Tonight’s Hannity on Fox News featured a discussion by the Great American Panel about high gas prices, which host Sean Hannity claimed are “now gonna go up to three, four, five dollars a gallon again.” The panel ruefully noted that Arab sheiks possess great amounts of oil, and pointed out a recent statement by Kuwait’s oil minister that he believes the market can withstand $100-per-barrel oil. After noting that Kuwait is a country that “would not exist [but] for us,” Hannity angrily offered his remedy:
HANNITY: There’s two things I said. I say why isn’t Iraq paying us back with oil, and paying every American family and their soldiers that lost loved ones or have injured soldiers — and why didn’t they pay for their own liberation? For the Kuwait oil minister — how short his memory is. You know, we have every right to go in there and frankly take all their oil and make them pay for the liberation, as these sheiks, etcetera etcetera, you know were living in hotels in London and New York, as Trump pointed out, and now they’re gouging us and saying ‘oh of course we can withstand [these prices].’”
Hannity also acts as if Iraq should be grateful for the invasion and turn over its natural resources. Of course, anywhere from 100,000 to one million Iraqi civilians died during the unwanted invasion, which destroyed much of the country’s infrastructure and cultural heritage.
On the other hand, Hannity has previously noted that he “travel(s) on private planes, [and] I have an SUV that I’m proud of.” Surely, the hundred-millionaire would be hurt by $3-per-gallon gas.
Over at The Incidental Economist, Aaron Carroll points to this study which argues — as the government has in its many briefs defending the health law — that you can’t reform the insurance market without requiring (or encouraging in some other way) healthy people to purchase health insurance coverage:
The above results show that community rating was associated with a worsening of the non-group risk pool as younger and healthier individuals left the individual market while older and sicker individuals joined or remained in the market. To test the robustness of this conclusion, we used data from the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) to compare changes in detailed measures of health status and utilization for people with non-group coverage in several community rating and non-community rating states. We found that those maintaining non-group coverage after the adoption of community rating were significantly more likely to have days when they were restricted to bed or when their activities were otherwise restricted because of health problems as well as more doctor visits and hospital stays. In other words, community rating in the non-group insurance market led to a pool of enrollees in poorer health. [...]
Our results provide a compelling portrait of the distortions that can result from community rating and guaranteed issue regulations in the non-group market when there are no provisions in place to keep people enrolled in coverage. The deterioration of the risk pool is consistent with predictions from economic theory and potentially lays the foundation for an adverse selection death spiral.
Indeed, there is an extensive history of states trying to exclude pre-existing condition exclusions without also instituting a minimum benefit requirement, and almost all cases have resulted in higher prices or issuers leaving the market. In Maine, many insurance providers doubled their premiums in three years or less, and all but one of the state’s HMOs experienced “at least one rate increase of 25% or more in 1998 or 1999.” New Hampshire was nearly left with no carriers in the market when Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Hampshire announced it was withdrawing from the individual market. And after New Jersey’s preexisting conditions provision took effect in 1993, the state’s individual insurance market became plagued by skyrocketing premiums. Between 1996 and 2001, the cost of the most generous individual insurance plans rose by more than 350 percent.
Conversely, a new analysis from a team of Massachusetts economists published today in the New England Journal of Medicine “concludes that the Massachusetts 2006 health law’s requirement that most residents buy coverage or pay a tax penalty has been pivotal to the law’s success.” The study found a “greater increase in the number of healthy people who signed up for coverage in the state’s subsidized health insurance program in 2007 — the first full year of the ‘individual mandate’ — than chronically ill people, compared with the months before.” The greatest spike in enrollment of healthy enrollment occurred in 2007 — “just before the tax penalty kicked in for failing to get coverage.”
As Carroll put it, if “one is in favor of a well-functioning insurance market in which everyone can obtain affordable insurance, one cannot advocate guaranteed issue and community rating and nothing else. One needs some way to keep adverse selection under control. To be blunt, one can’t just take the favorable parts of the ACA and reject the unfavorable part (the mandate), at least not with suggesting a replacement that will do the same job.”
A number of Republican lawmakers have recently trotted out the reasons that they favor raising the retirement age for Social Security (which is essentially the most regressive change would-be Social Security reformers could make). Gov. Mitch Daniels (R-IN) said he favored increasing it because young people will start living to 100 by “replacing body parts like we do tires,” while Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R-MN) said that he simply wants to “correlate your retirement…to life expectancy.”
These reasons for suggesting yet another increase in the retirement age, which was also raised in 1983, are quite bad. But according to another advocate, Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), raising the retirement age to “perhaps 70 or 72″ is actually a “positive thing,” because people are living longer and are more productive:
“To sit here and tell you it’s (Social Security) going to be actuarially sound for all the baby boomers and young people, that’s nonsense,” Shelby said, adding that the Social Security tax would have to be doubled or tripled to fully fund the system for younger people…“But,” he said, “we can do some positive things to prolong Social Security … will we is a different question, isn’t it?”
