Monthly Archives: July 2012

Clearly, Peggy Noonan Hasn’t Seen The Wild Bunch

“Did ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ cause the Aurora shootings? No, of course not. One movie doesn’t have that kind of power…” Don’t worry, Noonan will soon drop this relative calm and start making lots of illogical assertions about how Hollywood–after all these years and its welcome tendency of recent years to take violence a lot more-seriously–is destroying America. Copyright 2012 Warner Bros. Pictures.

Peggy Noonan still blames violence in entertainment for the Violence in Our Society.  (Note: All consternation caps are ironic.)  Actually, she makes 2 arguments:
1.) Violence in entertainment encourages children to act more-aggressively, and
2.) Violence in entertainment unhinges the insane, who are more-impressionable.

I wasn’t aware that the deeply-disturbed were up-to-date in their consumption popular culture; they may well be more-impressionable, but Noonan elides impressionability in a personal context with the explicit and unreflective ingestion of popular culture images; the latter should be more-recognizable from the cases of mass murder we’ve seen if it’s the principal catalyst.  And when madmen carried out their killing sprees in that golden age of the early 1960s (news flash: it happened), who were they modeling themselves after back then, Lawrence of Arabia?  If study after study shows that children who watch violent entertainment become more-aggressive in their behavior, that’s not surprising at all; children imitate others, particularly adults, constantly.  They are trying to learn, and mostly just have what is directly in front of them to work with.  But this bad behavior is mostly a form of play–a problem, granted, and one that must be addressed with proper disciplining–but Noonan’s thesis is wrong if depictions of violence in one’s popular culture don’t correlate with higher levels of violent crime, or at least a higher concentration of sociopaths in a society.  The former is known to be incorrect; the latter argument I have not heard advanced by an academic.

Anyway, crime–including violent crime–is actually at an all-time low nationwide.  This has been linked to the increased sophistication of police protection, which suggests that crime rates are influenced more by strategic considerations than Noonan’s condescending insistence that we are all sponges that can only release what we soak up (and that we soak everything we see up).  I don’t see much evidence that the younger generation of kids are more-violent than past generations; even the plague of cyber-bullying (and I do accept that as a plague) suggests that cruel children are content to shift from aggressive to passive-aggressive forms of cruelty.  This clashes with any strong form of the “desensitization” thesis.

…Now, *this* guy *did* make us more-violent, Noonan avers, bringing all her sociological insight to bear on the problem. Copyright 2008 Warner Bros. Pictures.

Look, everyone–A Conservative is decrying the moral decadence promoted by Hollywood!  Noonan has the theory she likes and seems impervious to more easily-supported explanations of rampages: Our overall murder rate is several times as high as Britain’s (as is our rate of murder with guns, not coincidentally), but she has nothing to say about how easy it is to buy guns in this country and the 1-sided role this fact plays in extreme but cowardly acts of violence.  (States with fewer regulations on gun sales do in fact have higher rates of homicide with guns, and for the most part of homicide overall.)  She even makes the perfunctory nod to nostalgia, telling us that it was all so very different, oh, 23 years ago. Apparently Jack Nicholson’s 1989 Joker was non-threatening and unreal.  “He was meant to amuse,” she says–which either makes me wonder how recently she’s seen Tim Burton’s Batman or suggests that movies actually take violence much more-seriously now than they did then.  She notes that 2008’s The Dark Knight was a very dark film–though it involved less indiscriminate killing than Burton’s 1989 Batman and made Batman’s philosophical refusal to kill (which Burton rather crassly discarded back in those halcyon days of the late-1980s) a central theme of its narrative.  She reacts to the cerebral darkness of that movie as a sign that we have lost our way!  Staring a positive cultural development in the face, she sees only a predictable step in our now-unstoppable descent into madness.

Speaking of the descent into madness: Noonan found Jack Nicholson’s portrayal of the Joker “amusing” rather than violent or morbid (as I did). If I’m following her correctly, portrayals of violence as funny and ironic are innocent; it’s the portrayals of violence as serious stuff which desensitizes us. Copyright 1989 Warner Bros. Pictures.

