Does an Increase in British Economy Prove Austerity Works? (8:50) - Click for Podcast
For Original Text
Why Does President Obama Refuse to Listen to Tom Price? (6:25) - Click for Podcast
For Original Text
Joe Scarborough and the Situation Room Photo Conspiracy (5:38) - Click for Podcast
For Original Text
Why do we have to do this, Sir? argues that the advent is less about waiting than about impatience, that John the Baptist had his anguished doubts, and that impatient, anguished doubt is accompanied by a mustard seed of humble birth.
Last Of The Millenniums notices arguments that the first amendment guarantees a position on your own reality show, and answers that highly selective cherry picking from scripture is no excuse for ignorance of what is in the rest of the Bible.
Mad Mike's America is not surprised by Duck remarks. Phil Robertson has not been shy in expressing opinions about gays for years.
The Moderate Voice quotes the great Ta-Nehisi Coates in reaction to Duck Dynasty views on happy, singing, black people who had no problem with Jim Crow in the good old pre-civil rights days.
Rumproast waits to applaud the budget play of Murray and Ryan until the second act, in which Paul Ryan announces he intends to shut down the government after all.
Jonathan Bernstein, writing for A Plain Blog about Politics, suggests that, as healthcare reform becomes a success, Obamacare will disappear from the national vocabulary. Conservatives will refer to it as something else.
Conservative James Wigderson has a straight forward report on an alderman who used his influence to sex offenders evicted in his district by threatening the landlord with investigations into code violations. The alderman is now investigated for abuse of office. James' own reaction, or lack of it, serves as a sort of Rohrshack test for the reader. Well done, James.
- Tim McGaha at Tim's Thoughtful Spot continues his week by week chronicle of 150 years ago, as a Union charge up a hill succeeds because it was so unexpected. It was unexpected because the charge was pretty much accidental.
The debate doesn't irritate me. It's the lack of debate about the deficit.
Republicans demand the nation's deficit be reduced immediately. Democrats respond with a boast. The national deficit has been slashed by half since President Obama took office. Republicans reply that the deficit had ballooned in the final months of the Bush administration to meet the Wall Street financial crisis, so cutting that temporary monstrosity in half means very little.
The working assumption that Democrats and Republicans share seems to be that deficit reduction is the top domestic priority and that it must be accomplished immediately.
Most economists, pretty much all mainstream economists who believe in testing theories against actual historical numbers, tell us that two simple lessons have been learned in the past 80 years.
Deficits are a good, very good, thing during hard economic times.
- Deficits are a bad, very bad, thing during prosperous times.
In 1932, Governor Franklin Roosevelt campaigned against deficit spending. But he also campaigned on a I'll-try-anything-once platform of dealing with the Great Depression. Try something. It it doesn't work, discard it and try something else.
It wasn't long after taking office that President Roosevelt began to run out of things to try. A new theory by economist Maynard Keynes held up well when tested with economic data. The government began to spend more than it took in. And people began finding jobs.
It was sort of toe-in-the-water at first. Deficit spending went against everything that seemed to make intuitive sense. Little by little, Democrats began increasing deficits. The economy began to heal.
In 1937, screams about the size of the deficit began to haunt. Roosevelt began to cut the deficit back. And the economy took a severe dip.
It wasn't until the Empire of Japan attacked Pearl Harbor and World War II began that deficits really exploded. A Nazi takeover of the country was more scary, even to Republicans, than deficits. Nobody wanted an AmeriKa spelled with a K.
The Greatest Generation won the war with an interesting side effect. By the time the fighting stopped and everyone came home, the Great Depression had disappeared. Deficit spending had worked.
Economists tell us that economies do return to normal eventually, even if government policies get it wrong. Deficit spending, if it's big enough, makes big recessions into smaller recessions, and ends them much more quickly.
History is filled with examples.
President Bill Clinton followed the mainstream model. By the time he left office, the deficit had turned into a surplus. Times went from bad to great. The deficit that had been generated during harder times was now being paid back. Pretty much every projection showed that the entire national debt could be paid back in our lifetime.
Deficits in hard times, pay it back in prosperous times. It worked.
President George W. Bush went way opposite. He increased the deficit right away, even though times were good. Instead of applying the surplus to paying back, he cut taxes - mostly for the wealthy.
