Paul Ryan’s New Clothes

Source: National Memo

Author:E. J. Dionne

Paul Ryan is counting on this: Because he says he wants to preserve a safety net, speaks with concern about poor people and put out a 73-page report, many will slide over the details of the proposals he made last week in his major anti-poverty speech.

The Wisconsin Republican congressman is certainly aware that one of the biggest political difficulties he and his conservative colleagues face is that many voters suspect them of having far more compassion for a wealthy person paying taxes than for a poor or middle-income person looking for a job.

So Ryan gave a well-crafted address at the American Enterprise Institute in which the centerpiece sounded brand spanking new: the “Opportunity Grant.” The problem is that this “pilot program” amounts to little more than the stale conservative idea of wrapping federal programs into a block grant and shipping them off to the states. The good news is that Ryan only proposes “experiments” involving “a select number of states,” so he would not begin eliminating programs wholesale. Thank God for small favors.

Ryan surrounds his retread idea with the language of innovation. “The idea would be, let states try different ways of providing aid and then to test the results — in short, more flexibility in exchange for more accountability,” he declared. “My thinking basically is, get rid of these bureaucratic formulas.”

Who can possibly like those “bureaucratic formulas”? The phrase is another disguise. Among the programs Ryan would block grant are food stamps (now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP). Food stamps are one of our most valuable initiatives because people are automatically eligible for them when they lose a job or their income drops sharply. Studies have amply documented how important food stamps are to the well-being of children.

For the economy and for the disadvantaged, curtailing SNAP would be devastating. While providing nutrition help to families in desperate need, food stamps also offer an immediate economic stimulus at moments when the economy is losing purchasing power. Economists call such programs “automatic stabilizers.”

Ryan’s block grant would not be nearly as responsive to economic changes. If Congress would have to step in, its reaction would be slow. And the history of Ryan’s own budgets shows that increasing spending for poor people is not exactly a priority on his side of politics.

Food stamps aren’t the only programs that get wrapped into the grant. Housing vouchers go there, too, which could lead to more homelessness. So does money for child care. Ryan says there would be rules barring states from using funding from his Opportunity Grant for purposes other than helping the needy. But it’s not clear from his outline how he’d stop states from using their new flexibility to move spending away from the needy indirectly by substituting block grant money for existing expenditures.

Ryan might reply: You just don’t trust the states! And my answer would be: You’re absolutely right, there are some states I don’t trust to stand up for their poor people. I’d point specifically to the 24 states that are depriving roughly 5 million Americans of health insurance because they refuse to participate in the Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act.

In his speech and report, Ryan movingly described two hypothetical Americans, “Andrea” and “Steven,” and how much they could benefit from intense counseling by a case worker. There may well be something to this, but it’s expensive. How much would states have to cut basic assistance to the poor to hire additional case workers?

And by the way, one of the programs Ryan would eliminate to pay for an undoubtedly positive part of his plan — a roughly $500-a-year increase in the Earned Income Tax

Credit (EITC) for childless workers — is the Social Services Block Grant, which helps pay for the kinds of interventions he wants for Andrea and Steven.

There is such a hunger for something other than partisanship that the temptation is to praise the new Ryan for being better than the old Ryan and to leave it at that. It’s good that he moved on the EITC and also that he embraced sentencing reform. I also like his suggestion that we re-examine occupational licensing rules.

But forgive me if I see his overall proposal as a nicely presented abdication of federal responsibility for the poor. “Experimenting” with people’s food-stamp money is not something we should sign onto.

E.J. Dionne’s email address is Twitter: @EJDionne.

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Poll: Americans Strongly Reject Impeaching, Suing Obama

Source: National Memo

Author: Harry Decker


Over the past several weeks, Republicans have increasingly insisted that something has to be done about President Barack Obama’s tyrannical abuse of power. According to a new poll, the rest of the country completely disagrees.

According to a CNN/ORC poll released Friday, the vast majority of Americans oppose plans to sue or impeach the president.

The poll finds that 65 percent of Americans reject the idea of impeaching President Obama. Just 33 percent think he should be removed from office.

Republicans are much more open to the idea, however. They support impeachment by an overwhelming 57 to 42 percent margin. Self-described conservatives also back impeachment, 56 to 44 percent.

