Blog Credo

The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.

H.L. Mencken

Saturday, March 31, 2012

I Think I Crippled Myself

So, I managed to break free from Battleship long enough to start watching the first season of Game of Thrones, which is as good as advertised.  But I stayed up a little late to do so.

Then I am awoken by the Trophy Wife, But In A Good Way who says the floor guy is here.  See, ever since we moved into the house about 8 years ago, she's wanted to get a new floor in the kitchen.  So I pulled up the tile, but thought the installer would pull up the underlayer.

Turns out I was wrong about that.

So I tear up the underlayer this morning.  And right now I can barely move and I have a pound of sawdust in my nose and lungs.

This floor better rock.

Friday, March 30, 2012

I'm Pretty Much Doomed. Doomed I Tells Ya!

I discovered Battleship for my iPhone.  I may never be productive again.

At least I no longer have to obsess about hypotheticals involving Anthony Kennedy's views of stare decsis and the Commerce Clause.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Ignorance Is Bliss

As we sit and ponder whether four conservative justices and the fossilized remains of Clarence Thomas will overturn the entire relationship between the state and federal government since at least 1937, it is worth asking oneself: Is it worth it?

I mean, is it worth knowing this?

I remember when they repealed Glass-Steagall.  I turned to my class and said, "This will causes a major economic catastrophe."  I was right.  Does being right make me happy now?

I remember when the Court pulled Bush v. Gore out of its ass.  I turned to my class and said, "The Bush administration begins under a cloud of contested legitimacy.  One way to foster legitimacy is to start a war.  I will guarantee that we are at war before the midterms."  I was more or less right, though I don't subscribe to the theory that Bush let 9/11 happen to get a war.  Fact is, it allowed him to get the war he wanted in Iraq.  But does being right make me happy now?

I remember when the Court pull Citizen's United out of its ass.  I turned to my class and said, "Democracy is now for sale.  Campaign will be meaner and stupider than ever before."  I was right.  As exhibit A, I give you the "candidacy" of Newt Gingrich.  Does being right make me happy now?

And so, if some time later this spring, I turn to my class and say, "The Supreme Court has just ended any ability of the national government to address national problems."  Or "The Supreme Court has just sentenced thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of people to premature deaths by annulling the first bill that guarantees that people won't die because they can't see a Doctor."  I will probably be right.

But it won't make me happy.

Normally, I'd be excited for the distraction of professional athletics, but being as I am a Braves and Falcons fan, that just as depressing as trying to figure out what the hell Anthony Kennedy is going to do to the Constitution.

What Will Be The Court's Legacy

There goes Roberts... Kennedy... There's Scalia... and... Oof, Alito.

"Judicial activism" has for years simply meant whatever conservatives disliked.  But true "judicial activism" is when the courts invent new rights to strike down acts of the legislative branch.  Roe v. Wade was judicial activism.  Brown v. Board of Education really wasn't.

If the Roberts Court decides to throw out the mandate and universal coverage, that will be a significant and painful moment in the fight to make all Americans covered by health insurance.  It will also represent a further rightward shift in our understanding of the role of government, a further undermining of the past 65 years of American jurisprudence.  It would be a return to Gilded Age distortions of the law.

But if the Roberts Court decides to throw out the entire ACA or toss over the Medicaid rules... We are talking about a moment of judicial activism that can probably only be compared to Dred Scott V. Sanford in terms of its far reaching implications and what it means for the Court's legitimacy.

If Citizen's United dramatically and radically re-wrote a century worth of campaign finance law, then the overturning of all of ACA and the prohibiting of federal pressure on the states through the purse string would shatter almost all precedents since 1937.  This would profoundly rewrite the very function of the American governmental system.

Which is why it's unlikely Kennedy goes along with it.  Roberts, too, might decide that being the Roger Tawney of the 21st century isn't the legacy he had planned for himself.

The mandate might very well be overturned and with it the universality of ACA.  But I think the Court might blanche at completely overturning 65 years of precedent.

