"Do or Do not. There is no try."

“Behold, The Obamacare Ombudsman Project”: Could Conservatives Help Obamacare Implementation Work?

Supporters of the Affordable Care Act, up to and including President Obama, have been at pains to point out to anyone who’d listen that as with any large and complex piece of legislation, implementation is going to be imperfect. There are going to be hiccups. Hurdles. Stumbles. Stops and starts, ups and downs, potholes and roadblocks and detours. They’ve been saying it because it’s true, because they want to prepare the media and the public, and because they know that conservatives will be squawking loudly every time it becomes apparent that some feature of the law needs to be adjusted, trying to convince everyone that even the most minor of difficulties is proof the law should never have been enacted in the first place.

But let me make a counter-intuitive suggestion: Perhaps all the inevitable overblown carping from the right will prove to be a good thing, making the law work better in the long run. Not because the conservatives’ motives aren’t bad (they are), and separate from the contemptible efforts to actively sabotage the law’s implementation. What I’m talking about is the effort by Republican members of Congress and conservative media figures to locate and publicize everything about Obamacare that isn’t going right. They could become a tireless team of Obamacare ombudsmen, forcing improvements to the law to happen faster than they otherwise would have by locating and publicizing what needs to be addressed. If there’s a pilot program that isn’t working out or a feature of the exchanges that isn’t operating properly, the likes of Darrell Issa and Sean Hannity are going to be on the case.

They could have a positive impact even on things they never notice. I’m sure the people who work in the Department of Health and Human Services, both career bureaucrats and political appointees alike, are keenly aware that their work on ACA implementation will be released into a charged political atmosphere, and if they screw up or do their jobs in a half-assed way, there’s a chance the whole world will find out about it. Nobody is going to want to have their department featured on Fox News, which could prove an incentive to work hard and make sure every T is crossed and I is dotted.

Okay, so the Conservative Obamacare Ombudsman Project does depend on them drawing attention to not just what’s most embarrassing or easily demagogued but the difficulties that are meaningful and can be fixed. And some fixes may require legislation, which would depend on some Republicans making the mental leap required to vote for a bill that would solve an actual problem, which is something many of them (in the House, anyway) have no experience with and might not be quite able to wrap their heads around. But stranger things have happened.


By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, September 17, 2013

September 18, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Conservatives | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Selling Un-Reality”: The Right’s Self-Defeating New “Shutdown Obamacare” Business Scheme

Convincing House Republicans to pursue impossible goals with dubious tactics is the conservative movement’s business … and business is good! Seriously, business is really good. Defunding Obamacare has been a boon for funding PACs and nonprofits. The conservative intramural debate over a potential government shutdown is pitting Republican political leadership against conservative organizations, and the organizations won’t be swayed by political arguments. Here’s National Review’s Robert Costa, whose entire piece today is is worth reading:

But these organizations, ensconced in Northern Virginia office parks and elsewhere, aren’t worried about the establishment’s ire. In fact, they welcome it. Business has boomed since the push to defund Obamacare caught on. Conservative activists are lighting up social media, donations are pouring in, and e-mail lists are growing.

One side is fighting to win the next election, the other side is collecting valuable signatures. The Senate Conservatives Fund, one group at the heart of the fight, has amassed 1.3 million. The Senate Conservatives fund was founded by Jim DeMint, current president of the Heritage Foundation, a hugely influential right-wing organization that seems to be shifting from think tank (boring!) to PAC and pressure group. Because donors respond much more favorably to attack ads than they do to white papers.

As I’ve said a hundred times before, the conservative movement is essentially a self-perpetuating fundraising machine. This is not to say that Republican lawmakers and conservative activists are insincere in their belief that subsidies and a network of statewide exchanges for the purchase of private health insurance will destroy liberty forever, I’m merely saying that the campaign to convince voters and legislators that Republicans can delay or defeat Obamacare this month is a lucrative one, for many people.

