Friday, July 31, 2009

Was a Nurse Forced to Perform an Abortion?

A pro-life Catholic nurse is in the news for allegedly being forced to provide an abortion. The nurse in question is Catherina Cenzon-DeCarlo. Here’s how the situation unfolded:

Bosses told the weeping Cenzon-DeCarlo the patient was 22 weeks into her pregnancy and had preeclampsia, a condition marked by high blood pressure that can lead to seizures or death if left untreated.
The supervisor "claimed that the mother could die if [Cenzon-DeCarlo] did not assist in the abortion."

But the nurse, the niece of a Filipino bishop, contends that the patient's life was not in danger. She argued that the patient was not even on magnesium therapy, a common treatment for preeclampsia, and did not have problems indicating an emergency.

Her pleas were rejected, and instead she was threatened with career-ending charges of insubordination and patient abandonment, according to the lawsuit, filed Tuesday in Brooklyn federal court.

Feeling threatened, Cenzon-DeCarlo assisted in the procedure.

She said she later learned that the hospital's own records deemed the procedure "Category II," which is not considered immediately life threatening.
"I felt violated and betrayed," she recalled. "I couldn't believe that this could happen."

Read the rest of the article here.

Should she have been forced to participate in the abortion? Whether the woman’s life was truly in danger remains in dispute. If it wasn’t, then it seems like the hospital could have found another nurse who had no objections to assisting in an abortion and avoided this problem entirely. The pro-choice position should extend beyond the woman seeking an abortion. The doctors and nurses should be able to choose whether they want to perform abortions or not.

It becomes thornier when we consider the possibility that the woman’s life was in danger. If that’s true, then the hospital might have been in the right morally in making the nurse perform the abortion. Maybe another nurse couldn’t have been found in time and a woman would be dead because the nurse refused to participate. This is truly a difficult situation. The hospital in question would have been choosing to take someone’s life, or trample on someone’s religious conviction. The nurse in question could well (in her own mind) have been choosing between going to hell and keeping her job.

If this incident becomes well publicized, it could again make abortion an issue politically. On one hand will be pro-lifers and many people of faith claiming that the secular, pro-abortion left isn’t satisfied with rewriting the constitution to let women get abortions; it wants to force religious people who hate abortion to perform it. On the other hand could be feminists and other leftists who say that pro-lifers are so blinded by their religion and ideology that they’re willing to let a woman die.

What do you think? Should nurses and doctors be required to perform an abortion when a woman’s life is in danger, even if they have religious objections to abortion? Take the poll, and sound off in the comments section.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Democrats Are in Trouble

The Democrats are in trouble. New polls show them losing ground when matched up with the Republicans. An NPR poll showed Republicans leading Democrats in the generic congressional vote by 1%. A Rasmussen poll had the margin at 3%. At the same time, the NPR poll gives President Obama a 53% approval rating while Rasmussen gives him only a 49% rating, with 50% disapproving.

In some ways this isn’t surprising. President Obama’s approval rating has been declining for some time now, as I noted here.

I think there are three reasons for the slip in support for the Democrats.

The first is the state of the economy. The economy is still shedding jobs, and people are worried about when it will improve. I think that that will take a while as I detailed here, so the Democrats will have to face mounting voter frustration for some time. The party in power is usually blamed for a bad economy. For example, while most people remember Reagan as a popular President, his approval rating dipped substantially during the intense recession in the early 1980s. In fact, in January of 1983, 50% of Americans disapproved of the job he was doing. His rating recovered when the economy did.

Second, I think the Sotomayor confirmation hearings have hurt the Democrats with certain groups, particularly working class white voters. She has turned out to be fairly divisive. A Zogby poll found that Americans who know enough to form an opinion are evenly split, 49% to 49% on whether she should be confirmed. All-important independent voters oppose her by a margin of 55% to 44%.

This is surely because of her infamous “wise Latina comments” and her ruling in the New Haven firefighter case. Taken together, these have caused the impression that she might not be fair to whites. And they have sparked a national conversation on affirmative action, and our culture of political correctness. The Democrats mostly support affirmative action, and a Democratic President nominated Sotomayor.

Third, Democrats are running into trouble on healthcare. There has been a considerable campaign waged against Democratic proposals to expand coverage. People have been hearing that their care will be rationed, and that they will be forced onto a government-run plan. Moreover, this comes at a time when Americans are concerned about government debt.

I think all of this explains the problems the Democrats are having.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Moral Case for Universal Healthcare

I thought Ezra Klein of the Washington Post had an interesting post yesterday. In it, he wondered why Democrats were not making the moral case for healthcare as much as the economic case.

We have heard about proposals to make our healthcare system more sound. These range from taxing employer benefits to reduce healthcare inflation, to mandating insurance to make for better risk pools. Click on the hyperlinks to see proposals I’ve written about.

Indeed there is a moral case to be made for universal coverage. It’s that a person who works hard and plays by the rules shouldn’t have to go bankrupt because he suddenly develops cancer and has no insurance to help him cover it. The moral case can also be framed as one of rights. Healthcare is important to the ability to live a dignified life, just as education is. In the richest country on earth, people shouldn’t die prematurely for want of money when it is easy for us as a society to help.

Now there is another moral case to be made against universal healthcare. It goes something like this: some people work harder than others, and some people have more unhealthy habits, and unfortunate dispositions. Why should a CEO who works 80 hours a week pay extra taxes to insure someone who eats big Macs and doesn’t work as hard? But that moral case becomes a much harder sell the moment you substitute say a working class construction worker who works 50 hours a week. Americans want that person to have adequate health insurance.

I think the White Houses is focusing more on the economic case because of the state of affairs in the country. We are in an economic crisis, and so reforms need to be shown to reduce costs. We also have a substantial deficit, so Americans are leery of adding to it. Still, the moral case for universal healthcare is a persuasive one, and should be made.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

What Republicans Got Out of the Sotomayor Hearings

Sonia Sotomayor will be confirmed to the Supreme Court. That is a given, as I’ve detailed before on this blog. So what, if anything, did Republicans get out of the confirmation hearings?

