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“Insurance And Freedom”: How Many Americans Will Be Denied Essential Health Care In The Name Of Freedom?

President Obama will soon release a new budget, and the commentary is already flowing fast and furious. Progressives are angry (with good reason) over proposed cuts to Social Security; conservatives are denouncing the call for more revenues. But it’s all Kabuki. Since House Republicans will block anything Mr. Obama proposes, his budget is best seen not as policy but as positioning, an attempt to gain praise from “centrist” pundits.

No, the real policy action at this point is in the states, where the question is, How many Americans will be denied essential health care in the name of freedom?

I’m referring, of course, to the question of how many Republican governors will reject the Medicaid expansion that is a key part of Obamacare. What does that have to do with freedom? In reality, nothing. But when it comes to politics, it’s a different story.

It goes without saying that Republicans oppose any expansion of programs that help the less fortunate — along with tax cuts for the wealthy, such opposition is pretty much what defines modern conservatism. But they seem to be having more trouble than in the past defending their opposition without simply coming across as big meanies.

Specifically, the time-honored practice of attacking beneficiaries of government programs as undeserving malingerers doesn’t play the way it used to. When Ronald Reagan spoke about welfare queens driving Cadillacs, it resonated with many voters. When Mitt Romney was caught on tape sneering at the 47 percent, not so much.

There is, however, an alternative. From the enthusiastic reception American conservatives gave Friedrich Hayek’s “Road to Serfdom,” to Reagan, to the governors now standing in the way of Medicaid expansion, the U.S. right has sought to portray its position not as a matter of comforting the comfortable while afflicting the afflicted, but as a courageous defense of freedom.

Conservatives love, for example, to quote from a stirring speech Reagan gave in 1961, in which he warned of a grim future unless patriots took a stand. (Liz Cheney used it in a Wall Street Journal op-ed article just a few days ago.) “If you and I don’t do this,” Reagan declared, “then you and I may well spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it once was like in America when men were free.” What you might not guess from the lofty language is that “this” — the heroic act Reagan was calling on his listeners to perform — was a concerted effort to block the enactment of Medicare.

These days, conservatives make very similar arguments against Obamacare. For example, Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin has called it the “greatest assault on freedom in our lifetime.” And this kind of rhetoric matters, because when it comes to the main obstacle now remaining to more or less universal health coverage — the reluctance of Republican governors to allow the Medicaid expansion that is a key part of reform — it’s pretty much all the right has.

As I’ve already suggested, the old trick of blaming the needy for their need doesn’t seem to play the way it used to, and especially not on health care: perhaps because the experience of losing insurance is so common, Medicaid enjoys remarkably strong public support. And now that health reform is the law of the land, the economic and fiscal case for individual states to accept Medicaid expansion is overwhelming. That’s why business interests strongly support expansion just about everywhere — even in Texas. But such practical concerns can be set aside if you can successfully argue that insurance is slavery.

Of course, it isn’t. In fact, it’s hard to think of a proposition that has been more thoroughly refuted by history than the notion that social insurance undermines a free society. Almost 70 years have passed since Friedrich Hayek predicted (or at any rate was understood by his admirers to predict) that Britain’s welfare state would put the nation on the slippery slope to Stalinism; 46 years have passed since Medicare went into effect; as far as most of us can tell, freedom hasn’t died on either side of the Atlantic.

In fact, the real, lived experience of Obamacare is likely to be one of significantly increased individual freedom. For all our talk of being the land of liberty, those holding one of the dwindling number of jobs that carry decent health benefits often feel anything but free, knowing that if they leave or lose their job, for whatever reason, they may not be able to regain the coverage they need. Over time, as people come to realize that affordable coverage is now guaranteed, it will have a powerful liberating effect.

But what we still don’t know is how many Americans will be denied that kind of liberation — a denial all the crueler because it will be imposed in the name of freedom.


By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, April 7, 2013

April 9, 2013 Posted by | Freedom, Health Care | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Just Another PDF File”: Back To The Drawing Board For The GOP, Again

The Republican’s “Growth & Opportunity Project” isn’t comprehensive enough. It’s a document filled with marketing and campaign tactics: improving messaging, appealing to minorities, building a data infrastructure, adjusting fundraising, and compressing the primary process. Don’t get me wrong, these are all good ideas, but what’s the long-term vision?

The tactical recommendations rest on a single-case: the mistakes that Mitt Romney made that lost him the presidency. What about how the GOP governs in Congress? How will representatives change their legislative behavior to reflect the new messages? Most importantly, how is the Republican National Committee going to get state and local party organizations to buy in?

Political parties are decentralized organizations. There’s no “top-down” command structure to enforce compliance, and even if there was, it takes a while for change to take root. The GOP only needs to look as far as how reorganizations play out in major corporations. They’re messy affairs that often lead to a lot of employee turnover. In decentralized organizations, there are no mechanisms to make change happen; the RNC can offer state and local parties incentives to tow the line, but incentives alone don’t work.

