Benefits Of The Stimulus

I have already had a recent post on the success of the stimulus but as The New York Times brought the topic up again today, and there has been so much misinformation spread, it is worth reviewing again what was achieved by the stimulus:

The stimulus could have done more good had it been bigger and more carefully constructed. But put simply, it prevented a second recession that could have turned into a depression. It created or saved an average of 1.6 million jobs a year for four years. (There are the jobs, Mr. Boehner.) It raised the nation’s economic output by 2 to 3 percent from 2009 to 2011. It prevented a significant increase in poverty — without it, 5.3 million additional people would have become poor in 2010.

And yet Republicans were successful in discrediting the very idea that federal spending can boost the economy and raise employment. They made the argument that the stimulus was a failure not just to ensure that Mr. Obama would get no credit for the recovery that did occur, but to justify their obstruction of all further attempts at stimulus.

So the American Jobs Act was killed, and so was the infrastructure bank and any number of other spending proposals that might have helped the country. The president’s plan to spend another $56 billion on job training, education and energy efficiency, to be unveiled in his budget next month, will almost certainly suffer a similar fate.

This may be the singular tragedy of the Obama administration. Five years later, it is clear to all fair-minded economists that the stimulus did work, and that it did enormous good for the economy and for tens of millions of people. But because it fell short of its goals, and was roundly ridiculed by Republicans and inadequately defended by Democrats, who should have trumpeted its success, the president’s stimulus plan is now widely considered a stumble.

This enabled Republicans to champion an austerity policy that produced deep reductions in discretionary spending, undoing many of the gains begun in 2009. The result has been a post-stimulus recovery that remains weak and struggling, undermining an economic legacy that should be seen as a remarkable accomplishment.

The legacy of that policy, detailed by the White House last week in its final report on the effects of the stimulus, affects virtually every American who drives, uses mass transit, or drinks water. It improved 42,000 miles of road, fixed or replaced 2,700 bridges, and bought more than 12,000 transit vehicles. It cleaned up water supplies, created the school reforms of the Race to the Top program, and greatly expanded the use of renewable energy and broadband Internet service.

It’s probably too late for the White House to persuade skeptics about its program, but its assessment echoes the views of many independent economists and the independent Congressional Budget Office. “The Recovery Act was not a failed program,” the C.B.O.’s director, Douglas Elmendorf, told annoyed Republican lawmakers in 2012. “Our position is that it created higher output and employment than would have occurred without it.”

Government spending worked, helping millions of people who never realized it. And it can work again, whenever lawmakers agree that putting people to work is more important than winning ideological fights.

In retrospect the evidence is pretty clear that the stimulus should have been bigger, but at the time I have my doubts as to whether a bigger stimulus could have passed. Republican arguments about the harm of spending money we don’t have, even if simplistic and not well grounded in economics, were believed by too many people, and often accepted by the media. As I noted in December, the media often presents deficit-cutting as the centrist or desired viewpoint when there are times when increased government spending is needed to stimulate the economy. While Obama did too little, criticism of him must be balanced by the knowledge that the Republicans would have created far more damage with austerity budgets accompanied by further tax cuts for the ultra-wealthy.

Cross posted at The Moderate Voice

Selective Reading of Bible To Support Discrimination

It can be a difficult question when deciding whether an individual business owner should be legally compelled perform acts which violate their religious beliefs. A bill passed in Arizona allows discrimination as long as it is claimed to be done based upon religion. As Jed Bartlett pointed out in the video above from The West Wing, those who cite the Bible to oppose homosexuality are cherry picking and ignoring many other Biblical passages.

Kirsten Powers and Jonathan Merritt make the same point at The Daily Beast and examine other related issues. Even if we ignore the question of cherry picking passages from the Bible, is baking a wedding cake or taking pictures really mean they are affirming practices in violation of their religion?

The Arizona law seems to apply to services beyond those tied to weddings, but same-sex weddings are the impetus for these bills. Specifically, they are in response to lawsuits against three different Christians who refused to photograph, bake a cake, and sell flowers for same-sex weddings. The backers of these laws claim that a Christian cannot, in good conscience, provide a good or service for a same-sex wedding because it violates the teachings of Christianity.

If these bills become law, we could see same-sex couples being denied service not just by photographers and florists, but also restaurants and hotels and pretty much anyone else who can tie their discrimination to a religious belief.

Many on the left and right can agree that nobody should be unnecessarily forced to violate their conscience. But in order to violate a Christian’s conscience, the government would have to force them to affirm something in which they don’t believe. This is why the first line of analysis here has to be whether society really believes that baking a wedding cake or arranging flowers or taking pictures (or providing any other service) is an affirmation. This case simply has not been made, nor can it be, because it defies logic.  If you lined up 100 married couples and asked them if their florist “affirmed” their wedding, they would be baffled by the question.

Strangely, conservative Christians seem to have little interest in this level of analysis and jump right to complaints about their legal and constitutional rights. It’s not that these rights don’t matter. Rather, they should be a secondary issue for Christians. Before considering legal rights, Christians wrestling with this issue must first resolve the primary issue of whether the Bible calls Christians to deny services to people who are engaging in behavior they believe violates the teachings of Christianity regarding marriage. The answer is, it does not.

