Sunday, April 27, 2014

Not an ideal hero

Is it my imagination or do the conservatives in this country make poor choices for their everyday heroes? They have rallied around George Zimmerman, who turned out to be a bad choice. Now there's Cliven Bundy--rancher, scofflaw, squatter, citizen of sovereign Nevada, and part-time constitutional scholar. We can also add embarrassing racist to the list too.

Two isn't much of a list, but can I add Ben Carson? There's also Herman Cain, Joe the plumber, and on the more professional side there are Ted Cruz and Sarah Palin.

Cliven Bundy, just like George Zimmerman, should have triggered warning bells. He doesn't acknowledge the U.S. government as sovereign. Yet he's mixed up enough to talk about the Constitution, and I don't think he's referring to the the Nevada state constitution either. He hasn't paid the fees for grazing his cattle for decades (or maybe ever) and he thinks he owns the land they graze on. What are the chances that he pays his federal taxes? Not high, I'm guessing. Yet a bunch of conservative pundits rallied around him, undeterred by his questionable legal status and questionable judgment. A bunch have had to temper their enthusiasm in light of his racist remarks.

He's certainly an attractive figure for gun rights whackos. He's protectin' his property from those dang lawless federales, who would take his property (and yours) if you gave them a chance. He collected a lot of people who'd enjoy a showdown with federal agents, but the agents didn't give it to them. That was probably wise, though it depends on how many people decide to copy the strategy.

Conservative hero worship is earned too easily, rarely recanted, and then the mistake is repeated again. The worship commences based on some big action, not quiet, thoughtful deeds. Conservatives could find thousands of heroes if being a hero wasn't based on shooting someone or disrespecting Obama to his face. But they choose what they choose, and evidently they choose the ones who provide red meat. That's dumb, but it's going to happen again and again.


Another reason conservatives should be more careful--the left-leaning MSM will search for the Achilles heel of their hero, and report it with fanfare.

Update 7/28/14. George Zimmerman is positioning himself to shoot someone again. This guy is either stupid or sick. 

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Short: Popping the academia bubble

I'm no fan of academia, possibly because I know it too well. I grew up in an academic family, live in a college town, and am related to too many people with doctorates of one type or another. My form of rebellion has been to firmly resist all entreaties to get a master's degree, and to skewer academia as often as warranted.

So I had queued up an article on bloat on campus. But the problem isn't whiny faculty, it's too many goddamned administrators. I procrastinated on reading this article for 2.5 months (wow, just like me as an undergrad), but it's actually worth a read. And it has a very good suggestion: the faculty senate should audit the university, and make all the waste public knowledge. Excellent!


Rant about healthcare spending

I'm fed up with conservatives who complain that Obamacare is going to bankrupt the country but never turn their gaze on Medicare. The message seems to be that other people can spend buckets of government cash on healthcare, but NOT YOU. You are scum because you don't have employer-provided insurance.

There is no acknowledgement of the real problems in the healthcare system. Here's a big example: how many people know that current Medicare taxes aren't covering current Medicare expenses? I heard this mentioned in passing this week, and it was news to me. If we can't even cover our current Medicare expenses, why isn't that information all over the news? It should be a common point when talking about spending, similar to how everyone mentions the yearly deficit and the national debt now being $17 trillion.

Yet it's not mentioned frequently. The fact is that general revenues are paying for more than 45% of our Medicare costs, meaning that other programs are squeezed. And the BABY BOOMERS HAVEN'T EVEN STARTED GETTING OLD YET.

When are we going to start reining in Medicare? I'd cynically say probably not while we have elections and seniors turn out in high numbers, but I don't think we can wait that long. We need some method to force people and doctors to stop this gorging. We've got to start saying "no," but that means saying "no" when life and health are on the line. I don't know if we can do that. We may believe that we have to spend on our healthcare, no matter how much.

