Saturday, June 30, 2012

ObamaCare: A Tax is a tax - is a Tax - is a Tax - Except when it's a Penalty

The Republican right wing Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States has thrown a curve ball into the national confusion over the Affordable Care Act (known popularly as Obamacare.)  The SCOTUS determines the constitutionality of federal laws ever since when Thomas Jefferson and the Democratic Republicans defeated the Federalist property owner regime (an alliance of southern planters/merchants and northern bankers) the Supreme Court responded by the chief  judge, a long-time political rival of President Jefferson, asserting the right of the Court to declare laws unconstitutional - he had to use a footnote in a case to declare it - but nevertheless it stuck.

Unlike the US Senate it takes a majority of the Supreme Court to make a decision. So as expected, the four Democrat justices ruled that the law was constitutional under the federal constitution's commerce clause and the necessary and proper clause.  Four Republican justices voted to throw the whole law out and declare it unconstitutional.  Along comes Judge Roberts,  he decides to vote with the four Democrats and he gets to write the decision and say why - so he declares the Republicans are right this law violates the commerce clause but it contains a tax  - the individual mandate - and under the taxing power the law is constitutional.  Now the tax Robert's is talking about is the penalty someone pays if they can afford health insurance (and under the ACA they can buy it without going through their employer) and they don't.  If they are poor enough to qualify for Medicaid then of course they don't have to pay for private insurance.  It is not a Tax it is a Penalty.  And the only way to confirm whether someone can afford health insurance is to look at their federal tax return and at that point determine (voluntarily noted by the taxpayer) whether they have health insurance. Everyone in this country who pays for health insurance is already paying a tax - increased higher premiums to pay the health care at emergency rooms of those who don't have insurance.  This penalty will actually shift the burden of that alleged "tax" to those who should pay it rather than all those who shouldn't.

So in typical dysfunctional American governmental tradition the Supreme Court makes the correct decision for the wrong (compromised) reasons.  The right declares war on the tax and continues its' crusade for the repeal of Obamacare.  The left must now give up its' dream of universal single payer Medicare for All and settle for defending Obamacare. And simply because some of us, myself included, are not unhappy with the ruling on Obamacare does not mean we should now place a halo around Chief Justice Roberts and be quick to bow in reverence to the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court of the United States, except for a brief three decades after World War II when great liberal jurists like Hugo Black, William Douglas and of course Earl Warren attempted to establish an absolute interpretation of the Bill of Rights and incorporate those rights onto the states through the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment, has been a wall impregnable to people oriented laws.

In 1856 the Court issued the Dred Scott decision, immoral in it’s very wording, it declared that the constitution was for white people only and Negroes could never be truly free in the United States.  It wrote a color line into the constitution and most historians feel it made the Civil War inevitable.   Forty years late in Plessey v. Ferguson the Court having to live with the emancipation of slaves enunciated the “separate but equal” theory and applied it to all public institutions and accommodations.(even though the equal part of the equation was never enforced)

As the Congress of the United States attempted to deal with the depression of the 1930's (which other countries responded to by installing dictatorships) with sensible legislation that tried to save manufacturing and farming in America and at the same time protect the workers, the children and the elderly, the Supreme Court struck down major legislation passed overwhelmingly by the Congress. During the early years of the New Deal the Supreme Court almost made itself a third house of the national legislature.

And with Citizens United the court has handed the government of this country over to those with the billions and unlimited funds to control it.  A restoration of the robber baron corruption of the Gilded Age is coming about as we witness this years' Presidential election.  In the state of Montana which suffered control by the cattle barons and the railroad magnates one hundred years ago the people of Montana adopted controls on campaign financing.  The same Supreme Court which gives false homage to states rights says No you couldn’t do that one hundred years ago. The government of Montana is not of, by and for the people - it will, like the rest of our governments, be owned lock, stock and barrel by the ultra-rich.

