Health Care

A Few Things to Keep In Mind About the V.A.

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Even though there may be somewhat less demagoguery around the scandal at the Veterans Health Administration than around some other issues, there will no doubt be a certain amount on the way. So here are a few handy things to keep in mind: This scandal isn't about the quality of care . While there are surely some veterans who have gotten poor care, just as there are plenty of patients at private hospitals who get poor care, the V.A. actually has an excellent record on this score. Surveys consistently show most veterans are extremely satisfied with the care they get at V.A. facilities, often more so than private insurance customers. And independent studies from places like the RAND Corporation have found that patients have outcomes as good or better at the V.A. as in private care. The problem around which this scandal revolves is how long vets have to wait to see a doctor, not what happens once they get there. This is an important distinction to make, because there are going to be...

The Brothers Koch: Family Drama and Disdain for Democracy

AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes
AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes N ot long ago, a pal of mine asked whether I’d heard the latest scoop about Charles and David Koch, the right-wing billionaires currently overseeing capitalism’s final solution to the democracy problem. Did I know—did I know!?—their grandmother had been none other than Ilse Koch, the human-lampshade-loving wife of Buchenwald’s commandant? Cazart, as Hunter S. Thompson used to say. Overseeing final solutions just runs in the family. My friend looked distinctly chagrined when I told her it wasn’t so. Like many liberal Americans, she hates the Kochs so much that no calumny strikes her as too far-fetched. But as it happened, I was midway through Daniel Schulman’s first-rate Sons of Wichita: How the Koch Brothers Became America’s Most Powerful and Private Dynasty , and I felt reasonably sure that Schulman wasn’t saving Ilse and her apocryphal lampshades for a Harry Potter gotcha toward the end. Considering that Charles and David are worth more than $80 billion...

Dally Meme: Delusion and Moxie, Rove and Jindal

Politics may not be for the faint of heart, but it's often for the deluded of mind. Today's meme is about those who are deluding either themselves or others, and will inevitably have their hopes dashed by cruel reality. We start with Karl Rove, who went on Fox News Sunday and said that despite all that talk about Hillary Clinton and traumatic brain injuries, "Look, I'm not questioning her health." Sure, OK. Louisiana governor and future presidential candidate Bobby Jindal penned an op-ed for foxnews.com arguing that the Affordable Care Act can still be repealed , despite what "those in the elite salons of Washington" may think. All you need is "political will," and maybe another 50 repeal votes in the House. That ought to do it. San Antonio mayor Julian Castro is going to be Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, and a lot of people see that as a stepping stone to a vice-presidential bid in 2016. Phillip Bump says : keep dreaming. Almost 60,000 people have signed a petition...

After the Revolution, the Tea Party Struggles for Purpose

AP Photo/Patrick T. Fallon
AP Photo/John Bazemore William Temple holds up a tea kettle during the Atlanta Tea Party tax protest Wednesday, April 15, 2009 in Atlanta. M y favorite story from the last week in politics was a tiny item about the Republican committee in South Carolina's Charleston County voting to censure Sen. Lindsey Graham. This rebuke didn't come because of some grand betrayal or criminal malfeasance; Graham, the party activists felt, just wasn't being conservative enough. And there are things like this happening all over. There's the local group of New Hampshire conservatives running radio ads against Republican state senators, or the Virginia conservatives jeering House Majority Leader Eric Cantor at meetings and taking over their local Republican committee. These aren't the significant primary challenges of the kind we've seen in recent years. You get the sense that Tea Party folks are sitting around saying, "Well, Obamacare isn't getting repealed. The presidential election isn't for a couple...

Daily Meme: Strange Doin's in Dixie

AP Photo/Susan Walsh
No subject tends to confound political pundits—or national Democrats and liberals in general—quite like Southern politics. And if you don't believe it, take a gander at the oft-cited 2006 manual for Democratic Dixie-bashing , Tom Schaller's Whistling Past Dixie, which bizarrely recommended that the party abandon the nation's largest and fastest-growing region (not to mention its largest African-American population) and just let the GOP have it. Fortunately, President Obama ignored that sage advice and won three electoral-vote-rich Southern states in 2008. But old habits of stereotyping the South as incurably right-wing die hard—if they die at all. This year, liberal pundits fretting about losing the Democrats' majority in the U.S. Senate were asking the same old questions: How could the Democrats possibly hope to hold onto their Senate seats in such snake-handling, Confederate flag-waving, gay-bashing, Obamacare-hating backwaters as Louisiana, Arkansas and North Carolina? As yet...

