“Obamascare Tactics In Red State Races”: Passing Laws That Prevent Any Future Governor From Accepting Medicaid Money
If I asked you to name two states where the incumbent Republican governors might lose reelection this fall, you would likely, I expect, say Florida and Pennsylvania. I doubt very much you’d offer up Georgia and Kansas.
But lo and behold—the contests in both of those states are right now a little closer than you’d expect. In Kansas, Sam Brownback is the governor. You remember Brownback—he was a senator for a spell, best remembered (by me anyway) for his prominent role in that hideous Republican appropriation of poor Terry Schiavo in their zealotry to “promote life.” In Georgia, the bossman is Nathan Deal, also a former Congressman, whose term is best remembered for the way he announced a departure date for his gubernatorial run. (He realized that the House would be voting on Obamacare shortly thereafter, and delayed his departure so he could vote against it.)
It ought to be easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy for right-wing Republicans to get reelected in those states, but recent polls have shown them dangling along the margin-of-error cliff. Deal leads Jason Carter (yep, Jimmy’s grandson) by just 3.4 percent in the realclearpolitics average, and Brownback actually trailed Democrat Paul Davis 42-40 in one February poll. Brownback’s approval rating is also deeply underwater. So it’s conceivable—that’s as far as we should prudently go—that both could lose.
Now, here’s the rub. Both, naturally, oppose the expansion of Obamacare into their states. They say no force on earth or in heaven will make them take that Medicaid money. It’s estimated that 600,000 Georgians and 78,000 Kansans would benefit. But they’re having none of it. And that’s their right. But what they’re doing now, in cahoots with friendly legislators, is a step beyond: In both states, they’re passing laws that would prevent any future governor from accepting the Medicaid money.
It works like this. Under the Affordable Care Act, the process by which states decide to accept the money is entirely up to them. Some states determined that legislative action should be required. You may have read about the Republicans in the Florida legislature rebuffing GOP Governor Rick Scott for the five minutes he was toying with taking the money. New Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe wants the money badly, and his Democratic State Senate is with him, but they’re hamstrung by the GOP-controlled House of Delegates, which is against.
Initially, Georgia and Kansas were states where it was just the governor’s call. Which was fine as long as the Republicans looked like sure things. But the polls tightened up, and people started getting a little antsy. Hey, what if a Democratic governor got elected and said, ‘Okay, Barack, write me that check?’
And so Brownback signed his state’s law last Friday. His office just announced it this week. Why the delay? Shouldn’t one such as Sam Brownback be proud of signing this socialism-blocking law? Well, it turns out that it was originally a law about something else, requiring the state to provide quick payment to certain in-state Medicaid care providers. This provision was tacked on late. A Wichita Democrat, Jim Ward, said: “That bill is what I think is endemic with this legislative process under this governor and this speaker and Senate president. There was no hearing. There were no opportunities for people who have a stake in Medicaid expansion to come in and talk about it.”
In Georgia, it’s easier. The legislation was passed about a month ago. If Deal doesn’t veto it, it becomes law. And since he supports it—indeed, since his staff helped write this law that willingly hands gubernatorial power over to the legislature—it will. And into the bargain, the Georgia legislature also passed—on the next-to-last day of the session—a bill that blocks state employees from helping Georgians sign up for care under the ACA.
So stop and think about this. Kansas and Georgia have just taken what was a gubernatorial decision out of the hands of not only current but future governors. You can argue plausibly that the people’s representatives should have a say in such a decision, on principle. But principle wasn’t at work here. Political expediency was. Legislators in the two states know that Republicans are likely to have control as far as the eye can see. And they’ll never say yes. And they’re doing all this in the name of what? In the name of denying 678,000 people a chance at health-insurance coverage.
It gets worse. The ACA makes cuts to certain current Medicaid programs on the assumption that states would take this new Medicaid money. It cut funding for hospitals that serve the poor, cuts intended to be mitigated by the fact that a large number of poor would now be insured once the states they live in accepted the new money. But in states that did not, those people are suffering even more. Several rural hospitals in Georgia have closed. They could be saved if the state took the Medicaid money.
Carter vows he’s going to make this skeezy law, and the Medicaid question generally, an issue. The Georgia law has sparked large protests and arrests and might end up being the most important issue in the campaign. In Kansas, Davis supports Medicaid expansion—and according to a recent poll so do 55 percent of Kansans, against just 39 percent who oppose taking the money. So maybe there’s not as much the matter with Kansas as we thought. With the people, anyway. The governor and the legislators are another matter.