Will it be possible to cut back? If so, how? The easiest way is to cut what's ineffective. That means gathering the statistics, and then convincing or forcing doctors not to order the ineffective treatments. We'll probably need to cut barely effective treatments too. I've read of cancer patients being referred for a fourth round of treatment that's known to extend life for only three months. What is the cost? Would you decrease your own bank account $100K per month to extend your life? If not, then you probably shouldn't decrease the country's resources either.

This also means giving comfort care and end-of-life treatment to frail elders instead of hospital care and expensive ICU treatment. Perhaps we shouldn't be trying to save extremely premature babies and people with very severe head trauma. Yes, we will have all these life-saving and life-extended technology that we will purposefully not use because it costs too much.

As I said above, I don't know if we can do that, just let it alone and not jump in with all that. Our track record isn't good.


What started this rant? The idea that Ben Carson, the neurosurgeon religious black conservative darling can save us. That and finding out that the Medicare payroll tax isn't covering even 55% of our Medicare spending.

Extra. Healthcare costs are growing faster again after a five-year slowdown.

Monday, April 21, 2014

The Cloward-Piven conspiracy/strategy is REAL!

You can't trust anything out of Glenn Beck's mouth, so I was surprised to find out that the Cloward-Piven strategy actually existed.

The Truth According to Glenn Beck

Cloward and Piven were sociologists who came up with a strategy in the 1960s to increase government spending on welfare to the point of destabilizing government. At that point, the government would change to socialist or communist. Cloward and Piven executed a lot of their strategy in New York City, but there have been setbacks, such as welfare reform. Nonetheless, their strategy is still underpinning Democratic policies, such as the stimulus, ACA, Dodd-Frank, and any Democratic voting laws.

Strangely, Beck doesn't evaluate how well or poorly the strategy is going. He gives no current numbers on how many people are dependent on government or how soon that burden will topple us. I guess a reality check isn't Beck's thing when he's on a roll. Instead, he announces "case closed."

The Truth According to Wikipedia

This is where I learned the shocking truth that Glenn Beck wasn't totally full of shit. Cloward and Piven did indeed want to create a fiscal crisis, which they write frequently about here (a transcription of their original article). They advocated signing up as many poor people as possible for welfare and other programs, and making sure that they receive the maximum legal benefits. The reason was primarily to put huge strains on the government, but also to get more money into the hands of the poor, to rally the support among the poor for political change, and to provide a stronger, more reliable electoral base for the Democratic Party.

Contra Glenn Beck, the stated goal wasn't total annihilation of the government, but instead direct payment from the federal government to every person. This wasn't a well thought-out goal. There was no math in their proposal--how much the payments would be to each person, how that would affect the economy, how the money would be raised.

Cloward and Piven admit some problems with their plan:
"A welfare crisis would, of course, produce dramatic local political crisis, disrupting and exposing rifts among urban groups... Group conflict, spelling political crisis for the local party apparatus, would thus become acute as welfare rolls mounted and the strains on local budgets became more severe. In New York City, where the Mayor is now facing desperate revenue shortages, welfare expenditures are already second only to those for public education.
...welfare costs are generally shared by local, state and federal governments, so that the crisis in the cities would intensify the struggle over revenue... If the past is any predictor of the future, cities will fail to procure relief from this crisis... for state legislatures have been notoriously unsympathetic to the revenue needs of the city (especially where public welfare and minority groups are concerned).
If this strategy for crisis would intensify group cleavages, a federal income solution would not further exacerbate them... legislative measures to provide direct income to the poor would permit national Democratic leaders to cultivate ghetto constituencies without unduly antagonizing other urban groups, as is the case when the battle lines are drawn over schools, housing or jobs. Furthermore, a federal income program would ... permanently relieve them of the financially and politically onerous burdens of public welfare*--a function which generates support from none and hostility from many, not least of all welfare recipients.
... it should also be noted that there would be gains even in defeat."
Cloward and Piven were enamored with crisis as a vehicle for political change. They observed that the Great Depression and the black protests and riots were very effective in spurring legislation. However, they were quite wrong about the how the welfare burden crisis would play out. The federal government never came close to giving direct payments to every person. The closest was a short-lived proposal in 1972 by presidential candidate George McGovern, who was defeated in a landslide. Instead, welfare more and more became a target for derision as failed social engineering. Welfare reformers from the conservative side haven't been wonderfully successful in changing welfare dependency either.

Cloward and Piven moved on, and were leaders in the push for the Motor-Voter law. If not for Glenn Beck, we probably wouldn't know about this earlier plan of theirs.

The Truth According to the Daily Kos

An author at the Daily Kos points out that had Obama wanted to follow the Cloward-Piven strategy, he would have tried to torpedo TARP, causing even more disruption in employment. That would have provided an even bigger crisis, which would have allowed for nationalization of a bunch of industries, even larger increases in aid programs like food stamps and unemployment payments. The author also doubts that there was a Cloward-Piven strategy, but instead it was only one article.

Truth Filter

From my experience, I'm inclined to think that Cloward and Piven did have a plan, but that plan wasn't fully implemented and didn't work as mapped out. There were crises from welfare demands, but the solution didn't take the form of direct checks to the poor. I doubt that Cloward and Piven's vision was particularly influential. It's not was though welfare or community organizing didn't exist until Cloward and Piven created them. Welfare most likely would have developed just as it did, regardless of these two.

That's a big problem. These two saw welfare as a way to alleviate poverty and build a political base, but they didn't see welfare as a subsistence trap. They didn't discuss the perils of living off of guaranteed low-level income such as losing the drive to improve and losing the skills and habits of working. That consideration didn't seem to enter their consciousness at all.

Richard Cloward died in 2001, but Piven has continued their work. She still supports direct payment from the federal government to all citizens and residents. The payments should be substantial enough for people to live in dignity. This means that employers will have to pay even more since their competition is a substantial handout.

Piven doesn't see any difficulty with this idea. She doesn't question how tasks will get done if everyone could be paid for not working, or the effect of a surge in wages on living costs. She also states that the US is a fabulously rich country, rich enough to afford wars all over the globe. Piven clearly lives in a self-made fantasy world. She is incredibly clueless when it comes to economics. Sad that she's been a professor for decades now, so she's been teaching these economically ignorant ideas to a couple generations already.

I suppose the good news is that I don't hear many other people repeating those ideas. The vast majority of people want jobs, not payouts for just hanging around. Cloward and Piven never got the welfare system they wanted, the direct federal payment system they wanted, or the more socially equal society they wanted. Most people wised up and realized that world vision was an impossibility. That's good progress there.

Protest in Boston, 1966

P.S. Direct connection between Barack Obama and Cloward-Piven: none except in Glenn Beck's mind.

Friday, April 18, 2014

The invisible primary clarifies everything

I learned this concept from Jonathan Bernstein, the only political commentator who has stayed interesting to me. (Others, like Josh Barro, seem great, but it only lasts for a short time.)

The invisible primary is the contest before the presidential primaries start. It consists of potential or declared candidates visiting early primary states, talking, occasionally staking out positions, occasionally attacking one another, wooing donors, and most of all wooing the important party players who have influence on swathes of voters, usually within one state.

I've learned a lot about the Republican invisible primary, but not so much about the Democratic version. Maybe in 2020 it will be in play, but 2016 isn't looking too likely.

Here are links to some of good posts on the invisible primary. If you don't know this concept yet, you have a wonderful learning experience in store:

  • Bernstein on watching the developing party agenda.
  • Long but great article about the GOP invisible primary. Very readable.
  • How someone decides to jump in.
  • Related to Rand Paul.


Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Who pays taxes?

Do lower income people pay their fair share of taxes? Look at this graph from the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank:


Wow, the lowest 20% of earners pay almost nothing in taxes. The top 20% bear, let's see, 69% of the tax burden. How horribly unfair.

