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“The RNC Reflects On Ending Racism”: The Republican Party No Longer Qualifies For The Benefit Of The Doubt

For all of its many benefits, Twitter’s brevity can cause trouble for plenty of political voices. Yesterday, for example, the Republican National Committee decided to honor the anniversary of Rosa Parks’ “bold stand,” which seemed like a perfectly nice gesture. The RNC added, however, that Parks played a role “in ending racism.”

Not surprisingly, the message was not well received. Despite what you may have heard from Supreme Court conservatives in the Voting Rights Act case, racism hasn’t ended, it certainly wasn’t vanquished on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1955.

A few hours later, realizing that they’d made a mess of things, RNC officials returned to Twitter to say, “Previous tweet should have read ‘Today we remember Rosa Parks’ bold stand and her role in fighting to end racism,’” which was a welcome clarification, though the damage was done.

In fairness to the Republican National Committee, it’s hard to believe the party was trying to be deliberately offensive. For that matter, I rather doubt the RNC believes Rosa Parks helped end racism 58 years ago. This was likely the result of clumsy tweeting, not ignorant malice.

But in the larger context, stories like these resonate because the party no longer qualifies for the benefit of the doubt. Too many incidents come quickly to mind: the Nevada Republican who’d embrace slavery, the North Carolina Republican whose appearance on “The Daily Show” became the stuff of legend, the birthers, the fondness for Jesse Helms, the widespread voter-suppression laws that disproportionately affect African Americans, the Maine Republican who wants the NAACP to kiss his butt, the former half-term Alaska governor who’s comfortable with “shuck and jive” rhetoric, etc.

The RNC, in other words, can’t lean on its credibility on racial issues to easily dismiss poorly worded tweets. The fact that the party can’t even say a nice thing about Rosa Parks without screwing up and getting itself in trouble only helps reinforce the extent to which race is a systemic problem for the party.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, December 2, 2013

December 3, 2013 Posted by | GOP, Republican National Committee | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Kicked To The Curb”: Republicans’ Self-Hatred Swells To The GOP Vs. Its Own Base

Does any modern political party besides the GOP hold a huge segment of its base in contempt? I’ve written a lot about how Republicans have failed to make inroads with Latinos, young voters or women since their 2012 defeat, but what’s really interesting is the way they continue to deride many of their older, white, working-class voters, too.

When Mitt Romney insulted “the 47 percent” of Americans who pay no federal income taxes, he failed to notice that the vast majority of them are white, most of them white seniors, the most reliably Republican voters in the country. A large portion of the people Paul Ryan describes as “takers” – vs. productive “makers” – are likewise older whites. And although Ryan and his party want to turn Medicare into a voucher program – run by exchanges, much like the Affordable Care Act – they tried to hide that fact during the 2012 race because it was hugely unpopular with their base.

The latest insult came from former senator and 2012 presidential runner-up Rick Santorum. On CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday Santorum complained that the Affordable Care Act has meant that “sicker, older” people are getting health insurance (h/t Crooks and Liars.) Santorum told Candy Crowley and former Gov. Howard Dean:

Well, let me just add that one of the solutions that President Obama tried to accomplish was to let people keep their own insurance. It turns out that a lot of insurance companies are actually allowing that to happen, and that could cause even more problems for Obamacare, because that means fewer and fewer people getting into the exchanges. And the ones who, at least to date, it’s just facts Gov. Dean, the ones in the system are much older.

I talked to one insurance company today, a third of their enrollees are over sixty years of age. That is not how an insurance system would work, but those are the people signing up and the folks who can keep their plans because they’re more customized and lower cost, will now. And the folks who are going to get into these exchanges are going to be probably sicker, older, and as a result, premiums are even going to go higher.

First of all, it’s not clear Santorum is right about this. Some states are seeing unexpectedly high proportions of younger people sign up for coverage. In Kentucky, 41 percent have been under 35; in California, it’s 22 percent, which is proportionate to their share of the population. Still, the enrollment rate in California is highest for people over 55. That’s not surprising, or permanent: Based on the experience of Massachusetts, older people tend to sign up for coverage first; younger enrollees do it closer to the deadline.