Most-unfortunately, Noonan has nothing to say about the media’s relentless and weirdly un-self-conscious role in glorifying the homicidally-insane.  No, it’s the movies that are doing it.

It would be nice to see us emerge from our political stupor about the pervasiveness of gun violence, which we can certainly do more to prevent than we have without violating the 2nd Amendment.  It would be nice for the media to get a clue about their role in inspiring copycat murderers.  It would be nice for people who decry the violence in our culture to actually have a grasp on the decline of crime (and, arguably, of violent sentiments in people’s minds).

Finally, it would be nice if those indulging the unrecognized weakness of inveterate contempt for the present could see that they have a problem–which, while subtle, pervades their thoughts and feelings (particularly in the case of their hazy recollections about the past).  If they recognized this conceit of judgment, maybe then they wouldn’t point to an act of violence by an insane person (those who by definition keep their own counsel) and then point to a representation of violence (which can be made edifying or exploitative), and then say (with a lack of irony that Noonan attributes to the insane without irony), “You see? People can’t tell what is real!”

Please return to your regularly-scheduled programming.

The Assad Regime’s Failing Counterattack in Aleppo

The Assad Family Regime’s brutal counterattack against rebel positions in Aleppo, Syria’s 2nd-largest city, was taken by many spectators to portend a significant setback to rebel progress in the country’s growing civil war.  A grim indicator of the Assad Family Regime’s use of helicopter gunships, tanks and even fighter jets to hammer rebel positions, both the Red Cross and the Red Crescent of Syria agree that over 200,000 residents of the city fled over the past weekend alone.

Though the rebel Free Syrian Army has shown many signs of growing strength in July, from a stunning assassination of high-level military officials in the capital Damascus to concurrent territorial gains in that city, the lack of material means to fight the Regime’s gunships and armor columns (let-alone the fast and crudely-destructive fighter jets the regime is now prepared to deploy in its own cities) has clearly hampered has for days been taken to imply a massive regime counterattack and inevitable rebel retreat.  The former has clearly happened; the latter has been more-measured than anticipated.

Even as they fall back in the face of the Regime counterattack, the Free Syrian Army continues to make progress on other fronts where the government has become vulnerable.  Following an overnight battle, the rebels captured a Regime military base manned by about 200 troops of the Syrian Army on Monday morning.  Somehow, casualties were light on both sides, and the rebels captured 4 tanks in fighting condition.

A dozen Syrian military and police officers, including the Deputy Police Chief of Latakia, defected to Turkey last night.  At the same time Khaled al-Ayoubi, the Syrian Ambassador to the United Kingdom, resigned his post, saying he would no longer “represent a regime that has committed such violent and oppressive acts against its own people.”  It is unclear whether Mr. Ayoubi now intends to represent the rebels in some capacity, but his resignation from the Assad Family Regime was favorably-received by the UK Foreign Office.

Even if rebel claims that they are repulsing the government’s counterattack in Aleppo prove to be exaggerated, the very fact that the rebellion has reached this point is devastating news for the Regime.  With a 2004 census count of just over 2.1 million people, Aleppo is home to about 10% of all Syrians; through most of the conflict the city has at least outwardly supported the Assad Regime.  The use of gunships, tanks, and artillery in the city’s streets–along with what amounts in effect to a military blockade of many neighborhoods that has cut off both food staples and electricity–will alienate many supporters of the regime, as will the Regime’s somewhat-lighter hand in Damascus.  The Liberal Ironist previously reasoned that Tunisian President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali’s initial unprovoked heavy-handedness in dealing with protesters followed by abrupt offers of concessions, and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s less-sincere offering of the same under similar conditions, presaged the collapse of those regimes under growing rebel confidence.  But in Libya Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi”s contrasting zero-tolerance policy towards any and all dissent simply inflamed existing popular mistrust and anger towards the stationary banditry that passed for a government there, converting protests into armed insurrection.  The same is coming to pass in Syria, where the Free Syrian Army can claim to have received no foreign direct assistance aside from Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.  At no time has the Assad Family Regime made an offer of concessions, or even really of peace.  The very fact of the massive reprisals the Regime is now taking on a city that had in relative terms sat-out this civil war is a sign that differences between the government and most of its people are now unbridgeable, and that the government is losing its grip on the material means it needs to support itself.  The Liberal Ironist no more has a crystal ball than anyone else, and so cannot predict when the Assad Family Regime will fall, but I am confident that fall will come more-suddenly and dramatically than many observers now expect–as it did in Libya.

