Saturday, June 27, 2015

On same sexmarriage and Thomas Jefferson on changing laws and Constitution to meet changing times

I am indebted to my friend, Denver councilman Kevin Flynn for the following post and the wisdom of Thomas Jefferson.  We often forget that the Constitution in a framework on which our democracy is hung. The issues of the founding fathers are not always the same issues today, but the principles are the same and the decision by the Supreme Court on gay marriage is such an example.  The oft noted abrupt change in public opinion toward same sex marriage and action taken by so many states had the Supreme Court catching up with  majrotity attitudes.
"I am certainly not an advocate for frequent and untried changes in laws and constitutions. I think moderate imperfections had better be borne with; because, when once known, we accommodate ourselves to them, and find practical means of correcting their ill effects.
"But I know also, that laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths disclosed, and manners and opinions change with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also, and keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy, as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors." - Jefferson to H. Tompkinson (AKA Samuel Kercheval), July 12, 1816

Why the Supreme Court's decision on Obamacre care does not make the law more popular

The Supreme Court's decision regarding Obamacare was not one following public opinion, like their decision on gay marriate, but was the reading of the law in context of legislative intent and the essential goal of affordability for all of those who could not afford insurance before.  The law is more popular than before but still not popular by the majority, especially Republicans.   Here is the dilemma: Many more in the US are covered by Medicaid, Medicare, and employer provided insurance than are not. Only 18% were uninsured before the ACA; around 14% now in its second year...with heavier penalties yet to kick in. It is not surprising that those already insured  do not see that Obamacare benefitted them and are only beginning the realize that their friends and relatives are benefitting and no harm was done to them.  This is a case of caring for a minority of citizens and a failure for the insured to see any benefits to them. There are benefits, but if the Administration failed in selling Obamacare, it was to make a strong enough case of how Obamacare benefitted the already insured.

That premiums "soared" or the cost would sink us in the mud of a deficit are bogus fear tactics by die hard enemies of Obamacare.  Premiums have risen, but not to the extent in the past...and a part of that is indeed due to Obamacare.  Obamacare's ability to promote competition was crippled when the public option...a government lower cost insurance plan...was removed from the legislation because that kind of competition would have forced private insurers to adjust the cost of their plans.   There are other cost savings in Obamacare and still a measure of apples to apples comparison of health plans causing participating private plans to compete in price.  The requirement that all plans provide preventative care and checkups without co-pays cannot be discounted since those without insurance were the ones who were more expensive to cover when they turned up unbearably  ill in the emergency room. The result is that health care costs to be covered by government, such as Medicaid and Medicare will be less than otherwise without Obamacare.In fact, years were added to Medicare's life because of Obamacare and the deficit will be less because of it too, per the Congressional Budget Office.  More are paying into the system and fees and taxes charge also reduce costs. The cost shift of charity care to the insured premiums will be reduced, as well.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Court ruling in favor of Obamacare benefits consumers and both political parties

On a decisive 6 to 3 vote, King v Burwell, the US Supreme Court ruled that the legislation implementing Obamacare was constitutional and that the legislative intent that federally administered  insurance could be subsidized.  What this means for consumers is that 6 million subscribers through the federal system will maintain their affordable health insurance and that for everyone else, the rates would not soar.  The subscribers most affected were those who lived in the 35 states that did not set up their own health insurance exchanges through which Obamacare could have been  administered on a state basis. 

Consumers everywhere in the US, regardless of which state, will continue to benefit.
Per, On average, consumers enrolled in the Marketplace are receiving $3,260 per year in taxcredits, or $272 each month. About 8 in 10 consumers could find coverage for $100 orless with tax credits through the Marketplace.

