Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Romney pens fatally flawed op ed

This evening, Romney released an op-ed piece discussing culture as a determinant of economic development and prosperity.  He hits all the big buzzwords you'd expect, and he singles out Israel for praise, writing:
Like the United States, the state of Israel has a culture that is based upon individual freedom and the rule of law. It is a democracy that has embraced liberty, both political and economic. This embrace has created conditions that have enabled innovators and entrepreneurs to make the desert bloom.
Sounds good, right?  Unfortunately for Mr. Romney, such praise for Israel is wholly inconsistent with his opinion of Obama's economic platform.  Romney and his fellow Republicans decry an increase in the top tax rate from 35% to 39.6% as an affront to freedom, but Israel has a top tax rate of 48%, a Value Added Tax of 16%, set to increase to 18% next year, and a progressive payroll tax structure.  Their health care system is Obamacare on steroids, including mandated coverage, strong government control of policies and prices, and bans for-profit insurers from participating.

You can't praise Israel's economic structure in one breath and denounce Obama as a socialist in the next.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Romney praises Israel's government-run health care

While speaking in Israel, Romney praised the nation's ability to keep health care costs down, spending only 8% of their GDP on health care, compared to our 18%.  This article points out all the ways that Israel's health care system is essentially Obamacare on steroids and that their success in cost-controls are entirely due to massive government involvement.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

What's the plan once technology makes manual labor obsolete?

As technology improves, workers adapt, learning marketable skills that are more economically performed by a human than by a machine.  In this way, even though improvements might make a worker's current economic role obsolete, workers are able to stay employed and keep food on the table.

But what happens when improving technology results, as it inevitably will assuming our future isn't a dystopian hellscape, in devices which are capable of outperforming most of humanity in any conceivable way for a cost below starvation wages for a flesh-and-blood worker?  Without any economic incentive to hire people, what happens to the people?  Some number of intellectual/creative people's skills will remain in demand, at least until technology replaces them, too.

For a liberal or socialist system, taxes will be levied on the owners of technology to provide for people's needs.  But what would be the conservative alternative?

Chick-fil-A and voting with your wallet

Chick-fil-A has gotten itself in hot water recently after its President announced opposition to same-sex marriage.  Some people have decided to no longer eat at Chick-fil-A as a result, and others make a point to support the chain.  Such actions are necessary in a post-Citizens United world, where one must consider what might be done with the money they shell out for whatever widget they may be considering.  Chick-fil-A gives millions to anti-gay groups.  Money spent at Chevron or on Stainmaster carpet might wind up in a right-wing attack ad funded by the Koch Brothers, or money at Starbucks might go to providing benefits to the same-sex partners of employees.

Consumers have the right to know where their money goes.  So it's disheartening to see the failure of laws which require the disclosure of Super PAC donor lists.  I'm all for recognizing the right of a citizen to say with a clear voice that another person is a charlatan and a scoundrel, but the identity of the accuser should be disclosed.  Allowing anonymity encourages the sort of negative smears we seem to be getting.  If it were public knowledge that Corporation X were behind one particular smear, the fear of a consumer backlash might temper the impulse to attack.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Wanted to watch a replay of the Opening Ceremony tonight...

...but couldn't, even though I had an internet connection and a username/password for a cable TV provider.  For shame, NBCOlympics.com.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Romney campaign destroys own trip

Romney's over in London burnishing his foreign policy cred, which is an odd time for one of his campaign's top surrogates, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, to say "I think the focus needs to continue to be on what’s happening here at home. That’s what’s important to voters".  They are forced into taking this contradictory approach due to the awful day Romney had today.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Why is this news?

This was the main headline on the Drudge Report overnight was this little gem.  Why is this news? We knew he was a grad student, and grad students often get federal help.  But the conservative media is never one to miss an opportunity to reinforce their readers' anti-spending biases, so we get treated to this headline.  More out of control government spending, or something...