Romney, Our Anglo-Saxon Heritage and Racial Dog-Whistles: Déjà Vu All Over Again

Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney has taken to the United Kingdom, but it doesn’t seem the United Kingdom has taken to him.  His tour, intended to demonstrate the Governor’s preparedness to conduct our nation’s foreign policy, has been surprisingly coldly-received in a country with which we share a common Anglo-Saxon cultural heritage.

Oh, about that: 1 of Governor Romney’s campaign advisers told the Daily Telegraph, a premiere Conservative-leaning UK newspaper, that the Brits could count on Governor Romney to…just “get them” better than President Obama:

“In remarks that may prompt accusations of racial insensitivity, one (campaign adviser) suggested that Mr Romney was better placed to understand the depth of ties between the two countries than Mr Obama, whose father was from Africa.

“‘We are part of an Anglo-Saxon heritage, and he feels that the special relationship is special,’ the adviser said of Mr Romney, adding: ‘The White House didn’t fully appreciate the shared history we have’.”

On the left, Mitt Romney, Republican Presidential candidate. On the right, the helmet of one of the Anglo-Saxons with whom Romney reportedly shares a closer cultural identification than the President. Photo credit: The Atlantic.

Oh, boy–Why, what handicap would prevent the White House from appreciating the special relationship?  For some reason this adviser wasn’t quoted on-the-record, and Governor Romney quickly distanced himself from and minimized the comments themselves:

“‘I’m generally not enthusiastic about adopting the comments made by people who are unnamed. I have a lot of advisers,’ he said in an interview with NBC News’ Brian Williams in London. ‘Actually we’ve gone from calling the rope line where I shake hands every day to the advice line. Because you have a lot of people that offer advice. So I’m not sure who this person is.'”

What a relief: Governor Romney doesn’t appreciate comments to disqualify the President by racial allegory.  He doesn’t think we should hang too much on what unnamed campaign advisers (who aren’t specialists in what public figures should say and when they should say it or anything) might be thinking when they make them.  It’s not like Governor Romney has consistently trailed in the swing State polls up to this point and he is desperately looking for easy ways (like, say, taking a harshly-Conservative posture towards undocumented immigrants) to rally the most implacably-Conservative element of his party.

See? I was being both Liberal and ironic.

It’s nice that Governor Romney has publicy disavowed his unnamed adviser’s comments to the Telegraph, but while I accept the disavowal as a matter of principle, in the context of the anonymous comments themselves they look like a backfired attempt at dog-whistle politics.  The fact remains that his campaign “anonymously” made those comments.  Normally I’ve felt Governor Romney has taken the high road, but this kind of double-talk is something we’ve seen before. During the Reagan era, Republicans ran on his “I didn’t leave the Democratic Party.  The party left me” refrain (the quip with which Reagan had justified his 1962 party switch), leaving it to the “Reagan Democrats” to understand who the Democratic Party left them for.  During the 2000 Republican Presidential Primaries the Bush campaign had operatives tell Republicans that Senator McCain is gay in Michigan, and that he fathered an illegitimate black daugher (actually, he adopted a Bangladeshi girl) in South Carolina.  During the 2008 Republican National Convention Mayor Giuliani called the term “Islamic terrorism” an insult to terrorists.  Since President Obama’s inauguration Republican opinion-makers have said time and again that, in some unique, almost intangible way President Obama “isn’t an American.”  We’ve seen the spectacle of hacks gaining national prominence solely for alleging that our President is secretly not a citizen; with marginally more of their dignity intact, National Review screed-writer Dinesh D’Souza and Presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich both asserted that President Obama’s politics are rooted in Kenyan radical anti-colonialism (which is really hard to square with the way he fights terrorism).  Now we have this immediate disavowal of a Romney campaign adviser’s anonymous comments to a major Conservative British newspaper.

