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

Republicans say they killed the bill that would lower interest on existing student loans because it does nothing to cure cancer … er, it does nothing to lower college costs and therefore reduce borrowing. Or cure cancer.

Republicans said the bill wouldn’t have done anything to lower education costs or reduce borrowing, and they accused Democrats of playing politics by highlighting an issue that was bound to fail.

— Senate Republicans block student loan bill, Erica Werner, Associated Press, today

The bill, written and sponsored by Elizabeth Warren, would allowed borrowers, including those with “years-old debt and interest rates topping 7 percent or more, refinance at today’s lower rates,” the AP article specifies, and “would have been paid for with the so-called Buffett Rule, which sets minimum tax rates for people making over $1 million.”  The vote was 56-38.

Should the Republicans actually be interested in doing something to lower higher-education costs and consequently reduce borrowing, they might consider reinstating substantial federal financial assistance to states in order to help the states once again fund their state universities and colleges at, say, the pre-Bush-tax-cuts-era levels, so that these universities and colleges weren’t being funded mostly by tuition.

And should Republicans actually acknowledge that current high levels of student debt–debt already incurred, which was the subject of that bill–won’t recede even if college and university attendance suddenly were made free of charge, and concede that the high level of current debt is itself a problem, they will stop claiming that you shouldn’t try to help students and former students who are deeply in debt unless you also fix an unrelated problem, or even also fix a problem that is related but not in a way that matters to the proposed fix.

So the current Republican excuse for refusing to tackle any actual problem is that any fix wouldn’t affect every problem we have. The problem for the Republicans that this tactic won’t fix is that the many millions of people directly affected by the particular problem recognize the Republicans’ non sequitur for what it is.  And so do most other people.


This is another in my series of posts on the Republicans’ steady diet of cliches and nonsensical slogans as their campaign modus operandi.

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Follow-up to “Scalia’s Curious Memory Lapse”: Is the Supreme Court about to limit its holding in Garcetti v. Ceballos?

Okay, first things first.  And the first thing is that when you (okay, when I) put the word “after” instead of “before” in a key sentence, and the error (which in this instance occurred because of a cut-and-paste sentence-edit typo in a complex sentence) makes the sentence nonsensical, you’re gonna be stepping on your own punch line.*  Which is what I did in my post Tuesday titled “Scalia’s Curious Memory Lapse,” in the first sentence of a paragraph that, corrected, reads:

Ah, but that’s because Lane was unaware of the 2006 opinion in Garcettti v. Ceballos.  The second one issued, that is, less than a month after* Samuel Alito was sworn in as Sandra Day O’Connor’s replacement; not the first one issued, in the last few days before O’Connor formally retired. (Yes, as I explain in that post of mine from last January that I linked to above, Garcettti v. Ceballos has quite an interesting little twist to it, procedurally.)

The second thing is, um … I think I’ll just quote my exchange with Robert Waldmann in the Comments section, which should suffice:

ROBERT: I was puzzled when reading the first few sentences of this post, because I had assumed it was about *another* amazing Scalia memory lapse. The other unrelated astonishing error was Antonin Scalia’s totally incorrect citation of an opinion written by eminent Jurist uh Antonin Scalia [link].

“”Scalia’s dissent also contains a hugely embarrassing mistake. He refers to the Court’s earlier decision in American Trucking as involving an effort by EPA to smuggle cost considerations into the statute. But that’s exactly backwards: it was industry that argued for cost considerations and EPA that resisted,” Farber wrote on the environmental law and policy blog Legal Planet. “This gaffe is doubly embarrassing because Scalia wrote the opinion in the case, so he should surely remember which side won! Either some law clerk made the mistake and Scalia failed to read his own dissent carefully enough, or he simply forgot the basics of the earlier case and his clerks failed to correct him. Either way, it’s a cringeworthy blunder.””

Wow. Too bad supreme court justices can’t be impeached for senility (or for the standard conduct of signing opinions and dissents actually written by their clerks). Too much worse that no Republican will be impeached ,while Republicans control the House, or convicted, while there are 34 of more Republican senators. But two amazing howlers in about a week must be one for the history books.

ME: Robert, yeah, when I wrote the post and the title two days ago, I didn’t know yet about that weird error by him in his dissent in the EPA case. I should have changed the title yesterday; I think I’ll tweak it now, even though the post is old now. [I did.]

The “memory lapse” I’m talking about in this post isn’t actually a memory lapse, though. Scalia well remembers exactly what the situation was in Garcetti, and what the result was, because it’s critical to the arguments in Harris v. Quinn, which they’re deciding this term. It’s probably already been decided, and the dissent is being written now.

Thanks, Robert, for your comment.

I want to add here that I suspect that Scalia’s comment at the argument on Monday in Lane v. Franks that was the main subject of my earlier post–“I’ve never heard of this distinction, the First Amendment protects only opinions and not facts.  I’ve never heard of it.”–suggests that the Court is about to significantly limit its holding in Garcetti.

