You are browsing the archive for 2014 December 17.

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The Court and Obamacare

December 17, 2014 in Economics

By Michael D. Tanner

Michael D. Tanner

Probably no later than next June, we can expect the Supreme Court to rule on whether the Obama administration can provide subsidies for Obamacarethrough federally run exchanges despite explicit language in the law that limits subsidies to “an exchange established by a State.”

There is no guarantee, of course, about how the Court will rule. The language of the statute is clear, and the ever-loquacious Jonathan Gruber has stated that the law was set up that way to entice states into establishing their own exchanges. And the fact that the Court reached down to take this case even before the legal process had fully played out in the lower courts suggests that several justices believe the challenge has merit.

But one never knows whether the justices will twist themselves into John Roberts–like pretzels in their desire to avoid upending a president’s signature legislative accomplishment.

Opponents of Obamacare should also realize that even if the Court upholds the challenge to Obamacare’s subsidies, it would not actually strike down the law. Obamacare’s insurance regulations, for example, would largely remain on the books. In fact, it could truthfully be said that what the Court would actually be doing is ordering Obamacare to be implemented exactly as written.

Among Obamacare opponents there will be satisfaction and a widespread feeling of vindication. But after the cheering dies down, what happens next?

If the Court upholds the challenge, some 5 million people in 32 states would lose their subsidies, meaning they would suddenly have to pay more, sometimes much more, for insurance. Not surprisingly, supporters of Obamacare have reacted to the possibility with near hysteria. The American Prospect warned of a “swath of human misery, stretching from horizon to horizon.” Salon concurs, arguing that “people will die.” Brian Beutler in The New Republic agrees that this decision is “a matter of life and death” and proclaims that the Supreme Court has become “a death panel.”

Republicans had better be prepared with something better than Obamacare Lite.”

Back in the real world, such drastic outcomes are unlikely. Of course, the predictions do raise the question of why, if liberals truly believe such things, the administration continues to enroll people in Obamacare without even warning them that their subsidies might be at risk.

Still, it is true that, if the Court does insist on the law as written, a great many Americans are going to be very unhappy once they see their new insurance premiums. That …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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The Evolution of Charter School Quality

December 17, 2014 in Economics

The role of charter schools in improving academic achievement is controversial, and existing evidence has led to contrasting conclusions about appropriate future policies. Past incongruous findings provide support for both advocates and opponents of charter schools. New research by Patrick Baude, Marcus Casey, Eric A. Hanushek, and Steven G. Rivkin on charter school quality in Texas brings new evidence to bear on these important issues. Their analysis clearly indicates that charter school quality has improved over time.

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The Allure of Extremes

December 17, 2014 in History

December 17, 2014 12:00 p.m.

With his syndicated weekly feature, Believe It or Not!, his radio and television shows and Odditoriums, those dim-lit exhibition halls of the bizarre, grotesque and weird, Robert Leroy Ripley was easily the most popular American icon of the twentieth century.

One of my salient childhood memories is of poring over the Believe It or Not! box cartoon in the lower right-hand corner of the Sunday newspaper’s “funnies” page. A chubby, myopic, bookish child, I was convinced of my own secret weirdness, yet here was a celebrated, infinitely varied province of extremes, peculiarities and wonderment. Here were monsters and saints, the deformed and defamed, the largest this, the smallest that in the world — always that thrilling phrase, “in the world!” Robert Ripley’s Believe It or Not! cartoons transformed my child’s hunger for excess, my fascination with oddness into fact-as-entertainment. Ripley fed the nation’s appetite for awe, wonder and terror by recognizing the de-vitalizing effect of the mundane, the electrifying frisson of the foreign and disturbing. A curator of the incredible, he understood that shock makes us feel alive, and that fear and ecstasy mirror one another. He shrewdly understood something else – that we like to be blown out of ordinary consciousness, for a time at least, before returning to the everyday, the familiar, the seemingly safe.

What is it about the bizarre, the grotesque, the weird that fascinates? What exactly is the allure of the odd, the irrational, the extreme? As a child, my circumscribed world, thanks to my well-meaning parents, was ordered, scheduled, disciplined. It was a predictable, thus boring, litany of chores and schoolwork. As Samuel Beckett said in Waiting for Godot, “habit is a great deadener.” Covertly, I rebelled against the deadening effects of habit and routine, the surfeit of safety. With each Sunday’s Believe It or Not! cartoon, I peered between the bars of my soft, suburban penitentiary into other worlds, glimpsed tantalizing dangers and discoveries. I saw that a person could adventure to exotic places, cure or contract terrible diseases, battle outer monsters and inner demons, be challenged to defeat death by science or an inexplicable miracle. This evidence of a greater, stranger life, these weekly encounters with the outlandish, proved irresistible.

