Gingrich Warns of Paganism, Cherry Picks Jefferson

Newt Gingrich and Mike Huckabee continue to pander to the religious right, oblivious to the fact that this is what has turned the Republican Party into a regional party of the south and Mormon Belt of the west, while losing a generation of voters. From The Virginian-Pilot (Hat tip to Think Progress):

“I think this is one of the most critical moments in American history,” Gingrich said. “We are living in a period where we are surrounded by paganism.”

They and other speakers warned about the continuing availability of abortion, the spread of gay rights, and attempts to remove religion from American public life and school history books.

Gingrich and Huckabee, a former governor of Arkansas, argued the rights of Americans stem from God and to ignore that connection is perilous. The two were among several speakers, including former U.S. Senate candidate Oliver North, at the three-hour “Rediscovering God in America” event. The event was closed to reporters but was broadcast live on God.TV, an evangelical Web site.

Huckabee told the audience he was disturbed to hear President Barack Obama say during his speech in Cairo, Egypt, on Thursday that one nation shouldn’t be exalted over another.

“The notion that we are just one of many among equals is nonsense,” Huckabee said. The United States is a “blessed” nation, he said, calling American revolutionaries’ defeat of the British empire “a miracle from God’s hand.”

The same kind of miracle, he said, led California voters to approve Proposition 8, which overturned a state law legalizing same-sex marriages.

Voters “did it because some things are right and some things are wrong and they had to make a stand,” said Huckabee, who enjoyed some early grassroots support in Hampton Roads during his unsuccessful run for the GOP nomination last year. He may run again in 2012.

Gingrich, now a consultant and author, said the ties to religion in American government date to the Declaration of Independence, when Thomas Jefferson wrote that men are endowed by God with certain inalienable rights.

“I am not a citizen of the world,” said Gingrich, who was first elected to the U.S. House from Georgia in 1978 and served as speaker from 1995 to 1999. “I am a citizen of the United States because only in the United States does citizenship start with our creator.”

The Declaration of Independence might refer to God but it is also notable that the Constitution does not refer to God or religion except for prohibiting a religious test for holding office and the First Amendment. Such intentional lack of basing government on God was a revolutionary act for its time. It is interesting that Gingrich mentions Jefferson with regards to the Declaration of Independence but ignores Jefferson’s writings regarding separation of church and state. It has been common on the right to promote a revisionist history which denies our heritage of separation of church and state and the intent of the Founding Fathers to establish a secular government.

The American Health Choices Act

As I noted earlier, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee chaired by Edward Kennedy has released a rough draft of a health care plan entitled The American Health Choices Act. The committee will be debating the plan later this month and changes are likely to be made. Even the plan as distributed contains many blanks to be filled in later.

Among the positive points, the plan begins on the first page by stressing the importance of the doctor-patient relationship and states that nothing in the plan interferes with the rights of health care professionals to determine what is best for their patients. The plan also allows patients their choice of health plans and doctors. I’m sure this won’t stop conservatives from falsely claiming that this amounts to a government take over of health care or falsely claiming that this will lead to bureaucrats rather than doctors making medical decisions. My previous  post notes outright untrue statements already being made by conservative bloggers.

Conservatives were also making false claims about John Kerry’s 2004 plan which was far more voluntary than the current plan. My general prediction on health care reform has been that the longer conservatives block proposals the worse the situation will be and the more government involvement will be advocated to fix the problem. I would have preferred we had accepted Kerry’s 2004 plan, and in retrospect many conservatives might now wish they had also backed a voluntary plan of that nature which lacked mandates. My fear is that if conservatives block this year’s plan the entire system of employer-paid health care will collapse within the next decade and we will wind up with an even bigger government plan than this.

The plan would prevent exclusions for preexisting conditions and would require that insurance companies accept every individual and employer in the state who applies for coverage. Rates can only vary based upon factors such as family structure and community ratings. Insurance companies would not be able to deny coverage to those who most need medical coverage as now occurs. Insurance companies would also be unable to refuse to renew coverage once people become ill. There could not be lifetime or annual limitations on coverage and there can only be limited cost sharing for certain preventive services.

