Saturday, August 30, 2014

Another 500,000 people get health care in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania's Republican Governor Tom Corbett has belatedly decided to accept the Affordable Care Act's help to expand health care coverage for about half a million low income people in the state.   As a few other states have done, Corbett worked out a modified plan with the ACA administrators whereby the government will provide subsidies to allow low-income individuals to purchase private insurance.

Corbett is the ninth Republican governor to agree to a cooperative plan with the ACA.   There are 25 states that have not accepted the Medicaid expansion offer;   22 of those states have Republican governors.  The three with Democratic governors have Republican controlled legislatures that have prevented it.

One of those 22 is Georgia -- and Gov. Nathan Deal is in a tight race for re-election in November.   Republicans have done such a good job of demonizing anything that has Obama's name connected to it that it's not proving to be much of a negative factor for Deal -- and it should be.

Some predictors are showing as much as a 65% chance for the Republicans taking control of the senate.   I don't understand how the electorate can be so stupid as to keep voting against their own best interests.   But there is one statistical guru who is predicting a 70% chance for Democrats to hold the senate.   His name is Sam Wang, a member of the Princeton Election Consortium, and in the 2012 senate races he was 100% right, where Nate Silver got only 30 of 33 correct.

Conventional wisdom is that in mid-term elections, with no presidential race on the ballot, voter turn-out is the key to winning national elections.   The prospects of Mitch McConnell as senate majority leader is just too awful to contemplate.    So get out the vote.


Friday, August 29, 2014

Dramatic change in the tone of judges' comments and questions in hearing gay marriage cases

Within the past few years, the falling of bans on same-sex marriage has begun to resemble a row of dominoes toppling.    There is also a dramatic change in the tone of the judges' comments and questions in hearings -- most notable recently in the 7th U. S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago.   The court was considering appeals to uphold bans in Indiana and Wisconsin.

As reported earlier this week by the Associated Press, 
"While judges often play devil's advocate during oral arguments, the panel's often-blistering questions for the defenders of the same-sex marriage bans could be a signal the laws may be in trouble — at least at this step in the legal process. . . .

". . . Richard Posner, who was appointed by President Ronald Reagan in 1981, hit the backers of the ban the hardest. He balked when Wisconsin Assistant Attorney General Timothy Samuelson repeatedly pointed to "tradition" as the underlying justification for barring gay marriage."
Judge Posner said that it was once tradition not to allow blacks and whites to marry and that the prohibition of same-sex marriage derives from "a tradition of hate . . . and savage discrmination."

He then talked about the effect on children of same-sex couples, who have to struggle to grasp why their schoolmates' parents were married and theirs weren't.
"What horrible stuff. . . .  What benefits to society in barring gay marriage outweighs that kind of harm to children?"
Another plaintiff attorney tried the argument that "men and women make babies;  same-sex couples do not. . . .  We have to have a mechanism to regulate that, and marraige is that mechanism."

To which, Judge David Hamilton quipped, "I assume you know how that has been working out in practice?"   And he cited figures that, from 1990 to 2009, births to single women rose 53% in Wisconsin and 68% in Indiana.

The chances seem good that this court will uphold lower court decisions that overturned the bans -- and then we'll have two more state cases in the pool of choices for POTUS to pick one or more to hear in the coming term.


Thursday, August 28, 2014

Take note, Gov. Deal

Just a quick note here to supplement the previous quote about Rick Perry's indictment and remind us all of the close parallel to Gov. Nathan Deal's role in disposing of the ethcis case against him (see Aug. 20th post, "Two governors.").

Look back at today's earlier post, quoting political analyst James Moore about Gov. Perry's indictment.   Here's the relevant quote:
"First, he used the veto to threaten a public officeholder. This is abuse of the power of his office. Presidents and governors frequently use the possibility of vetoes to change the course of legislation. But that is considerably different than trying to force an elected officeholder to resign. What Perry did, if true, can be politely called blackmail."
Now apply this to Deal.    Admittedly the public official (executive director of the ethics commission) was an appointed, rather than an elected, official.   But I'm not sure that  difference is crucial.