But assuming that Santorum isn’t wrong (admittedly a leap), what is he saying? That people over 60 who don’t have coverage shouldn’t be able to get it? We know these people are white, and presumably – since they’re not eligible for Medicaid, which covers many of the poor and unemployed — they’re working people. But Santorum says “that’s not how an insurance system should work.”

Luckily Howard Dean was there to disagree. “I think it’s great that we’re insuring people who can’t get insurance that are over 55 and 60,” he told Santorum and Crowley. “That’s what this is supposed to do.”

Of course, if insurers are unhappy with their older customers, Rep. Alan Grayson has an answer: his “Medicare for All” bill, which would allow anyone who wanted to to sign up for Medicare instead of a private insurance plan. Back during the ACA debate many liberals wanted to see that option, but it was vetoed by insurance interests. Opening up Medicare to people 55 and older would help stabilize the program – although they’re the older edge of the ACA pool, they’d be younger and healthier subscribers in the Medicare pool – and provide an alternative for those priced out of or under-served by the private market.

Still, the big news this weekend was that the federal website that lets most people access insurance exchanges, Healthcare.gov, is mostly fixed. That’s why Santorum was reduced to railing against those takers in the GOP base. On Fox News Sunday, Chris Wallace attacked the ACA as “income redistribution.”

And, of course, Santorum insisted that the ACA’s troubles raised questions about “the president’s competence.” Dean wasn’t having that either.

“That’s right-wing talking points against this president,” Dean replied. “From day one, they’ve tried to undermine him as a human being … I lose my patience with this nonsense. I do believe that the facts are going to be determined by what happens on the ground. Three months from now, a lot more people are going to have health insurance, and a lot more people are going to be happy with all this.”

 

By: Joan Walsh, Editor at Large, Salon, December 2, 2013

December 3, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, GOP | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Worshiping The Almighty Dollar”: Will The Supreme Court Endow Corporations With A Soul, Too?

Private businesses are trying to block Obamacare on religious grounds? What do companies worship besides, perhaps, the almighty dollar?

That’s the question at the heart of two conflicting rulings from lower courts that the Supreme Court has decided to take up in its second constitutional showdown over President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act.

Since the law also known as Obamacare was passed, dozens of Christian employers have challenged its birth-control mandate that requires employers to provide health insurance coverage for FDA-approved contraception.

Abortion rights opponents believe some of the allowed contraceptive methods block fertilized eggs from implanting in a woman’s uterus. That’s disputed by other research findings that the methods in question actually work before fertilization occurs.

To placate such objections, the Obama administration has changed the requirement to allow explicitly religious organizations and some other nonprofits to opt out of paying for insurance directly, passing the costs on to their insurance provider instead.

But that doesn’t apply to the big for-profit corporations at issue in the two cases that the Supreme Court has agreed to hear.

In one of them, the 10th Circuit Court upheld the argument of Oklahoma City-based Hobby Lobby Stores Inc., a chain of 500 arts-and-crafts stores with 13,000 full-time employees, that the mandate would violate the rights of owners David and Barbara Green under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993. That law says that a “person” can seek to opt out of a law under some circumstances if obeying it would “substantially burden” the exercise of his or her religion.

But is a corporation a “person?” Yes, says the 10th Circuit, under the Citizens United decision, which holds that corporations have the same First Amendment rights as individual people to spend money as a form of speech in political campaigns.

Not so, says the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals, in the second of the two decisions the justices will review. In rejecting the arguments of Conestoga Wood Specialties, a Pennsylvania manufacturer of wooden cabinets owned by a Mennonite family, the appeals court wrote that corporations “do not pray, worship, observe sacraments or take other religiously motivated actions separate and apart from the intention and direction of their individual actors.”

That sounds right to me. Even if the corporations qualified as “persons” under the 1993 law, which I am sure would surprise many of those who voted for it, the law cites a “substantial burden” on the exercise of religion.

If any “burden” is imposed on the employers in these cases, it hardly can be called “substantial” any more than the burden government routinely imposes on taxpayers to fund overseas wars or domestic social programs to which they personally object.