Nor does the Bible teach that providing such a service should be construed as participation or affirmation. Yet Christian conservatives continue to claim that it does. So it seems that the backers of these bills don’t actually believe what they are saying.  Because if they truly believe that a vendor service is an affirmation, then they need to explain why it is only gay and lesbian weddings that violate their conscience.

If you refuse to photograph one unbiblical wedding, you should refuse to photograph them all. If not, you’ll be seen as a hypocrite and as a known Christian, heap shame on the Gospel. As all Christians know, Jesus saved his harshest words for the hypocritical behavior of religious people. So, if Christian wedding vendors want to live by a law the Bible does not prescribe, they must at least be consistent.

Before agreeing to provide a good or service for a wedding, Christian vendors must verify that both future spouses have had genuine conversion experiences and are “equally yoked” (2 Corinthians 6:14) or they will be complicit with joining righteousness with unrighteousness. They must confirm that neither spouse has been unbiblically divorced (Matthew 19). If one has been divorced, vendors should ask why. Or perhaps you don’t even have to ask. You may already know that the couple’s previous marriages ended because they just decided it wasn’t working, not because there were biblical grounds for divorce. In which case, you can’t provide them a service if you believe such a service is affirming their union.

If your hotel is hosting the wedding and you don’t see rings on both individual’s fingers, you must refuse to rent them only one room. The unmarried couple must remain in separate rooms until after the ceremony. Otherwise, you may be complicit in fornication. And of course, you must not under any circumstances rent a room to a gay or lesbian couple.

There are other issues involved in actually performing a religious ceremony:

Performing a marriage ceremony is a case where the first criterion in the analysis is met: it is without question affirming a marriage. Even so, orthodox Christian pastors have not singled out gay weddings in the way that the people backing these bills have. While these pastors won’t perform a gay or lesbian wedding, many also would not perform a wedding where one of the participants was unbiblically divorced, nor would they perform a wedding between a non-believer and a believer or a one between two atheists. Christian wedding vendors and the leaders admonishing them to turn away gay wedding customers seem unconcerned about all these other categories of unbiblical marriages.

I do think that someone performing a marriage ceremony is in a clearly different situation than a photographer or baker and should have complete discretion as to who they perform a ceremony for, regardless of the reason. If we have an isolated case of a baker or photographer practicing discrimination this might not be enough to be terribly concerned about, but such discrimination should certainly not be supported by law.

Cross posted at The Moderate Voice

SciFi Weekend: Black Widow; Arrow; Continuum; House of Cards; Fantastic Four; Hannibal; Man From UNCLE; The Americans; Two More US Remakes Of British Shows; Karen Gillan; If Ikea Sold A TARDIS

Black Widow

Variety reports that Black Widow will continue to have a major role in upcoming Marvel movies and then Scarlett Johansson will star in her own stand-alone movie:

According to Chris Evans, who plays Captain America, Black Widow’s storyline in “The Winter Soldier” revolves around “her coming to terms with her history, that she’s been a spy, and spies aren’t necessarily trustworthy,” he told Total Film.

That will be further explored in “The Avengers: Age of Ultron,” out in 2015. Film starts production in March.

“(Black) Widow’s part in that is very big,” Feige said. “We learn more about her past and learn more about where she came from and how she became in that film. The notion of exploring that even further in her own film would be great, and we have some development work with that. When we meet the Avengers at the top of ‘Age of Ultron,’ it’s a very different landscape than we left them at the end of the first film. Partially, that’s because we love the rhythm that the comicbooks have developed — each of the characters appear in their runs, occasionally they get together for a big event or crossover series, they part again, and then they come back together again.”

It’s unclear whether Marvel hopes to have a Black Widow movie become part of its third phase of films, which so far includes “Ant-Man,” “Doctor Strange” and the third installments of “The Avengers” and “Captain America.”

Phase two includes “Iron Man 3,” “Thor: The Dark World,” “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “The Avengers: Age of Ultron.”

Bringing Sarah into Team Arrow raises questions as to Felicity’s role. That is answered with a Felicity-centered episode. Preview above. More about Arrow here.

After Arrow, I’m far more willing to take a show on CW seriously. They have ordered  pilots from the creators of Sleepy Hollow and Veronica Mars:

The CW has given pilot orders to dramas Identity, from Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, Jane the Virgin, from Jennie Snyder Urman, and iZombie from Rob Thomas, TVGuide.com has learned.

In Identity, when a young woman in need of a transplant learns she is related to a powerful family whose son is her only hope for a donor organ, the CIA approaches her to investigate the family’s involvement in domestic terrorism and to infiltrate their rarified world.  Her loyalty, morality and ethics are tested as she’s forced to slowly build a case against the family who saved her life. Sleepy Hollow‘s Kurtzman and Orci will executive-produce with The Good Wife‘s Corinne Brinkerhoff, who will also write. Heather Kadin, Rob Golenberg and Alon Aranya are also attached as executive producers…

Based on DC Comics’ series, iZombie is a supernatural crime procedural about a med student-turned-zombie who takes a job in the coroner’s office to obtain the brains she must eat to maintain her humanity. However, with every brain she consumes, she also inherits the corpse’s memories. In order to silence those disturbing voices in her head, she solves homicide cases along with her medical examiner boss and a police detective. Veronica Mars‘ Thomas and Diane Ruggiero will write and executive-produce with Danielle Stokdyk and Dan Etheridge.

