On the Affordable Care Act front today, there's very good practical news, and not-so-good political news. That gives us an excellent opportunity to remind ourselves to keep in mind what's really important when we talk about health care.
Marie Antoinette goes out the easy way. (Wikimedia Commons)
Yesterday, the state of Missouri executed Herbert Smulls, who had been convicted of a 1991 murder, despite a number of appeals and temporary stays. Smulls' lawyers had noted that the state refused to disclose where they got the pentobarbital they were going to use for the lethal injection, and apparently if the drug is not mixed properly it can create extreme pain. As you may know, in the last couple of years, pharmaceutical companies that make the drugs used to perform lethal injections have decided to suspend their manufacture, leading some states scrambling for ingredients they need to send condemned prisoners to the great beyond. Some have even considered antiquated execution techniques; there are bills in Missouri and Wyoming to bring back firing squads, and one Virginia lawmaker wants to make the electric chair an option again.
Which leads me to ask this. It's the 21st century. We can build skyscrapers a kilometer high. We can send ships to Mars. We can put a powerful computer in the pockets of billions of people. Are you telling me that with all our technology, all our engineering knowledge, and all our good old-fashioned American ingenuity, we can't come up with a quick, effective, and painless way to kill a man?
Last week, student activists against sexual assault got some exciting news: The president announced that he was forming a task force to tackle the epidemic of sexual violence on college campuses. “An estimated one in five women is sexually assaulted in college, and that’s totally unacceptable,” Obama said in his weekly address. “We’re going to do help schools do a better job of preventing and responding to sexual assault on their campuses, because college should be a place where young people feel secure and confident.” Obama gave the task force ninety days to come up with an “action plan” for combating campus rape.
Union membership remained steady last year—steady at its near-hundred-year low. A mere 6.7 percent of private-sector workers are union members, as are 11.3 percent of U.S. workers overall, according to figures released last Friday by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS.)
A typical State of the Union address is criticized for being a "laundry list," little more than an endless string of proposals the president would like to see enacted. The criticism usually has two parts: first, most of the items on the laundry list will never come to pass, and second, it makes for a boring speech (the pundits who make the criticism seem to care more about the second part). Last night's SOTU didn't have the usual laundry list (which of course meant that it was criticized for being too vague), but the one specific proposal getting much attention today is President Obama's idea to require that on future federal contracts, all workers be paid at least $10.10 per hour. So naturally, Republicans are crying that this is the latest example of Obama's tyrannical rule, in which he ruthlessly ignores the law whenever he pleases.
As Ted Cruz wrote in today's Wall Street Journal, "Of all the troubling aspects of the Obama presidency, none is more dangerous than the president's persistent pattern of lawlessness, his willingness to disregard the written law and instead enforce his own policies via executive fiat." Is there anything to this criticism? Is Obama more of a tyrant than, say, his immediate predecessor? Let's take a look.
Those hoping for a full-throated, legacy-defining speech from President Barack Obama at his State of the Union address last night were sorely disappointed. In what amounts to a grudging acknowledgment that turning back the clock on not just four, but 40 years of stagnating wages and declining economic mobility will require the cooperation of Congress and broad government intervention, the president focused on small-bore economic initiatives that he could accomplish without cooperation from Congress—most markedly, an increase the minimum-wage limit for federal contractors to $10.10 an hour.
For Democrats, for liberals, today’s political climate poses a singular challenge. On one hand, poll after poll shows the public believes the economy is rigged against all but the rich. On the other, poll after poll shows that the same public—particularly after the disastrous roll-out of Obamacare—doesn’t believe government is the answer to the failings of the market economy. Indeed, recent polls show that the public mistrusts big government more than it does big business (which does not mean it holds big business in high, or even middlin’, esteem).
It was a strange State of the Union Address—mixing emotional tugs on the heartstrings with anodyne rhetoric that made it seem like everyone from Barack Obama to the angriest Tea Party Republican was bored with the annual exercise. The speech had no over-arching theme save (yawn) America’s enduring greatness. There were hard-hitting sentences and paragraphs, but no dramatic policy proposals nor even bold, if unattainable, dreams. The State of the Union address was unlikely to anger anyone whether it was financial titans fearing economic Kristallnach or Bashar al-Assad.
In one of the better lines in last night's State of the Union address, President Obama chided House Republicans for their endless series of votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act: "[L]et's not have another 40-something votes to repeal a law that's already helping millions of Americans ... The first 40 were plenty." He followed up by observing that "we all owe it to the American people to say what we're for, not just what we're against." As it happens, last week three Republican senators outlined a plan that can be fairly described as a Republican plan to replace Obamacare. (The basic features of the plan are clearly described by Sarah Kliff of Wonkblog here.) Because most of the Republican Party convinced themselves in 2009 that a tax penalty for people who don't carry health insurance was a grave threat to the American constitutional order, the plan does not include an individual mandate. But otherwise, in its general priorities the plan strongly resembles the Heritage Plan of the late 1980s. That is, it's radically different than the ACA, and it's horrible, immoral public policy.
Rand Paul, who is weirdly a potentially serious contender for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, got asked on Meet the Press this past Sunday about a comment his wife had made about Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky. His answer was revealing, I think, of a mindset Republicans are going to struggle with mightily should Hillary Clinton run for president. I bring this up not because I think Paul's comments are all that important in and of themselves, and not because Republicans are likely to spend a good deal of time talking about Monica Lewinsky come 2016. But there's an impulse when it comes to Hillary Clinton that presents a real danger for Republicans. There are so many things they hate about her and her husband that they barely know where to start. And that hatred could well be their undoing.
President Obama possibly being injected with Kenyan socialist nanobots. (Flickr/ Rene Najera)
It's been true for some time that conservatives are far more likely that liberals to hold a number of false beliefs about the world, some of which were always political (e.g. Saddam had weapons of mass destruction, evolution is a myth) and some which became more political over time, particularly the belief that the planet is not warming and its subsidiary beliefs, which include the idea that there is a great deal of disagreement among climate scientists as to whether warming is occurring. Sometimes when this is brought up, someone will mention that liberals believe some demonstrably false things too, like the idea that childhood vaccines cause autism.
The trouble is, there has never been anything other than anecdotal evidence for this contention. Yes, there may be a parent at your kid's organic vegan locally sourced small-batch co-op nursery school who thinks it's true, and dangerous lunatic Jenny McCarthy, the nation's most prominent propagator of this theory, is a Hollywood celebrity and many Hollywood celebrities are liberals, but that doesn't mean that liberals in general are more likely to believe in the fictional vaccine-autism link.
An image from "Mitt," taken at the moment when Mitt Romney realized he had lost the 2012 election.
Over the weekend I watched the Netflix documentary "Mitt," and true to its billing, it humanized Mitt Romney to an extraordinary degree. That's not all that surprising, given that the film was directed by a filmmaker who is friendly with the Romney family and obviously sought to give a behind-the-scenes view of the campaigns (it covered both the 2008 and 2012 races) that portrayed Romney in the best possible light. But in humanizing Romney, it did an excellent job of illuminating just how artificial all campaigns necessarily are.
One fundamental reason why the American economy continues to limp along is that no one—at least, no one with major bucks—is investing in it. The Obama Administration countered the collapse of private sector investment in 2009 with its stimulus program, which, alas, was partially offset by all the cutbacks in state and local government spending. It’s not been able, however, to get any subsequent investment projects through the Republican House. The private sector—the corporate sector more particularly—returned not just to profitability but record profitability by the middle of 2010, but its profits have neither resulted from nor led to increased investment.