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“Cruel Sanctimony”: Bugnut So-Called Reporter Makes Mental Health A Political Issue

I cannot write this the way I want. Doing so would invade the privacy of too many people. But I can’t be silent, either.

Last week, you see, President Obama spoke before a conference of mental-health advocates at the White House. It is necessary, he said, to remove the stigma of mental illness and make sure “people aren’t suffering in silence,” that they know they are not alone, but are supported by the rest of us as they face this challenge.

It would seem a plain vanilla thing to say. But in this endless era of smash-mouth politics, nothing is plain vanilla anymore.

So one Neil Munro, a “reporter” for the right-wing Daily Caller website, duly took exception. Under the headline, “Obama urges public to use government mental-health programs,” Munro in essence accused mental health professionals of making up illnesses. “In recent decades,” he wrote, “the professionals have broadened the definition from severe, distinct and rare ailments, such as schizophrenia and compulsive behavior, to include a much wider set of personal troubles. Those broader problems include stress and sadness, which are medically dubbed ‘anxiety’ and ‘depression’ by professionals.”

Munro was having none of that. “Americans,” he wrote, “have typically responded to stress and sadness by urging stoicism, hard work, marriage, prayer and personal initiative. …”

In other words, we were self-reliant. We toughed it out. And if I could write this the way I want, I would tell you in detail about a friend who was self-reliant. She toughed it out. Right up until she shot herself.

If I could write this the way I want, I would gather people I know who suffer from the types of diseases Munro finds “real” — dissociative identity disorder, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia — and I’d let them describe for you the stigma that attaches even to those sicknesses. The notion that mental illness — any mental illness — should be toughed out is asinine. Would you tough out diabetes? Would you tough out cancer?

It is a statistical matter of fact (one in five of us suffers mental illness in any given year, said the president) that this touches many of us. So I suspect I am not the only one who has stories he cannot tell and names he cannot call. On behalf of those unnamed people, our family members and friends who daily struggle with crippling disorders they did not cause and do not deserve, let us call Munro’s writing what it is: cruel sanctimony.

If his name sounds familiar, it is because last year, he made news for heckling the president during a Rose Garden address. Though ostensibly a “reporter,” Munro was shown in photographs with his hands in his pockets and neither notepad nor tape recorder in evidence.

Which made it hard to see how he was “reporting,” and suggested he was less a member of the Fourth Estate than another ideologue playing dress-up, a fresh emblem of political divisions so broad they can no longer be bridged. So broad that even things we once all agreed upon — for example: reporters don’t heckle presidents during speeches — can no longer be taken for granted.

But what the ideologue play-acting at journalism either does not know, or does not care, is that this is not a game. There is a real-life consequence to spreading ignorance about matters of health. As the military deals with record suicide rates, one shudders to think of the soldier, afflicted with post-traumatic stress disorder, who will read Munro’s scribblings and feel affirmed in his belief that seeking help is somehow unmanly. As our parks fill with the homeless mentally ill, one sighs at the thought of some daughter reading this and believing her dad chose to be that way.

These are our people, said the president, and we should support them. Self-evident truth. Plain vanilla.

And Lord have mercy. Even that’s controversial now.


By: Leonard Pitts Jr., The National Memo, June 10, 2013

June 11, 2013 Posted by | Mental Health | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“No Shedding Crocodile Tears Here”: Obamacare Critics Should Stop Using Young Men To Fuel Their Arguments

In January, one of Obamacare’s most controversial provisions will come into effect:

Every person in America will be required to either have health insurance or pay a penalty.

Overall, the effect will likely be a net positive: Because of subsidies, the cost of insurance will be kept down for many households, and in many states, a Medicaid expansion will help even more families pay for their health care. But while the outlook is great for millions of workers, things are going to be tougher for at least one group: healthy, financially secure men in their twenties.

So, guess which group Obamacare critics have focused on when they attack the effects of the program? I’ll give you three guesses, but you’ll probably only need one.

On Wednesday, New York magazine’s Jonathan Chait pointed out the surprising trend, noting that critics of the Affordable Care Act have almost universally cited the group in their attacks. Likening the move to an old-time patent medicine show (“You, sir – the healthy 25-year-old in front who has never been hospitalized or needed medication in his life! Step right up!”), he suggested that the attacks on Obamacare are, to put it mildly, skewed.