By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, April 23, 2014
Most of the hate crimes in the United States don’t take the fatal form that the shootings in Kansas over the weekend did, and most aren’t perpetrated by villains as bloated with rage and blinded by conspiracy theories as the person accused in this case, Frazier Glenn Miller. He’s an extreme, not an emblem.
This is someone who went on Howard Stern’s radio show four years ago (why, Howard, did you even hand him that megaphone?) and called Adolf Hitler “the greatest man who ever walked the earth.” When Stern asked Miller whether he had more intense antipathy for Jews or for blacks (why that question?), Miller chose the Jews, definitely the Jews, “a thousand times more,” he said.
“Compared to our Jewish problem, all other problems are mere distractions,” he declaimed, and he apparently wasn’t just spouting off. He was gearing up.
On Sunday, according to the police, he drove to a Jewish community center in Overland Park, Kan., and opened fire, then moved on to a nearby Jewish retirement home and did the same. Three people were killed.
They were Christian, as it happens. When hatred is loosed, we’re all in the crossfire.
On Monday, as law enforcement officials formally branded what happened in Kansas a hate crime, I looked at the spectrum of such offenses nationally: assault, intimidation, vandalism.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation keeps statistics, the most recent of which are for 2012. In the United States that year there were 6,573 hate-crime incidents reported to the bureau (a fraction, no doubt, of all that occurred). While most were motivated by race, about 20 percent were motivated by the victims’ perceived religion — roughly the same percentage as those motivated by the victims’ presumed sexual orientation. I didn’t expect a number that high.
Nor did I expect this: Of the religion-prompted hate crimes, 65 percent were aimed at Jews, a share relatively unchanged from five years earlier (69 percent) and another five before that (65 percent). In contrast, 11 percent of religious-bias crimes in 2012 were against Muslims.
Our country has come so far from the anti-Semitism of decades ago that we tend to overlook the anti-Semitism that endures. We’ve moved on to fresher discussions, newer fears.
Following 9/11, there was enormous concern that all Muslims would be stereotyped and scapegoated, and this heightened sensitivity lingers. It partly explains what just happened at Brandeis University. The school had invited Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a celebrated advocate for Muslim women, to receive an honorary degree. But when some professors and students complained, citing statements of hers that seemed broadly derisive of Islam, the invitation was withdrawn. Clearly, university officials didn’t want their campus seen as a cradle or theater of Islamophobia.
But other college campuses in recent years have been theaters of anti-Israel discussions that occasionally veer toward, or bleed into, condemnations of Jews. And while we don’t have the anti-Semitism in our politics that some European countries do, there’s still bigotry under the surface. There are still caricatures that won’t die.
One of them flared last month on the Christian televangelist Pat Robertson’s TV show. His guest was a rabbi who, shockingly, was himself trafficking in the notion that Jews excel at making money. The rabbi said that a Jew wouldn’t squander a weekend tinkering with his car when he could hire a mechanic and concentrate on something else.
“It’s polishing diamonds, not fixing cars,” Robertson interjected.
In a 2013 survey of 1,200 American adults for the Anti-Defamation League, 14 percent agreed with the statement that “Jews have too much power” in our country, while 15 percent said Jews are “more willing to use shady practices” and 30 percent said that American Jews are “more loyal to Israel” than to the United States.
That’s disturbing, as is the way in which the Holocaust is minimized by its repeated invocation as an analogy. In separate comments this year, both the venture capitalist Tom Perkins and Kenneth Langone, one of the founders of Home Depot, said that the superrich in America were being vilified the way Jews in Nazi Germany had been.
It’s not just Kansas and the heartland where anti-Semitism, sometimes called the oldest hatred, stays young.
A story in The Times last year focused on an upstate New York community in which three Jewish families filed suit against the school district, citing harassment of Jewish students by their peers. The abuse included Nazi salutes and swastikas drawn on desks, on lockers, on a playground slide.
When a parent complained in 2011, the district’s superintendent responded, in an email: “Your expectations for changing inbred prejudice may be a bit unrealistic.”
Well, the only way to breed that prejudice out of the generations to come is never to shrug our shoulders like that — and never to avert our eyes.