As it turns out, I think Republicans achieved everything they realistically could. First, they were able to put affirmative action on trial. They did this by asking repeatedly about the New Haven firefighter case—even going so far as to call Ricci himself to testify against Sotomayor. Ricci is perhaps the most sympathetic victim of affirmative action they could have found. Affirmative action is a tool they can use to drive a wedge between working class whites and the Democratic Party in the 2010 midterm elections.

On a related note, Republicans were able to put so called “political correctness” on trial. Several times, Republican Senators asked Sotomayor about her wise Latina comments. She was forced to back away from them and say that no ethnic group has an advantage over another in judging.” This probably doesn’t do much politically, but it does give some red meat to the Republican base.

Lastly, Republicans got Sotomayor to disavow Obama’s empathy criterion for picking judges. When asked whether empathy should decide cases, she said no. Republicans can now say “even Obama’s own nominee says empathy is a bad standard.” They will no doubt use this fact to try to pressure Obama into picking less liberal justices. At a minimum, Obama may tread more carefully when discussing the merits of empathy in the judiciary.

I don’t think Republicans hurt themselves too seriously with Hispanic voters in the hearings…yet. They have tried to be polite, and many praised her personal story. Surely some Hispanics found the constant questions about the wise Latina comments annoying. But this will be forgotten by the midterm elections next year as more pressing issues such as the economy take center stage.

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Gates Saga Continued

The arrest of Henry Louis Gates has ballooned into a much bigger controversy than I expected, so I couldn’t help weighing in on the latest developments. There are a few issues I want to address:

1. Should Gates have been arrested?

This question has become increasingly complicated in recent days. It’s come out that a black officer at the scene supports Gates’ arrest. More of what Gates said has been disseminated as well. When asked to step outside, he apparently said, “I’ll talk with your mama outside.” Still, when asked, Gates did show his identification. Hence he could not have been breaking and entering, or burglarizing the house. So the arrest was made for disorderly conduct. All sides agree that Gates was shouting at the officer. But I’m not sure that warrants an arrest. Why does wearing a police uniform make you exempt from criticism or chastisement? Gates could have chosen to berate anyone else verbally in his home, and he wouldn’t have been arrested. So it seems, like the police officer was just pulling rank in the situation.

2. Was President Obama right to intervene in the situation?

At his press conference last week, Obama said the police had “acted stupidly” in the situation. That caused a firestorm of controversy. The police union has called upon Obama to apologize for his comments. I think weighing in was a mistake for Obama. When he admitted he didn’t know all of the facts, yet still weighed in on the side of his friend, he opened himself to charges of favoritism. He’s also taken the spotlight off his signature initiative, healthcare. Now people are talking about this incident and Obama’s statements instead of healthcare. This is not a distraction he needed right now. Obama has since walked back his “stupidly” comments and called the police officer to let him know he wasn’t trying to malign him.

Obama can still fix the situation. He has invited the police officer and Gates to the White House and will try and make a show of reconciliation. He could get a favorable photo-op. And then this week, he needs to work his hardest to focus our attention again on healthcare.

3. Was racism at play in this incident?

It’s harder to say that now than it was a few days ago. As noted above, the black officer at the scene supports the arrest. And there’s no doubt that Gates was behaving arrogantly. The argument can be made that the policeman arrested Gates not out of racial animus, but out of anger at the way Gates was treating him. That doesn’t make the arrest right, but it could mean it wasn’t racist. The key here is whether the police officer would have arrested a white man who was similarly hectoring him. There is no evidence from the officer’s record to indicate that he’s racist. He even teaches classes on racial profiling, and has been praised as professional by those he’s served with.

Where racism might have played a role was at the very beginning. The white woman who called the police upon the two black men trying to get into Gates’ house could have been acting on racial prejudice. She might not for example, have called the police on two attractive white women doing the same thing. If not, then prejudice of some kind was at play.

4. What does this mean for race relations in America in 2009?

I worry that this could inflame race relations. After the election of Obama in 2008, it seemed like race relations could only improve. But this situation upsets blacks, many of whom feel this is one more instance of police mistreatment of black men. They tend to see it as a symptom of a larger disease that leads to the disproportionate stopping of black drivers, to white clerks tailing black clients in stores, and even to shootings like Amadou Diallo’s. But whites could see this as situation as a continuing pattern of poor treatment of white men. It could be seen as working class whites like Frank Ricci and the officer in this case who are always hurt by affirmative action, and our politically correct culture. If that happens, then the politics of racial grievance could be making a return in the near-future.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Article on the Drug Wars

I thought you might enjoy this article on the weekend. To read it, go here.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Is Healthcare a Right?

In the discussions about healthcare reform, some conservatives are making an interesting claim. They say that healthcare is not a right, and that we are not obligated to provide it. For an example of such an argument, read this article.

The author writes:

Did you have a right to chemotherapy in 1600 AD? You could have protested to Parliament all you wanted, but chemo just didn't exist. Then, did you have a right to it the moment some genius invented it? You did not pay for the research. You did not make the breakthrough. Where do you get the right? How did it come into existence for you the moment somebody else created these things? I'm pretty sure you cannot have rights to material goods that don't exist, and I am pretty certain that the moment some genius (or business, or even government) brings them into the world your "rights" do not improve. But strangely, many disagree.

This however does not prove that healthcare is not a right in the modern sense. If I were talking to the author, I would ask if he thought some form of education is a right. Most people, including conservatives think that it is. Why? Because we think it facilitates our ability to function as members of a Democratic society, to enjoy our rights and fulfill our duties. To be able to vote, serve on juries, join the military, exercise meaningful free speech, we need to have some base level of education.

That is where the above argument falls apart. Most of us wouldn’t say poor kids don’t have a right to basic education because they can’t afford to pay for books or teachers. We also wouldn’t tell poor kids they don’t have a right to education because somebody else came up with the idea of school.