House Speaker John Boehner’s push to sue the presidentwhich is widely viewed as a substitute for the politically unpalatable impeachment option — is similarly unpopular. Just 41 percent of Americans back the lawsuit idea, while 57 percent oppose it.

Unsurprisingly, Republicans don’t agree with the majority of the country; by a 75 to 22 percent margin, they say that the House should sue. Conservatives agree, 64 to 33 percent.

Americans don’t just oppose Republicans’ proposed solutions to the supposed problem of Obama’s imperial presidency. They don’t see a problem at all – 45 percent say that President Obama has gone too far in expanding the power of the presidency and executive branch. But 30 percent say that his use of executive authority has been about right, and 22 percent say he has not gone far enough.

The results suggest that Democrats’ plan to aggressively use the GOP’s lawsuit and impeachment talk against them in the midterm elections could pay dividends.

It should also raise red flags for congressional Republicans who are prepared to leave Washington for the August recess without passing any immigration legislation. If President Obama follows through on his threat to use executive action to patch the immigration system, these numbers suggest that he could have the political cover to do so.

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Scientists Discover the Fascinating Psychological Reason Why Conservatives Are…Conservative

Source: Mother Jones via AlterNet

Author: Chris Mooney

The following story first appeared on Mother Jones. Click here to subscribe for more great content. 

You could be forgiven for not having browsed yet through the latest issue of the journal Behavioral and Brain Sciences. If you care about politics, though, you’ll find a punchline therein that is pretty extraordinary.

Behavioral and Brain Sciences employs a rather unique practice called “Open Peer Commentary”: An article of major significance is published, a large number of fellow scholars comment on it, and then the original author responds to all of them. The approach has many virtues, one of which being that it lets you see where a community of scholars and thinkers stand with respect to a controversial or provocative scientific idea. And in the latest issue of the journal, this process reveals the following conclusion: A large body of political scientists and political psychologists now concur that liberals and conservatives disagree about politics in part because they are different people at the level of personality, psychology, and even traits like physiology and genetics.

That’s a big deal. It challenges everything that we thought we knew about politics—upending the idea that we get our beliefs solely from our upbringing, from our friends and families, from our personal economic interests, and calling into question the notion that in politics, we can really change (most of us, anyway).

The occasion of this revelation is a paper by John Hibbing of the University of Nebraska and his colleagues, arguing that political conservatives have a “negativity bias,” meaning that they are physiologically more attuned to negative (threatening, disgusting) stimuli in their environments. (The paper can be read for free here.) In the process, Hibbing et al. marshal a large body of evidence, including their own experiments using eye trackers and other devices to measure the involuntary responses of political partisans to different types of images. One finding? That conservatives respond much more rapidly to threatening and aversive stimuli (for instance, images of “a very large spider on the face of a frightened person, a dazed individual with a bloody face, and an open wound with maggots in it,” as one of their papers put it).

In other words, the conservative ideology, and especially one of its major facets—centered on a strong military, tough law enforcement, resistance to immigration, widespread availability of guns—would seem well tailored for an underlying, threat-oriented biology.

The authors go on to speculate that this ultimately reflects an evolutionary imperative. “One possibility,” they write, “is that a strong negativity bias was extremely useful in the Pleistocene,” when it would have been super-helpful in preventing you from getting killed. (The Pleistocene epoch lasted from roughly 2.5 million years ago until 12,000 years ago.) We had John Hibbing on the Inquiring Minds podcast earlier this year, and he discussed these ideas in depth.

Hibbing and his colleagues make an intriguing argument in their latest paper, but what’s truly fascinating is what happened next. Twenty-six different scholars or groups of scholars then got an opportunity to tee off on the paper, firing off a variety of responses. But as Hibbing and colleagues note in their final reply, out of those responses, “22 or 23 accept the general idea” of a conservative negativity bias, and simply add commentary to aid in the process of “modifying it, expanding on it, specifying where it does and does not work,” and so on. Only about three scholars or groups of scholars seem to reject the idea entirely.