The government would subsidize premiums for people with incomes up to 500 percent of the poverty level ($110,000 for a family of four). There will be penalties, supposedly to be set at “the minimum practicable amount that can accomplish the goal” for those who do not obtain coverage. There would be an exemption from penalties if “affordable health care coverage is not available” or if the premium payments would cause “an exceptional financial hardship.” While Obama has backed away from his opposition to mandates, primarily as both Congressional Democrats and the insurance industry backed mandates, he did propose the hardship waiver last week. There will also be breaks for smaller businesses to assist with covering employees.

The bill would expand Medicaid to cover people with incomes up to 150 percent of the poverty level ($16,245 for an individual and $33,075 for a family of four). Ideally a universal health plan would end the discrepancies in coverage based upon income and ultimately eliminate the problem of people who qualify for Medicaid receiving second class care. Ironically a recent Republican proposal, while having its flaws, did a better job of providing the same care to the poor as is received by all (assuming that the Republican plan provides sufficient funding for them to obtain coverage on the individual market).Medicaid patients already have difficulty finding physicians who will accept them and often wind up in Medicaid mills which provide limited care receive Medicaid reimbursement.  I fear that a plan such as this which increases the number of uninsured patients seeking physicians will lead to even more physicians deciding to accept newly insured patients and discontinue seeing Medicaid patients as long a reimbursement remains well below payment for treating patients in other plans.

The plan would include a public plan which uses the Medicare fee schedule but pays 10% more. While I don’t know if this is intentional or accidental, this would make the public plan become more favorable for primary care physicians while less favorable for many procedure-based specialties. In general health care is better and less expensive in an area when there are many primary care physicians, and becomes more expensive when dominated by subspecialists. Many advocates of health care reform have been advocating using reform to increase the number of primary care physicians compared to specialists.

Doing a quick comparison of the fee schedules for office calls from several health plans I participate in I found that they typically do pay a higher amount than Medicare but by amounts less than 10%. Therefore a public plan which pays 10% more than Medicare would be likely to provide higher pay to most primary care physicians. Medicare over the years has attempted to reduce the discrepancy in pay between primary care physicians and subspecialists, but private plans will often pay higher amounts for procedures. I wouldn’t be surprised if many surgeons and other groups of procedure-based specialists were to complain about the pay from the proposed public plan.

I should also point out that comparing allowed amounts for office calls only tells part of the story. While private plans might have a fee schedule paying 8% more than Medicare for an office call, they frequently also  have higher co-pays and deductibles, leaving much of this money uncollectible. Collection percentage from Medicare is much higher than from private plans with Medicare being excellent at paying all claims promptly after being submitted. Collecting money from many private plans often entails much higher office overhead than Medicare, making actual return on their patients less than for Medicare patients despite a higher fee schedule on paper. If all patient had Medicare most primary care physicians would probably come out ahead financially even if paid eighty percent of what Medicare pays due to eliminating plans which pay less, higher collection percentages, and reduced overhead.

The plan does include assisting the states in establishing American Health Benefits Gateways which would be involved in providing insurance choices to individuals. Use of such Gateways would be voluntary with insurance companies being allowed to offer insurance outside of the Gateways and individuals allowed to purchase such coverage. As I noted earlier, conservative bloggers have been posting falsehoods about the Gateways,  confusing regulations for government oversight of the Gateways with review of confidential patient records. While there is new government bureaucracy to be set up, this proposal also appears far less complex and intrusive compared to HillaryCare, which I had opposed.

Health Care Proposal: A Quick Initial Look and The Start of Right Wing Misinformation

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee has released a draft of a health care bill which I have just started wading through (pdf available here). This is just a draft, with debate to begin in the near future, and any final bill is likely to differ. So far I have noticed some things I like and some things I do not and want to complete reading this to comment in detail. (There is even one aspect where a recent Republican proposal was better.)

Of course conservatives don’t have a similar regard for fact or accuracy. Ed Morrissey has already begun attacking the bill based upon a false statement about what it contains, which I’ll mention now as other blogs are picking up his claim. Morrissey quotes this section from pages 39-40:

(1) IN GENERAL – A State shall keep an accurate accounting of all activities, receipts, and expenditures of any Gateway operating in such State and annually submit to the Secretary a report concerning such accountings.

