The Past Week In Conservative Stupidity

Over a year ago Bobby Jindal warned that Republicans “must stop being the stupid party.” They have not been doing particularly well at following his advice. To extrapolate this to the conservative movement, this week provided two more examples of what can only be labeled as stupidity dominating conservative conversation–the intentional misinterpretation of the Congressional Budget Office report on the Affordable Care Act and reaction to Olympic coverage from Russia.

This is not to say that all conservatives believe these things or are stupid. However, the prevalence of stupidity does seem to have increased tremendously in the conservative movement and Republican Party in recent years. Even ignoring the easy targets such as Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann, the caliber of conservative discourse generally seen today is far different from what came from past conservatives such as William F. Buckely, Jr., who also fought to keep the Birchers and other predecessors of today’s Tea Party out of the GOP. Barry Goldwater might have many views which liberals find objectionable, but he also warned about what would happen if the religious right took control of the Republican Party. Even Ronald Reagan was not so foolish as to oppose any tax increase or to prevent increases in the debt ceiling to allow the Unites States to honor its debts.

It is understandable that some conservatives might have been misled by the initial headlines on the report from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office. Many journalists, overly influenced by conservative arguments and lacking adequate understanding of health care policy, initially were inaccurate in their coverage. Once the report was more fully evaluated, it was clear that the CBO report actually showed that there is no evidence of an increase in unemployment due to the Affordable Care Act as Republicans had been predicting would occur.  Instead the portions of the report on employment showed that Obamacare was projected to be successful in one of its goals--saving people from the “insurance trap.”

Until the Affordable Care Act came into effect many people continued in jobs they did not want because they would be unable to obtain health insurance if they left their current job. Under the Affordable Care Act, health insurance is no longer tied to employment. Now people are free to retire at an earlier age if they desire, instead of waiting until age 65 when they qualify for Medicare. They are also free to leave large corporations to work for small businesses, or perhaps even start a business of their own. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation wrote about projections for an increase in entrepreneurship and self-employment last May. The CBO report confirms that they were correct. This can help boost the economy.

While an initial mistake regarding this might have been unintentional, there has subsequently been many corrections. Glenn Kessler of The Washington Post,  corrected errors in reporting in writing, “No, CBO did not say Obamacare will kill 2 million jobs”.  Kessler concluded with saying, “we award Three Pinocchios to anyone who deliberately gets this wrong.” Factcheck.org also corrected the misconceptions.

As some people leave jobs they no longer want or need, their jobs can open up for others. In testimony before the House Budget Committee, CBO Director Douglas Elmendorf confirmed that the CBO report suggests the Affordable Care Act will reduce unemployment. Even Paul Ryan corrected fellow Republicans on this point. Besides reducing unemployment, the CBO report showed that, while Republicans had been demanding an end to the risk corridors in order to agree to an increase in the debt limit, the risk corridors actually wind up saving the government eight billion dollars. The CBO projects a deficit of $514 billion in 2014, representing three percent of the Gross Domestic Product. This is down from 2009 when deficit was at 10.1 percent of GDP, and more in line with the average size of the deficit compared to GDP over the past forty years.

Conservatives are rarely willing to give up on their criticism of the Affordable Care Act even when contradicted by the facts. They continue to repeat fallacious arguments about death panels or their false claim that Obamacare constitutes a government takeover of health care. Finding that those who received cancellation notices from insurance companies generally received better coverage at a lower price under the Affordable Care Act did not end their claims of people supposedly losing their insurance under Obamacare.

Conservatives remain unwilling to give up the argument about people leaving their jobs, spinning it to suggest that the Affordable Care Act encourages people to be lazy parasites on society instead of working, ignoring the actual types of people this is likely to affect. Conservatives have been presenting “horror stories” of people allegedly harmed by the Affordable Care Act which typically turn out to be untrue once the details are examined. Finally we are seeing newspaper reports emphasizing the positive aspect of freeing people from the “insurance trap.”

While conservative columnists such as Ross Douthat fear that Obamacare will lead to a “strong work disincentive while looking at a population of childless, able-bodied, mostly working-class adults,” these are not the type of people I am seeing as benefiting by freedom from the “insurance trap.” If the health care debate is turning into one of anecdotal cases, I’m thinking of an affluent friend who, because of health history, cannot obtain insurance on the individual market so his wife has been working full time in a job purely for the health insurance, even though they have no need for the income beyond the benefits. I have a patient who was left without insurance when her husband retired in his early sixties and then struggled to pay her medical bills. As of January she finally has comprehensive coverage she can afford. These are the types of people who are benefiting from the supposed disincentive to work under Obamacare.