Which would be a good thing for prosecutors who want to inform their bosses that the police officer who sought the search warrant at issue apparently fabricated the “probable cause” for the warrant, or that the police officer who obtained the confession from a suspect did so by lying to the suspect, or that the police officer who dealt with the victim or witness insist or ensure that the victim or witness identify the suspect in a lineup as the perpetrator.  Or some such.  And it probably would be pretty good for innocent suspects, too.

Not so good, though, for cops who want to frame people.  Or for prosecutors who do, and aren’t on good terms with a colleague or two or with a subordinate. And you never know who might turn out to have a conscience.

This would be a big deal.

Meanwhile, about that real memory lapse by Scalia, in his dissent in EPA v. Homer City Generation, you can read the latest on it here.  The AP’s Mark Sherman nails it.

That federal gummint is always trying to get away with something! Even impersonating a trucking association.

*Sentence edited to correct a cut-and-paste typo. 4/2. Sighhh.

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Obamacare plans bring hefty fees for certain drugs? Really? Well … it depends on what the meaning of “bring” is.

MIAMI (AP) — Breast cancer survivor Ginny Mason was thrilled to get health coverage under the Affordable Care Act despite her pre-existing condition. But when she realized her arthritis medication fell under a particularly costly tier of her plan, she was forced to switch to another brand.

Under the plan, her Celebrex would have cost $648 a month until she met her $1,500 prescription deductible, followed by an $85 monthly co-pay.

Thus begins a deeply (but apparently unintentionally) confusing, yet very important, Associated Press article titled “Obamacare plans bring hefty fees for certain drugs,” published yesterday.  (The title may be Yahoo News’s, rather than the AP’s; it’s not clear.)

“‘I was grateful for the Affordable Care Act because it didn’t turn me down but … it’s like where’s the affordable on this one,’ said Mason, a 61-year-old from West Lafayette, Indiana who currently pays an $800 monthly premium,” Kelli Kennedy, the AP writer, continues.

Where, indeed, is the affordable on this one?  The essence of the article is that many people who have chronic serious illnesses, including, as Kennedy says, cancer, multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis–and who, because of a preexisting condition,had had no access to any healthcare insurance or who, like Mason (as Mason explained to Kennedy), had insurance that did not cover treatment for preexisting conditions, are being hit by a specific of their ACA-compliant plan that they did not know about when they bought the plan: an apparently relatively new gimmick insurance companies are using, by which the company categorizes some high-cost drugs as “specialty-tier” drugs and by quietly including in their individual-market plans a 50%- “co-insurance” rate for “specialty-tier” drugs.

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What the Associated Press Should Have Added to Press Releases About Scalia’s and Alito’s Current Warm-Weather Junkets

Here are the press releases dutifully passed along by the Associated Press:

HONOLULU (AP) – U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia will be teaching a class at the University of Hawaii law school.

The university says Scalia’s guest lecture Monday at the William S. Richardson School of Law will be followed by brief remarks on constitutional interpretations. He’s also expected to take questions from students.

Scalia was appointed to the nation’s highest court in 1986, which makes him the longest-serving justice currently on the court.

The 77-year-old New Jersey native isn’t expected to do any interviews or answer questions from the media.

Justice Scalia to lecture at Univ. of Hawaii, today

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito is giving a lunchtime speech to a South Florida audience.

Alito is scheduled to speak Monday in West Palm Beach to a joint meeting of the Forum Club of the Palm Beaches and the Palm Beach County Bar Association. The topic of the speech wasn’t immediately available.

Alito generally votes with the nine-member court’s conservative wing. He was nominated by President George W. Bush and has served on the high court since January 2006.

Before that he was a federal appeals judge and was U.S. attorney in New Jersey.

Supreme Court Justice Alito speaking in Fla., Associated Press, today

Here’s what they should have added–and what the AP and other news organizations that report on such activities should include in every report of this sort, going forward:

The Supreme Court annually receives about 9,000 petitions, known as certiorari petitions, requesting the Court’s review of lower federal and state appellate court rulings, it hears oral argument in about 70 of those cases, usually two arguments a day, five days a month during* the first seven months of its nine-month annual term, and issues short opinions in an additional four or five cases, usually in order to reverse a lower federal appellate court’s ruling favoring a state-court criminal defendant.  In addition to its three-month summer break, the Court effectively adjourns for nearly a month for the winter holiday season, for another several weeks beginning in late January, and for two weeks in the remaining months in which it hears ten arguments.  Although the filing fee is $300, the actual cost of filing a petition totals roughly $5,000-$7,000 in order to meet the Court’s peculiar requirement that petitions be in special-publishing-house heat-press- or saddlestitch-bound, small-perimeter book form and that 40 copies be submitted.  While any litigation party who has lost a lower-court appeal and who can afford to do so is entitled to file a petition, the Court in recent decades effectively limits its annual 75 opinions mainly to cases in which the petitioner is a government or a government official or employee, or whose petition counsel is one of the approximately 30 Washington, D.C.-based Supreme Court specialists whose specialty is prompting a justice or two to open the cover of the petition on which the attorney’s name appears as counsel, for a fee of roughly $1,000 per hour. There are a few exceptions each year.

Seriously. Seriously.


*Typo-corrected word originally said “ruling” rather than “during”.  Now, the sentence makes sense.


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