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Red States seek to gut the Affordable Care Act and make Blue States more like them.

Red States seek to gut the Affordable Care Act and make Blue States more like them.

In this timely piece from the LA Times we learn about two working mothers, one in California and one in Texas, and their very different health care experiences thanks to the Affordable Care Act’s expansion of Medicaid to low-income adults, or lack thereof, in their states. The California mum (Jenny) whose state enthusiastically embraced the ACA, has health coverage which kicked in last year when she was hospitalized from a severe infection. Texas on the other hand opted out of the Medicaid expansion and the Texan mum’s (Courtney) experience reflects that fact; without health coverage she’s not able to afford asthma inhalers nor dental treatment for a broken molar she received in a domestic dispute. Courtney’s been living on Orajel, she says.

In fact recent research has concluded that the Red States who refused Medicaid expansion suffered a higher mortality rate among near elderly low-income adults compared to states that expanded the program. The result is that the states who opted out likely sustained almost 16,000 avoidable deaths during the period studied. 

The fate of the ACA now rests in the hands of an ideologically extreme right-wing Supreme Court (SCOTUS) in California v Texas stemming from an effort by Texas and 17 other Red States joined now by the Trump administration to overturn the ACA. (The result will not be known until next year). It’s difficult not to see this as anything other than a continuation of an expanding war on Blue States who typically provide their citizens with more and better services. It’s bad enough that Texas and the others demonstrate such a studied unconcern for the health and well-being of their own residents, but it’s truly reprehensible that they’re driven to seriously damage that of low-income people in the rest of America. Apparently, Texas politicians will not rest until Jenny’s experience in California mirrors that of Courtney. Misery really does love company it seems.

And if Republicans win the November election, we can be assured that any chance of a meaningful replacement for the ACA in the event that SCOTUS throws it out will be just as dead as those 16,000 people who died prematurely. Nor should we forget that if the law falls, all who enjoy private health insurance will once again be subject to caps on their coverage, prohibitions on pre-existing conditions and the other means of victimization in the tool bags of the insurance companies. 

All of which is a strong reminder that the sooner we crush the GOP at the ballot box, the better it will be for our collective welfare.

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.

Conservatives want to raise the Minimum Wage – Just Like Liberals!

Conservatives want to raise the Minimum Wage – Just Like Liberals!

We’re accustomed to hearing progressives and Democrats argue for raising the minimum wage. So it’s refreshing to hear a similar case being made from the other side of the ideological divide.

Ron Unz is a conservative activist and former publisher of The American Conservative magazine who until recently was leading a fight for an initiative to raise the minimum wage in California to $12.00 an hour. Unfortunately, lack of funds has derailed the effort as he explained in this interview with The Nation but what is striking from both this conversation and one he had on NPR earlier this year is that his key arguments for increasing the minimum wage resonate as much with liberals as they should do with conservatives.

For example, Unz makes the point in this New York Times Op-Ed piece that a low minimum wage amounts to a government subsidy for private businesses because the taxpayers pick up the tab for poorly paid workers to receive income support, food aid and other governmental support:

Ordinary taxpayers would be the other great beneficiaries, saving many tens of billions of dollars each year in payments for Food Stamps, the Earned Income Tax Credit, housing subsidies, and other social welfare programs. Businesses should pay their own employees rather than quietly shifting the burden to government programs and the American taxpayer. Conservatives and free-market supporters should endorse this simple idea.

He also is unsympathetic to the usual Republican braying that raising the minimum wage will force businesses, especially small ones, to lay off workers. He notes that the recent CBO report on the likely effects of raising the minimum wage clearly shows that the benefit for many millions of low wage Americans, who will gain a significantly higher income, far outweighs the possible loss of some jobs. Second, as a believer in the free market he expresses the view that if a business is unable to survive without paying a ridiculously low hourly wage, then maybe it doesn’t deserve to.

That these and other Unz arguments for raising the minimum wage sound much like our own is no accident. The logic of it transcends ideological and philosophical differences. So why do most congressional Republicans still oppose it?

Well, one strong reason is that Obama is for it and that’s enough for many to be against it on principle. But the GOP’s opposition is guided primarily by their reflexive support for small business owners most of whom object vociferously to increasing the minimum wage. And ideological consistency takes a hike since ordinary taxpayers provide what amounts to a $250 billion subsidy to the GOP’s business pals so that our working poor can have a somewhat decent living.

The strength of conservative objections has rendered a federal increase unlikely any time soon. The fight, however, has already shifted to the states. Here in Washington, for example, both the state and the city of Seattle are separately considering minimum wage increases.

Requiring American businesses to provide a decent minimum wage to their workers is not a Democratic or Republican issue, or a liberal or conservative one. It’s simply the right thing to do. Ask Ron Unz.

