More On The Supremes’ “Veni, Vidi, Ricci” Ruling

June 30, 2009

ladyjustice1As Think Progress tells us here (and I know we know the result already), Hangin’ Judge JR and The Supremes ruled yesterday in favor of firefighter Frank Ricci in his case against the city of New Haven (Mayor John DiStefano was also named in the action) for throwing out the results of a management test where African American candidates did not score well, whereas 17 whites and one Hispanic candidate did.

We also learn the following…

(Yesterday’s) ruling creates a new standard which says that an employer’s decision to toss out a hiring test must have a “strong basis in evidence” showing that the test preferred one race over another.

(And by the way, kudos to Chuck Todd for this – h/t Atrios).

Think Progress also notes that Supreme Court Nominee Judge Sonia Sotomayor is thusly now under attack for having the decision of the Second Circuit Court of New York (of which she was a member) overturned. However, the Supremes, particularly under J.R., have the luxury of enabling new law (which they did by applying the new standard noted above), although all other courts, including the Second Circuit, were legally obliged to honor the existing standard under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (as Sotomayor did).

It should be noted that both black and Hispanic firefighters recognized how racially divisive this case ultimately became; this New Haven Register story from earlier this month tells us…

NEW HAVEN — A group of black and Hispanic firefighters and community leaders, who say they face common challenges but sometimes follow divergent paths, stood together in a show of unity Wednesday at a symbolic location in a melting-pot neighborhood.

The announcement was what they called a newfound common ground between the two racial groups and an era of better collaboration, forged during a recent series of meetings mediated by the NAACP aimed at “healing,” said James Rawlings, president of New Haven’s NAACP branch.

“We face a lot of things together as minorities, and for us, being divided and separate is not a good thing,” said firefighter Terry Rountree, vice president of the New Haven Firebird Society, a fraternal organization of black firefighters. “And from this day forth, hopefully, we can work together and just serve the city better in certain issues that we both deal with as minorities on the Fire Department.”

That’s a positive development, particularly since Benjamin Vargas, the one Hispanic firefighter who took the test, had his results nullified also.

Also, Linda Greenhouse, former Supreme Court reporter for the New York Times, tells us the following from here (in the matter of prior rulings that have “chipped away” at Title VII)…

To understand the nature of the shift (represented by the Ricci ruling) requires a bit of history. Congress enacted Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the statute at issue in the Ricci case, with a simple command to employers: thou shalt not discriminate on the basis of race or other protected characteristics, including sex and religion. But the simple proved to be complicated. An employer of blue-collar workers in North Carolina, Duke Power, required a high school diploma of all job applicants, a requirement that screened out 88 percent of black men in that region at that time.

In a 1971 decision, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that a test that was “fair in form, but discriminatory in operation” could violate Title VII even without proof that the discrimination was intentional. Congress eventually amended Title VII to codify that decision, Griggs v. Duke Power. The rule was clear: if a job requirement produced a “disparate impact,” the employer had the burden of showing that the requirement was actually necessary.

Also, I would be remiss if I didn’t take note of this shockingly sensible editorial today by the Philadelphia Inquirer (commendable stuff, actually), which takes the Supremes to task for the ruling and notes the following…

…white firefighter Frank Ricci and 19 others cited (the ’64 Act) to allege reverse discrimination – and the court bought it. It did not matter to the court that Ricci and the other plaintiffs were not being denied promotions; they simply had to wait for New Haven to install a new examination that wasn’t biased.

In fact, the reverse-bias lawsuit, in its five-year journey to the Supreme Court, delayed replacing New Haven’s flawed multiple-choice test with an exam that can better determine who should be a fire captain or lieutenant. Better tests, which include simulated tactical firefighting drills, are used successfully in other cities.

The ruling casts a pall on all affirmative action, and confirms that judicial activist Chief Justice John Roberts is on a mission to end what he calls the “sordid business” of “divvying us up by race.”

