Archive for the ‘Bias’ Category

Climate Change Infallibility

Tuesday, June 16th, 2015

Here’s how twisted the climate change debate has become.

The Pope feels that he has to weigh in.

His opinion?

Climate change is real.

Climate change is a moral issue because of the damage being done to the poor.

His formal remarks on the subject will be published in an encyclical due later this month. Encyclicals are letters that Popes send to Bishops. The purpose is to instruct the Bishops on the Catholic Church’s position on particular issues. This is serious stuff. It is not an invitation for dialog. It is a statement of how this particular issue is going to be taught by the Bishops going forward. The Pope expects all good Catholics to follow the church’s teachings.

The reaction on this side of the ocean is incredible.

Catholic republican conservative Rick Santorum has built his political career on his religious beliefs. He opposes abortion and same sex marriage. On ISIS, he believes that the US should “bomb them back to the seventh century.” He believes that immigration is contributing to economic problems because immigrants are taking jobs from citizens. As a result, he wants to reduce LEGAL immigration by 25%. He opposes any path to citizenship for illegal immigrants. Finally, he rejects scientific evidence that human behavior is causing climate change. He walks pretty much straight down the right wing conservative Republican political platform while wrapping it all in a mantle of Catholicism.

The problem is that conservative Catholics also believe in papal infallibility. That means that when the Pope speaks on matters concerning faith or morals, it is not only binding for all Catholics, but it is divinely inspired and cannot be wrong.

So this puts Rick Santorum in a difficult spot. Which is more important to him – his religion or his politics? Here’s his response.

I would just say this: The church has gotten it wrong a few times on science, and I think that we probably are better off leaving science to the scientists and focusing on what we’re really good at, which is theology and morality.

Not only does he reject the whole concept of papal infallibility out of hand, but he also questions the Pope’s right to view climate change as a moral issue. Finally he uses the church’s past denial of the scientific evidence supporting a sun-centric planetary system, as evidence that the church isn’t trustworthy when it comes to science. He advises the Catholic Church to leave science to the scientists.

This is the height of hypocrisy. That’s because Santorum’s political position of climate change denial fails to follow his own advice to the Catholic Church. Instead of leaving science to the scientists, Santorum rejects the current scientific consensus regarding the causes of climate change because it conflicts with his RELIGIOUS views.

Here is how Santorum defends calling climate change “a hoax”.

If you leave it to Nature, then Nature will do what Nature does, which is boom and bust

And

We were put on this Earth as creatures of God to have dominion over the Earth, to use it wisely and steward it wisely, but for our benefit not for the Earth’s benefit.

Rick Santorum has no standing in the scientific community. His undergrad degree is in Political Science from Penn State. He got an MBA from Pitt and a JD from Dickenson. Pope Francis, on the other hand, IS a scientist. He has a degree in chemistry and worked as a chemical technician before entering the priesthood. He CAN speak with authority on the science.

He can also speak with authority on the morality of climate change because he is the head of one of the world’s largest religions. He isn’t the first to speak out either. He is one of a long line of Pope’s who have treated climate change as a moral issue.

Environmental protection and the connection between fighting poverty and fighting climate change are important areas for the promotion of integral human development – Pope Benedict XVI

In our day, there is a growing awareness that world peace is threatened … by a lack of due respect for nature – Pope John Paul II

So we have a conservative Republican politician who has so blurred the lines between his political views and his religious views that he can no longer see the difference. He rejects the leader of his church claiming the Pope isn’t qualified to make a scientific judgment because of the church’s opposition to Gallileo – even though the church’s position is motivated by morality. Despite the fact that the Pope himself is a scientist, Santorum dismisses the church’s position as out of step with the scientific community. Then he uses exactly the same Biblical passage that the Catholic Church used to defend itself against the scientific claims of Gallileo, to support his own rejection of the scientific community’s conclusion that human actions are causing climate change.

In other words he tells the church to quit politicizing science and then turns right around to use his own religious beliefs to politicize science.

This raises an obvious question of whether Rick recognizes the Pope as his leader. Here’s what he told a radio interviewer in January.

I mean, it’s sometimes very difficult to listen to the Pope and some of the things he says off the cuff…. I keep coming back to the Pope is the leader of the Catholic Church, and when he speaks as the leader of the Catholic Church, I’ll certainly pay attention. But when he speaks in interviews, he’s giving his own opinions.

Santorum’s rejection of the Pope’s encyclical on climate change is just another example of the hubris of the man. This is a perfect example of the solipsism that appears to infect the right wing conservative movement. There isn’t even the hint of self consciousness in Santorum’s statements even though they are obviously contradictory. That’s because there is only one ideology that he follows – right wing conservatism.

That is his god.

That is his religion.

The fact that he can campaign as a serious candidate only highlights the deep cynicism that pervades the conservative wing of the Republican party.

Fortunately the Bible warned us against these people.

A double minded man is unstable in all his ways James 1:8

Poverty and the Social Safety Net

Sunday, June 7th, 2015

Here’s a quick recap of what we have learned so far.

Conservatives have developed a set of narratives to explain why our best efforts to eradicate poverty have failed. These narratives all revolve around a central core claim that programs which attempt to assist people in need actually perpetuate that need. That’s because, according to this “logic”, aid of any sort reduces the incentive to work. The foundation of this view is that if the poor were willing to work as hard as the middle class they would quickly join the middle class. Lately there has been another twist to this point of view. If the middle class were willing to work as hard as the wealthy, they would be wealthy too. These views are consistent with the conservative moral foundation that hates that possibility that anyone might be able to “cheat” the system.

A recent study by the Pew Research Center for example found that three-quarters of conservatives believe that the poor “have it easy” because of government benefits. Only 1 in 7 believe the poor lead “hard” lives.

We have gone through a very interesting eight years where a lot of these assumptions were tested.

During those eight years the ranks of the poor swelled as many previously middle class people lost their jobs, their homes, and their savings. They were forced to file for unemployment, food stamps, temporary need to dependent families, and many of the other assistance programs that are the target of conservative scorn.