Until you look at this graph:


Here we see that the top 20% may pay 69% of taxes, but they also suck up 50% of all the income. The richest fifth get half of the pie. How much of the pie do the lowest fifth get? Just 3%. How much of the tax burden should we expect them to bear?

Before you complain about how little some folks pay into the system, look at how little is paid to them.

Old question: Who benefited the most from tax cuts?

Back in 2012, one of the issues was who benefited the most from the Bush tax cuts. Dems said the rich did. Repubs said it was everyone. Now, finally, here's a graph that shows who benefited: (Click on the graph to enlarge.)


Look at the left-most 10% of the graph and see that rates declined much more steeply for higher incomes than for lower. This graph is based on effective tax rate and includes payroll taxes.

Low-wage workers are more affected by changes in payroll taxes and much less by income tax rate cuts. It's the opposite for high-income earners. Since the Bush tax cuts lower income taxes, but not payroll taxes, low-income workers saw little benefit. This was also shown by figures on how the end of the tax cuts would affect different earners. Again, lower-income workers would see less of an increase by percent (about 4%). Higher income earners would see a 8% increase.

Here's another interesting tax-related graph: Who gains from tax breaks--those credits, deductions, and exclusions that lower our tax bills. This graph shows the actual shares of these tax breaks and how much accrues to different segments from the lowest 20% to the highest 0.1%. The biggest winners (in light blue) are the 80-99% of top earners. However, look at the share that the top 0.1% (in dark blue) get. An excellent aspect of the graph is that the areas (dark brown, tan, light blue, etc.) directly represent the actual share of the money. You could imagine them as stacks of bills given to the groups.


However, this isn't just a give-away of tax dollars to the well-off. Higher earners pay much more of taxes than do lower earner. They also pay marginal rates (currently running 38%) that are much higher than tax rates on lower earners. If exclusions came down, marginal rates probably should too.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The political history of the Supreme Court

I'm not a great student of American history. The last American history course I took was, embarrassingly, in high school. There is one surprising advantage to not having studied a lot of American history--I haven't formed a lot of prejudices that are set in stone. I have a superficial knowledge, but I know it's only superficial, so I'm ready to question all those standard theories that float around.

So, what is the real history of the Supreme Court? I started wondering because of suggestions (among liberals) that the GOP might not confirm a Supreme Court nominee for the rest of Obama's term. Looking back at information about the Supreme Court (mostly from Wikipedia), I saw a number of interesting trends.

FDR through Nixon

Supreme court nominees used to be much closer to the president and much more political. For example, Hugo Black was a senator. Franklin Roosevelt (FDR) tapped him because he was young, from the south, and a strong legislative supporter. Luckily he was also a great fit for the job. He was extremely interested in constitutional questions and developed "textualism," a conservative school of thought on how to interpret the Constitution. This is almost all news to me, and quite fascinating.

Another interesting factoid is that president always tried to push the court toward their political side. FDR did it big time because his first New Deal programs were struck down by a conservative court. FDR made a lot of appointments to the court over his 13 years as president, and he was successful in his goal. The court was fairly liberal due to his selections. Eisenhower wanted to reverse this trend, but his choices weren't so effective. He aimed for conservative (but presumably not Jim Crow conservative), but ended up with Earl Warren.

So even after Eisenhower, the court was fairly liberal. Kennedy and Johnson together appointed four judges, but two resigned after a few years. The balance on the court didn't move much because of their presidencies. Nixon, like Eisenhower, wanted a more conservative court yet didn't get what he hoped from his appointees except for his last appointee, William Rehnquist.


By the time Reagan was president, the conservatives in the country were quite fed up with the liberal slant of the court. Per my memory, the biggest complaints were over abortion legalization, the end of school prayer, and limitations on evidence collection and police tactics. However, Reagan didn't give the conservatives what they wanted immediately. For the first vacancy, Reagan nominated the first woman on the court, Sandra Day O'Connor. I wonder how angry his conservative supporters were over that.

His next appointee, Antonin Scalia, probably pleased the conservatives mightily. For the next vacancy, Reagan went with the ultra-conservative Robert Bork. In doing this, Reagan ignored all the buzz that this was going too far. This is just speculation, but I'm guessing that in 1987 (the year of the nomination), Reagan was no longer fully in control of his decision-making. The choice backfired. Democrats were successful in painting Bork as too conservative. The replacement nominee, John Paul Stevens  Anthony Kennedy, was considerably less conservative, to the chagrin of the conservatives.

Reagan's legacy on the Supreme Court were two swing justices and only one solid conservative. The anger and disappointment of conservatives must have been huge. George H.W. Bush had two appointees--another mixed bag of one swing vote and one solid conservative. Clinton, following the established pattern, appointed two liberal-leaning justices.

21st Century - Fully Political

With George Bush II, the conservatives finally got more than lip service. Bush II appointed two solid conservatives. Obama has appointed two solid liberals. At this point, there is barely a swing vote on the Court. Occasionally Anthony Kennedy sides with the liberals, but generally there are five conservative votes.

What I learned in all this:
  • Presidents have always tried to nudge the Court into their corner. 
  • Conservative presidents have often failed to get conservative judgments out of their appointees. I wish I understood why this happened so often. 
  • The pressure to appoint clearly conservative or clearly liberal justices has grown. Both sides dearly want to own the majority on the Court. This may indicate that the Court has become ever more important in political outcomes in the country.
  • Professional experience as a judge became more important after Johnson and Nixon--due to some embarrassing nominees and appointees. This allowed the presidents to pretend that they were nominating someone neutral. However, this veneer of neutrality is a sham--nominees fulfill political goals. They aren't neutral legal arbiters, as most judges are supposed to be. 
  • The sham is still active and seems to be demanded of both politicians and nominees, so it will continue.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Short: A story in pictures

First, who voted for Romney versus who voted for Obama:

A Democratic convention crowd:

A Republican convention crowd:

Images, full story:

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Grouches at National Review strike again

How big a deal is it that Stephen Colbert is taking over for Letterman on the CBS's late show? I can well imagine that his Comedy Central fans will miss his pointy political satire. Lots of people wonder what his personality is. Outside of his parody (a take-off of Bill O'Reilly's pomposity), do we have the faintest idea who he is? We don't know whether he can carry a late night talk show.

But the old grouches among the conservatives have a vastly different concern. They see another major slap at the heartland of the US. At least that was Rush Limbaugh's response-- though that's moderate for him. Limbaugh might have railed against Colbert for roughly a minute, much less than law student Sandra Fluke got.

So why does National Review need three posts letting their curmudgeons sound off about Colbert being an unfunny liberal replacing yet another unfunny liberal? Because National Review basically doesn't have thoughtful critique from a conservative viewpoint anymore. Instead, it's cut and slash against everything Dem and liberal. This is the longest post, giving the old grouches the most place to wheeze about "his perverted version of a conservative character."

I realized earlier this year that I had to stop reading National Review so often. The low point was the flaying of Pete Seeger on the occasion of his death. Seeger wasn't the singer of "Puff the Magic Dragon" to them. Instead he was a bagman for Stalin.

So Stephen Colbert may be a traitor in the war on the heartland, but at least he didn't work for Stalin.


Extra. Ben Shapiro (creep-in-chief of Breitbart) writes a creepy post comparing Colbert to blackface comedy. There's something ironic (meaning hypocritical) about the editor of Breitbart complaining about the worst aspects of conservatives being lampooned. So does that mean parts of Limbaugh's show are vile blackface comedy riffing off liberals? (Hat-tip to The Atlantic Wire. National Review didn't link to it because it makes conservatives look pretty bad.)

Thursday, April 10, 2014

How far to take this disagreement?

Some people, like me and most people I know, support marriage equality that permits marriage regardless of gender or sexual orientation. I write about this a lot because I love being married, and I know many people for whom this bond is the best part of life. So I want anyone to be able to share in this blessing.