A democracy is based on the rule of the majority of the citizens of a polity with respect for and guarantees of the rights of the minorities.  It establishes a form of government, in our case a federal representative republic, which assures those rights and preserves them from one generation to the next. The Supreme Court is the only branch of the federal government that is not elected. The Justices are appointed by the President (who in a second term is not answerable to the people since he cannot run for another term) for life. And to these unelected nine people we give more power than we give the chief executive or the members of either house of Congress. When adopted at the Constitutional Convention it was assumed it would be just the top level of a federal court system.  None of the founding fathers saw it as what it became a coequal branch of the government.  It was the President’s veto that was supposed to save the nation from unconstitutional laws and even that could be overridden by 2/3 of the people’s representatives. Now with super majorities required in the Senate, and with unlimited and hidden expenditures of money  by the ultra rich in election campaigns; and with the Supreme Court of nine deciding who our President will be (Bush v. Gore) and what laws, even if they get through the labyrinthine processes of the federal legislature and are signed by the President, will be allowed to take effect we have undermined all the promises of democracy that were so nobly proclaimed in our Declaration of Independence and our Constitution. 

30 June 2012

Thursday, June 14, 2012


America today is not the society of my youth (the 1950's) nor of my young adulthood (the 1970's). Those were times when people seemed to care about more than just themselves. In the 50's there were still so many who had fought in WWII and felt proud that this nation had saved the world from Nazism and Fascism. Though it took much struggle as that decade merged into the 1960's the majority of Americans decided to care about the injustices that this nation had imposed on citizens of color for the prior one hundred years.  White Priests and Rabbis marched with black Pastors in the demonstrations for voting rights.  And young white teenagers joined in the sit-ins at lunch counters and in voting registration drives. There was violence and blacks died but so did whites who supported equal rights. Ultimately what was just prevailed and our society became more open and more equitable.

What of today?  A recent poll shows that since most Americans have some form of photo ID they support making every voter have photo ID even though they know it will discriminate against minorities, young people and elderly people.  But if you have an ID evidently you don’t care.

And, what of our economy?  People who have someone in the family collecting unemployment or out of work want to see the government create jobs and do the kinds of things that FDR did in the thirties.  But the majority seems to support drifting along hoping it will get no worse for them and seeing no need for government programs to help others. It would appear that unlike the 1960's & 70's when Americans declared war on poverty today the majority wants to declare war on the poor.

Look at the issues of women’s reproductive freedoms - of access to abortion and contraception.  Many of those who oppose access do support it - for themselves.  Those who for religious or personal reasons oppose such processes oppose access for anyone.  Again, the needs of Me take precedence over the needs of others.

Even neighborliness has taken a hit.  In the days of yore if someone went into the hospital neighbors would offer to cut the grass.  Today those neighbors call the local government and demand that the hospitalized resident be given a ticket for high grass. Of course we all want to see our properties kept tidy and clean but neighbors could pitch in and help those who for health reasons can’t take care of the property themselves.  Not today - because it seems they only care about the impact upon their own property.

Somewhere in the past three decades our society changed.  From a nation and a people who prided themselves on helping others we became a ME society.  Even in our politics where once political candidates ran as teams now we see again and again candidates worrying only about themselves and their chances of getting elected - one of the reasons today's winners often can’t govern.

We were once a society that believed that education was the best thing we could give our young people.  So we created the best public schools and opened our colleges and universities to all regardless of income levels.  Now in state after state those who can prefer private for profit education are reducing aid to public schools; and as college loans become unbearably expensive those same people advocate cutting access to loans.  Our society seems to be headed back to education for those who can afford it, rather than education for all, and our society cannot afford that shortsighted attitude. But those who can afford education and those who don’t see the value of it don’t seem to care.

We believed that 'no man was an island unto himself'.  Today isolationism as far as the rest of world goes is again on the upsurge.  Not the isolationism fathered by the drawn-out wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, that we fought for too long, but an isolationism that even rejects economic help to those who need it or economic sanctions as a non violent way of helping others gain their freedoms. 
Americans may negotiate treaties like the Law of the Seas and put forth ideas like an International Criminal Court but those agreements languish in the U. S. Senate with little popular support because like in the 1920's (the last great ME decade) it seems no one cares.

History of public policy often goes in cycles.  If that holds true than the generation of my grandchildren who are growing up in the first decades of the 21st century may look back upon all we tried to do in the middle of the 20th century and say “We can do that and we will do that better.”  They may recognize the value of justice for all, of economic opportunity for everyone and a world at peace based on installing principles throughout the globe.  I certainly hope they will.  I hope they will be a generation that cares about all the people in the land just as their grandparents cared about them.

14 June 2012

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Lessons from Wisconsin - Is Democracy Dying in America or is it Already Dead?

