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“Lousy Medicaid Arguments”: Deeply Revealing, More Evidence Of The Right’s Intellectual Decline

For now, the big news about Obamacare is the debacle of HealthCare.gov, the Web portal through which Americans are supposed to buy insurance on the new health care exchanges. For now, at least, HealthCare.gov isn’t working for many users.

It’s important to realize, however, that this botch has nothing to do with the law’s substance, and will get fixed. After all, a number of states have successfully opened their own exchanges, doing for their residents exactly what the federal system is supposed to do everywhere else. Connecticut’s exchange is working fine, as is Kentucky’s. New York, after some early problems, seems to be getting there. So, a bit more slowly, does California.

In other words, the technical problems, while infuriating — heads should roll — will not, in the end, be the big story. The real threat remains the effort of conservative groups to sabotage reform, especially by blocking the expansion of Medicaid. This effort relies heavily on lobbying, lavishly bankrolled by the usual suspects, including the omnipresent Koch brothers. But it’s not just money: the right has also rolled out some really lousy arguments.

And I don’t just mean lousy as in “bad”; I also mean it in the original sense, “infested with lice.”

Before I get there, a word about something that, as far as we can tell, isn’t happening. Remember “rate shock”? A few months ago it was all the rage in right-wing circles, with supposed experts claiming that Americans were about to face huge premium increases.

It quickly became clear, however, that what these alleged experts were doing was comparing apples and oranges — and as Ezra Klein of The Washington Post pointed out, oranges that, in many cases, you can’t even buy. Specifically, they were comparing the premiums young, healthy men were paying before reform with the premiums everyone — including those who previously couldn’t get insurance because of pre-existing conditions — will pay under the new system. Oh, and they also weren’t taking into account the subsidies many Americans will receive, reducing their costs.

Now people are signing up for policies on state exchanges and, to a limited extent, on the federal exchange. Where are the cries of rate shock? Anecdotal evidence, which is all we have so far, says that people are by and large happily surprised by the low cost of their insurance. It was telling that when Fox News eagerly interviewed some middle-class Americans who said they had been hurt by the Affordable Care Act, it turned out that none of their guests had actually checked out their new options — they just knew health reform was terrible because Fox News told them so.

Now, about those lousy Medicaid arguments: Last year’s Supreme Court decision upholding the Affordable Care Act did strike down one provision, the one that would have forced all states to accept an expansion of Medicaid, the already-existing program of health insurance for the poor. States are now free to reject that expansion. Yet how can states justify turning down a federal offer to insure thousands of their citizens, one that would cost them nothing in the first year and only trivial amounts later? Sheer spite — the desire to sabotage anything with President Obama’s name on it — is the real reason, but doesn’t sound too good. So they need intellectual cover.

Enter the same experts, more or less, who warned about rate shock, to declare that Medicaid actually hurts its recipients. Their evidence? Medicaid patients tend to be sicker than the uninsured, and slower to recover from surgery.

O.K., you know what to do: Google “spurious correlation health.” You are immediately led to the tale of certain Pacific Islanders who long believed that having lice made you healthy, because they observed that people with lice were, typically, healthier than those without. They were, of course, mixing up cause and effect: lice tend to infest the healthy, so they were a consequence, not a cause, of good health.

The application to Medicaid should be obvious. Sick people are likely to have low incomes; more generally, low-income Americans who qualify for Medicaid just tend in general to have poor health. So pointing to a correlation between Medicaid and poor health as evidence that Medicaid actually hurts its recipients is as foolish as claiming that lice make you healthy. It is, as I said, a lousy argument.

And the reliance on such arguments is itself deeply revealing, because it illustrates the right’s intellectual decline. I mean, this is the best argument their so-called experts can come up with for their policy priorities?

Meanwhile, many states are still planning to reject the Medicaid expansion, denying essential health care to millions of needy Americans. And they have no good excuse for this act of cruelty.

 

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, October 20, 2013

October 22, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Republicans, Right Wing | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Debunking GOP And Media Claims”: Reality Is Most Americans Back Obamacare Or Want It Expanded

One of the many disgraceful aspects of the media coverage of Obamacare—and criticism of the ACA, and the Tea Party claims in general—is the rote depiction of the new law as “very unpopular” or “opposed by most Americans according to polls” because it goes too far. Most people are said to be happy with the health care system as is, and so on. In other words, repeating the GOP line.