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Fox News at it again

From Fox News's website today:

As discussed yesterday, Republicans are trying to score points on a statement by Obama to small business owners that "you didn't build that."  Now, as a generally rational person, you might ask what exactly is the identity of "that".  Is he telling small business owners that they didn't build the Grand Canyon?  A child's laughter?  How could we find out what he meant?

You might start by looking at the context of the statement.  So here it is:
If you are successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you've got a business, you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn't get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.
It immediately becomes clear that the President is referring to the common goods of infrastructure, an educated work-force, and such.  Romney's claims that Obama was telling small business owners that they didn't deserve credit for building their businesses is wrong on its face.  There can't be any legitimate dispute over this.

But Fox News chooses to clearly pick sides in the dispute, supporting the Republican position.  For starters, the structure of the headline puts Obama in a conflict with a a "small biz widow", and the ground on which the conflict will be fought is her dead husband's business.  Then we get a picture of the old dead guy himself.  They follow that up with a truly stunning subheadline, "Eileen Vento answers Obama's statement that small business owners - like her late Joey - 'didn't build that'".  The subheadline accepts as fact the Republican misreading of Obama's statement.

The linked article continues  the assault on the truth, quoting Vento and others who chose to take offense.  Besides giving unopposed views of people who don't know what they're talking about, the text of the article, written by a supposed news reporter, includes pearls like "The president's slight of entrepreneurs also riled David Ruff, owner of..."  Again, the "news" article presents as fact a Republican talking point which is demonstrably false.

All of this would be fine if it were an opinion article.  Fox should be ashamed to call such lies "news".

Monday, July 23, 2012

Romney trying for The Big Lie

Romney continues to harp on Obama's "claim" that business owners didn't build their businesses.  Of course, Obama said nothing of the sort, and instead was referring to the economic and physical environment in which businesses exist.  But why let what Obama actually said get in the way of a good attack.  Romney hopes that by continuing to spout the lie, the link between Obama and discrediting businesses owners might stick.  It's another in a long line of ridiculous attempts by conservatives to portray Obama as "other".  He is, at most, a center-left politician, who hasn't done anything much to deviate from previously accepted orthodoxy on the ways to run the nation.  That doesn't motivate the GOP base, though, so they have to create a bogeyman where there just isn't one.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

What's up with skipping the convention?

Prominent Democrats like Sen. Claire McCaskill (MO) and Sen. Joe Manchin (WV) are making a point of not attending the Democratic Convention this year.  I just don't understand the motivation for such a maneuver.  It's not like voters aren't going to see the "Democrat" next to their name right on the ballot.  Voters know McCaskill and Manchin are going to vote for Harry Reid for Senate Majority Leader.  So  their decision to skip the DNC therefore has no real benefit.  But it inflicts a real cost on the party they supposedly represent.  These Senators represent rather conservative states, and they fear being tied to Obama and the national party if they attend the convention.  Refusing to attend the convention gives a signal that the party is somehow so extreme that they can't even soil themselves by talking with the rest of their party for a few days.  This puts pressure on other candidates, as Democrats who do go the convention are now labelled as more "left" than even other Democrats.  Once it becomes a thing to not attend, it slaps an unfortunate label on those who do.

So I would love to ask the Senators just what the Democratic Party has done that merits such a response.  How are they so disenchanted with their party that they can't even attend the convention and, I don't now, try to save the party from itself?  If you're doing to have a D next to your name, along with a promise to vote for a Democrat for your leadership, then suck it up and go to the convention.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Please don't hate me, but...

Statistically speaking, every 48 hours, over 13,000 (.pdf) Americans die, and 240 die due to lack of health insurance 180 Americans die in traffic accidents, and 170 are killed with a gun.  Worldwide, 42,000 under 5 die of preventable causes every 48 hours

The shootings in Colorado are of course a terrible tragedy whose victims should be mourned and the ramifications of which should be discussed.  But, and maybe this is peculiar to my mathematical/utilitarian mind, why should events like this have such sway over the our national consciousness or our politics?  Why does gun control jump to the top of the political heap for at least a little while because 182 people were killed by guns during this 48 hours, instead of 170 like every other?

