Opinion

The Great Debate

After healthcare ruling, conservatives again misplace their ire

Last week’s ruling by Chief Justice John Roberts that the Affordable Care Act is constitutional has thrown conservatives into consternation. Rick Santorum says he is “very disappointed … It was a folly of a mistake.” Conservative radio host Michael Savage suggests Roberts must be on mind-altering medication. Even those, like John Boehner, who said they respected his jurisprudence disagreed with his decision.

Roberts now finds himself in the same bad standing with conservatives as Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke. Bernanke’s credentials as the heir to Milton Friedman, Ronald Reagan’s monetarist guru, have not been enough to save him from abuse either. When good conservatives like Roberts and Bernanke are traduced by their own side for being closet liberals, letting Barack Obama introduce European social democracy through the back door, something strange is afoot in the conservative universe.

The definition of a conservative used to be someone who values institutions above all as the bulwark against tyranny. That is the lesson left by the father of conservatism, Edmund Burke. But America’s most valued institutions, and those who operate them, are under attack from the very people who at one time would have been their stoutest defenders. People who like to call themselves conservatives, and set themselves up as arbiters of who is a true conservative, now despise the very institutions that safeguard our fragile freedoms from tyranny.

It’s hard to find a “conservative” today who has anything good to say about the Office of the President. The current head of state and chief executive, chosen fairly by the American people, suffers a daily barrage of personal attacks by those who question everything about him: his name, his nationality, his religion. His integrity is impugned as if he were a common criminal. Not long ago true conservatives would think such vicious attacks upon any president tantamount to treason.

The same people have little time for members of Congress, whom they accuse of venality and theft. Once it was the guiding principle of votes taken in either chamber that a simple majority was majority enough, a clear reflection of the wishes of the majority of Americans. No more. Now, to frustrate the operation of the federal government, votes in the Senate routinely need a two-thirds majority, and the system of representative democracy that has served the nation since the Founding Fathers is dismissed as “the tyranny of the majority.”

Why the surge in obesity?

Editor’s note: This post is republished from the author’s blog.

The Weight of the Nation is a four-part series on obesity in America by HBO Films and the Institute of Medicine, with assistance from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH). It’s been showing on HBO and can be viewed online. Each of the four parts is well done and informative.

Obesity is defined as having a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or more. For a person 6 feet tall, that means a weight of more than 220 pounds. For someone 5’6″, the threshold is 185 pounds. People who are obese tend to earn less and are more likely to be depressed. They are at greater risk of diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and some types of cancer, and they tend to die younger. The CDC estimates the direct and indirect medical care costs of obesity to be $150 billion a year, about 1% of our GDP.

The chart below, which appears several times in The Weight of the Nation, shows the trend in obesity among American adults since 1960, the first year for which we have good data. The data are from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). They are collected from actual measurements of people’s height and weight, rather than from phone interviews, so they’re quite reliable. After holding constant at about 15% in the 1960s and 1970s, the adult obesity rate shot up beginning in the 1980s, reaching 35% in the mid-2000s.

Romney’s second shot at healthcare reform

Americans believe in second chances. The oral arguments before the Supreme Court last week were a rare opportunity to dispassionately re-examine the divisive healthcare debate of two years ago. What happens if, after the smoke clears, we get a second chance at healthcare reform?

We’ve long known that healthcare will be a central theme in the 2012 presidential contest. The High Court’s deliberations and June decision only reinforce that reality for President Obama and Governor Romney.

Unlike with the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), the constitutionality of Governor Romney’s Massachusetts law has never been seriously questioned. States, not the federal government, have police powers, allowing them to require purchases (car insurance, taxes and licensure) and to pass wide-ranging public health laws and public safety laws. The Bay State law enjoys broad popular support.

Plan B: where politics trump science. Again.

By Amanda Marcotte
The views expressed are her own.

Wednesday morning Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius overruled the FDA’s long-awaited decision taking age restrictions off Plan B emergency contraception. The change would have allowed those 16 and under to buy Plan B, moving it from behind the pharmacist counter and into the shelves alongside aspirin and condoms. But now that won’t happen.

The decision confounded the medical community as well as the women’s rights world. Since no HHS Secretary has ever overruled an FDA decision of this sort before, the widespread assumption, best articulated by Matt Langer at Wonkette, was that Sebelius was working under “marching orders from an administration now fully in re-election mode” and fearful of getting a reputation as somehow “soft” on teen sexual activity.

