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WEEKLY WONK

Originally Published: 6/21/2014

War on the Constitution:  Peter Van Buren has a great piece at The Nation. He declares that we are entering our 3rd great era: the post-constitutional era. Van Buren posits that in the 1st era, “the colonial years,” there was a king, a unitary executive, who ruled without checks and balances, allowed no freedom of speech or due process or privacy “when it came to protecting his power.” The 2nd era was the constitutional era, where the document was a check on government’s power. The 3rd era, the post-constitutional era, is “a time when that government is abandoning the basic ideas that saw our nation through centuries of challenges far more daunting than terrorism. Those ideas - enshrined in the Bill of Rights - are disarmingly concise. Think of them as the haiku of a genuine people’s government.” Van Buren goes on to enumerate the things we already know, the police state, the assault on and bastardization of free speech, a lack of freedom of information, and the loss of an informative media. The comparisons that Van Buren draws between the present day and the pre-Revolutionary era really bring home what’s going on in our country. And it ain’t pretty.

 

Iraq:  Obama has sent 275 personnel to areas “in and around Iraq.” The troops are “equipped for combat.” They will provide support and security for the U.S. embassy in Baghdad. “In and around” Iraq? Support for the embassy? How can these people protect the embassy if they’re “around” Iraq? Obama is also considering sending special forces to “train and advise” what’s left of the Iraqi troops. There are currently about 170 troops still there so the 275 is in addition to those. And State Secretary John Kerry announced that there will be no cooperation with Iran. (Guardian) Then it was announced that he was sending 300 troops (Washington Post), but I couldn’t find anywhere where it said if this was the same 275 or another 300 in addition to the 275. Maybe no one wants us to know. Listen to what Jon Stewart has to say about Mess O’Potamia. (Salon)

 

Alabama:  An Alabama state appeal court struck down part of the state’s sexual misconduct law as unconstitutional. What part? The part that said that consensual oral and anal sex was a crime. (Montgomery Adviser)

 

Florida:  The legislature passed, and Governor Rick Scott (R) has signed, a bill “prohibiting women from obtaining abortions if the fetus is deemed able to survive outside the womb. . . It replaces the current state law which prohibits women from obtaining abortions after 24 weeks of pregnancy unless their lives are at risk.” The law also limits health exceptions. Third trimester abortions can only be obtained after 2 doctors determine that the women’s life is in danger or she is in danger of suffering a “substantial” physical impairment. There’s also an exception if there is only 1 doctor who is available to consult. (Guardian)

 

Supremes on Guns:  In a 5-4 decision, the Supremes ruled that “straw purchasing” of guns is illegal. So, guns will now be able to be sold only to an intended owner. If someone buys a gun for another person, it’s a crime. (Talk Radio News)

 

Supremes on Separation of Church & State:  The Supremes let stand an appeals court decision that a Wisconsin school district “could not hold graduation ceremonies in a church auditorium.” It was a 7-2 decision. Guess who dissented. Come on now. You can get this. It was Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. (Reuters)

 

Supremes on Election Lying:  In a 9-0 decision, the Supremes said that the lawsuit that challenges an Ohio law that prohibits certain “false statements” during a campaign can go forward. “The pretty technical legal question before the Supreme Court was whether the threat of enforcement amounted to the kind of injury needed to come to court. The answer, it turns out, is yes.” (McClatchy) 2 conservative groups - the Susan B. Anthony List and the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST) - filed the petition. They had used lies against a candidate in the last election and were afraid they could be fined. Of course, their argument is that lying is part of their freedom of speech. (Reuters)

 

Supremes on Taxes:  The Supremes ruled unanimously that “taxpayers have a right to challenge an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) summons enforcement action in court” if they can show that the IRS acted in bad faith. (Reuters)

 

Supremes on Patents:  The Supremes unanimously ruled that “a computerized financial trading system cannot be patented because it is based on an ‘abstract’ idea.” (AFP)

 

Help the Rich:  The House Republicans have denied the American people everything that may cost a dime. We can’t afford it, they say. We’re broke. But, we’re not too broke to help the rich. They passed a bill with 2 measures that’ll frost your wheaties. One would reinstate, and make permanent, the tax cuts that (finally) expired December 2013. Of course, Obama would veto any such bill if it happened to get through the Senate. Maybe they just did it to prove to their rich benefactors that they really are working for them. The other measure would extend a tax provision that also expired that allows small businesses to write off up to $500,000 worth of investments each year, which would cost us about $73 billion every decade. Anyone else wonder how a business with $500,000 a year to invest could be called “small?” But, that’s not all. They also passed a pair of incentives to help S corporations, which Democrats agreed to if they found a way to offset the estimated $2 billion cost every decade. (The Hill) None of this is going anywhere so I don’t know why I’m bothering to tell you about it.

