Incredulously, President Obama has been criticized, demonized, and accused of trying to destroy the separation of powers that are the heart and soul of our federal government. And those are the nicer pejoratives. This followed Obama’s comments last week that he believed the U.S. Supreme Court would uphold the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (better known as ObamaCare). Obama opined that the law was constitutional, and while some of his further statements about the Supreme Court overturning legislation dealing with the Commerce Clause were factually incorrect, they didn’t change the thrust of Obama’s honest opinion. It should be noted that regardless of whether the High Court upholds or overturns the law, there is widespread disagreement among the most reputable legal scholars on this issue. If the law was so “obviously” unconstitutional, as many believe, we wouldn’t need nine justices on the Supreme Court to review it. One justice could interpret the Constitution every time and always be right if it was so obvious and easy.
Conservative/reactionary radio and conservative columnists for the most part have taken Obama’s remarks and turned them into some of the wildest and craziest conclusions. I have to believe their demagoguery is primarily for the purpose of scaring the average American into believing that Obama is out to destroy our government. I personally heard Rush Limbaugh call Obama a thug for trying to threaten, intimidate and influence the justices on the Supreme Court to vote to uphold ObamaCare. Limbaugh went even further and said that he would not be surprised if Obama paid a personal visit to the Supreme Court before they render their opinion. Talking heads are saying that Obama is undermining the separation of powers with his remarks. Not one of these commentators that I heard and read pointed out that federal judges have lifetime appointments and can only be removed through a labyrinthine impeachment process. In fact the Founding Fathers provided for lifetime appointments to prevent the very situation the opinionators claim Obama is trying to do.
To show how political and biased the commentators are, let’s go back just a few months to when Newt Gingrich was being taken seriously as a presidential contender. A federal district court judge in Texas had recently blocked a public school from having organized prayer at commencement. (I’m not offering an opinion on the judge’s ruling, only stating what occurred.) In addition to death threats, Judge Fred Biery came under verbal attack by any number of commentators, including Newt. Newt basically said that as president he will have removed those federal judges who do not properly interpret the Constitution. (I assume he means how he interprets it.) He went on to say that he would haul a deviating federal judge before the congress to explain where they came off dictating their views to the American people. Consider that this man, Newt Gingrich, could have been elected president. Can anyone argue that this would be an outrageous, egregious abuse of power? If Gingrich and likeminded thinkers were to carry out their threat, that would be a real, not imagined, assault on the separation of powers. But strangely enough there was no pushback by the conservative/reactionary media. The voice of silence was all you heard. Does it not become clear that the conservative/reactionary media are just setting up a straw man in going after Obama for voicing his First Amendment protected opinion? I’m sure that those who have an irrational hatred of Obama won’t see it that way.
The MDJ editorialized on Sunday, April 01, 2012, that it hoped the Affordable Care Act, better known as ObamaCare, would be overturned. The unsigned opinion stated that liberals typically favor large government and would probably seem fine with the enhancement of federal power if the law was upheld. I wonder where the voice of the MDJ has been up to now on the activist opinion by conservative Justice Antonin Scalia in Gonzales vs. Raich (2005). Angel Raich had a medically documented need for using marijuana and acted within California law that permitted homegrown use for medicinal purposes. When law enforcement agents seized her plants, she sued for injunctive relief arguing, among other things, that the federal government had exceeded its authority under the Commerce Clause. Justice Scalia did not seem to think so and found that Congress could regulate an exclusively intrastate activity if its failure to do so (in this instance) would undercut the federal Controlled Substance Act.
It was President Ronald Reagan who was successful in getting legislation mandating that hospitals getting federal funds treat anyone at the emergency room. This caused the insurance rates to go up among those who are fortunate enough to have it. Then Governor Mitt Romney decided to do something about it when he successfully pushed through an insurance mandate in Massachusetts. His argument was that it was time for the free-riders to pay, the people who chose not to carry health insurance because they felt they had no need for it. Republicans going back to Nixon, to include Newt Gingrich, were okay with the mandate. Today Romney and Newt, among the supporters, condemn it using the most disingenuous arguments. I guess it makes a difference which party is in power at any given time to determine one's position.
Those opposed to the mandate scream about the "obvious" violation of the Commerce Clause. It took a real stretch for Scalia to uphold a federal law that was in direct conflict with a state statute that dealt with strictly intrastate activity. I wonder what the effect on interstate commerce is on those who don't change jobs because they need to keep their health insurance and would lose it if they moved, or would be unable to afford a policy if a family member had a preexisting condition. How much money that those with insurance pay to subsidize those without gets diverted from potential interstate commerce spending of goods and services? How many very productive people have "insurance handcuffs" that keep them from changing jobs or starting their own business?
