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“Willful Republican Obfuscation”: The GOP Takes Another ObamaCare Study Way Out Of Context

It’s no secret that Republicans are pinning their midterm election hopes on ObamaCare.

So it should be no surprise that the GOP has tried to cast virtually all news about the health care law as proof that ObamaCare will kill jobs and send insurance costs soaring. The only problem with that strategy is that the underlying arguments are often disingenuous.

In the latest case, a new report from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services estimates that ObamaCare could raise insurance premiums for nearly two-thirds of small businesses, affecting some 11 million employees. Before ObamaCare, those small businesses were paying below-average rates — often by having younger, healthier workers whom insurers could charge less to cover — but new rules designed to level the insurance marketplace will cause those rates to rise, according to the report.

Naturally, right-wing blogs and Republican lawmakers seized on the report to bash ObamaCare. The report revealed another “broken promise” from the Obama administration, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said in a statement, calling it “another punch in the gut for Americans already struggling in the president’s economy.”

The reality of the report’s conclusions, though, are a bit more nuanced.

While the report did find that insurance premiums would probably go up, it did not determine that insurance costs overall would spike. That’s because the report focused only on the impact of ObamaCare’s new rules, and not, crucially, on the impact of its new benefits.

ObamaCare contains a wealth of subsidies, tax breaks, and the like — many of them geared specifically toward small businesses — that are intended to drive down individuals’ insurance costs. When you factor in all the positives, “Obamacare may well be the best thing Washington has done for American small business in decades,” The New Yorker’s James Surowiecki wrote last year.

The CMS report acknowledged that fact, hedging that there was “a rather large degree of uncertainty associated with this estimate” and that the true impact “will be based on far more factors than the three that are focused on in this report so understanding the effects of just these provisions will always be challenging.” And the report specifically mentioned one nongovernmental analysis of the entire law which found that it would have a “minimal” impact on small business premiums.

Moreover, the report estimated that costs would drop for the remaining one-third of small businesses. Why? They’re currently paying above-average rates, so the market-leveling rules will actually benefit them.

The GOP hand-wringing comes on the heels of its failed attempt to claim a separate federal report confirmed that ObamaCare will be a job killer. That nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office report actually found that the law would lead to a reduction of labor, not jobs, as incentives made it easier for people to work less or retire early. The GOP’s claim was so bogus, in fact, that the CBO released a follow-up statement thoroughly debunking it as an egregious distortion of the truth.

Republicans understandably want to make the health care law look bad to boost their election prospects. But skewing the findings on ObamaCare only hurts their credibility and reveals the party’s willful obfuscation on the issue.


By: Jon Terbush, The Week, February 25, 2014

February 26, 2014 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, GOP, Small Businesses | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“It’s Easier Than Honesty”: Winning A Debate By Quashing Scrutiny

In her party’s official response to the State of the Union a few weeks ago, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), the House Republican Conference chair, shared an anecdote about “Bette in Spokane,” the latest in a series of “Obamacare victims.” As is usually the case, within a day or two, the story was debunked.

Once McMorris Rodgers realized her story was wrong, the congresswoman, instead of apologizing, tried to go on the offensive. “It’s sad partisan politicians are attacking Bette,” she argued.

In reality, no one had “attacked” the woman in the story. Rather, McMorris Rodgers’ anecdote was fact checked and proven to be wrong. To suggest that scrutinizing suspect claims is somehow improper is absurd, but that was nevertheless the congresswoman’s reaction.

It was apparently a sign of things to come.

Last week, the Koch-financed Americans for Prosperity launched a new attack ad targeting Rep. Gary Peters, a Democratic U.S. Senate candidate in Michigan. The spot features Julie Boonstra, a Michigan woman who’s paying less money for better insurance without having to change doctors, but who was nevertheless presented in the ad as yet another ACA victim.

Peters, not surprisingly, believes AFP should provide more information to bolster the claims in its ad. The right, no longer willing to defend the deceptive commercial, has decided to attack Peters.

U.S. Rep. Gary Peters, D-Mich., wants to be a United States senator, but he has a problem. He’s engaged in a “war on women” – make that a single woman – whom he’s trying to silence because he doesn’t like the story she has to tell. […]

Julie Boonstra deserves a medal for what she is doing. Peters should hang his head in shame.

It’s a fascinating rhetorical gambit, worth appreciating for its rare combination of audacity and mendacity. What’s more, it’s increasingly becoming the standard response to one of the right’s more glaring problems in the health care debate: all of the conservatives’ evidence keeps falling apart.

