Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

Chickens vs. A Turkey

Okay, so most of you who don’t live in Iowa (and most of you don’t live in Iowa, since it’s not a populous state) probably are unaware that the outcome of the election to replace retiring progressive Iowa senator Tom Harkin—which in turn may determine party control of the Senate—may turn on a dispute between neighbors in a subdivision of homes near a lake in Brooklyn, Iowa.

I don’t live in Iowa either, but I’ve known about this for nearly a month.

The dispute is between Democratic nominee Bruce Braley and his wife and their neighbor, a woman named Pauline Hampton, who raises chickens on her property, which abuts the Braleys’ backyard.  Hampton’s chickens regularly escape from their coop and dirty the Braleys’ and other neighbors’ yards.  Braley’s wife had repeatedly asked Hampton to keep her chickens cooped rather than simply allowing them to roam freely and then come home to roost, but to no avail.

After a verbal spat between Hampton and Braley’s wife, Braley contacted the president of the homeowners’ association and asked that he intervene with Hampton.  He said he did not want to litigate the matter in court and hoped instead that the homeowners’ associate president could prevail upon Hampton to keep her chickens cooped.

Instead, though, the homeowners’ association president, a Republican activist, acted neighborly and reported the private conversation to Republican senate nominee Joni Ernst, a noted constitutional scholar and historian.  Mistaking himself for a court clerk, or believing that Braley had mistaken him for one, the homeowners’ association president apparently told Ernst, and in turn the news media, that Braley had contacted him in order to file a lawsuit.  Something like that, anyway; as I said, I’m not an Iowan, so I’m not familiar with the Iowa way and Iowa neighborliness and such, so I may have missed something here.

Anyway, the political news media of course reported Braley’s contact with the homeowners’ association president as NOT THE IOWA WAY, since Iowans do not resolve conflicts by asking homeowners’ association presidents to mediate conflicts.  Not homeowners’ association presidents who also are Republican activists, anyway.

Well, today, Greg Sargent posted a blog post at the Washington Post titled “Will Iowa Senate race be about issues, or about chickens?”  He reports on minimum-wage numbers-crunching included in a new report by the Center for American Progress Action Fund and says the report’s conclusions about the impact a wage hike would have in Iowa “contrast starkly with Ernst’s pronouncements about it.” Those pronouncements include statements that the minimum wage should be abolished or at least remain forever at its current federal hourly rate of $7.25, and that most minimum wage earners are in their teens or early 20s and in any event are not their family’s main breadwinner.

As the election nears, Ernst likely will continue to lay eggs.  But the ones already hatched expose her for the turkey that she is.

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“Have It Your Way”

Remember that old jingle Burger King used in it’s advertisements? Well it looks like Burger King is determined to have it “their” way by merging with Canada’s Tim Hortons in a take over of the company. Not that Canadians will be happy with this merger as they were not according to rumor the last time Tim Hortons was taken over by Wendys.

MSN Money News Center Euan Rocha writes: “The companies, whose market values are comparable in size, confirmed late on Sunday that they were discussing a takeover of Tim Hortons by Burger King. They said the new entity would be based in Canada, which has a lower corporate tax rate than the United States, especially for entities with large amounts of earnings from overseas.”

There is a question as to whether it is for lower corporate taxes or other reasons corporations are attempting to avoid the US corporate income tax. As DealBook Blog founder Andrew Sorkin questions the takeover and quotes Southern California Gould School of Law Prof. and former JCT chief of staff Edward D. Kleinbard in his paper ‘Competitiveness’ Has Nothing To Do With It.

“‘Despite the claims of corporate apologists, international business ‘competitiveness’ has nothing to do with the reasons for these deals,’” Edward D. Kleinbard writes. ‘Whether one measures effective marginal or overall tax rates, sophisticated U.S. multinational firms are burdened by tax rates that are the envy of their international peers.’”

Sorkin counters; “What? We’ve been told repeatedly that the United States has the highest corporate tax rate in the developed world — 35 percent — which is higher than the nominal tax rates in places like Ireland (12.5 percent), Britain (21 percent) and the Netherlands (25 percent) and the 24.1 percent average rate of all countries that are part of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.”

Sorkin goes on with Kleinbard’s points. “All that is true,” contends Professor Kleinbard; however, “most United States multinational companies do not pay anywhere near 35 percent. Companies paid an average 12.6 percent, according to the Government Accountability Office, which last measured it in 2010 and avoid taxes by deliberately stashing piles of cash abroad.”

So what is the deal? Are corporations being taxed too high and deliberately keep money out of the US to avoid taxes? The argument by Kleinbard is “lower tax rates are not driving companies to inversions; instead, he contends it is all the money that companies have overseas — some $2 trillion — and don’t want to bring back to the United States despite protestations by many chief executives that they wish they could.”

Companies have become adept at avoiding corporate taxes and take advantage of the US tax code, are more competitive than their foreign counterparts, and do not face the same “anti-abuse” rules which non-US companies face in stricter territorial tax systems. Inside of accepted accounting rules, US firms take full advantage in operations in lower tax jurisdictions in a cash tax matter and also through the U.S GAAP measurement of a company’s performance.

Is the excess $2 trillion in profits trapped overseas due to high US corporate taxes? Kleinbard thinks not and points to one company in particular which has used it to their advantage. In 2013, Apple was borrowing in the US and using its offshore foreign earnings to pay the incurred interest. The burdensome US tax code allows interest earned on offshore cash to be included in the US company’s income offsetting the tax deduction on interest expense from US borrowing. In effect, no harm is done to company’s economic stance from borrowing.

While there is agreement the US tax code is inefficient; Kleinbard states, “one of the few deficiencies it has avoided is imposing an unfair international business tax competitive burden on sophisticated U.S. multinationals.”

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Libertarian? Or Fascist-Light?

The shooting death by police of Ferguson, MO teenager Michael Brown, and what has happened in the aftermath, has been blanketing the news for the past few days. It’s a story about race, but it’s also become a story about the power of the state and how it’s wielded, and against whom.

So my question is this: Where are the libertarians?

Why aren’t libertarians talking about Ferguson?, Paul Waldman, Plum Line, Washington Post, yesterday

The answer to the question that the title to that post asks is: they are. Libertarians are talking about Ferguson.Waldman’s question addresses a linguistics problem, a misappropriation of a particular ideological term, “libertarian,” by those who ascribe to a narrowly prescriptive ideology that adopts extreme economic libertarianism and certain aspects of fascism.

It is a curious brand of fascism that is peculiarly American, in that it artificially distinguishes between federal powers and state and local ones. A veritable foundation of this ideology formally or tacitly authorizes the use of state and local government police powers—by police, prosecutors, judges, prison guards–to engage in wholesale violations of American constitutional and international human rights. Federal prosecutors and federal judges engage in abuses, including on presumably-rare occasions of actual illegality, but now, finally, at least there’s the possibility of actual scrutiny of federal prosecutorial excess. There remains no working mechanism by which federal or state judges will be investigated for actual illegality in relation to their judicial office, unless the conduct involves an overt monetary bribe or express monetary extortion; judges themselves operate within a statutory system whose very essence is cover-up by their colleagues, and every attempt, including by members of Congress, Republican and Democrat, to change this statutory sham vis-a-vis federal judges is batted down with cries from several Supreme Court justices, including the two Clinton appointees, about judicial independence. (Freedom! Liberty! Judicial Independence!)  As if an independent office of inspector general, as statutory proposals would establish, couldn’t distinguish between unethical or outright illegal conduct and, well, everything else.  And wouldn’t be forced to do that.

