Friday, November 29, 2013

Limbaugh 'bewildered' by Pope Francis, Catholic teaching

I'm liking Pope Francis more and more. I mean, look at how his simple words -- they could be ripped right from the New Testament! -- make so-called "Christian" conservative commentators squirm in their seats! (Partly, this is because conservatives are much more susceptible than liberals to patriarchy and argument from authority, and you don't get much more patriarchal and authoritative than the Pope).

"Say what?Rush Limbaugh seems to say (see below), "Jesus didn't believe in trickle-down economics? Really? Christianity doesn't teach that we should get a 'thrill' from empty consumerism; we can only find true joy in loving one another and God?"

Rush is the perfect example of a conservative who has put his Christian religion way, way, waaaay behind his politics (second) and his love of money and buying things (first).  I'm gonna quote him at length so you see what I mean [emphasis mine]:

You talk about unfettered, this is an unfettered anti-capitalist dictate from Pope Francis.  And listen to this.  This is an actual quote from what he wrote.  "The culture of prosperity deadens us.  We are thrilled if the market offers us something new to purchase. In the meantime, all those lives stunted for lack of opportunity seem a mere spectacle. They fail to move us."  I mean, that's pretty profound.  That's going way beyond matters that are ethical.  This is almost a statement about who should control financial markets.  He says that the global economy needs government control. 

I'm telling, I'm not Catholic, but I know enough to know that this would have been unthinkable for a pope to believe or say just a few years ago.  But this passage, "The culture of prosperity deadens us. We are thrilled if the market offers us something new to buy.  In the meantime, all those lives stunted for lack of opportunity seem a mere spectacle."  I have to tell you, folks, I am totally bewildered by this. 

Indeed, Rush is totally bewildered by Pope Francis's remarks, because Rush is completely ignorant of the teachings of Jesus Christ.  Oh, the smite the Sodomites stuff -- he got that memo from the Old Testament. But the entire New Testament seems to have zipped over his bald head. And he's not alone among U.S. Christians, especially Evangelicals.

Here's more. Take a look at these two statements from the U.S. Catholic Bishops [italics mine]:

7. In economic life, free markets have both clear advantages and limits; government has essential responsibilities and limitations; voluntary groups have irreplaceable roles, but cannot substitute for the proper working of the market and the just policies of the state.

8. Society has a moral obligation, including governmental action where necessary, to assure opportunity, meet basic human needs, and pursue justice in economic life. 

Sounds pretty leftist, doesn't it?  It's also True with a capital T! And the Catholic Church's teachings have been very consistent over the years in this regard.

Later, Rush goes into complete revisionist-history/nutjob land: he says modern-day U.S. Democrats are today's Evil Empire that the Catholic Church should be fighting.  

Never mind that there are actual, honest-to-God socialist and Communist political parties dotting Europe, supported by honest-to-God trade unions (they are nearly extinct in the U.S., by comparison), giving all those godless Euro-trash types "free" healthcare, education and old-age pensions... And the Catholic priests and bishops there gladly support all this leftism.... No, according to Rush, the Bishop of Rome should ignore Europe and concentrate on the real enemy: the U.S. Democratic Party. Or as I like to call them, 1990s Republicans.  Unbelievable:

Now, by the way, in fairness to the pope and in fairness to the Catholic Church, I will admit that communism years ago was much easier to see and identify than it is today.  And the obvious evil that was communism was easy to see.  Soviet-sponsored communism, the gulags, the First World military with the Third World economy, the blustery behavior of Soviet Communist Party bosses, the constant Soviet expansionism into Cuba and Sandinista land and Nicaragua and everywhere. 

Communism today is much more disguised. 

Communism today, in large part, is the Democrat Party.  Communism today is in large part the feminist movement. Communism today is found in most of the AFL-CIO-type unions.  As such, it seems just a political point of view.  It's just an alternative political point of view.  It's just the Democrats, and it's a much tougher thing to identify and target, because it can be your neighbor.  It's not some foreign country easily identified as "the Evil Empire." Communism has a much different face today. 

I have to tell you, what has been attributed to the pope here doesn't make sense, with 50 years of the Catholic Church.  It doesn't jibe.  But it sounds exactly like what your average, run-of-the-mill leftist would say each and every day:  unfettered capitalism, trickle-down doesn't work.  I don't know this pope, but I don't know that the bishop of Rome speaks in terms of trickle-down.

Rush and his ilk simply refuse to acknowledge the obvious truth of the New Testament that Jesus and his followers rejected the pursuit of wealth, and established as their primary mission love, aid and fellowship with society's poor and outcast.  This is nothing new.  Pope Francis didn't think this up in the shower one morning.  Rush refuses to understand that, indeed, Christian teaching is basically "run-of-the-mill leftist" thought: equality, tolerance, shared responsibility, multiculturalism, love the poor, etc.

