Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Republican Masquerade

Thursday, November 6th, 2014

It appears that the Republican strategy of obstruction has finally paid off.

The media narrative prior to the elections was all about Obama’s historically low approval ratings. There were only two other president’s in recent history with lower approval ratings at this point in their Presidency – Reagan and Bush II. Both of them also lost control of congress in their 6th year in office.

What the media didn’t say was that Congressional approval ratings were at RECORD low levels – 12.7% with a disapproval rating above 80%.

Roughly 30% more of the country approved the job that Obama is doing than approved the job that Congress is doing.

Yet, even though Congress was up for re-election, Republicans successfully made Obama the focus of their campaign – again.

How did that happen?

I think that there were three inter-related forces at work.

First is simple math. There were more Democratic seats in play in states that Romney won in 2012 than Republican seats in states that Obama won.

Second, the coalition that elected Obama in 2012 did not turn out the in same numbers in 2014.

Third, Democrats in close races ran away from Obama and his policies. Republicans in those same states ran away from the Tea Party.

Here’s how all of that played out.

Simple math convinced Obama and the Democratic Party to play small ball. Rather than allow this to become the same referendum on Obama’s policies that has occurred in every federal election since 2008, the Democrats in battleground states tried to make this about local issues. They were so terrified of Republicans waving the “Obama” flag that they simply tried to change the subject. Rather than provide voters the “red meat” debate on principles that they were asking for, the Democratic Party served a selection of small issue hors d’oeuvres. The voters rejected this tactic and the Democrats lost.

Instead of talking about Medicaid expansion, minimum wage, or meaningful gun control, red state Democrats tried to paint their Republican candidates with the banner of Tea Party extremism. They talked about gridlock, failure to invest in the middle class, and accountability for things like the government shutdown. The problem is that midterm elections are generally about paycheck issues and none of those issues resonated.

The Democratic base IS traditionally difficult to turn out in non-Presidential years. If you want them to come to the polls, you have to give them a reason. That reason could have been a full throated defense of progressive principles. It could have been an appeal to all of those people who HAVE benefited from Obamacare. That would have required their Republican opponent to explain to all those who have gained coverage under Obamacare, what would happen to their coverage if a Republican got elected. Even Mitch McConnell, who vowed to uproot Obamacare “root and branch”, was forced to admit that Kynect, Kentucky’s implementation could stay because it is very popular with Kentucky voters. The Washington Post fact checkers said,

Ultimately, then, McConnell’s statements make little sense unless he has a specific plan that would allow Kentuckians who currently have insurance to retain it. He relies on narrow technical details that have a ring of truth—the grants for the Web site have ended; the Kynect Web site could continue; Medicaid expansion was a decision by the governor. But he leaves the big picture—What is his replacement plan?—completely empty.

Thus his statements are a bit slick and misleading. If he wants to rip out Obamacare “root and branch,” then he has to explain what he would plant in the health-insurance garden instead. Otherwise his assurances on the future have little credibility. He earns Three Pinocchios.

Because his opponent Allison Grimes failed to engage on principles, defend Obama, and defend Obamacare – she had little standing to call him on this lie. Instead she tried to portray herself as more of a Kentuckian that McConnell. She lost.

It could have been a discussion of how Republican obstructionism has slowed economic growth and damaged the middle class. Instead of portraying themselves as staunch defenders of the poor and middle class, many of the Democratic candidates talked about their willingness to make deals.

Just to make sure they got elected, Republicans ran just as hard away from the Tea Party and toward the center. Here are some examples.

57% of Arkansas voters supported Republican Tom Cotton for Senate, but 69% supported an increase in minimum wage which Cotton also supported. Same thing in South Dakota and Nebraska.

Colorado defeated a “personhood” ballot proposal and elected Republican Cory Gardner to the Senate. Gardner had supported personhood legislation in the past, but in this close election said he had changed his mind and also supported over-the-counter birth control. He narrowly defeated incumbent Mark Udall who tried to make women’s issues the centerpiece of his campaign.

The final results aren’t in from Alaska, but there was a minimum wage measure on the ballot there too. Republican Senate candidate Dan Sullivan had opposed raising the minimum wage, but changed his position in this campaign.

Republican candidates in Georgia and Virginia criticized high poverty rates. The victorious Republican candidate for Governor in Georgia ran in part on his accomplishments in reducing the number of incarcerated black men in Georgia. Victorious Republican Senate candidate James Lankford in Oklahoma railed against income inequality, as did the Republican senate candidate in Louisiana. The new Republican governor in Illinois said taxes should target businesses rather than “low-income working families”.

Republicans, at least in part, won by distancing themselves from more radical positions associated with the Tea Party. They not only masqueraded as moderates, they openly embraced traditional Democratic positions that would have been heresy in 2010. And they won.

This great irony was pointed out by Sally Kohn in the Daily Beast.

Republicans ran as Democrats—and voters endorsed Democratic ideals both in voting for those masquerading Republicans, and in backing liberal ballot measures. For progressives, that—plus the fact that, thanks to these ballot measures, thousands of hard-working Americans are going to get a much needed basic raise—is about as silver as the lining on this election is going to get.

Crazy Train – 2014

Tuesday, October 28th, 2014

We are witnessing the inevitable consequences of making science optional.

Exhibit 1 – Ebola

Ebola is a virus that was originally identified in 1976. Fruit bats may be the carrier. They aren’t affected.

Humans are.

There have been approximately 10 outbreaks of the disease, all in Africa, over the last 40 years.

The most recent outbreak has been by far the most serious.

Like many other diseases caused by a virus, there is no cure.

This virus, however, is relatively difficult to transmit. You have to actually consume some body fluid from an infected person during the period of time that they are exhibiting symptoms in order to contract the virus. Because the symptoms are so debilitating, those most likely to contract the disease are those providing care to those who already have the disease.

The common flu, which infects and kills WAY more people every year than Ebola, mutates regularly and is airborne. You only have to breathe the same air that was recently sneezed into by a flu victim in order to catch their flu.

Ebola, while exhibiting dreadful symptoms, is relatively easy to contain. Just wash your hands.

The reason that it spreads in Africa is because living conditions are primitive, cities are crowded, hygiene is difficult to maintain, there is little health care infrastructure, a shortage of clean water, and burial customs involve families touching the corpse.

The reason it won’t spread in any more advanced country is because people DO wash their hands, there is clean water, there are fully staffed hospitals, governments are able to isolate the infected, quarantine those that have been exposed, and people generally refrain from touching a corpse if they suspect it may be diseased.

