Friday, November 07, 2014

A Few Links to Dispel Conservative Myths Part Three: Immigration

Four centuries ago, the first European colonists landed in North America. It took about five minutes for them to decide to start excluding other would-be immigrants from joining them. Catholics, Jews, Muslims, anyone not from northern Europe, no matter whom you are, at some point we've managed to come up with one reason or another why you shouldn't join us in the great melting pot of the USA.

And it doesn't look like hostility towards immigrants is going to wane any time soon. On the contrary, American conservatives are fighting any and all immigration with as much fervor as ever. Why? Because the Republican party has shown that it has no interest in trying to appeal to the interests of anyone except people who are non-Hispanic whites who practice Christianity. And those aren't the people who are going to make up America's potential immigrant population. The Republican party has enough problems with the fact that America is becoming less white and less Christian; it doesn't need any more of those same folks coming here.

I'll let a Republican explain the situation in his own words. Drew Turiano was a candidate for US House in this year's Republican primary in Montana. Mr. Turiano proposes a moratorium on all immigration because,

"Virtually all of the millions of illegal and legal immigrants who are coming into America and have come into America for decades are big-government people. They have only supported the party of big government – the Democrats. There is no evidence that most immigrants will support the party of small government today or in the future – the Republican Party."

"There is no good reason for any immigrant to support us in the GOP or tea party. They will always align themselves with the party that will give them free education, free health care, free housing, free welfare, free whatever."

So, "there is no good reason for any immigrant to support us in the GOP or tea party"? Hey, no argument here buddy. Consider though, that this means that either (1) Republicans are so bigoted that they believe that immigrants are too stupid to ever understand how voting Republican is in their interests, or (2) Republicans are aware that their message sucks.

Of course the 12 million undocumented immigrants already in the US represent an even bigger problem for Republicans. Americans overwhelmingly support immigration reform that would allow illegal immigrants an eventual path to citizenship. Even Fox News has discovered this. According to their June, 2013 poll, "74 percent (of voters) favor finding a way for the 11 million illegal immigrants already in the country to remain -- and eventually become citizens." And in 2013 -astoundingly- the Senate responded, passing a comprehensive immigration reform bill, with 14 Republicans voting in support. Alas, the House refused to take up the bill, with Speaker John Boehner saying, "We’ll do our own bill, through regular order and it’ll be a bill that reflects the will of our majority and the people we represent." That of course was a lie; the House did not pass an immigration reform bill.

It's also interesting that Boehner made it clear that the House the would pass a bill, "that reflects the will of our majority and the people we represent." In other words not the will of the three-quarters of the American people who want to see immigration reform implemented. And why would the House refuse to take up a reform that most people favor? Fortunately, we have Republican Congress Steve Stockman to un-muddy the waters for us. From Matter Fuller of Roll Call:

""That’s a non-starter," Stockman said, "because they’re asking the Republicans to put a rope around their neck and hang themselves."

When President Ronald Reagan gave amnesty to some 3 million people in the country illegally in 1986, Stockman said, the Republican Party lost control of the state of California, because the newly minted Americans went on to vote for Democrats, who they saw as more supportive of their plight.

There is a "direct correlation" between amnesty for illegal aliens and an increase in Democrat voters.""

Interestingly, the Republican party is showing no hesitation to sacrifice long-term appeal for short-term gain. Never mind that that the party's actions are making their tent smaller and smaller, the Republicans in power today were put there by people totally hostile to immigration reform. Or as of Fernando Espuelas of The Hill put it,

"Politically, the GOP is like a man standing on quicksand. After killing immigration reform in Boehner's House of Representatives, voting to deport the Dreamers and urging the faster deportation of the border kids, the party's chances of attracting a sizable percentage of Latino voters needed to win national elections recedes with every acrid declaration by Republican politicos seeking to court the far-right midterm election voters they need to win the Senate in November."
And of course all of the above only covers the election-related reasons why conservatives hate and fear immigrants. I haven't even touched on the traditional reasons; those based on the prejudice that immigrants cannot be assimilated and, if allowed they are allowed to stay here they will transform our country out of recognition. John Gibson of Fox News, for example, had repeatedly expressed his fear that Muslims will be allowed into America in significant numbers, and force Americans to comply with the religious laws of Islam.

But enough with the motivations, let's get to:

Part Three. Immigration Myths
Myth: America's southern border is being flooded with illegal immigrants.
Fact: There is no net immigration to the United States from Mexico. Immigration from Mexico to the United States has fallen from nearly 700,000 in 2005 to only 140,000 in 2010.

Myth: The Obama administration has a lax attitude towards deporting illegal immigrants.
Fact: The Obama administration has deported more illegal immigrants than any previous administration. Between 2009 and 2013, it deported more than 2 million persons - more than President George W. Bush did in eight years in office.

Myth: In 2014, America experienced an immigration crisis in which more than 50,000 children from Central American attempted to enter the United States illegally. President Obama deliberately encouraged them to do so.
Fact: Obama expressly warned Central American families not to send their children across the border. Furthermore, persons presenting themselves at the border and seeking refugee status are not "illegal immigrants." What encouraged Central American families to send their children north? US law.  Unaccompanied minors fall under the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008, which passed the House and Senate unanimously and was signed into law by President George W. Bush. As Amy Campoy of the Wall Street Journal explained last month, those children, "who say they are scared to go back to their home country are screened to determine if they have "credible fear" of persecution or torture. In July, the most recent month available, 63% of those who claimed they were afraid to return were found to have met that criterion, down from 83% six months earlier, according to a report released to immigrant-rights groups by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services." Those granted asylum are released to family members in this country.

Myth: Illegal immigration is a huge cost to American taxpayers.
Fact: From the Hill: "An open letter to President George W. Bush in 2006, signed by around five hundred economists (including five Nobel laureates) stated the following:  "While a small percentage of native-born Americans may be harmed by immigration, vastly more Americans benefit from the contributions that immigrants make to our economy, including lower consumer prices.""

