Mojo - November 2010

Could the Courts Cripple Health Reform?

| Mon Nov. 29, 2010 12:38 PM EST

Congressional Republicans aren't likely to get very far in their attempt to repeal the entire health care law. But there are growing signs that the courts could end up doing the lifting for them. A federal district judge in Virginia has promised to rule on the constitutionality of the bill's requirement that individuals purchase health insurance (the so-called "individual mandate") by the end of the year. The New York Times explains why the Obama administration is so concerned:

Lawyers on both sides expect the issue eventually to be decided by the Supreme Court. But the appellate path to that decision could take two years. In the meantime, any district court judge who rules against the law would have to decide whether to block enforcement of one or more of its provisions, potentially creating bureaucratic chaos.

The administration is already facing enormous hurdles in trying to put the federal health law into effect, receiving pressure from industry lobbyists who want to water down the new regulations and states that don't want to comply. Unfavorable court rulings will only complicate matters. Moreover, there are major parts of the health law that simply won't work unless the individual mandate is enacted. And finally, there's the concern that court rulings against the law—even if they don't ultimately hold up—could add to public animus against federal health reform:

"Any ruling against the act creates another P.R. problem for the Democrats, who need to resell the law to insured Americans," said Jonathan Oberlander, a University of North Carolina political scientist, who wrote in The New England Journal of Medicine last week that such a ruling "could add to health care reform's legitimacy problem."

Most of the biggest changes under the law, including the individual mandate and the insurance exchanges, won't be fully enacted until 2014. But the more obstacles the Democrats face in putting the law into effect, the harder it's going to be to convince the public that the earliest reforms are actually helping ordinary Americans—and that the bigger reforms down the road are worth the investment. Though their GOP antagonists in Congress are more bark than bite, the Affordable Care Act still faces a real threat. The Democratic leadership needs to ramp up its own offensive to sell health reform to the public now if they want to preserve the law's future integrity.

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Sarah Palin's WikiLeaks Fail

| Mon Nov. 29, 2010 10:45 AM EST

People who do not need more evidence of Sarah Palin's lack of seriousness should not read further.

As the WikiLeaks controversy continues, Palin could not resist the urge to tweet her thoughts about the affair. On Monday morning, she sent this message to her 317,000 Twitter followers:

Inexplicable: I recently won in court to stop my book "America by Heart" from being leaked,but US Govt can't stop Wikileaks' treasonous act?

Inexplicable? Does she not understand the difference between apples and nuclear reactors? The two instances she links have little in common. In the case of her book, she managed to get a judge to order Gawker to take down a post showing portions of her book after the website had put them up. And the judge in this case was following precedent established when The Nation magazine was successfully sued by Harper & Row in the 1970s after publishing excerpts of former President Gerald Ford's memoirs before the book was released. The Supreme Court, deciding the case in favor of the publisher, said media outlets could not, under a claim of fair use, publish a significant portion of a copyrighted book (accepting the argument that this could weaken the commercial value of the book). Palin's lawyers took advantage of this ruling, in demanding that Gawker not show the actual pages of her book.

Stopping a media leak involving government information before the fact is not the same. The grand-daddy legal decision on this front comes out of the famous Pentagon Papers case, when the Supreme Court ruled that the government could not block newspapers from publishing the secret Pentagon history of the Vietnam war leaked by Daniel Ellsberg to The New York Times and other papers. The guiding principle here: the government does not have the right to impose prior restraint on the media.

