break.”

None of this is very important. What is important is that Sessions challenges the authority of a judge to declare an executive order to be unlawful. ““I was just making the point that’s very real: one judge out of 700 has stopped the President of the United States from doing what he believes is necessary to protect our safety and security.” Sessions has abandoned his claim that his view of what appears statutory and constitutional should count for more than a judges — that an attorney should be able to over rule a judge. Now he claims that the President’s judgement should count more than any (single) judges view of what the law says.

Judicial proceedings start with a single judge (whose judgments can be appealed). Plaintiffs do not have direct access to panels of judges. As noted by Hobbes roughly 370 years ago, the law without a judge amounts to mere ink on paper. Sessions’ clearly stated view is that the President should not be subordinate to any law or statute whatsoever. If no single judge can even temporarily stop him, the law can’t stop him. If no single judge can issue a preliminary injunction or a decision, then no panel of judges can hear the case.

Sessions declares that the USA is, and should be, an absolute monarchy.

He is an enemy of the constitution.

However, he has not committed treason (which requires making war not just declaring it) and has not committed another impeachable offence (he did commit perjury during his confirmation hearings and, of course, should be impeached, convicted, removed from office and, I think, disqualified “to hold and enjoy any Office of honor, Trust or Profit under the United States”).

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It was actually quite amusing to see an article in my provincial newspaper a while back where two sides were arguing about a reduction in the work week, and you could play bingo with the excuses the anti-side used. There wasn’t an original idea in the whole article, as the pro-side was almost apologizing and got one paragraph of the six on offer. – “Salty,” comment at AngryBear.

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The Simpsons on Immigration

A post from 2006 on immigration by Kash Mansori seems timely…

The Simpsons on Immigration

Kash | March 28, 2006 1:31 pm

Simpsons aficionados among you already know that the Simpsons addressed the issue of immigration back in 1996, in the episode “Much Apu About Nothing”. Here’s a summary of the beginning of the episode, thanks to Wikipedia (Btw, I never would have guessed that Wikipedia contains entries on individual Simpsons episodes…)

On an ordinary day, a bear strolls onto Evergreen Terrace. It is quickly subdued by the police, not before accidentally shooting and capturing Barney Gumble. Homer rants about these “constant bear attacks”, even though this is the very first bear Ned has seen in his forty years of living on that street. Homer then leads an angry mob and demands that Mayor Quimby do something about this. Soon, the Bear Patrol is created, a useless organization which even makes use of a B-2 Spirit. Homer then gets just as shocked [as] when he saw the bear when he discovers that taxes have been raised five dollars to maintain the Bear Patrol.

After that, the angry mob returns to the mayor’s office, yelling “Down with taxes! Down with taxes!” The mayor has to do something…

Quimby: Are those morons getting dumber or just louder?

Assistant: [Takes a moment to check his clipboard] Dumber, sir.

Quimby: They want the bear patrol but they won’t pay taxes for it. This is a situation that calls for real leadership. [Opens the door to his office to confront the angry mob.]

People, your taxes are high because of illegal immigrants!

Moe Szyslak: Immigants! I knew it was them! Even when it was the bears, I knew it was them.

Let’s not confuse fiction with reality, though. I certainly can’t believe that politicians in real life would ever raise the issue of immigration to cover up for their failures in other areas of policy, such as taxes, government spending, income inequality, education, health care…

Kash

Postscript: I’ve written in the dialogue from memory, so forgive me if it’s slightly off.

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The Boundless Thirst for Surplus-Labor

September 22, 1956

November 7, 1960

QUESTION. This is from Mr. White, Warren, Mich.

What is your stand on the 32-hour workweek?

Vice President NIXON: Well, the 32-hour workweek just isn’t a possibility at the present time. I made a speech back in the 1956 campaign when I indicated that as we went into the period of automation, that it was inevitable that the workweek was going to be reduced, that we could look forward to the time in America when we might have a 4-day week, but we can’t have it now. We can’t have it now for the reason that we find, that as far as automation is concerned, both because of the practices of business and labor, we do not have the efficiency yet developed to the point that reducing the workweek would not result in a reduction of production. The workweek can only be reduced at a time when reduction of the workweek will not reduce efficiency and will not reduce production.

It’s inevitable… but we can’t have it.

Dick Nixon’s turnaround on the issue of the four-day workweek was epic. His original prediction of  a four-day week “in the not too distant future” came in a prepared speech, not in some unguarded moment of overheated campaign hyperbole. He even disclaimed that his “projections” were not “dreams or idle boasts” but were based on the continuation of President Eisenhower’s economic policies.

Following up on Nixon’s 1956 prediction, United Auto Workers president Walter Reuther responded with a telegram calling on the administration to outline a legislative program to achieve the shorter workweek. Nixon sent a telegram in reply and President Eisenhower endorsed Nixon’s reply in a press conference on September 28.

Nixon’s reply was that “mere artificial legislation” would not accomplish a four-day workweek. What was necessary was “dedicated joint efforts of labor, management, government and research.” For his part, Eisenhower “saw nothing wrong with” Nixon’s answer, which he thought also represented his own view that it would be “wonderful” to have more leisure time, but that “no man can say it is going to come about because I say so.” A month after his first comment, Nixon reaffirmed his expectation of a shorter workweek, based on partnership between government, business and labor.

The adamant wording of Nixon’s 1960 dismissal of the idea takes on added resonance in the context of Eisenhower’s earlier caveat that “no man can say it is going to come about because I say so.” Four years later, it “just isn’t a possibility… we can’t have it now. We can’t have it now… [because I say so].”

