Saturday, November 30, 2013

Short: GOP needs better healthcare lies

I'm not the only one who believes our national dialogue on healthcare is saturated with lying. Josh Barro still identifies as conservative though he's definitely not a cheerleader for the GOP healthcare non-platform. Read how he destroys the current GOP mishmash of healthcare promises lies. Perhaps he explains why I support ACA better than I can.

But to be fair, he ought to focus a bit of that biting critique on ACA too.

The GOP warned us
Image: LOL

Friday, November 29, 2013

Short: A portrait of grieving

Here's fairly short but touching article about a woman grieving for her stillborn son. Most people don't get over the loss of a child, at least that's what I've seen from my five decades of life. This mother may have done the most effective grieving a mother can do.


Sunday, November 24, 2013

Chamberlain capitulates to the mullahs

I was quite happy to hear that Iran, the US, and five other countries had come to a deal to stop the Iranian nuclear weapons program. It seems like a win-win situation to me:

  • Iran gets to move away from its prideful but destabilizing nuclear program.
  • Nuclear worries are cooled.
  • Iran gets to start trading again and get out of its spiraling poverty.
My biggest worry is that it could be a whitewash. Iran is eager for looser sanctions, but will it continue its program and give the world a nuclear surprise a la Pakistan or North Korea?

News Source - National Review

When I start my reading with National Review, I find out that this is the biggest mistake since blah, blah, blah, something with Hitler. Sorry, as everyone knows, it's the Munich accords with Hitler, which allowed Hitler to take over a large piece of Czechoslovakia.

Wow, if John Kerry and Obama, not to mention the other countries, have done a Munich-like agreement, why would they have big announcements? Maybe I should find out what's in this horrible agreement. So I google, and find this handy list of the provisions from CNN. It's too long to repeat, but it seems pretty good.

Iran's going to de-enrich its 20% enriched uranium and allow daily inspections. Most of the sanctions stay in place while the enforcer nations see if Iran fulfills its part of the bargain. As a carrot, there is some easing of sanctions. That sounds really good!!! ... as well it should because the list is taken from the White House press release.

Nonetheless, National Review is sorely lacking in its own list of what's wrong with the deal. In the list wars, the White House has won hands-down. That may not be a good way to judge, but the WH provided a damn good list and NRO provided article after article of warmed-over Hitler comparisons. Fourteen articles in all, and no list! Come on, tell me some solid reasons why this is a repeat of the accord that gave free rein to Hitler.

Evaluation Sorely Lacking

I didn't find a strong critique of the deal, so I'm left hoping that it's as good as it sounds. But it's not just me. One commenter reports that the Israeli stock market is soaring! WAY TO GO!!!!

What I didn't realize that the sanctions weren't meant to convince Iran to give up nuclear weapons programs. Instead, they were meant to collapse the Iranian government:
"Realists knew that the sanctions were good for only one purpose: to weaken the regime to the point where it would collapse or be overthrown."--National Review
Stupid me. Regime change was so good in Iraq and Afghanistan that we want it for the even more populous country of Iran. What a plan! That won't destabilize the mideast at all. No wonder the Israeli stock market is cheering.

[Apology: I didn't mean to turn this post into a rant. I honestly wanted to find out more about this agreement. Something in me got wound up by those 14 stories in NRO. I didn't get to chill out because among the Google top news for the US, the Iran story didn't even make an appearance.]


Extras. A more balanced piece in National Review. It reports that Iran's concessions will set its enrichment program back only a few months, with some checkable details. Fareed Zakaria tries to sort it out. George Will declares that Iran will get the bomb for sure now.

Some typical "Munich" rhetoric with an ironic kicker:
"There is not a good record, from Philip of Macedon to Hitler to Stalin in the 1940s to Carter and the Soviets in the 1970s to radical Islamists in the 1990s, of expecting authoritarians and thugs to listen to reason, cool their aggression, and appreciate democracies’ sober and judicious appeal to logic — once they sense in the West greater eagerness to announce new, rather than to enforce old, agreements."--National Review
But wait, didn't the Soviets do just that, cool their aggression, and change their ways without a massive war? Nah, it couldn't ever work that way again.


Saturday, November 23, 2013

Debt Ceiling 201

This is the follow-up on the short post about why reaching the debt ceiling wasn't the rosy picture painted by some Tea Party wishful thinkers. I said that there was 1) no legal framework for prioritizing government payments (and thereby avoiding default on debt service) and 2) no practical mechanism to do it at this time.