This latest WikiLeaks episode could cause some, including Palin, to argue that in these post-9/11 days the prior restraint rule is a luxury that cannot be afforded. But that's where the law stands. With her tweet tying this important and historical issue to her own (less consequential) book, Palin demonstrates that for her simplistic analysis is the best analysis and that the best way to understand anything is to view that topic from Planet Sarah.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for November 29, 2010

Mon Nov. 29, 2010 5:30 AM EST

U.S. Airmen with the Air Force Honor Guard at Bolling Air Force Base in Washington, D.C., perform during a Veterans Day parade in Las Vegas, Nev., Nov. 11, 2010. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Michael R. Holzworth/Released)

 

WikiLeaks: Clinton Wanted Info on Iranian Graffiti

| Sun Nov. 28, 2010 10:03 PM EST

Amid all the serious intrigues and statecraft revealed in "Cablegate," WikiLeaks' slow but steady data dump of 251,287 internal US State Department communications, there's 09STATE47326...a strange cable dated May 8, 2009, that seems to indicate Secretary of State Hillary Clinton couldn't read the writing on the wall—literally—in Iran.

"WASHINGTON ANALYSTS ARE HIGHLY INTERESTED IN CONFIRMING A REPORT REGARDING AN IRANIAN GOVERNMENT DECISION TO REMOVE ANTI-AMERICAN SLOGANS AND ART FROM TEHRAN'S BUILDINGS," the cable's author wrote (on Clinton's behalf) to Iran experts posted around the globe. "THESE CHANGES COULD REPRESENT AN IMPORTANT INDICATOR ON TEHRAN'S VIEWS TOWARDS ENGAGEMENT WITH THE US AND FURTHER INFORMATION ON THE EFFORT AND GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS INVOLVED IN THE DECISION, POSTS' TIME AND RESOURCES PERMITTING, WOULD BE VERY VALUABLE."

The cable then goes on to ask a series of critical questions about the alleged Iran graffiti program that Clinton wanted answered: "WHAT, IF ANY, ANTI-AMERICAN SLOGANS AND MURALS ARE CURRENTLY BEING REPLACED IN TEHRAN, INCLUDING THOSE IN AZADI SQUARE AND THE "DOWN WITH AMERICA" MURAL ON KARIM KHAN AVENUE? WHAT, IF ANY, PLANS ARE THERE TO REPLACE SUCH MURALS?...IF THERE ARE PLANS TO REPLACE THE MURALS, WHO AUTHORIZED THEM? WHAT ARE THE REASONS FOR THE MURAL REPLACEMENT PLAN?"

Tehran's anti-US murals are the stuff of legends, from the former American embassy (now a Revolutionary Guard headquarters) to street scenes like the one pictured above. And if they were about to go away as a result of mass government action, that could be a useful bellwether. Too bad the State Department hadn't realized its alert was based on bad information.

Obama's Deficit Commission Prepares to Carve Its Turkey

| Sun Nov. 28, 2010 1:49 PM EST

The dread report of the White House’s National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform is due out this week.  One of the Commission’s co-chairs, the putative Democrat and consummate wheeler-dealer Erskine Bowles, has been up on the Hill flogging their plan to reduce the debt by cutting the country’s already skimpy programs for the old, the sick, and the poor. His partner, motor-mouth Republican Alan Simpson, continues his ranting and ravings against the greedy geezers who want to sink his entitlement-cutting ship before it’s launched. Both of them have taken to boo-hooing because no one appreciates all the work they are doing to save the nation from certain fiscal doom, and nobody is willing to pitch in to meet this noble goal.

Personally, I’m still waiting to hear how Wall Street is going to pitch in and do its part--or the people with high six-figure incomes who claim they still aren’t rich enough to give up their tax cuts. Or, for that matter, Bowles and Simpson themselves, who retired on fat  pensions and don’t have a financial care in the world.  Since none of this is likely to happen any time soon, we’d better take a good hard look at what these sanctimonious old coots have come up with.