Applying this logic to healthcare, we might say that healthcare facilitates our ability to enjoy rights and fulfill our obligations. How can you go to school, work, join the military, or serve on a jury if you aren’t reasonably healthy? And the way you get reasonably healthy is by getting healthcare.

To be cute, the author would ask if we have an obligation to give everyone $100,000 facelifts or a $200,000 brand new surgery technique. The answer is no, just as we don’t have an obligation to send every kid to Andover. But just as we guarantee a minimum standard of education that we can reasonably provide, we should guarantee a minimum standard of healthcare that we reasonably can. If most other industrialized countries can provide a minimum, why can’t we? I’m sure we can reasonably provide many treatments that people have to go without because they happen to lack the money.

It is clear that the author primarily thinks of rights in a negative sense. That is he thinks we have a right to free speech or freedom of religion, but he does not think the government has an affirmative obligation to help us exercise them. That is true in some ways. If you want to launch a racist tirade against some minority group, the government does not have to buy you airtime on the radio. That is because your right to go on a racist tirade doesn’t facilitate any of your other rights.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

States and the Financial Crisis

James Surrowieki has an interesting article in the New Yorker
about the financial crisis and how it's affecting the

I think Surrowieki is right in noting that states could
retard the process of recovery. Most states are required by
law to balance the budget.

The bad economy means more people out of work and less tax
revenue. That leaves states two bad options. They can cut
back on important social programs which will make the
downturn even harder on the poor. These cuts could
eventually compromise the quality of public schools, or
force states to cut financial aid for poor students. That
will make it even harder to climb the economic ladder for
poor kids.

Alternatively, states can raise taxes. But given the depth of
their budget gaps and the number out of work, taxes would
have to rise a lot on those with jobs. That could depress
consumer spending which would prevent the economy from
recovering. States with high income taxes like California
and New York will have to worry about whether their rates
will cause the wealthy and entrepreneurs to leave, which
could leave the tax base even smaller.

My hunch is that some mix will happen. Taxes will rise, and
services will be cut at precisely the worst time for such a
thing to happen.

In the short term, the federal government can step in and
help states by providing aid as the stimulus package has
done. But all that does is increase the federal debt, which
means income taxes might have to rise eventually. Still
since the feds have a bigger borrowing capacity than the
states, this is a realistic option.

Would it be a good idea for the states to nix heir balanced
budget requirements? In this crisis, sure. But I do see the
value of having such an amendment to restrain politicians
from borrowing endlessly. In most good years then, the
requirement is a good thing. But perhaps there can be an
exception made for times of crisis like this.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Henry Louis Gates and Racism in America

The biggest news this week was the arrest of Henry Louis Gates under suspicious circumstances. Last Thursday, Gates had trouble unlocking a jammed door when a neighbor called the police to report a possible break-in.

That’s where conflicting accounts begin. The police report says that Gates “was arrested after he yelled at the investigating officer repeatedly inside the residence then followed the officer outside, where Gates continued to upbraid him.” Allegedly Gates said that he was being targeted because “I'm a black man in America.” The Cambridge Police Department has dismissed all charges.

This saga raises an interesting three interesting questions. First, was it right for Gates to have been arrested in the first place? On one hand he was acting belligerently. But how would any of us act in that situation? If we were in our own homes minding our own business and had to show Ids to invading police officers, would we be happy? I’m unwilling to say that Gates should have been arrested for his behavior.

Here we should note that Gates had some luck. His celebrity and the prospect of a public outcry against the department could well have played some role in getting the charges dropped. A poor black man in Compton with no Charles Ogletree(Gates' lawyer) might still be in jail today.

Second, would this have happened to a white professor? I have my doubts as to whether the neighbor in question would have found a well-groomed white man on the porch of a nice home to be a break-in threat. But there is no way to know for sure. The police might well have arrested a white man shouting at them, but then again, if Gates had been white, they might not have been called to the scene in the first place.

Third, how common is this experience, if indeed it was racial profiling? That’s hard to tease out because it’s difficult to get people to agree on what instances constitute profiling. So I’m throwing the question to you. Take my poll. Do you think racial profiling still happens frequently?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Article on Religion

You can find it here

Is Sonia Sotomayor Pro-Life?

Continuing yesterday’s abortion theme, I wanted to consider what Sonia Sotomayor really thinks about abortion. Both Democrats and Republicans were anxious to hear her opinions on the subject.

Her record tells us little about how she would rule on Roe vs. Wade. Sotomayor dismissed a lawsuit regarding the Mexico City policy, which forbids taxpayer dollars from being used on abortions overseas. Doctors who accepted US funds weren’t allowed to tell women they could have an abortion. Sotomayor also issued a ruling in favor of pro-life protesters.

Despite the fact that she was nominated by a Democratic President, there are some who think she could be pro-life. There has been a curious lack of opposition from pro-life groups. A prominent pro-life Catholic, Bill Donahue even said he supported her nomination. Donahue thinks that “from what we know, it looks like she'll be at least a wash with Souter, and maybe we'll even see improvement.”

Sotomayor attended Catholic schools as a child, and there were clearly many years where she could have absorbed church teachings against abortion. There is some confusion about whether she’s currently a practicing Catholic. She’s also divorced and has no children. On the other hand, conservative Catholics have not indicated that they think she’s an unfaithful Catholic.

Perhaps pro-lifers are concerned about going after the first ever Latina nominee too hard. They could alienate socially conservative Hispanic voters if they’re perceived as mean or bullying. So they may reason, as Donahue does, that Sotomayor will just be a wash at worse, and there’s no use angering Hispanics by tearing her down. In other words, politics could be at play, too.

Even if she is religious, that doesn’t guarantee she’ll be pro-life. Plenty of religious Americans support a woman’s right to choose an abortion. A Marist poll last year found that 48% of Catholics are pro-choice. Among practicing Catholics, that drops to 29%. But that is still a significant percentage.

