Saturday, July 04, 2015

It's the 4th of July! Time to be 4THing!!!

And as I'm still technically on vacation, you get just a link to YouTube.

I was considering linking a trailer for the Captain America Porn Parody, but that would have been rude of me.

Update: I updated my Port-O-San Cleaner at Woodstock article to re-include a YouTube clip.

Thursday, July 02, 2015

At Gettysburg

I've mentioned before I wanted to come in person to Gettysburg National Park so I could bask in the history.  So this year I did.

Went to the park with my older brother - who lives in the area - and we spent most of the day there.  We did the film and Cyclorama (a wraparound massive painting depicting the final engagement of the three-day battle), walked about the Visitor Center - which had some special activities going on due to the anniversary of the battle - before driving out by car to the key points of the battlefield.  It is spread out at such distances that going by car is the quickest way to see it all (although biking it or riding Segways are options: hiking is for masochists).

What follows is a pictorial travelogue depicting the horrors of letting your older brother try to parallel park everywhere.  Oh, and the national park.

Arriving at the Visitor Center

Hanging Out With my Brother From Another Statue, the inventor of the chokeslam,
the Sage of Springfield, the Ayatollah of RockanRolla, Abraham Lincoln!

With my real-life brother Eric, checking out the historic firearms used in the war, outside the film
and Cyclorama studios.

Scenes from the Cyclorama

Signage from the Cyclorama

In the back porch of the Visitor Center, they are drilling the new recruits.

All along the Auto Tour - the road path circling across all the key parts of the battlefield -
there are memorials to every brigade, every division, every Corps, every state.

General Reynolds memorial

The Macpherson farm, along the first part of the tour, where the fighting began.

The memorial for the Eternal Light Peace... which was surrounded by cannons and
signs of battle.  Irony?  Sad?  Human, I suppose...

Some of the artillery positions along Seminary Ridge, where the Confederate Army
lined themselves during the Second and Third days of the battle.

The stone wall of Seminary Ridge.

North Carolina's memorial

Part of the North Carolina memorial overlooking the open field between the two armies.

I am pointing at the horizon.  Over there is the Union position.  Across this field Lee will order
two massive divisions to charge on the Third Day in an all-out attack.  Just look at how open that field is,
how far that is to march...

General Robert E Lee's memorial.

The Florida memorial

Florida Memorial

General Longstreet's memorial, which is kinda in a hidden spot and not as
popularly visited...

General - and President - Eisenhower's farm 

The Georgia Memorial

For mom: the Alabama Memorial
 And here is me at Little Round Top, at the far left flank of the Union line, where Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and the 20th Maine held their position under furious attack.

The stone wall used by the 20th Maine to hold the line.

Along Little Round Top, overlooking Devil's Den, where some of the bloodiest fighting took place.

Re-enactors, I think, walking along the memorials atop Little Round Top.
The actual re-enacting is going to take place on Saturday (on the 4th),
which I figure will have a big turnout (weather permitting).
 And one of the last stops of the tour: the Union line of the Third Day.  The Angle.  Pickett's Charge.

General Lewis Armistead's memorial. Of Pickett's Charge, his brigade reached this far before being overwhelmed.
Known as the High Watermark of the Confederacy, this is the closest the Confederates would ever get
to a major victory that could have won foreign support and convinced the Union to end the fighting.

The Copse of Trees

The other side of the open field that Pickett's Charge went across.  It seems almost
maddening to send 12,500 troops across such open fields, up towards a heavily defended line,
towards an army waiting for you.  Did Lee think numbers alone would work?  Did Lee
believe the legends already building about his success, about the determination of his soldiers?
Either way, Pickett's Charge broke the Confederate Army.
Also, there's a video clip of being atop an observation tower overlooking the Peach Orchard (some cursing involved, so NSFW).

Sickles was really an idiot.  Buford would have done better.

So I've made my pilgrimage to the battlefield.  As it goes, my vacation is going well, hope to visit Fort McHenry and to stick around for the 4th of July celebration in DC.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Can Someone Explain This?

