Monthly Archives: June 2012

What I tell you 3 times is true

(from July 2011)

Just the place for a Snark! I have said it thrice:
What I tell you three times is true.”

—Lewis Carroll

Lewis Carroll was not alone in recognizing that even the most outlandish claims, if repeated enough, are accepted as truth. Policy makers — from radio pundits to our elected representatives — have mastered the propaganda technique of repetition.

The danger that we will confuse repetition for truth is at its peak when we deal with issues outside our comfort zone. Such confusion threatens effective democracy when we lose the ability to identify evidence that rebuts an oft-repeated proposition.

Three recent examples in Decatur come to mind.

Since before he entered office, we have received the unrelenting message that President Barack Obama has no plan for the future of space flight. We hear it with such frequency that even those inclined to agree with Obama on some topics reluctantly admit that he has failed NASA and damaged America’s proud tradition of space flight.

The repetition is effective because most of us cannot — without considerable effort — familiarize ourselves with the intricacies of aerospace programs. We hear the mantra and, eventually, accept it.

Personal knowledge

In Decatur, though, we have personal knowledge of information that tends to rebut the proposition that Obama’s plan for space is flawed. While his agenda for NASA calls for the agency to have a reduced role in carrying astronauts to the International Space Station, we can see that United Launch Alliance is prepared to fill the gap. Our neighbors build rockets that, with minor modifications, are capable of carrying astronauts to the space station. Many of our other neighbors work at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, which is busy designing a heavy-lift rocket that will take astronauts beyond low Earth orbit.

Maybe the constantly repeated claim that Obama has a flawed vision of space flight is true, but it is disturbing that we are incapable of recognizing that events in North Alabama suggest otherwise.

Another example involves the effect of environmental regulations on the economy. We hear with such frequency that regulations designed to improve our environment cost American jobs that even environmentalists often accept it as a truism. No wonder: Many of our elected representatives have created careers based on the truth of the proposition, and they repeat it with monotonous regularity.

Yet in Decatur, we have seen evidence that the proposition is false.

Increases in fuel-efficiency standards for automobiles have a positive impact on at least some aspects of the local economy.

Toray Carbon Fibers and Ascend Performance Materials are enjoying increased demand because their products are effective in reducing vehicle weight, a primary method of increasing fuel efficiency.

Are these two examples proof that environmental regulations are good for the economy? Of course not. But we should recognize that information within our personal experience tends to contradict the constantly repeated proposition that such regulations hurt the economy.

Another proposition that many accept as truth because of its frequent repetition is that federal stimulus programs were a failure. We defer to the repeated message because evaluating the success or failure of such expenditures is difficult. Despite stimulus programs, we have an unacceptably high unemployment rate. On the other hand, unemployment might be worse without the funds.

General Electric

One thing we know, however, is that the funds scored a major victory in Decatur. The General Electric plant was for sale early in the recession. The federal funds it received not only protected the jobs of 1,000 employees, but added more. The money permitted the plant to incorporate innovative technologies that turned it into a world leader in the production of energy-efficient refrigerators.

When we have personal knowledge of evidence that contradicts popularly accepted beliefs, we would do well to question the source of those beliefs. Often we will discover that we have confused repetition with truth.

Despite the Bellman’s repetition, his crew never did capture the ephemeral Snark.

Contact Eric Fleischauer at http://www.mile304.com or eric@decaturdaily.com.

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Alabama needs Medicaid expansion

If good sense or compassion prevail, Alabama officials will embrace the option of expanding Medicaid.
Our state is one of the poorest in the nation. It includes 244,804 uninsured people who would benefit from the Medicaid expansion. Many of these people work, but at low-paying jobs that do not offer health insurance. Others have pre-existing conditions that prevent them from obtaining affordable insurance. Some are unemployed because they cannot obtain the medical treatment they need to hold down a job.
Access to health care is not like other welfare programs. There is no pleasure associated with going to a doctor; whether rich or poor, people go to a doctor when their health demands it.
The revenue sources built into the Affordable Care Act will provide needed access to health care for someone. Our elected officials should make sure that Alabamians are among those who benefit.

