Archive for July 15th, 2010
Probably should have read this post before taking two quadruple grande lattes to The Wife this morning.
[Link fixed. – LG]
Is it possible that the US is getting more provincial and lagging further and further behind the rest of the world in all sorts of areas—/koff/broadband/koff/—even though we finally passed a sort of halfway step toward healthcare reform. At any rate, this particular Greenwald column is of special interest because (a) he is gay, and (b) he lives in Argentina.
Argentina yesterday became the latest country to grant full and equal legal rights to its gay citizens, as the nation’s Senate followed the lower house in approving a bill to recognize same-sex marriages. Because President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner has vigorously advocated for the bill, it is now certain to become law. Although Argentina is the first country in Latin America to recognize full-fledged same-sex marriages, numerous other nations in the region are inexorably marching toward similar equality:
Same-sex civil unions have been legalized in Uruguay, Buenos Aires and some states in Mexico and Brazil. Mexico City has legalized gay marriage. Colombia’s Constitutional Court granted same-sex couples inheritance rights and allowed them to add their partners to health insurance plans.
Argentinian politicians acted in the face of "polls showing that nearly 70 percent of Argentines support giving gay people the same marital rights as heterosexuals." That’s what is most striking here: this is not happening in some small Northern European country renown for its ahead-of-the-curve social progressivism (though gay marriage or civil unions are now the norm in Western Europe). Just as is true for Brazil, which I’ve written about before with regard to my personal situation, Argentina is a country with a fairly recent history of dictatorships, an overwhelmingly Catholic population (at least in name), and pervasive social conservatism, with extreme restrictions on abortion rights similar to those found on much of the continent. The Catholic Church in Argentina vehemently opposed the enactment of this law. But no matter. Ending discrimination against same-sex couples is understood as a matter of basic equality, not social progressivism, and it thus commands widespread support.
The contrast with the U.S. is quite instructive and depressing. Not only is the U.S. not close to nationally recognizing same-sex marriage, but we have a law — the Defense of Marriage Act — that explicitly bars the granting of any and all federal spousal rights whatsoever (including immigration rights) to same-sex couples. Despite the election of a President who campaigned on a pledge to overturn that law, and overwhelming Democratic control of Congress, repeal of that law isn’t even on the table. The absolute most that is possible is a repeal of the unfathomably regressive ban on gays in the military, and the Obama-ordered granting of more spousal employment benefits to gay federal employees. Virtually no national politician in the U.S. is even willing to advocate same-sex marriage, and those who advocate granting equal rights as part of "civil unions" refuse to take any real steps to bring that about. Amazingly, it was only this year that the U.S. ended the repellent ban on HIV+ individuals from even entering the country, one of only 12 countries (a list largely comprised of some of the worst human rights abusers) to have continued it that long.
It’s worthwhile now and then to take stock of the vast disparity between how we like to think of ourselves and reality. When a country with Argentina’s history and background becomes but the latest country to legally recognize same-sex marriage — largely as the result of a population which demanded it — that disparity becomes quite clear.
We all knew that the ACA was not the be-all, end-all of healthcare reform—it doesn’t even have a public option, for the love of Pete!—and we all expected that in the years ahead it will be necessary to pass revisions of one or another provision of the law. It looks as though we shall have to be brisk with the revisions: Glenn Greenwald on the revolving door of healthcare reform:
Beginning in 2001, Liz Fowler was the Chief Counsel for the Senate Finance Committee in charge of health and entitlement issues, i.e., legislation that primarily affected the healthcare industry. As her own biography boasts:
In this capacity, she was responsible for overseeing health policy issues within the Committee’s jurisdiction, including Medicare, Medicaid, SCHIP, health tax issues and initiatives to provide health coverage for the uninsured. She played a key role in the 2003 Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement and Modernization Act (MMA).
Her work in that government health policy position was apparently quite pleasing to the healthcare industry because, in 2006, she was hired by the health insurance giant WellPoint to serve as its Vice President for Public Policy and External Affairs — in other words, overseeing WellPoint’s lobbying and other government-influencing activities. Then, in 2008, once it was likely that there would be a Democratic President and thus a new, massive healthcare bill enacted, Fowler left WellPoint and returned to the Senate, as top aide to Democratic Sen. Max Baucus, the Senate Finance Committee Chairman who would oversee the drafting of the healthcare bill (Baucus’s previous top healthcare aide, Michelle Easton, a former PhRMA official, left to become a lobbyist for the healthcare industry). Now, as David Sirota noted last night, Fowler has a brand new job, as reported by The Billings Gazette:
Liz Fowler, a key staffer for U.S. Sen. Max Baucus who helped draft the federal health reform bill enacted in March, is joining the Obama administration to help implement the new law.
Fowler, chief health counsel for the Senate Finance Committee, which Baucus chairs, will become deputy director of the Office of Consumer Information and Oversight at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
In other words, implementation of the massive healthcare bill just enacted by the Congress will be overseen by a former high-level executive of the nation’s largest private health insurer. As Marcy Wheeler writes: "It’s a nice trick: send your VP to write a law mandating that the middle class buy shitty products like yours, then watch that VP move into the executive branch to ‘oversee’ the implementation of the law." Indeed, Fowler played a crucial role in shaping the healthcare bill to ensure there was no public option and to compel every single American to purchase the products of the private healthcare industry (including those of her former employer). As Politico put it last year: "If you drew an organizational chart of major players in the Senate healthcare negotiations, Fowler would be the chief operating officer." It was Fowler who was literally writing the healthcare bills for Baucus which, at least at the time, progressives found so objectionable.
