Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?
The shadow knows...
- Frank Readick, Jr, Narrator of The Shadow, Mutual Broadcasting System
The radio mystery series The Shadow went really big late in 1937 when the Mutual Broadcasting System took it over. The character, as originally written in pulp fiction, had been a French freedom fighter. But Orson Wells played him as a vigilante crime fighter with a sort of psychic ability.
Lots of folks thought that Orson Wells was the introductory voice. Wells played the Shadow himself, and his eerie laugh accompanied the introduction. But the speaking voice at the beginning was the same Frank Readick who narrated the rest of the show.
There is a legend that Orson Wells was in such great demand as a radio voice in those days, that he would sometimes forget how, exactly, the distinctive laugh of the Shadow was supposed to sound. He would arrive early on the set, so he could privately consult with a radio stage hand, who would mimic the laugh until Wells remembered how to get it right.
Every once in a while, some incident would bring to mind what I had heard or read of those radio broadcasts. Mostly it was when some speculation seemed fruitless to me as it centered on what motivated some action or other. Who knows what is in anyone's heart? Except for God, nobody really does, I would guess. Not even we know what is in our hearts with any certainty.
There are many motivations in the human heart that might cause someone to get into politics. Cynics speculate that varying nefarious reasons pull opportunists in. Power, hatred, money, the pomp of high office. Decades ago, I spent a college semester studying politics in Washington, DC. I remember watching Senators and occasional Congressional representatives walk between government buildings. Surrounded by aides, they never touched a door. Not even breaking stride as aides opened whatever needed to be opened, doors did not exist for elected officials. Notepads, newspapers, charts, and a continuous flow of information surrounded them. Each member of the legislative branch was the center of a traveling office. It was an optimal use of time. It also had to have been a rush.
I tended to reject cynicism unless some evidence backed it. I did not like to rule out the possibility that politicians were motivated by something other than selfishness and self-promotion. I settled on politics and policy. Politics in the sense of promoting the winning of the battle of ideas, policy in the application of those ideas to affect real lives.
This time, the old Orson Wells show came to me as I reviewed an article in the Wall Street Journal. It was entitled, in part, "Economic Populism Is a Dead End for Democrats." Jon Cowan And Jim Kessler run the centrist organization The Third Way. The officials that draw their ire these days are New York Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio and Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). Senator Warren is the main target.
The political problems of liberal populism are bad enough. Worse are the actual policies proposed by left-wing populists. The movement relies on a potent "we can have it all" fantasy that goes something like this: If we force the wealthy to pay higher taxes (there are 300,000 tax filers who earn more than $1 million), close a few corporate tax loopholes, and break up some big banks then—presto!—we can pay for, and even expand, existing entitlements.
- Jon Cowan And Jim Kessler, the Third Way, December 2, 2013
The main focus of their attack is Social Security, which they describe as "exhibit A of this populist political and economic fantasy." They point out that Social Security benefits to seniors and the disabled currently exceed what is being taken in. Down the road, decades from now, this will result in a crash. Benefits will be slashed.
And what will Senator Warren be doing about it?
Undeterred by this undebatable solvency crisis, Sen. Warren wants to increase benefits to all seniors, including billionaires, and to pay for them by increasing taxes on working people and their employers.
- Jon Cowan And Jim Kessler, the Third Way, December 2, 2013
The rest of the Warren agenda is equally disastrous. Medicare costs are skyrocketing, yet "Sen. Warren and her acolytes are irresponsibly pushing off budget decisions."
It isn't hard to dispose of the policy objections. The current imbalance is caused by a very simple demographic fact of life. As soldiers came home after defeating the Nazis and the Empire of Japan in World War II, they got married. The new couples produced lots and lots of babies. The babyboom generation forms a giant bump in the population. Those boomers began getting out of the workforce and into retirement a few years ago, and more are following now.
It's a big problem, but not a forever problem. The way to deal with it is by increasing the revenue side of Social Security. Right now, there is a cap on who participates in Social Security. The first 117,000 of income is taxed and benefits are scaled to match. If you earn less you are taxed less, but your retirement benefit is less as well. Senator Warren and others want to increase the cap. Let those earning more than that 117,000 a year participate at a higher amount. This gets us over the hump.
With this in mind, let's look again at the attack on Senator Warren's approach. Sen. Warren wants to increase benefits to all seniors, including billionaires, and to pay for them by increasing taxes on working people and their employers.
Similarly, Senator Warren backs administration policies, including Obamacare. I feel sure that some of those who object are merely mistaken. I suspect some are flatly dishonest. In fact, Obamacare, and the associated policies the administration and Senator Warren support, are already reducing medical inflation to it's lowest level in my lifetime.
I suspect the core problem advanced by some officials and by the authors of the article, are political. They seek a middle ground, a centrist position, a place in the political spectrum that most folks will support. This works politically for many issues, mostly cultural controversies.