UPDATE (03.12.2013): I'm getting lots of hits on this post so let me add a personal tidbit. I was in mass last year when the U.S Catholic Church was doing its big campaign against Obamacare from the pulpit. I hadn't been to church in a long time. The pipsqueak priest who was about 25 years old said that the Affordable Care Act was "socialism" and that the Church opposed "socialism." It totally infuriated me. I stood up and walked out. "What is this, a Tea Party meeting?" I said to the person next to me.  Never mind that "socialist" Europe has variations on Obamacare in every single country and the RCC priests in Europe aren't railing against it.... Suddenly the global RCC was coming out against it in the USA? It smacked of ignorance and parochialism. So the Church is not snow white, and there is a lot of variation.

November 27, 2013 | The Rush Limbaugh Show

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Our caveman brains like conspiracy theories

Now I'm reading the interesting bestseller on practical psychology You Are Not So Smart by David McRaney that describes the scientifically proven ways that our caveman brains gloss over most information, take foolish logical shortcuts, fool us to protect our fragile egos, and constantly re-write our memories to preserve a "consistent" image of ourselves over time.  

A few of these tricks of the mind are mentioned below, such as confirmation bias. There are many, many others such priming, hindsight bias, apophenia, the availability heuristic and the just-world fallacy, that are hardwired into our subconscious minds by evolution, and very difficult for our relatively younger conscious, rational mind to combat. 

Just about the best we can do is admit that all of us fall prey to these tricks of the mind. 

(Priming seems like the most insidious of them all: literally seeing a picture of something for a fraction of a second, or a certain odor, can trigger the deeper, animal subconscious mind to bias how the "thinking" mind perceives subsequent events or makes "rational" judgments. The crazy thing McRaney repeats over and over, in all these psychological experiments, is how well people explain why they think or act the way they do, and actually believe it themselves -- they don't think they're lying! -- when in fact their stated reasons are total bullshit.)

Apropos, I have my own theory about political conspiracy theories. One of my dear conservative friends has lately begun to fall for many of them. I'll give my best guess why. 

For conservatives, most conspiracy theories boil down to two things: 1) either they want to believe that a corrupt, power-hungry federal government is out to tyrannize freedom-loving Americans, and they'll latch onto any evidence or coincidence to support that view and discard anything that doesn't; or, more disturbingly, 2) their pro-wealthy ideology prevents them from accepting the obvious and perfectly legal ways that the super rich trade money for political influence at the expense of the rest of us; therefore, conservatives must look for more abstruse, far-ranging explanations for why "the system" seems to gang up on us average folks.  

Anyhow, I totally agree with Michael Shermer's conclusion that, "when conspiracy-mongering leads to absurd conclusions and diverts our attention from real, pressing political issues and leads people to become politically apathetic, it can be a dangerous waste of time."

Unfrozen caveman conspiracy theorist.

By Michael Shermer
November 27, 2013 | Los Angeles Times

With the passing of the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy last week, and the accompanying fusillade of documentaries purporting to prove there was a conspiracy behind it, we might expect (and hope) that cabalistic conjecturing will wane until the next big anniversary.

Don't count on it. A poll this month found that 61 percent of Americans who responded still believe that JFK was the victim of a conspiracy, despite the fact that the preponderance of evidence points to Lee Harvey Oswald as the lone assassin.

Why do so many people refuse to accept this simple and obvious conclusion? The answer: psychology.

There are three psychological effects at work here, starting with "cognitive dissonance," or the discomfort felt when holding two ideas that are not in harmony. We attempt to reduce the dissonance by altering one of the ideas to be in accord with the other. In this case, the two discordant ideas are (1) JFK as one of the most powerful people on Earth who was (2) killed by Lee Harvey Oswald, a lone loser, a nobody. Camelot brought down by a curmudgeon.

That doesn't feel right. To balance the scale, conspiracy elements are stacked onto the Oswald side: the CIA, the FBI, the KGB, the Mafia, Fidel Castro, Lyndon Johnson and, in Oliver Stone's telling in his film "JFK," the military-industrial complex.

Cognitive dissonance was at work shortly after Princess Diana's death, which was the result of drunk driving, speeding and no seat belt. But princesses are not supposed to die the way thousands of regular people die each year, so the British royal family, the British intelligence services and others had to be fingered as co-conspirators.

By contrast, there is no cognitive dissonance for the Holocaust - one of the worst crimes in history committed by one of the most criminal regimes in history.

A second psychological effect is the "monological belief system," or "a unitary, closed-off worldview in which beliefs come together in a mutually supportive network," in the words of University of Kent researchers Michael J. Wood, Karen M. Douglas and Robbie M. Sutton in a 2012 paper titled "Dead and Alive: Beliefs in Contradictory Conspiracy Theories." A conspiracy theory, they wrote, is "a proposed plot by powerful people or organizations working together in secret to accomplish some (usually sinister) goal." Once you believe that "one massive, sinister conspiracy could be successfully executed in near-perfect secrecy (it) suggests that many such plots are possible."