Let’s say you have a movement of sorts and your goal is to deliberately tear down the nation’s health care system, no matter the consequences. Let’s also say you have the bright idea of using anecdotal evidence to highlight “victims” in order to prove how awful the system is, only to have pesky reporters discover that all of your evidence is bogus and the victims haven’t really been victimized at all.

At this point, you have a few choices. You could, for example, find a new hobby and stop trying to prevent Americans from having access to affordable health care. Or you could cast a new line, hoping to find some elusive, legitimate horror stories that won’t be debunked a day or so later.

But these are strategies based on conventional thinking. What you really need is a very different kind of plan: one in which you keep presenting bogus anecdotes, but discourage those who know what they’re talking about from pointing out your errors. What you want is to promote misleading propaganda with impunity – more mendacity, less scrutiny.

And how do you do that? By lashing out angrily against those noting the facts. Those who recognize the AFP’s Boonstra ad as misleading are obviously attacking a woman with cancer and should be ashamed of themselves – or so the story goes.

I suppose it’s clever, in an Alice in Wonderland sort of way, but it’s no way to have a credible policy debate. Indeed, it seems some of these conservatives are effectively giving up on the very idea of a serious discourse – they not only want to present misleading anecdotes, they also want to intimidate those who might dare to note reality by accusing them of being heartless bullies.

As Greg Sargent put it the other day, many on the right have essentially declared “that the emotional content of these victims’ stories should shield such ads from scrutiny.” Fact-checking suspect claims “will be met with charges of insensitivity to the victims.”

I guess it’s easier than honesty.

Postscript: The Wall Street Journal ran a piece yesterday arguing that the Affordable Care Act cost a woman her cancer medication. The piece was quickly embraced by the right, but it was debunked by Michael Hiltzik a few hours later.

If recent history is any guide, this means Hiltzik should expect to be accused of not caring about people with cancer. Sorry, Mike.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, February 25, 2014

February 26, 2014 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Americans for Prosperity, Republicans | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Discrimination Lapel Pins”: These “Religious Freedom” Bills Are The New Stand-Your-Ground Laws

Awaiting signature on the desk of Arizona Governor Jan Brewer is a bill that might be the most insidious attack on LGBT rights to ever pass both houses of a state legislature. SB1062 would allow anyone—be it an individual, association, partnership, corporation, church, religious assembly, foundation, or other legal entity—to deny services to others simply by asserting their religious beliefs. Interpreted broadly, the bill could override many equal protection clauses in Arizona law, including civil rights: A restaurateur could deny service to an out-of-wedlock mother, a cop could refuse to intervene in a domestic dispute if his religion allows for husbands beating their wives, and a hotel chain could refuse to rent rooms to Jews, Hindus, or Muslims.

Republican legislators have made the intended target of the bill clear in their statements, repeatedly citing a New Mexican photographer who was sued when he refused to shoot a lesbian couple’s commitment ceremony. They claim the bill’s detractors are exaggerating its possible effects and are demonstrating hostility towards people of faith. But there is ample reason to believe that a law like this would open the door to discrimination. Once laws are passed, people who may otherwise be afraid of engaging in questionable behaviors may feel emboldened to do so. Moreover, these laws will likely be used by juries as legitimate reasons to dismiss cases against future defendants—after all, the law is the law.

The perfect case in point for all of this? The stand-your-ground laws which have been enacted in several states across America.

These laws were ostensibly passed to protect citizens from criminals by removing the need to retreat or escape when attacked, the rationale being that criminals would think twice knowing that their victims could legally defend themselves with proportionate force. And yet SYG defenses have been used with alarming frequency, and in scenarios unimaginable when these laws were passed, including by drug dealers and gang members. States which have enacted SYG laws have seen an 8 percent rise in “justifiable homicides,” possibly indicating that those with knowledge of the law are willing to take chances in situations where the law might apply.

Furthermore, SYG defenses are shockingly successful. Seventy percent of people who have invoked the defense have avoided prosecution. In fact, SYG laws seem to have tilted the odds in favor of the shooter: In states that have it, 13.6 percent of homicides have been ruled justifiable, while in those that don’t, only 7.2 percent have been deemed such. Unsurprisingly, the success of a SYG defense has a decidedly racial bias—white-on-black killings are far more likely to be deemed “justified” than any other kind.

What does this all mean for bills like SB1062? Granting people the legal right to invoke religious beliefs to justify their right to refuse service will embolden many people who might have otherwise been afraid to do so. Moreover, the defense could end up being a largely successful one. Certainly jurors who might already be biased will be unafraid to side with the defendants, but even those who might not agree with the law will be hard pressed not to accept its validity; should a defendant make a somewhat rational case for why their religious beliefs would be violated by providing these services, the jurors would be forced by the law to acquit. The law would not only provide cover to judges and juries who might otherwise harbor sentiments against the defendants for whatever reason, but would even compel those who aren’t biased to rule in favor of the accused parties.

