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Wednesday
Nov152017

Where is the Faith of Evangelicals?

By David French/National Review
Tuesday
Nov072017

Regulate Guns Like Cars

I like driving cars. And as a driver, I have no problem registering my car in each new state I move to, keeping my insurance up to date, having regular required inspections and submitting to a driver’s test to get my driver’s license. Driving a big piece of metal and glass at high speeds should rightly be a big responsibility that folks should take seriously, that should be regulated to ensure appropriate safety for everyone on the road. Owning a gun should require a similar level of responsibility.

As a native Southerner, I like shooting guns. I shot my first gun at Camp McKee, a Boy Scout camp, when I was 12. One of my favorite places to go while living in Houston was the Top Gun shooting range, where it was easy to spend a lot of money on renting out a shooting gallery, buying several boxes of ammunition, and shooting the day away with friends. Both cars and guns are responsible for the deaths of thousands of Americans every year. Owning and using either one should require strict regulations.

I once had a Smith & Wesson .40 caliber pistol that I named Joe, after a friend of mine who served in Korea. I bought Joe at a gun show in Mississippi, along with several boxes of ammunition, for approximately $300, which I paid in cash. The gun merchant asked for my driver’s license, made a phone call, and I walked out with a weapon less than 15 minutes after walking in. I could have just as easily dreamed up a plan to murder a large group of people that morning, bought a gun that afternoon, and massacred dozens by nightfall.

Like any driver, before even getting my driver’s license, I had to take a written test to get a learner’s permit. This meant I could drive a car, but only with a licensed driver in the car with me. Then after 6 months of waiting, I could take an actual driver’s test with a police officer in my passenger seat, and only become a licensed driver if I drove, parallel parked, and did a turnabout absolutely flawlessly. And if I ever moved to a new state, I would have to get a new driver’s license within 30 days of relocating, keep my license and registration up to date, get yearly inspections, and have liability insurance for my car. The same should be done with guns.

Anyone who wants to own a gun should likewise take a written test on gun safety, proper means of carrying, loading and unloading, and turning the safety on and off to get a gun owner’s permit, though actually shooting it must be done with a licensed gun owner. After an appropriate waiting period, gun owners should take an actual test involving everything from loading and unloading, proper storage, even shooting proficiency. And each gun should be registered in each state it travels to, each gun owner should submit to an annual inspection for their weapon, and each gun purchase should come with mandatory liability insurance. Also, the assault weapons ban should be reinstated, because nobody who isn’t in the military or on the police force should ever need an AK-47 or an AR-15 to hunt deer or protect their families.

Of course, gun lobbyists would likely argue that such regulation is an infringement on our 2nd Amendment rights. I would ask gun lobbyists if their inability to buy an M1A1 Abrams tank is an infringement on their 2nd Amendment rights. Car crashes and guns are responsible for the deaths of thousands of Americans every year, and both should be regulated appropriately.

I’’m not arguing nobody should be able to own a gun. I’m simply arguing that if you want to operate a device that can take lives with the movement of an index finger, you should be willing to submit to the same regulations as you would by operating a device that can take lives with the turn of a steering wheel.

Tuesday
Nov072017

Prescription Drugs Not Problem in "Opioid Crisis"

By Marc Lewis, Neuroscientist, via The Guardian

The news media is awash with hysteria about the opioid crisis (or opioid epidemic). But what exactly are we talking about? If you Google “opioid crisis”, nine times out of 10 the first paragraph of whatever you’re reading will report on death rates. That’s right, the overdose crisis.

For example, the lead article on the “opioid crisis” on the US National Institutes of Health website begins with this sentence: “Every day, more than 90 Americans die after overdosing on opioids.”

Is the opioid crisis the same as the overdose crisis? No. One has to do with addiction rates, the other with death rates. And addiction rates aren’t rising much, if at all, except perhaps among middle-class whites.

 

Let’s look a bit deeper.

The overdose crisis is unmistakable. I reported on some of the statistics and causes in the Guardian last July. I think the most striking fact is that drug overdose is the leading cause of death for Americans under 50. Some people swallow, or (more often) inject, more opioids than their body can handle, which causes the breathing reflex to shut down. But drug overdoses that include opioids (about 63%) are most often caused by a combination of drugs (or drugs and alcohol) and most often include illegal drugs (eg heroin). When prescription drugs are involved, methadone and oxycontin are at the top of the list, and these drugs are notoriously acquired and used illicitly.

Yet the most bellicose response to the overdose crisis is that we must stop doctors from prescribing opioids. Hmmm.

Yes, there has been an upsurge in the prescription of opioids in the US over the past 20 to 30 years (though prescription rates are currently decreasing). This was a response to an underprescription crisis. Severe and chronic pain were grossly undertreated for most of the 20th century. Even patients dying of cancer were left to writhe in pain until prescription policies began to ease in the 70s and 80s. The cause? An opioid scare campaign not much different from what’s happening today. (See Dreamland by Sam Quinones for details.)

Certainly some doctors have been prescribing opioids too generously, and a few are motivated solely by profit. But that’s a tiny slice of the big picture. A close relative of mine is a family doctor in the US. He and his colleagues are generally scared (and angry) that they can be censured by licensing bodies for prescribing opioids to people who need them. And with all the fuss in the press right now, the pockets of overprescription are rapidly disappearing.

