Why the Economy Doesn’t Matter


Okay – obviously it does. We still have weak economic growth, high unemployment, and a lack of consumer confidence. However, as Keynes pointed out decades ago, and as Paul Krugman recently referenced, due to “use, decay, and obsolescence” economies eventually fix themselves. Basically, as products, machinery, or equipment grows old, breaks down, or becomes obsolete – it needs to be replaced. This means businesses and individuals start buying more products, and the economy returns itself to normal.

I bring this up because so often the question in the Presidential race is who is best suited to fix this economy. Not to say this issue shouldn’t be addressed, but it overshadows so many other issues. Since we are in a recession, we as a country forget there are other problems and issues a President must address.

The United States is facing an education crisis; our standing on the world stage continually dropping. Not to mention there are underfunded and understaffed schools across the country.  Both sides have offered little more than campaign platitudes, and good feeling rhetoric like “Hire more teachers!” In fairness to the President though, he does have his Race to the Top initiative, which focuses on increasing funding for k-12 education. (He did a terrible job communicating details of the plan during the debate) Similarly, Democrats have been trying to increase funding for Pell grants, and are working to  keep interest rates low on student loans. Conversely, the Ryan plan slashes education, including cuts to programs like Head Start and Pell grants. Also, we have seen Republican Governors attempt to balance their budgets by getting rid of teachers and other public employees.

The next President is also likely to make two Supreme Court nominees, which means whomever wins this election, his stance on social issues will have a greater bearing on policy than normal. This is troubling, especially considering we have absolutely no idea what Mitt Romney actually believes on the issue of abortion, and in the debate, Paul Ryan hinted he would be in favor of overturning Roe vs. Wade. Furthermore, as state courts contemplate the issue of gay marriage, it is only a matter of time before the Supreme Court weighs in. Yes, jobs are important, but it is also important that women continue to have the right to make decisions about their body, and it is also important we work toward giving all persons equal rights regardless of sexual orientation.

Finally, as I’ve argued before, the greatest threat to this country is not the debt, it’s not China, and contrary to many Catholic groups, it’s not gay people – it’s climate change. Climate change not only threatens the lives  of people across the globe, but it has and will continue to devastate the world economy. The longer we wait, the more expensive it will be to fix, and the harder it will be to reverse. Addressing climate change will be the single most difficult task our country has faced. Not because we don’t know how to fix it, or it’s a problem on too big of a scale to solve – it’s because one of the political parties doesn’t even believe it exists. Even though the scientific evidence is overwhelmingly in support of climate change, the right insists it must be a left-wing conspiracy.

So as election day nears, remember, this country faces more challenges than just the economy. They are challenges of a type that being a businessman doesn’t automatically qualify you to address. As voters we should elect a President who believes in funding the eduction of future generations, not cutting it in the name of fiscal responsibility. We should elect a President who believes in protecting the rights of women and extending equal rights to all persons, not suppressing individual liberties to cater to the extreme wing of the base. And although both parties have stalled on the issue of climate change, for God’s sake, we should elect a President who sides with the scientists (and the rest of the developed world for that matter) and recognizes the threat is real, not one who believes the entire scientific community is pulling some giant prank.

P.S. I also believe Obama is better suited to fix the economy – See here, here, here, and here

Constitutional – Part 2


Remember in late March when political pundits, writers, and journalists, from across the ideological spectrum, lambasted Solicitor General, Don Verrilli, for what was thought at the time, an inadequate and weak defense of the Affordable Care Act.  Recordings from the hearing gave much political fodder, as Verrilli stumbled through his defense and gave a few lack luster answers to questions from the conservative Justices.  Grainy audio of the defense was even used in an ad attacking the Affordable Care Act. Well, after the events of this morning, Verrilli has been vindicated.

As I’m sure you’re aware, the Supreme Court made a 5-4 decision upholding the Constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act. Surprisingly, the swing vote came from, normally conservative, Chief Justice Roberts.

Now, back in March, when Verrilli was getting heat for his performance, critics attacked his use of the Commerce Clause to defend the individual mandate – that got all the headline news.  What got little coverage was the fact that this was not the only defense used by Verrilli to justify the individual mandate.

He also argued the penalty imposed by the Affordable Care Act for not purchasing healthcare was essentially a tax, which the United States government absolutely has the power to levy. This defense proved convincing enough for Chief Justice Roberts, and is the reason he decided to side with the 4 more liberal Justices on the issue. Basically, the government cannot force anyone to buy health insurance, but it can tax people who choose not to.