(2) INVESTIGATIONS – The Secretary may investigate the affairs of a Gateway, may examine the properties and records of a Gateway, and may require periodical reports in relation to activities undertaken by a Gateway.  A Gateway shall fully cooperate in any investigation conducted under this paragraph.

Morrissey then makes a false statement in interpreting this provision:

“Gateway” means “provider,” and this appears to do away with that pesky Fourth Amendment, which normally requires search warrants and probable cause to access the records of individuals and businesses.  Not under ObamaCare!  Now, everyone belongs to the government … rather than the other way around.  George Orwell, call your office!

Provider is commonly used to refer to physicians and others who provide health care services. Reading Morrissey’s post made me concerned that this bill would give the government even more authority to investigate my records and patient charts (although in reality they already have considerable ability to do so). Checking out the actual bill revealed that this section means something quite different from what Morrissey suggests. The term Gateway is actually defined on page 23. The bill calls for the creation of American Health Benefits Gateways (subsequently referred to as Gateway) to facilitate the purchase of health insurance products. It makes sense that there be considerable transparency in the operation of such Gateways. Reviewing the records of such Gateways is quite different from having every one’s medical record belong to the government.

Update: I should have also noted that page 24 specifically includes a clause on the voluntary nature of Gateways. It both says that an individual will have a choice of whether or not to enroll in a Gateway and a second part states that “no individual shall be compelled to enroll in a qualified health plan or to participate in a Gateway.”

Update 2: Page 35 deals with Empowering Consumer Choice and allows insurance companies to still offer, and individuals to still purchase, insurance plans that is not a qualified health plan under this proposal. In other words, if you are paranoid about Gateways and other requirements of this proposal you can still purchase insurance outside of this plan. I have no idea if there will be any desirable, affordable insurance policies availalbe outside of this plan, but it sure isn’t easy to find desirable, affordable insurance on the individual market at present.

Update 3: I have more on the plan here.

Government Intervention In The Auto Industry

While I have qualms about the wisdom of the approach, I have frequently mocked those on the right who consider the government’s investment in GM as evidence that Barack Obama is a socialist. Conservatives have a way of pointing out, and often exaggerating, any Democratic act which intervenes in the free market while often ignoring similar actions coming from Republicans. I’ve often receive responses to my criticism of anti-market action by George Bush from the right with claims that Bush was not a true conservative. Pointing out that Richard Nixon  brought the ultimate perversion of the free market, wage and price controls, has been met with responses from younger conservatives that Nixon is ancient history. (Such conservatives should look at how their views differ from those of Barry Goldwater.) While the conservative movement has moved so far to the extreme right that they are actually at odds with pretty much every former Republican leader they tend to continue to worship Ronald Reagan. They have apparently forgotten Reagan’s intervention in the automobile industry.

Conor Clarke points out that the previous time there was major government intervention in the auto industry it came from Ronald Reagan:

It doesn’t get mentioned much, but in 1981 the Reagan Administration asked Japanese automakers to impose a “voluntary export restraint” (VER), which capped at 1.68 million the number of cars Japan could send to the United States each year. Reportedly, this was under threat of an outright tariff, but the VER accomplished just about the same thing. Prices of Japanese cars went up, which allowed American manufacturers to raise their prices too. (This was great for the protected industry — in the short run — and bad for the American consumer.)

In the long run it led to foreign manufacturers building a lot of plants in the US, since cars manufactured here were exempt from the VER. From the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago (pdf): “Having agreed to limit the level of vehicle exports to the U.S., the major Japanese automakers all started producing vehicles in North America. That development resulted in a rather dramatic shift in production by the foreign carmakers from overseas to North America.” So when you think dramatic market interventions that fundamentally changed the face and stability of the American car industry, please, don’t forget Ronald Reagan.

