Monday, November 29, 2010

Mike Lee, a sign of the times?

“On the campaign trail, especially during his heated primary battle ..., Lee offered glimpses of a truly radical vision of the U.S. Constitution, one that sees the document as divinely inspired and views much of what the federal government currently does as unconstitutional.”

The Lee referred to is Mike Lee, a 39-year old Republican from Utah and one of the newly-elected Tea Party senators. The quote is from an article in Sunday’s New York Times Magazine by Jeffrey Rosen titled “The Tea Party’s Radical Constitutionalism.”

“As your U.S. senator,” Lee promised during the campaign, “I will not vote for a single bill that I can’t justify based on the text and the original understanding of the Constitution, no matter what the court says you can do.”

Some of the new Senator’s campaign promises, as summarized by Rosen:

  • Lee proposed to dismantle, on constitutional grounds, the federal Departments of Education, and Housing and Urban Development.
  • He insisted that “the Constitution doesn’t give Congress the power to redistribute our wealth” and vowed to phase out Social Security.
  • He proposed repealing the 16th Amendment, which authorizes the progressive federal income tax, and called the 17th Amendment, which allows senators to be elected by popular vote rather than by state legislatures, a “mistake.”
  • He pledged to end “the unauthorized federal occupation” of Utah land, insisting that Congress lacks the constitutional power to designate federally protected wilderness unless the relevant state legislature approves.
  • He embraced “nullification,” the idea that states have the right — and indeed the duty — to disregard federal laws, like the new health-care-reform bill, that they say are unconstitutional.

I’ve heard this kind of rhetoric before, but dismissed the speakers as cable TV crazies who get a lot of attention, but don’t represent many Americans. But Rosen suggests I may be wrong:
Like the Tea Party movement itself, Lee’s constitutional vision may appear to be an incohesive mixture of libertarianism and social conservatism, of opposition to federal power and support for tearing down the wall of separation between church and state. In fact, however, it represents an exotic but, in its own way, coherent idea of the Constitution, one that is consistent with certain familiar strains of legal conservatism and constitutional scholarship but at the same time is genuinely eccentric and extreme. Much of the Tea Party movement’s more-strident rhetoric, seen in light of this constitutional vision, may be best understood not as scattershot right-wing hostility to government but as a comprehensive, if startling, worldview about the proper roles of government and faith in American life.

Rosen’s credentials suggest he knows whereof he speaks. He is a professor of law at George Washington University Law School and the Legal Affairs Editor for The New Republic. He is also a Nonresident Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, which lists constitutional law among his areas of expertise.

Much of Rosen’s article summarizes a 1981 book, “The 5,000-Year Leap,” by W. Cleon Skousen, who is considered the “constitutional guru” for the Tea Party movement and whose book, according to amazon.com, is “regularly featured by Glenn Beck to Fox TV viewers as a Must Read.” Media Matters for America, “a Web-based, not-for-profit, 501(c)(3) progressive research and information center dedicated to comprehensively monitoring, analyzing, and correcting conservative misinformation in the U.S. media, has some interesting background on Skousen here.

The description of “The 5,000-Year Leap” on amazon.com:
The nation the Founders built is now in the throes of a political, economic, social, and spiritual crisis that has driven many to an almost frantic search for modern solutions. The truth is that the solutions have been available for a long time -- in the writings of our Founding Fathers -- carefully set forth in this timely book.
In The 5000 Year Leap: A Miracle That Changed the World, discover the 28 Principles of Freedom our Founding Fathers said must be understood and perpetuated by every people who desire peace, prosperity, and freedom. Learn how adherence to these beliefs during the past 200 years has brought about more progress than was made in the previous 5000 years. These 28 Principles include The Genius of Natural Law, Virtuous and Moral Leaders, Equal Rights--Not Equal Things, and Avoiding the Burden of Debt. Published by the National Center for Constitutional Studies, a nonprofit educational foundation dedicated to restoring Constitutional principles in the tradition of America's Founding Fathers.
The National Center for Constitutional Studies...is doing a fine public service in educating Americans about the principles of the Constitution. -- Ronald Reagan, President of the United States
This is possibly the most comprehensive treatment of the genius of the American Founding Fathers which has ever been encompassed in a single volume. -- Kenneth C. Chatwin, District Judge, Phoenix, Arizona

It may be that Mike Lee is a sign of the times, and I guess we can’t dismiss him as another “crazy.”