Friday, July 20, 2012

Nothing today

In light of all the political news centering around the theater shooting in Colorado, I don't have anything to talk about today.  Seems inappropriate to have a post about gun control or something.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Tax returns as evidence of success

Mitt Romney has two and exactly two qualifications to be President.  He was a successful businessman, and he was governor of Massachusetts.  As he spent much of his time in Massachusetts passing an individual health insurance mandate, raising fees for government services and advocating for carbon emission limits, so he can't really run on his political record.  He's left, then, with running on his record as a businessman.

He wants to be given tremendous control over ~20-25% of the economy, but he doesn't want to give voters the evidence needed to support his business acumen.  By refusing to divulge details of his activities at Bain, or to release his tax returns, he strips his claim to the Presidency down to being a rich guy.  He doesn't tell us how he got rich or how he can use that knowledge to help the economy.  In his previous term in public office, he led his state to a 47th place finish in job creation, so it's not like his skills at transitioning private skills to public service are evident for all to see.  Without releasing his Bain and tax records, what real evidence, besides his nebulously-defined net worth, supports his candidacy?

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

As we stand up, we stand down

While I respect and share many of the goals of the libertarian movement, I'm legitimately frightened by the speed with which they propose to overhaul our economic system.  Ron Paul's budget calls for huge cuts, totaling $1 trillion in the first year, to programs which provide fundamentally important services, like food stamps and children's health insurance and the entire Department of Housing and Urban Development.  I'd worry for the health and well-being of people in poverty if it were ever enacted.  It's not that I don't think it's possible, through a combination of private and personal charity and motivating people to get jobs, for poor people to do just fine under such an economic structure.  But I think it would be irresponsible to just assume that a $1 trillion-sized chunk of the economy can reorganize seamlessly enough to avoid a non-zero amount of hunger/disease/etc.  It takes time to train pediatricians, brainwashed by insurance companies, to treat kids more cost-effectively.  Employers need time to hire new employees.  Private soup kitchens need to work out logistics for getting food and people to their expanded operations.  A more gradual path to libertarianism would allow time for the prescribed massive changes to work themselves out.

A more measured approach might mean spreading the $1 trillion of cuts over at least a few years.  To ensure that we aren't making things worse, we could strike a deal with ourselves; we cut however many tens/hundreds of billions could reasonably be accomplished in one year from the budget, but the cut would be conditional on not causing significant drops in important things like child health or people with homes.  Perhaps temporary tax incentives could be involved, if that wouldn't be too icky.  Depending on how well the goals are met, the next year's cuts are considered.

I understand that this all might seem rather centrally-planned to a libertarian.  It also lacks the moral clarity of cutting $1 trillion immediately and eliminating five Cabinet departments in the first year.  But it would keep from scaring away potential converts like me.  

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Fox News, Republicans accept Keynesianism

Fox News reports on a new study which predicts just over 2 million jobs will be lost if automatic budget cuts, agreed to during the debt limit standoff last summer, are allowed to occur this coming January.  These include over a million each due to cuts in domestic and military spending.  The article quotes prominent Republicans who are decrying the jobs that will be lost if the military budget is cut.

What exactly separates this kind of spending to boost employment from other kinds of government spending to increase employment?  Why is it good economic policy to pay someone a salary to guard a base, but not to teach in a school or build solar panels?

Why not a second round of stimulus?

Monday, July 16, 2012

Why Bain matters

Romney has two, and exactly two, qualifications to be President.  One is his term as governor of Massachusetts.  But the one actual accomplishment of his time in that office, Romneycare, is something he must by necessity run away from.  So he's left with running on his record as a businessman.  This is his one and only claim to the office.  Without that, he's just some schlub off the street pitching an amalgamation of Paul Ryan and George W. Bush.  This is different from the attacks on Obama's relationship with Rev. Wright, as Wright was not central to Obama's purpose for his candidacy.

