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11Rep. Josh Miller of Arkansas Opposes Medicaid Expansion Despite Being Saved by Medicaid

Arkansas earned some distinction with its approach to the unpopularity of expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act and using federal money for that purpose to help its citizens. Rather than expanding the program, Arkansans have the option to use that money to purchase private insurance. However, GOP lawmakers in the state are opposed to this measure and are working to reform the practice.

In a column in the Arkansas Times, Max Brantley highlights Rep. Josh Mille,r who opposes the measure,but has benefitted personally from the Medicaid program. In 1997, he was in an automobile accident involving alcohol that left him paralyzed. Uninsured at the time, his ultimately $1 million healthcare bill was “mostly” picked up by the government, and he was on disability for a time. Brantley uses Miller’s case as evidence that the motivation of the Arkansas GOP is only against this because it wants to undermine the Democratic president’s signature policy.

Brantley takes it a step further, saying that Miller believes “some who qualify for the private option aren’t working hard enough.” He says that someone (not him) who is “coldly rational” would look at this debate and believe “a cook in a fast-food restaurant, working long hours at low pay to feed a family, looks more deserving than an uninsured person injured on a drunken joy ride.”

In a telephone interview with Opposing Views, Miller denied that was ever his position. “I can’t speak for every other legislator in Arkansas,” he said. “I opposed it from the beginning, but not because I feel like anyone is unworthy.” Miller does not seem to be a politician caught up in partisan fervor or with any sort of larger, national ambitions. Instead, he seems genuinely concerned about the future of Arkansas and America, with respect to debt.

In his comments from the floor of the Arkansas House, Miller speaks about the danger of entering into an agreement with “a financing agent who is trillions of dollars in debt.” He reasserted that belief, saying that he doesn’t oppose expanding healthcare, but has “uncertainty about [Arizona’s] ability to pick up the tab” after three years when Arkansas would have to pay for a larger share of the program.

Denying anything involving politics, he asserted, “I am [opposing the private option] for fear of traditional Medicaid, to prevent it from taking further cuts.” Of his own experiences through his recovery and rehabilitation, he said that the current system “has been in need of improvements.” He worries that when the bill comes due, Arkansans will be forced to take one of three actions. People would have to be removed from the program that they signed up for “in good faith,” as a way to cut costs. Alternatively, the only other options are to raise taxes or cut other existing services.

In an interview Thursday on Chris Hayes’ MSNBC show, Miller said that he wasn’t pushing for the removal of people already in the program, but merely hoping to “slow down enrollment.” He suggested that during the next legislative session in 2015, they could figure out a way to pay for the Medicaid expansion for years to come.


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11Hearing About Deadly Afghan Attack Provides Answers, Not Closure

In Plato’s The Republic, the warriors of the perfect society described in the book are taken in for training at a very young age and allowed to have no attachments or possessions. The purpose was, in part, to disassociate the warriors from the emotional core of the society. When the time came to die in battle, they would do so willingly and the rest of society would have to understand the necessity of that sacrifice. In America, our warriors are just the opposite. There is no question that they are our heroic sons and daughters, and the loss of any single service member — with the right kind of attention — can bring the country to a halt.

So, when one incident, according to Stars and Stripes, “constitutes the greatest loss of American life from a single battle in the history of the Afghan War,” it is bound to capture the country’s attention and emotions. There were many questions surrounding the incident. Some were easily dismissed. Questions were raised about the “black box” going missing, but according to the Army, the CH-47 Chinook helicopters are not outfitted with those devices. Other concerns, however, are more troubling.

Of the 38 people killed in the 2011 attack, only 30 were Americans. The other eight were Afghan soldiers also participating in the mission. Claims, many by family members of the fallen Americans, have been made that the enemy was acting on inside information about the mission passed along by an Afghan soldier. When a list of names was released for Afghan soldiers deployed with an Army Ranger unit instead of those killed in the crash, it only fanned the flames of conspiracy.

