Browsing the blog archives for February, 2014.


Unhinged

Obama Administration

Linking to this without further comment, except to say it made me laugh.

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Sticking It to Blue States

Obama Administration

Yesterday Republicans came out with a tax reform plan that Jonathan Chait says isn’t that bad, or at least, isn’t stupid. Chait may just be astonished that a Republican can so much as tie his shoes. He admits the plan isn’t likely to raise revenue (why bother?).

The New York Times and Sahil Kapur at Talking Points Memo point to an interesting feature of the Republican plan — in effect, it raises taxes in blue states. Red states, not so much.

It does this in two ways. One, it would o longer allow people to subtract what they pay for state and local taxes from their tax bills. Who pays state income taxes? Who pays substantial local taxes? Blue state dwellers and city folks, that’s who.

Families making $450,000 and above would pay 35 percent instead of the current 39.6 percent, which is a tax cut, like they needed another one. But the mortage interest deduction would be limited, to make up for it. The NY Times says,

One big break that would be affected is the mortgage-interest deduction. By limiting it to $500,000, the plan would hurt many middle-class families that must borrow more than that to afford a house in expensive markets like New York. Even worse, it would repeal the deduction for state and local taxes, a deliberate attempt to make it more difficult for “blue” states to provide the services and safety-net protections that they have decided are necessary.

Mr. Camp’s plan is open about this intention: “This deduction redistributes wealth to big-government, high-tax states from small-government, low-tax states.”

Huh? It doesn’t redistribute anything. The low tax-states are getting more federal benefits than they pay in taxes, courtesy of the high-tax states. You’d think they’d be thankful.

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Bitcoin Bust?

economy

I have never understood bitcoins and why they aren’t Monopoly money that people choose to take seriously, because why. But then, I could argue that “real” money is no different. Finance is an elaborate fantasy, as far as I’m concerned. It affects us only because we’ve all agreed to play along.

I take it bitcoins have a libertarian appeal, in that they aren’t subject to awful government regulation or taxes. But then, aren’t these the same people who want to return to the gold standard? Whatever.

Apparently hackers have been draining a major bitcoin site for months and redirecting millions of actual dollars’ worth of the whatever they are, amounting to 6 percent of all the bitcoins in the world. So lots of people have lost a ton of money, or “money.” Because they are unregulated, they are also unprotected.

Paul Krugman:

Bitcoin was, of course, created in part to cater to libertarian dreams – to provide a way to store your wealth where governments can’t steal it through taxation or currency debasement.

And it’s true! Thanks to Bitcoin, you can instead have your wealth stolen by private hackers.

D’oh!

The Austrian-school-bots at Reason think this is just a minor setback for bitcoins. And if enough of them think that way, it probably is, because it’s all Tinkerbelle. Bitcoins will life as long as there are those who believe.

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Another Obamacare Horror Story Debunked

Obama Administration

With a hat tip to Moonbat, please see this Los Angeles Times article by Michael Hiltzik about yesterday’s “Obamacare is killing my mother” story.

Hiltzik analysis reveals, as I suspected, that Stephen Blackwood’s mother isn’t having a problem with “Obamacare”; she’s having a problem with the private insurance industry. We still don’t know why Blue Cross dumped Mother’s policy, but the most likely reason is that Blue Cross chose to dump her and gave Obamacare as the excuse. Her issues with her difficulties in navigating the insurance market are in large part because Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell deliberately made it that way. The issue about Humana not covering the cancer meds has nothing whatsoever to do with Obamacare. That’s an issue with Humana and Humana’s deceptive sales reps.

Another interesting tidbit, from a commenter — the author Stephen Blackwood, is the “president of Ralston College,” but Ralston College doesn’t actually exist. Blackwood is in the process of raising money to build it. That doesn’t make Blackwood a bad person, of course. But we really don’t know anything about Blackwood.

Hiltzik’s conclusion:

That does point to a problem with Obamacare, just not the one Stephen Blackwood and the Wall Street Journal think it does. The problem is that the Affordable Care Act not only left commercial insurers at the center of our healthcare system, but strengthened their grip on coverage. Many of the problems that have cropped up with the ACA are reflections of the private industry’s role, including its lousy customer service.

There’s no question that confusion and complexity still govern America’s healthcare system. But for millions of Americans, there’s less of that, and more fairness, than there was before the ACA. Judging from her son’s op-ed, Catherine Blackwood is still getting her cancer treatment, with the exception of a decision about medication that Humana should be ashamed about.

Blackwood wrote that “it is precisely because health care for 300 million people is so complicated that it cannot be centrally managed.” But the ACA is the exact opposite of “centrally managed” healthcare. In fact, as advocates of a single-payer system argue, if it were centrally managed, it might work better.

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Premeditated Incompetence

Obama Administration

The Wall Street Journal is running a sob story about how “Obamacare is killing my mother,” and I’m calling bullshit.

The story in brief: Mother has cancer. Needs specific medicines. Old Blue Cross/Blue Shield policy was expensive, but it was paying for the medicines. It was a “terrific plan.” In November, Blue Cross cancelled policy, blamed Obamacare. Mother finds the exchange in her state (Virginia) was not working. Got on the phone to private insurance companies, got jerked around, just found out new policy doesn’t cover the meds. Blame Obama.

Articles of Bullshit:

1. Why was the Blue Cross/Blue Shield policy “illegal” under the ACA if it was that great? The only policies actually canceled by the ACA were those with gaps in what they covered. Was Blue Cross dumping Mother as a patient and blaming Obamacare, when in fact it was Blue Cross’s decision?

2. Viginia doesn’t have its own state exchange. The federal site was working by December. Why didn’t they use it?

3. The rest of the article amounts to how Mother was jerked around by private insurance companies she contacted directly, not “Obamacare.” Humana told her things were covered that turned out not to be covered, she said. I’ve had the same thing happen to me dealing with insurance companies, but this was back during the Clinton Administration. Obamacare traveling back in time?

Why does the new policy not cover her cancer meds, when the old “illegal” one did? That’s highly suspicious. Is it that the policy has substandard pharmaceutical coverage, or is there a deductible to be met, or what? And they’ve still got time, so why not get on the exchange now and see if they could do better?

Of course they won’t, because whining is so much more fun. See also Krugman.

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Deep State

Obama Administration

If you haven’t read it already, be sure to see “Anatomy of the Deep State” at Moyers and Company. See also Juan Cole’s critique, which makes some good points.

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The Every Operative for Himself Party

Republican Party

Republicans are great at attracting money, but they don’t seem to know what to do with it.

Democrats had the help of a major ally in the quest to modernize their campaigns: unions. The labor movement might seem like an odd generator of cutting-edge tactics but, squeezed by declining membership and funds, it has turned into an innovation factory for the party. Michael Podhorzer, the AFL-CIO’s political director, was a founder of the Analyst Institute, a group dedicated to testing the best methods for voter contact and persuasion.

Republicans don’t hurt for allies. But many of them, like the Karl Rove-founded super PAC American Crossroads and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, follow a simple formula: Raise a bunch of money and spend it on TV ads. It’s not exactly a revolutionary way to conduct campaigns. “What is the third-party group that is equivalent to the labor movement on our side?” Lundry asked. “Is it the chamber? Probably not.”

Unlike unions, those GOP-leaning groups don’t invest much in the ground game, which, to many GOP operatives who do work in the field, is part of a bigger problem. The GOP’s political class simply doesn’t value that kind of work, even if it’s increasingly important in the 21st century.

Most young Republican operatives view organizing as a mere entry point to a career that will eventually lead to bigger, and better-paying, gigs. “Democrats actually set up and train people to think about those jobs as careers,” said Brian Stobie, a partner at the GOP data-management firm Optimus. “A field-organizing roll can be a career over there. In our world, it’s a $27,000-a-year job you can’t wait to get out of.”

This is a fascinating article, but it seems to me even the Republicans who are trying to “change the culture” are still oblivious about what their real problems are. For example:

A few GOP consultants say the party’s conservative philosophy hinders the sharing of its best ideas—both with other Republican campaigns and within individual campaigns themselves. “We are so individualistic on the Republican side, both in our philosophy and policy,” Harris said. “It definitely bleeds over into how we are managing and structuring campaigns. And we have to break that.”

This is BS. The problem is not that they are too “individualistic.” The problem is that they are too “narcissistic.” It’s not the same thing.

Young Democrats are working for something. They’re working for economic justice, racial and gender equality, reproductive and marriage rights, the planet itself.

What are young Republicans working to achieve, other than winning elections? What noble cause can they dedicate themselves to? Other than some people (preferably them ) getting rich? Some of them are working against economic justice, racial and gender equality, etc., of course. But for them it all boils down to maintaining the privileges of the privileged, in hopes of being privileged themselves, if they aren’t already.

