Friday, April 27, 2012
Thursday, April 26, 2012
U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, the president’s top courtroom lawyer, met resistance across ideological lines yesterday as he called on the court to strike down Arizona’s crackdown on illegal immigrants. Even Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the court’s only Hispanic and an Obama appointee, told Verrilli his argument is “not selling very well.”
[...] The justices yesterday voiced skepticism about parts of the Arizona law, including penalties on illegal immigrants who seek jobs and a provision that would make it a state criminal offense for a foreigner to be in Arizona without correct documentation.
“They were very concerned about picking and choosing among the sections of the statute,” said Garrett Epps, a law professor at the University of Baltimore who attended the argument.
Still, the justices made clear they see states as having a role to play in addressing the presence of what the government has estimated are 11.5 million unauthorized aliens in the U.S.
At the core of this issue is a simple fact: who gets to determine who is a United States citizen and who is not, and who has jurisdiction over enforcement.
This really gets to the core of the Constitution. After all, states have sovereignty within their own borders with the exclusion of those things specifically delineated by the Constitution (e.g. interstate trade.)
But one of the things that is delineated in the Constitution is the definition of citizen and that the Federal government (through its ability to amend the Constitution) retains the determine the legal status of anyone within its borders.
Hmmmmmmmm...dilemna, right? Well, no, not really.
In the past, the process has gone: arrest, identify (or vice versa), and report to INS or ICE the presence of an undocumented immigrant. The Feds then deport. Problem solved. The whole construct creates a sieve: if you've committed a crime, you've proven yourself dangerous (let's assume they're guilty,) and the cherry on top, you get deported for being here.
Implied in this is that you have to suspect someone of a crime before you can arrest them. The Arizona law makes it a crime merely to walk down the street, if you are here outside the bounds of the law. It makes the very act of breathing American air illegal. It burdens enforcement by the Federal government of immigration statutes.
Now, you'd think that's a pretty reasonable position. After all, to be here illegally, you broke the law.
But you broke a Federal law, not a state law, because, after all, the determination of whether or not you're here illegally is based on your citizenship and states don't get to determine that which is why states don't pass citizenship tests to be an American but...well, you get the idea.
Even Antonin Scalia, unwittingly, stepped into this mess yesterday, as Wonkette pointed out:
“What’s wrong about the states enforcing federal law?” Scalia said during his aggressive questioning of U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli. “There is a federal law against robbing federal banks. Can it be made a state crime to rob those banks? I think it is.”
The Reagan-appointed justice mocked the Obama administration’s argument that S.B. 1070 unconstitutionally forces the federal government to re-prioritize its enforcement resources and go after undocumented people who are not dangerous.
“But does the attorney general come in and say, you know, we might really only want to go after the professional bank robbers?” Scalia said. “If it’s just an amateur bank robber, you know, we’re going to let it go. And the state’s interfering with our whole scheme here because it’s prosecuting all these bank robbers.”
Side note to the Obama administration: I offer my services as Solictor General, because if Donald Verrilli couldn't knock this one out of the ballpark, he deserves to be fired. The simplest comeback to Scalia would have been "So you're equating Citibank to an illegal citizen?"
Thus throwing Citizens United back to the Court.
Let's deconstruct Scalia's asinine argument for a moment: Yes, national banks have branches in states, but the governing law (McFadden Act by way of 1994's Riegle-Neal) is written such that states have jurisdiction over those branches, not the Feds. Meaning that the Federal courts would never even get involved in the prosecution of a simple bank robbery whereas they are regularly involved in immigration cases.
Where the Federal courts would get involved would be, say, widespread corruption & fraud that threatened the entire US economy. *Ahem*
But I digress, you sleazy greaseball of a Justice...
It seems likely that Obama's best hope for overturning the law stands in the area that Justice Sotomayor inquired about:
The Supreme Court was deep into arguments over Arizona's new immigration law on Wednesday when the high court's first Hispanic justice focused on how difficult it could be for police officers to determine whether someone they stop is in the United States legally.
"What information does your (federal) system have?" Justice Sonia Sotomayor asked U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli as she methodically extracted a core element of the Obama administration's case against the state of Arizona.
"How does that database tell you that someone is illegal as opposed to a citizen?" asked Sotomayor, 57, born in the Bronx to parents who had migrated from Puerto Rico. "Today, if you use the names Sonia Sotomayor, they would probably figure out I was a citizen. But let's assume it's John Doe, who lives in Grand Rapids. ... Is there a citizen database?"
If we presume the burden of proof is on the prosecution...you know, assumption of innocence?...then Sotomayor's question gets to the heart of the problem.
See, a cop arrests a random person on the suspicion of being an undocumented worker. This is no different than believing someone is guilty of some other crime.
A cursory check of, say, a driver's license or passport database indicates that the suspect is a citizen, and is therefore free to go. A slight detention, aggravating and inconvenient, but probably no more illegal than being asked by mall security to open your bags at the front door.
What if someone doesn't drive and doesn't travel? There are precious few other resources available to law enforcement to check citizenship status.