Now we are finally emerging from this long period of economic decline.

If the conservative theories are correct, those who were out of work for a long period of time and receiving benefits, should be demonstrating some dependence because of the corrupting influence of those benefits. We should be able to see evidence of that dependence in a reluctance to return to work.

One example would be the number of people on food stamps. That should remain high even as the unemployment rate goes down.

Guess what?

The number of people filing for food stamps has gone down at pretty much the same rate as unemployment.

The same thing is true regarding the claim that poor women have children in order to support themselves with the meager benefits provided for mothers with dependents. If that actually was a strategy, we would see the birth rate among the poor go up during times of high unemployment. Instead the birth rate among the poor went down, just like it did in the overall economy.

We’ve also seen that the behavioral effects of poverty cross racial lines. As more poor people fell into poverty over the past 8 years, their families disintegrated too. They saw increases in drug use, violence, and crime. They also experienced declining health. While life expectancy among the wealthy has gone up, life expectancy among the poor has gone down.

The real answer is much simpler.

If you want people to demonstrate middle class values, you have to provide them middle class jobs.

If you want to reduce the ranks of the generationally poor, you have to break down the barriers that institutional racism use to literally wall off poor minority communities from prosperity.

Finally, we have to have an honest conversation about the value of a social safety net in preventing people from falling into poverty. The psychological and physical damage they suffer in that condition can make it difficult for them to recover.

Here are just a few examples from a study by the Federal Reserve.

Poverty is an issue for our elderly. 25% of the elderly depend entirely on Social Security benefits. 50% get more than half their income from Social Security. That’s because 30% of the rest of the population have no retirement savings or plan at all. That same percentage of people report that they went without some medical care over the past year because they couldn’t afford it. 25% reported that they or someone else in their immediate family had experienced some degree of financial hardship over the past year. 47% said that they would not be able to handle an unexpected expense of $400 or more.

That’s why those Republican states who have refused to expand Medicaid continue to put their populations of working poor at a terrible risk. They remain literally one medical emergency away from bankruptcy.

Hopefully all of this will be included in the discussions of income inequality that I hope will be part of this election year cycle.

The poor are not to blame for their condition. We are.

We have created a system that makes it very difficult for those who fall into poverty to ever get out.

We keep the working poor on the knife edge of financial collapse.

We keep the black community imprisoned in economic and physical ghettos with an asymmetrical police and legal system that punishes them for not demonstrated middle class values. Then we are shocked when every ten years or so the ghettos explode in violence and frustration.

The data is there.

The changes are obvious.

All that is lacking is the will for conservatives to overcome their bias and have an honest an open discussion about how to address the root causes of poverty rather than simply blame the poor for their condition.

Institutional Racism

Friday, May 15th, 2015

In the previous post, I made the claim that institutional racism in the form of asymmetrical law enforcement and judicial bias were two of the three motivating factors driving the current demonstrations and violence in black communities across the country.

I suspect that some might dispute the claims of asymmetrical law enforcement or judicial bias, but the numbers here are undeniable. Blacks have many more encounters with police than whites on a per capita basis. They get arrested way more than whites. They are incarcerated at a much higher rate for the same crimes. They receive longer sentences for the same convictions. Ferguson was just one example of collusion between city government, law enforcement, and the judiciary to extort money from the black community for petty infractions. That’s institutional racism.

Another aspect of institutional racism created the ghettos where the vast majority of the black population live. These communities not only have substandard housing, but also no jobs and a very low percentage of home ownership.

Home ownership is the middle class wealth engine. Blacks don’t have access to that engine because they don’t have access to the middle class jobs that can support home ownership. They also don’t have access to that engine because, until the 70’s, they were not able to get mortgages for houses in middle class neighborhoods. Federal Housing policies prohibited it. That’s institutional racism.

Ned Resnikoff dug into the history in an MSNBC piece.

Disparities in homeownership are a major driver of the racial wealth gap, according to a recent study from Brandeis University. According to the authors of the report, “redlining [a form of discrimination in banking or insurance practices], discriminatory mortgage-lending practices, lack of access to credit, and lower incomes have blocked the homeownership path for African-Americans while creating and reinforcing communities segregated by race.”

For those of you unfamiliar with redlining, banks had different policies for different parts of the city. Those policies effectively priced black consumers out of white neighborhoods by charging blacks more to purchase a home in those neighborhoods than they would charge a comparable white customer.

This practice began in 1934 with the National Housing Act which established the FHA and the Federal Home Loan Bank Board. This later agency created “residential security maps” which assessed the risk of real estate investments in different parts of major cities. Black neighborhoods were designated high risk and denied funding. This dramatically reduced both home ownership in black neighborhoods as well as commercial investment.

Speculators stepped into the void left by banks, often with the support of local government.

When selling on contract, the speculator offered the home to a black purchaser for a relatively low down payment – often several hundred dollars would suffice. For bringing the home within the reach of a black purchaser, however, the speculator extracted a considerable price. In the Commission on Human Relations study, the percentage increase in the cost of the home from the speculator’s purchase price to that of the black consumer ranged from a minimum of 35% to 115%; the average increase was 73%.

The next step toward the ghettos that we know today was block busting.

After the riots of the 60’s, whites began to leave inner city neighborhoods for the “safety” of the white suburbs. They took their businesses, jobs, and purchasing power with them. Speculators accelerated that white flight through various tactics intended to convince white home owners that black families were moving into their neighborhood. Realtors and speculators were able to purchase the houses at deep discounts and then convert them to multi-family dwellings that generated significantly more income for their owners.

As neighborhoods transformed from predominantly owner occupied low density to predominantly renter-occupied high density, property values declined. Property tax revenues which are based on property values and which fund local schools also declined. As jobs and purchasing power left neighborhoods, the small business services associated with that purchasing power also left. Neighborhoods that once were vital and sustainable, deteriorated. Whites associated this decline with black pathology. It was in fact a logical result of intuitional racism.