If it doesn’t occur to them to innovate or share information, it’s probably because, deep down, they don’t give a bleep about anyone but themselves. So they’re given a task, such as raising X amount of money or electing X candidate, and they’ll work to do that, but without inspiration, purpose and idealism it won’t occur to them to innovate or see the bigger picture beyond their particular task. Because people who innovate and who are always looking for ways to serve the larger cause have to have a larger cause to serve first.

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Christian Rights — How Far Will They Go?

Obama Administration

Yesterday I mentioned the Right’s new pretty shiny thing, which is a claim that Christians are persecuted when they are not granted exclusive, special rights to discriminate against gays and ignore health insurance regulations. As ridiculous as that is, given the current makeup of the Supreme Court, it wouldn’t surprise me if the justices conceded those rights. But there’s a situation in Louisiana that may push the issue over a line even Antonin Scalia himself may have to hold his nose to cross.

This is something I wrote about a few days ago on the other blog. A 6th grade teacher in a Louisiana public school has been using her classroom to indoctrinate children into creationism, 6,000-year-old earth and all. In a brilliant example of Peak Stupid, she actually said that if evolution were true, apes would still be turning into humans today.

One of the students, identified as C.C., is a Buddhist boy adopted from Thailand. Well, here’s what happened, according to Raw Story:

One test she gave to students asked: “ISN’T IT AMAZING WHAT THE _____________ HAS MADE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” The correct answer was “Lord,” but C.C. wrote in something else. Roark responded by scolding the boy in front of the entire class.

When informed that C.C. was a Buddhist and therefore didn’t believe in God, Roark allegedly responded, “you’re stupid if you don’t believe in God.”

On another accusation, she allegedly described both Buddhism and Hinduism as “stupid.”

Certainly, this teacher would know stupid. And then when the parents complained to the superintendent, the superintendent told them that maybe they should transfer the boy to another school, particularly one with more Asians.

For some perplexing reason (/snark), the ACLU has sued.

Now, here’s the update: Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal is more or less saying that if the court’s stifle the teacher, this would be a violation of the teacher’s rights of free expression. His office issued this statement:

“Religious freedom is foundational to liberty in America. In this case, the plaintiffs are alleging violations of the establishment clause not the free exercise clause. We don’t want to comment on this particular case before hearing the defendant’s side of the story, but as a general rule, government needs to be very careful before making decisions that restrict any American’s religious freedoms.”

I’m sure I’ve said before that conservatives like to pretend the establishment clause isn’t there, or is somehow lesser to the free exercise clause, although in fact without the establishment clause the free exercise clause isn’t worth much. Certainly, the child being coerced into expressing belief in God by a government employee is not having his free exercise rights respected, is he?

A few days earlier, Jindal gave a speech claiming there is a “silent war” on religious liberty.

“This war is waged in our courts and in the halls of political power. It is pursued with grim and relentless determination by a group of like-minded elites, determined to transform the country from a land sustained by faith — into a land where faith is silenced, privatized, and circumscribed.

I like the part about religion being “privatized.” That’s bad? Republicans want Medicare and Social Security, government programs, to be privatized, but religion — which is supposed to be every citizen’s own damn business, not the government’s — is to become a function of government? Is that what he’s saying?

Their vision of America is not the vision of the Founding. It’s not even the vision of ten years ago. It’s a vision in which an individual’s devotion to Almighty God is accorded as much respect as a casual hobby — and with about as many rights and protections.

Like this founding father, Jindal? And how about protecting C.C. from having to swear belief in God to get along with his teacher? Are you saying the government’s public “rights” override the rights of a citizen?

These elites have to this point faced little opposition – a non-profit here, a dedicated attorney there, a small business over there. A handful of principled organizations with the courage to stand up to the crushing weight of a liberal consensus unalterably opposed to their participation in the public square. They are the remnant who have the temerity to believe in America and its promises — and to do something about it.

What participation in the public square? You can participate all you like; just don’t try to use government to push your religious beliefs on others.

Seriously, I think this needs to be hung around the neck of the whole GOP. Whose rights do you support? C.C.’s or the teacher’s?

