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So now that the mandate is a tax what happens?

Posted by Garrett Quinn, Less is More June 28, 2012 12:18 PM

One of the core arguments against Obamacare was its broad expansion of federal powers with the individual mandate to purchase health insurance. Now that we know the federal government can compel us to engage in an activity and fine us for noncompliance as long as it is called a tax what does that mean for us?

This interpretation has led the Cato Institute to put forth some potential pieces of future legislation:

Federal Broccoli Act of 2013: Eat your broccoli, else pay the IRS $1,000.

Federal Recycling Act of 2014: Fill your blue box and put on the curb, else pay the IRS $2,000.

Federal Green Car Act of 2015: Make your next car battery powered, else pay the IRS $3,000.

Federal Domestic Jobs Act of 2016: Don’t exceed 25 percent foreign content on family consumer purchases, else pay the IRS $4,000.

If the individual mandate is a tax does that change the way Congress can act on it? Tim Carney thinks so.

But repealing the individual mandate takes only 51 votes (50, if a Republican is the vice president). You see, Senators can’t filibuster a bill passed under “budget reconciliation.” Since Chief Justice John Roberts ruled today that Obama’s individual mandate is a tax, Republicans, it seems to me, could simply lower the tax for not having health insurance down to $0.00, as a matter of budget reconciliation.

This ruling places the president and his supporters in an awkward position as they argued that the mandate was protected by the Commerce Clause while strongly maintaining that it was not a tax. Now, they are stuck with the court telling them that they were wrong on both counts but, hey, the law can still stand. This ruling opens the door for all kinds of future court and legislative battles.

Still, the remaking of the individual mandate as a tax does not change the radical nature of the federal government compelling individuals to purchase a good from a private entity. It is an unprecedented development and a staggering expansion in the federal government's power over individuals.

Please libertarians, help us! We need you!

Posted by Garrett Quinn, Less is More June 27, 2012 10:42 AM

PorcDTOM.jpgMichael Graham's column in today's Boston Herald about the Massachusetts Republican Party's ousting of 17 Ron Paul delegates* to the RNC in Tampa delivers a strong scolding and dose of reality to the party's leadership.

When Romney’s preferred delegates lost, the campaign asked the state party to dump the winners. One problem — the winners actually won.

So the state GOP changed the rules after the voting, adding new paperwork and artificial deadlines. They even pulled an “Al Gore” and refused to count provisional ballots — a direct violation of the party’s rules.

As a result, Kenney and 16 other delegates/alternates who ran — and won — as Ron Paul libertarians had their seats stolen from them

Cheating, breaking their own rules, screwing over Republicans — isn’t that what Democrats are for?

Graham, unable to resist a dig at those crazy libertarians with their low taxes, personal freedom, and limited government, adds more, while pouring it on the MassGOP:

Yes, the Ron Paul activists come to the political process with more than their fair share of kookery and oddball ideas. But think about the passion and energy it took these 17 people — mostly political amateurs — to learn the arcane party rules, get organized, and win their votes. These are people whose flavor of Republicanism — small government, fiscally responsible, indifferent on social issues — is a natural fit in New England. ...

But if Bay State Republicans want a state GOP to even exist 20 years from now, they need Evan Kenney a lot more than Mitt Romney.

The Mass. GOP has been on life support for the better part of a decade, Scott Brown's win excluded. Why the party would want to push away, mostly young, new faces that could run for local offices and work on campaigns down the road is easy to understand when that party appears more concerned with electing its former head as president and maintaining its only statewide officeholder than it is with its long-term survival. If you're a libertarian you'll have an understandably hard time throwing your support behind Romney or Brown but if Joe "Libertarian" Sullivan is running on the GOP line down ballot for state representative, that might make it slightly more tolerable.

Though their desire to alienate libertarians in the name of helping Romney backers makes some sense as libertarians are not loyal to Team Red or Team Blue. Libertarians do not have a natural political party unless you count the Libertarian Party, but that's a complex issue in the libertarian movement that I can't really address in a blog post. Right now more libertarian activists are drawn to the Republican Party because of Ron Paul and others like him in positions of power. This is only the third election cycle since the, largely Paul fueled, surge in American libertarian activism; this is still a relatively young movement. If Ron Paul were a Democrat I am sure the same thing would be happening on that side.

