Nevada continues to advance transgender equality, but Tennessee is considering a bill that would roll back municipalities’ ability to offer protections:
- MARYLAND: Following a violent anti-trans hate crime, Del. Joseline Pena-Melnyk (D) wrote to her colleagues that it was a “wake-up call” for the need for trans protections.
- NEVADA: The state Senate advanced two bills that would protect trangender Nevadans from discrimination in housing and public accommodations. A bill that would have made gender identity or expression a protected class under hate crime law failed to pass.
- NEW YORK: New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D) contributed this week to the momentum for marriage equality in the state, saying the state is “on the verge of what I believe is going to be an amazing, amazing victory.”
- TENNESSEE: Tennessee’s House has passed a bill that would nullify Nashville’s recently passed sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination protections. The Senate State and Local Government committee was set to discuss the bill this morning, but deferred action until next week. The “Don’t Say Gay” bill will be debated on the Senate floor on Thursday.
- TEXAS: The state Senate again may consider a bill that would ban transgender Texans from marrying the opposite gender, thereby making it legal for them to enter same-gender marriages. Meanwhile, Dallas County today passed gender identity protections from discrimination.
Keep track of how LGBT issues are advancing in the states at our State LGBT Watch.
The levee’s failure is a tragic reminder of the sorry state of America’s infrastructure. This particular levee failed a federal inspection in 2008, receiving an “unacceptable” rating from the U.S. Army Corps. of Engineers. In the U.S. patchwork levee system, many local communities are responsible for levee upkeep, and this particular community couldn’t afford the cost.
According to the Army Corps of Engineers, nearly ten percent of the levees in the country are expected to fail during a flood event. The Civil Corps. of Engineers gave the U.S. levee system a D- grade in 2009, and estimated that it would take a $50 billion investment to get those levees into adequate shape:
During the past 50 years there has been tremendous development on lands protected by levees. Coupled with the fact that many levees have not been well maintained, this burgeoning growth has put people and infrastructure at risk—the perceived safety provided by levees has inadvertently increased flood risks by attracting development to the floodplain. Continued population growth and economic development behind levees is considered by many to be the dominant factor in the national flood risk equation, outpacing the effects of increased chance of flood occurrence and the degradation of levee condition.
Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-LA) last night opened a “fiscal session” of the Louisiana legislature with an address on the state’s finances and how to approach the $1.6 billion hole in its budget. During the speech, Jindal vowed to veto any tax increases, saying, “Tax increases kill jobs. Tax increases kill opportunities. Tax increases hurt economic development. Tax increases hurt our ability to attract new businesses into Louisiana.”
Tucked in the pages of the $24.9 billion spending plan are provisions for spending more than $98 million that Jindal hopes the state’s colleges will get through tuition hikes on students. Separate legislation would need to be passed to enact the cost increases…The increases would come on top of increased costs for students already set to take effect this fall and more increases for at least four additional years, under legislation passed last year.
Louisiana’s current tax code is a mess, with 441 different exemptions that cost the state $7 billion per year, several times the size of its current budget shortfall. One exemption alone — allowing residents to deduct the amount they paid in federal taxes from their state tax bill — costs the state $643 million per year while overwhelmingly aiding the richest Louisianians. But Jindal has ruled tax increases off the table, deciding that the more prudent course is to force students to cover the cost of the state’s budget woes.
Jonathan Cohn continues his “5 Scary Things About The Republican House Budget You Haven’t Heard” with this piece examining the consequences of raising the Medicare eligibilty age from 65 to 67. Cohn argues that so-called younger seniors will have to maintain their employer-sponsored coverage longer, increasing the costs for the employer and raising premiums:
The change would happen gradually, with the eligibility age rising two months every year, starting in 2022. And, in the grand scheme of things, it’s not like that many people are between the ages of 65 and 67 anyway. But think for a second about who those people are–and the insurance options they’d have available to them without Medicare.
Remember, the House Republican budget would also repeal the Affordable Care Act. That would leave insurance companies free to charge higher premiums, restrict benefits, or deny coverage altogether to individual applicants who have pre-existing conditions. Given the relatively high incidence of conditions like hypertension, arthritis, and vision problems among older Americans, it’s safe to assume many seniors would have trouble finding affordable coverage–if, indeed, they could find coverage at all.
To be sure, pre-existing conditions wouldn’t affect older Americans who could get coverage from large employers, either as current workers or younger retirees. That’s how most “younger seniors” get insurance now. But the addition of so many 65- and 66-year-olds to employer insurance plans would raise benefits costs for businesses and, eventually, their workers.
But nine percent of of seniors between 65 and 66 years of age will find themselves uninsured — they will have a hard time finding coverage in a market which tries to maximize profit by insuring only the healthiest Americans — while another 11 percent would be underinsured, a 2009 study found. This, it’s worth pointing out, would also increase the costs for the Medicare program because the newly eligible population would be entering the program with more chronic conditions and would need to use more care. In fact, a recent study found that “chronically ill people turning age 65 who were previously uninsured had lower spending than insured people prior to Medicare. Yet once on Medicare, these uninsured Americans spent 50 percent more than previously insured Medicare beneficiaries who also had chronic disease.” It’s higher costs all around.
As ThinkProgresspreviouslyreported, the Vermont legislature, led by Gov. Peter Shumlin (D), has been considering a proposal to establish some sort of single payer health care system — a system in which a single public insurer provides health insurance to all state residents, similar to the Medicare system for American seniors.