Unfortunately conservative Republicans cannot refrain from dragging this “corpse” through the public square with a big sign that says “be afraid of foreigners”.

Exhibit 2 – Beheadings

The Islamic State has figured out how to manipulate the west again.

They kill a handful of people in a gruesome barbaric way and the US fires up the engine of war again and sends it chugging back into the Middle East to the tune of $22M a day.

Over 33K people die on our roads every year. Many of these deaths are just as gruesome. The only difference is that they are not broadcast on YouTube and they are mostly accidents, not homicides.

There are almost as many gun deaths in this country every year too. Many of these deaths are just as gruesome as the ISIL videos. Few of the gun deaths are posted to YouTube, but most of them are intentional homicides.

The bottom line is that you are 33K times more likely to get killed by a car or a gun than you are to be beheaded by a terrorist. Yet we aren’t spending $22M a day to make our roads safer. We certainly aren’t spending $22M a day to reduce gun violence.

The reason we are terrified of ISIL is the same reason we are terrified of Ebola.

Fox News tells us we should be afraid of them because there is a Democrat in the White House and an election in two months.

It is boogyman politics at its worst.

You have a greater chance of being struck by lightning or bitten by a shark than you have contracting Ebola or being beheaded by a jihadist.

This is exactly the reaction ISIL was hoping for because their lifeblood is new recruits. The best way to get recruits is to pick a fight with the west. And we are happy to accommodate because Republicans have a chance to take over the Senate.

David Brooks calls it contagious hysteria.

He blames it on our polarized segmented society. People are choosing to live near those who share their political beliefs. They only talk with those who share their beliefs. They only listen to news sources that echo their beliefs.

People who feel alienated from the leadership class distrust the institutions of those leaders, whether it is political, cultural, or scientific. As a result we see a dramatic increase in parents who refuse to vaccinate their kids because they fear autism. We see junk science and conspiracy theories carry as much weight as sound peer-reviewed academic research. We see a general erosion in the confidence in government regardless of who is in charge, and the ability for the democratic process to effect any substantive change.

Add to this already toxic mix, a partisan broadcast media pursuing a business model that feeds on crisis, dissension, and demonization. Fox and MSNBC are the modern day Savonarola leading the mob in pursuit of those responsible for the plague.

The true weakness is not in our institutions. It is in us.

Fix the Roads

Friday, September 12th, 2014

The elder Mayor Daley’s political credo was that as long as you picked up the garbage, plowed the snow, and fixed the roads, Chicago voters wouldn’t care what other political shenanigans went on. He was a practical politician in a city that famously “worked”.

The same can’t be said for the current state of Michigan. Even though Republicans control the Senate, the House, and the Governor’s mansion; they can’t seem to come up a plan to fund road reconstruction.

This is not a new problem.

The whole country went into recession in 2001 but the Michigan economy didn’t start growing again until 2009. Road funding suffered during that period of time as did funding for many public services.

Then there is the general trend of more efficient vehicles. That means the state is effectively getting less money in fuel taxes per mile driven on the roads. Michigan is not, however, the only state with that problem.

Last year’s severe winter, however, elevated Michigan’s problem to a crisis.

Experts say that many of the deteriorating roads in the state have now passed the point where they can be effectively repaired. Instead they must be completely rebuilt.

The estimated additional cost to simply keep the current situation from getting worse is somewhere around $1B.

The cost to bring the roads back to a national standard is twice that.

Part of the problem in Michigan is that we have some of the lowest tolls and fines for overweight vehicles in our part of the country. We charge overweight vehicles a $50 flat fee while all of the surrounding states charge fees based on weight, mileage, and even bridges crossed. This situation is part of the “friendly” auto manufacturing climate that has grown up in this state over decades.

Paradoxically, Michigan also has the sixth highest gas taxes in country.

But it ranks last in per capita road spending.

That’s because, at least in Michigan, the sales tax on gas goes into the general fund rather than the road fund.

While this makes funding more challenging, the basic realities remain. The state has to spend significantly more money on the roads than it has been spending. Fortunately the citizens in Michigan recognize this and overwhelmingly support increased taxes to fix the roads.

The solution is obvious. You’ve got to raise taxes on somebody to generate another $1B – $2B in revenue. So why isn’t it getting done?

In simplest terms – Ideology

The republican legislative majorities occurred during the Tea Party wave election of 2010.

They are now faced with the reality that there is no practical way to fund the roads without raising taxes. They already cut funding to schools and eliminated senior citizen state tax breaks to fund a billion dollar business tax reduction – knowing that they still had this issue to deal with.

The governor, to his credit, put a tax hike proposal on the table.

So did the Republican Senate Majority leader, who happens to be term limited and as a result can’t run for election again.

They all received the support of the Democrats, but all failed to get sufficient Republican votes to pass.

It is now so bad, that the Senate Majority Leader has admitted that he is out of ideas.

“We’ve come close to getting the votes necessary to fix this longstanding problem. But quite frankly, we’re looking at all ideas now – newer ideas,” said Richardville. “And we’re not afraid to entertain anything from anyone.”

So faced with a real crisis regarding Michigan roads and the prospect of another brutal winter that will damage even more roads beyond the point of repair, Tea Party Republicans refuse to vote for any plan that raises taxes or fees on anybody.

I can’t think of any clearer example of the folly of the ideology that has overtaken the Republican Party. There are consequences to a philosophy that believes no tax can be justified and economic growth will offset any loss of revenue. It is impossible for economic growth to generate sufficient additional tax revenue to solve this problem. The deteriorating roads are impacting economic growth today preventing the promised stimulation from low business taxes.

As Mayor Daley understood, voters expect government to provide a set of basic services. Voters are also wise enough to realize that they have to pay for these services.

Hopefully voters will recognize that this party is unable to govern because of their “no tax” philosophy and vote them out.

Combating Fundamentalism

Saturday, August 30th, 2014

Islamic Fundamentalism has reared its ugly head again in the Middle East.

This latest version is so radical and violent that the established radical and violent fundamentalist movements have disavowed it. So that checks the first box of the well-worn conservative criticism of Islam. Other Muslims ARE speaking out against this latest perversion of their religion.

ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) or ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and Levant) was born in the ugly proxy war going on in Syria. It has its roots in the AQI (Al-Qaeda in Iraq) group that the US defeated in the Iraq war in what has been called the Awakening Movement. It has gained some traction in Iraq lately because of the failure of the al-Maliki government to share power with Sunni’s. Their military leaders come from Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath party that was ousted in the overthrow the Iraq government.

