Jon Stewart Mocks Conservatives Who See Cold Weather As Evidence Against Established Science On Climate Change

Jon Stewart started out the year saying he would avoid controversial topics such as politics and religion. Instead he discussed the weather–and went on to mock conservatives who cite recent cold weather as some sort of evidence against climate change (video above). Stewart pointed out the difference between climate and weather on a particular day, the long-term warming trend, and the relationship between global warming and extreme weather conditions. He pointed out that, “Apparently decades of peer-reviewed scientific study can be, like a ficus plant, destroyed in one cold weekend.” He contrasted this with Fox relying on an “expert” such as Donald Trump.

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Quote of the Day: More Conan on Megyn Kelly

“Fox News host Megyn Kelly now says she was just kidding when she said Santa Claus is white. However, she’s standing by her statement that the Grinch who stole Christmas, definitely Jewish.” –Conan O’Brien

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Quote of the Day: Conan on Megyn Kelly

“Yesterday Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly told viewers that Santa Claus is white. Then she said Santa’s elves are Mexican and they are stealing jobs from American elves.” –Conan O’Brien

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Quote of the Day

“President Obama shook hands with Cuban dictator Raul Castro. Or as Fox News reported it, ‘Foreign communist shakes hands with the leader of Cuba.’” Conan O’Brien

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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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Sarah Palin On Health Care, The War On Christmas, And Slavery

It is almost as if Tina Fey returned to do a Sarah Palin impression but this really is Sarah herself describing her views on health care reform while on the Today Show:

“The plan is to allow those things that had been proposed over many years to reform a health-care system in America that certainly does need more help so that there’s more competition, there’s less tort reform threat, there’s less trajectory of the cost increases, and those plans have been proposed over and over again. And what thwarts those plans? It’s the far left. It’s President Obama and his supporters who will not allow the Republicans to usher in free market, patient-centered, doctor-patient relationship links to reform health care.”

Now that she has a book to sell on the War on Christmas we will probably be hearing more from Palin. She also compared the federal deficit to slavery, disagreeing with Dick Cheney who claimed that “deficits don’t matter.” Palin has this to say about using deficit spending and getting free stuff:

“Our free stuff today is being paid for by taking money from our children and borrowing from China,” she said at the Iowa Faith & Freedom Coalition’s fall fundraiser at the State Fairgrounds Saturday night. “When that money comes due – and this isn’t racist, but it’ll be like slavery when that note is due. We are going to beholden to the foreign master.”

She also warned that  “Christmas is under attack.” It makes me want to go and burn down some candy cane forests.

While Palin might attack Republicans for giving in on the government shutdown and debt ceiling, and disagree with Cheney on deficits, she is well within the bat-shit crazy conservative mainstream in using comparisons to slavery. Last week Ben Carson made such a comparison, along with citing bestiality and pedophilia as reasons to oppose same-sex marriage. Getting back to Obamacare and slavery, Carson said:

“You know Obamacare is really I think the worst thing that has happened in this nation since slavery,” Carson, who is African American, said Friday in remarks at the Values Voter Summit in Washington. “And it is in a way, it is slavery in a way, because it is making all of us subservient to the government, and it was never about health care. It was about control.”

While there may be valid arguments against a mandate to purchase health insurance, and reasons to object to some of the regulations which affect health care, this is a long way from the total loss of liberty which is seen in slavery. Absurd, but not surprising from conservatives who have only three concepts of freedom: 1) the freedom to impose their religious views upon others, 2) the freedom to run one’s business without government regulation, and 3) the right to keep and bear arms, with or without a militia.

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Why Sensationalistic Reports Of People Being Dumped From Their Insurance Plan Are Misleading

Republicans have been doing everything possible to avoid real discussion of health care reform. They are sometimes aided by journalists who do not understand the complexity of health care policy, and who want to report a scandal when none exists. Recent misleading media reports on people being “booted” from their health care plan is encouraging Republicans to make a lot of nonsense noise leading Greg Sargent to conclude, correctly, that normal debate about Obamacare is impossible. He wrote, “the GOP outrage about Americans supposedly “losing” coverage is largely just more of the same old misdirection. It’s a subset of a larger Republican refusal to have an actual debate about the law’s tradeoffs — one in which the law’s benefits for millions of Americans are also reckoned with in a serious way.”

The question of whether people can keep their current insurance is comparable to the faux controversy I recently discussed over whether people can keep the same doctor they now have. The real point in these arguments is over whether people who are happy with their coverage will continue to have the same type of insurance care and medical coverage (with added protections they do not have now). Conservative groups have been spreading all sorts of misinformation to make people think that there would be a drastic change under Obamacare. I’ve had heard from numerous Medicare patients who believed that Obama was ending Medicare. (No, it is the Republican plan which would wind up doing that). One patient emailed me recently asking if she had to give up her Medicare and sign up for Obamacare, upset that she would have to give up having me as her physician. Many with private insurance also believed that they would lose that coverage and be forced into a government run health system. None of these scare stories are true.

