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“Repurposing Of A Failed Website”: The Republicans’ Subtle Retreat From ‘Obamacare’

House Republicans held a press conference on Capitol Hill this week, at which the New York Times’ Jonathan Weisman tweeted a fascinating image – of the podium.

If you look closely, you’ll notice the sign on the podium not only refers people to a website run by the House Republican Conference, but also to a specific part of the site – – followed by a tagline that reads in all caps, “Our veterans deserve better.”

At first blush, that wouldn’t seem especially noteworthy, except up until very recently the website served a very different purpose: it was set up to collect scary stories from people who didn’t like the Affordable Care Act. Republicans launched a months-long campaign to collect anecdotal evidence from “Obamacare victims” and this website was intended to be the go-to destination for those adversely affected by the health care reform law.

But the political winds have changed direction. The crusade to find “Obamacare victims” has run its course – the evidence never materialized – and House Republicans are ready to give up on the campaign and start collecting other horror stories the party can try to exploit for partisan gain.

The repurposing of a failed website is, however, just a piece of a larger puzzle. As Juliet Eilperin and Robert Costa reported this morning, Republicans suddenly find themselves in “retreat” on health care.

Republican candidates have begun to retreat in recent weeks from their all-out assault on the Affordable Care Act in favor of a more piecemeal approach, suggesting they would preserve some aspects of the law while jettisoning others.

The changing tactics signal that the health-care law – while still unpopular with voters overall – may no longer be the lone rallying cry for Republicans seeking to defeat Democrats in this year’s midterm elections…. On the campaign trail, some Republicans and their outside allies have started talking about the health-care law in more nuanced terms than they have in the past.

Imagine that. Running on a platform of taking health care benefits from millions of people isn’t the winning strategy far-right lawmakers thought it’d be.

“The sentiment toward the Affordable Care Act is still strongly negative, but people are saying, ‘Don’t throw the baby out” with the bathwater, Glen Bolger, a partner with the GOP polling firm Public Opinion Strategies, told the Washington Post.

Remember when Republicans assumed they could simply ride a “Repeal Obamacare!” wave to electoral fortunes? That plan has been thrown out the window.

And what about the House GOP’s vaunted alternative, years in the making?

[S]enior House Republicans have decided to postpone a floor vote on their own health-reform proposal – making it less likely that a GOP alternative will be on offer before the November elections, according to lawmakers familiar with the deliberations. The delay will give them more time to work on the bill and weigh the consequences of putting a detailed policy before the voters in the fall, lawmakers said.

I suspect this isn’t more widely considered a humiliating fiasco for Republicans because most political observers simply assumed they’d fail to present their own plan, but this new “postponement” only makes the GOP’s debacle look worse.

Remember, it was exactly four months ago today that House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA.) publicly vowed, “This year, we will rally around an alternative to Obamacare and pass it on the floor of the House.”

That was Jan. 30. On May 30, Cantor’s new message is apparently, “Check back after the elections.”

Americans have only been waiting five years for the Republican alternative to the Affordable Care Act. What’s another seven months?

We know, of course, why GOP officials are struggling. As we talked about in February, Republicans could present an alternative policy that they love, but it’ll quickly be torn to shreds, make the party look foolish, and make clear that the GOP is not to be trusted with health care policy. Indeed, it would very likely scare the American mainstream to be reminded what Republicans would do if the power over the system were in their hands.

On other hand, Republicans could present a half-way credible policy, but it would have to require some regulations and public investments, which necessarily means the party’s base would find it abhorrent.

As a Republican Hill staffer recently told Sahil Kapur, every attempt to come up with a serious proposal leads to a plan that “looks a hell of a lot like the Affordable Care Act.” And so we get … nothing.