But the news media rarely bother to distinguish between the legitimate prescription of opioids for pain and the diverting (or stealing) of pain pills for illicit use. The statistics most often reported are a hodge-podge. Take the first sentence of an article on the CNN site posted on 29 October: “Experts say the United States is in the throes of an opioid epidemic, as more than two million of Americans have become dependent on or abused prescription pain pills and street drugs.”

First, why not clarify that most of the abuse of prescription pain pills is not by those for whom they’re prescribed? Among those for whom they are prescribed, the onset of addiction (which is usually temporary) is about 10% for those with a previous drug-use history, and less than 1% for those with no such history. Note also the oft-repeated maxim that most heroin users start off on prescription opioids. Most divers start off as swimmers, but most swimmers don’t become divers.

Second, wouldn’t it be sensible for the media to distinguish street drugs such as heroin from pain pills? We’re talking about radically different groups of users.

Third, virtually all experts agree that fentanyl and related drugs are driving the overdose epidemic. These are many times stronger than heroin and far cheaper, so drug dealers often use them to lace or replace heroin. Yet, because fentanyl is a manufactured pharmaceutical prescribed for severe pain, the media often describe it as a prescription painkiller – however it reaches its users.

It’s remarkably irresponsible to ignore these distinctions and then use “sum total” statistics to scare doctors, policymakers and review boards into severely limiting the prescription of pain pills.

By the way, if you were either addicted to opioids or needed them badly for pain relief, what would you do if your prescription was abruptly terminated? Heroin is now easier to acquire than ever, partly because it’s available on the darknet and partly because present-day distribution networks function like independent cells rather than monolithic gangs – much harder to bust. And, of course, increased demand leads to increased supply. Addiction and pain are both serious problems, serious sources of suffering. If you were afflicted with either and couldn’t get help from your doctor, you’d try your best to get relief elsewhere. And your odds of overdosing would increase astronomically.

It’s doctors – not politicians, journalists, or professional review bodies – who are best equipped and motivated to decide what their patients need, at what doses, for what periods of time. And the vast majority of doctors are conscientious, responsible and ethical.

Addiction is not caused by drug availability. The abundant availability of alcohol doesn’t turn us all into alcoholics. No, addiction is caused by psychological (and economic) suffering, especially in childhood and adolescence (eg abuse, neglect, and other traumatic experiences), as revealed by massive correlations between adverse childhood experiences and later substance use. The US is at or near the bottom of the developed world in its record on child welfare and child poverty. No wonder there’s an addiction problem. And how easy it is to blame doctors for causing it.

Marc Lewis is a neuroscientist and author on addiction

Wednesday
Oct252017

Anger and Resentment are Not Governing Philosophy

By Sen. Jeff Flake, R.-Arizona

At a moment when it seems that our democracy is more defined by our discord and our dysfunction than by our own values and principles, let me begin by noting the somewhat obvious point that these offices that we hold are not ours indefinitely. We are not here simply to mark time. Sustained incumbency is certainly not the point of seeking office and there are times when we must risk our careers in favor of our principles. Now is such a time.

It must also be said that I rise today with no small measure of regret. Regret because of the state of our disunion. Regret because of the disrepair and destructiveness of our politics. Regret because of the indecency of our discourse. Regret because of the coarseness of our leadership.

Regret for the compromise of our moral authority, and by our, I mean all of our complicity in this alarming and dangerous state of affairs. It is time for our complicity and our accommodation of the unacceptable to end. In this century, a new phrase has entered the language to describe the accommodation of a new and undesirable order, that phrase being the “new normal”.

That we must never adjust to the present coarseness of our national dialogue with the tone set up at the top. We must never regard as normal the regular and casual undermining of our democratic norms and ideals. We must never meekly accept the daily sundering of our country. The personal attacks, the threats against principles, freedoms and institution, the flagrant disregard for truth and decency.

The reckless provocations, most often for the pettiest and most personal reasons, reasons having nothing whatsoever to do with the fortunes of the people that we have been elected to serve. None of these appalling features of our current politics should ever be regarded as normal. We must never allow ourselves to lapse into thinking that that is just the way things are now.

Play Video
 
1:24

  Senator Jeff Flake announces he won’t seek re-election – video

If we simply become inured to this condition, thinking that it is just politics as usual, then heaven help us. Without fear of the consequences and without consideration of the rules of what is politically safe or palatable, we must stop pretending that the degradation of our politics and the conduct of some in our executive branch are normal. They are not normal. Reckless, outrageous and undignified behavior has become excused and countenanced as telling it like it is when it is actually just reckless, outrageous and undignified.

And when such behavior emanates from the top of our government, it is something else. It is dangerous to a democracy. Such behavior does not project strength because our strength comes from our values. It instead projects a corruption of the spirit and weakness. It is often said that children are watching. Well, they are. And what are we going to do about that? When the next generation asks us, why didn’t you do something? Why didn’t you speak up? What are we going to say?

Mr President, I rise today to say: enough. We must dedicate ourselves to making sure that the anomalous never becomes the normal. With respect and humility, I must say that we have fooled ourselves for long enough that a pivot to governing is right around the corner, a return to civility and stability right behind it.

We know better than that. By now, we all know better than that. Here today I stand to say that we would be better served – we would better serve the country – by better fulfilling our obligations under the constitution by adhering to our Article 1 – “old normal”, Mr Madison’s doctrine of separation of powers. This genius innovation which affirms Madison’s status as a true visionary – and for which Madison argued in Federalist 51 – held that the equal branches of our government would balance and counteract with each other, if necessary.