By: Frank Bruni, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, April14, 2014
“She Surely Paid Her Dues”: Will Kathleen Sebelius Win In The End? Legacy Tied To Obamacare’s Outcome
Yes, there was utter failure, but there was also one hell of a recovery. As time goes on, she’ll get less blame for the former and more credit for the latter.
It was always going to be a tough job, Health and Human Services secretary under this president. Even so, I’d bet Kathleen Sebelius was plenty shocked at the whole business.
True, she was only a second-string nominee, after Tom Daschle had to bow out because of those tax problems. But Sebelius still should have had little to fear. After all, she’d been the Democratic governor of a ruby-red state, Kansas. In a state where Republicans outnumbered Democrats roughly two-to-one, she won reelection in 2006 with 57 percent of the vote. She got one of the state’s prominent Republicans to switch parties and run with her for lieutenant governor.
So yes, it must have shocked when only eight Republicans voted to confirm her, while 31 voted against. Four-to-one against?! What had she done that was so bad? The answer was: nothing. Oh, Republicans invoked her “ties” to a Wichita doctor who performed abortions. But really, it was what she was going to do. She was going to be a point person on health-care reform, and they needed to ding her.
Today, and in the near future, she will have to endure being associated with the massive fiasco that was the launch of healthcare.gov. And that’s deserved. It’s hard to imagine what she was doing last summer instead of spending every waking minute ensuring that the initiative for which this administration will be remembered, the one thing that will color and even determine its historical legacy, was going to launch well. But it happened.
I don’t know how many times she got dragged up to the Hill and asked the same questions by all those Republican solons, striving to win the “let’s use this guy!” competition for the cable nets and NPR and the nightly newscasts, but it seemed like she was up there almost every day for a spell. On the surface, it all looked disastrous.
But I will say this. Behind the scenes, they did get to work. I could tell just from the way people talked, the things they said were happening there, that it really was getting better. They were (and I guess still are) sitting on this battery of IT stats about response times and how long a person had to wait to be logged in and so on and so forth, and those were being cut quickly. So Sebelius and the rescue team really did do their jobs once they were up against the wall.
Think of it this way. Did you think, last fall, that they’d actually hit the 7 million? Did you think they’d even come close? In a year-end column I wrote with my 2014 predictions, I said they’d make 5.8 million. And I thought that would be respectable. The latest report is that they’re approaching 7.5 million. So yes, there was utter failure. But there was one hell of a nice recovery. As time goes on, I think Sebelius will start getting less blame for the former, and more credit for the latter.
But her fate will be forever tied to Obamacare. If it succeeds, she’ll share the credit as the secretary who helped bring it to life. If it fails, she’ll share the blame. It’s about that simple. And I think it’ll probably succeed.
Meanwhile, there’s the question of getting a new HHS secretary installed. Obama’s nominee is Sylvia Mathews Burwell, who heads the Office of Management and Budget. Chief of staff Denis McDonough told The New York Times that “the president wants to make sure we have a proven manager and relentless implementer in the job over there,” which is both praise of Burwell and a little slap at Sebelius.
But will the Republicans let her through? Actually, forget the Republicans: Six Democratic senators are seeking reelection in red states. Are they going to vote for a new Obamacare point person during an election season? It never ends. Except it is now for Sebelius, who’s surely paid her dues.
By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, April 10, 2014
I was on Hardball last night talking about the escapades of this Milton Wolf character, the tea party guy who’s challenging GOP incumbent Senator Pat Roberts this year. Wolf became freshly newsworthy this past weekend when the Topeka Capital-Journal revealed that in 2010, Wolf, a radiologist, posted photos of disfigured corpses on Facebook (of people who’d been shot, etc.) and joined other commenters in poking fun at the them.
One image he posted showed a human skull all but blasted apart, about which Wolf wrote: “One of my all-time favorites,” Wolf posted to the Facebook picture. “From my residency days there was a pretty active ‘knife and gun club’ at Truman Medical Center. What kind of gun blows somebody’s head completely off? I’ve got to get one of those.”
The Kansas City Star headlines an AP story by asserting that Wolf has “apologized,” but I read the piece and I’ll be jiggered if I see any apology in there. What Wolf does is try to explain his actions, although not really, and then accuse Roberts of leaking the material (which, if he did, so what; any opposing campaign would). A release by Wolf’s campaign even called the alleged leak (and it’s only alleged) “the most desperate move of any campaign in recent history,” another clueless and self-pitying statement.