(Anyway, if you haven’t heard the term “dog-whistle politics” before, you should understand what it is now, after those examples.)

This is not about whether the Romney campaign is doing enough to distance itself from these remarks.  I’m not alleging that this is the result of a Republican campaign’s failure or inability to police bigotry within its own ranks, but rather of a tactical choice.  Like many, many Republicans before him, I’m not alleging that Romney or even the adviser in question is personally racist, but that they want to have their racist cake and eat it, too.   It’s dog-whistle politics, something Republicans are very good at for a very simple reason.

The particularly sad thing about this is that Congresswoman Deborah Wasserman-Schultz, who is not renowned for her sense of fair play towards Republicans, was quite explicit that Governor Romney’s religion was off the table as a campaign ploy, as it should be.  This incident just goes to show that President Obama’s race is campaign fodder.  Since that’s about as low as the Romney campaign can stoop, I’m not surprised that the message would be made surreptitiously; what I don’t really find plausible is that such a strange comment would be made by mistake.

Shameless bigotry mixed with plausible deniability: What better-epitomizes the methods of the Republican Party? What better-reveals what they think of their supporters?

Assad Regime Claims Chemical Weapons for Use Against Foreign Aggression Only…But Hasn’t He Labeled the Uprising the Work of Foreigners?

Earlier today Syria’s listing Assad Regime made an unprecedented public acknowledgement of its chemical weapons stockpiles, assuring its already-brutalized public that it would never use them against its own people but warning foreign powers that it was prepared to use them against any foreign aggressor.

That is a nice assurance for the son and nephew of those responsible for 1982’s Hama Massacre to make.  Surely it is an especially comforting guarantee, coming as it does after Syrian President-for-Life Bashar al-Assad missed an opportunity by responding to the peaceful protests of early 2011 with naked violence matched only by the avowedly-monstrous Colonel Moammar Gaddafi of Libya.  In 17 months 18,000 Syrians–including a growing proportion of the Assad Regime’s contracting force of loyal troops–have died in a civil war that only had to happen because Assad refused to allow any peaceful protests.  He seemed to have drawn the lesson from the collapse of the seemingly-safe Ben Ali Regime in Tunisia in just 4 weeks and the seemingly-safe Mubarak Regime in Egypt in about 3 weeks that a zero-tolerance policy toward protest, including peaceful protest, was the only way to cow the Assad Family’s opponents.  Actually, a reasonably-informed outside observer could see that in both of those contexts it was the combination of unabashed corruption of the regime in the face of high unemployment and inflation, coupled with violent repression of initial protests followed by the abrupt prospect of concessions, and finally capped off by the unwillingness of both country’s militaries to crush the protesters, that brought both of those previously-quiet single-party states down so quickly.

Assad’s obtuse grasp of politics is a fitting complement to his brutality.  His “zero tolerance” approach to dissent was intended to demonstrate his resolve, but instead it has simultaneously militarized his opposition and greatly increased the plausibility of their appeal, leading to its rapid expansion.  At first the Assad Family Regime seemed to think it would have a simple time of it, simply besieging the southern town of Daraa where the protests began and fighting the protesters into acquiescence.  But in keeping with a classic blind spot of dictators, the full extent of economic discontent, the speed with which news of the Assad Family Regime’s cruelty spread and even the light in which it was seen all seems to have eluded Assad.  He has started a civil war he cannot finish.  And in the middle of last week, 3 (later, as it turned out, 4) members of Bashar’s inner circle were killed in an astonishing bombing in Damascus.