That’s pretty extraordinary, when you think about it. After all, one of the teams of commenters includes New York University social psychologist John Jost, who drew considerable political ire in 2003 when he and his colleagues published a synthesis of existing psychological studies on ideology, suggesting that conservatives are characterized by traits such as a need for certainty and an intolerance of ambiguity. Now, writing in Behavioral and Brain Sciences in response to Hibbing roughly a decade later, Jost and fellow scholars note that

There is by now evidence from a variety of laboratories around the world using a variety of methodological techniques leading to the virtually inescapable conclusion that the cognitive-motivational styles of leftists and rightists are quite different. This research consistently finds that conservatism is positively associated with heightened epistemic concerns for order, structure, closure, certainty, consistency, simplicity, and familiarity, as well as existential concerns such as perceptions of danger, sensitivity to threat, and death anxiety. [Italics added]

Back in 2003, Jost and his team were blasted by Ann Coulter, George Will, and National Review for saying this; congressional Republicans began probing into their research grants; and they got lots of hate mail. But what’s clear is that today, they’ve more or less triumphed. They won a field of converts to their view and sparked a wave of new research, including the work of Hibbing and his team.

Granted, there are still many issues yet to be worked out in the science of ideology. Most of the commentaries on the new Hibbing paper are focused on important but not-paradigm-shifting side issues, such as the question of how conservatives can have a higher negativity bias, and yet not have neurotic personalities. (Actually, if anything, the research suggests that liberals may be the more neurotic bunch.) Indeed, conservatives tend to have a high degree of happiness and life satisfaction. But Hibbing and colleagues find no contradiction here. Instead, they paraphrase two other scholarly commentators (Matt Motyl of the University of Virginia and Ravi Iyer of the University of Southern California), who note that “successfully monitoring and attending negative features of the environment, as conservatives tend to do, may be just the sort of tractable task…that is more likely to lead to a fulfilling and happy life than is a constant search for new experience after new experience.”

All of this matters, of course, because we still operate in politics and in media as if minds can be changed by the best honed arguments, the most compelling facts.

(N.B.: George Lakoff is vindicated here… in Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Thinkis a 1996 book by cognitive linguist George Lakoff. It argues that conservatives and liberals hold two different conceptual models of morality. Conservatives have a Strict Father morality in which people are made good through self-discipline and hard work, everyone is taken care of by taking care of themselves. Liberals have a Nurturant Parent morality in which everyone is taken care of by helping each other. See:

And yet if our political opponents are simply perceiving the world differently, that idea starts to crumble. Out of the rubble just might arise a better way of acting in politics that leads to less dysfunction and less gridlock…thanks to science.

Chris Mooney is the author of four books, including “The Republican War on Science” (2005). His next book, “The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science—and Reality,” is due out in April.

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Krugman Divulges Real Reason Conservatives Freak Out About California Success Story

Source: AlterNet

Author: Janet Allon

 Paul Krugman feels terribly sorry for conservatives who predict doom whenever taxes slightly, and social programs are delivered, and then, lo and behold, the promised catastrophe does not materialize. You’d think they’d scurry away, tails between legs, issuing mea culpas and feeling horrible about themselves.

In Friday’s column, he discusses California, the “left coast,” where Governor Jerry Brown had the audacity to push through a modestly liberal agenda of higher taxes and spending, a higher minimum wage, and enthusiastic implementation of Obamacare.

The horror, conservatives said. As Krugman writes:

A representative reaction: Daniel J. Mitchell of the Cato Institute declared that by voting for Proposition 30, which authorized those tax increases, “the looters and moochers of the Golden State” (yes, they really do think they’re living in an Ayn Rand novel)  were committing “economic suicide.” Meanwhile, Avik Roy of the Manhattan Institute and Forbes claimed that California residents were about to face  a “rate shock” that would more than double health insurance premiums.

Well, darned if the catastrophe didn’t happen. Krugman offers numbers, as he usually does, to bolster his case:

If tax increases are causing a major flight of jobs from California, you can’t see it in the job numbers. Employment is up 3.6 percent in the past 18 months, compared with a national average of 2.8 percent; at this point, California’s share of national employment, which was hit hard by the bursting of the state’s enormous housingbubble, is back to pre-recession levels.

