Video of the day

Still not sure exactly how the Affordable Care Act actually works for Americans and their health insurance.  A pretty much perfect seven-minute summary (with entertaining animation).

Ouch, the stupid (health care edition)

One of my students in class today said he had heard the obvious solution to our shutdown dilemma from a caller to a radio show today.  Since I’m pretty sure this guy was not exactly listening to Diane Rehm, I was skeptical.  Basically, this obvious solution was the Vitter amendment.  Something so stupid I’ve paid basically no attention to it until this afternoon.  Alas, Fox News and company have apparently been all worked up about this for ages.  And, in the end, it just shows how mind-bogglingly clueless so many Republicans (including actual US Senators) are on the issue of health care policy.  How clueless?  Yglesias gives the full run-down:

However, the rise of the Vitter amendment itself is a fascinating tale of the conservative media echo chamber.

It all goes back to an amendment to the Affordable Care Act spearheaded by Chuck Grassley. This was supposed to be a poison-pill measure that would force congressional staff to obtain their health insurance on Affordable Care Act exchanges. Grassley, because he’s incredibly ill-informed, had gotten it into his head that Democrats would reject this idea out of hand. But Democrats genuinely think that health insurance exchanges are a good idea and were happy to sign on to this piece of legislative trolling. I would add that it’s actually a doubly good idea to do this, because public officials are unusually attentive to the quality of public services that public officials actually use. That’s why sequestration’s impact on air travel was addressed much more adroitly than its impact on preschool for poor kids.

But there’s a nuance here. The way most people—including congressional staffers—get health care is that their employer partially pays for it. The way the exchanges work is that the government provides subsidies so that people who don’t currently get employer-provided insurance can afford to buy it. The Grassley amendment, on one reading, would create an anomalous situation where not only would congressional staff have to buy insurance on the exchanges they’d be taking a large de facto pay cut. That’s because they’d be losing a valuable perk (employer-provided insurance) and given nothing in exchange for it. That doesn’t really make sense as public policy, and certainly Grassley’s intention wasn’t to enact an across the board cut in congressional staff pay. He was just trolling. At any rate, the Office of Personnel Management stepped in and said they did not interpret the Grassley amendment in this way. Instead they read it as authorizing the government to redirect money currently spent on buying health insurance for congressional staff to subsidizing the purchase of insurance on Obamacare exchanges. Thus, congressional staff will participate in the exchanges and the exchange process but won’t end up taking a pay cut.

Somehow the conservative press convinced itself that this constituted a “special congressional exemption” from Obamacare or from the individual mandate. At this point David Vitter—whether out of stupidity or what I can’t quite say—took up this banner and has been sponsoring legislation that would overrule the OPM and force the perverse reading of the Grassley amendment onto the government.

Kevin Drum also runs through the sorry details.   So, now, they may be willing to fund the government for the next couple weeks if they can screw their own staff out of their current health care benefit.  Truly breathtaking.

Photo of the day

Thanks much to Mike from Canada for providing the link to this awesome gallery of amazing photos of animals congregating.   I’ve got to agree that the stingrays are the coolest (and a larger version here):

In the stunning photo above, German conservation photographer Florian Schulz captured thousands of stingrays swimming through the ocean in Baja California Sur, Mexico.

As he states, “During an aerial expedition I came across something I had never seen before. Not even my pilot, who has surveyed this area for 20 years, had seen anything like it. As we got closer we started to discover its nature: an unprecedented congregation of rays. The group was as thick as it was wide, all heading towards the same direction. I have asked around why this took place but no one has been able to explain it to me. After such a unique sighting, I realise there are so many marvels in the oceans that we are yet to understand.”

Asymmetry of the day

Nice post by Weigel:

Today, Johnson attempts to prove a point that Republicans have been making before they release their full debt limit demands. “The Democratic Party,” he writes, “has consistently battled debt ceiling increases when Republican presidents were in power.” Fair-minded journalists have been wondering about this, wondering how many Pinocchios or Pants on Fire to assign Barack Obama when he says the GOP’s current demands are without precedent. Johnson’s near-total failure suggests that Obama might be right…

To recap: Raising the debt limit always been unpopular, and tough to explain to voters. A few times, Democrats balked at raising it for a few days to make a point, then caved in. Many more times, they’ve just voted for the damn thing. John Boehner’s Republicans have only ever agreed to raise the debt limit if they won major policy concessions from the president. Both parties don’t do it. One party does it.

 

Not a negotiation, but a hostage sitution

Great post from Ezra:

President Obama’s news conference was meant to drive home his position that he won’t negotiate with Republicans over the debt ceiling.

But Republicans want those negotiations. And they think they’ve found a winning message to get them: How can Obama be willing to negotiate with Vladimir Putin but not with John Boehner? …

Let’s run the analogy out.

Imagine that Putin stepped forward tomorrow morning and announced that Russia had developed a computer virus that would shut down the market for U.S. Treasuries and that he would release that virus unless Obama agreed to a list of Russian demands.

No one would say Russia was asking for negotiations with Obama. They would say Russia was holding the U.S. economy hostage and demanding that Obama pay a ransom. No Republican — and no Democrat — would advice Obama to take that meeting. The sole question would be prevention and, if necessary, reprisal.

