“It’s Time For A Collective And Unbridled Demand For Justice”: Following MLK’s Example Means Ending Our ‘Whatever’ Mindset
I am often deeply disturbed by our remorseless witness. We are all implicated; we share responsibility for our witness of well-defined evil.
We don’t protect our most vulnerable children; we value people according to arbitrary standards blind to the image of God on every face; we are too quick to kill and to slow to forgive; we tolerate the desecration of the only earth we will ever know. We give a platform to political leaders who want to “take back our country” — by setting policies that favor the wealthiest over everyone else, selling public schools to the highest bidder, and tearing apart the safety net that sustains the elderly and assists our most vulnerable — as if their words and ideas are worth listening to, or are grounded in principles worthy of our attention or even support.
Our response? Too often it is tantamount to this: “Whatever.”
We allow injustices to persist as if solutions are someone else’s responsibility. We watched our Congress over the last six years — as we slid deeper into recession, as our immigration crisis worsened, as tragic deaths from gun violence killed children school by school, people in movie theaters, women and children in the sanctity of their homes — do less and less, making history for inactivity. Even now, behind all of the soaring rhetoric is a shocking lack of action. It’s almost as if Congress said, whatever. How will we respond?
February is African-American History Month, so rest assured there will be plenty of posturing by our elected leaders. I hope we will revisit a figure often celebrated at this time of year — but I hope we will have a new appreciation of his example, and what his example should mean in our daily lives.
Martin Luther King, Jr. was a young man, going about his daily business, following his predictable path when God called. He was a preacher’s kid from a solid middle class upbringing, attending Morehouse College in Atlanta, Boston University School of Theology, earning a Master of Divinity and a Ph.D. He was on a Yellow Brick Road headed for Oz. But God had need of him and he joined the ranks of prophets like Samuel, Amos and Jeremiah; like Martin Luther, and Dietrich Bonheoffer; like Gandhi, Ella Baker, Sojourner Truth, Fannie Lou Hamer and so many others that could be named.
In part, what distinguishes King and these moral giants is the fullness with which they heard the cry of injustice and responded. And we can all hear it if we listen, and we can all respond. As Callie Plunket-Brewton remarked, “The overwhelming witness of the prophets is that God has no tolerance for those who prey on the weak, who abuse their power, or who eat their fill while others are hungry.”
God has no tolerance for whatever.
And King had no tolerance for it either. In 1959 he said, “Make a career of humanity. Commit yourself to the noble struggle for equal rights. You will make a greater person of yourself, a greater nation of your country, and a finer world to live in.” Six years later, in 1965, he described his vision for where that career in humanity should lead us: “We must come to see that the end we seek is a society at peace with itself, a society that can live with its conscience.”
Today, are we not a society that has lost its conscience? One only has to listen to the foolishness that passes for debate in any political season — and there is one on the horizon — or to the witless chatter on our televisions to feel the weight of Whatever pulling us down into the gravity of our condition.
But I have hope. I have hope that people of faith in every tradition will heed the words and examples of King and other prophets, and will wake up and rise up, will speak up and stand up; will turn for a moment from entertaining ourselves, buying things, cheering sports teams and entertainers, and insist on a world where children have clean water to drink and safe places to sleep; where the elderly can rest secure, the fruit of their labor beyond the reach of politicians; where a good public education awaits every eager child and a job with a living wage is there for every adult willing and able to work; where health care is a right, not a privilege, and humanity has matured beyond the illusion that our security is gained by weapons and wars.
This month we will celebrate many great African-Americans whose contributions to better our nation and world seem incalculable. But rather than set them apart, let us learn from their example and respond as they would have responded. I long for the day when people of all faith traditions call upon those who exercise power in our nation with words lifted from the heart of our faith — so that our living may be transformed. The time for whatever has long since passed — it’s time for a collective and unbridled demand for justice.
By: Rev. Michael Livingston, Bill Moyers Blog, Moyers and Company, February 15, 2015; This post first appeared at TalkPoverty.
Republicans in the House voted on Wednesday to repeal the Affordable Care Act—for the fifty-six time. After four years these show votes have become a tedious joke. But Wednesday’s action had bleaker implications, as it was cast in the shadow of a lawsuit that could undermine the healthcare law in fatal ways.