On health care, some people — basically healthy young men who were getting inexpensive insurance on the individual market and were too affluent to receive subsidies — did face premium increases, which we always knew would happen. Over all, however, the costs of health reform came in below expectations, while enrollment came in well above — more than triple initial predictions in the San Francisco area. A recent survey by the Commonwealth Fund suggests that  California has already cut the percentage of its residents without health insurance in half. What’s more, all indications are that further progress is in the pipeline, with  more insurance companies entering the marketplace for next year.

And, yes,  the budget is back in surplus.

But does the stubborn right flank ever examine the actual results, search their souls and reconsider their positions? Ha! Instead they just try to downplay the good news. California is not adding jobs as fast as Texas, they say. Gotta be the tax rates.

For the big difference between the two states, aside from the size of the oil and gas sector, isn’t tax rates. it’s  housing prices. Despite the bursting of the bubble, home values in California are still double the national average, while in Texas they’re 30 percent below that average. So a lot more people are moving to Texas even though wages and productivity are lower than they are in California.

And while some of this difference in housing prices reflects geography and population density — Houston is still spreading out, while Los Angeles, hemmed in by mountains, has reached its natural limits — it also reflects  California’s highly restrictive land-use policies, mostly imposed by local governments rather than the state.  As Harvard’s Edward Glaeser has pointed out, there is some truth to the claim that states like Texas are growing fast thanks to their anti-regulation attitude, “but the usual argument focuses on the wrong regulations.” And taxes aren’t important at all.

The lesson of the California comeback is a familiar, but it bears repeating. “You should take anti-government propaganda with large helpings of salt,” Krugman writes. “Tax increases aren’t economic suicide; sometimes they’re a useful way to pay for things we need. Government programs, like Obamacare, can work if the people running them want them to work, and if they aren’t sabotaged from the right. In other words, California’s success is a demonstration that the extremist ideology still dominating much of American politics is nonsense.”

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Huddling With Ukrainian Rebels in a Bunker on the Front Lines


Source:New Republic

Author: Noah Sneider

SAUR-MOGILAFrom the base of a big stone obelisk, the soldiers scour the valley below their hill. They look out from army green binoculars with chipped paint and a hammer-and-sickle insignia. They see fascists and Nazis, and they say they will fight to the death.

They set up a rusty rifle, stamped “1942,” and send a volley into a cluster of trees. They watch smoke rise. They laugh.

“No way in hell we’ll lay down our weapons while the fascists are still around,” says one of them, a burly man named Gena.

This is not 1942. It is 2014, just two days after the tragic downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17. I am standing on Saur-Mogila, one of the highest points in eastern Ukraine’s Donbass region, with a group of pro-Russian separatists who have been fending off attacks on this position from government forces since May. Western intelligence suggests that the missile that struck the plane came from somewhere in the fields further down. But to the rebel fighters here, it might as well have come from Kuala Lumpur. They are at war with Kiev and its Western allies, and the plane crash is an enemy plot. They’ve gotta hold this hillside, dammit.

This hill is “a sacred place,” adds Gena, who, like all the fighters interviewed, gave only a first name. Here, the Soviets pushed back Hitler’s army, losing some 23,000 troops along what was called the Mius-Front. During peacetime, local kids search Saur-Mogila (“Hill 277.9″ to the Germans) for traces of World War IIold ammo, knives, pistols, rifles, helmets. A monument now towers over everything, an obelisk more than 100 feet tall with an attached cast-iron statue of a “soldier-liberator” raising a gun in triumph. The rebels have raised a Russian flag atop the tower, and the Ukrainians have sent a bullet through the statue’s heart. For the separatists, they are following in their forefathers footsteps. “In World War II our grandfathers held this hill, and now we too are holding it,” says Andrei, a member of the Vostok Battalion, a powerful rebel militia.

There was hope that the tragedy of MH17 would force Russia, Ukraine, and the rebels to wake up from their post-Soviet fever dream. But following the crash, the parallel realities that exist across eastern Ukraine only became sharper. Prospects for peace have all but disappeared. Among rebels, blaming the Ukrainian forces for downing MH17 is an article of faith. Most locals (fed by the Russian media) agree, seeing it as a plot concocted in Kiev to discredit the separatist movement. And the Ukrainian forces, meanwhile, have pressed their offensive further, both at Saur-Mogila and around the cities of Donetsk and Luhansk.