ISIS forces have been bolstered by up to 3000 foreign fighters. Somewhere around 1000 came from Chechnya. Another 500 have come from Europe (primarily France and Britain). Sunni prisoners freed from areas in Iraq and Syria that ISIS controls also have added to their forces.

ISIS is primarily internally funded. None of the claims for connections to Qatar or Saudi Arabia have been proven. They fund themselves through extortion, kidnapping, and looting the resources of the areas that they occupy. Since that includes oil and electric power that they control in northern Syria, they have sufficient financing to fund their operations.

Between Saddam’s weapons stockpiles that were left unguarded during the US invasion, weaponry captured in Syria, and US weaponry left behind as US forces left; ISIS does not appear to need an outside arms supplier to accomplish its military goals either.

Conservatives like McCain and Graham are advocating a military solution. They haven’t said how they will finance it. The current air strikes in Iraq cost approximately $7.5M a day. They also acknowledge that:

It is a truism to say there is no military solution to ISIS. Any strategy must, of course, be comprehensive. It must squeeze ISIS’ finances. It requires an inclusive government in Baghdad that shares power and wealth with Iraqi Sunnis, rather than pushing them toward ISIS. It requires an end to the conflict in Syria, and a political transition there, because the regime of President Bashar al-Assad will never be a reliable partner against ISIS; in fact, it has abetted the rise of ISIS, just as it facilitated the terrorism of ISIS’ predecessor, Al Qaeda in Iraq. A strategy to counter ISIS also requires a regional approach to mobilize America’s partners in a coordinated, multilateral effort.

Let’s parse this a little more.

As listed above, it is going to be difficult to “squeeze ISIS’ finances” because they are not dependent on outside sources of income. They also have a healthy kidnapping industry that generates hundreds of millions of dollars a year in worldwide ransom payments. The US and Britain are the only governments refusing to pay ISIS ransom demands.

It is hard to imagine what additional pressure the US can exert on Baghdad to form a more equitable government. We accelerated our troop withdrawal in part because Baghdad refused to reform itself.

It is unclear what else the international community could do to “end the conflict in Syria”. Syria is a client state of Russia. The international community has been unable to keep Russia from dismantling Ukraine using its own soldiers. What could the US or the international community do that they haven’t already done, short of military action, which would cause the Russians to act differently in Syria?

As far as military action is concerned, the US is able to carry out air strikes in Iraq at the request of the Iraqi government. How would that happen in Syria?

It is unlikely that we are going to get a request from Assad for help. If we did, accepting that request would legitimize the same government that we said no longer has a right to rule.

If we go in unilaterally, we are almost certainly going to cause a strong response from Russia. The nature of that response could lead to a much larger conflict that no one wants.

The ONLY way that we can justify any military action in Syria is with the overt support of the international community and the covert support of Russia. Last time I looked, there weren’t many in the international community supporting our much more modest efforts in Afghanistan. There isn’t much appetite among our friends to go another round in Iraq and Syria. The only way Russia is going to agree is if ISIS threatens the overthrow of the Syria government. While that may be ISIS’ long term plan, in the short term, ISIS is not expanding their territory in Syria. They are much more interested in Sunni sections of Iraq.

The larger truth is that, just as there was no military solution to Islamic fundamentalism in Iraq and Afghanistan – there is no military solution in Syria.

You don’t defeat an idea with a gun, particularly in revenge cultures like the Middle East. ISIS would like nothing more than a shooting war with the US. That helps validate their claim that the US is at war with Islam.

You can only defeat a bad idea with a better idea. That better idea is all of the western corruption and consumerism that fundamentalist Islam abhors. That better idea is equality between the sexes and economic opportunity. Those ideas have peacefully transformed China into a capitalist powerhouse. Those ideas are slowly dismantling the Islamic state that took power in Iran in 1979. Within a generation, those ideas will coopt and transform ISIS too. That’s because the children of these fighters, will be less willing to live the fundamentalist lifestyle than their zealous parents. They won’t fear or despise the west as a long as the west hasn’t spent the last 20 years killing their relatives.

The isolation strategy that eventually gave consumerism time to work its magic in Iran can also work in the new defacto Islamic State. They will find that governing is way less interesting to foreign jihadists than fighting. The west will find that isolating the Islamic State is going to be a far more effective strategy, even if we have to endure a small number of terrorist attacks, than attempting to defeat them militarily.

Root Cause – Ferguson Riots

Thursday, August 28th, 2014

The death in Ferguson of an unarmed teenager and subsequent unrest raise a couple of basic questions.

The first is obvious. There is no question that a police officer shot an unarmed citizen multiple times. The teenager died from his wounds. What happened in the moments leading up to gunshots being fired are still in dispute. We have a legal process that assumes that people are innocent until proven guilty. A grand jury has been empowered to determine whether or not the officer should face charges. Until that grand jury brings back a verdict, there is not much more useful to comment on the incident.

The other equally obvious question is why did the residents of Ferguson react as they did?

The sad reality is that police are killing people at the rate of about 400 a year for the past five years according to the FBI. These are “justified” homicides. There aren’t any FBI statistics on unjustified homicides where police offices are put on trial and found guilty of a homicide.

An independent report assembled from media, obits, and facebook pages provides a little more detail.

ferguson graphic 1

There are additional statistics from the Bureau of Justice Statistics that also have bearing.

44% of the contact that an African American has with the police is for a traffic stop. But African Americans are three times as likely as white drivers and two times as likely as Hispanic drivers to be searched during a traffic stop. Statistics also show that this higher rate of searches doesn’t result in the discovery of any more drugs or guns than the any other traffic stop.

These same statistics (compiled by fivethirtyeight.com) show that African Americans are three times as likely to be threatened by force during their encounters with police and twice as likely to actually have force used against them. A majority of those who reported force being used against them felt it was excessive. But the interesting final statistic is that when you break down all of those people who feel that they were subject to force, African Americans were the least likely of all of the racial divisions to regard that force as excessive.

ferguson graphic 2

But this is happening in communities across the country. Ferguson is no different than any of the larger cities profiled in these statistics. Why is it that only Ferguson burst into flames?

Here are some more statistics from Politfact.

Ferguson is 67% African American. Four decades ago Ferguson was 99% white.

The Ferguson police department is 94% white. The police chief is white. The mayor is white and the local prosecuting attorney is white. The judges are white. The school board is mostly white.