During the 60’s public housing projects were also placed in these same segregated economically depressed neighborhoods as a compromise with conservatives who opposed them completely. These projects were doomed from the start because they also failed to address the fundamental issue of jobs. Instead they simply concentrated all of the pathologies associates with poverty in a smaller geographic area. Gangs, violence, and drug use all became associated with the black family experience rather than the underlying economic conditions that were in fact the root of that behavior.

When you wall-off a whole community from access to the wealth building tools of employment, access to capital, and home ownership – they are unable leave their impoverished areas. Their poverty has a whole set of pathologies that accompany it. This cultural dysfunction and deep generational poverty defines life in the prison that our policies built. Conservative Republican leaders starting with Nixon turned this into a political strategy. Nixon was content to simply play on the same fears of whites that made the block busters wealthy. Reagan was the one who expanded the meme that blacks were dangerous. He convinced angry white voters that the blacks imprisoned in the ghettos that institutional racism created are themselves responsible for the conditions under which our government’s policies have forced them to live.

O brother, where art thou?

Pathology Versus Economics

Friday, May 8th, 2015

Responses to racial unrest, most recently in Baltimore, aren’t surprising given what we know about conservatives and liberals. Conservatives focus on rioters calling them thugs and feign surprise at the violence. Liberals on the other hand point to asymmetrical law enforcement in white and black neighborhoods and question why cops are killing so many unarmed poor kids.

Here’s a little history to try to figure out what is going on.

This country was founded on slavery. The slave trade in North America grew right along with European colonization. It was written into our founding documents right along with inalienable rights. The United States fought a civil war to force an end to slavery in southern states. That ended two hundred years of institutionalized and constitutional slavery.

A war weary country, however, failed to eradicate institutional racism. Whites successfully regained the political and economic power that they lost briefly during reconstruction. They exercised that power with impunity for another 100 years until the civil rights movement began to win a series of Supreme Court victories. The pinnacle of that movement was the voting rights legislation passed during the Johnson administration.

Coincident with that legislation was widespread racial unrest. During that period of time there were two seminal studies on poverty and racism.

The Moynihan Report in 1965 blamed the violence on poverty. They blamed poverty on pathological and cultural deficiencies in black families. This report shifted the onus from institutions and policies to families. It coined the term “benign neglect” in recommending that government had done pretty much all that it could to. Rights had risen as far as the study’s authors felt they could. Fixing families required an attitude adjustment by government and blacks. Government had to stop trying to supplement poor incomes. Instead government should encourage poor black families to fix themselves.

The Kerner Commission Report in 1968 took a much more scientific approach. It was based on extensive interviews of all those involved in rioting – young black men, shop owners, police, citizens, leaders, and elected officials. That report said the root cause of rioting was institutional racism. The solution to racial unrest was simple and obvious – social justice and economic redistribution. People rioted because they felt oppressed by the police, persecuted by the courts, and taken advantage of by the business community. Provide those same people good jobs, fair law enforcement, and color-blind courts; and everyone will happily live a peaceful law abiding life.

The riots of the 60’s also terrified white people. They fled the cities for the suburbs and took their jobs with them. Nixon and Lee Atwater invented the Southern Strategy in 1968. It played on white fears. Republicans successfully mined white backlash and rage right up until Obama’s election in 2008.

Reagan famously put another twist on the Moynihan report when he claimed that poverty itself was the result of dependence. He invented the specter of the welfare queen living large on the state. He based that characterization in a bi-racial con artist who was hardly a black stereotype. But the narrative was more powerful than the reality, and a whole series of reforms all the way through Clinton dismantled the social safety net for the poor that was part of the Great Society’s War on Poverty.

So what is the reality? Pathology or Economics.

As always the numbers give us some insight.

Let’s start at the same place that Reagan started, with the welfare queen. Everyone is familiar with this claim. Poor minority women bear lots of children so that they can live off government assistance rather than work. Let’s put aside for a moment the fact Clinton eliminated this sort of permanent assistance. There is a much simpler way to blow up this myth. If it were true, we should be able to see increases in the birth rates of poor black families during difficult economic times. We have just gone through the most difficult 8 years since the Great Depression. The birth rate in poor black families plummeted just like it did across the rest of the socio-economic spectrum. In other words, while there may be individuals who successfully defraud the government, aid to the poor does not create a pathological dependence which encourages women to, in effect, “live” off their children.

The great sociologist William Julius Wilson argued long ago that widely-decried social changes among blacks, like the decline of traditional families, were actually caused by the disappearance of well-paying jobs in inner cities. His argument contained an implicit prediction: if other racial groups were to face a similar loss of job opportunity, their behavior would change in similar ways.

If that’s true, we should be able to see the same social disruptions in white families over the past eight years. If you go look at the numbers, it’s there. Lagging wages — actually declining in real terms for half of working men — and work instability have been followed by sharp declines in marriage, rising births out of wedlock, and more across the racial spectrum.

As Isabel Sawhill of the Brookings Institution writes: “Blacks have faced, and will continue to face, unique challenges. But when we look for the reasons why less skilled blacks are failing to marry and join the middle class, it is largely for the same reasons that marriage and a middle-class lifestyle is eluding a growing number of whites as well.”

The pathology of “bad choices” that conservatives have used to blame the poor for their condition is now being replicated in large segments of the poor white population. They have suffered the same economic displacement over the last eight years that blacks have experienced for generations. That includes shorter life spans, increased violence, broken families, increased drug abuse, less education, decreased home ownership, increased financial instability, and increased chronic illness.

Conservatives cluck about the failure of minority communities to adopt middle class values, but those values depend in large part on access to middle-class jobs. Those jobs are simply not available in poor communities and the poor can’t afford to move to where the good jobs are. Instead you have the spectacle of a Detroit man who spends all his non-working hours getting to and from his minimum wage suburban job.