The party wants to start recruiting more women and minority candidates, but it’s going to be difficult for these candidates to get a seat at the table. Most races are not competitive: there are just a few open races with no incumbent running. Incumbents are hard to beat. They get reelected 90 percent of the time. Challengers could make some headway mounting primary fights, like the Tea Party did in 2010, but Republican leaders have been pretty clear: protect incumbents.

So if most incumbents stay in office, how is the GOP’s new messaging going to work? Conservative incumbents don’t have records that are friendly to minorities. It’s not just about changing the talk – you also have to change the walk. Provide a consistent narrative, otherwise you come across as a flip-flopper. And flip-flopping sinks campaigns. It certainly drowned John Kerry’s 2004 and Romney’s 2012 bids for the White House.

The GOP must go back to the drawing board and come back with something solid. Otherwise, the work they’ve done so far will be a wasted exercise — just a PDF file with a cool cover page filled with pretty circles and a white elephant.


By: Jamie Chandler, U. S. News and World Report, March 21, 2013

March 22, 2013 Posted by | GOP, Republican National Committee | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Line In The Sand”: The NRA Won’t Support Arizona’s New Gun Bill

Arizona is a place where you can get a family photograph with Santa holding an AK-47, where state lawmakers point pink pistols at reporters, and where men tote AR-15s to political protests. And if one state representative gets his way, gun-loving Arizonans won’t have to worry about pesky federal gun control laws, because it will be illegal to enforce them.

Republican state Rep. Steve Smith proposed a bill last week that would prohibit public officials in the state from following any federal gun laws or regulations, fearing an effort by the Obama administration to impose harsh new restrictions on firearms. That means no background checks, no restrictions on automatic weapons or grenade launchers, and no prohibition on sale to the mentally ill, unless the state enacts its own restrictions, none of which are laid out in Smith’s bill.

While there is no penalty specified for state and local officials who follow federal law, federal judges or law enforcement agents would face felony charges punishable by up to a year in state prison. “Here’s a line in the sand: Thanks, but no thanks. Stay out with your federal regulations you’re going to impose on us,” Smith said.

HB 2291 would almost certainly be unconstitutional, as federal law trumps state law, and Smith acknowledged that there would probably be legal challenges that would have to be worked out in the courts. But he appears to be trying to get around this problem by making his legislation apply only to firearms that are manufactured in and never leave the state of Arizona, presumably in an attempt to thwart the Commerce Clause, which allows Congress to regulate interstate trade. Still, the Supreme Court has not been sympathetic to similar arguments.

And the Constitution isn’t Smith’s only problem; he’s catching some friendly fire too. Todd Rathner, an Arizona resident who sits on the board of the National Rifle Association, told the Capitol News Service that he doesn’t like the bill because of what it would do to gun dealers, who must receive federal licenses and comply with federal regulations.

“I worry about putting federal firearms licensees in the middle of a fight between us and the federal government,” he said. “It puts them between a rock and a hard place because they worry about committing a federal crime or a state crime.”

Indeed, Smith’s law specifies that firearms dealers would be barred from following the regulations mandated by the federal government to maintain their license. Still, Rathner said of Smith’s proposal, “I like the message he’s trying to send.”

Arizona isn’t the only state considering what amounts to a lite form of secession over guns. In Mississippi, Gov. Phil Bryant and state House Speaker Philip Gunn have both said they intend to block any new Obama executive orders on gun control. South Carolina lawmakers have made similar moves as well. But Arizona’s law goes much further, by not only restricting new regulations but also all existing ones, targeting “any act, law, statute, rule or regulation” from Washington on guns.

Also, keep in mind that the NRA’s objection to the legislation is not that it is unconstitutional or that it might make it easier for criminals to acquire weapons, but that it would hurt firearms dealers. If Smith rewrote the law to exempt dealers, one wonders if the NRA would be OK with the rest of it.


By: Alex Seitz-Wald, Salon, January 23, 2013

January 23, 2013 Posted by | Arizona, Guns | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Snake Oil Salesmen”: ALEC’s Worthless Recommendations For Prosperity In The States

For most of its history ALEC has operated in the background, but its influence recently drew the spotlight when its promotion of “Stand Your Ground” laws came to light in the wake of the killing of Trayvon Martin in Florida. Faced with the potential of consumer boycotts, corporate sponsors such as McDonald’s and Pepsi withdrew their support. Henceforth, the organization announced, it would concentrate on state economic policy.

State legislators who might look to the organization for leadership on economic policies should be wary of following ALEC’s lead in this arena. A startlingly candid report, “Selling Snake Oil to the States,” just released by the Iowa Policy Project and the Washington-based Good Jobs First, shows that ALEC’s recommendations for producing economic growth in the states are essentially worthless.