I should make clear that I rooted for the recall of Scott Walker and victory for the progressive forces in the Wisconsin recall elections this past Tuesday.  The right wing Tea party radical Republicans were victorious in their efforts to keep their Governor and Lt Governor and they won convincingly.  There are lessons to be learned from this effort by both sides. I am mostly concerned that the progressive liberal forces in the country learn the right lessons. What are some of those?

First, it’s hard to defeat an incumbent.  Voters need to feel either great anger or great despair when voting a party out. And, today it appears they need to dislike the candidates they are being asked to vote against.

Second, we need to realize that most voters just don’t understand the details of the political system.  They probably can’t see why there wasn’t a simple yes/no vote on Walker since he was the person they petitioned to recall.  And I would contend that in such a yes/no referendum recall would be favored to win.  The Wisconsin system in effect allows you to petition for a new election and that is what occurred.

Third, the weakest candidate to defeat an incumbent is the person that incumbent beat previously.  You are asking the voters to concede that, in this case only 16 months ago, they made two mistakes.  They voted for the wrong person and they voted against the right person.  To defeat an incumbent it has to be about him and the best way to do that is to run a blank slate candidate so the only issue before the voters is the continuation in office of the incumbent.

Fourth, Mayors of the largest city in the state are the poorest candidates for Governor.  Ed Rendell notwithstanding the Mayors of New York City, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Columbus and Chicago are not the Governors of their states and almost never have been since the nineteenth century.  The large cities are seen as different by the rural residents and the place they left by the suburban voters.

Fifth, money is now all there is in politics.  This is not the seventies when door to door campaigning turned a nation against the Vietnam War (with the help of TV coverage of that gruesome war).  Now campaigns are fought out on the TV screens with Ads.  And, today's generation wants quick and easy to remember Advertising not detailed brochures.  Today’s electorate feels about candidates and issues they don’t study about them.

Sixth, we are now in a time when the majority of the population is concerned about itself.  They want to know what and who is going to do for them.  Talk about the future, about everyone having access to the American dream does not resonate with a population that has begun to believe that that dream may be a nightmare. No one cares about the Wars we fight unless they are among the small percentage of people who have relatives who are part of the now professional armed forces.  No one cares about the unemployed unless they have a relative who is among that 8 %. I would argue that the reason that reproductive rights and gay rights are still meeting with  majority support is because a majority of Americans know or are related to someone who is a woman who might need birth control and/or an abortion and a majority of Americans know or are related to someone who is openly Gay.

Seventh, the radical right Tea Party Republicans have succeeded in making government appear to be the problem instead of the problem solver and to demonize the public service.  They have convinced Americans that we are in dire economic straits because teachers and firefighters and policemen and other public employees fought for decent wages and health benefits and retirement benefits. They will not admit that our economic problems are due to the greed and selfishness of the corporate CEO’s, and those who use money to make money-- the very Bain capitalists whose poster boy now stands as their candidate for the highest office in the land.

Eight, the radical right wing attempts to undue two hundred years of franchise expansion by adopting legislation that can only be characterized as voter suppressive is working.  It is convincing the 50% of Americans who are not registered that they shouldn’t even bother. And quite frankly this isn’t 1965 and the only people who care about these voter suppression tactics are those whose vote will be suppressed.

Ninth, the radical right wing Supreme Court Citizens United ruling has turned our political system into a corporate oligarchy - a potentially neo-fascist state in which the richest of the rich will decide the result of elections by spending unmatchable sums in support of their candidates and at the same time will manipulate the economy to create a large class of poorly educated (hence the war on public education) poorly paid (hence the war on unions) workers who won’t even care about voting since the rich will own the candidates and the determine the results.

One volunteer who spent months working on the Wisconsin recall said quite emotionally on TV last night that democracy dies in America on Tuesday and it died in Wisconsin.  He may have been right. As the next decades unfold we will see no strong labor unions fighting for the wage and hour and health care laws that they spent the twentieth century fighting for.  We will see no large middle class as a buffer between the haves and have nots.  We will hear no politicians - no FDRs or Eisenhowers or even Clintons suggesting that the richest should pay more in to the system and that the system should help the middle and the poor. 

America has always been a violent country.  600,000 men had to die in order to free a race from slavery in this country.  When the inevitable battle between the 99% and 1% (maybe it will be 90/10 by then) comes how many will have to die in order to restore this country to the path it was so successfully on in the twentieth century - an America with liberty and justice for All and one in which All shared in an American dream of peace, freedom and the pursuit of happiness.

6 June 2012