Even this isn’t that unusual in communities that have experienced rapid demographic changes. It takes a while for the new majority to assert itself politically.

Ferguson is special in a way not obvious from all of these statistics.

They are a classic speed trap complete with a predatory court system. But as the demographic in Ferguson changed, so did the targets for traffic enforcement. Instead of targeting out of towners, Ferguson targets its own population of poor African Americans. Fines and court fees are the second largest source of Ferguson’s revenue. According to a white paper by Arch City Defenders, in 2013 Ferguson Municipal Court issued 24,532 arrest warrants for unpaid fines in 12,018 cases. That is the equivalent of 3 warrants per Ferguson household.

How can that happen?

Because the court system is rigged to benefit those who can afford a lawyer and punish those who can’t. According to the report, “the bench routinely starts hearing cases 30 minutes before the appointed time and then locks the doors to the building as early as five minutes after the official hour, a practice that could easily lead a defendant arriving even slightly late receiving an additional charge for failure to appear.”

NPR goes on to report that those who can’t afford to pay the thousands of dollars in fines and fees associated with a single violation, are put on payment plans by the courts with interest rates sometimes as high as 12%. Even though the Supreme Court has ruled that people can’t be jailed for failing to pay their bills, Ferguson regularly issues arrest warrants for those who miss payments. It also requires those on payment plans to appear in court monthly. This inevitably results in missed court dates which create additional fines and arrest warrants. When people get arrested, they lose their jobs, which makes it all that much more difficult for them to pay their fines.

A community group has been organizing arrest warrant amnesties for these non-violent offenders. Earlier this month 3000 people in Ferguson, 15% of the total population of Ferguson, lined up to participate in the program.

The result is a deeply polarized and isolated community. Because so many residents of Ferguson have open arrest warrants, they fear getting stopped, resent the police, and feel imprisoned in their own homes.

“It’s a risk to go to the store,” says Ahmed. “Outside of that community, it’s a risk to go to any educational institution, to get a job, to go for job interviews. Especially since most of the jobs are maybe 5 to 10 miles away. So some of them just don’t even try anymore.”

The African American population in Ferguson not only distrust the police, but also the courts. They feel the system is deliberately rigged against them, and statistics suggest that it is.

It’s against this backdrop that two teenage African American boys were stopped by a white Ferguson police officer for walking in the street. They all knew what was going to happen next. The officer was going to check to see if the boys had any warrants. He would arrest them if they did, and issue them a jaywalking ticket if they didn’t. That ticket would cost each of them money that they didn’t have. They were going to end up in jail either way. These kids just kept walking. It may have been foolish, as young men often are, but they likely felt that they didn’t have many other choices. They challenged the police officer’s authority because they regarded it as illegitimate. According to one account, they also asked if he was going to shoot them for jaywalking – an obvious reference to Ferguson’s “speed trap” justice system. The officer responded by backing up his vehicle and confronting these two boys. That confrontation resulted in one of them being shot to death.

That death caused an outpouring of frustration, violence, and crime from a community that felt that it had no other options. Unfortunately, it is what humans around the world do when they feel their governments give them no other options.

That’s the root cause.

We believe in Science

Saturday, August 16th, 2014

“We believe in science, and that means that we have a responsibility to protect this Earth.” Elizabeth Warren

This was part of a longer list of progressive values that Elizabeth Warren listed in a July speech to Netroots Nation.

I agree with her list, but I thought it interesting to dig into why progressives believe in science. It might also be interesting to compare those beliefs with the implied opposing conservative view. Since this is just my opinion, I’ll change this perspective from “we” to “I”.

Why I believe in Science?

Science is inherently about the search for truth. While any human endeavor is vulnerable to bias, the scientific community celebrates revolutionary thought rather than suppressing it.

These claims are the result of the modern scientific method.

That method employs what we would now call crowd sourcing as a protection against bias.

Science, at least the hard sciences, depends on mathematics. Mathematics has no bias.

There are two types of scientists in the world – theoretical and experimental. Theoretical scientists rely on mathematics to create new models to explain or predict experimental results. Experimental scientists test these theories through experiments.

All scientists publish the results of their work in peer reviewed journals. The scientific community engages through these journals to verify the math, confirm experimental results, and comment on new theories.

If the math behind the theories survives review by independent groups, the theories gain credibility.

If the theories accurately predict experiment results, the theories gain credibility.

If the experimental results can be duplicated by independent groups, they gain credibility.

As theories gain support in the scientific community, more scientists engage in exploring the boundaries of those theories. As the experimental evidence accumulates and the boundaries of the theories emerge, those theories become accepted by a majority of the scientific community.

That’s where we are with climate science. The boundaries are still evolving, but the basic assumption that the current changes in climate that we are seeing are caused by human activity is accepted by 98% of those qualified to have an opinion.

I believe in science because I believe in the purity of mathematics and reliability of the peer-reviewed crowd sourced model.

Why do liberals believe in science?

The answer here is more nuanced.

The facts are that we are all fundamentally emotional decision makers. That’s what moral intuitionism is all about. The difference is that when it comes down to a choice, it is easier for liberals to alter their views in the face of contradicting facts than it is for conservatives.

We’ve also talked about how liberals and conservatives operate emotionally from two different sets of moral foundations. Liberals focus on fairness and care. Conservatives share those foundations but are also concerned about liberty, loyalty, authority, and sanctity.

Science is inherently fair. Liberals view science as a tool to determine how to best address the problems of those who need care and protection.

That isn’t to say that liberals don’t also have their biases and areas where these emotional moral foundation-based decisions cause them to be science deniers. Vaccinations, though not exclusively a liberal issue, is a good example.
Finally, studies also show that liberals are fundamentally accepting of change while conservatives fear it. If science has any bias, it is toward change. Scientists are motivated toward answering the unanswered questions. That inevitably leads to upending accepted theories and replacing them with new ones.

Why are conservatives science deniers?

Conservatives weren’t always science deniers. The coalitions created by Nixon and Reagan, aligned conservatives with Christian fundamentalism. Fundamentalist Christians ARE science deniers. The result has been the politicization of science because it calls into question beliefs that spring from a literal interpretation of the Bible.

Big Tobacco developed the political tools to cast doubt on mainstream science. It was the only way they could continue to sell a product that killed people. A long line of conservative political operatives have refined those tools to create wedge issues, build conservative coalitions, and attack liberalism.