Last month, the Vermont House of Representatives voted 92-49 to advance a bill that would create a single payer system in the state. Now, the Vermont Senate has followed suit, voting 21-9 for the bill:
The Vermont Senate gave final approval to health care reform legislation Tuesday. The vote came after lengthy debate on amendments– many of them aimed at making the bill more palatable for businesses. Republicans introduced several amendments that they say would reduce the costs for businesses. But the strong Democratic majority easily rejected those amendments. [...] The bill passed 21-9.
Now that the bill has passed both the House of Representatives and Senate, it will move to a conference committee to reconcile the two versions of the bill. It will then go to the desk of Gov. Peter Shumlin (D), who strongly supports the bill. Shumlin has said that it will make Vermont the first state where “health care will be a right and not a privilege.”
A bigger hurdle Vermont faces is obtaining a waiver from the federal health care reform act and finding a way around federal ERISA laws — which “pre-empt states from enacting legislation if it is ‘related to’ employee benefit plans” –- that insurers could use to sue the state. The health reform law currently offers a waiver to states who meet certain standards by 2017. Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT) has introduced an amendment that would move the waiver date up to 2014 — an idea that President Obama has endorsed.
Something I’ve noticed lately is that progressive pundits love to cite polls that show that entitlements are extremely popular. I can’t understand why we should consider any of these polls as constructive or relevant to the health care debate. If you look at the figures for the average benefit received vs taxes paid, a majority of Americans are net winners here. Is it surprising to anyone that people are strongly in favor of this?
This debate should be about the most economically efficient method of delivering health care to the greatest number of Americans. Part of that debate will involve determining a level of progressive taxation that is not economically distortive or morally reprehensible. While I personally think that the rich can absorb higher taxes without violating those concerns, surely even the most liberal among us would agree that at some point, higher marginal tax rates on the rich become “unfair”. People who focus on the fact that free shit is popular are not helping anyone.
Well, look, people cite polls in part because of disputes about political strategy. I also think it’s a mistake to think about Medicare primarily in terms of rich versus poor. The main redistributive issue with Medicare is from the past to the present, or from the present to the future.
But here’s where I think this guy is correct. There’s a very strong economic argument in favor of single payer health insurance—such insurance has a maximally efficient risk pool, evades adverse selection problems, and has very low administrative costs. There’s also a very strong argument (based on the declining marginal utility of money) in favor of redistribution of economic resources away from those who have a lot of it to those who have little. But these are logically separate issues. If you believe in single-payer health insurance as an efficient way of organizing insurance markets (as I do), then you should still think it’s a good deal for people even if financed through a broad regressive tax like a VAT (which I do). Then you have to think to yourself, “how generous should the single-payer program be” knowing that a more generous program means a higher VAT rate. And in general, if I were dictator this is how we’d pay for public services—with broad-based taxes so that it’s clear that the point of public services is to deliver good value for the money we pay.
Then as a separate matter you’d have a progressive tax whose purpose is to finance cash transfers to people in need of financial assistance.
The current system leads rich people to be irrationally hostile to public services since they see dismantling the state as the key to getting their taxes cut. Simultaneously, it encourages too many egalitarians to think of public services as redistributive programs whose purpose is to deliver high living standards to service providers rather than high-quality services to the public.
Right wing war hawks recently had some fun mocking part of President Obama’s theory of leadership which a top aide described as “leading from behind.” (Nelson Mandela also espoused this particular idea of leadership, although it’s unclear if these same war hawks mocked him for it as well.)
It’s also unclear what they found so wrong with this idea. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, quoted in a recent New Yorker article analyzing Obama’s foreign policy, may have stumbled on the conundrum for the right. Referring to the situation in Libya, Clinton said, “[F]or those who want to see the United States always acting unilaterally, it’s not satisfying,” she said, “for the world we’re trying to build, where we have a lot of responsible actors who are willing to step up and lead, it is exactly what we should be doing.”
Put former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty (R) in that camp. Pawlenty has been all over the airwaves recently attacking Obama on Libya and yesterday on a local Chicago radio show, the likely 2012 GOP presidential candidate straight up said that he opposes Obama’s multilateralism:
PAWLENTY: And then of course the president subordinated our decision-making interests in Libya to the United Nations. And I don’t think a president in our country should ever subordinate or decision making to the United Nations when it comes to the [inaudible] of our military. So, I think the better strategy would’ve been to do it quickly and decisively when that moment window of opportunity appeared.
If the United States went to war in Libya without international sanction, it would have absolutely no legitimacy and could quite possibly be considered illegal (see: Iraq, 2002-2003). But who was it that got the UN to agree to a resolution authorizing something stronger than a no-fly zone? The United States:
[T]he [U.S.] U.N. envoy quietly proposed transforming a tepid resolution for a no-fly zone into a permission for full-scale military intervention in Libya. Some officials thought it was a trick. Was it possible that the Americans were trying to make the military options appear so bleak that China and Russia would be sure to block action?
Gradually, it became clear that the U.S. was serious. Clinton spoke with her Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, who had previously told her that Russia would “never never” support even a no-fly zone. The Russians agreed to abstain. Without the cover of the Russians, the Chinese almost never veto Security Council resolutions.
With U.S. leadership, the UN Security Council’s passage of the Libya resolution was the first time in 60 years the UN authorized military action to prevent an “imminent massacre.” “It was, by any objective standard, the most rapid multinational military response to an impending human rights crisis in history,” said Tom Malinowski, the Washington director of Human Rights Watch.
And with the UN, the Arab League and NATO on board, the international community, not just the United States, is responsible for the outcome in Libya. That’s what Nelson Mandela called “leading from behind.” Perhaps for folks like Pawlenty, that just isn’t very satisfying.