At the very least, in the last few days, the Obama campaign has managed to make Bain a question mark in voters' minds.  His time there was not all successful investments and good management; there was some Gordon Gekko in there.  In addition to blunting the biographical advantage of Bain, this whole affair has solidified the concept of Romney as rich guy, which will be damaging for the GOP as previously discussed.

Romney is singularly unable to get away from this issue, despite the beating he's taken over the last few days, because he has nothing else to run to.  He wants to return focus to the economy, but the only reason anyone cares what he has to say about the economy is his Bain record.  And his best defense his time as CEO is that he's a sort of financial Mr. Magoo, blind to the results of his underlings' machinations.  It's not a powerful position to be in.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Why didn't Romney use his Swiss/Caymans money to create American jobs?

Romney has been under attack in recent days regarding the end of his tenure with Bain Capital.   To briefly summarize, Bain did some politically-icky things between 1999, when Romney went to Utah to run the Olympics, and 2002, when he finally and completely left Bain, receiving a buyout/retirement package.  In addition to typical but impolitic actions like outsourcing jobs, which Bain had been involved in when Romney was fully in charge, Bain also engaged in completely radioactive actions like investing $75 million in a company which disposes of aborted fetuses.  It would devastate Romney's campaign to have all of these things directly tied to himself instead of his firm.

Correctly recognizing the danger to his campaign if Bain's 1999-2002 actions could be ascribed to him personally, Romney sat down on Friday for interviews with ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox and CNN.  In these interviews, he denies any memory of any activity, whether a board meeting, conference call, board meetings for companies Bain partly owned, or anything else, involving Bain Capital in those years.  He says in the NBC interview that "I had no work whatsoever with the Bain Capital people."  This claim contradicts legal filings by Bain from those periods which include Romney's signature (including the aborted-fetus folks), as well as other filings which list him as "sole stockholder, chairman of the board, chief executive officer, and president".  It also contradicts Romney's testimony in 2002, when he was aiming to prove Massachusetts residency to run for governor despite having been running the Olympics in Utah for the past three years, when he stated he returned for "a number of social trips and business trips that brought me back to Massachusetts, board meeetings, Thanksgiving, and so forth".  He also said in the residency testimony that he attended board meetings for Staples and Marriot on behalf of Bain.

It also defies common sense that a rich guy would be in town occasionally for those business trips and Thanksgivings and not at least have meeting with the Bain folks and make sure they weren't using his tens/hundreds of millions of dollars to invest in raiding factories, aborted fetus removal or anything else he might find objectionable or politically inconvenient.  He discussed in a back-and-forth with Rick Perry during a debate that he was willing to drop a landscaping company that employs illegal immigrants to avoid poor political optics.  He apparently doesn't find offshoring American jobs to be worth the same concern.

He applies a similar lack of concern for his bank accounts in Switzerland, Bermuda and the Cayman Islands, all well-known tax shelters.  These accounts contain (or contained, as the Swiss one at least is now closed) as much as $32 million, so it ain't chump change.  He claims at the end of the NBC interview that he didn't know where his money was, as his assets were all in a blind trust.  By Romney's own words, he states he didn't bother telling the trustee of his blind trust to not put his money in these tax shelters.  Why didn't he?  Shouldn't he pay a political cost for not doing so?

The company line from the Romney campaign on the Bain and tax shelter account issues are that Romney was an absentee landlord.  He had tens of millions in assets, in Bain in 1999-2002 and in his own Swiss and other accounts as recently as 2010, and supposedly just didn't care what that money did.  Those assets could have allowed an American bank to make tons of loans and boost the American economy, but Romney chose to let his money people do whatever made him the most money personally, rather than ensuring, even as recently as 2010, that his investments helped America.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Working on a longer post

Looks like I won't be done by midnight, so stay tuned for a long-ish post about Mitt Romney and Bain Capital.  The main thrust will be that by Romney's own version of the story he's unacceptable to be President.

