Alaska Gov. Bill Walker (I) initially asked the legislature to approve the state's participation in ObamaCare's Medicaid expansion. The legislature has thus far declined. Now, Walker is trying to implement it anyway, and the legislature appears to be taking him to court. According to Alaska Dispatch News:
The Alaska Legislature on Tuesday said it will sue Gov. Bill Walker to block his move last month to expand the public Medicaid health care program without lawmakers’ approval.
Following a private discussion Tuesday morning, a Republican-controlled House-Senate committee voted 10-1 to spend up to $450,000 on two law firms to represent the Legislature in a suit against the governor.
One, Bancroft PLLC, is based in Washington, D.C., and represented more than two dozen states in their U.S. Supreme Court challenge to the Affordable Care Act, or "Obamacare." The second, Holmes, Weddle & Barcott, is based in Anchorage.
In a news conference after the committee vote, Republican leaders framed their decision to challenge the governor as a constitutional one. They’re seeking an injunction to stop Medicaid expansion from going into effect Sept. 1.
“This is not a policy issue — we’re not discussing whether we should or shouldn’t expand Medicaid,” said Senate President Kevin Meyer, R-Anchorage. “This is a question of authority and process and our constitution.”
The Legislature is challenging Walker’s move based on a provision in Alaska statute that requires legislative approval before Medicaid coverage can be offered to people whose care is not required under federal law.
The version of "Obamacare" passed by Congress required states to expand Medicaid to cover low-income Americans, who can otherwise face steep health care costs without the subsidies that the legislation offers to individuals with higher incomes.
As written, the law would have revoked all federal Medicaid funding for states that didn’t go through with the expansion. But the U.S. Supreme Court said in 2012 that the threat of revoking the money was unconstitutional and coercive.
The ruling created ambiguity for Alaskan policymakers and legal experts: If Medicaid expansion is technically required under the ACA, but the Supreme Court has ruled the federal government can’t enforce the requirement by revoking money from states that don’t comply, does that make the newly eligible people under Walker’s proposed expansion an optional group that requires legislative approval?
Walker, citing a memorandum from Attorney General Craig Richards, says no. The Republican lawmakers that support the lawsuit say yes and argue the governor is circumventing their authority.
An initial filing in the Legislature’s lawsuit is expected next week.
U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell was in Alaska last week at the invite of the Alaska Federation of Natives to discuss climate change and other issues. During her visit, she made a side trip to the 400 or so person town of Kivalina, located on a low-lying barrier island along Alaska’s northwest coast. The settlement sprung up about a century ago when the Interior Department decided to erect a school there under a program to promote the “education of natives in Alaska.” The same program established schools in other coastal location such as Golovin, Shishmaref, and Barrow.
Now these locations are in the news (see this week’s Washington Post story for example) because they are being threatened by coastal erosion coming at the hands of global warming—and are discussing relocating and who should be responsible for the footing the bill (incidentally, the courts have ruled out the energy industry).
With or without human-caused climate change, bluffs and barrier islands along the coast of northwestern Alaska are inherently unstable and not particularly good places to establish permanent towns. This is probably one of the reasons the natives were largely nomadic.
“Were,” we say, because ironically, as pointed out by the Post’s Chris Mooney, research indicates that the abandonment of the nomadic ways was encouraged/hastened by the establishment of government schools!
Somehow, election results continue to trickle in, and David Wasserman of the Cook Political Report continues to update his spreadsheet of the national popular vote. At this point, he shows President Obama reelected with 50.86 percent of the vote to Mitt Romney's 47.43 percent. For whatever reason, the late-arriving results all seem to widen Obama's lead.
The total vote appears to be down by almost 4 million votes from 2008, and Obama has received about 4.7 million fewer votes than he did in his first campaign. Romney received slightly more votes than John McCain did.
Libertarian Party nominee Gary Johnson received 1,265,000 votes, according to Wikipedia, whose mysterious editors show the votes for every candidate. That's the most any Libertarian presidential candidate has ever received. It amounts to 0.99 percent, just shy of Ed Clark's 1.06 percent in 1980. If Johnson had been on the ballot in Michigan and Oklahoma, he would surely have broken 1 percent, though he still probably wouldn't have exceeded Clark's percentage. (Michigan and Oklahoma haven't been very good states for Libertarian candidates.) Johnson's best states were New Mexico, where he served two terms as governor, followed by Montana and Alaska.
