Reaction to Obamacare Good News

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

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.

More Paul Ryan Hypocricy

March 5th, 2015

The Affordable Care Act is before the Supreme Court again.

The reason is that a particular part of the law was written in an ambiguous way. An opponent to the ACA found this ambiguity about a year after the healthcare law actually rolled out, or almost four years after the law was actually published.

This ambiguity involved federal subsidies promised to those who purchase through through the state exchanges. The law also allows states the option of setting up their own exchange or using healthcare.gov. This particular set of language, however, says that federal subsidies for those who can’t afford to pay the full cost of healthcare coverage will flow to those who purchased their insurance through a state exchange. It makes no mention of subsidizing those who purchased their insurance through the federal exchange. When the law was written, the expectation of the authors was that every state would set up their own exchange. Most republican states, however, opted for the federal government to run their exchange.

The result is a law suit suggesting that those who are implementing the law have overstepped the provisions of the law by providing federal insurance subsidies to everyone who qualifies even if they purchased their insurance through the federal website.

This raises the real possibility that if the Supreme Court upholds the literal interpretation of this law, millions of people will lose the government subsidies they require to be able to afford purchasing insurance.

So what happens to them?

Fortunately the Republicans in the person of Paul Ryan, have offered to come to their rescue.

House Republicans have formed a working group to propose a way out for the affected states if the court rules against the administration.

This statement is particularly interesting because it is not the first time that Republicans in general, and Paul Ryan in particular have promised to develop something to replace Obamacare. So far, however, they have only formally proposed one alternative in 2009. When that was scored by the CBO, it cost $30B more than Obamacare and covered less than 10% of the population covered by Obamacare. In the five years since, the House has voted to repeal Obamacare 67 times without any serious alternative.

That didn’t stop Paul Ryan and the Republican party from claiming that they were working on an alternative in part to reassure those who were concerned that they would be left with nothing if the Republicans were successful. Here’s what he said January 20, 2011 in the lead up to the 2012 campaign.

We will hold hearings in Washington and around the country. We will invite affected individuals and job creators to share their stories and solutions. We will look to the Constitution and common sense to guide legislation.

Replacing this law is a policy and a moral imperative. We reject the premise that the only way to improve access to quality coverage is to dramatically expand the federal government’s reach into our lives. On the contrary, we are dedicated to solving the underlying problems in health care by prioritizing affordability, improving transparency, and creating a true, functioning marketplace for health insurance.

No hearings were ever held.

Ryan then spent a year campaigning on the subject with Mitt Romney promising to “repeal and replace Obamacare.”

They talked a lot about the repeal. They never provided any details on the “replace”.

In the meantime, Philip Klein of the right wing Washington Examiner rag has made a career out of proposing alternatives to Obamacare. He wrote an entire book on the subject that was published earlier this year.

Why haven’t they provided their own alternative? Because there isn’t another alternative that is cheaper and free of the same political tradeoffs that are present in Obamacare. Any plan that Republicans might choose to present will either cover fewer people, cost the government more money, and/or cost policy holders more money.

Republicans decided five years ago that they did not have to engage in a debate about the best healthcare policy for this country. They only had to regularly lie about how terrible it is and that a vote for them was a vote for Obamacare repeal.

While that, and gerrymandering, may be sufficient to keep House Republicans in power, it will not be enough to win them the White House, and may not be enough for them to keep their slim majority in the Senate.

But House Republicans don’t seem to care about much about governing anyway, so it is unlikely that we will see much change in this particular deception.

Over the next several months we’re likely to see some additional promises from Republicans with an eye on 2016. We’ll review each of those proposals as they are presented to see how they measure up. Ted Cruz’s Teddycare is the first in that series.

No One Is Satisfied With This Recovery

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

    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.

    Republican Economic Predictions

    February 8th, 2015

    Two strange things happened on the way to the 2016 Presidential election.

    • The economy got better
    • President Obama’s popularity rebounded

    Both of these things proved yet again that Republican predictions leading up to 2014 were wrong.

    Let’s review them just to make sure that we have a good list, then we can discuss how Republicans are attempting to pivot away from the messages they used to win the 2014 midterm elections.