Conclusion

Mathematics is one of the few things in our existence that is pure, absolute, and rational. That is not an indictment of emotion or belief. Science, because it is based on mathematics, simply stands in stark contrast to belief.

Those who attempt to base their lives on belief, for example, have no choice but to deny science. Science isn’t specifically attacking their beliefs. Science is simply creating theories to explain experimental evidence that is being discovered. Any damage that any particular belief suffers is generally unintended.

Here’s just a simple thought experiment to illustrate the point. If at some point in the future, science discovers that there WAS evidence of some “creative event” that could only be explained by intervention from a higher power, liberals would have no problem accepting that theory. Liberals would find themselves more closely aligned with conservative Christian beliefs on this particular topic. Atheists would then find themselves in the curious position of denying science in order to defend their position.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t work the other way and that’s the basic challenge of this age.

For liberals, science largely guides belief.

For conservatives, belief trumps science.

Magic Thinking and Personal Interest

Thursday, June 19th, 2014

We’ve talked about confirmation bias in the past and how we are all susceptible. Confirmation bias is when we accept those things that support our particular view of the world and reject those things which call that view into question. A version of this is Moral Intuition. That’s when we respond to a particular issue emotionally and then use our rational brain to create arguments supporting what we have already decided must be true because it aligns with our moral foundations.

These biases lead to Magic Thinking. That is when we invent or accept views completely unsupported by science or fact because this particular view is consistent with our world view.

Here’s an example of Magic Thinking.

God makes political choices
This is a simple one to work through. God, as described in the Bible, is all-loving, all-knowing, all-powerful, and perfect. He created us in His image and likeness which means in His eyes we are perfect too. He supplies our every need. So why would this God involve Himself in politics at all? It is akin to praying that God influence the outcome of a sporting event. Why would He bother? It is our responsibility to “work out our own salvation with fear and trembling”. Then Paul goes on to say, “For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” Events unfold to further God’s will, not to satisfy our own particular personal plan. That will is His desire for us to increase in grace and in our understanding of Him. So the unfolding of God’s plan is generally the path that does the most good and blesses everyone. There are no losers in God’s plan. Winning is strictly a human concept. It is Magic Thinking to expect a prayer for victory to be answered. A much more effective prayer is one that humbly seeks direction and alignment with the plan that is already in place for us.

Magic Thinking is dangerous for our democracy because it transforms important issues from facts to belief. Beliefs are highly emotional subjects. So any attempt to debate them is divisive. That’s because beliefs by their nature are personal. So when you question a belief, you are also calling into question the intelligence and honesty of the person holding that belief.

Some who seek to manipulate the public in order to advance their own agendas put a lot of effort into transforming political positions into beliefs.

Here are some other examples.

Climate Change
From a scientific perspective, there is wide agreement that the climate is changing and that the change is PRIMARILY caused by human activity. That doesn’t mean that all scientists agree on everything. There are certainly a small number of climate scientists who have dissenting views. It also doesn’t mean that the scientific models are perfect. They aren’t because our planet is a complex system. But those models continue to improve as climate scientists better understand how our planet is responding to the increased heat being retained by our atmosphere.

Magic Thinking claims that climate change is some sort of liberal conspiracy. The politics of personal interest is the best way to disprove that. Self interest in the scientific community is strongly biased toward disproving accepted theories. That’s how scientists make a name for themselves in their peer community. The scientific method REWARDS the person who is able to demonstrate that a popular theory is flawed. That reward is shared with those who can duplicate the experiments which support the new theory. In other words, a dissenting view supported by good research is always welcome in the scientific community.

There is also no proof that scientists who disagree with the generally accepted theories about climate change suffer financially. In fact, it is much the opposite. Those small number of dissenters from the majority view are richly rewarded for their positions by the powerful interests who oppose actions restricting the use of fossil fuels.

The politics of personal interest also provide a simple explanation for conservative opposition to any government actions to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. The majority of the money financing conservative politicians who deny climate change comes from organizations linked to the Koch Brothers. Their wealth is based on fossil fuels. Their personal interests are opposed to any restrictions on the use of fossil fuels.

They have successfully deployed the same techniques originally developed by the Tobacco Industry to create doubt and confuse science and belief. If anything, it is testimony to the ethics of the scientific community that most climatologists have resisted the temptations of participating in the lucrative practice of junk science.

Free Markets
The Magic Thinking here is that free markets can regulate themselves. So any failure for free markets to operate successfully is attributed to too much government intervention rather than companies that have become too big to fail.

The reality is that while it is certainly possible for government to overreach, there is no evidence that free markets can effectively operate without regulation.

The politics of personal interest are a reliable measure of where this argument came from too. Who stands to benefit the most from a deregulation? Those entities that had been previously regulated, their management, and their stock holders. Who back the conservative politicians who promoted the agenda of deregulation? The same group.

One need look no further than China for examples of how industries behave in economies where there are no regulations. The environment is polluted. Workplaces kill workers. Products kill customers.

The Magic Thinking is on the part of individuals who have been convinced by these larger monied interests that deregulation benefits them. Just ask the people in Charleston, West Virginia where “business friendly” state regulations allowed a toxic chemical storage facility to be built upstream from their drinking water intake pipes. Magic Thinking in this case is the Libertarian view that the marketplace will punish bad corporate behavior. The facts are that at least in our version of capitalism, short term profits always trump long term unfunded liabilities (externalities).

What happens instead is that the offending company profits from their bad behavior. Those profits flow to company management and shareholders. When the externalities finally catch up with the company, the real costs of production are revealed. The cost of the damage done to either the environment, the workers, or the customers far outweighs the assets of the company. The company declares bankruptcy and taxpayers are often left holding the bill. Lawyers may make a little money attempting to recover some costs from those who profited, but most of those profits are long gone and will never be recovered.

Immigration
Just like climate change, this country is facing an undeniable demographic reality. Our population is aging. If we fail to embrace immigration, we will suffer the same bleak economic outlook that Japan has been struggling with the past decade. Combine that with the major demographic shifts in the electorate that were the foundation for Obama’s two Presidential victories and Republicans are facing a stark choice. Either embrace immigration reform or die as a relevant national party.

The Magic Thinking is that conservative Republicans can continue to be a force in the House because of gerrymandering and the lower voter turnouts during off year elections. As long as they can retain that majority, they don’t need the White House or the Senate. They can do this by suppressing the vote, preventing immigrants from becoming citizens, playing wedge politics with their base, and outspending the opposition.