Part of Ripley’s phenomenal success lay in his open invitation to the nation’s people to invent their own wacky tricks, uncover oddball but true phenomena in their …read more


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The Goal of Sanctions Shouldn't Be to Wreck Russia's Economy

December 17, 2014 in Economics

By Emma Ashford

Emma Ashford

In the course of 24 hours, the ruble dropped more than 10% against the dollar. This sudden collapse comes on the heels of a six-month period in which the ruble has lost 55% of its value. Unsurprisingly, many of the resulting headlines are self-congratulatory, describing a Western victory over Russia. But the collapse of the ruble owes far more to other factors — primarily the dramatic drop in the price of oil — than it does to sanctions, and may not help to solve the Ukraine crisis.

Although the ruble has been floundering for some time, the last two days have seen a sharp and unexpected drop in the Russian currency. The ruble has fallen over 20% against the dollar in the last month, but 11% of this drop occurred within in a single day. Following a 1am emergency meeting early morning Tuesday, the Russian Central Bank raised interest rates dramatically (from 10.5% to 17%) in an attempt to halt the ruble’s slide. Despite this, the ruble continued to fall until around 4pm Moscow time, and has since stabilized at around 70 rubles to the dollar.

The ruble crisis is largely the result of falling oil prices on an economy that is almost entirely dependent on oil and gas exports. Sixty-eight percent of all Russian exports are natural resources, with crude oil alone making up 33% of Russian exports. The Russian government is heavily dependent on revenues from oil and gas, with the Russian budgetfor 2015 assuming oil prices of $100/barrel. With oil now trading at below $60 per barrel, Russia will have to dig deep into its reserve fund to finance government spending. OPEC’s public announcement of their intention to maintain production levels means that the price of oil is unlikely to go up any time soon. Similar crises are entirely possible in other oil-dependent states such as Venezuela or Nigeria.

The ruble crisis is largely the result of falling oil prices on an economy that is almost entirely dependent on oil and gas exports.

In the Russian case, sanctions have certainly worsened the crisis. In particular, they have succeeded in cutting off foreign financing to many Russian companies, making it more difficult for them to obtain loans to tide them through difficult periods. Indeed, part of the currency panic yesterday appears to have resulted from the Russian Central Bank’sinvolvement in a massive 625 billion ruble bond issuance by oil …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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Why It Matters That Almost All Lead Roles in Hollywood Go to White Actors

December 17, 2014 in Blogs

By Charlotte M. Canning, The Conversation

For films in theatrical release, 90 percent of lead actors are white.

Director Ridley Scott recently set off a firestorm when he dismissed those who criticized him for casting white actors as every major character in the recently released Exodus: Gods and Kings, while reserving roles like “Egyptian thief, “royal servant,” and “Egyptian lower class civilian” for actors of color.

“I can’t mount a film of this budget, where I have to rely on tax rebates in Spain, and say that my lead actor is Mohammad so-and-so from such-and-such,” he told Variety. At the film’s premiere, he scoffed at the idea of a boycott and recommended that those threatening to stay away from the film should “get a life.”

It would be terrific if the problem were isolated to Scott or Hollywood. But it’s an issue in the entertainment industry as a whole.

A 2014 UCLA study about casting in Hollywood concluded that for films in theatrical release, lead actors were 89.5 percent white. For Broadway and not-for-profit theaters the results were almost as dismal: white actors made up 79 percent of the lead roles.

Just last week highly respected British/South African actress Dame Janet Suzman claimed that “white people go to the theatre, it’s in their DNA” and that theater is “a white invention, a European invention and white people go to it.”

Suzman’s remarks were greeted with much the same anger as Scott’s had been.

“Ludicrous,” said Dawn Walton, artistic director of Eclipse, Britain’s leading black-led national touring company.

Artists of African and Asian descent around the world pointed to the diverse, millennia-old theater traditions on those continents.

Suzman didn’t simply refuse to apologize – she doubled down, identifying the origins of theater with playwright William Shakespeare.

When I bring up the topic of casting with my students, I often ask: Can women play roles written for men? Can white performers play characters of color? Can people of color play characters of a “color” other than their own?

Unfortunately, it seems as though there are few positive real world precedents; examples of prejudice or willful ignorance are far easier to find.

Like Mary Zimmerman, director of The Jungle …read more


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When Will Court Trials Begin on CIA Torturers or Their Government Authorizers?

