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“Interests, Ideology And Climate”: For Republicans, Overcoming Pride And Willful Ignorance Is Hard

There are three things we know about man-made global warming. First, the consequences will be terrible if we don’t take quick action to limit carbon emissions. Second, in pure economic terms the required action shouldn’t be hard to take: emission controls, done right, would probably slow economic growth, but not by much. Third, the politics of action are nonetheless very difficult.

But why is it so hard to act? Is it the power of vested interests?

I’ve been looking into that issue and have come to the somewhat surprising conclusion that it’s not mainly about the vested interests. They do, of course, exist and play an important role; funding from fossil-fuel interests has played a crucial role in sustaining the illusion that climate science is less settled than it is. But the monetary stakes aren’t nearly as big as you might think. What makes rational action on climate so hard is something else — a toxic mix of ideology and anti-intellectualism.

Before I get to that, however, an aside on the economics.

I’ve noted in earlier columns that every even halfway serious study of the economic impact of carbon reductions — including the recent study paid for by the anti-environmental U.S. Chamber of Commerce — finds at most modest costs. Practical experience points in the same direction. Back in the 1980s conservatives claimed that any attempt to limit acid rain would have devastating economic effects; in reality, the cap-and-trade system for sulfur dioxide was highly successful at minimal cost. The Northeastern states have had a cap-and-trade arrangement for carbon since 2009, and so far have seen emissions drop sharply while their economies grew faster than the rest of the country. Environmentalism is not the enemy of economic growth.

But wouldn’t protecting the environment nonetheless impose costs on some sectors and regions? Yes, it would — but not as much as you think.

Consider, in particular, the much-hyped “war on coal.” It’s true that getting serious about global warming means, above all, cutting back on (and eventually eliminating) coal-fired power, which would hurt regions of the country that depend on coal-mining jobs. What’s rarely pointed out is how few such jobs still exist.

Once upon a time King Coal was indeed a major employer: At the end of the 1970s there were more than 250,000 coal miners in America. Since then, however, coal employment has fallen by two-thirds, not because output is down — it’s up, substantially — but because most coal now comes from strip mines that require very few workers. At this point, coal mining accounts for only one-sixteenth of 1 percent of overall U.S. employment; shutting down the whole industry would eliminate fewer jobs than America lost in an average week during the Great Recession of 2007-9.

Or put it this way: The real war on coal, or at least on coal workers, took place a generation ago, waged not by liberal environmentalists but by the coal industry itself. And coal workers lost.

The owners of coal mines and coal-fired power plants do have a financial interest in blocking environmental policy, but even there the special interests don’t look all that big. So why is the opposition to climate policy so intense?

Well, think about global warming from the point of view of someone who grew up taking Ayn Rand seriously, believing that the untrammeled pursuit of self-interest is always good and that government is always the problem, never the solution. Along come some scientists declaring that unrestricted pursuit of self-interest will destroy the world, and that government intervention is the only answer. It doesn’t matter how market-friendly you make the proposed intervention; this is a direct challenge to the libertarian worldview.

And the natural reaction is denial — angry denial. Read or watch any extended debate over climate policy and you’ll be struck by the venom, the sheer rage, of the denialists.

The fact that climate concerns rest on scientific consensus makes things even worse, because it plays into the anti-intellectualism that has always been a powerful force in American life, mainly on the right. It’s not really surprising that so many right-wing politicians and pundits quickly turned to conspiracy theories, to accusations that thousands of researchers around the world were colluding in a gigantic hoax whose real purpose was to justify a big-government power grab. After all, right-wingers never liked or trusted scientists in the first place.

So the real obstacle, as we try to confront global warming, is economic ideology reinforced by hostility to science. In some ways this makes the task easier: we do not, in fact, have to force people to accept large monetary losses. But we do have to overcome pride and willful ignorance, which is hard indeed.

 

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, June 8, 2014

June 9, 2014 Posted by | Climate Change, Climate Science, Global Warming | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“When A Politician Tells The Truth”: GOP Candidates Are Seeing Obamacare In A Different Light

In an interview with a reporter last month, Senator Thad Cochran (R-MS) “accidentally” made complimentary remarks about the Affordable Care Act, routinely known as Obamacare. (His campaign aides claim he misunderstood the question.) Some analysts say those remarks were among the missteps that have left the senator in danger of defeat as he faces a primary runoff against a Tea Party upstart, Chris McDaniel.

It’s possible that Cochran was confused when he told The Washington Post that the ACA “is an example of an important effort by the federal government to help make health care available, accessible and affordable.” It’s also possible that he committed the standard political gaffe as commentator Michael Kinsley defined it years ago: “… when a politician tells the truth — some obvious truth he isn’t supposed to say.”