In theory there is a risk that “able-bodied, mostly working-class adults” might have less incentive to work, but I hardly think that providing affordable health care is enough to do this on a widespread level. Far more able-bodied adults are not working because jobs are not available. Besides making more jobs available, the Affordable Care Act can help relieve this problem in another way. In addition to freeing people to retire in their early sixties or leave jobs held solely for the insurance, people will be able to start small businesses without losing health insurance. In Republican-speak, this should also be beneficial to the economy due to making more “job creators.” The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation wrote about projections for an increase in entrepreneurship and self-employment last May. The CBO report confirms that they were correct, and to a greater degree than previously projected.

Conservatives were wrong about this argument, and now appear stupid, and dishonest, when they continue to repeat the same mistakes. I spent more space on this first example than intended, but in retrospect this is an important point which deserves repeated explanations as long as conservatives are claiming that this positive aspect of the Affordable Care Act is somehow undesirable.

The second example is bizarre outrage from the right wing over the video below which comes from NBC’s coverage of the Olympic games:

Their objection is to this line: “The empire that ascended to affirm a colossal footprint; the revolution that birthed one of modern history’s pivotal experiments.”

This is being spun by right wing bloggers as praise for Communism, including by FoxMarco Rubio, along with other conservatives commenting, does not appear to understand what pivotal means. The word refers to points which are critical or vitally important. The Russian Revolution was a pivotal point in their history, along with the history of the world. Similarly, Hitler’s rise to power was a pivotal moment. Both 9/11 and Katrina were pivotal moments during the Bush years.  The computer problems during the first month of the exchanges has unfortunately become a pivotal moment for the Obama administration. The word pivotal says nothing about whether the events were good or bad.

This was one line in a video narrated by Peter Dinklage as introduction to NBC’s sports coverage of the Olympics. If this was a political documentary we would expect information on the horrors of communism. This is unnecessary, and probably out of place, in sports coverage, especially if they desire to be polite and avoid criticism of the host country over a political system which has been overthrown (even if the current regime is repeating many of the same mistakes as under Communism).

I suspect this is outrage is partially motivated by the desire of conservatives to falsely paint liberals as socialists or Communists, such as with the absurd claims that a moderate such as Barack Obama is a socialist. To the conservative mind, the mainstream media represents liberals, especially when they fail to differentiate the evening commentary shows on MSNBC from the rest of NBC. There are rare examples, such as the absurd argument I noted a couple of weeks ago at Salon to nationalize the news media, but putting aside such outliers, there no meaningful interest in Marxist-style socialism or Communism on the left. In contrast, I would think that today’s Republicans would love modern Russia. Between its homophobia and substitution of a plutocracy for a working market economy, Russia has become an example of the end-result of the Republican platform.

Cross posted at The Moderate Voice

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Democratic Strategy For 2014: Get Out The Vote But Don’t Ignore The Message

This should be a bad year for Democrats if we go by historical trends. The party holding the presidency typically loses Congressional seats in their sixth year. It makes matters worse when their are economic problems, even if many people do realize that they are primarily due to a combination of problems created by the Bush administration and problems perpetuated by Republican actions to hinder economic recovery in Congress.

Making matters worse, the Democrats have to defend Senate seats in red states, including states where incumbent Democrats are not running for reelection. Democrats do worse in off year elections, when young voters and minorities are less likely to vote compared to presidential elections. Republicans also have a huge advantage in a system where small Republican states receive as many Senators as far larger Democratic states. Their advantage extends to the house. Between gerrymandering and the higher concentration of Democrats in cities. Republican will still control Congress unless Democrats receive about seven percent more votes.

On top of this, Republicans see voter suppression as a valid electoral strategy.

Democrats did much better in 2008 and 2012 than in 2010. They also expect to do much better in 2016, including picking up several Senate seats due to the playing field being reversed with Republicans being forced to defend Senate seats in blue states. The Democrats see the solution as making 2014 more like 2012. Their strategy:

The Democrats’ plan to hold on to their narrow Senate majority goes by the name “Bannock Street project.” It runs through 10 states, includes a $60 million investment and requires more than 4,000 paid staff members. And the effort will need all of that — and perhaps more — to achieve its goal, which is nothing short of changing the character of the electorate in a midterm cycle.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is preparing its largest and most data-driven ground game yet, relying on an aggressive combination of voter registration, get-out-the-vote and persuasion efforts.

They hope to make the 2014 midterm election more closely resemble a presidential election year, when more traditional Democratic constituencies — single women, minorities and young voters — turn out to vote in higher numbers, said Guy Cecil, the committee’s executive director.

