Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Ah, that plastic outrage

   "Glitches" is miserably inadequate to describe the online fiasco that has crippled the rollout of the Affordable Care Act. An outrage is what it is.

    However, outrage from you, Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Pa.?

    You, Congressman Murphy, hammering administration officials last week in Capitol hearings? "We were promised a website where people could easily compare health insurance," you berated. "Five hundred million dollars later the American people have been dumped with the ultimate 'cash for clunkers.'"

   Citizens: Don't you just love it when people who oppose something — say, government — with every fiber in their being suddenly develop empathy for the thing they wish to destroy?

    Don't you appreciate it when people who stalled, and sued, and obstructed, and conspired against the Affordable Care Act long after it had become law, would have done all that and at this moment ask, "Hey, what happened?"

    Thanks for caring about Americans trying to obtain health insurance, Rep. Murphy. Some of us actually care about insuring all of us. You and your tea party friends, on the other hand, shut down the U.S. government to prevent any such eventuality.

     Five hundred million dollars, you say? That's real money. But you don't mention the $24 billion that your heroic government shutdown cost the taxpayers.

    The website about which you, Congressman, suddenly are gripped with concern is being made functional, meaning that the $500 million in question ultimately will have been spent on something. That is wholly unlike the $24 billion you and our tea party brethren exhausted on, well, nothing.

     Voters, did you notice the indignation from these very individuals when their own budgetary hysterics caused national parks and veterans memorials to be closed? Suddenly, these politicians were all about federal spending. Government is good, and all that. Give our constituents their White House tours.

     One who pays attention to today's discourse grows accustomed to this kind of plastic outrage. Generally it's summoned by those who really couldn't be bothered by the actual concerns they will cite when their opposition research latches onto something:

    — When President Obama promoted long-lasting, energy-saving compact fluorescent light bulbs, suddenly conservatives were all about protecting the environment, pointing out the mercury contained in those bulbs. It's fascinating, because when the subject is mercury settling into our soil and water from coal-fired power plants, these same people suddenly turn indignation-impaired.

     — Wind power, promoted by this president, is one reason this nation actually showed marked reductions in carbon pollution over the last two years. But wind power is dangerous, say the 24/7 Obama critics. What about the birds? You know, birds killed by the giant wind turbines? These concerns often come from people who've fought the Endangered Species Act and who want to neuter the Environmental Protection Agency. For many of them, development always trumps nature. So when it comes to avian interests, these conservatives are birds of a feather —  partners in eco-hypocrisy.

    — Republicans in key red states seek to take away women's reproductive rights with promiscuous measures like scientifically dubious "informed consent" requirements and prohibitive restrictions on clinics that provide abortion. On what grounds? Well, on the grounds of "protecting women's health," of course.

       Ah, but the clinics they have targeted dedicate every effort to women's health.  Abortion rights themselves prevent the desperate measures that women took back in the dark days when they were deprived of a safe and legal option.

      Saying anti-abortion measures are about "women's health" is like saying that beer is consumed for its nutritive qualities. Beer has nutritive qualities. It also makes a person challenge a mail box to a duel.

    Meanwhile, back to Rep. Murphy, he of the polystyrene outrage. Back in 2006 the Bush administration's new Medicare Part D website had major problems. Murphy was downright forgiving about that: "Any time something is new, there is going to be some glitches," he said.

     President Obama knows this and appreciates the congressman's support.

     Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.     

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

America speaks (again): Get on with it

It had every ingredient of Election Day — the crispness of autumn, the electricity of pronouncements, the winners, the losers. 

It was as if Americans had voted. In fact, they had. And for the second time in two years, Republicans finally conceded defeat. They would cede to the popular will and, in this case, let our government govern.

So lopsided was the result this time that not even Karl Rove could say it wasn't so.

And, let's face it. If the 2012 presidential election was far less close than GOP strategists thought, this one, the public's pronouncement on the shutdown, was a true rout.

Poll after poll found most Americans angry at the tea party obstructionists. "A pox on both houses"? The House could only wish.