In a recent hearing in the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, witnesses testified on this and other concerns. Garry Reid, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations/Low Intensity Conflict, testified that the mission was not “compromised” and that “sound tactics” were used in the planning. It seems that the enemy was simply on a state of heightened alert after an attack by Army Rangers a few hours earlier, according to the Washington Free Beacon. He also said there was “no possibility” that tactical information had been delivered to the Taliban.

Another criticism was the use of the Chinook CH-47 helicopter instead of newer models with “high-tech avionics” that might have been able to avoid the RPG attack that felled the Chinook. The reasons offered here wear a little thin, with Reid saying that because it was a short flight over familiar terrain, the use of the Chinook “was appropriate.”

After the bodies were reclaimed by U.S. and Afghan forces, a memorial ceremony was held by both. An Afghan colonel spoke, and there are conflicting reports about what he said. Reid insists that his words honored the fallen and condemned the enemy. Others, however, think differently. According to The Blaze, lawyer for some of the families Larry Klayman said, “A Muslim clerk [sic] damned the bodies, the memories of our clients’ sons to hell as infidels.”

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, chair of the Oversight Committee, took Reid to task for this joint ceremony. Since no one at the hearing spoke Farsi, they had to rely on different translations, the government’s suggesting that it was a simple blessing honoring all of the fallen soldiers. Still, the very concept of the joint ceremony bothered Chaffetz. “Of course we’re going to honor [all] those who lost their lives, but let’s do it separately.” According to The Blaze, Chaffetz’s voice was “cracking from tears” when he said, “I don’t want some Afghan saying something about my son.”

Therein lies the problem with much of the controversy surrounding this horrific tragedy. Despite the fact that Chaffetz’s son is not in the military, Chaffetz (and some of the military families) think it is unacceptable for “some Afghan” to honor their fallen family members. Of course, they are dealing with deep emotional losses, and it is easy to lash out at anyone who simply “looks” like the enemy.

While Afghan soldiers were not always properly vetted, the ones that were are just as likely to form the “war bond” with those American soldiers. There is every possibility that they relied on those Afghan soldiers just as much as they relied on other members in their unit. It is for this reason that the Committee’s decision to accept only written testimony from the family members was appropriate.

The current tension between President Barack Obama and President Hamid Karzai seems to be an extension of proof that our relationship with Afghanistan is “Us and Them” and not “We.” In light of Reid’s testimony, it seems that it was simply a case of the enemy getting off a lucky shot. While that may not do much for emotional closure, it tells an important story about what happened that tragic day.


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11California Appellate Court Rules It's Okay for Drivers to Use Mobile Phone Maps

A state appeals court in California ruled that while it may be illegal to text-message or talk on a mobile phone while driving, it is not illegal to use the mobile phone as a navigation device. A Fresno driver was pulled over and given a $165 ticket after a highway patrol officer observed him using his smartphone to look at a map. According to SFGate.com, this marks “the first appellate interpretation of a 2006 state law that restricts handheld uses of a mobile telephone while driving.”

The law was passed before the smartphone revolution that made the device much more than a phone, although there were some rudimentary navigation services on older devices. However, the law does allow for hands-free use of the phone, via headset or Bluetooth interface, so limits to the kinds of distractions that are illegal were written in at the start.

One does not need quantitative statistics to reach the conclusion that if a driver becomes distracted, he or she is more likely to be involved in an accident. However, some distractions are unavoidable, while others are simply calculated risks. For example, driving while talking on the phone is a distraction because no matter how one does it, some part of one's attention will be off of the road. Hands-free conversations allow the driver to keep both hands on the wheel, limiting the distraction but not removing it completely.

To try to legislate against all distractions would be counterproductive and might sour the public against the idea of any such regulation. Blanket bans against the usage of mobile devices seem to be over-cautious at best, with many critics identifying them as another example of the “nanny state.” Since looking at a paper map is perfectly legal while driving, it makes sense that looking at a digital map should be treated in the same way, especially considering the audio features of many navigation applications.