*The Ron Paul delegates can't actually vote for Paul as they are bound by party rules to vote for Mitt Romney.

MBTA realizes an untapped revenue stream

Posted by Garrett Quinn, Less is More June 27, 2012 09:20 AM

If the MBTA were privately owned you can bet that the sponsorship of stations and transit lines would have happened a long time ago. It's about time that the T is finally getting serious about monetizing this untapped revenue stream. Advertising at stations and on vehicles appears to be maxed out leaving little room for expansion of traditional advertising so this is a creative way of ringing more money out of ads. The revenue will help the struggling agency but it won't even make a dent in the MBTA's backbreaking debt, particularly if the expected showdown on Beacon Hill next year leads to just more kicking of the can down the tunnel.

The Brookline bear needs a name

Posted by Garrett Quinn, Less is More June 26, 2012 02:50 PM

I am really impressed that the bear that was running around Newton and Brookline was the same bear that was captured in Wellfleet. Do you realize how far that is? It's about 100 miles. Now, I don't know anything about bear migration patterns but I am impressed that the bear was able to traverse 60 miles of a mostly suburban landscape without any problems.

This is a special bear and it needs a name. What say you, commenters? If you are on twitter use the hashtag #BrooklineBearNames

Middleboro cursing ordinance is, strangely, an improvement

Posted by Garrett Quinn, Less is More June 26, 2012 11:34 AM

Middleboro's fine for swearing is as ridiculous as Cambridge's proposed ban on large sodas but only one has drawn a rowdy protest:

Former U.S. Marine Adam Kokesh would have broken the bank yesterday outside Middleboro Town Hall if the town?s controversial cussing bylaw was on the books.

In a fiery tirade, the Internet radio host bashed the idea of handing out a $20 fine for swearing in public. He was joined by about 40 at the rally ?most hell-bent on cursing the assault on the First Amendment.

Now, try to imagine a protest in Cambridge where people walk around with extra large sodas and picket signs.

In a strange twist this move by the town is actually an improvement on a decades old law that made it a criminal offense to swear in public. The new ordinance includes the decriminalization of other behavior deemed unlawful like drinking alcohol in public and possessing marijuana. Still, a fine for swearing seems a bit much. So now you just get a ticket for swearing or drinking on a sidewalk instead of going to jail. That's progress, I guess.

Who's Afraid Of Free Speech?

Posted by Garrett Quinn, Less is More June 25, 2012 02:24 PM

Well, it looks like the Citizens United ruling and the subsequent deregulation of campaign speech has survived its first serious challenge:

A Montana state law provides that a “corporation may not make . . . an expenditure in connection with a candidate or a political committee that supports or opposes a candidate or a political party.” Mont. Code Ann. §13– 35–227(1) (2011). The Montana Supreme Court rejected petitioners’ claim that this statute violates the First Amendment. 2011 MT 328, 363 Mont. 220, 271 P. 3d 1. In Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, this Court struck down a similar federal law, holding that “political speech does not lose First Amendment protection simply because its source is a corporation.” 558 U. S. ___, ___ (2010) (slip op., at 26) (internal quotation marks omitted). The question presented in this case is whether the holding of Citizens United applies to the Montana state law. There can be no serious doubt that it does. See U. S. Const., Art. VI, cl. 2. Montana’s arguments in support of the judgment below either were already rejected in Citizens United, or fail to meaningfully distinguish that case. The petition for certiorari is granted. The judgment of the Supreme Court of Montana is reversed
(Emphasis mine)

The Court's short unsigned ruling, not exactly an unexpected one, indicates that it has little appetite for rehashing Citizens United any time soon and that its ruling extends to campaign expenditures for state offices. Despite what the Montana Supreme Court thinks, it is not above the First Amendment.

Opponents of free speech the law are already ringing their hands about passing an amendment to the Constitution to stop a mythical flood of corporate money into campaigns. Apparently opponents preferred the system that enabled entrenched incumbents and connected insiders over challengers and outsiders. We have lived in a Citizens United world for two years and it has, without question, made the political process more accessible and more exciting. Today's ruling by the Supreme Court reaffirms this.