 

We must be unafraid to stand up and speak out as if our country depends on it, because it does.

Sen Jeff Flake

 

“Ambition counteracts ambition,” he wrote. But what happens if ambition fails to counteract ambition? What happens if stability fails to assert itself in the face of chaos and instability? If decency fails to call out indecency? Were the shoe on the other foot, we Republicans – would we Republicans meekly accept such behavior on display from dominant Democrats?

Of course, we wouldn’t, and we would be wrong if we did. When we remain silent and fail to act, when we know that silence and inaction is the wrong thing to do because of political considerations, because we might make enemies, because we might alienate the base, because we might provoke a primary challenge, because ad infinitum, ad nauseam, when we succumb to those considerations in spite of what should be greater considerations and imperatives in defense of our institutions and our liberty, we dishonor our principles and forsake our obligations. Those things are far more important than politics.

Now, I’m aware that more politically savvy people than I will caution against such talk. I’m aware that there’s a segment of my party that believes that anything short of complete and unquestioning loyalty to a president who belongs to my party is unacceptable and suspect. If I have been critical, it is not because I relish criticizing the behavior of the president of the United States.

If I have been critical, it is because I believe it is my obligation to do so. And as a matter and duty of conscience, the notion that one should stay silent – and as the norms and values that keep America strong are undermined and as the alliances and agreements that ensure the stability of the entire world are routinely threatened by the level of thought that goes into 140 characters – the notion that we should say or do nothing in the face of such mercurial behavior is ahistoric and, I believe, profoundly misguided.

A president, a Republican president named Roosevelt, had this to say about the president and a citizen’s relationship to the office: “The president is merely the most important among a large number of public servants. He should be supported or opposed exactly to the degree which is warranted by his good conduct or bad conduct, his efficiency or inefficiency in rendering loyal, able and disinterested service to the nation as a whole.”

He continued: “Therefore, it is absolutely necessary that there should be – that there should be a full liberty to tell the truth about his acts and this means that it is exactly as necessary to blame him when he does wrong as to praise him when he does right. Any other attitude in an American citizen is both base and servile.” President Roosevelt continued, “To announce that there must be no criticism of the president or that we are to stand by a president, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public.”

Acting on conscience and principle is a manner – is the manner – in which we express our moral selves and as such, loyalty to conscience and principle should supersede loyalty to any man or party. We can all be forgiven for failing in that measure from time to time. I certainly put myself at the top of the list of those who fall short in this regard. I am holier than none.

But too often we rush to salvage principle – not to salvage principle, but to forgive and excuse our failures so that we might accommodate them and go right on failing until the accommodation itself becomes our principle. In that way and over time, we can justify almost any behavior and sacrifice any principle. I am afraid that this is where we now find ourselves.

When a leader correctly identifies real hurt and insecurity in our country, and instead of addressing it, goes to look for someone to blame, there is perhaps nothing more devastating to a pluralistic society. Leadership knows that most often a good place to start in assigning blame is to look somewhat closer to home. Leadership knows where the buck stops.

Humility helps, character counts. Leadership does not knowingly encourage or feed ugly or debased appetites in us. Leadership lives by the American creed, “E pluribus unum”. From many one. American leadership looks to the world and just as Lincoln did, sees the family of man. Humanity is not a zero sum game. When we have been at our most prosperous, we have been at our most principled, and when we do well, the rest of the world does well.

These articles of civic faith have been critical to the American identity for as long as we have been alive. They are our birthright and our obligation. We must guard them jealously and pass them on for as long as the calendar has days. To betray them or to be unserious in their defense is a betrayal of the fundamental obligations of American leadership and to behave as if they don’t matter is simply not who we are.

Now the efficacy of American leadership around the globe has come into question. When the United States emerged from World War II, we contributed about half of the world’s economic activity. It would have been easy to secure our dominance keeping those countries who had been defeated or greatly weakened during the war in their place. We didn’t do that. It would have been easy to focus inward.

We resisted those impulses. Instead, we financed reconstruction of shattered countries and created international organizations and institutions that have helped provide security and foster prosperity around the world for more than 70 years.

Now it seems that we, the architects of this visionary rules-based world order that has brought so much freedom and prosperity, are the ones most eager to abandon it. The implications of this abandonment are profound and the beneficiaries of this rather radical departure in the American approach to the world are the ideological enemies of our values. Despotism loves a vacuum and our allies are now looking elsewhere for leadership. Why are they doing this? None of this is normal.

And what do we, as United States senators, have to say about it? The principles that underlie our politics, the values of our founding, are too vital to our identity and to our survival to allow them to be compromised by the requirements of politics because politics can make us silent when we should speak and silence can equal complicity. I have children and grandchildren to answer to.

And so, Mr President, I will not be complicit or silent. I’ve decided that I would be better able to represent the people of Arizona and to better serve my country and my conscience by freeing myself of the political consideration that consumed far too much bandwidth and would cause me to compromise far too many principles.

To that end, I’m announcing today that my service in the Senate will conclude at the end of my term in early January 2019. It is clear at this moment that a traditional conservative, who believes in limited government and free markets, who is devoted to free trade, who is pro-immigration, has a narrower and narrower path to nomination in the Republican party, the party that has so long defined itself by its belief in those things.