From Policy.Mic: "Undocumented immigrants pay taxes every time they buy gas, clothes, or new appliances. They also contribute to property taxes — a main source of school funding — when they buy or rent a house or apartment. In addition, the Social Security Administration estimates that half to three-quarters of undocumented immigrants pay federal, state, and local taxes, including $6 billion to $7 billion in Social Security taxes for benefits they will never get using an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number issued to them by the IRS. They can receive schooling and emergency medical care, but not welfare or food stamps as they lack the documents needed for those benefits."

Undocumented workers contribute about $13 billion per year to the Social Security Trust Fund, and only get back a small fraction.

Myth: Illegal immigrants increase violent crime.
Fact: Policy.Mic: "Nationally, since 1994, the violent crime rate has declined 34% and the property crime rate has fallen 26%, even as the number of undocumented immigrants has doubled. According to the conservative Americas Majority Foundation, crime rates during the period 1999–2006 were lowest in states with the highest immigration growth rates. During that period the total crime rate fell 14% in the 19 top immigration states, compared to only 7% in the other 31. Truth is, foreign-born people in America — whether they are naturalized citizens, permanent residents, or undocumented — are incarcerated at a much lower rate than native-born Americans, according to the National Institute of Corrections." 

Myth: "The current practice of extending U.S. citizenship to hundreds of thousands of 'anchor babies' must end because it creates a magnet for illegal immigration into our country." - insane Congressman Steve King (R) of Iowa
Fact: The birth of a child in North America does not guarantee the child nor their parents the right to live in the United States. In the decade that ended with President Obama's first term in office, more than 100,000 parents of U.S.-born children were deported.

Myth: Illegal immigrants take jobs from Americans.
Fact: Studies overwhelmingly indicate that immigrants and American-born workers do not compete for the same jobs.

Myth: "Reports of illegal migrants carrying deadly diseases such as swine flu, dengue fever, Ebola virus and tuberculosis are particularly concerning. Many of the children who are coming across the border also lack basic vaccinations such as those to prevent chicken pox or measles." - Congressman Phil Gingrey (R) of Georgia
Fact: Ebola has never been reported in Latin America. And ironically, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Mexico – the four countries sending the largest numbers of unaccompanied minors to the US, all have higher measles vaccination rates than the US.

Myth: "The majority of the people that are coming to Arizona and trespassing are now becoming drug mules." - Arizona Governor Jan Brewer
Regarding undocumented immigrants brought to the US as young children, "For every one who's a valedictorian, there's another 100 out there who weighs 130 pounds — and they've got calves the size of cantaloupes because they're hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert." - insane Congressman Steve King (R) of Iowa

(Do I really have to address this one? How do these people get elected?)
Fact: Illegal immigrants are rarely involved in drug trafficking. From Politifact: "Prosecutions stemming from immigrations and customs activities by the Department of Homeland that "immigration" charges accounted for almost 89 percent of cases, while drug and drug-trafficking charges accounted for just over 5 percent."

"The lesson of these 236 years is clear – immigration makes America stronger. Immigration makes us more prosperous. And immigration positions America to lead in the 21st century."- President Obama, July 4, 2012

Monday, November 03, 2014

2014 Election Predictions

Current Senate: 55 D, 45 R
Prediction*: 52 R, 47 D, 1 independent

Republicans to pickup AK, AR, CO, IA, LA, MT, SD and WV.
Independent to win KS.

*Democrats shouldn't lose hope before all the results are in.
FACT: Democratic Senate candidates beat the polls by 3.7% in 2010 and 2.7% in 2012. If Democrats outperform the polls this year by 2% or more, they are likely to carry Alaska, Colorado and Iowa and are about even money to carry Georgia as well.

Current House: 201 D, 234 R, 201 D
Prediction: GOP+7: 241 R, 194 D

Democrats to pickup Florida, Kansas, Maine, Michigan and Pennsylvania.
Republicans to pickup Arkansas and Massachusetts.
Independent to win Alaska.

That's all folks. Thanks for reading. Joe

Friday, September 19, 2014

A Few Links to Dispel Conservative Myths Part Two: Climate Change

The more I've researched the fascinating world of myth and misunderstanding in which my right-wing friends live, the more I've realized that dispelling those myths is not something I can do in just a couple of blog posts. So here's Part Two in what is now a series on conservative misbeliefs and some sources of accurate information one can use to combat them. As I said in Part One, you shouldn't expect your conservative friends to believe the information in these links. But who knows, maybe a little genuine learning will seep through from time to time.

I've been reading Naomi Klein's new book, This Changes Everything, about the monumental tasks that are ahead of us if we want to keep man-made climate change under control and keep the earth habitable for the human race. Of course the first thing we have to do is to admit to ourselves the enormous scope of the problem and the danger if we don't act. So it's a good time to review and debunk myths about climate change.

Part Two. Climate Change Myths
Myth: There is no significant climate change. The earth's temperature has not increased and is not increasing. The oceans are not rising or acidifying.
Fact: I thought that everyone was at least agreed that the earth has warmed a bit since the start of the Industrial Revolution, even those who don't believe believe human activity is the principle cause. But an acquaintance of mine said even that is a myth. So let's begin at the beginning.
Average temperatures have climbed 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit (0.8 degree Celsius) around the world since 1880, much of this in recent decades. The rate of warming increased in the 1980s and 1990s. The 20th century's last two decades were the hottest in 400 years and possibly the warmest for several millennia.  Between 1870 and 2004, global average sea levels rose a total of 195 mm (7.7 in), and 1.46 mm (0.057 in) per year. From 1950 to 2009, measurements show an average annual rise in sea level of 1.7 ± 0.3 mm per year, with satellite data showing a rise of 3.3 ± 0.4 mm per year from 1993 to 2009. Arctic ice is rapidly disappearing, and the region may have its first completely ice-free summer by 2040 or earlier. The world's oceans have become 30% more acidic since the Industrial Revolution began more than two centuries ago, imperiling marine life.