About a month ago, Simon Lazarus of the Constitutional Accountability Center wrote an article in The New Republic titled “John Roberts’ Supreme Court is the Most Meddlesome in History” and subtitled “How radical libertarianism is reshaping the bench.” I remember thinking when I saw that article that the primary title is correct but the subtitle is not. Certainly there are some radical libertarians—those who want to eliminate virtually all taxes, federal and state, an virtually all government regulations and civil and criminal prohibitions, federal and state, and who also are, as Waldman puts it, talking about Ferguson. And who want to dismantle the prison-industrial complex. But best as I can tell, they’re not Republicans, and they’re certainly not federal judges, much less federal Supreme Court justices. Accepting their pose as libertarians, without the modifying adjective “economic,” is buying their marketing campaign.

Freedom! Liberty! Libertarianism! The new and improved variety, marketed as the late 18th century strain. Back from the future. I guess.

What most of this crowd actually is is sort of classic-fascist-light, not libertarian. By which I don’t mean that they’re Nazis; Nazism was (and is) only one brand of fascism. I mean fascism more along the lines of the Benito Mussolini or Francisco Franco variety—a pairing of a muscular state police force left to its own (and the dictator’s) devices, and moneyed interests whose support the dictator an his party needed. Modern U.S. neo-federalism, a.k.a. “states’ rights!”–i.e., the right of state and local government officials and employees to violate individual, non-Republican humans’ constitutional rights—is libertarianism only in a George-Orwell-comes-to-Madison-Avenue sense, but it underpins much of Tea Party/Supreme Court libertarianism, if only ostensibly.

One of the most stunning sentences I’ve ever read in a Supreme Court opinion, a sentence that has not received nearly the amount of attention in the general news media or by Democrats that it deserves, is John Roberts’ express statement in the majority opinion in McCutcheon v. FEC, this year’s Citizens United sequel, that extremely wealthy campaign donors become “constituents”–constituents, in the literal election-law, voter-ID sense–of members of Congress not by living in the senator’s state or in the representative’s district but instead by buying access and the right to author proposed legislation. Ordinary folk are constituents only of the elected officials in whose voting jurisdiction they have their primary (for most people, their only) residence, but the Koch brothers are the constituents not just of Kansas’s senators and Wichita’s congressional representative but also of any other senators and congressional representatives that they choose to co-opt as their legislative proxy, for a fee. This, Roberts said, is at the heart of our democracy.

Which indeed it now is, formally and officially, as per the Supreme Court. It’s at the very heart and soul of our democracy these days–our democracy, alone among democracies, since ours is the only democracy in which this flavor of freedom!, liberty!, is packaged as libertarianism. It’s a specialty flavor that would be recognized by 1930s Europeans for the albeit-milder iteration of the political ideology that it really is. And that is recognized, I’d bet, by most close observers of the Supreme Court’s state-courts’-and-state-prosecutors’-and-local-police-officers’-and-state-and-local-prison-guards’-rights-to-violate-individuals’-constitutional-rights-because-the-Constitution’s-structure-requires-it jurisprudence.

This ideology is libertarian only as some characters in Lewis Carroll’s novels, or the Koch brothers, would define that word.  Or as five current Supreme Court justices do, as suits their focused interest of the moment.  Or of the Conservative Legal Movement era, which has in fact been very focused for more than three decades now.  So any moment will do.

Pick your moment.  Any moment.  They sure do.  Just call what you’re doing anything but what it actually is.

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Odds and Ends

Hat Tip Digsby and Kos Cartoons “Supreme Court Chooses Religion Over Science

In a footnote, Justice Alito concedes that Hobby Lobby’s religious-based assertions are contradicted by science-based federal regulations: “The owners of the companies involved in these cases and others who believe that life begins at conception regard these four methods as causing abortions, but federal regulations, which define pregnancy as beginning at implantation, do not so classify them.” In Hobby Lobby Case, the Supreme Court Chooses Religion Over Science . The four contraceptive methods brought up in the Hobby Lobby case? IUDs, ella, and Plan B.

Lady Parts Justice

New woman’s “Group Lady Parts Justice” forming as authored by Lizz Winstead — comedian, writer, and co-creator of The Daily Show.

Lady Parts Justice is the first not safe for work, rapid response reproductive rights messaging hub that uses comedy, culture and digital media to “get people off their asses and reclaim their rights.” Lady Parts Justice, click on your state to see their pitch. Hat Tip: Crooks and Liars

Highway Construction

“total public spending on construction, adjusted for the price level (GDP deflator) and population growth 2007IV=100,”

“if no deal is made on the federal highway fund, it will soon plunge even further.

It’s important here not to get caught up too much in the details. Yes, it’s absurd that the federal gasoline tax has been flat in nominal terms since 1993, which means that in real terms it has fallen 40 percent. But highways don’t have to be paid for with gas taxes — the fund could be (and has been) topped up with transfers from general revenue.“Paul Krugman

PPACA

View image on Twitter

~20M people gained coverage under ACA. @nejm @commonwealthfnd Health Care Coverage under the Affordable Care Act — A Progress Report Here’s the breakdown, Atu Gawande:

Taking all existing coverage expansions together, we estimate that 20 million Americans have gained coverage as of May 1 under the ACA . We do not know yet exactly how many of these people were previously uninsured, but it seems certain that many were. Recent national surveys seem to confirm this presumption. The CBO projects that the law will decrease the number of uninsured people by 12 million this year and by 26 million by 2017.  Hat Tip: Digsby, “That’s A lot of People”

Executive Orders

To date, “the only presidents who used fewer executive orders than Obama were one term presidents.” Digsby

International Confidence in US Presidents. Bush vs Obama

 PEW Hat Tip Digsby

 

Having written several times about the cost of the elusive college education, this book seems interesting. They give away the topic and again it is money, even for poorer students.

Hold Fast to Dreams: A College Guidance Counselor, His Students, and the Vision of a Life Beyond Poverty by Joshua Steckel and Beth Zasloff New Press, 320 pp.

‘It sometimes feels like low-income students are to our K-12 education system what cadavers are to hospitals. Often teachers secure their first jobs in challenging schools in poorer districts, where the turnover rate is high. Here, they hone their teaching skills, and in a few years they trade up to districts with higher salaries and better working conditions. Poor students are left behind to train the next crop of educators.

Joshua Steckel, coauthor of Hold Fast to Dreams: A College Guidance Counselor, His Students, and the Vision of a Life Beyond Poverty, intentionally went the other way. After four years at Birch Wathen Lenox, an expensive private school on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, Steckel became a college counselor (and sometime teacher) at an overwhelmingly poor, black, and Latino public school in Brooklyn, the Secondary School for Research (now called Park Slope Collegiate). Once there, he used the skills and connections he had developed at Lenox to help get his new charges admitted to some of the country’s more selective colleges.