Blame Joel Osteen...

...for my post being late.  I went to visit a friend who works near Jacobs Field and the Gund (downtown Cleveland), and since the Indians are in Toronto, I expected getting around parking to be easy.  But it turns out Joel Osteen, the leader of the largest megachurch in the country and pretty much a complete sellout who dresses up lame self-help sessions in Christian language, was having an event at the Gund, so it added about an hour to my night.

So, yeah, sorry.

In my defense, yesterday's was pretty long...

Quick thought for today:  No way in hell Condoleezza Rice will be the Vice Presidential nominee.  She's pro-choice.  How did this get any traction today?

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Dear Congressman, we need that purple finger ink stuff the Iraqis have

(photo source)

Voting is a fundamentally important activity of government that just about everyone can agree should be done well.  So it is terribly disheartening to read about a new law in Pennsylvania which requires a driver's license or similar photo ID in order to vote in the state, which over 750,000 current Pennsylvania voters, or 9% of registered voters, don't have.

What exactly is the plan for Pennsylvanians who don't have the right ID on Election Day?  Will they be allowed to cast their votes and prove their citizenship later?  Can such a process of proof be done without economic disincentives, such as being required to be in a government office for a few hours on a weekday or having to get across town without a car or decent public transportation?

If so, then I don't know why everyone's getting so fired up about over voter ID laws.  If not, I'd have to ask, why not?  How much could it really cost to put into place a system that would ensure that every eligible American who wants to vote can do so?

One particularly cost-effective way to combat voter fraud, which doesn't require our government to turn away some statistically significant number of our fellow citizens who want to vote, is to adopt the purple finger ink practice used in elections in  Iraq and, last week, in Libya.  Proponents of voter ID laws claim a danger of people voting multiple times using multiple people's names.  The use of the semi-permanent stain, which will come off relatively soon but not on Election Day, makes such a tactic impossible.

There would still be a danger of immigrants voting, I suppose.  So even with everyone dipping a finger, you would still have to have a process to screen out non-citizens.  In order to give every citizen their vote, we should be willing to spend quite a bit of money, just as we spent lots of money to help the Iraqis and Libyans get their purple fingers.  A simple but possibly-inefficient solution would be to have lots of DMV workers at the polling places to go through the process of getting people their IDs instantaneously.  Since hiring extra DMV/Census type workers to facilitate the verification of people's identities will likely come cheaper than fighting several wars at once, I'm pretty sure we can handle it, particularly given that the purple dye thing would already make fraud a pretty unappealing prospect.

A more effective and efficient approach was comes from South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who suggested last year that she would personally drive any South Carolinian without ID to the DMV to get one.  Gov. Haley would of course need help in her goal, so I would suggest we hire (or incentivize) drivers and other workers necessary to help citizens get their proper IDs.  We could set up a 1-800 number and flood the airwaves with advertisements offering registration assistance.

Regarding cost, I can't claim to know enough to give a firm answer.  But based on the cost of the 2010 Census, $13 billion, it is unlikely to break the bank.  $13 billion works out to $42 for every living person in the country, and that kind of money pays for a lot of poll workers and rides to the DMV, particularly when the purple finger requirement screens out the cheaters and allows resources to be focused on those who really need them.  With all the money thrown around on Wall Street and around the world, surely a few billion to put Americans to work helping other Americans vote is something we could all agree on.

(photo source)

Finally, the purple finger ink might take on a role like the ashes on the foreheads of Catholics, as a marker of principle or identity.  It's a mega-super "I voted today" sticker, and it's one that encourages identification/solidarity with people around the world who believe that using one's finger to vote, not to pull a trigger, is the best way to establish a government.  It is a (semi-permanent) reminder of the importance of voting, and of the value that is rightly placed on it.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Self-interest and trust

The post the other day about the bullshit survey which supposedly showed Obamacare was scaring doctors into early retirement was inspired by finding the Tea Party ties of the group conducting the survey.  When someone has an interest in the outcome of something, it's fair to assume that what they are saying can't be taken at face value.