We already know a lot about what to expect from the Fiscal Commission Plan, since the co-chairs released their own preliminary proposals (as yet unapproved by the 18-member Commission) earlier this month. According to people with access to the Commission’s thinking, they seem to believe their best bet is to achieve consensus on a proposal to change the way Social Security’s annual cost of living increases (COLAs) are calculated. What seems like a mere accounting adjustment would, in reality, severely affect benefits over time. The National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare explains the impact of this scheme:

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for November 26, 2010

Fri Nov. 26, 2010 5:30 AM EST

U.S. Soldiers with Charlie Troop, 3rd Squadron, 89th Cavalry, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, wait for the order to move against enemy positions in Charkh, Logar province, Afghanistan, Nov. 13, 2010. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Sean P. Casey/Released)

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We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for November 25, 2010

Thu Nov. 25, 2010 5:30 AM EST

U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Matthew Ortiz, a team leader with 1st Combat Engineer Battalion, 1st Marine Division (Forward), directs a TRAM vehicle that is filling a HESCO barrier with dirt at a small combat outpost in Musa Qala, Afghanistan, Nov. 13, 2010. Marine engineers constructed the new patrol base for Afghan Security Forces. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. John McCall/Released)

House of Pain: When Good Congressmen Go Bad

| Wed Nov. 24, 2010 11:28 AM EST

That man there on the left is Rep. Jonathan Cilley, a promising young Democrat from the great state of Maine. Or rather, he was a promising young Democrat, until his distinguished colleague, Rep. William Graves of Kentucky, a Whig, shot him in an 1838 duel. Like most duels, it was a little absurd; as the House website notes, "neither man had any known grievance with the other prior to the incident" (normally a deal-breaker). But Cilley had offended Graves' friend, and so Graves felt that it was only right—gentlemanly, even—to demand satisfaction on his behalf.

Never letting a good crisis go to waste, the House passed stringent anti-dueling legislation one year later in Cilley's memory, and then, in another timeless congressional tradition, totally ignored it. In 1860, six members convened for an epic 3 v. 3 gunfight in Maryland; that same year, one congressman challenged another to a battle with bowie knives.

And that was just the beginning. I dug up more than a dozen instances of our distinguished representatives in Washington beating the bipartisanship out of each other, police officers, and, occasionally, total strangers. Forget everything you've heard about how Washington is more polarized than ever before; armed confrontations are as much a part of the legislative process as backroom deals and motions to recommit. Check it out.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for November 24, 2010

Wed Nov. 24, 2010 5:30 AM EST

Spc. Kathryn Fish coaches a fellow soldier during a hands-on training portion of the Demon Academy, a leader development program created Nov. 14 on Camp Taji, Iraq. The academy was formed by senior enlisted leaders of the Enhanced Combat Aviation Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, in order to mentor young and future leaders, as well as prepare them for future professional development courses. Photo via U.S. Army.

Military Equality, Chapter II

| Tue Nov. 23, 2010 3:46 PM EST

As early as tomorrow, the Department of Defense will publish its recommendations on how to integrate gays and lesbians into the ranks. The Pentagon is expected to say: "Yes, we can." And if Senate Democrats know what's good for them, they'll lift the military's ban post haste.

Probably the most asinine thing about the Don't Ask, Don't Tell debate is this: All of the conservative right's arguments against gays in the military are falsifiable. That's because the United States already integrated the armed forces once, and not only did it not affect morale and readiness, but it laid the groundwork for a wider civil rights movement that changed America's destiny. Once a minority shares in the burdens of citizenship, it's hard to deny them the benefits.

I was reminded of this while bumbling around the website of the US Marine Corps' History Division, which is a treasure trove of militaria, and not the type you might expect. Here's General David M. Shoup—a Medal of Honor-earning Marine commandant who protested the Bay of Pigs invasion and the Vietnam War—telling Congress that Marines are not taught to hate, because hate and fear erode democracy. Here's a chaplain on Iwo Jima giving the usual platitudes about sacrifice in war, with a remarkable caveat: "We shall not foolishly suppose...that victory on the battlefield will automatically guarantee the triumph of democracy at home." Here is grizzled Marine hero John A. LeJeune telling his men that they have one charge above all others: To "be kindly and just."

Small wonder, then, that the site also features President Truman's 1948 executive order ending racial, religious, and ethnic discrimination in the US armed services. I've included it in this post below; if you've never read it in its entirety, do so now. It's the highest expression not only of the service's ideals, but of the nation's. President Obama should take note: