All Your Billionaires Are Belong to Us

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Wingnuts Being Wingnuts

John Hinderacker the Power Tool is livid that there’s a billionaire out there who has pledged support to … Democrats. This is unnatural; it violates the God-ordained order of things.

Billionaire hedge fund operator and “green” energy magnate Tom Steyer has pledged $100 million in the 2014 election cycle to help Democratic candidates who oppose the Keystone pipeline and who favor “green” energy over fossil fuels. Steyer claims to be a man of principle who has no financial interest in the causes he supports, but acts only for the public good. That is a ridiculous claim: Steyer is the ultimate rent-seeker who depends on government connections to produce subsidies and mandates that make his “green” energy investments profitable.

I don’t know John Steyer and have no idea where his head is. It may very well be that he’s taken a good, hard look at the world and reality and decided that, sooner or later, fossil fuel energy will be as extinct as the dodo and that the future will be green, and he might as well prepare himself to cash in.

To which I say, good for him. Imagine what the world would be like if the Koch Brothers suddenly had the same epiphany. Among other things, they’d stop subsidizing climate change denialism, and then maybe we’d actually be able to do something to, you know, save the planet. See, for example, Secret funding helped build vast network of climate denial thinktanks; Who Funds Contrariness on Climate Change? and Inside Koch’s Climate Denial Machine.

And by the way

Koch Brothers likes to champion themselves as crusaders against the welfare state. But a new report shows that they took $88 million of your taxpayer dollars while demanding that governments stop wasting taxpayer dollars. In total, $110 billion goes out to corporate welfare projects from state and local authorities. This does not even include money coming from federal sources.

In other words, the Tool is angry that Steyer is doing exactly what the Koch Brothers are doing, except he’s doing in a way that benefits Democrats. It’s unnatural, I tell you … Although I do find it amusing that a tool like the Tool uses the term “rent-seeker” as an insult. He sounds almost like a socialist.

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Doubling Down

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Obama Administration

There are two sides of the Obamacare story today. Progressives are pumping their fists and declaring, HOO-yah. Conservatives are shaking their fists and declaring they will defend the Alamo to the last, um, man. Or something.

From what I can tell, opinion polls on the ACA haven’t changed much over the past several months, and a small majority still disapprove of it. It will be interesting to see if this week’s news will move the needle.

Still, as Josh Marshall writes,

As I noted recently, GOP policy analysts are pretty clear now that Obamacare isn’t collapsing, hopes of the politicals notwithstanding. And strategists have started to hint that flat opposition – repeal with no alternative that provides something like the same range of benefits – may no longer be viable from a political standpoint.

Of course, in the Obamacare gotterdammerung bubble, Obamacare is on its last legs and President Obama will soon resign and ask the country for mercy as he’s hustled off by federal marshals to stand trial for Obamacare and socialism. Back on planet earth though reality-based opponents see the writing on the wall.

What’s next for the deniers? Joan Walsh predicts they’re going to go after the subsidies.

McCarthy also tacks on an ugly parenthetical, asking “how many received a subsidy (raising concerns about fraud).” Brian Beutler at the New Republic calls this an effort to “welfarize Obamacare,” to stigmatize it and also make it subject to the same hysteria about “fraud” that conservatives use to smear other social programs. …Still, a high rate of subsidies will let the GOP continue to demonize the “takers” vs. the “makers.” But some of them are going to have a big problem: A lot of the takers will turn out to be their voters.

Some guy at the Weekly Standard is saying the debate will be over when the American people say it’s over. Although, of course, by “American people” he means “right-wing think tanks.” And he says, “Repeal, now more than ever!”

The problem is, even many of the more demented wingnuts realize they can’t just repeal without taking a huge political hit. If they had something credible to replace the ACA they might use that, since the law still isn’t that popular. But they don’t. And they’re not going to. Greg Sargent writes,

The American public doesn’t believe there is any Republican alternative to the health care law.

That’s borne out in polls — more on that in a moment — but it’s rarely confirmed by Republicans themselves. . . .

. . .Kaiser’s tracking polls on health care — the gold standard — neatly demonstrate that Americans don’t believe there is any Republican alternative. Its March poll found that only 29 percent of Americans want to repeal Obamacare, but in that category, only 11 percent of Americans want to repeal the law and replace it with an unspecified GOP alternative. In February some 12 percent were in that latter category. In October it stood at 13 percent. And so on.

The GOP “repeal and replace” strategy relies on keeping replace vague. It relies on a gamble that voters won’t notice that the actual choice Republicans are offering them is to stick with Obamacare or to return to the old system. The map is so bad for Dems that Republicans could win the Senate in spite of the problems with this strategy. But even so, there is a basic nuance in public opinion that continues to go underappreciated. The most likely explanation for the combination of continued disapproval of Obamacare and continued opposition to repeal is that many Americans may not like what the law requires in exchange for its good stuff – or beyond that perhaps they don’t like the health system and are skeptical it can be made better — yet they understand that Obamacare is the only set of solutions we’re going to get

The political question is whether Republicans can keep their bluff going all the way to November.

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The Obamacare Effect

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Obama Administration

Be sure to see “Saved by Obamacare,” by fiction writer Elizabeth Hand. The article is not fiction; it’s about her experience with the ACA and why she’s grateful for it.

The wonder is, why isn’t the Administration, or some progressive group like MoveOn making ads with such stories to run in mass media? I honesty don’t understand. Maybe somebody is doing this, but I haven’t seen it. Or maybe powder is being saved until we’re closer to the midterm election. But they don’t want to wait too long, I don’t think.

At this point it’s obvious to all but the most demented that the ACA is working about as well as originally hoped. Which is to say it’s not perfect, but it’s not bad.

Speaking of which, as conservatives are trying to suss out White House manipulation of the Census Bureau, Obamacare keeps on doing exactly what it was intended to do. This week the Congressional Budget Office found that Obamacare will cover more people for less money than initially estimated, and that insurance premiums likely will not spike next year, thus driving a stake through three core conservative attacks on the health law.

Health insurers, who just last month were floating anonymous warnings of massive premium increases, are now starting to warm to the state health exchanges. “At least two major national insurers intend to expand their offerings,” reported Politico on April 16, “although a handful of big players like Aetna, Humana and Cigna, are keeping their cards close for now. None of the big-name insurers have signaled plans to shrink their presence or bail altogether after the first rocky year. And a slew of smaller health plans are already making moves to join more states or get into the Obamacare business for the first time.”

Ezra Klein writes that Republicans suffer from Obamacare Derangement Syndrome.

Today, the right struggles with Obamacare Derangement Syndrome: the acute inability to see Obamacare as anything but a catastrophic failure that the American people will soon reject. For those suffering from ODS, all bad Obamacare news is good news, and all good Obamacare news is spin. In this world, delays of minor provisions in the law prove that the entire structure is collapsing, while surges of millions of people enrolling in insurance don’t prove anything at all.

ODS has kept Republicans from updating their mental model of how Obamacare is doing. To them, the law’s disastrous rollout proved that it was doomed. The fact that it recovered beyond anyone’s expectations — literally, not a single analyst or policymaker I spoke to in December thought it credible that the exchanges would sign up 7 million by April, much less 7.5 million — hasn’t made much of an impression.

Most of them aren’t changing their rhetoric in light of changing realities. This is mostly because they’ve put themselves in a box with the base. They’ve been telling the base that no terms but unconditional surrender will be accepted — repeal, in other words — and the base will interpret any GOP waffling or compromise as failure.

There are still many good critiques to make of Obamacare. But Republicans don’t want to critique Obamacare. They want to stop it. Repeal it. They want to make it the hill big-government liberalism dies upon. And those in the party who know better continue to be cowed by those in the party who don’t. So long as Ted Cruz is going to New Hampshire promising that Obamacare can be stopped, no Republican can step before the faithful and outline a plan for how it can be tweaked.

And they can’t come up with an alternative plan, because the ACA WAS their alternative plan.

The other problem for the White House is that many think Obamacare is basically working despite the Obama administration’s best efforts. The roll-out really was a disaster, the law remains unpopular, and estimations of the Obama administration’s competence are still low. The public would gladly flock to a political party that had a real plan for improving Obamacare, and a serious claim to being able to manage it more professionally. Luckily for the Obama administration, ODS ensures Republicans are still far, far away from being that party.

Someday historians may look back at 2013-2014 and conclude the terrible ACA website rollout worked in Democrats’ favor. It persuaded Republicans that a no compromises opposition to Obamacare would be a winning issue for them in 2014, and now they are so utterly committed to that I don’t think they can change. But neither do I think it will work for them all that well.

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The End Is Nigh

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blogging

I just finished a first draft of the last chapter, which means I have a complete first draft of The Book. I may actually be done with it someday. And it’s just over 61,000 words. I started out to write 20,000. Sigh.

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Tax Day Links

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Obama Administration

I finished the tax forms yesterday, which for me is a day earlier than I usually get them done. Yay. Here’s some random links:

Peter Bergen and David Sterman, CNN: U.S. right wing extremists more deadly than jihadists

If Little Lulu sees this, will she demand an apology from CNN on behalf of conservatives?

Budget Office Lowers Estimate for the Cost of Expanding Health Coverage Obamacare is working, folks. Of course, what Faux News viewers see is a report by the bleeping American Enterprise Institute that Survey shows ObamaCare sending premiums rising at fastest clip in decades. Right now I haven’t had enough coffee even to guess how AEI managed to massage the data to come up with that headline.

For your comedy break: Marsha Blackburn says the GOP led the fight for women’s equality. Sort of the same way the Confederate States of America led the fight to end slavery, perhaps.

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Christian Persecution Porn

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Obama Administration

Another book preview.

The golden age of biblical epic films may be over, but the golden age of Christian persecution films may have just begun. Eric Brown of the International Business Times reported that an independent film titled God’s Not Dead has grossed more than $34 million in its first three weeks in theaters. Moviefone reported that the indie film was the fifth highest-earning film on the weekend it opened, in March 2014. The highly promoted Divergent and Muppets Most Wanted were among its competition.

The film, which I have not seen, depicts a college student whose philosophy professor demands the class write “God is dead” on a piece of paper, sign it, and hand it in. The student, a Christian, refuses. I assume several other things happen to fill the film’s running time. Eric Brown writes,

“Russell Wolfe, CEO of “God’s Not Dead” distributor Pure Flix, admitted in an interview with the Blaze, the Glenn Beck site, that the film is, by and large, ‘preaching to the choir,’ saying that ‘God’s Not Dead’ helps ‘people know more of why they believe what they believe.’ But what values is the film teaching? Between the film’s abusive Muslims and angry atheists, the biggest take-home is that everyone is out to get Christians.”

I read that not just one, but two indie Christian persecution films are scheduled for release later in 2014, both named Persecuted. This is from a press release about one of them:

“PERSECUTED tells the story of a modern-day evangelist named John Luther, played by SAG Award-nominated and Saturn Award winning actor James Remar ( X-MEN: FIRST CLASS, ‘Dexter’, DJANGO: UNCHAINED, WHAT LIES BENEATH, RED). Luther is the last hold out for a national endorsement to make sweeping reform in freedom of speech. As the government is mandating political correctness while covertly waging a war against religious organizations, a U.S. Senator, portrayed by Oscar-nominated actor Bruce Davison (X-MEN, ‘Lost’, ‘Castle’), and his political allies create a sinister plan of denial and scandal to frame John Luther for murder. Suddenly his once normal life is turned upside down as he becomes a fugitive vowing to expose those responsible. It is a mission that brings him face-to-face with the coming storm of persecution that will threaten the moral ethics and freedoms of America.”

Since “mandating political correctness” usually is code for being called out for telling jokes involving black people and watermelons, I attempted to find out what awful thing is being mandated. It appears to be a hypothetical “Faith and Fairness Act” that would require religious broadcasters to present all religious points of view when presenting their own point of view. Well, yes, that would be dreadful. I shudder at the thought of anyone on the Christian Broadcasting Network attempting to present a Buddhist point of view.

The other Persecuted is set in the old Soviet Union and involves Evangelicals being pursued by KGB agents, but Miranda Blue at Right Wing Watch says the film is “clearly meant to be an allegorical tale about the United States today.”

But if that’s not enough Christian persecution porn for you, a “Stories of the Persecuted Church” boxed set of six more Christian persecution films on DVD is available from ChristianCinema.com.

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Finally, Somebody Went There

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Obama Administration

Retired Justice John Paul Stevens proposes revising the Second Amendment. Opinions about this are falling along the usual lines.

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The Real Death Panels

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Health Care, Obama Administration

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius resigned yesterday, which the Right heralds as a sign of victory. Some guy at the Federalist already is salivating over the grand fight they’re going to have nominating her replacement –

In any case, it appears that this resignation presents Republicans with a golden opportunity to reignite their crusade against Obamacare with Sylvia Burwell’s nomination as a proxy for all the problems with the law. Burwell is a political loyalist and a veteran of the shutdown fight with no record on health care, and will likely be coached to avoid answering questions about specific challenges with implementation at HHS. Senate Republicans actually have an advantage here in the wake of the Nuclear Option’s implementation: they can easily come up with a list of facts they claim the administration has hidden, details kicked aside, statutes ignored, and a host of other challenging questions on accountability over the implementation (and non-implementation) of the law. A list of every question Sebelius has dodged over the past several years would suffice. By demanding answers before the HHS nomination moves forward and refusing to rubber stamp the president’s pick, Republicans could force more vulnerable Democrats to take a vote that ties them both to the Nuclear Option and Obamacare six months before a critical election.