On the surface, targeting the law’s impact on healthy 25-year-old men seems like a masterstroke. After all, it’s hard to argue for the fairness of a system that charges healthy young people to pay for the health care needs of sickly older ones. The trouble is, today’s healthy 25-year-old male could easily become tomorrow’s hit-and-run victim, desperately in need of long-term medical care. And, barring that, today’s healthy 20-something will, with any luck, become a less-healthy 50-something, in need of an affordable method to cover his medications and regular doctor’s visits.

(Or, as happened to me when I was an uninsured man in my mid-20s, today’s healthy young 25-year-old could be tomorrow’s guy paying out-of-pocket for wisdom teeth extraction.)

Obamacare has numerous provisions that will extend coverage and make health insurance cheaper. Among other things, it will help cover the Medicare Part D coverage gap, will end exclusions for pre-existing conditions, and will require health care plans to cover preventative care.

For tens of millions of people, these provisions, and others, will translate into lower medical costs, a previously unimaginable access to health care, and a generally improved quality of life. Given the huge potential benefits, maybe it’s time for Obamacare’s critics to stop shedding crocodile tears for the relatively small portion of the populace that is going to have to take one for the team — and, in the process, get insurance that may well make them safer and healthier.


By: Bruce Watson, Business Insider, Originally Published in DailyFinance, June 10, 2013

June 11, 2013 Posted by | Health Care | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Based On Ambition”: Marco Rubio Decides Whether He Wants To Kill Immigration Reform Or Not

The Senate has just begun the weeks-long process of debating and voting on the immigration reform bill crafted by the “gang of eight.” Harry Reid would like the bill passed on July 4, for the rather obvious symbolism. Supporters are still confident that the bill will pass the Senate.

The best thing the bill has going for it is that Mitch McConnell is going to actually allow it to come to the floor. (Minority Leader McConnell has veto power over most Senate business, because many senators have convinced themselves that the founders wanted him to.) The “gang” has four Republican members, meaning only a few more are needed in order to reach 60 votes and beat a potential filibuster. Kelly Ayotte is one Republican who’s publicly announced her support for the bill.

That assumes, obviously, that all Democrats and all the Republican members of the “gang” vote for their own bill, which might not happen. In fact “gang” member Marco Rubio has threatened to vote against the bill unless it includes “tougher” border security. And amending the bill so that Democrats no longer want to vote for it is one of the Senate anti-reform bloc’s strategies for defeating the bill. Rubio has begun signalling that he supports such an amendment, by Senator John Cornyn, that would increase surveillance and enforcement at the border. More importantly, it would prevent the “trigger” point at which immigrants can apply for green cards, and then citizenship, from happening until a series of incredibly unreasonable security standards are met, including “90 percent of illegal border crossers” apprehended and “100 percent border surveillance, or situational awareness, of each one-mile segment of the Southern border.”

(In Bush’s second term, Cornyn made similar proposals, and then decided not to support reform after all, surprise surprise.)

Meanwhile, Ted Cruz, a right-wing populist Senate newcomer who may want to be president, just like Senator Rubio, has, unlike Rubio, won himself a great deal of conservative affection by declaring himself immigration reform’s greatest enemy in the Senate. In explaining his opposition to Yahoo, Cruz sums up the right-wing argument: If immigration reform fails, Democrats will be to blame, because they insisted that immigration reform actually do something about immigrants:

“The biggest obstacle to passing common sense immigration reform is President Barack Obama,” Cruz tells The Fine Print, going on to say that the White House’s “insistence” on including a path to citizenship is standing in the way of the bill’s ultimate passage.

Cruz has not “ruled out” a filibuster, which means he will filibuster. But then everyone already assumed the bill would require 60 votes to pass.