What about the people who disagree? I've written about my respect for those who sincerely believe that same-sex sexual relationships are wrong or that same-sex marriage is wrong. I've also written that those against marriage equality should stop objecting and stop denying the civil rights of others.

Am I totally confused? I hope not. I see a big picture with lots of people in it. Most of the people are good and have honest intentions, yet they often end up disagreeing. I'm not going to demonize a good person just for holding a belief I find mistaken. For a loud, obnoxious person, I'm going to disagree a lot more loudly.

Theory in practice

So, what kind of person is Brendan Eich, the CEO of Mozilla who just resigned under a cloud due to his contribution in favor of an anti-marriage-equality proposition in California?

I don't know what kind of person he is. In my research, I didn't find that he's been a vocal opponent of marriage equality. He was a co-founder of Mozilla, and has worked for years in the open source software movement. As far as we know, he didn't harass gay coworkers and he didn't broadcast his political views through the workplace.

So what did he do that was offensive, harassing, or unacceptable? Some are saying that his financial support for Prop 8 in California is over the line. Software developers, including this one, joined together to begin a boycott. Not because Eich just made the contribution (it was five years ago), or because he just started working for Mozilla, or because he was just promoted to CEO. They started the boycott because they wanted an apology, and he refused to give it. So he was forced to resign.

It's hard for me to see this as anything but intolerant, thought-police-like tactics. His choices were to recant his beliefs or go. Do we want such a binary choice presented to our teachers, writers, broadcasters, doctors, nurses, X-ray technicians? Should I refuse service from a waitress who holds different political views, or can we please just have a limited unfraught transaction?

Armed camps

I don't want to have the entire country carved into pro- and anti- camps. I don't have to know the politics of the CEO of the company that made this computer or that made the couch I'm sitting on. The taint of Brendan Eich's contribution didn't seep into Firefox, which I used for years. It doesn't ruin Thunderbird now. Two years ago, a breast cancer charity tried to purge itself of any connection to Planned Parenthood, even though Planned Parenthood helps with breast cancer screenings. It was stupid to think a breast cancer charity needed to be completely pure on the unrelated issue of abortion, yet some people want to force this kind of purity on charities, or businesses, or what have you. It doesn't work--it's crazy or coercive to implement. Is this what we want in our society--litmus tests wherever you turn?

Let's remember--good people can disagree. Many moral, ethical, and policy questions aren't so clear cut that we absolutely know which is the right answer. When there's a way to live and let live, let's do it. I'm not so infallible that I'm going to condemn those who don't agree with me. What happened to other people, the ones who are so sure,  who will condemn, expel, and purge? Do they no longer want a world with diversity? Wasn't that the goal?



Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Charles Koch complains of collectivists

As Jonathan Chait says, the Wall Street Journal loves to give editorial space to any self-pitying billionaire. Two weeks ago, it was one of the Koch brothers.

He wants to share with us the principles that have shaped his life. But instead of identifying riches and privilege as what shaped his life, he pretends that it was simply "dignity, respect, equality before the law and personal freedom."

That's one error in argumentation that he makes. Another is his use of the term 'collectivist.' He correctly defines collectivists as "those who stand for government control of the means of production and how people live their lives." However, Koch also labels those who engage in character assassin as 'collectivists.' So, Glenn Beck, Joe Arpaio, Sarah Palin, and millions of others must be collectivists too. Who knew?

Collectivists also "do not have good answers." That described Mitt Romney on his fiscal plan. My, my, so Mitt is a collectivist. And we know that collectivist is a gloss on 'communist,' so Mitt must be a communist. Will wonders never cease? In case you think I'm twisting the logic of how Koch uses the term 'collectivist,' I am. I'm using it broadly and in an exaggerated way to show that's how Koch uses the term too.

Koch also regales us with tales of what an upstanding environment record his companies have. My first impulse is to greatly doubt this, but let's see if there are any facts (which are definitely more trustworthy than my knee jerk reactions). Google was so helpful again. Politifact gave Koch a "mostly false" rating on his claim. You can also read about various infractions, fines, and climate-change denial activities if you want to.