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Glorious Martyrdom

Obama Administration

The Right is rallying around a new pretty shiny thing, which is seeing themselves as victims of religious persecution. They are not being allowed to discriminate against gay people and deny birth control coverage to employees. It’s just like being fed to lions!

I say, if this is what they want to go with, let ’em. These days, I think more people sympathize with gays than with fundamentalists. And if Mike Huckabee wants to argue that women are insulted when Democrats try to ease their access to birth control — well, let him. Please proceed, governor.

See Ed Kilgore, “The Central Flaw in Hobby Lobby’s Suit” and Garrett Epps, “Will the Roberts Court Follow Its Own Religious-Freedom Precedent?

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All Smoke, No Fire

Obama Administration

First, The Book is up to about 38,000 words now. Chapter 7 is about half done and Chapter 8 is yet to go. It’s a good thing I didn’t realize what a project this would turn out to be or I wouldn’t have started.

OK, where was I … wingnuts say many things that, on the surface, make no sense. Well, they don’t make sense, period, but it’s not hard to ascertain why the nonsensical thing is being said, anyway.

One of their more nonsensical claims is that climate change is a hoax being promoted for profit. Exactly how 97 percent of climate scientists could be in on this hoax is never explained, but whatever. I found a great example of right-wing literature on this subject that skillfully combines innuendo and guilt by association to make what feels like proof of climate change profiteering, but which doesn’t actually document climate change profiteering.

Bret Stephens writes at the Wall Street Journal that John Kerry’s recent speech on climate change included a quote from somebody named Maurice Strong. Strong is a Canadian who has been in leadership positions in some climate advocacy organizations, plus other organizations. He was a director at the World Economic Forum for a time, for example. Stephens says that in 2005 while Strong may or may not have been on a UN panel about something that appears to have nothing to do with climate change (Stephens’s wording doesn’t make this clear) accepted a check for almost a million dollars from a South Korean businessman with a history of bribing people, and this businessman was then sent to jail for attempting to bribe UN officials for something that had nothing to do with climate change, and Strong himself was cleared of wrongdoing. But, my goodness, that’s a lot of smoke, isn’t it? And this makes John Kerry a bad person. Stephens continues,

The secretary devoted much of his speech to venting spleen at those in the “Flat Earth Society” who dispute the 97% of climate scientists who believe in man-made global warming. “We should not allow a tiny minority of shoddy scientists and science and extreme ideologues to compete with scientific fact,” he said. Once upon a time people understood that skepticism was essential to good science. Now Mr. Kerry is trying to invoke a specious democracy among scientists to shut down democratic debate for everyone else.

This is of a piece with the amusing notion that the only thing standing in the way of climate salvation is a shadowy, greedy and powerful conspiracy involving the Koch Brothers, MIT’s Dick Lindzen, Oklahoma Sen. Jim Inhofe and this newspaper’s editorial page. Oh, the power!

And yet there goes Mr. Kerry extolling Mr. Strong, who really does stand at the obscure intersection of public policy, private profits and the climate science that joins the two. “I have to disclose my own association with this process in my earlier role in the United Nations negotiations which established the basis for the development of these new [market] opportunities,” Mr. Strong said in a 2007 speech, noting his roles in the Chicago Climate Exchange and the China Carbon Corporation.

There is innuendo so thick it can be cut with a knife. But Stephens never actually says how Strong is personally enriching himself by promoting climate change science. Nobody is denying that many climate change acceptors are encouraging climate-change related business opportunities as one way to combat climate change. Everyone’s been pretty open about that, actually.

If George W. Bush had left office and immediately joined the boards of defense contractors building MRAPs for Iraq, hard questions would be raised. When Maurice Strong, Al Gore and other climate profiteers seek to enrich themselves from policies they put into place while in office, it scarcely raises an eyebrow.

When was Maurice Strong in elected office? Exactly how are he and Al Gore seeking to enrich themselves from policies they put into place? Which policies, exactly? How are Strong and Gore making money? Other than from Al Gore’s documentary, I don’t know how Al Gore is directly making money from the climate change issue. Maybe he is, but Stephens doesn’t explain it. In the final paragraphs he hints darkly that Strong, Gore, and others are involved in “carbon-trading schemes” and the sustainable energy “craze,” which of course are economic disasters, but if so, how are Strong and Gore making money from them?

And Mr. Stephens seems not to have thought the implications of believing that energy cannot be sustainable.

This is classic stuff, I tell you. Joe McCarthy himself couldn’t have done a better job.

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