Here's the parallel:   In the midst of an ethics investigation of Gov. Deal, the two people heading up the investigation are forced out of their offices (one by job elimination, the other through a drastic salary cut).   This is a bit more than just a "threat to a public officeholder."   The slash was actually carried out.

Second, the replacement executive director, chosen by the governor's office, was also later pressured to "make the case go away."   If she did not cooperate, she could forget about any support from the governor to restore the autonomy of the commission to make its own rules and regulations.   Blackmail?   Sounds like it to me.

Now, are Deal's fingerprints on these abuses of power?   No.   He's too slick an operator for that.  But would a grand jury see what is undeniable here? . . .  that the motive was clearly to get rid of past and possible future ethics charges against the governor.    When his minions do the dirty work -- clearly for him -- does he not bear responsibility?


Rick Perry must be very scared of this indictment. He has hired five of the most powerful lawyers in the country.

Gov. Rick Perry (R-TX) officially filed a request to have the lawsuit against him dismissed by the judge.   That's typical initial strategy in most civil cases, but it also fits the stance Perry has taken in public statements:   that this indictment against him is politically motivated and a dangerous attempt to interfere with the separation of powers in government -- specifically, his authority to exercise the line item veto.

Perry would like to laugh it away -- or turn it into a defense of his constitutional authority being challenged by a disgruntled, irresponsible Democrat. But, if it is so ludicrous on the face of it as he claims, why has he hired such a high-powered legal team to represent him?  (see below).  You don't bring in howitzers to shoot at gnats.   So what might Rick Perry be so afraid of?

Perry is mounting a strong media campaign to control the message as being a fight over his constitutional authority, challenged by an irresponsible district attorney whose resignation he demanded because he considered her unfit for her office following her DUI and night in jail.

But Rosemary Lehmberg is not just an ordinary district attorney.   She heads the Public Integrity Unit for Travis County.  Travis County happens to include the state capital of Austin.  In effect, then, she directs what amounts to the ethics commission with jurisdiction over most state government officials.   You begin to get the picture.

James Moore, a Texas political analyst, delved into this and wrote about it for the Huffington Post.  His article is titled:  "Why Rick Perry Will Be Convicted."
"The PUI [Lehmberg's Public Integrity Unit] . . . had been investigating the Cancer Research and Prevention Institute (CPRIT), a $3 billion dollar taxpayer funded project that awarded research and investment grants to startups targeting cancer cures. The entire scientific review team, including Nobel Laureate scientists, resigned because they said millions were handed out through political favoritism. . . .  much of the money was ending up in projects proposed by campaign donors and supporters of Governor Perry. In fact, one of the executives of CPRIT was indicted . . . for awarding an $11 million dollar grant to a company without the proposal undergoing any type of review. 
"Perry might have been the next target [of investigation] . . .

"If Perry were able to get Lehmberg to resign, he'd have the authority to appoint her replacement. We can assume that would have been a Republican, and that any investigations might have stuttered to a halt. The DA, however, refused, and began to field threats from the governor's office that the PIU budget was to be zeroed out via line item veto. But the exercise of the veto is not what got Perry indicted.