    Price of gas
    Mike Lee predicted $6.60/gallon gas if Obama was re-elected. Newt Gingrich predicted $10/gallon gas. Mitch McConnell piled on blaming “burdensome” regulations restricting drilling and failure to approve the Keystone XL pipeline

    When it comes to the rising cost of gas at the pump, it’s my view that the administration’s policies are actually designed to bring about higher gas prices,” McConnell declared, asserting that the “burdensome” regulations restrictions on drilling and the recent rejection of the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada are to blame for high prices.

    Instead we have $2.00/gallon gas with no change in Obama’s policies including a likely veto of the Keystone XL pipeline. That reduction in price is the result of the collapse of the OPEC cartel. That cartel is collapsing because of Obama’s (and Bush’s) policies to expand our energy exports.

    Unemployment
    Romney predicted that re-electing Obama would result in continued high unemployment.

    If this president’s re-elected you’re going to see chronic high unemployment continue for another four years or longer. You’re going to see low wage growth, if any growth at all. And of course there’ll always be this fiscal calamity at our doorstep.

    Instead the official unemployment rate is under 6%. More of the long term unemployed are rejoining the workforce. Companies are finally being forced to compete for new hires and wages are once again going up.

    “Employment growth is astonishingly strong,” said Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics. “With every indicator we follow screaming that payrolls will be very strong for the foreseeable future, wage pressures will intensify.”

    All this while the supposed job killing Obamacare healthcare plan is expanding and taxes on the wealthy have gone up.

    Stock market crash
    In addition to McConnell (in the quote above) predicting a financial collapse, a whole host of other conservative pundits piled on.

    Charles Bilderman, the author of the “Intelligent Investing” column at Forbes, wrote that the “market selloff after Obama’s re-election [was] no accident,” predicting “stocks are dropping with no bottom in sight.” Bilderman said that the policies the Obama administration would pursue in his second term would “crash stocks.”

    On Bloomberg TV, investor Marc Faber predicted that, because of Obama’s reelection, the stock market would drop at least 20%. According to Faber, “Republicans understand the problem of excessive debt better than Mr. Obama who basically doesn’t care about piling up debt.” Faber joked that investors seeking to protect their assets should “buy themselves a machine gun.”

    Instead the market is up over 35% since Obama’s re-election.

    Economic collapse
    Rush Limbaugh painted a picture of economic apocalypse in a second Obama term. I’m grateful to Newsmax for still posting these quotes to support this prediction.

    “If Obama’s re-elected, it will happen. There’s no if about this. And it’s gonna be ugly. It’s gonna be gut-wrenching, but it will happen. The country’s economy is going to collapse if Obama is re-elected. I don’t know how long: a year and a half, two years, three years.”

    “California is going to declare bankruptcy, and you know what Obama will do? He’ll go to states like Texas or Arizona, Florida to bail them out. That’s what he’ll do, and that’s gonna precipitate this stuff. California is showing where we’re headed in every which way,”

    “We’re on an unsustainable course. You simply can’t pay people who aren’t working. You just can’t. You cannot pay them anything, much less full-fledged incomes, lifetime healthcare and lifetime pensions. You can’t do it. Even if you wanted to, even if that was your definition of fairness and equality, you can’t do it. The money isn’t there.”

    “I don’t want any of this, but I know mathematics, and I know economics. I know history. I know socialism, statism, Marxism, I know where it goes. I know what happens at the end of it.”

    Funniest thing. The economy didn’t collapse. In fact we have seen the strongest economic growth in this country in a decade. What happened? Middle class consumers returned to the market buoyed by a rising stock market, improving job prospects, lower gas prices, and rising wages. They ignored all of the conservative doomsday politicians and pundits. They ignored the creeping Marxism and socialism that was sapping their competitive spirit. Instead they went out and bought new cars and the auto industry set new employment records.

    Oh and California? That socialist state that can’t afford to support it’s safety net where high costs of living are driving out business. They are projecting a record surplus of $4B. They still have long term pension issues to deal with, but they now have the funds to actually address the problem.