“Along with his wife and coauthor, Beth Zasloff, Steckel chronicles his relationship with ten of his students, from their senior year of high school into young adulthood. The stories are invaluable both to educators who deal with children from similar backgrounds and to non-educators, who often don’t appreciate the overwhelming odds stacked against poor children.”  Hat Tip Elias Vlanton, Washington Monthly

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Polarized Politics Led To Cantor’s Defeat– and Cochran’s Victory. Why the “Uncommitted Center” Is So Important (Cantor part 2)

Part 1; Cantor’s Defeat and What It Does Not Mean

When House Majority leader Eric Cantor lost his seat to ultra-conservative David Brat, the Washington Post’s Ruth Marcus summed up the majority view among political pundits: “The episode offers a disturbing commentary about the poisonous, polarized state of American politics.” 

I cannot agree. I don’t think “polarization” is toxic.  To the contrary, as the poet William Blake once wrote “Without Contraries, No Progress.”  Conflict can clarify issues, and help us move forward.  Indeed, the clash of opinions is a time-honored way of testing their validity.

Do you remember the 1990s, a decade when it became difficult to tell the difference between Democrats and Republicans? While Republicans headed toward the far right, Democrats moved right of center. During his second term, Bill Clinton started to sound all too much like Ronald Reagan, as he set out to “reform welfare,” forcing single mothers to go to work, even though we weren’t offering them affordable day care. After leaving the White House, Clinton reclaimed his position as a stand-up liberal, but at the time, the distinction between Democrats and Republicans was badly blurred.

Today, the difference between the two parties is clear.  I wouldn’t say that Democrats are ultra-liberal, but conservatives have moved so far to the right that Democrats had no choice but to take a stand on critical issues including: global warming, gun control, the need to raise the minimum wage, and universal access to health care.

By contrast, in the 1990s, Congressional Democrats were “lukewarm” on health care reform. As Paul Starr reports in his newest book, Remedy and Reaction, Senate Finance Committee chairman, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Democrat of New York, actually stood up to say, “We don’t have a health care crisis.”

But by  2010,  the crisis was obvious, and Democrats came together. Pelosi and Harry Reid marshaled the votes, and Congress passed legislation which, while far from perfect, is solidly progressive: Low-income and middle-income Americans receive the subsidies they need; insurers can no longer discriminate against people suffering from pre-existing conditions, and preventive care–including contraception–is free.There is much more work to be done, but at last, we have begun.

Since then, Congressional Democrats have not had the votes to pass much-needed legislation in other areas.

But at least President Obama is no longer the compulsive compromiser that he appeared to be during his first term in office. I see this as progress. As I have argued in the past, on some issues compromise is not an option.  Too much is at stake.

On the ground,voters are as divided as their elected representatives.  Politically active Democrats have begun to move  left of center while Republican voters have become more conservative. The Pew Research report that I discussed in the first part of this post reveals that a decade ago, only 10% of politically engaged Republicans took a conservative stance on almost all issues. Today, 33% express consistently conservative views. At the other end of the political spectrum, almost forty  percent of committed Democrats are consistent liberals, up from just 8% in 1994. The overall share of Americans who express consistently conservative or constantly liberal opinions has doubled over the past two decades from 10% to 21%. .

“As a result,” Pew reports, “ideological overlap between the two parties has diminished. “Today, 92% of Republicans are to the right of the median Democrat, and 94% of Democrats are to the left of the median Republican.”.

“Republicans and Democrats are more divided along ideological lines – and partisan antipathy is deeper and more extensive – than at any point in the last two decades. And a new survey of 10,000 adults nationwide finds that these divisions are greatest among those who are the most engaged and active in the political process.”

Is Polarization A Threat to the Nation?

Most pundits are appalled.
“It’s a poisonous potion,” writes Bloomberg’s Mark Silva:

“Increasing Ideological Uniformity.

“Partisan Animosity.

“Stir it up:  and what you have is ‘Political Polarization.’

“The antipathy cuts both ways” Silva adds.

On that last point he is right.  As Pew points out, the share of Republicans who have very unfavorable opinions of the Democratic Party has more than doubled over the past 20 years – from 17 percent to 43 percent. Similarly, the share of Democrats with very negative opinions of the GOP also has more than doubled – from 16 percent to 38 percent. . .

“There are actually people who view the other political party as a ‘threat to the nation’s well-being’” Pew notes, “with 27 percent of Democrats saying this of the Republican Party, and 36 percent of Republicans saying this of the Democrats. Those numbers, too, have essentially doubled during the past two decades.”

“Pew calls it ‘a rising tide of mutual antipathy,’” Silva observes.

Let me be clear: l Like Silva, I too, abhor the extremes where sheer anger replaces reason.. (I cringe whenever I hear a good friend say that Dick Cheney should be “put up against a wall and shot.” He says this quite often.)

But I would point out that arch-conservatives seem much angrier than liberal Democrats. This is why Republicans come out to vote, particularly in mid-term elections, in much larger numbers. Rage sends them to the polls.

What I find most disturbing is that these conservatives seem to loathe, not just liberals, but anyone who they view as “Other”:  People who are dark-skinned, poor, foreign, gay, or a feminist who stands up for a women’s rights is  deemed “Not Us.”  This mixture of xenophobia, racism, homophobia and misogyny is what I find truly frightening.

The Disengaged Center – Nearly 40% Of All Americans

Most importantly, what  Silva ignores is that while committed Republicans have headed further right, and committed Democrats have shifted to the left, only 61% of Americans are committed to either party.

The Pew poll reveals that fully 39% belong to an uncommitted center: “Many of those in the center remain on the edges of the political playing field, relatively distant and disengaged, while the most ideologically oriented and politically rancorous Americans make their voices heard.

Those in the center are quieter, less likely to vote, and less likely to make political contributions. These are the people who say “I just don’t pay much attention to politics.” Or, “I’ve given up on politics and politicians.”

But according to Pew, while many in the center do not vote, they do have opinions. “These centrists are not moderates. Those in the center hold strong views on various issues,” the Pew report explains. “The difference is that they are not consistently liberal or conservative.” An over-riding ideology does not determine all of their decisions.

For example, some favor gun control, but are opposed to health care reform. On immigration, their views are mixed. Pew’s research reveals that “all told, 37% of non-ideological Americans support drastic changes in America’s immigration policies.”  Some favor deportation of all unauthorized immigrants while others support immediate citizenship if certain conditions are met.”

Because they are not blinded by a single ideology, their minds are open to listening to rational arguments on various issues. This is why we need them at the polls.

On this point, I am hopeful. As conservatives move further and further to the extreme right, more and more Americans are becoming alarmed. As a result, we may well see more disengaged, disaffected, and discouraged citizens beginning to pay attention to politics.

Mississippi

This is exactly what happened Tuesday, in Mississippi, where veteran Republican Senator Thad Cochran beat back a challenge by State Senator Chris McDaniel, a Tea Party favorite.