In the early 1970s, Richard Nixon got some mileage by suggesting a middle course between those who want instant integration and those who insist on segregation forever. One comedian called the Nixon middle ground approach "instant forever."
On economic issues, on fiscal issues, the success or failure of policy itself will dictate political success. Staking out a middle ground that turns out not to work, or not to work well, is not a recipe for success.
For example, most economists, all mainstream economists, say that budget deficits will speed up most economic recoveries. If they are paid back during prosperous times, we have a successful economic policy. But some Democrats got scared of such "extreme" stimulus programs shortly after the first Obama election. Enough Democrats threatened to join obstructionist Republicans to force a compromise. A smaller stimulus program became policy.
Some of those centrists paid for the resulting shrinking of economic recovery by losing their positions at election time. Sometimes what works is more important politically than what is the centrist position.
Jon Cowan and Jim Kessler have been in and out of Democratic policy and political positions for decades. Cowan was part of the Clinton administration. Kessler has been the Policy Director for Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY). Both are moderately left of center.
It is hard to know what is in the human heart, or why they would urge a centrist position that urges cutbacks for seniors, the physically impaired, or those who need jobs.
The policies they urge would be harsh and counter productive.
The politics they advocate would be suicidal.
Whatever lurks in their hearts, the case they present is flatly wrong.
From the Detroit News:
The Republican-controlled Legislature on Wednesday approved a voter-initiated law that would prohibit basic health insurance plans from covering abortions and avoid a veto by Gov. Rick Snyder.
The Senate voted 27-11 and the House passed the legislation 62-47 mostly along party lines in favor of Right to Life of Michigan’s proposal to require women to purchase additional insurance for abortions.
The law contains no exceptions for coverage of pregnancies caused by rape or incest and will go into effect 90 days after the Legislature adjourns for the year — likely in mid-March. The new law will apply to publicly funded health plans and those covering employees of private businesses.
- More -
When it comes right down to it, most political movements, most social movements in general, involve one of the deepest of human desires: to be on the side of, and to achieve, justice.
The arc of the moral universe bends partially because of the human need for justice. Social goals from minimum wage to the end of of Apartheid, including the triumph of anti-Communism in Soviet Russia and the Arab Spring share that commonality.
Sometimes the urge to be on the side of justice results in horrible injustice. One of the most popular posts on this site was written over five years ago. It speculated on the beginnings of racism. The central idea was that white ownership of black slaves was not the result of racism, but was rather the cause of racism.
The human need for justice meant that slavery had to be defended through racism.
I think of the human need for justice when I see demands that those who have achieved, or inherited, great wealth pay their fair share in taxes. The need to reward those who "work hard and play by the rules" has become a resurgent cliche. Democrats are elected on periodic calls for economic justice:
I've always believed that if you work hard and play by the rules, you ought to have a decent chance for yourself and for a better life for your children. That's the promise I made when I first ran for President, and that's the basic bargain behind so much of what we've done in the years since.
- President Bill Clinton, July 29, 2000
The idea of moral hazard is mostly negative. We don't like to see miscreants get away with it. Banks that are too big to fail, that are propped up for the public good, that then offer bonuses and corporate parties for executives provoke a figurative run on torches and pitchforks.
The desire for justice sometimes results in simple wishful thinking. The notion that what goes around comes around is a hopeful desire for a sort of informal, natural justice. Life is fair, so time wounds all heels.
When Rick Santelli gave vent to the rant against economic losers, an angry cry that echoes through pretty much every Tea Party gathering, he was appealing to a desire for justice. The antagonism against "moral hazard" is largely anger at unfairness. Why should hard working folk bail out others who made self-defeating economic decisions?
Sometimes that wishful thinking is offered, not so much as a hope, but as a sort of justification. In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus rebuked that sort of thinking. He gave as examples several whom Pilate, the Roman ruler of Israel, had murdered. He recalled the collapse of a tower just south of Jerusalem, killing several more. He rebuked anyone who would think such misfortunes were visited on the victims because they had sinned.
Occasionally this type of thinking is transmuted into a sort of paternalism. As a loving parent may discipline a wayward child, so we must administer tough love to those Rick Santelli would throw aside.
Unemployment benefits provide up to 50% of a worker's previous salary while that worker looks for employment. Senator Rand Paul suggests that this provides an unhealthyincentive for the unemployed to relax and stay unemployed, which hurts them in the long run.
He recently had this to say about the unemployed:
When you allow people to be on unemployment insurance for 99 weeks, you're causing them to become part of this perpetual unemployed group in our economy. And it really - while it seems good, it actually does a disservice to the people you're trying to help.
- Rand Paul, Fox News Sunday, December 8, 2013
Public expressions by Republican lawmakers of impatience and hostility toward unemployed people outweigh by a large margin this paternalistic tough love. It seems apparent that the Rick Santelli rant against economic losers speaks for more Republicans than does the tough love of Rand Paul.
