Supreme Court – Inconsistant Decisions

Yesterday (4/22/2014),  in the case on affirmative action, Schuette v. Coalition, the Supreme Court rule that voters could outlaw the use of race in college admissions. Michigan passed a voter-approved change to its constitution that banned the use of race in college admissions.

According to the SCOTUS blog writeup about the decision (emphasis mine):

Those two Justices [Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas], however, would have gone considerably further, and declared that no policy that takes race into account can be upheld if it is not a direct remedy for intentional racial discrimination — in other words, they would allow race-conscious programs of dealing with policies that have a more negative effect on minorities, even if that is not intended.

Now in the voter ID case, Crawford v. Marion County Election Bd, the SCOTUS blog had this to say about the decision (emphasis mine), “The main opinion said states have a valid interest in preventing voting by those not entitled to do so, even if there is no specific proof of that kind of fraud in the state.”

Now, these decisions are inconsistent. In the Schuette case, it seems that unless there is actual damage to individuals, you cannot justify action. In the Crawford case, the state can take action because they have a vested interest to protect against a possible harm. Either you must show actual harm (voter fraud), in which case the Crawford decision is wrong, or the state has a vested interest to protect against racial discrimination, in which case the Schuette decision is wrong.

If the state has vested interests to protect voting rights and protect against racial discrimination, then both decisions are wrong. Unfortunately, protecting voting rights was not the primary concern in the Crawford case.

I just wish that certain justices on the Supreme Court would be more interested in protecting voting rights and the rights of individuals and minorities instead of making it harder to enforce those rights.

Trickle-down myth

March 17, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Economy, Trade, Trickle-down economics 

Economist and Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz makes a compelling case against the Trans-Pascific Partnership trade agreement in this editorial.

At the end of the editorial, Stiglitz makes a statement that every politician and policy maker needs to know:

“Trickle-down economics is a myth.”

Stiglitz says he has repeatedly emphasized this point, but obviously many people have not received the message. So the next time anybody tries to justify any policies with trickle-down economics, tell them they are wrong and to base their policies on something that actually works.

Actions 2014

At the start of 2013, I published a list of actions that would solve the health care crisis in the United States, improve the economy, and create better government. Unfortunately, as 2014 starts, all these actions still need to be enacted, and some new ones need to be added. Here is the update list.

1. Enact single-payer health care system.

2. Properly fund programs for SNAP (food stamps), housing, etc. for people in need. Increase spending for food programs and housing programs so everybody has enough to eat and adequate housing. Extend unemployment insurance for those in need.

3. Commit to education fully. Let’s establish that class sizes should have no more than 20 students though high school and work to increase the number of teachers to meet this goal. Provide public funding for students through at least the undergraduate level of college.

4. Address income inequality by requiring that top executives pay increases or bonuses must be less than or equal to the increases or bonuses paid to employees.

5. Make gun safety laws stricter by enacting the following requirements:

  • Require background checks for anybody buying a gun.
  • Require training in gun safety.
  • Make straw man purchasing of guns illegal. Require valid gun registration to buy ammunition.
  • Allow researchers and law enforcement officials to use the gun registration database to track guns in crime.

6. Enact a stimulus bill. Debt is not the main concern now, jobs are. We can start by rebuilding infrastructure and allowing the debt ceiling to increase automatically.

7. Get rid of corporate welfare and prohibit special tax breaks (incentives) for individual companies.

8. Make the following changes to the tax code:

  • Enact a financial transaction tax.
  • Change tax laws so that only amount of income determines tax rates, not source of income.
  • Change tax laws to remove loopholes so profitable companies must pay taxes and remove tax breaks on foreign profits.
  • Change tax law to remove separate taxes on wages. Have only one federal income tax and allocate percentages to pay for Social Security and Medicare.

9. Require complete disclosure of all financial donations to politicians and political campaigns.

10. Require that all lobbyist meetings be documented with a summary of issues and what the lobbyist requested. (These should be posted every week on the Internet.)

11. Only allow citizens who are eligible to vote in an election or who can register to vote in an election to contribute to campaigns. This would require overturning Citizen’s United v. Federal Election Commission either by the Supreme Court or with a constitutional amendment.

12. Research and support clean, renewable energy.

13. Get rid of the debt ceiling. The cost to the economy is too great if the government shuts down, and many experts consider the debt ceiling unconstitutional.