But if the high court grants corporations a religious license to pick and choose whichever government rules they want to follow or taxes they want to pay, a substantial burden would be imposed on the ability of the health care law to work — which would be just fine with some of its critics.

The impact of such a decision would reach far beyond Obamacare. That’s why the Supreme Court has drawn boundaries around the First Amendment’s “free exercise of religion” clause since its ruling in the 1878 test case of the bigamy conviction of George Reynolds, the personal secretary to Mormon leader Brigham Young.

Reynolds contended that his bigamy conviction violated his First Amendment rights as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, which would not renounce bigamy until 1890. He lost, mainly because of legal reasoning drawn partly from a letter by Thomas Jefferson in which he drew a sharp distinction between religious belief and religiously motivated actions.

Because belief “lies solely between man and his God,” Jefferson wrote, “the legislative powers of the government reach actions only, and not opinions.” In that spirit, the Supreme Court’ wrote, “Suppose one believed that human sacrifices were a necessary part of religious worship, would it be seriously contended that the civil government under which he lived could not interfere to prevent a sacrifice?”

One hopes not. Government should not intrude on religious faith, but for the sake of the common good, it occasionally must intervene in acts that are motivated by religious belief.

 

By: Clarence Page, The National Memo, December 2, 2013

December 3, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Contraception, Corporations | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Like It Or Not, Obamacare Is Moving Forward”: For Certain People, This Isn’t As Good A Story As The Website’s Implosion Was

HealthCare.gov just tweeted that more than 375,000 had visited the refurbished federal website as of noon today. White House press secretary Jay Carney confirmed the figure shortly after.

So demand still appears to be there, despite weeks of deservedly awful press about the website and the law, and weeks of Republican claims that the law is so disastrously flawed that it cannot be rescued.

Along those lines, Kevin Drum captures what matters most about the news of the moment in one half a sentence:

if you need to buy health coverage via healthcare.gov, you can do it

This really is the rub. Sure, there will be continued problems. Charles Ornstein personally had a terrible experience. Sarah Kliff found the site is still not working for everybody. And the snafus at the back end may persist, too.

But the big picture is that far more people who need health insurance — whether they were bumped from plans or whether they were previously uninsured — will now be mostly able to go online, do some shopping, and buy health insurance. Before, they couldn’t.

This isn’t as good a story as the website’s implosion was, and if the site continues to function as expected, it will mostly stop getting media coverage. The press will move on to the next Obamacare disaster story, should it materialize: The “keep your doctor” saga, coming soon via Republican press release directly to reporters’ inboxes.

But the current fix has mostly tamped down concerns among Democratic lawmakers, and barring some truly catastrophic change, they just aren’t going to abandon the law in any meaningful sense. Meanwhile, demand looks likely to continue, even as insurance companies redouble their efforts to entice people on to the exchanges, which means enrollment will continue piling up, too.

Will it be enough? It’s too soon to say. Republican lawmakers and their voters have been 100 percent certain for some time now that Obamacare has already collapsed, but for everyone else, the law’s long term prospects will turn mostly on what that enrollment looks like over time. And for that, we’ll just have to wait.

 

By: Greg Sargent, The Washington Post, December 2, 2013

December 3, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, GOP, Media | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Death Panels Are Coming”: Conservatives Are Going To Have To Turn Somewhere, And I’m Guessing “Rationing” Will Be On Their Lips

Now that Healthcare.gov seems to be working reasonably well (at least on the consumer end), Republicans are going to have to find something else they can focus on in their endless war against the Affordable Care Act. So get ready for the return of “death panels.”