It would be interesting for the MDJ to opine on a solution to the American healthcare system. The ObamaCare law that we got was very different than the one he originally proposed, and no Republican put any serious plan forward that could have been debated. It was all about defeating the president. Perhaps their strategy will work, and the Supreme Court will toss the whole law. Health insurance costs have been spiraling northward for more than 25 years. Without the mandate, portability, and elimination of the preexisting conditions exclusion, we should see rates increase even more.
For those so opposed to ObamaCare for one reason or another, I am reminded of the curse of the Greek Gods: Be careful of what you wish for; it might come true.
The Georgia State Senate has introduced SB 448, which is titled, "Small Business Borrower Protection Act." Reduced to its basics it provides that if a community bank sells a note at a discount to a third party, the borrower that personally guaranteed the full amount would not be responsible for paying any more than what the note was sold for. In other words this bill, authored by free market Republicans, would interfere with the contract relationship between the borrower and a lender (in this case the community bank), and by law rescind the promise to pay that the borrower signed. Banks and other businesses often sell their notes for one reason or another based on what they hope is their best business judgment. If the debt is one they want off the books, and if the bank can find someone to buy it at a discount and thus pass the risk to the purchaser, that is a good thing for all concerned. Why should the new holder of the note not be allowed to seek full payment on it? Why should the borrower/promisor be allowed off the hook just because there is a new holder of that note?
How many of us have had our mortgages sold at a discount? Has anyone received a letter advising that the amount due has been reduced to the price of the sale of that note? This bill is bad for commerce and restricts the ability of a bank to make a business decision in its own interest. That is what free markets and capitalism are about. The borrowers who signed the personal guarantees took the risk that they would have to dig deep if their investment did not pan out. If the development had succeeded beyond expectations, would they have rewarded a third party holder of the note with a nice bonus? SB 448 seems to have Majority Speaker Chip Rogers' fingerprints all over it. Recall that he and Congressman Tom Graves signed personal guarantees to a bank on a motel project that went south. And these two staunch Republicans who tout less regulation, a philosophy of letting the markets work, risk and reward in capitalism, personal responsibility, etc., were successful in arguing before a judge that they should not be held liable for their written personal guarantees for about $2 million, and the judge bought it.
Must be nice to have that kind of influence.
Our General Assembly, despite its very conservative makeup, seems determined to get involved with our personal lives despite all the claptrap about individual freedom. Recently the Georgia Supreme Court overturned a law that made it a crime to advertize any form of assisted suicide. The court did not rule that that the state couldn’t ban assisted suicide, only that the statute was too broad and unclear. Now some in the state capitol want to correct this and tighten up the language so that assisted suicide could send medical practitioners and others to prison. It makes sense to me that if the General Assembly passes this law, they should also make it illegal for someone to sell products like tobacco, and foods that lack any basic nutritional value since arguably they are a slow method of assisted suicide.
The state of Oregon passed an assisted suicide law in 1997. In 2006, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the statute in a 6-3 decision in which three conservative justices dissented: Chief Justice John Roberts, Antonin Scalia, and Clarence Thomas. The majority ruled that the Oregon law trumped federal authority to regulate doctors. I strongly believe that an individual has the right to decide for himself when life has reached the end stage, when the best medical advice says that the sands of time have run out, and that the remaining days will be painful with no “quality of life” as the individual defines that term. There are any number of reasons why the individual might need help to carry out this last wish, and with proper safeguards, the state should butt out. If someone has personal or religious objections that supersede any form of suicide, to include withdrawing all sustenance, I respect that. I think that others who don’t share that world view are also entitled to make these decisions with the input of their family, doctors, friends, and trusted advisers. It is unconscionable for legislators to think that their judgment is superior, is somehow on a higher moral plane and worthy of supplanting our individual freedom. One can only imagine with such a law in place the number of investigations that will take place to determine if a doctor or other medical practitioner surreptitiously violated the law. I bet it would really attract doctors to come to Georgia to set up practice.
What I have written is not intended to be some abstract; I have had personal experiences with both my parents that have given me a real live perspective on this topic. The less the General Assembly gets involved in my personal life, the better.