Shelby’s house-on-fire rhetoric regarding Social Security’s finances is vastly overblown. With no changes, Social Security will pay full benefits until 2037 and close to full benefits (once inflation is accounted for) for decades after that. Minor changes — including adjusting the rate of benefit growth for the richest beneficiaries and modest tax increases — can ensure full solvency for the program for the next 75 years, complete with benefit increases for the most vulnerable retirees.
Shelby, though, would prefer to just slash benefits for everybody to make his numbers add up. Here’s what his “positive” change would mean for retirees:
– As the Economic Policy Institute calculated, raising the retirement age to 70 would cut benefits for the average retiree by 19 percent, which amounts to about $35,419.
– As the Center for Economic and Policy Research found, if current trends in inequality continue, raising the retirement age to 70 would result in those born in 1973 and after having a shorter retirement than those born in 1912.
Plus, increasing the retirement age in response to America’s rising life expectancy ignores the fact that life expectancy gains have almost entirely benefited rich workers. Low- and middle-income workers haven’t seen the same gains.
While, on the surface, it seems logical to react to increased productivity and longer life expectancy by raising the retirement age, those gains should actually allow retirees to enjoy a longer retirement. “We have more than enough money to buy ourselves some leisure time at the end of our lives,” Ezra Klein wrote. “At least if that’s one of our priorities.” It’s clearly not a priority for Shelby.
Reince Priebus just became the 65th Chairman of the RNC by garnering 97 votes in the seventh round of voting. After the fourth vote, Michael Steele dropped out of the running and said, “It’s very clear that the party wants to do something different.” Saul Anuzis obtained 43 votes and Maria Cino 28 votes. Here is what you need to know about the new RNC chairman:
– Priebus’s law firm sought funds from Obama’s stimulus package: Connecticut GOP chairman Chris Healy noted that Priebus’s Wisconsin law firm helped its clients obtain federal stimulus funds, citing the fact that Priebus’s name was attached to the “Stimulus and Economic Recovery Group.” Priebus immediately responded to the story, claiming he had never worked with his firm’s “Stimulus and Economic Recovery” group.
– His law firm says the recently passed health care bill is constitutional: Priebus’s law firm not only says the law is constitutional, but has touted its benefits to clients.
– Implicated in voter caging: While Priebus was chair of the Wisconsin GOP, the state party engaged fomented voter fraud conspiracies and hatched a voter caging plot with well-funded right-wing allies to suppress minority votes. One Wisconsin Now Executive Director Scot Ross said, “When voter suppression allegations have surfaced in Wisconsin for the past decade, the name Reince Priebus isn’t far behind.”
– He has the backing of many of the Barbour clan: Henry Barbour, a committeeman from Mississippi and the nephew of Gov. Hale Barbour (R-MS), enticed Priebus into running for the RNC chair. Also, Nick Ayers, a close Barbour associate and executive director of the Republican Governors Association, reportedly gave behind-the-scenes support to Priebus, leading many to believe Priebus would favor Barbour for president in 2012. Priebus responded by saying, “I’m not Haley’s choice, I don’t think that Haley has any horse in the race, and he’s made that pretty clear on the record.”
– Priebus had close ties to former chairman Michael Steele, then stabbed him in the back: Priebus was Steele’s general counsel and frequently served as Steele’s top liaison to committee members. In a memo sent to RNC members, Connecticut Party chairman Chris Healy said that Priebus is partly responsible for the RNC’s poor performance. Commenting on Priebus’ run, Steele recently said, “It’s disappointing, you would hope that the bonds of loyalty were thicker than they apparently were.”
– Priebus mistakenly called for Obama’s execution: In a media conference call about Osama Bin Laden, Priebus slipped and accidentally called for the “execution” of Obama three separate times. “My guess is he would believe that Obama should be executed and he oughta be treated as a war criminal,” Priebus explained.
Priebus has said that he is dissatisfied with the 20 million dollar debt ran up by Steele, but as has been shown, Priebus worked closely with Steele during his tenure. So there’s a new face, but it’s still the same old party.
Earlier this month, newly-inaugurated Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) kicked off his term by issuing a narrow non-discrimination order for state employees, which addressed only race, gender, creed, color and national origin and did not provide protections for sexual orientation. Now, Cooper Levey-Baker of the Florida Independent discovers that the Florida Republican National Committee is up with a new website which calls for “equal justice and equal opportunity for all,” except for gay people:
In equal right, equal justice and equal opportunity for all, regardless of race, creed, age, sex or national origin.
Florida has already been recognized by eQualityGiving.com for being one of the least gay-friendly states in America, and until recently it was the only state to explicitly prohibit gays and lesbians from adopting. In 2008, the state amended its constitution to prohibit gays and lesbians from seeking civil unions, much less marriage.
In December, however, Equality Florida released a report claiming that the recent repeal of the adoption ban and additional laws protecting gay people in various levels of government ranked the state “among the top five states in the nation in protecting its gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered citizens from discrimination.” The report found that “the majority of Florida’s citizens also now live in communities that have ordinances outlawing discrimination in both employment and housing based on sexual orientation,” and Floridians are protected by a 2008 state law which tries to prevent bullying in public schools based on sexual orientation. One out of three Floridians “can also take advantage of domestic partnership registries or public employee domestic partner benefits.”