So, I mentioned in previous reports about our Florida government's refusal to accept Medicaid expansion funding, and about Rick "Medicare Fraud" Scott and his state House allies being obstructionists this past state budget impasse.  Up to and including Scott filing a lawsuit against the federal government to force the feds to pay about $2 billion towards a low-income fund (LIP) that the Health Dept. wanted to phase out as the Medicaid program covered basically the same ground.

The latest follow-up on that is that some deal had been struck and Scott dropped part (just not all) of that lawsuit:

During the course of the lawsuit, federal officials said Florida would receive about $1 billion for the LIP program during the fiscal year that starts July 1, without the money depending on Medicaid expansion. Lawmakers have included that money in a budget that is expected to pass Friday (after June 17th)...
The notice added the state is "not prepared to withdraw the underlying lawsuit until the defendants render an actual decision about future LIP funding without the unconstitutionally coercive consideration of the state's constitutionally protected decision not to expand Medicaid."

'Cause here's the thing: if the Florida Republicans just manned up - or ironically enough, got greedy - they would be getting a lot more than a billion dollars out of the federal government.  Via the Jacksonville Business Journal:

The White House report estimates that by not expanding Medicaid, Florida will miss out on $5.9 billion in federal funding in 2016.
Rolling out Medicaid on a larger scale would provide insurance coverage to 750,000 residents who are not covered. That would have the effect of reducing the number of people who have trouble paying other bills due to the burden of medical costs.

So here's the Rick "Brainless" Scott logic of it: Here's the federal government just offering up nearly SIX BILLION DOLLARS to cover health care costs for the state, something that would be a massive stimulus to our state's health care industry along with improving coverage and overall health of nearly everyone here.  This is Six Billion already allotted, covered by taxes, the only stipulation being that the following year the state takes up ten percent of that funding while the feds send ninety percent of it (that's still over FIVE BILLION from the feds).  Instead of owning up to that ten percent, Scott and his buddies REFUSE the Six Billion and file a lawsuit to snag TWO BILLION, or about Four Billion less than if they'd agree to the expansion plan.  And the end result of all this is to force the US government to cough up just ONE BILLION to continue a program that by all rights is temporary and can get phased out in favor of a larger, better-funded one.

Basically, Scott attempted to extort LESS money out of the federal government than what he could have gained for the state of Florida if he accepted the Medicaid deal.

Was it too much of pride at stake, sir?  Was it too much of your political ambition to run again and again as an anti-Obama politician?  Are you objecting to that one string attached that requires Florida to ante up ten percent of the bill the following year, are you terrified of the possibility that you'd have to raise taxes to pay for something that would STILL generate BILLIONS of federal funds for us? Was it just sheer stupidity to TAKE LESS MONEY FOR THE STATE YOU'RE SUPPOSED TO SERVE?

I can't believe it all comes down to the fact that the Medicaid program is getting screwed all because of who offers it, all because it's got Obama's name on the label.  For God's sake, people are going to suffer, our economy is going to suffer, all because our elected "leaders" refuse to swallow their pride and agree to a deal that could quickly infuse the state with FOUR to FIVE BILLION dollars towards our poor families, towards our hospitals and nursing homes, towards our health care employees.

All for pride?  All for politics?!  At what point should common freaking sense take consideration?

All because Rick "Negotiation Skills My Ass" Scott isn't a businessman or a Governor, because someone who was serious about being either would have taken the Medicaid money by now.  No, it's all because Rick "Demagoguery" Scott is all about scoring points with a fear-driven ill-informed wingnut base that barely represents less than a quarter of the state's entire population, all because goddamn voter turnout is abysmal out here.

Damn Scott.  Damn the rest of this state that voted for him.  Damn the rest of this state that refused to even show up to vote him out.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

A Good Kind Of Crazy: Bittersweet Yet Hopeful

Update: hello to the Crooks And Liars readers linking here from Mikes Blog Roundup.

Remember how, back in 2013, during the week of the Boston bombing, that was like one of the craziest weeks in American history?  Kind of how The Onion called it, it was crazy and it was heartbreaking and it was a kind of week to not remember.