In response a friend found a level-headed entry on a blog specializing in political violence, calling on onlookers not to uncork the champaigne just yet.  Well, if the point is that the rebels will have trouble consolidating their gains in the face of the Regime counterattack, and that Bashar will now feel he has to double-down to save himself, yes, that all seems logical and borne-out.  But the Liberal Ironist is leaning heavily on the “For Now.”  About 1/2 of Assad’s inner circle was killed in 1 bombing.  This could only happen because the capabilities, resolve, and connections of the rebels to disaffected members of the Regime have grown.  They may have made bids for territory they cannot hold, but early last year the protesters in Syria were peaceful and were not armed; the Assad Regime is clearly on a long-term trajectory towards failure.  Between its isolation, defections, rebel expansion, Turkey’s hostility and growing Russian embarrassment, I really don’t think the Assad Regime has the resources it would need to successfully gamble for resurrection.  Just because it isn’t dead doesn’t mean it isn’t dying.  Barring far more assistance from Russia than just diplomatic cover–which Russia’s current prevarications suggest is unlikely–I don’t think the Regime can survive this.  There’s really no good explanation for how it can considering the rebellion has reached this extent already.

But now, the Assad Family Regime has the Obama Administration to deal with.  “We’re looking at the controlled demolition of the Assad regime,” said a Syria expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy in response to Administration officials’ weekend announcement that the United States will now accelerate its efforts to provide aid to Syria’s rebel groups–though it will not directly arm them or advise Israeli tactical action at this time.  Since, as the New York Times article linked above indicates, Turkey, Qat

In the face of such a prospect, all the Liberal Ironist can say is that it is reason-enough to intervene on the side of the rebels in the 1st place, and that part of the assistance the United States should offer the rebels is clear: They need whatever training and equiptment we could hope to provide them to minimize the losses that would attend such indiscriminate killing by this dying Leviathan.

Giving Lone-Wolf Murderers an Audience Encourages Them

Many people made some kind of shocked exclamation.  Others insisted that their “prayers are with the victims of this terrible tragedy.”  Then they shared links to probing news items about the latest mass murder, this time in Colorado, that tell us gruesome details about the violence done–or worse, that tell us about the man (or on occasion, the woman) behind the unprovoked rampage.

That’s right, these rampages are unprovoked.  The perpetrators of these crimes are not victims, and if they are misunderstood it is only in that some people in the public are listening to them as if they are going to learn something.  But there is nothing to learn; the details are actually meaningless, the deed is a means and the buzz we generate around their rampages is the end.  The Liberal Ironist abhors violence and will always see these killers anonymously, as failed human beings.  No one fails as a human being simply because they have failed to achieve distinction; they do fail as human beings if they sacrifice others just to draw attention to themselves.

In a recent discussion a friend drew the same observation that I did about the current spate of massacres: To resort to cliche, we live in a culture in which we’re told we’re special.  The frustration of these expectations leads to a sense of grievance.  But there is no one to blame; sometimes not even oneself.  Rather than live a modest if precarious existence, taking it 1 day at a time and recognizing the small opportunities to do some good or have pleasurable experiences, a very small number of people simply succumb to the laziness of their own imaginations: They want to get attention by the only wholly-undeserving means there is–destruction without purpose.

This argument from 2008, or something like it, is all I have to say about the tragedy that happened last night in Colorado.  The perpetrators of these crimes are perverts or psychotics who draw attention to themselves at the cost of other people’s lives. Their personal stories and their manifestos are always irrelevant. They carry out their killing sprees because they’re too unimaginative or impotent to do anything meaningful; their stories are just their rationales for surrender. We should recognize that our own morbid interest in the details of their lives is not intellectual in nature, that these people are not serious participants in the “marketplace of ideas,” and just write them off as deviants. Psychologists should be trying to understand these idiosyncratic individuals, not a public turning to the news for perverse entertainment.

Update: Another friend found Charlie Brooker’s excellent, scathing video criticism of the voyeuristic and exploitative media market that allows prospective killers to fantasize.

Mitt Romney Doesn’t Grasp the Urgency of His Situation

President Obama’s re-election campaign has come up with the rarest of attack ads–specifically, it has substance and actually clarifies what is at stake in the radically different visions the 2 candidates offer for how to restore economic growth.  Governor Romney sings a slightly off-key but pleasant rendition of “America, the Beautiful” in Florida, his voice echoing through abandoned factories as Bain Capital’s history of closing-down domestic industrial operations and cashing the profits reads-out on chyron cards in the foreground.  We are told of the profits he subsequently deposited in foreign bank accounts (while his singing ironically carries even to the Cayman Islands and Switzerland, where he has stashed millions).  Finally the ad fades out, Romney having just reached “And crown thy good with brotherhood…”

I like to imagine this ad will be 2012’s equivalent of the Johnson ad of a girl picking flowers interrupted by a nuclear blast that so undermined Barry Goldwater, or George Bush Sr’s. notorious “Willie Horton” that stirred-up long-standing fear towards crime and Michael Dukakis’ Liberal attitude towards it in Massachusetts.  The difference between this ad and those is that the Obama campaign has found a serious issue on which to go on the attack.