Myth: There is ongoing debate among scientists as to whether climate change is caused by human activity, specifically, anthropogenic CO2 pollution. Or, as Joseph Bast of the conservative Heritage Institute has said, "The assertion that 97% of scientists believe that climate change is a man-made, urgent problem is a fiction."
Fact: Technically, Mr. Bast is right about that 97% number. It's actually more like 99.99%. Earlier this year, geochemist James Lawrence Powell in an ongoing project reviewing the literature on global warming, went through every scientific study published in a peer-review journal during the calendar year 2013. Of 10,885 total articles, a mere two (2) rejected anthropogenic global warming. Of 9,136 authors publishing between November, 2012 and December, 2013 exactly one (1) proposed a fundamentally different reason for temperature rise than anthropogenic CO2. Mr. Powell also notes:
"Very few of the most vocal global warming deniers, those who write op-eds and blogs and testify to congressional committees, have ever written a peer-reviewed article in which they say explicitly that anthropogenic global warming is false. Why? Because then they would have to provide the evidence and, evidently, they don’t have it."

Myth: A 2013 study found a majority of scientists skeptical of a global warming crisis, as reported in an opinion piece in Forbes magazine.
Fact: The Forbes article is a fraud. The survey in question was of engineers and physicists working on Canadian oil sands projects, not of climate scientists. The Forbes article took that fact that only 36% of those surveyed fell into the category, "most supportive of climate action" and twisted it into an expression of "skepticism" of a global warming "crisis." Ironically, what this survey actually found was that even among oil industry engineers, a group notoriously hostile toward climate science, a majority (58%) believe that humans are influencing the climate.

Myth: In a scandal now known as "Climategate," emails between British scientists that were stolen by hackers in 2009 proved a conspiracy to misrepresent climate data. Or, as Oklahoma Senator Jame Inhofe, author of the climate change denying book The Greatest Hoax said, "Then we pursued some of these fine scientists who said that the U.N. had rigged the science; then of course in ’09 when ClimateGate came, people realized the United Nations committee, the IPCC, had rigged the science on this thing."
Fact: Eight (8) formal governmental and academic committees investigated the allegations and found no evidence of fraud or scientific misconduct. From
"Claims that the e-mails are evidence of fraud or deceit, however, misrepresent what they actually say. A prime example is a 1999 email from (University of East Anglia climatologist Phil) Jones, who wrote: "I’ve just completed Mike’s Nature trick of adding in the real temps to each series for the last 20 years (i.e., from 1981 onwards) and from 1961 for Keith’s to hide the decline." Skeptics claim the words "trick" and "decline" show Jones is using sneaky manipulations to mask a decline in global temperatures. But that’s not the case. Actual temperatures, as measured by scientific instruments such as thermometers, were rising at the time of the writing of this decade-old e-mail, and (as we’ve noted) have continued to rise since then. Jones was referring to the decline in temperatures implied by measurements of the width and density of tree rings. In recent decades, these measures indicate a dip, while more accurate instrument-measured temperatures continue to rise."

Myth: Global warming has "paused." "The global average atmospheric temperature has not significantly increased for the past 17 years, a "pause" not predicted by the computer climate models."  - Ronald Bailey,
Fact: From Mark Strauss of
"Although the rate of increase in the globally and annually averaged temperature of the atmosphere near the surface has slowed since around 2000 compared to the rate of increase over the preceding three decades, near-surface warming of the atmosphere has continued. The 2000s were warmer than the 1990s, and the 2010s so far have been warmer than the 2000s." 2014 is on track to be the warmest year on record.

Myth: The relationship between CO2 pollution and global warming alleged by scientists is not valid if the level of CO2 in the atmosphere continues to increase yet global warming slows down.
Fact: There are many natural reasons why short-term climate change may occur exclusive of human activity. The fact that concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere has continued to rise in recent years while global warming has slowed is explained by the warming and cooling cycles in the heat sinks deep in the Atlantic and Southern oceans. A study from Ocean University of China demonstrates that (from Scientific American),
"about half of the warming in the last 30 years of the 20th century was due to global warming, while the other half was from the heat cycle in the Atlantic that kept heat near the ocean's surface." "Based on previous trends, the current "cooling" cycle is likely about halfway over." "Rapid warming is expected to resume again in about a decade, though exact predictions are difficult to make."

Myth: Arctic sea ice is expanding, an indication that scientists may be wrong about global warming.
Fact: From Tim Radford of the Climate Network for the Guardian:
"German researchers have established the height of the Greenland and Antarctic ice caps with greater precision than ever before. The new maps they have produced show that the ice is melting at an unprecedented rate."
The source of the myth is the fact that summer ice coverage of the Arctic sea was greater in 2014 than 2012. Phil Plate of explains:
"In 2012, a mix of unusual causes created conditions where the minimum reached a record low, far below normal. The next year, in 2013, the ice didn’t reach quite so low a minimum extent, and this year looks very much the same as 2013. But saying the ice is “recovering” is, to put it delicately, what comes out the south end of a north-facing bull. You can’t compare two years with a record low the year before that was due to unusual circumstances; you have to look at the average over time."
A 2013 study found that Arctic ice has melted over the last 30 years at a rate of 8% per decade.

Myth: Recent cold weather in North America indicates that climate change models predicting global warming are wrong. Senator Inhofe (again, sigh), "Now they’re trying to say this cold thing we’re going through now is just a bump in the climate. That isn’t true at all. It is a hoax."
Fact: As the world gets warmer, parts of North America, Europe and Asia could see more frequent and stronger visits of cold air. Studies indicate that this is the result of shrinking ice in the seas off Russia. As the ice melts, it creates large pockets of very cold air, which can precipitate a large-scale cyclone, known as a "polar vortex," that circles either of the planet's geographical poles.

Myth: The most prominent scientific body studying global warming, the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), has dramatically overstated the danger to mankind from climate change, as it demonstrated by the fact that its past predictions have not proven true. A recent study by Professor Matthew England demonstrates that the planet hasn't warmed as the IPCC predicted.
Fact: In the more than twenty years that the IPCC has been making predictions of future climate change, it has been proven extremely accurate. Critics of the IPCC have used fraudulent data. Furthermore, England's study found only that IPCC climate models had not been geared to account for the current two decade-long period of strong trade winds in the Pacific, and thus the temperature on the earth's surface is 0.2C less than some climate models thought it would be. England has made clear that his study in no way indicates that global warming has paused or stopped.