"First, he used the veto to threaten a public officeholder. This is abuse of the power of his office. Presidents and governors frequently use the possibility of vetoes to change the course of legislation. But that is considerably different than trying to force an elected officeholder to resign. What Perry did, if true, can be politely called blackmail, and, when he sent emissaries to urge Lehmberg to quit even after his veto, he may have indulged in bribery. According to sources close to the grand jury, Perry dispatched two of his staffers and one high-profile Democrat to tell Lehmberg if she left her office the governor would reinstate the PIU budget.  One report indicates there may have been a quid pro quo of a new, more lucrative job for the DA, which is why this case has nothing to do with his right to use the veto. . . . 
 Perry's other claim, that this is another manifestation of partisan politics in Austin, is easily debunked.   According to Moore, 
There wasn't a single Democrat involved in the investigation and indictment. In fact, Perry appointed the presiding judge in the case. . . ." 
No, make no mistake about the seriousness of this indictment.   Just follow the money -- both all that grant money to cronies -- and then all the money that is going to be paid to very expensive and very powerful lawyers.   Perry must be very very scared right now.  He could actually go to jail.


**  Perry's team of five A-list lawyers includes:  one who represented George W. Bush before the Supreme Court in the 2000 vote recount case ;  a partner of a high-powered Washington law firm, who has argued cases before the Supreme Court;   a well-known criminal defense lawyer in Texas;   a former chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court;  and another leading Texas litigator known for winning million-dollar settlements for his clients.   This has to be bigger than a nuisance indictmentYou don't need big guns to slap at gnats.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Is this the smoking gun in the dismissal of the ethics case against Gov. Deal?

Background for this can be found in ShrinkRap posts of July 18 and 19 and especially July 25th.   It has to do with that memo written by Holly LaBerge, the memo that was withheld from the disclosure documents in Stacey Kalberman's whistleblower lawsuit.    Kalberman was forced out of her job heading the ethics commission because she was actually investigating the ethics complaints against the governor -- and getting too close to finding something.   LaBerge, who replaced Kalberman in the job, also said she felt pressured by the governor's staff to avoid a public hearing.  That's what the memo was about.

When the existence of the memo was revealed -- after Kalberman had already won her case to the tune of about $1,000,000 settlement -- Kalberman still sued to have LaBerge, the ethics commission itself, and the Attorney General's office sanctioned for failing to disclose the memo.

Why bother, since she had already won her wrongful dismissal case?    Well, there is a really good reason that was revealed in Monday's hearing of the case before Fulton County Judge Ural Glanville, who had also presided over the original Kalberman case.   If the memo had been disclosed, Kalberman and her legal team would have known about the texts and emails from Deal's staff to LaBerge, which would have also revealed that Gov. Deal had signed a letter of recommendation for LaBerge's application to the Leadership Georgia program.

Why is that important?   It is actually a "bingo" moment, because the letter of recommendation ties Deal directly to LaBerge and thus refutes his claim that he didn't even know Holly LaBerge and thus had nothing to testify about in the former whistleblower trial.

This little bit of seeming legal trivia would have allowed Kalberman's attorneys to call Deal to testify in the case.  And that could have opened up all kinds of problems for the ethically challenged governor.

Judge Glanville's comments in court yesterday indicated that he takes this very seriously.  The AJC reported that he "blistered state attorneys for withholding key evidence" in the case, saying that "it erodes the public's trust."

Judge Glanville also clarified with LaBerge her reasons for writing the memo and then putting it away in a drawer.    She had done it as "insurance," she said, to protect herself and the commission in case the governor's staff followed through on the threat that, unless she made the case against the governor "go away," he would kill the pending legislation that would restore the commission's right to write its own rules and regulations.

To me, this seems close to being a smoking gun indicating that there was something akin to quid pro quo blackmail -- certainly abuse of power -- coming directly out of the governor's office to get the ethics case against him dismissed with a minor fine for "technical filing errors."

If they ever get Deal under oath, who knows what else might be exposed?    Judge Glanville says he will rule on this case by the end of the week.

Get ready, Jason Carter.   This could be a big boost for your campaign to replace Nathan Deal.


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Advice from Michael Brown's uncle -- only too prophetic and too true

As Michael Brown's family laid his body to rest in Ferguson, Missouri yesterday, the New York Times published two articles:   one about Michael Brown and one about Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot and killed him.