This is a strong claim, but the researchers support their conclusion neatly by putting under the microscope the implicit predictions in the 2007 edition of Rich States, Poor States, the volume written by economist Arthur Laffer and the source of the ALEC-Laffer State Economic Competitiveness Index.

In brief, the authors take ALEC’s 2007 ranking of states based upon the states’ adherence to its recommendations, and seeing whether indeed the states that were predicted to prosper were doing so five years later.

None of ALEC’s predictors of economic growth—elimination or reduction of progressive taxation, reduced commitments to public services, tightening of social safety net programs, or reduced union influence—showed any relationship to economic prosperity.

In fact, if anything the ALEC formula for prosperity had an inverse relationship. As the authors put it:

…states that were rated higher on ALEC’s Economic Outlook Ranking in 2007…have actually been doing worse economically in the years since, while the less a state conformed with ALEC’s policies the better off it was.

Looking at median family income specifically:

Once again, actual results are the opposite of the ALEC claim. The more a state’s policies mirrored the ALEC low-tax/regressive taxation/limited government agenda, the lower the median family income; this is true for every year from 2007 through 2011; Figure 5 below shows the results just for 2011. The relationship is not only negative each year, it also became worse over time: the better a state did on the ALEC Outlook Ranking, the more family income declined from 2007 to 2011. The correlation, -.30, is statistically significant.

The authors of the report remind us that the only way to accelerate economic growth is to pursue policies that increase or maintain productivity, such as investing in roads, bridges and schools, and insuring an educated workforce and a healthy population.

One report can hardly be expected fully to turn back the simplistic analysis that ALEC has been promoting for understanding state economic development. But this one should provide a strong counter-weight to the notion that states can prosper by following the low road of tax cuts and limited support for the public sector.

By: Michael Lipsky, The American Prospect, December 3, 2012

December 4, 2012 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Good Riddance”: It Wouldn’t Be A burden For The Rest Of The Country If Texas, Alabama And Florida Seceded

As the holidays approach, many of us are faced with a seasonal conundrum: the case of some annoying relative who persists in making various demands on the holiday celebrations (“I won’t come if you serve murdered meat at Thanksgiving!”‘ or “I’m not coming if you invite my ex’s new spouse; they’ve only been married 22 years”). If, as the brilliant novelist Mary Karr has observed, a dysfunctional family is a family with more than one person in it, many of us are faced with these little annual theatrics. And we wonder whether to appease—yet again—or draw the line in the mashed potatoes for once and for all.

And so perhaps it’s time to say this to those residents of (mostly southern) states filing petitions to secede from the United States: Oh, just go, then.

In Alabama, “Derrick B.” has filed papers saying that “We petition the Obama Administration to peacefully grant the State of Alabama to withdraw from the United States of America and create its own new government.” So far, the document has attracted 4,426 signatures, reports (Oh, and way to stand behind your convictions, Derrick No-Last-Name.)

Would this be such a burden for the rest of the country? It’s not like Alabama is going to be able to mount a military assault against its new foreign neighbor. They would be literally surrounded—a situation that could at once make them feel more secure and more ill at ease. One thing impoverished Alabama would lose is all that cash the federal government gives to the state in the form of Medicaid, food stamps, and other monies. But you really want to go? Godspeed, Alabama.

Then there’s Texas, which was in the news not long ago because a local judge, Tom Head, speculated that there would be civil war if President Barack Obama won re-election, and wondered if he’d have to call out the militia. Perhaps Texans think that because their state is so big, they could make it on their own. Go ahead; it will be entertaining to see Texas deal with southern border issues without federal money or guidance. And even more fun when Texans themselves will have to get passports to come to the United States. Oh—by the way, Texan secessionists, if you manage to come up north and work off the books, you won’t get Social Security or even a living wage. Good luck avoiding the immigration authorities.

And Florida, too, has its secession-minded citizens. Think we’ll miss you, do you? We’re all getting a little tired of your election dramas, made even more irritating this year when Florida wasn’t necessary to determine the winner of the presidential election. And what, exactly, do you think you can export—hurricanes? Don’t forget that international issues—such as refugees coming from Haiti and Latin America—get a little more complicated and expensive when you don’t have the political and financial weight of the United States behind you. But if Floridians can’t bear the thought of a second Obama term, buh-bye.

We live in a country with diverse political opinions, as well as a diverse racial and ethnic makeup. It’s logical that a number of people might be deeply disappointed that their candidate did not win. It is not logical to be so convinced that American civilization as we know it will dissolve that one would actually advocate dissolving the union itself. But hey, if things are that bad, take the advice of the candidate who came in second in the presidential contest. Just self-deport.


By: Susan Milligan, U. S. News and World Report, November 12, 2012

November 13, 2012 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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