There is moral crisis afoot! So say the Republican candidates for president, their pals in Congress and in state houses. Abortion, gay marriage, contraception— contraception, for Pete’s sake — things that so shock the conscience that it’s a wonder The Washington Post can even print the words!
Here’s something I bet you wouldn’t think I’d say: They’re right. There is a moral crisis in the United States. The only thing is — they’re wrong about what it is and who is causing it.
The real crisis of public morality in the United States doesn’t lie in the private decisions Americans make in their lives or their bedrooms; it lies at the heart of an ideology — and a set of policies — that the right-wing has used to batter and browbeat their fellow Americans.
They dress these policies up sometimes, give them catchy titles like Rep. Paul Ryan’s “Path to Prosperity.” But they never cease to imbue them with the kind of moral decisions that ought to make anyone furious. Ryan’s latest budget really is case in point. It’s a plan that says that increases in defense spending are so essential, that massive tax cuts for the wealthy are so necessary, that we must pay for them by ripping a hole in the social safety net. The poor need Medicaid to pay for medicine and treatment for their families? We care, we really do, but the wealthy need tax cuts more. Food stamps the only thing standing between your children and starvation? Listen, we feel your pain. We get it. But we’ve got more important things to spend money on. Like a new yacht for that guy who only has one yacht.
It’s hard to point to a single priority of the Republican Party these days that isn’t steeped in moral failing while being dressed up in moral righteousness. This week, for example, they are hoping the Supreme Court will be persuaded by radical (and ridiculous) constitutional arguments to throw out some or all of the Affordable Care Act. Sure, you could argue that it’s really nice to make sure 31 million people who didn’t have health care can get it. Sure you could make the case that lifetime limits are a bad thing, that women shouldn’t have to pay more for health insurance just because they’re women, that the United States shouldn’t be a country where you die because you lost your coverage when you lost your job. But then again, liberty. Let’s not forget liberty. Also, freedom.
It is a very strange thing that the people who lecture most fervently about morality are those who are most willing to fight for policies that are so immoral. They watch Wall Street turn itself into the Las Vegas strip, take the economy down and destroy people’s lives and livelihoods. To that they say, “By God we need less regulation. Get me the hose, I have things to water down!” They see a CEO of a bank or a corporation, someone who passed off all of the risk and took on all of the reward, and they say, “Get that man a bigger bonus! In fact, get him two!”
They see corporate interests flood the political system with unfathomably large sums of money, they see lobbyists defining the terms of debate, and they say, “Now this . . . this is what democracy should look like.”
They see an environmental crisis spinning out of control, the effects of climate change being felt already, the possibility of the biggest natural disaster in modern human history. To which they ask, “Anyone know if we can drill this hole any deeper?”
So yes, Rick Santorum. Yes, Mitt Romney. Yes, Paul Ryan and Republican politicians all over this nation. You are right, as right as you’ve ever been. There is a moral crisis in this country. A horrifyingly, back-breaking, bankrupt-the-core-of-this-nation style crisis. But it isn’t women or the poor or the middle class or the gay community or health-care advocates or environmentalists that are causing it.
By: Katrina vanden Heuvel, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, March 27, 2012
The heart just given to Dick Cheney…was Trayvon Martin’s. One is 71, the other 17.
What if that were literally true?
Let’s just say the metaphor tells a bitter truth: We are a nation safe for mean old white men in frail health. However, healthy black youths (most of all in the South) may be in peril with every breath and step they take out on the streets alone and unarmed. Just for living in black skin.
Apparently, wearing a hoodie further ratchets up the risk of being a black youth. The 17-year-old black slaying victim, Trayvon, was wearing one as he fell to the ground. “Hoodie protests” in New York, Philadelphia, Washington, and other cities in his memory have pointed to the loaded pack of prejudices associated with a simple sartorial style.
Oh, did I mention his fatal encounter was in a “gated community” (an oxymoron)? While they tend to be suspicious of dark teenage strangers, the message they send to all comers is “keep out,” not “come in.”
In the saddest story of 2012, a neighborhood watch “volunteer,” George Zimmerman, apparently concluded young Trayvon had no right nor reason to be walking the streets of Sanford, Fla., by himself with just a can of iced tea and some Skittles candy.