 Kaiser Health had predicted that all insurance rates would have increased eventually more than predicted otherwise if the Court did not uphold the Obamacare law. The Congressional Budget Office also predicted a hit in the long term to the deficit if the law was overturned because indeed there were cost savings built into Obamacare  to the health care system that aided the flattening of the cost curve. Costs were held down by less charity care,  greater competition, and built in preventative care.  With fewer consumers unable to pay their bills and with more consumers getting preventative care and checkups without copays, the entire system would see lower costs than if the Obamacare system were not viable.
Colorado would not have been immediately affected since Colorado was one of the states that set up the state exchange. But in the future, the lack of participation of so many in health insurance in general would have set up conditions that might have made Obamacare financially unsustainable since the whole system depended upon a large number of healthy as well as sick making the pool of insurers large enough to attract even healthy payers.  Our own state health exchange has also come under fire for administrative and financial problems and there is talk of abandoning the state exchange and moving its customers to the federal exchange if the Court ruled in favor of Obamacare.  There is now a plan B, a fallback to the federal exchange, if the state exchange is put on ice by our state legislature.  I would hope the State exchange would survive because its administration is closer to home than Washington, and the State legislature has some control over it.
Politically both Democrats and the GOP can breathe a sigh of relief.  The Obama health care legacy is secure. The GOP would not have to face 6 million hardship stories of those who had to drop insurance and feel  pressure to find an alternative to replace Obamacare.  After years of trying, they have never come up with a comparable replacement.  One of their dumbest  proposals, to remove the individual mandate (already upheld by the Court) and mandates on employers, would have eventually destroyed the system since only the sick would have subscribed, the pool would have had less healthy paying for the sicker, and the cost would have spiraled into its eventual death. Their State legislatures are also off the hook for finding some state funds to keep the subsidies going.  Most of the states not having state run exchanges are red states, so the political uproar would have been more severe in a presidential election year.

For those in the GOP decrying the SCOTUS decision, they offer some very misleading reasons:
That Obamacare caused soaring premiums (in fact premium increases have been less than before Obamacare) and the costs are going to be outrageous (in fact, Obamacare will lower the deficit over time per the CBO).  For the sources and reasons, see the independent, non partisan

A version of this blog appeared in the July 3, 2015

How the ACA benefits all consumers who have health care insurance from any source:
A list from the White House:

Sunday, June 21, 2015

The Charleston church massacre and the power of organized religion

The massacre of nine devout members of the African-American Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, last week was horrific.   The response to it could have gone either way,  either rioting in anger as so much of our long hot spring produced in response to indignation of injustice, or in another direction.  Thanks to the sincerely heartfelt response of Gov. Nikki Haley and Charleston Mayor Joe Riley, the other direction prevailed. Above all, the Christian teaching of the area pastors not to return anger with anger, shaped the attitude of those who had every right to be angry.  The result: the hate filled killer’s goal of creating a race war was not only not realized, the opposite occurred as White and Black congregants joined hands in singing “We Shall Overcome”.   The power of organized religion deserves our nation’s deepest gratitude.
The power of religion was also manifested in another hero whose action resulted in the quick apprehension of the perpetrator, tamping down fears he would strike again, and giving the justice system the ability to act quickly.  The White North Carolina florist employee, Debbie Dills, spotted, reported, and tailed the suspect for 35 minutes until law enforcement made the arrest. She gave credit for her actions to God working through her.
I grew up in the eastern Oklahoma Bible belt where it was a requirement of social acceptance to be an active Christian member of a church with unquestioned faith in God.  When I later saw more of the world, I realized that organized religion could be a force for good or evil, and it could even promote violent division of races and citizens.

We so often hear organized religion as being the cause of conflict. In fact, the haters from the Klan to Bosnia, ISIS, and Syria invoked or enlisted organized religions, cherry picking phrases from their Holy books, to give legitimacy to their atrocities.
But in Charleston, organized religion this time was the agent of peace.   Since the 1950’s Black churches led the fight for civil rights. Their successful movement drew on and caused redefinition of   the Constitutional amendment protecting equal rights to vote.  To succeed, it needed the technique of Rev. Martin Luther King’s peaceful civil disobedience and the communications, networking, and leadership provided by such churches as Emanuel AME.
 Our Constitution does not grant absolute rule to the majority. If the majority vote in the South always got its way, the Civil Rights movement resulting in the 1965 Voting Rights Act would never have happened.  Constitutional amendments and Court interpretations have given greater opportunity for the minorities to get their voices heard. Recent actions by Southern states dominated by White legislatures and White voters to pass laws making it more difficult for minorities to vote are shameful, especially when leaders like Texas Governor Rick Perry justifies it because “ it was passed by the people of Texas” .
 Especially inspirational last week was that White churches have realized that an attack on them is an attack on their religion as well, and they joined hands with their religious Black brothers and sisters in Charleston. The killers’s action was to give a mission to all churches to end the South’s racial divide.

