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Let’s get to work

Let's get to workHealthcare reform is passed. The sun still rises in the east and sets in the west. There was no tsunami to hit Washington and the East Coast. The Empire State building in New York, the Sears Tower in Chicago and the Transamerica building in San Francisco are all still standing. The predictions of the sudden downfall of the United States with healthcare reform seem to be nothing but poppycock. There are those on the right, though, who are still apoplectic, seizing with anger. Their country has been stolen. Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly have told them whom to blame — liberals.

I could go on and on about the hypocrisy that should be evident to all, but instead I want to talk about what comes next. Now that healthcare has passed, what is next on the agenda? As you may have guessed, I have a few suggestions.

Campaign Finance Reform — After the hanging chads in Florida and the blatantly fraudulent behavior in Ohio, it would seem that our archaic system of elections would have already been reformed, shiny and new. We need to change the way the ballots are cast. We should be 100% sure when we cast a ballot that our vote will be counted. We also have to figure out a way to take the millions and millions of dollars that business pours into elections out of the system.

Immigration Reform — As I see it, sooner or later we’re seriously going to have to fix our immigration problem. This has to have a multidimensional approach. We need to enforce the laws already on our books. We need to embrace the ideals that we’ve expounded for more than 100 years and admit that we are, in fact, the melting pot, an inclusive society. We need to come up with a set of rules that allows foreign nationals to come here and work for some period of time and then go back to their country. The system must work for us as well as curtail illegal immigration. Finally, we need to come up with some system to take care of the 12 million economic refugees who live in the United States today.

Financial System Reform – What are we waiting for? It is clear that a lack of regulation and oversight allowed companies to run wild with our money. With a combination of derivatives, selling short and the truly evil credit default swaps, financial institutions were able to go on a gambling spree that made Las Vegas envious. The financial industry seems to be driving up to Congress several times a week and dumping millions of dollars at the feet of our elected officials. Are these honest and hard-working officials going to listen to you and me or to the drivers of that truckload of money? Without significant regulation, expect Wall Street to melt down again.

Education Reform — The average family in the United States makes about $42,000 a year. You shouldn’t have to pay more than 10% of your salary in order to send your child to a good public university for four years. Yet the average tuition for a public four-year university is over $7000. The average tuition for a private four-year university has topped $26,000. Why? Tuition costs have gone up faster than almost anything besides healthcare costs and this rise does not seem to be tied to inflation or other economic indicators. All I know is that education is an extremely important factor in combating poverty. We need to make education affordable for all. While we’re at it, we need to reform elementary school, middle school and high school. Our kids have to learn more and exercise more. They need to graduate with a well-rounded education which includes music and the arts.

I hope the Democrats on Capitol Hill are not resting on their healthcare laurels. We have a lot of work to do in this country. I hope they are rolling up their sleeves and getting ready for the next task because everything on my list is a big problem. I didn’t even get into climate change legislation, which also needs to be done. Let’s get the work. We have to accelerate the pace of progress. Reactionaries are going to stand in our way. We’re going to have to be strong in our convictions as we move the country forward. Let’s get back to work, now.

By |2010-03-30T20:49:12-04:00March 30th, 2010|Congress, Obama administration|Comments Off on Let’s get to work

The Supremes

I wish I was talking about the soulful group led by Diana Ross from the 1960s. Unfortunately, I’m talking about our Supreme Court. By now, you have read hundreds of opinions of why the 5-4 decision in Citizens United versus the Federal Election Commission was bad or was good for the country. I think the decision was awful. I do not think we will see a huge influx of money into our elections. We have already seen this. We have seen staggering sums of money as business tries to influence our politicians. From my standpoint, I have a problem with corporations being treated as persons. Aren’t corporations nothing more than contracts? Are they nothing more than stacks of paper? We should treat them as such.

From the Daily Beast:

The Supreme Court’s decision to roll back campaign-finance reform does more than just open the spigots for corporate cash. It also exposes the judicial activism of the Roberts Court.

On Thursday, the Supreme Court voted 5-4 in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission to overturn decades-old restrictions on campaign-finance reform. The majority’s bludgeoning of what were already pitifully weak restraints on corporate campaign spending is a kind of jurisprudential equivalent to clubbing a baby seal: a revolting spectacle that might make even a sadist or a K Street lawyer blanch. The animating principle that underlies the majority’s argument is clear: We must do what we can to ensure that corporate America shall have a new birth of freedom–and that government of the wealthy, by the wealthy, for the wealthy, shall not perish from the earth.