In 2008, everything crashed. High deficits rescued the country from full scale depression. When President Obama took office, another set of deficit spending got the country started back toward recovery. The stimulus program was a lot less than it should have been, and it was scaled back more by timid Democrats and hostile Republicans.
In the meantime, Europe went into a policy of full blown austerity. Those in charge insisted that deficit cutting right now was the path to recovery. It was Roosevelt's 1937 lesson relearned. The longest, and deepest, recession since the Great Depression still continues in Europe. Only now is a tepid recovery just beginning, five years behind the United States.
The main person in charge of Britain's economy is George Osborne. His title is Chancellor of the Exchequer. He insists that the slight increase in Britain's economy after those years in the pit proves the policy of austerity was right all along.
Britain, the U.S. and others in the West do not have to accept defeat in the global race and resign ourselves to eroding living standards. The way to avoid this fate is to acknowledge two premises about the modern economy—and then take the necessary actions to surmount our nations' economic problems.
First, we are not going to get richer by borrowing more from others in the world just so that we can buy the things they make. We have to earn our own way in the world, by making our countries attractive to overseas investment, better educating our workforces, and providing a climate in which our businesses are able to produce goods and services of sufficient quality that the rest of the world wants to buy them.
Second, our governments have to live within their means, and not pile up deficits and debts that will burden future generations with the taxes to pay for them. We have to reduce entitlements and drive value for money through government, so we can focus public spending on areas likely to enhance our productivity.
- George Osborne, Chancellor of the Exchequer, in the Wall Street Journal, December 16, 2013
When you get around Mr. Osbourne's pejorative description of mainstream economics, "get richer by borrowing more from others in the world just so that we can buy the things they make", he makes two assumptions.
His first premise is that if more goods are produced in a country, the rest of the world will line up to buy. It's kind of like building a better mousetrap and having the world beat a path to your door. He puts it this way: "produce goods and services of sufficient quality that the rest of the world wants to buy them."
In fact, actual experience demonstrates the problem with this approach. When potential customers are struggling to survive, they tend not to buy extras. The current problem pretty much everywhere is lack of demand, not lack of production. If you can't sell what you are already producing, will tax incentives make you decide to invest and produce more?
His second assumption is that deficits must be slashed during a recession, including cutting benefits to those struggling to get by - what he calls "entitlements": "governments have to live within their means, and not pile up deficits and debts" and "We have to reduce entitlements."
In bad times, and in good times, there is a legitimate debate about the level we should tax the wealthy to help those struggling. How strong should we want the social safety net to be? My vote would be much stronger than it is, but there are arguments on the other side.
What is counter to decades of actual evidence is cutting deficits during hard times, what is commonly called austerity. In fact, austerity has so affected Britain's economy, that earlier this year it was announced that all the cost cutting, throwing the unemployed and vulnerable aside, had indeed affected the deficit. The deficit had gotten - are you ready? - bigger, not smaller. Austerity during hard times just makes hard times harder. It turns out to be no more than an attempt to starve the patient back to health.
It is worth examining a key word used by Mr. Osbourne in his piece for the Wall Street Journal. It is the word "premises" as in "acknowledge two premises about the modern economy—and then take the necessary actions to surmount our nations' economic problems."
A premise is an assumption made without examining actual evidence.
Those who insist on deficit reduction during hard times, cutting back on unemployment compensation, slashing food programs, cutting Social Security, attacking the well being of the most vulnerable, believe they will be helping the rest of us by boosting the economy.
They feel no need to look to actual history, actual evidence, what mainstream economists have learned by comparing policies to numbers.
Austerity, deficit reduction during hard times, is not a conclusion based on evidence.
It is a premise based on - well - nothing.
From the Dallas Morning News
WASHINGTON — Sen. Ted Cruz, elected 13 months ago by actual voters, said Thursday he’d prefer to see state legislators pick U.S. senators – as they were until a century ago, when the 17th Amendment came along.
Direct election of senators has eroded states’ rights, Cruz argued, speaking to a ballroom filled with conservative state lawmakers from around the country.