Koch is concerned that we create "opportunity for all Americans." Does he honestly think that's possible? Can all Americans enjoy the opportunities he had? Oh, Charles, please get real. Very few were born with your wealth and connections. Too many are born in places with poor education, poor infrastructure, and very few job opportunities. It's laughable that you don't notice this.

Koch isn't alone among the rich who think success is available to anyone and everyone. Decades ago, I had an epiphany while watching William Buckley talk about life in the ghetto or the choices made by poor women, or some such. It suddenly struck me that Buckley knew perhaps 10% of what it was like to live in the ghetto. Nonetheless, there he was, pontificating. I wish I could be spared all the rich-from-birth white men up on their high horses telling other people what to do. Even if they have good ideas, they haven't earned any credibility in knowing what life is like for most people.

Can we please shut off their bloody microphones already?


Tsunami of memories: Anita Hill

Just as in Remembrance of Things Past, memories sometimes wash over me with their power undiminished by time. Today, it was because of this article about Anita Hill.

In 1991, George H.W. Bush nominated Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court. The highest court needed a black justice because the only black justice, Thurgood Marshall, had just retired.

Thomas had been groomed for the Supreme Court by the Republicans. There are few blacks among the Republicans, so it wasn't hard for a black Republican to rise. Witness Allen West, Herman Cain, and Dr. Ben Carson in the past few years. Clarence Thomas wasn't a great lawyer or scholar, but that holds true for all the justices right now. I don't know a major accomplishment of any of them.

What fills my memories was the drama of the hearings for Thomas's nomination. Nominations are pretty dull affairs. There is always effusive praise from one side and attempts at gotcha questions from the other. I'm pretty sure Thomas's hearing was like that, but with the added indignation from the liberals that the GOP had a black man (or Uncle Tom) who talked the same trickle-down, traditional respect-for-authority, conservative line that all the old white men did. However, since he was black, the GOP could pretend that they were a broader party than they were. Indignant isn't quite the word for the liberal response--'ape shit' is more apt.

The liberals weren't doing a good job of derailing the nomination, something that they had succeeded in doing in 1987 with the nomination of Robert Bork, a seriously intelligent and detestable person. It looked as though Thomas, this groomed slap-in-the-face at blacks (or was it liberals?), was going to win confirmation.

Abrupt Shift

Then a scoop erupted in the press. A former associate of Thomas had been interviewed by the FBI about allegations that Thomas has harassed female employees. Additional hearings were scheduled. Anita Hill testified calmly on a Friday. She told about Thomas, in the workplace, discussing scenes from porno movies he'd seen the previous weekend. There was also the joke he made about a pubic hair on his can of coke.

What Anita Hill said had the ring of truth to me. But this is so subjective. To conservatives, she was a "spurned woman" trumped up by radical pro-choice feminists trying to derail the appointment of a solid, fair man.

I watched her testimony, and I also watched Thomas's testimony in that rare Saturday session. Thomas was full of fire and righteous indignation, and he was very believable. He denounced the charges as a desperate and craven attempt to besmirch a honest man, all for venal political reasons. I would have believed it, and many people did, including some co-workers. (Aside: People are generally good as sorting out the weaselly liars, but we aren't so good at identifying the full-throated ones.)

However, the supporting witnesses for Hill were quite strong, recalling how she told them at the time what was happening. Purely on evidence, Hill's story was stronger. But evidence didn't win over political considerations, and Thomas was confirmed.

The Personal Overlaps the Political

What I remember most was Anita Hill telling a true story that wasn't generally heard before. Her boss degraded her in sexual ways, but he got away with it because it was only words. Some commentators castigated her as a liar, saying that no woman would put up with that treatment.

But I knew otherwise. I knew from personal experience that until sexual harassment became a well-known issue, women didn't know what to do when they were harassed. I certainly didn't know what to do when a senior engineer in his 50's took the liberty of putting his arm around my back as we discussed engineering matters, and he kept it there. On one hand, it might have looked like innocuous touch, but it definitely was unwelcome and uncomfortable on my end.