A campaign based upon getting out the vote isn’t terribly exciting, but it is a realization that this is how elections are won in this polarized era. There aren’t very many swing voters, but there can be huge differences between which party does better in getting their supporters out to vote.

Besides, a high tech get out the vote campaign and an old fashioned campaign to try to sway voters are not mutually exclusive. I do hope that the Democrats also think about better ways to get out their message as the Republicans often win by doing a better job here. Sure the Republican message is pure lies, claiming to be the party of small government while supporting increased government intrusion in the lives of individuals, and primarily using big government to redistribute wealth to the top one tenth of one percent.

Democrats need a coherent message, but they often fail because they are afraid of alienating some voters by saying what they believe in. I suspect that this cowardice turns off even more voters, along with reducing the motivation of their supporters to turn out. Once again, a campaign based upon promoting ideas and one based upon voter turnout are not mutually exclusive. They can be complimentary.

Rather than shying away from social issues, Democrats need to campaign as the party which supports keeping government out of our personal lives and out of the bedroom.

Rather than running away from the Affordable Car e Act, Democrats need to stress its benefits. Beyond all the millions who are assisted by the ability to obtain affordable health coverage, there are the two million people who are freed from the “insurance trap” which forces them to work in jobs they do not otherwise want or need in order to obtain health insurance. As the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office has shown, the Affordable Care Act will help reduce unemployment, decease the deficit, and strengthen the economy. Besides, we saw what happened to the Democrats when they tried running away from Obamacare in 2010.

In recent years Democrats have taken national security away from Republicans as an issue. If the Republicans want to run on their debunked conspiracy theories about Benghazi, it might be time for Democrats to remind voters of the very real failings of Republicans on 9/11, from ignoring warnings before the attack to invading the wrong country in retaliation. We saw how that turned out. It is also time for Democrats to take additional issues from the Republicans.

Challenge voters who support Republicans based upon misinformation. If they are concerned about the deficit, point out how much the deficit has dropped under Obama (as it previously dropped under Bill Clinton). Repeatedly we see polls in which voters support liberal positions but identify themselves as conservatives. They say the oppose Obamacare but also support most of the individual components of the Affordable Care Act. The only way to fight the misinformation spread by Fox is for Democrats to clearly say what they believe in and defend their positions.

Democrats are planning to run on income inequality. That is fine, but they better make sure that they make it clear that the reason is that the extreme concentration of wealth in the hands of the top one tenth of one percent is a major cause of crippling the economy and keeping down the middle class. Failure to make this connection just plays into Republican memes.

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The CBO Report On The Success Of The Affordable Care Act

The Congressional Budget Office report released yesterday showed that the Affordable Care Act is getting off to a tremendous success despite the early computer problems in the exchanges. The report showed that millions of additional people are receiving coverage, the law results in a reduction in the deficit, and frees workers from the “insurance trap.”

The report also turned out to be both a test of the understanding of health care policy by reporters and of the dishonesty of conservative news sources. Health care policy is quite complicated and it is not unusual for reporters to make mistakes in the coverage of a report such as this. Many misunderstood the predictions of people leaving the work force leading to some rather untrue headlines yesterday. Needless to say, the conservative media continues to make the same false claims, ignoring the actual meaning of the CBO report, and will continue to spread this misinformation.

I was pleased to see  Glenn Kessler of The Washington Post, who has made some major mistakes on health care policy coverage in the past, got it right on this one.  His fact-checker article was entitled “No, CBO did not say Obamacare will kill 2 million jobs”. I think it helped that he specifically wrote about what the CBO report really said, as opposed to getting into the more complicated details of health care policy. Kessler concluded with saying, “we award Three Pinocchios to anyone who deliberately gets this wrong.”

The word deliberately is important as unfortunately some people are going to be misled by the initial incorrect headlines and by the conservative media which will continue to make this false claim.  The reduction in employment described in the report is one of the positive aspects of the Affordable Care Act. Up until now, many people continued in jobs they did not want because they would be unable to obtain health insurance if they left their jobs.  I know affluent people whose spouses work purely for the health insurance as this was the only way they could obtain this. This change frees people in their 60′s to retire early if they choose. People who would prefer to change jobs will be able to do so without losing their insurance. People will also be able to start small businesses without losing health insurance, which will also probably turn out to be beneficial to the economy. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation wrote about projections for an increase in entrepreneurship and self-employment last May. The CBO report confirms that they were correct.

On a related issue, the ability to keep affordable health insurance after losing a job means that people who develop a serious illness and become too sick to continue working will no longer lose their insurance. This was a common cause of bankruptcy in the past.