In light of this, it makes sense that Obama's current political focus is on Romney's goals as Bain Capital CEO and his offshore accounts.  Romney's campaign is built almost entirely on his success as a businessman leading to his massive personal fortune.  In a strategy that must make Karl Rove blush, the Obama campaign is seeking to turn Romney's one strength into an albatross around his neck.  They have been hammering Romney's use of his IRA, which were intended to help middle-class workers save for retirement, to shelter tens of millions.  They also emphasize his accounts in Switzerland and the Cayman Islands.  There is nothing to suggest Romney violated any laws, but he certainly exploited loopholes where possible.  Even Republican Senator Lindsey Graham freely admits that Romney gamed the system for his own benefit.

The Republican economic platform is based on the idea that we will all benefit if only we could cut taxes and get out of rich people's way.  As the Obama campaign continues to point out, Romney is a guy who (legally) avoided taxes so we'd stay out of his way and is now tasked with saying we shouldn't make rich people pay so much in taxes.  Romney is already, as the only other American in the history of the nation to sign an individual health insurance mandate into law, a terrible messenger for the GOP's anti-Obamacare furor.  He's a terrible vessel for their economic plan, too.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Mission Statement

It occurs to me that perhaps I should talk a bit about why I post here every night.  I harbor no illusions of a future in punditry or that this blog will ever be read by more than a handful of good friends.  But I do occasionally think grandiose thoughts, to borrow a phrase from Newt, about the blog as a method of approaching political involvement.  Rather than passively absorbing talking points from The National Review or MSNBC, or only discussing politics with like-minded, unchallenging people, I get to discuss the issues of the day with (most frequently) a libertarian and a Christian minister and other friends with a variety of views.  Friendly conversation of politics provides a non-confrontational protection from the "ism schism game" of thinking one's own positions are always correct.  I try to get the same sort of thing by listening to Hannity and reading Drudge, but this is a much more constructive and pleasant approach.

Thanks to the interwebs, I think that the level of discourse in this kind of setting can be at a pretty high level despite being carried out among people who do other things for a living.  While we don't spend all day reviewing the latest reports from the RAND Corporation, we have the advantage of quick, easy access to whichever resource or column or clip might be germane.  So the interactivity of the format comes at a low cost in terms of quality.

I also think it's useful, not to mention kind of fun, to get on the record with where I stand on the issues of the day.  Sharing my thoughts hopefully at least on occasion encourages at least a few of you to think about something or other in a different way, even if it's rejected.  It'll also be fun down the road to find all the ridiculous predictions I've made over the years, such as my post positing an end to the Republican Party because the economy would certainly recover by the 2010 elections, which would the final nail in the coffin of the GOP.


So I'm looking forward to the next four months worth of posts and discussion.  I'd of course be happy to discuss any political issue that might be on your mind.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Bad even for Drudge

Two bits of data which are important for you to know before getting to the main post:

1.  As some of you may be aware, I have recently moved back to Akron, Ohio.  We've been furniture shopping, and I've found myself frustrated by the lack of good reviews for couches.  Every review I've found on any non-seller website is negative, without exception.  Does every couch suck?

Of course, it wouldn't be reasonable for a person whose couch is doing just fine to go out of their way to go online and tell the world how well their couch keeps their ass off the floor.  It's only the people whose couches break in half six months after they buy them that type out a review on Amazon.

2.  I'm a physician, and I can personally attest that filling out paperwork is the bane of most doctors' existence.

With that in mind, on to the main post.

This evening, the Drudge Report's top headline was a link to this article, which discusses a survey performed by an organization called the Doctor Patient Medical Association.  The survey, per Drudge's headline, showed that "83% of doctors have considered quitting over Obamacare".  The article describes the DPMA as "a non-partisan association of doctors and patients".  Which is a strange claim to make, given that the DPMA has an "Affiliate Relationship" with the National Tea Party Federation.  As one might expect based on the study's origin, there are major flaws with the article.