As a younger woman, Sotomayor was on the board of the Puerto-Rican Legal Defense Fund. The group likened refusing a woman access to abortion to slavery. But I’m not sure that Sotomayor necessarily agrees with every single position the group took. She could have joined mostly because she shared the group’s overall goal of fighting discrimination against Hispanics.

What do you think? Take my poll.

Monday, July 20, 2009

How Expansive is the Right to Privacy?

During Sotomayor’s confirmation hearings last week, questions about the right to privacy came up frequently from both Democratic and Republican Senators.

The right to privacy is usually thought to reside in the 14th and 4th amendments among others. Here’s the text of the relevant part of the 14th amendment:

“No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

The fourth amendment says this: “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated.”

I’m willing enough to accept that there’s an implicit right to privacy in the constitution. My question is why we’ve used it in such a limited manner. For example, the right to privacy gives women the power of life and death over their fetus when it’s in the womb. But the right to privacy doesn’t allow them to smoke pot or use heroine.

This inconsistent application of the right to privacy is especially interesting. You could argue on one hand that “we don’t even let a person smoke pot, how can we give them the power of life or death over a developing baby.” Or you could argue, “we even give people the ability to terminate a future person. How can we not allow them to smoke pot under the right to privacy?”

My hunch is that the primary reason for the inconsistency is our emotion. Women (and many men) can empathize with the plight of a woman who has learned she’s pregnant and wants an abortion. If they were in her shoes, they would want to be able to have an abortion and privacy. But people are terrified that drug dealers could corrupt their children and turn them into dangerous addicts. Most people have never done heroine or other hard drugs. So they can’t relate, and don’t want to relate.

What do you think? Does the right to privacy include the right to do drugs? Do we interpret the right to privacy consistently? Sound off in the comments section.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Amazon Store

As you'll notice on the left, we have an Amazon store on this blog. If you buy products from Amazon through this portal, the Gadson Review receives a percentage of the purchase. The Gadson Review appreciates financial support which allows it to continue to offer insightful commentary and analysis on the day's politics.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Thoughts on Ricci Testimony

Frank Ricci testified in congress yesterday for a few minutes at the behest of the judiciary committee’s Republicans. I thought he was eloquent and measured during his time. The important question though, is what effect will his remarks have on the confirmation hearings?

He won’t derail Sotomayor’s confirmation. Lindsay Graham (R-South Carolina) said himself that she’d be confirmed barring some meltdown. No such meltdown has occurred in the hearings. The Democrats have 60 votes in the Senate. That means the Republicans can’t filibuster unless a Democrat joins them (which won’t happen).

What this might do is spark a societal conversation about affirmative action. No one would argue that Ricci isn’t a sympathetic figure. At a time when we have a black President, seeing Ricci refused a promotion when New Haven summarily threw out the test results could cause an outcry among whites who feel that it’s time for affirmative action to end. It could also cause some whites who were on the fence to decide that affirmative action is unjust.

I could see Ricci becoming a conservative poster boy for opposition to affirmative action. Talk show radio and conservative candidates will invoke him when arguing against racial preferences. I think that is why Republicans really called him to testify. He has no legal expertise, and seems poorly situated to comment on Sotomayor’s legal abilities. They wanted him to talk about the injustice of affirmative action. So in short, I think Ricci did more harm to affirmative action than he did to Sotomayor’s nomination.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Universal Healthcare in Trouble?

There’s a chance that universal healthcare might not happen soon. According to a new Rasmussen poll, 49% of Americans believe President Obama should wait until the economy improves, while 42% believe he should act now. When you dig into the numbers though, you find that Americans still find healthcare reform to be important. Seventy-eight percent of voters say that reining in health spending is important; 46%v say it’s very important.

Previous polls have shown general enthusiasm for healthcare reform, and even a public option. A New York Times poll from June 20 found that 72% of respondents wanted a public option in health insurance.

I think the campaigns against healthcare reform have taken a toll. There are ads on TV warning how middle class people will be forced onto a government plan where they’ll be standing in line waiting for government bureaucrats to decide if they get that operation or not. The middle class must be persuaded that health care reform won’t come at their expense for it to pass. As it stands, many are satisfied with their healthcare plans. A CNN poll found that 80% of Americans are satisfied with their healthcare.

Now, many of those satisfied are surely young people who don’t have major health problems—yet—and have no reason to be dissatisfied. But when middle aged people have a heart attack and need expensive bypass surgery and find their insurance companies trying to avoid paying the cost, we’ll see how happy they really are with their healthcare. But I digress.

Americans are also likely worried about debt right now. There was a large budget deficit before Obama took office, and that has only grown since the stimulus package and the other spending measures. I wouldn’t be surprised if the deficit were a substantial issue in the midterm elections next year (though the economy will trump everything). So Americans are reluctant to spend another trillion dollars now.

Polls like this could give Republicans ammunition to do more to block certain reforms. They can say they have the American people on their side. This puts the Democrats in a tough position. If they try act now, they risk a backlash at the ballot box next November. On the other hand, they may never have another opportunity this good to push reform through. They could lose seats anyway next year, and they would have wasted a chance to accomplish something Democrats have been talking about since Truman.

That is not to say that health reform will inevitably be derailed again. The Democrats need to do two things. First they have to show that healthcare reform will not hurt the middle class at all. Second, they must make the argument that healthcare reform is vital to our economic interests. If they can convince middle class families that their reforms will result in substantially lower costs which will make their lives easier, then these voters will be more inclined to support reform.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Gender and the Economic Crisis

One of the more interesting economic arguments made in the past few months has been the effect of gender on the recession, as well as the effect of the recession on the genders.

There were two interesting articles on that point this week. The first, by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman appeared in the Washington Post. It argued that companies that have more women in management did better than ones that don’t. It used several studies to buttress that point. It also argued that the male-dominated, testosterone-filled culture of Wall Street helped cause the recession.