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Fear of democracy

As U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts gets bashed for betraying his conservative ideology while upholding the Affordable Care Act, it is worth recalling what he actually did.
He allowed the people, through their elected representatives, to solve a social problem.
Justices, who are not elected and hold a lifetime tenure, should be slow to interfere with popular will as expressed through our representative democracy.
“We possess neither the expertise nor the prerogative to make policy judgments,” Roberts wrote. “Those decisions are entrusted to our nation’s elected leaders, who can be thrown out of office if the people disagree with them.”
Despite his recognition of the limited role of the judiciary in blocking the will of the people as expressed through their representatives, Roberts went to great pains to limit legislative authority in future cases. The chief justice placed novel limits on Congress’ ability to pass laws that regulate commerce.
Whether those restrictions will survive the test of time is unclear. Certainly, though, they reflect a mistrust of democracy.
While the court has an important role in protecting the minority from the majority, it should tread more carefully when protecting the majority from itself. Democracy includes built-in checks that prevent Congress from making lengthy excursions beyond the will of its constituents.
After describing various limits on Congress included in the Constitution and in the Supreme Court’s past decisions, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg explained the ultimate limitation succinctly:
“Supplementing these legal restraints is a formidable check on congressional power: the democratic process.”
Supreme Court justices are accountable to no one. Congress is accountable to the people.
When not bashing Roberts, opponents of the law — that would give 30 million people access to health care while reducing the deficit — are calling for repeal.
It is the people’s ability to repeal the law — by changing the composition of Congress — that validates Roberts’ caution. The people created health-care reform and they can kill it. There was no need for an appointed judge to intervene.
It was not Roberts’ job to rule on the wisdom of the Affordable Care Act.
“Under the Constitution,” Roberts wrote, “that judgment is reserved to the people.”

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Romney’s victory dance

For a man who holds no elected office, Mitt Romney was in the thick of things this week.

In fundamental ways, Romney was at the heart of the two U.S. Supreme Court cases that either horrified or overjoyed much of the U.S. population.
First came the court decision ruling that most of Arizona’s immigration law — a slightly less hostile version of the one Alabama passed in 2011 — was unconstitutional. The Constitution delegates the power to regulate immigration to the federal government, the court ruled, and states have limited authority to interfere.
Romney strongly endorsed the Arizona law, even naming Kris Kobach as his immigration advisor. Kobach helped draft both the Arizona and Alabama laws. Romney supports the concept of self-deportation, which requires — as eloquently explained by our own legislator — the passage of a law that “attacks every aspect of an illegal immigrant’s life.”
Romney’s position on immigration, while extreme, is not what put him in the center of the controversy.
U.S. employers want cheap labor. Two of the ways they fill this need are through the hiring of undocumented immigrants and the opening of plants in countries with large supplies of starving workers.
Blocking immigrants from America increases the pressure on U.S. employers to move production to foreign labor markets.
Romney, it turns out, was instrumental in assisting companies in their efforts to increase profit margins through outsourcing. Romney’s Bain Capital invested in companies that specialized in sending jobs to facilities in low-wage countries.
Romney profited from the unmet labor needs created by U.S. immigration restrictions. He did so by moving commerce and employment from America to other countries.
It was a clever solution. The job creators must have been giving him high fives.
Romney’s role in the other Supreme Court decision was even more dramatic.
The court upheld the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, a law that — if not repealed — will give 30 million uninsured Americans access to health care. The mechanism that makes possible such a dramatic improvement in the quality of so many lives is the individual mandate.
The law was modeled after one that Romney shepherded through the Massachusetts legislature when he was governor.
In her concurring opinion, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg gave Romney all the credit. She explained that numerous states had tried to provide insurance for those who could not obtain affordable coverage due to pre-existing conditions. They did so simplistically, by requiring insurance companies to provide affordable coverage to people with pre-existing conditions.
“The results were disastrous,” Ginsburg wrote, because people had no incentive to buy insurance until they were sick. “Adverse selection” was the result, meaning that the only people buying insurance were those who needed immediate medical care. Insurance companies had to either raise premiums to untenable levels or exit the market.
“Massachusetts, Congress was told, cracked the adverse selection problem,” Ginsburg wrote. “By requiring most residents to obtain insurance, the Commonwealth ensured that insurers would not be left with only the sick as customers. As a result, federal lawmakers observed, Massachusetts succeeded where other states failed. … Congress followed Massachusetts’ lead.”
Romney should be doing a victory dance. Through outsourcing, he helped satisfy the demand for cheap labor that would otherwise be met by employing undocumented immigrants in this country. Through innovative legislation, he implemented the individual mandate that made Obamacare possible.
No wonder his poll numbers are looking good.
Contact Eric Fleischauer at http://www.mile304.com or at eric@decaturdaily.com.