This quest to disrupt government for show was received much like a sporting crowd greets a streaker.

In pro sports, when a grandstander strips naked to get some air time, the cameras point elsewhere. It's too bad CSPAN's one camera has had to indulge Ted Cruz in his exhibitions.

Once again this time, anti-government types didn't get the answer they wanted — the one posed by Sen. Phil Gramm about government during the last shutdown: "Do you miss it?"

Yes, Americans did — missed the paychecks, missed the services, missed the parks and attractions.

More importantly, the shutdown gave them time to think about how much they miss government that actually functions. They realized how tired they are that governing has become a zero-sum morality play by those more interested in emoting for the camera than doing what the founders established three branches of government to do.

Oh, and Sen. Cruz, as you gun for the GOP nomination, you may be interested that one Democrat is gunning for you.

There could be no mistaking what Hillary Clinton meant when, in endorsing Terry McAuliffe in the race for Virginia governor the other day, she blasted politicians who choose "scorched earth over common ground." She was calling out Cruz. Indeed, she was inviting the hard right to put him forth as the GOP's choice. Go ahead. Make her day.

She pointed out that McAuliffe wasn't so dogmatic that he hadn't supported some of Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell's policies. I invite anyone to supply one policy, one thing whatsoever that President Obama has proposed that the tea party has ever supported. One. Thing.

Americans see this, and they are not pleased. Favorability ratings for the political brand Cruz seeks to put before voters in 2014 have dipped into the low 30s; yes, below freezing.

So, once again, make the Dems' day, GOP, and saddle up with The Streaker.

The shutdown crew bet everything on perceived public antipathy toward the Affordable Care Act. Without question, the public has questions and concerns. But what it has said, first in 2012, and now in 2013, is, "Get on with it."

Get on with health reform. Get on with whatever government can do to keep a precious recovery going. Get on with reining in the deficit.

Contrary to the right's boombox rhetoric, Obama has made budget concessions. He will again. So doing, he will infuriate members of his own party, as he has before.

Get on with it, or get out of the way.

Republicans like John McCain, Bob Dole and Alan Simpson have watched in horror as pouting, petulant, tantrum-throwers in their party have held their breaths until the nation turned blue.

Get on with immigration reform. Get on with entitlement reform. Get on with real-world education policies not pinned to dubious testing, false comparisons and meaningless slogans.

Ask the people what they want. They want all that. How many times must they say it?

Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

If at first you don't secede . . .

    Call it the conundrum of the New Confederacy. Call it, "All dressed up in gray and no place to go."

     They passed around "we secede" petitions when President Obama won re-election. Didn't work.

      They sued to stop the Affordable Care Act. Didn't work.

     They shut down the government to unhinge the two-year-old law, just as health exchanges sprang into action. Didn't work.

      And now? If you were contemplating that the most dedicated opponents of everything Obama stands for would just up and flee the country; well, where to turn?

     Refugees would find a single-payer health care system to the north of us and to the south of us. Yes, in 2003 Mexico decided that having millions without access to health care was barbaric, so it did something about it.

      In Texas, a foamy hotbed of foment, Republican leaders cover their ears and hum real loudly to not hear this: The state will leave $79 billion in federal funds on the table over the next 10 years for its refusal to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. Yes: $79 billion that could cover families against catastrophe, pay for checkups and vaccinations — things no good red state would ever need. The free market takes care of all that.

     But Texas is not alone. The confederated belt of resistance that is the New American South is where most of the ear covering and humming is going on. The result: 8 million Americans, most of them residents of Deep Dixie, are left out — earning too much for Medicaid where they live and too little for federal subsidies under the ACA.

    Their hope: Maybe this monstrous injustice can be addressed when the tea party becomes so efficient at alienating Americans that the House changes hands in 2014. (The trending of national polls indicates Congress' approval rating will be below zero before the first hard frost.)

      It's no surprise that many of the 25 states that refuse to participate in the Affordable Care Act won't do anything about the Medicaid matter no matter what it costs them. An exception is red-state Arizona, where Gov. Jan Brewer said that turning down federal dollars that could ease suffering is crazy.

