The New and Exceptional Chosen People

Poor Ezra said something sensible on television, and naturally he is being pilloried for it. You’ve probably heard that the incoming Republican majority plans to require that every new bill introduced from now on must cite which article in the Constitution authorizes whatever it is the bill proposes to do.

A couple of days ago Ezra pointed out that the individual mandate section of the health care reform bill actually cites case law supporting its constitutionality, and that this hasn’t made a dent in the wingnuts’ opinion that it is unconstitutional. He added,

To presume that people writing what they think the Constitution means — or, in some cases, want to think it means — at the bottom of every bill will change how they legislate doesn’t demonstrate a reverence for the document. It demonstrates a disengagement with it as anything more than a symbol of what you and your ideological allies believe.

In reality, the tea party — like most everyone else — is less interested in living by the Constitution than in deciding what it means to live by the Constitution. When the constitutional disclaimers at the bottom of bills suit them, they’ll respect them. When they don’t — as we’ve seen in the case of the individual mandate — they won’t.

This is exactly right. However, this is being done to appease the teabaggers, and the teabaggers are not going to be appeased by citations of case law. They will want to see exactly where the Founding Fathers said it was all right to, for example, regulate food safety or protect endangered species.

The way many of them appear to interpret the Constitution, if the text doesn’t enumerate that very specific thing by name — say, hiring air traffic controllers — it’s unconstitutional. The fact that this would make most of the legislation passed in the past 233 years unconstitutional apparently hasn’t sunk in.

And what’s really likely to happen is that legislation will be so hopelessly snarled up in fantastical constitutional arguments that little will ever get to a floor vote. The only other possibility is that the citation will become a meaningless formality that no one takes seriously. I don’t see a middle ground there.

I already wrote a few days ago why it is blatantly insane to limit the Constitution that way. I’d add to that the teabaggers treat the Constitution as if it were dictated by God, and not written by a bunch of 18th-century men who intended it to be a basic outline of government processes and structures that future generations could use to govern themselves.

The other frightening thing about the teabaggers is their inability to understand that the document is pretty vague about a lot of things, and over the years many intelligent and patriotic people of good character have disagreed with each other over precisely what every clause means. To teabaggers, their interpretation is the only correct one — even though most of them have no better understanding of the Constitution than they do of quantum physics — and any deviation from their interpretation is not a mere disagreement, but sedition.

Then Ezra gave a television interview in which he said that the constitutional citations in the legislation would not be binding — for example, a law could still be challenged in court and declared unconstitutional, no matter what the citation says. Were that no so, it would be a rather large breach of the constitution’s separation of powers. See above about quantum physics.

Naturally, the wingnuts are now claiming that Ezra said the Constitution itself is not binding, which is not at all what he said. Which begs the question — if they can’t understand clear 21st-century English, how is it they claim to have perfect understanding of sometimes archaic 18th-century English?

Which takes me to the next point, which is that language is very dynamic and the meanings of words and phrases do change over time. That’s why it’s important to have some understanding of, for example, English common law as it existed in the late 18th century in order to appreciate what the authors of the Constitution meant. Often the particular phrase they chose was understood to mean a specific thing in the legal language of their time, and the way most 21st century readers would interpret the same phrase is entirely different.

Naturally, the usual mouth-breathers are hooting at Ezra for saying the Constitution is impossible to understand because it is old.

Which brings me to my larger point, which is that somehow in the minds of many, America and American history are somehow an extension of the Bible. The Constitution is the Fifth Gospel, and Americans are the new Chosen People. Religious faith and patriotism are seamlessly and inextricably woven together. No good can come of this.

Elsewhere — no pardon for Billy the Kid.

Snow Job

Sunday New York got hit with a sure-enough blizzard. I haven’t been in the city proper, but here in the city improper we all got snowed in real good.

Apparently the Right has seized upon the snow-covered city as a means to smear both unions and public employees. Stories generated by Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post and the conservative Washington Examiner claim that the city sanitation workers’ union deliberately sabotaged the snow cleanup. The Examiner went so far as to claim that “union thugs” routinely shake down the city for more money and use intimidation to line their pockets. The Post claims that union “bosses” ordered workers to snarl the cleanup to protest budget cuts.

Naturally, the rightie blogosphere is eating it up. And Faux News warns that union thugs soon will be sabotaging snow cleanup in your town.

Note also that the one and only source for this story is one Republican councilman from Queens.

Mayor Bloomberg promises to look into it, but the more likely explanation for why this particular snow was such a pain in the bleep can be found at The Talking Dog.