The New York Times looked at the benefits described by the CBO in an editorial today:

The report estimated that — thanks to an increase in insurance coverage under the act and the availability of subsidies to help pay the premiums — many workers who felt obliged to stay in a job that provided health benefits would now be able to leave those jobs or choose to work fewer hours than they otherwise would have. In other words, the report is about the choices workers can make when they are no longer tethered to an employer because of health benefits. The cumulative effect on the labor supply is the equivalent of 2.5 million fewer full-time workers by 2024.

Some workers may have had a pre-existing condition and will now be able to leave work because insurers must accept all applicants without regard to health status and charge premiums unrelated to health status. Some may have felt they needed to keep working to pay for health insurance, but now new government subsidies will help pay premiums, making it more possible for them to leave their jobs.

The report clearly stated that health reform would not produce an increase in unemployment (workers unable to find jobs) or underemployment (part-time workers who would prefer to work more hours per week). It also found “no compelling evidence” that, as of now, part-time employment has increased as a result of the reform law, a frequent claim of critics. Whether that will hold up after a mandate that requires employers to provide coverage, which was delayed until 2015, kicks in is uncertain.

The report also verified that millions more people will be covered by health insurance due to the Affordable Care Act:

Given the rocky start, 14 million additional Americans covered by insurance through the exchanges and Medicaid is sound progress; and the budget office projects a sharp increase in enrollment in 2015 and 2016 and a bigger net reduction in the number of uninsured. Its projections for subsequent years remain essentially unchanged. In 2017, it predicts 12 million more in Medicaid and 24 million more in private coverage through the exchanges.

Update: CBO Director States Affordable Care Act Will Reduce Unemployment; Paul Ryan Corrects Republican Misinformation

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CBO Report Shows Affordable Care Act Frees Employees From Working Or Losing Employer-Based Insurance

The Congressional Budget Office has a report out today which is creating a lot of attention, largely due to a misleading but sensational headline in publications such as The Hill regarding decreased employment attributed to the Affordable Care Act.  They predict that there will be two million fewer full time workers by 2017. The question of employers hiring less due to the law is controversial, with evidence so far not showing the reduced hiring some have predicted. The key factor here, as described by The Wall Street Journal, is that “the jobs figures largely represent Americans who will choose not to work rather than those who will lose their jobs or have their workweeks reduced because of the law.”

In other words, this solves a major problem we have faced in the past–people being forced to work beyond when they otherwise desired because they would not be able to obtain insurance if they lost their insurance through their employer. People in their 60′s would have the ability they previously did not have of retiring before they qualified for Medicare at age 65.

Another factor might be that some people will have an economic incentive to work less. One aspect of the Affordable Care Act which should be fixed is the rapid manner in which the subsidies end once the income threshold is reached. People making just over the levels which qualify them for subsidies would be economically better off by working less and bringing their incomes below the threshold. The subsidies should be phased out more gradually to eliminate this problem.

The prediction of  two million fewer workers by 2017 also has to be taken with a grain of salt. There are aspects of the Affordable Care Act which will likely lead to economic improvement but which cannot be scored by the CBO. Some people will leave the job market, but it is also possible that many people, no longer needing insurance through their employer, will take advantage of this to start or work for small businesses. As the Affordable Care Act reduces the burden of providing health care to companies now providing it, these companies might be able to expand more  than expected. Improvements in the health of employees who obtain health care coverage could lead to improved productivity. Decreases in health care costs as a result of the Affordable Care Act should provide additional economic benefits.

As a consequence of the problems with the roll out of the Affordable Care Act, the CBO projects that six million people will sign up in private health plans through the exchanges this year, down from their previous projection of seven million. Most likely the number will increase in subsequent years, and it remains possible that increases in last-minute enrollment might lead to higher figures for this year. Another factor of concern is that some people are not signing up through the exchanges due to false information and a campaign from the right wing advocating that people refuse to sign up.

The report also shows that, while Republicans are demanding an end to the risk corridors in order to agree to an increase in the debt limit, the CBO found that the risk corridors actually wind up saving the government eight billion dollars. It is ironic that this Republican demand (actually more about politics than improving the deficit) would lead to a higher deficit.

We are no longer hearing about trillion dollar deficits. 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 deficit was at 10.1 percent of GDP. The CBO predicts a further reduction in 2015 to $478 billion, or 2.6 percent of GDP. They do project increases in the deficit after 2015 primarily due to weaknesses in the economy. It would seem that at present government policy should be to place greater emphasis on stimulating the economy as opposed  to concentrating on short term decreases in the deficit, as more Americans now support.

Update: The Fact Checker at The Washington Post says “No, CBO did not say Obamacare will kill 2 million job.” He awarded three Pinocchios to those, such as many media organizations which reported on the CBO report incorrectly, intentionally make this claim.

