Saturday, December 26, 2009

State Rep. Steve Palazzo wants something unconstitutional done to fight unconstitutional healthcare reform

Here's something rather, umm, odd, from WLOX.  State Rep. Steven Palazzo thinks that the version of health care reform passed by the United States Senate on Christmas Eve is unconstitutional, and he wants AG Jim Hood to "take legal action."  He, of course, doesn't explain what he thinks is unconstitutional, nor does he tell us exactly what legal action he would have Hood take.  I'm pretty sure he fails to explain it because he simply doesn't know what would be unconstitutional about it, nor does he know what action Hood could take.  In fact, Palazzo's the one who is seeking something unconstitutional.

I assume most readers of this blog are familiar with the concept of ripeness and the prohibition of advisory opinions.  For those who are not, the doctrine of ripeness says that there has to actually be a controversy before a court can hear a case.  In essence, you can't have a lawsuit over something that may or may not happen in the future.  With respect to health care reform, no law has been passed.  (Surely Palazzo would understand how a bill becomes a law since he's in the legislature and all.)  In addition to ripeness, our U.S. Constitution prohibits advisory opinions by our federal courts.  Since no health care reform package has been enacted into law, any opinion by a federal court in this matter would be merely advisory.  So, what Palazzo is asking Hood to seek is, in fact, unconstitutional.  Oh, the irony.

But that's not all.  Palazzo goes on to say "We've all seen several Senators get paid off for their votes in exchange for hundreds of millions of dollars."  Really?  I must have missed that episode of Glen Beck.  Now, what I find truly interesting about that statement is that Palazzo's largest contributor (aside from himself and his family), is the Mississippi State Medical Association.  (The campaign finance reports with their contributions can be found here and here.)  In all, Mississippi State Medical has donated $6,000 to Palazzo, with $5,000 of that coming during the month leading up to the special election in 2006 in which Palazzo first won his seat.  Why is that important?  Well, Mississippi State Medical has been staunchly opposed to health care reform, and even recently decided to "de-unify" from the American Medical Association over that issue.

And Mississippi Republicans wonder why they can't gain a majority in either house of our state legislature, despite their overwhelming majority in statewide elections.  The bench apparently just ain't that deep.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Mississippi: In The Top 10, for Once?

The blog Live Science posted the news that a new scientific study ranking the States in terms of the "happiness" of their residents lists Mississippi sixth.

The study was conducted by Andrew Oswald of the University of Warwick in England and Stephen Wu, an economist at Hamilton College in New York. Oswald and Wu sought to connect the subjective perception of "happiness" to more objective indicia.

The happiest states:

1. Louisiana
2. Hawaii
3. Florida
4. Tennessee
5. Arizona
6. Mississippi
7. Montana
8. South Carolina
9. Alabama
10. Maine

Live Science reports:

[The] results come from a comparison of two data sets of happiness levels in each state, one that relied on participants' self-reported well-being and the other an objective measure that took into account a state's weather, home prices and other factors that are known reasons to frown (or smile).

The self-reported information came from 1.3 million U.S. citizens who took part in a survey between 2005 and 2008.

"We wanted to study whether people's feelings of satisfaction with their own lives are reliable, that is, whether they match up to reality — of sunshine hours, congestion, air quality, etc — in their own state," Oswald said.

The results showed the two measures matched up. "We were stunned when it first came up on our screens, because no one has ever managed to produce a clear validation before of subjective well-being, or happiness, data," Oswald said.
Live Science noted:

In addition to rating the smile factor of U.S. states, the research also proved for the first time that a person's self-reported happiness matches up with objective measures of well-being.

Essentially, if an individual says they're happy, they are.

"When human beings give you an answer on a numerical scale about how satisfied they are with their lives, it is best to pay attention. Their answers are reliable," said Andrew Oswald of the University of Warwick in England. "This suggests that life-satisfaction survey data might be very useful for governments to use in the design of economic and social policies," Oswald said.
The study does have something of a flaw, however. The subjective reporting data, which placed Louisiana at the top of the "Happy States" list, was collected before Hurricane Katrina struck in August 2005.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Radley Balko pokes around Gov. Barbour's pardons

Radley Balko's got a piece in Slate entitled "Haley Barbour's Bizarre Pardon Record."  I don't have the time to delve into it here, with it being the holiday season and the reopening of the King Edward, but I highly recommend the read, and I want your thoughts on it.  Especially interesting to me is the apparent abrupt change in Gov. Barbour's policy on never giving pardons.