The simple idea that unites many social movements is that those who experience injustice and suffering need healing and that simple morality demands that we stand up for them.
There is also a simple idea that unites the good intentions of Rand Paul, the hostility of Rick Santelli, and the harsh judgments toward those who suffered from misfortune when Jesus walked the shores of Galilee.
It is that those who suffer misfortune have it coming.
- Correction: At the suggestion of Ryan, the last name of Rick Santelli has been corrected
Conor Friedersdorf is a man of the left who, none-the-less, adopts the common journalistic practice of partisan balance at all costs. Perhaps we shouldn't blame all ideologies equally, but we can still reflexively blame both parties and all politicians.
For example, in a piece written for The Atlantic last month, entitled Americans Are Stuck With Inept Versions of Both Parties:
Wouldn't it be nice if Republicans were hellbent on reforming the financial sector and Democrats were determined to get bureaucrats operating with competence and efficiency? Saying so makes one sound like a starry-eyed dreamer. In our political system, people like Elizabeth Warren focus on fighting Wall Street pathologies, while the GOP highlights government incompetence.
- Conor Friedersdorf, the Atlantic, November 26, 2013
Those of us who pay attention to Elizabeth Warren may have noticed that her advocacy of a Consumer Product Safety Commission to protect ordinary people from fraud and fine print has not not protected some bureaucrats from her skepticism and others from her outright contempt.
But fairness is equivalency, in contemporary journalistic ethos, and Friedersdorf is required by balance to overlook exceptions. He does this in a different sort of way from lazier writers, however. Truth is not to be found between two extremes, but rather apart from the entire spectrum. Last year he announced that he would not be voting for the re-election of President Obama. He avoided the phrase war criminal, but his drift drifted enough in that direction.
...I'd have thought more people on the left would regard a sustained assault on civil liberties and the ongoing, needless killing of innocent kids as deal-breakers.
- Conor Friedersdorf, the Atlantic, September 26, 2013
"I am not a purist," he says. Lest he be mistaken for one unable to make ideological distinctions, he does preface his harsh judgment of Obama with a grudging acknowledgement that some less discerning than he "might concluded that he is the lesser of two evils, and back him reluctantly..." The proud recipient of Conor Friedersdorf's public endorsement and presumed election ballot was Libertarian Gary Johnson.
So Conor Friedersdorf does not seek balance by means of the tried and true journalistic reflex. He does not measure to the halfway point between goalposts and proclaim the discovery of the fifty yard line to be the epiphany of truth. He jets to some distant land and measures out a more remote judgment, fulfilling a non-purist but committed position. Both goalposts are far, far away. And he conforms to the modern journalistic Prime Directive. He places a pox on both houses.
His more recent effort in the Atlantic takes on the ongoing fix of the GawdAwful Healthcare Site, as it has come to be known. He is pessimistic about it. The problem as he sees it is that the recent administration report proclaims success in the front end, what the public will see when they log in. No more crashes, or at least very few. No more delays, or at least very few. But the back end, the handling of the data is not mentioned as part of that success. The relaying of data to insurance providers is essential. And the lack of progress in repairing that functionality is chillingly slow.
A progress report with more clarity on that point is needed. Does a broken back end render the front-end fix useless to some consumers? The progress report's narrow focus on the front end leaves me pessimistic.
- Conor Friedersdorf, the Atlantic, December 1, 2013
To document his concern, Mr. Friedersdorf relies pretty much exclusively on a New York Times article. A portion of what he quotes contains this:
At the outset, the team had made what officials call a very intentional decision to focus their repair effort on making HealthCare.gov work better for consumers. That has meant putting off some “back-end” fixes for insurers, who use the site to receive applications and bill the government for subsidy payments.
- New York Times, November 30, 2013
So, the administration intended that revision and repair efforts would first focus on allowing consumers to enter and store information. That was to be accomplished by December 1. Then the emphasis would shift to the back end, transmitting the information to insurance companies.
Sure enough, the progress report says that the initial objective has been accomplished, and that work has begun on the next step. Our intrepid journalist is dismayed that those conducting repairs only did what they said they would do, and have not completed what they said they would begin to do next.
I wonder how Conor Friedersdorf would handle other news stories.
A progress report with more clarity is needed, as rescue crews struggle to save the life of the victim. Does the fact that the ambulance is still idling as the patient is secured inside mean that transport will not happen? The narrow focus on placing the victim into the vehicle leaves me pessimistic.
The title of the piece on Obamacare in the Atlantic is:
The subtitle is:
The final sentence is: Let's hope I'm wrong.
Regardless of the eventual success of the Obamacare site, that seems a safe bet.
CSPAN interview reveals strategy.
Is it easier to fight if adversaries are glowing in the dark?
I think a ground war in Iran with American boots on the ground would be a horrible thing and I think people like to toss around the fact that we have to stop them in some way from gaining this nuclear capability. I don’t think it’s inevitable but I think if you have to hit Iran, you don’t put boots on the ground, you do it with tactical nuclear devices and you set them back a decade or two or three. I think that’s the way to do it with a massive aerial bombardment campaign.