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Filed under Election 2012, Health care, immigration, Obamacare, Romney

A victory for everyone

The U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding the Affordable Care Act was a victory, even for advocates of limited government.
It was, of course, a victory for people with preexisting conditions that could not get health insurance coverage. It was a victory for the
millions of people who, lacking insurance coverage, have almost no access to health care. It was a victory for hospitals that, under
current law, have to treat uninsured people in emergency rooms.
It was a victory for all insured Americans, who pay about $1,000 a year in extra premiums to cover the costs of those who decline to buy health insurance.
Here’s the surprise, though: It was a victory for those who fear that the federal government’s power over individuals and the states is out of control.
The Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution has been the enumerated power through which federal control of the individual has ballooned. Because interstate commerce is far more extensive than the Founding Fathers could have imagined, what they thought was a narrow power had become an all-consuming one.
The Supreme Court on Thursday drew a line in the sand when it held that the Commerce Clause did not authorize an individual mandate.
Writing for the majority, Chief Justice Roberts basically said, “Enough is enough.”
The conservative justice also pointed out that the “individual mandate” is not a mandate at all. The ACA gives people a choice: Buy
health insurance or pay a tax. For many people, that tax will be less than the cost of health insurance. By law, the tax cannot exceed the cost of insurance. Using taxes to encourage wise decisions is nothing new. We impose extra taxes on tobacco and alcohol to discourage their use. Tax incentives already encourage people to buy homes, attend college and give to charities. This tax encourages people to buy health insurance.
Roberts made clear that if Congress makes the tax so high that it effectively forces people to buy health insurance, it will have exceeded its taxing authority.
Not only did the court impose the first significant limit on the federal government’s power under the Commerce Clause, it also placed a new limit on Congress’s ability to mandate state activity.
The court ruled the ACA went too far when it threatened to eliminate all Medicaid funding for those states who decline to expand Medicaid coverage.
Everyone knew that U.S. health care had serious problems. For most, the fear of Obamacare was that it would expand federal control over the individual even more.
In a wise decision, the court both upheld a desperately needed change to our health care system and placed new limits on the power of the federal government.

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Legal gymnastics; Roberts upholds ACA while limiting federal power