When there isn’t an election going on, these groups need other reasons to convince people to send them money. The Obamacare fight, like the IRS scandal before it, works beautifully. Here’s U.S. News and World Report’s Brian Walsh, a former Republican operative, on the scope of this campaign:

In fact, the Senate Conservatives Fund and Heritage Action, the political arm of the once well-respected Heritage Foundation, have spent more money so far on attack ads this year against House and Senate Republicans than the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and Democratic National Committee, combined. All the while, virtually every Senate Democrat up for re-election in 2014 – all of whom were the deciding vote on Obamacare – has been given a free pass by these groups.

Once you “sign” a “petition” by calling or clicking, you are invited to donate money to help finance the fight against the tyrannical healthcare law. (And then you may receive either a bumper sticker or a copy of Mark Levin’s book “Liberty and Tyranny.”) You end up on a list — a list that is worth a great deal of money to the organization — whenever you attend a rally. Participating in calls increases loyalty to the group and drives more donations. Heritage Action had a “nine-city national tour over the summer” and Brent Bozell’s ForAmerica “made over 50,000 phone calls to congressional offices.”

Whether or not the Republicans actually end up causing a government shutdown, these groups have already won. Whether or not Obamacare is delayed or defunded, they’ve already won. Some annoyed Republicans are accusing shutdown-pushers like Ted Cruz of “not dealing in reality,” but Cruz is decidedly reality-based. He’s just selling unreality to his constituents — not just Texas voters, but the entire nationwide network of pissed-off and increasingly delusional conservatives who fund the great right-wing money carousel. He becomes a star, and they get to feel like they’re an integral part of an existential fight for America’s future. (They also get a bumper sticker and a bulk-purchased copy of a conservative media hack’s ghost-written book.)


By: Alex Pareene, Salon, September 17, 2013

September 18, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Republicans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Forced Extortion”: Cable Television Is Just A Cartel

Today’s cable television model forces consumers to pay for dozens of channels they don’t want in order to get the handful of channels that they do want. It is ostensibly a cartel, with industry profits built entirely on the consumer’s back. If you don’t like the model, too bad.  There is no alternative. What’s worse, this arrangement is “blessed” by government regulations.

If given a choice, most parents would choose not to subsidize the sexually-charged content on MTV. Some people might not want ESPN. Others may only want news or movie channels. Cable choice, where consumers decide for themselves which channels they want to purchase, is a realistic solution for all of us who face sharply higher costs every year without fail.

The Federal Communications Commission just released new data showing that the average monthly price increase for expanded basic cable service continues to far outpace inflation, just as it has done for more than a decade. Choosing video content has become a lot easier, except for cable. One reason for this anomaly is an outdated and arcane federal regulation such as the 1992 Cable Act.

The Cable Act requires cable companies to offer a “basic tier” that consumers must buy before they can purchase other services. Other programming is only provided in bundles of additional networks – a forced-extortion scheme that causes us to pay for more than we need or want. For instance, more than $100 of our annual cable bill goes to the ESPN networks, regardless of whether we are sports fans. Media outlets have reported that the ESPN networks, owned by ABC/Disney and forced onto every cable subscriber, reflects nearly 20 percent of the wholesale cost of cable programming, yet it reflects only 2 percent of viewership.

Such a model clearly lacks a demand curve. And whether you get your video via cable, satellite or Telco-delivered video service, the package and price are about the same.

In a true free market, prices reflect what the marketplace dictates. If consumers knew what they were paying for each cable network in their bundle, they could make an informed decision about which networks they actually wanted to buy.  And the cable networks would be forced to compete for the consumers’ business, instead of perpetuating the near-monopoly powers they currently hold.

It’s time for the cable industry either to voluntarily join the free marketplace for its products and services, or it must be forced to do so through the same regulatory means that allow it to operate like a cartel in the first place. In the meantime, consumers will continue to be fleeced by exorbitant cable price increases, mostly for networks they don’t even want.