Showcase has released another trailer for the third season of Continuum. It returns on  March 16  or you can wait until April 4 and see cut episodes on SyFy. Guess which version I plan to watch.

If you haven’t seen the first episode of season two of House of Cards yet, you just better get off the Internet if you don’t want to see spoilers. It turns out that the shocking event from the first episode was planned from the start with a similar event in the season finale of the first season of the U.K. version. How realistic is the show? A star such as Robin Wright may or may not know very much about actual political life, but it is easy to have their opinion covered by being a bit titillating:

During a Q&A in the upcoming issue of Capitol File magazine, a reporter asked whether Wright’s White House source thought the fictional events depicted in the Netflix series were close to the mark.

“Did she think reporters sleeping with sources and members of Congress was factual?” the reporter asked.

“Oh, yeah,” the actress replied. “D.C. is more corrupt than Hollywood. It really is. It’s more sleazy than Hollywood… how much infidelity goes on.”

Kate Mara might soon become better known for another genre role. The cast has been announced for the Fantastic Four reboot, with Mara playing Sue Storm. Think how House of Cards might have turned out differently if Zoe Barnes also had Sue Storm’s power to turn invisible.

Orange Is The New Black returns on Netflix on June 6. No relation to Black Widow, Black Canary, or Orphan Black.

Hannibal returns on February 28, with the first season available to binge on Netflix and Amazon. Here is some more information on  the second season.

man-from-uncle-henry-cavill-set-filming-3

Open Channel D. The Man From UNCLE movie opens on January 16, 2015. The movie stars Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer, Alicia Vikander, Elizabeth Debicki, Jared Harris, Hugh Grant and Luca Calvani. One of the key things I remember from the original show was the use of cigarette cases and pens as communication devices. Is there any point in this with smart phones? But if these are not used, will the movie really feel like UNCLE? It might be fun to go back and look at some of the old episodes to see how they stand up today. My guess is that they would be better than SHIELD.

Actually Agents of SHIELD has improved. They did try experimenting with storytelling a little in the last episode, TRACKS, telling the same story from the perspective of different characters. I also enjoyed seeing a train heist as it reminded me of one of the first Joss Whedon shows I had ever seen, The Train Job episode of Firefly. (Yes, I have never seen Buffy). The episode ended with a cliff hanger but I doubt Skye is really dead considering how they appear in the midst of developing her back story. Besides, people on comic-based shows are rarely ever dead. A clue to this is that the next episode when SHIELD returns from hiatus will be entitled  TAHITI. Bill Paxton will be joining to assist in saving Skye.

Producer Joel Fields answered questions about the second season of The Americans, which returns this week. One of my favorite moments from the first season was when Reagan was shot and the Russians saw it as a coupe attempt by Alexander (“I am in control here”) Haig. Fields was asked if any real life events will be included in the second season:

Season two will begin in early 1982 and, as our show was last season, it will be informed – but not shaped – by real life events. Philip and Elizabeth will deal with threats ranging from the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan to the covert American assistance taking place in Nicaragua, and everything they do will happen under the specter of constant brinkmanship that was a hallmark of US-Soviet relations at that time.

Last year it was discovered that Robert Galbraith was really a pseudonym for J.K. Rowling. She has a second novel about Cormoran Strike coming out on June 19. With character names such as Cormoran Strike, we should have guessed who the author was.

Joel McHale of Community will be hosting the White House Correspondents Dinner on May 3.

Broadchurch US

The first pictures have been released from filming of Gracepoint, the US remake of Broadchurch. David Tennant reprises his staring role from the ITV version, along with Anna Gunn of Breaking Bad.

An American adaptation of Utopia is being planned by HBO and is to be written by Gone Girl author Gillian Flynn.

Both Broadchurch and Utopia have completed their first season in the U.K. and will be returning for a second season. The first season of each was excellent, but as accustomed as I have become to downloading shows from the U.K. I can’t help but wonder why they don’t just show the original versions here. Yes, there are references which Americans might not understand, and David Tennant’s accent was a bit thick in the ITV version, but I think American audiences can cope. Look how popular Downton Abbey and Call the Midwife are becoming here without need to remake them for American audiences.

The above trailer has been released for Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy.

Karen-Gillan-Joins-Selfie-Comedy

Doctor Who and Guardians of the Galaxy star Karen Gillan has been cast in an American sit-com, Selfie:

The actress, who next appears in Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy and Oculus, has been tapped to star in ABC’s Emily Kapnek comedy Selfie, The Hollywood Reporter has learned.

The modern take on My Fair Lady is inspired by the musical and tells the story of a self-obsessed 20-something woman named Eliza Dooley (Gillan) who is more concerned with “likes” than being liked. After suffering a public and humiliating breakup, she becomes the subject of a viral video and suddenly has more social media “followers” than she ever imagined — but for all the wrong reasons. She then enlists the help of a marketing expert at her company to help repair her tarnished image.

The casting marks the Scotland native’s return to TV following Doctor Who — where she played the Doctor’s companion, Amy Pond, for more than 30 episodes on the show’s fifth through seventh seasons — and Adult Swim’s NTSF: SD: SUV

No word as to whether Karen Gillan will be doing any nude writing or baking as in  Not Another Happy Ending.