It is also clear to me for the moment that we have given in or given up on the core principles in favor of a more viscerally satisfying anger and resentment. To be clear, the anger and resentment that the people feel at the royal mess that we’ve created are justified. But anger and resentment are not a governing philosophy.

There is an undeniable potency to a populist appeal by mischaracterizing or misunderstanding our problems and giving in to the impulse to scapegoat and belittle – the impulse to scapegoat and belittle threatens to turn us into a fearful, backward-looking people. In the case of the Republican party, those things also threaten to turn us into a fearful, backward-looking minority party.

We were not made great as a country by indulging in or even exalting our worst impulses, turning against ourselves, glorifying in the things that divide us, and calling fake things true and true things fake. And we did not become the beacon of freedom in the darkest corners of the world by flouting our institutions and failing to understand just how hard-won and vulnerable they are.

This spell will eventually break. That is my belief. We will return to ourselves once more, and I say the sooner the better. Because we have a healthy government, we must also have healthy and functioning parties. We must respect each other again in an atmosphere of shared facts and shared values, comity and good faith. We must argue our positions fervently and never be afraid to compromise. We must assume the best of our fellow man, and always look for the good.

Until that day comes, we must be unafraid to stand up and speak out as if our country depends on it, because it does. I plan to spend the remaining 14 months of my Senate term doing just that.

Mr President, the graveyard is full of indispensable men and women. None of us here is indispensable nor were even the great figures of history who toiled at these very desks, in this very chamber, to shape the country that we have inherited. What is indispensable are the values that they consecrated in Philadelphia and in this place, values which have endured and will endure for so long as men and women wish to remain free.

What is indispensable is what we do here in defense of those values. A political career does not mean much if we are complicit in undermining these values. I thank my colleagues for indulging me here today.

I will close by borrowing the words of President Lincoln, who knew more about healthy enmity and preserving our founding values than any other American who has ever lived. His words from his first inaugural were a prayer in his time and are now no less in ours.

“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break the bonds of our affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely as they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

Thank you, Mr President. I yield the floor.

Thursday
Oct192017

Naples News: Anderson Strategy to Recruit Arthrex Sound 

Naples News Editorial

Arthrex didn’t grow from a Naples company into an international leader in medical device manufacturing by making bad business decisions.

So Arthrex’s announcement Monday that it’s building a manufacturing plant and creating 1,000 well-paying jobs in South Carolina certainly must be a sound business decision from Arthrex’s point of view.

However, there’s an important takeaway that we contend must now be owned by state officials as well as Florida educational leaders. At a time we’re trying to compete and grow not only this region’s workforce and economy but also Florida’s, political and educational leadership came up short.

Notably, this isn’t a company from the Midwest or Northeast choosing to expand in South Carolina over a site in Collier County, Lee County or elsewhere in Florida. This is a well-entrenched Southwest Florida company choosing to expand in South Carolina over anywhere closer to home, such as another community in the Sunshine State. It’s a company with global offices that in 2015 and 2016 made Fortune magazine’s “Best 100 Companies to Work For” list.

State and local leaders will be reflecting soon on what could have been handled more effectively in preparing for and responding to Hurricane Irma. That’s a necessary self-review.

Yet we contend there also will be a time soon for reflection on what might have been done differently to perhaps find an expansion home closer to Arthrex’s North Naples base. What might have persuaded the manufacturer that this state was a better fit than a South Carolina community with a Florida-sounding name, Sandy Springs?

Workforce clue

There are clues in the announcement about construction of the $30 million, 200,000-square-foot surgical device and implant manufacturing plant in Anderson County, South Carolina.

Take, for example, references to the ability to have a trained workforce ready in Anderson County.

“Arthrex plans to work with Tri-County Technical College in Anderson to develop a strong pipeline of qualified manufacturing personnel, utilizing their in-depth programs and long-standing relationships with institutions like Clemson University that are dedicated to supporting the manufacturing industry,” an Arthrex press release states.

Arthrex or any other successful, expanding company will go elsewhere if they can’t get the qualified workforce needed.

Providing a well-trained workforce to business and industry is a shortcoming we’ve heard about in Collier and Lee counties. However, we’re now left to wonder if this is a Florida-wide deficiency and what fault lies with our state’s educational institutions.

The Legislature and even Gov. Rick Scott in recent years have cut degree programs tied to our job market, as well as laboratory building construction dollars, sought by Florida Gulf Coast University.

In suggesting consideration of a local-option sales tax, the Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce cited better workforce training centers as a potential target for revenue.

Maybe Arthrex would have gone to South Carolina anyway. That’s not our point.

The question has now been highlighted to other businesses eyeing expansion whether Florida is doing enough to provide the necessary trained workforce.

Corporate welfare?

Then there’s the financial package South Carolina provided, including up to a 90 percent property tax reduction for a decade and other performance-based job incentives, all valued at nearly $13 million.

That sounds like what Florida House leadership wrongly called corporate welfare for the past year, insisting companies still would choose this state over others. House leadership should have followed Scott’s lead in growing Florida’s economy and jobs rather than fighting him to the end when the state approved a plea-bargain budget that included $85 million for a job growth fund.

Since the recession, Scott’s office has rolled out company relocation and expansion announcements regularly. So far this fiscal year, we’ve seen welcomed but infrequent announcements -- 350 jobs for a turbine company in Tampa, 200 for an engineering-IT firm in Palm Beach County, 20 at a Tampa IT firm and 15 at a Lakeland project management company.