Think it’s hard to get anything done in the Senate today? Just wait.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Nothing better to do?

Even as the lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act continue to make their way through the courts, states continue to try to pass laws that would exempt them from compliance. Florida, the lead state in one of the lawsuits, is also trying to pass such a law.

Actually, it’s trying to change the state constitution – and it’s trying for the second time, after failing in its attempt last year.

According to Health News Florida earlier this week:

Florida Republican lawmakers are reviving a proposed constitutional amendment that takes aim at a major part of the federal health overhaul --- with Senate President Mike Haridopolos planning the unusual step of sponsoring the proposal himself.

Rep. Scott Plakon, R-Longwood, made sure the proposed amendment was the first piece of legislation filed in the House for the 2011 legislative session. It was formally filed at 11:58 a.m. last Tuesday, less than two hours after lawmakers gathered in Tallahassee to swear in members and select leaders.

The proposal, if ultimately approved by voters during the 2012 elections, is aimed at allowing Floridians to opt out of a federal requirement that they buy health insurance or face financial penalties. Lawmakers passed a largely identical proposal during the 2010 session, but the Florida Supreme Court blocked it from going on the November ballot because of misleading wording.

I realize that the Republican Party opposes the Affordable Care Act and is committed to doing all it can to kill it. I respect that fact that our system of law is proceeding to consider the charges, which are not without merit. It’s clear that the case will ultimately be decided by the Supreme Court.

So that being the case, I can’t help but be annoyed that the president of my state’s Senate chose this to be the lead issue to introduce for consideration in the upcoming Legislative session. Health News Florida notes that sponsoring the proposal himself is an “unusual step.”  "A Senate president has wide-ranging power but typically leaves filing such legislation to other members."

With the state’s unemployment among the highest in the nation, wouldn’t you think there were more pressing matters to be addressed by our elected officials?

Monday, November 22, 2010

Challenging conventional wisdom

I’m often struck by the way conventional wisdom is accepted as fact. But conventional wisdom is not necessarily true.

A recent Time magazine article called “The Uncertainty Principle” by Zackary Karabell reviews the conventional wisdom that businesses aren’t hiring because of uncertainty about government policy:

The best expression of this thesis came from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which released the results of a poll of small-business owners in late September concluding that uncertainty over health care was holding back the recovery: "Nearly 8 in 10 small business leaders expect their costs to increase as a result of the new law, and a majority say they will be less likely to hire new employees ... Small business leaders who are being counted on to grow jobs are deeply unsettled about the present and concerned about the future, and a tremendous amount of that uncertainty is due to the new health care law."

Let's not forget uncertainty about taxes and whether Congress will extend some, all or none of the Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003. When Congress adjourned to focus on the midterm elections rather than decide on tax rates for 2011, Republican House leader John Boehner jumped on the uncertainty bandwagon: "The question right now that the American people are asking is, Where are the jobs? And we don't have jobs ... because of uncertainty affecting families and small businesses. We can help clear out ... this uncertainty by extending all of the current tax rates and cutting spending."

Karabell’s assessment? “Well, poppycock!”

Large businesses aren't hiring for basic reasons. They are highly profitable even with fewer workers. They have spent billions on technologies that have made them more efficient and productive. And they are adding jobs abroad--where the growth is. They are certain that they can service a still highly affluent American market with fewer workers. In fact, the companies of the S&P 500--the epitome of corporate America--are poised to report very strong earnings for the third quarter, continuing a two-year run in which they've reaped hundreds of billions in profit even as employment rolls have shrunk.

Small businesses aren't hiring mostly because economic activity is muted, consumers are paying off debts while saving more and spending somewhat less, and loans for expansion are difficult to obtain.

And uncertainty isn't the reason the housing market is still a mess. Many of the jobs lost in the past two years were in construction, housing and financial firms connected to real estate. They aren't coming back until housing demand perks up. That won't be anytime soon.
Doesn’t all that sound right to you? And if so, then why is this the conventional wisdom??  Karabell:

The business community and its lobbyists and political allies--Republicans mostly, with a fair number of Democrats--don't want to acknowledge the real reasons for the lack of hiring because that would make them responsible for solutions. By raising the cry of uncertainty, they make it seem as if the only thing holding job growth back is bad policy emanating from Washington....