- More -
If you happen to have a billion dollars and you want to start a corporation, chances are you'll go to one specific place to incorporate. Many, many years ago, that used to be New Jersey. That was because New Jersey had very few regulations, very little in the way of corporate tax, and lawmakers who were quite willing to look the other way if the circumstances were right.
No more, though. In 1899, Delaware decided to out-New Jersey New Jersey with an even more friendly environment of tax benefits, almost no regulation, and corporate favoring liability laws. There are no limits on interest rates, which attracts credit card companies. Delaware even provides an office to advise corporations on how to best take advantage of Delaware laws. Who needs a lawyer when you have such an ally willing to provide free legal guidance?
So why this degree of governmental generosity? Ever hear of the car sales rep who insists that the dealer makes no money at all from each sale, but makes it up in volume?
Cutting income from each corporation that operates from Delaware means lots and lots of corporations will do business from Delaware. In fact, most companies on the two major stock exchanges are Delaware corporations. Not quite two thirds of all Fortune 500 companies are incorporated in Delaware. They really do make it up in volume.
Even if a company's stockholders are all from other states, even if all of the customers of a business are from other states, a corporation is governed by the laws of Delaware.
It's as if states are encouraged to participate in a race to the bottom, in terms of consumer protection or charging corporations a proportionate share of taxes. Delaware wins the race to the bottom.
Insurance providers are a different sort of company. They are regulated by the states in which they actually do business. One of the most feared offices in the insurance industry is that of the state insurance commissioner. The degree to which insurance commissioners actually protect consumers varies from state to state. Junk policies that charge for almost no real protection do proliferate in state markets.
But you stand a better chance of getting a fair deal with a state insurance commissioner than with most state corporate regulators. That's because insurance is regulated by the state the insured lives in, rather than where the corporation has a postal mailbox to serve as a home office. There is no incentive in insurance for states to race to the bottom.
I was thinking of the contrast between Delaware and insurance commissioners when I came upon a statement by an angry Republican member of Congress. President Obama has slammed Republicans for refusing to come up with ways to insure every American. He has expressed a willingness to listen to good ideas when they come from from Republicans.
Representative Tom Price (R-GA) says that simply has been untrue.
We've actually called him. We've contacted the White House repeatedly, and silence. It's crickets. The fact of the matter is they don't want to have to talk about the quality of health care, accessibility to health care, affordability of health care. What they want is the government to control health care.
- Representative Tom Price (R-GA), Fox & Friends, December 16, 2013
The plan offered by Representative Price begins with what he refers to as "buying across state lines."
We will go the Delaware route, ending the practice of regulating insurance by the state where the insured lives, replacing it with regulation only where the insurance company is located. I'm thinking of how well Delaware has protected consumers like you and me, when we have a dispute with a credit card company.
A race to the bottom is what most experts predict. The incentive of attracting huge insurance corporations to a friendly state host will overcome the incentive to protect consumers in some other state.
In addition to allowing insurance corporations to shake off state regulations by selling insurance without local state regulation, Representative Price proposes to offer a voucher system through tax deductions. The formula will tend to help the wealthy more than the middle class.
Finally, Tom Price calls for the end of lawsuits when doctors get negligent with the lives of patients. Representative Price calls this an end to costly defensive medicine.
Let's see what Representative Price suggests, in his own words:
Purchasing across state lines, making sure that you equalize the tax treatment for individuals so that folks have the same tax incentive to purchase health coverage as businesses.
You make it so that every single American has the financial feasibility to purchase coverage through deductions and credits and advancable credits and refundable advancable credits.
Then there are wonderful ways to save literally hundreds of billions of dollars in healthcare by ending the practice of defensive medicine.
- Representative Tom Price (R-GA), Fox & Friends, December 16, 2013
So Representative Price has a three point plan:
End what state protections exist for consumers by allowing only whatever regulation is provided by whatever state an insurance corporation selects for a home office.
purchasing across state lines
End what legal protections now exist in case of medical negligence.
ending the practice of defensive medicine
Provide a voucher plan through another tax deduction aimed at the very wealthy.
deductions and credits
and advancable credits
and refundable advancable credits
Surely, we can see why the Representative has become so irritated. The Obama administration has not seriously considered replacing the Affordable Care Act with a reduction in protection combined with substantial reductions in taxes for the wealthy.
How very odd.
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.