Luckily, his liberties never progressed. I recall vividly how they ended. I ran into him at the bank, and he put his arm around me again. I thought "I may have to put up with this at work, but there's no way in hell I'm putting up with it outside of work." So I jammed my elbow hard into his side. He never touched me again. He avoided eye contact after that too.

I was a twenty-something woman engineer, one of only two in that factory, and there were no harassment reporting programs back then. I wasn't a trail-blazer, and I didn't know what to do. So I did nothing for a while, then I fought back, then it was over, and I never thought "this is a general problem bigger than me." Thank God other people did see the bigger problem and did work to counter it. This was pure progress to a better world. I'll argue with anyone who says otherwise.

Both swore to tell the truth

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Last outpost of crazy: Nursing home strip show

I can't improve on this one. Just read the article. Don't stop until after you've read about the photos of one of the plaintiffs stuffing money into...


Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Medical miracle in Maryland

On a radio show this week, I learned that Maryland is the only state with cost controls on hospital charges. The speaker told about how New York once had controls... until a GOP governor put an end to that. Of course I was curious about how cost controls have worked for Maryland, so, as always, I did some research.

Maryland is quite proud of its system. They have their white paper bragging about the results, particularly the lower rate of increase in hospital costs. Their medical system has been more stable too, but perhaps the biggest feature is that there's no cost shifting. That sounds great to me because of the resentment that cost shifting causes. If you're unlucky to work for a small company with a weakling insurance plan, you pay more in the hospital. The government makes this a necessity by being miserly in its Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements--those whales of cost shifting.

In Maryland, all payers pay the same rate, even Medicare and Medicaid. So in one way, the entire nation supports Maryland by paying more there. However, this deal was negotiated decades ago when Maryland's hospital costs were 23% more than the national average. The deal remains in effect because Maryland has done well in lowering its costs and keeping them below average. So it hasn't been a bad deal for the taxpayers either.

Because all payers pay the same rate, the rates are known at hospitals. No insurer wangles a sweet deal at the expense of others. Some hospitals get higher reimbursements, but only due to higher local cost-of-living. That's a consistency I'd love to see. Just imagine, a hospital could easily post its rates in a list, not a complex table accounting for many different classes of insurers or patients.

All this good news was seconded by a (probably) independent review, but what is the bad news? Maryland still has higher than average medical spending than its neighbors. Some costs are displaced from hospitals to outpatient facilities. But I've never heard that Maryland is a hell-hole for medicine, so this cost control approach hasn't ruined life in Maryland.

The Bad News

For a more brutal critique, I had to read a report from the Heritage Foundation. First is a spiel on why cost controls never work. Then the terrible examples from Japan and the Netherlands. Finally, they detail the considerably fewer complaints against Maryland. Cost controls are said to stifle competition and create shortages, yet Johns Hopkins in Maryland has managed to set up surgical centers that allow "the hospitals to circumvent many of the shortages associated with price controls." I read that as saying, well, they don't have the shortages you were warned about. The biggest complaints in the Heritage report are the higher total costs than neighboring states, the waiver from Medicare and Medicaid, and a loss of "care coordination." Weak sauce.

A better critique comes from this healthcare blog. I learn the Maryland has managed to strike a good balance between hospital and taxpayers. Not so with Massachusetts (my state), where "hospitals are so powerful that they ... capture the regulators." The author also tells the history of how other states (all but Maryland) abandoned their cost controls under the illusion of competition between HMOs. Remember how they were supposed to keep medical inflation in check? What went wrong there?

I have to agree--state cost controls sound like a good idea to me. No other method has worked to reduce the inflation in medical spending over the long term. And Maryland provides an example of how to avoid the disadvantages of cost controls. I tend to like market processes, but they haven't worked in healthcare. They may never work in healthcare because it's not your normal market. Let's finally admit that.