It’s Cheap To Be Rich

Nate Silver’s new FiveThirtyEight blog posted a piece by Ben Casselman this morning with the title,

Inflation May Hit the Poor Hardest

Yeah, well, Mr. Casselman, everything hits the poor hardest. A bad economy. A good economy. Everything. You know why? Because they’re bleeping poor, that’s why. But to be fair to the author, he was making a point about the fact that not everyone experiences the same rate of inflation. He begins his piece with this:

It’s getting more expensive to be poor.

He says that “families earning less than $20,000,” because they spend a disproportionate amount of their money on things like rent and utilities,

are experiencing a higher rate of inflation than the public at large even as their wages have stagnated…

The poor experience a double whammy: stagnating wages and a higher rate of inflation that eats away a disproportionate share of their purchasing power. And it is even worse than that. Just watch last night’s 60 Minutes segment on the working poor in Virginia’s part of Appalachia. Those folks are not only victims of a faltering local economy, but they are victims of the Republican Party in Virginia, a party that refuses to allow those poor working people to get the health insurance they are entitled to under the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion provision.

So, you’re damned right it is expensive to be poor in America.

But it is damned cheap to be rich.

Sheldon Adelson, from whom God sometimes has to borrow money till payday, is looking to buy himself a Republican presidential candidate for the 2016 race. Last time he spent almost $100 million in a losing effort. But don’t feel sorry for him. He made almost that much in two special hours last week. In any case, he told Forbes that this time he will “spend whatever it takes” to win. And whatever it takes will still be cheap for him.Republican Billionaire Sheldon Adelson

Unfortunately there are plenty of Republicans who want to be bought by Sheldon Adelson, including presidential hopefuls like Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, John Kasich, and the groveling Chris Christie, who if Adelson buys him will be getting a bargain, somewhere around $250,000 a pound—and that’s if Adelson only gives another paltry $100 million. Very cheap for a commander-in-chief who could blow up your enemies.

The Supreme Court, staffed by five conservative Republicans who believe that rich people should have a megaphone that matches their money, have now made it easier for Adelson and other moneyed folks to buy up what is left of American democracy. And although there ain’t much left to buy, thanks to Citizens United, what is left won’t cost those wealthy folks all that much. Last year Sheldon Adelson made about $22,000 a minute. In eleven short minutes he made enough to buy a pound of Chris Christie or a half-pound of Jeb! No problem! Cheap, cheap, cheap.

In the mean time, it remains very expensive to be poor, especially in western Virginia where, because of Republicans, folks have to rely on the occasional visits of two saintly nurses driving a raggedy 13-year-old Winnebago-turned-“Health Wagon” in order to stay alive.

health wagon2

An Erstwhile Conservative Exclusive: The Devil On ObamaCare

Tonight, of course, is the soft deadline for getting health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. I have been trying for months to get an interview with Satan himself so that I could get his take on all the controversy surrounding the new health care law. Finally, after a lot of effort, I was able to get the old devil to sit down for what I hope is only one of many interviews to come:

THE ERSTWHILE CONSERVATIVE: Thank you for your time. I know you’re busy on this important day for America, so I will make this quick. I guess my first question is: How hard have you been working to make sure the Affordable Care Act fails?

SATAN: Well, I’m glad you ask me that. Obviously it is in my interest that this plan fail and fail miserably. And because of that, I assigned several divisions of demons the task of destroying what we in hell sarcastically refer to as “ObamaCare”—a term your president, in what some thought was a moment of tactical brilliance, adopted in order to dull the force of the point, even though I think we have still succeeded, as the polls show, in dirtying the thing with his name.

I have put so many of my demonic assets into this massive and massively negative effort that we are a little short-staffed in other areas, like helping to deny people unemployment benefits and food stamps or making sure they don’t vote this fall in the mid-term elections. But I think we’ve done such a good job in the House the last few years that we’ll be okay. I just had to be sure that we were doing all we could to make sure people don’t sign up for affordable health care. The sicker and more fearful people are the better, as far as I’m concerned.

TEC: I see, I see. Just what do these anti-ObamaCare demons do?

SATAN: Well, the largest number of them get people to do things like lie about the law in print and on the Internet and on television. I think you know where I’m going here—

TEC:—Yes, yes, I do know where you’re going and I wanted to ask you about that—

SATAN—Oh, I’m happy to tell you about it. Journalism, or what passes for journalism these days, is very important in my business. We specialize, as you know, in using the trade to spread false information about a lot of things, from Obama’s birth certificate to Benghazi to phony vaccination controversies. The latter disinformation campaign has allowed us to gain back valuable ground we RougeoleDP.jpglost to those damned scientists who have found ways of combating many of the wonderful diseases I’ve been spreading around. Thanks to all the disinformation work we do, measles is making a comeback!  

TEC: Yes, you have done a great job in terms of spreading harmful lies, I must say.

SATAN: Yes, I have. And I’m damned proud of it. Jesus called me the Father of Lies, you know. 

TEC: Yes, I know that. He also said you were “a murderer from the beginning.”

SATAN: I know, I know. He is too kind sometimes! I’m very proud of the work I do and it feels great when you get recognized for doing a good job. Thank you, Jesus!

TEC: Besides spreading lies and misinformation about ObamaCare, what else are you doing to kill health reform?

SATAN: Well, obviously, merely lying about what the law is supposed to do and is actually doing isn’t enough because the other side has those awful truth-tellers out there who are always working against us. For that reason I assigned some Special Forces units—Rulers of Darkness we call them at home—to take the good news about ObamaCare out there and, like magic, turn it into bad news! Those Rulers of Darkness are amazing little devils!

TEC: Can you give us an example of how these Rulers of Darkness work? That sounds fascinating.

SATAN: Of course I can. Just the other day on Fox and Friends—God, how I love that show!—we had the co-hosts suggest that Obama is signing up Mexicans to get the enrollment numbers up! 

TEC: Mexicans?

SATAN: Yes! Mexicans! Isn’t that awesome? The fiendish discussion was an attempt to turn the positive fact that more than 6 million have signed up into a negative fact that the only reason the number is so high is because “illegals” are signing up at Mexican Consulates. Amazing isn’t it?

TEC: That is amazing.

SATAN: One of the co-hosts even mentioned some work I did back in 2009!

TEC: What was that?

SATAN: Don’t you remember when congressman Joe Wilson shouted out “You lie!” during Obama’s 2009 address to Congress? It was during the part where Obama said that the new law “would not apply to those who are here illegally.” Come on, I got personally involved in that one. You have to remember. Next to getting Sarah Palin to use the term “death panel,” that whole Joe Wilson thing was the best political work I did that year. You have to remember—

TEC: Of course I remember. Who could forget that?

SATAN: Well, the Fox host said that maybe Joe Wilson “had a point” when he shouted “You lie!” at the President. I tell you those Rulers of Darkness demons know how to put on a show! And you know what effect this kind of stuff is having? Let me give you an important example. There are families out there where either the husband or wife are not U.S. citizens, but their children are. And these folks are scared that if they sign their kids up for health insurance coverage that the government will move in and destroy their family through deportation. Thus, Latino enrollment in ObamaCare is far behind their population numbers and, as a hellish bonus, the kids are going to go without health care! Isn’t that awesome! I mean, trying to kill ObamaCare has featured some of hell’s finest work! People may actually die!

TEC: Speaking of that, how were you able to get all those Republican governors and legislatures to not expand Medicaid? I mean it makes good economic sense to expand insurance coverage and it certainly makes good Christian morals sense to do so, and since Republicans consider themselves to be economic and moral savants, it must have been hard to get, so far, 24 states controlled by Republicans to shut the door on the poorest of Americans and deny them health insurance, right?

SATAN: Wrong. It was pretty damn easy to tell you the truth (which I rarely do). All we had to do was make sure people connected the whole thing with that Scary Negro in the White’s House, and then talk radio and Fox, where some of our top-notch lying spirits are employed, took it from there. The result is that Republican politicians in all those states would not now dare expand Medicaid and make health insurance available to those who need it. And, again, more people will die! But I don’t want talk radio and Fox to get all the credit for the whole Medicaid expansion thing. I want to give a shout out to the demons we have assigned to the Supreme Court.

TEC: Huh?

SATAN: Yes, I know. Most people forgot what happened in 2012 when the Court unfortunately found ObamaCare constitutional. Under the original law, states were required to expand Medicaid or else lose Medicaid funding. But our guys, having failed to get Justice Roberts to strike down the damned law, made a nice recovery—I was about to come down hard on them— in getting him to agree to give states a choice in participating in the Medicaid expansion. And that opt-out has worked much better than we could have imagined.

TEC: How so?

SATAN: Well, I brought with me something that I’d like to read to you, if you don’t mind. It’s from the website Health Affairs, which was started by a bunch of worthless liberal do-gooders with the disgusting name of Project HOPE—damn how I hate that name! Anyway, I usually get all goose-pimply reading this, so bare with me, but it explains the effects of the failure to expand Medicaid:

Based on recent data from the Oregon Health Insurance Experiment, we predict that many low-income women will forego recommended breast and cervical cancer screening; diabetics will forego medications, and all low-income adults will face a greater likelihood of depression, catastrophic medical expenses, and death. 

Isn’t that juicy? Isn’t that wonderful? I am so proud of that and of our guys at the Supreme Court.

TEC: I can see it in your face. Look, I know you have to go, and again I thank you for your time on this important day, but I want to ask you one more question: What do you think is your biggest achievement related to the Affordable Care Act?

SATAN: Man, that’s a hard one. There are so many. Let me see. Some would say that getting the Republican Party to cheer for the failure of the law would be a big accomplishment. Others might say that getting the news media to ignore how much effort Republicans have put into seeing to it that the law fails is a big deal. But I would have to say it comes back to those deaths I mentioned. We’re all about suffering and death where I come from and I admit I’m a bit prejudiced, but the probable fact that thousands of people suffer and die each year, at least partly because they don’t have health insurance, is something those of us on our side celebrate daily. I don’t much care if the number is 45,000 a year or something lower—obviously I want that number to be as high as possible—but as long as people are suffering and dying unnecessarily I am as happy as any devil has a right to be.

TEC: Thank you. I hope we can talk again real soon.

SATAN: I’ll be looking forward to it.

Lucifer

“When It Is In Your Power To Act”

“Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due,
when it is in your power to act.
Do not say to your neighbor,
‘Come back tomorrow and I’ll give it to you’—
when you already have it with you.”

—Proverbs 3:27-28

medicaid expansion is not yet a reality here in Missouri, if it ever will be. But it is also struggling in Virginia and Arkansas (which already has a privatized version of it that needs reauthorized in order to continue). Expansion is struggling in those states even though both, like Missouri, have Democratic governors and even though a majority of people in both states favor expanding the program:56 to 38 in Virginia, including 55% support among Republicans, and 47.5 to 32.5 in Arkansas. (And there is good evidence that Missourians favor expansion too).

The Washington Post editorial page a couple of days ago featured this explanation of what is going on in Virginia, part of which I highlight for your contemplation:

In Richmond, House GOP lawmakers have made it clear they are not interested in compromise, nor do they wish to be bothered much with the facts. Mr. McAuliffe (D), in office barely a month, has tried schmoozing and executive mansion hospitality; he is nothing if not a deal-maker. The Republicans have responded with derision and fighting words. For them, it is enough to demonize Medicaid expansion as a function of Obamacare, and hope the resulting slogans carry the day — no matter what the cost to hundreds of thousands of struggling state residents who have no health insurance.

Demonizing Obamacare, the only thing Republicans can do effectively these days, has become, of course, a way of demonizing Obama. And it works in some places. In fact, it is working very well in Arkansas, as Seth Millstein points out (which I also highlight for your contemplation):

Arkansas residents strongly support expanding Medicaid under Obamcare — that is, until you tell them the expansion is part of Obamacare. Then they don’t support it anymore. In yet another indication of how successfully Republicans have tarnished the nickname for the Affordable Care Act, a new poll of Arkansans showed that net support for the state’s private Medicaid expansion drops by 19 points when you include the word “Obamacare” in the polling questionsArkansas residents, it seems, just don’t want to like Obamacare, regardless of what’s in it.

Sad, no? And what is sadder is the fact that the only clear demonstration of competence on the part of Republican officeholders and their mouthpieces on talk radio and Fox TV is their skill in transforming Obama into Satan in so many supposedly God-fearing places.