This makes the ruling by the Supremes all the more “muddy” since it let Title VII stand (fortunately), though it also managed to “make it harder for employers to comply with anti-discrimination laws” as noted here.

Also, I thought Ron Walters of the Daytona Times made the following good points here…

A section of the 1964 Civil Rights Act prohibits the use of tests that would be used intentionally to discriminate, or tests that would be used without the intention to discriminate but would nevertheless have an exclusionary (disparate) impact. The continuing importance of this is that in 2007, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found that discrimination charges involving test screening of job applicants have significantly increased due in part to security concerns raised by 9/11 and the economy.

The Age Discrimination Act and Americans with Disabilities Act protects others from biased testing, in addition to African- Americans. So any change in the law that seeks to invalidate Title VII for Blacks would also affect others.

However, it remains to be seen whether the High Court of Hangin’ Judge JR is on the same “mission” to “divvy up” the legal rights of the elderly and those dealing with disabilities as it is against African Americans.

“Doctor” Mankiw’s Public Plan Propaganda

June 29, 2009

In yesterday’s New York Times, former Dubya Council of Economic Advisors Member N. Gregory Mankiw tells us the following (here)…

IN the debate over health care reform, one issue looms large: whether to have a public option. Should all Americans have the opportunity to sign up for government-run health insurance?

President Obama has made his own preferences clear. In a letter to Senators Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts and Max Baucus of Montana, the chairmen of two key Senate committees, he wrote: “I strongly believe that Americans should have the choice of a public health insurance option operating alongside private plans. This will give them a better range of choices, make the health care market more competitive, and keep insurance companies honest.”

Even if one accepts the president’s broader goals of wider access to health care and cost containment, his economic logic regarding the public option is hard to follow. Consumer choice and honest competition are indeed the foundation of a successful market system, but they are usually achieved without a public provider. We don’t need government-run grocery stores or government-run gas stations to ensure that Americans can buy food and fuel at reasonable prices.

And from here, Paul Krugman of the Times tells us…

Both George Will and Greg Mankiw basically argue that we don’t need a government role because we can trust the market to work — hey, we do it for groceries, right?

Um, economists have known for 45 years — ever since Kenneth Arrow’s seminal paper — that the standard competitive market model just doesn’t work for health care: adverse selection and moral hazard are so central to the enterprise that nobody, nobody expects free-market principles to be enough.

Further, this somewhat tongue-in-cheek post from Matt Yglesias brings us this excerpt from a Q&A session President Obama held on the matter…

QUESTION: Wouldn’t (a public option for health insurance) drive private insurance out of business?

OBAMA: Why would it drive private insurance out of business? If private insurers say that the marketplace provides the best quality health care; if they tell us that they’re offering a good deal, then why is it that the government, which they say can’t run anything, suddenly is going to drive them out of business? That’s not logical.

Now, the — I think that there’s going to be some healthy debates in Congress about the shape that this takes. I think there can be some legitimate concerns on the part of private insurers that if any public plan is simply being subsidized by taxpayers endlessly that over time they can’t compete with the government just printing money, so there are going to be some I think legitimate debates to be had about how this private plan takes shape. But just conceptually, the notion that all these insurance companies who say they’re giving consumers the best possible deal, if they can’t compete against a public plan as one option, with consumers making the decision what’s the best deal, that defies logic, which is why I think you’ve seen in the polling data overwhelming support for a public plan.

Indeed, as noted here, 72 percent of those polled favor a public option in the health care bill (with HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius appearing to waffle a bit on that, though she did come out strongly in favor of the public option on a Fix Noise program, as noted in an Update to the post).

And Mankiw has been critical previously of compiling information on life expectancy in this country, saying it’s “schlocky” to compare such numbers in the U.S. versus other countries here; Mankiw proposes instead that we compare the number of, say, hip replacements and cancer survivors (yes, that information is important I’ll admit, but specialized surgeries and treatments are just a part of what health care is about – to ignore the “big picture” here reflected in the life expectancy numbers is willful stupidity).