I’ve seen a number of posts about people building their own TARDIS. With so much interest, it is only a matter of time until Ikea comes up with a kit. This is what the experience might be like:

TARDIS Ikea

Dogs Have Special Reaction To Human Speech

Liberals might like cats, but it might be their dogs who understand them. From PBS Newshour:

In a finding sure to delight many a dog lover, a study published Thursday suggests the brains of canines react to human voices in a very human-like way.

The study, published in the journal Current Biology, was conducted by scientists at Eotvos University in Budapest and concluded that dogs’ brains contain a vocal region that functions similarly to the region located in the temporal lobe of human brains. In addition, the researchers found that vocal emotional cues activated a similarly located non-primary auditory region of the brain in both humans and canines.

Translation? The next time you hear a pet owner say their beloved pooch can actually understand what they’re saying, they may be correct.

The study placed 11 well-trained pups and 22 human subjects inside an MRI machine and measured the location and response characteristics of electrical impulses in their brains after playing an array of 200 different noises for them ranging from car sounds and whistles to human voices. The findings were striking.

“We do know there are voice areas in humans, areas that respond more strongly to human sounds that any other types of sounds,” Dr. Attila Andics, the lead author of the study, explained to BBC. “The location (of the activity) in the dog brain is very similar to where we found it in the human brain. The fact that we found these areas exist at all in the dog brain is a surprise — it is the first time we have seen this in a non-primate.”

Beyond simple vocal recognition and processing, the study confirmed something dog owners have long suspected: dogs can understand and react to human emotions.

“We know very well that dogs are very good at tuning into the feelings of their owners,” said Andics, “and we know a good dog owner can detect emotional changes in his dog – but we now begin to understand why this can be.”

Andics said this points to the ancient history between humans and dogs, and that the evolutionary origins of the species’ relationship may have even older origins than previously known…

Posted in Science. No Comments »

The Battle For Control Of Congress 2014

While the media is increasingly talking about the 2016 presidential election, we have a major election coming up for control of Congress later this year. At present it appears that it is unlikely for the Democrats to take control of the House, and they are now fighting to retain control of the Senate. Predictions that the Republicans will hold the House and possibly take the Senate are based upon historical trends and which Senate seats are up for reelection this year. Of course it is possible to see a break from past trends.

Among the trends causing people to predict this to be a good year for Republicans: minorities and young voters don’t vote as often in off-year elections, a president’s party generally does poorly in the sixth year of the president’s term, a president’s party does poorly when the president has low approval ratings, and a president’s party does poorly when the economy is having difficulties.

On top of this, the Democrats are defending Senate seats in several red states this year, giving the Republicans a chance to pick up some seats. Fortunately the situation is reversed in 2016 with more blue-state Republicans up for reelection. Based upon these fundamentals in a presidential election which is likely to already be more favorable to the party, a Democrat winning the White House should also see a pick up of several Senate seats.

The Republican Party has been working in other ways to pick up votes. They have made voter suppression a major part of their electoral strategy, along with continuing the Southern Strategy based upon racism and now xenophobia. On the other hand, their history of racism may backfire with the increase in minority voters, possibly turning some southern states blue in the near future. We saw this first in Virginia and to a lesser degree in North Carolina. In the future this could extend to Georgia, Texas, and additional states.

Republicans have an advantage in keeping control of the House as so many House districts are gerrymandered to protect the incumbent. In addition, Democrats tend to be more concentrated in urban areas, meaning that even if more people vote for Democrats than Republicans, the Republicans will win more seats by small margins while Democrats will win a smaller number with bigger majorities. More people voted for Democrats than Republicans in Congressional races in 2012 but the Republicans retained control of the House. It would probably take at least  a seven percent margin of victory for Democrats to take control of the House. Republican representation in the Senate is also exaggerated compared to their level of support due to lesser populated Republican states having the same number of Senators as more populated Democratic states.

There are some things which could throw off the fundamentals this year, but we cannot count on voters suddenly no longer being fooled by the GOP line. At present the Republicans receive far too many votes from low-information white voters. Over time the number of younger voters who receive their fake news from Jon Stewart will overtake the older voters who receive their fake news from Fox.

While Obama’s approval rating is low, Congress has an even lower approval rating. Typically in such situations people like their own Congressman even if they disapprove of Congress. This year polls show that many people also think their own Congressman should be thrown out. Based upon this, I wouldn’t be surprised if more incumbents than usual get upset, but that might not necessarily help the Democrats over Republicans. In addition, more people see the Republicans as being more responsible for gridlock, in contrast to a common false media narrative of treating each party as being equally responsible. Maybe they will surprise the pundits and throw the Republicans out.

Another factor influencing whether predictions based upon the fundamentals must occur is that any competent Democratic strategist is aware of every point here, and the party is doing far more than they did in 2010 to try to change this. They are working to increase turnout among Democratic voters this year. They  have a technological edge both in regards to get out the vote efforts and fund raising. It even appears that the same problems which are placing Republicans at a disadvantage with younger voters is also impacting their ability to recruit young tech savvy political operatives. Besides using their technological advantages over Republicans in getting out the vote efforts, they can  motivate Democratic voters with fear of the consequences of the Republicans taking control of the Senate. Tea Party extremism has led to an end to talk of a grand bargain. Democratic compromises on entitlement programs might have discouraged some voters on the left from turning out for Democrats.