The Libertarian Party reports that seven Libertarian statewide candidates in Texas and Georgia received more than a million votes.
Don't forget to read the new ebook The Libertarian Vote: Swing Voters, Tea Parties, and the Fiscally Conservative, Socially Liberal Center, which discusses how the millions of libertarian-leaning voters in America tend to vote. (It does not have 2012 results.)
The New York Times reported yesterday that the Arctic Ocean sea ice has reached a new record low. "Record low" Arctic ice this summer depends upon what data is used. This year, low values are in part a result of a very unusual storm in early August that broke up a large amount of ice northwest of Alaska. When this remaining ice is counted—as it should be—the total ice is about a million square kilometers greater than in the record low year of 2007. It is also worth noting that sea-ice coverage in the Southern Hemisphere continues to increase in a statistically significant fashion, as has been noted for decades.
A detailed summary of the various measurements of sea ice can be found here.
Yesterday, I testified (by remote communications) in the Alaska House of Representatives' Health and Social Services Committee, which is considering a bill to heavily regulate the collection and use of biometrics. The bill is inspired by a man who was denied entry into the CPA exam when he refused to have his fingerprints scanned for that purpose. You can read more about his campaign at the PrivacyNOWalaska.org site.
I'm entirely sympathetic to his concerns about potential overcollection of biometrics in digital form, and what may happen to biometric data after it is collected. As I said in my testimony, "a digital record of a biometric can be stored indefinitely, copied an infinite number of times, and transmitted around the globe at the speed of light. This creates security and privacy concerns cutting against the use of machine-biometrics." On the other hand, the CPA exam apparently has a problem with imposter fraud and faux test-takers who go simply to memorize questions and sell them on a test-prep black market.
Unfortunately, the bill is not callibrated to balance the competing interests at stake. It would create a "notice and consent" regime for biometrics collection, an idea that has failed to produce privacy protection in other areas. It would require massive and expensive re-tooling of data systems to provide consumers a right to amend or revoke their permission to use biometrics or order destruction of biometric data. And it would flatly outlaw marketing that uses biometric information---not just the stuff we learned to be spooked about in the film Minority Report, but knowingly agreed-to tailoring of discounts at the grocery store if we used a biometrically-secured payment system, for example.
I urged the Alaska legislators to ensure that biometrics collectors account for and prevent potential harm to Alaskans when they design and use their systems, but not to constrain biometrics so much that their security benefits never materialize.
There are a number of things Alaska and other states could do to help society callibrate the use of biometrics. They could ensure that biometrics collectors are liable and subject to jurisdiction in the state of collection when contract violations and harms arise from the use or misuse of biometric data.
Alaska could also establish that there is no "third-party doctrine" under its state constitution. A person sharing data under contractual or regulatory protections should maintain his or her search-and-seizure rights in that data. The government should not be able to access such data---though shared---without proper suspicion, warrants, and subpoenas.
Alaska has rejected the REAL ID Act, and it could do more to prevent the emergence of national identity systems by rejecting any E-Verify mandate. I encouraged the Alaskans to follow the lead of New Hampshire and bar state identity data from being shared with any national ID system.
The root of the problem in Alaska, though, may be the accountancy cartel. This is an area I know precious little about, but it appears that you must take the CPA exam to act as an accountant in the state. This positions the administrators of the CPA exam to make unreasonable, privacy-invasive demands for biometric data on a take-it-or-leave-it basis.
Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practise to ... restrict the right to earn a living!
My testimony starts with a primer on biometrics. We have much to learn yet about biometric technologies, their uses, and their consequences. Banning them would deny the public many benefits. Using them promiscuously would have many costs.
"The state of Alaska will not pursue unlawful activity to implement a federal health care regime that has been declared unconstitutional by a federal court," Parnell told the Juneau Chamber of Commerce, to applause, Thursday.