With this cabalistic paradigm in place, conspiracies can become "the default explanation for any given event." For example, the Kent researchers found that people who believe that Princess Diana was killed by MI6 were also more likely to believe that the moon landing was a hoax, that HIV was created in a laboratory as a biological weapon and that governments are hiding extraterrestrials. The effect is even more pronounced when the conspiracies contradict one another. People who believed that Diana faked her own death were "marginally more likely" to also believe that she was killed.

A third psychological effect is "confirmation bias," or the tendency to look for and find confirming evidence for what you already believe and to ignore disconfirming evidence. Once you believe, say, that 9/11 was an inside job by the Bush administration, you focus on the handful of anomalies that fateful day and connect them into a seemingly meaningful pattern, while ignoring the massive evidence pointing to Al Qaeda. JFK conspiracy theorists ignore the massive evidence pointing to Oswald while seeking deep meaning in trivial matters, such as the man with the umbrella on the grassy knoll, or the puff of smoke behind the picket fence, or the odd noises echoing around Dealey Plaza. Each become pregnant with meaning when the mind goes in search of cabals.

Such conspiracy-mongering may seem harmless, but there's a dark side. Another study this year by University of Kent researchers found that"exposure to information supporting conspiracy theories reduced participants' intentions to engage in politics, relative to participants who were given information refuting conspiracy theories." They attributed this effect to "feelings of political powerlessness." What can any of us regular folks do if the world is run by a handful of secret societies (like the Illuminati) or families (such as the Rockefellers or Rothschilds) or operatives (think CIA or KGB) operating clandestinely to establish a new world order?

What happens in history matters, and where conspiracies are real - as in the case of the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln - we should ferret them out. But when conspiracy-mongering leads to absurd conclusions and diverts our attention from real, pressing political issues and leads people to become politically apathetic, it can be a dangerous waste of time.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Obama 'closing' Vatican embassy because he can't stand left-wing Pope?

Just kidding. Seriously though, if President Obama were a true socialist then he should be doing everything he could to support Pope Francis' denunciation of trickle-down economics and unbridled capitalism.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Baker: Technology didn't kill middle class jobs, public policy did

Baker doesn't mention other advanced countries like Germany that did not lose their middle class and manufacturing jobs, even though they are subject to the same global, technological forces that ostensibly destroyed U.S. wages and jobs. Why? Because their politicians protected their unions and domestic manufacturers, among other things.

By Dean Baker
November 25, 2013 | Guardian

Survey: U.S. workers suffer unprecedented anxiety

And it's all because of Obamacare and federal regulations.... Oh, and too-high taxes on corporations, can't forget that one.

Seriously though, Republicans are out of answers and Democrats are too pussy to do what's necessary, like expanding unemployment benefits, raising the minimum wage, expanding Social Security, offering real child care, etc.:

More than six in 10 workers in a recent Washington Post-Miller Center poll worry that they will lose their jobs to the economy, surpassing concerns in more than a dozen surveys dating to the 1970s. Nearly one in three, 32 percent, say they worry “a lot” about losing their jobs, also a record high, according to the joint survey, which explores Americans’ changing definition of success and their confidence in the country’s future. 

And this worry is especially strong among the working poor, aka the Little Guys:

Fifty-four percent of workers making $35,000 or less now worry “a lot” about losing their jobs, compared with 37 percent of ­lower-income workers in 1992 and an identical number in 1975, according to surveys by Time magazine, CNN and Yankelovich, a market research firm. Intense worry is far lower, 29 percent, among workers with incomes between $35,000 and $75,000, and it drops to 17 percent among those with incomes above that level.

Lower-paid workers also worry far more about making ends meet. Fully 85 percent of them fear that their families’ income will not be enough to meet expenses, up 25 points from a 1971 survey asking an identical question. Thirty-two percent say they worry all the time about meeting expenses, a number that has almost tripled since the 1970s.

And it's not even polite to talk about the health and social effects of such anxiety among the working poor, that often clouds their judgment and leads to depression. We haven't even attempted, as a society, to feel that level of empathy with our fellow Americans.

By Jim Tankersley and Scott Clement
November 26, 2013 | Washington Post

Monday, November 25, 2013

Bankrate: Americans still struggling to pay debts

Ordinary Americans are still de-leveraging after the Great Recession. Their continued debts are hurting consumer demand, which in turn is hurting employment and investment because companies don't want to produce or sell what people don't have the money to buy.