Update II: The CBO Report On The Success Of The Affordable Care Act

Update III: CBO Director States Affordable Care Act Will Reduce Unemployment; Paul Ryan Corrects Republican Misinformation

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The Absolutely Most Absurd Thing I Have Ever Read In A Liberal Blog–Nationalizing The News Media

Often the right looks ridiculous by raising the specter of Communism in response to programs from the left, such as with labeling the Affordable Care Act a government takeover of health care despite being based upon expanding private insurance coverage. I would think that more intelligent conservatives would avoid this line of argument. But what happens when it is the right argument and conservatives can’t legitimately make it without looking like the boy who cried wolf one too many times?After reading this absurd article by Fred Jerome at Salon, I’ll lend them a hand, and perhaps provide them with some cover. On this topic, sensible liberals and the right wing should be aligned in opposing this idea. Outcomes such a what occurred in the Soviet Union or Communist China are exactly what we should fear by this insane proposal to nationalize the news media.

The article begins:

Imagine a world without the New York Times, Fox News, CNN, the Wall Street Journal, and countless other tools used by the 1 percent to rule and fool.
In a socialist society run by and for the working people it represents, the mega-monopolies like Walmart, Halliburton, Exxon-Mobil, and the corporations that run the tightly controlled “mainstream media” will be a thing of the past.

Jerome does have some valid criticism of the media. The point is not that there aren’t problems with the media as it now exists, and with the concentration of ownership in so few hands. The problem is that his solution would be far worse. He gives lots of bromides such as:

A democratic, accessible-to-all media will move to center stage in a socialist USA. In some ways this democratization of the media is already happening on the Internet. But the government’s ability to spy on and even turn off the Internet belies any real democracy. In a socialist democracy, working people will control the political process, the way in which they make a living, and collectively and individually, they will influence mass culture. The Internet will be a powerful and democratizing tool in this effort…

In a socialist society a portion of the media would be reserved for news disseminated by the democratically elected governing bodies, that is, working people elected by and for working people.

But state ownership is not the only way media can represent the interests of working people, to speak with or through their voices. In most cases, the media would be owned and operated by working-class organizations—labor unions, neighborhood associations, and cultural centers.

So news (and views) in a socialist society will be brought to you by a plethora of noncommercial sponsors. The government media will report on and discuss, for example, the major government plans for production, how to improve education, and more. But other media—newspapers, TV and radio stations, and Web sites sponsored by workers’ organizations, cultural organizations, youth groups, sports teams, and neighborhood groups will report on issues specific to their interests.

The media has many faults, but shutting it down by nationalization could only lead to tyranny. The standard corporate-run media has its faults, and of course there is Fox. Attempting to shut down and nationalize any of them, even Fox, would be a tremendous blow against liberty. With all their faults, The New York Times, McClatchy, PBS, and other parts of the news media still provide a valuable source of information. Fox might be primarily propaganda, but defending freedom of speech includes those we disagree with (while we take every opportunity to also expose them).

Reading Jerome’s article is enough to make me feel like reading some Ayn Rand for balance. While Rand made many mistakes in her over-reaction to her experiences under Communism, her warnings would be valid in this case. The Blaze is also right in responding that

…it has been demonstrated time and time again throughout history that a government-controlled media is not a free media. The ease with which the government and labor unions would be able to censor the news is a chilling prospect to imagine. We would suddenly find ourselves in a world where free speech in the media would first have to be “approved.”

It is a shame that some conservative bloggers have given into the temptation to claim that this lunacy represents liberal beliefs, when this is the opposite of liberalism.

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False Objectivity, Media Bias, And The Budget

One area where conservative media bias can be seen is in reporting on the budget. Media reports commonly report measures which cut the deficit as good and those which increase the deficit as bad. This view may or may not be correct, but it is not an objective position. There are counter arguments that, during a time of economic slowdown when interest rates are low and the infrastructure has largely been neglected, the economy would do better in the long run if we did borrow more to stimulate the economy and improve infrastructure. Continued austerity budgets are not necessarily the best policy. Looking at priorities beyond shrinking the deficit might make sense at a time when government spending is dropping at the greatest rate since the demobilization after World War II.

The  Columbia Journalism Review looked at media coverage of government spending, finding that the media often confuses support for what is seen as a centrist view in support of cutting the deficit as objectivity:

Under the norm of objectivity that dominates mainstream political journalism in the United States, reporters are supposed to avoid endorsing competing political viewpoints or proposals. In practice, however, journalists often treat centrist policy priorities—especially on fiscal policy—as value-neutral. That’s wrong. While it’s widely accepted that the federal government faces limits on what it can borrow in the financial markets, there is significant disagreement, including among experts, over the priority that should be given to reducing current deficit and debt levels relative to other possible policy objectives. It is, in other words, a political issue. Reporters often ignore this conflict, treating deficit-cutting as a non-ideological objective while portraying other points of view as partisan or political. That’s why it’s not accepted for reporters to explicitly advocate, say, abortion bans or recognition of gay marriage, but criticism of the president for not advocating entitlement cuts with sufficient fervor can run in a “factcheck” column.