Either way, Cochran’s comments are a reminder of a pronounced shift among Republican politicians discussing Obamacare on the campaign trail. Few of them are delivering feisty denunciations and declarations of repeal, as they did just a few months ago. Even in deeply conservative states, Republicans are muting their rhetoric, acknowledging positive tenets of the ACA and engaging in equivocation — or, in some cases, fabrication — to cover their tracks.

That’s because the political terrain has shifted beneath their feet. In practice, as its proponents have long predicted, the ACA has helped millions of people to obtain health care they would not have been able to afford otherwise. Surely it’s no surprise that few voters want to give up benefits they have just begun to enjoy.

That has meant some less-than-artful dodging by such indefatigable partisan warriors as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. In keeping with the GOP script, McConnell has been adamant about repealing the ACA.

But in his home state of Kentucky, Kynect, the state-run exchange that connects residents to Obamacare, is wildly popular, having signed up more than 400,000 people for health insurance. So McConnell takes advantage of voters’ confusion — many don’t understand that Kynect is Obamacare — to suggest he supports the exchange but not that foul law that made it possible. Indeed, he has gone so far as to declare that they are unconnected — a laughable lie, even in the warped reality of a political campaign.

Several other prominent Republicans have found themselves in a similar bind, as many facets of the law prove politically popular. Voters still don’t like “Obamacare,” but they like many of its provisions, including those that outlaw bans on patients who have pre-existing conditions.

Voters also support the provision that prevents lifetime caps on insurance payments — something that benefits those with serious, chronic illnesses — and the one that allows parents to keep their children insured until they are 26 years old. Indeed, the only provision that remains broadly unpopular is the mandate that requires every adult to buy health insurance (a necessary feature of the law, and one that many Republicans, including Mitt Romney, once believed in).

Perhaps the most dramatic shift among GOP pols has concerned Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion. The Supreme Court’s ruling affirming the ACA made the Medicaid expansion optional for states, and most Republican governors resisted it. That was foolish and shortsighted, since the federal government pays the overwhelming portion of the additional cost. Those governors — and their GOP colleagues in Congress — were willing to trade better health for some of their poorest residents for the chance to poke Obama in the eye.

But now some of them are seeing the error of that calculation. For one thing, it’s hard to own up to a willingness to shaft the working poor. For another, some rural hospitals can’t afford to stay open unless they receive additional Medicaid funds. Those hard facts have forced GOP Senate candidates such as Michigan’s Terri Lynn Land to back away from their diehard opposition to Obamacare.

And, as more Americans benefit, the resistance will grow weaker still. That was the historical cycle with Medicare — which the GOP establishment fought long and hard — and Obamacare will likely follow that path to broad acceptance.

 

By: Cynthia Tucker, Visiting Professor at The University of Georgia; The National Memo, June 7, 2014

June 9, 2014 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, GOP | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Why Is This Issue Going Nowhere?”: How Eric Cantor’s Killing Immigration Reform

“Gentlemen, start your engines.” That message, played repeatedly in a commercial beamed on the Jumbotron at this year’s Indianapolis 500, had nothing to do with race cars. A coalition of faith, business, and law enforcement leaders used the iconic event to launch their call for House Republicans to get moving on immigration reform.

“It’s time for effective, common-sense, and accountable solutions that respect and enhance the rule of law,” says Mark Curran, a Lake County, Illinois sheriff in the commercial.

Unfortunately, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor can’t shift gears. The Virginia Republican won’t allow the most incremental of immigration bills, known as the ENLIST Act, to go forward.

This bill would let immigrants who were brought to the United States illegally as children to enlist in the military. If they serve and are honorably discharged, they would then be eligible for a green card, which would put them on a path to citizenship.

These are young people who didn’t choose to come here. Their parents brought them. An opportunity to serve in the military would give them a chance to demonstrate their loyalty to the United States. In the long run, the ENLIST Act would allow these folks to become full, productive members of society.

Naturally, the ENLIST Act has a broad support base. Republican Jeff Denham of California introduced the measure, which 26 Democrats and 24 Republicans co-sponsored.

Conservative commentator Linda Chavez called the ENLIST Act “the right — and principled — thing to do,” in her syndicated column.

When asked about the ENLIST Act, Cantor suggested that he supported it. “If you’ve got a kid that was brought here by their parents — unbeknownst to the child — and that they’ve grown up in this country and not known any other, and they want to serve in our military, they ought to be allowed to do that and then have the ability to become a citizen after that kind of service,” he told Politico.

But actions speak louder than words. Cantor blocked the ENLIST Act from being included in a military authorization bill, and it doesn’t look likely that it will come up for a vote anytime soon.

