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mareino
2 days ago
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Washington, District of Columbia
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I’m glad ACA repeal failed, but I’m angry about it too

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Republicans won three elections on an argument they never took seriously.

The failure of the House to pass the American Health Care Act (AHCA), leaving the Affordable Care Act unrepealed, is of course great news, both for people who need health care and for the cause of responsible, responsive public policy. That 24 million people will have health insurance who would not have it if the AHCA had passed is reason enough to celebrate. The Affordable Care Act needs continual refining and improvement, which it probably won’t get, but the fundamental framework of the ACA survives, and eventually we’ll return to the task of fixing and expanding it.

Equally important, the failure of the AHCA demonstrated that citizens, mobilized, can still be heard, even in a political process dominated by money and in which elected officials have at times seemed desperate to cut themselves off from their own constituents. And it is notable that President Trump has been exposed as a lousy negotiator, whose clumsy threats and demands held no power, even over representatives in districts Trump won by the highest of his margins. The illusion that dissenters would be deterred by the threat of primary challenges driven by Trump loyalty has been quickly shattered. The rest of Trump and Paul Ryan’s agenda, of which ACA repeal was supposed to be the first and easiest item, has fallen further out of sight.

These are things worthy of celebration, not only because more people will have health care than otherwise, but because they are faint signals that the basic mechanisms of democratic accountability might still be functional.

Yet we should also take a few minutes to be angry, furious even, about the sad last act of this long political showdown, one that consumed, as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell put it this week, “the better part of a decade.”

Consider this: Long before Donald Trump came along, the Republican Party ran four election campaigns — 2010, 2012, 2014, and 2016 — on the promise to rid the country of the hated and oppressive Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare” as they alone called it until 2011, when President Obama unwisely embraced the epithet. In three of those four elections, they captured another arm of government, all on the promise of ACA repeal: the House in 2010, the Senate in 2014, and the White House in 2016.

Every time you read about how many House and Senate seats, how many statehouses, how many thousands of seats in state legislatures turned Republican since 2008, think about how many of them swung on the backlash against the Affordable Care Act. Not all of them, to be sure, but even at the state level, Medicaid expansion and whether to form a state exchange were central questions in a great many election fights, always as symbols of oppressive big government. And there wasn’t one House or Senate race in which some aspect of “Obamacare” didn’t play a major role.

Yet in all this time, the Republican Party never fully articulated an alternative, beyond phrases like “patient-centered” or “market-based.” (The ACA is, in fact, a market-based system.) It’s now seven and a half years since Eric Cantor, then the Republican whip and a rising star, promised a full alternative to the ACA “within a few weeks.” The various repeals Republicans passed were rough sketches, doomed to failure in the Senate or veto, purely symbolic votes.

And then, when the moment came, when Republicans finally had full control of government, it took barely two months for them to admit they hadn’t really thought it through.

It hadn’t really occurred to them that repealing the individual mandate and cutting the subsidies would result in many millions uninsured or raise premiums massively on people in their 50s and 60s. It didn’t seem to have occurred to them that the demands of the House Freedom Caucus members, the most unflinching ideologues to achieve near-total repeal, the desire by less conservative members to keep at least the basic structure of benefits, and the president’s promise to improve every single thing could not be easily accommodated. They hadn’t considered the possibility, indeed the likelihood, that as unpopular as the ACA remained, their own alternative would be even more unpopular, not least because change alone is terrifying to people when they think about health care.

Long before Barack Obama took office, many of the most basic policy choices had been hashed out among health reform advocates, interest groups, and experts left and center, meeting in various configurations. That’s why the basic framework of exchanges, insurance regulations, and subsidies, with the public option and individual mandate as optional features, was central to almost every 2008 Democratic candidate’s proposal (Rep. Dennis Kucinich remained a single-payer supporter, and candidate Obama dodged the individual mandate) and continued to define the basic structure all the way through the long path to enactment.