Of course, the question becomes did they learn from Bush v. Gore and Citizen's United?  Or are they just getting warmed up?

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Tea Leaves

Justice said WHAT?

The general assumption going into the Supreme Court hearing was that the mandate was probably constitutional, but that the Conservative Justices might be willing to make a new interpretation of economic activity.

That seems to be the consensus of what's happening from today's Court watchers.

The problem is that no one really knows how the Court will decide based on oral arguments.  But it is somewhat worrisome that we're now relying on Roberts and not Kennedy to keep the law.

In some ways, the best possible result for Progressives would be to rule the mandate unconstitutional but severable.  So all the good stuff survives, but the mandate dies.  Mainly this would be fun to watch because the insurance companies would plotz.  It would also remove the single least popular part of the plan before the election.

Insurance companies didn't go "Harry and Louise" this time around, because they got a decent deal out of this: less profit but more customers.  If the mandate is unconstitutional but severable, their deal gets screwed.

The assumption is that the mandate prevents "free riders" and I think that's true.  But I think the free rider phenomenon might be overstated.  I would carry health insurance, because I don't want to have to apply only when I get sick.  I want it to be there, always, and not be a hassle.

The problem with the current system is that it's often a hassle, if it's even available.

Not having the mandate would mean that some people would free ride, but that's effectively what happens in many ways today.  It would make the system less efficient, but probably more popular.

What would be devastating, of course, would be unconstitutional and non-severable.  All of that work destroyed by mossbacked judges determined to stand athwart progress and end a bill before it even gets a chance to work.

Well, we shall see, shan't we?

Missing The Point

Too late.

Trayvon Martin was not a saint.  Trayvon Martin was a teenager.

Did Trayvon Martin turn and attack the armed guy who was stalking him through the neighborhood?  Possibly.  Maybe probably.

Does that matter?


The problem is that Zimmerman followed him around with a loaded gun.  The problem is that the idiotic Stand Your Ground law is written so poorly that it basically allowed what looks to be at least voluntary manslaughter to go - at first - unpunished.  The problem is that if Zimmerman were black and Martin white, there is no way Zimmerman would have not been arrested.

This is the problem with the personalization of issues like this.  Martin was just a normal kid with normal kid issues.  He should not be dead.  But because Martin came to stand for things that maybe his actual life could not bear, we will get a muddied result from all this.

And it some point, someone else is going to get killed because of this Stand Your Ground bullshit.

No One Could Have Predicted...

Whenever you talk to an Econ teacher about, well, almost anything, eventually the conversation comes around to incentives.  Economists - especially those who study behavioral economics - are obsessed with incentives.

Why do people do what they do?  Freud: SEX!  Economist: INCENTIVES! Sartre: To fill up the empty hours until death.

When Atlanta's school system was found to have engaged in widespread cheating, Atlanta's paper responded as only Atlanta could, with a chip on its shoulder.  They discovered evidence of massive cheating on these tests across the country, especially in low performing schools.

Why?  Incentives.

By helping their students cheat, school systems were responding to the pressures of the current educational vogue: high stakes testing.  If they had NOT cheated, teachers might have lost their jobs (example) or been passed over for promotion.

Here's the whole article.  Interestingly there is evidence of this cheating in all types of school environments, urban, rural, wealthy districts.

Here's a good quote:

Education historian and New York University Professor Diane Ravitch said the incessant focus on testing has eroded the quality of instruction.
“All of this is predictable,” said Ravitch, a former top U.S. Department of Education official who in recent years reversed her support for testing and tough accountability measures. “We’re warping the education system in order to meet artificial targets.”

I work with very motivated students and they are usually quite intelligent.  If they aren't quite intelligent, they are likely to work with the efforts of a galley slave.  Because I teach APs to college bound students, that test - especially AP US - has a great deal of significance in their lives.

But it has almost none in mine, beyond a certain level of competitiveness.  When my seniors - already in to college and unlikely to get credit for the AP scores - bomb their Comp Gov exam, it makes me angry (Why did we spend the whole year getting ready for a test that they punted?), but it doesn't effect my job standing.  Everyone understands that our Seniors get very little reward for doing well on their APs.  There incentive is small.