Sebelius admitted to no political calculation, and instead claimed to be concerned about supposedly inadequate research into the effects on 11- and 12-year-olds who might use the pill. FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg, no doubt irate at being told she and her entire team don’t know how to do their job as well as non-medical professional Sebelius, denounced this argument, and defended the extensive research done to assure that Plan B was safe for over-the-counter sales. Taking into account the evidence, and the drawn-out political battle over emergency contraception, it’s safe to say that Sebelius did choose political pandering over women and girls’ best interests.

from Reuters Money:

Budget wars: The middle class loses big time

President Barack Obama talks about the budget in the White House press briefing room in Washington, April 5, 2011.   REUTERS/Larry Downing Now that federal government shutdown has been averted, it's a good time to examine what's at stake for most of America in the crucial next round of budget talks.

Not doing anything to reduce the size of government debt will be catastrophic. Not much quibble there. But acting hastily and cutting the wrong things can be even more costly to social and economic welfare.

Neither the Republican nor the Democrat's budget plans for 2012 will meet the major challenge of sustaining social programs while cutting the most egregious waste.

Obama, Moses and exaggerated expectations

-Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own-

President Barack Obama is close to the half-way mark of his presidential mandate, a good time for a brief look at health care, unemployment, war, the level of the oceans, the health of the planet, and America’s image. They all featured in a 2008 Obama speech whose rhetoric soared to stratospheric heights.

“If…we are willing to work for it, and fight for it, and believe in it, then I’m absolutely certain that generations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when we began to provide care for the sick and good jobs for the jobless; this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal; this was the moment when we ended a war and secured our nation and restored our image as the last best hope on earth.”

The date was June 3, 2008. Obama had just won the Democratic Party’s nomination as presidential candidate. He was also winning the adulation of the majority of the American people, who shrugged off mockery from curmudgeonly Republicans who pointed out that the last historical figure to affect ocean levels was Moses and he had divine help when he parted the Red Sea.

The lucrative business of Obama-bashing

Bernd Debusmann– Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own. –

Four days before Barack Obama was sworn into office, a prominent radio talk show host, Rush Limbaugh, told his conservative listeners that a major American publication had asked him to write 400 words on his hopes for the Obama presidency.

“I…don’t need 400 words,” he said, “I need four: I hope he fails.”

Refuting healthcare myths

David Magnus– David Magnus, Phd, is the director of the Stanford Center for Biomedical Ethics. The views expressed are his own. –

The public discussion of healthcare reform has been full of so many lies and myths that it is less a policy debate than bad theater.

Critics of reform (conservatives hoping to score political points and oppose Obama on anything; free market ideologues; those with threatened financial interests) have stooped to absurdity in their public pronouncements. One publication declared that severely disabled physicist Stephen Hawking would never get life saving medicine in a national health system, ignoring that Hawking is British—virtually all of his life saving treatments were done through their National Health Service.

Moore is less for healthcare reform

Peter PittsPeter J. Pitts is president of the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest and a former FDA associate commissioner. The views expressed are his own.

In SiCKO, Michael Moore portrayed the British National Health Service and the Canadian health system as particular exemplars of excellence. He backed it up with a lot of statistics, but statistics, as the saying goes, are like a bathing suit. What they show you is interesting, but what they conceal is essential.

And what SiCKO concealed was that systems such as those in the United Kingdom and Canada are cost-based rather than patient-centric models. Facts, no matter how inconvenient to one’s argument, must not be ignored.

A simple fix for healthcare?

Stephen M Davidson

– Stephen M. Davidson, a Boston University School of Management professor, is author of the forthcoming book, “In Urgent Need of Reform: Saving The U.S. Healthcare System.” The views expressed are his own. —

Polls suggest the president is losing some popular support for his health care reform efforts apparently because people worry about some of the possible secondary effects. They fear that quality of care would decline, their out-of-pocket costs and taxes would increase, and they would not be able to choose their own doctor. The fact that there is little reason for these worries is beside the point.

Ordinarily, when a problem arises, we try to figure out what the cause is and fix it.  With legislation, especially something as complex as healthcare, we don’t do that. Instead, we impose constraints that are unrelated to the diagnosis. In this case, Congress is trying to fix the problems using private insurers, without raising taxes, and keeping a limited role for government. So, leaders try to fashion a bill that accomplishes at least the main goals of reform – reducing the numbers of uninsured and containing costs – are at a considerable disadvantage. Partly as a result, it is much harder to persuade the American people that the complicated plans they come up with will do the job without harming them.

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