The reality is that conservatives are simply going to run out angry white voters. When they do, it will be hell to pay for the tactics that they employed to hold onto the power that they had.

Abortion
The facts are the no one can say when life begins. We can recognize when something is living, but there is no agreement when something starts living.

The rest of the facts are that Roe V. Wade did not decide when life begins. It also had nothing to do with personhood. It was decided based on the rights of the mother. Her rights take precedence until the point in time that the fetus can survive independently. There is NOTHING that the current right to life movement can do to change that perspective short of a constitutional amendment.

Magic Thinking, however, suggests that the Justices make a bad decision. They simply didn’t have the facts that we have today. If we just get some different justices on the bench, the decision will get reversed. It’s not going to happen.

The politics of self interest call into immediate question why this issue continues to fester for decades after this decision was made. The people who benefit from this continued controversy are the advocacy groups (for both sides) and the politicians who are able to raise money by aligning themselves with one group or the other. It is not unlike divorce lawyers to make their money asserting the rights of their client, when they know full well that judges are loath to give one parent sole custody of the children, support an inequitable property split, limit child support, or these days provide alimony. If both parties in a divorce were told what the likely settlement would be, they would start to work out the details on their own rather than invest money in lawyers attempting to “win”. The same is true here. No one will win. It will instead be a trench war that will only stop when the next generation refuses to continue to fund special interest groups.

The Poor
Poverty is a complicated subject. The facts are that programs like Social Security and Medicaid have dramatically reduced poverty among the elderly. We already dug into the economic costs of poverty and the benefits to reducing it.

The Magic Thinking, however, is that poverty is the fault of the poor. They must have made a bad decision somewhere in their lives for them to end up in the position that they now find themselves. As a result, any attempt to help them escape poverty does nothing to resolve the more fundamental character weakness that got them in this condition to begin with.

Ayn Rand has written the “Bible” for this particular form of Magic Thinking. The challenge is that those who advocate this gospel of “personal responsibility” and “greed is good” are also dealing in belief rather than fact.

Conclusion
Magic Thinking masks the politics of personal interest. Those special interests are well versed in the tactics required to transform political points of view into beliefs. Once a political position becomes part of an individuals belief system, they are no longer open to a fact based discussion. Those who embrace these beliefs will only accept the facts that support their beliefs. They will reject the facts that call those beliefs into question. They will defend their positions using the stock arguments of Moral Intuitionism. Those include media bias, conspiracy theories, flawed polling, and junk science.

The result is an increasingly polarized electorate, gridlocked government, and crumbling economic and physical infrastructure. The only times that we are able to make any changes are during the first two years of any new administration when the majority party can actually pass parts of their agenda by imposing their will on the minority.

This is no way to run a country.

The Crime of Poverty

Sunday, April 27th, 2014

There was a rich man who dressed in purple garments and fine linen and dined sumptuously each day. And lying at his door was a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who would gladly have eaten his fill of the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table. Dogs even used to come and lick his sores. When the poor man died, he was carried away by angels to the bosom of Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried, and from the netherworld, where he was in torment, he raised his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. Luke 16:19-23

There was a cost to income inequality even in Jesus time. This cautionary tale, however, seems to have been forgotten today, just as it was over 2000 years ago.

Income inequality is real and is larger now than in any other time in our industrialized history.

In practical terms, this is the result of government policies which favor the rich.

We’ve already discussed ways that income inequality can be reversed – primarily by reversing the government policies which caused its rise in the first place.

Let’s look for a moment at the other end of the spectrum – the real costs of poverty.

The direct result of concentrating more of the nation’s income in the hands of the wealthy is that less money is going into the hands of the poor.

Less money in the hands of the poor has caused an increase in crime, specifically homicides and robbery in poor neighborhoods. In the 2002 report entitled “Inequality and Violent Crime”, the World Bank says,

Income inequality … has a positive and significant effect on homicide rates … the results for robberies are similar to those for homicides.

AND

…when poverty falls … either because income growth rises or the distribution of income improves, then crimes rates tend to fall.

Seems a simple conclusion – poverty and crime are connected.

But the conservative response based on the “fairness” moral foundation, is that the poor are responsible for their own condition because of bad choices. If they break the law they should go to jail. The reality, however, is that our prisons are now overcrowded with people convicted mostly of non-violent minor drug crimes.

The United States has 25% of the world’s prisoners but only 5% of the world’s population. Incarceration rates over the last 20 years have risen while crime rates have dropped 40%. The direct taxpayer cost is $64B/year. The indirect costs are a generation of primarily minority men who are absent from their families and have difficulty finding work when they have served their time. That’s because, though drug use has no racial preference, 75% of the people in prison for non-violent drug offenses are black.

As a precursor to the rest of this discussion. It costs between $30K and $60K a year to house, feed, and guard each prisoner in our prison population. Roughly 50% of those released from prison will return within three years.

Criminologists have found that the single most effective tool to reduce recidivism is education. If we took the money that we are currently spending to keep non-violent offenders behind bars and spent it instead to provide support for them while they learned the skills necessary to secure a living-wage job, everyone benefits. Everyone, that is, except the corporations who profit from the prison industry.

The prison industry is only one example of the economic forces that are arrayed against the poor. The poor have no control over the economic bias that exists in this country. Their opportunity to change their circumstances is dramatically limited by violence, poor nutrition, poor schools, poor transportation, limited low wage jobs, single parent families, the high cost of child care, and all of the companies who have figured out how to profit from these conditions.

The conservative response is that we shouldn’t “reward” the poor for making bad decisions. Any attempt to level the playing field is regarded by many conservatives as “enabling” poverty rather than empowering the poor. The result is government programs “designed” to encourage work which actually punish the poor for having children. Support, for example, is tied to the number of children in the house rather than adults. But that support does not include the cost of child care and support is reduced by the amount of money earned. So many families find that when the costs of childcare are factored in, they can’t afford to work and also put food on the table. The supports are also not enough to allow one adult to work and the other to stay home with the children. The choice for many single mothers is to kick fathers, who may not be able to find a job because of past criminal records, out to support themselves while they stay home with the kids at least until they are old enough to go to school.

These programs could certainly be improved, But let’s look for just a moment at a more radical solution. What would it cost us as a country to simply eliminate poverty?

It is an intriguing idea. Just provide everyone sufficient support that they are no longer encumbered by the basic issues of survival in our society. Every adult, regardless of their background, is guaranteed a minimum stipend sufficient to support themselves.