Meet the Doctor Who Went to Jail to Save North Carolina Lives

There is right, and there is wrong. And having to watch patients die because legislators refused the administration's Medicaid expansion—that's just wrong, says physician Charlie van der Horst.

@JennyWarburg
Next month in Raleigh, North Carolina, physician Charlie van der Horst is scheduled to appear before a Superior Court judge and jury to appeal his second-degree trespassing conviction stemming from his participation in the Moral Monday protests that filled the state legislature building last year. Van der Horst, an internationally recognized AIDS researcher and professor of medicine at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, joined 28 other activists who occupied the legislative building on May 6, 2013, disobeying a police order to disperse. They were among 945 people arrested last year during twelve demonstrations. North Carolina’s Republican legislative majority has cut education funding, curtailed abortion access, and created new barriers to voting. While all those measures have offended van der Horst, his deepest concern as a doctor has been the legislature’s refusal to expand Medicaid under President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act. In this three-minute excerpt from...

Moral Monday Movement Gears Up for Round Two

2013 ©Jenny Warburg
©Jenny Warburg Rev. William Barber, president of the North Carolina conference of the NAACP, leads a Moral Monday protest in Raleigh, N.C., in 2013. This article has been corrected. O n Wednesday afternoon, the North Carolina legislature will open its 2014 session. It will be hard for the Republican majority to top last year’s performance, which shattered the final vestiges of the state’s 50-year reputation for moderate governance. With the help of newly elected GOP Gov. Pat McCrory, lawmakers in 2013 slashed both public education and unemployment benefits. They rejected an expansion of Medicaid, paid for almost entirely by the federal government, that would have covered at least 300,000 low-income North Carolinians. They cut corporate taxes and eliminated the earned-income credit for low-wage workers. And they rewrote the state’s election laws in a way that will make registration and voting harder, particularly for African-American, blue-collar, and younger voters. They might have...

Daily Meme: Is the Obamacare Tantrum Finally Over?

AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin
Sometimes, the best thing to do with a child throwing a tantrum is to let them have it and wait for them to wear themselves out. Could the GOP—after voting to repeal Obamacare more than 50 times —have finally grown tired of its own screams? For the first time in quite some time, Republicans' congressional calendar over the next few weeks is clear of any hearings or votes about the health-care law. According to The Hill , “The lack of action highlights the GOP’s struggle to adjust its message now that enrollment in the exchanges beat projections and the uninsured rate is going down.” The reason? Sign-ups have beaten expectations, people are paying their premiums, and the rate of uninsured is plummeting. In total, 17.8 million people now have health-care coverage because of Obamacare . “There is absolutely zero evidence that any Republican is talking about Obamacare less,” says the National Republican Senatorial Committee. Just like climate change, huh? It may be futile given...

The Politics of Polarization: Not as Simple as They Seem

AP Photo/Jae C. Hong
AP Photo/Jae C. Hong P olarization is everywhere these days. Voters are polarized, legislators are polarized, the courts are polarized , all perhaps to different degrees at different moments, but the movement of the parties—and those who represent them—away from each other is evident in one realm after another. But too often, journalists talk about this phenomenon as though it were symmetrical, with Republicans and Democrats moving away from the center at roughly the same rate, even though that's not true. For instance, Congress has seen asymmetrical polarization in recent years, with Democrats growing slightly more liberal and Republicans growing much, much more conservative. There are a lot of reasons that has happened, but what I want to focus on at the moment is the differing internal dynamics of the two parties that help produce it. Political scientist Hans Noel, fresh from a conference on polarization, reports that his colleagues may be paying too much attention to the...

Who's Got the Political Will to Save the Middle Class?

Demonstrator blocks traffic at December fast-food workers' protest in Washington, DC. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
AP Photo/Charles Dharapak I t’s not easy being president during an epoch of downward mobility for the American people. The shrinking of the middle class--a phenomenon to which Americans are historically unaccustomed, most particularly during recoveries-- depresses the president’s popularity, drags down that of his party, and generally plays hell with incumbents’ election prospects. That the American people are downwardly mobile was underscored this weekend by a report from the National Employment Law Project demonstrating that while lower-wage jobs accounted for just 22 percent of the jobs lost during the recession, they account for 44 percent of the jobs created since the recession ended in 2010. Middle-wage jobs, by contrast, accounted for 37 percent of the jobs lost during the recession, but just 26 percent of the jobs created since. Median annual household income is still roughly $4,000 beneath its level before the recession started. Indeed, the most alarming polling for the...