Among other things– apparently what really snarled up Sunday traffic was that the city didn’t declare a snow emergency and order non-emergency traffic off the street. So, lots of people foolishly tried to drive places in the snow and got stuck, which much complicated plowing and snow removal. See more in New York Times and New York Daily News.

Today in Religion

Here’s one for the Islamophobes who are perpetually pointing out there are no Christian churches in Mecca — According to the Jerusalem Post, Jerusalem is rocked with controversy over an apparent rumor that a statue of Buddha might be erected in a traffic circle.

Agon Shu, a Japanese Buddhist organization that promotes world peace, was invited by the city of Jerusalem to beautify a traffic circle. But the religious establishment in Israel went ballistic over the possibility that a statue of Buddha or other Buddhist symbolism might be publicly displayed in their country.

Ahead of the Sculpting Committee meeting – scheduled originally for last Sunday but postponed for reasons unrelated to the volatile agenda – councilman and committee member Yossi Deitsch of United Torah Judaism spoke out strongly against allowing “actual idolatry” in the city’s limits. This sentiment received wide resonance in the religious and haredi media.

“There is a Japanese group that wants to place some sort of Buddha statue in the city. This is actual idolatry. We should not have such things,” Deitsch reiterated to The Jerusalem Post late last week regarding the Agon Shu proposal. …

… In a later conversation with the Post, Deitsch explained that he was basing his stance on what the municipality’s art adviser David Suzana had written in a letter about the Agon Shu traffic circle. According to Suzana, the proposed design contained religious and ritualistic Buddhist elements, and the art adviser objected to it on those grounds.

“I cannot agree to have Buddhists arrive to conduct religious ceremonies at the site,” asserted Deitsch, who will be seeing the plans for the first time when the committee convenes.

The architect designing the traffic circle says there is no plan to erect a Buddha. They are planning an “abstract design,” he says.

Apparently it’s OK to display religious symbols, such as a Christian cross, in Jerusalem, but a Buddha statue is too much like a graven image. In fact, generally a Buddha statue is regarded within Buddhism to symbolize enlightenment or some other principle, such as wisdom or compassion, and it not considered to be a god.

Elsewhere — Robert Jones of the Public Religion Research Institute says that

Nearly 6-in-10 Americans affirm American exceptionalism, that God has granted America a special role in human history. Those affirming this view are more likely to support military interventions and to say torture is sometimes justified.

Some people might want to remember that the meek, not the “exceptional,” will inherit the earth.

Also — religious cult turns Air Force cadet into a sheep.

Today in Crazy

President Obama has found a brilliant resolution to the “Ground Zero Mosque” controversy. He’s giving Manhattan back to the Mohegans! Or maybe the Poospatucks; I’m not sure. And the rest of America will soon be reclaimed by the indigenous tribes, also!

I, for one, will welcome my new Delaware and Mohawk overlords. Maybe they can make some sense of whatever goes on in Albany. Good luck with that, guys.

Gary Bauer is whining that Muslims in America get better treatment than Christians. I’m serious.

CPAC is having a meltdown over the inclusion of a gay conservative group at their 2011 convention. The Family Research Council, Concerned Women for America, and some other whackjobs prominent conservative organizations are boycotting. Maybe CPAC should adopt a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

Tucker Carlton thinks Michael Vicks should have been executed. The really crazy part of this story is why anyone gives a bleep what Tucker Carlton thinks.

Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico is considering a pardon for Billy the Kid. I don’t think that’s crazy, actually. There is documentation that Lew Wallace, as governor of the territory of New Mexico, promised the Kid a pardon for his testimony in a 1878 murder case, and then reneged.

Now, I don’t think Gov. Richardson’s consideration of the pardon is crazy; I think it’s honoring a part of American history. The incoming governor, a Republican, says she won’t be wasting time on silliness like honoring American history. There are taxes to cut, after all.

Descendants of Gov. Wallace and also of lawman Pat Garrett, who ambushed and gunned down the Kid in 1881, object to the pardon, possibly because the pardon would tarnish their ancestors’ reputations. They say the lawyer who petitioned for the pardon has ties to Gov. Richardson, which somehow is a bad thing. Maybe the descendants and and the lawyer can meet on the streets of Albuquerque and have a shoot-out.

Today in Capitalism

Has anyone else noticed that every other ad on cable television these days is for Medicare Advantage plans? I guess “Obamacare” didn’t kill Medicare Advantage after all.