On June 3, Cochran, an establishment Republican who has served in the Senate for 24 years, lost the Republican Senate primary to Chris McDaniel, a former talk radio host and Tea Party–backed state senator,

Because neither won 50 percent of the vote. the race went into a runoff. At that point, most observers assumed that Cochran would lose.  With his intense support from passionate Republicans, combined with wide backing from national Tea Party groups, McDaniel was the favorite.

But in the last three weeks of the race, Cochran began to reach out to black voters. He was betting that African-American Democrats might well come out to vote against McDaniel, who is  well known for his New Confederate views. (A Southern reactionary, McDaniel laments how the country has changed, since the days before civil rights legislation passed. He misses the “Old South”.) On his radio talk show, he also had made     racist and sexist remarks that I find too offensive to repeat.

Cochran’s strategy proved shrewd. In the run-off, African-American turnout in the 24 counties with a black population of 50 percent or more was up almost 40 percent from the primary.

Make no mistake: Cochran is a conservative Mississippi Republican. Black Democrats know this. But as one voter said: “One of the other white men is going to get in there. We need to choose.”  By turning out for Cochran these liberals made sure that a rabid, racist conservative would not have a vote in Congress.

You might wonder: How could Democrats vote in a Republican runoff? In Mississippi, which does not register by party affiliation, any registered voter can vote in the Republican runoff election as long they did not vote in the Democratic primary during the first round of balloting on June 3.

Most African-Americans didn’t bother to vote for Travis Childers, the winner of the Democratic primary.  They didn’t think he stood a chance. Thus, they were free to cast a ballot for Cochran.

At Cochran’s satellite office in Hattiesburg, Stacy Ahua, 25, a black field organizer, managing a get-out-the-vote operation explained Cochran’s strategy to the Washington Post: “Some of our people forgot to come out for that first vote and we’ve really tried to get things moving. I think everybody now understands the stakes, whether you’re Democrat or Republican, Catholic or Baptist.”

Exactly. This is what right-wing extremists are now doing nationwide: defining what is at  stake. I thank them.

No surprise, McDaniel’s supporters are livid that African Americans sealed their candidate’s defeat. Already, they are talking about a write-in campaign on his behalf. This  could split the Republican vote.

At the same time, success may persuade African Americans and other Mississippi liberals  to turn out for the mid-term elections. And,  if there is no write-in campaign,  right wingers who are furious at Cochran may refuse to vote. In other words,  Travis Childers might stand a chance. He  is a conservative Democrat, but still the GOP would have one less seat in the Senate.

Convincing Americans That It’s Worth Taking the Time to Vote: The Argument for Partisanship

Writing in the American Prospect, Paul Starr recently made the argument that “if Democrats are going to convince their supporters it is worth the trouble to vote . . . . they need to advocate policies that make as loud and stark a contrast as possible with those of the Republicans. Obama’s belated emphasis on raising the minimum wage and increasing overtime pay are good examples of the approach. Taxing the 1 percent to finance broadly distributed benefits also fits this description. . .

“Such policies will predictably be described as class warfare,” Starr acknowledges. “But . . . the objective is actually to get back to an income distribution more like the level that prevailed in the Eisenhower administration. The entire political and legal spectrum has been moved so far to the right that what used to be centrist only seems populist.”

But in recent years, the zeitgeist has turned. .Both the issues and the candidates are more sharply defined than in the past. As a result, Starr notes, “voter turnout in the 2004 and 2008 elections returned to levels America hadn’t seen in 40 years. Fox News and MSNBC stir up the emotions not just of their devoted viewers, but of those who abhor them; liberals and conservatives alike may be more inclined to vote.

In an earlier piece Star argued: “Democracy needs passion and partisanship provides passion.” Yes.

In Some Cases Compromise Is Not Possible

But do we really want “passionate” partisan representatives in Congress? Don’t’ we want to elect politicians who will compromise with each other?

Not necessarily.

On the face of it “compromise” sounds eminently reasonable, and very often, it is appropriate. When it comes to negotiating tax rates, we may be able to “split the difference’—at least in some cases.

For example: until very recently, the Federal government taxed estates over $1 million. Now the IRS collects a tax only if the estate exceeds $5 million. (In 2013 this change cost us roughly $13 billion in government revenues.) Some conservatives would like to abolish the tax altogether; liberals would be inclined to go back to taxing amounts over $1 million. I could see both sides reaching middle ground by agreeing to tax estates over, say, $2.5 million.

But sometimes we can’t meet in the middle. Some values just are not negotiable.

Below, a short list of issues where Republicans and Democrats disagree, and I would argue, compromise is not possible.

Gun control:  When as are talking about the slaughter of innocents, we cannot “split the difference” with the NRA. There is no reason for civilians to own automatic and semi-automatic weapons. And no one should be able to buy a firearm of any kind without a thorough background check.

Medicaid Expansion: The right to healthcare is a universal right, not a matter of states’ rights. The notion that poor adults should have access to medical care in some states, but not in others, is untenable. Once again, what is at issue here is not money, but blood.

Immigration reform: Do we really want to send Honduran 15-year-olds back to a homeland where they are likely to be maimed, killed, or enslaved by a gang?  (See part 2 of this post)  We must offer asylum to those who are at risk, just as, over the years, we offered protection to at least some European Jews (far too few), as well as some Russian dissidents. Skin color or ethnicity should not affect that decision.

As for children who were brought here by undocumented parents years ago, the idea of sending them back to a country that they don’t know is impossibly cruel. Finally children who grew up here should not be barred from attending college because they are labeled “illegals.” We need more educated workers.

Raising the Minimum Wage:  We know that children in the U.S. go to bed hungry because a parent cannot earn enough to feed them. Food stamps run out before the end of the month. And, if we  lift the minimum wage, we can assuage union fears that more immigrants will depress the average American’s paycheck.

Global warming: On this topic right-wingers are not only a threat to the nation, they’re a threat to the globe. Two-thirds of Americans (67%) say there is solid evidence that the earth has been getting warmer over the last few decades, a figure that has changed little in the past few years. Yet conservatives have managed to block action.

Nevertheless we should thank right-wingers for highlighting the issues. Voters are no longer simply talking about candidates’ personalities. We are facing basic differences in what we think is “right” and “wrong.”

A Pew Research Center survey of “American Values” reveals that when it comes to rock-bottom moral questions, liberals and conservatives simply don’t agree. In particular, Pew reports, when Republicans are asked about government regulation and involvement in our lives, they are more adamant than ever before: Individual rights should be paramount; the government should not interfere.

By contrast, progressives tend to believe that government has a responsibility to regulate with an eye to the “common good”–and to tax and spend with the goal of creating a fairer, more egalitarian society.

Ultimately, their positions illustrate the tension between two political goals: freedom and equality. Conservatives favor freedom; liberals are more concerned about equality.  The reason we have two parties is so that voters can choose.

Can’t we have both freedom and equality? Of course–but in some cases there is a conflict between individual rights and what is best for society as a whole. Then, voters must decide.

On such critical questions, I would argue that we are not looking for a mid-point between “right” and “wrong.”  Either we expand Medicaid for everyone—including childless adults–or we don’t.

In a democracy, our elected representatives should reflect what the majority of Americans think is truly just—including the 40% who are not card-carrying conservatives or liberals.