We just basically had a crazy week just now, from the Charleston shooting until today. And while there was tragedy, there was also inspiration, and reflection and awareness, and justice, and drive, and emotional cleansing, and hope, and above all love. Especially love, today, tonight, this weekend.  It was a week to remember.

Hundreds gather out front, holding aloft their smartphones
so they can document the celebration.

Last week Wednesday night started us off with the tragic breaking news of the shooting at the Emanuel AME Charleston church.  It sparked a round of angry calls across the nation, over the intent of the shooter, the signs of racism that surrounded the city and the state of South Carolina (and the Deep South) itself, and the horror of gun violence visited again on another sanctuary where should not imagine such a happening.

The Far Right, led by their political figures especially the Republican candidates for the 2016 Presidency, tried to avoid talking about the shooting altogether.  Worse, some tried to claim that "nobody could tell what the shooter's intent was," even though survivors reported the shooter explained himself as he pulled the trigger.  Having spent 40 years pushing a Southern Strategy of White Male resentment, Republicans suddenly realized the bill was coming due.

With the shooter's arrest, more details got out, verifying the shooter knew exactly what he was doing and why: his racist declaration of war, and what inspired him to find a Black church to begin his misdeeds.  The shooter had bought into the fear-mongering about Blacks, bought into the "heritage" of Southern resentment, bought into the need for violence against those who were unarmed.

By Monday after the police interrogation went public - proving exactly what happened and why - and after more photos surfaced of the shooter reveling in displays of the Stars and Bars, calls to have the Confederate Battle Flag - the key symbol of the Lost Cause, the symbol of race hatred for 150 years - taken down from public buildings multiplied to the point where the South Carolina governor Nikki Haley had to go public herself, calling for legislation to take the damn thing down off of her state's public forums (in a mockery of law, the state made it mandatory that the Confederate flag remains flying at all costs: when the American flag was lowered in honor of the dead, it just made the contrast more stark and shameful).  In other states like Alabama, they just quietly lowered the damn flag and looked away.

Much of the week ended up with a back-and-forth battle on the media channels and the Internet over the "heritage" of the flag, over the right of free speech vs. the actuality of hate speech that flag represented.  It was becoming clear that everything that battle flag represented - Jim Crow, racial oppression, a section of our population obsessed with a violent and bloody past - was and still is in risk of imploding on itself (which is, you know, a good thing).

And then Thursday we get good news, with the Supreme Court ruling - and a strong one at that - affirming the core point of Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) was to provide affordable healthcare to most Americans.  A lot of celebration about how this was a huge victory for Obama, a huge win for Americans needing that healthcare coverage.

And then Friday, two things.  The Supreme Court issued the key ruling on gay marriage - on marriage itself - as a self-evident right to all under the 14th Amendment.  Twitter and social media exploded.  Haters raged.  Lovers danced.  The United States officially became Pro-People.

In the midst of all this, our nation returned its attention to Charleston once more, as President Obama showed up to perform the eulogy for the fallen pastor Reverend Clementa Pinckney.  In that moment, in that place, Obama offered the most stirring, most profound speech he's ever given.  (link here to full speech)

He openly condemned the flying of the Confederate Battle Flag.  He openly condemned the shameful rate of gun violence in our nation, harking back to the tragedies of Sandy Hook and so many other mass shootings.  He openly condemned the fear-mongering and the hate poisoning the national forum.

And Obama spoke of love.  Obama spoke of faith, and forgiveness, and family.  Obama spoke of grace.  Human, Christian Grace.