I also noticed a news story about a company called High Road Capital, which seems to be in the business of buying things, snapping up a whole lot of health care businesses.

Private equity firms have snapped up many companies that provide medical billing, coding and document processing this year in an effort to reap some of the government stimulus earmarked for the digitization of health care and to help the sector meet upcoming regulatory changes.

I assume they expect to make a profit.

Also, rejoice that we just had the strongest holiday sales season since 2006. That’s something you’ll never hear on Faux News.

Pallavi Gogoi, Associated Press, writes that top American corporations are racking up big profits, and stock prices also are up. And they’re hiring! Just not in the U.S.

All but 4 percent of the top 500 U.S. corporations reported profits this year, and the stock market is close to its highest point since the 2008 financial meltdown.

But the jobs are going elsewhere. The Economic Policy Institute, a Washington think tank, says American companies have created 1.4 million jobs overseas this year, compared with less than 1 million in the U.S. The additional 1.4 million jobs would have lowered the U.S. unemployment rate to 8.9 percent, says Robert Scott, the institute’s senior international economist.

“There’s a huge difference between what is good for American companies versus what is good for the American economy,” says Scott.

That last sentence is significant. Naturally, the incoming Congress will be tripping all over itself giving tax breaks to big corporations to create more jobs. India should thank us for subsidizing its economy.

On the Trail of Elusive Facts

Today when I was looking for something else I stumbled upon a headline from the Washington Examiner — “How Obamacare keeps families trapped in poverty.” The article, by Mark Hemingway, appeared to be one more attempt to link the “doc fix” Medicare reimbursement issue to the the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA).

As I’ve explained in the past, the Medicare reimbursement shortfalls that have to be “fixed” every year are not the result of the PPACA, but of other legislation enacted in 1997. But demagoguing the issue and linking a looming Medicare reimbursement cut to “Obamacare” was too tempting to the Right. So, they were linked.

However, Hemingway presented a new twist. He claims the recently passed “doc fix” that postponed the cuts one more year are being paid for by a change to the PPACA, namely a provision that would heap additional financial burdens on low-income people receiving subsidies to pay for insurance.

Considering that the subsidies don’t start until 2014, and the “doc fix” bill only applies to 2011, this seemed far fetched to me. But Hemingway links to an article slugged “Obamacare Criminalizes Medicine” by Shikha Dalmia at US News and World Report, who explains,

When the government hands out subsidies, it will use a household’s income in the previous year as the basis for guessing what the household is qualified to get in the current year. But if the household’s income grows midyear, the subsidy recapture provision will require it to repay anywhere from $600 to $3,500, compared to the $450 that the law originally called for.

Never mind that such a change has “Blue Dogs and Republicans” written all over it. Hemingway and Dalmia are both outraged that this terrible burden will be placed on the poor. One suspects such tender concern for those in poverty is a tad out of character for these two. Dalmia goes on to express horror at the fact that another provision of PPACA is designed to crack down on fraud by doctors and hospitals. Imagine.

Anyway — I clicked on Dalmia’s links to see where she was getting her information, and lo, two of the links are to a blog post at Firedoglake. This post was written by David Dayen, who is still mourning the loss of the public option, and Dayen links to an article at The Politico about negotiations on the “doc fix” bill before it was passed. This article, by Jennifer Haberkorn, says,

Democrats are under pressure to pass a full-year patch of the doc-fix during the lame duck session because Republicans are already eyeing it as a vehicle to tie to repeal efforts next year.

In 2014, some consumers will be able to buy health insurance through exchanges, portals similar to Orbitz or Expedia. Low- and middle-income consumers will be eligible for tax subsidies to help pay for their coverage.

The deal on the table would change how much money consumers would have to repay if they misreport their income or their income grows mid-year, according to Congressional aides familiar with the proposal.

Under the health care reform law, if a person gets more of a tax subsidy than they’re eligible for, they’d have to repay no more than $250. Families would have to repay no more than $450.
The deal on the table would raise those caps on a sliding scale based on income. The figures haven’t been finalized yet.

So, this ugly thing people are blaming on “Obamacare” is a Republican amendment. Of course.

But what does the actual bill actually say? Alas, the final bill, H. R. 4994, is not yet online through Library of Congress Thomas page, and other versions I have found online are dated way earlier than December 2010, when it was passed. So we’ll have to wait a bit.