And in fact, recent polls suggest that most U.S. citizens do have clear views on these issues. The majority favor stricter gun control laws;  think that illegal immigrants should be allowed to stay in this country and eventually apply for citizenship; support a proposal requiring companies to cut greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming even if it means higher utility bills; believe that we should raise the minimum wage  from $7.25 to $10.10–or higher and support Medicaid expansion

Why then is Congress gridlocked on these questions? Because only a minority of Americans vote , particularly in midterm elections that decide the fate of so many Senators and Representatives.  Thus Congress reflects the beliefs of some Democrats and Republicans at each end of the political spectrum, but not the will of the majority.

Originated at Health Beat Blog

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Just In Passing – Sunday Morning

The Absurd
Dr. “Chaps” Gordon Klingenschmitt is the Republican nominee for State Rep in Colorado Springs HD15. What qualifies him as a candidate in the Colorado State House? “‘Chaps’ as they call him, has a long history as a disgraced former Navy Chaplain who brags about having successfully performed an exorcism on a lesbian soldier and who has stated again and again that demonic spirits are behind everything from abortion to gay marriage to ENDA to President Obama to Madonna won him the support of the vast majority of GOP caucus-goers earlier this year.

As Susie Madrak of Crooks and Liars says here is a man running for Congress ‘who thinks that “Obamacare causes cancer,’ that the Bible commands people to own guns in order to ‘defend themselves against left wing crazies,’ and that the FCC is allowing demonic spirits to ‘molest and visually rape your children’ is now a Republican candidate for office.”

The Incredulous
Fox News psychiatrist and contributor Dr. Keith Ablow (hat tip: C&L) was on ‘Outnumbered’ the other Thursday morning. After the topic turned to The World Cup, how well the US was doing, and the overall support for the team; here is what he had to say:

Ablow: I am suspect because, here’s the thing. Why, at a time when there are so many national and international issues of such prominence, I’m a little suspicious of yet another bread and circus routine. Let’s roll out the marijuana, pull back the laws, and get people even more crazy about yet another entertainment event.”

What’s wrong with you?

Ablow: This is a way to distract people.

Powers: You have a very dark world view.

Ablow: This is like Rome. I can see why Obama would love the World Cup –

Guilfoyle: What are you talking about? This is encouraging for kids to get out and play sports, and you can play soccer from a young age.

Ablow: It’s overblown. . .”

The World Cup is 84 years old this year and Ablow thinks it was put on to distract us.

The Ridiculous
I am a Vietnam era Marine who had the opportunity to shoot everything up to a 155mm howitzer. I have a few rifles, but, I have nothing beyond 30 caliber. I still shoot even though it is getting harder to do so with all the loons around who wish to publically display. For me, it is a private affair. Here is a reported news event I would call ridiculous.

” A homeowner in Wyandotte, Oklahoma is awaiting damage assessments after an artillery shell entered his home. (hat tip: C&L)

It was fired at the Oklahoma Full Auto Shoot and Trade Show on Saturday, around 3 miles away.

Homeowner Gene Kelley could not fathom what he found after hearing a large crash inside his home.

[…] A 105 howitzer artillery shell, 14 and a half inches long and 3 and a half inches across, was lying on his bedroom floor.”

After ricocheting off a tree branch, the spent round penetrated an outside wall, hit the ceiling, damaged another wall and coming to rest within the house; all while the owner and his wife were in the house.

“The gun range owner says the weapon was fired safely by professionals at a downward projection.”

Aren’t they all trained professionals after something unplanned happens as the result of a firing a weapon? Hey, at least they were not firing HE rounds! The house would have disappeared with them inside of it.

March 3, 1933
Some things never change.

“Recognition of the falsity of material wealth as the standard of success goes hand in hand with the abandonment of the false belief that public office and high political position are to be valued only by the standards of pride of place and personal profit; and there must be an end to a conduct in banking and in business which too often has given to a sacred trust the likeness of callous and selfish wrongdoing. Small wonder that confidence languishes, for it thrives only on honesty, on honor, on the sacredness of obligations, on faithful protection, on unselfish performance; without them it cannot live.” FDR 1st Inaugural Address

Rights
“Then that little man in black there, he says women can’t have as much rights as men, ’cause Christ wasn’t a woman! Where did your Christ come from? Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him. Sojourner Truth: “Ain’t I a Woman?”, December 1851

The Fifties and Matt Laeur
“But some people are speculating that you also got this job because as a woman and as a mom because people knew this company was in for a very tough time and as a woman and a mom you could present a softer image and softer face for this company as it goes through this horrible episode. Does it make sense or does it make you bristle?” he asked.” Moron ‘o the day, Digsby

Matt Lauer speaking to Mary Barra, CEO of GM. Why she did not get up and let him have it speaks of her ability to control herself. I would not have been so polite.

Water for The Elephants
“carrying water for elephants” is a phrase that means carrying a heavy load, much like carrying a secret that you can’t tell even someone you love wholeheartedly, just as in the end Jacob does for his wife.

An elephant drinks 25-75 gallons of water a day far more than any man would be able to carry at any given time. “Water for Elephants” “Sometimes when you get older . . . things you think on and wish on start to seem real. And then you believe them, and before you know it they’re part of your history.”

“Most recently former NY Lt. Governor Betsy McGaughey in the WSJ (August 8th) commented on the ACA in ‘ObamaCares’s Phoney Deficit Reduction’ choosing to carry water for the Republican candidates Romney and Ryan with the hope she can convince voters President Obama’s ACA will not reduce the cost of Medicare and instead will rob the Medicare TF. By her words alone, Ms. McGaughey can not change the numeric of Medicare expected and occurring reduced growth and costs resulting from the passage of ACA. In her, Romney and Ryan’s minds the logic of how the robbery of benefits and the Medicare is all too real even when the proof of the opposite is self-evident. The three will have to do double time if they are to provide enough water to conflate the ACA to the public if in fact they are to make them believe the illusion.” Medicare Cuts: What is the Fight About?

I am hearing that part of the contraction in GDP is due to less expenditures in healthcare as a result of more people being insured due to the PPACA. So far, the detractors have been wrong on the PPACA and they “still” can not carry enough water to prove it otherwise.

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“Does Chief Justice John Roberts show a certain casualness about the truth?”

Each week I get an email from Slate telling me what the latest articles are there, this one caught my attention; Richard Posner on Roberts” For those of you who may not know, Richard Posner writes articles on the economy; but, he is also an 7th District Appeals Court Justice. The 7th District is the same district handling Scott Walker’s election snafu except the justice in that appeal is Frank Easterbrook.

What I find interesting about this article is Justice Posner is talking about SCOTUS Chief Justice Roberts and seemingly questioning McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission. Here is an abbreviated take on what is being said by Justice Posner:

“Which brings me to Chief Justice Roberts’ opinion in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, the decision in April that, in the name of free speech, further diminished Congress’ power to limit spending on political campaigns. The opinion states that Congress may target only a specific type of corruption—quid pro quo corruption—that is, an agreement between donor and candidate that in exchange for the donation the candidate will support policies that will provide financial or other benefits to the donor. If there is no agreement, the opinion states, the donation must be allowed because ‘constituents have the right to support candidates who share their views and concerns. Representatives are not to follow constituent orders, but can be expected to be cognizant of and respon­sive to those concerns. Such responsiveness is key to the very concept of self-governance through elected officials.