I have no doubt that having a more diverse workforce is good for a company. Having a diverse group of people yields more life experience and perspectives to make a good decision. And it’s certainly true that the male-dominated Wall Street culture has let us down. Banks took on way too much risk in some instances. But I’m not sure women would be any better. That is, if women constituted 75% of Lehman, would they have been any less greedy or foolish?

The second article was by David Paul Kuhn on Real Clear Politics. In it, he noted that the stimulus has skewed job creation towards female-dominated sectors. While women experienced just two out of ten job losses, four in ten jobs projected to be created by the stimulus will go to women.

We shouldn’t see the recession in gendered terms. Ultimately, it affects all of us. When a man loses his job that had benefits and decent pay, his whole family suffers, including the woman he’s married to. Some people (very few I hope) might prefer to hold up a score-card and celebrate every time a woman gains a job while a man loses one—score one for the sisterhood against the patriarchy. I’m sure that’s not how most women or families think. They just want to avoid having their homes foreclosed, and their savings depleted.

Economically, it seems like a well-written stimulus would help everyone, regardless of whether it helps the construction industry disproportionately. If a burly man gets a job that puts decent money in his pocket, he’ll be able to spend more at the store. This rise in consumer spending would help the retail sector (which disproportionately employs women). Overall, a robust rise in consumer confidence and spending is the ticket out of the recession.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Article on Mark Sanford

Hope you enjoy!

Sotmayor Confirmation Hearings: Day Two

It’s day two for Sotomayor’s confirmation hearings. The question and answer session was more interesting than yesterday’s hearings when Senators rambled on for several hours. Here are some thoughts:

1. Tough questions came from Democrats

This started with Senator Leahy (D-Vermont), who asked Sotomayor about her wise Latina remarks, which I have written about extensively. Sotomayor said she believed that no racial group had a better capacity for fair judging. Leahy also asked her about her decision in the Ricci case, and she insisted that she simply upheld precedent. She was also asked about Roe vs. Wade by Herb Kohl (D-Wisconsin).

2. Sotomayor handled concern about her impartiality well

Senator Sessions (R-Alabama) and Senator Kyl (R-Arizona) quoted several statements from Sotomayor and asked her whether he could trust her to be fair to all litigants. Sotomayor was merely being honest when she said that life experiences and feelings influence judges. But she did stress that at the end of the day, she would apply the law and work to transcend her feelings. Some of the statements she made, while true, were not smart for a SCOTUS nominee to make. But she did the best she could to paper over them over.

3. No light shed on controversial issues

On Roe vs. Wade for example, Sotomayor said that it is “settled precedent.” Some commentators are making a lot of this. But John Roberts and Samuel Alito said the same thing during their confirmation hearings. Will they uphold Roe? I have my doubts. The difference here is that Sotomayor was nominated by a pro-choice Democrat. One assumes President Obama had a discussion with her on this issue, but who knows? Sotomayor even added (I’m paraphrasing) “all precedents are settled law.” That tells us next to nothing

4. Little coverage of economic issues

On issues like imminent domain and the commerce clause, MSNBC and FOX often had analysts talk or cut to commercial. These issues aren’t as interesting per se as abortion or affirmative action, but they’re just as important.

Overall: I don’t think anything happened today which will alter the dynamics of this process. There are 60 Democratic votes in the Senate. She’ll get confirmed barring something a meltdown, as Lindsay Graham (R-South Carolina) said yesterday. No such meltdown occurred.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Sotomayor Confirmation Hearings: Day One

Today saw the start of Sonia Sotomayor’s confirmation hearings. I wanted to provide my reactions to them.

First, I was struck by the opening statements and their focus on judicial activism. Democrats said that Justice Roberts and his court was activist. They pointed to decisions like Heller vs. DC. Republicans for their part pointed to decisions like Roe vs. Wade. These hearings have become a forum for Senators to complain about every decision or Justice they haven’t liked.

Several Republicans also said they were concerned about President Obama’s statements on the importance of empathy on the bench. They said they wanted the law to inform decisions, not a person’s biases or personal opinions.

I find most of this to be posturing. I think politicians of both parties are fine with “judicial activism” or “empathy” if it yields results they like. Plenty of conservatives would be more than happy if “empathy” caused justices to overturn Roe vs. Wade, or strike down limits on campaign financing. If the Supreme Court issues a decision you disagree with, it becomes “judicial activism.”

While Sotomayor has been criticized for saying that life experience affects decisions, I haven’t heard any evidence that this isn’t the case. There is no such thing as complete objectivity in the justice system. If there were, then we wouldn’t have so many 5-4 decisions. Different people apply differing philosophies and see the facts of a case differently.

To be sure, judges should try and check those biases. And so it’s fair for Senators to go through her judicial history to see if she has consistently been unfair to certain litigants. But I hate it when people on either side of the aisle claim that rulings they like are objective, while rulings they dislike are automatically unfair or biased.

For the most part, today was devoid of a lot of substance. Everyone praised her American story multiple times. Republicans said they were troubled by her. Democrats said she would make a fine justice. That was all to be expected. I look forward to covering tomorrow’s hearings.

Article on Sotomayor

I think this might be interesting, since confirmation hearings are happening today.

Who Knew Sotomayor Would be So Divisive?

It turns out that Sonia Sotomayor is one of the most divisive SCOTUS nominees in recent memory. A CNN poll found that 47% of Americans want to see her confirmed, while 40% are oppose her confirmation, and 13% are uncertain of their views. Around two out of three Republicans oppose her.

By contrast, only 32% of Republicans opposed the appointment of Ruth Bader Ginsburg in 1993; in 2005, only 35% of Democrats opposed John Roberts while 46% opposed Samuel Alito in 2006.

Why all the opposition to Sotomayor from Republicans? I think it has something to do with race. And by that I don’t mean that Republicans are racist or hate Latinos. Rather, racial issues have sullied Sotomayor’s image with Republicans. There are two reasons that quickly come to mind why Republicans are uncomfortable with Sotomayor.

