Obamacare Obsessions

Image of Scott Pruitt

How much money are Oklahoma’s taxpayers spending in order to prevent people from getting health insurance?

That’s one obvious question that should be asked after a reprimanded federal judge in Muskogee—in what I believe is a crass political ruling—agreed with Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, pictured right, that federal subsidies shouldn’t be allowed under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in states that haven’t set up their own health insurance exchanges.

On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Ronald A. White of the Eastern District of Oklahoma ruled in favor of Pruitt’s lawsuit. After the health law was signed into law in 2010, the IRS implemented a rule that allowed federal exchanges to award subsidies under the ACA, which was the obvious intent of the law. Pruitt and other right-wingers, however, argue that IRS rule is unconstitutional, and they’re trying to get the U.S. Supreme Court to eventually side with them.

A federal appeals court in Virginia has upheld the IRS rule, and another appeals court in Washington D.C. initially sided with the anti-Obamacare crowd but has since vacated the decision. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the overall constitutionality of the ACA in 2012. The right-wing is now simply trying reduce the effectiveness of the law.

Here are some points to consider about Tuesday’s ruling:

(1) White was nominated by former Republican President George W. Bush in 2003 and has been reprimanded for misconduct in his tenure. According to one 2011 news story, the Tenth Circuit Court in Denver reprimanded him after an “investigation found White used his power to appoint friends to be special judges in settlement proceedings even though they were unqualified.” It’s not difficult to see White’s decision as politically motivated given the president who nominated him as judge and his past judicial behavior, which indicates a problem with impartiality.

(2) Pruitt and Gov. Mary Fallin both hailed the political ruling as a great victory, but a ruling from a red-state obscure judge with apparent past ethical problems is hardly a panacea for those people who want to deny health care to low-income people. Fallin claimed that “Oklahomans won a major victory” because of the ruling, but that’s an obvious sweeping generalization. What about the Oklahomans who are benefiting from the law?

(3) As New York Times columnist Paul Krugman has noted, Obamacare has been an overall success, and especially in those states that have embraced the obvious intent of the law and tried to get more people insured. This is a story pretty much ignored by the corporate media here and elsewhere. It’s much easier to report the reductionist doomsday predictions of right-wing politicians than to take a serious look at the growing numbers of people with health insurance in this country.

Meanwhile, Pruitt continues his relentless pursuit against Obamacare. How much is his obsession costing Oklahoma taxpayers? Are other issues, such as consumer protection, taking a backseat to Pruitt’s politically motivated agenda? My answers to those two questions: Too much. No doubt.

Finish It

Image of graphic related to American Indian Cultural Center and Museum

Does the American Indian Cultural Center and Museum in Oklahoma City remain unfinished mainly because of the long, sordid history of discrimination against indigenous people in this country?

It’s time to start seriously asking that question.

I’m sure the lawmakers, primarily Republicans, who refuse to complete the project by funding it would disagree and refer to the intricacies and quirks of the political process, but there the unfinished project sits, right off Interstate 40 in downtown Oklahoma, stalled since 2012.

It’s not difficult to view the project as a small gesture of reparation from the country’s dominant white culture, which removed native people from their lands and killed many of them in the process. Under this frame, the fact the project remains unfinished because the state government won’t fund it is yet another instance of institutionalized bigotry and the enduring legacy of European colonization of what became the United States. Would this be happening to a project depicting the history, lives and achievements of any particular group of people who identify as white and have ancestral ties to colonizers? That’s a question no one seems to want to ask.

House Speaker Jeff Hickman, according to a recent story, doesn’t seem hopeful the state legislature next session can come up with the $40 million needed to help finish the project. Some leaders are even discussing handing the project off to Oklahoma City. If that needs to happen for the project to be completed, then so be it. Right now, the unfinished project serves as a perfect symbol for the current dominant Republican majority at the state Capitol, which spends much of its time passing frivolous legislation while leaving major issues unresolved.

Hickman argues that legislators outside of Oklahoma City have their own priorities, which apparently doesn’t include the cultural center. The problems with that argument are enormous. Here they are: (1) Everyone in the state will benefit from the center because of its educational value alone. Just imagine, for example, all the school field trips it would generate. (2) It is centrally located in the state, which ensures easy access for everyone in Oklahoma. (3) It will generate more revenue in its current location than if it were located in, say, Enid or Woodward. (4) If it’s a state project, then, philosophically speaking, it belongs to everyone in the state, not just to Oklahoma City residents. This is an important distinction. (5) It’s a major project that will add to the quality of life and should make everyone proud here.

The state has been asked to come up with the $40 million to match $40 million already pledged by private donors. Right now, the unfinished center costs $700,000 to maintain and $5 million in debt service each year, according to the story. That’s a lot of money for something that is fast becoming a symbol of calculated indifference if not blatant bigotry.

The overall cost of the center, which is being built with Smithsonian-type standards, is estimated at $170 million. There’s little doubt it would attract huge crowds from not only across the state and country but also even the world. It will generate its own self-sustaining revenue through ticket sales. It just has to be finished.

Begetting Violence

Image of Barack Obama

It should be noted by at least some people in conservative Oklahoma that there is opposition in this country and state to President Barack Obama’s escalation of military action against ISIS, the Islamic extremist group.

I’m one of those people who oppose Obama’s decision to unleash American bombs on ISIS in Syria and for any additional escalation of military action in the Middle East. But then again I was opposed to the invasion of Iraq in 2003, and, yes, I was right about that, too. Getting it right somehow doesn’t count anymore in America’s international affairs or in the corporate media.

Here are two obvious frames of reference on why we should deploy different tactics in responding to ISIS:

(1) Bombing ISIS won’t work. It’s utterly impossible to eliminate ideas—whatever you might think about those ideas—through brute force. Those ideas, which include opposition to the values and actions of the Western world and especially the United States, will live on even if every current member of ISIS were killed today. Bombing and killing people in the Middle East will only increase support for the ISIS cause. This should be incredibly obvious to everyone.

(2) Innocent people, who don’t hold any animosity towards the Western world, will also be killed in the bombing. This is morally wrong, of course, but, again, it will only increase support for ISIS. Relatives and friends of these innocent victims will seek at the very least some justification for their loss if not direct retribution. How this most obvious scenario of cause and effect doesn’t enter into Obama’s case for military escalation shows just how oblivious the prevailing political establishment—Democrats and Republicans alike—has become to the death and destruction it continues to perpetuate around the globe and especially in the Middle East.

I’m sure that just like in 2003, I and other people who think in these terms will be labeled naïve and simply ignored. Yet we were right about the military occupation of Iraq, a senseless endeavor that left us no safer, generated an onslaught of animosity and cost us much in lost lives and money. Killing people in Syria during that country’s own civil war accomplishes just the opposite of what we should be seeking, which is our own security and peace.

I’m not an isolationist. The U.S. and its allies need an active and holistic approach to our relationship with Middle Eastern countries, one that relies less on military action and more on diplomacy and outreach. This requires actual thinking, intense debate and momentous shifts in policy.

It might be easier in the short term to just kill people than try to build wide consensus among seemingly disparate groups of people from different countries, but history has repeatedly shown violence begets violence.

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