Nothing, that is, except the Democratic law, which is working quite well, Republican assurances to the contrary and repeated attempts at sabotage notwithstanding.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, May 30, 2014

May 31, 2014 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, House Republicans, Obamacare | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Content-Free Carping”: From VA To Obamacare To Medicare

At the moment most Republicans are looking at the VA scandal that broke out in Phoenix as a sheer political bonanza without any long-term significance: a federal agency responsible for an especially valued constituency (veterans) has screwed up fatally on Barack Obama’s “watch.” That’s enough to powerfully reinforce a number of important conservative memes about Obama (and indirectly, Democrats): he and his people are incompetent, they don’t have the normal patriotic impulse to take care of veterans, and when held accountable they stonewall and lie.

But a few voices are beginning to figure out how to link the VA mess not only to the overriding issues of Obamacare, but to the “socialized medicine” treatment of Obamacare that would be applied to Medicare, too, if the political climate was right.

Here’s the Cleveland Plan Dealer‘s Kevin O’Brien spelling it all out:

Putting a government bureaucracy in charge of one’s health is a gamble likely to end badly.

And yet, if Obamacare stands, that is precisely the gamble each and every American eventually will take.

There is no better predictor of the course of a single-payer medical system in the United States than the VA system, because it is a single-payer system….

Americans who watch this story play out and fail to make the clear and obvious connection to Obamacare will be guilty of willful ignorance. The systemic flaw is identical. It’s just magnified on a massive scale. Rather than making a false promise to treat all of the ills of a relatively few sick and injured military veterans, Obamacare has put the federal government on the path to taking responsibility for the medical needs — and the attendant costs — of the entire U.S. population.

Like most conservative attacks on “bureaucracy,” O’Brien’s ignores the powerful bureaucracies that operate in the private sector with even less accountability. As TNR’s Jonathan Cohn puts it:

It’s worth remembering that some of the problems veterans are having right now have very little to do with the VA and a whole lot to do with American health care. As Phil Longman, author of Best Care Anywhere, noted in his own congressional testimony last week, long waits for services are actually pretty common in the U.S.—even for people with serious medical conditions—because the demand for services exceeds the supply of physicians. (“It took me two-and-a-half years to find a primary care physician in Northwest Washington who was still taking patients,” he noted.) The difference is that the VA actually set guidelines for waiting times and monitors compliance, however poorly. That doesn’t happen in the private sector. The victims of those waits suffer, too. They just don’t get the same attention.

But nonetheless, the longer the VA scandal stays in the public eye, the more we will hear arguments the VA should be broken up and its services privatized with federal regulations and subsidies replacing federal bureaucracies–creating a system much like the one contemplated by Obamacare, as it happens. But at the same time, we’ll be told Obamacare itself is a failure because it involves the government in guarteeing heath care. And where conservatives speak to each other quietly, it will be understood that Medicare is subject to the same complaints and deserves the same fate.

No wonder most GOP pols confine themselves to content-free carping about Obama being responsible for the VA scandal.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal. May 22, 2014

May 31, 2014 Posted by | Health Care, Republicans, Veterans Administration | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Madness Has No Rights”: Will Americans Ever Be Ready To Challenge The Gun Cult?

Another week, another disturbed young man, another mass killing spree. It’s come to the point where episodes like Elliot Rodger’s murder of four men and two women near the Cal-Santa Barbara campus have become so frequent in America that the crime scene tapes have hardly been removed before people turn them into political symbols.

At which point any possibility of taking anything useful away from the tragedy ends. I certainly have no answer for the eloquent cry of Richard Martinez, whose 20 year-old son Christopher, a stranger to the killer, was shot dead in the street.

“Why did Chris die? Chris died because of craven, irresponsible politicians and the NRA,” he cried. “They talk about gun rights. What about Chris’s right to live? When will this insanity stop? When will enough people say, ‘Stop this madness; we don’t have to live like this?’ Too many have died. We should say to ourselves: not one more.”

Such is the downright Satanic power of the gun cult in this country, however, that Martinez may as well never have spoken. Every poll available shows that Democrats, Republicans and gun owners alike favor, at minimum, stronger background checks aimed at keeping semi-automatic killing machines away from disturbed individuals like Rodger.

