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“Left Coast Rising”: California’s Success Demonstrates That Extremist Ideology Still Dominating Much Of American Politics Is Nonsense

The states, Justice Brandeis famously pointed out, are the laboratories of democracy. And it’s still true. For example, one reason we knew or should have known that Obamacare was workable was the post-2006 success of Romneycare in Massachusetts. More recently, Kansas went all-in on supply-side economics, slashing taxes on the affluent in the belief that this would spark a huge boom; the boom didn’t happen, but the budget deficit exploded, offering an object lesson to those willing to learn from experience.

And there’s an even bigger if less drastic experiment under way in the opposite direction. California has long suffered from political paralysis, with budget rules that allowed an increasingly extreme Republican minority to hamstring a Democratic majority; when the state’s housing bubble burst, it plunged into fiscal crisis. In 2012, however, Democratic dominance finally became strong enough to overcome the paralysis, and Gov. Jerry Brown was able to push through a modestly liberal agenda of higher taxes, spending increases and a rise in the minimum wage. California also moved enthusiastically to implement Obamacare.

I guess we’re not in Kansas anymore. (Sorry, I couldn’t help myself.)

Needless to say, conservatives predicted doom. A representative reaction: Daniel J. Mitchell of the Cato Institute declared that by voting for Proposition 30, which authorized those tax increases, “the looters and moochers of the Golden State” (yes, they really do think they’re living in an Ayn Rand novel) were committing “economic suicide.” Meanwhile, Avik Roy of the Manhattan Institute and Forbes claimed that California residents were about to face a “rate shock” that would more than double health insurance premiums.

What has actually happened? There is, I’m sorry to say, no sign of the promised catastrophe.

If tax increases are causing a major flight of jobs from California, you can’t see it in the job numbers. Employment is up 3.6 percent in the past 18 months, compared with a national average of 2.8 percent; at this point, California’s share of national employment, which was hit hard by the bursting of the state’s enormous housing bubble, is back to pre-recession levels.

On health care, some people — basically healthy young men who were getting inexpensive insurance on the individual market and were too affluent to receive subsidies — did face premium increases, which we always knew would happen. Over all, however, the costs of health reform came in below expectations, while enrollment came in well above — more than triple initial predictions in the San Francisco area. A recent survey by the Commonwealth Fund suggests that California has already cut the percentage of its residents without health insurance in half. What’s more, all indications are that further progress is in the pipeline, with more insurance companies entering the marketplace for next year.

And, yes, the budget is back in surplus.

Has there been any soul-searching among the prophets of California doom, asking why they were so wrong? Not that I’m aware of. Instead, I’ve been seeing many attempts to devalue the good news from California by pointing out that the state’s job growth still lags that of Texas, which is true, and claiming that this difference is driven by differential tax rates, which isn’t.

For the big difference between the two states, aside from the size of the oil and gas sector, isn’t tax rates. it’s housing prices. Despite the bursting of the bubble, home values in California are still double the national average, while in Texas they’re 30 percent below that average. So a lot more people are moving to Texas even though wages and productivity are lower than they are in California.

And while some of this difference in housing prices reflects geography and population density — Houston is still spreading out, while Los Angeles, hemmed in by mountains, has reached its natural limits — it also reflects California’s highly restrictive land-use policies, mostly imposed by local governments rather than the state. As Harvard’s Edward Glaeser has pointed out, there is some truth to the claim that states like Texas are growing fast thanks to their anti-regulation attitude, “but the usual argument focuses on the wrong regulations.” And taxes aren’t important at all.

So what do we learn from the California comeback? Mainly, that you should take anti-government propaganda with large helpings of salt. Tax increases aren’t economic suicide; sometimes they’re a useful way to pay for things we need. Government programs, like Obamacare, can work if the people running them want them to work, and if they aren’t sabotaged from the right. In other words, California’s success is a demonstration that the extremist ideology still dominating much of American politics is nonsense.

 

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, July 24, 2014

July 26, 2014 Posted by | California, Conservatives, Politics | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“GOP Governors Hurting Their Own”: The Latest Plot To Undermine Obamacare And Prevent Millions From Enrolling In Medicaid

It’s actually quite easy to explain. The reason why 19 states have refused to expand Medicaid has nothing to do with the cost — the federal government would cover the full cost of the expansion for the next two years, then 95 percent of the cost thereafter. It definitely doesn’t have anything to do with a lack of need for such a solution. This, as with the refusal to establish health care marketplaces (exchanges), has everything to do with Obama Derangement Syndrome — Republican governors who refuse for a variety of cheap political excuses to attach their names to Obamacare. By doing so, they’re hurting their own people, including Republican voters by numbers into the hundreds of thousands per state.

