Imagine This: Inhofe Runs Again

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U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe’s prediction of a Republican sweep in the Senate races this year, as reported by the Associated Press, is far-fetched, at least for now.

The Cook Political Report, for example, is only predicting a 5 to 7 gain for the GOP. There’s also the distinct possibility that moderate Republican voters will not support GOP Tea Party candidates, such as Alaska’s Joe Miller, in November.

But Inhofe has never let facts intrude on his political rhetoric.

Still, the most striking part of the AP story wasn’t Inhofe’s election prediction. It was this: Inhofe says he will run again for the Senate as long as he’s still healthy. Do the math. Inhofe’s term goes through 2014. Then add six years if he’s reelected. That gives the 75-year-old Inhofe approximately 10 more years to embarrass the state on a national and world level with his claims about the “hoax” of global warming and his ultra-conservative social agenda.

Ironically, Inhofe made his comments during what was described as a “chamber of commerce speech.” How can Inhofe’s stances be helpful to the state beyond the energy sector? Shouldn’t the chamber work towards diversifying the state’s economy? Doesn’t Inhofe’s political posturing hurt that effort?


Keeping Tabs: Oklahoma Receives Premium Monitoring Money

Here’s an item that didn’t get much attention in the local media last week: As part of the Affordable Care Act, Oklahoma will receive $1 million from the federal government to monitor health insurance premium increases to determine if they are excessive.

If insurance companies are seeking “unreasonable rates” here, then the state could use the money to take action against them, according to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. Oklahoma was one of 45 states and the District of Columbia to receive the money.

This may not be the most interesting or entertaining news, and some progressives will argue it’s not enough, but it shows one small example how President Barack Obama’s recently passed health care reform initiative—attacked viciously and mindlessly here by the right-wing—sides with ordinary people who have faced huge premium increases in recent years. It’s a beginning to more reform and oversight.

According to a HHS press release:

For too long, insurance companies in many States have increased health insurance premiums with little oversight, transparency, or public accountability. Health insurance premiums have doubled on average during the last 10 years, much faster than wages and inflation, putting health coverage out of reach for millions of Americans and business owners.

Here in Oklahoma, a state with some of the poorest medical outcomes in the nation, the right-wing, anti-Obama herd in the legislature last session voted to bring an opt-out measure to voters in November, which would allow the residents to ignore the new federal health care guidelines. The constitutionality of the measure, if passed, will obviously be challenged. Can a state just ignore federal laws? No. Ironically, Oklahoma is a donor state in terms of taxes, which means it receives a lot more money back from the federal government that it pays in. Do state leaders really want to sever this cushy relationship with the federal government though ideological political stunts?

But the larger story here is the somewhat quiet progress of the health care initiative, which has been taking place in stages. Children can no longer be denied insurance for preexisting conditions. HHS has also begun an insurance program for all people denied insurance because of preexisting conditions. This progress has been lost in election year partisan posturing and rhetoric.

Here’s the specific information about Oklahoma premium monitoring, according to the HHS:

[Oklahoma] conducts limited rate review activities. HMOs and small group filings are required, however individual and large group products are not required to file. Oklahoma has the authority to require all rates to be filed. The State will use funds to expand activities to align with the existing authority for rate review in the State, improve processes, systems and pursue additional authority if determined necessary.

[Oklahoma] currently provides consumers access to rate filings upon request via mail or by allowing viewing at the department's office. The State intends to create a consumer website to post the information on rate review. In addition, they plan to create consumer education materials including a report on the health insurance market in the State for consumers. They are also considering a consumer Ombudsman program.

Here are two things to note in the above information: (1) Undoubtedly, Oklahoma “conducts limited rate review activities” because of budget constraints. But one has to speculate that another reason or at least pressure for limited review could be that the powerful corporate political lobby here supports insurance companies interests over consumers. (2) The consumer website is an excellent idea that means more convenient, public access to government information.

The Affordable Care Act is not perfect, but it will improve health care and medical outcomes in Oklahoma. Too bad that simple message sometimes gets lost in all the political bickering.


Newspaper Falsely Twists Social Security Argument

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No, it’s the Republicans who are mostly using fear-mongering as part of a regimented political calculation this election season, not Democrats.

So remind The Oklahoman editorial writers, who support politicians such as U.S. Sen. Coburn, whose predictions of future financial insolvency for the nation are about as lacking in facts and logic as you can get.

The newspaper, in an incredible act of rhetorical deceit and omission—it has been screeching doomsday for months over what it calls “Obamacare”—has now accused President Barack Obama of using “the politics of fear” when it comes to protecting Social Security.

The editorial, “Obama employs politics of fear in Social Security debate” (Aug. 20, 2010), begins like this:

It's alive!

The politics of fear lives, resurrected by President Obama's strategy to shift attention away from Democrats' liberal/progressive policy agenda that has put approval ratings for the president and his party underwater as the election campaign season looms.

It goes on to argue that a recent weekly address by Obama played the “fear card” when it mentioned that Republicans are intent of dismantling Social Security. The address was given on the 75th anniversary of Social Security.

Here’s the deceit: It’s the Republicans who are using fear-mongering to try to privatize Social Security and hand taxpayer’s money over to Wall Street investors. Privatizing Social Security would be irresponsible. The recent Wall-Street debacle that led to the mortgage crisis and massive retirement financial losses is ironclad proof that Social Security accounts should not be entrusted to investment bankers.

The main GOP proposal is to allow younger taxpayers to invest their Social Security money in private accounts, an idea that’s been around for quite some time and is based on Chicken-Little claims that the program, as one leading privatization proponent writes, “is going broke.” The “going broke” claim comes from many GOP politicians, including U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican. The editorial mentions Ryan as advancing the current GOP leading proposal. Some political leaders also want to raise the retirement age for Social Security.

But talk about fear-mongering. Even Ryan points out in his proposal that Social Security, if current predictions hold, won’t exhaust its funds until 2037, and then it could still pay 75 percent. How in the world is that going broke? Also, it’s only an extremely slight possibility and most rational people argue it’s highly unlikely. The government can do many things to solve the issue. It could raise the income level on which FICA taxes could be assessed, for example. Right now, it’s capped at $102,000. Most important, and by the GOP’s own admission, the government has 27 years to come up with a solution. That’s a lot of years. So why is the GOP playing the fear card, prompting Obama’s comments?

Paul Krugman, the Nobel Prize-winning economist, recently wrote in The New York Times:

Social Security’s attackers claim that they’re concerned about the program’s financial future. But their math doesn’t add up, and their hostility isn’t really about dollars and cents. Instead, it’s about ideology and posturing. And underneath it all is ignorance of or indifference to the realities of life for many Americans.

But let’s get back to The Oklahoman. The newspaper basically serves the interests of the rich elite in our community. For decades, it has exhibited what Krugman called “the ignorance of or indifference to the realities of life for many Americans.” The newspaper doesn’t allow substantial, dissenting voices to its opinions. Its editorial page is often deceitful, especially when it comes to political issues, both nationally and locally. Its recent editorial on Social Security is an example of deceit and a basic refusal to discuss the program rationally, beyond partisan politics. It does a grave disservice to many Oklahomans concerned about their retirements.

So for the record: It’s the GOP that’s doing the fear-mongering when it comes to Social Security, not President Obama.