Collectively it’s about half of South Carolina’s 1,000-job gain.

With another session coming, lawmakers should follow the lead of a governor who has substantially grown Florida’s job market since his 2010 election.

Tuesday
Oct172017

America "Land made of ideals, not blood and soil"

By John McCain

Thank you, Joe, my old, dear friend, for those mostly undeserved kind words. Vice-President Biden and I have known each other for a lot of years now, more than 40, if you’re counting. We knew each other back when we were young and handsome and smarter than everyone else but were too modest to say so.

Joe was already a senator, and I was the navy’s liaison to the Senate. My duties included escorting Senate delegations on overseas trips, and in that capacity, I supervised the disposition of the delegation’s luggage, which could require – now and again – when no one of lower rank was available for the job – that I carry someone worthy’s bag. Once or twice that worthy turned out to be the young senator from Delaware. I’ve resented it ever since.

Joe has heard me joke about that before. I hope he has heard, too, my profession of gratitude for his friendship these many years. It has meant a lot to me. We served in the Senate together for over 20 years, during some eventful times, as we passed from young men to the fossils who appear before you this evening.

We didn’t always agree on the issues. We often argued – sometimes passionately. But we believed in each other’s patriotism and the sincerity of each other’s convictions. We believed in the institution we were privileged to serve in. We believed in our mutual responsibility to help make the place work and to cooperate in finding solutions to our country’s problems. We believed in our country and in our country’s indispensability to international peace and stability and to the progress of humanity. And through it all, whether we argued or agreed, Joe was good company. Thank you, old friend, for your company and your service to America.

 

We live in a land made of ideals, not blood and soil

 

Thank you, too, to the National Constitution Center, and everyone associated with it for this award. Thank you for that video, and for the all too generous compliments paid to me this evening. I’m aware of the prestigious company the Liberty Medal places me in. I’m humbled by it, and I’ll try my best not to prove too unworthy of it.

Some years ago, I was present at an event where an earlier Liberty Medal recipient spoke about America’s values and the sacrifices made for them. It was 1991, and I was attending the ceremony commemorating the 50th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. The World War Two veteran, estimable patriot and good man, President George H W Bush, gave a moving speech at the USS Arizona memorial. I remember it very well. His voice was thick with emotion as he neared the end of his address. I imagine he was thinking not only of the brave Americans who lost their lives on December 7, 1941, but of the friends he had served with and lost in the Pacific where he had been the navy’s youngest aviator.

“Look at the water here, clear and quiet …” he directed, “One day, in what now seems another lifetime, it wrapped its arms around the finest sons any nation could ever have, and it carried them to a better world.”

He could barely get out the last line, “May God bless them, and may God bless America, the most wondrous land on earth.”

The most wondrous land on earth, indeed. I’ve had the good fortune to spend 60 years in service to this wondrous land. It has not been perfect service, to be sure, and there were probably times when the country might have benefited from a little less of my help. But I’ve tried to deserve the privilege as best I can, and I’ve been repaid a thousand times over with adventures, with good company, and with the satisfaction of serving something more important than myself, of being a bit player in the extraordinary story of America. And I am so very grateful.

What a privilege it is to serve this big, boisterous, brawling, intemperate, striving, daring, beautiful, bountiful, brave, magnificent country. With all our flaws, all our mistakes, with all the frailties of human nature as much on display as our virtues, with all the rancor and anger of our politics, we are blessed.

We are living in the land of the free, the land where anything is possible, the land of the immigrant’s dream, the land with the storied past forgotten in the rush to the imagined future, the land that repairs and reinvents itself, the land where a person can escape the consequences of a self-centered youth and know the satisfaction of sacrificing for an ideal, the land where you can go from aimless rebellion to a noble cause, and from the bottom of your class to your party’s nomination for president.

We are blessed, and we have been a blessing to humanity in turn. The international order we helped build from the ashes of world war, and that we defend to this day, has liberated more people from tyranny and poverty than ever before in history. This wondrous land has shared its treasures and ideals and shed the blood of its finest patriots to help make another, better world. And as we did so, we made our own civilization more just, freer, more accomplished and prosperous than the America that existed when I watched my father go off to war on December 7, 1941.

To fear the world we have organized and led for three-quarters of a century, to abandon the ideals we have advanced around the globe, to refuse the obligations of international leadership and our duty to remain “the last best hope of earth” for the sake of some half-baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems is as unpatriotic as an attachment to any other tired dogma of the past that Americans consigned to the ash heap of history.

We live in a land made of ideals, not blood and soil. We are the custodians of those ideals at home, and their champion abroad. We have done great good in the world. That leadership has had its costs, but we have become incomparably powerful and wealthy as we did. We have a moral obligation to continue in our just cause, and we would bring more than shame on ourselves if we don’t. We will not thrive in a world where our leadership and ideals are absent. We wouldn’t deserve to.

I am the luckiest guy on earth. I have served America’s cause – the cause of our security and the security of our friends, the cause of freedom and equal justice – all my adult life. I haven’t always served it well. I haven’t even always appreciated what I was serving. But among the few compensations of old age is the acuity of hindsight. I see now that I was part of something important that drew me along in its wake even when I was diverted by other interests. I was, knowingly or not, along for the ride as America made the future better than the past.