Myth: "You know, the elimination of essentially every automobile would be offset by one volcano exploding." - Wisconsin Public Service Commissioner Mike Huebsch, appointed by Republican Governor Scott Walker
Fact: "Human activities generate about 35 gigatons of greenhouse gases per year, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, while all the world's volcanoes combined spew something in the range of 0.13 to 0.44 gigatons per year. That means the human influence on the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is 80 to 270 times greater than that of volcanoes." - Kate Sheppard, Mother Jones

Myth: Al Gore was wrong. His documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, is a fraud.
Fact: The 2006 movie An Inconvenient Truth is widely credited for raising international public awareness of climate change and for energizing the environmental movement. The Associated Press contacted 19 climate scientists who had seen the movie. All said that Gore accurately conveyed the science, with few errors.

Myth: The Vikings settled the land west of Iceland and called it Greenland because it was green and pleasant at the time, but it later turned much colder. This tends to contradict the idea that the polar regions have long been warming.
Fact: According to the Icelandic sagas, Erik the Red named it Greenland in an attempt to lure settlers in search of land and the promise of a better life. The Greenland ice sheet is at least 400,000 years old, and is currently melting due to global warming.

Final note. For more myths and more reality on climate change, visit

Next time: Myths about the economy? Myths about the growth of government? There's oh so much more to cover.

Saturday, September 06, 2014

A Few Links to Dispel Conservative Myths, Part One: Obamacare

I've been discussing politics with liberal friends since I was a kid. But it's only been since I joined facebook that I've debated facts and political philosophy with conservatives. It's been quite an experience. Most arguments follow the same flow chart:
I. Conservative friend begins with a false claim, such as: "Single-payer health care can never work. It's bankrupting the countries that have it."
II. I respond with the facts, accompanied with web links. For example: "Not true. Countries with single-payer spend far less per capita than the US."
III. Conservative friend then responds in one of three ways:
     A. Dismiss any and all facts I link with the statement, "I refuse to believe left-wing web sites and/or the "lamestream media.""
     B. "Joe you're too stupid for me to argue with."
     C. Conservative friend turns into a WWII veteran suburban father lecturing his lazy hippie son. "Single-payer can never work because it's something for nothing! You need to realize that every bum has to pull his own weight!"

Maybe it's pointless to keep linking conservatives to actual facts. But I like to think it's possible for a little light to shine through the curtain of ignorance and prejudice from time to time. So here's Part One: a catalog of links to facts to counter the most common conservative myths, misconceptions and outright lies about the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare.

Part One. Obamacare Myths
Myth: Obamacare has caused health care premiums for most Americans to skyrocket.
Fact: 80% of Americans get health insurance through their employer or a government program. Under Obamacare, U.S. employers are experiencing the smallest increases in health care costs in 15 years.

Myth: "There are less people today with health insurance than there were before this law went into effect." - Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner
Fact: By March of 2014, nearly 10 million previously uninsured people gained insurance thanks to Obamacare. The percentage of uninsured Americans is now the lowest on record, having fallen from 18% in 2013 to 13.4% in mid-2014.

Myth: Obamacare will explode the federal budget deficit.
Fact: In 2010, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office estimated Obamacare will reduce the deficit by $143 billion through 2019, and an additional $1.3 trillion (that's trillion with a "t") between 2020 and 2029. In 2014, despite some changes in implementation of the law, the CBO confirmed, "the agencies have no reason to think that their initial assessment that the ACA would reduce budget deficits was incorrect."

Myth: Obamacare will cause the cost of individual health care policies to skyrocket.
Fact: Health insurance premiums rose 4% for family coverage in the first year of Obamacare. That was half the 8% average of the previous decade. Across the country, rates for a benchmark silver plan will actually go down slightly in 2015 over 2014. Furthermore in July of 2014, the Department of Health and Human Services issued a report explaining that the Affordable Care Act has already saved consumers $9 Billion since it was enacted. The bulk of the savings was in reduced premiums. But it also included $330 million in 2013 alone of refunds to consumers when their insurance companies had engaged in the now prohibited practice of spending more than 20% of premiums on overhead.

Myth: Millions of people have lost their health insurance.
Fact: Only about 5% of Americans have non-employer provided individual plans. It's true that certain health care plans in this market are no longer available due to changes in the law. But many of these were not insurance at all, but junk plans that didn't offer real coverage.  Furthermore, Obamacare is not the reason why most of those folks who are changing plans this year are doing so. On the individual health insurance market, plans typically are sold with one-year contracts that change prices and/or benefits year-to-year. Even before Obamacare, only 17 percent of consumers in this market kept the same plan for two years or more. Fewer than one million people who previously had individual market insurance transitioned to being uninsured.

Myth: With Obamacare policies, millions can no longer see their doctor of choice.
Fact: There’s no evidence that those who had individual market policies that were discontinued ended up not being able to keep their own doctors under their new Obamacare-compliant policies. There is no data that indicates that those on plans from the new exchanges have more or less narrow networks than existed in the individual market previously.

Myth: Because Obamacare insurance plans are required to cover contraception, even for unmarried women, the taxpayers are being forced to subsidize sexual promiscuity. "What does it say about the college co-ed Sandra Fluke, who goes before a congressional committee and essentially says that she must be paid to have sex? What does that make her?" "It makes her a slut, right? It makes her a prostitute. She wants to be paid to have sex. She’s having so much sex she can’t afford the contraception. She wants you and me and the taxpayers to pay her to have sex. What does that make us? We’re the pimps." - Radio personality Rush Limbaugh, speaking on women's health advocate Sandra Fluke in 2012.
Fact: Many women are prescribed birth controls pills for non-contraceptive reasons.