European Union has the Upper Hand on Animal Welfare Rules

European Union has the Upper Hand on Animal Welfare Rules

The New York Times reports that progress in negotiations on an historic trade agreement between the United States and European Union has slowed to a snail’s pace thanks, in part, to the EU balking at accepting our hormone-treated, antibiotic-injected and inhumanely raised beef, pork and chicken. More power to them and let’s hope it’s the US that buckles and not the EU.

It must be unusual and more than a little uncomfortable for US negotiators to be in the position of a relatively backward nation negotiating with a party whose environmental and overall regulatory regimen, at least when it comes to agriculture, is stricter and more progressive than our own. The EU has strict laws on labelling genetically modified foods, stricter rules on the humane treatment of farm animals and, unlike the US, prohibits the sale of hormone-treated beef.

Unfortunately, thanks to Big Ag and its stooges in Congress, the US is far less enlightened. California is a leader in the humane treatment of farm stock but there is no will to improve their lot at the national level. And while the GMO labelling fight is not over, voters in relatively progressive states such as California and Washington have opted for wilful ignorance over transparency.

Even the environmental damage caused by industrial farming – as this piece on the poisoning of Iowa’s water by factory hog farms highlights – has failed to prompt a serious rethinking of the way we raise animals for food. Do we have to wait until Iowa has its very first mountain range composed of pig shit before we take notice of the harm we’re doing?

We demand cheap meat no matter what the price paid by the animals we raise and refuse to confront Big Ag about its nefarious practices. Heck we don’t even want to know about it, hence the term “Ag-gag” which denotes laws passed in several states to effectively prevent revelations about abusive and cruel treatment of farm animals.

There are no easy answers to the question of how we can healthily and humanely raise our farm animals while still providing affordable beef, pork and chicken, as even a staunch animal welfare and sustainable food advocate such as Nicholas Kristof acknowledges.

Which doesn’t mean we can’t try, and kudos to the EU countries for leading the way while showing us up to be the backward and ignorant yahoos we’ve become on this issue. And who knows? Maybe one day their example will shame us into rejecting our present industrial model of food production for a better and more moral one.

Congressman King’s misbegotten amendment excluded from compromise Farm Bill.

Congressman King’s misbegotten amendment excluded from compromise Farm Bill.

NPR reports that Iowa Republican Congressman Steve King’s amendment failed to make it into the final compromise Farm Bill. It would have outlawed stronger rules for the humane treatment of farm animals by individual states, such as the provisions of California’s Proposition 2:

In another closely watched issue, stronger animal welfare standards that were adopted in recent years by California and other states would not be outlawed by the new farm bill, despite attempts to insert an amendment to that effect.

“This is a victory for state’s rights,” Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Calf., tells The Fresno Bee. Denham warned that the amendment “would have led to a race to the bottom for agriculture production laws nationwide and imperiled the fate of California egg producers.”

The Bee reports:

“The potential inclusion of the animal welfare provision, authored by Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, had imperiled Californians’ support for the overall bill. King’s amendment targeted state provisions such as California’s Proposition 2, a 2008 measure that required that certain animals be able to turn around freely, lie down, stand up, and fully extend their limbs while confined.”

This is great news for those of us who care about the humane treatment of farm animals. Since this is clearly an issue for which we can expect no progress at the federal level for the foreseeable future, it is up to states to move the country forward and California, in particular, deserves much credit for its leadership.

Kudos to the California congressional delegation and supporters from other states (nearly all of whom are Democrats I daresay) for striking the King amendment.

WOW!

WOW!

This is a HUGE victory for Progressives.

A federal appeals court today overturned the Environmental Protection Agency’s attempt to exempt power plants, refineries and other pollution sources from Clean Air Act rules that require them to install costly new pollution controls whenever they make changes that increase their emissions.

Ruling in favor of a coalition of states and environmental advocacy groups, the court declared that the plain language of the act required a much stricter approach, as the Clinton administration had devised, and that only “a Humpty Dumpty” interpretation, as the court called the E.P.A.’s position, could construe the law otherwise.

“We decline such a world view,” said the unanimous decision of a three-judge panel that included Judge Janice Rogers Brown, a conservative appointed last summer by President Bush.

Plaintiffs in the case – more than a dozen states, including New York and California, and a large group of environmental organizations – hailed the decision as one of the most important in years for environmental protection. The law governs more than 800 power plants around the country as well as 17,000 factories, refineries and chemical plants.

“This is an enormous victory over the concerted efforts by the Bush administration to dismantle the Clean Air Act,” Attorney General Eliot Spitzer of New York, whose office argued the case for the states, said in an interview. “It shows that the administration’s effort to misinterpret and undermine the statute is illegal.”

Eliot Spitzer is the man! Why isn’t he running for president? Oh… he’s got that governor thing he wants in New York.