Yet nothing happens, basically because Second Amendment cultists exercise a stranglehold on the political process. If the Newtown, CT massacre of elementary school children didn’t cause a rethink, no misogynist shooting down sorority girls is going to change a thing.

It’s really quite bizarre, but until some certifiably conservative politician takes on the NRA and wins, spree killings will remain a depressing feature of American life. We could make it much harder for deranged people to acquire arsenals without greatly inconveniencing legitimate gun owners, but we haven’t got the guts to give it a serious try.

Then there’s the customary inadequacy of our laws relating to involuntary commitment of persons deemed an active threat to themselves or others — very roughly the legal standard in most jurisdictions. I got into an online debate recently with Lindsay Beyerstein, a young journalist whose work I admire. She argued that Rodger should be classified as a “misogynist terrorist,” who targeted a sorority house as part of his “WAR ON WOMEN” (his words).

“Here’s why he did it,” Beyerstein wrote. “He was distraught because he had never had a girlfriend. He was enraged because he believed he was entitled to sex and adulation from women. He believed that women would never be attracted to him because women are sub-human animals who are instinctively attracted to ‘brutish,’ ‘stupid’ men, instead of magnificent gentlemen like himself. Women, in his view, should not be allowed to make their own decisions about whom to have sex with, because, as subhuman animals, they are incapable of choosing the good men.”

All true. However, I thought calling it terrorism was beside the point. The specific content of a psychotic person’s delusions has little reference to anything outside his own mind. It’s a funhouse mirror version of reality. I’m guessing Rodger was a big porn fan with no understanding of real women.

Beyerstein convinced me I’d spoken too loosely. Nothing released about Rodger so far shows clear evidence of mental illness — defined as a treatable brain disease like schizophrenia.

So we settled on a New Jerseyism: agreeing that Rodger was one sick pup. Not exactly how Tony Soprano would phrase it, but safe for newspapers. Sick enough that his own mother called police after seeing his bizarre YouTube videos ranting about wicked “blonde sluts” who ruined his life — pure paranoid ideation, in my view, but I am not a psychiatrist.

Where I live (Arkansas), the standard for involuntary committal to a lockdown mental health facility is basically the aforementioned “danger to oneself or others” — pretty much regardless of diagnosis, although psychiatric testimony helps. Alas most people don’t know how the system works. Petitioners have to be both sophisticated and determined to get anything done. Most families just hunker down and pray.

That tends to be true everywhere. In the case of Elliot Rodger, there should have been better two-way communication. California authorities say sheriff’s deputies who visited his apartment found a polite, shy kid who seemed no threat. (His posthumous manifesto expresses fear the cops would find his guns and mad videos.)

But shouldn’t there have been two-way communication? Maybe instead of just dispatching deputies, they should have talked with his mother first. Maybe she’s an alarmist; maybe not. I’m told some California jurisdictions do this as a matter of course.

Liberals and conservatives alike worry overmuch about the rights of mentally disturbed people. This isn’t the USSR. Nobody’s hospitalizing eccentrics or dissenters. Madness, however, has no rights. Acting otherwise is like letting children play in traffic. Alas, it appears Americans will face the problem soon after enacting sensible gun laws.

In short, probably never.


By: Gene Lyons, The National Memo, May 28, 2014

May 31, 2014 Posted by | Mass Shootings, National Rifle Association, Politics | , , , , , , | 5 Comments

“War Rarely Conforms To Slogans”: Obama Outlines A Doctrine Where Restraint Makes Us Stronger

By laying out a long-term foreign policy vision in a speech at West Point on Wednesday, President Obama challenged his critics, at home and abroad, not to speak in vague terms about U.S. “decline” or “weakness” but to answer the question: Exactly what would you do differently?

This is as close as we have gotten to an Obama Doctrine, and here it is : The United States “will use military force, unilaterally if necessary, when our core interests demand it — when our people are threatened; when our livelihoods are at stake; when the security of our allies is in danger.”