The Politics of Pain

How do liberals and conservatives view suffering? Two leading experts discuss. 

iStockPhoto
iStockPhoto I n the spring of 1992, as the contentious Democratic primary ground to a close, Bill Clinton was speaking at a rally in New York City when an AIDS activist accused him of ignoring the ongoing HIV epidemic. Uttering four words that epitomized his campaign style, Clinton told the activist, “I feel your pain.” Clinton’s remark was widely mocked by conservatives who believed that bleeding-heart liberal policy, under the pretext of compassion, was creating a culture of dependence. In his new book, Pain: A Political History , Keith Wailoo argues that over the past 60 years, sparring over what constitutes pain, who can judge pain, and how the government should mete out treatment has elevated our maladies into fraught political concerns. Pain resists measurement, raising questions about whether sufferers can be trusted to evaluate their own distress. Conservatives worry that chronic pain is a symbol of underlying social maladjustment, while liberals seek to put the means of...

Daily Meme: Embrace the Discomfort

Try to relax; today's meme is all about discomfort. And there's no one feeling more of it than Republicans, who were hit yesterday with the rhetorical stylings of their erstwhile hero Cliven Bundy—Nevada rancher, defier of laws, and racial philosopher. The Republican Party's chief spokesperson, for instance, can't figure out why anyone would associate Bundy with the GOP . "The issue with Cliven Bundy has absolutely nothing to do with his party, zero," he said. After all, it's not like the GOP's chief organ in the media had been giving the guy blanket coverage all the while Republican politicians were praising his crusade. I mean, c'mon. Republicans are also being made uncomfortable by their own candidates, who haven't all gotten the message on the "outreach" the party is supposed to be doing. Here's one who has proposed an effort to round up and deport every undocumented immigrant in the country , which he calls, no kidding, "Operation Wetback." Here's one who said it was an "...

Daily Meme: The Fall of Cliven Bundy

It's media discovery day here at the Daily Meme. What's being discovered? The story of the day is of course Nevada rancher and public property thief Cliven Bundy, who, to the surprise of pretty much nobody, turns out to be a stone-cold racist. When a guy holding a press conference starts a sentence with, "I want to tell you one more thing I know about the Negro," the clever reporter starts writing. And so does a right-wing hero fall from his perch. Bundy will now disappear from Fox News, where he was getting round-the-clock coverage. Bundy's greatest media advocate has been Sean Hannity, who has gotten into an ugly/funny back-and-forth with Jon Stewart over the issue . We assume that with this latest development, Hannity will apologize for ever promoting Bundy, and apologize sincerely to Stewart. And that Stewart will not gloat about it at all. As Jamelle Bouie notes, Bundy's ideas aren't really all that unfamiliar : "In short, the only difference between Bundy and a whole host of...

We Hate Obamacare (But Like What It Does)

The word on Americans—one bit of conventional wisdom that is nonetheless true—is that they are ideologically conservative and operationally liberal. They are opposed to big government but support actual universal government programs like Social Security and Medicare. Confronted with Obamacare, conservative Americans have taken this paradox to new heights. They intensely dislike the program, but they like what it actually does. The New York Times has a poll of four Southern states (Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, North Carolina) out today, undertaken in conjunction with the Kaiser Family Foundation. It shows that most of those states’ residents “still loathe the law,” but that majorities in three of those states and a plurality in the fourth don’t want Congress to repeal and replace it. They just want Congress to improve it. In Kentucky, which established its own exchange under Obamacare’s stipulations, a majority believed that the exchange was working well. In Arkansas, which has...

The Religion of Unreason

Flickr/Dustin Grayson
I think it's safe to say that this period in history is one in which liberals have felt unusually exasperated with conservatives, perhaps more than ever before. I can say this with some confidence as a liberal who runs in liberal circles; it may well be that conservatives are also more exasperated with liberals than they have ever been. Our ability to feed that exasperation is driven by the fact that, for all the polarization of information sources, we're actually more aware of what people on the other side say than we ever have been before. Fifteen years ago, I would have had no idea if Rush Limbaugh said something offensive, but today (once it rises to a certain level of horror), Media Matters will record it and put it on their web site, the Huffington Post will put it on their web site, and half a dozen people in my Twitter feed will let me know it happened. So there are all kinds of new ways to become appalled with your opponents. And there's nothing we liberals find more...

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