- Representative Duncan Hunter (R-CA), on CSPAN, December 4, 2013
The great Obamacare debate began with philosophical objections combined with horror-genre fiction. Death panels and a broken economy cross pollinated Constitutional concerns left over from Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security debates. What exactly does promoting the General Welfare entail?
Most social advances have had to face down the ridiculous to get to actual issues. The New York State version of the Equal Rights Amendment was defeated by the Phyllis Schlafly generated image of unisex public bathrooms. The debate a hundred years ago about the right of women to vote included discussions about whether they were intelligent enough and whether marriage would be endangered by political discussions in the home.
Work your way around the dishonest parts of the attacks on Obamacare, get past the inevitable but very brief follow up discussion about Kenya as the Mother of Presidents, and you end up back at the 1960s and Constitutional definitions about eldercare. Is medical treatment an earned right, reserved for the well off? Should the rest of us be concerned when one of us is financially wiped out by an illness that fine print says is not to be covered?
The great undoing anticipated by opponents kept not happening. The death of Edward M. Kennedy and the election in Massachusetts of Scott Brown should have killed it. Filibusters and off year public pressure should have put it in the ground. The Supreme Court, the election of 2012. It was one disappointment after another.
The government shutdown and the default was the last stand. Ted Cruz stood like George Custer surrounded by enough loyal troops to provoke another loss.
You still hear individual shouts, followed by group cheers, as a few rally round the flag of defunding. But here's the thing:
The shouts are less frequent, as leaders focus on the futility of repeal.
The cheers are weaker, as crowds grow smaller.
- The shouts and the cheers include fewer actual office holders.
Those in office are now looking to side issues. The rightward public is less likely to be scared to action by vague images of huge costs and rationing boards. Scare tactics are always aimed at low-information voters, and even bad web news tends to inform.
Stories about the Website of Horror join tales of the independently insured now forced to give up valued coverage in favor of something more comprehensive. But they are no longer about repeal. The accompanying charge is a sort of modified I-told-you-so. The modification is in direction. I-told-you-it-would-be-the-end-of-freedom is mutating to I-told-you-these-folks-are-incompetent.
Actual repeal is becoming a rhetorical improbability. Those who were not able to get insurance before because of lack of means or because of pre-existing conditions will not agree easily to give up what they now have, or shortly will have. And they outnumber those forced to give up junk-coverage by several quantums.
Even if the Marvelously Malfunctioning Enrollment site continues to be an embarrassment, the program itself has acquired a primary constituency of newly insured, and a secondary constituency of those who care about those who are newly insured.
And there is hope in that site. After a reportedly angry White House session with a furious President peppering experts with increasingly specific questions, the revised promise had to do with lower error rates and vanishing percentages of user interface crashes. "Back end" corrections involving the relaying of stored information to insurance providers would be a "next step." Success on the second bounce is easier to claim, and further success is promised as a followup: those back-end repairs are to come next.
Sunday morning gasbags bemoan their discovery that the back-end doesn't work, even though the user interface does. Those critics who understand their own words are a small minority. Those who can communicate anything more to a non-expert audience than techno-babble are extinct before they start.
The main point of attack has been reduced to a fight against particulars. Demands for repeal, for defunding, for a reversal of what Americans are now expecting for themselves or their neighbors, are softly spoken, when mentioned at all. They are now replaced with an accusation.
The President you people made the mistake of re-electing turns out not to have been a good computer programmer.
My twenty years or so in computer programming may make me an elderly nerd. It doesn't make me an expert on all things IT. I lost count a long time ago of the number of folks who have asked me about one computer issue or another. I couldn't help them.
For one thing, information technology covers a lot of territory. I know somewhat less than nothing about what actually makes a computer operate. Very few programmers would be able to tell you much about the inner workings of hardware. I usually refer those whose PCs have been enveloped in some trauma to my loved one, who is A-Plus certified and a bit of a hardware genius.
Beyond that, the number of computer languages is a Tower of Babel, likely to fall on anyone who thinks they know even a fraction of everything.
Once, I was assigned to make some needed adjustments to a voice response system for a client company. Calls were not being routed fast enough to the right person. Menus were inadequate and callers were not being offered a quick way to an operator if they couldn't find their way through. I was warned that an unpleasant sales employee, a self-styled expert, liked to harass computer techs. I was promised there would be no problem if I was rude to the fellow, since everyone there considered him a bit of a jerk.
Sure enough, a guy swaggered on over while I was untangling previous work so I could solve whatever ailed their system. He began loudly berating my company, their choice of system platforms, the languages they used, the dumb technical people - like me - they would send to make adjustments. For a while, I just kept working. But he kept getting louder. People looked up from their desks at the commotion.