And speaking of God-fearing places, look at this graphic based on polling done by the left-leaning Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies:

medicaid expansion in the south

Hell, where the Bible says eternal torment awaits “all liars,” will freeze over before Republican politicians in the Jesus-loving states listed above pay any attention to such polling. Because lying about President Obama, in the strange and dark religion of conservative politics, covers a multitude of sins, especially the sin of ignoring the basic needs of so many disadvantaged Americans.

Would Jesus Expand Medicaid In Missouri? I’ll Let Him Tell You (UPDATED)

“Missouri’s low income and vulnerable citizens will have access to excellent health care in order to maximize their quality of life and independence.”

—The “vision” statement of Missouri’s Medicaid program, MO HealthNet Division

I swear the following story is in your Bible:

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

But the expert in the law wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

In reply Jesus said, “A man was going down from Jefferson City to Joplin, when he found out his job was being outsourced to China. All in one moment he lost his income and along with it his health insurance, which he needed because his wife had a serious health condition. A Religious Right preacher happened to be going down the same road on his way to vote for a Republican, and when he saw the uninsured man on the side of the road in much distress, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Teapartier, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side, as he was also on his way to vote for a Republican.

But a Samaritan, a man who believed in the social safety net, came by where the man was, and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and told him not to worry. He told him that he was voting for someone who would make sure that he and his wife had affordable health insurance, whether he had a job or not. He told him that he was voting for someone who would make sure his unemployment benefits wouldn’t dry up before he had a fair chance to get another job. Then he put the man in his car, registered him to vote, and brought him to the polling place. 

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who lost his job and his health insurance?”

The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

Here in Missouri, Republicans have blocked the expansion of Medicaid, which would have been fully paid for by the federal government for the next three years. After that the state would eventually pay no more than 10% of the cost, as the program is fully phased in by 2020. The point is that it wouldn’t cost the state a dime—not a dime—until 2017, and even then it wouldn’t cost much. It is estimated that in 2015 Missouri would receive $1.7 billion to help expand the program and bring insurance to more people who can’t now afford it, which could be somewhere between 260,000 and 310,000 Missourians.

Here is a look at just who would benefit if the program were expanded today, again at no cost to the state:

medicaid expansion in missouri

Right now, without Medicaid expansion in this Jesus-loving state, if you are a parent or parents in a family of four and can’t afford private health insurance but have an income over $4,475 a year (19% of the 2013 Federal Poverty Level), you aren’t eligible for Medicaid. Yes, you read that right. If you preside over a family of four and make over $4,475 a year (a bleeping year!) but don’t make enough to buy health insurance, as a parent you are not eligible for Medicaid in Missouri. If you’re wondering, that cutoff for eligibility is the lowest allowed under the federal law that initially established the national program.

Under expansion, your family situation wouldn’t matter. Neither would your disability status. If you were parenting a family of four and earned up to $31,322 a year (based on 133% of the federal poverty level for 2013), you would be eligible for help if you didn’t otherwise have health insurance. If you were a single adult, you could earn up to $15,282 a year and qualify for health insurance under Medicaid. And as a comprehensive study indicated, the expansion is not only good for the entire state (it would actually bring in more dough to the treasury), but it is especially good for folks who live in places like where I live here in the southwest corner:

medicaid expansion map

See that? Just in our part of the state more than 60,000 of our New Testament-toting neighbors would get health insurance. Hallelujah!

Except that here in this Jesus-loving town of Joplin, here in God-fearing Southwest Missouri, lives the Majority Floor Leader of the Missouri Senate, Ron Richard. I don’t know if he loves Jesus or not, but I do know he is opposed to Medicaid expansion and voted against it last week, as did every single Republican in the Senate. Here are the duties of his august position:

The Majority Floor Leader sets the schedule of bills up for consideration by the full chamber, the time spent on floor debate for legislation, and the meeting times and dates of the Missouri Senate, among other duties.

As you can see, Ron Richard is a powerful man. He can change the dynamics of the debate on the expansion of Medicaid in Missouri in less time than it would take a House Republican to say, “Impeach the socialist in the White’s House!” Below are ways to contact him:

Jefferson City Office, Pattie: 573-751-2173

Joplin Office, Gwen: 417-623-0022

Or send him a message:

http://www.senate.mo.gov/D32WebApps/Contact.aspx
http://ronrichardmosenate.com/contact.php

You can use one or all of the above methods in order to a) ask him if he loves Jesus, or b) ask him if he wants to treat his fellow Missourians like a good neighbor, or c) do what I did and send him a message like this:

ron richard websiteI respectfully ask that Sen. Richard lead the charge on expanding Medicaid in Missouri and bring some relief to hundreds of thousands of Missourians who need health insurance. We are leaving billions of dollars on the table, money that is needed here in our state to care for our own. Do the right thing, please.

_________________________________

UPDATE: Here is the email response I received from Sen. Richard. Based on this response, it wouldn’t hurt for all of you who are interested in this issue to let him know where you stand:

Thank you for your email. This was brought up on the Senate Floor for debate. This was just the first discussion on the floor and I believe there will be a lot more before we have a chance to vote on the bill. I will keep your thoughts and comments in mind as this bill becomes perfected and we vote on the measure.

Please let me know if you have any further questions or concerns.

Sincerely,

Ron Richard
Senator District 32

Roy Blunt’s Moocher Talk And What’s Wrong With It

Not only has the Affordable Care Act been attacked by Republicans for being a government takeover of the healthcare system or for creating death panels that will kill your grandparents in their sleep or for busting the federal budget and your own or for limiting your choice of policies and doctors, now the GOP has a new line of attack: ObamaCare is creating more moochers!

Even though that whole moocher thing didn’t work so well in the 2012 presidential election, it is so much a part of the right-wing’s dogma about Democrats and Democratic constituencies that they simply can’t let it go.

Roy Blunt, my own senator, appeared on this week’s Fox “News” Sunday. And, of course, he followed the newest ObamaCare’s-a-moocher-maker script on what Republicans should say in response to the release of the CBO’s analysis of some of the effects of the Affordable Care Act on the nation’s labor supply.blunt on fox

Before we get to what Blunt said, let’s look at the question Chris Wallace asked him and the way that question was set up for him and the way the reactionaries want us all to understand the issue. Wallace played a cherry-picked clip of Congressional Budget Office Director Doug Elmendorf’s testimony before the House Budget Committee last Wednesday. Here’s a transcript of the clip Wallace played:

DOUG ELMENDORF, CBO DIRECTOR: By providing heavily subsidized health insurance to people with very low income and then withdrawing those subsidies as income rises, the act creates a disincentive for people to work, relative to what would have been the case in the absence of that act.

Wallace stopped the clip there. What Fox viewers (and Roy Blunt) didn’t hear was what Elmendorf said next:

Now these subsidies, of course, makes those lower income people better off.

Yes. He said that. Right after he talked about the disincentive to work. He said that these folks would be better off. And he continued to explain:

This is an implicit tax, not the sort of tax we normally think about where if the government raises our taxes, we are worse off and face the disincentive to work more. Providing a subsidy, people are better off but they do have less of an incentive to work and I think they would respond to that by working somewhat less.

As you can see, the whole idea that folks would stop working or reduce the time they spend working is essentially based on what economists “think they would respond to” in terms of being better off because of the ACA. And it turns out that the CBO’s number-crunchers were influenced by the work of a conservative economist, as Jonathan Chait (“How Obamacare Became the New Welfare”) notes:

The Congressional Budget Office’s budget update last week surprisingly adapted an analysis, advocated by conservative economist Casey Mulligan, that Obamacare would induce the equivalent of two million full-time jobs in reduced labor. Now, in addition to its previously recited horrors, Obamacare was taking money from hard-working Americans to finance indolence.

Mr. Mulligan has been an outspoken critic of the Affordable Care Act from the start. Last October he criticized it for—sound familiar?—creating “a reduction in the reward for working” and suggested that its full implementation this year might cause “a recessionary double-dip.” So, he’s not a fan of the law, and it is unclear why the CBO embraced some of his thinking as to the effects it will have on the labor supply.

politics 1984 IS HEREBut such thinking is part of the long-time conservative critique of Democrats and their fondness for safety-net programs. On Sunday, Chris Wallace asked former-intellectual-turned-Fox-commentator George Will: “is giving people a cheaper way to get health insurance without working so much — is that a good thing or a bad thing?” As he always does, as he is no doubt required to do to get his big paycheck from Fox, Will took aim at liberals:

People forget Social Security was advocated, Chris, in the 1930s, as a way of getting people to quit working, because they thought we were confined to a permanent scarcity of jobs in this country. Second, it is the point of progressivism to put in front of the American people an increasingly rich menu of temptation to dependency on government. In order to change social norms and eventually national character, the president said, “I want to fundamentally change America,” and these disincentives to work are part of it.

Of course! President Obama and the Democratic Party want people to be dependent on government. They want people to stay in what Paul Ryan called the “poverty trap.” They want all Americans to quit working and become moochers. Makes perfect sense, right? That idea, which Rush Limbaugh and other right-wing radio personalities have aggressively pushed for more than two decades now, is what Republicans want voters to now specifically associate with “ObamaCare.”

But what about that idea? What about that poverty trap? You might be surprised. Jonathan Chait writes:

What’s more, as Jared Bernstein and Edwin Park point out, by lifting the threshold for who gets subsidized insurance, Obamacare actually reduces this poverty trap. Before Obamacare expanded it, Medicaid had extremely low income thresholds. It varies state by state, but the average state cut off Medicaid to people earning just 61 percent of the poverty line, a pitifully low sum. If you’re a single parent in Texas, you lose your Mediciad if you earn more than $3,600 a year. A family of two in Alabama loses its Medicaid once its income, after deductions, hits the lofty sum of $2,832 a year. That’s a severe incentive to keep poor people from obtaining full-time work.

Of course, Texas is boycotting Obamcare’s Medcaid expansion, and is thus keeping in place this strong incentive for its poorest citizens to stay out of the workforce. (If conservatives are worried about fostering a culture of dependency in these Obamacare-boycotting red states, they are keeping their fears very, very quiet.) The states choosing to expand Medicaid are correspondingly increasing the incentive for the very poor to enter the workforce.

As the above-cited economist Jared Bernstein makes clear:

During a hearing today on the latest CBO report, Rep. Paul Ryan declared the health care law to be “a poverty trap.”  He’s way off base.  In fact, he’s got it backwards…

None of this is to deny the CBO’s point that some people with incomes above the poverty level will choose to work less to avoid reductions in their premium subsidy.  But those choices are not the ones faced by the poor who live in states where the ACA is the law of the land.  In those states, the law has thoroughly reversed the poverty trap.  Rep. Ryan should know that and correct the misimpression he’s created.

Of course Paul Ryan, Roy Blunt, or any Republican for that matter, will not correct any of the misimpressions, not to say lies, they have created. And many mainstream journalists will continue to promote a false equivalence by reporting Republican misinformation and Democratic attempts to correct it as if both are morally equal and just part of the game of politics. Thus, if Democratic politicians want to keep their jobs and keep health insurance reform alive, it is up to them to get very aggressive in their defense of the ACA, especially with people like Roy Blunt running around and making mischief on television.

Which leads me finally to Blunt’s appearance on Fox yesterday. Chris Wallace, after playing the partial Elmendorf clip, asked Blunt this question:

WALLACE: Now, Republicans say this proves that ObamaCare is a job killer. Democrats say it means that fewer people will be locked into jobs. Senator Blunt, what is wrong with that, the idea of fewer people locked into jobs?

Now, of course Wallace knows that ObamaCare is not “a job killer.” The CBO report made clear and Elmendorf testified that the law would actually create jobs not kill them. But Wallace chose to set the question up by contrasting a Republican “job-killer” lie with a Democratic truth, to wit: the law allows some people to opt out of jobs they are locked into because of their need for employer-provided health insurance. And Blunt took the bait and further muddied the waters:

SEN. ROY BLUNT, R-MO.: Well, I think any law you pass that discourages people from working can’t be a good idea. Why would we want to do that? Why would we think that was a good thing? How does that allow people to prepare for the time when they don’t work?

This number is about three times as big as the number that was on the table when people that voted for the president’s health care bill voted for it in 2009 and ’10 when the estimate was it would cost the equivalent of 800,000 full time jobs. Now, they’re saying 2.3 million, and the best face can you put on that is that means people that don’t want to work don’t have to work. Surely, that’s not what we want to encourage. And that’s what this law does encourage.

Let’s start with his first declaration: “I think any law you pass that discourages people from working can’t be a good idea.” Oh, yeah? The Social Security law discourages people from working. Lots and lots of them. And lots of them are Republicans. Is Social Security a bad idea, Senator Blunt? Is Medicare a bad idea because it also discourages people from working? Apparently, Blunt thinks that making it possible for people who have worked all their lives and simply want to exit the labor force into retirement is a bad thing. No wonder he supported the infamous Paul Ryan Medicare-mutilating budget plan. I guess people should just work until their dead.

But more than that, notice how Blunt, like all Republicans are now doing and will continue to do until election day this November, focuses on those alleged 2.3 million” people who “don’t want to work” or “don’t have to work.” That is essentially the argument that was made more generally during the 2012 election. Paul Ryan said the following at a fundraiser in June of that election year:

Do you want the American idea of an opportunity society with a safety net where you can take a risk, start a business, make a difference, succeed and be honored for being successful? Or do we go down the path the president is proposing — a social welfare state, a cradle-to-the-grave society where we have more takers than makers?

The only difference now, in this election year, is that Republicans are targeting a specific effort by Democrats, embodied in the Affordable Care Act, to help low-income folks get affordable health insurance. And they think they have the CBO on their side this time.

elmendorfBut what about that CBO report and Director Elmendorf’s seemingly common-sense claim “that by providing a somewhat smaller incentive to work, somewhat fewer people would work”? Nobody argues that there won’t be some number of people who will do exactly what Elmendorf suggests they will do. As Jonathan Chait makes clear:

It is true that any means-tested government benefit will discourage some class of people from working. If a subsidy is available only for people below a certain income level, then people whose income approaches that income level will lose some incentive to earn more.

By its very nature, the concept of means-testing—which Republicans themselves have always embraced—involves people calculating whether working more actually makes them better off. People do that all the time when, for instance, they reach retirement age. The issue here is how many people will do what Elmendorf suggests. And relative to that issue Suzy Khimm (who used to be with the Washington Post’s Wonkblog) makes an excellent point:

It’s also worth taking the CBO’s findings with a grain of salt. The office had previously forecast that Obamacare would reduce the total hours worked by the equivalent of 800,000 workers, then updated its forecast based on more recent research. But one new study that CBO cited in its report actually “found no significant effect of Medicaid on employment or earnings” when Oregon expanded the program in 2008.

Austin Nichols, a researcher at the Urban Institute, says such evidence makes him skeptical that Obamacare’s effect on the labor market will be as large as the CBO predicts. “I don’t think we’re going to see the kinds of reductions in labor supply that Elmendorf is talking bout today,” says Nichols. “We have also evidence from Massachusetts that doesn’t show a large impact.”

Paul Krugman wrote that the “reduced labor supply” noted by the CBO and exploited by dishonest Republicans does in fact add to “the true cost of health reform.” But he demonstrates, through what he calls “some pretty prosaic economics,” that the effects are fairly modest. He ends:

Should you care how much other people work? Yes, a little – but not so much that it should change anyone’s views about health reform.

The truth is that at this point nobody really knows, with any degree of legitimate certainty, what direct and indirect effects the Affordable Care Act will have not only on the labor supply, but on other areas of the economy. As I have said many times, the ACA is an experiment. Much more time and evidence is needed to figure out whether the law will work as designed, whether it will need significant changes, or whether it should be scrapped altogether. But we have one political party that does not want it to work, will not lift a finger to fix any problems with it, and wants only to kill it before it has had a chance to prove or disprove itself.

Unfortunately for Missourians—especially for those Missourians who could get health insurance were it not for Republicans blocking Medicaid expansion—Roy Blunt is part of that one political party.

ObamaCare May Work!

When I retired five years ago, I did not “lose” my job. Nobody fired me or laid me off or put me on furlough. I simply stopped working because I wanted to. I withdrew my contribution to the total supply of labor in the country.

However, in the minds of Republicans and other right-wingers exploiting the latest Congressional Budget Office report that discusses the effects of the Affordable Care Act on the labor market, my decision not to work is actually a job loss. Hooey.

Although there is plenty of lying—yes, lying—and misinforming going on in terms of what the CBO report said, I chose this headline from a Fox “News” article on the matter to represent the lies and misinformation:

ObamaCare could lead to loss of nearly 2.3 million US jobs, report says

More hooey. That CBO report, which is titled, “The Budget and Economic Outlook: 2014 to 2024,” did not—I repeat: did not—say that the ACA could lead to “nearly 2.3 million” job losses. And although it is nice to see that conservatives, after years of bashing the CBO’s reports, are now embracing the nerds’ number-crunching skills, those cherry-picking right-wingers should actually read the report.

First of all, it should be noted that the portion of the CBO’s budget analysis that deals with the future labor effects of the ACA is, like the rest of the projections in the document, an “estimate.” And it is not just an estimate, it is an estimate essentially (but certainly not entirely) of what real people, including many low-income people or people approaching retirement age, will do in the face of getting help from the government to purchase health insurance. Thus, that CBO estimate is based on suppositions about human psychology. Keep that in mind when you hear the hysteria coming from Republicans (or when you hear the good news below).

Secondly, we are not talking about a reduction in the demand for labor, but a reduction in the supply of labor. You know, sort of like when I reduced the supply of labor by retiring five years ago. There elmendorfwas still a demand for my (excellent) services, but I chose not to supply them. As I said, that’s not the same thing as a job loss. By the way, I just heard Douglas Elmendorf, Director of the CBO, say the same thing in testimony before the House Budget Committee.*

There are already a lot of great articles out there that explain what is going on (here and here and here and here, for instance). The following is an excerpt from an excellent report on the subject from the Los Angeles Times:

The CBO projects that the act will reduce the supply of labor, not the availability of jobs. There’s a big difference. In fact, it suggests that aggregate demand for labor (that is, the number of jobs) will increase, not decrease; but that many workers or would-be workers will be prompted by the ACA to leave the labor force, many of them voluntarily.

As economist Dean Baker points out, this is, in fact, a beneficial effect of the law, and a sign that it will achieve an important goal. It helps “older workers with serious health conditions who are working now because this is the only way to get health insurance. And (one for the family-values crowd) many young mothers who return to work earlier than they would like because they need health insurance. This is a huge plus.”

Democrats should continue to aggressively counter the right-wing messaging on this latest CBO report (we can’t count on journalists to get the story straight, what with their “they said, they said” reporting in which telling a lie is on an equal footing with telling the truth). And Democrats, following economist Dean Baker, should enthusiastically embrace the fact that what may happen (remember: it is an estimate) is that the ACA will actually do what it was designed to do. Just before President Obama signed the ACA into law in March of 2010, he said,

And we have now just enshrined, as soon as I sign this bill, the core principle that everybody should have some basic security when it comes to their health care.

Basic security. Yes! The kind that may allow Dean Baker’s “older worker”—who has a serious health condition and needs health insurance provided by an employer—to opt out of the work force, or Baker’s “young mother” to stay at home and take care of her children. What family-values-hawking Republican could be against that?

Judging by their hatred of the Affordable Care Act, apparently every one of them.

_________________________________

* UPDATE: Here is what Elmendorf said:

If someone comes up to you and says, ‘Well, the boss said I’m being laid off because we don’t have enough business to pay me,’ that person feels bad about that and we sympathize with them for having lost their job. If someone comes to you and says, ‘I’ve decided to retire,’ or ‘I’ve decided to stay home and spend more time with my family,’ or ‘I’ve decided to spend more time doing my hobby’ –- they don’t feel bad about it, they feel good about it. And we don’t sympathize, we say congratulations. And we don’t say they’ve lost their job, we say they’ve chosen to leave their job.

Do Businesses Have A Moral Obligation To Their Workers? A Missouri Businessman Says They Do

As the ObamaCare experiment continues, critics are still wishing for, or in some cases trying to engineer, its absolute failure.

Obviously, if you have been following politics closely since 2008, you know that right-wingers want to undermine the Affordable Care Act largely because they believe that doing so would destroy the Obama presidency, a goal they sketched out at the beginning of his first term. These folks did not—and still do not—want this president to be transformative, to go down in history as someone who mattered. And if the ACA turns out to be successful, if the experiment works, it will mean that its presidential champion, and the political party that supported him, will matter a great deal.

Peter Wehner, a very conservative columnist, used to work for George W. Bush. But in Ayn Randish, Tea Party circles, he is considered a “neo-liberal” and a “statist” and one who promotes “wealth distribution.” That’s how far right the right-wing has drifted. In the real world, the world of facts, Wehner is an anti-Obama right-winger who thinks the failure of healthcare reform will not only “indict” the Obama administration, but will “hurt liberalism,” too. Why? Because such a failure would mean that the attempt to achieve “universal health care coverage,” something that liberals “have been aiming for for half a century,” will be politically dead, along with the Obama legacy.

A few days ago, Wehner wrote a piece titled “A Scenario for the Repeal of ObamaCare,” in which he quotes fellow right-winger Avik Roy as saying that if Republicans take over the White’s House and Senate in 2017, and if the number of “newly insured could be dwarfed by the political constituency of those harmed by the law,” then “President Obama’s signature legislation may not be long for this world.” To which Wehner responds:

If so, it would sink the Obama presidency, both in real time and in the eyes of history. Which is precisely what ought to occur.

So, there you have it. They want Obama’s graying scalp, even if it means hurting millions upon millions of uninsured and otherwise uninsurable folks. This stuff is personal.

And speaking of personal, a column that appeared recently in the Joplin Globe was also personal. Except in a good way. A local businessman, who holds a degree in chemistry and physics, wrote a piece (“The impact of ACA isn’t really ‘devastating’ at all”) that blew me away (thanks to blogger Jim Wheeler for the tip).

Kelly Meares, who co-founded and operates a business in Webb City, Mo., was inspired by Senator Roy Blunt’s invitation “to share horror stories and devastation brought upon fellow Missourians by the implementation of Obamacare.” Well, I’m sure Ol’ Roy didn’t expect this ironic reply from someone here in Southwest Missouri:

Thanks for the invitation to share the devastating impacts of Obamacare on our family. If you don’t mind, I will refer to it as the ACA instead of a hate-based euphemism. Yes, Obama has adopted the term hoping to neutralize it, but the Affordable Care Act was created by Congress and built on a hodgepodge of Republican ideas in the hope of bipartisanship while still (regrettably) mollycoddling insurance companies.

Because of the ACA, our business is suffering through lower insurance costs for the first time ever. In spite of staff aging up, our provider has lowered our premium costs. We were accustomed to double-digit increases for most of the last decade. 

Wow! Good ACA news for a change. And from a businessman! Meares goes on to note that an often overlooked provision in the ACA—the requirement that insurance companies in the individual and small group market have to spend at least 80% of premiums (85% for the large group market) Kelly Meares, founderon actual health care or else refund the difference to policyholders—resulted in 588,000 Missourians getting checks from their insurance companies in 2012.

Meares also notes that thanks to the ACA his young adult daughter “has had the security of insurance as a dependent on our policy since leaving college” and “will be able to transition to a plan on the exchange regardless of pre-existing conditions.” That is really “devastating stuff,” he mockingly tells Senator Blunt.

But what is really devastating, in terms of countering enemies of the ACA like Roy Blunt, is the following sweet sarcasm:

I fear that the ACA will allow hospitals and medical practitioners to spend less time chasing debtors and foreclosing on the homes of the unfortunate people who happen to have some assets but insufficient or no insurance coverage for whatever reason. The medicos will be liberated to practice medicine and will have less deadbeat debt to pass on to the paying customers.

And now mom-and-pop businesses that make the sacrifice to provide insurance for their employees will have a more level playing field against those businesses that neglect their moral obligation to their workers. Consider this — if your business model depends on a paying a non-living wage and pushing your workers into the safety net (provided by others), then you are not an entrepreneur; you are an exploiter. To borrow a popular hate phrase: You are not a producer; you are a parasite.