Karabell brings us back to the basic economics of supply and demand:
[Businesses] have no incentive to [create jobs] unless there is a robust domestic economy that will justify more bodies. Government can help or hinder such robustness, but it cannot create it.
I think Karabell is right.  It’s not about uncertainty about government policy. Extending the Bush tax cuts or repealing health care reform won’t do it. If we want to see an increase in the supply of jobs, someone needs to figure out how to stimulate demand.

Just because we hear the same thing over and over and over again on cable TV, doesn’t make it true.

During this highly-partisan time filled with political posturing, it’s important to remember to challenge conventional wisdom. As hard as it is to remember to do so – do so we must.

Monday, November 8, 2010

An interesting take on the election results

If you’ve been depressed about last week’s election results, and the punditry and promises that followed, you might enjoy this Slate.com piece as much as I did.  It’s titled “Pelosi’s Triumph: Democrats didn't lose the battle of 2010. They won it.” by William Saletan, Slate's national correspondent.  Here are some excerpts:
Democrats have lost the House, and health care is getting the blame...."Virtually every House Democrat from a swing district who took a gamble by voting for the health law made a bad political bet," says the New York Times. The Los Angeles Times laments that "the measure of a leader in Washington isn't how much gets done, it's who holds power in the end. On that scale, Pelosi failed."
I'm not buying the autopsy or the obituary. In the national exit poll, voters were split on health care. Unemployment is at nearly 10 percent. Democrats lost a lot of seats that were never really theirs, and those who voted against the bill lost at a higher rate than did those who voted for it. But if health care did cost the party its majority, so what? The bill was more important than the election. 
I realize that sounds crazy. We've become so obsessed with who wins or loses in politics that we've forgotten what the winning and losing are about. Partisans fixate on punishing their enemies in the next campaign. Reporters, in the name of objectivity, refuse to judge anything but the Election Day score card. Politicians rationalize their self-preservation by imagining themselves as dynasty builders. They think this is the big picture.
They're wrong. The big picture isn't about winning or keeping power. It's about using it. I've made this argument before, but David Frum, the former speechwriter to President Bush, has made it better. In March, when Democrats secured enough votes to pass the bill, he castigated fellow conservatives who looked forward to punishing Pelosi and President Obama "with a big win in the November 2010 elections." Frum observed:
Legislative majorities come and go. This healthcare bill is forever. A win in November is very poor compensation for this debacle now. … No illusions please: This bill will not be repealed. Even if Republicans scored a 1994 style landslide in November, how many votes could we muster to re-open the "doughnut hole" and charge seniors more for prescription drugs? How many votes to re-allow insurers to rescind policies when they discover a pre-existing condition? How many votes to banish 25 year olds from their parents' insurance coverage?
Exactly. A party that loses a House seat can win it back two years later, as Republicans just proved. But a party that loses a legislative fight against a middle-class health care entitlement never restores the old order....
Most bills aren't more important than elections. This one was. ...
Politicians have tried and failed for decades to enact universal health care. This time, they succeeded. In 2008, Democrats won the presidency and both houses of Congress, and by the thinnest of margins, they rammed a bill through. They weren't going to get another opportunity for a very long time. It cost them their majority, and it was worth it.
And that's not counting financial regulation, economic stimulus, college lending reform, and all the other bills that became law under Pelosi. So spare me the tears and gloating about her so-called failure. If John Boehner is speaker of the House for the next 20 years, he'll be lucky to match her achievements.
Will Republicans revisit health care? Sure. Will they enact some changes to the program? Yes, and Democrats will help them. Every program needs revisions. Republicans will get other things, too: business tax breaks, education reform, more nuclear power, and a crackdown on earmarks. These are issues on which both parties can agree. Which is why, if you're a Democrat, you deal with them after you've lost your majority—not before.
It's funny, in a twisted way, to read all the post-election complaints that Democrats lost because they thought only of themselves. Even the chief operating officer of the party's leading think tank, the Center for American Progress, says Obama failed to convince Americans "that he knows their jobs are as important as his." That's too bad, because Obama, Pelosi, and their congressional allies proved just the opposite. They risked their jobs—and in many cases lost them—to pass the health care bill. The elections were a painful defeat, and you can argue that the bill was misguided. But Democrats didn't lose the most important battle of 2010. They won it.

I think that’s an interesting take on the election results, don’t you?

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Can the Republicans really kill health care reform?

Since Tuesday’s elections, the leaders of the new House and Senate majorities have trumpeted their intention to repeal the Affordable Care Act, or at least cut off its funding (although they haven’t said how they’d make up the cost savings that would be lost).  I must admit, the saber-rattling was getting to me.