Remember, the presumption is, and must be, innocence until guilt is proven. Unless someone proposes a nationwide citizenship database that everyone must register for-- and boy, wouldn't THAT fly well in Teabagger, Arizona!-- you have to presume a person walking down the street is a citizen. Arresting them on the suspicion of NOT being a citizen places the burden of proof on law enforcement and guess what?
Ever try to prove a negative?
Wednesday, April 25, 2012
North Korea is boasting of “powerful, modern weapons” that can defeat in a single blow the United States, which it accuses of plotting a war against it.
Chief of general staff, Ri Yong Ho, gave no further details about the weaponry in his speech to mark the North Korean army's 80th anniversary.
Tuesday, April 24, 2012
The agreement required the companies to finance an objective database of doctors’ fees that patients and insurers nationally could rely on. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, then the attorney general, said it would increase reimbursements by as much as 28 percent.
It has not turned out that way. Though the settlement required the companies to underwrite the new database with $95 million, it did not obligate them to use it. So by the time the database was finally up and running last year, the same companies, across the country, were rapidly shifting to another calculation method, based on Medicare rates, that usually reduces reimbursement substantially.
“It’s deplorable,” said Chad Glaser, a sales manager for a seafood company near Buffalo, who learned that he was facing hundreds of dollars more in out-of-pocket costs for his son’s checkups with a specialist who had performed a lifesaving liver transplant. “I could get balance-billed hundreds of thousands of dollars, and I have no protection.”
So what started out with good intentions on the part of Governor Andrew Cuomo (D-bag, NY) ends up actually injuring or worse those it was intended to help.
As the opening graf of that clipped quote implies, prior to this settlement insurers were using several arbitrary means of determining who got paid and what. It is certainly fair to say that the primary concern those HMOs and other companies had was their bottom line under the guise of controlling costs, whatever that means.
The idea behind an objective database was that doctors and hospitals nationwide could refer to the database to determine what they might expect as a reimbursement. No surprises. Under the old database, called "Ingenix" and owned by insurance giant United Healthcare, rates were tallied and supposedly adjusted by the term of art "usual and customary rates," (UCR) to reflect regional differences in costs of living and doing business.
In other words, rents in rural Kansas being lower than in midtown Manhattan, Manhattan doctors would receive a higher reimbursement to help keep their practices going.
You can sort of see where this morphs: indeed, even 25 years ago, I was battling my HMO to increase the settlement paid to an orthopedic surgeon based in New York who was paid a ridiculously low fee for surgery he performed on me. I can't imagine it has gotten any better. The insurer would undercut the UCR, and hope no one would notice. Indeed, cottage industries sprung up to appeal insurance decisions on UCRs alone.
Eventually, the insurer would pay out and everyone went about their business. The establishment in 2009 of the FAIR Health database was supposed to cut out the nonsense: One fee, adjusted by a percentage to recognize the UCR (60% to 80% of the UCR fee-- previously, it was 80% of the UCR but the UCR could fluctuate.) The patient is then responsible for payments above and beyond that reimbursement.
$95 million to estalbish this database, and then the insurance companies pull a fast one: they switch to Medicare rate-based reimbursements, using the base Medicare reimbursement and upgrading it by 140% to 250%, which would be fine if the Medicare reimbursement wasn't so damned low in the first place:
[A]t 150 percent of Medicare rates, it fell far short. In the case of a $275 liver checkup, for example, the balance due was $175, almost three times the patient share under FAIR Health’s customary rate, and three and a half times what it was five years ago under Ingenix.
I've known loan sharks who were more generous.
Monday, April 23, 2012
Francois Hollande charged back into campaign mode Monday with momentum on his side to capture France's presidency, after the Socialist won the most votes in the first round of voting that put him into a runoff with conservative incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy.
[...] If Hollande wins the second round, he would become the first Socialist president since 1995. His election could also alter Europe's political and economic landscape at a time when the continent is seeking a clear direction to overcome its calamitous debt crisis.
Polls taken Sunday night continued to show Hollande is likely to best Sarkozy in their head-to-head matchup two weeks from now by around 10 percentage points — in line with the trend of most polls for months.
Actually, their rationalisation is built-in where that ellipse is, to be fair:
However, in the ballot's biggest surprise, nearly one in five voters chose far right candidate Marine Le Pen — and they may hold the key to victory in the decisive vote on May 6.
Sarkozy has likened himself to the captain of a boat in a storm, but his austerity policies and attempts to rein in workers' rights has him floundering like the chair-arranger on the deck of the Titanic.
For example, he has raised the retirement age in France from 60 to 62, and relaxed the very strict rules about a 35 hour work week.
In the face of massive unemployment, particularly of young people, these are idiotic ideas (although, I confess to have defended the retirement age as trifling, but before the unemployment issue came into focus in the wake of the global financial system collapse.)
In other words, the very qualities that would make him the darling of Tea Partiers and other teat-suckers of rightwing whore money here in the States are what created the massive disaster his administration has become, and puts him on the brink of being the first French President since Valerie Giscard d'Estaing (1981) to serve just one term.
Sarkozy, like Romney here in the US, suffers from an huge unlikeability issue: his approval ratings hover near 35%, lower even than Giscard d'Estaing's when he lost to Francois Mitterand.
A fitting bookend to the Bush years, if you ask me.