This is the core disagreement between the White House and the Republican Party. The Republican Party thinks it’s offering the White House something it wants — the continued creditworthiness of the United States of America — in return for things the GOP wants, like a one-year delay on Obamacare.

But the White House doesn’t see an increase in the debt limit as something that the Republicans are giving them. As Obama put it in his news conference: “Paying America’s bills is not a concession to me. That’s not doing me a favor.” …

The reason Republicans aren’t interested in those negotiations is they don’t want to give anything up to get the things they want. That’s why they like negotiating over the debt ceiling: Since they also don’t want the the U.S. to lose its creditworthiness and fall back into financial crisis, raising the debt ceiling is not actually giving anything up. It’s releasing a hostage they never wanted to shoot.

The GOP argues the fact that they don’t want to vote to raise the debt ceiling makes it a concession to the White House. The White House disagrees. But that — and not negotiations in general — is the core issue. If Putin came to Obama with anything akin to the GOP’s position on the debt ceiling, it would be perceived not as an opening for negotiations, but as a prelude to war.

Exactly!  And so far beyond the realm of ordinary politics of “both sides…”  If only the media would actually report it that way instead of the endless, “both sides fail to agree…” etc.

Dead kids and guns

From the intro of a must-read NYT piece on the far, far too many children that die from accidental gun deaths (just another sad consequence of our gun-loving culture):

The .45-caliber pistol that killed Lucas Heagren, 3, on Memorial Day last year at his Ohio home had been temporarily hidden under the couch by his father.  But Lucas found it and shot himself through the right eye.“It’s bad,” his mother told the 911 dispatcher. “It’s really bad.”

A few days later in Georgia, Cassie Culpepper, 11, was riding in the back of a pickup with her 12-year-old brother and two other children. Her brother started playing with a pistol his father had lent him to scare coyotes. Believing he had removed all the bullets, he pointed the pistol at his sister and squeezed the trigger. It fired, and blood poured from Cassie’s mouth.

Just a few weeks earlier, in Houston, a group of youths found a Glock pistol in an apartment closet while searching for snack money. A 15-year-old boy was handling the gun when it went off. Alex Whitfield, who had just turned 11, was struck. A relative found the bullet in his ashes from the funeral home.

Cases like these are among the most gut-wrenching of gun deaths. Children shot accidentally — usually by other children — are collateral casualties of the accessibility of guns in America, their deaths all the more devastating for being eminently preventable.

They die in the households of police officers and drug dealers, in broken homes and close-knit families, on rural farms and in city apartments. Some adults whose guns were used had tried to store them safely; others were grossly negligent. Still others pulled the trigger themselves, accidentally fracturing their own families while cleaning a pistol or hunting.

And there are far more of these innocent victims than official records show.

As Justin Peters has argued persuasively in Slate, so long as we keep treating this foreseeable and preventable events as “accidents” without holding any adults legally accountable we can expect this horrifying litany to continue.   Oh, and there’s this:

The National Rifle Association cited the lower official numbers this year in a fact sheet opposing “safe storage” laws, saying children were more likely to be killed by falls, poisoning or environmental factors — an incorrect assertion if the actual number of accidental firearm deaths is significantly higher.

In all, fewer than 20 states have enacted laws to hold adults criminally liable if they fail to store guns safely, enabling children to access them.

NRA in short: other things kill kids more than guns (based on questionable statistics) so why worry about kids being killed with guns.  What a breathtakingly morally bankrupt position.  Of course, I would expect nothing less from a breathtakingly morally bankrupt organization.  Love this quote from the Times article (from the mother of a boy shot by a friend):

“There are no accidents,” Ms. Sandoval said. “There are simply irresponsible, stubborn, cowardly adults unwilling to stand up against the gun lobby and those who support it.”

The NRA says we just need to “educate” and warn our kids enough.  Apparently, despite their love of guns, they NRA is somehow entirely ignorant of the magnetic appeal of guns to young boys:

As part of Dr. Kellermann’s study, researchers watched through a one-way mirror as pairs of boys ages 8 to 12 were left alone in an examination room at a clinic in Atlanta. Unknown to the children, an inoperative .38-caliber handgun was concealed in a cabinet drawer.

Playing and exploring over the next 15 minutes, one boy after another — three-quarters of the 64 children — found the gun. Two-thirds handled it, and one-third actually pulled the trigger. Just one child went to tell an adult about the gun, and he was teased by his peers for it. More than 90 percent of the boys said they had had some gun safety instruction.
But, alas:
As a solution, many behavioral researchers advocate greater emphasis on child-proofing firearms, along with safe-storage laws. But requiring, or even encouraging, efforts to introduce “smart gun” technology remains unpopular with the gun lobby, which has worked to undermine such research and attempts to regulate firearms as a dangerous consumer product.
All in all, a depressing and sobering story.  So many kids lives absolutely needlessly lost simply because their parents (or other adults) love their guns too much and the law does not force them to take reasonable steps to protect children.  That loaded gun in the nightstand is so much more likely to kill a child you know than to scare off a criminal breaking in.

Photo of the day

From a Big Picture gallery of Air Show photos:

Russian Su-37 fighters of the Lipetsk pilot training center of the ‘Russian Falcons’ aerobatic group perform at Moscow International Aviation and Space Salon MAKS-2013 in the city of Zhukovsky, outside Moscow, Russia, on Aug. 30. (Sergei Chirikov/European Pressphoto Agency)
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