The country does appear to be split about the ACA.  An exit poll conducted by Edison Research for the AP reported that “about half – 48 percent – of voters want the health care law repealed. Another 31 percent said it should be expanded and 16 percent want it left in place as is.”

Among Florida voters, “a majority want it either expanded (30 percent) or left as it is (19 percent). About 44 percent of voters said [the health care law] should be repealed,” according to an exit poll by Edison Research for the National Election Pool.

But health care blogger Maggie Mahar looked at the issue and concluded:

[I]t is essential to realize that this [election result] was not a vote against health care reform.  As [the Edison/AP exit poll] revealed, nearly two-thirds of voters identified the economy as the most important issue weighing on their minds; less than one-fifth named health care as their top concern.

Given the economy, Democrats would undoubtedly have lost their majorities regardless of what they did or didn’t do with health care reform, simply because they were the party in power.  Writes Mahar:

Conservatives will continue to claim that the election was a referendum on reform. This is yet another Big Lie. If the administration had failed to pass reform legislation, the president’s party still would have been trounced at the polls, and the administration branded “impotent.”  If the Obama administration had managed to push a stronger health care bill through Congress -- let’s imagine that a handful of progressives defied all odds, and passed a single-payer bill -- the majority of Americans who now are wary of reform would be totally terrified.  (The fear-mongers would have made sure of that.) Progressives might have lost even more seats. 

How much could the Republicans actually do?  Given Obama's veto pen, any effort to repeal the entire law could not succeed.  And Mahar points out that for all their threats, the Republicans may not really be able to do much about the funding:

It is unclear just how much of the reform legislation’s financing turns on Congressional approval. Reportedly, only about $100 million of the funding needed for the $1 trillion bill is subject to the Congressional appropriations process....  Moreover, as John Gever points out on MedPage Today: “The items in the ACA that require significant appropriations are either popular -- like bringing insurance to the uninsured -- or don't matter much to the electorate, like electronic health records. Killing these won't score points with the voters Republicans will need in 2012 to defeat Obama, and could actually hurt them.”

I suspect that Gevar is right when he says:

Everything you have read and heard about what the new Congress will do is posturing for 2012. It's all about the rhetoric, not the legislation. That's why you will see little actual change -- on anything -- until then.

So while I’ll be keeping an eye on what happens, I’m going to try not to let the Republicans’ threats get to me. 

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Moving forward

Well, it’s over.   

Nationally, I’m incredibly worried about the next two (and six) years.  One of the first things Congress will tackle is the extension of the Bush tax cuts.  Will they be extended?  And if so, will that help the struggling recovery, or just add to the deficit?  And speaking of the recovery – many economists – and as we saw today, even the Federal Reserve – now believe more stimulus is necessary.  But that seems a non-starter with the new Congress.  What will happen to the economy now?

Another huge concern is the Republicans’ avowed intent to repeal the health care reform.  The Affordable Care Act (I will NEVER call it “Obamacare”!) was a carefully-constructed house of cards.  It won’t be possible to cherry-pick the popular pieces and kill the ones the special interests don’t like without adding to the deficit.  I’ll be following those efforts in my health care blog “So what do you think about that? 

I’m also very concerned about the implications of the elections for Florida.  As written today by Howard Troxler, columnist with the St. Petersburg Times:

Make no mistake — the Tallahassee Republicans were huge winners Tuesday.

Not only was the existing Legislature returned to power, but its ruling party grew into a veto-proof majority.

In other words, the Legislature got off scot-free for everything outrageous that has happened over the past two years.

Looking ahead, I’m concerned about off-shore drilling, how the 2012 redistricting will actually be done, funding for education, Medicaid, SCHIP and the Everglades, not to mention what it will be like to have Rick Scott as our Governor!

Locally, Barbara Berry’s win over Kathy Ryan for School Board District 3 is concerning, but I’m pleased that Pat Carroll and Roy Terry won in their districts.  Hopefully we can count on Kathy Curatolo, Julie Sprague and Terry to protect our interests.  In reality, only one member of the Board has changed, with one ultra-conservative (Steve Donovan) replaced by another (Berry). 

Of course I’m pleased that Amendments 5 and 6 passed.  But will the Republican Legislature, which fought so hard to keep them from taking effect, comply with their requirements?  That remains to be seen.