Everyone involved understood the basic choices, and if they didn’t always like provisions like the individual mandate, they understood that the parts they did like, such as the requirement to cover preexisting conditions, depended on the others.

Despite years to prepare, repeal supporters did none of that work. Options were suddenly discovered and thrown into the bill at the last minute, with unpredictable costs and trade-offs. And while President Trump’s ineptitude, coupled with his vacuous promise to provide better, cheaper health plans that would cover everyone, complicated matters, it’s likely that even if Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio occupied the White House, the result would be the same.

That’s because long before they failed to develop an alternative to the ACA, it had become apparent that Republicans lacked a coherent argument about what was wrong with the law. In the early years, they talked about the individual mandate a lot, as a potent symbol of state control over the individual, but after the Supreme Court upheld the mandate, they lost interest in that argument. They denounced it as a “one size fits all” solution, but that’s actually unspecific and deceptive — what “size” would work better? More recently, and with impressive talking point discipline, they decried it in technocratic terms — it wasn’t working because premiums had soared in some states, and there was only one insurer in many counties. Those are real issues, but they are a long way from treating the ACA as the EZ-Pass Lane on the Road to Serfdom.

And mostly, to the very last moment and even when it had crossed the line to absurdity, they denounced the legislative process of 2009 and 2010. They repeated endlessly then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s line: “We have to pass the bill to find out what’s in it.” They pretended the months of hearings, markups, open floor debates, and careful pauses while waiting for the Congressional Budget Office to score the latest changes had never happened. Even as they pushed their own bill toward the floor without hearings or amendments, they claimed to be operating an open process in contrast to Obama and Pelosi, when the opposite was true.

The usual political advice would hold that an argument about process is rarely persuasive, because people care only about the substance of what they get from government, not how the legislative process got there. Much successful, popular legislation has an ugly creation story, but no one cares.

In the case of the Affordable Care Act, people did care. The “Cornhusker Kickback” and other transactions that won over the last stragglers were remarkably well-known, and the fact the bill passed along party lines (with the forgotten exception of one indispensable vote by former Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine, in the Finance Committee) itself raised questions about its legitimacy.

If the process was illegitimate, the implicit argument went, then it was easy to believe it was less than optimal. Maybe plans could be much cheaper, deductibles lower, or enrollment hassles fewer. If there were problems in our staggeringly complex public-private health insurance system, and there always are, they could be attributed to the corrupt, closed process by which the ACA was passed.

But the failure of repeal shows that the Affordable Care Act process, while it didn’t lead to a perfect result, didn’t leave some better option on the table. It was about as good as Congress could do, within the lines of a private system of exchanges and subsidies to expand coverage.

If the goal of the campaign against the Affordable Care Act was to repeal the Affordable Care Act and leave millions without health care, it failed, thankfully. But if the goal was to win election after election, and virtually wipe out the Democratic Party across much of the country, while never actually engaging with the tough questions of health care, then it succeeded beautifully. And that success lives on. It is really one of the longest, most coordinated political deceptions in American history, and one in which Trump is only a minor player.

Other crises and issues are likely to emerge between now and the 2018 midterm elections. So it’s entirely possible that Republicans will pay no political price attributable to today’s failure 19 months from now. That is to say, Democrats paid a staggering, existential price for finally succeeding in delivering health insurance to almost everyone. And Republicans will pay none for eight years of pretending they had a better, cheaper, painless way to reach the same goal, only to reveal at the end that they had nothing, not even a Laffer curve drawn on a napkin.

I’m still angry about that.

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mareino
2 days ago
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Is Free Speech Good for Muslims?

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Mustafa Akyol

I recently watched a curious debate that took place in 2015 at the Free Press Society of Denmark. On one side was Geert Wilders, the far-right Dutch politician and anti-Islam campaigner whose ascendance to power was, I’m happy to say, checked by the elections in the Netherlands this month. On the other side was Flemming Rose, the journalist who angered many Muslims in 2005 by publishing cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten.