Friday, December 11, 2009

YP: Paul Minor Appeal Decided

Y'all Politics reports that the Fifth Circuit has decided the appeal taken by Paul Minor, John Whitfield, and Wes Teel.

The seventy page opinion reverses all aspects of the convictions based on 18 USC Section 666, the "federal program bribery" statute. The Court found that there was no connection between the payments on behalf of Whitfield/Teel and the federal funding of non-judicial aspects of the state Administrative Office of the Courts. All three defendants' cases have been remanded for resentencing.

The Court of Appeals denied the Appellants' request that the resentencing be transferred to a different judge. The Fifth Circuit specifically held that "we are convinced that [Chief District] Judge Wingate conducted the trial in a fair and impartial manner."

Reeves Barbour does the impossible: 2 holes-in-one in the same round

Oxford publication The Local Voice has a story coming out soon detailing an incredible round of golf by Gov. Haley Barbour's son, Reeves.  The younger Barbour was playing in a tournament at the Robert Trent Jones Golf Club in Manassas, VA, when he aced two holes in the same round.  According to the story:

The tournament headed to the par 3 174-yard ninth hole where Barbour took a 7-iron out of his back and proceeded to one-hop the ball into the hole. Barbour said the caddies and other players in the group congratulated him and gave him high-fives before calling the pro shop so they could remove the flag for a keepsake. The group moved onto the 10th where Barbour scored a four, good enough for par.

Then the walk to the 11th hole, a Par 3 161-yard hollow.

"I hit an 8-iron that flew directly in the hole, kind of like a slam-dunk," he said. "It sounded like a 22-caliber rifle went off when the ball hit the pin."
Vice President Joe Biden was at the golf club when this happened, and is currently trying to find a clear spot on his schedule for a round with Reeves.  Here's a link to a video interview with Barbour the Younger.  Major congratulations, Reeves!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Liberal Endorsement: Senator Sherrod Brown on the Senate's Health Care Proposal

Here is the statement issued today by Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown, one of the most liberal Democrats in the Senate, in favor of the consensus health care reform proposal announced by the Senate Democratic leadership earlier this week. If Senator Brown is for the package, we can rest assured that it is the best possible proposal for expanding health care coverage to all Americans.

Senator Brown writes:

When I was first elected to serve in the House of Representatives, I made a promise to Ohioans that I would not accept the Congressional health insurance plan until all Americans had affordable health insurance. Even though I'm serving in the United States Senate now, I'm keeping that promise because I am more committed than ever to fixing our tragically broken system.

I've led the fight for a strong public option in the Senate. I co-authored the public option language adopted by the Senate's Health Committee, and I have been using every opportunity since then to make the case for it.

As you know, some of my Senate Democratic colleagues remain unpersuaded, so Majority Leader Harry Reid asked me and nine other Senators to try to reach an agreement that all 60 Democratic Senators could support. I am pleased that our so-called 'Gang of 10' negotiations produced a framework that is every bit as good as the legislation that Senator Reid brought to the Senate floor.

At this point, nothing is final. I am going to continue to fight for the core principles I need to see in a reform bill to earn my vote -- cutting costs, expanding coverage to as many Americans as possible, and keeping insurance companies honest (it's clear they can't do that on their own).
Our framework would provide every uninsured American with the same kind of health system that Members of Congress enjoy. No state could opt out. And even more importantly, it would let Americans who lack insurance from an employer buy coverage from Medicare when they reach 55.

Ten years ago, I joined Senator Ted Kennedy and others in introducing legislation that would make Medicare available to everyone 55 years of age and older. I am thrilled we may soon make that legislation a reality. At the same time, we will make health care available to millions of low-income Americans, and provide financial help to millions more middle-class Americans so they can afford to purchase health insurance.

Remember when Republicans said they would make health insurance reform President Obama's "Waterloo"? They said they would "break him" if we moved forward, and have been working hard at every turn to obstruct the process, distort what our reform bill would do, and deceive Ohioans with scare tactics and fear mongering. Even today, powerful interest groups are rallying their members to try to stop the expansion of Medicare.

It hasn't worked. Americans are demanding reform, the Senate is responding, and we're going to get this done. Since Harry Truman was in office, Democratic Presidents have been trying to get America's health care system on par with the rest of the developed world. For a long time, reform seemed like a dream -- a great idea always just out of reach.

Today, we're about to make our dreams a reality and finally make good on what we owe our constituents -- a health insurance system that works as well for the middle class and less privileged as it does for the big insurance and pharmaceutical companies. We're working hard to finish this work as soon as possible so we can move on to the many challenges still facing this Congress.