Myth: Doctors are leaving the medical profession because they don't like Obamacare. There's going to be a terrible shortage of physicians.
Fact: This myth comes from the distorted analysis of a couple of dubious survey questions. One was a poll of members of a right-wing fringe group called the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons that largely exists to fight health care reform. The other was a Physicians Foundation survey of 13,000 doctors which discovered that 60 percent of respondents would retire today if they could as compared to 45 percent who gave the same answer before Obamacare was passed into law. They were not asked whether their feelings on retirement were related to Obamacare.

Meanwhile, in reality, the American Medical Association, the American College of Physicians, the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Osteopathic Association, the American Psychiatric Association, and the American College of Cardiology all endorsed the health care reform law. The number of primary physicians in America per 100,000 population increased from about 44 in 2010 (the year the law was passed) to 46 in 2012, the most recent year for which data is available. The number of specialty physicians increased more significantly, from 60 to 65 per 100,00 population over the same time frame.

Myth: Under Obamacare policies, "You have insurance in places like U.K. and Canada, where they say, oh we cover you. But you don’t get it, because it’s rationed. That’s what’s going to happen." - Florida Governor Rick Scott
Fact: The health care law "rations" care no more nor less than the current health care system does. (The United Kingdom and Canada don't ration care either.)

Myth: Obamacare is incredibly unpopular.
Fact: It's true that slightly more people describe themselves as against the law rather than for it. However most of the folks who are against it don't have Obamacare policies. More than 70% of those who do have the policies rate them as "good" or "excellent". And despite Republican efforts to repeal Obamacare, a majority of Americans want to keep the federal health care law as is, or make some changes to improve it. It's also the case that many of those who describe themselves as against the law are Democrats who feel that the law does not go far enough to reform health care. Most of the law's key provisions are very popular. In a 2012 poll, 61% of respondents favored allowing young adults to stay on their parents’ insurance plans until age 26. 72% of respondents wish to maintain the requirement that companies with more than 50 workers provide health insurance for their employees. 82% of respondents favored banning insurance companies from denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions.

Myth: Republicans have a plan to replace Obamacare.
Fact: They have no plan, nor have they ever had one. I wrote about this in my last post. While Republicans have made bold talk about passing a comprehensive plan to replace health insurance for tens of millions of Americans in 2014, they are instead offering only a "messaging strategy," while quietly admitting they don't intend to do anything on the issue.

Myth: The President refused to work with Republicans on crafting the law.
Fact: The President sought compromise but Republicans refused to negotiate. Time magazine described a meeting between President Obama and congressional Republicans on health care in this way, "So, right there in the Cabinet Room, the President put a proposal on the table, according to two people who were present. Obama said he was willing to curb malpractice awards, a move long sought by the Republicans and certain to bring strong opposition from the trial lawyers who fund the Democratic Party. What, he wanted to know, did the Republicans have to offer in return? Nothing, it turned out. Republicans were unprepared to make any concessions, if they had any to make." Conservative pundit David Frum, describing the attitude of his fellow Republicans said, "the intransigence of Republican leaders had thrown away opportunities to negotiate improvements in the health bill"..."we would make no deal with the administration. No negotiations, no compromise, nothing."

Myth: Obamacare will kill millions of jobs.
Fact: The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office reports that Obamacare creates jobs. The ACA will, "boost overall demand for goods and services over the next few years because the people who will benefit from the expansion of Medicaid and from access to the exchange subsidies are predominantly in lower-income households and thus are likely to spend a considerable fraction of their additional resources on goods and services." This, the report says, "will in turn boost demand for labor over the next few years."

Myth: Obamacare is turning America into a "part-time nation" by encouraging employers to hire part-time rather than full-time so that they will not have to provide health insurance.
Fact: Private-sector employment has grown for 54 consecutive months, and, the percentage of jobs that are full-time rather than part time is rising.

Myth: The online "exchanges" for Obamacare fell dramatically short of their goals for signing up the uninsured.
Fact: The program set an ambitious goal of 7 million signups through the exchanges in the first enrollment period. The number actually signed up and paid through the exchanges in the first enrollment period was at least 7.3 million.

Myth: The President lied about the cost of Obamacare. He promised the first ten years would only cost $900 million. It will actually cost $2 billion over the next decade!
Fact: The President did suggest that the law would cost $900 million the first ten years. The Congressional Budget Office agreed, saying the expansion of coverage would cost the federal government $710 billion in the fiscal years 2015 through 2019, plus the cost in the early years before the law went fully into effect. Just recently, the CBO has lowered the $710 billion estimate to only $571 billion – the President’s $900 million estimate was actually too high! The CBO did also say that the cost of Obamacare will be $2 billion for a decade, but that's for the fiscal years 2016 through 2025.

Myth: Seniors and the disabled "will have to stand in front of Obama's 'death panel' so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their 'level of productivity in society,' whether they are worthy of health care." - Former Governor of Alaska Sarah Palin
Fact: A provision not part of the final legislation would have insured doctor appointments for seniors who wanted to discuss do-not-resuscitate orders, end-of-life directives and living wills. The visits would have been completely optional and only for people who wanted the appointments.

Myth: Democrats didn't even read the legislation before they passed it. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said, "We have to pass it so we can find out what's in it."
Fact: Nancy Pelosi said, "We have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it, away from the fog of controversy." And that was true. With people like Sarah Palin spreading bald-face lies to scare people, we DID need to pass the bill so that consumers could find out what's really in it.

Next time I'll be covering myths about the deficit, climate change and a lot of other things. That is, if I can even get all the conservative myths left into only one more post. Good night and good luck.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Republicans on Obamacare: Repeal - Yes! Replace - We'll Get Back to You...

By the fourth anniversary of its signing this past March, U.S. House Republicans had voted 54 times to fully repeal, defund and/or delay implementation of the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare. The more time goes by of course, the greater the impact of a full repeal. A recent study by the Rand Corporation found that a net 9.3 million previously uninsured Americans gained coverage during Obamacare's first enrollment period.

No problem, say Republicans, our plan is to repeal and replace Obamacare. Mitt Romney ran on "repeal and replace" in 2012, but apparently spent all his energy working on a bunch to untruths and misinformation regarding what the ACA would and would not do, thus leaving him with little time to devote to the "replace" part of his plan. As John Avlon of the Daily Beast noted in June of 2012, "
Mitt Romney still needs to decide which specific policy plan he would enact. Unclaimed ideas range from medical-malpractice reform to expanding health savings accounts to allowing insurance purchases across state lines to generic-drug importation."