Among those quoted in the article about Michael was his uncle, Bernard Ewings, who remembered talking with him once about how to interact with police officers:
"I let him know that, if the police ever get on you, I don't care what you doing, give it up.  Because if you do one wrong move, they'll shoot you.   They'll kill you."
The awfulness of that prophetic truth is made all the more awful by the fact that this is a conversation hundreds of thousands of black families have had with their boys and young men.   It is a warning that cannot be over-emphasized.

From what is known, it seems that Michael did not heed this advice at first;   and then when he tried to by holding up his hands in surrender . .  .  it was too late.    The police officer was already in the process of killing him.

Please, do not misread this:  I am not blaming Michael.   It is an indictment of our society of inequality and of our police and justice systems that put young black men at such higher risk than their white counter-parts.   They need to know that they cannot trust that the police will treat them fairly . . . and that they must act accordingly to protect themselves.

How many white families have had such a conversation?   But it is a reality of the world black families live in, still in 2014.

I remember an NPR program, from 10 or 12 years ago, about crime in low-income, African-American areas of our big cities, where children grow up hearing gunshots ringing out nightly in their neighborhoods.    One black teenage boy was asked what he thought his life would be like in 10 years.

His answer still gives me chills:   He replied, simply, and calmly, that he didn't expect to be alive in 10 years.   


Monday, August 25, 2014

Islamic leaders denounce the ISIS atrocities

A very welcome development in efforts to foster peace and understanding between Islamic and Western nations is coming -- and it is much needed and long overdue.

Important Muslim leaders in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, as well as the 57 member nation Organization of Islamic Cooperation, are backing an internet and social media campaign to educate the public and to denounce the ISIS group that has been committing atrocities in Syria and Iraq.

The Grand Mufti of Egypt, Sahwki Allam, has said that these extremists violate all Islamic principles and laws and are a danger to Islam.    Ibrahim Negm, as adviser to the mufti said that the campaign:
". . . aims to correct the image of Islam that has been tarnished in the West because of these criminal acts, and to exonerate humanity from such crimes that defy natural instincts and spread hate between people."

Eqypt's current president, Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, hoping to advance moderate Islam, decried those extremists who "believe that killing and bloodshed is the way to defend Islam."

Let's hope that this takes hold and spreads understanding.    Even our members of Congress need to hear this message, because mistrust and prejudice are widespread.

But it is especially painful to the millions of peaceful, gentle, and kind Muslim people living among us who suffer from the false image of their religion and their people.


What will happen in Ferguson if the Grand Jury does NOT indict Officer Wilson?

Two weeks after the unarmed Michael Brown was gunned down in the street by a white police officer, some semblance of calm has returned to the community of Ferguson.   A grand jury has begun hearing evidence in order to decide whether to indict Officer Wilson.

I am growing increasingly concerned as to what will be the reaction in Ferguson if Wilson is not indicted.    Not that I want an innocent man to be indicted.   But a grand jury's role is not to decide the innocence/guilt question;  it is to decide if there is probable cause to have a trial, which will then render a verdict on whether he is guilty.   That is a much lower bar of proof than a trial to establish guilt;  rules of testimony and of evidence are quite less strict.

From the incomplete evidence we have, the community -- and, I admit, I too -- are already convinced that there is probable cause for a trial.  But I also think that there is at least a 50/50 chance that he will not be indicted.

Why?   Because the bar is very high to prove that Wilson violated the police guidelines for justifiable shooting of a suspect.   The guidelines are very detailed, but there is also a lot of leeway for considering the degree of threat the suspect represents (if he actually assaulted the officer), even how big he is (Brown was 6'3" and heavy built), whether his behavior seemed  irrational due to drugs (perhaps), etc.   

In addition, there is leeway favoring the officer who must make a split-second decision in a fast-escalating altercation, and even his subjective evaluation of the situation at the time.   Not what hindsight proved to be true, but what it seemed to the officer at the time.   With all those possible routes, it's unlikely they will fail to find one as a way out of an indictment. 