What can politicians do to ease the pain and get our economy going again?  Republicans' knee-jerk reaction is to cut taxes. Yet... the same folks struggling to pay their bills are the same "47 percent" of "entitled" moochers who already pay little or no income tax. And corporations are more profitable than ever, with billions of cash on hand. Meanwhile, Republicans urge fiscal austerity -- mainly by cutting "welfare" like WIC, food stamps and unemployment benefits for these same struggling Americans.

Something's gotta give. The Fed's continued quantitative easing is not reaching average Americans. If their struggles continue, then we can anticipate another decade of economic malaise: the "secular stagnation" theory.  In this context the risk -- the temptation, for some -- is to blow up another asset bubble to give the economy the appearance of health and spur consumer confidence, thus consumer spending. But we know that such bubbles burst eventually, leaving those same working-class people worse off.  

It's a shame our leaders can't come up with anything to break this vicious cycle, besides yet more asset bubbles that benefit business insiders, and free money for Wall Street banks that don't need it and doesn't "trickle down" in the form of loans to Main Street Americans.

By Polyana da Costa
November 25, 2013 | Bankrate

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Obamacare IS working...especially in McConnell's Kentucky!

California, the most populous state in America, is on track to hit its Obamacare enrollment targets for 2014!

"But," said MSNBC host Chris Hayes, "the most fascinating Obamacare success story comes from the state of Kentucky. It is the only state in the South both expanding Medicaid and operating a fully state-based exchange."

The irony of Kentucky being Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's home state was not lost on Hayes. McConnell "just happens to be up for re-election next year, a race he will now have to run from a state where health reform is working."

All In With Chris Hayes
November 19, 2013 | MSNBC

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Smith: We can't handle the truth (overseas)

I like the cut of Patrick Smith's jib. This is the second time this year he's caught the scouts' eye, this time on America's Iran policy and the "liberal" U.S. media that supports it:

The adage among properly cynical diplomats used to be that they were sent abroad to lie for their country. During the Cold War, as Washington’s sponsored atrocities grew evident, the thought took a turn: Diplomats were sent abroad to lie to their country.

Consider it a template and apply it to our press folk.

Correspondents used to be sent abroad to keep the country informed (in theory, at least). Now correspondents go forth to send home a simulacrum of truth, a semblance, while keeping their country misinformed.

So why is all this lying necessary? It's our fault. We don't want to know. We don't want to know what's being done in our name, ostensibly in "the interests of peace," or the interests of the world. Wrote Smith succinctly:

We cannot bear to see things as they are because things as they are constitute a refutation of our dearest mythologies, but we must see things as they are if we are to make sense of ourselves in the 21st century.

This is what I was getting at when I said the U.S. needs a moral foreign policy. Our leaders' actions abroad don't support our moral myths at home -- life, liberty, equality, tolerance, etc. -- and what with the Internet and pesky mushrooming terrorists popping up all the time reminding us what we're really up to, it's becoming increasingly hard for us average Americans to ignore the disconnect between over here and over there. Still our politicians and media do their loyal best to iron out the wrinkles in our brains.

By Patrick L. Smith
November 15, 2013 | Salon

It's OK some health plans got cancelled

It's called health care reform for a reason, folks:  

Senator Mary Landrieu's "Keeping the Affordable Care Act Promise Act" would require insurance companies to keep offering people the plans they have right now as long as they keep paying their premiums. It's the kind of poll-tested idea that's good politics, and horrible, horrible policy. That's because it's a good thing if some people lose their plans. That's how reform should work, the White House's false promises and hopelessly bungled roll-out, notwithstanding.

The individual insurance market doesn't work. You can't get insurance if you are sick, and don't get much insurance if you become sick. In other words, insurers won't sell policies to people with preexisting conditions, and sell insufficient policies to healthy people. As Jonathan Cohn explains, these insufficient policies often don't cover things like prescription drugs and won't cover high out-of-pocket expenses. And if your plan wasn't insufficient, insurance companies would look for excuses to cancel it after-the-fact if you did become seriously ill—what's known as "rescission."

Obamacare tries to fix these problems with the individual market—and the inescapable logic of that is some people will end up paying more than before. Here's why in three steps. First, Obamacare makes insurers offer everyone the same policies at the same prices regardless of preexisting conditions (though not age). But bare bones coverage with high out-of-pockets, and even lifetime limits, isn't much use if you're sick. So, second, it sets minimum benefit levels. But what about healthy people who already have individual policies that don't meet these levels? Well, if they had those plans before Obamacare was passed in March 2010, and those plans haven't changed at all since, they can keep them. Otherwise, they can't. [That's an oversimplification of the ACA's grandfathering rules -- J.] They have to buy conforming plans that are almost certainly more expensive. Because, third, Obamacare needs healthy people paying for more than just catastrophic (and even junk) insurance to help pay for all the sick people now getting coverage. In other words, Obamacare needs health insurance to