In a few weeks the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in King v. Burwell, which contends that the text of the ACA allows the IRS to give subsidies only to people who purchase insurance through exchanges set up by their state, and not to those who rely on the federally run marketplace. If the plaintiffs prevail, some 7 million people in the thirty-four states that have declined to set up their own exchanges would lose the tax credits that subsidize their insurance. Coverage would likely become unaffordable for many of them; without enough people in the marketplace, the law could collapse into a “death spiral.” In human terms, a group of hospitals wrote in a brief supporting the government, a ruling in favor of the plaintiffs “would be a disaster for millions of lower- and middle-income Americans…. The ranks of the uninsured will swell again, with all that portends in the way of untreated illness and overwhelming debt.”
To build their case, the plaintiffs have erected a rickety scaffold of fictional history around a single phrase in the 906-page law. The section of the law in question concerns the calculation of subsidies available to people “enrolled in through an exchange established by the State.” The plaintiffs argue that lacking an explicit reference to subsidies available to people enrolled in the federal exchanges, the text indicates that subsidies are only available in states operating their own. Furthermore, the plaintiffs argue, this was not sloppy writing but instead “reflects a specific choice by Congress” to design the subsidies as a carrot to entice states to establish their exchanges and punish them if they failed to do so.
The lack of structural integrity in the plaintiff’s case has become increasingly obvious in the past week, thanks to a sheaf of briefs filed states, lawmakers, and the healthcare industry. In sum, there’s about zero evidence for the challengers’ version of history, and what proof they do muster is shoddy. For example, one brief cites former Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson, who played a defining role in designing the exchanges. According to the plaintiffs, Nelson thought it was “insufficient to merely allow states the option to establish Exchanges,” hence the need for a stick. But Nelson himself stated recently that he “always believed that tax credits should be available in all fifty states regardless of who built the exchange, and the final law also reflects that belief as well.”
It’s not hard to find conservative lawmakers, like Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, who will argue now that “the language of the law says…subsidies are only available for states that set up state exchanges.” But the idea that subsidies might be withheld was never articulated by anyone during the congressional debate, nor in the months after the law’s passage—even when states began to signal they would not operate their own exchanges. Instead, the same Republicans who endorse the lawsuit now were passing laws and making statements that affirmed the idea that subsidies would be available in all states. Statements from legislators and state officials that back up the plaintiff’s version of legislative history were made only after the implications of that ambiguous phrase in the ACA began to circulate around right-wing thought shops like the American Enterprise Institute and the Cato Institute.
If Congress did intend to use the subsidies as an incentive for states to set up their own exchanges, the fact that many state officials were clueless about the possible loss of tax credits is perplexing. None of the states “had reason to believe that choosing a federally facilitated exchange would alter so fundamental a feature of the ACA as the availability of tax credits,” reads a brief filed last week by nearly two dozen attorneys general representing red and blue states alike. “Nothing in the ACA provided clear notice of that risk, and retroactively imposing such a new condition now would upend the bargain the states thought they had struck,” it continues. The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent spoke with a number of Republican state officials involved in the implementation of the ACA who confirmed that the possibility of losing subsidies was never part of discussions about whether or not to set up state exchanges.
The court could strike a blow against the ACA without fully accepting the strained version of history offered by the challengers. But as legal scholar Linda Greenhouse describes in The New York Times, doing so would require the justices to set aside their own principles and precedents. “The court has permitted itself to be recruited into the front lines of a partisan war. Not only the Affordable Care Act but the court itself is in peril as a result,” Greenhouse writes. “To reject the government’s defense of the law, the justices would have to suspend their own settled approach to statutory interpretation as well as their often-stated view of how Congress should act toward the states.”
It’s tempting to dismiss the lawsuit as a deeply silly partisan attack, akin to the House GOP’s repeated votes for repeal. Its basis may indeed be fluff. And yet it’s entirely possible that it will be this absurd case—not sabotage by Republicans at the state level; not lawsuits challenging the law on its constitutional merits—that dooms the signature achievement of the Obama years, at an immense human cost.
By: Zoe Carpenter, The Nation, February 5, 2015
“What Happens If The Dog Catches The Car?”: GOP Faces Health Care Challenge It’s Totally Unprepared For
We don’t yet know what the Supreme Court will do in the King v. Burwell case, but we have a fairly good sense what will happen if the Supreme Court sides with Republicans. In effect, there will be chaos that could do considerable harm to insurers, families, state budgets, the federal budget, hospitals, and low-income children.
It sounds melodramatic, but the fact remains that if the GOP prevails, more Americans will literally go bankrupt and/or die as a result of this ruling.