So, this is clearly freakazoid behavior, and is obviously a grotesquely inappropriate thing for a medical professional to do. And it raises the broader question: Where does the tea party find these people?
I think this is an interesting question, because the answer describes one of the movement’s major impacts on our politics, which is the elevation of ideology above every other human consideration—of things like experience and temperament and character—in selecting people for high office; indeed, the creation of a posture in which those other considerations are scorned.
Here’s what I mean. Pre-tea party, if you wanted to be involved in Republican politics, you started the way nearly everybody starts in politics, in both parties. You run for city council, or county commissioner; then state legislature; then maybe, if you’ve demonstrated some skill or charisma or something, you’ll get to Congress or maybe become governor.
Each of these campaigns vets you, so that the crazy things you did and said when you were young are placed before the voters, who decide whether those things matter or not. And each of these experiences, as a county commissioner or state legislature, leavens you a bit, teaches you what the process of government is like, gives you a little sobriety. You might still be very conservative (or very liberal on the other side), but experience has, at least in theory and I think in most cases, made you a little more mature and better equipped to hold higher office.
But then comes the tea party in 2010, and boom, none of this matters anymore. So people who would normally have had to run for lower office first are suddenly running for United States Senate! Christine O’Donnell, no apparent relevant experience in anything except being on TV. Sharron Angle, who did admittedly serve in the Nevada state assembly for eight years but who was there to throw bombs; she voted no in the 42-member body so often that statehouse reporters joked about votes being “41 to Angle.” And lots of people with histories of out-there statements.
None of that earns any demerits in tea party “vetting.” For the tea party, all you need to do is pass ideological muster: hate Obama; hate government; embrace their idea of “freedom.” You sure don’t need to have shown a sober temperament. In fact, quite the opposite. Being known as 41 to Angle is a great calling card for tea party voters, because it shows them that you’re not a sell-out and the system hasn’t ruined you.
So it’ll be especially interesting to see if this harms Wolf. The reaction will tell us whether tea party people and Republicans generally in Kansas regard what he did as just another sort of manly joke that offends prissy liberal sensibilities (and thus requires that they rise to his defense)—that is, whether they have a knee-jerk ideological reaction—or as something that’s really just kind of beyond the pale for a human being, let alone a doctor, to do—that is, whether they have a more human reaction. Because I think 99 percent of normal human beings would react to what Wolf did with varying degrees of disgust. But once it becomes a political act, and he gets taken apart on MSNBC, a certain percentage will defend him. How high that percentage ends up being will be a fascinating thing to see.
As I was leaving the set, a producer said into Chris Matthews’s earpiece, and he announced, that a recent poll had it Roberts 49, Wolf 23. So Wolf is behind, but he’s not out of it. The primary isn’t until August. He has plenty of time to make a run. There’s also plenty of time to learn more weird stuff about him. That comes with the tea-party territory, and it’s creating a class of pols who should be back-bench state legislators but have the chance of becoming U.S. senators. It’s just a good thing most of them don’t win.
By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, February 25, 2014
“Platinum-Level Citizenship”: Highly-Religious Christians’ Battle To Change The Very Nature Of The First Amendment
Ask a conservative Christian about the President of the United States, and you’re likely to hear that Barack Obama has been waging a “war on religion” since pretty much the moment he took office in 2009. As laughable as the assertion may be, there’s little doubt that many have come to believe it, spurred on of course by opportunistic politicians and right-wing talk show hosts whose stock in trade is the creation of fear and resentment. In response, those conservative Christians have mounted a little war of their own, fought in the courts and state legislatures. The enemies include not just the Obama administration but gay people, women who want control of their own bodies, and an evolving modern morality that has left them behind.
In the process, they have made a rather spectacular claim, though not explicitly. What they seek is nothing short of a different definition of American citizenship granted only to highly religious people, and highly religious Christians in particular. They are demanding that our laws stake out for them a kind of Citizenship Platinum, allowing them an exemption from any law or obligation they’d prefer to disregard. They would refashion the First Amendment in their image.
Last week saw a number of new developments in the effort to create this elevated status for religious people, as bills seeking to enshrine discrimination against gay couples moved forward in two states. A bill in Kansas would explicitly allow both businesses and government to discriminate against gay couples in pretty much any way they wanted. A movie theater could turn gay couples away at the door, or a paramedic could refuse to treat a gay person having a heart attack, and they’d be immune from prosecution or lawsuits. After passing the Kansas state house overwhelmingly, the bill died in the state senate, in a brief (though likely temporary) moment of sanity.