The DPMA's description of the survey states that it was faxed to over 16,000 offices, with 699 respondents, meaning that 4.3% of doctors actually returned the survey, which is kind of a shitty response rate for a survey, but which might be expected given the method of contact, faxing.  Considering the two facts above (re: couch reviews and doctors filling out forms), it is reasonable to conclude that there would be a significant selection bias in the survey's sample.  Few would take time out of their busy day to fill out a survey to tell a faceless, generically-named organization that they think the medical system is, is just doing great, goshdarnit!  You're going to wind up with people looking to complain, so you'd expect a negative bias.

More importantly, I would totally answer "Yes!" if I were asked "Have you considered quitting medicine because of Obamacare?", and I'm more pro-Obama than most.  Obamacare represents a significant change in the system that allows me to provide food, clothing and shelter to my family.  It would be foolish to not consider if such changes would make my current set-up untenable.

So Drudge (and the Daily Caller, the referenced source) lie about the source of a survey which uses flawed methodology to rack up as many tallies as possible for one particular response which doesn't actually indicate anything other than a recognition that Obamacare's a big fucking deal to doctors, which is obvious to anyone at all paying attention.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Splitting the anti-Obama vote

Just as Romney emerged victorious in the Republican primaries thanks to no one candidate monopolizing the anti-Romney vote, Obama might win a second term thanks to splitting of the anti-Obama vote.  Romney's campaign has been heavily focused on trashing Obama's record, selling himself as a way to fight back against Obama.  But if there is more than one major candidate not named Obama, like Gary Johnson, Romney's approach fails.

It's an unfortunate effect of our two-party system that all a candidate has to do to win is make his opponent untenable.  This encourages negative attacks (like those Democrats unleashed on Romney today) instead of constructive debate.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Amazing dishonesty from George Will

George Will, a conservative columnist, wrote a widely-distributed column this week lamenting the possibility that new EPA rules might cause a Navajo-owned coal power plant to shut down.  He states (correctly) that new equipment to make the plant less polluting would cost $1.1 billion, possibly bankrupting the plant.  He goes on to claim that the benefit being sought by the EPA is to improve visibility at national parks near the plant.

$1.1 billion so a few treehuggers can see a little better seems ridiculous, right?  Will even throws in a good ol' tug at the heart strings by bringing up the "economic and social damage [of the EPA's decision] on Native Americans, who over the years have experienced quite enough of that at Washington’s hands."

Of course, his entire premise is complete bullshit.  Yes, it's true that $1.1 billion for clearer sight lines is silly.  But that's far from the only benefit to be had from tighter pollution controls.  An article linked to in the body of Will's own column states that an EPA study shows that every dollar of spending on pollution controls generates $30 to $86 in benefits.  Will neglects to mention that the same pollution controls would improve health (and therefore save medical dollars and worker productivity and such) in addition to maintaining clear visibility.

I would love to ask Mr. Will, who claims to stand for personal responsibility and property rights, why he thinks this power plant should be allowed to pump out pollution that causes economic harm to others.  If he thinks the science is flawed, he should argue against it, not just try to sweep it under the rug.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Liberalism and mean girls

(I have no empirical evidence to back this up, but...) When I was a dweeby high school kid in Academic Challenge and chess club and band, I would occasionally find myself on the receiving end of some teasing.  Whether it was rational or not, I would occasionally get moments of existential anxiety, convincing myself that I would die penniless and alone.  If people don't like me now, then they probably won't like me in the future, and boom, I'm dying of some otherwise-preventable cause.

Our system of life is based in no small part on existential fear of death from want.  Grade school kids are told if they don't learn to write cursive then they'll never do well in middle school, which means they won't get into honors classes in high school, which means they won't get into a college or get a good job, and they're pretty much doomed.  How fucked up is that?  Even I, as a doctor with a doctor spouse, face the realistic possibility of losing enough economic power that poverty could happen.