Other factors that lead me to say 50/50:  Because of leaked information that suggests the police are trying to slant the case in Wilson's favor.   Because the Attorney General has a personal, deeply emotional reason for being sympathetic toward police officers under attack (his father was a policeman killed in line of duty).   And because the AG does not think that biases him but rather that it makes him sympathetic to victims.    And because, although the town of Ferguson is 68% black, the grand jury hearing evidence is 75% white, which is technically proper since Ferguson is part of St. Louis County, which is 75% white.    But that will add to the feeling that it is not fair.

And, lastly, because it has been leaked by the prosecutor's office that Officer Wilson will be invited to testify at the grand jury hearing.   This is almost unprecedented.   He has thus far not written an incident report -- or at least they have chosen not to release it -- while he has the benefit of hearing all the witness interviews on TV and can thus tailor his testimony to account for what witnesses have said about what happened and to the forensic evidence found.   In addition, in a grand jury hearing, as I understand it, he would not be cross-examined.   The community has no trust in the system or in this particular Attorney General, who will choose the prosecutor and oversee the case.

Are those enough reasons to be concerned that the turmoil we have seen in the streets of Ferguson these last two weeks may be nothing compared to the violence that will erupt if the grand jury does not grant a trial in what appears to be a completely unwarranted shooting of an unarmed black teenager by a white police officer?

Yes, I'm afraid so.   Because all the community has to go on are these two facts:   (1) an unarmed black teenager was walking peacefully down the street;  and (2) less than three minutes later he had been shot by a white policeman -- and they left his body lying in the street for four hours.    No fine points of law, or grand jury proceedings, or "backing up our police officers in difficult situations" will satisfy in this climate of outrage at racial injustice and police violence that have been decades in building.


[Added later on Monday]:   The Washington Post is reporting that Officer Darrell Wilson, who killed Michael Brown, had been hired by the Ferguson Police Department about three years ago, after spending his rookie year with the Jefferson, MO Police Department.   Race relations were so bad between Jefferson police and the black community that the city council felt it necessary to fire the entire department -- including Wilson -- and start over.   

 Wilson has had a clean record at Ferguson during these last three years and even earned a commendation.   Until he enounctered Michael Brown's apparent defiance and aggressive behavior.  Nothing that we know yet, however, would suggest to me that shooting to kill was the only thing for Wilson to do.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Why Gov. Nathan Deal should not be re-elected

ShrinkRap readers know already of my reasons for opposing Nathan Deal so strongly, including not only his shady ethical dealings, his refusal to expand Medicaid, and the negative effect on our economy by his wrong-headed austerity budget cuts, so that our state now ranks 50th in joblessness.

I also vehemently oppose him for his despicable campaign tactic in 2010 of putting the safety of kids attending Youth Pride at risk, merely because he thought he could smear his opponent, who had made a contribution to help this wonderful community center and counseling source for LGBTQ teens.   In doing so, he pandered to the lowest element of homophobic prejudice, which was still pretty widespread in Georgia at the time.

Therefore I gladly share this fund-raising email from the campaign of Jason Carter for governor of Georgia.   I urge all who are Georgia voters to think carefully about who you want our next governor to be.


It's crony politics as usual for Gov. Deal.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution just reported that more than four of every five of the governor's appointments to the most powerful state boards are major donors to his campaign.

In fact, three families who have given the governor $375,000 have multiple appointments to these boards.

We need to put a stop to Gov. Deal's crony politics. Contribute $375 now to help us send Gov. Deal packing:

This is all part of a bigger pattern. Remember, this is the same governor who:
  • Resigned from Congress to avoid an ethics investigation;
  • Escaped another ethics investigation by having the top investigators forced out, and bullying their replacement; and
  • Made millions from a company that owes the state $74 million in back taxes.
We need your help standing up to his style of crony politics.

Contribute today: