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Author: Norm

Retired sixty-something originally from England now a U.S. citizen living in Seattle. Married with a wife and two children. I love Seattle and consider it to have been a wonderful place to live and help raise my daughters. I worked in government my whole life. Whilst I see its flaws I also understand that government can be a strong force for good in democratic societies. My interests are current affairs and military history. I consider myself to be a centrist politically by any reasonable standard but probably left of centre in today's USA.
Justice for gun-violence victim Renisha McBride

Justice for gun-violence victim Renisha McBride

In Wayne County, Michigan last Thursday, Theodore Wafer was found guilty on all three charges of 2nd degree murder, manslaughter and felony firearm in the shooting death of 19 year old Renisha McBride on the porch of his house in Dearborn Heights, MI.

McBride was one of a depressing litany of unarmed victims who have fallen prey to gun carriers claiming self-defense.

Other well publicized cases included Trayvon Martin in Florida; Ronald Westbrook, a 72-year old man from Georgia suffering from Alzheimer’s who was shot in circumstances similar to McBride; Jordan Davis, who was shot dead while he sat in a vehicle in a convenience store parking lot; and Chad Oulson who was killed by a gun carrier following an altercation with an angry movie-goer with a gun over texting during the previews.

Convictions have been harder to come by than liberal Republicans in the gun-friendly legal environment that prevails in many states.

George Zimmerman, of course, was found not guilty in Martin’s case.

And a Florida jury deadlocked on whether Michael Dunn murdered Jordan Davis, although they did nail him for the attempted murder of his three equally unarmed friends, who were lucky to escape with their own lives after Dunn fired at them as they fled the car park. He is to be retried on the murder charge but, as with Ronald Westbrook’s killing in Georgia, prosecutors will again be seriously impeded by a lunatic stand-your-ground law that makes a conviction very difficult; more power to the prosecutors, therefore, that they won’t give up.

Depressingly, the alleged shooter of Westbrook was not even charged because prosecutors did not believe they could overcome Georgia’s stand-your-ground law to win a conviction.

The trial of the man accused of killing Oulson is pending.

Many saw the McBride case as one suffused with racial undertones but, in the end, a jury cut through all of that and simply saw a man who had acted recklessly and without justification to cut short the life of a young woman on a flimsy and ultimately unconvincing assertion that he felt threatened and in danger.

Too many states have virtually given gun carriers a license to kill with their misguided and dangerous SYG laws and, as we have seen all too often, holding the perpetrators accountable has been a huge challenge.

But Renisha McBride was not forgotten, not by this jury and not by the justice system that put her killer on trial and won a conviction.

It would be nice to think that more courts in other places in America will start to hold gun carriers accountable when their unreasoning fear or anger ends in an unnecessary death. But I won’t hold my breath.

Still, I’m glad that Renisha McBride and her family received a measure of the justice they so richly deserved. It’s not enough but it will have to do for now.

High price paid by states that did not expand Medicaid under Obamacare

High price paid by states that did not expand Medicaid under Obamacare

There has been no shortage of good news about the beneficial effects of the Affordable Care Act, particularly for those states that embraced it; and on the overall reduction in the percentage of uninsured adults in the country.

However, research by the Urban Institute also highlights the steep price paid by states that fought it tooth and nail, notably in the South.

For example, as of June 2014, 49% of the remaining uninsured adults in the United States live in the South, up from 41.5% before the act took effect in September 2013. Furthermore, almost 61% of uninsured adults reside in states that did not expand Medicaid under the ACA compared to less than 50% before the ACA.

And the bad news doesn’t stop there. The Urban Institute has quantified the billions in federal money lost by (mostly Red) states that rejected expanded Medicaid, as explained in this piece from Jonathan Cohn in the New Republic, again based on research by the Urban Institute. The excuse offered by Republican governors that they are simply being fiscally responsible is exposed for the nonsense it is by the map in Cohn’s piece.

Georgia, for example, saves $2.5 billion in what it would have spent to expand Medicaid over the course of a decade, but stands to lose $33.5 billion in federal funds, more than ten times as much. And of course it does nothing for the 20.2 % of Georgia adults who are still uninsured; in fact and as lamented in this piece from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the state now has the third highest rate of uninsured behind the perennial champs, Texas and Mississippi.

Talk about cutting off your nose to spite your face!

The economic boom in Texas is no vindication of conservative governance.

The economic boom in Texas is no vindication of conservative governance.

In a recent blog piece in The New York Times, Nobel-prize winning economist and liberal columnist Paul Krugman recounted an effort by Stephen Moore, a conservative economist with the Heritage Foundation, to demonstrate that tax slashing (Red) states have outperformed high tax (Blue) states in job and overall economic growth. It transpired that Moore had evidently been piqued by a column Krugman had written earlier about Kansas GOP Governor Sam Brownback’s disastrous tax-cutting binge which has left the state with a huge deficit while doing next to nothing to grow the economy.

The problem was that the most specific claims in Moore’s article, which appeared in the Kansas City Star, were inaccurate and completely misleading. The Bureau of Labor Statistics data he cited which he said were for the last five years were actually from an earlier period starting just before the last Great Recession. These skewed the numbers to the point of uselessness. Moore claimed he made a “mistake”.  I believe him, but thousands wouldn’t.

Of course we shouldn’t be surprised because ideological blinkering long ago supplanted truth and facts in the alternate universe occupied by most conservatives – even ones with PhDs. And as Krugman says in his piece, comparing states is, in any case, an inexact science given stark differences in key areas such as the price of housing.

But for me it raised a more fundamental question. After all Texas has been extolled as an example of successful conservative governance not only by Moore in his dodgy article, but in a June issue of The Economist a far more credible source. But is it enough to measure success, particularly as it relates to whether a state is well governed, by the number of jobs produced in a given period (one driven, at least in part, by the oil and gas industries) or its economic growth rate? Certainly by these measurements Texas is flourishing; but when viewed against what many consider are other key metrics, such as the economic well-being of its lower-income residents, not so much.

Poverty-USA ranks Texas 40th among states. And in its report on child well-being, the Annie E Casey Foundation  ranks Texas 43rd overall, this in a country which as a whole ranks near the bottom among rich countries. Out of 16 measurements of economic, educational, health, and family/community well-being examined by AECF, Texas only managed to beat the national average in 4 of them. Its efforts in the areas of health and family/community support were particularly dismal.

Finally, this table from the Kaiser Family Foundation shows that the income threshold for adults with children to be eligible for Medicaid is an eye-popping $3,736 for a family of three, placing it only behind Alabama as the stingiest of states. Even Mississippi is more generous (albeit not by much).

And the disparities between states like Texas and their Blue State peers are only likely to grow. This is especially so when it comes to health as the rate of uninsured likely continues to drop significantly in states that fully embraced the Affordable Care Act, while staying the same or decreasing only marginally in Texas and other states that have fought it tooth and nail.

I don’t expect any sense from an ideologue such as Stephen Moore but The Economist should be ashamed of itself for mistaking Texas for a well governed state.

It’s nice to be able to brag about economic growth but what good is it if an ideologically blinkered and uncaring government does little to use the generated wealth to improve the lot of its neediest residents?

Rep Paul Ryan’s plan for poor Americans deserves a raspberry.

Rep Paul Ryan’s plan for poor Americans deserves a raspberry.

Over at Vox.com, Ezra Klein has written a trenchant analysis of GOP Rep. Paul Ryan’s “plan” to address poverty in America. While giving Ryan credit for some good ideas such as expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit and sentencing reform, Klein, not unexpectedly, identifies several serious problems.

Let’s start with the inconvenient fact that Ryan’s own budget plans don’t fit with his poverty proposals

Ryan’s budgets and his poverty plan aren’t merely different. They’re flatly contradictory. They cannot be implemented in the same universe at the same time. His budget, for instance, cuts deep into the funding stream that powers the Earned Income Tax Credit. His poverty plan sharply increases spending on the Earned Income Tax Credit. His budget cuts deep into food stamps and other income-support programs. His poverty plan holds their spending constant.

So what’s going on? As Klein states, the centerpiece is to combine 11 poverty programs, including food aid, into a block grant to the states, the “Opportunity Grant”. However as he and Bob Greenstein of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, whom he quotes, explain

One of the 11 programs included in the Opportunity Grant is not like the others: food stamps, which is structured as an entitlement program, and so responds to rises in need automatically.

“It’s really important right now that if there’s a recession and you lose your job and need food stamps you can get them,” says Greenstein. “You are immediately eligible. You’re not on a waiting list.” Ryan’s Opportunity Grant would end the role food stamps play as an automatic stabilizer during recessions.

Ryan is working off of the welfare reform model here: this is more or less what the federal government did to the welfare program (or TANF) in 1996. But that just goes to prove the point: welfare’s role as an automatic stabilizer has been gutted by the reforms. The welfare reforms were successful at cutting welfare rolls — not at making welfare better at helping the poor, particularly during recessions.

This graph from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities tells the tale. When welfare reform passed, during a boom economy, the program was helping 68 out of every 100 families with children in poverty. Thirteen years later, during the deepest recession since the Great Depression, it was helping fewer than 30 of every 100 families with children in poverty.

And of course, if food aid loses its entitlement status it can be more easily cut

Ryan’s poverty plan can be seen either as an effort to move the Republican Party forward on poverty or as a Trojan Horse-like effort to achieve his budget’s goals by other means. “The food stamp block grant proposal in his last budget had $135 billion in cuts,” says Greenstein “It was dead on arrival. If the strategy in this plan is to remove the program’s entitlement status, convert it to block grants and, over the decades, let the funding erode — well, that is a much cleverer and more sophisticated strategy to get to the same goal.”

And there is little doubt that less money overall will be spent on the poor

“When you make a block grant this broad and sweeping to states it is virtually inevitable some of the block grant dollars will replace current state dollars,” says Greenstein, “and so the total amount of money going to poor people goes down. It’s not that you’re directly using the federal dollars for a highway or a tax cut. You use the federal dollars for services to poor people. But maybe for every $3 states take from food stamps and put into services, they reduce state funding for those services by $1 and take that dollar and use it somewhere else in the budget.

“This is not hypothetical. It happened on a large scale in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families block grant. And it’s well known that it’s almost impossible to stop this from happening. People thought about it in the TANF block grant. They wrote into the law maintenance-of-effort clauses to try to prevent it. And they weren’t effective. It’s just almost impossible to stop.”

Furthermore, Ryan’s faith in states to do better by the poor is hardly validated by experience, as we see from the refusal of 24 primarily GOP-led states to accept the Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act.

The heart of Ryan’s plan is essentially to wash the federal government’s hands of America’s poor and leave it to states, whose own records of effective management of poverty programs are uneven at best. In so doing, he opens the door to future pernicious cuts in programs to help the poorest Americans.

Ryan’s poverty plan, like his budget, deserves a big, fat raspberry.

Iraq mess is the inevitable result of Bush-Cheney’s calamitous blunder.

Iraq mess is the inevitable result of Bush-Cheney’s calamitous blunder.

We are seeing in Iraq the inevitable fruition of the Bush-Cheney ordered invasion of Iraq in 2003 – the dismemberment of the country.

We expended 4,500 American and over 100,000 Iraqi lives, and more than a trillion and a half dollars on one of the greatest strategic blunders in United States history. About $20 billion was spent on training the Iraqi army only to see it dissolve on contact with an irregular force it massively outnumbered and outgunned.

The Iraqi army and its Shia militia allies seem able to hold Baghdad and the south against the onslaught of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria and its allies, but there is little chance they can recover the ground lost in Anbar and in provinces to the north, unless the Sunni tribes once again turn on the Islamists and support the government. Thanks to the sectarian antics of Nouri al-Maliki, the prime minister of a governing Shiite majority government who first came to power during the Bush years, that outcome appears highly unlikely.

Laying this mess on Obama is like blaming the captain of the Lusitania for not bringing enough buckets. The Iraqi ship of state was torpedoed and taking on water the moment we overthrew the old order. We convinced ourselves that training and equipping the Iraqi military and establishing a democratic system would mean a new and brighter future for Iraq. Now we see clearly how doomed our hopes were by that nation’s sectarian divisions and the inability of our guy Maliki to rise above the petty games and maneuvers that have maintained his power but at the expense of national unity.

Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Abrams, David Brooks, William Kristol, Brit Hume and the rest of them were dead wrong about all of it.

Yet this crowd has the unmitigated gall to blame Obama for not leaving a residual force of US soldiers behind, as if doing so could possibly have prevented the collapse of the Iraqi army, which was rotten from within. They also seek to rewrite history by ignoring the fact that Maliki’s government and the Iraqi people wanted all US troops gone in 2011, and gloss over the fact that it was Bush who signed, however reluctantly, the original agreement for the withdrawal of all US forces from Iraq in 2008.

There is an emerging narrative, particularly among those who excoriate Obama for not supporting the moderate rebels in Syria sooner and more substantively, that we should have bombed ISIS whilst it was building in eastern Syria before it started tearing through Iraq; as if bombing alone could achieve anything useful. In fact, following the absurd logic of those who see ISIS as the biggest threat to civilization, we should be supporting the Assad regime in Syria since it has far more military power with which to take on ISIS than do the moderate rebel groups.

There were sound reasons for not intervening militarily in Syria. It’s unlikely that we could have done anything to mitigate the awful bloodshed of the Syrian civil war as opposed to simply adding to it. And Obama’s detractors need to get their stories straight: Should we have been bombing Assad (who is actually fighting the Islamists) or ISIS which is now attacking Iraq? Or should we simply have been bombing everybody in Syria?

Obama has so far refrained from rushing back into the Iraq imbroglio. Acting in haste would be a mistake. We have time to sort out an appropriate strategy.

ISIS cannot take all of Iraq and is not a short-term threat to the US no matter the hyperbole of conservatives. Taking vast areas of Iraq is one thing; holding them is another. And the longer they rule, the more likely they will resort to their murderous ways, thereby alienating Sunni tribes.

One thing we must do, though, is ignore the ravings of the idiots who got us into this mess in the first place.

The unfair rap on Obama’s foreign policy.

The unfair rap on Obama’s foreign policy.

To listen to his detractors, President Obama’s foreign policy has been weak, feckless and visionless. It has resulted in America helplessly standing by while our enemies gain strength and inflict chaos around the world.  And the criticism, particularly as it relates to the president’s reluctance to use force as a tool of foreign policy, has not come merely from the usual suspects in the former Bush administration, the GOP and over at Fox News (although their excoriations are certainly the most unhinged), as evinced by this piece from Roger Cohen in The New York Times.

Fareed Zakaria, one of the more perceptive observers of our nation and the world, therefore, brings a more rounded and sensible perspective of Obama’s foreign policy in this piece in The Washington Post last month. It’s worth a read.

In one foreign policy challenge after another during the Obama years, how many times have we heard that there are no good options for the United States only least bad ones? By definition, such situations do not lend themselves to satisfactory outcomes.

In Egypt, for example, after some hesitation we supported an Arab-Spring type overthrow of the dictatorial Mubarak regime only to see a Muslim Brotherhood victory in subsequent elections, and a return of the army to power when they acceded to popular demand to depose the civilian government. Hardly a satisfactory result and, yes, we were largely a bystander in these events but in what way could we have changed this outcome for the better?

In the Ukraine, we have applied, along with our allies, the soft power of diplomacy and economic pressure to force Russia to scale back its ambitions in the east of that country. Certainly Crimea is lost, as parts of the Republic of Georgia were lost to Russia under the Bush administration, but as Zakaria states

Russia has alienated Ukraine, Eastern Europe and Western Europe with its recent aggression, for which the short-term costs have grown and the long-term costs — energy diversification in Europe — have only begun to build.

And as for China’s bullying in the South China Sea

China has scared and angered almost all of its maritime neighbors, with each clamoring for greater U.S. involvement in Asia.

The US has moved to reassure its NATO allies in Eastern Europe as well as Japan that it will adhere to its treaty obligations in the face of Russian or Chinese aggression. It can hardly do more. We are not in a position to intervene in territorial disputes between China and its neighbors in the former’s backyard. But alienating those neighbors into clubbing together with the US is hardly advancing China’s interests either.

The ongoing messes in Syria and Iraq (which are congealing into one big mess) don’t have easy answers either, no matter what the chicken hawks on the right may say. But rushing in with air power at the behest of the loathsome Maliki is surely not the answer – not yet anyway.

In each of these foreign policy challenges, Obama is exercising patience, building alliances and reserving judgment on how best to proceed until the situation clarifies. That’s what any decent president should do. As Zakaria puts it:

The administration has fought al-Qaeda and its allies ferociously. But it has been disciplined about the use of force, and understandably so. An America that exaggerates threats, overreacts to problems and intervenes unilaterally would produce the very damage to its credibility that people are worried about.

The fickle American public’s low approval ratings for Obama’s foreign policy performance is as much a reflection of the frustration we feel at the lack of clear paths forward in these messy problems, the Middle East in particular, as a comment on the president. After all, we want the problems to go away but we don’t agree with any of Obama’s critics on how to go about accomplishing that.

Zakaria quotes Dwight D Eisenhower, no weakling to be sure but who as president refused to allow America to be dragged into a succession of crises abroad, in capturing what is perhaps Obama’s doctrine

“I’ll tell you what leadership is,” he told his speechwriter. “It’s persuasion — and conciliation and education — and patience. It’s long, slow, tough work. That’s the only kind of leadership I know — or believe in — or will practice.”

Amen to that.

US healthcare system ranks last again. Obamacare will raise its future rankings.

US healthcare system ranks last again. Obamacare will raise its future rankings.

A recent study by the Commonwealth Fund ranking healthcare systems in eleven advanced countries found the United States in last place. And while we languished at the bottom the study, which ranked healthcare delivery on such metrics as quality of care, access, efficiency and healthy outcomes, rated the United Kingdom at number one (take that, Fox News know-nothings). Just to add insult to injury, the UK spends $3,405 per capita on health (second lowest behind New Zealand) while we spend a whopping $8,508, the most of any in the study by a country mile.

Unsurprisingly, we fared poorest in categories associated with access and equity thanks to our lack of universal insurance coverage, and in efficiency where we are burdened with such deficiencies as excessive insurance company administrative overhead, medical duplication and overuse of emergency room treatment.

We also performed the worst in healthy outcomes as measured by infant mortality, healthy life expectancy, and mortality amenable to medical care (i.e. unnecessary or avoidable deaths).

As if this study wasn’t bad enough, we also have the International Federation of Health Plans 2013 Comparative Price Report which annually measures the cost of medical procedures and drugs among selected countries. Guess who regularly emerges as the most expensive? Even Switzerland (where a hamburger meal can cost $50) is way cheaper. As Ezra Klein noted about the iFHP 2012 price report in the Washington Post:

This is the fundamental fact of American health care: We pay much, much more than other countries do for the exact same things. For a detailed explanation of why, see this article. But this post isn’t about the why. It’s about the prices, and the graphs.

One note: Prices in the United States are expressed as a range. There’s a reason for that. In other countries, prices are set centrally and most everyone, no matter their region or insurance arrangement, pays pretty close to the same amount. In the United States, each insurer negotiates its own prices, and different insurers end up paying wildly different amounts.

So the US healthcare system is definitely ailing. But relief may be at hand. In noting the results of the Commonwealth Fund report, a New York Times  editorial states:

The poor results for the United States reflect the high cost of its medical care and the absence of  universal health insurance, a situation being addressed by the Affordable Care Act. The federal law is already increasing the number of Americans with health coverage and will substantially cut the number of uninsured in coming years. Other advanced nations are far ahead in the game because they have long had universal health coverage and promoted strong ties between patients and doctors.

Already the ACA’s beneficial effects on the rate of uninsured are being felt, particularly in states that embraced it wholeheartedly, as this piece about Minnesota from Jonathan Cohn in the New Republic shows.

So, despite the best efforts of Republicans to keep us mired in a rotten system that is inefficient, inequitable, prohibitively expensive, and too often lacking in overall effectiveness, there is hope that the future will be significantly brighter for American healthcare, thanks to Obamacare.

D-Day Remembered on 70th Anniversary

D-Day Remembered on 70th Anniversary

Friday, 6th of June is the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings in Normandy, when a fleet of aircraft and an armada of ships delivered an invasion force of American, British and Canadian soldiers to liberate France and the rest of Western Europe from Nazi German occupation.

Airborne troops preceded the seaborne invasion to secure vital bridges, causeways and approaches to the beaches. Unlike their British allies, the US paratroopers were badly scattered in the drop but this fact actually served to confuse the Germans and impede a coordinated response.

To the east, the British and Canadians at Gold, Juno and Sword Beaches, and the Americans in the far west at Utah Beach were met by relatively light resistance, which enabled a speedy deployment inland. But American troops at Omaha Beach found themselves subjected to a cauldron of machine gun, mortar and artillery fire directed from the heights above the beach, and the issue remained in doubt for the balance of the day. But even here the assault would succeed and the Allies would go on to build a beachhead from which they would never be driven.

With the passage of time it’s easy to forget the enormity of the task and risks that confronted the allied soldiers on that day in June 1944 and thereafter. Before them Fortress Europe, defended by arguably the best army in the world, formidable even in this 5th year of the war. Whilst German infantry formations were of uneven quality, many had a cadre of battle hardened veterans that made them tough on defense. This was particularly so in the confined countryside of what would be the American sector of the beachhead in the west of Normandy, characterized by fields bordered by almost impenetrable hedgerows – the bocage. The Germans would also deploy some of their best armored (panzer) divisions in Normandy. These were exceptionally well equipped and possessed of high quality personnel.

Allied air superiority would be overwhelming, and especially useful in attacking and delaying German reinforcements to the Normandy front. However, airpower was also used indiscriminately at times by the Allies and the people of Normandy would suffer grievously, such as in the bombing that all but destroyed Caen.

Most American divisions lacked battle experience and this would prove brutally expensive in lives lost as they struggled against a well-entrenched enemy who skilfully utilized the defensive advantages afforded by the confining and claustrophobic bocage country.

By occupying the more open country to the east, the British and Canadians would draw the formidable German panzer divisions. In a slugfest of epic intensity both sides would be pummeled but, critically, the elite German units would be pinned down, to afford the Americans time to mount the decisive breakout offensive which would lead to the defeat and near destruction of the German forces in Normandy.

My family and I had the privilege to visit Normandy in the spring of 2010. We stayed in the lovely town of Bayeux. We visited the British and Canadian military cemeteries, saw the Pegasus Bridge secured by British airborne troops in the wee hours of June 6th and drove the length of the British and Canadian D-Day beaches. We stood atop the bluffs scaled by US Army Rangers at Pointe du Hoc near Omaha Beach, and saw Utah Beach from which American forces advanced to secure the vital Contentin Peninsular.

View from concrete bunker overlooking Omaha Beach close to where the Rangers scaled Pointe du Hoc.
View from concrete bunker overlooking Omaha Beach close to where the Rangers scaled Pointe du Hoc.

On a grey, drizzly day that somehow seemed appropriate, we visited the US military cemetery at Omaha Beach, with its myriad rows of white grave markers facing west – towards the country that sent those who lie beneath them.

For those interested in reading more on D-Day and the Normandy campaign there are many fine books. My favorites are:  Six Armies in Normandy by John Keegan, Eagles and Bulldogs in Normandy 1944 by Michael Reynolds, and Antony Beevor’s D-Day The Battle for Normandy.

GOP’s selective outrage on display with VA scandal.

GOP’s selective outrage on display with VA scandal.

Over at Vox.com, Ezra Klein puts the current Veterans Administration healthcare scandal into much needed perspective by wondering why there isn’t similar outrage over the 4.8 million Americans who fall into the Medicaid gap because their GOP governors and/or legislatures have refused that program’s expansion under Obamacare – an expansion paid for 100% by the federal government for the first three years and 90% thereafter.

Of that 4.8 million, about 250,000 are poor veterans. Their situation is far more precarious, as Klein points out, than that of veterans caught up in the VA’s care backlog.  However long and outrageous the wait times may be for VA care, those eligible for it at least know that quality care will come eventually.  Veterans not eligible for VA care but eligible under the Medicaid expansion who happen to reside in one of the 24 states which have opted out can expect no relief, no help. For them it is not just a delay in care that is at issue but its complete absence.

So where is the outrage for the almost 5 million souls affected, particularly from those Republicans and conservatives who are practically frothing at the mouth over the VA revelations? We know the answer from the din of silence, and it’s not difficult to figure out why. There’s political mileage to be made out of the VA’s problems even though they’ve been a long time building. But the lack of coverage for those in the Medicaid gap is the GOP’s exclusive shame and the less said about it the better.

No one would argue that our wounded veterans don’t deserve the very best care we can provide. But why stop there? It’s not a zero-sum game, after all? We can show our concern for both vets and the uninsured working poor can’t we?

Klein provides the roll of shame of states which have refused the Medicaid expansion and the total number of people in each who would be eligible, together with a separate figure for vets. It’s nothing short of a disgrace and as a civilized society we should be every bit as outraged over the plight of those in the Medicaid gap as we are over the VA’s deficiencies.

Supreme Court actions suggest limits to concealed-carry permits constitutional.

Supreme Court actions suggest limits to concealed-carry permits constitutional.

Following their victories in the Supreme Court with the Heller and McDonald decisions in which the 2nd Amendment was interpreted (or misinterpreted) as giving the right for individuals to possess guns at home, the National Rifle Association and its minions have set their sights on  state and local regulation of firearms. Particular targets are state laws that restrict the issuance of concealed-carry permits – yes, some states and cities actually still do exercise some control over who can carry their arsenals around with them, believe it or not.

Illinois was the last state with a blanket ban on concealed carry permits, until it was ruled unconstitutional by a panel of the United States 7th Circuit Court in December 2012. Disappointingly, the state did not appeal.

Several other mostly Northeast states allow concealed-carry permits, but an applicant must be able to justify it based on a legitimate need. California had such a law which left it to counties to decide on appropriate restrictions until a panel of the US 9th Circuit recently ruled it unconstitutional. That decision may be appealed to the full appeals court.

The NRA threw its weight behind a challenge to New Jersey’s strict regulation of concealed carry permits by one John Drake and three other state residents, joined by the Second Amendment Foundation and the Association of New Jersey Rifle and Pistol Clubs. Also supporting Drake’s suit was a group of trigger-happy states led by Wyoming with weak to non-existent concealed-carry restrictions who evidently felt threatened by New Jersey’s tougher laws; so much for states’ rights.

But a funny thing happened on the way to storming the barricades of sensible regulation of firearms outside the home. The NRA and its minions lost.

A panel of the 3rd US Circuit Court upheld New Jersey’s law. One interesting twist, as explained in this piece from The Daily Record:

In upholding the New Jersey law on a 2-1 vote, the Philadelphia-based 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the measure was valid even if the Second Amendment applies outside the home. The appeals court pointed to a passage in D.C. v. Heller, the 2008 Supreme Court decision that said some “longstanding” gun restrictions were “presumptively lawful.”

The panel said New Jersey has had the “justifiable need” standard in some form since 1924.

“New Jersey’s legislature, long ago, made the predictive judgment that widespread carrying of handguns in public would not be consistent with public safety because of the inherent danger it poses,” New Jersey officials, led by Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman, argued in court papers that urged the court to reject the appeal.

And following an appeal, the Supreme Court refused to intervene. The New Jersey law remains undisturbed. The Daily Record also notes that the US 4th Circuit Court’s decision to uphold Maryland’s restrictive concealed-carry law was also left intact by the Supreme Court in October 2013. This in turn followed a Supreme Court refusal to intervene to overturn New York’s strict concealed-carry law in April 2013.

One can hope that the full 9th Circuit Court in California is paying attention and will restore that state’s concealed-carry law.

So at least some sanity on the subject of firearms still prevails in America, at least for now. Sensible states can act in the public interest to limit a frightened segment of the population, namely gun owners, from jeopardizing the safety of the rest of us by carrying their arsenals around with them. That’s worth at least half a cheer.

Of course an important caveat is necessary. At some point the Supreme Court will likely take up the issue squarely to decide if the 2nd Amendment right for individuals to possess firearms extends beyond the home; clearly there are no guarantees on how the conservative majority on the Court will rule.

But its actions to date suggest that gun rights proponents are wrong to think that Heller and McDonald inevitably lead to overturning reasonable but robust restrictions on firearms by state and local authorities. Indeed, the Supreme Court to this point has sent a message indicating that even its conservatives may be gun-shy about usurping the right of those authorities to act in ways they believe advance public safety.