First, there was Sotomayor’s remark that “I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would, more often than not, reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.” This is being portrayed in conservative circles as evidence of animosity to whites. Furthermore, conservatives are furious that a white man could not get away with saying such a thing. So Sotomayor in this instance is a whipping boy for political correctness.

Second is Sotomayor’s decision in the now-famous Ricci case. Ricci was a white firefighter who sued for reverse discrimination when the New Haven fire department threw out test results to decide who would be promoted when no blacks passed. Sotomayor was overruled this past term by the Supreme Court 5-4. Republicans tend to oppose affirmative action, and so it’s no surprise that they would oppose someone who voted to uphold it.

None of this means Sotomayor won’t get confirmed. She will. The Democrats have 60 votes in the Senate, enough to shut down a Republican filibuster. I don’t see any Democrats voting to allow a filibuster at this point. And I have my doubts as to whether the Republicans will filibuster. They lost badly in 2008, in part because of a poor showing with Latino voters. Filibustering a highly qualified woman who would be the first Latina on the court in US history is not the best way to improve with these voters.

Friday, July 10, 2009

We Celebrate Our Celebrities Too Much, and Our Soldiers Too Little

Michael Jackson’s death and funeral have received intense media coverage in the past week. The day of his funeral, there was virtually nothing else on television. Was it too much?

That question has been posed by Martha Gillis, the aunt of 1st Lieutenant Brian Bradshaw, a soldier who died on the same day that Jackson did. Gillis wrote to the Washington Post: “Where was the coverage of my nephew or the other soldiers who died that week?”

To be sure, Michael Jackson is an important man. Controversies aside, plenty of news has come out detailing his life as a humanitarian. And no one can doubt that he made lasting contributions to music and pop culture. His album “Thriller” was the best-selling album of all time. Jackson will go down in history and rightfully so.

Still, I can’t help sympathizing with the sentiments of Ms. Gillis. It must be frustrating to know that a soldier who gave his life as a selfless sacrifice for his country will get little recognition. But that is unfortunately how things work. Celebrities get more attention than people who aren’t celebrities.

Most Americans couldn’t name a soldier who has died in the past year in Iraq or Afghanistan, but they can tell you won American Idol. I truly wish it weren’t this way. I wished we esteemed people who serve us—our veterans, teachers, and pastors—as much as we esteem our professional athletes and movie stars.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Obama Losing His Mojo?

A potentially significant poll came out yesterday. A Quinnipiac poll found that Obama’s approval rating dipped to 49% in the battleground state of Ohio. The reason is most likely the economy. We’re still losing jobs at an astonishing clip. Ohio has been particularly hard-hit with job losses. This is all despite the stimulus package.

To be sure, this is just a brief snapshot. People are frustrated with the state of the economy. If the economy improves in the next few months, I expect the approval numbers to go back up. Moreover, there is no great desire to see the Republicans back in control of government. This should not be interpreted as a sign of Republican resurgence just yet.

But, this new poll could give Republicans in congress some cover to go after Obama’s policies. They can say that the American people are tiring of Obama’s administration already. When Obama tries to press for health care reform, Republicans who had felt the heat might now feel emboldened enough to stand against him.

In the next few days, I look forward to seeing whether this is a temporary trend, or one the Obama administration should be very worried about.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

A Possible Fix for Supreme Court Nomination Fights

Sonia Sotomayor’s confirmation hearings are set to begin next week. In the past few years, these hearings have become quite contentious, as evidenced in the cases of Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, and Robert Bork. Conservatives are contemplating whether they want to make life difficult for Sotomayor (even if they don’t have the votes to ultimately block her nomination).

I wonder if applying term limits to justices couldn’t help matters. Every justice could be limited to 15 years on the high court. That would mean more vacancies on a regular basis. And no justice would be able to serve for 40 years or more. Taken together, this could mean that the stakes of each potential confirmation go down. On the other hand, the fact that there are more frequent confirmation hearings could make the composition of the Supreme Court a bigger issue which could cause more fights over justices. Both scenarios are possible, but it is hard to see how fights over justices would be even more contentious than they are now.

Having a confirmation process with lower stakes could make it less likely for Presidents to feel they need to nominate justices without a paper trail to get confirmed. The fact that a justice can only serve for 15 years could make them more willing to consider older justices as well; in some cases, a man who’s 60 might be better for the job than a man who’s in his late 40s.

There are other potential benefits as well. First it’s less likely that there would be infirm or incapacitated justices on the court. They would have to retire before they got old enough to have such recurring health problems. Under status quo, the only way to get justices with diminished capacities off the court is through an impeachment proceeding. I don’t remember the last time a justice was impeached. Do you?

Second, it reduces the overall power that an individual justice can have. Justices are currently appointed for life, and aren’t accountable to voters. An influential chief justice who stays on the court for 40 years probably has more power than a given President or Speaker of the House. In exchange for not having to face voters, it seems fair to limit the amount of time a justice holds his power.

Third, it would make sure that modern understandings of the constitution have voice on the court. Right now, one President could have the chance to appoint say five justices to the Supreme Court. Those justices could serve for 40 years. The problem is, they might have an outdated view of the constitution. For example, imagine if justices appointed in the 1890s heard cases on New Deal legislation. They likely would have struck the legislation down as unconstitutional because they had an understanding of the constitution from the 1890s. Or imagine if justices appointed in the 1840s by John Tyler were hearing cases on reconstruction in the 1870s. Would they have upheld rights for former slaves?

Granted, many justices’ view of the constitution evolves over time. But surely, many justices change very little. Term limits would solve for that.

I’m not ready to call a constitutional constitution for a term limit amendment just yet. But I think it’s an interesting idea worth considering.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Is the Tax Man Coming After Employee Health Benefits?

One of the major disputes in the ongoing discussion on healthcare reform has been whether or not we should tax employer based healthcare. You may recall that John McCain proposed this idea in the 2008 campaign.