14. If the government does shut down, then all members of Congress should lose wages just like other government employees.

15. Increase penalties to at least three times the profits made via fraud or other criminal acts. Too often firms engage in illegal activity and are hit with minimal fines. Not only should fines be increased, but the executives responsible should be prosecuted, and if found guilty, required to spend some serious time in jail.

Too often it is unclear what actions need to be take to improve the U.S. These actions provide a starting point for reforms that would significantly improve the quality of life in the U.S. and provide a government that is more accountable.


Equations of Equality

August 28, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: LGBT, Racism 

Black = White

Not yet, but many people are working for it and for equal rights regardless gender or sexual preference. Hopefully, at least when it comes to equality, the following equations will also become true:

  • Women = Men
  • Homosexual = Heterosexual

As we reflect on the 50th anniversary of the “I Have a Dream” speech, the recent assault on voting rights in Texas, North Carolina, Ohio, and other states show that vigilance and aggressive laws are still needed to protect the rights of citizens, especially minorities and indigents.

Indomitable spirits and actions are required to defeat the racism and discrimination that still exist. When it comes to voting, not only should we eliminate the unnecessary photo ID laws, but also we should automatically register people to vote when they become eligible. In a modern democratic society there is no reason not to.


The Right Incentives for Health Care

May 26, 2013 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Health Care 

In The New York Times editorial today, “Obama’s Other Surprise,” Thomas Friedman says:

Obamacare is based on the notion that a main reason we pay so much more than any other industrial nation for health care, without better results, is because the incentive structure in our system is wrong. Doctors and hospitals are paid primarily for procedures and tests, not health outcomes. The goal of the health care law is to flip this fee-for-services system (which some insurance companies are emulating) to one where the government pays doctors and hospitals to keep Medicare patients healthy and the services they do render are reimbursed more for their value than volume.

Friedman continues by saying that entrepreneurs are developing applications that sift through mounds of data to find the best health outcomes. Thomas Friedman is half right. While I am not sure what notion Obamacare is based on, other than what might have been politically possible, it is true that our incentive structure is wrong. We do need to stop paying for fee-for-services, and that is part of the problem. The other problem is the for-profit insurance industry, which has high administrative costs and attempts to avoid paying for clients’ medical care. The solution is a single-payer system that establishes global budgets for health care providers. This would still leave the market open for entrepreneurs because medical providers would want the most effective care to lower costs.

Our national health care cost as a percentage of GDP is currently at least 50 percent greater than any other nation. To reduce these costs, we need to eliminate all unnecessary expenses, whether they are unnecessary medical procedures or unnecessary administrative expenses caused by insurance companies that increase costs without adding value. Currently, 84 million people will be without health insurance at some point this year.

A single-payer system would cover everybody and reduce costs providing the best and only viable solution to our current and future health care dilemmas.

Bridge Collapse

Another bridge has collapsed.  The I-5 Skagit River Bridge in Washington fell about 7 p.m. on Thursday. Like a plunging bridge, the infrastructure of the United States plunges ever closer to being like a third-world country.

The America Society of Civil Engineers’ (ASCE) most recent infrastructure Report Card gave bridges a grade of C-plus. This is better than the overall grade of D-plus, but still nothing to be proud of. If a bridge were in a family, I can just picture it saying to mom and dad, “Gee mom and dad, I did better than average.”

Washington state’s overall infrastructure grade was C with the bridges earning a C-minus. “Gee mom and dad, a C-minus is passing.”

Our infrastructure ranking has declined from 6th in the world in 2007 to 16th in 2012, and to 25th place in 2013. This dismal decline illustrates the failure of all levels of government to tax so infrastructure projects could be funded properly. The ASCE estimates that we need about $514 billion per year for 7 years to bring our infrastructure grade to a B.

We could finance infrastructure projects and jumpstart the economy by taxing the $1.7 trillion in earnings that U.S. multinational corporations have hoarded overseas. At the current tax rate, this would bring in about $595 of spending money. The excess could be used for food aid, medical care, or education.

And, perhaps one day, the bridge can say to mom and dad, “I got an A, aren’t you proud?” I know I would be.


Oklahoma Tragedy

May 21, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Climate Change 

My heart and sympathies are with the individuals and families who have lost loved ones in the Oklahoma tornado.