Besides, the whole issue of “choice” in health care coverage, as far as I’m concerned, is a “red herring”; as more and more employers see that they’ll be better off by paying the tax in lieu of actually providing coverage for their employees, you’ll see them choose to not offer coverage, thus forcing their employees to choose the public plan anyway.

And again, here is a Think Progress post from former Bush confidant Turd Blossom himself (and once more, I must ask this question) echoing much of what Mankiw wrote in his column yesterday. In the “Truth” statements, we learn (among other things) that, contrary to the talking points, private insurer participation in Medicare Part D has actually increased costs for plan participants instead of reducing them (as claimed by Rove).

Finally, I leave with the following from Krugman, in response to both Mankiw and Will (the former at least has some degree of economic “cred,” but I’ll never know how anyone could presume that of Will)…

To act all wide-eyed and innocent about these problems at this late date (concerning the lack of health insurance in this country for so many) is either remarkably ignorant or simply disingenuous.

Equal parts of both would be my guess.

A Moment Of “Dead Tree” Media Ignominy

June 29, 2009

It’s pretty bad when Howie Kurtz actually looks sympathetic, but he does here because Dana Milbank insists of giving Nico Pitney of HuffPo the “back of the hand,” even though the latter is engaging in something called journalism (and no, that doesn’t fit Milbank’s description of dutifully recording the most popular Beltway talking points of the moment before calling it a day and retiring to a fashionable watering hole).

And what a class act Milbank is, saving up a bunch of other HuffPo posts so he could read them off to Pitney in the most patronizing way imaginable.

And this hairdo from the Moonie Times complains about Pitney getting “unfair press coverage”?

What about this guy when Bushco was in charge?

More “Cap And Trade” Carping From The Murdoch Street Journal

June 26, 2009

earth_cc_gwColumnist Kimberly A. Strassel tells us the following today (from here, in a column timed for the scheduled vote on the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade bill in the House)…

Among the many reasons President Barack Obama and the Democratic majority are so intent on quickly jamming a cap-and-trade system through Congress is because the global warming tide is again shifting. It turns out Al Gore and the United Nations (with an assist from the media), did a little too vociferous a job smearing anyone who disagreed with them as “deniers.” The backlash has brought the scientific debate roaring back to life in Australia, Europe, Japan and even, if less reported, the U.S.

Wow, “smearing” someone by calling them a “denier.” What delicate sensibilities!

The number of skeptics, far from shrinking, is swelling. Oklahoma Sen. Jim Inhofe now counts more than 700 scientists who disagree with the U.N. — 13 times the number who authored the U.N.’s 2007 climate summary for policymakers.

Strassel then goes on to list a bunch of people who are predisposed to dispute the legitimate science that has been plainly obvious for years on this; it’s silly to try and bring these people around on this because, if they won’t budge by now, then they never will. And she also cites Australian politician Steve Fielding, who came to this country to lean more about the climate crisis from the Heartland Institute, which is kind of like trying to learn more about progressive Democratic policy and legislation from the American Enterprise Institute (i.e., you can expect to hear only negative feedback).

And as far as Strassel’s claim that “the number of skeptics, far from shrinking, is swelling,” that’s interesting, because this poll tells us the following…

A survey out this week categorizes Americans according to their attitudes towards climate change – and the two most skeptical camps seem to be shrinking while worry becomes the mainstream view.

The poll, conducted last fall by Anthony Leiserowitz of Yale and George Mason University’s Edward Malbach, lists the respondents as Alarmed over climate change (18 percent), Concerned (33 percent), Cautious (19 percent), Disengaged (12 percent), Doubtful (11 percent), and Dismissive (7 percent). And it should be noted that the numbers in each category fluctuated only slightly from the last time the poll was conducted in 2007.