Now, those who have supported the law have long claimed that the simple bottom line poll numbers are misleading. Yes, those numbers generally show that, say, 51% don’t like the ACA and only 44% approve. Yet, as we know (but many in the media fail to recognize, even beyond Fox News), a lot of Democrats and liberals are unhappy, wisely, because the law doesn’t go far enough, or that President Obama didn’t fight for the public option or single payer or Medicare for all. So how many of them are included in that bottom line number who “oppose” the ACA—but from the left?

Polls have indicated there’s a fair number but now there’s a new one today that CNN actually took the trouble—at the end of its online report, true—to break out. And, lo and behold, it turns out that fully 12% of those opposed feel the law doesn’t so far enough.

So, as they note, that means that instead of just over 50% being against the law because it goes too far—the impression most in the media have left—at least 53% actually back the law or believe it should be expanded. And the poll was taken at the worst possible time—amidst the current widespread complaints about the roll-out of the ACA sign-up provisions.

The other numbers in the poll bear out support for the ACA, as they show that the shutdown has inspired growing unpopularity for the GOP and John Boehner (even among Republicans) but Obama’s standing has remained the same.

This is the first time since the Republicans won back control of the House in the 2010 midterm elections that a majority say their control of the chamber is bad for the country.

Meanwhile, an expert on the ACA has fact-checked a Sean Hannity segment last Friday and exposes the misinformation there—and also suggests, sadly, that many Fox viewers who could save thousands of dollars each year, and gain coverage for pre-existing condition and for their children by embracing Obamacare, probably will not. That’s the true evil of Fox propaganda.

 

By: Greg Mitchell, The Nation, October 21, 2013

October 22, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, GOP, Media | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Only Division Is Over Tactics, Not Policy”: The Tea Party And Big Business Want The Same Things

Dave Weigel patiently explains today that there isn’t actually a brewing war between “the Tea Party” and Wall Street and “the business community.” There is, really, just the same fruitful alliance that birthed the Tea Party. Because as long as “the Tea Party” means “Republicans in control of the House,” that means “Democrats not in control of the House.” Which is good for business! (In a very dumb and short-sighted way, mostly.) As Weigel says: “No one’s looking to primary the average Class of 2010 Republican because he’s trying to repeal Dodd-Frank or challenge EPA rules or prevent any changes in tax law that would anger the donors.”

And “big business,” in the form of the Chamber of Commerce and other business-backed groups, has spent and will continue to spend a small fortune electing Republicans, including “Tea Party” Republicans, in order to help Republicans, including “Tea Party” Republicans, maintain control of the House and possibly take over the Senate. The shutdown and the default showdown didn’t stop that. There is still one party that is very committed to rolling back environmental and other regulations, preventing meaningful financial reform, and, most importantly, keeping taxes as low as possible on very wealthy people and corporations. The Tea Party is not opposed to any of those things.

There are really only two issues dividing “the business community” from “the Tea Party.” They are a) tactics and b) immigration. “The business community” wants the Republican Party to be competitive in national races — they’re also be fine with the Republicans trying to win elections through gerrymandering and voter suppression — while “the Tea Party” prioritizes purity over electability. (In fact most of them don’t see conservative purity as any sort of obstacle to electability, but they are wrong.) The backlash to Ted Cruz and the House “suicide caucus” was mainly a reaction to tactics, not a blow-up over policy.

Conservatives simply differed over the best way to force Democrats into accepting the roll-back of the ACA and/or a tax-cutting, social insurance-cutting long-term budget deal. Plenty of “establishment” Republicans still believe it is perfectly appropriate to use the debt ceiling, and the implicit threat of default, to extract policy concessions. Where Republicans split was on the wisdom of actually shutting the government down or merely threatening to, and on what precisely to demand in exchange for reopening the government. Grover Norquist attacked Ted Cruz for demanding the unachievable, but he doesn’t actually oppose defunding Obamacare. He just thought Paul Ryan had a better strategy for actually winning concessions. (Grover Norquist is right, by the way.)

Where there could actually be a break of some kind is in next year’s primaries, when Tea Party groups will fund some less-electable candidates against perfectly conservative members with more realistic grasps of the achievable. But if the Tea Party groups win those primaries, big business will still support their candidates. (The Chamber of Commerce donated to Mike Lee and Allen West in 2012.)

The biggest problem with the moderate fantasy of a new Moderate Republican rising from the ashes of Ted Cruz is that “big business” isn’t going to force the “Tea Party” to moderate its positions, it’s going to fight to get them to fight for their positions more effectively.  People opposed to the goals of the Tea Party movement should be even more opposed of the business community reasserting control over the party. The end result of the “grown-ups” stepping in to squash the Tea Party would be more power to people like… Mitch McConnell, the man who’s done more than anyone else to block Barack Obama’s agenda. The actual policies being fought for, with few exceptions, wouldn’t change.