This is Rubio’s problem: It’s hard to see the GOP changing so much by 2016 that having been essential in passing immigration reform won’t be seen by many conservative activists as a massive liability. Rubio had a “pass” from conservative media figures like Rush Limbaugh to work on this stuff before, because everyone sort of “agreed” immigration reform was necessary. The further we get from November 2012, though, the less urgent it seems, and the nativist factions are reasserting themselves. Mark Krikorian in the National Review and Mickey Kaus at the Daily Caller are trashing Rubio almost every day. This Powerline post is a good example of the sort of press he’s increasingly getting. Rubio is now supporting amendments demanding incredibly strict border enforcement before the “path to citizenship” can begin. This is what conservatives want. The Powerline guy’s headline is “MARCO RUBIO’S LATEST FIG LEAF.” The problem, you see, is that Rubio’s proposed security amendments will rely on the government to enforce them, and you can’t trust the government. There’s not really any pleasing these guys, except, of course, with a bill that provides no path to citizenship at all — which is the Cruz approach.

The calculation now, for Rubio, is a bit complicated. If it looks like something close to the Senate bill can pass the House with Republican support, Rubio is no longer the sole conservative responsible for it happening. He escapes blame. If the Senate bill passes with Rubio’s support and then Boehner decides to get the bill through the House with Democratic votes, Rubio will be branded a traitor to the conservative cause for the rest of eternity. If it passes the Senate and dies in the House, Rubio stuck his neck out for nothing.

When Rubio met behind closed doors with some of the most conservative members of the House, he was less trying to sell the bill than he was getting a feel for the room. As the National Review’s Jonathan Strong says:

Opponents and advocates estimate that 10 to 20 Republican senators are on the fence. Politics, as much as policy, is driving their final calculus. What they need isn’t always some specific change but rather, as one top Republican described it, a “secret sauce” of political cover.

Rubio’s argument is that he’s working to make the bill conservative enough to pass. But aligning himself with people like Cornyn, whose goal is to make the bill totally unpalatable to Democrats, suggests that he’d be fine with simply making the bill unpassable. And right now prospects in the House look grim. Last week, Republicans passed a bill designed to force the administration to deport “Dream” immigrants — people who’ve done well in school or in the armed forces since arriving here as children. Former House “gang” affiliate Raul Labrador quit the group. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, whose committee will have to approve the bill before it reaches the House floor, doesn’t want a comprehensive bill. He wants a series of smaller, stand-alone bills that will allow Republicans to vote for more border security without also voting for “amnesty.” Few Republican members of the House have any personal political incentive to moderate on immigration: Most of their seats are safe.

And in 2014, and 2016, conservative voters won’t be thinking of the long-term demographic health of the Republican party. They’ll just be asking whether Republicans worked with or against this reviled administration. Rubio knows this. His decision to become a key player on immigration was based on his ambition, not any particular principled concern for the undocumented. His ambition will continue to determine his course of action.


By: Alex Pareene, Salon, June 10, 2013

June 11, 2013 Posted by | Immigration Reform | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Snowden And The Right”: The Republican Thermogenic Desire To See Barack Obama Have A Bad Day At The Office, Whatever It Takes

Here’s something I’ll certainly be keeping one eye fixed on as the Edward Snowden story advances: the degree to which the American right takes him up as a cause célèbre. They’re up a tree either way. If they do, then they’re obviously guilty of the rankest hypocrisy imaginable, because we all know that if Snowden had come forward during George W. Bush’s presidency, the right-wing media would by now have sniffed out every unsavory fact about his life (and a hefty mountain of fiction) in an effort to tar him. If they don’t, then they’ve lost an opportunity to sully Barack Obama. Since they like smearing Obama a lot more than they care about hypocrisy, my guess is that they will lionize him, as some already are. But in the long run, doing that will only expose how deep the rifts are between the national-security right and the libertarian right, and this issue will only extend and intensify those disagreements.

First out of the gate Sunday was Glenn Beck, who tweeted in the late afternoon, not too long after The Guardian posted the interview with Snowden: “I think I have just read about the man for which I have waited. Earmarks of a real hero.” Shortly thereafter, another: “Courage finally. Real. Steady. Thoughtful. Transparent. Willing to accept the consequences. Inspire w/Malice toward none.” And two hours after that: “The NSA patriot leaker is just yet another chance for America to regain her moral compass and set things right. No red or blue JUST TRUTH.”

Beck, I will concede, has a degree of credibility on the red/blue issue. He criticizes Republicans sometimes. Even so, it amounts to a speck of dust when set against his near-daily sermons (for years now) about liberal and Democratic fascism. So I wonder about the degree to which Beck would have hopped up to throw rose petals at young Snowden’s feet if he’d come forward in this way under the Bush administration.