No Legal Framework

The US government hasn't intentionally defaulted since FDR's presidency. Even then, that was a planned default, which is not what the Tea Partyers want. They want prioritized payments of US obligations to avoid default and do the least harm to the country.

No such prioritization has been established, so this is new territory. There aren't laws laying out how to do this. In the absence of such laws, who will decide what the priority should be? That's a huge constitutional question. Does the president unilaterally decide since he's the executive? Does the Congress decide? Can Congress impeach the president for making unilateral decisions? Can Congress impeach the president for refusing to prioritize payments? Will the Tea Partyers who want the prioritization of payments guarantee that they won't call for Obama's impeachment over the decisions he makes in this regard? I sure haven't heard anyone making such a promise.

Will Congress quickly pass the legal framework required? HAHAHAHAHA.

No Practical Mechanism

All the accounting programs, sign-offs, clearances, etc. that it takes for the government to send money to the correct people are probably much more complex than anyone's monthly disbursements. How readily can that all be changed to send out prioritized payments? Not readily, I'd bet. There would need to be an entire design/implementation cycle with the requisite planning, programming, testing, bug-fixing, and retesting.

Political Motivation (1)

Now that the practical considerations are out of the way, let's consider the motivations of the parties regarding prioritized payments. For Tea Partyers, the motivation is to prevent default, incur no new debt, and pay the most important government expenses. However, there isn't strong agreement on what the most important government expenses are. That's one reason not to leave the decision-making unilaterally to the president, just in case he's a scum-sucking, pinko, socialist bastard.

So those who support prioritized payments will probably also want a big say in determining the priorities. But again, there is no legal framework at this time for that. Congress would need to follow the usual law-making procedures--but the chance that the House, Senate, and president will pass one prioritization plan is so close to zero, it is effectively zero. So there will be no prioritization in established law.

I've never heard any proponent of prioritization discuss this wrinkle in their plan. I'm guessing that they gloss over that impediment, and imagine that their priorities are so obvious that they'll be followed. Then, reaching the debt ceiling is equivalent to immediately going to a balanced budget. By refusing to raise the debt ceiling, they achieve one of their biggest policy goals. And they didn't even have to pass a balanced budget law or amendment. Hooray! No wonder they gloss over so many details.

So if priorities could be established, Tea Partyers have another way to achieve a major goal--just don't ever increase the debt ceiling. That's a lot of added leverage for them in any budget negotiation.

Political Motivation (2)

What is the political motivation of the Democrats, including the president? They aren't for an immediate balancing of the budget. They aren't for establishing spending priorities at a much lower budget target point. They don't want the Tea Party to have greater leverage in budget talks. Their motivation is to make the debt ceiling as painful as possible, so that the GOP will always back down.

In this, they have history on their side because the debt ceiling has always been increased. Neither Congress nor the president has ever stepped over that line, because it would be too catastrophic a move to make. The US government would go into default, which would destabilize the world economy and probably cause a worldwide depression.

The Democrats have no reason to make the debt ceiling less scary. That hands leverage to those who want severe budget cuts, which are not the Dems. So there's no way that the Dems will pass any legislation that prioritizes payments in the event of reaching the debt ceiling.

Wonderland Scenario

Maybe the next time the GOP controls the House, Senate, and presidency, they can pass the legislation and build the accounting mechanisms to implement prioritized payments. That will be somewhere on their list of must-have legislation including the repeal of Obamacare, rolling back regulation, closing the EPA, block-granting Medicaid or just getting rid of it, outlawing abortion, and ushering in the permanent GOP majority.

Maybe, like Rip Van Winkle, I'll go to sleep for two decades, and then wake up to a US where all this has happened. Somehow, I doubt it, but we'll see. Nighty-night!

Come on, it's simple.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Smallest nuclear blast ever

Finally the Democratic Senate got fed up with the GOP blocking just about every damn nominee. They voted to end the Senate rule that allows filibustering of judicial nominees, with an exception that still allows the filibuster of Supreme Court nominees.

Earlier this year, the GOP backed down in the face of the Dems going nuclear. Why not this time? Here's the best answer I've seen:
"It could make the difference for a Republican, in that they no longer have to tag team to break cloture on nominees they want to let through, so there won't be as many ads to run about how 'so and so says they're a conservative, but they voted with Obama 327 times!'" -- Plain blog commenter
This identifies the real reason for the change in the GOP position. It was getting harder for the GOP to stop their own filibusters even when they reached unthinking, foot-stomping stubbornness. So now they've allowed the Dems to render that problem moot. (Update. Bernstein make the same argument here, but it comes from a professional and highly educated political observer.)

