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As a lawyer more interested in the theoretical side of the law, I have been strangely fascinated with the legal questions raised by Downton Abbey. There are a few good sites I have found that explain the fee tail issue that is the heart of why Robert could not leave the estate to his daughters, but I have not found any good discussions of the “death duties” and the will at the beginning of Season 4. If you are confused by how Robert could sell the estate to Matthew, or by what Mary owns in the estate, follow me below where I lay out my understanding. (yes, I know I need a life!)

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Mon Oct 07, 2013 at 06:04 AM PDT

What its all about: Impeachment!

by potaroo

Yes, the GOP is attempting a coup, exploiting in extortion and all the things pointed out in many diaries. But the real question is why? The actions are harming their electoral chances, hurting their relationship with the press (who are finally starting to ask harder questions). To what point? The GOP appears in disarray and it is not clear what they want as they have given up on "Obamacare."

Don't believe it! The GOP is unfortunately a master of machiavellian tactics and I simply do not believe they do not have a plan. So why aren't they telling us about this plan in their demands? Because the plan is to force the president to do something unusual to avoid a federal default and then use this action as grounds for impeachment.

Crazy you say? Ask yourself who is driving the GOP policy (answer: the tea party) and then ask yourself what they want more than anything (answer: to remove the Kenyan interloper from office). Attacking Obamacare is very popular among the tea party but this pales to what impeachment hearings would produce. Even if the Senate does not go along, an impeached President is tainted and that is something the tea party would be thrilled with.

Not convinced? I lay it out in more detail below the fold.

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Fri Apr 12, 2013 at 03:09 PM PDT

Why Social Security? Why now?

by potaroo

In all the excellent commentary on the threatened cuts to social security, one issue hasn't been clearly addressed: why the obsession with social security as important to balancing the budget and reducing the deficit? As a long time observer of Social Security (SS) with some background in the area, I wanted to offer my thoughts.

The puzzle is that, officially SS is solvent for a long time and does not contribute to the deficit, so why the obsessive focus on cutting it? And how can SS be a problem with the deficit if it is fully funded? A little simple math from the official Social Security Administration (SSA) website shows the answer. In 2013, for the first time since 1984, all programs of the SSA are expected to pay out more than the SSA is taking in in payroll taxes. This means general obligation funds of the government will be used SSA obligations in 2013, 2014 and beyond. How is that possible if SS is fully funded? The answer is that the SSA is responsible for SS and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). SSI is a means-tested collection of programs that do not have a dedicated funding stream. So SSI is paid out of the general revenues of the government. This was historically not a big deal because SS is taking in extra money and some of this surplus could easily cover the SSI payments. However trends in increasing SSI and reduction in SS surplus have resulted in the current situation where  SS + SSI costs more than the funds received from payrolls. This means that SSA, itself, does not have enough to pay the total obligations of SSA and, for the first time in almost 30 years, the SSA will be taking funds from the general revenues of the US. In other words, SSA programs (other than SS) will be contributing to the deficit and will be partially supported by taxpayers (even though the SS piece is solvent).

In pointing this out, I am not arguing that SS should be cut or that I agree with the proposed changes. I actually favor expanding SS and allowing Medicare for everyone. But I think it is important to lay out the facts about the total SSA payouts because it helps to make sense of all the noise you are hearing about whether SS is truly in crisis. To see the numbers from the SSA website, follow me below the squiggle:

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It is now clear what the Republican strategy is - and I am afraid they will win. The news is all about how the House is not in session and nothing is being done. But this is part of a strategy to force the Senate and President to accept a one year extension of the Bush tax cuts.

In September, the House passed H.R. 8 which is a simple bill that extends the Bush tax cuts for one year, adjusts (alternative minimum tax) AMT for 2012 and 2013, and reauthorizes the accelerated depreciation incentive for businesses. At any time until the new Congress is seated, the Senate could pass this bill as written and the President could sign it and we would avert the automatic tax increases and fix the AMT.