About Beck, we can wonder. About the others, I think there is no reason to wonder at all. If Snowden’s parents had got about the business of conceiving him five or six years before they did, and the progeny had taken up this line of work in 2007 or 2008, it’s obvious that The Daily Caller and, two right-wing outfits that Sunday evening were triumphantly bannering Snowden’s comments and the National Security Agency’s announced investigation into the matter, would have been savaging the guy. By close of business today, the rumors about his sexuality would be rampant.

They just want any cudgel they can find to beat Obama over the head, so Snowden suits their purposes for now. But let’s see where they go on this one over the long haul. On Sunday morning, Sen. Rand Paul called for a Supreme Court–level challenge to the NSA, in the form of a class-action suit, to end this data-mining. How’s that going to sit with John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, Reince Priebus, and the moneymen behind the Republican Party? Not very well.

Yes, the subject of the national-security state gives liberals and Democrats fits. We’re not “supposed” to do or support this sort of thing, because we believe in and hew to certain civil-libertarian principles. Conservatives, on the other hand, burdened with no such principles, can let it rip. No one expects ethical behavior of them in these arenas in the first place. It thus amuses me to watch conservatives attack liberals on the grounds of “hypocrisy” (if, say, they defend the Obama administration on this story) when everyone knows that (most) conservatives think civil liberties are some conspiracy against America.

But the bigger an issue conservatives try to make of this now, the more controversial the question of citizen-monitoring will become, and when that happens, the blowback is going to be much fiercer on the right than on the left, especially as we head toward 2016. On the left, Democrats will speak of the need for “balance” but not force a major debate on the issue, particularly if the nomination is essentially Hillary Clinton’s for the asking.

But on the right, the issue threatens to be much more disruptive. What used to be the Ron Paul–crank-libertarian faction, easily outnumbered by the neocons, is growing, and his son—a senator rather than just a congressman, young rather than curmudgeonly old, able to appeal to groups his father could not—is a much stronger standard-bearer for the anti-war-machine, pro-civil-libertarian message. Paul, it seems, is definitely running for president, and given the field, he’ll probably be in the first tier of contenders. He’ll have the ability to force a debate about these issues in a way his father never could.

The war caucus still dominates inside the GOP. But what really dominates the Republican Party mindset, what conquers everything, is the thermogenic desire to see Barack Obama have a bad day at the office, whatever it takes. So to the extent that Snowden proves useful to them in the coming days and weeks, they will use him. And liberals should say: let them.

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, June 10, 2013

June 11, 2013 Posted by | National Security, Politics | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Quiet Closing Of Washington”: America Is Splitting Apart Without The Trouble Of A Civil War

Conservative Republicans in our nation’s capital have managed to accomplish something they only dreamed of when Tea Partiers streamed into Congress at the start of 2011: They’ve basically shut Congress down. Their refusal to compromise is working just as they hoped: No jobs agenda. No budget. No grand bargain on the deficit. No background checks on guns. Nothing on climate change. No tax reform. No hike in the minimum wage. Nothing so far on immigration reform.

It’s as if an entire branch of the federal  government — the branch that’s supposed to deal directly with the nation’s problems, not just execute the law or interpret the law but make the law — has gone out of business, leaving behind only a so-called “sequester” that’s cutting deeper and deeper into education, infrastructure, programs for the nation’s poor, and national defense.

The window of opportunity for the President to get anything done is closing rapidly. Even in less partisan times, new initiatives rarely occur after the first year of a second term, when a president inexorably slides toward lame duck status.

But the nation’s work doesn’t stop even if Washington does. By default, more and more of it is shifting to the states, which are far less gridlocked than Washington. Last November’s elections resulted in one-party control of both the legislatures and governor’s offices in all but 13 states — the most single-party dominance in decades.

This means many blue states are moving further left, while red states are heading rightward. In effect, America is splitting apart without going through all the trouble of a civil war.