No other writer came up with this analysis. The MSM was treating it as no big deal. At the Daily Kos, it was mostly cheers for the defeat of those obstructionist Republicans. HotAir was loud, negative, and scattered. Some pointed out the hypocrisy of the Dems, a few looked forward to using the same power when the GOP reclaims the Senate, a few quoted Limbaugh's laughable analysis that the rules would last only for the Dems' advantage, and then revert. George Will laments the end of a "deliberative" Senate and the beginning of a coarse, 'majority dictates' Senate that is not bound by rules, but by expediency. 

RedState had a different take--it wants the end of all cooperation in the Senate in retaliation. The Senate won't pass anything inconvenient like an immigration bill, a farm bill, a continuing resolution--zip. Except that no true conservative trusts the squishy Senate RINOs, certainly not at RedState or HotAir

Thank God for that clear-eyed commenter who understood why the change happened now. In the long run, perhaps George Will will be proven right--we might deeply regret this change. But I don't know a way around it because the Senate has already slid so far down the slope. 


Tuesday, November 19, 2013

One thing I learned: a case against ACA

I'm not as open to different ideas as I would like to be. It seems to me that most people who are firmly against ACA fell into one of more of these categories:

  • Libertarians who don't want federal government in any kind of social program. (I give them a pass for deeply held, coherent beliefs that I happen to disagree with.)
  • GOP partisans who hate all Democratic programs regardless of their strong points.
  • People who think the country is made up of makers and takers, and the takers don't deserve access to health insurance, or probably healthcare either.
  • Fools/zipperheads who think that the GOP proposals would have solved the problems well enough at a much lower cost.
I found another category, or maybe I just started hearing the argument: fiscal conservatives who don't trust the finances of the program.
"Obamacare is basically just another entitlement. It has no solid foundation to pay for it despite all the rhetoric. I'm not 100% opposed to entitlements per se, but we do a pizz poor job of administering them - so in my view we don't need another one." -- National Review commenter
This is a strong argument. If I take the argument sentence by sentence, it holds up quite well:

  • Another entitlement--check. It's a federally-guaranteed and financed large-scale program.
  • No solid foundation to pay for it--a strong possibility. The dedicated revenue streams may not be enough.
  • Pizz poor job of administering them--check. The track record for federal programs include no cost containment in Medicare and Medicaid, welfare that grew far too large, etc.
I support universal health coverage for a variety of reasons, but I'm also aware that it could be a failure. I want to try it anyhow for the many benefits, which I already have as a Massachusetts resident. My empathy for people in need outweighs my worries. But for many people, the scale falls the other way. 

They have good reasons for their opinions, perhaps stronger than mine, yet I still don't agree. It's not that I'm giving in to illogical motives. It's because of the mystery of how some values take precedence over others.


Short: Elizabeth Warren forgets her math

I know Liz Warren is a smart person. She's got a background in bankruptcy, consumer finance, overseeing the management of TARP assets, etc. I bet she knows numbers pretty well.

But now she's pretending the equations don't have to equal, that increased spending doesn't have to be balanced with increased, um, what was that other thing? Warren, the great hope of the progressive wing of the Democratic party, wants to expand SS benefits, not consider reform that would reduce their rate of growth. And where will that extra money come from? Warren forgot to mention that.

Reminder for Professor Warren

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Did the Dems F*ck Up Universal Health Coverage?

It's looking like a strong possibility. The first major contributor to this fuck-up was the disastrous website rollout. This fuck-up was completely avoidable and unforgivably stupid. This wasn't cutting edge software since a bunch of states already had health insurance exchanges. No, this was a fuck-up and a whopping huge data point in the argument that the federal government shouldn't be trusted to manage healthcare.

The second major contributor were all the decisions to maximize coverage. These decisions have been made all along the way, so they have preceded that website debacle and could be considered the single major contributor to the Obamacare failure if it happens. The decision to maximize coverage lead to higher policy costs, higher subsidies, and more people deciding to flout the law and go without insurance. Maximizing coverage has its strong points too, but they don't matter if the strategy collapses universal coverage.

If you want to provide universal coverage, doesn't it make sense to do so at an attainable level? If you're going to invite the entire neighborhood to a cookout, you may have to settle for serving hot dogs and hamburgers, not filet mignon and king salmon.

