2012 - %3, July

Grandstanding Over Medicaid Begins in Florida, South Carolina

| Mon Jul. 2, 2012 11:35 AM EDT

Following Thursday's Supreme Court decision, Republican governors in the South are starting to trip all over themselves to see who will be first across the line to turn down the Medicaid expansion that's part of Obamacare. As it turns out, Florida's Rick Scott and Louisiana's Bobby Jindal took the checkered flag. Sarah Kliff assesses the damage:

The Affordable Care Act would have extended Medicaid to cover everyone who earns less than $14,500, regardless of whether they have children or not. That expansion, to cover higher earners, would have covered 951,622 Floridians, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation report.

In South Carolina, the expansion was expected to cover 330,932 people. Taken together, that’s 1.2 million people—about 7.5 percent of the 17 million people expected to gain Medicaid coverage—who would no longer have access to the program.

Needless to say, we should expect a lot more of this. I figure every Republican governor in the South, and at least half of them elsewhere, will do the same thing.

For now, though, I'm treating this as simply part of campaign season. It's an easy way of ginning up the base, but it means nothing until 2014 rolls around and the Medicaid provisions of ACA actually kick in. I don't doubt that some states will continue to hold out, but if Obama wins in November and ACA stays intact, I expect things to cool down over time. Some of the ideologues will stick to their guns, but not all of them. Eventually most will probably take the money.

Nevertheless, this is a good argument for one of my favorite policy prescriptions: we should federalize Medicaid. There's never really been any good argument for making it a joint state-federal program, and there are plenty of good arguments for taking this monkey off the backs of state budgets and letting the federal government run the whole thing, just like they do with Medicare. Now, with the Supreme Court imposing new limits on federal authority to manage joint programs, we have yet another argument for federalizing it.

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Mitch McConnell Demonstrates the "Repeal and Replace" Tap Dance

| Mon Jul. 2, 2012 10:37 AM EDT

On Sunday Chris Wallace interviewed Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate, and tried manfully to get him to comment on the "replace" part of "repeal and replace." He didn't succeed:

WALLACE: One of the keys to "Obama-care" is that it will extend insurance access to 30 million people who are now uninsured. In your replacement, how would you provide universal coverage?

MCCONNELL: Well, first, let me say the single the best thing we could do for the American health care system is to get rid of Obamacare....

WALLACE: But if I may, sir, you've talked about repeal and replace. How would you provide universal coverage?

MCCONNELL: I will get to it in a minute. The first step we need to take is to get rid of what is there....

WALLACE: But respectfully sir, because we are going to run out of time and I just want to ask, what specifically are you going to do to provide universal coverage to the 30 million people who are uninsured?

MCCONNELL: That is not the issue....

WALLACE: You don't think the 30 million people that were uninsured is an issue?

MCCONNELL: Let me tell you what we are not going to do....

I think it's safe to say that Republicans have exactly zero intention of replacing Obamacare with anything at all except a few miscellaneous gifts to their campaign contributors (state-level regulation for insurance companies, tort reform for the Chamber of Commerce, etc.). The 30 million uninsured will be quickly and completely forgotten, as McConnell's robotic dedication to GOP talking points showed. How about if we all stop pretending that they were ever serious about this in the first place?

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for July 2, 2012

Mon Jul. 2, 2012 9:24 AM EDT

Michigan Army National Guard infantry soldiers and Reserve Officer Corps Training cadets of the 1st Battalion, 125th Infantry, Rear Detachment conduct an air assault mission using UH-60M Black Hawk helicopters and foot patrols at Camp Grayling, Mich. Photo by the US Army.

Why John Roberts Changed His Mind

| Mon Jul. 2, 2012 8:37 AM EDT

Yesterday's big story came from Jan Crawford of CBS News, who reports that two separate sources within the Supreme Court confirmed to her what people have been speculating about since Thursday: Chief Justice John Roberts was initially planning to join the court's conservatives to strike down Obamacare, but then changed his mind. But why?

