By Doug Porter
Following a speech before the City Club of Cleveland yesterday, President Obama responded to a question about the influence of money in elections by talking about universal voting as a solution.
Cue the conservative outrage: “Obama calls for mandatory voting in U.S.,” screamed one headline. At UT-San Diego the headline was toned down to “OBAMA FLOATS IDEA OF MANDATORY VOTING IN U.S.”
This story is a really sad commentary on the state of American “journalism.” The President spends and hour and a half speaking about economic policy in front of a business group. This one quip is going to end up being passed around on the internet as something along the lines of ‘The Black Panthers Are Going to Force People to Vote.” There’s probably an email smoldering in my backup account as I’m writing this.
The coverage of Obama’s address at the Cleveland Plain Dealer, with a reporter who actually heard the speech, doesn’t even mention the voting issue, which came up during a 40 minute question and answer session.
There has been no legislation introduced, nor have there been any reports of any proposals from the administration on anything other than fighting the restrictions Republican types seem to want to impose on voting.
Here’s the lede from the Associated Press story, published in our daily fishwrap:
They say the only two things that are certain in life are death and taxes. President Barack Obama wants to add one more: voting.
It didn’t take potential GOP presidential candidate Mario Rubio but a few hours to endorse non-voting.
From The Hill:
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) late Wednesday questioned President Obama’s endorsement of mandatory voting.
“I don’t put anything past him. I mean, there are a lot of things that have already happened that I never thought I would see,” Rubio, the potential Republican presidential candidate, said about Obama’s presidency on Fox News’s “Hannity.”
“Here’s the point he refuses to point out or that he misses: Not voting is also a legitimate choice that some people make. I wish more people would participate in politics, too, but that is their choice. That is the choice of living in a free society.”
I don’t know what Rubio’s so worried about. The president hasn’t gotten around to organizing the Obamacare death squads, nor has he managed to seize every body’s guns. With just a couple of years left and a Republican Congress unable to agree on much of anything, I think it’ll be cool.
Blue Shield’s Tax Exempt Status Revoked
During the failed campaign last year for Proposition 45, a measure that would have given the California Insurance Commissioner a say-so in health insurance rates, proponents called upon the State to investigate Blue Shield’s non-profit status.
The press release from Consumer Watchdog started out:
In response to news of Blue Shield’s new $2.5 – $8 million luxury skybox at the 49ers’ new stadium, Consumer Watchdog sent a letter to California Attorney General Kamala Harris asking for an investigation of “Blue Shield’s abuse of its non-profit status” and for immediate steps to “block any additional wasteful spending that robs taxpayers and average California patients of their financial health.”
Consumer Watchdog may have lost the battle over Prop 45, but Blue Shield (which helped fund the opposition) could be losing a lot more.
From the Los Angeles Times:
A state agency has quietly revoked the tax-exempt status of Blue Shield of California. The move comes as the nonprofit faces criticism over rates, executive pay and more than $4 billion in financial reserves. The California Franchise Tax Board wants Blue Shield, the state’s third-largest health insurer, to file tax returns dating to 2013, which could cost the company tens of millions of dollars. Blue Shield is appealing the decision.
There is something fishy about what’s going on between the State and Blue Cross. The revocation occurred more than six months ago, following a lengthy state audit of the justification for Blue Shield’s taxpayer subsidy, according to the Times.
From UT-San Diego:
Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones, a longtime critic of Blue Shield, said Wednesday that the firm has also shifted its health insurance products from the Department of Insurance to the Department of Managed Health Care to avoid $100 million in premium taxes each year. “Blue Shield is dodging taxes that other legitimate businesses and families and individuals pay, so it’s fundamentally unfair,” he said.
In 2011, facing a backlash over rate increases, the insurer capped its profits at 2 percent of annual revenue and returned about $560 million to customers and community groups from 2010 to 2012, the Times reported.
But some consumer advocates and health policy experts told the newspaper those moves aren’t enough in light of the company’s huge cash stockpile. Blue Shield’s surplus of $4.2 billion at the end of 2014 is four times as much as the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association requires its member insurers to hold to cover future claims. In past decade, Blue Shield has contributed about $325 million to its charitable foundation. Critics also note that the firm has not served the state’s poorest residents and has run afoul of state regulators. The 2011 disclosure that its former chief executive earned nearly $5 million stirred protests.