Instead, it seems laws like “Jake’s Law” in Maryland have gotten it right. According to WBAL, the law’s main goal is "to create tougher penalties for drivers who cause crashes as a result of using their cellphone while driving.” This treats device-related distracted driving much like drunk driving, wherein the penalties come as a result of recklessness on the road and do not rely on officers to actively police the inside of motorists’ vehicles. 


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11GOP Tax Proposal a Plot to Raise Taxes on "Blue States"?

The longstanding practice of deducting one’s own state and local taxes from their Federal taxes is under fire from GOP lawmakers in the debate to reform taxes. According to Talking Points Memo, their proposal “would raise taxes disproportionately on residents of blue states – especially middle-to-upper income people who live in New York and California.” While the suggestion treads a little too close to “conspiracy theory,” the two most prominent “blue states” would be the ones most affected by the bill.

According to a map (pictured below) from the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, Californians get the largest tax break at 17.2 percent. New York is a distant second at 13.3 percent. Other states—both solid and swing states—face raises in the single digits. Proponents of cutting the tax credit suggest that the deduction “subsidizes” high taxes and reckless spending at the state and local level.

While many Republicans have signed Grover Norquist’s anti-tax pledge, this proposal would violate that. However, a 2012 editorial from Philip Klein of The Washington Examiner suggests that if any tax reform concession is “worth” breaking the pledge over, this is it. Klein says that axing the state and local deduction would raise $862 billion over a decade, almost $40 billion more than what will be raised over the same time period since the Bush tax cuts expired for the richest Americans.

Frankly, this seems like a more sensible motivation for the proposal than some sort of blue-state taxing strategy. Once implemented and the latest fiscal cliff is safely averted, attempts to reinstate the Bush tax cuts (or something similar to them) might not be far behind. Yet, this plan or the one offered by TPM are pure speculation.

Yet, it would still have to get through the Senate and that doesn’t seem likely. In a statement from Sen. Chuck Schumer, a Democrat from New York, he called any bill with such a proposal “dead on arrival.”

 

Map of Tax Cuts


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11Mississippi Lawmakers Claim Ignorance to "Religious Freedom" Law's Potential for Discrimination

Do rights have limits? The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees freedom of expression, however, it is almost universally accepted that speech urging others to commit crimes—specifically violent crimes against an individual or group—is justly illegal. While technically limiting expression, the law serves to protect those who may be unwittingly harmed from expression that has malicious intent.

This mirrors the debate around controversial “Religious Freedoms” laws being consider in states in the U.S. Arizona Governor Jan Brewer vetoed a passed law on Wednesday that would have allowed business owners to deny service to LGBT customers based on their religious beliefs. A similar bill passed in Mississippi, only its anti-LGBT application is much more subtle.

SB 2681 is called “The Religious Freedom Act” and a quick read of the language of the bill would lead one to believe that this is one of those ceremonial laws because all it does is add “In God We Trust” to the State Seal. However it is the first line of the bill where the trouble lies, reading “…to provide that state action or an action by an person based on state action shall not burden a person’s right to the exercise of religion.”

Again, on the surface this would seem to simply reaffirm one of America’s most universal freedoms, one already protected by the First Amendment. However, what exactly constitutes a burden from the State? Well, one such burden might be law preventing discrimination against LGBT citizens.

Although, Sen. David Blount, a Democrat from Jackson, Miss., has said that he’s urging his colleagues to remove or redraft the language of the bill to ensure that it does not encourage discrimination. In the Miss. House, however, the Chariman of the Judiciary Committee is not wholly sold on the idea that the bill needs to be redone, telling the Associated Press, saying there are “questions” and that they “just need to study it.”