...Blinded by hatred, the alleged killer could not see the grace surrounding Reverend Pinckney and that Bible study group: the light of love that shone as they opened the church doors and invited a stranger to join in their prayer circle.  The alleged killer could have never anticipated the way the families of the fallen would respond when they saw him in court: in the midst of unspeakable grief, with words of forgiveness.  He couldn’t imagine that...  
The alleged killer could not imagine how the city of Charleston, under the good and wise leadership of Mayor Riley - how the state of South Carolina, how the United States of America would respond: not merely with revulsion at his evil act, but with big-hearted generosity and, more importantly, with a thoughtful introspection and self-examination that we so rarely see in public life...
Blinded by hatred, he failed to comprehend what Reverend Pinckney so well understood: the power of God’s grace.
This whole week, I’ve been reflecting on this idea of grace. 
The grace of the families who lost loved ones.  The grace that Reverend Pinckney would preach about in his sermons.  The grace described in one of my favorite hymnals, the one we all know:  Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me...  I once was lost, but now I’m found; was blind but now I see...
According to the Christian tradition, grace is not earned.  Grace is not merited.  It’s not something we deserve.  Rather, grace is the free and benevolent favor of God as manifested in the salvation of sinners and the bestowal of blessings.  Grace.
As a nation, out of this terrible tragedy, God has visited grace upon us, for he has allowed us to see where we’ve been blind.  He has given us the chance, where we’ve been lost, to find our best selves. We may not have earned it, this grace, with our rancor and complacency, and short-sightedness and fear of each other... but we got it all the same.  He gave it to us anyway.  He’s once more given us grace.  But it is up to us now to make the most of it, to receive it with gratitude, and to prove ourselves worthy of this gift.
And then Obama tried - bless him, but he was a bit off-key - to sing Amazing Grace, the Christian hymn above all other hymnals.

The speech, the presence, the words and the faith: all inspiring.  Closing out a day of grace and good-will.  We're still fighting - the haters are still railing against the tide of history and that long arc towards justice - but now there's a sense of real hope, that we're growing wiser, that we're seeing the problems for real this time, that there's something to fight FOR and a future worth keeping our promises.

This was a crazy week. But even with the pain of loss it was a good crazy.

Friday, June 26, 2015

The March Of History Now Dancing To the Tune of "We Are Family"

Obergefell v Hodges: basically the court case about whether or not gays have the same right to marry as heterosexuals.  There was a previous Supreme Court ruling in 2013, but that essentially said civil unions were possible but did not go further into marriage legal rights.  That was akin to a prelude: this case went straight to the heart of the matter.  On this, let's refer to SCOTUSblog's summary in Plain English by Amy Howe:

The Supreme Court, Kennedy’s opinion explains, has long recognized the right to marry as a fundamental right.  And although until today it has always done so in the context of opposite-sex couples, he continues, all of the same principles on which the Court has relied in cases involving opposite-sex couples apply equally to same-sex marriage and the recognition of out-of-state same-sex marriages.  For example, being able to decide whether to get married is an important part of an individual’s autonomy regardless whether you are the same sex as your intended spouse.  Along much the same lines, marriage is a unique way for two individuals – in both same- and opposite-sex partnerships – to demonstrate their commitment to one another.

Justice Kennedy writing for the majority uses the 14th Amendment, arguably the most key civil rights amendment outside of the Bill of Rights, to argue that marriage as a fundamental right needed to apply to all:

These considerations lead to the conclusion that the right to marry is a fundamental right inherent in the liberty of the person, and under the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment couples of the same-sex may not be deprived of that right and that liberty. The Court now holds that same-sex couples may exercise the fundamental right to marry. No longer may this liberty be denied to them. Baker v. Nelson must be and now is overruled, and the State laws challenged by Petitioners in these cases are now held invalid to the extent they exclude same-sex couples from civil marriage on the same terms and conditions as opposite sex couples.
This is just one more step forward in this moral universe, in that long arc that bends towards justice.

To quote Kennedy's key point:

No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right. The judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit is reversed. It is so ordered.

To be fair, this ruling will affect just a significant minority of Americans.  Statistically there's about 3 percent of the population that is gay/lesbian: in a population of 313 million or so Americans that's roughly 9 million.  But by extension of families, of friends and colleagues, this affects so many of us.

This is a moment where a right that should be viewed as universal finally is: much like the right to be free as a person regardless of ethnicity, much like the right to vote for women as well as men, much like the right to be protected before the law, there is a right to marriage that covers so many aspects of our world - of property, of community, of relationships between ourselves, of the simple identity of humanity - that ought to be protected and confirmed by our Constitution.  This ruling makes it so.

This is not the end of the fight.  The Haters who rail against gays will continue to do so.  But now they have one less weapon in their arsenal.  The Constitution - the law of the land - is no longer on their side.  All they have is their stringent religious dogma, stuck forever in Rage mode quoting Leviticus or Romans as though they were the only passages that matter.