The crux of the debate was what to do with Muslims and Islam in Europe. Mr. Wilders argued that the Quran must be banned and mosques must be shut down. Mr. Rose, in contrast, explained that this view is unacceptably authoritarian, and Muslims deserve freedom like everyone else. “You cannot deny Muslims the right to build a mosque or to establish faith-based schools,” he said, simply because some Europeans find them offensive.

Most Muslims watching this debate would probably sympathize with Mr. Rose, thinking he was defending them. Mr. Rose, however, was merely defending a liberal principle: freedom for all. It was the very principle that led him to publish the cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad — cartoons seen by many Muslims, including me, as offensive.

This is just one of many manifestations of a paradox Muslims, especially those of us living in the West, face in the modern world: They are threatened by Islamophobic forces against which they need the protections offered by liberalism — freedom of speech, freedom of religion, nondiscrimination. But the same liberalism also brings them realities that most of them find un-Islamic — irreverence toward religion, tolerance of L.G.B.T. people, permissive attitudes on sex. They can’t easily decide, therefore, whether liberalism is good or bad for Muslims.

The same paradox can also be seen in the debates over female dress. When illiberal secularists in the West interfere regarding the outfits of conservative Muslim women — with bans on the burqa, the “burkini” or even just the head scarf — the defense is found within liberalism: Women have the right to “dress as they please.” This, of course, is a perfectly legitimate argument in a free society.

But the idea that women can “dress as they please” doesn’t actually go over well with some Muslims — if that means, for example, tight jeans and miniskirts. In Saudi Arabia and Iran women are forced by law to cover their heads. In fact, in some ways Saudi Arabia is a mirror image of the culturally hegemonic dystopia that Mr. Wilders dreams of: a land where the scriptures and shrines of a foreign religion are banned — not the Quran and mosques, in this case, but the Bible and churches.

This is not to say that Muslims who ask for freedom in the West must be held accountable for the lack of freedom in “Islamic” states. But it does mean that Muslim opinion leaders — imams, scholars, intellectuals — should give serious thought to a key question: Is liberalism a good or bad thing for Muslims? Should they embrace freedom or not?

Often Muslims support liberalism when it serves them and reject it when it does not. They use the religious freedom in the West, for example, to seek converts to Islam, while condemning converts from Islam to another religion as “apostates” who deserve death. Or ask for the right to freely organize political rallies in Europe, while you are crushing opposition rallies at home — as the Turkish government recently did during its spat with the Netherlands.

Such double standards can be found in every society. Mr. Wilders himself, who cheers for “freedom” while aiming to ban the Quran, is a striking example. But some contemporary Muslims do it too easily, switching at will between “our rules” and “their rules.” The prominent Turkish theologian Ali Bardakoglu, the former head of the Religious Directorate, wrote about this “double morality” in a recent book and called on fellow Muslims to be more self-critical about it. Muslims should not be, he argued, “people who can surf between different value systems.”

The deeper problem is that Islam, as a legal and moral tradition, developed at a time when the world was a very different place. There was a very limited concept of individual freedom, as people lived in strictly defined communities. There were no notions of international law, universal human rights, the secular state or freedom of religion. Moreover, Muslims were often the dominant faith, making the rules to their advantage — such as tolerating non-Muslims as “protected” but inferior communities.

That premodern world is long gone. There is now an increasingly diverse world where boundaries fade, cultures meet and individuals roam. And the forces that try to reverse this trend — liberal globalization — are often the very forces that despise Islam and threaten Muslims.

Muslim opinion leaders have to decide where they stand. Do we Muslims want a free world with universal principles in which everyone, including us, lives according to their own values? Or do we prefer a segregated world where whoever grabs power imposes their values? And, if we choose the latter, what is going to protect us from all the Geert Wilderses of the world? In fact, what makes us any different?