How to allow Congress to solve a major national health care problem without expanding federal authority over the individual?
That was the dilemma for Chief Justice Roberts, whose majority opinion was the difference in the U.S. Supreme Court upholding the Affordable Care Act.
While the health care legislation covers many other topics, understanding its treatment of people with pre-existing conditions provides a starting point both in understanding the law and the court decision.
Congress’ initial goal was simple: It did not want people with pre-existing conditions blocked from health insurance coverage.
The solution was simple: Require insurance companies to cover all people, regardless of their health, and prevent insurance companies from charging higher premiums for the unhealthy.
Several states tried this solution and, as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said in her concurring opinion, “The results were disastrous.”
The problem was that people had no incentive to buy insurance while they were healthy, because they knew they could buy it after they got sick. Insurance companies depend on the premiums of healthy people to cover the medical expenses of those who are sick. If the healthy people stop paying premiums, one of two things must happen. Either the insurance companies must dramatically increase premiums or they must exit the business.
Thus was born the individual mandate. By requiring all people to purchase insurance — even if they were healthy — the insurance pool would be large enough to cover the medical expenses of those who were unhealthy.
The question for the court was whether Congress had the power to require people to buy health insurance.
A minority of the justices felt Congress had that power through the Commerce Clause. Indeed, the language of Justice Antonin Scalia’s dissent suggests that he intended his to be the majority opinion. Scalia focuses primarily on the disastrous consequences of expanding the Commerce Clause so that it gives Congress the power not only to regulate commercial activity, but to mandate such activity, “effectively destroying the Constitution’s division of governmental powers.”
Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the majority opinion, and he agreed with Scalia that the individual mandate was an unprecedented and dangerous expansion of Congress’s power under the Commerce Clause.
In upholding the mandate, Roberts instead relied on Congress’s power to impose taxes.
This alternative basis for the mandate required some difficult arguments.
Initially, Roberts had to dispense with the idea that the individual mandate was a mandate. While Congress required most Americans to buy health insurance, Roberts pointed out that the consequences of failing to do so are not severe. The most extreme consequence is that a person who refuses to buy health insurance must pay to the Internal Revenue Service an amount equal to the cost of insurance. Failure to buy insurance is not a crime; neither is failure to pay the amount owed to the IRS.
The “mandate” is not a requirement, Roberts ruled, but a choice. People can either buy health insurance or pay a tax.
The next problem for Roberts was the language of the ACA. While Roberts upheld the law as a tax, Congress called it a “penalty.” Roberts argued that it did not matter what Congress called it, but how it functioned. It was, he said, a revenue-raising tool that discouraged people from going without insurance, much like other taxes discourage people from purchasing sawed-off shotguns or tobacco.
For conservative Roberts, the advantage of upholding the individual mandate under Congress’s power to tax rather than its power to regulate commerce was that the taxation power is far more limited.
If Congress raises the tax so high that it effectively forces people to purchase insurance, Roberts wrote, it becomes a penalty that exceeds Congressional authority.
Like Scalia, Roberts repeatedly expressed a fear that an expansion of the Commerce Clause to justify the mandate would give the federal government unrestricted power over the individual.
“The Commerce Clause is not a general license to regulate an individual from cradle to grave,” Roberts wrote.
Ginsburg argued that Roberts’ fear of an expanded Commerce Clause was overblown. He was ignoring, she wrote, “a formidable check on congressional power: the democratic process.”
The Constitution does not restrict states to enumerated powers.
“Despite their possession of unquestioned authority to impose mandates, state governments rarely have done so,” Ginsburg wrote, because of resistance from voters.
Roberts also wrote for the majority on the issue of the constitutionality of expanded Medicaid coverage. Here again, he sought to limit the federal government’s power without entirely thwarting congressional goals.
The ACA expands Medicaid coverage dramatically to include all people at or below 133 percent of the poverty level. The law used both a carrot and stick to compel the states to adopt the expansion. If states agreed, the federal government would finance 90 percent of the additional cost. If they refused, all federal Medicaid funding — not just that intended for the expansion — could end.
Roberts concluded that the stick was too big. The threat of ending all Medicaid funding, not just the funding of the expanded coverage, “is economic dragooning that leaves the states with no real option but to acquiesce in the Medicaid expansion.”
Roberts thus concluded that Congress had the power to condition additional funding on the states’ agreement to expand Medicaid coverage. Congress exceeded its authority, however, when it threatened to end all Medicaid funding if states declined to expand their coverage.
Scalia, who in his dissent argued that the Medicaid expansion should have been struck down entirely, said Roberts’ limited ruling places states in an untenable position.
“Those states that decline the Medicaid expansion must subsidize, by the federal tax dollars taken from their citizens, vast grants to the states that accept the Medicaid expansion,” Scalia wrote.

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Alien law a mistake, move on

State Rep. Micky Hammon, R-Decatur, may be a fast reader, but we doubt he read the 72-page U.S. Supreme Court opinion gutting Arizona’s immigration law in the 25 minutes it took him to send out a statement that it “bodes well” for Alabama’s harsher law.

State officials in Alabama and Arizona seem to be speaking from the same playbook, repeating words like “vindication” and “victory.”

We could understand the politicians complaining about the decision, even though it reaffirmed long-standing law on the federal government’s near-complete authority over immigration matters. We could understand if they quoted dissenting Justice Antonin Scalia, who criticized the majority for obliterating the Arizona law.

That they instead are pretending the decision says something it doesn’t, however, is disturbing.

Many people in the state trust Hammon and Sen. Scott Beason, R-Gardendale, the sponsors of the 2011 law. The people trusted them when they gave assurances that the law they had drafted was constitutional.

Constituents and other legislators trusted Hammon when he proclaimed there was no benefit to waiting for the U.S. Supreme Court to rule on the Arizona law.

They continued to trust the politicians even after multiple federal courts made preliminary rulings that large portions of the Alabama and Arizona laws were unconstitutional.

That trust endured even in the most recent legislative session, when rather than repealing the tattered law or adopting the state Attorney General’s proposed changes, the Legislature passed an amendment that, in most respects, made it worse.

Many side with Hammon and Beason in their desire for state control of immigration, but that’s not the issue. The issue is whether the law is constitutional. The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday made clear that most of it is not.

Hammon, Beason and other state officials have an obligation to speak honestly to their constituents. Passing the law was a costly mistake.

Continued enforcement of the law would be even more costly, because it would leave the state and local governments vulnerable to lawsuits for damages.

It is time for our state officials to tell it straight: However much their constituents want to use state resources to keep undocumented immigrants out of Alabama, it is a federal matter. Pretending that Monday’s Supreme Court decision said otherwise merely compounds the mistake.

http://www.decaturdaily.com/stories/Alien-law-a-mistake-move-on,97858

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