By Matthew O'Brien
November 14, 2013 | Atlantic

Media myths of Obamacare's 'failure'

I've been seeing different figures for the private insurance market, and those "losing" their private insurance because of Obamacare. Yesterday I quoted the figure of 19 million Americans who have individual, private health plans. Here Michael Hiltzik sets us straight [emphasis mine]:

[T]he market for individual policies is about 30 million people. Of those, more than 20 million are uninsured.For virtually all of them, Obamacare is an unalloyed blessing. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that about 81% of all individual policy-holders will be eligible for income-based insurance subsidies. The uninsured population skews poorer than the total individual market, so an even higher proportion of them are likely to be subsidized. The Affordable Care Act also forbids insurers to base the cost and availability of insurance on pre-existing conditions, which has kept millions of people out of the individual market.

What about individual policy-holders? They number somewhere between 8.5 million and 9.5 million. The vast majority of these customers - two-thirds - spend less than a year in the individual market, according to a 2004 study published in Health Affairs. The study found that most people use individual insurance to bridge between periods of coverage from employers or public programs like Medicaid. If three-quarters of the individual customers will be eligible for insurance subsidies, that leaves 2.1 million to 2.4 million Americans paying the full freight.

The last piece of the puzzle, and the murkiest, is how many of this last group will be paying higher prices for lesser coverage - the emblematic Obamacare "victims." Even if it's all of them, at most they account for less than 1% of the country.

But plainly they're not all paying more for less. We know this because the individual market is where people have been getting ripped off by overpaying for inadequate coverage - "junk" insurance in many cases. It's where premiums are driven up and coverage constrained by pre-existing conditions. Those practices are eradicated by the Affordable Care Act.

Kevin Drum of Mother Jones posits that one-third of these customers may be charged more for less, which sounds reasonable, if perhaps a little high. I've heard from dozens of readers who claim to be in that group. But my experience, which I'd guess is matched by most of my journalistic colleagues, is that most of them aren't examining their options very well. They're not calculating their costs beyond their premiums - the free services mandated by Obamacare they're not getting today, for instance. They're not factoring in the rate increases on their existing plans they've been hit with in the past, and would face again, but will be limited under Obamacare.

As I said before, what's fueling a lot of this public disappointment with Obamacare is the 149 million Americans who aren't affected by it all, who don't need the exchanges right now, yet who pass judgment on it based on ignorant or biased media reports. Also, as Hiltzik notes above, a majority of the folks in the individual market only use private insurance as a "bridge;" so they rarely keep their plans very long. And most private health plans are offered with terms of only one year anyway, then prices and conditions always change.

Hiltzik describes the group who is indeed being affected, sometimes for the worst: those whose private insurers chose not to renew their old plans with the same prices and conditions to comply with the ACA grandfathering rules, i.e. those infamous "cancelled" plans:

The bottom line is that we're down to about one-quarter of one-percent of the country being paraded around to set the agenda for everyone else - fewer than 2 million people. Compare that with the number of people who are being denied health insurance in 21 states that have refused to expand Medicaid, as the Affordable Care Act allows them to do largely at federal expense. (Four other states are still thinking it over.)

This group numbers about 5 million, and in every case they're being deprived of health coverage by Republican governors or legislatures, or both. That should tell you that the Republicans who are carrying on about Obamacare's "failure" really don't have your welfare in mind, any more than the characters hawking diet plans on late-night TV really want you to get thin.

Regardless of the political fallout, 2014 midterm elections, or Obama's popularity, Hiltzik's conclusion is spot-on:

The fact is that Obamacare is here to stay. Its customer protections are worth real money to tens of millions of consumers, and it's vastly expanding the insurance market. The politicians claiming that they're only out to "fix" a broken program are playing you for suckers, and not for the first time.

By Michael Hiltzik
November 19, 2013 | Los Angeles Times

By Jonathan Cohn
November 18, 2013 | New Republic

By Jonathan Chait
November 18, 2013 | New York Magazine

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

11 habits of highly successful fetuses

I'll save all you fetuses, or ovums, as it were, some reading (I know it's dark in there), and list the habits of unborn millionaires and successful belly dwellers:

1.  Have rich parents. Listen up, fetuses. You should definitely make this one a habit; it's gonna pay off someday. Your parents can also help.

2.  Have well-edumacated parents.  It's key for fetuses to remind their parents to get a top-notch higher education before combining their sperm and egg. 

3.  Be beautiful. Fetuses, make sure that, at the moment of conception, you are getting your parents' choicest genes to look your best. You can still be successful without a pretty face... you'll just have to work a lot harder.

4.  One-child policy.  It has worked for China!  Your only "brothers and sisters" should be black people that you know (careful, don't forget #9!) or your church congregation.