Why would they pass this bill? Think about what is about to happen over the next four days. Nonstop freakout by the press about the impending cliff. The Republican answer is out there quietly now - but this will become more prominent: simply extend it a year while we work out a new compromise. If Harry Reid were to allow a vote on H.R. 8, it would pass easily and bipartisan. Could the President really veto something that would avoid much of the uncertainty over tax rates for this year and next year? Follow me below...

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According to the live feed from Thomas.gov, at 6:40:12 P.M. the House passed H.R. 6684     (On passage Passed by the Yeas and Nays: (Roll no. 644)). The roll call is not available yet.

This is part of the two-part strategy for tonight's Plan B: one bill is spending cuts and one bill is tax related. The "spending cut" bill is H.R. 6684 and, from a quick analysis, it is very short on actual spending cuts and long on things like tort reform for health insurance claims. In fact, the bill seems to increase spending as it removes the impending defense department "sequester".

The summary of the bill is as follows:

SECTION 1. SHORT TITLE.
Sec. 1. Short title.
Sec. 2. Table of contents.

TITLE I--AGRICULTURE
SEC. 101. ARRA SUNSET AT MARCH 1, 2013.
SEC. 102. CATEGORICAL ELIGIBILITY LIMITED TO CASH ASSISTANCE.
SEC. 103. STANDARD UTILITY ALLOWANCES BASED ON THE RECEIPT OF ENERGY ASSISTANCE PAYMENTS.
SEC. 104. EMPLOYMENT AND TRAINING; WORKFARE.
SEC. 105. END STATE BONUS PROGRAM FOR THE SUPPLEMENTAL NUTRITION ASSISTANCE PROGRAM.
SEC. 106. FUNDING OF EMPLOYMENT AND TRAINING PROGRAMS.
SEC. 107. TURN OFF INDEXING FOR NUTRITION EDUCATION AND OBESITY PREVENTION.
SEC. 108. EXTENSION OF AUTHORIZATION OF FOOD AND NUTRITION ACT OF 2008.
SEC. 109. EFFECTIVE DATE AND APPLICATION OF AMENDMENTS.

TITLE II--COMMITTEE ON ENERGY AND COMMERCE
Subtitle A--Repeal of Certain ACA Funding Provisions
SEC. 201. REPEALING MANDATORY FUNDING TO STATES TO ESTABLISH AMERICAN HEALTH BENEFIT EXCHANGES.
SEC. 202. REPEALING PREVENTION AND PUBLIC HEALTH FUND.
SEC. 203. RESCINDING UNOBLIGATED BALANCES FOR CO-OP PROGRAM.
Subtitle B--Medicaid
SEC. 211. REVISION OF PROVIDER TAX INDIRECT GUARANTEE THRESHOLD.
SEC. 212. REBASING OF STATE DSH ALLOTMENTS FOR FISCAL YEAR 2022.
SEC. 213. REPEAL OF MEDICAID AND CHIP MAINTENANCE OF EFFORT REQUIREMENTS UNDER PPACA.
SEC. 214. MEDICAID PAYMENTS TO TERRITORIES.
SEC. 215. REPEALING BONUS PAYMENTS FOR ENROLLMENT UNDER MEDICAID AND CHIP.

TITLE III--FINANCIAL SERVICES
Sec. 301. Table of contents.
Subtitle A--Orderly Liquidation Fund
SEC. 311. REPEAL OF LIQUIDATION AUTHORITY.
Subtitle B--Home Affordable Modification Program
SEC. 321. SHORT TITLE.
SEC. 322. CONGRESSIONAL FINDINGS.
SEC. 323. TERMINATION OF AUTHORITY.
SEC. 324. SENSE OF CONGRESS.
Subtitle C--Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection
SEC. 331. BRINGING THE BUREAU OF CONSUMER FINANCIAL PROTECTION INTO THE REGULAR APPROPRIATIONS PROCESS.
Subtitle D--Repeal of the Office of Financial Research
SEC. 341. REPEAL OF THE OFFICE OF FINANCIAL RESEARCH.