    The state that IS in trouble is Kansas. The reason they are in trouble is because Sam Brownback actually implemented the aggressive plan of cutting taxes and spending that Congressional Republicans have been proposing for years. The result was an economic collapse which cut tax revenues even deeper. The state spent $379M in rainy day funds, cut $278M in spending, and will have to cut another $435M to balance the budget this year. That means cuts to both highway and education funding.

    Sounds eerily similar to the predictions that Bush made when he proposed his trickle down version of this same supply side economic voodoo. Pretty much the same thing happened too. The promised economic growth didn’t occur. Instead unemployment went up, middle class workers lost their bargaining power, wages stagnated, CEO’s kept all of the profits, deficits ballooned, and ultimately the economy collapsed.

    How did Brownback get re-elected? He claimed that his plan was working, it just needed more time to take hold. Facing a revolt in his own party, however, Brownback finally blinked and agreed to raise taxes on cigarettes and alcohol. Pretty much what Bush I had to do to deal with the deficits that Reagan left.

    Republicans are facing a similar dilemma.

    They can’t continue to deny the reality that the economy is growing. Nor could they prevent Obama and Democrats from taking the credit, since they had successfully convinced 2014 voters that they deserved the blame. By shifting the blame, they also abdicated any claim that anything that they did over the past six years contributed to the recovery.

    Instead they have decided to recast themselves as defenders of the middle class by claiming that there are still too many people out of work, and that they have a better idea.

    We’ll pick up that curious piece of logical gymnastics in the next post entitled, “Nobody is happy about this recovery”.

    Fact checking Obama and Republicans

    January 24th, 2015

    Here’s a little exercise to demonstrate that I hold facts above party affiliations. Let’s look at that State of the Union address as a starting point to see how truthful President Obama was.

    Then let’s look at Republican responses.

    Those responses reflect a battle in the Republican party that is likely to continue for at least the next two years.

    I’m relying on factcheck.org and politifact.com

    President Obama

    Here are the statements that they felt weren’t accurate:

    more than half of manufacturing executives have said they’re actively looking to bring jobs back from China
    A survey showed most “expressed interest” in it, but are not “actively looking” at doing it.

    the only advanced country on Earth that doesn’t guarantee paid sick leave
    Canada and Japan also don’t mandate paid short-term sick leave.

    The U.S. has gained 11 million private sector jobs in five years.
    This was actually true but somewhat misleading because dramatic public sector cuts in part as a result of Republican supported federal spending cuts reduced the net jobs growth to 6.4 million.

    more of our people are insured than ever before
    That’s based on some preliminary numbers. We don’t have the full 2014 federal numbers yet

    Here are the topics that they felt were accurately discussed:

    our deficits cut by two-thirds
    Our unemployment rate is now lower than it was before the financial crisis
    creating jobs at the fastest pace since 1999
    the only advanced country on Earth” that doesn’t guarantee “paid maternity leave to our workers
    America is No. 1 in oil and gas
    America is No. 1 in wind power
    Factories are opening their doors at the fastest pace in almost two decades

    Jodie Ernst

    Inaccurate

    We heard the message you sent in November loud and clear, and now we’re getting to work to change the direction Washington has been taking our country.
    Exit polling suggests that voter’s primary concern was the economy (45%). This is evidenced by the fact that as the economy improved since the election, Obama’s approval ratings have also improved dramatically to over 50%. Republicans have focused their attention on veterans, the Keystone pipeline, Obamacare, and an abortion bill.

    frustration with Washington’s dysfunction
    While Congress has a historically low popularity rating of 11%, voters returned 95% of their representatives to office. They apparently expect their existing representatives to act differently.