It should be noted that justifying the individual mandate using the Commerce Clause was deemed unconstitutional; this time Justice Roberts agreed with the 4 conservative judges.

Another issue resolved from the ruling deals with the expansion of Medicaid. Under the Affordable Care Act, Medicaid was expanded to cover more low-income Americans. This is going to be accomplished by increasing federal expenditures to the states’ Medicaid funds. (Medicaid is already state-run insurance funded by the federal government) The issue with the expansion of Medicaid was what to do with the states that did not want the money. Justices Ginsburg and Sotomayor held that it was Constitutional to strip states, which did not want the expansion, of all of their Medicaid funding. However, the other Justices felt this was an overreach in Congress’s power. What they settled on was states who did not want the expansion would be left alone. But states that did agree to the expansion must follow all the rules and regulations that come with the extra funding.

Overall, the vast majority of the law was deemed Constitutional with the one caveat about the Medicaid expansion. The ruling was a big win for Obama and the Democrats, but hopefully in the future this ruling will be seen as a win for everybody.

Constitutional!


It appears as though the individual mandate has survived. The SCOTUS blog has reported that the ACA is constitutional with Justice Roberts voting left.

While we wait for more information and details to come, I think this is a shining example of how the Unites States political system is supposed to work.  So much of the news this week was about how the Supreme Court has become politicized. It is refreshing to see something not fall on political lines. It is refreshing to see lawmakers do the right thing.

Let’s not forget, beyond all the heated political rhetoric that went along with the ACA, the law itself was not about politics. The heart of the law was to ensure the millions of uninsured Americans in this country have access to affordable health care. Thankfully we are now one step closer to achieving this goal.

More to come later.

Is Money Speech?


If you have followed this election cycle then you know it is difficult to go a few days without hearing “Super PAC” this or “Super PAC” that.  I have written before about the devastating effects of the Citizens United ruling and resulting creation of these super PACs, but there is  legal reasoning as to why super PACs should be legal.  In the court’s view persons, including corporations and unions, should be able to contribute unlimited amounts of money to super PACs.  The court decided by limiting this right, a “person’s” free speech would be infringed.  So this begs the question: Is money speech?

(Before I begin I want to make clear this is not a discussion about whether or not a corporation is a person.  Although I do not believe a corporation should be entitled to the rights and responsibilities of people –  that is a different Supreme Court ruling. )

Before we can begin a discussion of whether or not limiting campaign contributions is an infringement on the First Amendment, we have to break down the First Amendment to the Constitution.  The First Amendment allows for the freedom of speech.  If we make that leap, and say that “money” equals “speech”, freedom does not necessarily mean unlimited freedom (i.e., unlimited money or campaign contributions).  First Amendment rights have historically been limited in many ways: we cannot shout fire in a crowded theatre nor can we say “bomb” on an airplane. Basically the courts have decided that if speech acts as a moral hazard to society then that particular speech is not protected by the First Amendment.

In other words, you cannot merely throw out the term “First Amendment” and logically conclude that every form of speech (or money) is magically swept under its magic cape.  If we agree that there are limitations on the First Amendment (which, once again, the US Supreme Court has withheld and imposed many times over the past two centuries) there is a strong legal argument against the Citizens United ruling.  By allowing corporations, unions and individuals to spend unlimited amounts of money for political purposes then we no longer have a democracy where each person has an equal voice and an equal say.  Instead we have a system where the rich have a disproportional amount of the political sway in Washington and on K Street while the average American is left virtually voiceless

If spending money to influence elections is deemed equivalent to “speech” and therefore entitled to unbridled protection under the First Amendment, an argument can be made that this type of unencumbered spending (speech), does present a moral hazard.  The Citizens United ruling has given a disproportionate voice to wealthiest Americans when it comes to influencing elections.  The rich have been getting richer and middle and lower class citizens have seen stagnate wages. Since the 1980s the top one percent has seen their income rise by 273 percent compared to around 45 percent growth in the middle class. Further, those middle and lower class individuals have not been given a fighting chance to become wealthier because America’s social mobility (the ability to go from poor to rich) is the worst among developed countries –see here.   So with the Citizens United ruling we now have a system where the already powerful now have more power and it is unlikely they will lose any of it.

Is it any wonder Washington caters to big business and special interest groups? Our politicians put these entities before the normal person.  I feel a system that allows for entities to give unlimited amounts of money to Washington while the normal person cannot even conceive of donating that amount of money is an unfair system. It is a moral hazard.  Just like you can’t shout fire in a movie theatre or say bomb on an airplane; corporations, unions and individuals should not be allowed to give unlimited sums of money towards political purposes.