The AP included a couple of interesting comments from ObamaCare supporters Timothy Jost, a law professor at Washington & Lee University, and Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA.
Jost described Judge Roger Vinson (to whom Parnell referred) as "one renegade judge," when in fact two federal judges have struck down ObamaCare's individual mandate as unconstitutional. (Since only two federal judges have upheld ObamaCare, who's to say which pair are the renegades?)
Jost also called Alaska an "outlier" among states, while the AP reported, "Neither [Pollock] nor Jost knew of any other state taking action similar to Parnell." Jost and Pollack should know that Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) had already refused to implement ObamaCare. (Here he is telling an approving audience of Cato supporters.) Ironically, the AP story overlooking Scott's leadership appeared on the Miami Herald web site, which had previously reported that Scott even returned to the federal government the ObamaCare money that his predecessor Charlie Crist accepted but hadn't spent. Scott may not be enough company to keep Parnell from being an outlier. But Jost should also know that dozens of governors who are implementing ObamaCare are also hoping the Supreme Court will strike it down as unconstitutional. Parnell and Scott are outliers for their courage, not because they oppose ObamaCare.
The news about Parnell came as the U.S. Department of Justice filed a motion asking Judge Vinson to clarify that his declaratory judgment "does not relieve the parties of their rights and obligations under [ObamaCare] while the declaratory judgment is the subject of appellate review." Ilya Shapiro and I clarified that issue in our oped, "President Should Heed Court and Stop Implementing ObamaCare."
Tim Carney of the Washington Examiner is an expert on graft and sleaze inside the Beltway, and his column this morning is a perfect example. He shows how corrupt insiders in Alaska use something known as the "Rent-an-Eskimo" scam to pull in hundreds of millions of tax dollars from no-bid federal contracts. These insiders, meanwhile, steers big bucks to Washington lobbyists (almost all of whom worked for politicians like Lisa Murkowski), who then provide campaign cash to the corrupt officials who pass the laws that enable the circle of graft to continue. Here are some key passages from Tim's column.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski's write-in candidacy is being funded by $100,000 contributions from a handful of Alaska corporations that have been handsomely subsidized by the federal government. These six-figure donors have pulled in billions of taxpayer dollars thanks to special legislative favors from Murkowski and her mentors -- the late Sen. Ted Stevens (R), and Lisa's father, former senator and governor, Frank Murkowski (R). ...In late September AST took in $800,000 from nine Alaska Native Corporations -- unique, privileged, and politically connected for-profit entities created in the 1970s by legislation written by Stevens. While the companies are technically owned by the natives, the taxpayer-funded spoils from these contracts accrue to the well-connected nonnative lobbyists, subcontractors, and executives in the "Alaska mafia" made up of aides, friends and donors of Stevens, the Murkowskis, and Rep. Don Young (R). Meanwhile the 130,000 Alaska Natives, who are shareholders in the ANCs, have received $720 million over the last nine years, which comes to $615 per native annually. In effect, the natives are unwitting frontmen for this racket. Critics on Capitol Hill say this is worse than Jack Abramoff's exploitation of Indian tribes, and, in a dark joke, dub the ANCs with the politically incorrect name "rent-an-Eskimo. ...These multimillion-dollar (in some cases billion-dollar) corporations are exempt from competition requirements that cover most federal contracts because they are automatically treated as small businesses from socially and economically disadvantaged populations -- although their success in pulling in federal contracts would suggest otherwise. ...These overpriced no-bid contracts aren't welfare for poor natives as much as they are patronage for politically connected lobbyists and executives, most of whom are not natives. ...The ANCs highlight the truly corrupt aspect of pork-barrel spending, especially in Alaska. "Bringing home the bacon" is not simply about transferring wealth north from the Lower 48 -- it's often about using taxpayer money to line the pockets of the politically connected, who return the favor in the form of campaign contributions. Much of the pork doesn't make it all the way to Alaska -- it stays right here on K Street.
This is just one example of how big government creates a breeding ground for corruption. The circle of graft is Washington's version of recycling. Money gets taken from taxpayers and then winds up getting passed back and forth among special interests, lobbyists, and politicians. This video provides more of the sordid details.