Many have compared these laws to the gay propaganda bill that passed in Russia last June, some expressing dismay that such laws could be enacted here in America. In the sense that the Russian law seems to have emboldened many Russians to hunt down LGBT people (a law recently passed in Nigeria seems to doing the same thing), it’s not hard to draw the same conclusions here. These Republican legislators claim to want to protect people of faith, yet they did not invoke a single legitimate instance where a person’s freedom of religion is compromised by having to serve others. Purporting to be against discrimination, these lawmakers are trying to use the victim card against the very people they want to discriminate against. Yet there is a tacit social contract we all sign in pluralistic societies: Even when we do not agree with everyone’s beliefs or lifestyles, we still agree to treat each other fairly.

There’s something vaguely desperate about these laws, the last gasp of a cause aware that it’s dying. They are unlikely to pass constitutional muster; they hardly seem to be trying to do so. In all likelihood, Brewer will veto SB1062. As law, it would not only cause a ridiculous pileup in the courts but could tear at the social fabric of the state, exposing certain prejudices that best remain hidden—the landmines are too numerous for the governor to risk so late into her term. Still, this will hardly be the last we hear of these dubious “religious freedom” arguments. Every step in the civil rights movement was met with resistance. Now that the push for LGBT rights has gained such momentum, the backlash will only get stronger.


By: Eric Sasson, The New Republic, February 24, 2014

February 26, 2014 Posted by | Arizona, Civil Rights, Discrimination | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Shoot First, Then Cry Self-Defense”: Welcome To Florida, Where The NRA Rules And We Proudly Stand Our Ground

Don’t hold your breath waiting for the state legislature to fix Florida’s cockeyed Stand Your Ground law. The National Rifle Association owns too many of the Republican lawmakers who could end the madness.

Nothing will get done in Tallahassee as long as black kids are the ones getting shot by white guys claiming they acted in self-defense. What might eventually pressure politicians to change the law is when white guys start getting shot.

The jaw-dropping verdict in the Michael Dunn case in Jacksonville brought not a peep of outrage from GOP leaders in the House or Senate. The outcome shamefully underscored the lunacy of Stand Your Ground, and once again put Florida in the national spotlight as a gun-nut mecca.

Dunn, who is white, got into an argument over loud music with some black teenagers who were parked beside him at a gas-station convenience store. He pulled a handgun and fired into the teens’ SUV, then crouched and continued shooting as it sped away.

In all, Dunn fired 10 times. Jordan Davis, age 17, was killed.

Oddly, Dunn didn’t call the police. He checked into a motel with his girlfriend and ordered pizza. The next day he was arrested in Brevard County, where he lives.

At the trial, Dunn said he saw a shotgun being pointed at him from the SUV, and that he fired in self-defense. He also said Davis got out of the vehicle and threatened him.

No weapon was found in the SUV. Dunn’s own girlfriend testified that, contrary to his account, he never once mentioned to her that he’d seen a shotgun. Moreover, a medical examiner said Davis’ wounds indicated he’d been seated inside the vehicle, leaning back, when he was fatally struck by Dunn’s bullets.

The jury voted unanimously to convict Dunn on three counts of attempted second-degree murder for continuing to blast away at the SUV as it raced off.

However, the panel deadlocked 10-2 on the first-degree murder charge, the majority favoring conviction. Then it was 9-3.

The sticking point was Florida’s spongy self-defense law that essentially allows the use of lethal force if a person feels threatened.

True or not, practically anybody who shoots another person can say they feared for their lives, whether it’s a barroom fight, a domestic brawl or a traffic altercation. Self-defense claims in homicides have skyrocketed since 2005, when Stand Your Ground was passed.

Gang members, in particular, are big fans of the law.

No verdict was reached on the killing of Jordan Davis, so Michael Dunn is going to prison for attempting to murder the three other occupants of the car. Try to figure that one out, especially if you’re the parents of that dead teenager.

Coming less than a year after George Zimmerman was acquitted in the shooting of Trayvon Martin, another unarmed black youth, the Dunn case should have shamed legislators into action.

It hasn’t, although there’s another one looming that should bring more heat. This time the victim was white, a Navy veteran and the father of a young child.

Chad Oulson was shot to death in a Wesley Chapel movie theater by 71-year-old Curtis Reeves Jr., who’d become aggravated because Oulson was texting during previews.

The two men argued. Oulson stood up and turned around. Police said he threw popcorn at Reeves, who pulled a gun and shot Oulson in the chest. The bullet nicked the hand of Oulson’s wife.