And that's been the hallmark of Republican claims that they will replace Obamacare: we're working on it, nothing specific yet, we'll get back to you, we promise. With Romney's candidacy in the past, leadership on "repeal and replace" has passed to the Republican-controlled US House. This past March, in what now seems to be an incredibly gullible act of journalism on the part of the Washington Post's Robert Costa, he suggested that the Republican repeal and replace scheme was a fait accompli; not much left for them to do except vote on it:

"House Republican leaders are adopting an agreed-upon conservative approach to fixing the nation’s health-care system, in part to draw an election-year contrast with President Obama’s Affordable Care Act. The plan includes an expansion of high-risk insurance pools, promotion of health savings accounts and inducements for small businesses to purchase coverage together. The tenets of the plan -  which could expand to include the ability to buy insurance across state lines, guaranteed renewability of policies and changes to medical-malpractice regulations - are ideas that various conservatives have for a long time backed as part of broader bills. But this is the first time this year that House leaders will put their full force behind a single set of principles from those bills and present it as their vision. This month, House leaders will begin to share a memo with lawmakers outlining the plan, called "A Stronger Health Care System: The GOP Plan for Freedom, Flexibility, & Peace of Mind," with suggestions on how Republicans should talk about it to their constituents."

Powerful stuff, Mr. Costa. Small problem though: everything you just said about the Republican "plan" is not true. Just two days later, Jonathan Weisman of the New York Times put a less optimistic spin on the same news:

"Senior House Republicans — struggling to find consensus for health care legislation to replace the Affordable Care Act — are planning to test ideas in April at town-hall-style meetings that could provide a path toward a long-promised alternative to President Obama’s signature legislative achievement. The "House ObamaCare Accountability Project" is still months away from producing actual legislation. With Democrats opposed, Republican leaders will have a hard time finding enough votes for any plan, and Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio remains cool to guaranteeing a vote."

Fast forward just six weeks, and Republicans plans seem to be in trouble. From a May article by Steve Benen:

"Despite months of assurances that the Republican alternative to the Affordable Care Act is on the way, any day now, Rep. Dennis Ross (R-Fla.) recently told his constituents what many have long suspected: "For the next six months, we're going to go into an election knowing that we’re not going to do anything to address health care."

"In fact, David Drucker reports that the 35-member House Obamacare Accountability Project – honestly, that’s what it’s called – is still plugging away. "[The] working group of about 35 GOP members, has written a “draft” proposal to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, according to one House Republican familiar with the effort. But the group has not shared the draft with their colleagues and is engaged in an internal debate over whether their goal should be to simply introduce legislation, or also hold floor votes."

Weeks later, we don't seem to have heard much more about the House plan. Although I do note this interesting observation last month from Elise Viebeck of the Hill, "House leaders have organized a group known as HOAP — the House ObamaCare Accountability Project — to organize a messaging strategy against the law that will trickle down to constituents."

So in three months, the House leadership has gone from promising a comprehensive plan to replace health insurance for tens of millions of Americans, to offering only a "messaging strategy." Or as Speaker John Boehner said last week, "You know, the discussions about Obamacare and what the replacement bill would look like continue." You'll notice he said, "would look like" rather than "will look like," thus implying there's no reason to believe the replacement bill will ever exist in any form.

It's not surprising that Republicans have never been able to rally around an alternative health care proposal; they've never really believed that health care reform is needed. Everyone needs health insurance. Mitt Romney himself pointed out in 2010, "It doesn't make a lot of sense for us to have millions and millions of people who have no health insurance and yet who can go to the emergency room and get entirely free care for which they have no responsibility." Of course once Romney became the Presidential nominee, he changed his tune, "Well, we do provide care for people who don't have insurance, ... If someone has a heart attack, they don't sit in their apartment and -- and die. We pick them up in an ambulance, and take them to the hospital, and give them care."

The fact that Republicans don't believe that people really need health insurance apparently makes them obtuse when it comes creating viable plans to insure the unisured. The bankruptcy of conservatives on health care reform is typified by the idea that, "people should be able to buy insurance across state lines."

There's one reason why that's a terrible idea, and another why it's completely unworkable.

It's a terrible idea because buying insurance across state lines would mean the new national standard would be whichever state least regulates insurers, sets the weakest coverage minimums and makes it most difficult to sue your insurer. Or as Ezra Klein of the Washington Post put it,

"The (insurance) industry would put its money into buying the legislature of a small, conservative, economically depressed state. The deal would be simple: Let us write the regulations and we'll bring thousands of jobs and lots of tax dollars to you. Someone will take it. The result will be an uncommonly tiny legislature in an uncommonly small state that answers to an uncommonly conservative electorate that will decide what insurance will look like for the rest of the nation."


The idea is also unworkable because rates in Mississippi are based on costs for care in Mississippi, not costs in California. It surprises me that this fact is not more frequently discussed in the mainstream media (or maybe it doesn't). It took me a while for find anyone saying much about it. But I finally found a good summary of the problems associated buying health insurance across state lines in an editorial in Raleigh, North Carolina's News and Observer:

"(A)n insurance company selling a policy in Arkansas wouldn't mind if I purchased such a policy so long as I went to Arkansas to use health care. If I wanted to buy a policy developed for consumers in Arkansas, but wanted to use care in North Carolina, they likely wouldn't sell it to me because the premium is based on the health care experience of someone living in Arkansas. Similarly, car insurance rates are based on loss rates in the ZIP code in which you live, because that is where you car is most often at risk of becoming a loss.

An individual health insurance premium is based on several factors: the health of the customer and therefore the expected use of care, the benefits covered, the provider network (doctors and hospitals) that patients can use and how medicine is practiced where the patient lives. State regulations influence benefits and therefore premiums. However, the way medicine is practiced (called practice patterns) where the insured person lives has a tremendous influence on premiums, but it greatly affects the expected losses of an insurance company."