Fowler is the very embodiment of the sleazy Revolving Door and lobbyist-dominated politics which candidate Barack Obama endlessly vowed to subvert. Remember all this? . . .
Now let’s see if she gets backing—and from whom. Erics Lipton and Lichtblau report in the NY Times:
Lawmakers take contributions every day from corporate executives and lobbyists hoping for their votes. The question of whether that represents business as usual in Washington or an ethics breach is at the heart of a far-reaching Congressional ethics investigation that is stirring concerns throughout Washington and Wall Street.
The Office of Congressional Ethics has sent corporate donors and fund-raising hosts more than three dozen requests for documents involving eight members who solicited and took large contributions from financial institutions even as they were debating the landmark regulatory bill, according to lawyers involved in the inquiry.
The requests are focusing on a series of fund-raisers last December, in the days immediately before the House’s initial adoption of the sweeping overhaul, which could win final approval this week. Some of the fund-raising events took place the same days as crucial votes.
For example, on Dec. 10, one of the lawmakers under investigation, Representative Joseph Crowley, a New York Democrat who sits on the Ways and Means Committee, left the Capitol during the House debate to attend a fund-raising event for him hosted by a lobbyist at her nearby Capitol Hill town house that featured financial firms, along with other donors. After collecting thousands of dollars in checks, Mr. Crowley returned to the floor of the House just in time to vote against a series of amendments that would have imposed tougher restrictions on Wall Street.
That same day, Representative Tom Price, a Georgia Republican on the Financial Services Committee, scheduled what he called a “Financial Services Luncheon” at the Capitol Hill Club, as part of a fund-raising push that netted him nearly $23,000 in contributions from the industry in a two-month period around the vote.
In an area where the rules are murky, the investigators are taking an aggressive stance on what constitutes unethical conduct. The independent ethics office, led by a former federal prosecutor, has clashed repeatedly with lawmakers on the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, who have accused it of over-reaching. Given this history, observers believe it is unlikely that the committee will admonish any members, even if the investigators recommend action.
Some lawyers advise politicians to forgo fund-raising events in the midst of debates to avoid an appearance problem.
In 2004, the House ethics committee admonished the majority leader, Tom DeLay, for attending an energy industry fund-raiser just before an important decision on an energy bill. “A member should not participate in a fund-raising event that gives even an appearance that donors will receive or are entitled to either special treatment or special access,” a letter sent to Mr. DeLay said.
But the practice of soliciting donations in the midst of legislative debates remains common. In fact, dozens of members not included in the current inquiry scheduled fund-raising events in the weeks before the House vote, many of them taking donations from financial services companies. This year, as members of Congress furiously debated a regulatory bill and frantically raised money for critical midterm elections, fund-raising and lawmaking constantly intersected…
Pennsylvania Attorney General Tom Corbett, who is running for governor, said last week that unemployed people are purposely avoiding jobs so they can continue collecting benefits from the government: "The jobs are there. But if we keep extending unemployment, people are going to sit there and – I’ve literally had construction companies tell me, ‘I can’t get people to come back to work until…they say, I’ll come back to work when unemployment runs out.’"
Rand Paul, the Republican nominee for senator of Kentucky, said in June that the unemployed need to stop being so picky when it comes to getting a job: "As bad as it sounds, ultimately we do have to sometimes accept a wage that’s less than we had at our previous job in order to get back to work and allow the economy to get started again. Nobody likes that, but it may be one of the tough love things that has to happen."
Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) said in March that unemployment benefits don’t "create new jobs. In fact, if anything, continuing to pay people unemployment compensation is a disincentive for them to seek new work." More recently, he’s called unemployment benefits a "necessary evil," though added that "it’s not a good thing for the economy. It’s a bad thing for the economy but it’s still the right thing to do for other reasons."
South Carolina Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer compared the unemployed to stray animals back in January, saying that unemployment insurance is a lot like helping out strays. One is "facilitating the problem if you give an animal or a person ample food supply," he said. "They will reproduce, especially ones that don’t think too much further than that. And so what you’ve got to do is you’ve got to curtail that type of behavior. They don’t know any better." Though he later backtracked, saying this probably "wasn’t the best metaphor," he has since said that "flat-out lazy" people "would rather sit home and do nothing than do these jobs."
In June, Nevada Senate nominee Sharron Angle said that "what has happened is the system of entitlement has caused us to have a spoilage with our ability to go out and get a job." She added: "They keep extending these unemployment benefits to the point where people are afraid to go out and get a job because the job doesn’t pay as much as the unemployment benefit does."
Former House Majority Leader (and former Dancing With The Stars contestant) Tom DeLay appeared on CNN in March to point to "studies that have been done that shows that people stay on unemployment compensation and they don’t look for a job until two or three weeks before they know the benefits are going to run out." When host Candy Crowley pointed out that saying "people are unemployed because they want to be" is a "hard sell," DeLay responded: "Well, it is the truth."
Back in May, Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH) said that Congress needs to think twice about continuing unemployment benefits "because you’re out of the recession, you’re starting to see growth and you’re clearly going to dampen the capacity of that growth if you basically keep an economy that encourages people to, rather than go out and look for work, to stay on unemployment. Yes, it’s important to do that up to a certain level, but at some point you’ve got to acknowledge that we’re not Europe."
Rep. Dean Heller (R-NV) said in February that he thinks that though "there should be a federal safety net," extending unemployment benefits yet again raises the question: "Is the government now creating hobos?"