I give Governor Romney credit for running (what by historical standards is) a principled campaign outside of the fact that it hasn’t found any way to respond to challenging political circumstances.  The Obama campaign has found a line of attack that makes him look pretty bad (and didn’t have to stoop all that far to find it, mind you), and so far he hasn’t come close to finding a good defense.  More to the point: Why won’t the Romney campaign come clean with his tax returns?

A friend of a friend offered a Conservative’s theory that Governor Romney has nothing to hide and is simply waiting for the appropriate time to release the non-incriminating information.  This explanation is implausible to me; it makes sense to wait to release damaging information in a way that, to quote anti-US hack Julian Assange, “maximizes political impact,” but I don’t think the same can be said about defending one’s campaign.  It’s the attack on one’s character, judgment or past policy choices that sinks-in; you want to dispel those doubts with a substantive counter.  In politics, the right time to do that is always now.  The fact that Governor Romney hasn’t been forthcoming makes me think he’s hoping to ride this out, which suggests he’s less-worried about the erosion of public confidence than about what we might find.

Whatever it is, if he hasn’t broken the law to sequester his millions in those offshore bank accounts it will very likely look like there should be a law outlawing what he has done–and that would be just as bad for Romney.  In that case his call to lower taxes on the rich further may look like a particularly unfair conflict of interest, considering all the Federal money he has proposed cutting-off to the working and middle class.  So, if he hasn’t technically committed a crime in evading so much in taxes and moving so much money out of the country, he will play into the Democrats’ refrain that the tax law is broken.

The very fact that every question about Romney’s finances seems to have multiple answers (Was he legally responsible for Bain Capital’s actions from 1999-2002? Did he deposit all the money he currently has in foreign bank accounts legally? Does he have $205 million to his name, or is it $260 million?) itself testifies to the failure of basic equability in our tax law, and of how he personally has thrived in its broken spaces.  It’s the idea that he has been able to do this without breaking the law that really kills Republican rhetoric about “empowering job creators.”

I give Governor Romney credit for running a clean campaign, but in case anyone hasn’t noticed, he is significantly less of a Conservative than the base of his party.  He probably figured that sticking to a technocratic campaign based on his qualifications to fix the economy would be both resonant and safe.  That’s true if economic conditions remain as weak as they were for the past 2 months; meanwhile, Romney’s attendant case about the overreach of Federal power under President Obama was just undermined by 2 Supreme Court rulings in late-June, and with the passage of the highway bill and the extension of low student loan interest rates the President can say he was able to accomplish most of his economic policy objectives before the election.  What was once enough for Romney to run a substantive campaign without making controversial policy commitments is now just the insufficiently-developed persona that he seems to be hiding behind.  But he’s running for President; he can’t afford to ignore a plausible attack.  The President has called his basic inclination to do what’s good for the country into question, and surprisingly his challenger has very little to say about that.

Rick Scott, Rick Perry: The State-Level Gauntlet-Throwing on the Affordable Care Act Begins

Well, here it comes: On Monday, Texas Governor Rick Perry, famous for his imploding Presidential campaign, said that Texas will not accept the Federal funding that would expand the Medicaid program there to insure all residents up to 133% of the Federal poverty level.  This announcement, by way of an open letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, has garnered a lot of attention over the past 3 days, but it is merely the most-emphatic case in a (still-small) wave of Republican-led States that have announced they will not follow the Federal Government’s lead in preparing for the reforms of President Obama’s Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act–including 1 provision that will cost little, doesn’t impose new regulations on health insurers or care providers, and which offers a lot of convenience for residents.