The Georgia General Assembly has taken time out from its very busy schedule to pass a bill of great importance that will surely promote job growth, lower crime, help to fix the housing crisis, and probably a number of other social ills. A Georgia resident can now get a sticker for his license plate that says, “In God We Trust”, and almost as good, the state is going to waive the one dollar fee because somehow to charge for it is disrespectful to God. If you get one of these stickers you can cover up the identification of your county, unless you have a vanity plate that doesn’t display the name of the county.
Presumably there is a public safety reason for the requirement that license tags show the county in which the car is registered. Or maybe it’s for tax purposes. Either way, since it is some sort of offense to remove the county identification, there must be some legitimate purpose for it. Why vanity plates are exempted I don’t know. Perhaps a reader can add some light to this. But I was wondering if a Georgia car owner can also cover up the county identification with another sticker? How about the original national motto, “E Pluribus Unum?” Would this garner him a ticket for some infraction related to defacing a license plate? If so, why? Is the state favoring one message over another? Is there a First Amendment issue here, especially if the state can’t provide a compelling reason for allowing one slogan over another?
What is there about our legislators that they go to such great lengths to prove how religious they are? It almost compares with the old days of southern politicians trying to “out seg” their opponents. Meanwhile, the same legislators who have bestowed this gift on us refuse to admit that they are bought and sold for sports and concert tickets, high priced dinners, golf outings, and so much more. Any serious lobbyist and gift reform is dead on arrival once again in the General Assembly. But they do have their priorities.
This presidential race has produced a lot of talk about the need for an experienced businessman to restore our economy and jobs. Mitt Romney and Herman Cain both claimed to be that businessman, each touting his success in turning around one or more failed businesses, putting people back to work, and making America just a little better for their leadership. I can’t count the number of people who have argued with me that running the country is no different than running a successful business. Really? (I don’t intend this discussion to encompass whether we need to balance the budget, a different subject for perhaps a different day.)
There are different varieties of leadership, although there may be some common denominators. But there are also huge differences that don’t readily transfer from one sector to another. A military officer can give an order that must be obeyed and carried out. A CEO or president of a company has a board that he answers to, but for the most part they are given free rein to make decisions as long as the company is profitable and growing. Political leaders---mayors, governors, and presidents among them operate in a very different realm. When candidates Cain and Romney tell the voters that they will do this or that when they are elected, and in some instances as soon as their first day in office, they can’t be serious. There are 535 elected representatives in Congress, and each one answers to their own constituency, which isn’t necessarily the president’s. I doubt that a Republican congressman representing a district in Manhattan or Brooklyn cares very much about a Republican president’s efforts to get an agricultural subsidy bill passed. But we also know that in order for anything to get done in Washington, our elected representatives and the president make all sorts of bargains. A president has to have a whole different set of leadership skills to get his proposed legislation through Congress. President Eisenhower reportedly expressed frustration that he had less authority than he did as a five start general.
One question I haven’t heard come up during the debates is how each candidate proposes to get majorities to vote for and support their various agendas. We have heard a lot of tough talk, but I would be interested in knowing how a new president plans to persuade the people whose vote and support he needs, knowing that each representative probably has his own agenda based on the district, state or region that he represents or that has common interests. If we had a totalitarian government this wouldn’t be an issue. Despite the messiness and frustrations of our system, we should all hope that we never lose it to something that superficially sounds more efficient.
It is quite common these days to hear accusations made about “activist” judges who legislate from the bench, who don’t adhere to the Constitution, and who believe that these judges intentionally stray from the original intent of the Founding Fathers. I have even seen this argument made from candidates vying for a seat on the traffic court, where I am unaware of any Constitutional issues beyond some very basic issues involving criminal procedure.
Several things are remarkable about this belief. For one, the Constitutional convention was very divided and divisive. You can look to the Founding Fathers who participated in the convention, but you won’t find much, if any, unanimity among them. So I’m not sure how one divines “original intent” from a disparate group. For those literalists who subscribe to the belief that judges need to adhere to original intent, I am going to cite just a few examples of how this can be an imposing task. The Constitution makes no mention of an Air Force. It only provides for the power to establish and maintain an army and navy. There is nothing said about a draft, yet this country has drafted citizens into the armed forces. What does Equal Protection mean? There is nothing to prohibit “separate but equal” in the Constitution, but how many would advocate going back to that doctrine? What does cruel and unusual punishment mean? How about due process? And much more….