They never really went away. Those who aren’t immersed in the fantasy world in which conservatives move were reminded of that last week, when chronicler of changed games Mark Halperin, the embodiment of most everything that’s wrong with contemporary political journalism, did an interview with the conservative news organization Newsmax. When the interviewer mentioned “death panels, which will be coming,” Halperin responded, “I agree, it’s going to be a huge issue, and that’s something else about which the President was not fully forthcoming and straightforward.” Halperin didn’t explain what lie he imagines Obama told about death panels (perhaps he thinks that when Obama said the government wouldn’t declare your grandmother unfit to live and have her murdered, he wasn’t telling the truth), but what matters isn’t Halperin’s own ignorance of the law (after all, understanding policy is for nerds, right?), but the fact that it came up in the first place. Which, if you pay attention to places like Newsmax, it still does. A lot.

But wait, you say. Wasn’t this all debunked years ago? Yes, it certainly was. But why should that matter?

It’s important to remember the switcheroo conservatives pulled on the “death panel” issue. They started off complaining that one provision in the law constituted “death panels,” then when their unequivocal lie was exposed and condemned roundly even by neutral observers, they switched to asserting that all along they had been talking about an entirely separate and unrelated provision, and when they say “death panels” they aren’t talking about death, or panels for that matter, but about health care “rationing.”

Here’s how it happened. The ACA originally included a provision allowing doctors to get reimbursed by Medicare for sessions in which they counseled their patients about their end-of-life options and how to make sure their wishes were properly carried out. The problem is that most of the time, when a patient shows up in the hospital in crisis, the staff has no idea what the patient wants if they can’t communicate. Do they want to be resuscitated, or intubated, or have every heroic measure taken until the moment they expire? All of us have different ideas about this, and it’s important that we think about it beforehand. So the ACA said, if a doctor spends a half hour talking to a patient about it, they’ll be paid for their time. It didn’t say what they had to tell them, it just said they could get paid for doing it, because right now if they do that counseling, they’re doing it for free, which makes it much less likely to occur, which is not only bad for the system but bad for individual patients.

So that part of the law said simply that doctors can bill Medicare for the time they spend doing that kind of counseling, just like they do for a physical exam or performing a procedure. To the people who supported it, the idea seemed commonsensical. Wouldn’t you want doctors and patients to have those kinds of conversations? You’d think. But turning that into the “death panel” lie began, as a remarkable number of health care lies have in the last couple of decades, with policy fraudster Betsy McCaughey, who went on Fred Thompson’s radio show in 2009 while the law was being debated and told his listeners, “Congress would make it mandatory—absolutely require—that every five years people in Medicare have a required counseling session that will tell them how to end their life sooner.” That would be terrible! It would also be terrible if our beloved elders were then hurled from hot air balloons hovering over volcanoes, but the law doesn’t require that either.

Unlike most deceptions in politics, which can be justified by pleading that there was some misinterpretation of ambiguous language, or that what the speaker meant just got garbled in the articulation, this was a clear and specific lie—or two lies, in truth—that McCaughey simply made up in her attempt to subvert the law and then repeated multiple times. There was nothing mandatory or required about counseling, every five years or ever, for any patient, and the counseling was not about “how to end their life sooner.”

To continue our story, then Sarah Palin took things the next step, turning a blatant lie (but at least one with some connection to what the law was about) and spinning it out into an extravagant fantasy one can only imagine came from some obscure 1970’s dystopian sci-fi movie she saw at four in the afternoon one day while the snow fell gently in Wasilla. “The America I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama’s ‘death panel,'” she wrote on her Facebook page, “so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their ‘level of productivity in society,’ whether they are worthy of health care. Such a system is downright evil.” 11 The quotation marks were a nice touch, since we in the English-speaking world use them to denote actual quotes from a specific person or document, not just something you make up. For instance, I could write, “I wouldn’t like to go to Sarah Palin’s house, where ‘heroin is given to children’ and ‘homeless men are hunted for sport.'” But that would be extremely misleading, since as far as I know, no one has said those things about Sarah Palin’s house, least of all Palin herself. And thus “death panels” were born.

And of course, the charge was picked up by Fox News, and Rush Limbaugh, and all the other far-flung outlets of the conservative media universe. But then the existence of any such panel was debunked and debunked and debunked again. The fact that the evocative phrase originated with Palin probably made it more difficult for conservatives to make it stick beyond their own self-contained world, since Palin is widely understood to be one of America’s most celebrated nincompoops. In addition, cowardly Democrats removed the provision on end-of-life counseling from the bill (to their unending shame) so even the entirely worthy provision of the law was gone. In response, conservatives cast about, and decided that the “death panels” they so feverishly warned of never referred to end-of-life counseling, but to the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB), which did end up in the final bill and which has the benefit of resembling an actual panel.