Some of the conservatives, such as Justice Clarence Thomas, deliberately avoid news articles on the Court when issues are pending....But Roberts pays attention to media coverage. As Chief Justice, he is keenly aware of his leadership role on the Court, and he also is sensitive to how the Court is perceived by the public.

There were countless news articles in May warning of damage to the Court — and to Roberts' reputation — if the Court were to strike down the mandate....It was around this time that it also became clear to the conservative justices that Roberts was, as one put it, "wobbly," the sources said.

Hmmm. Maybe. In any case, it sure sounds like Crawford's sources are a couple of pissed-off conservative justices, doesn't it? I'd tentatively view this story though that lens, anyway. Then there's this:

Some informed observers outside the Court flatly reject the idea that Roberts buckled to liberal pressure, or was stared down by the President. They instead believe that Roberts realized the historical consequences of a ruling striking down the landmark health care law....To strike down the mandate as exceeding the Commerce Clause, the Court would have to craft a new theory, which could have opened it up to criticism that it reached out to declare the President's health care law unconstitutional. Roberts was willing to draw that line, but in a way that decided future cases, and not the massive health care case.

This sounds plausible to me — mainly, I admit, because it was precisely what I thought the court should do:

If they don't want a rerun of the 1930s, which did a lot of damage to the court's prestige, but they do want to put firmer limits on Congress's interstate commerce power, the [justices should] find a limiting principle of their own. But find one that puts Obamacare just barely on the constitutional side of their new principle. This would avoid a firestorm of criticism about the court's legitimacy — that they're acting as legislators instead of judges — but it would satisfy their urge to hand down a landmark decision that puts firm limits on further expansion of congressional power. Liberals would be so relieved that Obamacare survived that they'd probably accept the new rules without too much fuss, and conservatives, though disappointed, would be thrilled at the idea that the court had finally set down clear limits on Congress's interstate commerce power.

As it happens, that's pretty much how it went down: Obamacare was upheld, but new limits were placed on Congress's power. Roberts just wasn't able to get any of the other conservatives to go along.

If I had to guess, the bait for the conservatives was the possibility of getting liberal buy-in for new restrictions on Commerce Clause power. A decision that went 7-2 or 8-1 in favor of some concrete restriction, at the price of letting Obamacare slide in on a technicality, might have seemed appealing. And it's possible that some of the liberals were willing to go along. But if that was the pitch, apparently none of the conservatives was willing to bite. In fact, the story suggests they're pretty bitter about the whole thing:

Roberts [] engaged in his own lobbying effort — trying to persuade at least Justice Kennedy to join his decision so the Court would appear more united in the case. There was a fair amount of give-and-take with Kennedy and other justices, the sources said. One justice, a source said, described it as "arm-twisting."

....The majority decisions were due on June 1, and the dissenters set about writing a response, due on June 15. The sources say they divided up parts of the opinion, with Kennedy and Scalia doing the bulk of the writing....The fact that the joint dissent doesn't mention Roberts' majority was not a sign of sloppiness, the sources said, but instead was a signal the conservatives no longer wished to engage in debate with him.

Will we be hearing more about this? I hope so! Every other agency of government leaks like a sieve, and I don't know why the Supreme Court should be any different. I want the dirt, and I want it now. Who is going to be the TMZ of Supreme Court gossipmongering?

The Mountain Goats Rule the Interwebs

| Mon Jul. 2, 2012 5:01 AM EDT
John Darnielle (center) with drummer Jon Wurster (left) and multi-instrumentalist Peter Hughes (right).

I consider myself a pretty big Mountain Goats fan. That said, going to see them perform is always a very humbling experience for my fan ego. It’s not just the band's staggering 14-album discography, which frontman John Darnielle insists even he can't keep track of. It's how you can look around you at their shows and see a room full of wide-eyed, almost tearful, fans who live and bleed the Mountain Goats, or at least quite possibly listen only to them.

Romney Left Bain Later Than He Says, Documents Show

| Mon Jul. 2, 2012 5:01 AM EDT
Mitt Romney (center) and his Bain Capital buddies mug for the camera.