TPM: GOP Flip-Flopping on Medicare . . . Again

The blog TPM (Talking Points Memo) has an excellent post this morning about the latest Republican flip-flop on Medicare.

As you may know by now, the latest consensus plan on health care presented by the Senate Democratic leadership includes an innovative means of providing an alternative option to the uninsured, without the full-blown "public option" that has attracted so much GOP fire. As The Christian Science Monitor explains:

With a breakthrough in negotiations announced Tuesday night, Senate Democrats are closing in on a historic overhaul of US healthcare – even if no Republicans join them.

The agreement dropped plans for a big government role in the health insurance market (aka, the public option), which had been a deal-breaker for a handful of centrist Democrats, but in exchange for that compromise it expands access to healthcare through Medicare to workers as young as 55.

* * * *

The deal proposes, in place of a government-run insurance program, mandating private, nonprofit companies to administer low-cost national insurance policies, along the lines of the health plans offered to members of Congress and federal workers. The federal Office of Personnel Management would set up the new national plan but nonprofit private companies would run it.

You'd think the GOP would cheer this new approach. But of course, they don't. Which leads to TPM's report:

For decades, the Republican party has been the scourge of Medicare, hostile to it as a wasteful government program, and happy to see it, in the words of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, "wither and die on the vine." Over the past several months, as Democrats propose paying for health care reform with savings wrung from waste in Medicare, Republicans have tried to position themselves as Medicare saviors. Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) took to the Senate floor recently to warn that health care reform will make seniors "die sooner."

Now, though, Democrats are pondering a Medicare expansion of sorts. They want to let people between the ages of 55 and 64 buy insurance through Medicare. And suddenly, Republicans are stuck in a booby-trapped rhetorical space, defending Medicare from all attackers--real and perceived--and also lashing out at the idea of letting more people benefit from it.
TPM revealed the Democrats' attack on the Republicans' inconsistency (top of page).

I guess the Republicans were against Medicare before they were for it; and oops, now they're against it again . . .

It'd be funny, except for the desperate need to provide health care to all Americans.

Say WHAT, Senator Wicker? Maybe the Taliban are Better than Karzai?

I read this morning on Y'all Politics an interesting story from the Washington Independent. According to The Independent, our own Senator Wicker posed this question in committee sessions with our military leaders:

Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) asks a brave and inconvenient question: As much as the Taliban may be hated, don’t some Afghans prefer their severity over “the endless process of having to grease the palms of endless government bureaucrats”? Better an uncorrupt religious fanatic than a corrupt secular government?
My head is spinning. Can you imagine the fallout if, say, Senator Kerry had asked, during the Bush Administration, "as much as Saddam may be hated, don't some Iraqis prefer his severity to the endless process of having to grease the palms of endless government bureaucrats?" It would have been at least as valid a question as the one posed by Sen. Wicker.

Let's DO remember, that unlike Saddam, the Taliban DID give al-Queda the bases they needed to plan the Sept. 11, 2001 attack on the United States. Maybe, if President Bush had focused on Afghanistan rather than Iraq, we'd have a supportable government in Kabul by now.

It just goes to show how low some Republicans will stoop to try to oppose President Obama. Shame on you, Senator Wicker.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Pickering Lawyer: Divorce Has Been Settled

Buried at the end of the Clarion-Ledger's afternoon story about the Chip Pickering-Chris Hester saga, the newspaper breaks this news:

“All the divorce issues have been resolved,” Chip Pickering’s attorney, Mike Malouf, said Wednesday. He said the judge has not yet signed the divorce decree.
Should we assume that this also means that Leisha Pickering's lawsuit against Elizabeth Creekmore-Byrd is also on its way to settlement? Inquiring minds want to know . . .

Chip Pickering arrested for simple assault

And, there it is:

Also arrested was the soccer coach in this mess, Chris Hester:

According to the Clarion-Ledger:

Madison Municipal Judge Dale Danks issued arrest warrants for the two today, and both men turned themselves in voluntarily, according to Master Sgt. Robert Sanders of the Madison Police Department.  Both men posted bond, which was set at $500, and a trial date was set for Jan. 14.
 Perhaps Chip should be the one wearing the neck brace.  It's been quite a fall from grace.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Chip Pickering responds to the assault allegation

WAPT has former Rep. Chip Pickering's response to the assault allegation involving a Madison soccer coach:

In a statement released Monday, Pickering said the coach verbally abused and physically intimidated Pickering's 11-year-old son to the point where he was crying uncontrollably.

