The Sky Falling is a Bad Thing

All across America, Conservative commentators are jumping up and down, waving their hands in the air, pointing at glitches in the month-old roll-out of Obamacare and yelling “I told you so!” Republicans are so eager to turn attention away from their destructive shenanigans in the budget and debt ceiling debate that more column inches have been devoted to the launch of a website than at any other time in human history. None of them, of course, go so far as to suggest an alternative to fix the actual problem: the 50 million uninsured Americans who could go bankrupt at the first appearance of major illness.

One such offender was fellow columnist Ben Kinney ’15. His column of last week contained a number of the troubling factual errors that have characterized the entire debate. First was the assertion that he lost faith in the workability of the Affordable Care Act while watching Kathleen Sebelius flub an interview on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart just weeks ago. I understand as well as anyone the temptation to use a recent statement to jump into a column (case in point) but I suspect that Kinney belongs firmly in the camp of the Republicans rooting against the program — and doing their best to sabotage its success — from its inception.

More troubling was Kinney’s claim that “The Obama Administration has already spent half-a-billion dollars creating an unusable website…how can we trust it to effectively manage the complex and varied health care needs of 400 million Americans?” This would be a reasonable criticism, if it were in any way correct. Kinney overestimated the number of Americans by 83 million and the cost of the website by roughly $400 million according to the fact-checking website Media Matters. To be fair, he was not alone in this error; much like the $200 million-per-day India trip in 2010, the myth of the absurdly expensive website has flown through a gleeful conservative media looking for any shred of evidence to pin the President as an old-school tax-and-spend liberal.

Kinney’s later claims are less defective in their veracity than deceptive in their scope. He says that health insurance premiums under Obamacare are significantly higher than current premiums. This ignores the vast majority of owners of health insurance plans, who get their coverage through their employers, Medicaid, or Medicare. Those who will see their rates increase are the five percent of Americans who purchase their insurance as individuals and an additional five percent who previously had no health insurance. Some of those people were young, healthy and had previously opted not to purchase insurance. Unsurprisingly, buying health insurance instead of playing a literal game of Russian roulette with fatal illness represents a rate increase for those individuals. A quarter of people who previously did not buy health insurance were unable to do so due to a preexisting illness. For them, the coverage they will gain from the law represents the difference between a nonzero monthly cost and complete medical bankruptcy, or death.

Many of the cheaper plans purchased by consumers in this individual marketplace prior to the law cost less for a reason — they were the insurance equivalent of a shot of whisky and a prayer. They wouldn’t cover the cost of an ambulance or a night in the hospital, and they could be cancelled during treatment due to costs. Obamacare will subsidize the increased cost of health insurance for people making less than 400 percent above the poverty line, but that cannot get around the fact that owning usable health insurance will always cost more than useless or absent insurance — until disaster strikes.

Health insurance, plain and simple, saves lives. When Conservatives point to website glitches and the states across the nation who have refused to expand Medicaid to bring coverage to the uninsured and call Obamacare a failure, they’re ignoring the greater tragedy. The website will eventually be fixed. The states refusing to expand coverage have done so out of ideological spite. And in the richest nation in the world, Americans continue to die because they cannot afford to buy health insurance. Instead of pointing at these failings as a sign that the twice-elected President isn’t so great after all, how about working on a solution?

Roll the Windows Up on Cruz

Ted Cruz really does not want you to get health insurance.

Through a combination of snark and the type of false bravado that might trick his constituents into thinking that the Canadian-born Texas Senator actually was at the Alamo, Cruz, Utah Senator Mike Lee, and the Tea Party were able to convince the House of Representatives to pass a resolution to continue funding for the government but deny the necessary funding for the implementation of the Affordable Care Act – Obamacare. This represents the last chance for the wave of teabaggers who came into Washington promising to oppose the legislation at all costs to accomplish their goal and kill the bill.

Eric Cantor, previously my least favorite member of Congress, had initially suggested that the House pass and send to the Senate a stand-alone bill defunding Obamacare. This would have been a tough vote for red-state Democrats up for reelection and an easy vote for most Republicans. But that wasn’t high-stakes enough for Cruz: it would have easily been vetoed by the President and wouldn’t have gotten him a full calendar of talk show appearances. So instead he suggested that the measure be tied to the resolution funding the government. Failure to pass a funding resolution means the first government shut down since 1996. The House of Representatives passed that resolution last Friday.