People in a society with sufficient public and/or private guarantees of the basics of life don't have to deal with such fears.  People in Canada can be assured that as long as the government of the nation exists, they will have state of the art medical care.  The concept of dying because you don't have the economic power to get yourself some lipitor is completely off the table, just like foreign invasion is completely off the table for the Swiss.

True security is a powerful thing.  It makes all those little daily anxieties go away to know that your basic needs will always be cared for no matter what.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Romney's fundraising in perspective

The Romney campaign announced today that it had taken in $100 million in June.  It seems like a lot of money.  But it's barely half of what Pixar took in with Brave in just the last two weeks.

It's not the money that's ruining politics; it's that we sell our votes so cheaply.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Safety first

We spend hundreds of billions of dollars every year in the name of security, with soldiers stationed in 150 countries around the world.  We have also spent 6,440 lives in the past decade toward this goal.  We have been involved in (by my count) 9 major foreign wars since 1815, in which time Switzerland has been involved in exactly 0.  Instead of spending money of aircraft carriers and nuclear weapons, they devote their defense resources to nuclear shelters and the ability to turn their country into a fortress.  They have their bridges and tunnels wired to be destroyed in the event of invasion, and much of their populace is trained and armed for military combat.

But in 200 years, they haven't had to use these capabilities.  On the one hand, the tremendous defense capabilities of the Swiss makes them an unappealing target for potential invaders.   More importantly, their strong traditions of neutrality and non-aggression have successfully kept anyone from really wanting to invade them in the first place.

These two factors are related.  If your people are confident they will never be taken over and make that security real by giving them a weapon and plenty of access to fallout shelters, it's tough to get them riled up enough to attack someone else.  And it's hard to find people willing to launch terrorist attacks on a neutral nation.

It is sometimes claimed that our economic position in the world would be endangered if we took a more isolationist approach to our military endeavors.  Switzerland's almost-identical record on GDP per capita puts that argument to bed.

We are currently killing people in several countries and creating new enemies every time we do it, whether or not those killed needed to be for some objective reason.  We wind up more fearful and less secure than we would be if the Department of Defense used its massive budget for actual defense.

Why are we so afraid?

In one day just about 10 years ago, 19 guys managed to kill a number of Americans comparable the number of Americans killed by heart attack, stroke and cancer on that very same day. Since then, we have, collectively, freaked out over our very survival, convinced that an American caliphate is imminent if we don't ban Sharia Law immediately. Despite spending huge sums and thousands of lives in pursuit of security, we are just as afraid as ever. We have tremendous advantages when it comes to national defense. With two huge oceans between us and most of the world, it is exceedingly unlikely that we would ever be invaded. If it really came down to it, we could at least defend the borders no matter what. And yet we overreact to every threat as if it's an existential peril. The next few posts will look at ways to achieve true security and the benefits that would come from that security.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Homework assignment

Brief post tonight. Just an assignment to read about the Swiss military, particularly the part about their shelters and fortifications. It will be the basis for several upcoming posts. To hopefully pique your interest, it's a military model I possibly would actually sign up for.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

The Personal Responsibility Plan

Turns out Mitt Romney offered a great branding suggestion to the President.  In 2010, Romney said:
Right now people who can afford to buy insurance make the decision, ‘I’m not going to buy insurance. I’m going to be a free rider.’ And if I get sick or get in a serious accident, then government’s going to pay for me. That, in my view is the big-government solution we have right now. The alternative – there are a couple of alternatives – one is to say to employers you must give insurance to every one of your employees. I said, ‘No, I don’t want to do that. That’s going to kill jobs.’ And the other alternative is to say to people if you can afford to get insurance, you ought to buy insurance. And if you don’t buy it you’re going to get penalized with a higher tax rate for not having gotten insurance. Now you tell me which of those is the big-government plan and which is the personal responsibility plan.
"Personal responsibility plan" has a much better ring to in than "individual mandate".