"I approached the coach, who was sitting in his vehicle, and asked him to not address my son in such a manner again. I did not say anything further to him, nor did I threaten him," Pickering said. "The coach then opened his car door, removed his seat belt and exited the vehicle, attacking and assaulting me, and I was forced to defend myself by restraining him."


Pickering said he is also filing a complaint against the coach with the Mississippi State Soccer Association and is asking for his immediate suspension.

"Even though I acted only to protect my son and then in necessary self-defense, I very much regret the adverse impact such incident might have on the children participating in such a worthwhile event," Pickering said.

Hmmmmm. Like I said before, there are likely tons of witnesses to this. We'll see how this unfolds.

h/t Will in comments

TBA: Gen. Petraeus Supports the President's Plan

On "Thus Blogged Anderson," there is a pithy post that quotes Gen. Petraeus responding to another blogger who asked his assessment of the Afghan/al-Queda strategy outlined in President Obama's West Point speech. Read the whole post -- but I will quote the most important sentence in the General's statement:

"The President's policy establishes a clear mission (on which Secretary Gates will elaborate in his testimony) and provides the resources to accomplish it."

I fully endorse Anderson's commentary:

"Now, all the Republicans who acted like it was a Constitutional duty to defer to Petraeus will ... um ... completely ignore this."

As the three of you who listened to Kamikaze and me on MPB's "A Closer Look" know, I think the President has made a wise decision to resume the important (and long-neglected during the Bush Administration's second term) fight against al-Queda in Afghanistan. It's not "another Vietnam" to try to disable an organization that has successfully launched attacks on American soil. It has a horrible cost, but I don't see how we can just walk away.

Before the West Point speech, the Economist ran an excellent article on Pakistan which noted:

"Underpinning the [Pakistani] army’s reluctance to go after the Afghan Taliban, whose leaders are said to reside in Pakistan’s city of Quetta, has been its belief that America and NATO will fail in Afghanistan. . . . . Pakistani security officials in Islamabad, well-versed in Mr Obama’s dithering over troop levels and the wavering of his European allies, think the alliance could quit Afghanistan in a year or two. The army must feel vindicated."

That's exactly why I don't think we should give any timetable for withdrawal. It undermines our attempts to convince Pakistan (and those elements of the Taliban who are willing to listen) that al-Queda will not win by running out the clock.

At the same time -- and just as the President himself has stressed -- in the final analysis, the police action on the Afghan-Pakistani border must be the tail; the dog is an international effort to achieve consensus among all -- including the Pashtuns on both sides of that border and yes, the Taliban -- that international terrorism cannot be harbored and protected.

And while Pakistan's military and intelligence community is skeptical of a US-led military victory, they believe that an internationalist diplomatic strategy can succeed. Again, The Economist:

"Pakistan is urging America to accept what it sincerely believes: that NATO’s strategy in Afghanistan, even if reinforced by the 40,000 extra troops requested of Mr Obama, will fail. Instead, Pakistani generals and diplomats argue with increasing confidence, America must seek a high-level political settlement with its Taliban enemies. And Pakistan wants a hand in this, thereby reasserting its influence over Afghanistan’s affairs, to India’s cost. According to a senior Pakistani official in Islamabad, some steps have already been taken. 'We’ve already been talking to the Taliban,' he said. 'If the US helps the process, some arrangements can be worked out for political reconciliation.'"

That is exactly why President Obama can succeed where President Bush failed: we now have a foreign/military strategy that has an international, instead of a unilateral, focus. For all our sakes, let's hope he does so.

The Urban University: Merge JSU and Hinds CC

Like many of you, I've been pondering the trial balloons that Governor Barbour floated when he submitted his proposals for the State's FY 2011 budget. While a lot of folks consider these proposals DOA, maybe we shouldn't move so fast. This is an opportunity for some "outside-the-box" thinking about how to reorganize state government to provide better services to our people.

In my view, being a liberal is not synonymous with "let everyone with a government job keep it, and pay them more each year." That's far from the point. Rather, liberals believe that government should play a major role in bettering the common welfare (which is why each of the governments of Massachusetts, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, and Virginia is referred to as "the Commonwealth" instead of "the State"). If Government is NOT effectively improving the "commonwealth," it should be changed, and let the chips fall where they may.

So here is one of my suggestions for making Mississippi government more sensible: merge JSU and Hinds Community College into "The University of Mississippi at Jackson." Jackson State University defines itself as:

The vision of Jackson State University is to be a model urban learning community for highly motivated students from diverse backgrounds, where original research and experiential learning are integrated into rigorous and internationally prominent teaching, research and service learning programs.