Finally, I looked up. "Come on over," I said. "Let me show you something." He sauntered over to the work station. I pointed to the screen. "This blinking light is what we call ..." I slowed down and slowly enunciated, "... the cursor." I explained that the cursor told us where in the system of files we were looking. I began to explain what files were and how directories were organized.
He got fidgety and finally could stand it no longer. He interrupted me. "You don't need to tell me all that! I happen to be kind of an expert in computers." The number of onlookers had multiplied by then. Some of them looked a little uncomfortable at the behavior of the loudmouth.
I feigned embarrassment. "On gosh, I'm sorry. I hope you realize there's absolutely nothing you've said that would have led me to believe that." The office broke into cheers.
There is still some internet related programming I haven't forgotten. But I know more back end data related stuff.
I have to confess I was kind of surprised at the initial debacle of Obamacare. The website was, apparently, ill-constructed. The volume was greater than expected, not so much because of the instant popularity of the program, but because of the number of states, governed by Republicans, that turned down incentives for setting up their own enrollment systems. Stress testing on the federal system was apparently inadequate.
From what I have read, the geniuses who ran the information systems providing strategic data to the 2012 Obama campaign - I do wish I had been part of THAT - were kept from participating in setting up Obamacare. Appearance of impropriety was the fear, I'd guess.
Too bad. Those who are willing to think Obama is a hybrid of Bozo the Clown and Attila the Hun don't hesitate to accuse Bozo the Hun of corruption, with evidence they themselves pretty much invent.
The newest CNN poll seems to indicate that Obamacare is very unpopular, unless you look more closely. About 40 percent like the new law just fine. 58 percent are opposed to Obamacare. So that's bad for Obamacare, right?
But 14 percent who say they don't like it also say it's because it doesn't go far enough. Grouping those who hate Obamacare in with those who say there isn't enough Obamacare in Obamacare seems a little off base. If you do the right thing and add those who say it should do more with those who like it the way it is, you're at 54 percent. By some coincidence, that 54 percent happens to match the number who think the technical problems will eventually get worked out.
Younger, more technologically experienced people are the most optimistic about the web problems. Just 25 percent of younger voters have doubts about the technology.
For me, the real news is the debate itself. Various myths about Obamacare have begun fading. Death panels are widely ridiculed. Those who care enough about deficits to pay attention know that the program improves health care while reducing costs. Budget deficits will be lowered by the law.
In the good old days, Republicans opposed Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid for largely philosophical reasons. The debate was about the legitimate role of government in ensuring reasonable care for the common good. Heady stuff.
After getting past the silly interpretations we've been hearing since President Obama adopted Mitt Romney's program from Massachusetts, we have now arrived at the end point.
Scandals surrounding Benghazi, IRS, and various bureaucratic inevitabilities have been examined and exhausted and appear to be Republican contrivances. Investigations into Obamacare are conducted by people who blink with non-comprehension at the news that comment lines exist.
Republicans are pinning all of their hopes on the continuing failure of a website. Their latest accusation is that President Obama is inadequately technical.
Let's begin with Rush Limbaugh, because ... why not?
Let’s say, let’s take 10 people in a room and they’re a group. And the room is made up of six men and four women. OK? The group has a rule that the men cannot rape the women. The group also has a rule that says any rule that will be changed must require six votes, of the 10, to change the rule.
- Rush Limbaugh, November 22, 2013
Well, that was interesting.
Actually, Rush was making a point. His thought experiment had to do with the recent change to the filibuster rule of the United States Senate. That was the rule that used to be invoked whenever a few Senators felt so strongly about an issue, where the majority was against them, that they were willing to keep any vote from happening.
Mostly, in the past, that happened whenever the topic was some law against segregation, or even against the custom in some sections of the country of decorating tree limbs with black folks who might want to do something outrageous, like vote - or drink from the wrong water fountain.
The rule allowed any Senator to talk endlessly, holding up Senate business, unless a lot more than a majority of Senators voted to end debate and vote on whatever it was. Well, that's what it used to mean. A while back, Senators decided on a couple of changes.
The first was the number of Senators needed to end a filibuster was reduced. For a long, long time it was 67 votes. But in 1975, a proposal to change the rule to 60 votes was introduced. Naturally, it was filibustered.
Nelson Rockefeller was Vice President in 1975. He kept refusing to recognize Senators who wanted to filibuster against changing the filibuster rule. When he was challenged on it, he read from the Senate rules. "It says right here in the precedents of the Senate, 'The Chair may decline to respond; the chair may decline to answer a parliamentary inquiry.'" So Senators brought up points of order and motions to table other motions to table. It was a horrible tangle.
Finally, a deal was reached. A filibuster could be stopped by 60 votes. Yay! In return, Vice President Rockefeller apologized to the Senate for being such a jerk as to violate hallowed customs in order to make it easier to pass civil rights laws. Sorry about that.