Meanwhile, the public continues to support an overhaul of our broken immigration system. Even Fox News pollsters find that most Americans support reform, including majorities of Republican voters. In fact, a May poll conducted by conservative advocacy groups found that Tea Party Republican voters favor immigration reform. The Tea Party Express and Americans for Prosperity report that over 70 percent of Tea Party-aligned voters want Congress to pass immigration legislation this year.

It seems like everyone is on board. Why is this issue going nowhere?

For one thing, Cantor isn’t willing to lead on immigration. If he won’t permit a vote on something as narrowly targeted as the ENLIST Act, it’s doubtful that House Republicans will tackle a more comprehensive approach.

That’s a loss for our military, which will lose out on a group of qualified, dedicated recruits. And it’s a loss for the Republican Party, which is destined to win scant numbers of Latino voters in 2016. More importantly, our country as a whole will suffer if our broken immigration system continues to hobble along as is.

Sure, illegal immigration is contentious. Representative Steve King, an Iowa Republican, has compared offering undocumented veterans citizenship to “handing out candy at a parade.” But one study showed that non-citizen enlistees were “far more likely to complete their enlistment obligations successfully than their U.S.-born counterparts.”

King himself avoided serving in Vietnam in the 1960s through multiple deferments. How ironic that he and his colleagues are now squashing the military service dreams of others.

Of course, not all undocumented immigrants want or are able to serve in the armed forces. They still deserve a chance to get right with the law, pay fines and back taxes, and become citizens.

But young immigrants who are willing to put their lives on the line for our country should be allowed to do so. It’s time to pass the ENLIST Act, then move ahead with immigration reform.

 

By: Paul A. Reyes, The National Memo, June 6, 2014

 

June 9, 2014 Posted by | Eric Cantor, Immigration Reform | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The GOP Has A Lot Of Rotten People In It”: The Right’s Turn Away From Representative Government

Of all the unhealthy developments in this country, I think the following is the most depressing:

As partisan divisions solidify, the [Democratic] party’s electoral chances increasingly depend on turning out its core supporters—racial minorities, young voters and unmarried women, among others. That’s much of the reason for the big drop in the party’s recent performances in midterm cycles compared to presidential years.

It’s a reality the GOP understands just as well—hence the party’s efforts to make voting harder. As DNC spokesman Mo Elleithee put it while speaking to reporters in March, Republicans “know that when the electorate is large, they lose, when the electorate is smaller, they win.”

In announcing the Arbor Project, the Democrats are demonstrating their focus on increasing voter participation. This is certainly in their self-interest, but it’s also wholly consistent with traditional American values about both the right of everyone to vote and the importance of citizen involvement in politics. There is no corresponding effort to prevent likely Republican voters from registering to vote or to kick registered Republicans off the voter rolls.

The Republicans have concluded, as Mo Elleithee said, that the path to electoral victory isn’t to craft the better campaign or come up with the most broadly appealing policies, but to control the shape of the electorate by making it smaller. This puts their entire political party at odds with the cherished ideals of representative government. It also has an inevitable racial component, since the best visual predictor of how someone will vote is the color of their skin.

Part of this is explained by the fact that the GOP has a lot of rotten people in it, but I understand that if you are socially or fiscally conservative you want to have your views prevail, and if your views aren’t prevailing you’ll begin to devalue other objectives like determining the true will of the people. If everything I cared about was at risk because my party couldn’t win elections, I might start to waver on this whole democracy thing, too.

I understand that it’s easy to be for the broadest possible electorate when that clearly advances your political goals, and that it becomes hard when it doesn’t. But what’s so depressing about this is that this country has sorted itself into a political alignment where one party sees disenfranchisement and disengagement as their best hope.

I also see this as a consequence of the Conservative Movement’s fervent desire not to have to change their core beliefs about anything. They don’t want to moderate their positions on gay marriage or abortion or immigration, and as those positions become giant liabilities they feel that their only option is to turn against individual voters and try to keep them from casting their votes.

This is related to all the calls for secession, for example, in the rural areas of Colorado and California. It’s really taking on an ugly tone, with expressions of racism and xenophobia combined with a growing disdain for our democratic system of government. When you combine it with the libertarian strain in the GOP, it really begins to resemble fascism, because it’s nationalistic, race-based, often pro-corporate (although it has populist anti-corporate elements, too), anti-immigrant, and basically revolutionary in its opposition to the central government. Add in the attraction to pseudoscience and “creating their own facts,” its basic anti-intellectualism, its source of strength with the “job-creating” small entrepreneurs (anti-communist bourgeoisie) and you begin to see too many parallels with the fascists of old.

Admittedly, it more closely resembles the fascism of Franco or Mussolini than the death-camp fascism of the Nazis, but it’s a strain of politics that had to be destroyed once at great cost. And it’s growing right here in our neighborhoods and metastasizing throughout our legislatures.