Americans have made it clear they don't want what little Republicans have to offer on this subject. A HuffPost poll in April showed only 17% of Americans want Obamacare replaced with a Republican-sponsored alternative. It's also hard for Republicans to continue to claim any credibility on the subject. Republican predictions that Obamacare would not reach enrollment goals were wrong. Conservatives predicted skyrocketing insurance and healthcare costs; instead year over year insurance cost increases will probably be less than in the past as will the cost for care.

Republican rhetoric on health care is a lot like their rhetoric on taxation, the economy, foreign policy, and, well, pretty much every other subject I can think of. Once you start to compare what Republicans say and how the world actually works, Republican policy doesn't look very good.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Auditing the IRS Controversy: There Is No More "Scandal," Folks

A conservative friend reminded the other day, as they often do, that President Obama used the IRS to target Tea Party-friendly political groups. On the one hand, my inclination is to dismiss the suggestion as quite ridiculous. And not just because I don't think President Obama would try to use the IRS to attack political enemies. One thing that conservatives just refuse to understand: liberals LIKE the Tea Party people because they hurt the Republican party far more than they help it. The Tea Party helps nominate extremist candidates, which, among other things, caused the GOP to lose five Senate races  between 2010 and 2012 that it otherwise would likely have won. Leading Republicans admit this, with even Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell boasting that when Tea Party candidates attempt to defeat the Republican establishment, he will help, "crush them everywhere." And when it comes campaign contributions, Tea Party leaders are also, quite frankly, a bunch of thieves. Consider Sarah Palin's political action committee, created to solicit money for Tea Party Republican candidates. In one quarter of 2012, Palin's PAC raised $388,000 and gave exactly zero dollars to candidates while compensating PAC staff members with lavish salaries.

On the other hand, if I'm going to argue the reality of the "2013 IRS Scandal," I have to have the facts at my command. And man oh man has it been hard to understand what really happened here, given the widespread misinformation campaign Republicans have conducted on the subject. So I'll take up the facts first, and the lying later.

Part I: What Happened

Section 501(c)(4) of the Internal Revenue Code  exempts civic organizations "operated exclusively for the promotion of social welfare" from having to pay federal income tax. The IRS has traditionally permitted organizations described in IRC 501(c)(4) to engage in lobbying and political campaign activities if those activities are not the organization's primary activity. In May, 2013 Acting Commissioner of the IRS Steven Miller revealed that applications for tax-exempt status by Tea Party groups had been inappropriately singled out for extra scrutiny and Director of the IRS Exempt Organizations division Lois Lerner stated that the IRS was "apologetic" for what she termed "absolutely inappropriate" actions. That same month, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration released an audit report confirming that the IRS used inappropriate criteria to identify potential political cases in applications for tax-exempt status, including organizations with "Tea Party" in their names. It would subsequently be revealed that this audit was flawed and inaccurate, as it falsely stated that, "the IRS did not use inappropriate criteria to scrutinize groups with "progressives" in their name seeking tax-exempt status." Further investigation revealed that certain terms and themes in the applications of liberal-leaning groups and the Occupy movement had also triggered additional scrutiny. When this additional information came to light, Democratic Congressman Sandy Levin of Michigan noted that, "the Inspector General’s report left out critical information that skewed the audit’s findings." In July, Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration J. Russell George attempted to explain the discrepancy by claiming that the fact that progressive groups were also targeted had been unknown to him when he had written his report in May. (It turns out there was a very good reason George was unaware that progressive groups had also been targeted. More on that later.)

By September, 2013 Miller, Lerner and Joseph Grant, commissioner of the agency's tax-exempt and government entities division, had all resigned from the IRS. In January 2014, the FBI announced that it had found no evidence warranting the filing of federal criminal charges in connection with the scandal. The FBI also stated it found no evidence of "enemy hunting." In other words, IRS employees did not maliciously manipulate the process.

And that, essentially, is the whole story in term of the IRS actions. Did the IRS really do anything wrong? Actually it didn't, as far as I can tell. As blogger Jed Lewison of put it,

"the IRS didn't target conservative groups exclusively. Liberal groups were targeted as well. And the reason they were targeted was understandable: They were applying for a special tax-exemption. In other words, this wasn't a case of the IRS going after political opponents; it was a case of groups seeking special privileges and being upset when the IRS asked them to provide evidence proving they qualified for those privileges."

And let's not kid ourselves here. If anyone's doing something wrong, it's the political action committees claiming to be "social welfare" organizations not primarily engaged in political campaigns. Political campaigns are not just their primary engagement, they are their ONLY engagement. Some folks are showing concern over this contradiction. In August, 2013 Democratic Congressmen Chris Van Hollen filed suit against the IRS seeking to overturn the rule that allows 501(c)(4) social welfare groups to engage in political activity. Noting that the law requires such groups to be "operated exclusively for the promotion of social welfare," Van Hollen said, "The law is clear. What do you want us to do, put an exclamation point after exclusively?"

Part II: What Didn't Happen

As I said before: there's really nothing more to this story in terms of what the IRS did or didn't do. Unless of course, you're California Republican Congressman Darrell Issa, Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. For the past year, Congressman Issa has used his position to channel the ghost of Senator Joe McCarthy, launching baseless attacks against political enemies, conducting highly partisan faux-investigations, lying about those investigations and what they found and in general attempting to bully and/or silence those who have attempted to gainsay his preconceived conclusions.

In June of last year, while investigation of the IRS actions was still going on, Congressman Issa began making some explosive allegations: that officials in the Obama administration were aware that Tea Party groups had been inappropriately singled-out for scrutiny before the matter became public. "My gut tells me that too many people knew that this wrongdoing was going on before the election," Issa said, "and at least by some sort of convenient, benign neglect allowed it to go on through the election." It was particularly bold for Issa to claim that, "the indication is (IRS agents in field offices) were directly being ordered from Washington," to conduction the inappropriate investigations, given that in the limited excerpts of interviews of IRS agents provided by Issa's office, the agents made it clear they had no idea whether instructions to scrutinize Tea Party groups came from Washington or not.