David Corn published an important story Monday morning about Mitt Romney's time at Bain Capital, the private equity firm Romney co-founded. Using documents from the Securities and Exchange Commission, David proves that Romney was involved with Bain's investment in Stericycle, a medical waste firm that has been criticized by opponents of abortion rights for disposing of aborted fetuses. Just as important, though, is the evidence that Romney was signing important documents for Bain—and running Bain-associated companies—well after February 1999, the point when both the Romney campaign and Bain itself claim that Romney left the firm. Here's the key paragraph from David's piece:

The Stericycle deal—the abortion connection aside—is relevant because of questions regarding the timing of Romney's departure from the private equity firm he founded. Responding to a recent Washington Post story reporting that Bain-acquired companies outsourced jobs, the Romney campaign insisted that Romney exited Bain in February 1999, a month or more before Bain took over two of the companies named in the Post's article. The SEC documents undercut that defense, indicating that Romney still played a role in Bain investments until at least the end of 1999.

The Post and the Obama campaign have been attacked for criticizing Romney about deals that Bain made after Romney supposedly left the company in February 1999. But as the government documents and Bain statements highlighted by David demonstrate, Romney remained involved with Bain at least through the end of 1999—and perhaps longer. Here's another key section, in which Bain directly contradicts the contents of a document that Romney himself signed:

In response to questions from Mother Jones, a spokeswoman for Bain maintained that Romney was not involved in the Stericycle deal in 1999, and insisted he had "resigned" from the company months before the stock purchase was negotiated. The spokeswoman noted that following his resignation Romney remained only "a signatory on certain documents," until his separation agreement with Bain was finalized in 2002. And Bain issued this statement: "Mitt Romney retired from Bain Capital in February 1999. He has had no involvement in the management or investment activities of Bain Capital, or with any of its portfolio companies since that time." (The Romney presidential campaign did not respond to requests for comment.)

But the document Romney signed related to the Stericycle deal did identify him as an participant in that particular deal and the person in charge of several Bain entities. (Did Bain and Romney file a document with the SEC that was not accurate?) Moreover, in 1999, Bain and Romney both described his departure from Bain not as a resignation and far from absolute. The Boston Herald on February 12, 1999 reported, "Romney said he will stay on as a part-timer with Bain, providing input on investment and key personnel decisions." And a Bain press release issued on July 19, 1999, noted that Romney was "currently on a part-time leave of absence"—and quoted Romney speaking for Bain Capital. In 2001 and 2002, Romney filed Massachusetts state disclosure forms noting he was the 100-percent owner of Bain Capital NY, Inc.—a Bain outfit that was incorporated in Delaware on April 13, 1999—two months after Romney's supposed retirement from the firm. A May 2001 filing with the SEC identified Romney as "a member of the Management Committee" of two Bain entities. And in 2007, the Washington Post reported that R. Bradford Malt, a Bain lawyer, said Romney took a "leave of absence" when he assumed the Olympics post and retained sole ownership of the firm for two more years.

There is now an immense body of evidence that Romney was deeply involved with Bain Capital and related companies well past the February 1999 date that the campaign has previously cited. Not convinced? Read David's piece.

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You Know Who Else Held Fundraisers in Europe?

| Mon Jul. 2, 2012 5:00 AM EDT

Ben Shapiro, author of a book about the corrupting influence of Sesame Street, had a fun little item at Big Hollywood over the weekend. It turns out that the Obama campaign has been sending surrogates to Europe to hold fundraisers. (Millions of American citizens live overseas because of work.) This is funny because, as Shapiro puts it, "Especially in the aftermath of the Supreme Court ruling that upholds Obama’s European-style healthcare plan, Obama's hoping to cash in on like-minded folks abroad."