When I first arrive at Saur-Mogila, travelling with two colleagues, I notice craters alongside the road leading up to the peak. Ahead are tank tracks, and the asphalt street is split with a big silver shell. All around, dirt and debris and the detritus that speak of airstrikes. Above, at the top of the hill, a pack of rebels mill about. They look like giants from below. But they descend to meet us, and turn out to be small and scruffy.

The encounter is emblematic of the war in Ukraine: fought from afar against inhuman opponents. Neither side wants to look the other in the eye, because to do so would be to acknowledge that, for the most part, they aren’t fighting Nazis and terrorists, but neighbors and countrymen.

When Hitler and Stalin had it out here, George Orwell wrote of a force that he called “nationalism.” He did not mean allegiance to a nation-state though, but the conviction around which one can construct a reality. “Having picked his side, [the nationalist] persuades himself that it is the strongest, and is able to stick to his belief even when the facts are overwhelmingly against him,” Orwell writes. “Nationalism is power-hunger tempered by self-deception. Every nationalist is capable of the most flagrant dishonesty, but he is alsosince he is conscious of serving something bigger than himselfunshakeably certain of being in the right.”

This is what is missed about the war in Ukraine: Behind the high-profile Russian agents who lead the separatists are scores of men, mostly locals, who believetruly, madly, willing-to-die believethat they are doing the right thing. These are not the mustachioed villains you see on television.

These are factory workers and mechanics who now man checkpoints and lead military operations. The world they live in is filled with fascist threats from far-away lands. It is a world constructed largely on the basis of baseless Russian propagandaeasy to scoff at, but for these men, it’s real.

The gold-toothed commander at Saur-Mogila, Niloka, leads us up the hill, weaving around the craters. “To the right of us, a kilometer out, they’re there,” he says, pointing up beyond the monument. He chats on a walkie-talkie, barking commands with the assurance of a seasoned fighter: “That’s it, got it. I give the order: fire.” Black wires run through the grass. Field telephones, they tell us, Soviet antiques, TA-57s, like the ones their grandpas used. He brings us up to a set of small stone buildings, past a soldier cooking soup on an open flame, and down into a bunker. Two rounds of Grads rockets hit somewhere on the other side of the hillthey are fired in an immediate series and land rhythmically, like a bad dubstep baseline.

In the bunker we sit on a brown leather couch. Belts of machine gun ammunition fill wooden crates on the floor. Two sleeping padsone silver and the other camouflagelie against the far wall. On a messy table stands a can of stewed meat, opened but only half-eaten.

They’ve taken over an entertainment complex that used to welcome tourists to the monumentit once had a bar, a cafe, even a banya. Since mid-April war has crept slowly into the Donbass, filling the sunflower fields and the steppe. Once, in between rounds of shelling last month, a young couple drove up this hill in a Mazda, perhaps looking for somewhere to watch the stars. They didn’t know that their make-out spot had become a regular battle site.

The men here remain resolute, their speech a mixture of banter and braggadocio. They repeat the now familiar litany of complaints about cultural and religious assault, language rights, and western-sponsored “juntas.” They have no plans to back down. “My comrades have already died in this war,” says a fighter named Roma, with black aviators perched on his cap.

Outside the bunker, I run into a Maksim, a young fighter from the town of Druzhkovka, north of Donetsk. We first met nearly three months ago in Slovyansk, around the time he and his dad enlisted in the militia together. Back then, he was kind-eyed and timid, hanging around the fringes of his new base, reluctant to handle his weapon. Now he wears a black balaclava rolled atop his head, and carries his AK with swagger: in one hand, swinging at his side.

This only ends one way,” he tells me, staring up at the clouds. “They leave.”

Noah Sneider is a writer and artist. He works as a journalist based in Moscow, and is on Twitter @noahsneider.

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7 Ways U.S. Foreign Policy Would Be Even More Disastrous If There Were a Republican in the White House


Author:Robert Kuttner


It’s hard to recall a time when the world presented more crises with fewer easy solutions. And for the Republicans, all of these woes have a common genesis: American weakness projected by Barack Obama.