The one major issue where there is actually tension between the bottom-line priorities of the donor class and the desires of the activist movement is immigration. There are many obvious reasons why big business would prefer looser immigration restrictions, more guest-workers and visas for “highly skilled” immigrants. But for a popular movement still fueled by the tribal panic of aging whites, “more immigrants” is not a winning message. (It’s also true that “the donor class” is much more socially liberal than the grassroots activists, but same-sex marriage isn’t enough of a profit-booster to make it a fight worth having outside the “blue states” where it’s already popular.) Even on immigration, smart representatives of the donor class seem to be suggesting that they believe it’s better to let activist conservatives have their way than to create a genuine split in the party. Because what’s good for Republicans is good for rich people.

That will still be true  in 2014 and in 2016. And that’s why when the next presidential election rolls around, the conservative grassroots and the money will fall in line behind whichever guy the GOP nominates, even if they disagree about him at first.

 

By: Alex Pareene, Salon, October 21, 2013

October 22, 2013 Posted by | Big Business, Tea Party | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Fighting Magneto And Dr No”: Dick Cheney Still Thinks He Was A Character On “24”

Dick Cheney felt moved to write an entire book about the heart troubles he’s had over the years, which I can understand. After all, we all find our particular maladies fascinating. What I don’t get is why anybody else would care, since we don’t tend to find other people’s maladies interesting in the least. If you’d let me, I’d love nothing more than to blather on about my various knee injuries, but since I’m not RGIII, I have the sense to know that you really don’t give a crap. Nevertheless, there’s apparently an interesting tidbit or two in Cheney’s book, including this reported by CBS News, which may validate what you already thought about him:

Cheney had [his defibrillator] replaced in 2007 and his doctor, cardiologist Jonathan Reiner, with whom he wrote the book, had the device’s wireless function disabled so a terrorist couldn’t send his heart a fatal shock. Some years later, Cheney was watching an episode of the SHOWTIME hit “Homeland,” in which that terrorist scenario was woven into the plot. “I was aware of the danger…that existed…I found it credible,” he responds to Gupta when asked what went through his mind. “I know from the experience we had and the necessity for adjusting my own device, that it was an accurate portrayal of what was possible,” says Cheney.

Did he also avoid sea travel, since the terrorists could use their nuclear-powered subs to send microwaves at him and fry his brains? What world was he living in?

The answer, in case you’ve forgotten, is that he and so many other Bush administration officials were basically enacting a fantasy in which the enemy—”the terrorists”—were not actually a bunch of semi-literate religious fanatics who got incredibly lucky one time with an extraordinarily low-tech attack, but were actually evil geniuses, had unlimited resources at their disposal, and could execute complex, highly technical schemes with multiple interlocking parts that enabled them to do things like get close enough to the Vice President to deliver him a fatal electric shock. And of course, we can’t close Guantanamo and house the prisoners now there in supermax prisons in the United States, from which no inmate has ever escaped, because they’re terrorists, and who knows what super-powers they might have developed in the fantastically well-equipped lab in their hollowed-out-mountain lair?  I joke, but do you remember Bin Laden’s mountain fortress? It was quite a remarkable feat of engineering—check out this conversation between Tim Russert and Donald Rumsfeld, going over all its amazing details. “A ventilation system!” marveled Russert. “The entrances large enough to drive trucks and even tanks!” Even computer systems and telephone systems. It’s a very sophisticated operation!” “Oh, you bet,” responded the Secretary of Defense. “This is serious business. And there’s not one of those. There are many of them.” You may also remember that the mountain fortress never existed. It was all made up.

Back in the real world, actual terrorists were struggling unsuccessfully to make their shoes or their underwear explode. So why did people like Cheney want so badly to believe they were fighting Magneto or Dr. No? I think it’s because they all wanted to be Jack Ryan or Jack Bauer. The more terrifying your enemy is, the more courageous and heroic you are. While Bin Laden was holed up in a house in Abbottabad watching DVDs of Three’s Company reruns, Bush and Cheney were imagining that their foe was so unstoppable that at any moment he could penetrate the Secret Service perimeter and kill them with death rays.

You may not remember, but there was a time when actual government officials talked about the television show 24 as though it were not absurd escapist entertainment, but a real representation of reality. Here’s a little  blast from the past :

According to British lawyer and writer Sands, Jack Bauer—played by Kiefer Sutherland—was an inspiration at early “brainstorming meetings” of military officials at Guantánamo in September 2002. Diane Beaver, the staff judge advocate general who gave legal approval to 18 controversial interrogation techniques including waterboarding, sexual humiliation and terrorizing prisoners with dogs, told Sands that Bauer “gave people lots of ideas.” Michael Chertoff, the Homeland Security chief, gushed in a panel discussion on 24 organized by the Heritage Foundation that the show “reflects real life.”