Reeves, a retired Tampa cop, has been charged with second-degree murder. He told police was he was scared “s—less” by Oulson, whom Reeves said had struck him with a fist or some other object.

No punches are visible on surveillance video from the movie theater, and even Reeves’ wife said she didn’t see Oulson hit her husband. Reeves’ attorney said the video shows a small shiny object striking Reeves and falling to the floor.

After the popcorn was flung at him, he whipped out a .380 semiautomatic and fired point-blank. Then he sat back in his chair while Oulson died.

Oulson’s wife said Reeves had taunted her husband about using his phone even after he’d put it away. She said Chad had been texting the family babysitter to check on their daughter, who wasn’t feeling well.

This is life in Florida — guns everywhere, and laws that favor the trigger-happy. Shoot first, then cry self-defense.

Kids playing rap music too loud? Lock and load.

Some guy texting at the movies? Teach him some manners.

Don’t walk away from an argument when you can end it with a bullet. Stand your ground and hope you get the right jury.

Welcome to Planet NRA.


By: Carl Hiaasen, The National Memo, February 25, 2014

February 26, 2014 Posted by | Gun Violence, Stand Your Ground Laws | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“A GOP Sociopathetic Scam”: Why Actual ACA ‘Victims’ Are So Elusive

It’s practically a running joke at this point. The Affordable Care Act’s conservative detractors have spent the last several months in a desperate search for “Obamacare victims” to be used in various partisan attacks, and quite a few regular folks have received quite a bit of attention.

The problem, of course, is that all of these examples, once they’re subjected to even minor scrutiny, have fallen apart – the “horror stories” really aren’t so horrible. Michael Hiltzik speculated last week that there may not be any genuine anecdotes to bolster the right’s claims.

What’s going on here? Paul Krugman offers one possible explanation.

Even supporters of health reform are somewhat surprised by the right’s apparent inability to come up with real cases of hardship. Surely there must be some people somewhere actually being hurt by a reform that affects millions of Americans. Why can’t the right find these people and exploit them?

The most likely answer is that the true losers from Obamacare generally aren’t very sympathetic. For the most part, they’re either very affluent people affected by the special taxes that help finance reform, or at least moderately well-off young men in very good health who can no longer buy cheap, minimalist plans. Neither group would play well in tear-jerker ads.

That’s as good an explanation as any. What the right needs are sympathetic figures – real, relatable Americans who are struggling, and whose plight was made worse by the Affordable Care Act. The most notable recent example came last week with a Michigan woman, Julie Boonstra, featured in an Americans for Prosperity attack ad and in RNC events, who’s paying less for better insurance without having to change doctors.

In other words, as far as health care policy is concerned, it’s not much of a horror story, though it’s presumably the best the right can come up with.

But taking this one step further, let’s also acknowledge the extent to which the right is using ACA beneficiaries as a cudgel to undermine their own interests.

Brian Beutler did a nice job this morning explaining that the practice of using Americans to harm their own health security is a “sociopathic new scam.”

[W]e’re really just talking about Julie Boonstra here.

If she and AFP get their way, she’ll be just as much a victim of Obamacare repeal as all the people who face health circumstances similar to hers. And the saddest part of that tragic irony is that Boonstra doesn’t even seem to understand what her circumstances are, or why it doesn’t make sense to devote her energies to repealing the law. Boonstra told the Dexter Leader, “People are asking me for the numbers and I don’t know those answers — that’s the heartbreak of all of this. It’s the uncertainty of not having those numbers that I have an issue with, because I always knew what I was paying and now I don’t, and I haven’t gone through the tests or seen my specialist yet.”

But that’s just not so. Anyone who’s studied the law knows it’s not so. Anyone who’s paid unexpected health bills in installments knows it’s not so. And well-heeled Affordable Care Act foes like Americans for Prosperity certainly know it’s not so. And in that sense AFP, and everyone else on the right “supporting” Julie Boonstra, are using her as a weapon in a war against herself.

To a very real degree, it’s tragic to watch the developments unfold in real time. For much of 2013, especially in the months leading up to the open-enrollment period, assorted far-right groups launched an organized campaign to encourage the uninsured to stay that way – on purpose – in order to help conservative organizations advance their ideological agenda. It was a truly offensive display in which wealthy activists on the right urged struggling Americans to deliberately put their wellbeing in jeopardy.

Months later, we’re at a similarly painful moment in the debate, in which many of the same groups and activists are now exploiting people to create misleading attack ads, all in the hopes of keeping people from having access to affordable health care.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, February 24, 2014

February 26, 2014 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Americans for Prosperity, GOP | , , , , , | Leave a comment

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