Finally, you have Republican leaders like John Boehner suggesting that the riots in Baltimore are evidence of the “50 years of failed Democrat policies”. While it is clear that he is reaching back to the Great Society, half of those 50 years Republicans were in the White House. So if policies are to blame, that blame should be shared equally by Republicans and Democrats.

The numbers again come to our rescue here. In this case, Paul Krugman.

Federal spending on means-tested programs other than Medicaid has fluctuated between 1 and 2 percent of G.D.P. for decades, going up in recessions and down in recoveries. That’s not a lot of money — it’s far less than other advanced countries spend — and not all of it goes to families below the poverty line.

Despite this, measures that correct well-known flaws in the statistics show that we have made some real progress against poverty. And we would make a lot more progress if we were even a fraction as generous toward the needy as we imagine ourselves to be.

In other words, the problem was not too much money. They problem was not enough money, and perhaps money spend on the wrong things.

So where does this leave us?

The “pathology” that has been the mainstay of Republican pronouncements about race and poverty from Ronald Reagan through John Boehner are not supported by the facts. Instead of dependency, we have predictable effects from job loss, mass incarceration, and economic disruption.

Instead of a post racial society, we have the daily experience of young black men who are targeted by the police and persecuted by the justice system.

Instead of confronting the realities of the living conditions that we have forced the poor to endure, conservatives use the myth of pathology to absolve society from taking meaningful action. The myths of the welfare queen, Willie Horton, middle class values, and personal responsibility allow us to ignore the fact that we have effectively walled off poor communities from prosperity.

Baltimore is a good example. It spent $130M over the last 20 years in an attempt to transform one of its poorest neighborhoods. While well intentioned, 1000 new affordable houses, new schools, and new clinics did not attract the employers necessary to support the families in those new houses. Without jobs, the neighborhood eventually reverted back to the same despair, crime, and drug abuse that every other job-poor neighborhood displays. Just fixing housing, schools, and healthcare, regardless of how much money is spent, isn’t enough.

“Having a well-maintained home doesn’t get at the larger issues that prevent self-sufficiency,” said DeLuca, the Hopkins sociologist. “The labor market and drug markets really destabilized Sandtown.”

The problem is institutional racism reflected in over-zealous law enforcement and lack of opportunity in the only neighborhoods that poor black people can afford to live.

The solution is jobs.

The rest is just myth and the conservative pathology of confirmation bias born of moral fundamentalism.

Reaction to Obamacare Good News

Tuesday, March 10th, 2015

The CBO came out with one of their periodic reports on the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare).

Here is the headline of the report.

The ten year projected cost for the ACA has gone DOWN 11%.

The first reason for that cost reduction is that the cost of insurance premiums is rising at a lower rate than what was originally projected. As a result, the cost to subsidize insurance for those who can’t afford to pay the full amount on their own is going down.

The second reason is fewer people overall are signing up for insurance that includes government subsidies (Medicaid or subsidized private insurance). That’s because companies are not canceling healthcare coverage for their employees at the rate originally projected by the CBO. That reduction is about 3M people.

The net is that by 2025, there will be more people with insurance than the CBO originally projected, which is also good news.

cbo graph
There is some controversy on why healthcare costs are growing more slowly. The administration suggests that it is the result of cost saving provisions of the ACA. Conservative sources suggest that it is the result of a weak economy and have been predicting a bounce back as economic growth heats up again. The CBO commented on this in their report.

such a bounce back seems less likely in light of the further slowing of spending growth observed in the most recent data.

BTW, this report only focuses on the cost side of the leger. The agency discontinued their analysis of the budget impact of this particular bill. Instead they pointed to their normal comprehensive deficit reporting as a source for those looking more detailed information. They did, however, provide this guidance when they made their announcement last summer.

the agencies have no reason to think that their initial assessment that the ACA would reduce budget deficits was incorrect.

What is also reliable are the conflations by conservative media sources who refuse to acknowledge that the law is actually working.

Here’s a sample.

Forbes (a long time ACA opponent) chooses the headline “CBO Downgrades Obamacare’s Enrollment And Subsidy Projections” for this same news. Rather than focus on the big news which is the cost savings and the fact the corporations are not laying off employees because of the law, they suggest that the law is failing to meet the original projects that the CBO put in place. Rather than admit that slowing growth in premium costs is a good thing, Forbes says “Obamacare’s premiums: Much higher than before, but lower than CBO projections”. Then they go on to quote their own statistics from a conservative think tank rather than the CBO in order to support that claim. They finish up the article with a suggestion of how much better things would be if a different plan were in place.

The Washington Times is always good for a laugh. Their headline reads, “Obamacare exchange customers set for significant premium spikes, CBO predicts”. They go on to cherry pick the CBO report in an effort to make their case. But the CBO did not predict a spike in premiums. They predicted that premiums would rise SLOWER than what they had previously predicted.

So I guess we should not be surprised that those who choose to live inside the right wing news bubble will continue to insist that the law, as Jeb Bush recently described it, is a “monstrosity”.

Jeb’s plan is replace Obamacare with government-backed catastrophic coverage for those who experience a medical crisis. For everything else, folks should just pay out of their pocket. The challenge, of course, is that the best medicine and cheapest care is the preventive care that is practiced in the primary care physician’s office. The most expensive and least effective care is that practiced in the Emergency Room as the result of a medical crisis.

We’ll dig into Jeb’s plan in another post.

The bottom line is that this is more good news for the country. The ACA is working even better than originally envisioned. The predicted avalanche of layoffs as corporations come under the ACA requirements regarding insurance did not happen. The “spikes” in premiums did not happen. Premiums are going up at the lowest rate in recent history. And finally, the predicted explosion in federal deficits as a result of the subsidies included in the bill hasn’t happened. The projected costs of the bill are going down because healthcare is becoming more efficient under ACA rules.

The real tragedy of our current partisan political environment is that we can’t even welcome good news anymore. All news goes through the filter of whether or not it is good for your particular political tribe with precious little thought about what might be good for the country.

Teddycare

Sunday, March 8th, 2015

Ted Cruz is trying to position himself for a run at the 2016 Republican nomination for President.