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mareino
2 days ago
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Notice the elision: writing "cartoons seen by many Muslims, including me, as offensive" is VERY different from writing "the cartoons offended many Muslims, including me."
Washington, District of Columbia
satadru
2 days ago
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New York, NY
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Op-Ed Contributor: To Win Again, Democrats Must Stop Being the Abortion Party

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Hillary Clinton lost the Catholic vote and her unwavering support for abortion rights is one reason.

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mareino
2 days ago
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Or, maybe, consider that the pro-abortion presidential candidate has won the popular vote in 6 of the last 7 elections.
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A tragic reminder: Keeping our streets safe is on all of us

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I ride my bike pretty much anytime I need to get somewhere. And believe you me, drivers who seem oblivious to just how deadly their giant metal box can be make me very angry and very scared. All the time, I find myself wanting to explain this simple thought to anyone behind the wheel: if I hit you, I might damage your car. If you hit me, you might kill me.

What I sometimes forget is that when I ride, I share streets, trails, and sidewalks with people more vulnerable than me. 

On Thursday, March 9th, a southbound cyclist hit Jane Bennett Clark as she stepped into a crosswalk on 13th Street. She died the next day due to a head injury. And while it's unclear why, exactly, this tragedy occured— the Washington Post reported that "police have not said whether the bicyclist went through a red light or if Clark stepped into the street against a pedestrian signal"— that really isn't the point. 

The point is that everyone who uses shared space should be thinking about not only their own wellbeing but also that of others. Regardless of your circumstances, it's worth stepping back and asking whether you have the potential to harm another person, and if the answer is yes, accepting responsibility for avoiding that harm. 

After the news of Clark's death, came out, the Washington Area Bicyclist Association wrote an eloquent letter addressing the subject. It touched on this idea, along with two other very important ones: that it's crucial we keep pushing for design that ensures nobody dies on our streets, and that traffic fatalities involving cyclists and pedestrians are extremely rare. 

WABA's letter made me stop and think, and I wanted to share it. However you use the street, I encourage you to reflect on the message as well:

We don’t know the specifics of this crash, but it is terrible, and should not have happened. Our deepest condolences go to Ms. Clark’s family, friends, colleagues and community.

The Metropolitan Police Department has not announced who, if anyone, made a mistake on Thursday night, but we will be following the crash investigation closely in order to learn how to do our part to prevent it from happening again. One of the core principles of the District’s Vision Zero initiative is that when something goes wrong, it should not be fatal. People make mistakes, and the built environment should be engineered to render those mistakes as harmless as possible. We hope the lessons learned from this terrible crash can prevent it from happening again, not just at this intersection, but anywhere.

That said, the same principle applies to bicycling as it does to driving: if you can’t see and react to a human being on the road in front of you, you are going too fast. Yield to people who are more vulnerable. This is not just the law, it’s how to be a responsible member of the community. It is your responsibility not to hurt anyone with your vehicle, whether you’re riding a bike or driving a car.

WABA works hard to make sure that our region’s bicyclists know how to ride safely. Our education and outreach teams interact with thousands of bicyclists every year. We teach people the rules of the road and how to ride respectfully around pedestrians, drivers and other bicyclists.

Deadly crashes between pedestrians and bicyclists are heartbreaking and rare. Of the 317 fatal crashes in the District in the last decade, only one other involved a pedestrian hit by a bicyclist. Both should not have happened. Fatal crashes are preventable. Our region’s governments have started the process of building systemic solutions to traffic fatalities, but changing laws and infrastructure is a slow process.

We here at WABA hope that everyone who travels in the region takes some time to feel the full sadness of this crash. Our roads and trails and sidewalks are shared space. When we bike and drive, we have to move through that space with a complete understanding of the risks our motion poses to others, and we have to let that understanding guide our behavior every time we travel.

The staff and board of WABA send our heartfelt condolences to the family, friends, and community of Jane Bennett Clark.

I echo WABA's condolences. 

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mareino
5 days ago
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Your vote in the 2016 election explains almost everything about your climate beliefs

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For “not a partisan issue,” climate change sure looks like a partisan issue.