A version of this appeared in the , June 27, 2015

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Time to dust off Joe Biden's plan to end the Iraq conflict?

 The GOP is hooting with glee that President Obama has no plan to stop ISIS.  Hooting back, neither does the GOP have a plan except for the few who want us to interject thousands of boots on the ground with no exit strategy. These same GOP accusers take no responsibility to vote in Congress for any authorization or propose their own plan. They are happy to let Obama take the fall and to lob political rocks at him.  It may be time to dust off Joe Biden’s plan.
Those stone  throwers took out of context   comments  the President made at the G7 Summit that he had no complete plan to defeat Isis. They ignored the rest of the statement in which the President shifted part of the blame to the Iraqi leaders who needed to make commitments and be more inclusive.
We once had   a plan, but it blew up, and the fault lies mostly in Baghdad, not Washington.  The reason we fully withdrew our troops was that the Baghdad government refused to sign a status of forces agreement with the Bush administration to keep our troops from jeopardy of being prosecuted locally by Iraqis for breaking laws. The Bush administration compromised on that point and the final agreement included removal of all troops.  Worse, the Shia dominated government in Baghdad refused to be inclusive of Sunnis and Kurds as promised.
The result is that Iraq has fallen apart and so has our post Iraq plan.  The Sunnis refuse to fight for a Shia government and the newer Shia government, even with more promises of inclusiveness, still maintains its Shia identity and domination.  The Iraqi Shias are loyal to Baghdad. Special Iranian forces are effective against ISIS, as well.  At least their guns are pointed in the same direction as ours.    However, it is not in the interest of US allies for Iran (backers of Hamas and Assad’s Syria) to gain more influence over Baghdad, either, scotching US direct coordination.
 The Obama Administration is now supporting  a Sunni uprising against ISIS . The insertion of 450 trainers and front line “advisors” were added to the already existing 3000 US forces there.  More could be coming.   There have been successes in a strategy of establishing “lily pad” fortresses housing our advisors and Sunni troops positioned in forward conflict areas.

What could a strategy to exit Iraq look like?  One plan, authored by then Senator Joe Biden, would have divided Iraq into its various ethnic/religious divisions, maybe in a federal system, much like the Bosnia solution.  Both Bosnia and Iraq were all or part of countries formed post World War I.  Antagonistic ethnic groups were lumped into one country defined by artificial boundaries.   In Bosnia, 1990’s civil war stalemated thanks to NATO air attacks against Bosnian Serbs and US advisors helping Croats. De facto ethnic cleansing was a reality. All sides were ready to agree to the Dayton Accord.  We are not there yet in Iraq. Maybe the best plan is for stalemating the conflict with enough of our trainers and supplies until all parties are ready to negotiate the breakup or federalization of Iraq.