Dang! How refreshing to see reflected on the local paper’s opinion page, a page usually filled with anti-Obama and anti-ACA nonsense, the point of view of a businessman who believes that businesses ought not “neglect their moral obligation to their workers.” Heck, who around these parts even knew that businesses actually have a moral obligation to their workers? Fantastic stuff.

Mr. Meares urged “the Missouri GOP controlled statehouse” to “do the right thing” by expanding Medicaid in the state, which would affect 193,000 Missourians. Then he candidly admitted that the ACA is not the perfect solution, that “single payer” would be preferable. “But the doomsayers shot that down,” he says. Yes, they did. From the start there was very little consideration of a single-payer system, which is why, as this principled businessman said earlier, that the ACA was constructed with “a hodgepodge of Republican ideas in the hope of bipartisanship while still (regrettably) mollycoddling insurance companies.”

Meares then looked Roy Blunt in the eyes and told him,

Enough of the mock outrage and straw man arguments, please.

And he finished his remarkable column with this:

Of course, it’s human nature not to like the ACA simply because nobody actually wants insurance. Nobody wants hospitals or doctors. Everybody wants to live a healthy, non-medically entwined existence. But unless the GOP can deliver the latter, then you must do more to support the former instead of making political capital on our denial and obstructing the flawed solution.

I request that you serve the people of Missouri and reject the politics of GOP obstruction at all costs.

Bravo!

______________________________

[photo from the website of Kelly Meares' business]

House Republicans, And Some Fraidy Cat Democrats, Vote To Allow Insurance Companies To Keep Selling Crappy Insurance Forever And Ever. Yippee!

From the AP:

The Republican-controlled House has passed legislation letting insurance companies sell individual coverage to all comers, even if it falls short of standards set in “Obamacare.”

Next up for this group of lawmakers: Allowing companies to sell contaminated food to Americans who—because they are Americans, dammit!—might want it.

Sadly, 39 Democrats joined with 222 Republicans to make this reactionary mania somewhat bipartisan. Wow. Fortunately, the bill will never become law, as President Obama has said he will veto it.

“We’ve got to move forward on this,” Says The President

Yesterday Speaker John Boehner said the health care law needed to be fixed. Today he said it can’t be fixed. Tomorrow, who knows what he will say. But what we do know is that beneath all the hysterical media coverage of the number of people who have so far signed up for insurance under the Affordable Care Act—106,000 brave or desperate souls—lies one simple fact: Republicans have exactly no interest in making the law work, in helping people who can’t get or can’t afford insurance, some 41 million Americans.

In a better world, that is, in a world where there really is a liberal mainstream press, the reporting on what is happening relative to ObamaCare would be much different. It would start by noting that the disappointing numbers of insurance buyers is not just the result of the troubled federal website, or the normal wait-till-the-last-minute propensity we all have, but the reporting would also point out that the other side has been trying to destroy the law or, failing that, scare people into avoiding it.

Reporters would tell the people that despite the Republican conspiracy to sabotage the law, despite the concerted efforts by the right-wing to encourage people not to sign up, a rather large number of folks—at least at this stage of the process—have nevertheless found their way into the marketplaces and signed up for coverage. Reporters, in my ideal world, might lead their coverage with the fact that almost 400,000 people, some who likely never had insurance in their lives, have signed up for Medicaid.

As I said, that kind of news coverage would be in a better world, not the one we live in.

In any case, President Obama came forward in a news conference today and announced some tweaks to the law. He was responding to media pressure and to pressure from fraidy-cat Democrats,President Barack Obama pauses while speaking about his signature health care law, Thursday, Nov. 14, 2013, in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington. Bowing to pressure, President Barack Obama intends to permit continued sale of individual insurance plans that have been canceled because they failed to meet coverage standards under the health care law, officials said Thursday. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak) as well as to the genuine concerns some Americans have about the cancellation of their policies.

The President also took all of the blame for the problems associated with the law (“we fumbled the ball” and “I feel deeply responsible”), especially his promise that people could keep their insurance, even if a lot of it is crappy insurance. He absolved congressional Democrats, some who are shaking in their political boots, of any responsibility for that so-called broken promise. Now those Democrats can go home and tell the folks it was all Obama’s fault. Happy now, Dems?

The President announced today that he is trying to make it possible, as I said, for people to keep their mostly crappy insurance policies because the grandfather provision in the law was insufficiently protective of such sub-standard plans:

What we wanted to be able to do is to say to these folks, “You know what, the Affordable Care Act is not going to be the reason why insurers have to cancel your plan.”

We all know, and the President acknowledged it, that any of the normal disruptions or problems (like rising premiums) in the health insurance market are going to be blamed on the ACA. And if insurance companies don’t take advantage of the fix the President announced today (and how that fix will be implemented is not clear), he will still get slammed on Fox “News” and, sadly, in much of the mainstream press. That’s just the way it is these days. As I write, Andrea Mitchell is reporting that the insurance industry is complaining that what the President proposed won’t work and that the blame is squarely on him. Blah, blah, blah.

Democrats, as is their tendency, usually jump ship when their boat has a leak in it. Some of them in the House were threatening to vote on a Republican-sponsored “fix” to the law that would essentially, as it was really designed to do, undermine it. But President Obama is not jumping ship. “I’m up to the challenge,” he said. He noted, rather importantly:

We’ve got to move forward on this. It took a hundred years for us to even get to the point that we could even start talking about and implementing a law to make sure everybody got health insurance. My pledge to the American people is that we’re going to solve the problems that are there, we’re going to get it right, and the Affordable Care Act is going to work for the American people.

Will the President’s press conference shut down all the criticism? Of course not. Fox “News” will go on doing segment after segment about disgruntled people who had their policies cancelled while it ignores the millions upon millions who stand to be helped by the law, particularly if Republicans will stop sabotaging it; Fox will go on showing graphics of a non-working website, long after it has been repaired. And the mainstream press will treat all of this like it is a political game, rather than a long-awaited attempt to do something good for Americans, even if doing this particular good is enormously complicated and necessarily problematic.

Finally, I want to make a comment about what Alex Wagner, a reliable progressive on MSNBC, said after the President spoke. She said he “seemed a wounded man today.” No, he didn’t. He seemed like a disappointed but determined man who is trying to do all he can do to guide the ACA through a rather difficult storm, a storm that, unfortunately, is a rather perfect one for Republicans, for those who never before gave a damn about those millions of people who will, hopefully and when all is said and done, get health insurance through ObamaCare.

(AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

To Err Is Human

How about this for a revered retailer’s rollout of its holiday bargains:

Walmart Website Error Allowed Customers to Buy $600 Electronics for $8.85

What? I thought only the government could screw up websites and rollouts and marketplaces. That’s what every living and breathing right-wing politician and pundit has been telling us since October 1, right? Private sector good, government bad.

Anyway, I have had my own troubles with the private sector, when it comes to websites. My cell phone company, U.S. Cellular, has had its brand spanking new online payment system malfunctioning for more than two months now. Yes, more than two months. Last month they took out two payments from my checking account and then assured me things were being fixed and that I simply wouldn’t have to pay anything this month. Except they charged me again! Dammit!

Of course I went on the website and encountered a series of problems:

us celluar site problems

Obviously U.S. Cellular will have all this messed fixed eventually, just as Walmart fixed the mess it created. And just as obvious is the fact that those working on the ObamaCare website, HealthCare.gov, will get it up and running, too. The point here is that, yes, they—meaning the human beings working on and managing the rollout of the health insurance exchanges—should have been better prepared for the big day on October 1. It was a major screw-up that keeps on giving to the Obama haters among us. But when it comes to opening up the ACA’s marketplaces, we are talking about issues and systems much more complicated than selling cell phone service or electronic equipment. And, again, we are talking about error-prone human beings.

But ultimately we are talking about the well-being of a lot of Americans. I won’t abandon U.S. Cellular because they have one or two knuckleheads managing their website and online payment system, just as people won’t stop shopping at Walmart because they couldn’t get a computer monitor for $8.85, even though it said they could on the company’s website. Hopefully people, especially young people, won’t give up on ObamaCare just because it is taking longer than expected to get things right.

And if they do sign up, it will be in spite of what right-wingers, like the IQ snatchers on Fox “News,” have been doing shamelessly.

Fox News Obama Scare

Despite Media Hysteria, The Salesmanship Must Continue

When it comes to those Americans who are now having their present health coverage canceled by insurance companies for next year, there is something akin to mass hysteria going on in mainstream journalism, some of it now being exposed for what it is (see here and here, for instance).

nbc news bannerIt’s too bad that such mass hysteria isn’t happening over the fact that, despite passage of the Affordable Care Act, millions of Americans still won’t be able to get insurance, many of them because Republicans are sabotaging the law, refusing to implement it by not expanding Medicaid in selected states (including here in Missouri) and encouraging people to break the law by not purchasing insurance on the exchanges. Would to God that national and local journalists were busy reporting on that reality night and day.

But they’re not. Nearly everywhere you look, stories are popping up about how terribly unfair it is that many Americans who have to purchase insurance on the individual market—about 5% of the population—are being told by their insurance companies that policies that weren’t grandfathered into the Affordable Care Act or that don’t meet the new minimum standards in the law are being canceled. (Never mind that the individual insurance market was highly volatile before ObamaCare.)

One can turn anywhere now and see clips of Barack Obama uttering a variation of, “If you like your health care plan, you can keep it.” Oh, the outrage! Look how many times he said it! Depending on who you listen to, the President “lied” or he “deceived” us or he “misled” us all when he made those statements. And those coming forth to defend the President are being shouted down, much like the way right-wing MSNBC morning man Joe Scarborough tried to shout down former Obama health policy adviser Ezekiel Emanuel this morning:

EMANUEL: The law did not kick anyone off their plan. The law did not say you have to cancel those plans. The law said if on March 23, 2010, as long as you keep that plan in place and don’t change it radically you can stay on it forever. You can drive your Pinto without airbags or seat belts forever. 

On the other hand, if the insurance company changes the plan, if you go off that plan to another plan, you have to get a new plan. Who’s making that change? The insurance company. Let me give you a little secret—

CHUCK TODD: Wait a minute, though…

SCARBOROUGH: Oh, come on! That’s garbage! That’s garbage! This is so beneath you, Zeke. This is so beneath you.

EMANUEL: No, it’s not beneath me…

SCARBOROUGH: Yes it is. You’re better than this…

EMANUEL: No, one more thing, which is, the insurance companies want out of that market. That’s why they’re changing the plans and that’s why they’re sending the cancellation notices. They want out of it.

Now, Ezekiel Emanuel, it must be said, isn’t some ordinary talking head. He is a Harvard-trained physician who also holds a Ph. D in political philosophy from the same school. He is an oncologist and a bioethicist. Presumably he knows a little something about medicine and insurance and politics and ethics. And he has refused to allow the opponents of health reform to shout him down (see, for instance, his appearance on Fox News Sunday). He has often been a lone voice out there raging against the anti-ObamaCare hysteria.

emanuel shouted downEmanuel’s point about what is happening shouldn’t be missed: the reason insurance companies are beginning to stop marketing their sub-par plans to consumers is because those plans soon won’t be profitable: the companies can no longer sell them to new customers and without new customers feeding them dollars, those policies will soon become a burden too heavy for the profit-minded companies to bear. Thus, they are getting ahead of the game by cancelling now, grandfathered in or not.

Now, we can argue about whether President Obama or advisers in his administration knew in advance that insurance companies would behave like profit-minded corporations (they should have known; it’s the nature of the beast). We can argue about whether the President should have been more nuanced in his statements (he should have been and people have a right to call him on it). We can even argue about whether it is reasonable for some people to complain about having to pay more for coverage they don’t need (it is reasonable, but they also benefit from changes in the system). But what about the heart of the issue, as it relates to these individual health plans in particular and health reform in general?

Is it a good thing or a bad thing that people can no longer purchase inadequate insurance that was making a lot of profits for the insurance industry but exposing customers to medical bankruptcy? Is it a good thing or a bad thing that people with health insurance no longer have to worry about going completely bankrupt because of an illness that runs up bills past policy limits? As The New York Times reported,

…nearly two-thirds of Americans who declared bankruptcy cited illness or medical bills as a significant cause (PDF) of their bankruptcies. And of the medically bankrupt, three-quarters of that group had insurance, at least when they first got sick.

Surely those of us who support health care reform can make the case that for all its faults—and there are many—ObamaCare at least has the benefit of giving folks the peace of mind to know that they are not necessarily condemned to bankruptcy if they get horribly sick, right? That insurance companies can no longer sell crappy plans that leave people financially vulnerable? That people can get relatively affordable insurance and good health care even though they have a preexisting medical condition?

Because if we can’t sell that stuff, if we can’t convince people that those things are worthy goals, then we are pretty poor salesmen. And, more important, we will never get anything better than ObamaCare.

______________________________________

From HealthCare.gov, here are the ten essential benefits that all health insurance policies must provide:

essential health benefits graph

Some Good News On HealthCare.gov

A commenter alerted me to the fact that you can now go on HealthCare.gov and actually check out the plans and rates without having to first go through the application process. It worked for me and that feature represents progress. Things are looking up. Here is a screenshot:

healthcare website

Additionally, HuffPo’s health care reporter, Jeffrey Young, has written one of the most informative pieces you will read regarding the issue of canceled polices. With all the propaganda being pumped out by the conservative media complex, aided and abetted by mainstream journalists, Young’s piece is a breath of fresh air.

Some stuff from the piece:

♦ About 11 million people buy health insurance directly, as opposed to getting it at work or via Medicaid or Medicare (not counting the millions who have zero insurance). Of those 11 million, anywhere from “a few hundred thousand to millions” will not be able to buy their current plans next year.

♦ “Not all the insurance plans being canceled are lousy,” but “conservative health care reform proposals would also lead to lots and lots of people losing the plans they have now.

♦ “Plans getting dropped is nothing new. Neither are big rate hikes.”

♦ “According to a 2004 study, only 17 percent of consumers in this market kept the same plan for two years or more (h/t the Washington Post). This is going to happen next year, and the year after that, ad infinitum.”

♦ Why some premiums may go up: “A big part of what’s going on here is that people on the individual market before Obamacare were benefiting from the fact that health insurers could exclude sick people (or charge them sky-high rates) and even dump them when they became ill or injured. This kept companies’ medical expenses low, which meant their healthy customers could pay less. That’s a sweetheart deal — until the inevitable day when you, the healthy person, become a sick person.”

♦ “Another thing your health insurance company probably isn’t telling you is that you may be able to get help paying for your insurance through Obamacare’s tax credits…”

ObamaCare is not the best possible solution to our health care problems, but it is at least an attempt to do something constructive. If it works, great. If it doesn’t, single-payer here we come.

Congressman Ozark Billy Long: Cheap Shot Artist? Nope. He’s No Artist

cheap shot artist:
An individual who raises the act of taking a dishonorable, lowbrow, disrespectable action to an artform. This is accomplished either through frequent and conspicuous use of cheap shots or a particularly noteworthy low blow.

—from the Urban Dictionary

Geeze.

I had heard that my congressman, the former auctioneer Ozark Billy Long, participated in the farce that was Wednesday’s hearing conducted by the House Energy and Commerce Committee on “implementation failures” of the Affordable Care Act. But even I, a long-time critic of the congressman, never dreamed he would make such a cheap shot-shooting splash on the national stage.

Here is the painful transcript of Ozark Billy’s moment in the anti-ObamaCare sun. And keep in mind that he had plenty of time—almost three and a half hours during the hearing itself—to formulate his questions:

OZARK BILLY LONG: …thank you, Secretary, for being here today and giving your testimony. Earlier in today [sic] you said that “I’m responsible for the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.” I’ve heard you referred to, maybe yourself, as the point person for the rollout, the architect of implementing Affordable Care Act, so you are kind of the President’s point person, are you not, for this rollout?

SECRETARY SEBELIUS: Yes, sir.

OZARK BILLY LONG: I, uh, earlier, you were asked—and there’s a lot of things striking about the rollout of this and about the Affordable Care Act altogether—but the thing that’s most striking to me is that when we have the point person for the rollout here, and you’re not going into the exchange. Now, I’ve heard you say that—and you’ve got some advice from the folks behind you—but I’m asking you today could you tell the American public, if your advisers behind you, if they happen to give you some wrong information, if it is possible for you to go into the exchange like all these millions of Americans that are goin’ into the exchanges, will you commit to forgo your government insurance plan that you’re on now and join us in the pool? Come on in, the water’s fine, all the congressmen, all of our staff, have to go into the exchanges. We have to go into the D.C. exchanges.

And I will say that I tried to get on the website, I was successful during the hearing earlier, and I got to the D.C. exchange, which is where I have to buy from, and I got part way through and then when I got to the point where I had to enter Social Security number, billy long cheap shot artistI could not bring myself to do that from what I’ve heard from people like John McAfee and folks about the security, will you tell, if your advisers are wrong, and it is possible, for you, and I’m not saying it is, but if it is, if it is possible for you, to forgo your government program you have now, will you tell the American public that, yes, I will go into the exchanges next year like everyone else?

SEBELIUS: Sir, the way the law is written—

LONG: It’s a yes or no—let’s say that you’re wrong on that. Yes or no. If you’re wrong, will you yes or no…

SEBELIUS: I don’t want to give misinformation to the American public…

LONG: You what?

SEBELIUS: I don’t want to give misinformation…

LONG: I want you to go on and research it…if, if, if you’re wrong…will you go into the exchanges? If you can, will you? That’s a yes or no; if you can, will you?

SEBELIUS: I will take a look at it. I don’t have any idea…

LONG: That’s not an answer. That’s not a yes or no.

COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN FRED UPTON (R-Michigan): The gentleman’s time has expired…

LONG: You’re the architect of the whole program and you won’t go into it with the rest of the American public…

SEBELIUS: I did not say that, sir. I think it’s illegal for me—

LONG: —If it’s not illegal, if it’s legal will you go in? …Come on in, the water’s fine…

UPTON (R-Michigan): The gentleman’s time has expired…

CONGRESSMAN HENRY WAXMAN (D-California): Mr. Chairman, Mr. Chairman, I have a unanimous consent request…

SEBELIUS: (turning to someone behind her and muttering) …don’t do this to me…

WAXMAN: …Madame Secretary, I’d like you to answer for the record: if you were able to do what the gentleman just suggested…and went into the [exchange] to buy an individual policy, would you be able to find one that would protect you from cheap shots…?

Yikes. Cheap shots, indeed.

First of all, besides the cheap shots and incoherent mess that was Long’s questioning, when he asks Sebelius, “will you go into the exchanges like everyone else?” we know that “everyone else” will not be going into the exchanges. It will typically be only those Americans (about 15 million) who don’t get coverage through their employers or through Medicare or Medicaid or who are self-employed or who are owners of small businesses trying to provide insurance for their workers (or members of Congress and their staff who were, unfortunately, put into the exchanges by a Republican provision that Democrats adopted).

Second, Sebelius already has health insurance and doesn’t need to go into the exchanges. Her employer is the federal government and, by law, her employer must provide her with affordable insurance, which it does. And since apparently she is enrolled in Medicare Part A, she couldn’t go into the exchanges without withdrawing from that program, which would be dumb since it is, uh, free. Thus, in order for her to sufficiently prove to Billy Long that she loves ObamaCare, she would have to give up her government-provided health benefits, quit Medicare, and start paying out of pocket for her health insurance. Dang, I wonder why she doesn’t do that?

Third, when Long says that Sebelius “is the architect of the whole program,” he is either lying or he doesn’t realize that the architects of this program were largely Republicans, who, before Obama embraced their enhance-the-private-insurance-industry scheme, were all in favor of enhancing the private insurance industry. And if Sebelius were the architect of the program, she would understand it much, much better than she does and would be able to explain it much, much better than she has so far.

Fourth, when Ozark Billy referenced John McAfee, I thought he was kidding. John McAfee, besides being the founder of the anti-virus software company that used to haunt our computers, is actually a “person of interest” in a murder case in Belize. He is one weird cat. House Republicans solicited his “expertise” on October 14, those Republicans being in desperate need of a clown to complete their anti-ObamaCare circus act.

Instead, they settled for Ozark Billy Long, whose cheap shot artistry was long on cheap and short on art.

Geeze.

Here is the entire hearing in front of the House Energy and Commerce Committee,  and you will find the complete display of Long’s lack of artistry near the end, at 3:23:22 or so:

Here is a clip:

Insurance In A Red Solo Cup

Tennessee congresswoman congressman* Marsha Blackburn, a twangy Tea Party zealot, loudly said to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius today:

You’re taking away their choice!

She was talking, of course, about the Affordable Care Act’s disdain for insurance plans that don’t meet the law’s new standard for coverage. Except that the truth is those inferior plans, plans that essentially are rip-offs for consumers, were actually protected in the law. As HealthCare.gov puts it:

If you are covered by a plan that existed March 23, 2010, your plan may be “grandfathered.” 

The site also explains the difference between the new standardized plans and the grandfathered ones:

___________________________________

All health plans must:

Grandfathered plans DON’T have to:

In addition to the above, grandfathered individual health insurance plans (the kind you buy yourself, not the kind you get from an employer) don’t have to:

___________________________________

Leaving aside the hypocrisy of Republicans yelling about taking away people’s health care choices, when they have all supported the Ryan budget plans that, as Jonathan Cohn points out, would cause “between 14 and 20 million Medicaid recipients” to “lose their insurance,” let us instead focus on the inaccuracy of Blackburn’s hysterical claim, “You’re taking away their choice!”

Now, it is indisputable that there are many folks, people who have to purchase insurance on the individual market, receiving notices that their current plans, junk or not, are being discontinued. Insurance companies have to, by law, notify policy holders 90 days in advance if they will not offer the same plan next year. But discontinuing those insurance plans is the decision of the insurance company. It should be shouted from the housetops that they don’t have to discontinue them. If the policy existed on March 23, 2010, the companies can keep on selling their junk, as long as there are folks willing to buy it.

And apparently some small number of people prefer the junk. I like the way Wonkette’s Doctor Zoom put it:

Obama’s ‘You Can Keep Your Plan’ Failed To Anticipate How Much Americans Love Cheap Crappy Plans That Cover Nothing

Unfortunately, the crappy insurance lovers among us are also very noisy. They have been giving GOP lawmakers a lot of ammunition with which to shoot at ObamaCare. And although we know the shooting will never stop, we can hope that mainstream journalists will stop listening to the shooters and pay more attention to the victims of Republican attempts to sabotage the Affordable Care Act.

gop insurance planFinally, just before congresswoman congressman Blackburn told Kathleen Sebelius about how ObamaCare was “taking away their choices,” she offered up an analogy that went like this:

I will remind you that some people like to drive a Ford, not a Ferrari, and some people like to drink out of a red Solo cup, not a crystal stem. 

Ahh. Forget for a moment that in most cases people with crappy insurance aren’t really driving Fords or drinking out of plastic cups. They’re actually not really driving or drinking at all. They’re on foot and thirsty. But the congresswoman’s congressman’s analogy accidentally reveals the strength of the Affordable Care Act: It’s offering Ferraris and crystal to those who haven’t been able to afford them! I guess that’s why they call it the “Affordable” Care Act, huh?

In any case, since Ms. Blackburn brought it up, since she mentioned those red Solo cups, it reminded me of a god-awful country song by a god-awful reactionary country star named Toby Keith:

Now a red solo cup is the best receptacle
For barbecues, tailgates, fairs and festivals
And you, sir, do not have a pair of testicles
If you prefer drinking from glass

That sort of sums up Republican thinking on this issue, doesn’t it?

__________________________________________________________________

* She prefers it that way.

What Does ObamaCare And Microsoft Have In Common?

Here are two paragraphs from a recent CNN story on the ObamaCare website mess:

CNN’s Elizabeth Cohen tried to enroll in Obamacare as an experiment. It took more than a week for her to create a login and password. When that finally worked, error messages plagued her efforts when she tried to log in. Almost two weeks went by before she succeeded in logging in and proceeding with an application.

An insurance industry source told CNNMoney’s Tami Luhby that insurers are receiving faulty information about new customers, including duplicate forms, and missing and garbled information. They are in discussion with regulators and the administration to address these issues.