Texas has about 6.2 million uninsured people–about a quarter of  its population, the highest rate of uninsured in the United States–of which about 1.8 million people would have been insured through the Medicaid expansion and roughly 1 million more people currently qualify for Medicaid, mostly without realizing it.

Governor Perry, in an open letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, said that he opposes “both the expansion of Medicaid as provided in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act
and the creation of a so-called ‘state’ insurance exchange, because both represent brazen intrusions into the sovereignty of our state.” Sure, one could say Governor Perry is brazen in his callousness towards every 4th Texan who has to go without health insurance, but in his defense he only made this decision as an unprincipled and unimaginative self-promoter. Photo by Win McNamee (Getty Images).

The Affordable Care Act directs the Federal Government to provide 100% of the cost of the expansion of Medicaid for all States in 2014, the law’s 1st year of full implementation.  Federal matching funds would fall to 90% of all Medicaid expenses after 2016, as the Act passes into its 4th budget year.  15.8 million Americans were initially expected to receive health care through the expansion of Medicaid, about 1.8 million of them in Texas.  An NPR report 2 days ago found that another 1 million Texans currently qualify for Medicaid but apparently don’t know it, and that officials from the Republic of Texas are concerned that many of those people may also sign up with the program if it expands, thus straining Texas’ Medicaid program even with generous new Federal funding.

A post-Perry decision edition of a map charting State governments’ positions on the Federally-led expansion of Medicaid. These assessments of State support or denial are made very conservatively; in grey are many States–mostly with Republican Governors or Republican unitary control–that have issued skeptical or cautionary comments about expanding Medicaid but have adopted a wait-and-see approach to the Medicaid expansion, whether primarily for budgetary or political reasons. Click here to reach an informative interactive version of the map, which unfortunately gets a freakishly large number of the partisan affiliations of State governments wrong.

Sarah Kliff, writing on Wonkblog, presented a helpful map on States’ response to their new-found power to reject the Medicaid expansion without losing existing Medicaid funds from the Federal Government.  (Unfortunately, this map was already dated due to Governor Perry’s announced rejection of the Medicaid expansion, on which Kliff was reporting.)  According to the updated map, Florida, South Carolina, Louisiana and Mississippi already preceded Texas in denying the expansion of Medicaid.  The same map lists New Jersey (by means of Republican Governor Chris Christie, not the very-Democratic State Legislature), Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska, and Nevada (again, through a Republican Governor) as proposing to opt-out of the Medicaid expansion.  With the exception of Nevada, which has already created its health insurance exchange, the remaining 9 of these States are also probably not going to follow-through on creating State databases that allow consumers to compare and pick insurance plans online.  Consider this: At least 9 States, all but Missouri with Republican Governors, are planning to forego instituting health insurance exchanges that would simply provide information to their citizens that would make choosing a health insurance plan more-competitive and convenient, leaving the power to create and maintain such a website (which thus may not be tailored to local consumer preferences) to the Federal Government, just to be on-record not doing anything to further “Obamacare”.

The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation’s map of State action to create the health insurance exchanges mandated by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act as of July 9, 2012. States are required to create the exchanges, which would provide residents easy access to information about the costs and benefits of different health insurance plans, by January 1, 2013 or else the Federal Government will create the exchanges for those States. All States’ health insurance exchanges are set to go online no later than January 1, 2014. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the State of Utah, respectively the most-Democratic and the most-Republican State in the country in Presidential elections, each instituted their own health insurance exchanges before the Affordable Care Act became law. Though Rick Snyder in Michigan has been one bright spot, many of the Republican Governors and State Legislatures elected since 2009 have implied or even stated that they won’t create their own health insurance exchanges even though they are mainly a matter of convenience for insurance-buyers.

Of course, Republican Governors have this leverage because of last month’s Supreme Court ruling on the Affordable Care Act.  In a 7-2 decision, the Court found that the Federal Government could not threaten States that declined to participate in the expansion of Medicaid with the loss of funds for the current Medicaid program.  Intrinsically, this was the most-radical part of the ruling by far, as it subjected 1 of the farthest-reaching reforms of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act to the discretion of the States.  (Though the Federal Government disburses money to State and local governments with conditions all the time, the expansion of Medicaid represented a far-reaching change to Medicaid, and while the 90% Federal funding for the expansion from 2020 onward was generous, it would leave States like Texas with up to several billion dollars in new liabilities.)