People in the Middle East, former Vice President Dick Cheney said recently, “are absolutely convinced that the American capacity to lead and influence in that part of the world has been dramatically reduced by this president.” He added, “We’ve got a problem with weakness, and it’s centered right in the White House.”

Really? It’s instructive to ask: What exactly would a Republican president advised by Cheney do in each of these crises? Let’s take them one at a time.

Iraq. It’s now clear that Cheney’s invasion of Iraq and its subsequent Shiite client state under Nouri al-Maliki only deepened sectarian strife and laid the groundwork for another brand of Islamist radicalism, this time in the form of ISIS, and more backlash against the U.S. for creating the mess. What’s the solution — a permanent U.S. military occupation of Iraq? Republican presidential candidates should try running on that one.

Syria. Obama took a lot of criticism for equivocating on where the bright line was when it came to Syrian use of chemical warfare. In fact, American military pressure and diplomacy has caused Syrian president Assad to get rid of chemical weapons. But the deeper Syrian civil war is another problem from hell. How about it, Republican candidates — More costly military supplies to moderate radicals, whoever the hell they are? A U.S invasion? See how that plays in the 2016 campaign.

Israel-Palestine. A two-state solution seems further away than ever, and time is not on the Israeli side. No American president has had the nerve to tell the Israeli government to stop building settlements on Arab lands, despite $3 billion a year on U.S. aid to Israel. What Would Jesus Do? (What would Cheney do?)

Putin and Ukraine.Russian President Putin’s fomenting of military adventures by ethnic Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine has created a needless crisis. But our European friends, who have trade deals with Russia, don’t want to make trouble. So, what will it be — a new U.S.-led Cold War without European support? A hot war?

Iran’s Nuclear Capacity.The policy of détente with Iran in exchange for controls on Iranian ability to weaponize enriched uranium is a gamble that could well pay off. The alternative course of bombing Iran, either ourselves or via a proxy Israeli strike, seems far more of a gamble. Who’s the realist here?

China’s New Muscle. The U.S., under Democratic and Republican presidents alike, has become pitifully dependent on borrowing from China. Our biggest corporations have put the attractions of cheap Chinese labor ahead of continuing production in the U.S.A., creating a chronic trade deficit that requires all that borrowing. Now, China is throwing around its economic weight everywhere from its own backyard in East Asia to Africa and South America. Our troubles with Putin have helped promote a closer alliance between Moscow and Beijing. Anyone have a nice silver bullet for this one?

Those Central American Kids.What do you think — failure of immigration policy or humanitarian refugee crisis? On the one hand, American law says that bona fide refugees can apply for asylum and that children who are being trafficked fall into the category of refugees. On the other hand America is never going to take all the world’s refugees. Border Patrol agents interviewing terrified nine-year-olds lack the capacity to determine who is a true candidate for asylum. If shutting down the border — ours or Mexico’s — were the easy solution, we would have done it decades ago.

And I haven’t even gotten to Afghanistan, or the problem of nuclear proliferation, or new Jihadist weapons that can evade airport detection systems, or the total failure of democracy to gain ground in the Middle East.

The Republican story seems to be: we don’t need to bog down in details — somehow, it’s all Obama’s fault.

Here’s what these crises have in common.

  • They have no easy solutions, military or diplomatic, and U.S. leverage is limited.
  • They are deeply rooted in regional geo-politics. U.S. projection of either bravado or prudence has little to do with how recent events have unfolded.
  • Some of these crises were worsened by earlier U.S. policy mistakes, such as the Cheney-Bush invasion of Iraq, or the bipartisan indulgence of Israeli building of settlements, or the one-sided industrial deals with China, or 20th-century alliances with Middle Eastern despots to protect oil interests.

When I was growing up, there was a nice clean division between the good guys and the bad guys. Hitler was the ultimate bad guy. Or maybe it was Stalin. America won World War II, and we won the Cold War when the Berlin Wall came down and the Soviet Union collapsed.

(N.B.: Did America win the cold war?  Japan did.)