However, if the Florida GOP’s website and the Governor’s executive order are any indication, equality may once again be on the decline in the state. The national GOP’s 2008 platform didn’t include gay people either. “We consider discrimination based on sex, race, age, religion, creed, disability, or national origin to be immoral, and we will strongly enforce anti-discrimination statutes,” that document read.
I’ve never been to Tunisia, but from readings I’ve found the country especially difficult to understand. They’ve had a corrupt autocracy for a long time, but some areas of policy they get (inexplicably?) right. And usually they are by far the least corrupt country in the Maghreb. Dani Rodrik called the place an unsung development miracle. Maybe that was exaggerating but for their neighborhood they still beat a lot of the averages and they’ve had a lot of upward gradients. They’ve also made good progress on education.
I see this as a reminder that dictatorship is basically incentive-compatible. You’d much rather be a member of Singapore’s governing elite than of North Korea’s. That’s not to say authoritarianism is good, but simply that even authoritarians ought to be interested in improving public policy. The more growth your country experiences, the bigger the pie you have to skim off.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) was with Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) in her hospital room this week when Giffords opened her eyes for the first time since the shooting last weekend in Tucson. “She is the vision of hope for this country right now,” Gillibrand said referring to Giffords. “She embodies everything that President Obama was trying to say that we have to be better than we are, that we all have to conduct ourselves better than we do.” While that seems like a fairly innocuous statement — that we as human beings can always strive to be better people — today on his radio program, hate talker Rush Limbaugh attacked Gillibrand, appearing to believe that he has no room to become a better person:
LIMBAUGH: What I don’t like about this is the assumption that we are no good! The premise that we are no good! Yes that’s true. We really stink. We have to work a lot harder to become better people. We are going to really have to work harder to become better than we are. Who are they to castigate all the rest of us?! If they want to catagorize some of us as not good enough, fine and dandy! But who are they? Why do we have to listen to these people tell us we’re not as good as we can be? What message are we supposed to hear here? What’s the message that we have to – we’re all ready for improvement? The GOP is supposed to capitulate? That’s how we get along with everybody?
Last month, in a final effort to derail the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) tried to attach an amendment to the stripped-down National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would have required the Service Chiefs to certify that implementation did not compromise military readiness or unit cohesion. The amendment would have likely extended the current certification process — which already includes the Secretary of Defense, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and President Obama — and undermined the intent of the legislation and the wishes of military leadership. Now, AmericaBlog’s Joe Sudbay notes that Rep. Duncan Hunter Jr. (R-CA), who infamously said that the military “isn’t the YMCA” during floor debate, is similarly planning to “introduce legislation next week designed to put the brakes on repeal of the military’s ban on openly gay troops”:
The measure by Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) would add the four military service chiefs to the list of those who must sign off on repealing the policy before it can be officially scrapped.
Hunter, an Iraq and Afghanistan war veteran, is concerned that the bill passed in December repealing the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy “excluded the service chiefs from the certification process,” said one congressional aide.
Republicans have long sought to include the Service Chiefs because as a group, the Chiefs are generally less sanguine about repeal than Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mike Mullen. During their testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee in early December, two of the Service Chiefs endorsed the Pentagon Working Group’s recommendation to lift the ban, while two others had mixed reactions. Gen. James Amos, the commandant of the Marine Corps, has warned lawmakers that repeal could endanger the lives of Marines. Regardless of their views, however, all four Chiefs said they trusted Gates to address their concerns before eliminating the policy and warned Republicans that expanding the certification process could undermine the chain of command:
Senator THUNE: Do you believe that the implementing legislation, if in fact this moves forward, should allow for the chiefs, the servicemembers, any of you, to certify? [...]
General CASEY: Senator, as I said to Senator Lieberman, I am very comfortable with my ability to provide input to Secretary Gates and to the Chairman that will be listened to and considered. So you could put it in there, but I don’t think it’s necessary. [...] It might take it up a notch. But believe me, I will make sure that my views are heard. The other thing. If you put that into the law, I think it undercuts the Goldwater-Nichols, that we’ve been trying to put the Chairman as the principal provider of military advice. So that’s something for the committee to consider.
Senator THUNE. Anybody else care to comment on that?
Admiral ROUGHEAD. Sir, I’m very comfortable with the access and the input that we’ve had. In fact, as the report came along I could see the changes that we were recommending. So I have no concerns whatsoever about my advice not being heard.
Watch it around 4:30:
While Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), the staunchest defender of DADT, has made peace with its bipartisan repeal (the measure passed in the House by a vote of 250 – 175 and 64-31 in the Senate), Hunter isn’t the only Republican who is still clinging to the ban. Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty (R) has also promised to reinstate the policy.
Who, in comments, mentioned We Need to Talk About Kevin as a test of how American pop culture will deal with lone gunmen in the wake of Jared Lee Loughner’s murders in Arizona. He’s absolutely right. I read the novel this week and explain why the book—and the movie—matter so much in the wake of recent events. Major spoilers in the piece, but if other folks have read it, I would really, really appreciate the chance to discuss it with folks.