In a September 2013 article for the American Prospect, Matt Bruenig stated:

Eradicating or dramatically cutting poverty is not the deeply complicated intractable problem people make it out to be. The dollars we are talking about are minuscule up against the size of our economy.

It would take only 1 percent of GDP, or a fourth of what we spend on defense every year, to lift every American below the poverty line up above it… In 2012, the number was $175.3 billion. That is how many dollars it would take to bring every person in the United States up to the poverty line.

What would happen if everyone in this country suddenly had enough to eat, had a safe place to live, and could afford to work and raise a family?

Violent crime rates would fall. That would save on what we currently invest in medical services, law enforcement, prison systems, and other civic support systems.

Corporations win because without poverty, Americans have more purchasing power. Democrats win because income inequality is credibly addressed. Republicans win due to a combination of reduced government costs and credible fiscal responsibility at all levels of income.

It is a simple, pay me now or pay me later, discussion. The challenge with this discussion, however, is that it touches the conservative moral foundation of “fairness”. Somebody getting something that they didn’t deserve.

Therein lies the fundamental challenge of our political age.

Conservatives believe that poverty in and of itself is a crime. Those who find themselves in poverty have no one but themselves to blame. The hardships associated with poverty are both a just punishment for bad choices as well as the disincentive that the poor need to change their circumstance.

If anyone doubts this, we need look no further than those who defended Mitt Romney after his famous “47%” speech.

In the rest of the Bible story, the rich man, now in eternal torment, begged Abraham that if he couldn’t be saved, at least warn his five brothers who still had time to mend their ways. Sending someone to them from beyond the grave would certainly do the trick.

He said, ‘Then I beg you, father, send him to my father’s house, for I have five brothers, so that he may warn them, lest they too come to this place of torment.’ Luke 16:27,28.

Abraham replied that Moses and the prophets HAVE been warning people.

Then Abraham said, ‘If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.’ Luke 16:31

What we know now is that God did ALSO send someone who DID return from beyond the grave and DID provide the same warning.

Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungered, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee? Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me. And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal. Matthew 25:44-46

And you know what? Abraham was right, the wealthy and the politicians and voters who support them have not listened to Jesus either.

The choice is really simple.

You can defend the position that poverty is the incentive that the poor need to alter their circumstances – but you do so at great peril to your own salvation.

OR

You can follow Jesus commands, embrace the poor, and generously tend to their needs. Great rewards have been promised those who follow this path.

Economic Resurrection

Saturday, April 19th, 2014

Easter is always a good time to contemplate rebirth. It is no accident that the Catholic Church chose to coopt the spring fertility celebrations with one that celebrates Jesus victory over death.

We have the same opportunity in this country.

We are struggling with some fundamental political differences between liberalism and conservatism. One of the most pervasive conservative ideas that Ronald Reagan popularized, is that government is too big and taxes inhibit economic progress. While that idea has propelled a political movement, it has proven to be a major economic failure. It has left our economy weaker and our government biased in favor of the wealthy.

We’ve built the case that income inequality exists and that it is bad for the economy. We’ve also attributed the historic proportions to which it has grown to government policies advocated by conservative Republicans starting with Ronald Reagan. Finally we’ve outline how this disparity produces a weaker less stable economy than one based on a robust middle class.

Even conservatives who are willing to accept all of the above facts, still respond fatalistically, “So what, that’s the way things are and you can’t change them.”

Here are some suggestions of how we can both narrow the income gap and improve the economy.

To get there we have to first identify two other facts which have acerbated the built-in bias toward the wealthy that became government policy 25 years ago.

Disruptive Technology
The accepted view is that disruptive changes in technology resulted in large job displacement. As a result, we now have a large mismatch between opportunities and skills. The reality is somewhat more nuanced, as Paul Krugman points out. When you look at the salary numbers for high skill tech jobs, they don’t reflect the sort of price pressure that one would normally expect if demand was outstripping supply. What we see instead is companies building the case for bringing in more foreign workers primarily from India and China. These workers are willing to work these jobs at lower wages which ends up holding down wages for the whole sector. So the reality is that technology is disruptive, but its major disruption is not that there aren’t enough qualified workers. It’s major disruption is that while productivity is increasing, the human contribution to overall output of our economy is decreasing. This has allowed companies to downsize their workforce which allows them to hold wages steady while increasing their profits. This results in a DECREASING share of profits going to working wages. Instead that money funds the outrageous growth in CEO salaries.

Globalization
Productivity gains through primarily robotics has made domestic manufacturing competitive with off shore low wage alternatives. So manufacturing is actually coming back to this country. But the reality is that we are now competing in a global market and must match the investments that our competitors in India and China are making in both education and infrastructure. That’s because our edge today in robotic manufacturing is not sustainable. Both education and infrastructure investments have suffered during this 25 year reign of government downsizing.

Income inequality makes these problems worse because the interests of the wealthy no longer align with the welfare of the nation.

Tax Wealth
This is the first and most obvious change that has to occur. Our problems began when the electorate was told that government was the problems and low taxes would revive the flagging American spirit. The only thing that low taxes did was increase the debt and create a new class of wealthy people.

We have to make education easier to obtain for everyone regardless of income. We have to make huge investments in our neglected crumbling infrastructure in order to remain globally competitive. We also have to continue to reform our healthcare system so that costs to care for our aging population don’t cripple our economy.

The first and most obvious way to do this is to increase taxes on those with the most disposable income.

Strengthen Unions
The reason that wages have stagnated for the middle class is that workers no longer have the power that they once did to bargain for a fair share of the profits corporations gained from their labor.

Hopefully the Reagan idea that free markets will fairly distribute economic rewards of productivity can finally be put to bed. One only needs to look at the huge gains that CEO’s have made at the expense of everyone else. Stronger unions will re-balance the huge advantages that corporations have gained over the last 25 years both in the marketplace and in politics.

Tax Bigness
Thanks to conservative judges sitting on the Supreme Court, anti-trust laws are no longer a protection against corporations becoming too big to fail. The numbers also prove that the biggest companies actually increase unemployment and reduce innovation. A tax that punishes companies from becoming too big would encourage companies break themselves up into smaller entities. Those smaller entities make our economy more robust and innovative.

Externalities
Externalities are those costs that companies pass on to the tax payer. When corporations pollute the air or water, generally tax payers foot the cleanup bill. We need a taxation system that fully burdens corporations and the wealthy for all of the costs that they create at the time that they create them. This includes carbon taxes for those companies that use fossil fuels. It includes infrastructure costs for those companies or wealthy individuals that choose to develop properties where there are no roads, sewers, or schools. It includes the environmental impacts of all extractive industries. It includes the costs that local economies suffer when large employers relocate. Changing the economics of how we deal with externalities will serve as a valuable foundation for addressing the serious costs of climate change mitigation.