Here, one might pause to note that, as The Daily's Dan Hirschorn reported, the Romney campaign is also holding fundraisers abroad. Mitt Romney sent two of his sons to Hong Kong, in communist China, to shake down American donors there. Romney himself is heading to London, which is located in England, where citizens are enrolled in something called the National Health Service. (Here are two Big Government stories about alleged euthanasia and confirmed "transgender art 'diversity week'" at the National Health Service.) The Romney campaign is even thinking of holding a fundraiser in Israel, presumably to cash in on like-minded folks abroad who admire what Romney did to pave the way for Obama's Israeli-style healthcare plan.

Shapiro, who writes that "Americans don’t believe that Obamacare is a triumph," implies that the Obama campaign will be raising money from actual Europeans. That would be a flagrant violation of campaign finance laws, which mandate that all election funds come from American citizens. (If you're actually curious about foreign money in American elections, I'd recommend my colleague Andy Kroll's piece de resistance on dark money from the current issue of Mother Jones.) But the implication that Obama will be taking money from Europeans isn't the wrongest part of Shapiro's story. After the piece had circulated through the conservative blogosphere, it gained a (false) wrinkle: Obama himself would be in Paris—on the Fourth of July, no less! Blame the National Review's Andy McCarthy, who wrote as much on Saturday morning and, as of 10:39 P.M. on Sunday, still hadn't issued a correction. One blogger goes so far as to calculate that Obama's Paris junket will cost $2 million in flight costs alone.

The truth: Obama will spend the Fourth, his daughter Malia's birthday, throwing a party on the White House lawn for military families.

How Wildfires Are Just Like Premarital Sex

| Mon Jul. 2, 2012 5:00 AM EDT

Where there's smoke, there's fire...and a lot of hot air.  Sgt. Jesica Geffre/US Army Where there's smoke, there's fire...and a lot of hot air. The National Guard/FlickrIn the wake of the behemothic Colorado Waldo Canyon wildfire that has razed hundreds of homes, blighted thousands of acres, and forced more than 35,000 people to flee for their lives, the Colorado-Springs-based evangelical group Focus on the Family thoughtfully reminds us a savage inferno isn't the only thing ragin' in these woods. (via Right Wing Watch)

In a blog post titled "Dig Deeper: Same Wisdom Applied to Sexual Risk Avoidance as Wildfire," published Wednesday on CitizenLink, the news and political arm of Focus on the Family, abstinence education analyst Chad Hills breaks it down. (My comments are in bold.)

Today, in the state of Colorado, we are breathing smoke from a number of wildfires burning out of control. As of this morning, near Focus on the Family, it's being reported that 15,000 acres have been consumed by fire and some 34,000 people evacuated by the Waldo Canyon fire. More to come, I'm sure.

Ah, yes. A body count.

Huge plumes of smoke and fire are billowing upward from our pine-covered mountains, as whimsical winds drive the fires on dangerously unpredictable paths. All the while, exhausted firefighters and police work feverishly to close roads and evacuate homes that could be overtaken. Check out a couple of photos showing the devastation, below:

Or here.

Questions begin to fester in our heads: So many fires have started in such close, uncanny sequence in Colorado, with Waldo Canyon being more recent…Would any sane person intentionally start a series of fires (arson) that would destroy other people's lives? Could someone be so reckless or careless as to start a campfire, disregarding the extremely dry conditions, risks and a state-wide fire ban that is in effect? Or could it be nature, such as lightning, absent of rain?

Wouldn't we all agree that it's better to prevent a forest fire, if and when possible, than treat the immense damage in its aftermath?

These questions are similar to what the National Abstinence Education Association (NAEA) is asking Congress and state legislatures about our nation’s approach toward pre-marital sex…Certain questions arise: Why aren't our schools, our states and our nation placing a clear and unquestionable priority on sexual risk avoidance (SRA)?

See A, B, and C.

Why are we intentionally spending billions of dollars handing kids matches (condoms), which result in careless (sexual) "fires" and treating victims who have been unnecessarily burned by sex (STDs, pregnancy)? Wouldn't prevention be cheaper and healthier?