Never mind they cherry-pick such quotes, ignoring all other bans of Leviticus and the Bible.  Never mind their cries about gay marriage harming families conveniently overlooking the Biblical warnings against Adultery, which more Americans commit than there are gays in our nation (our Far Right leadership and fear-mongers in the media refuse to punish adulterers like Gingrich or Trump or half their male membership, shame on them).  Never mind the passages in the Bible that speak to Grace, Acceptance, Good Will.  The Haters gonna hate.  That battle will not end today.

But today is a day to feel good.  To feel good about being an American.  To feel good about being Pro-People.  To feel good about being on the right side of history on the right arc bending towards justice.  Like this guy Rich Juwziak at Gawker says, this ruling feels so good:

...All of that fills my heart beyond what I understood to be its capacity. It’s why my mother called me crying happy tears this morning. It’s a beautiful thing to have experienced in my lifetime. I’m so thankful for today.
I can’t help but be happiest, though, about the defeat of the anti-marriage equality crusaders. The defeat of people who signed up to lose, who wasted their time and ours on a platform of animus and contempt. The defeat of people who put principle over the practical, who fought to preserve their limited understanding of an already imperfect institution over the actual human lives that would benefit from it. The defeat of people who did what bigots do: discriminate, vilify, fear-monger, argue irrationally and without respect to human dignity, and then bristle when they’re called out for what they are (bigots).
The jig is up. The world has turned and left you fuming, seething, weeping...
Really should not dance or strut before the Haters.  That's not what Christian Grace should be about.

Better to dance and strut with the Lovers.  With the People who love for the sake of grace and humanity and happiness.  The Four Loves that the Greeks defined for us, love like Agape (for the love of others, for the love of God), Storge (love of family, between parents and children and siblings), Philia (for the love of friends, for companions), and yes Eros (for the love of passion between two people).

So, DJ Agape, give us a beat:

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Obama Goes Meep Meep, As Americans Keep Their Health Care

Today has seen a bit of buzzing on the Intertubes over the Supreme Court ruling in King v Burwell, the latest attempt by the Far Right to nuke Obamacare from orbit.  Via SCOTUSBlog's Amy Howe:

Since it was enacted in 2010, Republicans in Congress have voted dozens of times to repeal the Affordable Care Act, President Barack Obama’s signature legislative achievement.  With no success on the legislative front, opponents of the ACA have tried their luck in the courts, but that avenue hasn’t proven any more fruitful.  Three years ago, the Court upheld the Act’s individual mandate, which compels everyone to buy health insurance or pay a penalty, against a challenge based on the argument that Congress lacked the power to impose such a requirement.  And today the Court turned back a challenge to the subsidies that many people receive to pay for their health insurance, ending a case that had the potential to seriously undermine the ACA, if not dismantle it altogether...

The victory seems to be for Obama, whose signature act of his Presidency remains (mostly) intact, but for Ezra Klein and for the court majority it was a win for the real beneficiaries: health care insurers, uh six million Americans using those subsidies to keep their health care:

This was a win for the more than 6 million people who will keep their health insurance. It's a win for parents who can be sure their children can go to the doctor, and for minimum-wage workers who can call an ambulance without worrying about debt. Basic health security for millions of people was on the line in this decision. Everything else was secondary to that...
...The decision begins with a lengthy description of Obamacare's "three-legged stool" — the way the law's subsidies, individual mandate, and regulations work together to create stable insurance markets. It then segues into the history of insurance death spirals in states that have tried to reform their health systems without building all three legs of the stool...
Roberts gives a very crisp definition of how these death spirals worked: "As premiums rose higher and higher, and the number of people buying insurance sank lower and lower, insurers began to leave the market entirely. As a result, the number of people without insurance increased dramatically."
...The plaintiffs argued that Obamacare was designed to work in a way contrary to its fundamental goals — that it was, in essence, built to fail, at least in states that didn't establish their own exchanges. The plaintiffs argued this even though no member of Congress ever mentioned this insane plan, no state was ever told about it, and the Obama administration expressly denied it. The majority rightfully saw this as what it is: less a serious argument about the law than an effort to wound Obamacare by successfully pulling a Jedi mind trick on the Supreme Court.
As the Court says, quoting New York State Dept. of Social Servs. v. Dublino, "We cannot interpret federal statutes to negate their own stated purposes..."