Three aspects of the decision are particularly noteworthy. First, Chief Justice John Roberts, who was praised to the skies at the time of his confirmation hearings for his supposedly “minimalist” approach to judging, goes out of his way to demolish several decades worth of congressional work to do something about the corrupting influence of money on politics.

He does so by taking two totally unnecessary steps. For one thing, the law at issue could easily have been interpreted to simply not apply to the facts of this case. (The case involves the distribution of a feature-length film via video on demand, which quite arguably is not an “electioneering communication” covered by the federal statute the court struck down). It’s a well-established rule of statutory interpretation that when a court is faced with two plausible readings of a federal statute, one of which would require something as drastic as finding the statute unconstitutional, and the other which avoids that outcome, the justices ought to prefer the latter. Indeed, that rule is a central tenet of anything that deserves to be called “minimalist” judging.

Secondly, even after the Court chose to interpret the statute in the former fashion, Roberts and the rest of the majority could have held that the statute was not unconstitutional on its face, but merely as applied to the facts in this particular situation. Avoiding rulings that declare federal laws unconstitutional on their face rather than as applied is also a fundamental principle of minimalism.

Curiously, Roberts’ aversion to maximalist interpretations of First Amendment rights seems to fade away when the victims of government “censorship,” as he calls it, are major corporations rather than individual human beings.

Justice Antonin Scalia’s concurrence provides an even more morbidly amusing exercise in judicial gymnastics. After all, one would think a genuine commitment to applying the original meaning of the Constitution to contemporary cases poses a serious problem to someone who wants to find that the document forbids Congress from banning direct campaign contributions by corporations.

It’s difficult to express how bizarre the framers of the Constitution would have considered such a proposition. Indeed, prior to the middle of the 20th century, the idea that artificial “persons” such as corporations could have constitutional rights was unknown in American law. Scalia is reduced to arguing that he can find no historical evidence that the framers were opposed to the idea of granting free-speech rights to corporations. It’s quite true there is no such evidence. It’s also true there’s no evidence that the framers opposed escalating the Vietnam War, deregulating the airline industry, or breaking up the Beatles.

In other words, it’s hardly surprising that he can find no explicit opposition in 18th-century American political debates to an idea that didn’t occur to anyone until 150 years later.

Finally, Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion is long on what Justice John Paul Stevens’ dissent accurately labels “glittering generalities.” But it is short on any explanation as to how those generalities–such as that speech cannot be regulated on the basis of the identity of the speaker–can be squared with holdings such as Kennedy’s recent vote to allow a school to suspend a student who unfurled a banner advocating “BONG HiTS 4 JESUS.” (The only basis for not considering this unconstitutional censorship is that certain kinds of people, namely students at school events, have fewer free-speech rights than, say, an ordinary citizen in a public park).

All this adds up to yet another example, as if one were needed, that conservative complaints about “judicial activism” are usually nothing more than a code for “judicial outcomes conservatives don’t like.” Citizens United strikes down a major federal statute by taking the extreme step of explicitly overturning the Court’s own precedents, while dismissing a century’s worth of congressional attempts to stop special interests from buying legislation. The argument that the relevant legal materials required the Court to take such a step is flatly incredible. In short, the decision is as pure an example of judicial activism as one could hope to find.

As a consequence, we are left in a situation where Congress can do little more to quell the corrupting influence of money on politics than forbid the explicit bribing of elected officials. Such a triumph of laissez-faire ideology gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “the marketplace of ideas.”

By |2010-01-27T18:19:59-04:00January 27th, 2010|Business, Corporate Wrongs, Legal|Comments Off on The Supremes

Why long-term Senators shouldn't run for President

When you are a Senator you say a lot of stuff. You say a ton of stuff on the floor of the Senate. It is all recorded somewhere and can be retrieved. (Remember that Sarah Palin has just spent $150,000 for clothes)

Senator McCain (1993):

I want to emphasize I will be citing some examples of how campaign funds have been used which are extremely egregious, but I want to point out they are not illegal, and the purpose of this amendment is to restrict the use of those campaign funds because, if we are truly going to have campaign finance reform, I do not believe that campaign funds should be used for such things as country club dues, tuxedos, vacations, and other purposes for which they are now almost routinely used by certain Members of both bodies.

Oops. Keith Olbermann has more (see video below). (BTW, congratulations to Keith Olbermann for beating O’Reilly in the ratings, again.)

By |2008-10-23T23:41:25-04:00October 23rd, 2008|Countdown, Election 2008|Comments Off on Why long-term Senators shouldn't run for President
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