    We see the hurt caused by canceled healthcare plans and higher monthly insurance bills
    We’ll also keep fighting to repeal and replace a health care law that’s hurt so many hardworking families

    Fewer than 1 million people ended up with no healthcare coverage at all last year. That is consistent with the normal churn in the market place from previous years. The primary cause is job change. Average premium increases are at historic lows. The number of uninsured is also at historic lows meaning that more people are gaining insurance than losing it. The Kaiser poll taken right after the election shows only 29% support repeal. Only 9% indicated that the law figured into their vote.

    the Keystone jobs bill
    Keystone’s construction could support thousands of jobs and pump billions into our economy,
    The pipeline will create only 50 long term jobs. It will create thousands of temporary construction jobs for the year or two it takes to build the pipeline. That construction will contribute $3.4B to the economy. That’s comparable to the costs to build the new Cowboy and Yankee stadiums combined. Roughly .02% of GDP. In other words a negligible amount.

    we’ll work to correct executive overreach
    Obama is on pace to issue fewer executive orders than any president since 1900.

    cut wasteful spending
    Recent reports indicate that Jodi Ernst’s extended family received over $460K in federal farm subsidies. Recent studies also support the claim that federal spending cuts have slowed economic growth and prolonged high unemployment.

    we’ll defend life, because protecting our most vulnerable is an important measure of any society
    Ireland is the only European country than bans abortion. The other countries that ban abortions in Latin America, the Middle East, Africa, and Indonesia have large Catholic or Muslim populations. They include Yemen, Syria, Iran, and Afghanistan. Likely not the societies that Ms. Ernst intended to reference.

    Accurate

    President Obama has been delaying this bipartisan infrastructure project for years, even though many members of his party, unions, and a strong majority of Americans support it
    many families feel like they’re working harder and harder with less and less to show for it
    neighbors agonize over stagnant wages and lost jobs

    Ted Cruz

    not a word was said about radical Islamic terrorism
    Obama vowed to combat “violent extremism” and asked for congressional authority to use force against the Islamic State.

    Obama “could not bring himself even to bring” up the president’s executive action on immigration
    Obama said he would veto legislation that attempted to undo his immigration order

    Rand Paul

    “liberal elites” wanted to regulate “what light bulbs we can use.”
    President George W. Bush signed the bill that phased out traditional incandescent bulbs, in favor of more energy efficient ones.

    Summary

    The message 2014 voters meant to send was, “fix the economy”. Republicans have used their gains in this election as an endorsement of their larger agenda, but exit polls and even election results don’t support that position. This, however, reveals a weakness in Republican philosophy. It’s magic thinking. Their deep investment in their world view puts them in a bubble. They see a lot of other people who are in the bubble with them, but they don’t see how many people are outside that bubble. Even worse, they can’t understand why anyone would choose to be outside their bubble, and so comfort themselves with narratives about dependency or democratic deception.

    Those outside the bubble, however, are reacting to facts on the ground. The solid economic growth news since that election resulted in a dramatic increase in President Obama’s approval ratings. His numbers are comparable to Ronald Reagan at the same point in his second term. Republicans successfully made the economy Obama’s responsibility in 2014. Now they are paying the price for that political gain.

    The real reasons behind this solid growth are historically low interest rates, lower oil prices, a strong dollar, a robust stock market, recovering housing industry, increasing tax revenues, and increased government spending. The debt is going down (as a percentage of GDP), growth in healthcare spending is slowing, and the financial condition of programs like Medicare and Social Security are improving.

    There are still foreign challenges, but we are very close to hammering out a deal with Iran. We have an historic agreement with China to reduce greenhouse gases. There is also a lot of momentum for Pacific Rim trade deals. Sanctions against Russia combined with the collapse of OPEC have dealt a crippling blow to their economy and stalled any future expansion plans much more effectively than any military response could have. Jihadism remains a worldwide concern. Pressure from a broad military coalition has stalled the advance of ISIS. Financial pressure has affected their ability to govern the areas they do control. Because of the collapse of OPEC and the recent changes in leadership, we are in a better position than ever to pressure Saudi Arabia to withdraw their financial support for Wahhabism and the madrasas that teach it.

    The result has been an energized Obama on the offensive. That was the most obvious take away from the State of Union address.

    Republicans have a majority in both houses of Congress, but are still struggling to build an effective governing coalition between moderates and radicals. This is further complicated by the 2016 Presidential election cycle. No better example than the number of Republican responses to the State of the Union address. I counted six.