It is with this backdrop that reassuring people that they can keep their current type of insurance and continue to see their current doctor has been important. This does not mean everyone will have exactly the same insurance plan and that nobody would every wind up changing doctors. It is a fact of life in the old system that a variety of factors would cause insurance plans to change, and people could wind up having to change doctors. Only seventeen percent of purchasers on the individual market typically purchase the same plan for two or more years. Short of total government control of all medical practices, which nobody wants, it is impossible for the government to guarantee that nothing will change. What is different is that people will no longer lose their insurance, or access to their doctor, because of issues such as insurance companies dropping them when they get sick or not being able to afford insurance if their financial situation changes.

As many others have, I recently received a letter from my insurance carrier that my current policy will not be available as it does not meet the requirements under the Affordable Care Act. The insurance company had the option of grandfathering subscribers and continuing the old plan versus offering another policy from the same company. When I went to check on line I found that they were also offering several other plans. I never had this choice before. There are also more choices from other companies. I purchased my current plan when my previous plan decided to get out of the individual market in the area by raising their rates to levels which were exorbitant even by the standard of health insurance costs. At the time there were no options available which included routine office calls and prescription drugs. Coverage of both are now required, which is why my current plan is no longer offered. Instead I will wind up with another policy from the same company which covers more at a modestly higher price.

I am probably one of the biggest losers in this situation, but I’m not complaining. I will have to pay more for insurance, but not an outrageous amount. I do not qualify for subsidies, and I do not have significant medical costs, so I will wind up a bit behind. Many others will benefit from the added coverage while paying far less than current premiums thanks to the subsidies. Other people will also wind up saving more money due to the increased coverage, making up for the increased premiums.

My new coverage won’t cost that much more. Some people will probably see a bigger jump in premiums, until the subsidies are taken into consideration. Some insurance plans cover so little they should barely even be considered insurance. Via Steve Benen, Erik Wemple presented  a misleading example from Fox from someone complaining about having to change to a more expensive policy. More information gave a different picture than what was presented on Fox.

More coverage may provide a deeper understanding of the ins and outs of Barrette’s situation: Her current health insurance plan, she says, doesn’t cover “extended hospital stays; it’s not designed for that,” says Barrette. Well, does it cover any hospitalization? “Outpatient only,” responds Barrette. Nor does it cover ambulance service and some prenatal care. On the other hand, says Barrette, it does cover “most of my generic drugs that I need” and there’s a $50 co-pay for doctors’ appointments. “It’s all I could afford right now,” says Barrette.

In sum, it’s a pray-that-you-don’t-really-get-sick “plan.” When asked if she ever required hospitalization, Barrette says she did. It happened when she was employed by Raytheon, which provided “excellent benefits.” Ever since she left the company and started working as an independent contractor, “I haven’t been hospitalized since then, thank God.” Hospitalization is among the core requirements for health-care plans under Obamacare.

Maybe at present this is all she can afford, but she will be able to afford more due to the subsidies under the Affordable Care Act, and will really save a lot of money if she winds up in the hospital again. As bad as this policy sounds, I have seen people with even worse.

While it might come as a shock to some reporters and Republicans that some people will have to change plans due to meet the current core requirements, this was never a secret. There is nothing misleading about this. Think Progress has cited several sources which discussed this during the initial health care debate. It is only a surprise to those who failed to understand the law, or those who want to make misleading attacks.

As for the Republicans, the problem is that they were intentionally absent from the debate, deciding to vote against any health care reform and refusing to take part in framing any form of bipartisan plan. It is a valid argument that perhaps people should be able to purchase more limited plans. I, and many Republican voters, are capable of paying for out-patient services not covered by our insurance and perhaps we should be able to purchase less expensive plans. (Of course there is also the option of the bronze plans for those who do want to reduce insurance  premiums and can afford to take on more risk, and people under thirty can purchase inexpensive catastrophic plans). If Republicans felt more choices should have been available, they should have brought it up during the health care debate. Republicans could have exacted plenty of compromises in return for passing a plan with greater bipartisan support. As Republicans failed to participate in the process, it is hard to take their complaints seriously now.

Update: I initially left out the fact that insurance companies could grandfather subscribers who had old plans and were not forced under the Affordable Care Act to have people change plans. Initially I left this out to keep the discussion simpler, not thinking it was important that this option existed if insurance companies chose not to offer to continue the old plan. As discussion of this issue is increasingly turning into the accuracy of old statements versus whether insurance companies are at fault. More in this post.

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Conservative Denial of Republican Racism

The Republican Party bases much of its appeal on racism and fear, scaring middle class white voters into voting against their true economic interests. They scare people into voting Republican out of fear that poor minorities will take their money, with greatly exaggerated views of the cost of programs such as welfare and foreign aide. At the same time, they have no concept of the real redistribution of wealth underway in this country–Republicans transferring wealth to the top one-tenth of one-percent at the expense of the middle class. While racism permeates the Republican Party and Tea Party movement, they tend to be in total denial of their own racism. Joe Wurzelbacher, better known as Joe the Plumber, posts that American Needs A White Republican President.

It is hard to deny that a headline such as this is not racist, but Joe the Plumber follows with: “Wanting a white Republican president doesn’t make you racist, it just makes you American.”