December 17, 2014 in Economics

By Nat Hentoff

Nat Hentoff

So with the Senate Intelligence Committee’s patriotic report on the CIA’s years of torture after 9/11, a surprisingly disappointing reaction came from Rand Paul, most likely running as the Constitution’s candidate for the presidency:

“I think we should not have tortured,” he told The New York Times (“Torture Report Puts Politicians in Quiet Mode,” Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Michael Barbaro, The New York Times, Dec. 11).

However, according to the Times story, Paul “questioned whether releasing gruesome details would be ‘beneficial or inflammatory.’”

That, sir, is not leadership.

By contrast, in a press release for the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University’s School of Law, which continues Justice William Brennan’s constitutional legacy, Michael German declares:

“The release of a small portion of the Senate’s report on abusive CIA interrogations should only be the first step toward full accountability. The public needs to be fully informed and all involved need to be held responsible to ensure our country never embraces a policy of official cruelty again” (“Senate Report Concludes CIA Torture Brutal, Ineffective,”, Dec. 9).

German, who is a fellow at the Brennan Center, continues: “It is also important to remember that there were those both inside and outside government who opposed the use of torture and cruel treatment from the very beginning on the grounds that it was illegal, immoral, ineffective and would ultimately do great harm to our troops and our nation’s security.

“We should honor those who stood against torture when it was most difficult to do so.”

I know Mike German, a former undercover FBI agent who became an unyielding defender of the Constitution. Some of us do learn and change.

A more predictable response to the Senate torture report was found on the Dec. 10 Wall Street Journal editorial page: “The report on CIA interrogations is a collection of partisan second-guessing … The report is more important for illustrating how fickle Americans are about their security, and so unfair to those who provide it” (“Spooks of the Senate,” The Wall Street Journal, Dec. 10).

I and many others are being unfair to the torturing CIA? Actually, there are reporters on The Wall Street Journal who are independent of its editorial line, and are probably embarrassed by this opinion.

And lo and behold, writing in the New York Daily News is Jon Yoo, who, while at the Justice Department, helped create the “torture memos” that gave George W. Bush and Dick …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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5 Things You Should Know About Jeb Bush's Far-Right Legacy

December 17, 2014 in Blogs

By Zaid Jilani, AlterNet

Bush has been responsible for enacting some of the most toxic conservative policies.

Former Florida governor Jeb Bush announced his intention to create a presidential exploratory committee this week. While many are focusing on his relation to former President George W. Bush (he's his brother), the association with one of America's most unpopular presidents isn't all that could hurt him.

Bush has been responsible for enacting some of the far-right's most toxic policies, everything from the nation's first Stand Your Ground law to a path of education privatization that Bush has continued even after he has left office. Here are the five big ones:

1. Signing the First “Stand Your Ground” Bill Into Law: The tragic Trayvon Martin killing spurred renewed criticism of “Stand Your Ground” laws that make it easy for citizens to justify using lethal force. Bush signed into law the first of these bills, making Florida a pioneer state in their use. “This law is about affirming that your home is your castle and, in Florida, you have a right to be absolutely safe inside its walls,” said Marion P. Hammer, former National Rifle Association, at the time, thanking governor Bush for signing it. Sadly, the law has applied to a lot more than just home invasions—“justifiable homicide” tripled in Florida after the passage of the law, and similar laws were in 30 states by 2012.

2. Spearheading Efforts to Privatize Education: Bush wanted to make a name for himself as the “education governor,” but the policies he ended up pursuing produced results that were “mixed as best,” as the Washington Postwrites. The governor enacted the state's first statewide voucher program, but it ended up being struck down as unconstitutional by Florida's supreme court. He also enacted high-stakes testing, coupled with a system to grade and sanction Florida schools that did not meet standards. While these policies pleased conservatives on paper—they relied on punishing teachers and schools for educational outcomes rather than looking at the conditions of students—they didn't net much in results, with some modest test score improvements but a “high school dropout rate …read more


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Jon Stewart Rips Congress Apart for Their Sneaky, Special-Provision-Filled Budget

December 17, 2014 in Blogs

By Allegra Kirkland, AlterNet

“They just wait until no one’s looking and and slip the toxic stuff in,” he said. “It's the Bill Cosby of legislation.”

The budget recently passed by Congress, which ensures that our government will continue operating through next September, is a prime example of why people have lost faith in our political system. Though heralded by Congress members as a “monumental achievement,” the bill is riddled with compromises and backroom deals that fly in the face of democratic procedure.

Jon Stewart picked out some of the most egregious in last night’s opening monologue (e.g. public schools now being allowed to call white potatoes “fresh vegetables” and, on a more terrifying note, the last-minute inclusion of a provision that protects big banks—and was actually written by CitiGroup). As he put it, “This is Democracy the same way Cheez-Whiz is cheese.” 

Check out the full clip below. 

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