Can so naive-seeming a conception of the political process reflect the actual beliefs of the intellectually sophisticated chief justice? Maybe so, but one is entitled to be skeptical. Obviously, wealthy businessmen and large corporations often make substantial political contributions in the hope (often fulfilled) that by doing so they will be buying the support of politicians for policies that yield financial benefits to the donors. The legislator who does not honor the implicit deal is unlikely to receive similar donations in the future. By honoring the deal he is not just being ‘responsive’ to the political ‘views and concerns’ of constituents; he is buying their financial support with currency consisting of votes for legislation valuable to his benefactors. Isn’t this obviously a form of corruption?'”

Mind you, I have not see a lower level judge question a higher level judge’s viewpoint and legal opinion. So this is rather unusual for me having been through all of the court levels. This comes outside of the realm of an appeal which would change a lower court’s ruling if a justice found a lower court’s ruling in error or not to their interpretation. Maybe other readers such as JackD and Bev can offer a better opinion than mine.

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I keep wondering: Is anyone under the age of 40 ‘Ready for Hillary’?

Yves Smith linked this morning on her Naked Capital blog to my post from yesterday called “The Secretive Democracy Alliance’s Secret Is Out: Some of its members are elitist, racist and self-serving,” and added a comment about it:

Helpful, but does not follow the logic to the obvious conclusion. Why is the Dem apparatus harping on the Kochs and not issues that would motivate voters, like more jobs, better access to housing and education? Because they’ve done nothing on those fronts and don’t intend to. […]

The link and Yves’ comment “pinged back” as a comment to my post.  In response to Yves and to a comment by Daniel Becker, I wrote:

My intended point, Yves, was that harping on the IS harping on the issues that would motivate voters, like more jobs, better access to housing and education.  Steve Phillips, et al., think that only white men and married white women are smart enough to understand the connection between politicians’ financial benefactors and those politicians’ proposed legislation and attempts to block legislation.  I think Phillips is wrong.

The failure of the Obama administration–courtesy largely of Tim Geithner and of Obama’s weird infatuation with him throughout Obama’s first term, but also to Obama’s laconic, detached, I’m-a-centrist! persona–to propose and then fight for substantial Keynesian fiscal policies and for other progressive policies–is not, say, Nancy Pelosi’s, or Dick Durbin’s, or Sherrod Brown’s, or Tom Harkin’s fault.

And, yes, the very last thing that the Dems need is yet another presidential nominee who’s never had an original policy idea in her life; who almost never takes a policy position that actually leads rather than follows (and in the one instance in which she did–drivers’ licenses for unauthorized immigrants–scrambles and backtracks at first sign of political harm to her; who spends her time posting to a silly Twitter account and trying to enhance her personal persona rather than ever, ever, ever actually thinking about and offering specific domestic policy proposals; and who apparently can’t function without the constant presence of an entourage of her “people,” i.e., her devotees.

How many other Secretaries of State had a constant go-fer?  How many other FORMER Secretaries of State brought along that same constant go-fer after leaving office? How many couldn’t manage without one?

I keep wondering: Is anyone under the age of 40 “ready for Hillary”? Best as I can tell, the answer is, no. What people ARE ready for is a politician–like Durbin, Harkin, Elizabeth Warren, Sherrod Brown, the former two who are too old to run for president, the latter two who don’t appear interpeted in doing so–who doesn’t have a Twitter account, or a personal entourage, or a daughter whose parents thought it was a good idea for her to sell her celebrity name (and nothing more) to a network news program for a huge amount of money, and talked their daughter into doing that.  Someone, in other words, who’s not famous for just being an ‘icon’, but who has built a mostly-quiet career as an economics populist in Congress or academia.

And, Daniel, I, like you, still cringe, as I did in 2008, at a campaign run almost entirely on a promise of Hope and Change, the substance of which the candidate never specified because he himself had no particular person convictions or policy ideas.  We don’t need another such standard bearer–not even one who replaces Hope and Change with WOMEN! WOMEN! WOMEN!  One Dem presidential candidate, and Dem president, of that ilk is more than enough, thank you very much.

Daniel, I think you and Yves have it backwards. The Dems can’t show progress in policy BECAUSE of the billionaire-controlled campaign-finance system.

So now I’ve gotten it off my chest.  It, being my dismay and utter frustration at the silly Hillary-or-bust obsession of the seemingly hypnotized Establishment Democrats and pundits.

This woman has written a narcissistic book for which she was paid handsomely-being paid handsomely appears to be her primary concern–and is in the process of blowing her book-tour interviews.  Which is nice, because now maybe–just maybe; it’s by no means certain–some actual longtime progressive policy person of some political stature, who doesn’t have a Twitter account or a personal entourage, and is not entirely self-obsessed–will step forward and run for the Dem presidential nomination, on a platform that details policy rather than relies upon personal celebrity and gender.

Hope springs eternal. Although the Kochs, the Chamber of Commerce, and some hedge fund folks have noticed, few political journalists–and apparently no Dem pols and political consultants–have.  This country is suddenly moving rapidly toward a progressive economic-populist era.  Instead, the over-40 professional political crowd thinks that the political sun rises and sets each morning with Hillary Clinton’s personal appearances and Twitter comments.  It doesn’t.

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Post edited slightly for clarity after posting. 6/25 at 3:58 p.m.

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Chris Cillizza Misses the Point. (The most important point, anyway.)

Anecdotal evidence, the basis of so much journalism prior to the rise of the data movement and still, to my mind, over-relied upon — is just that: anecdotal. Roughly 65,000 people voted in the Cantor-Brat primary; Brat won by more than 7,200 votes. Assuming that what a non-scientific sample  of 1, 10 or even 100 people in the district thought about Cantor (or Brat) in the run-up to the race — the shoe-leather reporting prized by Carr — was indicative of how 65,000 people were planning to vote seems to me to be somewhat misguided. (Now, if all 100 people a reporter talked to in the district loudly derided Cantor as an out of step liberal, then I take back my previous point. But, my guess is that wouldn’t have happened.)

Should I have seen Eric Cantor’s loss coming?, Chris Cillizza, Washington Post, today

I assume that Cillizza is, as he says, responding to New York Times writer David Carr’s column on Monday, “Eric Cantor’s Defeat Exposed a Beltway Journalism Blind Spot,” rather than also to, say, my AB post from Wednesday, in which I discuss Carr’s column and note that what the national news media missed, but what the local political reporters Carr mentions recognized, was not simply local antagonism toward Cantor but, to an apparently substantial extent, local antagonism toward Cantor because he is the very embodiment of the politician who shares John Roberts’ particular view, stated expressly in his opinion two months ago in McCutcheon v. FEC, of who or what a politician’s “constituent” is.