Here’s what I think is going on; people generally know we have to deal with this, but there isn’t uniform agreement on exactly how (though, as noted here – and contrary to what Strassel tells us – there is overwhelming agreement from scientists on this).

And that is why the Waxman-Markey bill was conceived, which, as noted here, is intended to…

…create millions of clean energy jobs, put America on the path to energy independence, and cut global warming pollution.” said (Chairman Henry A. Waxman of the Energy and Commerce Committee). “Our goal is to strengthen our economy by making America the world leader in new clean energy and energy efficiency technologies.”

This is also in line with the Kyoto Protocol, which, as noted here, is “a ‘cap and trade’ system that imposes national caps on the emissions of Annex I countries” (with those countries defined in the Wikipedia article). And just to remind everyone, “although a signatory to the Kyoto Protocol, (the U.S.) has neither ratified nor withdrawn from the Protocol.”

So the intent of Waxman-Markey is to put “cap and trade” in place, thus making Kyoto ratification a formality (Obama said here the U.S. would participate in the protocol after he was elected last November). And Nate Silver provides what I think is interesting information on what he calls the “environmental indifference point” here, as well as a state-by-state projection of what Waxman-Markey could cost here (a small price to pay for our planet’s survival).

And as far as the Repugs are concerned, we can always count on them and their acolytes to continue spreading misinformation on this most vital issue, with MIT Professor John Reilly telling “Man Tan” Boehner to stop misrepresenting him here. However, as they do, keep in mind that areas of the world that can least afford it are paying for our inaction (here).

Strassel is partly right, though. Something is “swelling,” but as noted here, it’s hardly “the number of global warming skeptics.”

The question, though, is whether or not action now will be enough, or in time to matter.

(And oh yeah, I forgot to link to this debunked fiction earlier.)

More “Byko” Blatherings On Euna Lee And Laura Ling

June 25, 2009

Philadelphia Daily News columnist Stu Bykofsky wrote the following today (from here)…

IT’S HARD FOR me as a journalist, and as an American, to write this, but if Laura Ling and Euna Lee deliberately crossed into forbidden North Korea to grab some video and perhaps an interview, the U.S. shouldn’t do much, overtly, to help them.

And we’re not.

Even if they were kidnapped, the U.S. should not bow to extortion when North Korea – a saber-rattling, paranoid thugocracy run by a stunted loon with a bad haircut – tries to use them as bargaining chips.

I hasten to add that Bykofsky didn’t say to leave Ling and Lee behind altogether, which was decent of him (though I’m sure he would be all over Hillary Clinton were she to speak again publicly on this). However, he then goes on to compare the capture of the two with the seizure of the U.S.S. Pueblo by North Korea in 1968.

I know the common element here is a crazed regime in North Korea acting with typical thuggery as Byko said, but I just don’t see the equivalency between what could have been an act of war (and it might have initiated that had we not been already engaged militarily a few degrees south of where the Pueblo was seized at the time) and the capture of two reporters.

(Also, Byko said the Pueblo seizure was “far more serious.” Any idea of how he came to equate one capture with the other?)

Another thing – I wonder if there would have been so much pejorative criticism aimed at Ling and Lee if they had been instead, say, Carlotta Gall of the New York Times and Christiane Amanpour of CNN instead? Yes, I realize venturing into North Korea like that was foolish; however, Ling and Lee are American journalists! But, as far as Byko is concerned, they used bad judgment, so they don’t deserve another public word on their behalf.

And in a perfect world, Ling and Lee would be affiliated with the Times, and the whole story of their capture would have been embargoed as the story of reporter David Rohde was, which helped lead to his escape (here). But again, I guess, in Byko’s view, Ling and Lee are also supposed to be punished because they’re not sophisticated enough in these matters (or perhaps talented enough) to be employed by “the old gray lady.”