Hinds Community College has six campuses ringing the City of Jackson: over 12,000 students are educated there. Many of the courses that one would take in the first two years at a four-year institution like JSU are offered there.

Jackson State's strategic planning includes an emphasis on increasing "third year" admissions -- something that would come naturally to students who were progressing from the "outer ring" (the Hinds campuses) where first and second year classes were held, to the "inner ring" (the current 250 acre main campus of JSU) where they would complete their baccalaureate education (if they so chose).

It would then be natural for the medical, dental, and nursing schools now affiliated with UM to be operated under the aegis of the new UM-J.

In one broad stroke, we would eliminate duplication of resources, desegregate college education, and create a powerhouse academic institution in the Capital City.

Just a thought. And one small example of how Governor Barbour's proposals can be used as a springboard for a real discussion of how to bring our 19th Century State Government structure into the 21st Century.

Chip Pickering's alleged assault victim wearing a neck brace at the time of the scuffle?

The Sun-Herald reached Chris Hester, the alleged victim of an assault by Chip Pickering. Here's what they add to this story:

Coach Chris Hester says he was preparing to leave the field when Pickering started yelling at him. Hester coaches the team that played Pickering's son's team. Hester says Pickering pulled him from his vehicle and spectators had to separate the two.
I guess this should all be easy enough to prove, considering the number of likely witnesses....


The Sun-Herald has updated their AP article. Here's some of what they have:
Hester told The Associated Press he didn't know who Pickering was when the politician approached his vehicle. Hester also said he was wearing a neck brace because of a recent surgery when Pickering pulled him from his Nissan Armada. They had to pulled apart by spectators, he said.
"I tried to explain to him, 'Sir, I don't know who you are. I don't know who your son is.' He just blew up," Hester said. "He proceeds to start threatening and yelling at me. It scared the crap out of the kids in my car."
Sanders said Hester was in the neck brace when he spoke with police Sunday.

Edited to add formatting.

Judge Pickering, for the love of all that is holy, have a talk with your son

First, we have the whole revelation about former Congressman Chip Pickering's (R-MS) extramarital affair.  Last night, WLBT reported that Chip's being "that guy" at his son's soccer game:

According to Madison Police, former Republican U.S. Representative Chip Pickering and Coach Chris Hester have signed affidavits against each other for simple assault.  Officers were called to Liberty Park's soccer fields around 4:30 this afternoon after reports of an altercation. Police say a disagreement between the teams two coaches led to Pickering approaching Hester about the treatment of his son who plays for the opposite team.
Oh how the mighty have fallen.... Court appearances today for the both of them before Madison City Court Judge Dale Danks.  Both have been charged with simple assault.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Bengals - WTF??

I saw that after the Bengals won today, they gathered in their locker room and chanted, "Who Dat? Who Dat? Who Dat say they gonna beat them Bengals?"

Bad karma's coming your way, pussycats. You heard it here first.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Dear Hardy Collaboration Architecture

It is my understanding that you are responsible for the design of the new Federal Courthouse in Jackson.  That being said...

Am I missing something?  Is there some symbolic meaning in this asymmetric, God-awful, eye-stinging building you have created in the heart of our city?

I honestly hope so.

(For those of you unfamiliar with this monstrosity, here's a link to the project's page:  I'll take photos soon and upload them.

Jeopardy: Monday Night Football for $500, Alec!

Answer: Not the Patriots!!

"Performance Based Budgeting" is a Non Sequitur

I see that the "Commission for a New Mississippi" wants a "performance based" budgeting structure. Presumably, the head of the Commission, Lieut. Gov. Bryant, hopes to use this "feel good" idea to run for Governor in 2011.

But how, exactly, does it work? If drug-related crime goes UP, has the Bureau of Narcotics failed to perform? Does its budget get cut the next year? If the teen pregnancy rate goes UP, has the Department of Health failed to perform? Does its budget get cut?

Obviously not, in both cases: the statistics would show that those agencies needed more resources, not less, to address the problems under their charge. They may need better strategies, but not less funding.

The basic problem is that the performance of government services is difficult, if not impossible, to assess by objective criteria. Only by the judicious use of discretion -- the type held by the Legislature -- can the value judgments be made in my examples and in many other similar scenarios.

So the Legislature is structured to give committee chairs absolute power over their fiefdoms? And this makes it difficult to hold agencies accountable? Fix THAT problem by requiring committees to meet at regular times set by the Speaker and LtGov, and by allowing committee members to insist on bills being considered.
Otherwise, all the budgeting tricks in the world won't help.