In my post on Wednesday (picked up in full elsewhere, I’m glad to see), I noted that the in-depth analysis of it by political several political journalists now that the post-Canter-defeat dust has settled is that critical to Brat’s victory was an anti-plutocracy theme and that Cantor provided the perfect foil for it. Most of the articles discussing this say that the Chamber of Commerce–an explicit target of Brat’s during the campaign, and other major players among the Republican business constituency, who Roberts described in McCutcheon as constituents entitled to secretly help draft legislation by dint of their ability to purchase that right, concur and are springing into action.  As Gail Collins summarized it in her New York Times column yesterday:

The defeat of the House majority leader, Eric Cantor, terrified many of the party establishment’s supporters, particularly since Cantor’s opponent ran against Wall Street, big business and bank bailouts.

It’s a problem, if you’re a big-money donor, to be worried that your party is being taken over by crazy people who will alienate the voters in a national election by opposing immigration reform and contraception. It’s a catastrophe to be worried that it’s being taken over by economic populists.

Cillizza and, I suspect, a number of other professional political analysts remain wedded to what is quickly becoming an outdated model.  They’re missing some important handwriting on the wall, which is that huge swaths of the public are dismayed at the meaning of “constituency” and “democracy” as defined in the New Dictionary of Supreme Court English, edited by Roberts and Anthony Kennedy.  As I said in my Wednesday post:

Call McCutcheon v. FEC the new poll tax. I do.  After all, John Roberts, in a surprising bit of honesty, described it in his opinion for the majority as pretty much that in his opinion in that case earlier this year. “Ingratiation and access . . . are not corruption,” he wrote, quoting Anthony Kennedy’s the Court’s decision in Citizens United, and then explained:

“They embody a central feature of democracy—that constituents support candidates who share their beliefs and interests, and candidates who are elected can be expected to be responsive to those concerns.”

But Cantor’s constituents–the ones that Roberts says should dictate Cantor’s policy positions and write legislation he proposes–couldn’t vote in Virginia’s 7th Congressional District last week. The district is too far away for them to commute to Wall Street, or to Wichita, KS, or downtown Houston, or Raleigh, NC.  And surprisingly, it turns out that Brat actually ran what was in large part a progressive economic-populist–an anti-plutocracy–campaign highlighting who exactly Cantor’s  constituents (to borrow Roberts’ term) are.  So, now that that is being widely reported and is sinking in, hedge-fund types and the Chamber of Commerce crowd apparently indeed are starting to pray.

Apart from the obvious reason for the definitional chasm between Roberts & Co. and most people embedded in that statement by Roberts–specifically, the definition of “democracy”–add to the rapidly growing list of Roberts’ casual redefinitions of common words this new definition of “constituent,” one disembodied from residency in the candidate or officeholder’s actual election jurisdiction.

Cantor was beaten, in substantial part, it certainly appears, by Citizens United and McCutcheon–by a backlash toward the political system that is now, bizarrely but expressly, institutionalized as a matter of constitutional jurisprudence.  Turnout was very heavy, far heavier than it was in the primary in that district two years ago, when apparently all the candidates were fine, thank you very much, with poll-tax democracy.

I titled that post “David Brat, et al. v. John Roberts, Anthony Kennedy, the Koch Brothers, the Chamber of Commerce, et al.”  And in the last two paragraphs, I elaborated upon the title, writing:

Brat, for his part, appears to be about to run a general-election campaign consisting mainly of slogans and non sequiturs.  No surprise, of course; slogans, cliches, non sequiturs are the very essence of the current Republican Party–both factions of the Tea Party/Republican Party. The Paul Ryan/Koch brothers/Chamber of Commerce faction and also, because of the mutual exclusivity of its premises, the (newly named) David Brat faction. That’s simply the nature of this beast.

But the divorce case originally known as Movement Conservatives v. Movement Conservatives, filed June 10, 2014 in the Richmond, Virginia Court of Public Opinion, is a class action.  I just checked the docket for the case, and it’s now called Movement Conservatives, et al. v. Movement Conservatives.  And already, there have been several amicus briefs filed on behalf of the petitioners.  And the Supreme Court may not decide the outcome of it after all.

That last sentence is true; the Supreme Court has lost control of the narrative on this.  It has tried, but unsuccessfully, to decree new non-legal definitions of “corruption,” “democracy,” “constituent,” “person,” and “speech.”  It is losing its case in the courts of public opinion in most jurisdictions around the country; that much already is clear.  But the Court will decide, very possibly–in other litigation; actual imminent litigation, in Wisconsin state court and very possibly in federal court–whether or not two key provisions of Wisconsin state, and of still-standing federal, campaign-finance statutes violate five Supreme Court justices’ view of the First Amendment within the peculiar prism of their definitions of those words.

Best as I can tell from news reports in the last 24 hours, the apparently forthcoming state prosecution of a few people involved on behalf of Gov. Scott Walker and Republican state legislators in the Wisconsin recall elections in 2011 and 2012, and perhaps of Walker himself, will necessarily involve challenges by the defendants to the constitutionality of Wisconsin’s (and possibly eventually to the federal government’s) statutory prohibitions against consort between election campaigns and PACs purporting to be “operated exclusively for the promotion of social welfare” and unaffiliated with a political party or candidate.

The PACs are not subject to donor-amount limits, and they also can qualify for non-profit tax status if they meet a low bar for what constitutes “exclusively for the promotion of social welfare”.

But whether operated exclusively for the promotion of social welfare, as “social welfare” is defined by most people, or instead as it will be defined in New Dictionary of Supreme Court English, these groups embody a central feature of democracy as defined in the April 2, 2014 edition of that Dictionary—that constituents support candidates who share their beliefs and interests, and candidates who are elected can be expected to be responsive to those concerns. And Scott Walker and the Republican legislators who were subject to possible recall adopted the very definition of “constituent” included in the current edition of the New Dictionary. Most of the people and groups with which they appear to have been coordinating were Walker’s and the legislators’ constituents only in the newly defined sense.  They were not residents of Wisconsin and therefore could not show a valid photo ID at a polling place in Wisconsin. (They would have to vote by absentee ballot.)

But Walker & Friends still remain a bit too precocious in one respect.  The Court’s majority has not yet redefined “democracy” to include as a central feature a First Amendment right of constituents (under either definition, traditional or new) to hide their identity when contributing directly to a political campaign.  And it well may not do so.  Kennedy indicated in his opinion in Citizens United that he does not believe that secret donations to campaigns embody a central feature of democracy.  Uh-oh.

Ultimately, though, what matters most is the outcome that civil litigation, Movement Conservatives, et al. v. Movement Conservatives, because not all five of the current editors of the New Dictionary are young and healthy–and because of the political facts illustrated by the surprisingly high turnout in the open primary in Virginia’s 7th Congressional District and the predominant campaign theme of the winner.  But I don’t expect Chris Cillizza to get that.

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What is Wrong with “Our” VA

This was an answer in the local Weekly Reader to a couple of others who insisted VA healthcare should be disassembled and handed over to the private sector. I guess I could have said “nuts; I did say “nonsense.”

“All right, they’re on our left, they’re on our right, they’re in front of us, they’re behind us…they can’t get away this time.” You figure out who said this.

Senator Bernie Sanders bill failed by 4 Republican votes to get out of the Senate. Within that bill there were several sections dealing with meeting the needs of veterans.