I noticed that the folks at Free Enterprise Nation (The Voice of the Private Sector) hadn’t gotten the memo they were supposed to be angry about the oppression of impoverished people. They merely say,

The Senate approved a bill that holds off scheduled cuts to Medicare reimbursement rates through all of 2011. The $19.3 billion cost of the bill is offset by increasing the penalty to people who fraudulently receive government subsidies for healthcare insurance by understating their earnings. Without Congressional action, reimbursement rates would have been cut 25%, forcing many doctors to stop treating Medicare patients.

This new “Obama Criminalizes Medicine” meme apparently just started popping out of the Noise Machine over the past three days, so expect to hear more about it. The GPO will be done with the bill text and have it online eventually, I trust.

Update: Gallup says that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are America’s most admired people, but that won’t stop the GOP from trying to take him down. This created an interesting juxtaposition on Memeorandum:

click for larger image

Moonlight, Magnolias, and Mothballs

E.J. Dionne reminds us that April 12, 2011, will mark the 150th anniversary of the firing on Fort Sumter and the beginning of the Civil War. Except countless gasbags to declare to us that the Civil War was fought over states’ rights, which is hogwash.

The usual argument that the war was not fought over slavery hinges on the fact that the northern states went to war to preserve the Union, and Lincoln himself declared that he was willing to protect slavery in the southern states if that would keep southern states in the Union.

However, it is a bare-assed, unadulterated fact that the only reason several slave states tried to secede and form a new confederacy was to protect the institution of slavery, a point Dionne makes very clearly. Any other “causes” the confederates thought up were clear afterthoughts.

So South Carolina started the war by firing on a federal military installation, Fort Sumter, leaving Lincoln little choice but to send troops to put down the rebellion. And ever after, generations of southern whiners have called this the beginning of the War of Northern Aggression. And the culture of denial and victimhood continues to this day.

Other stuff to read — another good article on the reason global climate change is causing colder winters in some places (like here). Steve Benen explains why Florida is screwed.

The GOP: Keeping Workers in Their Place

I hope all of you had a lovely Christmas Day. Now, back to work.

Naftali Bendavid writes in the Wall Street Journal that when Republicans take control of the House, they will be changing the name of the Education and Labor Committee to the Education and Workforce Committee. Apparently, Republicans so hate labor unions they cannot even abide the word “labor.”

This committee changes names every time control of Congress passes to the other party. It had been Education and Labor for a long time, but in 1994 the Newt Gingrich House changed the name to Economic and Educational Opportunities, thereby eliminating both work and labor. But no one liked that name, so later Republicans changed it to Education and Workforce. But when the Dems took Congress back in 2006, it became Education and Labor again. And round and round we go.

Bendavid writes,

“Workforce” is a term employers are likely to use, while “labor” is more evocative of the union movement—after all, they call it the American Federation of Labor. … “Education and the Workforce was the name selected by Republicans more than a decade ago to reflect the committee’s broad jurisdiction over polices that affect American students, workers, and retirees,” explained Alexa Marrero, a spokeswoman for committee Republicans.

And that’s it — “workforce” is a term employers are likely to use; it is the mass of people who are employed or employable; a resource for employers. However, “labor” can also refer to all people within an economy who work for wages, not just organized unions. In that usage it is a synonym for “workforce.”

So what’s the big deal? IMO Republicans see a “workforce” as something docile and exploitable. A “workforce” doesn’t stand up for itself; it meekly takes its paychecks and does what it’s told.

But labor has muscles. It is uppity and makes demands. Can’t have that.

Christmas Maha-Spectacular

OK, maybe semi-spectacular.

Here’s my Christmas present, which I’m bringing to you with some trepidation, as I fear a lot of hits will overwhelm the host site. But Christmas is a low-traffic day, so … I’ve mentioned I sing with a community chorus, The Westchester Chorale. A local cable company videotaped the chorus’s recent concert and put the video online. So here’s some Christmas music, including the first part of Messiah and Hallelujah Chorus, plus a couple of shorter pieces. Sorry we don’t have an orchestra, but we’re on a budget. (If by chance some philanthropic music lover sees this and wants to become a benefactor, contact the Chorale via the website.) The organist was good, though. If you don’t have software to view it, I recommend RealPlayer, which is a free download.

My personal favorite part of the concert was the countertenor soloist, Jeffrey Mandelbaum. He starts singing just before the 29 minute mark. If you aren’t accustomed to countertenors, prepare for a bit of a surprise. Then enjoy the beautiful voice. The other soloists are good, too.

The host site is a local community cable site that probably gets 100 visitors a week, so if the video isn’t coming up we may have swamped their server. Let me know in the comments.

Enjoy your day.