With this in mind, I couldn’t help but find some sardonic humor in the House Republicans’ request for information from the Obama administration yesterday.
Senior House Republicans are demanding that the Obama administration reveal its contingency plans in the event that the Supreme Court scraps Obamacare subsidies in three dozen states. […]
“Specifically, we are examining the extent to which the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and other relevant agencies of the federal government, are preparing for the possible consequences of the Supreme Court’s decision in the case of King v. Burwell,” wrote the lawmakers.
The fact that the GOP lawmakers didn’t appreciate the irony was itself unfortunate, but the simple truth is that the underlying question – what happens if the Supreme Court takes this stupid case seriously and guts the American health care system? – is one Republicans should be answering, not asking.
If we had a normal, functioning political system, represented by two mainstream governing parties, the solution would be incredibly simple. If the Supreme Court said the language in the Affordable Care Act needed clarification, lawmakers would simply approve more specific language before Americans felt adverse consequences. The legislative fix would be quite brief and the whole process could be wrapped up in an afternoon.
No one, in this scenario, would actually suffer.
But in 2015, Americans don’t have the benefits of a normal, functioning political system, represented by two mainstream governing parties. On the contrary, we have a dysfunctional Congress led by a radicalized, post-policy party that has no use for governing, and which welcomes adverse consequences no matter how many Americans suffer.
And the question for them is what they intend to do if, like the dog that catches the car, Republican justices on the Supreme Court rule their way in the King v. Burwell case. Sahil Kapur had a terrific report on this overnight.
Many Republicans would view it as a dream come true if the Supreme Court were to slash a centerpiece of Obamacare by the end of June. But that dream could fade into a nightmare as the spotlight turns to the Republican Congress to fix the mayhem that could ensue.
“It’s an opportunity that we’ve failed at for two decades. We’ve not been particularly close to being on the same page on this subject for two decades,” said a congressional Republican health policy aide who was granted anonymity to speak candidly. “So this idea – we’re ready to go? Actually no, we’re not.”
Republican leaders recognize the dilemma. In King v. Burwell, they roundly claim the court ought to invalidate insurance subsidies in some three-dozen states, and that Congress must be ready with a response once they do. But conversations with more than a dozen GOP lawmakers and aides indicate that the party is nowhere close to a solution. Outside health policy experts consulted by the Republicans are also at odds on how the party should respond.
Republicans could approve a simple legislative fix, but they don’t want to. Republicans could introduce their ACA alternative, but they don’t want to do that, either. They could encourage states to create their own exchange marketplaces, largely negating the crisis, but they don’t want to do that, either.
So what do GOP lawmakers want? They haven’t the foggiest idea.
Kapur talked to a GOP aide who works on health care policy on Capitol Hill who said, “Our guys feel like: King wins, game over, we win. No. In fact: King wins, they [the Obama administration and Democrats] hold a lot of high cards. And we hold what?”
Millions of families who would be screwed by Republican victory in this case will be eager to hear an answer to that question.
By: Steve Benen, The Madow Blog, January 29, 2015
“Even If It Worked, I Would Oppose It”: Republicans Too Often Prioritize Partisan And Ideological Goals Over Practical Ones
As hard as it may be to perceive right-wing neurosurgeon Ben Carson as a credible presidential candidate, he received a very warm welcome at Steve King’s “Iowa Freedom Summit” over the weekend, and Carson arguably delivered one of the more polished presentations of the gathering.
But on the substance of Carson’s remarks, one thing jumped out at me.
On the Affordable Care Act – which Carson has on several occasions compared to slavery – the famous former surgeon said he opposed any government intrusion in health care. “Even if it worked, I would oppose it,” Carson said of Obamacare. “It doesn’t.”
“I don’t believe in taking the most important thing a person has, which is their health and their health care, and putting it in the hands of the government,” he later added….
For a brief argument in a speech, there’s quite a bit to this. We know, for example, that Carson’s mistaken when he says the Affordable Care Act isn’t working; the evidence to the contrary is simply overwhelming. We also know that when it comes to his preferred model, Carson used to believe largely the opposite of what he’s arguing now.
What’s more, when Carson argues that government shouldn’t have a hand in matters related to health care, it would seem to suggest the Republican candidate is against the VA health care system for active-duty and retired military personnel, Medicare, and Medicaid. That’s not too surprising – a guy who draws a parallel between modern American life and Nazis isn’t going to be a moderate – but it’s a pretty extreme position for even today’s GOP.