Section 327 would require VA to develop and transmit to Congress a strategic plan for improving access and quality of health care services for veterans in rural areas. This plan would include goals and objectives for: the recruitment and retention of health care personnel in rural areas; ensuring timeliness and improving quality in the delivery of health care services in rural areas through contract and fee-basis providers; implementation, expansion, and enhanced use of telemedicine services; ensuring the full and effective use of mobile outpatient clinics.

Section 501 would direct VA to reorganize the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) into geographically defined VISNs. In addition, it directs the Secretary to ensure that each VISN provides high quality health care to veterans, increases efficiency in care delivery, implements best practices, enhances collaboration with partner entities, among other management functions. Finally, this section requires the Secretary, at least every three years, to review and assess VISN structure and operations and submit review results to the Committees on Veterans’ Affairs.

Section 502 would require VA to establish not more than four regional support centers within VHA to assess how effectively and efficiently each VISN conducts outreach to veterans who served in contingency operations; administers programs for the benefits of women veterans; manages programs that address homelessness among veterans, and consumes energy. In addition, the regional support centers would assess the quality of work performed within finance operations, compliance related activities and such other matters concerning the operation and activities of each VISN as the Secretary considers appropriate. “Comprehensive Veterans Health and Benefits and Military Retirement Pay Restoration Act of 2014”

Here is what some of those needed four Republican Senators said:

“I don’t think our veterans want their program to be enhanced if every penny of the money to enhance those programs is added to the debt of the United States of America,” Senator Jeff Sessions Republican Alabama.

“Greatly expanded spending without any realistic offset,” as he dickered with Reid over sanctions on Iran. Republican Senator Mitch McConnell, Kentucky

“I think the decision we got here, as we debate this legislation, is whether we are going to commit to a promise that is bigger than what our kids can fulfill.”It costs more than our kids can afford (with a little sh*t-eating grin on his face). My colleagues pointed out most of the veteran organizations support this bill in fact correct. Senator Richard Burr Republican North Carolina

As far as the bill, the chairman has offered here, this bill has already been debated and there are problems with this bill that is an extensive piece of legislation that has many good elements in it. It also has a cost issue at a time when our nation owes $18 trillion and that was the reason why so may on my side of the aisle objected to it and that is why I would object as to the motion made here today by the Senator from Vermont.” Republican Senator Mario Rubio, FLA.

After causing Senator Bernie Sander’s bill to fail by 4 votes, these same 4 Senators are now trying to get to the bottom of why there are delays in getting care for veterans. The VA has always had a degree of issues with it in waiting for the benefits offered and this has been the case for decades. Too often and too late much of the delay is the result of the lack of funding to meet the influx of newly discharged and veterans (disabled and healthy). The issue extends to the Vietnam Veterans who are now arriving at the VA installations with issues resulting from age. Old Mr. Invincible has seen a few instances of physical vulnerability.

To answer to the insistence on leaving Veteran healthcare to the free market, we pretty much have done so with everyday people over the decades. What have we experienced?

– Since the proposal of Hillarycare in the nineties, we have seen the cost of providing healthcare quadruple. There are no controls or incentives to stem the persistent and ever-increasing cost of healthcare by the industry as it is a service- for- fees- cost- model, which makes it money by selling you more. The US has one of the most expensive healthcare systems in the world without the benefit of the best care globally.

– We have left the training of doctors and the supply of them to the free market. Increasingly we are experiencing a shortage of primary care doctors not only at the VA; but, it is being experienced in the private healthcare market today. Only 20% of the students hoping to be doctors are going into primary care and the shortage is growing. “The US is short ~16,000 Primary-Care Doctors. The PPACA attempts to solve the problem by skewing funding and salary to primary care except Congress is cutting PPACA funding “Congress, for example, already has chopped about $6.25 billion from the ACA’s new $15 billion Prevention and Public Health Fund, which pays for programs to reduce obesity, stop smoking and otherwise promote good health. In addition, federal support for training all types of physicians, including primary care doctors, is targeted for cuts by President Obama and Congress, Republicans and Democrats, says Christiane Mitchell, director of federal affairs for the Association of American Medical Colleges, who calls the proposed cuts “catastrophic.” Nurse Practitioners are coming on line; but, the time table is long and they will not be abundant for years yet Some of this is a contrived shortage as cited by PNHP:

“(Nursing schools are trying to produce more Nurse Practitioners (NPs) to deal with the crisis in primary care, but have been consistently attacked by MDs who insist that NPs are not well enough educated to provide even routine primary care.)” “Lack of funding is the Real VA scandal”

– Try getting in to see a Cardiologist or specialist or primary care doctor in 2-3 weeks in the commercial market. You can not and the wait times extend outward from 1-3 months in private medical care clinics (my experience). This is typical. Phillip Longman the author of The Best Care Anywhere most recently pointed to the wait for a private clinic doctor’s appointment.

patients who already have good private insurance have trouble scoring an appointment with a primary care physician. Which is why, (Philip Longman interview at Vox) , wait times for an appointment in Los Angeles are on average up to 59 days and in Boston up to 63. Newspaper reports like that in the New York Times spotlight vets who have been able to get immediate appointments in the private sector.

Well I congratulate them.

Most people I know, even those with good health insurance have a pretty hard time finding a PCP whose practice is even open to new patients and have to wait a good long time for specialist care as well. How will the nation’s overtaxed primary care doctors suddenly be able to accommodate millions of vets when they can’t handle the patients they already have, plus the influx of patients who will now be insured thanks to the Affordable Care Act?”

And the acting VA Chief is planning on dumping thousands of veterans into the commercial market? The placing of Veterans in the commercial market will start an erosion of VA benefits for those who have earned it serving the “4 chicken-hawks” I named above who sent them to war.

– The VA offers more to veterans than what the private healthcare clinics can. As one Livingston Daily Veteran (Jim Pratt) pointed out: “The VA system has major advantages over private hospitals in some things- such as electronic medical records, coordinated care, and early screening and detection of issues that of are particular need for military veterans. U of M medical center does not screen for PTSD, or for titanium dust (Camp Victory), depleted uranium exposure (All our engagements since the 1980’s), or exposure to ionizing radiation. The VA can do those, and more.

Another veteran, Jack Samples points to the efforts of the Ann Arbor VA in handling its patient workload. Having been there myself, I can vouch for it also. Guarantees two-week maximum waits for primary care appointments, Provides 24-hour emergency care, provides daily urgent care for anyone who does not have an appointment but needs or wants to see a doctor, etc.

– VA Primary Care doctors are underpaid and making less than their commercial counterparts do. It is difficult to attract more primary care doctors to the VA when more can be made in commercial hospitals.

The list goes on, on how Congress has failed the veterans of this nation with some lame excuses for not funding the last two wars and preparing adequately to receive veterans. Much of this is not the fault of the VA. The generalities expressed by two readers do not hold up to a close examination and there is no economic reason to give veteran healthcare over to a failed private healthcare system which abandoned millions of people.

“The Architect of the VA’s Quality Transformation Under Clinton Speaks Out”, Phillip Longman

“VA Care: Still the Best Care Anywhere? Part II”, Phillip Longman

“How to Beat the Doctor Shortage”, Marsha Mercer

“The Best Care Anywhere”, Phillip Longman

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