Ezra ends his points on what I viewed as a beautiful sentiment by Chief Justice Roberts (someone whom I disagree with vehemently about racism and the dire need to reform our election laws):
In a democracy, the power to make the law rests with those chosen by the people. Our role is more confined—"to say what the law is." That is easier in some cases than in others. But in every case we must respect the role of the Legislature, and take care not to undo what it has done. A fair reading of legislation demands a fair understanding of the legislative plan.
Congress passed the Affordable Care Act to improve health insurance markets, not to destroy them. If at all possible, we must interpret the Act in a way that is consistent with the former, and avoids the latter.

Roberts is basically quoting Marbury v Madison: the importance of judicial review and the key power of the Supreme Court itself.

Roberts' performance in this ruling deserves some scrutiny, this coming from a constitutional law scholar writing for The Atlantic, Garrett Epps:

...Writing for a 6-3 majority, Roberts, like the consummate A student he is, offered an excellent third-year administrative law exam answer to the questions the challengers posed.
There had been speculation that the crucial votes to save the Act would come from Roberts and Justice Anthony Kennedy, and that they would have to be lured across the Court’s liberal-conservative line by soothing words about the prerogatives of the states. But federalism was the dog that didn’t bark Thursday...
He made clear as he did so that this reading was the correct one as a matter of law—not an administrative interpretation that could be changed by a hypothetical Republican administration. In other words, for better or worse, the ACA is now part of federal law, to be uprooted, if at all, only by a full congressional vote to repeal and, possibly, to override a presidential veto...

Epps doesn't mention it in his article, but he may be referring in that last point to the legal concept of a Chevron Deference: where the courts allow the administrative offices latitude in interpreting confusing laws.  There were Court observers who figured the Justices would opt to use that as an "out" on making a decision here - leaving it to future (potentially Republican) Presidencies to nuke Obamacare - but Roberts doesn't go that way.  He leaves it squarely on Congress to make the laws here, and as Epps notes defers to the legislative intent behind the ACA's passage in the first place:

Roberts read the statute in a broad context indeed, including the history of healthcare policy and the legislative process that produced the ACA. Massachusetts had the first successful state healthcare plan, he noted. The three reforms at the heart of its plan are a ban on insurers refusing coverage or raising rates on individuals on the basis of their heath; an “individual mandate” that all taxpayers secure coverage; and tax credits for those who otherwise could not afford coverage.
Those reforms are at the heart of the ACA as well. If the Court agreed with the challengers, the gap between states operating state exchanges and those without would be huge: “only one of the Act’s major reforms would apply in States with a federal Exchange.” That’s because without the tax credits, lower-income taxpayers would get a “hardship” exemption from the “mandate.” Only the insurance reforms requiring companies to insure the sick as well as the healthy (“guaranteed issue”) would apply—and the experience of the states shows that guaranteed issue in isolation leads to a “death spiral.” Customers wait to get sick before buying insurance; companies, saddled with only the bad risks, must jack up rates; and then the private insurance market contracts or even collapses.
“It is implausible,” he wrote with some understatement, “that Congress meant the Act to operate in this manner...”
...But he concluded: “We must respect the role of the legislature, and take care not to undo what it has done.” The ACA was passed “to improve health insurance markets, not to destroy them...”

There's been enough years now to establish what kind of Chief Justice that Roberts was going to be, and it's looking as though he is working as someone with a strong conservative - that's small-c classic conservative, not the radicalized modern conservative looking to shift everything further rightward) - legal philosophy: a limitation of decisions focusing on legislative intent first, relying on executive interpretation where legislative intent is too vague, with an eye towards maintaining the judicial review powers of the Court at the end.  