 

Taxes:  Here’s something to think about. The Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) has an estimated value of $1 quadrillion. That’s a thousand trillion dollars. The entire U.S. GDP is only $17 trillion! The CME imposes transfer fees, contract fees, brokerage fees, Globex fees, clearing fees, and contract surcharges, many of them on both the buyer’s and seller’s side. (CME Fee Schedule) But, despite the fact that taxpayers provide infrastructure, technology, court services, and financial security, CME hasn’t paid a cent in sales tax. Rather, CME says it pays too much in tax and demanded, and received, an $85 million tax break from the State of Illinois. (Chicago Tribune)

 

Discrimination:  Obama issued an executive order prohibiting federal contractors from discriminating based on sexual orientation. (Washington Post)

 

FMLA:  The Labor Department is proposing a rule requiring private employers to extend the Family and Medical Leave Act to same-sex couples. The Office of Personal Management (OPM) is issuing its own proposal to extend FMLA to federal employees. (Washington Post)

 

Washington Redskins:  The U.S. Patent Office has canceled the patent for the Washington Redskins, “ruling that the NFL team’s name is disparaging to Native Americans. (Guardian) Mike Papantonio doesn’t think this decision would hold up in court.

 

Healthcare:  The UK’s NHS (National Health Service) was found to be the best in the world by the Commonwealth Fund, a Washington-based foundation that “is respected around the world for its analysis of the performance of different countries’ health systems.” The NHS scored highest on quality, access, and efficiency and the UK spends just £2,008 per person each year. This is just $3,417. The U.S. spends £5,017, $8,538, and the Commonwealth Fund found it “the worst globally.” (Guardian)

 

Privatizing the VA:  The House has a bill (HB 3230) to “substantially expand the current authority of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to provide medical services to veterans through agreements with non-VA health care providers, and would require VA to use that authority to ensure that all eligible veterans received requested health care in a timely fashion.” While expanding veterans’ healthcare is not only a good idea, it’s necessary, this privatization is just the same as all privatization - a way to get taxpayer money to private, for-profit corporations. And it will cost us a lot more than doing it ourselves. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated the cost for the 2014-2019 period is $44 billion. And the bill calls for taking $7 billion from Medicare and Medicaid to pay for it.

 

VA Healthcare:  Did you know that not all the people using the VA healthcare system are vets? “Family members of veterans are eligible for VA health benefits under certain circumstances. For instance, the spouses of permanently disabled veterans and troops who died in service can use the system through the VA’s Civilian Health and Medical Program.” Since 2008 the use of the system by non-veterans has increased at a higher rate than veterans. Look at the graph. (Washington Post)

 

Global Carbon Emissions:  If you know anyone who still argues that global warming isn’t caused by humans, show them this graph. (Climate Central)

 

Marine Monuments:  Believe it or not, Dubya holds the record for creating U.S. marine monuments. He declared 4 during his second term. Obama is now proposing to expand one of them - the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument. His proposal is to expand the monument from almost 87,000 square miles to nearly 782,000 square miles, “all of it adjacent to 7 islands and atolls controlled by the United States. The designation would include waters up to 200 nautical miles offshore from the territories.” Enric Sala, a National Geographic explorer, has been researching the area’s reefs and atolls since 2005. He said: “It’s the closest thing I’ve seen to a pristine ocean.” The expansion would make the entire area off-limits to fishing and energy exploration. It’s expected to come under attack particularly from various fishing industries. The proposal is open for public comment. (Washington Post)

 

Offshore Drilling:  While the above makes you think Obama is concerned about the oceans, this piece will make you scratch your head. His Interior Department announced the “first step” in developing a 5-year program for potential offshore oil and gas lease sales program.

 

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