      So: Can't secede. Can't flee to Canada. Can't head south to Mexico. Fences, you know, and a single-payer system on the other side.

      What can you do? Political provocateurs Charles and David Koch have decided to use some of their gazillions this way: They will seek to cause the Affordable Care Act to collapse when Americans refuse to participate.

     Their organization Generation Opportunity is promoting an "opt out" campaign which pitches to twenty-somethings that they can save money by ignoring the law and buying their own health insurance on the free market.

     The Atlantic attempted to get someone with Generation Opportunity to explain how this was possible, as the Affordable Care Act provides subsidies and tax credits. Turns out, the spokesman contacted couldn't do it.

    In fact, those who take the worm on the Koch Brothers' hook could either be buying some extremely pricey coverage or would face, with extremely cut-rate plans, deductibles that are out of this world.

   According to The Atlantic, a low-cost plan recommended by the opt-out group has a $10,000 deductible. In other words, the only thing it would cover is if you caught space debris between the eyes — and not if, say, the space debris took an ear off. Aren't ears just cosmetic contrivances anyway?

    Can't run. Can't hide. Can't opt out, unless you want free-market buzzards to feast on your bones.

    No wonder the brightest idea of late by the knights of the New Confederacy has been to ride a TNT-filled horse-drawn wagon onto the Capitol grounds, light the fuse, and run back to precincts where political amnesty looms.

     Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.    






Monday, October 7, 2013

This is the House that Fox built

   Gather 'round, children, as the first chill of autumn presents itself. The Farmer's Almanac forecasts a harsh winter. The Almanac of American Politics calls that an understatement.

   Rarely has a wind this ill so beset the nation's capital.

   Speaking of magazines: On the cover of the Oct. 14 Time, "Majority Rule" is smudged out in red against dark clouds, the Capitol shrouded in black and gray.

    The shutdown leaves most Americans dismayed beyond words, especially 800,000 federal workers. But you wouldn't know it if you happened upon Fox News. You would see this termed a "slimdown" (snicker, snicker) with one talking head after another giving his or her rendition of, "Hey, no biggie."

   Gloom in Washington? On Fox News you would hear Rep. Michele Bachmann describe Republicans as being at their "happiest" at this opportunity to have a nation twisting in mid-air from a gleaming ideological meat hook.

    On the Fair and Balanced news source, you'd have heard "Fox and Friends" report that President Obama had offered to pay to keep a "national Muslim museum open" with his own dollars, though other museums were shuttered. "Fox and Friends" didn't realize the story was from a parody website whose other posts have included, "IRS plans to target leprechauns next." Ah, well. No biggie.

     As I said, it's gotten chilly out there. So, gather at my knee for a nursery rhyme that puts matters in terms that even a child can understand, sort of like Green Eggs and Ham. Let us read:

    "The House that Fox Built"

    This is the House that Fox News built.

    This is the calculated bias that underpins every story, every graphic, every crawl, particularly about the House that Fox News built.

      This is Roger Ailes, the Nixon operative, hired as CEO in 1996 to deliver the calculated bias that today underpins the reporting of the disruptive actions by the House that Fox News built.

      These are the talking heads of Fox — O'Reilly, Hannity, Huckabee, Rove, Palin, Gingrich, Oliver North — each hired to convey the calculated bias that today underpins the reporting of the disruptive actions by the House that Fox News built.

     This is the tea party. In 2009 Fox News hyped this creature — a Fox creation? —  nonstop in advance of "Fox News Tax Day Tea Party" rallies across the country. Fox News talking heads were dispatched as on-stage celebrities — more calculated bias, more hard-right froth, building off-year hopes for a House that Fox News built.

   This is the 2010 congressional elections. Low turnout, high conservative anger, high ratings for Fox News. Enough tea party candidates won for the GOP to gain a majority in the House that Fox News built.

    This is gerrymandering. With a new decade comes new red-state opportunities to construct invulnerable Republican congressional districts, emboldening the hard-right tea party types who populate the House that Fox News built.