Misinformation, Climate Change, Objective Reporting

May 19, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Climate Change, Misinformation 

Misinformation can be hard to fight, and unfortunately, it consistently gets spread on a variety of topics. For reporters, one of the toughest topics can be how to challenge misinformation. A good reporter strives to be objective and fair. This generally means that all sides deserve a chance to present their view. However, sometimes this portrayal means that all sides are given the same validity, which presents a false view of the facts.

The climate change debate epitomizes this issue. Often, one person is allowed to argue that climate change is real and man-made, while the other person argues that climate change is not happening or is due to natural causes beyond the control of humans. This implies that about half of the experts believe that climate change is real while the other half has doubts about it.

The facts tell a different story. A recently released study found that 97 percent of the papers and, more importantly, that the same percentage of climate scientists agree that human activity causes climate change. For many years the overwhelming scientific consensus has been that climate change is man-made.

If journalists are going to publish, as legendary reporter Carl Bernstein said, “the best obtainable version of the truth,” then a new standard is needed for presenting the validity of controversial topics. Journalists must present the news in a way that reveals the expert consensus so that people understand how much disagreement or agreement there actually is. For climate change, this would require stating that there is essentially no controversy about the issue. While balance may require presenting all sides, objectivity requires that the validity of arguments also be presented. Balance without objectivity in neither balanced nor fair.

The other action journalists must take is to disclose and challenge when officials make statements that are not true. If officials know that they are going to be challenged, then perhaps they would be more careful in what they say.

Two of the most egregious misinformation examples are that the passage of health care reform would result in  “death panels,” and the claim that Saddam Hussein was linked to 9/11. The latter misinformation was so effectively spread that at one time more than two-thirds of the U.S. population believed Hussein was involved in the 9/11 attacks. This misconception contributed to the United States entry into the Iraq War in March 2003.

The consequences of misinformation can be deadly, which is why journalists must always strive to accurately portray “the best obtainable version of the truth.” If the portrayal requires tougher questioning and challenging officials, then we need to start immediately.

No tax money for private stadiums

May 16, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Taxes, Uncategorized 

Here is another case of public money going to a private organization. Chicago is proposing giving $125 million to help DePaul University build a new stadium. This is no better than giving taxes to professional sports team or giving taxes to businesses without knowing what public interest is served—which happens way too often.

Most studies indicate that using public funds to build sports arenas makes for bad investments. Another problem with using public funding for private entities is that it gives the entity an unfair advantage over other businesses. The biggest problem is that it misplaces priorities.

If Chicago has an extra $125 million, then there are much better uses for the money. Funds could be applied to scholarships or basic research if the money is going to be used at institutions of higher learning. Other appropriate uses would be for health care, reducing poverty, or reducing Chicago’s high murder rate.

Stadiums, however, should not even be in the discussion.


Punish the poor; why not just criminalize them

May 15, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Poverty 

Benefits will drop an average of $1.40 per person per meal once the temporary boost to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) expires on November 1. The 2009 Recovery Act gave an interim benefit increase to SNAP (formerly known as food stamps). The Senate Agriculture Committee approved a bill on Tuesday that would cut food stamps by $4 billion while it expands federally subsidized crop insurance.

The Senate bill’s cut in food assistance and increase in crop subsidies is wrongheaded, but is paltry compared to the bill proposed in the House. Last Friday, Rep. Frank Lucas, Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, and the Committee’s ranking member, Rep. Collin Peterson, proposed a farm bill that would cut SNAPby almost $21 billion over the next decade, eliminating food assistance to nearly 2 million low-income people, mostly working families with children and senior citizens.  The proposal reduces total farm bill spending by an estimated $39.7 billion over ten years, so more than half of its cuts come from SNAP,” according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

I am surprised and repulsed by the Senate’s bill and just repulsed by the House’s bill. Anything the House does to harm the poor does not surprise me anymore.

If Congress really wants to punish the poor, then they should make being poor a crime. Prison time could be added so the poor are thrown in jail. After all, we already allow creditors to take money even if it takes food from the mouth of children and adults, so prison could be viewed a viable option. The one downside to my plan is that once the poor are in prison we would have to feed them, and we wouldn’t want that, would we?

My only concern is that someone might actually think that criminalizing the poor is a good idea.

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