I think Democrats will do better if they can successfully explain the advantages of their policies as opposed to Republican policies. Democratic economic policies turned around the economic collapse caused by Republican economic policies, even if the Republicans have managed to slow recovery with their obstructionist moves, decided upon from the start of Obama’s term. The deficit rolled up by George Bush has dropped considerably since Obama took office. The CBO  projects a deficit of $514 billion in 2014, representing three percent of the Gross Domestic Product. This is near the average level for the past forty years, and a vast improvement from 2009 when the deficit was at 10.1 percent of GDP.

Despite early IT problems, which the Obama administration does deserve criticism for, the Affordable Care Act has turned into a tremendous success on a policy level, both in terms of health care reform and its benefits for the economy. Both the Medicare Advantage plans under George Bush and the original Medicare program had early implementation problems which took a couple of years to solve. Of course Republicans will continue to spread unsubstantiated scare stories and it is possible Obama might never received the credit he deserves. Health care premiums will be remain high on the individual market as they were high before Obamacare. Insurance companies will continue to use restricted panels of physicians and hospitals as they did before Obamacare, leaving room for Republicans to blame the Affordable Care Act for problems unrelated to the law.

Other factors could come into play. The Tea Party might oust electable Republicans and replace them with extremist candidates which the Democrats can more easily beat. While doubtful, the Tea Party might force Congressional Republicans into a situation analogous to the government shut-down before the election which reduces public support for Republicans. While it is doubtful it will really alter that many votes, even the changes in the late night comedians could help the Democrats over the Republicans.

The easy prediction is now that the Republicans will keep control of the House and control of the Senate is up for grabs. Depending upon whether the factors discussed above alter the usual fundamentals, we still might wind up seeing the pundits talking about all the reasons they knew we would have a different outcome after the results are known.

Cuts To Medicare Advantage Plans Half Of Amount Expected–Watch For Hypocritical Republican Reaction

Paul-Ryan-End-Medicare

One of the ways in which the Affordable Care Act is funded is by reducing subsidies to Medicare Advantage plans which receive more money to care for Medicare beneficiaries than it costs to care for the same patients in the government Medicare program. Republicans have been using this to raise bogus claims of cuts to Medicare patients despite the fact that Republicans have also included similar cuts to Medicare Advantage plans in their budget proposals.

Insurance companies have been predicting cuts of approximately 7 percent. CMS released their calculations today regarding proposed cuts for 2015 (pdf here). The current proposal is for a 3.55% cut in payments to Medicare Advantage plans, about one-half of what they have been projecting.

The Republican Party was already prepared today to use this news to attack the Democrats. They do not explain why it is necessary for private companies, which any Republican believes should be more efficient than a government program, requires more money to care for patients than the government Medicare plan does. Nor do they account for the fact that most Republicans voted for the Ryan budget three years in a row which includes the same cuts to Medicare Advantage plans. Or what about the same Ryan plan which would turn Medicare into a voucher system?

Also don’t expect the Republicans to point out that, while the Affordable Care Act will cut profits to Medicare Advantage plans, it also increases benefits to Medicare patients including phasing out the donut hole for prescription drugs and covering preventative services which were previously not covered.

Cross posted at The Moderate Voice

Tom DeLay Says Americans Forgot That God Created This Nation And Wrote The Constitution

“I think we got off that track when we allowed our government to become a secular government, when we stopped realizing that God created this nation, that He wrote the constitution, that’s based on biblical principles.” –Tom DeLay

Video of the interview where DeLay said this in the video above, via Right Wing Watch

Contrary Views From Previous Posts:

Alan Dershowitz Debunks John McCain’s Claim of a Christian Nation

Recently John McCain–whose presidential campaign is in the sewer–declared that “the Constitution established the United States of America as a Christian nation.” What an ignoramus! McCain should go back to school and take Civics 1, where he might learn that the United States Constitution was called “the godless constitution,” by its opponents, because it was the first constitution in history not to include references to God or some dominant religion. The Constitution mentions religion only once, in prohibiting any religious test for holding office under the United States.

The Bill of Rights mentions religion twice, once in prohibiting an establishment of religion (a clear reference to any branch of Protestant Christianity, which was then the dominant religion) and a second time, in guaranteeing the free exercise of all religions. Several years after the ratification, the Senate ratified a treaty with the Barbary regime of Tripoli which expressly proclaimed that “the Government of the United States is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion.” In fact, many of our Founding Fathers, including the author of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson, were not Christians but rather were deists. In other words, they believed in the existence of God, but not in the divinity of Jesus or the divine authorship of the bible. Today they might be called Unitarians; in fact, John Adams, another author of the Declaration, and the President under whom the treaty was ratified, is buried in a Unitarian church, along with his wife Abigail and his son John Quincy.

Roger Williams–the religious leader most responsible for separating church and state in America–put it very well a century earlier: “no civil state or country can be truly called Christian, although the Christians be in it.” That is what is so striking about American history, namely, that a nation of Christians ratified a Constitution that did not in any way establish “the United States as a Christian nation.”