Journalist Mike Barnicle, whose role on MSNBC’s Morning Joe involves giving voice to the ignorance of the Common Man—a role he was born to play—said today about the disastrous rollout of the Affordable Care Act’s health insurance marketplaces:

The larger point is they keep using the word “unacceptable.” This is outrageous; it’s not unacceptable. They’ve had two years to pull this program together—in a country where you can go out to San Jose, California…and find five people to put together a website in about six seconds…

Oh, yeah? Ever heard of Windows RT? It is the version of Microsoft’s operating system that runs certain portable devices the company sells that feature processors marketed by a British company called ARM Holdings. According to PC Magazine, ARM chips are “the most widely used microprocessors worldwide.” In fact, the ARM processor “powers most smartphones and tablets today,” says Time Tech. So, you might say Microsoft’s Windows RT is a big bleeping deal, when it comes to software. And you might say that the geeks at Microsoft, and the executives who are running the company these days, would make sure they get the recent software update right the first time. Nope.

Here is a story released late last night from Computerworld and titled, “Microsoft yanks Windows 8.1 update for Surface RT after ‘Blue Screen of Death’ reports“:

Microsoft on Friday yanked the Windows RT 8.1 update from its Windows Store after some Surface RT owners reported their tablets had been crippled…

The snafu was an embarrassment for Microsoft, as its Surface RT tablet, which debuted a year ago, has been the only Windows RT-powered device that has sold in any meaningful quantity.

People responsible for this embarrassing snafu are like the “five people” Mike Barnicle says could “put together a website in about six seconds,” when he is criticizing the Obama administration for the poor rollout of the insurance marketplace website. The point here is that Microsoft, no doubt, has plenty of talented people at its disposal to produce software that works. But you know what? This stuff ain’t easy. If it were, people like Mike Barnicle would be doing it.

I want you to read the following paragraph from the Computerworld story:

While other reported problems with the Windows 8.1 update seemed to be rooted in device driver incompatibilities — understandable considering the breadth of the Windows ecosystem, which relies on a bewildering array of hardware components and peripherals, each with its own vendor-built driver — the fact that the Windows RT 8.1 update bricked the Surface RT, which has a single set of specific components and drivers, magnified the mistake.

Get that? “A bewildering array of hardware components and peripherals, each with its own vendor-builit driver.” Now, imagine the complexity involved in putting together, without any problems, a system that not only has to run or support the insurance exchanges for 36 states, but it also has to interface with various insurance company systems—as the government sends crucial data through the pipeline—as well as interface with other state and federal computer systems, like, for instance, the IRS. Add to all that the initial overloading of the system—almost 9 million unique visitors in the first three days—by people interested in seeing what coverage was available and its cost. So, it is understandable that the thing has problems.

That being said, the level of problems we are seeing, and how the development and debut of the site has been managed so far, is, despite Mike Barnicle’s rejection of the word, unacceptable. It’s unacceptable. There’s no better word for it. The site needs to be fixed and fixed very soon. Many of the state exchanges are working relatively well and people are enrolling. It’s necessary, if we are ever to figure out whether the ObamaCare experiment will work nationally, to get the national enrollment portal working and working well.

Because, as the severely critical, left-leaning Ezra Klein wrote recently:

…it’s important to see the Affordable Care Act as something more than a pawn in the political wars: It’s a real law that real people are desperately, nervously, urgently trying to access. And so far, the Obama administration has failed them.

____________________________________________________________________________

NOTE: I kid you not: As I was about to publish this piece, my browser crapped out and I got this message:

google crome crashDamn! Why can’t the geeks get it right?

God’s In His Heaven And ObamaCare Will Soon Send You To Join Him, Buttsex Or Not

The year’s at the spring,
And day’s at the morn;
Morning’s at seven;
The hill-side’s dew-pearled;
The lark’s on the wing;
The snail’s on the thorn;
God’s in His heaven—
All’s right with the world!

—Robert Browning

All’s right with the world alright.

Republicans have shut down the government and Fox “News” is doing what it is that Fox “News” does best.

I strolled past the Republican News Channel this morning and peeked through its fogged-up windows for a couple of minutes. What I saw was a man from the Heritage Foundation, who has written a book on Margaret Thatcher, explain why the Iron Lady would be aghast to even set her saintly peepers on ObamaCare! Yes, this man told Fox viewers that the private business- and free market-loving woman who presided over Great Britain’s genuinely socialist healthcare system would oppose a conservative-inspired scheme in which markets are used to bring in customers to private insurance companies! Only on Fox.

But the worst thing I saw through the fogged-up windows was none other than Betsy McCaughey, former Republican Lieutenant Governor of New York, who Fox used all morning to “explain” ObamaCare to the folks. Just to give you an idea what a bad idea it was to have McCaughey explain the Affordable Care Act to gullible, low-information Fox viewers, I bring you a recent headline from Wonkette:

‘Death Panel’ Inventor Betsy McCaughey Warns Obamacare Will Force Doctors To Ask You About Buttsex

As I said, all’s right with the world.

More “Both Sides Are Guilty” Journalism From ABC News

President Obama went to Largo, Maryland, on Thursday and gave a speech about the Affordable Care Act, about how important it is that, In the wealthiest nation on Earth, no one should go broke just because they get sick,” about how significant it is that,

on October 1st, millions of Americans who don’t have health insurance because they’ve been priced out of the market or because they’ve been denied access because of a preexisting condition, they will finally be able to buy quality, affordable health insurance.

He talked about many of the virtues of the law, like the free preventive care, like the young folks under 26 who “gained coverage by staying on their parents’ plan,” like the “hundreds of dollars” that older Americans have saved on their medicine, like the money insurance companies were forced to return to families because those medical insurance companies didn’t spend enough on, uh, medical care.

The President mentioned that there are no longer any lifetime limits on coverage, that there is no longer any discrimination allowed for preexisting conditions, nor are companies allowed “to charge women more for their insurance just because they’re women.”

The man who was instrumental in making access to health insurance a “right” for the first time in American history, also talked a lot about how the whole thing will work, beginning next Tuesday, and what folks who need insurance should do to sign up. He talked about the various choices, the costs, and how it is that the “marketplaces” and the “competition, choice, and transparency” that comes with those marketplaces, “are keeping costs down.”

The President, though, also had to talk about the “misinformation” and “confusion” surrounding the law. He noted both the silly and the dangerous efforts by Republicans to repeal it, about all the dumb and hysterical things that they have said about the law, and a quick acknowledgement of the role Fox “News” has played in the campaign against it. (By the way, IQ-slaughtering “Fox and Friends” Friday morning had a segment attacking the President for invoking “slavery” and daring to “divide” the nation!)

Unfortunately, it was mostly the President’s remarks about Republicans that made it onto television and radio news, mainly because many broadcast journalists these days have pretty much given up on educating the public when it comes to politics. Not much of the substance, of the practical advice the President offered to potential beneficiaries of the ACA, was disseminated by broadcast news outlets.

I did, though, see or hear a hundred times the President’s funny allusion to the stupidity of Michele Bachmann, and his oblique reference to the Koch brothers, who are funding a “cynical ad campaign” designed to get young people to not participate in the insurance marketplaces and therefore not have “any health care.”

But of all the journalism I witnessed regarding Thursdays coverage of the President’s speech and the ongoing shutdown and default talk in Washington, the worst was what I saw on ABC’s World News Tonight with Diane Sawyer.jonathan karl

The fight over shutting down the government and the dangerous debt ceiling nonsense was the second story on Thursday night’s broadcast. ABC’s Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl had two minutes and he proceeded to make a joke of the entire thing. From beginning to end, it was a piece designed to be more cute than informative, more clever than enlightening.

First, Sawyer introduced the piece by saying,

And now we head to Washington and the growing frustration in the country over another round of name-calling and threats to bring the government to a standstill.

Uh-oh. You can sense that this is going to be another one of those “both sides are guilty” pieces, which enables Republicans to do all the dirty work and only get half the blame. She continued:

We begin with…Jonathan Karl, who tells us what the opposing sides are saying about each other tonight.

Ah, there it is in full-bloom. “The opposing sides” are saying things about each other, and that, of course, is the story. And it got worse. Karl began his piece with a comedic speed-up of video footage of the President making his way to the podium in Maryland, sort of like an old Charlie Chaplin movie. Then Karl said this:

Here we go again: We’ve got a serious president calling his opponents “crazy.”

Huh? Is that any way to start a report on the dangerous game being played by Republicans? Geeze.

Obviously, the President didn’t call anyone crazy, but he did say this:

All this would be funny if it wasn’t so crazy.  And a lot of it is just hot air.  A lot of it is just politics.  I understand that.  But now the tea party Republicans have taken it to a whole new level because they’re threatening either to shut down the government, or shut down the entire economy by refusing to let America pay its bills for the first time in history — unless I agree to gut a law that will help millions of people.

If Jonathan Karl had included that soundbite in his report, the public would have learned something important. But he didn’t, so they didn’t. What they learned was that the President called his opponents crazy, which he clearly didn’t do.

In any case, Karl pivoted to the Republican Party, who, he said, were “willing to go to the brink,” by making a lot of policy demands in exchange for a deal. He also used Jon Stewart to take a jab at Ted Cruz.

Then Karl accurately reported that the White House, sensibly, said it will not negotiate over the debt ceiling, but the reporter put his own ridiculous Beltway spin on it:

Over at the White House, they’ve decided the best way to strike a deal is not to try…Instead of negotiating, they are name-calling. Today one of the President’s top aides said of Republicans, quote, “What we’re not for is negotiating with people with a bomb strapped to their chest,” while Senator Ted Cruz compared those willing to fund ObamaCare with those who appeased the Nazis in the 1940s. That’s where we are, Dianne.

And there you have it. Both sides are equally unreasonable. Both sides are crass name-callers. Karl thinks, and wants his viewers to think, that both sides are engaging in “absurdities”—his word—and therefore both sides are guilty, should the government shut down or should we suffer an economic calamity related to not raising the debt ceiling.

That, my friends, is why Republicans in the House and Senate feel free to play dangerous games with the economy and the stability of the American financial system. That is why they are not afraid to fanatically embrace both their ignorance and ideology and use them to cause chaos in the capital. They understand that, when things turn sour, the Jonathan Karls of journalism will do their best to spread the blame around.

In the meantime, President Obama said on Thursday that as long as he is president,

The Affordable Care Act is here to stay. 

All we are really waiting on now, as Senator Patty Murray said today, is which hostage the Republicans are going to take in order to get their way: the government or the economy, or both. And if one or both of the hostages get shot, count on Beltway journalists to tell the public that the hostage-takers and the hostage-rescuers are both guilty of the crime.

“Thank You! Thank You, Sam-I-Am”

It caught me by surprise.

Oh, sure, I was aware of the faux-filibuster that Senator Ted Cruz was conducting on C-SPAN. I even held my nose, gritted my teeth, and listened to some of it, the substance of which was either inexcusable ignorance or reprehensible lies, you pick. I don’t really care either way because the exercise has no real relevance to whether the government will be shutdown or continue on its merry way.

But when I saw, later Tuesday evening, that Cruz was reading from Green Eggs and Ham, I thought: What good is a Princeton-Harvard education, what good is the arrogance that such an education tends to spawn, if you can’t understand Dr. Seuss?

Dr. Seuss, of course, was the pen-name of Theodor Seuss Geisel, who wrote Green Eggs and Ham in 1960, a book that became one of the most popular children’s books in the history of publishing, one which most of us have either read, or have had others read to us.

The gist of the book is this: Sam-I-Am is ardently trying to get the anonymous narrator of the book to sample green eggs and ham, with the narrator, after offering much resistance (“I do not like green eggs and ham!”), finally succumbing and finally liking the strange dish (“I do so like green eggs and ham!).

How strange it was that a strange senator from Texas, using otherwise valuable C-SPAN air-time, read from a book that actually contradicts the reason he is using that valuable C-SPAN time and the reason he is conducting the phony filibuster: to please equally strange Tea Party conservatives.

In a stunningly wonderful book, Dr. Seuss and Philosophy: Oh, the Thinks You Can Think!, Randall E. Auxier wrote about Green Eggs and Ham:

We all know that there is something cool about this book. Even among the many works of genius created by Dr. Seuss, this one stands out. But the book is just silly, isn’t it? It was written on a bet, that Seuss couldn’t write a whole book using only fifty different words. And it has such a simple message, “You don’t know whether you like something until you try it.” Or maybe it’s “don’t be a contrarian.”