The failure of Amendment 8 (Class Size) to pass means that the School Board has not just one but two immediate pieces of business: finding a way - and the money - to comply with the smaller class sizes, and agreeing on the criteria/approach to hiring a new superintendent.  Before they can begin the search, they have to agree on the indicators of progress for the strategic plan.  That will hopefully happen tomorrow (Thursday) afternoon at a workshop open to the public.  I plan to attend.

But is there a silver lining?  Back at the state level, here’s how columnist Troxler sees it:

Was all of this just dandy by the voters of Florida?

Did they say, yes, indeed, we want more scandal in Tallahassee, more laundered money, more favors for corporations? Are we just dying to get our electric bills doubled?

Yeah, maybe.

Or maybe Tallahassee was the incidental beneficiary of the unstoppable national tide.

For clues, let's turn to the way Floridians voted on constitutional amendments — where it turns out they punched the Legislature right in the snoot.

Most importantly, Floridians passed Amendment 5 and Amendment 6, the "fair districts" proposals, deeply opposed by the Legislature. In the long run this might be the most important thing that happened Tuesday.

Floridians rejected Amendment 8, which would have weakened the class-size rules that voters first passed in 2002. The Legislature has resented these rules ever since — this year it refused to pay for all of them, and instead asked voters: You didn't really mean it, did you?

But they did.

Voters even rejected Amendment 1, which would have repealed Florida's system of public financing for political candidates, a favorite target of the Legislature.

In sum, given the chance to reject Tallahassee as well as Washington, voters did so.

Marco Rubio, our new U.S. senator-elect, said an interesting thing on election night:

"We make a great mistake," Rubio said, "if we believe that tonight these results are somehow an embrace of the Republican Party."

Likewise, the Legislature's leaders will make a mistake if they interpret Tuesday's election as voter approval of their offenses and scandals. They won't always have Barack Obama around to save them.

It’s going to be an interesting couple of years. 

I plan to continue writing this blog and sharing my thoughts on the elections, politics and national affairs.  I’ll be watching the School Board as it grapples with the superintendent challenge – both how they continue to work with Dr. Thompson through the remainder of this term, as well as what they decide to look for, how they decide to look for it, and if and how they bring the community into the decision-making.

I also will be watching the state Legislature, Congress, the White House and the run-up to Election 2012.

Hopefully you’ll be along for the ride. 


Monday, November 1, 2010

Tomorrow is Election Day

Well, tomorrow is Election Day.  It goes without saying that if you haven’t voted yet, please be sure to do so!
The latest polls still show Crist ahead of Meek, but one (Sunshine State News) does show that Meek may be pulling a bit of support from Crist.  Most polls continue to say that a Rubio win is likely, with the most recent showing him ahead of Crist by 17 to 20 points.  I hope they’re wrong. 
I recommend a vote for Crist because he has the better chance of beating Rubio than Meek does.  For my other voting recommendations as summarized in my October 28 blog post, click here. 
Here are some things you should know to be sure your vote is counted and your time is not wasted on Election Day:

You must vote at your specific precinct’s polling place.  Do not go to a library or other early voting site.

To find your precinct’s polling place:

  • Your polling location is printed on the inside page of your sample ballot.
  • You can also find your polling place by clicking here, or by calling the Collier County Supervisor of Elections Office at (239) 252-8450.

The polls will be open from 7 am until 7 pm.

If you have an absentee ballot but did not mail it in, you can either:

  • Complete the absentee ballot and hand-deliver it to the Supervisor of Elections’ Office at either 3301 Tamiami Trail East, Bldg. C-2, or at the North Collier Government Service Center, 2335 Orange Blossom Drive (next to County Library Headquarters) -- between 9 am and 6 pm.
  • Vote in person at your precinct.  Be sure to bring the absentee ballot with you to be cancelled if you plan to vote in person.  If you don’t have the absentee ballot but did not mail it in, you should be permitted to vote a “provisional ballot.”  Don’t leave the polling place without having voted!  Insist on casting a provisional ballot!

You can check the status of your absentee ballot by clicking here. 

To review a sample ballot before going to the polls, click here. 

The closest thing I’ve found to a guide for following the election returns is at the New York Times’ FiveThirtyEight blog: The Ultimate Hour-by-Hour, District-by-District Election Guide.  I plan to watch the returns and keep score.  If you’d like a printer-friendly copy (that has the charts as well as the text), email me and I’ll send you one.

Here’s hoping!