Zimmerman, an armed civilian, took the law into his own hands, reportedly starting a confrontation with Trayvon, even as he was told by a dispatcher to stop following the youth tagged as trouble. But it was Zimmerman who spelled trouble, in my reading of the facts. (No charges have been pressed against Zimmerman as of now.) Federal authorities are going to step in and investigate, thank goodness—a little late better than never.
In other words, if Zimmerman wasn’t looking for a fight, spoiling for one with his gun, this tragedy would not have come to pass. As it was, Trayvon knew he was facing serious danger and begged for his life—his very short life, I might add. All that he never got to see: “Gleams that untravelled world,” as the poet Lord Alfred Tennyson put it. It all ended with a bullet wound to the chest in February in Florida.
Florida bears blame for the outrage by having a vigilante justice system under a sitting Republican governor. The law they call “stand your ground” sanctions weapons of law enforcement to trigger-happy civilians like Zimmerman who have none of the training, scrutiny, code of conduct, or judgment of sworn police officers. Very nice, Florida, you’ve done it again. The year 2000 seems like yesterday.
I’ve seen law experts compare this case to the brutal murder of a 14-year-old Emmett Till in 1955, down South in the Mississippi Delta. Emmett, a black youth from Chicago, was a city boy visiting relatives that summer in a small town named Money. He didn’t know what he was up against in the strict code of conduct between whites and Negroes. Seen by some as a boy who stepped out of his place, he paid the ultimate price for it.
No question Till’s murder was a race-related hate crime in 1955, the year after Jim Crow laws were struck down by the Supreme Court. Yes, he was out of place, far from home when he lost his life for nothing.
But here’s the rub in 2012: Tall Trayvon was just a soon-to-be dead boy walking, on the way to becoming a young man. He got caught in racial crossfire on his own southern state’s home ground, not while visiting a strange land of hateful segregation. And yet he still got gunned down, in the eyes of multitudes, and for the color of his skin.
Meanwhile Cheney, doctors say, is doing “exceedingly well” in his white skin after a heart transplant. In his time, he’s been known to get aggressive in starting some scrapes, but they never left a mark on him. They are known as wars of choice in far-off lands. You can’t see the blood, but it’s on his hands.
By: Jamie Stiehm, U. S. News and World Report, March 27, 2012
Maybe the individual mandate is doomed, as an agitated-slash-celebratory Twitterverse seemed convinced after conservative Supreme Court justices posed challenging questions about it (shocking!) on the second day of arguments on the Affordable Care Act. If the justices vote later this year to kill it, with the possibility that the whole law will collapse as a result, Republicans would be vindicated in their fight against “big government.” But in practical terms, would the country really know what it has lost?
From a political standpoint, the mandate invented by the GOP of yore (“yore” being a dozen years ago) has been manna for today’s GOP. Polling shows the requirement to buy insurance or pay a fine — meant to discourage freeloaders — has become highly unpopular. Strangely, the dreaded mandate is not particularly unpopular in Massachusetts, the only state that charges penalties for not buying coverage.
Disapproval of the individual mandate nationally, meanwhile, seems to be a mile wide but not all that deep. There’s evidence that many people don’t understand what it is, why it is, and how it would affect them, and that their answers change depending on word choice and word sequence.
They like it better – about even with disapprovers in a Pew poll — if the last thing they hear is about subsidies to help lower-income people buy insurance. They like it somewhat when it’s explained that without it, people would just buy insurance when they got sick (driving up costs for everyone) or alternatively, insurance companies could not be required to cover people with existing medical problems (because without a mandate, there wouldn’t be enough healthy people in the pool). They like it best – 61 percent approval in a Kaiser Family Foundation poll — when they’re told it won’t apply to most people because they have insurance through work.
That spike to 61 percent, nearly twice as high as the 33 percent who support the mandate when asked a simple up-or-down question, is telling. It suggests many Americans aren’t comrades-in-arms with conservatives waging an ideological battle – they’re just people nervous about change and relieved to hear it won’t affect them.
Attitudes toward the overall health law are just as complicated as those toward the mandate. A new CNN/ORC International poll, like most polls, finds that the law is unpopular – favored by 43 percent, opposed by 50 percent. Breaking down the numbers further, CNN found 43 percent favor it, 37 percent oppose the law because it’s too liberal, and 10 percent oppose it because it’s not liberal enough. Hello public option!