5. and 6.  Select a good year and month to be born. Good judgment is a habit and it starts before life even begins. Fetuses, make sure you're parents get it on in May or June, in a year that is not 22 years before an economic recession!

7.  Fetuses, try to be born in the developed world. This one helps a lot!  If your future parents live in some hot mess of a country, before you pop out of the oven, make sure they emigrate someplace nice and civilized with lots of iPhones, Starbucks and expensive colleges.

8.  Fetuses, if you've chosen to be born in the USA -- excellent call! -- look closer and choose the right state. Avoid the Southeast!  (I know, it sounds so obvious.) Later, when you're a highly successful, rich adult you can go there for golf and deep-sea fishing, but until then you're not missing anything.

9.  Be white. If you decide later in life that you really like other races, you can always hire them.

10. Be a man. Even many women recommend it. Because it's a man's world. Even before conception, always be one of the guys! 

11. Choose a CEO dad. Preferably one who plans to bequeath you his company. Some dads are just more generous than others. Fetuses, make sure you always choose the right papa!

And if you're too undisciplined or lazy to do these things before you're born then... you'll just have to pull yourself up by your booty straps after your born. There are no excuses and no free lunches in life, non-people.

By Maxwell Strachan
November 15, 2013 | Huffington Post

How KY, CT and WA got Obamacare to work

How'd they get Obamacare to work in the states Connecticut, Kentucky and Washington?  Step 1: Giving a damn.  Step 2: Less bitching at Washington and more working at home.

Republican state politicians, take note!

By Jay Inslee, Steve Beshear and Dannel P. Malloy
November 18, 2013 | Washington Post

In our states — Washington, Kentucky and Connecticut — the Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare,” is working. Tens of thousands of our residents have enrolled in affordable health-care coverage. Many of them could not get insurance before the law was enacted.

People keep asking us why our states have been successful. Here’s a hint: It’s not about our Web sites.

Sure, having functioning Web sites for our health-care exchanges makes the job of meeting the enormous demand for affordable coverage much easier, but each of our state Web sites has had its share of technical glitches. As we have demonstrated on a near-daily basis, Web sites can continually be improved to meet consumers’ needs.

The Affordable Care Act has been successful in our states because our political and community leaders grasped the importance of expanding health-care coverage and have avoided the temptation to use health-care reform as a political football.

In Washington, the legislature authorized Medicaid expansion with overwhelmingly bipartisan votes in the House and Senate this summer because legislators understood that it could help create more than 10,000 jobs, save more than $300 million for the state in the first 18 months, and, most important, provide several hundred thousand uninsured Washingtonians with health coverage.

In Kentuckytwo independent studies showed that the Bluegrass State couldn’t afford not to expand Medicaid. Expansion offered huge savings in the state budget and is expected to create 17,000 jobs.

In Connecticut, more than 50 percent of enrollment in the state exchange, Access Health CT, is for private health insurance. The Connecticut exchange has a customer satisfaction level of 96.5 percent, according to a survey of users in October, with more than 82 percent of enrollees either “extremely likely” or “very likely” to recommend the exchange to a colleague or friend.

In our states, elected leaders have decided to put people, not politics, first.

President Obama announced an administrative change last week that would allow insurance companies to continue offering existing plans to those who want to keep them. It is up to state insurance commissioners to determine how and whether this option works for their states, and individual states will come to different conclusions.

What we all agree with completely, though, is the president’s insistence that our country cannot go back to the dark days before health-care reform, when people were regularly dropped from coverage, and those with “bare bones” plans ended up in medical bankruptcy when serious illness struck, many times because their insurance didn’t cover much of anything.

Thanks to health-care reform and the robust exchanges in our states, people are getting better coverage at a better price.

One such person is Brad Camp, a small-business owner in Kingston, Wash., who received a cancellation notice in September from his insurance carrier. He went to the state exchange, the Washington Healthplanfinder, and for close to the same premium his family was paying before got upfront coverage for doctor’s office visits and prescription drug , vision and dental coverage. His family was able to keep the same insurance carrier and doctors and qualified for tax credits to help cover the cost.

Since Howard Stovall opened his sign and graphics business in Lexington, Ky., in 1998, he has paid half the cost of health insurance for his eight employees. With the help of Stovall’s longtime insurance agent and Kentucky’s health exchange,Kynect, Stovall’s employees are saving 5 percent to 40 percent each on new health insurance plans with better benefits. Stovall can afford to provide additional employee benefits, including full disability coverage and part of the cost of vision and dental plans, while still saving the business 50 percent compared with the old plans.

In Connecticut, Anne Masterson was able to reduce her monthly premiums from $965 to $313 for similar coverage, including a $145 tax credit. Masterson is able to use her annual premium savings of $8,000 to pay bills or save for retirement.