It's not perfect - Roberts' world-view still focuses on the intent of laws to the exclusion of how those laws really work (SEE denial of racism as an ongoing concern for voting rights AND the impact millions of dollars have on political campaigns) - but in the matter of the Far Right going after Obamacare with chainsaws Roberts is refusing to over-reach and perform "judicial activism" in making his own interpretations trump the intent of the other two branches of government.

Which leads me to wonder about how much of this Obama knew about ahead of time when he pushed for the ACA "Obamacare" package in the first place all those years ago.  True, by 2009 our Health Care system was facing utter collapse without any substantive reforms.  With a Democratic majority in both houses of Congress, Obama could have pushed for a more liberal - read: single-payer - package.  But he insisted on pushing an agenda modeled on the conservative reform alternative that the Republicans offered - and never followed up on - back in 1993 to oppose Clinton's ultimately doomed plan.

At the time, it looked like Obama jumped out too early for a compromise package in an attempt to secure Republican votes for a bipartisan "victory" bill.  It seemingly backfired because the Republicans decided in toto to deny Obama any "victory" at all, sticking to an obstructionist position that painted themselves into a corner.  David Frum's classic "Waterloo" rebuke of the obstructionist position made it clear how that GOP agenda backfired on Republicans and not Obama, and we're seeing the results of that even today.

Because by going for a "compromise" bill like the ACA - based on market-based reforms that Republicans themselves argued for in 1993 - Obama took away the one real alternative Republicans today could offer.  They've got nothing else, other than basically eliminating the reforms altogether... which basically brings back the out-of-control costs and lack of health care for far too many Americans.  Republicans keep saying they can "Replace" Obamacare after the "Repeal", but when pressed on what the replacement can be the Republicans can't offer a legitimate plan

One of the narratives bouncing around the Beltway media is how this was not only a victory for Obama but how it got the Republican Congress - and the primary candidates - off the hook.  If Roberts had led a ruling in favor of the plaintiffs in this case, it would have severely crippled the ACA across every (Red) state that didn't have its own subsidies plan in place.  The pressure on Congress to pass any replacement law to fix that gap - by the millions losing coverage, by insurance companies losing millions of dollars, the sheer bad optics of failing to act - would have been enormous, but the Republicans in both sides of Capitol Hill had spent too many years demonizing Obamacare altogether to where any real solution was out of the question.

This ruling still doesn't let Republicans off the hook, however.  This only makes it worse for them, because now the pressure is on from the Far Right - the Teabagger crowd - to go Full Repeal again (for what, the 197th time?) and make that repeal a major platform issue for the primaries.

The problem is, as Klein notes over and over the last few years, Obamacare is working.  Costs are going down and are lower than the projections worried about.  The numbers of insured are up (which aids in handling costs and coverage, and improves the chances more Americans are getting healthier).  The only reason the picture isn't rosier for Obamacare is because there's not enough Medicaid coverage for the poorer Americans in Republican-led states, and that's more to do with the Republicans in charge who are blatantly refusing to accept billions in federal aid.  In all respects the longer Obamacare chugs along the likelier Americans are going to notice that it's working as intended, and are going to question why Republicans are too keen to kill something that, you know, works.

This is going to be a long-term victory for Obama no matter what.  This ruling makes it incredibly unlikely any court challenge can break the ACA.  It is going to have to take the Republicans retaining control of Congress AND winning a Presidential race that is sliding further into clown car status for the GOP.  By 2016 the odds favor the fact that Obamacare will prove itself an effective federal program, and any attack by the Republicans against it will only bounce around in their own epistemic bubble while more Americans decide to vote for a Democratic Presidential candidate (and Senate campaigners) who will keep it working.

As Andrew Sullivan kept noting with wonder and awe before he quit the blogging profession, with regards to Obama's ability to wring long-term victories over self-imploding opponents: Meep Meep.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Florida Republicans Finding Out Now How Rick "No Ethics" Scott Can Be a Total Dick

After going through the hassles of a special session to get a budget done for the state, the Florida Legislature finished a budget - a haphazard, nowhere near effective budget nonetheless - and sent it on to the Governor's office for signing.