Well, in spite of that, I should note that vigils were held for Ling and Lee in San Francisco on June 3rd and elsewhere (here) and Santa Monica, California on June 4th (here). Also, this provides more information on what you can do to publicize their cause.

Although Byko is right about the insanity of North Korea’s “leadership,” that doesn’t mean that we should let the cause of the two journalists disappear from our public dialogue (maybe North Korea has calculated that they can act with impunity against them because not enough people in this country will care about the outcome – all the more reason to prove them wrong, as far as I’m concerned).

Where In The World Is “Governor Goner”? (updates)

June 24, 2009

At least, despite Sanford’s “flameout,” as Tina Brown puts it here, the South Carolina governor didn’t get a standing ovation for marital infidelity, as Nevada’s Repug Senator received here.

Update 1: Wow, it turns out that Ensign and Sanford have more in common than I thought (here and here – or, as Atrios said, “I didn’t know the Appalachian Trail ran all the way to Argentina”; and, as always, the media wing of the Repug Party con-vee-niently slips the “D” where the “R” should be in the event of the inevitable GOP scandal until somebody calls them on it).

Update 2: And E-Mails too? OMIGOD!!

Update 3: Kudos to Sanford’s wife Jenny, the only one acting like an adult here.

A Health Care Econ 101 Lesson For Fred Hiatt

June 23, 2009

hiattI’m not completely sure why the august editorial board of the Philadelphia Inquirer thought that Fred Hiatt of the WaPo was some kind of an expert on the various health care plans currently being bandied about on Capitol Hill (and again, if there’s no public option involved, then what’s the freaking point anyway?), but they still gave him column space today on the matter (here).

And as you read it, you realize that Hiatt is preoccupied with the cost above all else. I realize that that’s a highly valid concern, but I would say that there is majority support out there for the public plan proposed by Obama all the same based on this (let’s get it going and then tinker with it to realize any additional cost savings, OK?).

And on the matter of cost, this tells us the following…

Health care costs are currently a troubling burden on families and businesses. Yet without reform, this burden will increase dramatically. The Congressional Budget Office projects that the cost of a family premium under employer-provided health insurance will increase by approximately 70 percent (after inflation) in the next nine years. This cost growth will have cascading effects across the economy as businesses trim benefits and workers lose their coverage.

According to researchers at Harvard University, a 20-percent increase in premiums costs 3.5 million workers their jobs, causes millions more to move from full-time to part-time work, and cuts the average income by approximately $1,700. CBO predicts that this 20- percent increase will occur over the next four years.

Not to be deterred, though, Hiatt tells us the following (on the matter of how to pay for it)…

Insist that it be paid for only with health-related savings and revenue. Obama proposes to finance a chunk of the new entitlement by raising general taxes on the rich. That is revenue that won’t be available for other deficit reduction.

Uh, Fred? I don’t know exactly how to break the news to you, but the taxes currently paid by “the rich” don’t do a hell of a lot to reduce the deficit anyway.

And you know those wonderful tax cuts implemented by Obama’s predecessor and the Republican congresses (for the most part, excepting the 50-50 Senate split from ’02-’04)? That did a hell of a lot to dig us into the deficit we currently face, in case you’d forgotten.

Also, I’m a little surprised to read Hiatt’s concern for taxes paid by the rich, as he puts it, under Obama, since, as he noted here, “Bush’s fiscal policy, which tilted the tax code toward the wealthy at a time of rising inequality, forced the government to devote increasing sums to pay interest on the national debt and ensured that less and less would be available for social programs for the vulnerable.”

So tilting the tax code towards the wealthy was an issue for Fred under Dubya (and rightly so), but trying to remedy that under Obama in the name of providing health coverage is an issue also?

The difference is that Obama is doing something that will generate short-term debt, I grant you, but it represents an actual investment to stimulate our economy as well as providing health insurance for the ever-growing number of those who need it, as opposed to tax cuts that stimulate nothing except income for people who never needed the help to begin with.

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