You have to wonder if that 10 percent – which has gone as high as 14 percent in earlier CNN polls – keeps doggedly voicing opposition to the law in hopes the Supreme Court will strike it down and force Congress to regroup. At some point, as 50 million uninsured rises to 60 million and 70 million and higher, as more states approach the astonishing Texas rate of 26 percent uninsured, Congress may decide it has to do something. And, barred from effectively regulating the private market, there will be no options except the public option – Medicare for all.
That should be a safe course. After all, the policy already exists. But in the current climate it’s not hard to envision a conservative challenge to Medicare, and who knows what the Supreme Court might do?
By: Jill Lawrence, The National Journal, March 27, 2012
Stop me if you’ve heard this attack: There’s a presidential candidate out there who wants high gas prices to force the government to finally increase regulations on cars, persuade Americans to stop driving those beastly SUVs, nudge people toward clean electric cars — all with the goal of combating climate change. And don’t even think about lowering gas taxes to help car owners out at the pump: That’s just a gimmick. Take a moment and guess which politician is behind these positions.
If you guessed Mitt Romney, you are correct. And his long history of enviro-friendly rhetoric during past surges in gas prices is proving awkward as he slams the White House for taking similar positions today.
The best example yet is probably an audio clip dug up by Buzzfeed’s Andrew Kaczynski, purportedly from a 2007 town hall, that contains in just two minutes just about everything Republicans hate about Democrats on energy.
In it, Romney is asked how he feels about requiring higher fuel-efficiency standards from car companies. He says he would consider them, explaining that the government has not required high enough efficiency standards in recent years and that loopholes encourage people to drive SUVs. Not only that, he’s rooting for high gas prices to help get the job done.
“The CAFE requirements have not worked terribly well over the last 20 years in part because they haven’t applied to trucks, so America has moved more and more to trucks and SUVs,” Romney said. “So the average fuel economy over the last, I think it’s 20 years, has been almost flat. I’m hopeful that with $3 gasoline being charged by Hugo Chavez and Ahmadinejad and Putin and others that you’re going to see Americans slowly but surely move to vehicles that are far more fuel efficient and you’ll see our manufacturers start competing on the basis of fuel efficiency.”
Today Romney proudly touts his opposition to fuel efficiency standards on his website, telling one conservative radio host that car companies’ woes came after “the government put in place CAFE requirements that were disadvantageous for domestic manufacturers.”
There’s more from that town hall. Romney specifically praised hybrid cars and electric car technology — now widely mocked on the right — as a potential solution. Romney himself has called the plug-in Chevy Volt “an idea whose time has not come” on the campaign trail and joked this month that “you can’t drive a car with a windmill on it.”
But back in 2007: “I sure hope that you’re going to see more and more hybrids and much better fuel economy,” Romney said. “Plug-in cars, electric cars with better battery technology, might be a way of reducing our emissions.”
This was in line with other past Romney statements that surfaced this week in which he urged Americans to channel the reality of high gas prices into support for alternative energy and conservation. The New Republic noted that Romney specifically opposed cutting the gas tax in his state in 2006 during a spike in oil prices for that very reason.
“I don’t think that now is the time, and I’m not sure there will be the right time, for us to encourage the use of more gasoline,” Romney said then. “I’m very much in favor of people recognizing that these high gasoline prices are probably here to stay.”
Today Romney insists that gas prices are the White House’s fault, even as the overwhelming consensus among experts is that it’s out of the government’s hands, and says that more drilling will help fix the problem. And he wants Obama to fire anyone in his administration who thinks that there are benefits to higher gas prices.
“This ‘gas-hike trio’ has been doing the job over the last three and a half years and gas prices are up,” Romney said last week, referring to Cabinet members Energy Secretary Steven Chu, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson. “The right course is they ought to be fired.”
Even Romney’s own energy advisers are reluctant to back him up on his claims this week. Two of them, Glenn Hubbard and Greg Mankiw, have supported taxing energy in order to decrease emissions that contribute to climate change. In other words: increasing gas prices for the sake of the environment. That’s to the left of the Obama administration.
Romney surrogate John Sununu defended Romney’s 2006 and 2007 positions to TPM on Monday, suggesting that the governor was merely putting an optimistic spin on a lousy time for gas prices.