And I have enjoyed it, every single day of it, the good ones and the not so good ones. I’ve been inspired by the service of better patriots than me. I’ve seen Americans make sacrifices for our country and her causes and for people who were strangers to them but for our common humanity, sacrifices that were much harder than the service asked of me. And I’ve seen the good they have done, the lives they freed from tyranny and injustice, the hope they encouraged, the dreams they made achievable.

May God bless them. May God bless America, and give us the strength and wisdom, the generosity and compassion, to do our duty for this wondrous land, and for the world that counts on us. With all its suffering and dangers, the world still looks to the example and leadership of America to become, another, better place. What greater cause could anyone ever serve.

Thank you again for this honor. I’ll treasure it.

  • A transcript of Senator John McCain’s remarks at the 2017 Liberty Medal ceremony
Friday
Sep222017

Why Block Grants Would be Disaster for Health Care

Peter Edelman is faculty director of the Georgetown Center on Poverty and Inequality at the Georgetown University Law Center.

Republicans are advancing yet another effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act that is as bad as the one defeated in July, if not worse. This one makes large use of block grants, a long-standing Republican idea to promote “state flexibility.” The concept might sound good, but in reality, it would be disastrous for the millions of low- and moderate-income people it purports to help.

The Cassidy-Graham bill adds a new coat of paint to the Republican repeal-and-replace effort, but the content is still poison. It would slash the ACA’s Medicaid expansion and premium subsidies by $243 billionbetween 2020 and 2026, and then completely end federal funding in 2027. It would also turn these provisions into a block grant, which lends states enormous leeway in spending the money. On top of all that, the bill would hit each state’s federal Medicaid spending with a per-person limit, allowing states to receive pre-ACA Medicaid dollars in the form of block grants for non-elderly, non-disabled people.

Those facts should end the discussion. But it’s still worth diving into the destructive potential of block grants. We’ve had them since the days of President Richard Nixon, and all of them — tiny compared with those Cassidy-Graham would enact — have come to the same end: programs withering on the vine and, in some cases, no accountability for spending of federal money.

I should know. I resigned in protest from the Clinton administration when it turned the guaranteed cash assistance for low-income families into the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) grant. Unfortunately, virtually everything I warned about this change came to pass.

Republicans say it was a success, but in fact it produced deeper povertyfor children and badly spent federal funds. More than 6 million peoplenow have no income other than food stamps, which provide a little more than $500 monthly for a family of three. Cash assistance is essentially gone in most of the country. Half of the states help fewer than 20 percentof families with children living in poverty. In 1996, before welfare was converted into a block grant, more than two-thirds of families with children in poverty received welfare benefits; by 2015, less than 1 in 4 did.

This is what block grants — and their cousin, per-capita caps — do. They disconnect funding from need. They offer a capped amount of federal money to states or local governments and allow them to spend it with little to no oversight. Block grants typically mean massive funding cuts immediately, over time, or both, as is the case with Cassidy-Graham.

And with fixed funding levels, block grants create a powerful incentive for states to reduce assistance even as need rises. After all, they get to keep the “savings” in what essentially becomes a slush fund. As has been seen in the TANF program created by the 1996 welfare law, states have used the malleability of the block grant to make it harder for people to receive benefits. As a result, the number of families experiencing poverty who receive TANF has fallen precipitously.

It appears that Cassidy-Graham could have similar effects: Beyond the gargantuan budget cuts, states could use these funds for a broad range of health-care purposes, not just coverage. We should expect states to make it harder to get coverage so they can use the money for other things.

Block grants can’t respond to changing conditions. Past attempts have been unsuccessful in reacting to economic downturns, and block grants have trouble adjusting to the dramatic increase in need due to natural disasters. In the wake of the massive hurricanes that have recently hit Texas and Florida, we should remember former Florida senator Bob Graham’s observation in the mid-1990s: “Acts of God and block grants do not mix.”

Finally, block grants are likely to exacerbate racial disparities. As has been seen with TANF, limited federal oversight of block-grant programs can lead to differential access to benefits based on race. Some argue that states don’t need the federal government to guarantee civil rights. But those claims are evidently wrong: Just look at all the efforts to restrict voting access that would disproportionately affect people of color.

We have already seen what happens when programs for lower-income Americans become block grants, and it isn’t pretty. Access to health care through insurance coverage helps ensure the foundation for well-being and economic opportunity in the United States. Transitioning that to a block-grant system would put the health of millions at risk.

Monday
Sep112017

Single-Payer Health Insurance Gaining Support

David Leonhardt/NYT

Bernie Sanders plans to introduce his Medicare for all bill this week, and it’s already winning support from some Democrats. Even Max Baucus, the powerful former Montana senator who long opposed single-payer, now supports it.

With Republicans controlling every branch of government, single-payer health care has no chance of becoming law anytime soon. But the attention to it still matters. The odds are rising that Democrats will make a push toward single-payer when they next are in charge.

So here are five questions to consider as you follow the story:

1. What is single-payer, anyway? 

Good question! People are too often afraid of asking basic questions about complicated policy debates.

Single-payer health care describes a system in which only one entity — the government — pays basic medical bills. If all Americans had Medicare rather than insurance through their jobs, it would be a single-payer system.

But single-payer doesn’t necessarily involve the elimination of private insurance, as Larry Levitt points out. In Medicare, for example, private insurers sometimes act as a middleman between the government and hospitals or doctors.