Minnesota’s Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, for example, now controls both legislative chambers and the governor’s office for the first time in more than two decades. The legislative session that ended a few weeks ago resulted in a hike in the top income tax rate to 9.85%, an increased cigarette tax, and the elimination of several corporate tax loopholes. The added revenues will be used to expand early-childhood education, freeze tuitions at state universities, fund jobs and economic development, and reduce the state budget deficit. Along the way, Minnesota also legalized same-sex marriage and expanded the power of trade unions to organize.

California and Maryland passed similar tax hikes on top earners last year. The governor of Colorado has just signed legislation boosting taxes by $925 million for early-childhood education and K-12 (the tax hike will go into effect only if residents agree, in a vote is likely in November).

On the other hand, the biggest controversy in Kansas is between Governor Sam Brownback, who wants to shift taxes away from the wealthy and onto the middle class and poor by repealing the state’s income tax and substituting an increase in the sales tax, and Kansas legislators who want to cut the sales tax as well, thereby reducing the state’s already paltry spending for basic services. Kansas recently cut its budget for higher education by almost 5 percent.

Other rightward-moving states are heading in the same direction. North Carolina millionaires are on the verge of saving $12,500 a year, on average, from a pending income-tax cut even as sales taxes are raised on the electricity and services that lower-income depend residents depend on. Missouri’s transportation budget is half what it was five years ago, but lawmakers refuse to raise taxes to pay for improvements.

The states are splitting as dramatically on social issues. Gay marriages are now recognized in twelve states and the District of Columbia. Colorado and Washington state permit the sale of marijuana, even for non-medical uses. California is expanding a pilot program to allow nurse practitioners to perform abortions.

Meanwhile, other states are enacting laws restricting access to abortions so tightly as to arguably violate the Supreme Court’s 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade. In Alabama, the mandated waiting period for an abortion is longer than it is for buying a gun.

Speaking of which, gun laws are moving in opposite directions as well. Connecticut, California, and New York are making it harder to buy guns. Yet if you want to use a gun to kill someone who’s, say, spray-painting a highway underpass at night, you might want to go to Texas, where it’s legal to shoot someone who’s committing a “public nuisance” under the cover of dark. Or you might want to live in Kansas, which recently enacted a law allowing anyone to carry a concealed firearm onto a college campus.

The states are diverging sharply on almost every issue you can imagine. If you’re an undocumented young person, you’re eligible for in-state tuition at public universities in fourteen states (including Texas). But you might want to avoid driving in Arizona, where state police are allowed to investigate the immigration status of anyone they suspect is here illegally.

And if you’re poor and lack health insurance you might want to avoid a state like Wisconsin that’s refusing to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, even though the federal government will be picking up almost the entire tab.

Federalism is as old as the Republic, but not since the real Civil War have we witnessed such a clear divide between the states on central issues affecting Americans.

Some might say this is a good thing. It allows more of us to live under governments and laws we approve of. And it permits experimentation: Better to learn that a policy doesn’t work at the state level, where it’s affected only a fraction of the population, than after it’s harmed the entire nation. As the jurist Louis Brandies once said, our states are “laboratories of democracy.”

But the trend raises three troubling issues.

First, it leads to a race to bottom. Over time, middle-class citizens of states with more generous safety nets and higher taxes on the wealthy will become disproportionately burdened as the wealthy move out and the poor move in, forcing such states to reverse course. If the idea of “one nation” means anything, it stands for us widely sharing the burdens and responsibilities of citizenship.

Second, it doesn’t take account of spillovers — positive as well as negative. Semi-automatic pistols purchased without background checks in one state can easily find their way easily to another state where gun purchases are restricted. By the same token, a young person who receives an excellent public education courtesy of the citizens of one states is likely to move to another state where job opportunity are better. We are interdependent. No single state can easily contain or limit the benefits or problems it creates for other states.

Finally, it can reduce the power of minorities. For more than a century “states rights” has been a euphemism for the efforts of some whites to repress or deny the votes of black Americans. Now that minorities are gaining substantial political strength nationally, devolution of government to the states could play into the hands of modern-day white supremacists.

A great nation requires a great, or at least functional, national government. The Tea Partiers and other government-haters who have caused Washington to all but close because they refuse to compromise are threatening all that we aspire to be together.


By: Robert Reich, The Robert Reich Blog, June 8, 2013

June 11, 2013 Posted by | Congress, Federal Government | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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