Senators also did something they thought was brilliant. If a Senator wanted to filibuster, they would move on to the next item, bypassing any actual talking. That way, other Senate business could be conducted without waiting for obstructing Senators to get tired of standing.
That also made it really convenient to conduct a filibuster. Think of it as a sort of microwave of obstruction. Saves everyone from having to perform all that institutional cooking. "I announce my intention to talk endlessly for many hours about this bill that the majority wants to pass." - "No need for all that, Senator. We'll just move on to something else." - "Okay. In that case, I'll sit around and enjoy a cigar."
When President Obama took office, Republicans met just after the Inaugural Address to decide how to destroy him. No kidding. That's what they did.
They began filibustering pretty much everything more important than naming Post Offices. Democrats retaliated with harsh looks and furtive gestures. Amazingly, Republicans were undeterred.
So Democrats got tough. They threatened to "go nuclear" and end the filibuster. Republicans said that was scary and promised only to filibuster if they ever got really really mad. So Democrats, impressed by this new, reasonable approach, said okay and told everyone that Senate tradition had been preserved. They did briefly wonder why Republicans were giggling joyfully and highfiving.
Then, Republicans announced they would refuse to confirm any judges to one of the District Courts no matter who was nominated. Just because.
They explained that they were not breaking their word, because they had had their fingers crossed plus they were really really mad about pretty much everything.
So Democrats decided, at long last, to end the filibuster. HaHaHa, just kidding.
They would end the filibuster for any and all administrative judicial appointments. HaHaHa, got you again.
They didn't end filibusters for ALL judicial appointments. Only those not having to do with the Supreme Court. Pretty tough, these Democrats.
So conservatives are hopping mad. . . Okay, that part is pretty much same as before. They remain hopping mad.
Rush does have a recurring obsession with all things sexual: calling individual women sluts, suggesting that those who use birth control (except for aspirin) are prostitutes, apparently thinking that contraceptive prescriptions must be increased with more sexual activity, wondering if there is a Planned Parenthood conspiracy to reduce effectiveness of morning-after pills for women wearing more than size 2 clothes. That sort of thing.
If you can get past that, he does have a point about majoritarianism. Some things should be opposed regardless of whether a majority is in favor. Things about basic rights.
For example, voting rights should be safeguarded, even if most folks are okay with making it harder for minorities to vote. Gay rights should not be circumvented, even in locations where most people are anti-gay. If a majority of voters in my neighborhood decide that everyone must contribute to religion, I would be opposed, even if the funding would flow to the house of worship I attend. A Nevada assemblyman kicked up some dust by telling supporters that he would vote for slavery if his constituents wanted it.
Point is, or should be, that basic rights are inalienable. The rights can be abridged. They can be voted down, shouted down, put down by majority vote, or oppressed by the sheer force of bigotry. But they are still rights, even as they are violated.
"You know what? We're going to change the rule. Now all we need is five." And well, "you can't do that." "Yes we are. We're the majority. We're changing the rule."
- Rush Limbaugh, November 22, 2013
Freedom from rape is a basic right. Obstructing pretty much everything that requires Senate action is not.
Now, if Rush Limbaugh could find it in his heart to apply his anti-majoritarian logic to gay rights, we might get somewhere.
A month before last year's election, employment numbers began to improve. There was a lot of talk that the reason for the drop was the number of people taking part time work. Initial data seemed to back that up.
A few on the ragged edge of conservatism saw it as a conspiracy.
Jack Welch tweeted:
Unbelievable jobs numbers..these Chicago guys will do anything..can't debate so change numbers.
Several months later, the tone was softer, but the message was the same. This time, the job distortion was not so much a conspiracy as the result of subconscious desires and unintentional actions.
When the government unions and the government employees are in subjective jobs, no matter how decent the people are — let's assume they are all perfect — their biases have to come through.
Even now, Rick Santelli maintains the jobs report back then might still be a fake:
You know, there's a lot of reports out that the census group that's involved in phone surveys, which are part of the household survey, which determines the unemployment rate, well, some of those may have been fake.
I never saw the point. If some voter somewhere cast a vote based on the monthly report of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, it would have been a phenomenon of rarity. People are influenced by the economy. But voting is based on personal experience and direct contact.
All the spin in the world won't affect how people view their economic condition or that of friends and relatives. "Uncle Harry just lost his job, but the Bureau of Labor Statistics says the rate of unemployment just went down by 3/10's of 1 percent. I think I'll vote for the Democrat."
The conservative theory of skewed polling never made a lot of sense to me. I did not see how voters would be swayed by those polls. "Vote for me because polling data indicates you will vote for me." I don't see it. In fact, all that conservative effort seems to have hurt Republicans. The Mitt Romney campaign made strategic decisions on the basis of inaccurate information.
The latest news that spin can't spin for long is Obamacare.