But the true gem is, in reference to the ACA, “Even if it worked, I would oppose it.”
Regular readers know that I’ve referenced the Republicans’ “post-policy” problem on several occasions, and Carson’s eight-word line seems to summarize the larger issue nicely. While Democrats focus heavily on policy outcomes and the efficacy of policy proposals – as one might expect from a governing party – Republicans too often prioritize partisan and ideological goals over practical ones.
Whether or not tax cuts work, for example, isn’t especially important. Whether the evidence supports climate change doesn’t matter, either. Pick the issue – national security, education, immigration, et al – and for much of today’s GOP, empiricism and efficacy just isn’t that important. What matters instead is an ideological drive to shrink government, regardless of policy outcomes.
I rather doubt Carson intended his comments to be so revealing, but the fact that he’d oppose a Democratic health care reform package built on a Republican model, regardless of whether or not it works, says a great deal.
What’s the basis for a serious policy debate when one side of the argument doesn’t care if policies are effective or not?
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, January 26, 2015
“There Are Things In It That Scare Me”: For Republicans, Dishonesty Works And Deceit Instills Fear And Uncertainty
There isn’t a democracy on the planet in which even conservative candidates take aim at citizens’ access to health care. At a certain level, the very idea seems a little silly – a national candidate would presumably fail if he or she told their electorate, “Vote for me and I promise to leave some of you behind without access to basic medical care.”
But the United States is the exception. The Republican Party is the only major party in any major democracy that believes citizens are not entitled to medical care as a benefit of citizenship. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R), as we discussed yesterday, want the GOP to abandon universal coverage as a worthwhile goal.
The Affordable Care Act may have extended new health security to tens of millions of families, but Jindal and Republicans believe voters should elect them to deliberately take that security away.
In theory, this should be a very tough sell. Why in the world would any Americans consider voting, on purpose, for a platform that could deliberately punish their own family?
The answer, I suspect, has a lot to do with the power of fear.
The New York Times recently published a fascinating piece on Kentucky’s triumphs in implementing the Affordable Care Act, and the article highlighted a woman named Amanda Mayhew. On paper, the piece presents Mayhew as a classic example of an “Obamacare” success story: thanks to the ACA, she been able to receive free, overdue dental care; she was able to see a dermatologist for free; and she received medication to treat depression for free. This one law has made a big, positive difference in her life.
And then came the twist.
“I don’t love Obamacare,” she said. “There are things in it that scare me and that I don’t agree with.”
For example, she said, she heard from news programs that the Affordable Care Act prohibited lifesaving care for elderly people with cancer.
Mayhew went on to tell the NYT that she’s “thankful” for her coverage, she would “gladly give up my insurance today if it meant that some of the things that are in the law were not in place.”
The problem, of course, is that Mayhew has been misled. Despite what she “heard from news programs,” the Affordable Care Act does not prohibit lifesaving care for elderly people with cancer. It actually does the opposite – which is why the law has received the enthusiastic support of the American Cancer Society and AARP.
The Times article featured a well-intentioned woman, whose heart clearly seems to be in the right place, who would sacrifice her own access to medical care in order to scrap provisions in the law that do not actually exist.
And that’s where Republican rhetoric comes into play. For years, the naive among us – a group that I include myself in – have marveled at the extraordinary lies that have been told about the Affordable Care Act. Why, we ask, would the right lie so brazenly to families who urgently need access to doctors and medicine?
Because dishonesty works. Deceit instills fear and uncertainty.
When Republican candidates vow to gut the American health care system and take Americans’ coverage away, there are plenty of voters who are willing to go along because they’re eager to undo those horrible provisions in the law they “heard about” on “news programs.”
The power of deceptive propaganda, backed by billionaires and their powerful elected allies, shouldn’t be underestimated.
The Kaiser Family Foundation recently found that 41% of the country still, even now, believes “a government panel” exists to “make decisions about end-of-life care for people on Medicare.” That’s two out of every five Americans who believe a ridiculous falsehood.
It’s not that these people are bad or dumb. It’s not that they want their neighbors or community to suffer. The issue here is that some wealthy and sophisticated folks launched a con job on the public, and the scam roped in a lot of victims.
Why else would politicians run on a platform of pushing millions of Americans into a position where they’re one ailment away from bankruptcy? It’s because they think they can get away with it – nice, generous folks will sacrifice their own security to prevent imaginary threats from hurting someone else.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, January 13, 2015