The true racists according to Joe appear to be Mexicans,  liberal blacks, and white Democratic presidents. He wrote that, “Many deranged Mexicans believe we should open the country up to them, some saying that much of America belongs to Mexico anyway.”  As for blacks and white Democratic presidents:

Liberal blacks have disagreed with most Republican presidents since Eisenhower, yet these blacks are not considered racists. In fact, when blacks had sanity and disagreed with the policies of racist white Democrat presidents, nobody accused black people of being racists.

Joe believes that blacks should vote Democratic because, he claims, “Reagan ushered in a veritable Renaissance for blacks.” His source? Fox News. Remember what David Frumm said about the effect of Fox creating an artificial reality for Republicans just a few days ago?

Joe also cited current economic data as reason why Obama has been bad for blacks. I haven’t checked on his actual statistics, which I would be skeptical about, but the key factor which Joe ignores is the economic crash caused by Republican economic policies under Bush and the fierce battle waged by Congressional Republicans to hinder economic recovery, especially for the poor and middle class. It would take someone from the Fox artificial reality to really believe that blacks would not be even worse off now if John McCain or Mitt Romney were deciding economic policy instead of Barack Obama.

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Some Honesty From A Republican

David Frum has often questioned Republican behavior since leaving the Bush White House. I imagine that is due to a combination of factors including the Republicans moving much further towards the extreme right, and as those not working for someone in office have more freedom to tell the truth. His list of Seven Habits of Highly Ineffective Political Parties provides some useful insight into how the saner Republicans think. In some cases he is wrong, such as in not believing we can afford to do what the rest of the world with modern economies can in providing affordable health care for all. At least he concedes that Obamacare is not the calamity they claim:

If the United States has remained a constitutional republic despite a government guarantee of health care for people over 65, it will remain a constitutional republic with a government guarantee of health care for people under 65. Obamacare will cost money the country doesn’t have, and that poses a serious fiscal problem. But it’s not as serious a fiscal problem as is posed by the existing programs, Medicare and Medicaid, which cover the people it costs most to cover. It’s not a problem so serious as to justify panic.

Yet panic has gripped the Republican rank-and-file since 2009—and instead of allaying panic, Republican leaders have aggravated and exploited it, to the point where the leaders are compelled to behave in ways they know to be irrational. In his speech to the “Bull Moose” convention of 1912, Teddy Roosevelt declared, “We stand at Armageddon and we battle for the Lord!” It’s a great line, but it’s not a mindset that leads to successful legislative outcomes.

He gave arguments other than racism for Republican hatred of Obama:

Barack Obama was never likely to be popular with the Republican base. It’s not just that he’s black. He’s the first president in 76 years with a foreign parent—and unlike Hulda Hoover, Barack Obama Sr. never even naturalized. While Obama is not the first president to hold two degrees from elite universities—Bill Clinton and George W. Bush did as well—his Ivy predecessors at least disguised their education with a down-home style of speech. Join this cultural inheritance to liberal politics, and of course you have a formula for conflict. But effective parties make conflict work for them. Hate leads to rage, and rage makes you stupid. Republicans have convinced themselves both that President Obama is a revolutionary radical hell-bent upon destroying America as we know it and that he’s so feckless and weak-willed that he’ll always yield to pressure. It’s that contradictory, angry assessment that has brought the GOP to a place where it must either abjectly surrender or force a national default. Calmer analysis would have achieved better results.

True, the know-nothings of the far right would oppose any educated president who acts like they are educated. They just can’t stand things like facts as they show that right wing policies make no sense. The right wing base also hates America for our freedoms, desiring to replace our liberal heritage with religious their religious beliefs. There are reasons besides being black that Republicans dislike Obama. This does change the fact that racism is endemic in the conservative movement and being black did lead to immediate and unreasonable opposition to Obama. If conservatives were willing to look at Obama’s actual beliefs, they might never agree with him on some social issues, but they would see that he is relatively conservative on many economic issues and is willing to compromise on quite a bit. Of course Obama may hold the view of  an Eisenhower Republican on many issues, but to the far right Eisenhower was suspected of being a Communist.

The other most important confession from Frum is on the role of the right wing noise machine:

The actor Hugh Grant once bitterly characterized his PR team as “the people I pay to lie to me.” Politicians do not always need to tell the truth, but they always need to hear it. Yet hearing the truth has become harder and harder for Republicans. It takes a very unusual spin artist to remember that what he or she is saying isn’t actually true. Non-politicians say what they believe. Politicians sooner or later arrive at the point where they believe what they say. They have become prisoners of their own artificial reality, with no easy access to the larger truths outside. This entombment in their own artificial reality was revealed to the entire TV-watching world in Karl Rove’s Fox News election night outburst against the Ohio 2012 ballot results. It was the same entombment that blinded Republicans to the most likely outcome of their no-compromise stance on Obamacare—and now again today to the most likely outcome of the government shutdown/debt ceiling fight they started.

The false narrative created by the far right is a dangerous threat to democracy due to the need for an informed electorate. It becomes even more dangerous when conservative politicians believe their own lies.

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