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11Border Patrol Internal Report Suggests Relaxing Deadly-Force Policies

A review from law enforcement experts initiated by the Border Patrol was released to The Los Angeles Times after the agency tried to keep it under wraps, even from oversight committees in the House and Senate. The report was commissioned to examine the use of deadly force by Border Patrol agents and whether they “consistently and thoroughly” review those incidents.

One of the most controversial findings of the report is a suggested change to the policy currently in place — which is vague at best — that allows agents to use deadly force against drivers of vehicles. According to the report, “some border agents stood in front of a vehicle as a pretext to open fire.”

Shawn P. Moran, vice president of the Border Patrol union, told the Times that the agency was correct in allowing agents broad latitude for when to open fire. He suggested that had the Border Patrol accepted the restrictive recommendations, there would be more “assaults where vehicles try to run down agents because they know there would be no repercussions.” Although, one would imagine that deliberately running down an agent with a vehicle would fall into the “trying to kill them” category.

Also examined was the use of deadly force against people who throw rocks from the Mexican side of the border at agents on the U.S. side or in patrol boats on the Rio Grande. The problem with this is that some agents seem to ignore rock-throwers, while others open fire on them. At the very least, the report contends, there should be some consistency in terms of agents’ response.

President Barack Obama’s nominee to head up the Border Patrol, Gil Kerlikowske, is a veteran police officer who formerly served as police chief in Seattle. He told the the Times that he’d “never served in a law enforcement agency that did not make its use-of-force policies public.” His nomination has not yet been brought up for a vote in the Senate.


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11Solitary Confinement Costs Three Times More Than Normal Incarceration

America seems finally ready to talk about its trouble with prisons. Despite the fervor surrounding “tough on crime” tyrants like Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the high cost of incarceration and the fact that the U.S. tops lists of global incarceration rate is starting to make the issue less politically volatile. Case in point: the recent Senate hearing to consider banning solitary confinement for certain inmates.

According to The New York Times, Anthony Graves testified about spending over a decade in isolation on death row for a crime a he didn’t commit. TIME told the story of Damon Thibodeaux who “spent 23 hours a day for 15 years in solitary confinement,” calling it “a hopeless existence.” This testimony, along with that of prison officials, and Orange is the New Black author Piper Kerman, shed light on a common practice in U.S. prison, a practice costly both in dollars and the psychological toll it takes on inmates.

Prisoners who spend extended periods in solitary confinement have lasting psychological after-effects and the practice has little-to-no benefit with respect to inmate behavior. If anything it makes things worse. Inmates are more likely to use violence towards other inmates or themselves.

It is also far more expensive to keep inmates in confinement than it is to keep them in other ways. According to NPR, “it costs about $78,000 a year house someone in the federal system in solitary,” as opposed to an average of $22,000 to maintain an inmate in general population. And for all of that extra cost, the inmates are often left with both mental and physical—in the case of those who self-mutilate and/or attempt suicide—scars.

Still, any eventual legislation will have a tough battle on the Senate (or, eventually, House) floor, especially because it’s a mid-term election year. Support of this bill could easily translate into an attack ad that paints an incumbent as “soft” on crime.


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11President Obama Backs off Afghan Troop Extension, Leaves Door Open for Karzai's Successor

In the metaphorical staring contest between President Obama and outgoing Afghan President Hamid Karzai, it was President Obama who blinked. President Obama told Karzai in a phone call that he had instructed the Pentagon to plan for a total pull-out of troops, since it seems unlikely that any bilateral security agreements would be signed before elections in April.

According to The New York Times, “in a message aimed less at Mr. Karzai than at whoever will replace him, Mr. Obama said that the United States was still open to leaving a limited military force behind in Afghanistan to conduct training and counterterrorism operations.”

The “blink factor” came into play by the Obama Administration’s reversal of their position that the B.S.A. be signed before April elections or the U.S. would leave. The message that the White House would be open to negotiating with Karzai’s successor marks a change in their approach. According to The Times, Obama feels that it is important to maintain a U.S. presence in Afghanistan in order to ensure that it does not again become “a haven” for terrorists.