I understand Rachel Maddow was bothered that the resignation stepped on a week of good news about the ACA. But by November, it may not matter. I do not think most folks give a hoo-haw about the nuclear option, and who knows what public opinion of the ACA will be by November? If Republicans grandstand overmuch over the nomination hearings, they risk overplaying their hand, as they are prone to do.

Krugman writes,

When it comes to health reform, Republicans suffer from delusions of disaster. They know, just know, that the Affordable Care Act is doomed to utter failure, so failure is what they see, never mind the facts on the ground.

Thus, on Tuesday, Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, dismissed the push for pay equity as an attempt to “change the subject from the nightmare of Obamacare”; on the same day, the nonpartisan RAND Corporation released a study estimating “a net gain of 9.3 million in the number of American adults with health insurance coverage from September 2013 to mid-March 2014.” Some nightmare. And the overall gain, including children and those who signed up during the late-March enrollment surge, must be considerably larger.

However, we still have the huge injustice of the refusal to expand Medicaid.

What’s amazing about this wave of rejection is that it appears to be motivated by pure spite. The federal government is prepared to pay for Medicaid expansion, so it would cost the states nothing, and would, in fact, provide an inflow of dollars. The health economist Jonathan Gruber, one of the principal architects of health reform — and normally a very mild-mannered guy — recently summed it up: The Medicaid-rejection states “are willing to sacrifice billions of dollars of injections into their economy in order to punish poor people. It really is just almost awesome in its evilness.” Indeed.

And while supposed Obamacare horror stories keep on turning out to be false, it’s already quite easy to find examples of people who died because their states refused to expand Medicaid. According to one recent study, the death toll from Medicaid rejection is likely to run between 7,000 and 17,000 Americans each year.

There’s your death panels, folks. They’re called “Republican governors.”

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Colbert to Replace Letterman

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Obama Administration

Please discuss.

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How We Think What We Think

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Obama Administration

Here are a couple more book suggestions. One is The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion by social psychologist Jonathan Haidt (Pantheon Books, 2012). Haidt explains in detail the many ways people have been tested to reveal that reason plays only a supporting role in why we actually think as we do. Most of our decision- and opinion-making processes are taking place on subconscious levels.

Basically, our decisions, opinions and moral judgments are really being made by our emotions or intuition, and we use reason largely to explain to ourselves how we reached our decision or formed our opinion.

Haidt provides a very strong and copiously tested argument that we feel before we think. The moment we are confronted with a religious, political, moral or similar sort of question, something in our subconscious or intuitive mind churns up feelings that determine our position. Our rational mind then constructs a narrative that explains to us what we think and why we think it.

Another is The Unpersuadables: Adventures with the Enemies of Science by Will Storr (Overlook Press, 2014). The book is framed as an exploration into the world of people who believe nutty things — creationism, UFO abductions, etc. But it turns into an introspective analysis of why anyone believes anything, which is much more interesting. Storr draws a lot on Haidt’s research and that of other psychologists and sociologists.

This is a genuinely engrossing book. As a journalist Storr’s “beat,” so to speak, is crazy people. He travels around interviewing people who embrace unorthodox views, including diagnosed schizophrenics who choose to live with their voices rather than take meds. But as he does so, the gap between “sane” and “crazy” gets narrower and narrower as he finds people on the “orthodox” side whose opinions are just as flimsily put together as that of the crazies.

See also Doug J at Balloon Juice:

One of my favorite twists on this is the Very Serious Person who dismisses all his critics as uninformed partisans, but then screams LIBERAL ELITISM when anyone points out, say, that ignorance of where the Crimea is located correlates with support for US military involvement there.

The whole Very Serious Person thing is based on the fantasy that there is a class of people whose understanding of everything is correct because they are Very Serious People, and everything they believe collectively (like, government austerity will boost the economy) is self-evidently the only serious view. And no amount of evidence shakes them, because they are Very Serious People. But really, they believe what they believe because it feels good.

Storr writes,

As Professor Leon Festinger and his co-researchers into confirmation bias found: when confronted by a new fact, we feel an instantaneous, emotional hunch that pulls us in the direction of an opinion. We then look for evidence that supports our hunch until we hit the ‘make sense stopping rule,’ and our thinking ceases. Our mind completes the process by fooling us into believing that we have made an objective survey of the arguments, then gives us a pleasurable neurochemical hit of feeling as a reward.

I think this is exactly true (heh), and we all do it, and maybe the only difference between wise and stupid is the degree to which we are aware that this is what we’re really doing when we form opinions.

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