As more parts of health care reform are put into place, it's become clear that there's going to be a growing gap between states that have the political will to scrutinize insurance companies and protect consumers—and those that don't. In the New York Times, Robert Pear explains how some states still don't have the legal authority to enforce the new consumer protection rules set to go in effect next month.
Thirteen states, for example, don't have the authority to review "unreasonable" insurance rate increases, which will be scrutinized under the new law. Consumer advocates say that such new laws will protect consumers who've been the victims of price-gouging by insurers like the much maligned Anthem, a WellPoint subsidiary that provoked a popular backlash after proposing a 39 percent rate hike this year.
But while some state regulators are planning to ask state legislators to pass laws that would allow them to insurers in line, others are more complacent. Arizona is one example, Pear points out:
Arizona said it was unlikely to pass legislation authorizing any state agency to enforce federal insurance standards, in view of its participation in a lawsuit challenging the federal law. Moreover, it said, Gov. Jan Brewer has “instituted an indefinite rule-making moratorium, so we have no plans to adopt rules related to enforcement” of the law.
Contrast this approach with a state like New York, which has historically been more aggressive about holding insurers' feet to the fire:
Gov. David A. Paterson of New York said his state would require insurers to rewrite their contracts to include the new consumer protections. State officials have developed model language. In addition, Mr. Paterson said, the Legislature will consider amending state insurance laws so they “meet or exceed” federal requirements.
It's none too often that a candidate for US Senate needs time at a press conference to deny stories of wild, late-night, vomit-filled parties on his mega-yacht—and to explain, once again, that he's "not a partier." Then again, the fight for Florida's Democratic Senate nomination is anything but your typical primary race.
On Friday, Greene fielded questions at a press conference in Tallahassee about allegations from former deckhands that his yacht had hosted lurid parties more reminiscent of Jersey Shore than peaceful Caribbean cruises. As the St. Petersburg Times reports, a former employee on Greene's yacht, Summerwind, claimed the yacht "is known to be a party yacht. When it went to Cuba, everybody talked about the vomit caked all over the sides from all the partying going on." The paper cites a vignette from Gregory Zuckerman's book, The Greatest Trade Ever:
"Greene brought two Ukrainian strippers on board to make a cameo appearance and hired stewardesses from coastal towns to serve as his crew. Some doubled as massage therapists, which came in handy after a day of scuba diving, Jet Skiing, or kayaking."
Greene's campaign has repeatedly denied these stories or corrected them; a campaign spokesperson, for instance, told the St. Pete Times that "Jeff was traveling on his boat with his rabbi and his younger brother to visit Jewish sites in Romania and Odessa" and was not bringing strippers on board. And at Friday's press conference, Greene himself insisted that he's "not a partier":
Whether his partying—or not—days will sink his chances at the polls remains to be seen. A Mason-Dixon poll on Aug. 8 and 11 gave his primary contender, Rep. Kendrick Meek, a massive 14-point lead of 40 percent to 26 percent. But in an Ipsos poll conducted around the same time, Greene led with 40 percent, while Meek had only 32 percent. Pollsters, in other words, are just as confused as Florida voters.
Meek and Greene both have one remaining week to make a final push for support. Not surprisingly, Meek has ripped billionaire—and former Republican—Greene every chance he's gotten, recently quipping regarding Greene's choice of Mike Tyson as his best man at his 2007 wedding, "It's definitely not on the-things-to-do list if you want to run for public office." Stumping for Meek is former president Bill Clinton, while the deep-pocketed Greene will surely unleash a barrage of last-minute ads to push him over the top. Until next Tuesday's results come in, the Democratic primary winner is still anyone's guess.
Maybe we should just let California be the Gay State. That's the latest thinking of some prominent red-state evangelicals, who fear that appealing California's recent same-sex marriage ruling to the Supreme Court could backfire, legalizing gay matrimony from sea to shining sea.
Last week, the case for signing over California to the Prince of Darkness was made on American Family Radio by David Barton, a Christian activist who served as vice-chairman of the Texas Republican Party from 1998 to 2006. "Right now, the damage is limited to California only," Barton noted. But he feared that Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, the swing vote in an appeal, "will go for California, which means that all 31 states [that have banned gay marriage] will go down in flames."