As with most of the positions that the President takes, this one is also controversial. However, it may have less to do with the state of D.C. politics and more to do with a general “weariness” Americans have with the Afghan war. Last week Opposing Views reported on a new Gallup poll that shows that Afghanistan is the most unpopular war since World War II, second only to Iraq. Thus, one could assume that most Americans would prefer the U.S. abandon the country entirely rather than leaving any forces behind.

President Obama claimed to want to end the war on terror a number of times, so it may seem a little strange to his supporters that he’s so insistent on leaving forces in the country. Yet given the recent problems in Iraq, one can assume that along with their counterterrorism and training the forces left in Afghanistan will also keep a close eye on Kabul. 


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11GOP-proposed ACA Reform Would Raise Deficit, Cause 1 Million to Lose Their Insurance

At least, for the moment, they’ve stopped trying to repeal it.

After over 40 failed attempts to roll back the Affordable Care Act, serious GOP legislators decided that rather than try to slay a political dragon, they would try a little governance and perhaps try to fix their specific problems with the law. One such congressman was Rep. Todd Young, R-Ind., who submitted H.R. 2575, or the Save American Workers Act. For the purposes of healthcare, the law would redefine full-time work as 40 hours per week instead of 30, a way around the much-maligned employer mandate.

Yet an analysis released Wednesday by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office painted the picture that the bill would do more harm than good. Adding those ten weekly hours would see “about 1 million people” lose their health insurance. Consequently, somewhere between half a million to a million people would end up insured via a (likely subsidized) health exchange plan or through Medicaid. The remainder — less than half a million people — would wind up uninsured.

Employers who do not provide full-time employees with health insurance must pay a fine to the government, but this bill cut that amount considerably by making fewer companies subject to that penalty. All told, the bill would end up costing the taxpayers $73.7 billion over the next ten years.

While Young should be commended for trying to pass a bill that reforms the law rather than seeking outright to repeal it, the Los Angeles Times said that Young and his 208 cosponsors handled it “so ineptly,” and that it would ultimately make “the problem they’re addressing much worse.”

Part of the justification behind dropping the full-time threshold to 30 hours per week is that it would be much more difficult for employers to scale back hours for full-time employees than it would be if the line was drawn at 40 hours per week. 


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11Wisconsin Supreme Court Justices May Rule On Case Against Their Own Political Donors

When the Occupy Wall Street movement began it had a simple goal: protest the intermarriage of corporate money and politics. Naturally, the movement (or at least the coverage of it) became more about the drum circles, free iPad libraries, and hygiene so that original message was coopted into a general dislike for the rich and the movement fizzled out. Yet, in Wisconsin the kind of collusion between corporate interests and politics original railed about have come together in a way that if this were fiction would be criticized as far too obvious and frankly unbelievable.

According to ThinkProgress.org, a criminal probe targeting “major spenders on state supreme court races” is facing a court challenge and “the justices who benefited from that spending will likely get to decide whether this probe moves forward.” In January, the Fourth District Court rejected claims by anonymous petitioners (the court records are sealed) challenging the legality of the probe. However, these same petitioners have appealed to the State Supreme Court, some of whose justices have benefitted from at least two targets of the investigation, Wisconsin Club for Growth and Citizens for a Strong America.

Conservative Justice David Prosser received more than a million dollars in donations from WCG, CSA, and other groups and he does not have to recuse himself from ruling on whether or not to seal up that money funnel. According to Think Progress, the law that allows justices to proceed in spite of this clear conflict of interest was “co-written by” Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, which “reportedly spent more than $5 million supporting conservative members of the Wisconsin Supreme Court.”

Of course the Wisconsin State Supreme Court’s problems may go deeper than simple pay-to-play donations. Justice Prosser was accused by Justice Ann Walsh Bradley of putting her in a “chokehold” during an argument about another court case involving money and politics, but filed by Governor Scott Walker during his recall election. 


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