He has already endeared himself to the Tea Party based on his government shutdown strategy.

As with many who need to retain their conservative bona fides while attempting to appeal to a broader audience, Ted has a problem. His actions and words are often at odds with one another.

In an attempt to distance himself from the last Republican who ran for President, Ted said this at a recent Koch Brothers event.

The central narrative of the last election, what the voters heard was, ‘We don’t have to worry about the 47%.’ I think Republicans are and should be the party of the 47%.’

Just as a reminder, the 47% reference here was Romney’s description of those dependent on the government and, as a result, unlikely to vote for him.

Here’s what Ted has done to help the 47% over the last couple of years.

Government Shutdown
This was an effort to defund Obamacare which provides insurance for a large percentage of the 47%. The government shutdown took a $24B bite out of the ecomony and , according to Mark Zandi from Moody’s, slowed the recovery that we are now experiencing by at least two quarters. It also furloughed thousands of federal employees without pay, though they were eventually paid. Federal contractors also furloughed thousands of employees without pay. They never received their lost pay. Small businesses suffered delays in payments and frozen SBA loans which caused them to lay off workers too.

He later defended his action saying:

As a result of that fight, millions of Americans rose up and demanded we stop the disaster that is Obamacare. Together, we elevated the national debate. And now, the misguided healthcare law is more unpopular than ever.

Immigration Reform
Ted also opposes any immigration reform that would provide a pathway to citizenship. He supports deportation of Dreamers.

Minimum Wage
He opposes any increase in the minimum wage.

Each of these positions makes life for the 47% worse. So it does call into question how he plans to become a champion of the poor and middle class.

Now he wants us to believe that he can provide a reasonable alternative to Obamacare. He remains convinced that “every last word of Obamacare must be repealed”. His alternative is designed to address the 7.5M that could lose coverage if the Supreme Court strikes down subsidies for those who have purchased insurance through the federal website.

The administration has done absolutely nothing to prepare for an upcoming Supreme Court decision that could leave millions of Americans unable to afford insurance thanks to this failed law.

Republicans must offer the American people alternatives that lower costs and break the status quo that favors big government and big health care business over hardworking Americans.

Before we dig into this just a couple of points about how insurance works.

Insurance companies make money by spreading the risk of a claim over a large population of insurance customers. The larger to pool of people unlikely to make a claim, the lower the rates for everyone in the pool. Obamacare works because it adds WAY more healthy people to the insurance pool than sick people.

This “pool” business model also introduces a bit of counter intuition with regard to competition. The bigger the pool, the lower the cost. That means that competition actually increases insurance company costs because the pool now has to be split among competitive companies. The number of insurance companies that any particular state can support depends on that state’s population. Increasing the number of choices for consumers (by allowing buying outside state boundaries) will actually reduce the number of in-state choices consumers have, particularly in smaller population states.

Here are the major points of Teddycare.

Allow people to purchase health insurance across state lines
His claim along with other Republicans is that increased competition would lead to lower premiums. This is disputed by experts. That’s because the cost of insurance is driven by the cost of healthcare, and not the marginal costs to operate their companies.

Eliminating state boundaries will return us to a world where healthy people can get very cheap insurance that they never use and ill people, if they can find insurance, won’t be able to afford it.

Insurance is regulated on a state by state basis rather than nationally. Allowing consumer to buy insurance from any state they choose will encourage at least some states to compete for that business by weakening their regulations. We’ve seen the same thing in credit cards where most companies are headquartered in Delaware or South Dakota where consumer protection laws are weak.

Repeal the individual mandate
Obamacare was able to implement requirements to insure everyone (healthy or sick) by requiring everyone (healthy or sick) to purchase insurance. This increases the pool of healthy people enough to actually offset the costs to offer the same plans to sick people. The result that we’ve seen is that the the rate of premium increases we saw before Obamacare have now slowed.

Eliminate the marketplaces
This reduces the ability for consumers to easily shop for plans on an apples to apples basis. Plans are complicated and even with the requirements that a marketplace impose, comparisons are still difficult. Remove the marketplace and very few consumers will be able to make informed decisions. They will instead have to return to insurance brokers who will help drive the cost of insurance up.

Remove the subsidies
Subsidies also widen the pool and make sure that care is being provided at the lowest cost location, a physician’s office rather than the highest cost location, the ER.

Eliminate protections against pre-existing conditions
Insurance companies will simply refuse to offer coverage to the very sick. The very sick will exhaust their own resources, declare bankruptcy and qualify for Medicaid. Tax payers foot the bill.

Eliminate parents’ ability to carry their kids on their insurance until age 26
Kids who age out of their parents’ plans will simply not purchase insurance. Rates go up because the pool is less healthy

Allow insurance companies to cap lifetime benefits
For the first time in our history, bankruptcies because of medical costs went down in this country because of Obamacare. This will cause them to go back up again.

Ted Cruz isn’t offering an alternative to Obamacare. He is simply returning us to the insurance system that existed before Obamacare. This was the system that was failing the 47% and threatening to bankrupt the country with out of control increases in healthcare costs. This was the system that left many people one serious illness or accident away from financial ruin. This was the system where the most vulnerable in our society had the least protection. This was the system where tax payers where forced to carry the burden for 30M uninsured.

I doubt that this will ever be introduced as a piece of legislation because it then can be scored by the CBO. That will reveal it as the fraud that it really is.

That does seem about right for the party that wants to “lower costs” for “hardworking Americans”. That’s really the code word here. We’re not talking about the 47% anymore. We’re talking about the 85% who have insurance and have been brainwashed into believing that extending care to another 27M people must be costing them something.

That’s what Teddycare is all about, fear mongering and Big Lies. One thing you CAN say about Ted Cruz, he is consistent.