 

By: Martin Longman, Washington Monthly Political Animal, June 8, 2014

June 9, 2014 Posted by | GOP, Republicans | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Memo To GOP”: The War Over Big Government Health Care Is Over, And You Lost

The federal government has released new data on Medicaid enrollment showing that with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, six million Americans were added to the program’s rolls. That’s six million low-income people who now have health coverage, who can see a doctor when they need to and who don’t have to worry about whether an accident or an illness will send them spiraling into utter financial ruin.

The numbers reveal something else, too, something that should horrify conservatives: we’re well on our way to health-care socialism.

Okay, that’s an exaggeration. But only a slight one. And at a time when the press is realizing that Republicans are losing their taste for anti-Obamacare bloviating (more on that in a moment), it shows that Bill Kristol’s nightmare has nearly come true.

Back in 1993, Kristol wrote Republicans an enormously influential memo advising that the best approach to Bill Clinton’s health reform plan was not to do everything they could to kill it outright. If any plan managed to pass, he warned, “it will re-legitimize middle-class dependence for ‘security’ on government spending and regulation. It will revive the reputation of the party that spends and regulates, the Democrats, as the generous protector of middle-class interests. And it will at the same time strike a punishing blow against Republican claims to defend the middle class by restraining government.”

Now let’s look at where we are today. Prior to ACA implementation, there were just under 59 million people enrolled in Medicaid and CHIP, the program that covers poor children. States that accepted the ACA’s expansion of Medicaid signed up a total of 5.2 million new people. The states that rejected the expansion signed up an additional 800,000; these are “woodwork” enrollees, people who were already eligible under their state’s (often absurdly restrictive) rules, but came out of the woodwork to sign up because of all the attention to health care. Add them in, and there are now 64 million Americans on Medicaid and CHIP.

On top of that, there are now over 52 million seniors on Medicare. There are another 9 million veterans enrolled in the Veterans Health Service.

That’s a total of 125 million Americans getting their insurance from the federal government (or, in the case of Medicaid, a federal-state program). The current U.S. population is 318 million. That means that 39 percent of us, or just under two out of every five Americans, are recipients of government health insurance.

As a liberal, of course, I believe that’s a good thing, though just how good varies from program to program (I’ve spent enough time fighting with private insurance companies to wish I could be insured by the government). Conservatives, on the other hand, view this as a disaster. What they’ve only partly come to terms with is the fact that it’s going to be almost impossible for them to do anything about it.

It’s true that Republicans appear to have realized that while the ACA remains unpopular, the idea of repealing it is even less popular. Which is why, as the November election approaches, they’ve almost stopped trying to elevate the issue. As Sam Baker points out, Republicans passed on the opportunity to use the confirmation of Sylvia Burwell to be HHS secretary as a forum to relitigate the law, and the bills circulating around the Hill on health care are now more likely to be small-bore fixes. Notes Baker: “Anyone who’s been around Capitol Hill and health care for the past four years can see it — the anti-Obamacare fire just isn’t burning as hot as it used to.”

Beyond that, as this blog has documented, multiple Republican Senate candidates are now mouthing support for Obamacare’s general goals and have essentially been reduced to gibberish when trying to explain their “repeal and replace” stance.

But the story is bigger than all of this. Republicans may have to accept that while we may not have the single-payer system liberals want, government still dominates American health care, and that isn’t going to change.

It isn’t just that Republicans could stage another fifty ACA repeal votes in the House and accomplish just as little as the last 50 repeal votes did. Rather, it’s that even if Republicans took back the White House and both houses of Congress, moving people off their government insurance would be next to impossible.

One of the most important lessons of the last 20 years of health reform is this: people fear change. That’s what the Clinton administration found out when their attempt at reform crashed and burned, in large part because the Clinton plan would have meant a change in coverage for most Americans. The Obama administration took that lesson to heart in creating its plan, which was designed to give coverage to people who lacked it but offer only new protections to those who already had insurance. That was also the reason for the false but endlessly repeated “if you like your insurance, you can keep it” assurances — they knew that if most Americans, particularly those with somewhat-secure employer plans, thought they’d have to endure some kind of change, then they’d once again be gripped by fear.

Any Republican plan to unwind the ACA is going to run headlong into people’s fear of change and be stopped in its tracks. Are you going to push 64 million Medicaid and CHIP recipients off their current insurance and onto private plans? Are you going to move away from employer-provided coverage? Are you going to privatize Medicare?

Perhaps, given the right circumstances, Republicans could overcome that fear. But I wouldn’t bet on them finding a way to do it.

 

By: Paul Waldman, The Plum Line; The Washington Post, June 5, 2014

June 9, 2014 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Medicaid Expansion | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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