This confusion between centrism and objectivity cropped up again in coverage of the budget deal, which often portrayed the fact that the agreement did little to cut the federal debt as a failing. The Washington Post’s Lori Montgomery, for instance, was implicitly critical, writing that “the deal would do nothing to trim the debt, which is now larger, as a percentage of the economy, than at any point in U.S. history except during World War II.” McClatchy’s David Lightman also suggested that the lack of more aggressive deficit-cutting was a flaw. The bill is “likely to still increase the federal deficit, if only slightly, this year and next,” he wrote, and is “hardly the grand bargain that’s eluded Washington for years, much less a plan to make a serious dent in the government’s $17.2 trillion debt.”

Stories in the Associated Press and Christian Science Monitor opined even more directly about the bill’s supposed merits. The AP’s Charles Babington tried to take a value-neutral perspective by aligning himself with “[p]eople hoping for a government that works better.” These people, he writes, “can’t decide whether to cheer or lament a bipartisan budget bill,” noting that it “should avoid a repeat of this fall’s government shutdown and flirtation with default” but “comes nowhere near the more ambitious efforts to address long-term spending and debt.” He again reiterates later in the article that the deal “does little to dent the nation’s $17 trillion debt.” The CSM’s Mark Trumbull similarly wrote that “Congress can postpone a grand bargain that reforms the tax code and restrains the growth of entitlement spending, and the economy won’t collapse,” but added that “delay isn’t a good thing for the economy.”

The same pattern often crops up in the sourcing for budget stories. I’ve questioned the media’s insistence on “he said,” “she said” reporting about matters of fact, but there’s no reason to think that centrist deficit hawks have a monopoly on wisdom about the nation’s federal budget priorities. So why are the claims of groups like the Concord Coalition or the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget presented in articles like Montgomery’s and Lightman’s as neutral, non-ideological perspectives that don’t need to be balanced with offsetting quotes from other points of view? The same deference is rarely given either to conservatives who want more aggressive cuts in the size of government or liberals who would give greater priority to public spending.

The root of these problems is the philosophy of “objective” journalism itself, which forces reporters to try to draw lines between opinion and fact that often blur in real life. But even if reporters aren’t willing to rethink objectivity, they should try to understand why prioritizing deficit reduction over other competing values is a kind of ideology of its own.

Evaluating a policy based upon what is thought to be centrist is especially hazardous in the current political climate where both parties have moved towards the right on economic issues in recent years, with the Republicans taking an especially radical position. As a consequence, what is now thought as centrist in this country would be to the right in much of the world.

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Turning Around The Media’s Recent Obama As Loser Narrative

Pack journalism resulted in a misleading stream of newspaper articles which would make readers think that the Obama presidency had collapsed. Real problems have been exaggerated greatly out of proportion, with a temporary computer problem compared to Katrina and the desirable transfer of people from insurance plans designed to avoid payouts to real insurance plans presented as a disaster. As Reagan, Clinton, and Bush all had problems in their second term, the media  narrative has been that the same must happen with Obama. Fortunately there is hope that another feature of the news media, a desire to periodically change story lines, might lead to improved coverage once the web site is fixed and most Americans find out that they are better off, or at least doing the same, under the Affordable Care Act.

The New Republic is hardly a bell weather as to where the media will be going, but an article posted yesterday does present a hopeful sign of where coverage, if accurate, might change to:

It’s been a pretty good week for the Obama administration. The bungled healthcare.gov Web site emerged vastly improved following an intensive fix-it push, allowing some 25,000 to sign up per day, as many as signed up in all of October. Paul Ryan and Patty Murray inched toward a modest budget agreement. This morning came a remarkably solid jobs report, showing 203,000 new positions created in November, the unemployment rate falling to 7 percent for the first time in five years, and the labor force participation rate ticking back upward. Meanwhile, the administration’s push for a historic nuclear settlement with Iran continued apace.

All of these developments are tenuous. The Web site’s back-end troubles could still pose big problems (though word is they are rapidly improving, too) and the delay in getting the site up working leaves little time to meet enrollment goals. Job growth could easily stutter out again. The Iran deal could founder amid resistance from Congress or our allies.