No One Is Satisfied With This Recovery

Sunday, March 1st, 2015

Republicans blamed slow economic growth on Obama in 2014. They won an election on that claim. They also trumpeted their mandate to reverse the policies that they said were preventing stronger economic growth. Then a strange thing happened. The public realized that things weren’t nearly as bad as Republicans claimed. Obama’s popularity rebounded and Republicans were left flat footed. If Obama’s policies were in fact controlling economic growth, the strong fourth quarter economic growth meant that Obama DID know what he was doing.

Republicans could no longer deny the reality that the economy was growing. Nor could they prevent Obama and Democrats from taking the credit, since they had successfully convinced voters that they deserved the blame.

The rest of this post looks at the first of several pivots in messaging that Republicans are attempting.

Rather than insult the intelligence of the voter, Republicans are claiming that Obama’s “recovery” is tepid and has not benefited the middle class or the poor. Thus the statement by Mike Camp, recently retired Republican congress person from Michigan that “No one is satisfied with this recovery.” The fact is that the wealthy are just fine with this recovery because times have rarely been better for them. But now Republicans claim to have finally found religion and are shocked at how poorly everyone else has been doing.

The remarkable hypocrisy in this statement is that until this pivot occurred, Republicans condemned the very concept of income inequality as class warfare. Now Republicans at every level have decided that the concentration of wealth in the top 1% of wage earners is not only a problem, but evidence of failed Democratic policies.

The reality is that concentration of wealth at the top was the deliberate construction of Republican tax cutting plans that started with Reagan. This is the first step to prosperity described in various terms as Supply Side Economics, trickle-down economics, and supporting the job creators. The idea was that if those at the top got to keep more of “their” money. They would invest more of that money back into the economy. The resulting growth would more than offset any loss in tax revenue.

The problem is that it never happened. What happened instead is that these tax policies made the problem worse. The wealthy invested their money in electing more Republicans, government spending and tax revenues went down, unemployment went up, employers were able to freeze the wages of workers because of increased competition for scarce jobs, republican controlled states reduced the power of unions, and businesses were able to find a new normal where profits increased because of reduced costs even though top line sales were flat.

The middle class was squeezed out of the consumer economy and any significant participation in corporate profits. Instead we had a wealth-based economy where demand was driven by the stock market.

The GOP, however, doesn’t seem embarrassed by their hypocrisy. Those who predicted doom and gloom if taxes were raised on the “job creators” are now saying, “Sure, unemployment is down and growth is up, but it doesn’t really count if only ‘job creators’ are enjoying the real prosperity.”

One of the key actors in this theater of the absurd is Paul Ryan. He has been one of the most vocal defenders of the Republican notion that lower taxes and lower government spending would unleash pent up demand and power a golden era of economic growth. He is now accusing the Obama administration of practicing the very economic policies Ryan advocated in 2012 and blaming Obama for the outcome.

The Obamanomics that we’re practicing now have exacerbated inequality…They’ve exacerbated stagnation. They’re made things worse. The wealthy are doing really well. They’re practicing trickle down economics now.

This is the same guy who advocated sweeping budget reform that would have dramatically reduced government spending for the poor, converting Medicare into a voucher program, and privatized social security.

The Republicans are clearly trying to run away from their past history, blame the President for doing what they were proposing, while failing to propose what they would have done differently.

Here are a few examples.

  • Obamacare is working. It is a great benefit to the uninsured and under insured. It has slowed the overall growth of healthcare costs, and loosened the grip that corporations have on their workers because of the lack of affordable healthcare alternatives. Republicans continue to promise to repeal this law without offering any viable alternative.
  • Stimulus and the Fed. These are the two forces which prevented the great recession from becoming the great depression. Republicans opposed both but offered no viable plan on what they would have done differently.
  • Financial and auto industry bailouts. Both very successful. Both opposed by Republicans. Their claim is that we should have “let it burn”, putting more people of work, further depressing wages, but providing both industries an opportunity to rebuild.
  • Minimum wage. Obama supports it. Republicans oppose it.
  • Infrastructure investments. Obama supports it. Republicans oppose it.
  • Immigration reform. Obama supports it. Republicans oppose it.
  • College Finance Reform. Obama supports it. Republicans oppose it.
  • Summary
    Republicans don’t really have any new ideas. There isn’t some big bold plan to boost the income or opportunity for the poor and the middle class. The reason why is that the only viable way to make dramatic changes is to increase government spending for the middle class and the poor financed by increased taxes on the wealthy. Since this party is backed by the wealthy, there is precious little else of substance that they CAN do. So what Republican are really going to try to do is suggest that their smaller government, smaller taxes, weaker unions, and stronger corporations policy IS in fact also middle class friendly. How? By giving everyone a chance to become wealthy, since those are the only people for whom the current system is working.

    Dear President Lincoln

    Friday, February 27th, 2015

    In honor of President’s Day, here’s an open letter to two of the Presidents generally regarded as the two best Presidents in history.

    The challenge we face in this partisan political environment is to resist the temptation to rewrite history to serve a particular political position.

    Some examples of that are David Baron and Wall Builders. He claims that the founding fathers intended to create a Christian Nation.

    And Andrew Napolitano’s ridiculous claims about Lincoln and slavery.

    Dear President Lincoln, thank you for your vision, courage, and sacrifice. You knew that slavery had to be abolished for the country to move forward. You asserted the federal government’s right to impose its will on those states that refused to comply. You had the courage to issue an executive order called the Emancipation Proclamation because Congress and states refused to act.

    A lot of people were angry with your willingness to go to war over this issue. Some formed a new political movement called the Copperheads. They called you an emperor destroying American values with despotic and arbitrary unconstitutional actions. They held large rallies calling for you and your Republican party’s impeachment. The Copperheads ran candidates opposing your policies and won majorities in state legislatures including Illinois.

    Important news outlets supported the Copperheads. The La Crosse Democrat called you a “Fungus from the corrupt womb of bigotry and fanaticism” and a “worse tyrant and more inhuman butcher than has existed since the days of Nero … The man who votes for Lincoln now is a traitor and murderer … And if he is elected to misgovern for another four years, we trust some bold hand will pierce his heart with dagger point for the public good.”