Michael Johnson, Blue Shield’s former Director of Public Policy, who resigned recently citing “their disregard for their duties to the public and senior management’s refusal to change course” has started a petition at Change.org calling on the company to pay up on its tax liabilities.
This could get interesting.
Good News, Bad News for the GOP
Radio/TV personality Glen Beck announced yesterday that he’s leaving the Republican Party.
“The Republican Party, I’ve made my decision,” said Glenn Beck. “I am out! I’m out! I am not a Republican. I will not give a dime to the Republican Party. I am out! I highly recommend, run from the Republican Party. They are not good and you see it now. All this stuff that they ran and they said they were doing all these great things. And they were going to stand against Obamacare and everything else and legal immigration, set us up. Enough is enough. They are torpedoing the Constitution and they are doing knowingly. They are taking on people like Mike Lee and Ted Cruz. And they are torpedoing them, knowingly. And these guys are standing for the Constitution. So I am done with them.”
Don’t let the door…
Lest you get hopeful for a resurgence of the two party system, Donald Trump announced yesterday that he’s forming an exploratory committee to run for president in 2016.
From the New Hampshire Union-Leader:
Donald Trump will launch a presidential exploratory committee Wednesday, the eve of the business mogul’s return to New Hampshire.
A senior adviser tells the New Hampshire Union Leader that Trump will not be renewing his contract with NBC for the reality television “Apprentice” series.
Combined with staff hires, Trump’s announcement that he will form an exploratory committee for the first time is a sign the billionaire is seriously considering running for the Republican nomination.
Trump’s statement on forming the exploratory committee hints at the razzle-dazzle to come for a turbo-charged personality known for skewering the political establishment.
And I don’t know what to make of this item, from Politico:
On Monday, the Salt Lake Tribune reported that Mitt Romney will be hitting the boxing ring for a charity event on May 15. The 2012 Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts governor will square off against former heavyweight boxing champion Evander Holyfield for Charity Vision’s “Fight Night” in Salt Lake City.
Though Romney and his wife, Ann, are listed only as confirmed guests for the event, according to an event website, the charity confirmed that Romney, 68, will also be throwing on some gloves and getting in the ring with Holyfield.
“It will either be a very short fight, or I will be knocked unconscious,” Romney said in an interview with the Tribune. “It won’t be much of a fight. We’ll both suit up and get in the ring and spar around a little bit.”
A Little Sunshine, Please
March 15-21 is Sunshine Week:
Sunshine Week is a national initiative to promote a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information. Participants include news media, civic groups, libraries, nonprofits, schools and others interested in the public’s right to know.
The local chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists is celebrating the worst and best in open government by handing out Wall and Window awards this evening at the place formerly known as the Bamboo Lounge.
The Window Award will go to the public official or agency that most prioritized transparency and the public’s right to know last year. The Wall Award will go to the public official or agency that most ignored media requests or otherwise compromised the public’s right to know.
“Wall” nominees include: County DA Bonnie Dumanis, Gerry Braun (formerly with the Balboa Park Celebration) and the San Diego Police Department. (You’ll have to go their website to learn about the good guys.)
Over at MuckRock.com, the gang specializing in requests for government documents, they’ve got their own award winner: Amtrak
This Sunshine Week, we’ve seen agencies go to great lengths to prevent disclosure of domestic drone programs and plots to read your mail. But as these Amtrak complaints show, government cover-ups aren’t always a matter of life and death. Unless you ordered the tuna salad. Then you should seek immediate medical attention.
Last June, MuckRock user Conor Skelding requested all complaints Amtrak received regarding its lounge cars over the past two years. Last week, after nine months of processing, the responsive docs finally came in, and boy, those must have been a busy nine months…
…then we would have this gem uncovered by Andre Francisco, a strong contender for greatest redaction of all time:
On This Day: 1917 – The Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the Adamson Act, a federal law that established an eight-hour workday, with overtime pay, for interstate railway workers. Congress passed the law a year earlier to avert a nationwide rail strike. 1958 – “Our Song” was released by Tom and Jerry. Later they used their real names, which were Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel. 1987 – Televangelist Jim Bakker resigned from the PTL due to a scandal involving Jessica Hahn.
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