A bill in Arizona did better, passing both houses, and it now awaits Governor Jan Brewer’s signature. This one was written more broadly, without the direct focus on gay couples, but its effects would be the same. It grants to any person, organization or corporation a nearly unlimited right to assert their “sincerely held” religious beliefs as a shield against lawsuits for discrimination.
Similar bills are pending in a number of conservative states; this won’t be the last we hear of them. And the Supreme Court will soon hear the case of Hobby Lobby, the retail chain that would like to be exempt from some of the requirements of the Affordable Care Act because its owners are Christians, and therefore they should be able to select the provisions they’ll abide by and not bother with those they find religiously objectionable.
The implications couldn’t be clearer. Let’s consider the put-upon Christian florists of Arizona, who might be subjected to the unspeakable horror of taking a gay couple’s money. What if one of those florists decided that since being born again through Christ is the one and only path to heaven, selling flowers to Jews or Muslims or Catholics would violate his deeply felt religious beliefs? Would he then be free to put up a sign in his window saying, “We only serve Protestants here”? According to the Arizona law, he would, regardless of what that pesky Civil Rights Act says. Or what if the owner of an accounting firm decided that since his religion places men above women, all his female employees will be paid half of what he pays male employees for doing the same job? It’s his religious belief, after all.
Anyone could say that almost any belief they have springs directly from their faith and their reading of scripture, and the state would be required to abide by it. Your faith tells you not to obey laws against discrimination? Well, maybe mine tells me that paying taxes is an offense to God. And my neighbor is a biblical literalist, so when his teenage son mouthed off to him, he arranged for the boy to be stoned to death, just like the Lord instructs quite clearly in Deuteronomy 18 and Leviticus 20. Surely we can’t convict him of murder, since he was only following his sincere religious beliefs.
You might say, well, those beliefs are ridiculous. Maybe they are. And maybe I find your opinions about gay people ridiculous. But up until now, neither one of us has had to have our own liberty compromised because of what the other believed, because we defined the First Amendment’s free exercise clause through religious practice. The government can’t tell you how to worship your god, and it can’t do things that make it difficult for you to worship as you’d like.
But now, conservatives are pushing a much broader conception of religious freedom, one that extends beyond religious practice to virtually anything a religious person does. But it’s when you take your religious practices outside of your own faith, your own beliefs, and your own practice and start applying them to other people that you lose the special privileges that religion is accorded. As an old saying has it, my right to swing my fist ends precisely where your nose begins.
Any Christians who want to can believe that gay people are sinful and wicked, or that gay marriage is a terrible thing. What they can’t do is use those beliefs as a get-out-of-jail-free card that gives them permission to break the law or escape civil liability when they harm other people.
Up until now, the distinction between religious practice and the things religious people do when they enter the secular world has worked pretty well. Anti-discrimination laws don’t mean that a rabbi has to conduct a wedding for two Baptists. Religious organizations can hire only people of their own faith. But once you enter into other realms, like commerce, you have to obey the laws that govern those realms.
If we grant religious people the kind of elevated citizenship conservatives are now demanding, where the special consideration given to religious practice is extended to anything a religious person does, the results could be truly staggering. Why stop at commerce? If things like employment law and anti-discrimination laws don’t apply to religious people, what about zoning laws, or laws on domestic abuse, or laws in any other realm?
The supporters of these laws, and of Hobby Lobby, argue that religious people shouldn’t have to put aside their beliefs when they act in the secular world. “It’s alien to me that a business owner can’t reflect his faith in his business,” said one Republican Arizona legislator. But when your business puts you in contact with people who don’t share your faith, putting aside your religion is precisely what you have to do, if “reflecting” that religion means violating the law.
For many years, conservatives would argue that they didn’t really object to equal rights for gay people, they were just against “special rights.” In practice, what they meant by “special rights” were things like the right not to be fired from your job or evicted from your home because of your sexuality, rights that weren’t special at all. But today, religious conservatives are demanding truly special rights for themselves. They want one set of laws that applies to everyone else, and another set that applies only to the religious. Or more precisely, they want religious people—but no one else—to be able to pick and choose which laws apply to them, and which they’d prefer to ignore. That’s a twisted version of the liberty the First Amendment was supposed to guarantee.
By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prsopect, February 24, 2014