If it was so easy to read the Constitution and understand exactly what it says in all instances, we wouldn’t need but one appellate court and one judge. As it is we have a number of appellate courts on the state and federal levels, and nine justices on the Supreme Court. And we all know that the composition of the Supreme Court at any given time in history has never been unanimous in each decision. All we can hope for is intellectually honest judges who really try to interpret the Constitution through a lot of case law handed down for more than 200 years. I believe that most judges try to get it right, to work toward the elusive goal of truth, always getting a little closer with each controversy. And I also believe in the rule of law, that regardless of whether we agree with a court’s decision, we are duty bound as Americans to adhere to it unless and until the legislative process changes it.
The president’s proposed budget has stirred up a lot of controversy. As usual, those with their own interests at stake complain about the unfairness to them. Agricultural subsidies are a $1 trillion program spread out over a decade, and somehow they always get renewed. They served a worthwhile purpose during the Depression, but hasn’t their time come and gone? When Michelle Bachman got $750,000 from this program despite no financial need, it should have been obvious that something was wrong. How about all the bank loan guarantees? Banks keep the profits from their productive loans, but the number of federal programs that make up for failed loans is a good deal for anyone who can get into it. But it’s a closed shop---it’s only available to bankers and those companies TBTF (Too Big to Fail).
I supported the GM and Chrysler bailouts out of fear that the ripple effect on the auto industry would be catastrophic. But I had another concern that I haven’t seen articulated: what about tanks, armored personnel carriers, trucks, and a host of other vehicles that the Defense Department needs? Who would fill in that gap if the major producers went under? Do we go to China? If that day comes we might as well give them the keys to the rest of the country. As it turns out the bailouts worked. The government is getting their money back and removing itself from the oversight of the two companies, but for inexplicable reasons there are those who still believe that Obama is a socialist. If Obama really was a socialist, why would he target failed companies vice going after the profitable Ford?
Tough times demand sacrifice from all. Former Republican Defense Secretary Robert Gates said that the Defense Department had become the largest social welfare agency in the federal government. The proliferation of retirement and medical costs has been steadily taking a larger part of the budget over the years. When President Nixon made our military voluntary he also provided increased pay to attract good people. Today’s pay and COLAs make military service an attractive career. But expecting pay comparable to the civilian sector but not be willing to shoulder some of the medical costs in retirement, especially in the financial crisis we are in, is asking too much. And no, I am not referring to the wounded warriors, who deserve the very best care for life from the VA at taxpayer expense. I am referring to TRICARE for Life, that up until last year cost a family $460 annually, a rate set some 15 years ago. I have a comfortable federal retirement and Medicare, and I would be willing have it cut back as part of cuts for all entitlements. Only the injured veterans should be exempt.
Ernest Barrett was a very prescient commissioner who led the way to getting a sewer system built in Cobb County long before our neighboring counties. That was a big factor, among others, that led to Cobb’s development and becoming one of the best counties in America to live, work, and play. Everyone benefited from Barrett’s foresight. Today all the states and most counties try desperately to compete for businesses to relocate here. State and local government’s offer all sorts of incentives, to include tax breaks, land, and various credits. But in the end, someone has to pay for these costs. Instead of selectively targeting businesses, like a manufacturing plant, wouldn’t it make more sense to build better infrastructure, improve our schools, and otherwise improve the quality of life that inures to everyone in the county? Those who consider all taxes as somehow evil, I would ask why Florida, which has no income tax and an overall low tax rate, also has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country? They have deep ports, and not just a population of retirees. Could there be other factors that make the state less desirable despite the tax advantages?
Cobb cannot continue to grow without figuring out how to move people from point A to point B that won’t take an inordinate amount of time. What business would relocate to an area where moving product is difficult and time consuming because of the traffic, and where employees have horrendous commutes? I don’t have a background in city planning, so I readily admit that I don’t have handy solutions. All I can do is differ with the many voices out there who think that any tax increase is somehow un-American. In the near future the problem will be much worse, and still nothing meaningful will have been done to address the problem. New York City would be a ghost town if it’s subway system shut down. It is a service that no private enterprise would touch because it would cost too much to make a profit, and if the fare was raised to meet the actual cost, it would be prohibitively expensive. This is a classic example of where the government can provide a service that benefits everyone, even those who don’t use it. I would much prefer to pay a tax that builds the things to make Cobb more attractive to everyone than the ad hoc approach of throwing large sums of cash to individual businesses that has to be made up for by the taxpayers---except that you just don’t see where you are getting stuck.