Joseph Ellis On The Creation of A Secular State

[The Founding Fathers] created the first wholly secular state. Before the American Revolution it was broadly assumed that shared religious convictions were the primary basis for the common values that linked together the people of any political community, indeed the ideological glue that made any sense of community possible. By insisting on the complete separation of church and state, the founders successfully overturned this long-standing presumption.

Cross posted at The Moderate Voice

If Obamacare Is So Bad, Why Can’t The Right Wingers Find Real Losers Under Obamacare?

Republicans have trying to scare voters with stories about people who are losers under the Affordable Care Act. They mention them in speeches, run ads about them, and put them on Fox. Each and every time this has happened reporters checking into the facts found that rather than being losers the people turned out to actually be benefiting from Obamacare. Each and every time. Considering how hard they are trying to show that Obamacare is terrible, you would think that if there are actual losers out there  they would find some.

The latest case, which is quite typical of all the others, is put out by Americans For Prosperity in Michigan and makes these claims:

“I was diagnosed with leukemia. I found out I only have a 20 percent chance of surviving. I found this wonderful doctor and a great health care plan. I was doing fairly well fighting the cancer, fighting the leukemia, and then I received a letter. My insurance was canceled because of Obamacare. Now, the out-of-pocket costs are so high, it’s unaffordable. If I do not receive my medication, I will die. I believed the president. I believed I could keep my health insurance plan. I feel lied to. It’s heartbreaking for me. Congressman Peters, your decision to vote Obamacare jeopardized my health.”

Glenn Kessler looked into the facts. Once again it turned out that the claims were false. The Republicans are lying yet again.

The patient was able to obtain a plan which her doctor participated in. Her premiums are significantly lower, offsetting the higher out of pocket expenses. She also could have purchased a plan with higher premiums and  lower out of pocket expenses. Compared with her previous plan, the new plan not only has lower premiums and an out-of-pocket maximum, it has better coverage for chemotherapy.

With the right wing groups repeatedly having to lie to make claims that people are being hurt under Obamacare, it has come to the point where Kevin Drum writes he is “beginning to think there’s not actually a single person in America who’s been harmed by Obamacare.” If there were, you would think that the right wing groups would be able to come up with real examples.

The problem for these groups is that the closest thing there really are to losers are upper-income healthy Americans who are paying more for coverage due to not qualifying for subsidies, but also receiving better insurance plans. Hardly a group to make commercials about.

I might be able to claim to be  a loser under Obamacare, but I’m not going to complain about paying a little more in premiums, which I can easily afford.

I received one of those letters that my plan was being cancelled. That wasn’t as terrible as the Republicans make it sound. Blue Cross gave me two choices. I could sign up for a grandfathered plan they were continuing which was similar to my previous plan but with a higher deductible and significantly lower premium. It is also non-compliant with the requirements under the Affordable Care Act. The other choice was to purchase a new plan, which I ultimately did. While technically not true that I would be able to keep my old plan as Obama stated, this is quite a trivial issue to gripe about considering these choices.

For most people, it would also cost less to buy the new plan once the subsidies are taken into account. For those of us who do not qualify for subsidies, the premiums are higher. However the plan covers much more than my previous plan. When I first bought insurance through Blue Cross (changing to them because my previous insurer had raised prices to an incredible degree) there were no plans available on the individual market which covered office calls or prescriptions. The new plan covers both. Blue Cross has also been covering preventative tests for the last couple of years with no out of pocket payments due to the Affordable Care Act. I’ve  been able to keep my daughter on my plan while she is in school, saving more money. In addition, the new plan does not have a lifetime limit on coverage, has limits on out-of-pocket expenses, and cannot be cancelled due to developing medical problems. I bet many people fail to take these important aspects into account when comparing plans under Obamacare to their previous plan.

To recap, I am a loser under the system as long as everyone in my family stays healthy as we are paying more in premiums than before. My story would hardly make a good story for opponents of Obamacare to use. If anyone in my family were to develop serious medical problems, we would have better coverage and in that case pay less out of pocket, which ultimately is the point of insurance.

Other than paying more (and getting more in return) my experience was not at all bad under Obamacare. Yes, there were problems with the computer system at first, but they have been fixed. As I was not applying for subsidies I purchased through the Blue Cross web site instead of healthcare.gov. The first claims from January were paid by the insurance company with no difficulty.

While a small minority of us are paying more, a tremendous number of  people are now able to obtain coverage who could not obtain it in the past because it was too expensive or insurance companies would not cover them due to per-existing medical conditions. I have patients in this situation who could not obtain coverage in the past but have been covered since January. With all the bogus complaints about people losing their coverage, the significant number is that zero people can now be dropped by their insurance because they become sick, and zero people have to fear losing their insurance should they stop working.

On top of all these benefits, the Affordable Care Act will help the economy. The recent Congressional Budget Office Report, frequently distorted by Republicans, shows that the Affordable Care Act will reduce unemployment, help decrease the deficit, and allow more people to leave large corporations to start small businesses. The effects of this freedom from the “insurance trap” cannot be scored in a CBO report, but should provide a tremendous boost to the economy.

The more people understand the Affordable Care Act and see through the lies being spread by the right wing, the more likely they will realize that those who are calling for repeal are not merely engaging in political rhetoric. The ridiculous forty-seven votes by Republican for repeal would cause real  harm to millions of Americans who are benefiting from the Affordable Care Act, along with harming the economy if we were to give up the economic benefits of healthcare reform.