    Thank you President Washington for religious freedom. You held good citizens to the moral standard of one country rather than one religion. Honoring liberty and supporting country requires respect for ALL religious beliefs and the right for all to practice in peace. “It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights, for, happily, the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.” 1790 Letter from President Washington to a Rhode Island Hebrew congregation. Your letter embracing a group of citizens who didn’t share your views of Jesus Christ was a wonderful example of your expectations.

    The real tragedy today are those citizens who attempt to rewrite history to fit a particular political/religious narrative rather than honor it in all of its messy complexity.

    As far as God’s politics, Lincoln said, “I know that the Lord is always on the side of the right, but it is my constant anxiety and prayer that I and this nation should be on the Lord’s side.

    Caliphate

    Saturday, January 17th, 2015

    The recent Charlie Hebdo attack has again raised the prospect of global radical Islamic terrorism.

    Unfortunately, the reaction in the US continues to be myopic and uninformed.

    Here’s just a sample.

    Network national security analyst KT McFarland blamed the shooting at Charlie Hebdo headquarters on France’s “really strict gun control” and “politically correct” policies that treat everyone equally. Echoing disdain for policies that treat everyone equally, co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck added that New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio threatens the city’s security by demoralizing the New York Police Department and painting the NYPD with “a racist brush” when officers act on that principle.

    Strategic analyst Ralph Peters cited the shooting to attack Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), invoking the recently released Senate Intelligence report on CIA interrogation techniques. Peters proclaimed that “these terrorists who did this monstrous attack in Paris are the people Senator Feinstein doesn’t even want to waterboard,” adding that the Obama administration is too “soft on radical Islam.”

    Breitbart.com editor-at-large Ben Shapiro used the tragedy to invoke tired Benghazi smears of Hillary Clinton and President Obama, asking when they would “recommend we arrest the rest of the Charlie Hebbdo staff for inciting Islamic violence?”

    Outnumbered hosts agreed that Americans “are being hunted” by terrorists, and network host Kennedy added that “I think the best thing that Americans can do is arm themselves.”

    Ingraham blamed the tragic attack in Paris on France’s immigration policy, saying “the principle of multiculturalism and open borders… is pure insanity, a suicide pact.”

    While wrong-headed partisan responses from conservative pundits is not surprising, these also continue a false narrative about why all of this is occurring.

    Jihadist attacks to not occur because of there are too few guns in citizens’ hands. They did not occur because of political correctness. They do not occur because we are too soft or because there is too much free speech. Jihadists are not hunting Americans. They don’t attack because of our immigration policy or the immigration policies of any other western country.

    Jihadist attacks occur because disaffected young men (mostly) are radicalized by an idea and inspired to sacrifice themselves and others to support that idea.

    Jihadists have no monopoly on disaffected young men. There is a long list of young men who carry out murderous suicidal attacks in this country who are motivated by any number of other twisted ideas that have nothing to do with Islam. It is the same quirk in the maturation process of young men that armies through the ages have been able to take advantage of. They need a cause that they can commit themselves to.

    If it isn’t something uniquely sinister in young Muslim men, what is it that continues to cause attacks from radicalized Islamic fundamentalists on western targets?

    It’s the Caliphate, stupid

    The Caliphate is an Islamic state led by a person who combines both political and religious leadership. This is not all that different from revisionist history preached by fundamentalists who claim the founding fathers intended to create a Christian nation.

    This exploration of the Caliphate as the root of jihadism is based on some very thoughtful analysis published in a column by Canadian Columnist Gwynne Dyer.

    The first question to ask is why is a caliphate at the root of this terrorist activity?

    The answer is simple.

    There is a civil war going on in Islam. Since Islam is a religion without borders, this war also has no borders. The vast majority of the casualties in this war are Muslim, but what gets reported in the west is when this war occasionally overflows into western countries.

    The great Muslim civil war is about the political, social and cultural modernization of the Muslim world. Should the Muslim world continue down much the same track that other major global cultures have followed, or should those changes be stopped and indeed reversed? The Islamists take the latter position.

    It has become a war because most Muslims across the world find modernization very attractive. Those who oppose democracy, equality, consumerism, etc. are a minority even in their own countries. They understand that the only way to preserve the way of life they feel is required of all devout Muslims, is to create a conservative Caliphate. This Caliphate can impose the harsh policies of Sharia law on the majority of the population who would not follow the fundamentalist interpretations of the Quran given a choice.

    They use the west to recruit followers by inventing a narrative that says that modernization and western culture itself is a plot to undermine Islam. The main strategy to prove their point are attacks INTENDED to trigger a military response. The US invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq established the jihadi movement as a legitimate political force. Decades earlier the same tactics prompted the same response from Russia in Afghanistan and Chechnya.

    To the degree that these attacks also trigger mistreatment of Muslim minorities in other countries or acts that even the Muslim mainstream considers offensive (burning Qurans and public ridicule of Mohammed), the fundamentalists win.

    So it should be no surprise that when ISIS declared that their intention was to create a Caliphate in northern Syria and Iraq, fundamentalist Muslim fighters from around the world poured into that region to help.

    The second question is also obvious. What does the west do?

    The answer to this question is more difficult.

    The west cannot stop being an engine of cultural change. That is in our nature. So it will always be viewed by a fundamentalist minority as a threat.

    The west also cannot stand idle while terrorists continue to attack. These are issues of security and law that demand a response.

    But the west can’t continue to treat this ideology as a movement of rational people. This is similar to the challenges that the US faced with Japanese kamikaze attacks. How do you defend yourself against someone who is not only willing, but eager to die for their cause?

    The solution lies in our own culture and our own values.

    Our greatest asset in the United States in this conflict of ideas is the fact that our success as a nation is testimony to the power of freedom, liberty, and religious pluralism. If we compromise religious liberty in the name of defeating Wahhabis, we lose. We become who the Islamist said we were.