The key difference is that taxes, rather than payroll deductions or disposable income, pay the bills.

2. Does single-payer work well in the countries that have it?

Generally, yes, it works very well. Costs are lower across Europe, Canada and Australia, where government plays a bigger role in medical care than here, and citizens in many of those places live longer than Americans. This is the single best argument for single-payer.

“In America, we should join every industrialized country and guarantee health care to all Americans as a right,” Sanders told Stephen Colbert last week

3. Could the United States keep its distinctive advantages under single-payer?

The American system is expensive and inefficient. It also produces many of the world’s most important medical innovations — new drugs, devices, treatments and the like — and is home to many of the best hospitals and researchers. That’s why wealthy people from other countries often come here for treatment.

It’s certainly conceivable that a single-payer system could retain these advantages while making American health care less wasteful. But I’d like to hear a fuller explanation from advocates about how it all would work.

4. How will single-payer overcome its political obstacles?

Even if single-payer reduces costs and lifts quality, the transition would be very tricky. Many people would be forced to change insurance plans even if they liked their current coverage. (Ask Barack Obama how popular that would be.) And money that Americans are now spending on private health care would instead have to be funneled into higher taxes

Sanders deserves credit for both the passion and detail he is bringing to the subject. Yet his plan from the 2016 campaign was not realistic about the necessary tax increase, as an analysis by the Urban Institute, a left-leaning think tank, showed. The recent failure of single-payer in left-leaning Vermont, which helped end the governor’s political career, shows how brutal the politics are

5. Is this a yes-or-no subject, or is there a middle ground?

Ah, my favorite question. There is indeed a middle ground

It’s entirely possible for the country to move toward single-payer without going all the way. This approach would involve expanding Medicare and Medicaid over time.

The Republican Party’s radicalism on health care over the past decade has made this sort of transition all the more likely. The conservative alternative to creeping single-payer is an expansion of the private markets. But the Trump administration and many (though not all) Republican governors have been actively undermining Obamacare’s private markets

Ron Pollack, a longtime advocate for expanding health coverage, has a nice breakdown of the gradualist approach in Vox

I recommend reading Paul Krugman’s argument that progressives should now focus their energies on issues other than health care, and The Times’s Editorial Board on why single-payer may yet be a bridge too far. Clio Chang of The New Republic has written a piece asking why more progressive wonks don’t favor a single-payer push

And anyone interested in this issue should go to the source and read Sanders’s proposals here. It’s also worth watching the more gradual approach of Senator Chris Murphy, which Elana Schor of Politico explains.


Tuesday
Aug222017

U.S. Destroyed KKK Once and Could Do it Again

By Allyson Hobbs, associate professor of history and director of African and African American Studies at Stanford University via the Guardian

In 1870 and 1871, Congress passed three Enforcement Acts that safeguarded the rights of African Americans to vote, hold office, serve on juries and receive equal protection under the law. These acts, also known as the “Ku Klux Klan Acts,” targeted the Klan for acting murderously to prevent African Americans from exercising their rights as citizens.

Today 146 years later, we could use the Enforcement Acts once more. 

President Ulysses S Grant pushed the legislation through Congress and called on the Army to help federal officials “arrest and break up bands of disguised night marauders”. Grant’s attorney general, Amos Akerman, a 49-year-old graduate of Dartmouth College and an outspoken champion of black suffrage, relished the opportunity to fight white terrorists in southern states. 

In a biography of Grant published in 2001, Jean Edward Smith quoted historian William S. McFeely who observed that “no attorney general before or since ‘has been more vigorous in the prosecution of cases designed to protect the lives and rights of black Americans’”.

Grant believed in the power of the franchise; he thought that once African Americans had the right to vote, which was guaranteed by the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment, their rights would be secure. But Grant did not anticipate the barbarous violence and virulent opposition that exploded across the South. 

Terror reigned as masked night riders burned black schools, intimidated voters and attacked, whipped and killed African Americans. The Klan was hellbent on dismantling the policies of Reconstruction. The Republican Party had to be crushed. In all forms of southern life and culture, black subservience and white supremacy had to be restored. 

The Klan raised its ranks from bitter ex-soldiers who could not accept the Confederacy’s defeat and from the sons of wealthy slaveholders who could not abide the loss of social standing and power after the war.

The worst violence occurred in South Carolina. Grant cited “a condition of lawlessness”, declared martial law and suspended the writ of habeas corpus. The Senate heard eloquent and wrenching testimonies of hundreds of African Americans who had been terrorized by the Klan. 

Maria Carter of Haralson County, South Carolina testified that Klansmen broke into her home, pointed a gun at her husband and frightened him to the point that he could not speak. They forced Carter’s husband to go with them to a neighbor’s house where they assaulted a woman so ferociously that Carter remembered that the house looked “as if somebody had been killing hogs there”. The men shot and then severely whipped the woman’s husband. Carter’s husband was beaten mercilessly; his clothes were blood soaked, and the next morning, they clung to his body.

With Akerman’s oversight, 600 Klansmen were convicted and 65 men were sent to the US penitentiary in Albany for sentences that could be as long as five years. The intervention of the federal government marked an important divergence from the norm of letting state and local authorities handle racial crimes. With the passage of the first Enforcement Act, Congress made it a federal offense to deprive a person of civil or political rights.

Akerman knew that destroying the Klan would require “extraordinary means”. To his mind, there was only one side in this fight, not “many”. There was no equivalence to be drawn between the Klan and the African Americans who had been attacked and murdered. 