Don’t take my deference to the Court’s finding that the steep Medicaid penalty on the States was unconstitutional for sympathy towards those Republican Governors who have said they will opt-out of the expansion of Medicaid.  Just because the Federal Government doesn’t have the right to compel State action doesn’t mean it isn’t immoral for States not to act.  At 10 cents on the dollar, States can have the health care needs of all of their poor and their borderline poor covered through Medicaid (as long as they are citizens).  Some of the Republican Governors, such as Michigan’s Rick Snyder (who has actively promoted the creation of Michigan’s health insurance exchange in its Republican State Legislature), do seem serious about studying the impact of the Medicaid expansion on their State budgets and the number of the uninsured before making a decision.

While he is mistrusted by many on the left for the legislation he signed authorizing radical emergency financial management for financially-stressed cities and school districts, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder seems to be serious about studying the impact of a Federally-led expansion of the State’s Medicaid program before deciding whether to accept the money. It’s a nice contrast to the patronizing partisan gestures that have become hallmarks of the governing styles of Rick Perry, Rick Scott, Bobby Jindal, and Paul LePage.

The telling counterpart to this cheap show of Conservative virtue is several States’ refusal to create health insurance exchanges.  True, any State that misses the January 1, 2013 deadline to institute their own will see the Federal Government institute an exchange for them by January 1, 2014.  But while the consequences of refusing to create an exchange on their own motion would be minor, the benefits of creating their own could still be substantial, if State elected officials were willing to be associated with President Obama and Congressional Democrats.  If this were a money issue, a State could still ask the Federal Government for guidance in creating its health insurance exchange, which Conservative-Democratic Arkansas did.  The State of Utah–Republicans’ partisan counterpoint of the District of Columbia in Presidential elections–actually had a health insurance exchange that passed Federal muster before the Affordable Care Act became law.  The fact that so many Republican-run States haven’t taken any action to institute their health insurance exchanges with a Federal deadline approaching at the end of this year is telling: They have been asked to create a consumer-friendly interface for accessing information on different health insurance plans, and they won’t do it because it indicates cooperation with President Obama.  When Governors will not take minimally-costly action out of convenience for their middle classes to create health insurance exchanges, this is the light in which their inaction for their less-fortunate State residents should be viewed.

Some have calmly argued–though without approving of this tactic–that these Republican Governors are  playing hard-to-get in order to bargain with the Federal Government for greater flexibility on how to expand Medicaid.  That could be an illuminating, rationalist explanation; on the other hand, the Republic of Texas has an easy lead in the number of executions by State (even as its criminal justice system in some counties has been shown to be flawed in capital cases), and the State of Florida just intentionally made it very difficult to lawfully help anyone register to vote.  These States really don’t seem to have governments that are working-out all the angles to do what’s best for their residents; rather, they seem to be led by partisan hacks trying to build-up their reputations for–No, now I’m speculating…

The Liberal Ironist is serious about Liberalism–in Richard Rorty’s understanding, the sentiment that politics should aim to lessen the cruelty of “the World”–but I am also “serious about irony”–about the suspicion that all modes of understanding accessible to us are ultimately human creations rather than transcendent truths.  I do not embrace any binary that “Democrats are good” and “Republicans are evil,” not even in its better-disguised variations.  That said maybe a dozen States, mainly at the behest of their Republican Governors, are in the process of denying anywhere from tens of thousands to millions of their poorest residents access to health care that is mostly paid-for by the Federal Government (and through which their residents will pay most of the taxes regardless of their decision), so that they can set-up another procedural hurdle to a health care law that today plays a more-coherent role in Republican mythology than any policy the party will propose this Presidential Election year.  How convenient that we have a map marking-out the States where Governors have decided to leave their people uninsured, the better to play more-Conservative-than-thou.  The Liberal Ironist hopes you will check the originals now and then for updates…