The Affordable Care Act originally mandated that all states expand Medicaid eligibility from 100 percent of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) to 138 percent of FPL. In other words, the government had previously established an income threshold for what constituted poverty: below the line and you’re considered poor and therefore eligible for certain safety-net benefits; above the line and you’re more or less on your own. But Obamacare raised the poverty threshold to qualify for Medicaid coverage, thus expanding Medicaid nationwide — until the Supreme Court ruled against that part of the law in 2012, allowing states to opt out of the expansion.

That’s a massive problem.

4.8 million Americans have incomes higher than the 100 percent threshold, so they don’t qualify for Medicaid without the expansion, but they don’t earn enough to qualify for health insurance premium subsidies through the marketplaces. The ACA was written with a nationwide Medicaid expansion in mind so the law’s premium subsidies only kick in where Medicaid coverage was supposed to leave off, after 138 percent of FPL. Hence the coverage gap.

In Kansas alone, home of climate and science denier Gov. Sam Brownback, there are 77,000 residents trapped in the coverage gap. 77,000 people who have no choice but to go without insurance and medical care, all because Brownback refuses to touch Obamacare with a 10-foot pole, either because of his raging ODS or because he and his fellow red state governors prefer to sabotage the law or both.

By the way, Medicaid expansion in Kansas is supported by 59 percent… of Republicans. Republicans! It’s supported by 72 percent of all voters.

In Georgia, there are around 400,000 residents in the gap, and no sign that Gov. Nathan Deal will participate in the expansion in spite of the fact that 54 percent of Georgians support it. 400,000 is a lot of people, and they’re being denied insurance in order for Deal to prove his quality to the extreme flank of his party.

In fact, Brownback and Deal are so maniacal about blocking the very popular expansion of Medicaid, they’re each lining up to sign recently passed legislation that would block future Democratic governors from expanding Medicaid without the approval of the solidly GOP state legislatures in each state.

In other words, GOP lawmakers have taken steps to guarantee that many of their poorest residents will remain uninsured under the health care reform law, no matter what happens in the gubernatorial election.

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal (R) and Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (R) both oppose Medicaid expansion. They both look likely — if not quite certain — to win re-election in November. That should make the bills passed by their respective state lawmakers unnecessary, but they seem intent on guarding against even the remote possibility of a Democratic governor.

Actually, the possibility of Democratic victories aren’t as remote as Talking Points Memo reported. Polls in both races are neck-and-neck, with PPP showing a slight advantage for the Democratic challengers to Brownback and Deal, Paul Davis in Kansas and state senator Jason Carter (grandson of former President Carter) in Georgia. And there it is: a possible explanation for the laws.

This is how far they’re reaching to stymie evil, evil Obamacare. Not only are they refusing to create state-run exchanges, oddly ceding state power to the federal government, but they’re refusing to allow the expansion of Medicaid, even though they don’t have to spend a penny to do it — worse, they’re passing laws that will prevent others from doing it, too. It’s yet another way to sabotage the law in a long list of plots to undermine it.

So, what are the consequences?

On Wednesday, the Orlando Weekly published the explosive and infuriating story of Charlene Dill, a struggling, 32-year-old mother of three who collapsed and died on a stranger’s floor late last month. According to Weekly reporter Billy Manes, Dill suffered from a treatable heart condition. She also fell into what policy experts call the Medicaid coverage gap–a hole the Supreme Court punctured in the health safety net when seven of its justices rendered the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion entirely voluntary.

We have no choice but to call this what it is: death by Obama Derangement Syndrome.

 

By: Bob Cesca, Managing Editor for The Daily Banter; Published in The Huffington Post, April 28, 2014

May 1, 2014 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Medicaid Expansion, Obamacare | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“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

April 24, 2014 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Medicaid Expansion, Obamacare | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Oldest Hatred, Forever Young”: When Hatred Is Loosed, We’re All In The Crossfire

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.

Polishing diamonds?

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

April 16, 2014 Posted by | Bigotry, Discrimination, Hate Crimes | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“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

April 14, 2014 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Kathleen Sebelius | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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