Most folks don't see any change in their insurance. All we're seeing now is news stories about people forced to give up coverage they want to keep. Initially, those who looked behind the news all thought those stories were an exaggerated account of 3 percent of the population. Now that actual numbers are being surveyed, it looks like the stories are actually an exaggerated account involving 6/10 of 1 percent of the population.
But not many are looking through the tall weeds. The most visible evidence, the Obamacare website, is the object of late night jokes.
All the huff-and-puff about Obamacare has an effect now.
It won't in a few months.
If the Obamacare site is up and working, and people are shopping about because they have to, and they end up saving money on a better deal, all the stories and spin in the opposite direction will be swept away. In fact, some with group coverage are already getting refunds.
If the Obamacare site is still a bust, and people can't even get to a better deal, all the stories and spin in favor of Obamacare will look kind of foolish.
The dice are rolling, the coin is in the air, door number one is already chosen, the national decision has been made.
Predictions will not matter. What actually happens will.
So maybe all that's left is to wait and see?
It isn't easy to develop an intelligent view on the debate about Iran without stumbling into the tall weeds.
One of the magic numbers is 225. Another is 19.75. If Iran had 225 kilograms of Uranium enriched to a level of 19.75 percent, it could make a nuclear weapon. A year ago, the Institute for Science and International Security (pdf) was warning that Iran could, with some effort, produce just enough enriched uranium for a weapon by this year.
So there is some concern. Iran's leadership expressed unfriendly enough intentions toward Israel to make nuclear weapons something we ought to keep out of fanatic hands. As far as I know, the NRA has not expressed an opinion. I'm not sure I want to know whether outlawing nuclear weapons would mean only outlaws would have them. But then, I also want to keep assault rifles away from grade school kids, so what do I know?
Not every nuclear facility can produce that level of enrichment. In fact, as long as plutonium is not involved, everyone seems pretty sure mushroom clouds will not be possible.
But Iran has a reactor in Arak that can produce plutonium as a byproduct. This level of concern is technically known as yikes!
The United States and about every ally put a lot of sanctions into effect a few years ago. This has pretty much decimated the Iranian economy.
Iran's old President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, seemed to have a bad case of tourette syndrome when it came to Israel. His hobby was shaking his fist and making ambiguous threats. "When I said they should be destroyed, I wasn't saying that WE were thinking of doing that." He never said that, but every other day something close to that would streak across the heavens. As long as his fists would never hold weapons grade nuclear material, he was just a nuisance. "Good old Mahmoud. What a character!" But nobody wanted him to get close to what glows in the dark, therefore the sanctions.
The new President is Hassan Rouhani. Hassan doesn't shake fists. He shakes hands. He campaigned on a platform of finding a way out of sanctions.
Those sanctions are pretty tough. Assets seized, bank accounts frozen, supplies cut off, boycotts of oil, and so on. Oil is a big deal. It's the main thing Iran produces that can get income into the country.
Talks have been going on for a while. Iran wants to continue a nuclear program to produce electricity. That would free up oil for export and get more income in. They agree to pull away from any plutonium, and to promise not to enrich any uranium to weapons grade levels. And they agree to enough inspectors to make sure they don't cheat.
The United States and its allies seem okay with that, at least enough to end some sanctions and release some bank accounts for medical and other emergency-type supplies. An end to other sanctions and asset seizures would not happen until those promises are kept and verified.
Does all of that make for a good deal? I dunno. Deciding that is what we elect Presidents and hire Secretaries of State to determine. Lots of experts are on hand.
The main argument against any agreement, as it is articulated in the press, is that we are dealing with Iran. Remember Ayatollah Khomeini? How about those hostages?
How should we trust people who kidnap diplomats?
The answer is we don't. We don't make arms treaties, nuclear or otherwise, with those we trust. We made treaties with the old Soviet Union back during the cold war. And we set up verification systems because we didn't trust them. They didn't trust us either, that's because they were paranoid. How could anyone not trust President Nixon?
But we don't make such treaties with Great Britain or Canada. That's because we trust them. No need for treaties between friends.
If we are not willing to lift any sanctions in exchange for anything at all, then Iran has no reason for giving up on weapons development. Things are bad if they develop weapons. Things are bad if they don't. No difference.
Lack of trust is not a reason to oppose a treaty. It is the only reason to have a treaty. Whether there is a treaty should depend on whether each step is positive, whether there is enough in sanctions left to force progress, and whether there is enough verification so they can't cheat.
Most of us lack the knowledge to guess whether a prospective agreement with Iran will be a good deal. More specifically, you could fit what I know of nuclear science into a mosquito and still have room for all the compassion in the heart of Dick Cheney.
But I can sometimes recognize a really bad argument. Lack of trust is one of the dumbest.
The Social Security program is facing serious problems. At some point, the fund will run out of money. Estimates vary. 2023, 2021, 2040 something. One economist says the date is ... well ... now.
Republican legislators have a plan for dealing with it. Representative Paul Ryan has put forward another plan. It is politically risky. It involves reducing costs.