These sorts of stories could be happening in every state if politicians would quit rooting for failure and directly undermining implementation of the Affordable Care Act — and, instead, put their constituents first.  Health reform is working for the people of Washington, Kentucky and Connecticut because elected leaders on both sides of the aisle came together to do what is right for their residents.

We urge Congress to get out of the way and to support efforts to make health-care reform work for everyone. We urge our fellow governors, most especially those in states that refused to expand Medicaid, to make health-care reform work for their people too.

Obama lied, my health plan died?

(Actual headline from an hysterical Michelle Malkin op-ed).

I exposed this lie recently, but here's a much better explanation. All of you accusing President Obama of "lying" should read this.

It is much more the other way around: insurers are lying about Obama "forcing" them to "cancel" private health insurance plans for individuals.

It's very easy for insurers and their enablers in the media to get away with this lie, because as Semro notes, 149 million Americans have health insurance through their employer. They have never had to purchase individual insurance like 19 million other Americans. Most Americans don't know that these plans typically last one year, then they must be renewed -- or "cancelled" in current parlance -- with higher premiums, deductibles, lower coverage -- whatever the insurer offers instead. There has NEVER been a guarantee in the market of keeping ANY kind of health plan, because we have an economic system of free enterprise. 

Meanwhile, many people in the private insurance market don't know they can get cheaper plans through an ACA exchange, and/or qualify for subsidies. 

"But Obama still lied, he said we could keep our plans no matter what!" you still complain. Yes, it was a stupid thing of him to say, but he obviously meant that if the insurer wanted to comply with the grandfathering rules, then people could keep their plans. Many insurers chose not to comply with the grandfathering rules, which were well-known years ago:

A grandfathered plan is any policy in existence before March 23, 2010, when the ACA became law. Grandfathered plans must eliminate lifetime benefit caps, offer coverage to dependent children over age 26 and eliminate pre-existing condition exclusions in 2014, but they are exempt from most other ACA reforms.

The idea was to limit the impact of the ACA on those plans so that insurance companies would continue to offer them and employers and individual consumers could continue to enroll in them.

Under the ACA, a grandfathered plan can lose its status if out-of-pocket costs increase above the rate of medical inflation plus 15 percent, co-insurance rates increase, annual benefit limits decrease, employer contributions decrease by more than 5 percent, or the plan eliminates coverage for a previously covered condition.

So why are some people with ACA-compliant plans going to pay more? First, because Obamacare was a great excuse for insurers to raise their prices, let's be real. Secondly [emphasis mine]:

Should a grandfathered plan end, any new plan is subject to all of the ACA's reforms, including a minimum level of covered benefits. The 10 "essential benefits" required by the ACA include coverage for prescription drugs, preventative care, maternity care and mental health treatment. These new policies will offer consumers better coverage, but the expanded benefits may lead to higher premium prices for some. For others, this coverage may be comparable to or even more affordable than in the past. According to MIT economist Jonathan Gruber, approximately one-half of Americans in the individual market will likely have to purchase a new policy that may cost more.

By Bob Semro
November 16, 2013 | Huffington Post

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Atheists should pray for Pope Francis?

Oh no! Sara Palin called Pope Francis, "kind of liberal." That changes everything! I'll have to re-think my support. Popes come and go, but the Tea Party is forever!....

Seriously though, in a widely read interview with an Italian Jesuit magazine, Pope Francis said, "I see clearly that the church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity. I see the church as a field hospital after battle" [emphasis mine].

Funny, but as a liberal, that's kind of how I see the government's role: before anything, we must reach out and protect the neediest and most threatened. We must perform triage on a deeply wounded country. If we can't manage that, then what's the use of all America's power and highfalutin ideals about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?  

Likewise, Jesus started by healing the sick, feeding the hungry and seeking fellowship with society's outcasts. Jesus had zero tolerance for rules-quoting pharisees -- he condensed everything those holier-than-thou needed to know in one Golden Rule -- and he had no patience for religiosity that prevented caring for and loving other people. It was a radical approach then, just as it is today, because Jesus was a liberal; and liberals are always viewed as dangerous. Thankfully, it seems the current pontiff is a liberal, too. Let's pray he keeps it up!

You can't get girls in a Ford Focus! But I guess the Pope doesn't care....

By Jonathan Freedland
November 15, 2013 | Guardian

That Obama poster on the wall, promising hope and change, is looking a little faded now. The disappointments, whether over drone warfare or a botched rollout of healthcare reform, have left the world's liberals and progressives searching for a new pin-up to take the US president's place. As it happens, there's an obvious candidate: the head of an organisation those same liberals and progressives have long regarded as sexist, homophobic and, thanks to a series of child abuse scandals, chillingly cruel. The obvious new hero of the left is the pope.