Update: Fake Right Wing Claims Of Losers Under The Affordable Care Act

Cross posted at The Moderate Voice

The Religious Right’s Counterproductive Positions On Contraception And Abortion

It comes as no surprise that many in the religious right are not satisfied with the data released earlier this month showing a decrease in abortions. Margaret Talbot discussed their reaction:

One problem was that the groups didn’t like the messenger. The report, which showed that between 2008 and 2011 the rate of abortions had fallen to its lowest level since 1973, came from the Guttmacher Institute. Guttmacher produces scrupulous research on reproductive health; it also supports abortion rights. But the bigger problem was the message itself, because the report made a persuasive case that the right-to-life movement cannot take credit for the decline in abortions. Since 2008, states have enacted more than a hundred laws related to abortion, most aimed at limiting access to the procedure. The researchers, however, concluded that the new laws, with few exceptions, had had little impact on the number of abortions. Instead, much of the decline is probably attributable to more effective contraception, some of it available through the federal funding—“Uncle Sugar,” in Mike Huckabee’s creepy coinage—that Republicans like to rail against.

As the goals of the religious right are based upon a desire for control and using government to impose their religious views on others, we have known for quite a while that they also sought restrictions on birth control, even if this would be inconsistent with a lone goal of reducing abortions. Talbot pointed out a couple of additional counterproductive and seemingly contradictory aspects of the position of the religious right. Their extension of opposition to choice beyond abortion prevents possible compromise with liberals who would support measures to reduce abortions which do not involve denying choice. The actions of the religious right also increase the possibility that abortions will be obtained later in the course of pregnancy. While the religious right often devotes a lot of their rhetoric to later-term abortions, these are actually very rare, and their actions are contrary to a claimed goal of reducing these:

Nonetheless, the new laws do place additional burdens on women seeking abortions, and, perhaps more important, they may also be erecting obstacles to a consensus position on abortion—one that most Americans could abide. For reasons both moral and practical, most Americans think that if an abortion is to be performed it should be done early in the pregnancy. Yet many of the laws that right-to-life groups have pressed for in recent years have tended to produce the opposite effect, resulting in later abortions. Consider the case of medical abortions, induced by the drug mifepristone, the so-called abortion pill. The Guttmacher report shows that, between 2008 and 2011, there was a striking increase in the percentage of such procedures—in 2011, they accounted for twenty-three per cent (up from seventeen per cent) of all non-hospital abortions—even as the over-all rate declined. By definition, these are early abortions: they are performed before nine weeks’ gestation. (Unlike surgical abortions, they can be done almost as soon as a woman receives a positive pregnancy test.) From the public-health, reproductive-choice, and moral-comfort points of view, an increase in the percentage of abortions performed this way is beneficial.

Yet the latest vogue in anti-abortion legislation is to ban medical abortions. One approach has been to short-circuit programs that allow mifepristone to be prescribed through telemedicine. A program started in Iowa, in 2008, allowed a woman to receive ultrasounds and talk to a counsellor at a satellite clinic, and then video-conference with a doctor in another location. The doctor could remotely unlock a drawer in the clinic and the necessary medication was dispensed to the woman. After the program began, women seeking abortions in Iowa tended to do so earlier; nevertheless, the over-all abortion rate in the state declined. The program’s safety record and women’s reported satisfaction with it were solid. (It was especially helpful in rural areas.) But in 2010 Iowa elected an anti-choice Republican governor, who appointed new members to the state medical board, and it subsequently ended the program. A judge stayed the ban in November, and the matter is now being litigated. Meanwhile, legislatures in fourteen other states have prohibited the use of telemedicine for medical abortion—“Webcam abortion,” as opponents call it—even though the system hasn’t even been tried on any significant scale in those states.

All this brings to mind the bizarre inability of certain prominent Republicans to understand the importance of contraception in our society. Making it more difficult for women to get an abortion early in an unintended pregnancy—or to prevent an unintended pregnancy in the first place—makes their lives harder. Yet Mike Huckabee and Rand Paul have been on a tear recently, insisting that focussing on reproductive rights patronizes women. Unlike Democrats, Huckabee says, Republicans want women to be “something other than victims of their gender,” who are “helpless without Uncle Sugar” to “control their libido or their reproductive system.” It shouldn’t be necessary to say it again, but a woman’s ability to exert control over her reproductive system is at the heart of her ability to control her destiny in many other ways as well.

The right’s anti-abortion crusade must be seen not as actions being promoted with the sole goal of reducing abortions but as a campaign to exercise control over the rights of others. Ed Kilgore argues that “antichoice activists almost universally regard the very contraceptive measures most associated with reduced abortion rates, especially the highly effective IUD, not as contraceptives at all but as ‘abortifacients,’ because they operate (or might operate) to interfere with the implantation of fertilized ova on the uterine wall.”  He concluded his discussion of Talbot’s article by writing:

None of this, however, is the least bit surprising if you think all abortions—including the “abortion” of fertilized ova that may occur when an IUD or a Plan B pill—or any other hormonal birth control method—is used—are equally horrific acts of homicide. That is the position of virtually every “right to life” group in the country. So their propaganda focus on late-term abortions is entirely strategic. For all the millions of tears shed about the “barbarity” of the tiny handful of late-term abortions performed legally (or illegally, as was the case with Dr. Kermit Gosnell, whose clinic antichoicers have seized on with enormous glee), the antichoice goal is as it has always been to use widespread instinctive unease with late-term abortions as a stepping stone to a total abortion ban, which would extend to “abortifacient” devices like IUDs. Nobody should forget that for a moment.