John Yoo, the former Justice Department lawyer who produced the so-called torture memos—simultaneously redefining both the laws of torture and of logic—cites Bauer in his book War by Other Means. “What if, as the Fox television program 24 recently portrayed, a high-level terrorist leader is caught who knows the location of a nuclear weapon?” Even Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, speaking in Canada last summer, shows a gift for this casual toggling between television and the Constitution. “Jack Bauer saved Los Angeles … He saved hundreds of thousands of lives,” Scalia said. “Are you going to convict Jack Bauer?”

Well no, your honor, because Jack Bauer is a fictional character. We also don’t need to pass a law boosting penalties for using the Imperius curse on someone without their permission, because that isn’t real either.

There’s a practical side to this, which is that the more people thought 24 represented the reality of terrorism, the more willing they’d be to shrug their shoulders at things like vastly expanded surveillance and the use of torture. In the real world, “ticking time bombs” are so rare as to be essentially non-existent, and the torture policy (and even the actual torture techniques) were designed by people who knew virtually nothing about how to get information from a prisoner who doesn’t want to give it to you. But hey, on 24, not only did torture always work, it worked fast—60 seconds was about average—and everything a terrorist said under torture turned out to be true. How could you not use it?

This still matters because these fantasists built an infrastructure—legal, programmatic, psychological—that we still live with today. And they don’t seem to have regained their ability to distinguish between fiction and reality.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, October 21, 2013

October 22, 2013 Posted by | Dick Cheney | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Obamacare Horror Stories Aren’t So Horrible”: Republicans Struggling To Find Real-World Victims Of The Health Care Law

There are real and substantial problems with the Affordable Care Act’s website, serious enough to warrant remarks this morning from President Obama and “tech surge” at HHS. But for the law’s critics, there’s still an underlying problem: websites can be fixed. The merits of “Obamacare” are unaffected by online snafus, however meaningful they may be.

And with this in mind, the right realizes it can’t just jump up and down about a website that will get better; conservatives still need to go after the health care system itself.

That’s proving to be difficult. We talked last week about a recent Fox News segment, hosted by Sean Hannity, featuring three real-world couples who presented themselves as victims of the Affordable Care Act. As Eric Stern reported in Salon, the problem with the segment was that none of the claims made by the couples stood up to any scrutiny. One of the horror stories was apparently entirely fictitious.

As it happens, this larger public-relations scheme is quickly shaping up to be an unsettling pattern. Robin Abcarian reported on a similar problem in the L.A. Times.

Maybe you’ve heard about the beloved local ice cream company that’s been forced to close its doors because of Obamacare?

Earlier this week, Newt Gingrich shared the dreadful news with Sean Hannity on Hannity’s radio show. It’s awful, just awful, the two men agreed, that small businesses are being driven under by the “job-killing” Affordable Care Act.

It didn’t take me long to identify the company: Bonnie Doon Ice Cream Corp., an Indiana ice cream maker that also operated a chain of drive-in diners in Mishawaka, South Bend and Elkhart. Or to figure out that the Affordable Care Act probably has nothing to do with the business’s failure.

Now, it is true that Bonnie Doon Ice Cream Corp. is permanently closing its doors. The problem is, Republicans want to blame this on the Affordable Care Act. Indeed, the local Indiana congresswoman representing the business’s headquarters specifically connected the law and the business’ demise on her Facebook page.

Reality, I’m afraid, is pointing in a different direction. For one thing, Bonnie Doon only had around 30 employees, so the law’s mandates didn’t affect it anyway. The employee total increased after it was bought by BD Acquisition, but even then health care mandates wouldn’t kick in until 2015 at the earliest.

“It seems highly, highly implausible that someone would be closing a business now in anticipation of projections around health costs 15 months from now,” Ken Jacobs, chairman of the UC Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education, told Abcarian. “Any business that says it’s shutting down because of Obamacare is likely going out of business anyway.”

The point isn’t just to poke holes in poor anecdotal arguments. Rather, the key takeaway from stories like these is that Republicans are struggling mightily to find any real-world victims of the health care law.

For the right, these victims should be **everywhere**, eager to tell their stories, because that darned “Obamacare” is such a public menace. If so, why do these stories keep falling apart, replaced with nothing?

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, October 21, 2013

October 22, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Obamacare, Republicans | , , , , , | Leave a comment

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