   This is the Affordable Care Act, health coverage for millions of Americans, duly passed by Congress, duly upheld by the courts. In its "news" coverage, no force is more vital than Ailes' Army in portraying it as a totalitarian ploy. "Obamacare" is a great spiel and battle cry in the House that Fox News built.

   This is the shutdown. It is based on one thing alone: the refusal of tea partisans to acknowledge that a law is a law. Why should they? They are invulnerable. Additionally, they have an echo chamber on cable that will justify for their custom-designed constituencies whatever happens in the House that Fox News built.

   This is our government. Well, it used to be. An invincible cadre, a minority of a minority, has decided that if it can't repeal a duly legislated law, it can disable the mechanism — democracy — that produced the law. It's a scandal, a slap in your face and mine. And for this we owe the House that Fox News built.

   Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Why this law scares them so

   Look it up. The symptoms of hyperventilation are dizziness, tingling in the lips and extremities, fainting, and in the most extreme circumstances, full or partial shutdown of the U.S. government.

   We are seeing hyperventilation's fruits in the Republican Party's frantic bid to talk away the Affordable Care Act.

   The duly authorized, duly appropriated, already-law Affordable Care Act.

   And to think that this could be addressed simply by having the stricken party breathe into a brown paper bag.

   The most do-nothing Congress in American history has done so very little, but the quest to defund this law is the do-nothing-est.

   Though carrying no hint of hope in the Senate, the House has voted 40-plus times to do it. It would have been vetoed at the speed of electronic transfer. Yet the tea party-driven House persisted, and persists.

   The reason for opponents' urgency was clear, of course. As more and more people use the new law to address their medical needs, the "do nothing" barkers will sound more and more like the clanging cymbals they are.

   The clang gang knows that every time an uninsured American has his or her health care covered at reasonable cost, their rollback fantasy becomes more fantastic.

   Considering that just about everything Americans have heard about the new law for these many months has been based on hearsay, guesses and politically driven falsehoods, there's no wonder that public opinion is weighted "agin'" it.

   But let's consider: We are told that this measure is wrecking the U.S. economy. Show us one indicator, from the stock market, to job figures, to housing, to the federal deficit.

    True, some companies are limiting, and will limit, employees' hours to evade the requirement of covering them as full-time employees. That's a shame, but it's no different from what employers did when the minimum wage became law. They cut hours. They laid off. We aren't going back to the bad old pre-minimum wage days, though the right wing may lust for it.

    Meanwhile, a few other developments that are considered strikes against the new law are not so.

   Much alarm has been raised about the companies like Home Depot and Trader Joe's discontinuing part-time employees' health insurance, moving them to coverage under the Affordable Care Act. A disaster? It's just the opposite.

    The Employee Benefits Research Institute reports that in virtually all cases, these employees will get more comprehensive coverage at a considerable discount under the government plan. Indeed, the director of the institute, Paul Fronstin, pointed to the miserly limits on some of these private "mini-med" plans and said, "You have to question whether that's really insurance."

    As for individual plans, a study by HealthPocket.com, reported in Parade magazine, points out that the plans available on health exchanges "provide better benefits than 98 percent of the individual health plans sold today."

   Confusion? It's a guarantee. Glitches and foul-ups in the online marketplace? Count on them. Some people will emerge dissatisfied. But a lot of people are going to have exactly what was promised: low-cost health insurance geared toward prevention.

    The tea party isn't about to stop venting its high-pitched squeal. But John McCain was stating simple fact when he  said, "We lost," and derided the obstruction-fest being staged by certain members of his party. He said the GOP should work with the president to improve any deficiencies the law might have rather than holding its collective breath hoping it would go away.

     Barack Obama ran for office promising to do something about the nation's horrific gap in health coverage. He and allies in Congress did that. Obama stood before voters in 2012 and won re-election.

   So is this, as the tea party claims, a disaster in the making? If it is, the American voters know from where the impetus for it all came: their ballots.

    Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.