A Tale of Two Democratic Parties

Posted by Garrett Quinn, Less is More June 22, 2012 02:07 PM

democrat_donkey.gifIn this week's Boston Phoenix David Bernstein dissects the prospects of heavy hitters in the Massachusetts Democratic Party that are looking at running for higher office in 2014. What he finds is a charismatic void left by departing Governor Deval Patrick and a yearning for another Patrick style figure by activists.

Few want to say it on the record, for fear of offending the powerful pols considered most likely to run: Lieutenant Governor Tim Murray, Attorney General Martha Coakley, Treasurer Steve Grossman, and US Congressman Michael Capuano.

But, much as they may like and admire those four A-Listers, many insiders and activists I've spoken with in recent weeks see them as flawed. They worry that the quartet reek too much of insider-establishment politics — and Massachusetts voters have shunned such candidates for a generation.

That has an awful lot of Democrats scanning the horizon for their new Deval — the untainted outsider, the inspiring fresh face who can inject some hope and optimism into the race.

Tough problem to have. Too much experience and talent is, apparently, a bad thing for party activists. Charismatic outsiders are all the rage these days.

On the opposite side of the aisle the bench isn't much deeper. The Massachusetts Republicans have Charlie Baker and...Karyn Polito?

Dan Winslow? Ok, maybe.

Meanwhile on the national side of things the Democrats are struggling to find prospective candidates with enough experience, talent, or national star power for 2016.

Molly Ball in The Atlantic:

Democratic insiders, on the other hand, would be hard pressed to come up with 10 names for 2016, much less 20. The very short list of newcomers tabbed for big things seems to consist of Cuomo, Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, and Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer, but they are far from household names even among Democratic die-hards; you are just as likely to hear speculation about another candidacy for Clinton or Biden -- who would be 69 and 74, respectively, at the time of their 2017 inaugurations.

The most common name Ball heard from activists?

Elizabeth Warren

Race would be different without People's Pledge

Posted by Garrett Quinn, Less is More June 20, 2012 04:43 PM

Imagine what this race would be like right now if Senator Scott Brown and Elizabeth Warren never signed the "People's Pledge"?

Brown could have benefited from outside groups running ads going after Warren on the American Indian heritage controversy. Pro-Warren groups could be making up ground on this debate mess and going after Brown on the debates. Instead, we're subjected to boring campaign ads like this and this.

It's impossible to say where the way race would be if outside groups on both sides dumped millions into ads but it would certainly be different. This debate bickering will be mostly forgotten by Election Day but if an outside group went up with an ad scolding Brown for his moves on debates than it would probably resonate beyond political junkies and members of the media.

No Big Gulps, No Peace In Cambridge

Posted by Garrett Quinn, Less is More June 20, 2012 02:19 PM


The city of Cambridge is doing better than most cities in America but like all major cities it has its share of problems that need to be tackled but limiting diners at city restaurants on how much soda they can drink is not one of them. Cantabrigians should be embarrassed that not only is Mayor Henrietta Davis proposing such an obscene idea but that she was inspired by a similar municipal ban proposed by the biggest nanny stater in the country, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

At a time when the city just across the river, Boston, is taking a beating for allegedly having limited appeal to young professionals for a variety of a reasons you would think Cambridge would be doing things to differentiate itself. Cambridge already has some image problems (some fair, some not) it has to overcome and this wrongheaded attempt to combat obesity just adds to them. The last thing Cambridge needs is to garner a reputation like Boston as a place that curtails your fun. Cambridge, particularly the Central Square area, is home to better clubs, bars, and restaurants than Boston so why try to limit their possible offerings with a hilarious awful effort to combat obesity?

I really wonder if Davis is proposing this out of sheer boredom because, after all, Cambridge is a pretty well run city. It has one of the lowest residential property tax rates in the Commonwealth and boasts great public schools. When politicians are not challenged with monumental problems they need to find some reason to justify their existence but there really is no need for urban mechanics to stick their nose into regulating how much soda people drink at city restaurants. City pols should really stick to fixing potholes and keeping the streets safe.

Piles of worthless plastic bottles

Posted by Garrett Quinn, Less is More June 16, 2012 11:34 AM

I’ve made a decent chunk of change over the years at parties and over events where I bothered to place a bin to collect empty bottles and cans. After sorting through my pile of plastic nickels there would always be worthless empty water bottles. They just stared at you and laughed.