Hearing murmurs of shock from the radio host, Barton went on:
Well, I'm telling you, that's what's being argued by a lot of folks now. . .Knowing what Kennedy has already done in two similar cases to this and knowing that he's the deciding vote, the odds are 999 out of 1000 that they'll uphold the California decision.
If they do, there's not a marriage amendment in the country that can stand. And so the problem is that instead of California losing its amendment, now 31 states lose their amendment. And that won't happen if California doesn't appeal its decision. It's just California that loses its amendment.
Barton might be more predisposed than many conservatives to let California do its own thing. He's the founder and president of WallBuilders, a Christian "educational" group that is named after a moment in the Old Testament book of Nehemiah when, according to his website, Israelites "rallied together to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, and thus restore stability, safety, and a promising future." Of course, walling off the entire state of Texas might be trickier, but Barton certainly isn't the first person to float the idea.
A US Army CH-47 Chinook helicopter carrying Pakistani civilians is shown during an evacuation flight over a mountain pass in Pakistan, on Aug. 5, 2010. Photo via the US Army by Staff Sgt. Horace Murray.
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Alvin Greene—the South Carolina Democratic Senate candidate whose stranger-than-fiction campaign has become 2010's biggest sideshow—has just been indicated on felony obscenity charges for allegedly showing pornography to a college student. News of the charges first came out shortly after Greene's improbable primary victory in May, so it was really just a matter of time before the other shoe dropped.
As Justin Elliott explains, the obscenity law being used against Greene is on the books in many states, but it's very rarely enforced. But Greene's accuser and her mother—both Republicans—publicly vowed revenge on Greene after his primary win, making it clear that they were going to be aggressive in pushing for his prosecution. Greene has already attracted more media coverage than any other 2010 candidate in the country, and this latest development is only more grist for the mill. The national GOP has largely refrained from jumping into the fray—partly because Sen. Jim DeMint, Greene's opponent, is in no danger of losing his seat and because Greene was cleared of any wrongdoing in his actual campaign. But given the seriousness of a felony indictment—and the seemingly lurid obscenity allegations that are involved—Republicans may well end up trying to exploit the Greene tragicomedy to tarnish the Democrats.
Whichever side of the fence you land on, chances are you agree that America's not a very secure nation these days: economically, electorally, and of course, physically. So we grabbed our lensatic compass, rucksack, and canteen, then mounted out across the global media landscape for a quick recon. Whether you're scared because our military isn't good enough—or you're scared because it's too good—here's all the ammunition you need, in a handy debrief.
In this installment: the crusade to protect Texas from fertile evildoers; Iranians keep digging that hole; dude, who's my Caucasian emir?; Afghanistan oops; damned Army wives; damned bad ships' captains; damned badass West Point cadets; and damned sad/funny DADT news.
If I've said it once, sailors, I've said it a thousand times: When you get command of a ship, you have to carefully guard against the natural and totally understandable temptation to commit sexual harassment, maltreatment of a subordinate, simple assault, conduct unbecoming an officer, drunk and disorderly conduct, and use of indecent language, or you might lose your job. Just sayin'. (Navy Times)
"Hearts and minds" relief campaigns in the Muslim world are old hat for the United States. But staging a winning one in insurgency-, corruption-, extremism-, and now flood-wracked Pakistan could prove another matter altogether. While the calamity presents an opportunity to win over distrustful Pakistanis, it also pits the United States against militants dead set on expanding their influence and exploiting the security vacuum caused by the flood.
Hope is a tricky thing, particularly where insurgents are concerned. Never to be upstaged, the Pakistani Taliban has been quick to criticize US efforts, and plans to mobilize and fund its own relief operation. In an interview with the Associated Press, Taliban spokesman Azam Tariq claimed the international aid "will not reach the affected people, but will be pocketed by corrupt rulers" (because he’s a sweetheart, he also added that the flood was God’s punishment for accepting secular leaders). And a number of Islamist charities, including Falah-e-Insaniat—
which allegedly harbors ties with Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Pakistani militant group blamed for the 2008 attacks in Mumbai, India—
have risen to the occasion, and are providing support in badly affected areas, backing up Tariq's tough words with action of their own.