But in other cases, “when issues of global concern do not pose a direct threat to the United States . . . we should not go it alone.” Instead, Obama said, “we must mobilize allies and partners to take collective action” and “broaden our tools to include diplomacy and development; sanctions and isolation; appeals to international law and — if just, necessary and effective — multilateral military action.”

In 2008, Obama won his party’s nomination and the election as a pragmatic antiwar candidate specifically protesting our intervention in Iraq. He declared in 2002 that he was opposed not to all wars but to “a dumb war.” It was clear Wednesday that it remains a source of pride to him that he has brought what he called “a long season of war” to an end.

And he was unabashed in insisting that “some of our most costly mistakes came not from our restraint but from our willingness to rush into military adventures — without thinking through the consequences.”

Responding, perhaps in frustration, to a wave of reproach that has descended upon him because of his reluctance to use U.S. military power, he offered this riposte: “Tough talk often draws headlines, but war rarely conforms to slogans.”

Here was Obama throwing down the gauntlet to his foes. His address should force a reckoning with a key issue: Americans, by all the evidence of the polls, are skeptical of military action abroad. They reached this point not because they have undergone some large philosophical or ideological conversion. Rather, they arrived at a practical judgment after the experience of two long wars that failed — particularly in the instance of Iraq — to produce the results their supporters promised. It was the same after Vietnam: Most Americans now have a much higher bar for when they would be willing to commit lives and treasure overseas.

The war-weariness the country feels is thus not Obama’s creation. His election was itself a response to that weariness. His foreign policy reflects a determination to move the country not to isolation but to the more measured approach to military intervention practiced during the presidencies of both George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton.

Those in the United States and elsewhere who have faulted Obama won’t be persuaded by the pains he took to locate himself in a middle ground between isolationism and hyper-interventionism. They may like hearing him say that the United States is “the one indispensable nation” that “must always lead on the world stage,” but many of them won’t be convinced that he means it.

The president is right to argue that the United States “has rarely been stronger relative to the rest of the world” and to take on those who “suggest that America is in decline.” Yet the ghost of declinism haunts the international stage and will not be exorcised easily.

This speech should be an opening bid. Obama’s efforts should be aimed less at moving those domestic opponents who will never be assuaged than at making plain to the rest of the world that the United States really does have a vital interest in promoting the “international norms” the president extolled, and in fostering conditions conducive to a “world of greater freedom and tolerance” that “helps keep us safe.” It also means paying close attention to how policy is implemented, avoiding mixed signals of the sort that characterized last fall’s Syrian crisis.

As for the president’s critics, they have an obligation to answer his challenge. Those who believe that the United States should underwrite a world order friendly to our values and interests need to accept that the promiscuous deployment of U.S. troops abroad is the surest way to undermine support for this mission at home. In calling for restraint and realism — and by insisting on raising the threshold for wars of choice — Obama may yet prove himself to be the best friend American internationalists have.


By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, May 28, 2014


May 31, 2014 Posted by | Foreign Policy, National Security | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“In What Kind Of Society Do We Live?: Pediatricians Take On The NRA Over Gun Safety

For the past three decades, the American Academy of Pediatrics—some 62,000 members strong—has been an outspoken voice on the issue of gun control, a position that has landed it on the NRA’s (admittedly very long) list of enemies. In 1992, the AAP issued its first policy statement supporting a handgun and assault weapons ban, making it the first public health organization to do so, and it has long recommended that doctors talk about gun safety with parents. Since the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012, the AAP has stepped up attempts to educate parents about gun safety around children.

But as the fight over gun rights grows ever more virulent at the national level, the AAP and individual doctors have quietly begun to take a softer stance on the issue, turning their focus to peddling realistic policies rather than clinging to a hard-and-fast no-guns line.