Grant did not view the Confederates as heroes. He did not embolden them or stoke their resentment about the Confederacy’s defeat. Instead, after the Enforcement Acts were passed, he sent federal troops to the South and stated categorically that “insurgents were in rebellion against the authority of the United States”.

By 1872, the Klan had been defeated. The weight of the federal government broke the back of the organization and reduced racial violence throughout the South. Frederick Douglass declared that without Grant’s actions, black Americans likely would have been trapped in a condition similar to slavery. The violence did not end altogether, but the Klan was no longer a formidable player in American politics. Nor would it be until 50 years later, when the second Klan rose in the 1920s. 

In Ken Burns’ 1990 documentary, The Civil War, historian Barbara Fields explained, “The Civil War is not over until we today have done our part in fighting it.” The tragic events in Charlottesville have shown us just how urgent and necessary it is for us to continue the fight. There is still much to fight for. 

The right to vote needs protection against hysterical accusations of voter fraud, restrictions on registration, voter identification laws, decisions to relocate polling places at the last minute, the redrawing of district boundaries and the removal of names from voter rolls. 

Confederate monuments – built decades after the end of the Civil War during periods of extreme racial violence – must fall. 

The Civil War, Fields observed, “is still to be fought and regrettably it can still be lost”. The president has shown that we can expect nothing from him in terms of moral leadership. We have yet to see if other branches of government will take strong action to condemn white supremacy and carry on the fight.

Allyson Hobbs is associate professor of history and director of African and African American studies at Stanford University.

Tuesday
Aug152017

Evangelical Tradition Threatened by Supporting Trump Agenda

Jonathan Merritt, who writes On Faith & Culture for RNS, invited Peter Wehner — senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and a contributing op-ed writer at The New York Times — to write this guest column on his blog.

(RNS) — We’re at a hinge moment in the public witness of American Christianity.

The evangelical Christian movement in America is being compromised and discredited by the way prominent leaders have associated themselves with, first, the Donald J. Trump campaign and now, the Trump presidency. If this is allowed to define evangelical attitudes toward political power, the public witness of Christianity will be undermined in durable ways.

I say this recognizing that the last election involved difficult choices upon which reasonable and well-intentioned people disagreed. I understand the argument of those who believed that Mr. Trump was the better of two bad options, whose policies would do less damage to the country than Hillary Clinton’s.

But the worry is that now that the election is over and there is no binary Trump-Clinton choice, many evangelical Christians have lost the capacity to hold the president accountable when he transgresses norms, violates principles and acts in malicious ways. In fact, they have become among his most prominent and reliable public defenders.

Either by their public defense of Trump or their self-indicting silence, certain prominent evangelicals — including Franklin Graham, Eric Metaxas, Jerry Falwell Jr., Robert Jeffress, Ralph Reed and James Dobson — are effectively blessing a leader who has acted in ways that are fundamentally incompatible with a Christian ethic.

The same qualities that Mr. Trump showed during the campaign have continued in his presidency. He lies pathologically. Mr. Trump exhibits crude and cruel behavior, relishes humiliating those over whom he has power and dehumanizes his political opponents, women and the weak. He is indifferent to objective truth, trades in conspiracy theories and exploits the darker impulses of the public. His style of politics is characterized by stoking anger and grievances rather than demonstrating empathy and justice.

Evangelical Trump supporters aren’t responsible for the character flaws and ethical failures of the president. But by their refusal to confront those flaws and failures, they are complicit in the debasement of American culture and politics. Even more painful, they are presenting a warped and disfigured view of Christianity to the world.

A non-Christian I know recently told me that what is unfolding is “consistent with what sociobiology theorizes about religion: Its evolutionary purpose is to foster in-group solidarity. Principles serve rather than rule that mission.” This certainly isn’t my view of faith, but in the current circumstances – given what is playing out in public — this is not an unreasonable conclusion for him to draw. And he’s not alone. This kind of perception is multiplying.  

I’ve worked in politics much of my adult life, including in presidential campaigns and at the White House. I understand that governing involves complicated choices, transactional dealings and prudential judgments. No one ever gets things exactly right, and all who choose to serve deserve our prayers for wisdom. Politics is certainly not a place for the pursuit of utopia and moral perfection; rather, at its best, it is about achieving the best approximation of the public good, about protecting human dignity and advancing, even imperfectly, a more just social order. That is why Christians shouldn’t exile themselves from politics.

But with political involvement come temptations and traps, and it is the responsibility of Christians to act in ways that maintain the integrity of their public witness. And that is why this moment is so troubling. It seems clear to me, and I think to others, that many evangelicals, even unwittingly, are subordinating the Christian faith to partisan loyalties and political power.

The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state,” Martin Luther King Jr. said. “It must be the guide and the critic of the state, and never its tool.” Today, far too many evangelical Christians are tools of the Trump presidency.

To be sure, the people with whom I have differences on this matter often do worthy work in other areas of their lives. But in this area, I believe their words and actions are harming the faith we share.

I’m speaking out at this time because I’m a Christian who places himself in the evangelical tradition and senses that some important lines have been crossed, some significant damage is being done, and some substantial repair work needs to take place. I hope others who share these concerns – who might feel anguished by what they perceive as the abuse of their faith – will take a stand in their own lives and in their own way. We can all be part of a politics of redemption.