Politically, this will be difficult. Most Americans get their health insurance as part of their compensation for their jobs. So a tax on every dollar of health insurance provided will be a tax that hits the middle class. Not coincidentally, it would also break Obama’s pledge not to raise taxes on people making under $250,000 a year. Raising taxes on such families during such a deep recession is sure to hurt the prospects for passing a bill this year. Moreover, taxing the benefits is sure to run into opposition from labor unions, whose members often get health insurance on the job. Labor is of course a core constituency for the Democrats.

But there is no denying that taxing employer-based benefits would raise a good deal of money. Every year, $246 billion would flow into federal coffers if every employee had to pay taxes on their health insurance provided on the job. This money would go a long way towards making a universal healthcare scheme deficit-neutral.

There is certainly a case to be made for taxing such benefits apart from the money it would raise. First, exempting employer-based health insurance is arguably unfair to people who don’t get health insurance on the job. Let’s take the example of two people who both make $60,000. One gets a $10,000 policy on the job, while the other has to pay $10,000 a year out-of-pocket to cover his family. The two are probably paying the same taxes (let’s assume that they’re taking the exact same deductions for the sake of simplicity). That leaves one man paying taxes on his entire income, while the other is paying taxes only on $60,000 even though his true income is $70,000.

The greater the benefits provided, the more unfair this tax scheme becomes. An investment banker (the ones who are still left) who gets a gilded $20,000 plan is getting all of that tax free while a struggling working class man has to pay taxes on his whole salary AND buy his health insurance out of pocket.

Second, many conservative economists argue that our current employer based system distorts the market. Employees are shielded from the true cost of the medical care they use, since another party is paying for it. In high end plans that have no deductibles, or very low deductibles, they have no incentive to limit the medical services they use, even if the care isn’t necessary. This makes the health care system much more expensive than it has to be.

When employer plans are taxed for their full value, consumers will become more cost-conscious, and opt for lower cost plans with higher co-pays and deductibles. This will reduce costs overall in the system as consumers avoid paying for unnecessary care.

Whatever the merits of the tax, there is no way the Obama administration would be able to tax all employer-based benefits. Maybe they can settle for a compromise where people making over say $200,000 pay taxes on their benefits. That would at least raise some money.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Thoughts on Sarah Palin Resigning

Sarah Palin resigning as Alaska’s governor was the biggest media story of the weekend. Much has already been said, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t also address this topic.

I have no idea what her true motivations for leaving were. There have been all sorts of rumors and I’m poorly situated to evaluate their veracity. What I want to focus on instead are the implications of leaving for Palin’s political future.

There are certainly some benefits to leaving for her. It will be easier now for her to establish a formidable apparatus for the 2012 campaign. She will have more time to travel the lower 48 states campaigning for Republican candidates and winning their goodwill. She can also raise money for her political action committee (PAC) and hire operatives for her future campaign.

Running for President is now a full-time job, even years before the nominating competitions actually occur. Her rivals like Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty are already doing these things themselves. Trying to position herself for 2012 while being governor of Alaska would have been very difficult.

On balance though, I think this will not help her. Palin was only a one-term governor in the first place. When and if she runs for President, she will only have had two-and-a-half years of experience. True, Barack Obama was able to mount his own presidential campaign after only two years in office himself. But he also didn’t quit his Senate seat in the middle of his term to run.

And fairly or unfairly, there is a perception that Palin has a lack of gravitas. Even the way that she speaks has been mocked. Quitting office is not going to do much to change that perception. Being out of office leaves her free to spend more time studying up on the issues I suppose, but I think she could have done that as governor too.

That is not to say that this decision will completely sink her ambitions. My bet is that people will not be talking about this decision a year from now. I have said repeatedly here that the biggest issue in the 2012 campaign will likely be the economy. If Palin can develop a compelling, coherent economic vision she could have a chance if the economy’s still doing poorly.

Moreover, she will still retain her rabid base of fans. Evangelicals predominate in Iowa and South Carolina which are crucial to building early momentum. These voters admire her and could still vote for her. But to have a realistic shot at the nomination and wining in November, she must reach beyond that evangelical base. I don’t see how resigning before her term is up helps her do that.

Friday, July 3, 2009

New Article About the Religious Right

It's up on Hot Joints:

Thoughts on July 4th

Tomorrow will be July 4th. In honor of that holiday, I wanted to give politics a rest for a day and share my reflection on what the day means.

All of us should take a moment this weekend and think about what a wonderful country we have. Most of us were fortunate enough to be born in the freest, most prosperous place in human country. We take for granted so many rights—freedom of speech, thought, and religion for example that many other people in other countries don’t have.

As the election of our first black President Barack Obama shows, we have come an awfully long way in redressing past injustices. Present economic difficulties notwithstanding, there is truly something special about our country. I am filled with pride as I think of all the veterans out there who sacrificed so much from Little Round Tope, to D-Day, to Fallujah for our ideals.

But what troubles me a little today is thinking how many of us—myself included from time to time—fail to appreciate what we have and fail to think about how we can give back. Perhaps the most obvious way to serve one’s country is in the military. Yet there is a growing chasm between America’s ruling class and the military.

Recently, I was reading 1960 by David Pietruza. In it, he detailed how John F. Kennedy used his connections in all sorts of ways. One of those ways was to get into the military despite his physical infirmities. But that changed during Vietnam when the upper classes used their connections to stay out of the military.

Today, there is of course no draft. And very few people from privileged backgrounds choose to enter the military at all. Joining the military in the first place is not something that is even encouraged for most of them. I’ve often wondered what would happen at High School graduations if we honored people going to the military as much as we honor kids going to Harvard and Yale.

The result has been that the very people who make decisions on national security have no experience in the military. They often have only a very limited understanding of the capabilities of the military, or what kind of situations they’re sending other peoples’ children into. They don’t know what it is to spend two years living on edge praying for their child’s safety. That is dangerous.