A reader, Eric, commented on this posting, and provided some excellent sources of alternative views. We can continue to debate whether there were WMD, but the rationale for invasion of Iraq is generally considered a mistake and the unintended consequences were to give rise to Iranian domination over the region.  However, reality is reality, and Eric presented two very credible views of the role the general's advice to keep residual forces in Iraq and the negotiations with Maliki over the immunity of residual forces. Maliki said he could bypass his parliament to give assurances and Obama said it would only work if parliament agreed.  That may have been a missed opportunity, but nonetheless it did not resolve Baghdad's unwillingness to be inclusive and the conflict would have erupted anyway.  That is why I called the problem "mostly Baghdad's fault" because the Obama administration was determined to withdraw troops and did not put more pressure of Maliki or take him up on his unilateral offer.  Nonetheless, the fact remains, the Bush administration set up the compromise on the status of forces.  Amb. Chris Hill's role  is laid out in his memoirs "Outpost", and I invite readers to read his book.  Eric's two sources, from Foreign Affairs, and Politico are worth reading and I will replicate his links here.  I keep wondering how many secular Iraqis were left in Baghdad after the conflict. Obviously not enough to offset Maliki.  I still think Biden's plan will eventually happen de facto without federalism and yesterday it appears from Pentagon comments  that Plan B if the lilly pad strategy fails is to continue US support of the Sunni tribes and Kurds.  I also note that the generals' recommendations were to leave residual forces of 10 K US troops there, we will eventually meet that total there anyway, I do not oppose it. However, to say that 10K troops...or even 24,000  could have stopped ISIS's blitzkrieg is a leap given Baghdad's unwillingness to address the inclusiveness.  of the Sunni tribes
4. Withdrawal Symptoms: The Bungling of the Iraq Exit (link) by OIF senior advisor Rick Brennan.
5. How Obama Abandoned Democracy in Iraq (link) by OIF official and senior advisor Emma Sky. 

Sunday, June 7, 2015

All presidential candidates should be asked these questions about their Iraq policy; answers should not be simple

With the presidential marathon race now off and running, there are  questions  we should demand every candidate to answer.   Top of my list is what to do about  Iraq and ISIS.  Most fascinating so far are the polar opposite views of GOP candidates jockeying for their party’s nomination, ranging from Sen. Lindsey Graham, the ultra hawk, v. Rand Paul, the ultra anti interventionist. There are no simple answers.
Assuming  the establishment wings of the Republican party manage to quash Paul’s candidacy, the likely successful GOP candidates will call for more aggressive policies there.
Recent polls are  showing that the US electorate is still opposed to sending massive  troops,  but more support a limited increase of boots on the ground. Expect the GOP to continue to scare  the wits out of the American public that ISIS is a personal threat to their safety, that the US is incapable of stopping ISIS’ attacks on the homeland, and that they have a solution that  will keep us safe.
Opposition to massive re-invasion of Iraq lags in popularity because many  Americans have not forgotten that  the US deployed 2.5 million troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.  400,000 of them were deployed three or more times. The Iraq war alone cost a conservatively estimated $1.7 trillion dollars of taxpayers’ money. As of April 2014, 6800 US troops had been killed in Iraq.
Where the hawks have an advantage is a message of simplicity.  Send more troops. Never mind even  Graham is only talking about 7,000 special ops and trainers in addition to the 3,000 already there. While forcefully criticizing Obama’s policies, all he proposes is to increase the numbers some. Pres. Obama at the G7 summit Monday indicated he had asked the Pentagon for proposals. Perhaps they are not that far apart.  Still the question lingers,  Would this be a forever intervention with continuing mission creep?
However, the situation in Iraq is not simple.   Unlike 2003  there is now a full blown three way civil war to fill a power vacuum left after the fall of Saddam and the US departure.  ISIS threatens the power of  the Saudi Royal family that has their own caliphate founded on  similar theology, yet the Saudis are usually an ally of the US.     There is  a full scale  religious  civil  war in Islam playing out in Iraq  between the Sunnis (the Arab Muslims) and the Shia, the Iranians.  The Shia dominated  government in Baghdad, closely connected to Iran by a shared religion,  is our ally, but their Sunni troops that had not already joined ISIS,  are not loyal to Shia leadership.  Iranian troops are already engaged fighting ISIS .  Simultaneously,  the Kurds , our most effective allies, hope their participation leads to independence, , which no one else involved wants.
 So the GOP hawks want us to get more involved in this mess and train and arm whom? As a friend of mine says,” How is the everyday Joe supposed to understand this? “ and that is the advantage the GOP hawks have in beating the war drums.