    Jodi Ernst’s speech wasn’t much of a rebuttal. Instead it was an attempt to promote Republicanism as a kinder gentler philosophy grounded in the nostalgia of rural Iowa. Jodi is this year’s version of Sarah Palin. My prediction is she will follow a similar arc. She will demonstrate similar weaknesses as she eventually has to discuss issues outside her comfort zone and respond to questions from those who will aggressively fact check her statements.

    Ted Cruz made a spectacle of himself with his clumsy attempts to post his response on YouTube. The contents of that speech continued his straw man pattern of attacks against Obama. Every time he falsely accuses Obama of some action, and then attacks that imaginary weakness, he loses credibility with young voters.

    Rand Paul is in a similar position. He has narratives that he feels work in his favor. He continues to repeat those narratives whether they are relevant to the current conversation or not.

    I don’t think Republicans will be able to sort out their differences before the 2016 presidential primary season starts. Instead their squabbles will continue to play out both in Washington and on the campaign trail.

    Here are two recent examples.

    A moderate group of Republicans (mostly women) were able to water down an anti-abortion bill promoted by Republican conservatives. They are terrified that a conservative social agenda will derail Republican hopes for 2016. Here are some relevant quotes from that group.

    “Week one, we had a speaker election that didn’t go the way that a lot of us wanted it to,” Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.) said. “Week two, we were debating deporting children, and again, not a conversation a lot of us wanted to have then. And week three, we’re now debating rape and abortion — again, an issue that most of us didn’t campaign on or really wanted to engage on at this time. And I just can’t wait for week four.”

    Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-Ind.) was one of the women who raised objections to the initial measure. “We have a responsibility,” she said, “as the elected body representing our constituents, to protect the most vulnerable among us and ensure that women facing unwanted pregnancies do not face judgment or condemnation but have positive support structures and access to health care to help them through their pregnancies.”

    Then there are those promoting a conservative social agenda.

    “That GOP leadership, that establishment, they’ve got to get their stuff together. I love what they believe in, I believe in it too. But they’ve got to get tough, man. You know what? It’s not just the New England Patriots who are dealing with deflated balls right now,” Sarah Palin

    “If we nominate a candidate in that mold, the same people who stayed home in 2008 and 2012 will stay home in 2016 and the Democrats will win again,” Ted Cruz talking about Mitt Romney

    The reason Republicans lost in 2014 is that their message of social conservatism, xenophobia, magic thinking, and randian individualism was rejected by women, young people, minorities, and educated professionals. It shouldn’t be surprising that the Tea Party faction of the Republican Party rejects this assessment. They feel that the reason Romney lost is because he wasn’t conservative enough. The establishment wing of the Republican Party has failed so far to find the common ground that would allow them to advance an agenda soft on social issues and hard on financial ones.

    The improving economy presents a second serious problem for establishment Republicans. They have to figure out how to get on board. If this growth continues for the next six months without any significant financial legislation getting signed, it is going to be difficult for them to take credit. Their 2014 strategy of blaming the economy on Obama has backfired. Significant financial legislation, however, is going to require some compromise with Democrats. That means some increase in taxes or government spending or both. To get that passed will require a coalition of moderates and Democrats that can overcome Tea Party opposition. If they succeed in passing significant legislation over the objections of the Tea Party and their supporters, the Tea Party almost certainly will take another scorched-earth run at wresting control from the establishment in 2016.

    Have to careful what you wish for, but as a progressive, I’m not sure that I could have come up with a better scenario to guarantee another Democratic victory in 2016.

    Anthropocene

    January 21st, 2015

    “Men still live who, in their youth, remember pigeons; trees still live who, in their youth, were shaken by a living wind. But a few decades hence only the oldest oaks will remember, and at long last only the hills will know.”

    –Aldo Leopold, “On a Monument to the Pigeon,” 1947

    It is hard to imagine how plentiful a species the passenger pigeon was. In the 19th century, it was likely the single most abundant bird in the world. Their huge flocks would block out the sun. Their sheer numbers discouraged natural predation. They ate literally everything in their path leaving behind, in the words of Aldo Leopold, “a world plated with pigeon ejecta”

    The passenger pigeon disappeared in a very short time because of human predation. The impression of the people at the time was that the population was infinite. But in less than 30 years passenger pigeons were reduced from an estimated 136 million breeding adults to a dozen or so flocks. The last known passenger pigeon died in captivity at the age of 29 in 1914. Last year was the 100th anniversary of the extinction of this species.