Now, how ironic is it that a man who claims that Americans shouldn’t try the green eggs and ham of ObamaCare, who claims that the green eggs and ham of ObamaCare will make us all sick, read to the nation from a book—written by a liberal Democrat, for God’s sake—that has as its simple message, “You don’t know whether you like something until you try it”?

Maybe there is a God, one with a penchant for embarrassing the most zealous of his alleged followers.

Fallacious Journalism, Circa 2013

About the news business, G. K. Chesterton once wrote:

GK ChestertonIt is the one great weakness of journalism as a picture of our modern existence, that it must be a picture made up entirely of exceptions. We announce on flaring posters that a man has fallen off a scaffolding. We do not announce on flaring posters that a man has not fallen off a scaffolding…Busy editors cannot be expected to put on their posters, “Mr. Wilkinson Still Safe,” or “Mr. Jones, of Worthing, Not Dead Yet”…They cannot describe all the forks that are not stolen, or all the marriages that are not judiciously dissolved. Hence the complete picture they give of life is of necessity fallacious; they can only represent what is unusual.

That was written in 1910. If, like Ivy League-educated Ted Cruz, you have trouble with arithmetic, that’s more than 100 years ago. But I thought about that quote today, about the fact that journalists aren’t really in the business of reporting the usual or the unexceptional, after I read an article on Politico, a news outlet that has become the flagship of group-think Beltway journalism. The headline of the article was this:

At Kentucky state fair, fear and confusion over Obamacare

Now, the article was as much about the dedicated and earnest folks in Kentucky trying to give people accurate information and “sell Obamacare at the state fair,” as it was about the fear and confusion people are experiencing over the new law. But the headline was written to emphasize the “fear and confusion,” rather than champion those who are trying to allay the fear and clear up the confusion. Get it?

But that isn’t my biggest gripe about the article. In a piece that was obviously meant to highlight the real fear and confusion that exists over a fairly complicated government effort to help citizens get insurance and to prevent private insurers from screwing them at every turn, in a piece that ran over 900 words, there was one sentence—14 words!—about why there is so much fear and confusion about the law. And that one sentence was the next-to-last sentence in the piece:

And the opponents of the law are doing ample advertising on the other side.

That was it. After nearly 900 words about all the fear and confusion surrounding ObamaCare, that was all the writer had to say about what has undoubtedly caused much of that fear and confusion. That’s all the writer had to say about a massive and expensive disinformation campaign that various conservative interest groups and various right-wing pundits and various Republican politicians have waged for years now.

And the writer didn’t even bother to identify who “the opponents of the law” are, or mention that the “ample advertising” has been, at best, speculations about the horrors to come or, at worst, outright lies about what the law means. It’s as if a journalist was reporting on all those fleeing folks in Nairobi, Kenya, people frantically exiting a shopping mall full of fear and confusion, and the journalist never mentioned what the fuss was all about, never mentioned that terrorists had been shooting up the place.

I suppose the only excuse for such shoddy journalism is that right-wingers have been so diligent, so persistent in their war against ObamaCare, that it isn’t worth reporting on anymore. It’s commonplace. It’s mundane. The campaign of disinformation and lies against the Affordable Care Act is so normal and unnewsworthy that journalists don’t even bother to highlight it, much less identify the perpetrators or offer readers any details about how effective and destructive the campaign has been.

Right-wingers lying about ObamaCare is now like Chesterton’s man who has not fallen off a scaffolding, an event so usual, so ordinary, so run-of-the-mill, that it is ignored by journalists:

Hence the complete picture they give of life is of necessity fallacious.

[Chesterton photo credit: Hulton Archive/Getty Images]

ObamaCare: No Surprises

On MSNBC this morning, I heard Pat Toomey, who as a United States Senator represents the reactionary and regressive Club for Growth rather than actual people, say:

ObamaCare is extremely unpopular. No surprise. Employers are dropping coverage, small employers are not hiring people…

It is no surprise that many people don’t like the Affordable Care Act because it is no surprise that people like Pat Toomey and other like-minded Republicans go on television and lie about it constantly. And it’s no surprise that the reason these right-wingers go on television and lie about it is because they don’t want it to work, don’t want it to do what it was designed to do: keep insurance companies from screwing Americans and provide health insurance to those who don’t now have it.

So, with no surprises and with the understanding that the ACA has its problems—what should we expect from an idea largely dreamed up by Republicans?—allow me to address the claims Toomey made this morning one at a time:

1) There is little evidence that “employers are dropping coverage” because of the ACA. In fact, much of the evidence so far goes the other way. Using a Wonkblog post from May, I will summarize the available evidence:

♦ The employer mandate (which has been delayed until 2015) in the ACA only applies to businesses that employ more than 50 workers. Get this: Out of the 5.7 million businesses in the U.S., only 210,000 have more than 50 employees, which means that 96% of businesses aren’t even affected by the employer mandate. Additionally, many of those small businesses that don’t employ more than 50 workers are eligible for tax credits between 35% and 50% of the cost of insurance coverage for their employees, which may cause some of those businesses to begin offering coverage to their workers.

♦ The Massachusetts experiment with health care reform, on which ObamaCare is extensively modeled, shows that rather than dropping health insurance for employees, businesses actually expanded coverage. That’s right. They expanded coverage in Massachusetts even while nationally employers were dropping employee health insurance coverage. Here it is in graph form:

And this expansion happened even though the Massachusetts reforms contained a tiny penalty—$295 per worker—for businesses who dropped insurance coverage. The Affordable Care Act has a substantially higher penalty that ranges from $2,000 to $3,000 for every employee in the company. Again, businesses with fewer than 50 employees are exempt from having to provide health insurance at all.

♦ Wonkblog makes perhaps the most important point of all about employer-provided health insurance by noting that,

…people simply misunderstand why employers offer health-care benefits. They’re not doing it as a favor to employees. And they’re not doing it because anyone is making them…Employers offer health insurance because employees demand it. If you’re an employer who doesn’t offer insurance and your competitors do, you’ll lose out on the most talented workers. An employer who stopped offering health benefits would see his best employees immediately start looking for other jobs.

2) Toomey’s second claim, that “small employers are not hiring people,” is also not supported by the evidence, if by evidence one means employment data. Pat Toomey is not an economist but Mark Zandi is. And in a USA Today article, which was reporting on the growing payrolls among small businesses, the paper included comments from Zandi:

The gains are beginning to shift the terms of the debate over the health care law. Under the law, businesses with 50-plus full-time-equivalent workers must offer insurance to people working 30 hours a week beginning in 2015. That mandate, originally slated for 2014, has not deterred hiring as feared, some economists now say.

As more data come in, the law’s impact can’t be seen in hiring statistics, says Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody’s Analytics.

“I was expecting to see it. I was looking for it, and it’s not there,” says Zandi, whose firm manages ADP’s surveys of overall private-sector job creation. If the Affordable Care Act “were causing a drop, you would see meaningful slowing.”

So, there is no discernible ObamaCare effect, as of yet, in hiring data. And the USA Today article also noted that,

New research from Moody’s and other economists also challenges the idea that small employers are hiring only part-time workers to avoid falling under the health care law’s mandate to insure full-time workers.

Zandi himself tried to make that same point to the Obama-haters on CNBC recently. He tried to tell those hard-heads that recent employment data don’t show an increase in part-time employment designed to get around the 30-hour-per-week threshold that triggers the requirement to provide insurance coverage. CNBC’s unhinged Rick Santelli told Zandi he didn’t believe the numbers and had already made up his mind that ObamaCare was hurting job growth, and then Santelli called Zandi an “apologist for the policy.” That’s how debates with Obama-haters go these days. Don’t confuse those folks with the facts. They don’t want to hear anything that counters their ideological beliefs.

In any case, none of this is to say that ObamaCare will have no effect on decisions employers make. There is anecdotal evidence aplenty that some businesses will cut back health insurance coverage and cut workers hours below “full time” in order to prove to the world that the Affordable Care Act is not, well, affordable. To what extent that anecdotal evidence represents a significant trend is currently unknown, as left-of-center economists Jared Bernstein and Paul Van de Water admitted in a piece they wrote for Politico last month (“Obamacare isn’t destroying jobs”):

The fact is, it’s too early to know how health reform will ultimately affect the amount of part-time work. But there’s every reason to expect the impact will be small.

Meanwhile, the Obama-haters continue to lie about the Affordable Care Act in some form or another. Pastor Rafael Cruz, Ted’s dad, told a gathering of zealous fundamentalists this summer:

Our lives are under attack. We already saw what is happening with abortion. The same thing is happening at the other end with ObamaCare. ObamaCare is going to destroy the elderly by denying care, by even perhaps denying treatment of people that have catastrophic sicknesses.

Now, that is crazy talk, I’ll grant you. But it is common crazy talk among conservatives. And, sadly, there probably isn’t anything that anyone can say to such people to convince them they have lost touch with reality. But I want to at least note that some people are trying to talk sense to such folks. John Fugelsang, actor, comedian, political commentator, recently challenged critics of ObamaCare, particularly its Jesus-loving critics, this way:

If people don’t like ObamaCare—I respect some of the folks on the left who would have rather seen single-payer—I agree there’s problems with it, the thing is so watered down Dick Cheney could pour it on a guy’s face in Gitmo, but the fact is that a lot of our moralizing friends who try to repeal it don’t understand:

If you’re afraid of the competition that comes from exchanges or cheaper Canadian drugs or a public option, stop calling yourself a capitalist.

And if you don’t care about 45,000 Americans dying every year because they’re not insured, stop calling yourself a patriot.

And if you don’t want to have a part in healing the sick, find a new name for your religion. It’s time to stop calling yourself a Christian.

Here is the entire entertaining segment on MSNBC’s “The Ed Show” on which Fugelsang made those remarks:

Three Things Democrats Should Say To The Ideological Terrorists Among Us

It appears Democrats are ready to fight and not back down this time.

First Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid called them “anarchists.” Then House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called them “legislative arsonists.” And on Saturday night President Obama, visibly energized to do battle with Republicans in Congress, said the following at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation Phoenix Awards Dinner:

You look at it right now — the other day, House Republicans voted to cut $40 billion in nutritional aid for struggling families at the same time as some of the same folks who took that vote are receiving subsidies themselves. So farm subsidies for folks at the top are okay; help feeding your child is somehow not.

I know the CBC, led by outstanding Chairwoman Marcia Fudge, fought hard to protect those programs that keep so many children from going hungry. And now we’re seeing an extreme faction of these folks convincing their leadership to threaten to shut down the government if we don’t shut down the Affordable Care Act. Some of them are actually willing to see the United States default on its obligations and plunge this country back into a painful recession if they can’t deny the basic security of health care to millions of Americans.

Now, I think — this is an interesting thing to ponder, that your top agenda is making sure 20 million people don’t have health insurance. And you’d be willing to shut down the government and potentially default for the first time in United States history because it bothers you so much that we’re actually going to make sure that everybody has affordable health care.

Let me say as clearly as I can: It is not going to happen. We have come too far. We’ve overcome far darker threats than those. We will not negotiate over whether or not America should keep its word and meet its obligations. We’re not going to allow anyone to inflict economic pain on millions of our own people just to make an ideological point. And those folks are going to get some health care in this country — we’ve been waiting 50 years for it.

Democrats in Washington should repeat President Obama’s three lines every time they are asked about the issue:

“It is not going to happen.”

“We will not negotiate over whether or not America should keep its word and meet its obligations.”

“We’re not going to allow anyone to inflict economic pain on millions of our own people just to make an ideological point.”

We’re about a week away from the end of the fiscal year, which is the first if-Democrats-don’t-give-them-what-they-want-Republicans-will-kill-the-hostage deadline. Soon after will come the debt ceiling deadline. We shall see whether Democrats do in fact negotiate with the hostage-takers in the Republican Party or finally decide to say enough is enough. I don’t believe Republican leadership is stupid enough to ultimately do what they are threatening to do, but I do believe they can move the debate much further to the right, and thus move the end result much further to the right, than Democrats should accept.

Don’t fall for it, Democrats. Don’t allow ideological terrorists—what else do you call people who, as President Obama said, want “to inflict economic pain on millions of our own people just to make an ideological point”?—to win even the smallest battle in the war they started in 2011. Just keep repeating:

“It is not going to happen.”

“We will not negotiate over whether or not America should keep its word and meet its obligations.”

“We’re not going to allow anyone to inflict economic pain on millions of our own people just to make an ideological point.”