Palinomics and Other Conservative Fantasies

To even consider taking Sarah Palin seriously on, well anything, is laughable. When she was first picked to be John McCain’s running mate my guess was that she was inexperienced but an up and coming conservative who was at least well versed in conservative ideas and had some basic competence in government. It turned out I was wrong and that she is clearly a politician of the George Bush model who knows how to schmooze people to get ahead but is remarkably ignorant when it comes to policy matters. In a recent speech, which I didn’t bother with commenting on at the time because of more important matters to attend to that day (which included happy hour with $2 glasses of Sangria and crab cake sliders) Palin said, “Some in Washington would approach our economic woes in ways that absolutely defy Economics 101, and they fly in the face of principles, providing opportunity for industrious Americans to succeed or to fail on their own accord.” Palin hardly seems to have any understanding of Economics 101, or any other, topic.

Conor Clarke, blaming his RSS reader as opposed to Sangria during happy hour, also didn’t get around to commenting on Palin’s speech until recently. He saw the absurdity in taking Palin seriously as a fiscal conservative, writing “In particular, that line about “industrious Americans” succeeding and failing of their own accord made we want to take a look at the federal dollars Alaska receives per resident relative to its federal tax burden.”

Conor made a chart of the data which is worth glancing at and concluded:

Alaska gets $13,950 per resident from the federal government, more than any other state in the nation. It ranks number one in taxes per resident and number one in spending per resident. It’s also number one in pork-barrel spending. Each Alaska resident receives a check for $3,200 a year from state oil revenues — which Palin bumped up from $2,000 last year. Palin once justified this by saying that the state of Alaska was “set up, unlike other states in the union, where it’s collectively Alaskans own the resources. So we share in the wealth when the development of these resources occurs.” (Sounds socialist!) Industrious indeed.

Paliin sure sounds more like a socialist than those she attacks as socialists, as I noted last October. Rather than having a state where people “succeed or fail on their own” Palin brought in more earmarks per capita than any other state (with John McCain having opposed many of these earmarks).

Clarke only hit on one of the absurdities of Palin’s speech but there were more. She warned of big government that will “control the people,” failing to understand both that the current economic crisis is a partially the result of insufficient government regulation of the banking industry and that pragmatic government action rather than blind adherence to ideology is needed to reverse the slide. While Economics 101 is well beyond Sarah Palin, she might check out a book by an economic conservative (assuming she wouldn’t agree to touch a book by a liberal) who has realized the danger in treating conservative dogma as a religion. While it is probably well beyond her, she should read A Failure of Capitalism: The Crisis of ’08 And The Descent Into Depression by Richard Posner.

In worrying about whether government will “control the people” Palin makes a mistake common among many conservatives and libertarians of confusing the need to limit the power of government with limiting the size of government and taking a knee-jerk opposition to any government economic action. What is important is how much control government has over the lives of individuals. While conservatives dwell on the size of government, liberals are more concerned with limiting the power of government in areas where they do not belong. While the faux libertarian rhetoric of Sarah Palin concentrates on her Voodoo Economic beliefs, she backs increased an increased influence of government in private matters, ranging from her opposition to abortion rights to her support for banning books which offended her supporters who oppose toleration of homosexuals. While liberals have been concerned with restoring the limitations on the power of the executive branch as advocated by the Founding Fathers, Palin has been a supporter of increased government secrecy and wanted to grab even more power than Dick Cheney.

For someone who expresses such concern over whether the government will “control the people,” Palin also displays a rather Orwellian view of First Amendment rights. She believes that the First Amendment was intended to prevent the media from criticizing her, not to protect freedom of the press.

For someone who claims to oppose big government, she supports the two major threats to freedom in America today, the social agenda of the religious right and the “war on terror.” The “war on terror,” along with its associated restrictions on civil liberties, capitalizes on the threat of terrorism to promote a massive increase in the power of the state. Rather than supporting legitimate defense against terrorism (which conservatives have a poor record on), Palin repeated the conservative lines that the Iraq war was about fighting terrorism and their ridiculous mantra that we must fight them there or we will have to fight them at home. In her speech she even said, “It is war over there, so it will not be war over here.” Sarah Palin’s understanding of foreign policy is no better than her understanding of economics–and don’t even get me started on her ridiculous views on scientific research and creationism.