    The best way to prove that secular society is preferable to an Islamist one is to prove that all human beings including Muslims prefer to live in these types of societies, over those ruled by Sharia and clerics, out of their own free will and not by coercion.

    It may seem counter intuitive, but the best way to defeat this idea is to welcome Muslims who are willing to live by our laws into this country.

    Just as the Wahhabists and Salafists use our freedom of speech to spread their message, we have to spread our message of freedom and liberty by demonstrating that western societies are able to walk our talk.

    We also have to shut off the flow of money from Saudi Arabia that supports the spread of this fundamentalist ideology. We are finally in the position to do so because of the collapse of the OPEC cartel.

    “We can’t kill our way to victory,” Adm. Michael Mullen famously said of the Afghan war.

    We can’t spy our way to victory.

    We can’t torture our way to victory either.

    We can’t close the borders and expect to be safe.

    We can’t silence the voices of those who disagree with us and assume that disagreement will end.

    Ideas can’t be killed. But they can be defeated by a better idea. The current jihadi movement is built on a couple of lies. People live better lives under Sharia law. Western culture was created to defeat Islam.

    We defeat jihadism by demonstrating that peace loving people live better lives when they get to decide for themselves how they would like to live.

    We defeat jihadism by demonstrating that law abiding Muslims are more welcomed and free to practice their religion in the United States than any other place is the world.

    The Human Condition, Faith, Facts, and Truth

    Friday, December 26th, 2014

    First a brief review of the difference between fact and truth.

    A fact is something that can’t be logically disputed or rejected. Within the base ten system, two plus two will always equal four. That’s a fact.

    Truth on the other hand has within it the quality of judgment. That’s because pointing out what is “true” immediately also identifies what is “false”.

    Truth is something that must be discovered or created. Here’s an example. The observable facts are that the path that light from a distant object takes can be curved by the presence of another large object (the sun). This observable fact supports Einstein’s general theory of relativity. We accept that theory as a true description of how the universe works because it explains all of the observable facts that we can assemble.

    The search for meaning (truth) has always been part of the human condition. In that search, we assemble observations. Some of those observations are facts (mathematics). Some are not (religion).

    The challenge of course is that all humans are also susceptible to accept those observations that agree with our point of view as fact and dispute those truths that call our favorite “facts” in question. Scholars from Johnathan Haidt to Aristotle have wrestled with this question of whether there is an absolute truth that can and should be universally shared.

    Science has moved the furthest in the direction of separating fact from belief and true from false. The way that they do that is through a version of crowd sourcing called the scientific method.

    When someone discovers something that they propose as a fact, they share it with everyone else in their scientific community. If others can duplicate that observation, it is affirmed as a fact. Others in the community can challenge that fact, but they have to produce their own observations that can be duplicated that demonstrate the the original observation was inaccurate.

    Only after accepted facts are established, do members of that community attempt to discover or create theories which explain why those facts occur. Those theories get tested and re-tested as new facts are discovered. Eventually some subset of theories emerge as accepted truth because a majority of the scientific community agree that these theories accurately explain all of the applicable observed facts.

    That doesn’t mean that these truths are absolute. As our knowledge expands, there is always the possibility that new facts will be discovered that force a re-evaluation of previous theories. This process of enhancement is what improves theories. Occasionally, observations require a radical change to theories. But usually the change is more gradual. That gradual change is currently underway in improving the climate models that we have. But one of the accepted truths in climate science is that the atmosphere is warming at a rate that exceeds what can be explained by natural phenomena.

    What makes all of this work is that this scientific method is BIASED toward crowd sourced peer review that is eager to discover and prove new facts. The claim by some that the scientific method suppresses facts in an effort to prevent contrary theories from emerging is self serving FUD. Those who voice that opinion are attempting to discredit the process because they oppose the results of the process – not because they have any proof that the results of the process are flawed. If anything, exactly the opposite is true. The scientific community gives fringe opinions too much respect. This provides those who practice “science for hire” undeserved legitimacy. One example of this junk science were the tobacco-funded researchers who for years tried to disprove the fact that tobacco caused cancer. The fossil fuel industry invests in similar research today in an attempt to muddy the water regarding the real causes and likely results of climate change.

    The challenge of trying to live a fact-based life, however, is that it often fails to satisfy our basic need for meaning. We have a gut feel that there is a God, even though it can’t be proven. We have a gut feel that there is something fundamentally wrong with dependency, but we can’t explain why. We have a gut feel that there is something fundamentally wrong with discrimination, but we can’t explain why. There are some human activities that we feel are revolting or depraved even when it only involves willing adults.

    We long for a connection to a higher power who can help us resolve these conflicts, provide us direction, and give us purpose.

    This is a belief-based life.

    Those who live belief-based lives are sometimes vulnerable to intolerance, bias, discrimination, and even fanaticism in response to those who don’t share their beliefs.

    The problem is that those who claim to live fact-based lives are no less vulnerable to the same temptations.

    So where does this leave us?

    Confirmation bias clouds our vision, confuses belief with fact, and causes us to take positions on an emotional basis and then attempt to defend those positions with junk science or conspiracy theories. In other words, facts no longer have an objective quality. Instead every fact gets evaluated against the filter of how it affects our view of the truth. Truth constructed from beliefs can’t be questioned even when there are no facts to support it. Climate change is a perfect example of this phenomena.

    While no one has a monopoly on facts or the truth, the further we drift away from respect for facts and the certitude of science, the more difficult it becomes for us to find the common ground that we need to allow our Democracy to work.

    Aristotle summed it up best.

    The investigation of the truth is in one way hard, in another easy. An indication of this is found in the fact that no one is able to attain the truth adequately, while, on the other hand, no one fails entirely, but everyone says something true about the nature of all things, and while individually they contribute little or nothing to the truth, by the union of all a considerable amount is amassed.

    The universal truth may be that we are all human and in that shared humanity are the seeds for transcendence and destruction. This holiday is the celebration of our shared hope that we can overcome our weaknesses and build a better future where we all can live in peace.