The Adult Republican Argument?

Nicolle Wallace was a senior adviser to John McCain’s campaign in 2008. She tried hard to sell Sarah Palin to non-gullible Americans and to put Palin’s muddled mind one McCain-heartbeat away from the presidency. That alone ought to keep her off TV for at least a decade. But Wallace is becoming something of a regular on MSNBC’s Morning Joe. She gets credit, these days, for not being one of those crazy Republicans we are used to seeing on TV, like, uh, Sarah Palin.

nicole wallace on msnbcWallace represents what some in the media are fond of calling the “adults” in the Republican Party. This morning she was explaining how politically dumb it is for Republicans like Ted Cruz to insist on going all-in on defunding ObamaCare. Pay close attention to her reasoning here because it constitutes the adult thinking in the GOP:

I have a two-year-old and sometimes when he’s on his scooter he wants to cross the street even when the light is red…it is your job as the parent to hold the child and the scooter from running into traffic ’cause he would get squished. It is the job of the adults in the Republican Party to tell—there is grass roots support in this country, among Republicans, among conservatives, among Tea Party members, to do this…Obama’s health care is incredibly unpopular, so Ted Cruz is responding to what is a genuine sentiment out there. However, when Republicans run into the street, despite the fact that there’s a flashing red light, they’re gonna get hit by the cars and killed. So this is stupid politically, this is stupid at a policy level because as the great Charles Krauthammer said, it has no chance of succeeding. This is Obama’s health care law, this is Obama’s signature domestic policy achievement, so they’re going to fail. 

So, we are at a moment…most of the country is pretty disillusioned with President Obama’s leadership on the world stage, a majority of Americans do not like his signature domestic achievement, which is the health care law. We’re actually at a moment, as Republicans, where even Bernie Sanders has described our party as “on the offense,” and now we’re going to let our party to run into moving traffic against a red light. It’s idiotic.

That pretty much represents what you hear from Republicans who don’t like what Cruz and other maniacs are trying to get their party to do regarding the defunding of the Affordable Care Act.

For clarification and enlightenment, let me summarize the adult Republican argument this way:

We Republicans are playing a good offensive game right now. We’ve helped make Obama look bad “on the world stage” by aggressively criticizing every move he makes, no matter what it is; we’ve exploited people’s ignorance about ObamaCare to the point where lots of Americans now don’t like the law, even though they admit they don’t know what’s in the law. That’s how brilliant we have been on this thing. A majority of Americans don’t understand the Affordable Care Act, but know they don’t like it, some even hate it, because we have aggressively attacked it night and day. So, why muck up all that good work we’ve done? We Republicans have Obama on the ropes, he’s going down on the canvas anyway, why risk pissing off the crowd now?

If you think that is a misleading characterization of the argument that Wallace and other Republicans are making, you haven’t been paying attention the last five years. Republicans have done all they can to destroy Obama’s presidency domestically, and now they take great delight in thinking that they have weakened him around the world. This is all, and I mean all, about politics, particularly crass and cynically opportunistic politics.

Nicolle Wallace didn’t breathe a word about what the shutdown of the federal government would mean to Americans, including those who work for the government and those—all of us—who depend on it for services. She never bothered to mention how damaging it would be for us to once again flirt with not paying our bills, including our creditors. She never discussed how a default would, in the words of Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, be an “extremely dangerous and likely recovery-ending event.” She never noted how domestic interest rates would go up, making it hard for businesses seeking credit to expand, as well as making it difficult for consumers seeking credit to purchase cars and homes. She failed to explain how our national credit worthiness would take yet another hit at the hands of Republicans, resulting in higher financing costs for our nearly $17 trillion debt, which will then eat up more of the budget and cause Tea Party Republicans to demand even more draconian cuts in government spending—the ultimate goal of these ideological freaks.

No, all she essentially explained was that her party is doing okay right now with all the demonization of the President, all the dysfunction in Congress, and all the distrust in government these tactics have created among the American people. At such a shining moment for the GOP, she argues, Republicans shouldn’t push their luck.

That’s some adult argument.

“Sensible” Extremism

Please, God. Purty Please? Let the so-called civil war in the Republican Party—between the establishment extremists and the anti-establishment extremists—continue until both sides are nothing but rotting corpses on the electoral battlefield. Amen.

If you doubt the accuracy of my characterization of feuding Republicans—the fight is over whether to shutdown the government in order to kill ObamaCare—as “establishment extremists” versus “anti-establishment extremists,” then you don’t know these people very well. They are all extremists on this issue.

Just this morning on MSNBC, Joe Scarborough was pretending to be a sensible conservative by suggesting it was nuts for Republicans to shutdown the government in order to defund the Affordable Care Act. He cited several other conservatives he considers sensible, including Charles Krauthammer, Wisconsin governor Scott Walker, and Oklahoma senator Tom Coburn, all of whom have come out against the shutdown strategy.

Now, if you are citing Krauthammer, Walker, and Coburn—all extremists in one way or another—as sensible, level-headed conservatives, then the Republican Party no longer has in its membership any sensible, level-headed conservatives.

And to demonstrate that more clearly, Joe Scarborough added this comment to the mix:

Krauthammer, myself, Scott Walker, Tom Coburn, we’d all support shutting down the government, if shutting down the government would end ObamaCare. It won’t end ObamaCare, it will just end conservative chances of winning in 2014.

Think about how radical and extreme Scarborough’s suggestion is, particularly coming from someone who fancies himself—and others do too—a common-sense conservative and who gets much flack from the Neolithic wing of the GOP for some of the stands he has taken.hitler-t-4-obamacare-nazi-socialist-barack-hussein-obama

Scarborough would actually support shutting down the government—sabotaging the well-being of the country—if it would achieve for Republicans what they couldn’t achieve at the ballot box and if it weren’t so politically perilous.

That, my friends, is a kind of radicalism that shouldn’t be ignored. It may be ever-so-slightly to the left of Ted Cruz and Rush Limbaugh, but it is way, way out there. As I said, when it comes to the Affordable Care Act, these folks are all extremists. They all want to kill it, bury it, and piss on its grave. The only argument is over how to put it to death: suddenly, with a government-shutdown bomb in October, or slowly poison it over time?

The proper method is all that separates extremists like Scarborough and Krauthammer and Walker and Coburn from extremists like Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, Marco Rubio, and Rush Limbaugh.

In the mean time, for all the talk of killing the Affordable Care Act, for all the votes cast in the House of Representatives to lynch ObamaCare, Republicans offer nothing, absolutely nothing, to replace it. You know why? Because, as Wonkblog’s Dylan Matthews pointed out recently:

Obamacare bears a heavy resemblance to basically every real universal health-care plan that Republican legislators have proposed in the past half century, including the Patients’ Choice Act, Sen. John Chafee’s (R-R.I.) plan offered as an alternative to Hillarycare in 1993, and the universal plan Richard Nixon offered at the end of his presidency.

Rightly or wrongly, Democrats have adopted Republican ideas on how to reform the healthcare system. And now not only are Republicans fresh out of ideas, they are all—every last one of them—viciously attacking their own schemes.

If that ain’t extremism, tell me what is.

Dumb And Dangerous

The move by movement conservatives to talk people out of signing up for health insurance under ObamaCare is akin to, well, all the dumb and dangerous stuff these people are wont to do, like push anti-science creationism and engage in anti-science scaremongering related to vaccinations.

From Yahoo! News:

Americans for Prosperity, a group partially funded by donors David and Charles Koch, plans to release a  television ad Wednesday to raise questions about the law. Instead of focusing on the law’s repeal, AFP’s newest effort will argue that health insurance premiums will rise for those who sign up for the exchanges. The group also is making plans to dispatch activists to sporting events, festivals and town fairs in multiple states for the next several months to warn people that they could have fewer medical choices under the law.

“This is more about going to folks where they are and talking to them,” AFP President Tim Phillips told Yahoo News. “We’re saying, make sure you understand the impact this law will have on you if you sign up.”

The point, of course, is to scare folks and get them to stay out of the exchanges so that the Affordable Care Act won’t work as designed. Conservatives have failed to stop health care reform in Congress, they have failed to stop President Obama in 2012, and so they are now resorting to demagoguery.

In the mean time, if these people are successful, millions of folks will get hurt, as right-wingers are offering exactly no plan to address the health care crisis many Americans face.

Sickening is what it is.

Can Corporations Pray? And Other Tales From The Blue Dot

What strange creatures we are.

I don’t know exactly why it struck me this way, but two items in the news seem to be related in some strange way.

First up is a decision out of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit that declared, according to SCOTUSblog:

that a family-owned, profit-making business cannot challenge on religious grounds the new federal health care law’s mandate of birth control health insurance for its workers.   The two-to-one decision by the Philadelphia-based court conflicts with a recent ruling by the Denver-based Tenth Circuit Court.

The blog provides a little background:

The case involves a Pennsylvania company that makes wooden cabinets.  All of its stock is owned by members of the Hahn family, who practice the Mennonite faith.  Their company has 950 employees, and it is company policy not to support “anything that terminates a fertilized embryo.”  The objection is aimed at two drugs that must be provided in health coverage for employees under the contraception mandate — the so-called “morning-after pill,” such as Plan B, and the so-called “week-after pill,” known by the name ella [...]

The Third Circuit majority concluded that the First Amendment right to exercise a religious belief — under the Free Exercise Clause — is a “personal right” that exists for the benefit of human beings, not artificial “persons” like corporations.   Religious belief, it said, develops in the “minds and hearts of individuals.”  In drawing this conclusion, he noted the contrary view announced by the Tenth Circuit Court, and said that “we respectfully disagree.”

The majority remarked: “We do not see how a for-profit, ‘artificial being, invisible, intangible, and existing only in contemplation of law,’ that was created to make money could exercise such an inherently ‘human’ right.”   The opinion said that the judges could not find a single court opinion, before the lawsuits against the contraception mandate began, that had found that a profit-making corporation doing ordinary business had its own right of “free exercise” of religion.

It is one thing for a religious organization to be able to exercise the tenets of its faith, the court said, and another thing for a purely secular corporation to make the same claim.

So, this latest court decided that, unlike people, corporations cannot worship God and, presumably, can’t pray down the wrath of the Almighty on their competitors.

Now, it strikes me as beyond weird that we, here in the twenty-first century, are hung up on whether a non-human entity like a corporation can have a personal relationship with God. I mean, it’s one thing to define corporations as people, just so they can give lots of money to Republicans, but it is quite another to define them as people so they can, among other things, prove their fealty to God by denying women contraception coverage.

In any case, that leads me to my second item in the news, which is this stunning photograph produced by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, while it was beyond Saturn, some 900 million miles—yes, 900 million miles—away:

Earth and its moon from Saturn

That’s a picture of the earth and the moon. Somewhere in that picture are you and I on July 19, 2013. Somewhere in that picture are the judges about to issue their opinion on whether corporations can worship God by not having to provide access to birth control via insurance policies. Somewhere roams Steve King and his imaginary cantaloupe-calved friends. Somewhere Anthony Weiner and his text-friendly schnitzel are about to doom his—their?— political future.

Yes, what strange creatures we are.

But I won’t end it there,  thanks to Phil Plait (“The Bad Astronomer”), who reminded us of one of my heroes, Carl Sagan, and his remarkable “Reflections on a Mote of Dust,” written shortly before his death in 1996. Sagan was commenting on a photograph taken by Voyager 1 in 1990, but what he said is even more amazing as you think about the Cassini picture above. It’s something to mull over this weekend, as we will, no doubt, hear the usual God-talk and more political commentary on Steve King and Anthony Weiner and the ongoing dysfunction that has paralyzed good government:

We succeeded in taking that picture [from deep space], and, if you look at it, you see a dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever lived, lived out their lives. The aggregate of all our joys and sufferings, thousands of confident religions, ideologies and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilizations, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every hopeful child, every mother and father, every inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every superstar, every supreme leader, every saint and sinner in the history of our species, lived there on a mote of dust, suspended in a sunbeam.

The earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that in glory and in triumph they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of the dot on scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner of the dot. How frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe, are challenged by this point of pale light.

Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity — in all this vastness — there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves. It is up to us. It’s been said that astronomy is a humbling, and I might add, a character-building experience. To my mind, there is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly and compassionately with one another and to preserve and cherish that pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.

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