I have no incentive to cheat.  Also, our school has a pretty well functioning Honor Code.  And we take steps to make sure that I have no contact with students during the exams.  While the school likes to boast about its AP scores, they aren't going to engage in unethical behavior because the relative reward is so small and the risk is so great.

But the incentives under NCLB and Race To The Top make it imperative that teachers help their students cheat.

As I become more proficient at teaching AP US, I came to realize that being an AP reader and teaching myself as many nuances of US History as I could in order to improve my classroom teaching only really helped my students improve by about a point on a five point scale.  If a student's natural "ability" means they are likely to get a 3 going into the exam, I might be able to help them get a 4.  A bad teacher might hobble them to the point where they get a 2.

Teaching does matter.  It's like the axles and wheels on a car.  The car isn't going to go very far without wheels.

But teaching isn't the engine.  That's the student.

Part of the problem seems to me to be the way we look at education as public policy.  We tend to look at it from 10,000 feet in a Macro way.  We compare the average scores of an American student to an average Finnish student and we are horrified.  And so we become obsessed with the 'average scores'.

The problem is that true teaching happens on the personal level.  It takes place not only between the teacher and the student, but the student and her peers and the student and his parents.

There is no Macro solution for that.

In many ways, the American education system has very ambitious goals that precede our obsession with standardized tests.  We try and educate everyone.

And that means our averages are going to be lower than some countries where they handpick the best students.

We also have too much poverty in this country.  That's going to hurt scores, too.  Poor educational values can be passed down from parent to child, in a community where education has never meant what it means to middle class Americans or to educational reformers.

My guess?  If you want test scores like Finland, then maybe you need a society like Finland's where there is very little poverty.  And maybe that's impossible for a country like the US.

But no one well ever really talk about education that way in American policy circles, as an issue of class and poverty.  Because, you see, there are a bunch of for-profit charter schools out there clamoring to suckle at the public teat.  And there are tax dollars to be divvied up amongst school administrators.  There is no profit motive in ending childhood poverty.

In fact, you might say there is an incentive to focus on the wrong solution to the wrong problem.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Nine Black Robes

Your post ACA world...

Because it hasn't really gone into effect yet, ACA isn't terribly popular.  The Right doesn't like it because it goes too far was proposed by Obama.  The Left doesn't like it because it doesn't go far enough.

But all of that is moot today as the Supreme Court begins hearings on whether the law is constitutional.

Ezra Klein's House of Wonk goes over the various hearings here, but I will summarize.

Today, they will decide whether or not to hear the case.  Because there is an 1867 ruling that says you can only sue over a tax once you have had to pay it (and no one has had to pay the mandate fine yet), there is a fairly persuasive argument that no one currently has standing to sue over a law that isn't in effect yet.  Both the Administration and the plaintiffs want to have the hearing now.  Personally, if I were the Administration, anything that brings Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia closer to the sweet embrace of death before they hear this case would be OK with me.

Tomorrow, they will hear about the mandate.  Is it economic activity or inactivity and does that matter.  Five years ago, the idea that the mandate would be unconstitutional would be laughable.  But in the world of Citizens United and Bush v. Gore no one really expects that the Court will either accept stare decisis or hew to their purported philosophical positions.  The ruling on the mandate will almost certainly be political.  It will come down to Kennedy, Scalia and Roberts in that order of likelihood to uphold the mandate.

Next up is severability.  If the mandate is unconstitutional, does that invalidate the whole law?  Interestingly (and foolishly) the Administration does not want to separate the mandate from the guarantee of coverage.  Presumably they want to get rid of the "free rider" syndrome that is at the heart of the mandate.  Plaintiffs say if you get rid of the mandate, you should get rid of the whole entire freaking massive program.  If the court rules that the mandate is unconstitutional but severable, then watch the insurance companies freak the hell out. They need the mandate to cover all the other stuff ACA requires them to cover.