Maybe Obamacare will work out, and in a year or two we'll have settled into it, have some minor grumbles, but generally be satisfied. But the risks were underestimated by the administration. They should have been more careful and, ahem, more conservative because universal coverage is a big fucking deal, and a major step forward in fairness. But Dems aren't careful like that, which is one reason I rarely admit my party affiliation anymore.

If Obamacare sinks, I'll give most of the blame to the Dems. The GOP of course will deserve some for constantly barraging or undermining the program instead of helping improve it. But it will be the Dems who sank their own ship.


Friday, November 15, 2013

Short: Bad rules on guns

Even if you're against the general public owning guns, you probably don't want the rules enforced this way. A student protected himself against an intruder by scaring the guy off with a pistol. The student, who lived in an off-campus apartment, was licensed and trained to handle the gun. Good work, right?

Not according to the university powers-that-be. The weapons were seized in a 2am raid mounted against the partying sleeping student. So much for the expectation of privacy and respect for the individual in his possessions. The university, who was his landlord, enforced its no-guns-for-renters policy in the middle of the night. One only wonders what they would have done if the student needed to fire in self-defense.

Rulebreakers in suits and lawyered up

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Political Lie Machine: Funnier than usual

Poor John McCain. He must be feeling more picked on than usual. As for Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, this typical for her--she's a leadership hack, and an especially shameless one. I'm not sure why this tickled me. Perhaps it was the lie density. Here's the equation:
amplitude/column inches > 2000 ==> too funny

Short: Iowa pre-pre-preview

There was a conservative dinner in Iowa that garnered some major guests. Mike Lee seems to learned from experience that he can't bring down Obamacare in the current configuration of government. So, instead of doubling down on that failed strategy, he's working on new ideas. They seem fuzzy to me right now, but at least he's in the correct sphere--one that looks at reality rather than denying it. He's also thinking strategically:
"The senator from Utah noted that there is a gaping hole in the middle of the Republican Party today, and offered a solution on how to fill it."
I'm so glad to hear someone say this. Mike Lee is going to be worth watching. I hope he had bridge that gaping hole.

Sarah Palin, on the other hand, is basically a cheerleader with no brain for policy. Rah, rah! I've got no tolerance for an empty-headed politician, so I wish Palin was over already. She's an idiot, and she's steadfastly remaining one. Enough already!

Come on, you're not serious.

Hat tip to Bob Costa. The only twitter I follow.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Christie is a big target

One day after his reelection by a 60-38% margin, lots of conservatives are sniping at Christie. Christie isn't a doctrinaire conservative, much less a Tea Party patriot who lives and dies by principle. But the targeting is surprisingly aggressive.

Tea Party Critique

Here's a line that you can say about any politician (just substitute a name): "Christie is only out for Christie." Christie isn't a strict GOP partisan, so that makes him "self-serving." Do the people who criticize Christie for that also criticize Ted Cruz or Jim DeMint for behaving the same way--not supporting all their fellow Republicans? No, I don't think they are tarred the same way.

Yet I'm pretty sure this is the inside meme about Christie among the Tea Party. It leaked nationally when Rand Paul said Christie was all "gimme, gimme, gimme" over Sandy disaster aid. Now I'm seeing it again in the comments sections of conservative sites.

This idea that Christie is a self-promoting politician is a convenient ad hominem attack that allows people to dismiss him. There will always be plenty of evidence to support this charge. I don't know how whether the charge will resonate with others--Christie seemed to have put his state first when Sandy hit rather than toeing the party line. Ironically, the same incident is used as evidence that he puts himself first. Good luck finding the objective truth in that argument.

Meanwhile, Marco Rubio is reminding his party not to get too excited about Christie: "...some of these races don't apply to future races." So Rubio demonstrates again that's he's the biggest weasel lining up for the 2016 presidential primary. (Or is that just a different flavor of ad hominem attack that's hard to refute.)

GOP Establishment View

Establishment Republicans, often denoted as GOPe, aren't trumpeting Christie as much as the Tea Party is trying to tear him down. Michael Barone sees lessons for both the GOP and Dems in these elections. Provocation, especially on social issues, leads to losses. Dems can't count on the minority vote because Christie won 51% of Hispanics in New Jersey.