Only installed in March, Pope Francis has already become a phenomenon. His is the most talked-about name on the internet in 2013, ranking ahead of "Obamacare" and "NSA". In fourth place comes Francis's Twitter handle, @Pontifex. In Italy, Francesco has fast become the most popular name for new baby boys. Rome reports a surge in tourist numbers, while church attendance is said to be up – both trends attributed to "the Francis effect".

His popularity is not hard to fathom. The stories of his personal modesty have become the stuff of instant legend. He carries his own suitcase. He refused the grandeur of the papal palace, preferring to live in a simple hostel. When presented with the traditional red shoes of the pontiff, he declined; instead he telephoned his 81-year-old cobbler in Buenos Aires and asked him to repair his old ones. On Thursday, Francis visited the Italian president – arriving in a blue Ford Focus, with not a blaring siren to be heard.

Some will dismiss these acts as mere gestures, even publicity stunts. But they convey a powerful message, one of almost elemental egalitarianism. He is in the business of scraping away the trappings, the edifice of Vatican wealth accreted over centuries, and returning the church to its core purpose, one Jesus himself might have recognised. He says he wants to preside over "a poor church, for the poor". It's not the institution that counts, it's the mission.

All this would warm the heart of even the most fervent atheist, except Francis has gone much further. It seems he wants to do more than simply stroke the brow of the weak. He is taking on the system that has made them weak and keeps them that way.

"My thoughts turn to all who are unemployed, often as a result of a self-centred mindset bent on profit at any cost," he tweeted in May. A day earlier he denounced as "slave labour" the conditions endured by Bangladeshi workers killed in a building collapse. In September he said that God wanted men and women to be at the heart of the world and yet we live in a global economic order that worships "an idol called money".

There is no denying the radicalism of this message, a frontal and sustained attack on what he calls "unbridled capitalism", with its "throwaway" attitude to everything from unwanted food to unwanted old people. His enemies have certainly not missed it. If a man is to be judged by his opponents, note that this week Sarah Palin denounced him as "kind of liberal" while the free-market Institute of Economic Affairs has lamented that this pope lacks the "sophisticated" approach to such matters of his predecessors. Meanwhile, an Italian prosecutor has warned that Francis's campaign against corruption could put him in the crosshairs of that country's second most powerful institution: the mafia.

As if this weren't enough to have Francis's 76-year-old face on the walls of the world's student bedrooms, he also seems set to lead a church campaign on the environment. He was photographed this week with anti-fracking activists, while his biographer, Paul Vallely, has revealed that the pope has made contact with Leonardo Boff, an eco-theologian previously shunned by Rome and sentenced to "obsequious silence" by the office formerly known as the "Inquisition". An encyclical on care for the planet is said to be on the way.

Many on the left will say that's all very welcome, but meaningless until the pope puts his own house in order. But here, too, the signs are encouraging. Or, more accurately, stunning. Recently, Francis told an interviewer the church had become "obsessed" with abortion, gay marriage and contraception. He no longer wanted the Catholic hierarchy to be preoccupied with "small-minded rules". Talking to reporters on a flight – an occurrence remarkable in itself – he said: "If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge?" His latest move is to send the world's Catholics a questionnaire, seeking their attitude to those vexed questions of modern life. It's bound to reveal a flock whose practices are, shall we say, at variance with Catholic teaching. In politics, you'd say Francis was preparing the ground for reform.

Witness his reaction to a letter – sent to "His Holiness Francis, Vatican City" – from a single woman, pregnant by a married man who had since abandoned her. To her astonishment, the pope telephoned her directly and told her that if, as she feared, priests refused to baptise her baby, he would perform the ceremony himself. (Telephoning individuals who write to him is a Francis habit.) Now contrast that with the past Catholic approach to such "fallen women", dramatised so powerfully in the current film Philomena. He is replacing brutality with empathy.

Of course, he is not perfect. His record in Argentina during the era of dictatorship and "dirty war" is far from clean. "He started off as a strict authoritarian, reactionary figure," says Vallely. But, aged 50, Francis underwent a spiritual crisis from which, says his biographer, he emerged utterly transformed. He ditched the trappings of high church office, went into the slums and got his hands dirty.

Now inside the Vatican, he faces a different challenge – to face down the conservatives of the curia and lock in his reforms, so that they cannot be undone once he's gone. Given the guile of those courtiers, that's quite a task: he'll need all the support he can get.

Some will say the world's leftists and liberals shouldn't hanker for a pin-up, that the urge is infantile and bound to end in disappointment. But the need is human and hardly confined to the left: think of the Reagan and Thatcher posters that still adorn the metaphorical walls of conservatives, three decades on. The pope may have no army, no battalions or divisions, but he has a pulpit – and right now he is using it to be the world's loudest and clearest voice against the status quo. You don't have to be a believer to believe in that.