Big Money

My friend and NCSU archaelogist, Scott Fitzpatrick I like to refer to him as NCSU’s Indiana Jones) just made it into a cool NPR story on the absolutely giant momey (see below) formerly used on the island of Yap.  (Yes, that’s really it’s name):

Yap Stone Money

It’s really quite an interesting story on exactly what “money” is.

Health Care Law Unconstitutional?

So says a federal judge (GWB appointee) in VA:

RICHMOND – A federal judge in Virginia ruled Monday that a key provision of the nation’s sweeping health-care overhaul is unconstitutional, the most significant legal setback so far for President Obama’s signature domestic initiative.

U.S. District Court Judge Henry E. Hudson found that Congress could not order individuals to buy health insurance.

In a 42-page opinion, Hudson said the provision of the law that requires most individuals to get insurance or pay a fine by 2014 is an unprecedented expansion of federal power that cannot be supported by Congress’s power to regulate interstate trade.

Honestly, I think reasonable people can disagree on this point.  Though, I’m (not surprisingly) more persuaded by those who argue that the mandate is, in fact, consistent with existing jurisprudence on how the Commerce Clause is interpreted.  The big point, though, is that the ultimately is not that big a deal (regardless of whatever Fox news says).  Why?

Hudson is the first judge to rule that the individual mandate is unconstitutional. He said, however, that portions of the law that do not rest on the requirement that individuals obtain insurance are legal and can proceed. [emphasis mine]

At worst, only the mandate clause can conceivably be ruled Unconstitutional by the Supreme Court (the only place it really matters).  And, this can and will be fixed if this happens.  If that mandate were to be thrown out, you better believe that all the health insurance companies would find a way (with Congress’ help, of course) to create a mandate in practice, if not law, since the parts of the law saying they have to cover everybody irrespective of pre-existing conditions will not be thrown out.  For example, you could create an opt-out clause such that if you don’t buy health insurance at a certain time, you lose the option to have any federal subsidies for five years.  Paul Starr’s got the un-mandate nicely explained here.  If not this, exactly, certainly something similar would come to pass of political necessity.

Lessons from the tax cut deal

What can I say, I’m a sucker for lists (and Ezra Klein).  I think Ezra’s six lessons from the tax cut deal are a good combination of the two.  I’m particularly partial to lessons 4 & 5:

4) Republicans really, really, really care about tax cuts for rich people. Many Democrats had been operating under the theory that Republicans would simply obstruct everything Democrats attempted, as that was the best way to make Obama a one-termer. At least when it comes to tax cuts for very wealthy Americans, that’s not true. Republicans agreed to far more in unemployment insurance and stimulus proposals than anyone expected, and sources who were involved in the negotiations agree that the mistake Democrats made going in was underestimating how much Republicans wanted the tax cuts for the rich extended.

5) It’s still Ronald Reagan’s world, at least when it comes to taxes. The Sturm und Drang over the tax cuts for the rich obscured the Democrats’ massive capitulation on the tax cuts for everyone else. Even the party’s liberals had accepted Obama’s argument that the tax cuts for income of less than $250,000 – which includes the bulk of the Bush tax cuts – should be permanently extended. Another way of saying that is Democrats had agreed that the Clinton-era tax rates were too high. If you put it to most Democrats that way, they’d protest vigorously. The economy boomed under Clinton, and the Democratic Party is proud of the efforts it made to balance the budget. But Democrats are so terrified of being accused of raising taxes that they’ve conceded to the Bush tax rates for 98 percent of Americans.

If I were a more ambitious political scientist, I’d be really curious to know the degree to which America is unique in our political dialog over taxes or how much this may resemble the debate in other modern democracies.  To some degree, we’re clearly unique, otherwise all those other nations would not have a larger (and kinder) public sector.  Still, are the left parties in other democracies simply unafraid of discussing raising taxes or are they rather just not quite as cowed as the Democrats are.

To reiterate a favorite point of mine, the real problem with our current situation is Americans are simply unwilling to pay for the amount of government we are receiving yet unwilling to cut the amount of government.  We’re just pawning off the gap on future generations.  So wrong.   I forget which blogger suggested that Republicans be labelled “borrow and spend” in contrast to the “tax and spend” Democrats, but it’s really what a big part of the difference comes down to.  Democrats are theoretically willing to actually raise the revenue for the government programs they want (but political too afraid to talk about it), whereas Republicans simply believe in borrowing for the (different) government programs they want.

Not quite a flexitarian

So, to keep with the field trip theme from the last post… one of the girls in the group I was chaperoning remarked how it was so cruel to kill and stuff all the animals on display and claimed that she did not eat any animals… except of course for the chicken in Sesame Chicken from her local Chinese restaurant… and other chicken dishes, too.   Okay, not quite a vegetarian.  Thanks to a recent story I heard on NPR, I know that she’s a flexitarian.  Apparently, this is someone who is mostly a vegetarian, but is somewhat flexible on the matter and will eat some meat.  The NPR story (can’t find the link) suggested that it is a person who takes into account the moral and environmental impact of their meat-eating.  I’d actually fall under that definition– I really wish I ate less meat and have a strong sympathy for those who are vegetarians for ethical and environmental reasons (health reasons, not so much), but I still eat meat most days.   What I have done is definitely try to eat smaller portions of meat (we often mix ground beef with soy-based faux meat), substitute chicken for beef when possible, and purchase humanely-raised mean when I can (Whole Foods and Chipotle).  I know, it’s not a lot, but it’s something.  And I like the sound of being a “flexitarian.”


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