Within days of making these accusations, it became clear that the Treasury inspector general's report was flawed and inaccurate, and that there was an easy explanation as to why this was so. As mentioned earlier, J. Russell George's audit of the IRS actions in May, 2013 falsely claimed that the IRS did not use inappropriate criteria to scrutinize groups with "progressives" in their name seeking tax-exempt status. George would later say this was because the documents that showed IRS workers also were told to look for liberal-themed labels, "were not provided during our audit."

And why was George not provided with those documents? From Bernie Becker of the Hill

"The Treasury inspector general (IG) whose report helped drive the IRS targeting controversy says it limited its examination to conservative groups because of a request from House Republicans.

A spokesman for Russell George, Treasury’s inspector general for tax administration, said they were asked by House Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) "to narrowly focus on Tea Party organizations.""

 In other words, here's what happened. The IRS had originally revealed the inappropriate targeting of certain groups. Instead of asking for a comprehensive investigation, Congressman Issa asked the IG to focus his examination exclusively on the 501(c)(4) applications of Tea Party and conservative groups. Having received the expected response that yes, it's been confirmed that Tea Party groups were targeted, and no, there's no indication that progressive groups were targeted, Issa was then able to argue convincingly, at least to some people, that persons high up in the Obama administration had either ordered the targeting or had at least been aware of it and used it to their advantage.

Furthermore, it subsequently became known, when the full transcripts of the interviews with IRS agents were eventually released, that IRS agents had made it very clear in those interviews that they were not, as Issa had suggested, acting on orders from Washington. According to Greg Sargent of the Washington Post, the interview transcript with a key IRS manger provides,

"a detailed first-hand account of how these practices first originated, and it debunks conspiracy theories about how the IRS first started reviewing these cases.  Answering questions from Committee staff for more than five hours, this official — who identified himself as a “conservative Republican” — denied that he or anyone on his team was directed by the White House to take these actions or that they were politically motivated. Instead, the Screening Group Manager explained that the very first case at issue in this investigation was initially flagged by one of his own screeners in February 2010."

Sargent also notes that,

"This comes after (Democratic Congressman Elijah) Cummings had previously insisted Issa release the full transcript himself, arguing it would show that the Republican chairman’s claims of White House involvement are false, and that Issa’s own selective release of testimony was misleading the public. Issa refused, insisting that releasing full transcripts would damage the investigation. Cummings then asked Issa to detail what specifically in the transcript would do this, and demanded an answer by yesterday. According to Cummings’ letter, Issa has yet to reply — hence the decision to go forward with the release today."

So, to summarize Congressman Issa's actions so far. In May, 2013 the Inspector General released the results of its skewed investigation. Issa then used the results of that investigation, along with excerpts from interviews with IRS agents that he refused to release publicly, to make demonstrably false statements about what the IRS was and was not doing, then made additional false accusations against the White House based on those false statements.

And how has Issa responded to being caught in his own tangled web of lies and deceit? Has he resigned in disgrace? Or at least apologized to those he's lied to, manipulated and/or falsely accused? Not hardly. Months later, Issa is still conducting his "investigation" as if nothing is wrong with what he's doing.

After June of 2013, when the Washington Post article cited above appeared, there wasn't really anything left to say about the IRS actions. Yet in September, Issa's Committee managed to publish a report on its further investigation into the matter. According to this report, the IRS singled-out Tea Peaty groups for inappropriate scrutiny because President Obama and congressional leaders had severely criticized the growth of 501(c)(4) groups and "soft-money" in politics. I'm going to let the hyper-conservative quasi-newspaper the Washington Times speak for the report for the moment. I wouldn't quote the Times, except it's literally the only source I could find that chose to report on the subject:

"As prominent politicians publicly urged the IRS to take action on tax-exempt groups engaged in legal campaign intervention activities, the IRS treated tea party applications differently," the staff report concludes. "Applications filed by tea party groups were identified and grouped due to media attention surrounding the existence of the tea party in general."

In other words, according to this report, President Obama and other Democrats are to blame for the IRS actions, because, (again, in the words of the Times) "IRS employees were "acutely" aware in 2010 that President Obama wanted to crack down on conservative organizations and were egged into targeting tea party groups by press reports mocking the emerging movement." Is there any truth to this? It depends on your point of view I suppose. IRS officials have gone on record as stating that they were concerned enough about media attention regarding political groups applying for 501(c)(4) status that they gave those applications extra scrutiny. But we knew that already. And the report  makes no mention of the fact that progressive groups were also given extra scrutiny. That information undermines the report's claim that conservatives groups specifically, and not just political groups in general, were given extra, inappropriate attention. And given that progressive groups were also targeted, it's just as easy to suggest that media attention spurred by criticism of progressive groups by leading Republicans was the catalyst for that extra scrutiny as it is to suggest that Tea Party groups were given extra scrutiny based on the public statements of leading Democrats.

It's been most of a year since anything of substance was revealed about the IRS actions, yet Congressman Issa's witch hunt rolls on. Last year, former IRS official Lois Lerner invoked her 5th Amendment rights against self-incrimination when testifying before Issa's Committee. Last week, Issa forced Lerner back in the witness chair, claiming that she hadn't actually waived her 5th Amendment rights. Why did Issa do this? The suggestion among conservatives of course, is that Lerner must be hiding something, and if so, there's still a reason for Issa's farcical investigation to continue.

At that March 5th hearing, Lerner again refused to testify. Democratic Committee member Elijah Cummings then pointed out, quite astutely I thought, that (quoting Eric Loch of Talking Points Memo),

"the committee has obtained hundreds of thousands of pages of documents and interviewed dozens of witnesses, that the IRS had spent millions of dollars, and that "we have found no evidence to support allegations of a political conspiracy against conservative groups.""

Chairman Issa responded to this outburst by cutting off Congressman Cummings' microphone. Is there any chance someone will cut off Congressman Issa's endless investigation? I'm afraid not. 2014 is an election year, and Republicans intend to squeeze this scandal for everything it's worth no matter how much of the public's time and money they waste.