By: Timothy F. Winter, The Debate Club, U. S. News and World Report, September 17, 2013

September 18, 2013 Posted by | Consumers, Media | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“How Many More Times?”: Probably Many, Many More In The Imaginary America Of Gun Nuts

As our understanding (if that word doesn’t overstate what we can ever comprehend of such events) of yesterday’s shootings at the Washington Navy Yard improves, we’re seeing a depressingly familiar picture: disturbed man with “anger issues” and “gun issues” gets hold of an assault rifle and kills a lot of innocent people.

At this point, it seems Aaron Alexis came onto the military facility with a shotgun and acquired the assault rifle by stealing it, perhaps after killing its licensed user. If we even begin to have a public discussion of the killings as another data point in favor of stronger gun regulation, the gun lobby will make that a big argument, along with D.C.’s almost uniquely strong gun laws and the availability of other culprits in the affair (e.g., lax security for, and excessive dependence on, defense contractors).

Since we’re talking about a military base, the gun lobby will not, at least, be able to use its favorite argument, that a more secure environment in which more people were heavily armed could have prevented the killings.

But before we even head down the trail of talking about gun laws, let’s just acknowledge that this isn’t a matter of convincing Americans we need tighter background checks for gun purchases. According to every imaginable poll, they’re already convinced. It just doesn’t translate into action, in part because the gun lobby and the Second Amendment absolutists have an iron grip on one our two major political parties, and in part because because their power is especially strong in rural areas where strategically situated Democratic representatives haven’t yet been hunted to extinction.

As WaPo editorialized yesterday:

Life does go on, through Columbine in 1999, through Virginia Tech in 2007, through Sandy Hook in 2012. Each atrocity provides a jolt to the nation and then recedes with little effect, until the next unimaginable event occurs, except each time a little more imaginable. Everything was supposed to change after a man with a semiautomatic weapon mowed down 20 elementary school children in their classrooms last December. But for the politicians, nothing changed. Now, another massacre, another roster of funerals. Again, again, again.

So long as a powerful minority of Americans think the individual right to bear arms–any arms–trumps every consideration of public policy, and is the Crown Jewel of the Bill of Rights, and is our bulwark against tyranny–it won’t much matter. Hundreds dead, thousands dead, tens of thousands dead–it’s all irrelevant to what is in effect a religious commitment to the almighty Second Amendment, a golden calf worshipped as the ultimate expression of an illusory personal independence and an imaginary America.

No, rational arguments and conventional politics may never prevail against people who will look you right in the eye and tell you they need to be heavily armed in case it becomes necessary in their view to overthrow the government and impose their will on you. The whole idea here is that their rights trump your arguments, your priorities, your votes, your democratic elections, your duly authorized representatives or law officers. That’s their understanding of a “constitutional” system, and of what makes America “exceptional.” Their guns are an ever-present reminder to the rest of us that we just don’t know what level of taxation or regulation, or which offense to “traditional” culture, will be the trigger for a “patriotic” resurrection. That, perhaps, will keep us in line.

So while it’s important to keep up the fight for sensible firearms laws, no one should be under the illusion that this or the next mass killing is going to make a difference.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, September 17, 2013

September 18, 2013 Posted by | Gun Violence, Guns | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“We Just Keep Short-Changing Women”: Same Job, Same Size Budget Equals Less Pay For Women

Hey, married men – wake up! Your working wives are getting shorted on pay and that means your family has less money than it should.

A new report on pay, made public today by Guidestar USA  proves discrimination against women is pervasive.

The new report compares men and women with the same positions at similarly sized nonprofit enterprises, so the fact that women often work in lower-paid occupations such as waitressing, retail and clerical work is irrelevant in this study.

While women who become waitresses or retail clerks should expect to make less than lawyers and executives, there is no reason that women executives and lawyers should make less than men doing the same jobs — but they do.

Men holding the top spot at nonprofits averaged between 10 percent and a third more than women in the same jobs, Guidestar found.