This wouldn’t be the first time that self-contradiction has appeared in the rhetoric of opposition to shorter work time. The Sandwichman has amassed the world’s largest collection of lame excuses offered by opponents. I assembled 21 of them and sorted them into eight categories having to do with productivity, new consumer wants, unsatisfied needs, labor costs, government policy, self-adjusting markets, history and inevitability, and the devious motives of proponents.

To be kind, the rationales are opportunistic. Mostly, they are jejune partial equilibrium statements invoked as if they were eternal verities. More bluntly, they are mendacious. Every single reason given for not shortening the hours of work is complemented by a contradictory reason for not shortening the hours of work. Damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

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To me the common assertion about health care reform reform and tax reform makes no sense

Various people have argued that Republicans decided to repeal and (very partially) replace Obamacare before moving on to tax reform, because Obamacare repeal (aka the American Health Care Act aka AHCA) would make it easier to permanently cut tax rates. To me this makes less than zero sense. The argument is that, since AHCA includes tax cuts, tax reform would start from a lower base, so it would be easier to write a tax reform bill which doesn’t add to the deficit after 10 years. It is, in fact, necessary that bills not add to the deficit after 10 years for them to be passed using the budget reconciliation process which makes them invulnerable to filibusters.

However, I don’t see how preceding tax cuts make new tax cuts budget neutral. No one has explained how the exact same tax reform bill could be passed using reconciliation if it followed passage of the AHCA but not if it preceded passage of the AHCA. I know of no one who has argued that the CBO score of the effects of tax reform would be markedly different, or even argued that the sign of the change in the score would be favorable.

Rather the argument seems to be that with the AHCA tax cuts and the tax reform tax cuts, rich people will pay lower taxes than with the tax reform tax cuts alone. This is obviously true and has nothing to do with the order in which the bills are signed into law.

Jonathan Chait has been a prominent proponent of the view which makes no sense to me at all.

The next source of money is repealing Obamacare. The connection between the two issues might seem obscure, but it matters technically. The Republican plan to repeal Obamacare would eliminate all the taxes that were raised to help pay for the benefits — about $1.2 trillion over the next decade. This would lower the baseline of tax revenue, meaning that Republicans would need to design a tax code that raises $1.2 trillion less in revenue in order to be “revenue-neutral.” That makes it crucial for them to repeal Obamacare before they cut taxes.

I can cut and paste his argument. I can read it. But I can find no sense in it at all. Yes if taxes have been cut by $1.2 trillion, then a revenue neutral tax reform needs to raise 1.2 trillion less. But nothing whatsoever justifies Chait’s use of the word “before”. I can’t refute his argument, because I can’t detect it.

This matters, because it now turns out that Donald Trump is one of the people who have been convinced (presumably by Paul Ryan not Jon Chait).

“We haven’t failed — we’re negotiating, and we continue to negotiate, and we will save perhaps $900 billion … we have to do health care first to pick up additional money so that we get great tax reform.”

This argument too makes no sense (very much less surprising in the case of Trump than of Chait). For the reconciliation process, money can’t be picked up with one bill and spent on another. Each bill taken alone must not increase the deficit after 10 years. Now reactionaries consider the AHCA to include great tax reform, since it includes reductions in taxes on high incomes. But this doesn’t make further reductions easier. The order in which the bills are passed doesn’t matter.

In fact, the AHCA makes tax reform more difficult. The reason is that the AHCA benefit cuts are even larger than the tax cuts. So the maximum allowed fiscal 2027 deficit would be smaller if the AHCA were law. A bill which combined health care reform reform and tax reform could include even larger tax cuts than simple repeal of the ACA tax increases and be passed using reconciliation.

I honestly don’t get it. I’m sure I’m missing something. I am also sure, 100% sure, that, even if passage of the AHCA were to make it easier for the GOP to pass a tax reform bill, this wouldn’t be because the AHCA includes tax cuts or deficit reduction.

update: minds think alike.

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Which Is More Important, China Or Syria?

by Barkley Rosser {originally published at Econospeak)

Which Is More Important, China Or Syria?

For the world as a whole and the US in particular, when it is put like that it is pretty obvious: China.  It has the world’s largest population, largest economy in PPP terms, a rising military, expanding interests around the world, including making territorial demands on several neighbors, not to mention being a nuclear superpower as well as cyberpower, and more.  Syria has a population of 22 million and an economy half the size of Puerto Rico’s.  It is not a major oil exporter.

However, last week it certainly looked like Syria was more important.  President Trump meets with President Xi at Mar-a-Lago, and almost nothing is reported about the meeting other than some vague remarks.  Important matters such as trade policy (the US has initiated an  anti-dumping suit against China in steel), South China Sea issues, North Korea nuclear testing issues (US has just sent a major naval group towards the place), issues over currency management (with Trump long charging China with currency manipulation, even though it is now widely accepted that while they did it in the past the Chinese are not doing so now), climate change (where China is becoming world leader on the international policy stage while Trump claims that global warming is a “Chinese hoax”).  They barely had a press conference, and what really went on in the meeting remains largely mysterious.

So, wow, much better to have the headlines and the commentaries taken up with the apparently one-shot firing of 59 Tomahawk missiles at a base in Syria, after apparently warning both the Russians and the Syrians we were going to do it, in response to a chemical attack in Syria that killed about 80 civilians, including some children.  This was certainly a bad attack, but it remains unclear if it was the Syrian military or some rebel groups, although probably it was the government, and if it was the government, it is unclear if it was done by some local commander on his own or with the explicit orders of President Assad, and if the latter, was it done with the foreknowledge of their allies, the Russians, and most especially President Putin.  The Russians and Iranians are claiming that the rebels did the chem weapons attacke and are denouncing the US attack.  But who really knows?  I sure as heck do not, and I  am not sure anybody in the US government knows either, especially given the 25 reasons that have since been given for this by various administration officials.

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