TITLE IV--COMMITTEE ON THE JUDICIARY
SEC. 401. SHORT TITLE.
SEC. 402. ENCOURAGING SPEEDY RESOLUTION OF CLAIMS.
SEC. 403. COMPENSATING PATIENT INJURY.
SEC. 404. MAXIMIZING PATIENT RECOVERY.
SEC. 405. PUNITIVE DAMAGES.
SEC. 406. AUTHORIZATION OF PAYMENT OF FUTURE DAMAGES TO CLAIMANTS IN HEALTH CARE LAWSUITS.
SEC. 407. DEFINITIONS.
SEC. 408. EFFECT ON OTHER LAWS.
SEC. 409. STATE FLEXIBILITY AND PROTECTION OF STATES' RIGHTS.
SEC. 410. APPLICABILITY; EFFECTIVE DATE.

TITLE V--COMMITTEE ON OVERSIGHT AND GOVERNMENT REFORM
SEC. 501. RETIREMENT CONTRIBUTIONS.
SEC. 502. ANNUITY SUPPLEMENT.
SEC. 503. CONTRIBUTIONS TO THRIFT SAVINGS FUND OF PAYMENTS FOR ACCRUED OR ACCUMULATED LEAVE.

TITLE VI--COMMITTEE ON WAYS AND MEANS
Subtitle A--Recapture of Overpayments Resulting From Certain Federally-subsidized Health Insurance
SEC. 601. RECAPTURE OF OVERPAYMENTS RESULTING FROM CERTAIN FEDERALLY-SUBSIDIZED HEALTH INSURANCE.
Subtitle B--Social Security Number Required to Claim the Refundable Portion of the Child Tax Credit
SEC. 611. SOCIAL SECURITY NUMBER REQUIRED TO CLAIM THE REFUNDABLE PORTION OF THE CHILD TAX CREDIT.
Subtitle C--Human Resources Provisions
SEC. 621. REPEAL OF THE PROGRAM OF BLOCK GRANTS TO STATES FOR SOCIAL SERVICES.

TITLE VII--SEQUESTER REPLACEMENT
SEC. 701. SHORT TITLE.
SEC. 702. PROTECTING VETERANS PROGRAMS FROM SEQUESTER.
SEC. 703. ACHIEVING $19 BILLION IN DISCRETIONARY SAVINGS.
SEC. 704. CONFORMING AMENDMENTS TO SECTION 314 OF THE CONGRESSIONAL BUDGET AND IMPOUNDMENT CONTROL ACT OF 1974.
SEC. 705. TREATMENT FOR PAYGO PURPOSES.
SEC. 706. ELIMINATION OF THE FISCAL YEAR 2013 SEQUESTRATION FOR DEFENSE DIRECT SPENDING.

I have not reviewed this in detail but to me the shocking part is Title IV which limits noneconomic damages to $250,000 and makes it very hard to win punitive damages in lawsuits over healthcare. How does this relate to saving the government money?

Discuss

Note: I realize this is speculation and that it is highly inappropriate to diagnose a mental illness based on media reports. But since many are doing this already and they are causing harm with poor speculation (for example, to children with Asperger's), I feel compelled to speak up based on my understanding of mental health issues.  

The shooting of 20 children is incomprehensible. Why would anyone do this?

I am not an expert on mental health, but I have some familiarity and training and there is only one answer that makes any sense (if you can call it sense): the shooter did not believe he was shooting children - instead he was shooting "bad" guys in some parallel universe he has been constructing in his mind the past few years.

We don't talk about mental health much in this country and, when we do, it is a confusing mess of a discussion that tends to get things very wrong. For example, there is nothing in Asperger's that could lead to this result. Children and adults with asperger's struggle to interpret the emotions and motivations of others - but this is the only thing different about them. They would be horrified by the concept of shooting a child.

Only a mental health issue that involves an alternate reality and psychotic break could explain this result. Add to this the fact that it is a bright young man of 20 who has struggled to transition to the "real world" after school (is not working, lives at home, is a loner) and the highly probable diagnosis is schizophrenia.

Unfortunately, schizophrenia takes some of our brightest into a mental abyss and most do not come back. I am not sure that this is what happened with Adam Lanza but it fits. Follow me below for more.

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