On a recent Sunday in April, 70 doctors and scientists associated with the AAP filed into a convention center in Vancouver to discuss firearm injury prevention. Presenters clicked through PowerPoint slides highlighting topics such as risk factors for gun injuries, popular gun-safety myths, and stats on suicide and homicide due to guns in the home. “The issue of guns really follows directly from all the concerns we have about injuries in general. This is one kind of injury that endangers the health and life of kids,” said Dr. Robert Sege, a Boston Medical Center pediatrician, who gave a presentation on how to talk about guns with parents.

The AAP’s outgoing president, Thomas McInerny—who made the Sandy Hook massacre a call to action for gun safety during his one-year post—sat in the audience. While the AAP has been advocating for an end to gun violence for some 30 years now, the shooting in Newtown shocked the nation and galvanized the AAP’s doctors to redouble their efforts in support of new gun-control measures. Newtown pediatrician Laura Nowacki lost eight of her patients in the massacre at Sandy Hook. “I’ve never spoken to the media until all of this happened. But I really believe I have to stand up. I have to use my voice,” she told the AAP News in June.

Several more Newtown victims were patients of Dr. Richard Auerbach; he’d held two of them in his arms in the delivery room where they were born. Auerbach, along with other pediatricians, wrote to Congress last year in support of an ultimately doomed measure to ban semiautomatic assault weapons brought by Senator Diane Feinstein, a California Democrat.

“These guns, these bullets blew open these children’s heads, their bodies, their limbs,” Auerbach wrote. “In what kind of society do we live, whereby these weapons are needed to defend and protect?”

For its part, the National Rifle Association (NRA) says pediatricians have no business talking about gun laws. “The AAP has a long history of advocating for gun control measures that a majority of the American people have rejected time and time again,” says NRA spokesperson Catherine Mortensen, citing in particular the Eddie Eagle GunSafe Program, which it says has been used to teach gun safety to over 27 million children since 1988.

“The fact is, no one does more to promote gun safety, education, and training than the National Rifle Association,” Mortensen says. “And if these pediatricians want to help us promote that message, we would welcome their membership in the NRA. Dues are 25 dollars a year.”

An estimated 20,600 people under the age of 25 are injured by a gun every year and 6,570 die, according to the AAP. Guns kill twice as many in this age group as cancer, five times as many as heart disease and 20 times as many as infections. By 2015, guns are expected to surpass motor vehicle crashes as a cause of death for young people, according to the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank.

In the year after Newtown, six states—California, Colorado, Connecticut, Maryland, New Jersey and New York—passed comprehensive gun safety laws. Gun rights groups immediately mounted challenges and have countered by lobbying for and passing legal expansions of gun rights. Most recently in Georgia, the governor signed what detractors call the “Guns Everywhere” Act allowing licensed gun owners to carry their weapons in public places, including schools, churches and bars. The NRA called its passage a “historic victory for the Second Amendment.”

In the last year and a half, states have been duking it out in a sort of tit-for-tat legislative pattern—the number of state laws strengthening firearm regulations (64) is close to the number weakening them, according to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, an advocacy group that tracks state gun laws. The largest gun-rights expansion efforts were concentrated in the South, while the coasts passed stronger gun control laws.

Meanwhile, even as fewer Americans choose to own guns—the share of households with a gun has dropped to about a third down from half in the 1980s, according to the Pew Research Center—public support for the regulation of firearms also seems to be down. In the 1990s, support for stricter gun laws hovered between 60 and 78 percent.  More recent polling shows fewer than half of Americans think gun laws should be more strict, down from 58 percent from a survey given just after the Newtown shooting.

Because of this public reluctance, the AAP has started to focus on how to realistically reach parents in red states as well as blue—and to soften some of its language on gun control. The most recent policy statement affirms that “the most effective measure to prevent suicide, homicide, and unintentional firearm-related injuries to children and adolescents is the absence of guns from homes and communities,” but no longer calls for a total ban on handguns, instead advocating for “the strongest possible regulations” for their use.

Likewise, pediatricians and gun control advocates have tempered their message—and they say the less controversial efforts are working.