“I think if you look at those interviews what he was saying is we ought to take advantage of the terrible situation,” he said. He added that Romney, then and now, supports both “the production side of energy, where the governor is absolutely committed, and the conservation side” as part of the solution to America’s energy problems.
But add it all up, and Romney and his advisers are on record minimizing the government’s ability to influence gas prices and supporting many of the same goals and policies espoused by Democrats to help promote energy efficiency and combat climate change. Just as his health care bill’s similarities to the Affordable Care Act have made him vulnerable to attacks, Romney’s latest energy offensive might open him up to more of the same charges he’s faced throughout his campaign — that he’ll say and do anything to get elected.
By: Benjy Sarlin, Talking Points Memo, March 26, 2012
The Constitution’s words enabling Congress to “regulate commerce…among the several states” gives the United States broad authority over economic matters — although non-economic regulation is far more suspect. Early in today’s argument, however, several of the justices appeared poised to impose an entirely novel limit on Congress’ authority — suggesting that laws which require, in Justice Kennedy’s words, an “affirmative duty to act to go into commerce” is somehow constitutionally suspect. So there were no shortages of pointed questions about the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that everyone either carry health insurance or pay slightly more income taxes.
There are two reasons why this requirement is necessary. The first is that, because the law prohibits insurers from denying coverage to patients with preexisting conditions, it must also ensure that healthy people enter the insurance market before they become sick. If patients can wait until they get sick to buy insurance, they will drain all the money out of an insurance plan that they have not previously paid into, leaving nothing left for the rest of the plan’s consumers. The second reason relates to a problem with our health system that long predates the Affordable Care Act. Because emergency rooms must provide at least some degree of care free of charge to people who cannot afford it, these costs wind up being transferred to persons with insurance — driving up annual premiums as much as $1,100 on the average patient.
Initially, the Court’s conservatives appeared highly credulous of the plaintiffs’ false claim that upholding the health reform would necessarily enable the federal government to do absolutely anything. Solicitor General Don Verrilli addressed this question by explaining that the health care market is unique in that it is the only market that everyone inevitably participates in — we all get sick at some point — and that, because of health care’s sudden and unexpected costs, people typically pay their health bills through insurance. Thus, he explained, because everyone is already caught up in the health care market, the Affordable Care Act does not impose any kind of “duty…to go into commerce” — it merely tells people who are already in the health care market to make sure they pay for their health costs through insurance.
While Verrilli was still at the podium, the Court’s conservatives did not seem to buy this claim. A ray of hope emerged at the end of the oral argument, however, when Justice Kennedy expressed a somewhat nuanced view:
[T]he government tells us that’s because the insurance market is unique. And in the next case, it’ll say the next market is unique. But I think it is true that if most questions in life are matters of degree, in the insurance and health care world, both markets — stipulate two markets — the young person who is uninsured is uniquely proximately very close to affecting the rates of insurance and the costs of providing medical care in a way that is not true in other industries. That’s my concern in the case.
There’s a lot going on in this statement. On the one hand, Kennedy is clearly skeptical that, if the Court says this market is unique, the government won’t simply argue that the next market is also unique in the next case. On the other hand, Kennedy also appears sympathetic to the second reason why the mandate is essential — that the problem of uninsurance leads to billions in health care costs being transferred to other health care consumers. A young person who forgoes health insurance is “uniquely proximately very close” to affecting the health care costs of others, and that may be enough to get Kennedy’s vote to uphold the law.
The big loser in all of this debate, however, is the Constitution itself. The Constitution says nothing about unique markets. Or about the need to impose artificial Congress authority to regulate the nation’s economy. It simply says that Congress can “regulate commerce.” The idea that a law which regulates 1/6 of the nation’s economy is not regulating commerce is, frankly, absurd. Nor was there ever any risk that a decision upholding health reform would lead to all things being permissible. There are many things that are not commercial — federal murder laws, assault laws, child neglect laws or sexual morality laws, for example. A law regulating our entire national health care market, however, is clearly and obviously constitutional.
Justice Kennedy may inevitably vote to uphold the law — he may even bring Chief Justice Roberts along with him — but, whatever the Court does this term, it appears increasingly likely that we live under the constitution of Anthony Kennedy, and that we no longer live under the Constitution of the United States.
By: Ian Millhiser, Think Progress, March 27, 2012