"Safe" sex education—or promoting casual sex, while handing out condoms and birth control to kids—is analogous to passing out matches to kids in school, and telling them, “Be sure you play safely with these in the forest and, above all, have fun!”

It's irresponsible messaging that encourages high-risk behavior at a great cost to families and our entire nation. 

Yet our federal government currently pours nearly 16 times as much money into "safe" sex education than it does into helping kids learn how to avoid starting fires in the area of sexuality or SRA. Perhaps this is why we have so many uncontained "fires" caused by sex outside of marriage.

What can we learn?

  • Neither adults nor children should ever play carelessly with matches or fire, especially in forests. Safe places exist to enjoy the warmth of a contained fire in the right context at the right time—started and monitored by responsible adults.
  • Neither adults nor children should carelessly play with sex, especially outside of marriage. A safe place exists to enjoy sexual bonding within the right context at the right time—when a responsible, adult man and adult woman are able sustain a lifelong, commitment to each other within the context of marriage.
  • Don't get burned by fire or sex; both can get out of control quickly, and both have the potential to harm you—and to hurt many other people, as well. Keep fires in the fireplace, and keep sex inside of marriage.

BOOM, baby.

Sadly, impressionable minds will continue to fester with…questions because CitizenLink has scrubbed Mr. Hills' lucid wisdom from the annals of the interwebs. Here's a screen shot of his original post.

"Dig deeper," people! SOULS ARE AT STAKE! CitizenLink.com"Dig deeper," people! SOULS ARE AT STAKE! CitizenLink.com

Congress' Big Gift to Monsanto

| Mon Jul. 2, 2012 5:00 AM EDT

If you want your crops to bear fruit, you have to feed the soil. Few industries understand that old farming truism better than ag-biotech—the few companies that dominate the market for genetically modified seeds and other novel farming technologies. And they realize that the same wisdom applies to getting what you want in Washington, DC.

According to this 2010 analysis from Food & Water Watch, the ag-biotech industry spent $547.5 million between 1999 and 2009. It employed more than 100 lobbying firms in 2010 alone, FWW reports, in addition to their own in-house lobbying teams.

The gusher continues. The most famous ag-biotech firm of all, Monsanto, spent $1.4 million on lobbying in the first three months of 2012, after shelling out $6.3 million total last year, "more than any other agribusiness firm except the tobacco company Altria," reports the money-in-politics tracker OpenSecrets.org. Industry trade groups like the Biotechnology Industry Organization and Croplife America have weighed in with $1.8 million and $524,000, respectively.

What fruits have been borne by such generous fertilizing of the legislative terrain? It's impossible to tie the fate of any bit of legislation directly to an industry's lobbying power, but here are two unambiguous legislative victories won on the Hill this month by Monsanto and its peers.

The Men's Campfire Songs

| Mon Jul. 2, 2012 5:00 AM EDT
The Men

It's a Sunday night at San Francisco's Bottom of the Hill—a glowing, dimly lit stakeout of a rock venue—and I've never seen anything quite like it: A guy in the audience who'd hobbled into the crowded room on crutches is now standing near the front of the stage, bouncing up and down, holding those crutches over his head.

The band that apparently has the power to heal the sick—or at least make him forget about the pain until after the show—is post-punk foursome the Men, and the song is a track off their latest album, Open Your Heart. Lanky bassist/producer Ben Greenberg also bounces; guitarists/vocalists Mark Perro and Nick Chiericozzi lunge their instruments at negative space; drummer Rich Samis rolls and flicks his head in furious rhythm. A third of the room is a mosh pit. I desperately fish around in my bag for the earplugs I've left at home, then realize that tinnitus is inevitable.

It's okay—I've made my peace. Back in Brooklyn, the Men enjoyed a reputation for two things: First, being one of the loudest yet most versatile bands around. Second: Not giving a fart about how anyone (i.e. bloggers) tried to pigeonhole their sound according to one of many noise, psychedelic, or classic rock reference points. The result, maybe, is the rare energy of shows like these, and albums that can slap an indie listener out of background-music worship. The lost frequencies are worth it.