After giving  examples, Alec MacGillis described some of the factors which led to such misleading coverage the last few weeks:

What explains for this even-worse-than-usual excitability? Much of it has to do with the age-old who’s-up-who’s down, permanent-campaign tendencies of the political media, exacerbated by a profusion of polling, daily tipsheets and Twitter. Overlaid on this is our obsession with the presidency, which leads us both to inflate the aura of the office and to view periods of tribulation as some sort of existential collapse. Add in the tendencies of even more serious reporters to get into a chew-toy mode with tales of scandal or policy dysfunction, as happened with the healthcare.gov debacle – the media has been so busy hyping every last aspect of the rollout’s woes that it did indeed start to seem inconceivable that things might get better soon.

Andrew Sullivan reviewed similar stories of gloom and doom for the Obama administration: “The Healthcare.gov fiasco was Katrina; the Syrian pivot was a disastrous wobble; the Iran negotiations were abject surrender; the economy was going nowhere.” Then he gave further examples of how reality looks far better than recent headlines:

But it’s worth digesting how all these alleged disasters have settled down. Obama’s alleged surrender to Putin on Syria … has led to something no one really believed possible: a potential shut-down of Syria’s WMD potential. What Bush failed to do in Iraq (because Saddam’s WMDs were a fantasy), Obama has almost succeeded in doing in Syria – with Putin’s help. The Iran negotiations – far from being a surrender – have set the stage for a real rapprochement. Les Gelb notes:

The Obama team has won the first round on the six-month agreement with Iran by a knockout. The phony, misleading, and dishonest arguments against the pact just didn’t hold up to the reality of the text. As night follows day, the mob of opponents didn’t consider surrender, not for a second. Instead, they trained their media howitzers on the future, the next and more permanent agreement, you know, the one that has yet to be negotiated.

Even George Will has conceded as much.

The media might stick with the current storyline and highlight every problem which is likely to occur with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, the economy, and in unstable parts of the world. Or they might present the full story where Obama has been imperfect, has made mistakes, but has in reality done a lot to improve the economy, improve health care, and is showing promise regarding potentially major achievements in foreign policy.

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Obamacare Success Stories

The media coverage of the Affordable Care Act has often been distorted, confusing start-up problems with the overall value of the law. Even beyond the initial problems, Obamacare is far from perfect. However, it is a huge improvement over the system it replaced in which people with medical problems were often denied health care coverage. In some cases conservatives have tried to pass off long-standing problems with the health care system, such as restrictions by medical plans on which doctors you could see, as problems with the Affordable Care Act. Fox has paraded people before viewers who were cut off by their health care plans when in reality such acts by insurance companies represent exactly the type of problem which Obamacare fixes. Previously those cut from insurance plans were often unable to replace their insurance due to per-existing conditions. Under Obamacare, there are no longer such restrictions on coverage. You might not be able to keep exactly the same insurance plan you have, but most people have the option of receiving insurance from the same company which provides better coverage at a lower cost.

The media has greatly exaggerated the fact that some people, primarily those who do not qualify for subsidies, might wind up paying more for insurance coverage. Often this is because their old plans were designed by insurance companies to limit their risk of actually paying out on claims. At very least, the “losers” under the Affordable Care Act have one significant benefit–insurance which cannot be revoked due to developing medical problems. In addition, although I will pay more next year for insurance, Obamacare has provided me with additional benefits such as covering children up to age twenty-six and covering preventative studies with no deductible or co-pay.

While there are going to be some relative losers in any change, there are far more winners under Obamacare. The media is increasingly reporting on these cases. For example, The Los Angeles Times provided several examples today. Besides providing examples of winners, the article explained:

Two-thirds of the 30 million Americans who will be eligible for individual coverage next year are uninsured today, whether because they can’t afford it now or because they’re barred by pre-existing condition limitations, which will no longer be legal. And more than three-quarters will be eligible for subsidies that will cut their premium costs and even co-pays and deductibles substantially…

Political opportunists (like House Speaker John Boehner), exploit near-term difficulties to obscure the tangible benefits the Affordable Care Act will bring to tens of millions of their constituents. When they say “this law has to go,” as Boehner’s spokesman did this weekend, they’re talking about returning people to the era of exclusions for pre-existing conditions. To people learning they’re uninsurable because of injuries from accidents, or chronic diseases, or the sheer bloody-mindedness of insurance company bureaucrats.

There are problems with Obamacare, but nobody has had to declare bankruptcy due to medical expenses and nobody has died because of being denied insurance coverage.