For pediatrician Claudia Fruin, telling parents not to keep a gun in their home is unrealistic, especially in Utah where she practices and is part of the AAP leadership. The conservative state was named the fourth-best for gun owners by Guns and Ammo magazine last year partly due to laws allowing firearms on school grounds.

“There needs to be a compromise. Otherwise we’re isolating people and they’re just pissed off at us,” Fruin says. In January she founded Bulletproof Kids, a public service campaign that advocates for the secure storage of firearms. The group—whose motto, “Owning a gun is a right. Protecting children is a responsibility” was created to be distinctively Second Amendment-friendly—partners the Utah chapter of AAP with law enforcement and businesses including gun shops like Doug’s Shoot’n Sports and “Get Some” Guns and Ammo as well as Liberty Safe, a safe manufacturer, on the safe storage of guns in the home, an issue Fruin says is “hopefully the one thing we can all agree on.”

Fruin says although she was unable to secure a partnership with the Shooting Sports Council (the Utah equivalent of the NRA accuses her of having a political agenda), most parents have been receptive, wanting to know how they can get their hands on a biometric safe. And other states have reached out to Fruin for advice on replicating the program.

In West Virginia, where pediatric resident Lisa Costello notes that one out of every two homes has a gun, similar local efforts are underway to promote firearm safety from the pediatrician’s office.

Costello is one of the chairs for the P.A.V.E. campaign (Pediatricians Against Violence Everywhere), a one-year advocacy effort focusing on firearm injury prevention by the special arm of AAP for pediatricians-in-training.

The operation encourages the 13,000-member group to mobilize on gun safety at the clinic, the community, and the state and federal level, as well as on social media.

“I see this in my clinic, we see this in our emergency rooms, in our inpatient wards, in our ICUS. We see these children and families impacted by firearms. That’s why we’ve been motivated to focus on this issue,” says Costello, who for her part counsels parents on firearms and injury prevention.

“My parents are very receptive to the issue of firearm injury. They appreciate that as a pediatrician I’m concerned for my patients’ health and safety,” Costello says.

Most recently, the NRA and the AAP have been embroiled in a very public legal feud over the rights of doctors to talk with parents about gun safety. In 2011, Florida Governor Rick Scott signed a NRA-sponsored law that forbade pediatricians from asking about guns in the home. A federal judge later struck down the law as unconstitutional and a decision on the state’s appeal is pending. The NRA has sponsored similar legislation in at least five other states—Alabama, North Carolina, West Virginia, Minnesota, and Oklahoma.

AAP guidelines urge pediatricians to counsel parents during checkups about the dangers of allowing kids to have access to guns. About half of all AAP pediatricians say they recommend the removal of handguns from the home, according to a national survey of AAP members.

There’s also the issue of funding for federal research—of which there has been almost none. Even after President Obama lifted the long freeze on gun research—lobbied for and won by the NRA in 1996—Congress still has yet to appropriate the $10 million in funds promised to the CDC for gun research, an amount that even if released would be too little for quality research, according to pediatricians I spoke with. But the amount isn’t likely to matter. As a researcher who spend over $1 million funding his own work put it, “Hell will freeze over before this Congress gives them [the CDC] money.” Moreover, the long moratorium has resulted in a paucity of qualified experts to research firearm injuries.

Despite the challenges, or motivated by them, pediatricians say they’ll continue to push for more research and a change in policy that will make children safer. As for the opposition, doctors insist the tide is turning.

“The NRA’s influence has peaked. Surveys of NRA members show that they’re a little tired of their leadership,” pediatrician and AAP meeting presenter Dr. Sege says. “And in general, pediatricians are never really that far ahead of American families. There are 60,000 of us and we see almost every American child almost every year. If the pediatricians are strong on this issue, it’s hard for me to believe that there will be such a discrepancy over what we believe and what the families we care for believe.”


By: Brandy Zadrozny, The Daily Beast, May 15, 2014

May 31, 2014 Posted by | Gun Control, Guns, National Rifle Association | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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