In brief: the IPAB is a group of 15 health-care experts appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate who will make recommendations on how Medicare could save money. Those recommendations are due at the beginning of each year, and Congress has until August to overrule them. If Congress doesn’t, the Secretary of Health and Human Services will implement the recommendations. But the IPAB only makes the recommendations if Medicare’s growth exceeds certain target rates.

Now listen to this part carefully: the text of the ACA prohibits the IPAB from recommending that care be rationed. It also prohibits them from recommending other things, like increasing premiums or cutting benefits. And perhaps most importantly, if Medicare’s growth is modest, IPAB won’t make any recommendations at all. And if things go the way they’ve been going and the way they will if many of the other reforms contained within the ACA succeed (including steps to transition from a purely fee-for-service model in which sicker patients means more revenue for providers to one in which they have incentives to keep people healthy), the IPAB might never have to make cost-cutting recommendations. Although things could change of course, the Congressional Budget Office believes that for the next decade Medicare’s growth is unlikely to be large enough to trigger any IPAB recommendations.

You may wonder why conservatives, who are constantly saying we need to control the cost of Medicare, are so vehemently opposed to the existence of a panel of experts whose job it is to come up with ways to control the cost of Medicare. That just shows how little you understand. IPAB, they will tell you, will ration care, which will kill your grandmother, no matter what the law says. 22These kinds of claims, and a general feeling of hysteria around end-of-life issues, circulates relentlessly throughout the conservative world. You may remember that during the 2012 presidential primaries, Rick Santorum told an audience that in the Netherlands, which has a tightly regulated system of physician-assisted suicide, “people wear different bracelets if they are elderly. And the bracelet is: ‘Do not euthanize me.’ Because they have voluntary euthanasia in the Netherlands but half of the people who are euthanized—ten percent of all deaths in the Netherlands—half of those people are euthanized involuntarily at hospitals because they are older and sick.” This was about as true as if he had said that all Portugese people have ESP or that Mongolia is ruled by a parliament made up of dogs and cats. But he didn’t get his fantasy bracelets and fantasy statistics from nowhere—the idea surely arrived to him via the cretinous version of the “telephone” game that is the conservative information bubble, where such things circulate and mutate until they come out the mouths of candidates for president. Just as a for instance, go on over to National Review and search for IPAB, and you come up with articles with titles like, “AARP Betrays Seniors By Supporting IPAB,” and “IPAB, Obama, and Socialism,” and “New England Journal of Medicine Supports Unamerican Expansion of IPAB.” As I said, once they can no longer complain about healthcare.gov, and once those people who had their junk insurance cancelled turn out to be getting much better insurance, conservatives are going to have to turn somewhere, and I’m guessing “rationing” will be on all their lips.

So what started as “Obama is forcing doctors to encourage their patients to die,” then became “Obama’s death panel will assess individuals one by one and withhold treatment from those they find unworthy, leaving people like Sarah Palin’s kid to plead for their very lives,” ends up as “Obama’s IPAB death panel will force health-care rationing on us.”

I do think that the chances that renewing the “death panel” scare will successfully undermine the ACA are slim. The fact that they don’t exist does matter. If you’re a reporter wanting to write a story about someone who lost their junk insurance and will have to buy real coverage, at least there are individuals you can focus on, even if you do a poor job of telling their stories. But there’s no one you can interview who went before a death panel, or whose relative went before a death panel. Because, to repeat myself, they don’t exist. So this whole discussion is likely to remain very abstract. Eventually, conservatives will find something else to cry wolf about. Did you know that under Obamacare, if you kiss a person with herpes, you could get herpes? That’s right: Obamacare will give you herpes. Pass it on.

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, December 2, 2013

December 3, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Obamacare, Republicans | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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