Whenever I have a conversation with a friend about the lack of wealthy kids going into the military they always point out that “there’s other ways to serve your country.” That’s undoubtedly true. But too often, the kids making that statement never have and never will do anything meaningful for their country. So that’s my challenge for you readers today. The military definitely isn’t for everyone. So if you’re planning to become a high-powered corporate lawyer, think about spending some of your time being a child advocate or public defender.

For those who want to do finance, think about how you can volunteer some time helping pensions funds for teachers or policemen. Think about how you can spend time providing financial education for underprivileged kids. Maybe think about spending a year as a math teacher and bringing your real-world experience into the classroom.

All of us who live in America are so blessed. It’s only fair that we try and give something back too.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

California Inc Going Bankrupt

California is paying vendors and taxpayers with IOUs today ( The government is facing a $27 billion budget deficit, and doesn’t have enough cash on hand.

The budget crisis has been brewing for a while. In May, California voters opposed budget referendums that would have increased taxes to close the gap. There does seem to be a conservative streak still in California voters even though it is heavily Democratic today. Remember, California produced Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan. California voters also passed proposition 13 to limit property taxes in 1978, which was widely seen as a tax revolt throughout the country.

Some of the problem is surely due to the poor state of the economy. California has been hard-hit by unemployment. Other employees have had to settle for salary cuts. That means that the state is collecting less in income tax revenue. The loss in consumer spending means a loss in sales tax revenue. This comes at the same time that more people must access social welfare programs in the state. In other words, the California budget is being asked to do more with less.

But California had a sizeable deficit even before the financial crisis. In the 2006-2007 fiscal year, California still had a $4 billion operating shortfall ( Deficits run up in good years have only been compounded in the bad.

This leaves California with several unattractive options. It can raise taxes even further (it already has some of the highest rates in the country), but it would be doing so on a shrinking tax base. And raising taxes hardly seems like a good way to spur economic growth in the middle of a deep recession. It can issue more bonds, but this will increase the amount of money it owes in the end because of interest. It can try and make draconian cuts in education and social services that will hurt the most vulnerable members of society. Coincidentally, the state legislature has been unable to cut spending in a meaningful way thus far.

The Obama administration has rejected pleas for federal aid. So it looks like California will have to choose one of those bad options.

California is not the only state in this position. 48 states are facing budget deficits this year totaling $166 billion ( Several of them will face the same tough choices California does now.

This has implications for our taxes in years to come. President Obama has pledged not raise taxes on anyone making under $250,000 a year. Even if he is able to keep that promise at the federal level, the states will have to raise taxes as soon as is practical economically. That means that in coming years, we’ll be paying higher taxes one way or the other.

Trouble in Paradise?

Evidently, there is some noticeable tension between Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama. Clinton reportedly urged Obama to take a tougher line on Iran. Obama eventually did so at his June 23rd press conference when he said “appalled and outraged” by Iran’s brutal suppression of protesters. But he used the new language without consulting her (

I think some in the press are making a bit much of this affair. Internal disagreements happen in any administration. Still this is an interesting development. I wonder what Clinton and Obama’s relationship is really like behind closed doors. How much do they talk? How much does Clinton respect Obama? Part of her must be bitter after losing such a close race last year.

This makes me think of the contentious relationship Abraham Lincoln had with his cabinet. If you recall, there were a good many people talking up the idea of a team of rivals in the Obama administration, a concept made famous by historian Dorris Kearns Goodwin.

The book follows Lincoln’s dealings with his Secretary of the Treasury, Salmon Chase, his Secretary of State William Seward, his Attorney General Edward Bates, and his Secretary of War Edwin Stanton. Astonishingly, all four of these men were rivals for the Republican nomination in 1860! Lincoln ended up close to Seward and developed working relationships with the others. Perhaps such a future is in the cards for Clinton and Obama.

Whatever tensions there are between Clinton and Obama, I’m inclined to think that Obama picking her for his cabinet was still a smart choice. He got to look magnanimous in extending an offer to a former rival. And he made sure she was invested in his having a successful Presidency instead of positioning herself potentially for a future election.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Article on Electing Judges

Here is an article published today that I wrote about holding elections for judges. Here's the link:

Americans Perceive Their Political Parties as Extreme

An interesting Gallup poll came out this week. You can view the poll here: To make a long story short, many Americans see the parties as too extreme. For example, 46% of Americans think Democrats are too liberal while 43% think that Republicans are too conservative.

On one level, the poll isn’t that surprising. We live in a polarized era. Around 40-45% of Americans are affiliated with one of our parties. So for most Republicans to think that Democrats are too liberal, or for most Democrats to think Republicans are too conservative is almost to be expected.

Americans are exposed to plenty of extremes in politics, and this likely explains their perceptions of the parties. For example, Americans hear Republicans like Newt Gingrich calling Supreme Court nominee a racist, or Mike Huckabee who said of Obama’s economic program that “Lenin and Stalin would love this stuff.”

For Democrats, all the sweeping policy moves they’ve made in the past months make some Americans see them as too liberal. Wanting to offer a government option for healthcare, cap and trade, as well as an $800 billion stimulus package unquestionably evoke the specter of liberal big government. The greater number who views Democrats as too liberal probably owes to all those policy initiatives. I have a feeling too that the Republican base is almost united loathing the Democrats’ ideology while some Democrats don’t have strong opinions of Republican ideology because the Republican party has no power right now, and has offered no serious policy alternatives. That would explain why more Americans think Democrats are more extreme than Republicans.

Still, the poll doesn’t really change the basic party dynamic in the country. More Americans say the Democrats’ ideology is about right (42%) than say Republicans do (34%). When it comes too all-important independents, 38% say Democrats’ ideology is just right compared to just 25% for Republicans. That indicates that Democrats still appeal more to independents than Republicans do.

To meaningfully affect political dynamics, many more Americans need to perceive Democrats as too liberal and Republicans as “just right.” If say, 60% think that Democrats are too liberal, it could signal a general feeling that Democrats have overreached. If Republicans manage to come up with a reasonable, coherent critique of Democratic policies un-tainted by extreme pronouncements, that could happen.