Florida uses a system of Line Item Veto: a method the Governor can use to nullify or block specific parts of a bill - usually a spending project - without blocking the entire bill.  It makes it harder for the legislature to override line items, whereas a full veto is easier to break if enough legislators are pissed about the Governor being a total dick.

Under normal circumstances, and with sane leadership in office, the Line Item Veto would work as suggested: Keeping a lid on wasteful or questionable spending projects (pork barrel).

But we're talking about Rick "Screw the State" Scott here.

Once he got the bill for signing he promptly shaved about $461 Million from the $78 Billion budget.  Granted, 461 million doesn't look like much out of 78 BILLION, but we're talking a LOT of money for projects now looking at massive funding gaps.  Take all the pennies out of your pocket and start counting up to $461 million, and you'll kinda get an idea how much money we're talking about.

In fact, the $461 million cut via Line Item Veto is close to a record.  No other Governor cut as much before in one blow.

And if you're thinking that Scott is doing this out of some sense of fiscal prudence, you're overlooking some very key facts:

  • Rick "No Ethics" Scott is only in this for himself and his plans for future political meddling;
  • A lot of the cuts look to be vindictive against various Senate and House Republicans who tried to push a Medicaid Expansion plan in opposition to Scott's hardline stance.
  • The cuts blind-sided legislators who were not notified beforehand. In fact, Scott did his cuts in near privacy, surrounded only by his own staffers.  There's a sense that decorum and respect to the Legislature were ignored.

Scott went and slashed funding for projects that had previously been funded before without him taking a chainsaw to them.  Scott slashed funding to colleges, to job training programs, to social aid for substance abuse treatment, to public libraries (he cut $1 million from the East Lake Public Library near my homebase of Palm Harbor: Scott was already on my Enemies List before this, now he's solidified the top spot for the rest of his soon-to-be-short career).

There's a lot of anger among his own party members tonight.  I'm not entirely sure the old adage of "Protect Your Own" is going to serve Scott much when he's got heavy hitters like the Senate President Andy Gardiner ordering an infinite supply of Rick Scott voodoo dolls and needles.  I mean, here's the quotes from the elected officials:

"The governor has declared war on the Legislature." - Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, after Scott cut funding for several Tampa Bay projects, including a marina, library and water taxi initiative.
"While Governor Scott will undoubtedly spend the next several weeks traveling the state touting his record number of vetoes as win for Florida's families, there are many families across Florida who have seen their dreams shattered by his decisions today." - Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, on vetoes of programs meant to help children with special needs, which were his top priority.
"I am profoundly disappointed . . . Our forest firefighters put their lives on the line. They are demonstratively under paid relative to peers." - Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, on learning that pay raises for the state's 606 Forest Service firefighters were being nixed.
"How does he allow a good program to pass muster last year and then vetoes the same without any reason or cause? I've seen our governor many times show that inconsistency and honestly I believe many members of the Florida Legislature are coming to realize you cannot trust the guy." - Pasco County Tax Collector Mike Fasano on Scott's cut of $2.5 million (including $1.5 million approved last year) for a conservation easement in Heritage Lake Estates. (I mentioned Fasano before: one of the earliest critics of Scott from within the State GOP itself.)
If you read that linked article, you'll notice the only favorable quotes were from lobbyists happy to see Scott slash-and-burn the government they despise.

If Rick "In It For Myself" Scott thinks his Line Item Veto is going to win any fans, he's going to find out that angering up your fellow pols - people who can find ways to make your life miserable - isn't going to provide him the networks among other politicians he needs to win more people over.  All he's done is satisfy his lobbyist buddies and the extremist base opposed to ANY government spending at all: people already in his pocket.  I doubt he's winning over any new friends with this.

We're going to witness over the next year the consequences of Scott's brutal cuts.  A lot of state agencies will have to cut jobs and cut services that even middle-income Floridians are going to notice being gone.  Some agencies will need to raise fees higher to compensate their own budgets.  Social services - already one of the poorest-funded in the nation - are going to go bone-dry in the worst ways.  Families and children are going to get hit the worst.

At what point is all that pain going to wake the voters and residents up to the fact that Rick "Fund Raising For Fun And Profit" Scott is destroying the very state he's supposedly sworn to serve?