Policy choices were easy only in retrospect. The neat world of good guys and bad guys started coming apart with the Vietnam War.

Today’s crises are nothing like the ones of that simple era. Who are the good guys and bad guys in Syria and in Iraq? In China’s diplomacy in South America? Among the murdered Israeli and Palestinian children and the children seeking refuge at our southern border?

To the extent that policy options are even partly military, the American public has no stomach for multiple invasions and occupations.

As Republican jingoists scapegoat President Obama for all the world’s ills and try to impose a simple story of weakness and strength on events of stupefying complexity, you have to hope that the American people have more of an attention span than usual.


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Health Insurance for Millions Threatened; Republicans Celebrate

Source: American Prospect

Author: Paul Waldman

If they’re wondering why Americans think their party is cruel and unfeeling, well here you go. And will the news media tell these people’s stories? When news broke this morning of the decision by a three-judge panel from the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals in Halbig v. Burwell, which states that because of a part of one sentence in the Affordable Care Act that was basically a typo, millions of Americans should lose the federal subsidies that allowed them to buy health insurance, I’m pretty sure a similar scene played out all around Washington. As word spread through the offices of conservative think-tanks, advocacy groups, and members of Congress, people gathered around TVs or computer screens, quickly taking in the decision. And there were smiles, laughter, maybe even a few high-fives and fist-pumps.

Not long after, a second appeals court handed down an opposite ruling on the same question. (If you feel like you don’t understand the issue, the rulings, and the implications, I’d recommend Ian Millhiser’s explanation.) We won’t know for some time whether the Supreme Court will hear these cases and. if it does, it’s hard to predict what the justices will decide. But back to those conservatives: What they were so excited about was, in a narrow sense, that they had seemingly won a victory over the villainous Barack Obama and his freedom-destroying Affordable Care Act. But what actually had them so pleased is the possibility that millions of Americans will lose their health insurance.

Am I being unfair? Well here’s a challenge. Let’s see if anybody can point me to a single prominent conservative—member of Congress, movement figure, media figure—whose response to that decision is not just what they’re all saying (some variant of “This just shows what a terrible law Obamacare is”) but also something like, “Of course, we don’t want anyone to lose their health coverage, so if this decision is upheld we should pass a law correcting the drafting error that gave rise to this case and making sure those millions of Americans can keep getting the subsidies that make it possible for them to buy private insurance.”  If they really cared about those millions of Americans and their fate, they’d want to do something about it, now that the lawsuit they filed threatens to take away that health coverage. So what are they going to do? The answer is, nothing. There will be precisely zero conservatives who propose to actually help those people. And if you ask the lawsuit’s supporters what should happen to them, none will have anything resembling a practical suggestion. At best, they’ll say that the millions who would lose their insurance if the decision stands were snookered by that con man Obama into thinking they could have affordable health coverage, so it’s really all his fault.

The next time Republicans are wondering why so many people think their party is cruel and uncaring and will gladly crush the lives of ordinary people if it means gaining some momentary partisan advantage, they might think back to this case. They might remind themselves that the problem isn’t that Americans just don’t fully comprehend the majesty of Republican philosophy. It’s that they see it quite well.

And while we’re at it, here’s a question for the news media. Remember when people got those letters from their insurance companies saying their old plans would be cancelled, and you went into a frenzy of ill-informed and misleading coverage telling their alleged tales of woe? I know, you feel bad for not doing any follow-ups showing how most of them ended up with coverage that was more comprehensive, less expensive, or both. But here’s your chance for redemption! How about you do an equal number of stories—oh, who am I kidding?—how about you do half as many stories telling the tales of people who got coverage because of the subsidies, and would lose it if the Halbig decision stands?

You wouldn’t have to work too hard to find them—after all, almost nine out of every ten people who bought insurance on the exchange got a subsidy, and their premiums were reduced by an average of 76 percent. If you’re in Washington, just go to Virginia, which used the federal exchange, and you can find plenty of people who would lose their coverage if Halbig stands; if you’re in New York, hop across the river to New Jersey. Those stories are out there waiting to be told, and showing how things like court decisions affect regular people is part of your job, not just when it makes the administration look bad, but even if it supports their position. Right?

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