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Obama Damage Control On Affordable Care Act

Obama Affordable Care Act

As Barack Obama said, “We fumbled the rollout on this health-care law.” While the problems have been greatly exaggerated and conservatives took advantage of this to further distort the facts, Obama did make some political mistakes and it was important that he respond. The headline is now that the White House to allow insurer to continue canceled health plans. That is the line he needs to help reduce problems caused by previous misleading headlines on Obamacare causing cancellation of plans.

This actually affects very few people. Most people obtain their health insurance outside of the individual market. For those who did purchase insurance on the individual market, plans in effect prior to when the Affordable Care Act passed could still be grandfathered in, but in many cases the insurance companies decided against continuing such plans. For such plans, today’s statement does not really change anything, except that it might put pressure on insurance plans to continue plans they previously decided against continuing. When consumers go beyond the hype (and get past the poorly-working computer system) a tremendous number will find that they can receive more comprehensive coverage at a lower price, especially after the subsidies are considered, and will hopefully decide against taking advantage of this option.

In some cases canceled policies have nothing whatsoever to do with the Affordable Care Act, despite the sensationalist and untrue stories seen on Fox. Insurance companies have left markets every year. Sometimes they would technically remain, but jack up the premiums so high that they would force everyone out (as once happened to me). Some insurance companies would also drop people who became too expensive to cover. A tremendous number of people who have declared bankruptcy due to medical expenses were insured when they first developed a serious medical problem. These are the types of problems that the Affordable Care Act was designed to solve, such as preventing an insurance company from dropping people who developed a serious medical problem. In addition, in past years if an insurance company left a market those with pre-existing medical conditions might not be able to obtain coverage. Under the Affordable Care Act they will be able to purchase insurance regardless of pre-existing conditions.

Insurance plans which were sold prior to the passage of the Affordable Care Act could be grandfathered in, independent of any changes made based upon today’s announcement. Plans sold after the Affordable Care Act passed could not be grandfathered in if they did not meet current requirements. In many cases plans sold on the individual market have been terrible plans which were not worth keeping. Many would cover very little, often after high deductibles were met, such as not covering hospitalizations.

It was still a mistake on Obama’s part to ever say that “if you like your health insurance plan, you can keep it.” This was said in an atmosphere in which conservatives were scaring people into thinking that everyone would be forced to drop their current plan and switch to some sort of government run health plan. In this context, he was correct to point out that people would be remaining in private health plans, but wrong to make such an absolute statement. There were always going to be exceptions. It was inevitable that insurance companies would stop offering old plans, even if they could be grandfathered in, and concentrate on the plans they could continue to sell. There was no way that the government could compel insurance companies to continue to offer every plan currently on the market. In many cases people are better off by the passage of the Affordable Care Act by taking advantage of the opportunity to switch to better plans,  but that is not what Obama said.

While very few people are both  actually having insurance canceled which the insurance companies don’t already have the legal ability to continue and are actually going to have to pay more, this issue has become far more about political posturing. People are hearing the exaggerations and distortions which suggested the issue was far more significant than it was. Headlines have been negative, with stories failing to put the issue in perspective.  Bill Clinton weighed in earlier this week on the need for Obama to fix this, but it is important to note that Clinton also said  “The big lesson is that we’re better off with this law than without it.”

Ezra Klein has summarized the various responses coming from Congress and the President. For Republicans, this is largely about exaggerating the problem and weakening the Affordable Care Act. In reality, Republican schemes to weaken the Affordable Care Act will actually wind up causing more people to be at risk of losing their coverage or having to pay more. Democrats who are running for reelection also see the need to distance themselves from this problem now that it has been totally blown out of proportion. Obama’s credibility has been harmed, even though Republicans claims on health care have been far more dishonest. Making a statement such as what Obama said today might help calm down some of the rhetoric on this issue. It will help even more when the exchanges are working properly and people can more easily compare the coverage which was available before to the coverage now available.

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Former Great News Organization CBS Has Become The Conservative BS Network

CBS once was a major news organization. When Lyndon Johnson lost Walter Cronkite on Viet Nam, public opinion turned against the war. Dan Rather as White House correspondent contributed to bringing knowledge of the Watergate scandal to the public. Then the network turned to the right. They sought to appease conservatives during the Bush years, dropping the story on Bush’s National Guard years and even considered turning to people such as Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter to form an independent panel to evaluate Dan Rather.

CBS turned into the Conservative BS Network.

We saw this again with their erroneous coverage of Benghazi, which they have finally retracted. The erroneous report on 60 Minutes has been cited by many right wing sources who have been trying to keep Benghazi alive, long after the evidence made it clear there was no scandal there. As former CBS News producer Mary Mapes speculated, “They appear to have done that story to appeal specifically to a politically conservative audience that is obsessed with Benghazi and believes that Benghazi was much more than a tragedy.”

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