In general, the bigger the organization and the bigger the job responsibilities, the greater the gap between what women and men are paid — and the greater the share of top jobs held by men.

Guidestar is a nonprofit organization that compiles data reported to the IRS, and the public, by all nonprofits. The 2010 data cover not just charities that solicit donations, but trade organizations, small mutual insurance operations and social welfare organizations among the 29 types of nonprofits authorized by Congress.

This is Guidestar’s 12th annual Nonprofit Compensation Report and it draws on disclosures by more than 77,000 nonprofits.

The report used names to determine sex. Androgynous names like Pat or Chris were excluded from the analysis, Charles McLean, Guidestar’s research director, told me.

At small nonprofits, those with an annual budget of less than $250,000, men in the top job averaged $53,389. That is 10 percent more than the $45,038 paid to women.

More than half of these small nonprofits, 57 percent, were led by women.

At the top, these gaps grew to chasms.

Among organizations with budgets of $50 million or more, men in the top job averaged $644,375. That is almost a third more than the $488,249 average for women CEOs.

Even more telling, women held just 1 in 6 of the CEO jobs at the biggest nonprofits.

The only CEOs who made more than $1 million a year on average were men at $50 million-plus nonprofits who, at the 90th percentile, averaged almost $1.2 million, compared to less than $924,000 for women at the same percentile of pay.

The pattern is pretty much the same for the top legal and finance jobs at nonprofits. However, pay disparities are smaller for public relations.

The same pattern of men dominating in the highest-paid jobs is found in the latest ORS data on wages reported on income tax returns.

Among people with wages of $10 million or more, just one in 29 was a woman. These 60 highly paid women workers averaged $18.8 million in wages in 2010, IRS data shows.

Men accounted for more than 96 percent of all top wage earners. The 1,664 men were paid on average $20.1 million or almost 7 percent more than the highest-paid women workers, the IRS data shows.

The IRS data also shows that as workers get older, the pay disparities between men and women increase. Among workers under age 26, the average pay of men was $16,000 in 2010, just 22 percent more than women of the same age.

But for workers ages 45 to 60, men averaged about $67,000, which was 70 percent more than women, who averaged slightly less than $40,000.

This may reflect occupational choices, but it may also indicate that as time passes, the gap between what men and women make will narrow.

Guidestar gets its figures from the Form 990 tax returns that all nonprofits must file with the IRS. It then analyzes them in many ways, including pay by gender and size of organization budget.

The data is exceptionally robust because Congress micromanages nonprofit pay, a cause championed by Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa, a Republican who is the only pig farmer in the Senate and a longtime antagonist of charities and other nonprofits.

One benefit of Grassley’s instinctive suspicion of nonprofits is that he persuaded Congress to require much more complete disclosures on what nonprofits pay than corporations. Profit-making enterprises only have to disclose what their top five executives were paid, and then only if they have publicly traded stock or bonds.

Even more significant, Congress requires rigorous and costly review of pay comparability for nonprofit leaders.

The zone of discretion for paying nonprofit executives under the laws Grassley sponsored and rules the IRS issued is exceedingly narrow, unlike the wide-open rules for profit-making corporations. For nonprofits with budgets of $5 million to $10 million, the zone of discretion is perhaps $10,000 above or below what the Guidestar and other pay studies show, compensation consultants have advised me when I sought their advice because nonprofit boards on which I volunteered assigned me to recommend the top executive’s pay.

Discrimination against women is pervasive and significant. It is also only slightly less severe than it was in Guidestar’s first pay study in 2001.

McLean, the Guidestar research director, said, “There is progress being made, but it is very slow.”

Two ways to speed up that process:

—Women who are married should make sure their spouses know how much money the family loses because of gender discrimination.

—Men should be in the forefront of demanding for equal pay for women, especially the majority of married men with a working wife.

Or we could do nothing, and just keep shortchanging women.


By: David Cay Johnson, The National Memo, September 16, 2013

September 18, 2013 Posted by | Economic Inequality, Gender Gap | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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