While to a certain degree true, the problem remains that many on the religious right see the use of contraception by others as something they have the right to regulate, regardless of the mechanism of action. BooMan responds to this by asking, “should we consider these people to just be deluded? Or, should we consider them to be primarily concerned not about abortion, but with preventing women from having sex out of wedlock? Is the idea basically that if women can’t separate sex from child-bearing that they will save themselves for marriage?”

I hate to try to say what the motivation is of others, but I suspect that for most who seek to restrict reproductive rights the prevention of sex out of wedlock is only part of their motivation for opposing both abortion and contraception. Their desire to control reproductive rights and the bodies of women extends to married women and is not limited to preventing sex out of wedlock, as much as they might desire to do this.

Cross posted at The Moderate Voice

The Success Of The Stimulus

Barack Obama’s economic stimulus was launched five years ago. Regardless of how successful it turned out to be, conservatives would attack it in order to try to avoid giving Obama credit for reversing the economic problems created by George Bush and Republican economic ideas. Michael Grunwald looked at the report from the Council of Economic Advisers on the success of the stimulus, finding that its report is consistent with other reports on economic improvement:

The main conclusion of the 70-page report — the White House gave me an advance draft — is that the Recovery Act increased U.S. GDP by roughly 2 to 2.5 percentage points from late 2009 through mid-2011, keeping us out of a double-dip recession. It added about 6 million “job years” (a full-time job for a full year) through the end of 2012. If you combine the Recovery Act with a series of follow-up measures, including unemployment-insurance extensions, small-business tax cuts and payroll tax cuts, the Administration’s fiscal stimulus produced a 2% to 3% increase in GDP in every quarter from late 2009 through 2012, and 9 million extra job years, according to the report.

The White House, of course, is not an objective source — Council of Economic Advisers chair Jason Furman, who oversaw the report, helped assemble the Recovery Act — but its estimates are in line with work by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office and a variety of private-sector analysts. Before Obama took office, it would have been a truism to assert that stimulus packages stimulate the economy: every 2008 presidential candidate proposed a stimulus, and Mitt Romney’s proposal was the most aggressive. In January 2009, House Republicans (including Paul Ryan) voted for a $715 billion stimulus bill that was almost as expansive as Obama’s. But even though the stimulus has been a partisan political football for the past five years, that truism still holds.

The report also estimates that the Recovery Act’s aid to victims of the Great Recession — in the form of expanded food stamps, earned-income tax credits, unemployment benefits and much more — directly prevented 5.3 million people from slipping below the poverty line. It also improved nearly 42,000 miles of roads, repaired over 2,700 bridges, funded 12,220 transit vehicles, improved more than 3,000 water projects and provided tax cuts to 160 million American workers.

My obsession with the stimulus has focused less on its short-term economic jolt than its long-term policy revolution: I wrote an article about it for TIME titled “How the Stimulus Is Changing America” and a book about it called The New New Deal. The Recovery Act jump-started clean energy in America, financing unprecedented investments in wind, solar, geothermal and other renewable sources of electricity. It advanced biofuels, electric vehicles and energy efficiency in every imaginable form. It helped fund the factories to build all that green stuff in the U.S., and research into the green technologies of tomorrow. It’s the reason U.S. wind production has increased 145% since 2008 and solar installations have increased more than 1,200%. The stimulus is also the reason the use of electronic medical records has more than doubled in doctors’ offices and almost quintupled in hospitals. It improved more than 110,000 miles of broadband infrastructure. It launched Race to the Top, the most ambitious national education reform in decades.

At a ceremony Thursday in the Mojave Desert, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz dedicated the world’s largest solar plant, a billion-dollar stimulus project funded by the same loan program that financed the notorious Solyndra factory. It will be providing clean energy to 94,000 homes long after Solyndra has been forgotten. Unfortunately, the only long-term effect of the Recovery Act that’s gotten much attention has been its long-term effect on national deficits and debts. As the White House report makes clear, that effect is negligible. The overwhelming majority of the Recovery Act’s dollars have gone out the door; it’s no longer adding to the deficit. It did add about 0.1% to our 75-year debt projections, but allowing the economy to slip into a depression would have added a lot more debt.

Grunwald did warn of the political ramifications. As conservatives have convinced themselves that economic stimulus doesn’t work as a knee jerk reaction to anything proposed by Obama, politicians are likely to shy away from stimulus when needed in the future, following the European mistakes in promoting austerity. Such views in this country already led to the stimulus being significantly smaller than it should have been, especially in light of continuing problems with unemployment.

.Stimulus

Steve Benen has more facts and tables on the benefits of the stimulus, such as the table above on the effect of the stimulus on GDP.

Think Progress cited several Republicans who attacked Obama on the stimulus and then took credit for its benefits.

Cross posted at The Moderate Voice