Some 60,000 Pakistani troops have been detailed into rescue operations, hindering their ability to battle ever-pesky insurgents. Military officials say that rebels previously driven from the region are ramping up their attacks in flood-ravaged areas. The massive flood-related crop losses add to the economic insecurity that makes the country ripe for all kinds of exploitation by militants. The flood gives them a chance to provide where the Americans and international community can't, and lead where the elected leadership apparently won't. It's some kind of crazy opportunity vacuum.
In a summer of fear-mongering, race-baiting, and conspiracy-spawning, conservative hysteria about illegal immigrants appears to have reached new extremes. Last night, Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Tex.) unloaded on CNN about an alleged plot to send pregnant women across the border to give birth to "terror babies." But the GOP fringe isn't just talking about the problems borne by immigrants. They're also talking solutions. Like the proposal by Florida GOP state rep. candidate Marg Baker to round up illegal immigrants and put them in detention camps before deporting them.
Via Matt Yglesias, here's a clip of Baker explaining her proposal, in which she advises that the state "follow what happened back in the 40s or 50s" and "buil[d] camps for the people that snuck into the country":
As Yglesias points out, it's unclear exactly what Baker's talking about in terms of her historical analogy. The closest thing that really comes to mind are the Japanese internment camps during World War II, which was perhaps the last time that the US government rounded up the suspicious foreigners among us en masse.
Regardless, the Republican hopeful has plenty more to say about why the government "collect[ing] enough illegal aliens until you have enough to ship them back." Illegal immigrants "should not mingle among the people," Baker told the St. Petersberg Times. "Who knows what diseases they are carrying or if they are criminals? They snuck in here and are walking among us."
The national GOP has certainly been fanning the flames of such nativist extremism by putting "anchor babies" in the spotlight. But the reactionary surge has also been enabled by the Obama administration's own immigration hawkishness, as Adam Serwer argues. By focusing almost exclusively on measures like the border security bill—which the president is set to sign today—Obama has tried to appease the anti-immigration crowd. Instead, such an approach has merely encouraged such sentiments to flourish.
The terrorism trial of Omar Khadr has been suspended after Khadr's only lawyer coughed, then collapsed in court on Thursday.
Khadr, who would be the first person to be tried for war crimes allegedly committed as a minor, was captured in Afghanistan in 2002, when he was 15. He is charged with throwing a grenade that killed Army Sgt. Christopher Speer.
Lt. Col. Jon Jackson, Khadr's military lawyer, was evacuated from Guantanamo Bay on Friday and flown to the US for medical treatment. Khadr's trial will be delayed for at least 30 days. Here's Carol Rosenberg, reporting from the scene:
Former West Point law instructor Gary Solis, a retired Marine judge, said it is not unusual to suspend a military trial for a long weekend with instructions to a jury to not read media coverage. A 30-day delay that might send jurors back to bases around the world "is very unusual," he said.
Jackson was put on "convalescent leave," ... a status that allows him to continue to draw a salary and not use up vacation days. [A base official] cited privacy reasons for not releasing the lieutenant colonel's health condition. He was on a morphine drip Thursday night at the base hospital.
Jackson, who has been on the case for about a year, became Khadr's lone lawyer within a week of [gall-bladder surgery six weeks ago] after the Toronto-born teen fired two volunteer civilian attorneys from Washington.
[Jackson was ordered] to stay on the case, but the Pentagon Defense Office provided him no additional assistance beyond two enlisted paralegals who had already been on the case. It was not known if Jackson had sought the assignment of an additional uniformed lawyer.
Khadr, who sits in court with three guards behind him, leaped to his feet when his Army defender collapsed about 4 p.m. Thursday, according to Khadr family lawyer Dennis Edney, who functions in the war court only as a consultant because he is not a U.S. citizen. The guards didn't interfere.