“HA! We’re not worth anything and you still took the time to sort us!”

Those unredeemable pieces of plastic are so annoying aren’t they? Ug. Well, it looks like they will stay that way for another year.

BOSTON — A proposal to expand the state’s bottle bill to include bottles that contain water, iced tea and other non-carbonated beverages has hit a roadblock at the State House.

The legislative committee reviewing the bill voted to send it to a study committee. Few bills sent to study committees ever emerge. The Legislature’s formal session ends July 31.

Obama's shift welcome, still terrible on immigration

Posted by Garrett Quinn, Less is More June 15, 2012 03:27 PM

President Obama's shift on immigration policy is a welcomed change but it does not go far enough and up until now Obama's record on immigration has been abysmal. His administration has done little to stop a surge in deportations that have reached record levels while making it even harder to work in the United States legally. Obama has moved away from the dramatic workplace raids that Republicans like Joe Arpaio gushed over, focusing on a stronger paperwork based enforcement effort that, though not as dramatic, has managed to break up even more families and ruin more lives than during the Bush years.

His administration has backed an increase on visa fees and done little to help American companies seek out talent in the global marketplace.

Yes, Obama's shift to allow children who did not come here on their own the ability to stay here and come out of the shadows is a welcomed move but let's not kid ourselves: this president is not pro-immigrant.

Fun and debates

Posted by Garrett Quinn, Less is More June 5, 2012 04:39 PM

The campaigns of Elizabeth Warren and Scott Brown are playing that fun election year game where they try to outdo each other on debates.

With Warren's campaign announcing that they will participate in four televised debates late this afternoon it appears there will be, possibly, six debates. Brown and Warren have already agreed to one radio debate while Brown is pushing for a second one. No stations or hosts for the proposed radio debates have been determined.

Outside of political junkies and the media nobody really cares about that this type of jockeying but it does give us an idea of where the campaigns are right now. Brown has, for the most part, won this latest round of political gamesmanship by agreeing to participate in more debates before Warren.

Warren's failure to go after Brown

Posted by Garrett Quinn, Less is More June 4, 2012 03:37 PM

At Saturday's Massachusetts Democratic Party convention in Springfield Elizabeth Warren's campaign got the shot in the arm it needed by knocking her nearest rival, Marisa DeFranco, off the ballot with astounding support from the party faithful. Today her campaign got another boost fromMichael Levenson and Noah Bierman's story that features emails between Scott Brown's legislative director and the US Treasury Department indicating that the Senator was advocating for looser bank regulations. This is right in Warren's consumer advocacy wheelhouse and fits nicely with her efforts to paint Brown as an agent of high powered Wall Street interests that is oblivious to the struggles of everyday people.

According to recent polling Warren's campaign has failed to get the Wall Street accusations to stick to Brown in a negative way. Part of the reason for this is the last six weeks have revolved around questions about Warren's American Indian heritage. It has stifled Warren's ability to get her message out and it appears it will continue until Warren produces some kind of documentation that she is indeed a member of the Cherokee Nation. If this story has legs it probably won't have the same impact that the Cherokee story has because it's more complicated. The Volcker rule, along with some of the other proposals mentioned in the emails, are difficult to understand and don't have the same type of impact on voters as a story that screams, "Oh hey look, this lady lied about who she is to get ahead in life."

At some point Warren will have to stop relying on the media to go after Brown for his Wall Street connections and do it herself because it will be far more effective in damaging his "I'm Just Like You" brand. It's easy to smear someone as a Wall Street hack in a 30 second TV ad. Think scary music coupled with selective quotes from newspapers flashing across a black screen accompanied by a poor photograph of the offending pol.

The convention certainly helped but Warren's campaign needs to do more if they really want to shift the conversation away from allegations that she lied about her heritage to Brown's coziness with Wall Street. Plus, it appears she may have another problem looming on the horizon.

About the author

Garrett Quinn began writing for newspapers at age 17 with CNC in his native South Shore. He has been published in BlueMassGroup, RedMassGroup, Pioneer Investigates, and Wonkette. He is a More »

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