As we wait for President Trump’s long-promised executive order dismantling President Obama’s restrictions on carbon pollution — part of his broader assault on Obama’s environmental legacy — let’s have another look at public opinion on climate change.

As I have written before (see here and here), there is a deep and abiding partisan divide in opinion on global warming. That divide has held steady for decades now, through shifting weather, political administrations, and cultural moods.

It is not strange that this partisan divide on climate should exist. America is deeply divided along partisan lines, and that is reflected in public opinion on almost every issue, political or otherwise.

What is strange is how much trouble climate hawks, scientists, and environmentalists have had accepting what is right in front of their faces. Millions of words have been written over the years attempting to plumb the socio-psychological depths of climate denialism — endless polls, studies, surveys, focus groups, A-B tests, and analyses seeking an explanation for the alleged mystery of how millions of people could reject well-established scientific conclusions.

But it is no mystery. Republicans deny climate change because they are Republicans and that’s what Republicans do.

The climate split is the partisan split

The analysts at Rhodium Group have found a nice visual way to illustrate the point. They started with data from the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, which runs a big survey on climate change opinion every year (here’s 2016).

Yale surveys more than 18,000 adults and then runs various kinds of statistical regressions (more on methodology here) to derive county-level data on climate opinion. They then generate opinion maps on various climate-related topics. (I covered 2015’s here.)

Anyway, here’s the map of belief that humans are causing climate change:

yale climate opinion data (Rhodium)

Now here is a county-level map of 2016 presidential election voting results:

county-level election data (Rhodium)

Notice any similarities? Yeah. They are very close to identical.

Rhodium puts a number on it: “86% of the variation across counties in respondent’s belief that ‘global warming is mostly caused by human activity’ is explained by voting preference.”

correlation between climate opinion and voting (Rhodium)

Another way of saying this: For practical purposes, most of what you need to know about people’s beliefs on climate change you can glean from their partisan affiliation. To a first approximation, most Democrats accept anthropogenic climate change, and most Republicans don’t.

That’s is a somewhat boring and frustrating conclusion, but it points to the only real path out of this mess.

Research shows that most people do not have particularly firm or coherent opinions on political issues. They don’t really think in terms of “issues” at all, not the way journalists and other politicos do. For the most part, they don’t read or watch political media. They are busy with lives and jobs and families and don’t have time to study policy disputes and form their own independent opinions.

Especially when it comes to something like climate change, which for most people is largely an abstraction, they are content to adopt the beliefs and tropes of their tribes, to go along with what their peers and trusted authorities say. This is true of Republicans and Democrats alike.

Republicans will accept that climate change is an urgent problem that warrants a policy response when leaders in conservative politics and media begin treating it that way. That is the only thing that can or will change the partisan divide on climate.

If you want to know what will bring conservative leaders and politicians around, the right level of analysis is not cognitive or psychological but political — it’s about money and power.

That is the simple and long since obvious truth behind the alleged mystery of climate denial.


Addendum: clean energy and pollution controls are more popular

It’s worth noting that environmental policies and solutions have not been completely caught up in the climate opinion maelstrom.

Yale also surveyed opinion on carbon controls on power plants (like the Clean Power Plan) and renewable portfolio standards (which require utilities to sell a certain amount of clean energy).

The results still distinctly show the effects of partisanship. “Voter preference in the 2016 Presidential election,” Rhodium writes, “explains 83% of the cross-county variation in both instances.”

partisan correlation (Rhodium)

But notice something else about these numbers: They are much higher. Carbon pollution standards are supported by an average of 69 percent of Americans. Renewable energy standards are supported by 66 percent. (This compares with 53 percent who accept human-caused climate change.)

The partisan divide shapes public opinion on solutions — clean air and clean energy — just like it does on climate change. But it has not dragged them down as far. They remain broadly popular, uniting Democrats and splitting Republicans. It is odd that ambitious young Democrats don’t make better use of them.

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mareino
5 days ago
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I have long been fascinated by the people who don't think humans cause global warming, but do support renewable energy.
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