    Last year a group of scientists gathered to discuss whether or not the earth has entered a new epoch called the Anthropocene. This epoch is the time period where human activity is the primary cause for large scale changes that are taking place on the earth.

    The current epoch is called the Holocene. It began with the retreat of the glaciers 12,000 years ago and continued with the spread of humans across the globe. The Holocene represents a period of general warming of the earth.

    In connection with all of the research being conducted to understand how human activity is affecting our climate, there is some new research attempting to measure more specifically what this human activity is.

    The basic challenge is that humans have the same expectations of the earth’s capacity today that they had 100 years ago. Our aspirations are infinite but the earth’s resources are finite.

    The result has been a “Great Acceleration” of human activities starting in the 1950’s that decrease the earth’s resources. These activities range from population, to water use, to GDP growth, to international tourism. All of these activities change the earth’s resources from greenhouse gases, to surface temps, to ozone loss, to ocean acidification, to tropical forest loss.

    Great Acceleration

    The authors of the study summarize their findings in the following quote.

    Of all the socio-economic trends only construction of new large dams seems to show any sign of the bending of the curves – or a slowing of the Great Acceleration. Only one Earth System trend indicates a curve that may be the result of intentional human intervention – the success story of ozone depletion. The leveling off of marine fisheries capture since the 1980s is unfortunately not due to marine stewardship, but to overfishing.

    A related study examined how this activity has pushed four key areas past core boundary values where continued activity would drive the affected systems into a new unstable state. Two are entering a zone where the affected system is already unsustainable and the damage may already be irreversible. Extinction is an example of irreversible damage.

    biosphere boundaries
    (click to see a larger image)

    The two areas where we are in danger are loss of biosphere diversity and alteration of biogeochemical cycles (overuse of phosphorus and nitrogen). The two areas where continued human activity will start to cause changes, but those changes may still be reversible are climate change and land use.

    The problem is that even though scientists are raising the alarm on a number of fronts, humans haven’t changed their behavior.

    Here are just a few examples of items in the news over the last month.

  • 2014 was the hottest year on records
  • Climate change is killing the big trees of the coastal California forests
  • New research refines models on sea level rise and predicts rapid rise as ice sheets melt
  • Ocean life faces broad extinction
  • Even with all of this information, climate science in this country is politicized and most just aren’t that much concerned that we are reducing the time until everyone on the planet will experience serious changes in their lives. People in coastal areas will likely be affected first. Rising sea level and loss of barrier reefs combined with more intense storms means severe irreversible damage. The government of Kiribati has purchased land in Fiji for their 110,000 inhabitants to move to when their island disappears. The Marshall Islands invested in a sea wall which was overtopped by a heavy storm last year. The massive flood damaged the only airport and contaminated fresh water resources that were already in short supply.

    If the bee population continues to collapse, the fruit industry will not be far behind. In China, humans have been forced to take over the job of pollinating fruit trees because they inadvertently killed off their wild bee population. In their rush to expand fruit production, they killed the bees with pesticides and destroyed the natural habitat that wild bees needed to recover.

    Forests are stressed around the world because of climate change and deforestation. The remaining trees are more susceptible to disease. Invasive species have already wiped out Elm, Ash, and Chestnut trees in this country. We are also losing Beech, Redwood, and Sequoia.

    The Asian Carp is perilously close to the great lakes, which would dramatically change the ecology of the biggest single source of freshwater in the world. The lakes are also threatened by algae pollution from excess fertilizer run off.

    Our challenge as a species is that we are myopic. We care about our own survival first. We are wired to think locally. The problem is that there are seven billion of us now on the planet and our combined local actions threaten all of us globally. We are collectively “taking” more from the earth than the earth is able to sustain. The result is that systems which have operated reliably for millennia are starting to break down. When those systems ultimately fail, NOTHING replaces them. Instead the earth dies just like the carrier pigeon.

    Caliphate

    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

    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.