Strengthen the Social Safety Net
This isn’t just putting more money into existing programs. It is recognizing the cost of low wage jobs. Today, low wage employers are subsidized by tax payers. That subsidy has to end. We already have examples of big box retailers, like Costco, who do pay a living wage and have no problem being competitive. Those who choose not to pay a living wage should at least be required to reimburse the government for the costs of making sure that their employees have enough to eat, can afford healthcare, and can afford a place to live.

As a country we should be able to guarantee that everyone has access to affordable healthcare. We should be able to provide high quality primary education regardless of income or location. Those who have the talent and interest in attending college should be able to do so without concern about how they are going to pay for it. Those who cannot support themselves should not be a burden on their families or their communities.

Social Wealth versus Personal Wealth
Social wealth are the investments that we as a country choose to make. They include things like public education, government sponsored research, mass transit, first responders, highways, dams, and parks. Libertarianism rejects these investments and suggests that the marketplace is a better arbiter of how money should be spent. But we have already seen that this model doesn’t work. Instead it divides the country into rich and poor. The rich have access to resources. The poor don’t.

Our country was built on the concept of democracy, not oligarchy. Unfortunately money has lately been allowed to warp government policy to benefit the rich at a staggering cost to the poor.

The pendulum has to swing back toward a larger sense of community.

Everyone should have an opportunity to get a world class education because that benefits the country. Talent is spread evenly across our population. Failing to give every citizen a chance to maximize their contribution to the country makes us a weaker country.

Everyone should have an opportunity to live in a safe community where they can enjoy life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. There is value to our economy for this too. Those who come from stable homes do better in school. Those who have a stable home are more productive employees. Stable communities increase in value and are able to support the sorts of local services that employ people.

Summary
None of these are new ideas.

All of these ideas are already in widespread use among our global competitors. As Tom Friedman points out in “The World is Flat”, China and India have made massive investments in education, particularly engineering. The results of those investments are obvious to anyone who works at a company that employs engineers. There are a lot of Chinese and Indians in the US work force.

If the United States wants to remain a competitive force in the global technical markets, it has to confront the realities of globalization.

Our 25 year experiment in “free market” capitalism has failed.

It is past time to rebalance our tax system and fund the investments that we need to make as a country that will keep us relevant and competitive in the future.

Next up, let’s focus on the other end of the spectrum – the poor. Figuring out how to reduce poverty will also narrow the income inequality gap, and at least from a financial perspective, it may be cheaper than you think.

7M votes for Obamacare

Saturday, April 5th, 2014

The Obamacare deadline has come and gone and guess what? 7M+ people signed up. Exactly what the CBO projected. That also means the CBO projection of $118B in deficit reduction gains credibility.

In spite of four years of Republican lies, fear, uncertainty, and doubt; people still signed up. In spite of self-inflicted wounds from a fumbled website launch; people still signed up. 7M people signed up even though 26 Republican states refused to expand Medicaid and Michigan signup just started. People need affordable healthcare.

Those opposed will continue to deny the facts in hopes that they can win another election, but the actions of 7M can’t be ignored. New Washington Post polls show ACA approval has rebounded. It is now 49% compared to 48% opposed. The fastest growing segment of that support? Self-described conservatives whose support rose from 17% to 39%.

The ACA does two basic things. It improves financial security through affordable medical insurance. It also transforms healthcare through a combination of reduced cost and increased value.

MANY previously uninsured people now have coverage because of ACA. Those include kids up to 26 and those living in states where Medicaid was expanded. Even those with canceled policies got new often better insurance – many through the same carriers and often for less net cost.

How are Republican’s reacting to those numbers? The New Republic’s Jonathan Cohn summarizes: “(Republicans) are doing what they almost always do when data confounds their previously held beliefs. They are challenging the statistics — primarily by suggesting that most of the people getting insurance already had coverage. Some, like Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming, say the administration is ‘cook­ing the books.’ Others, like Sen. Ted Cruz, say that the number of people without insurance is actu­ally rising.”

As we’ve previously discussed, determining the number of uninsured is a challenge because the numbers have to come from a lot of different sources. Also even the definition is difficult because someone may be uninsured for a month as they transition from one policy to another. Best estimates, however, show the uninsured rate has dropped from an estimated 20.9 percent to 16.6 percent in the law’s first year — hardly the sudden revolution in American health care some dreamed of, but a creditable start.

There are certainly some whose premiums went up or didn’t have access to the same physicians or hospitals that they had before. Taxes on the wealthy also went up. While we don’t know the numbers yet, it is pretty good bet that those who have benefited will vastly outnumber those who didn’t. That may be why, according to fact-checkers, the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity ads failed to document even one honest case of ACA harm. The most recent ad running here in Michigan continues that tradition.

Conservatives argue that the tradeoffs in the ACA are not worth it. House Republicans voted for repeals over 50 times. They even shut down the government. But they failed to pass even one alternative bill that comes close to ACA’s increased coverage. Rather than engage in tradeoff debate, conservatives cling to the fantasy that our healthcare system is the best in the world and those that can’t afford insurance should just use the emergency room. In fact, we do lead the world in the amount of money we spend on healthcare, but we are 35th in the results we get for that money. And ER care? It is 100x more expensive than a doctor’s office visit.

So where does that leave us?

Republicans will run against Obamacare again in 2014, but by November the outrage that conservatives feel may largely be old news to the rest of the electorate. By then another 2M people will have signed up through Medicaid in states like Michigan. They will join the 4.5M that have been enrolled by states that expanded Medicaid, and the 3M kids who are insured on their parents’ plans – all because of ACA.

Even if the Republicans take over the Senate in 2014, they won’t gain a veto proof majority. So the next opportunity to repeal this law will be in 2016 and will require that the Republicans either have veto proof majorities in the House and Senate, or win the White House and have functional majorities in the House and Senate. By 2017 the CBO projects that the laws benefits will extend to 36M people. It’s going to be A LOT harder to make the case to those folks that they should vote for someone who wants to take their insurance away.

“Wherever they go and whatever they do,” writes Ross Douthat in the New York Times, conservatives “will have to deal with the reality that Obamacare, thrice-buried, looks very much alive.”