Cruz has made a career of denying health care to those whose parents couldn’t pull quite as hard on their bootstraps as his did. His father began his political life as a supporter of Fidel Castro. After fleeing to college in the United States and making his fortune starting an oil company, he swung hard to the right to become a Tea Party hero and the father of the worse Senator since McCarthy. If that comparison sounds dramatic, you should know that it came from Senator John McCain, who, according to an aide, “f***ing hates Cruz.” By all accounts, he is not alone in his dislike for the Texan who wandered the hallways of his Princeton dorm room in a paisley bathrobe and who at Harvard Law refused to study with anyone who hadn’t attended Harvard, Princeton, or Yale (Sorry, Middlebury Republicans hoping to someday work with him. You should have gone to a better school). Continue reading

Syria is not Iraq

If we can agree on one thing, it’s that the Arab awakening has shown that the path to democracy is messy and uneven, pitted with potholes. The Syrian civil war has been no less messy. As much as we might wish it were so, the battle lines don’t break down clearly between good and evil. But let us agree on one more thing: Bashar al Assad is evil. He’s killed 100,000 people over the past two years, and he added at least 1,400 more to that tally with a series of chemical weapon attacks last week. 426 of these were children. Syria is not Iraq, where we tried to topple a stable regime. Syria is Bosnia.

Even the sun is bleeding in Syria

Even the sun is bleeding in Syria

President Obama and the Congress must act swiftly to do whatever is possible to prevent this tally from growing. We have already waited too long; had we acted a year ago to prevent this slaughter, those chemical weapons might never have been released. Just as in Bosnia our presence was able to end the wholesale slaughter of one ethnic group by another, we have a chance here to prevent the continued deployment of nerve gas against civilian populations by the Asad regime. Instead, I fear that we have learned the wrong lessons from the Iraq debacle. Continue reading

President Obama’s Divestment Drop-In

On Tuesday, President Obama gave a speech on energy and the environment at Georgetown University. Scheduled between major Supreme Court decisions, in the middle of a work day in the summer during a high-profile criminal case and an international manhunt for Edward Snowden, the speech unsurprisingly – and probably intentionally – got somewhat lost to the non-environmental media. It was truly a speech for supporters, designed to be overlooked by the public at large.

It was noticed by energy markets, though; stocks in coal companies plummeted significantly on news of more regulation for existing power plants and an end to international development aid for non-CCS coal plant construction. The Stowe Global Coal Index fell to its lowest level since the 2009 financial crisis in a sign that investors are beginning to see the writing on the wall. Fossil fuel companies are almost categorically overvalued and as economies begin to account for their full costs, their profits will fall.

It was also noticed by hard-core supporters. At the end of the speech, the President said two words that got environmental groups extremely excited:

“Convince those in power to reduce our carbon pollution. Push your own communities to adopt smarter practices. Invest. Divest. Remind folks there’s no contradiction between a sound environment and strong economic growth.”’s divestment campaign was launched just this year; in a matter of months, a brand-new issue received a tacit endorsement in a major presidential address. That’s huge. It’s also not particularly surprising given the President’s roots.  Continue reading

NSA Surveillance Programs: Entirely Legal, Potentially Problematic

According to Boundless Informant, a top-secret National Security Agency (NSA) tool leaked by Edward Snowden that monitors the NSA’s collection of electronic information, the agency grabbed 97 billion pieces of electronic intelligence in March 2013. Three billion of those came from the United States. That’s three billion emails, photos, or pieces of web history in a single month.

While the NSA program known as PRISM appears to have focused on collecting foreign electronic intelligence, its own documentation shows that Americans, like dolphins in a tuna net, are frequently swept up in the government’s surveillance collection mechanisms. Although the distinction between foreign and domestic surveillance is frequently stressed by the defenders of extraordinary intelligence gathering practices in the post-9/11 era, PRISM, which archives electronic files from companies including Google, AOL, Microsoft, Apple, Skype, and Facebook, is actually entirely constitutional as understood by the Supreme Court. Continue reading