One of the HotAir writers wants the readers to see that Christie has a winning formula. However, the commenters mostly push back. Rich Lowry of National Review (quasi-establishment) sees some potential in Christie, but also some problems:
"...he offers a different kind of politics that can potentially unlock the presidency after a period of national futility for his party...
What Clinton had that Christie evidently lacks is a well-thought-out approach to his party’s predicament ...
Christie’s potential is in matching that Everyman appeal with substance. He could set out to make himself a Republican by and for the middle class in a substantive and stylistic departure for the contemporary party. -- Rich Lowry writing in Politico
Who Can Win vs. I Don't Care

The huge difference is how these groups see Christie is that one group (GOPe) sees Christie as a presidential contender who will bring in a lot a votes and won't be just a marginal winner. They are concerned with the mechanics of putting together enough votes to resist the Dems' demographic advantage.

The Tea Party group doesn't talk about demographics at all. They don't worry whether they can carry enough swing states. They are so sure a Tea Party candidate will win that they don't question it at all. To me, that's amazing--that you could be so sure that you wouldn't consider the electability of your nominee. Of course they've been burned on electability before. McCain was the most electable in 2008, though really he had only a ghost of a chance. Maybe they should have gone for the most conservative candidate that year, which was ... Romney. They definitely got burned in 2012. The Tea Party is pledging not to get burned in 2016. Well, we'll see. I'm not convinced that the Tea Party is the majority in the GOP, but perhaps we'll find out in 2016.

I know it's still too early to predict the 2016 primary race, but everyone is talking about it. Funny, the 2008 election didn't start in 2005, but the 2016 election started quite early in 2013. I chalk that up to the cold war in the GOP, which is getting hotter all the time.

Christie looks like the best hope for the GOPe even if a midwestern governor like Mitch Daniels or Scott Walker jumps into the race. Daniels looks like an older establishment Republican (yawn) and Walker is nerdly and possesses less charisma than Jindal. The establishment likes to coalesce around a candidate early, but that may not happen because Christie isn't exactly the GOP mainstream. Yes, it is too early to say.


Sunday, November 3, 2013

Negotiating is tough work

Now that we've got ourselves a three-month postponement on the big fiscal questions for the federal government, what are we going to do? We could waste the time like we did all through the spring and summer. If I remember correctly, there weren't many proposals flying around--just the partisan, DOA budgets from each power center (the House, the Senate, the president).

No one went past their first offer, and those first offers were crap. It would be so easy to repeat that approach because it's the easiest approach. Each group stays within the safe confines of their respective bubbles where they are protected from attacks for not being ideologically pure enough.

It's dangerous to venture outside that bubble and make that first concession. The other side will try to pocket your concession and ask for more. That's a reason to stay rigidly with your first offer, which is probably what happened with the supercommittee. The two sides haven't changed much, so maybe that's exactly what will happen this time too.

Reasons To Do It
But maybe not. I heard a report on NPR (sorry, no link) about how the Republicans really want tax reform and entitlement reform. The Dems really want tax increases, which is a problem because it's no-go territory for the GOP. No matter how much the GOP wants tax reform, they probably won't give up tax increases for it unless it can be done in absolute secrecy, which means not at all.

Entitlement reform is more needed, so the GOP may well be willing to up more to get it. Unfortunately, there are huge obstacles to entitlement reform. The first is the unpopularity of cost containment. Nobody has been saying "enough" to healthcare for grandma for the past 40 years, and now it's practically enshrined. The second is that the Dems and the GOP don't agree on the structure for implementing cost containment. Dems want the decisions in the hands of the federal government. The GOP wants to palm off the hard decisions to anyone else--the states, individuals, and intermediaries like insurance companies.

These are such big differences that the conference committee can't bridge them. We might be some small agreements on entitlements, such as chained CPI and higher premiums for the wealthy, but there won't be a major deal. That seems to be what most reporters and pundits are predicting.

Nonetheless, these are important talks. . . because the two sides are finally talking. These are the first substantial talks in two fucking years--the first talks since the supercommittee failed. The whole of 2012 was devoted to campaigning. Most of 2013 was lost as the GOP warred internally over its strategy. So it's a big step for them just to be talking and more than they managed to do for two years.

Congrats to them, and many happy returns.


  • A good summary from the Atlantic Wire.
  • Who's on the committee. Strangely, it's heavily weighted with senators.
  • Barro says sequestration won't go away.
  • Barro quotes committee members.
  • Why SS Medicare must be reformed but it won't happen.
  • Bernstein notes that the GOP wants three wishes, and can't have them all. 
  • There's no economic recovery. Maybe this is not connected, but maybe it is.