Ryan and his colleagues should be commended for their courage. Not every politician would be willing to tell retirees that their benefits will be slashed.
At the Budget Conference Committee last month, Representative Ryan outlined Republican concerns.
Ten thousand baby-boomers are retiring every day. Health-care costs are rising. Medicare and Social Security are going broke. The Congressional Budget Office says if we don’t act, we’ll have a debt crisis. And if that happens, the most vulnerable will suffer first and worst. This debt weighs down our economy even today. But right now, we’re not doing much about it. We can’t kick the can down the road anymore. We’ve got to get a handle on our debt—now.
- Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI), October 30, 2013
One way to meet the shortfall is for us to pay for it. But Representative Ryan points out that enough is enough. "And from my perspective, taking more from hardworking families just isn’t the answer. I know my Republican colleagues feel the same way."
The elderly will simply have to realize that their free ride is over. They will have to sacrifice. There are ways to accomplish this. They boil down to two. The age of eligibility can be raised. It's 67 now, for full benefits. Or benefits can be cut. As Paul Ryan has pointed out in the past, it is time for seniors to begin to act unselfishly for the benefit of all.
Over the long term, the problem can be met by increasing revenues another way. "The way to raise revenue is to grow the economy. We need to write a tax code that encourages economic growth-not stifles it." This means tax cuts for job creators.
So cutting back on benefits for senior citizens and cutting taxes for the wealthy will save Social Security.
Social Security went for many decades without this crisis. So how did this happen to us now?
Some point to increases in life expectancy. That is good news with unhappy financial consequence, right? Well, not really. In fact, most of the increase in life expectancy comes from reducing infant mortality. For seniors, the rise in life expectancy is modest. So life expectancy is not the problem. It is part of the answer. In twenty or twenty five years, those infants will be contributing to the Social Security fund.
Actually, Paul Ryan is onto something when he ascribes the problem to baby-boomers. In almost every demographic chart of age groups, we see a gigantic moving bulge beginning right after World War II, when lusty members of the greatest generation came home from defeating the Nazis and immediately produced babies. The 1950s were filled with millions of Beavers and Wallys. Cleavers were everywhere.
That giant bulge looks like a python having swallowed some prey, not an entirely comfortable Rorschach response, but there it is. The thing about that sort of bulge is that it has a beginning and an end. The baby boomer issue is temporary.
The dramatic description of Social Security running out can lead to draconian solutions to a short term problem.
Analogies will be the death of our economy. Bumper sticker economic theories are the province of deficit scolds. "Government should tighten its belt like families have to when times are tough." In fact, economists have learned over the past 80 years that deficits are a very good thing during hard economic times, as long as the money are repaid during times of prosperity. Kind of like the Clinton surplus.
But here is an analogy that might be more useful to describe a short term problem. Imagine your family car breaks down. Well, you have to get a new one so you can get to work. But your spouse throws a fit. If we buy a car every week, we'll go broke. We have to stop it right now. No cars! Period.
There are a couple of solutions for projected Social Security shortfall. One uses a simple fact. The Social Security payroll tax next year will only be paid for the first $117,000 of income. That pretty much is all of the income for most of us. If you make a higher amount, you still max out on paying taxes on the first $117,000.
If we raise that level by a substantial amount, and increase the future benefit accordingly, the bulge in benefits is overcome by a bulge in income. Problem solved.
The issue would also be solved by immediately increasing the number of workers. Life expectancy for infants will take too long. So how can we increase the number of working people? If you're thinking immigration you might conclude that a lot of our problems might disappear by taking less of a horse's south end approach to other people.
Problem solved. Again.
Immigration also tends to grow the economy.
So. Let's review, shall we?
The problem is a short term problem caused by a demographic bulge that will eventually disappear.
The problem could be solved by increasing the income level covered by Social Security.
- The problem could also be solved by increasing immigration, with a happy side effect of boosting the economy.
So why all the controversy?
It could be those facts are outside the view of conservatives who are in jerry rigged control of the House of Representatives. It's possible.
We must discourage cynicism. So it pains me to have to say this.
It could also be that slashing benefits for the elderly while cutting taxes for the wealthy are not the pathway to a goal. They are the goal.
Why can't this work?
I want to be clear not to endorse this. And it's definitely not a replacement for HealthCare.gov. But a few guys out in San Francisco have put together something called thehealthsherpa.com, which really quickly tells you what policies are available in your area, what subsidies you are entitled to based on your income and who to call or what site to go to buy the actual coverage.
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Public Information to the Public: Find Your Health Plan Now
Why is this not a larger part of the solution?
From CNBC, back in July:
Call it Obamacare 2.0.
The federal government has signed five landmark deals that set the stage for major Web insurance markeplaces to enroll potentially millions of people in Obamacare, CNBC learned late Wednesday.
Those deals, experts have said, could dramatically boost enrollment in those marketplaces and help keep premium costs low
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