Finally, there's an issue of Medicaid expansion that's kind of separate from the rest of the issues.  Few expect that this part will be ruled unconstitutional.

So basically you have a flow chart.

Is there standing under the 1867 Anti-Injunction Act?  No?  Come back in three years.  Yes?  Proceed to the mandate.

Is the mandate unconstitutional?  No?  Later, haters.  Yes?  Proceed to the severability argument.

Can you sever the mandate from the rest of the law?  No?  How much of the rest of the law in unconstitutional?  Yes?  Watch the people at Blue Cross/Blue Shield have an aneurysm (and then have to prove that it wasn't a pre-existing condition).

As I say, the Medicaid thing shouldn't be a problem.

I will let the wonderful Dahlia Lithwick have the last word:

 "The law is a completely valid exercise of Congress’ Commerce Clause power, and all the conservative longing for the good old days of the pre-New Deal courts won’t put us back in those days as if by magic. Nor does it amount to much of an argument. So that brings us to the really interesting question: Will the Court’s five conservatives strike it down regardless? That’s what we’re really talking about next week and that has almost nothing to do with law and everything to do with optics, politics, and public opinion. That means that Justice Antonin Scalia’s opinion in the Raich medicinal marijuana case, and Chief Justice John Roberts’ and Anthony Kennedy’s opinions in Comstock only get us so far. Despite the fact that reading the entrails of those opinions suggest that they’d contribute to an easy fifth, sixth, and seventh vote to uphold the individual mandate as a legitimate exercise of Congressional power, the real question isn’t whether those Justices will be bound by 70 years of precedent or their own prior writings on federal power. The only question is whether they will ignore it all to deprive the Obama of one of his signature accomplishments." Dahlia Lithwick in Slate .

Why Are They Sniffing America's Panties?

Don't worry, little kid, you're just ahead of the curve.

A few posts over at Balloon Juice make all the same points in different ways.

Cole begins here.  It is echoed here and here.

Despite the improbable political reincarnation of Rick Santorum, the Sweater Vest of the Blessed Virgin, the Right is losing the culture wars. Cole mentions seeing an interracial couple and a lesbian couple on a cooking show.  I think of Modern Family and the incredible normality of the gay couple and their adopted daughter.  I can remember leaving the South and suddenly seeing interracial couples everywhere.  I didn't know you could even DO that.  And yet, clearly you could and then... well, whatever.

The problem that the Right has is that they cast everything in apocalyptic terms.  Santorum says this is the most important election since 1860.  Conservatives say that ACA is second only to Marxist-Nazism in its assault in liberty.

But once people finally realize that bachelor Uncle Percy, the uncle who moved to the city and became a pet psychologist, is only going to get married if he moves to Massachusetts and once people realize that all ACA will really do is guarantee health care coverage for almost everyone, then people wonder what the big fuss was all about.

The Right freaked out about Social Security and Medicare.  They were wrong about that, too, although in some ways they are still freaking about it.

Bless their twisted little hearts.

More Horserace

Good diary over at Kos breaking down the Electoral College and current polling here.

Basically, if you take states in which Obama has a 10 point lead over Romney, you get to 201 Electoral votes.  In the states where Romney bests Obama by 10, you have 71 EVs.

In that states where Obama has a 5-10 point lead you can add 68 EVs.  That gets you to, gulp, 269 and a tie.

Here's the chart:
Obama lead of 10+ points (201 electoral votes): Washington DC (+86); Rhode Island (+27.8); Hawaii (+27); Maryland (+25.4); Delaware (+25); Vermont (+25); New York (+21.8); Massachusetts (+19.8); California (+19.2); New Mexico (+14.3); Illinois (+14); New Jersey (+12.4); Oregon (+11.3); Connecticut (+11); Minnesota (+11); Maine (+10.8); Washington (+10.8)
Obama lead of 5-10 points (68 electoral votes): Wisconsin (+9.2); Michigan (+9); Virginia (+7.6); Pennsylvania (+6.6); Colorado (+5)
Obama lead of less than 5 points (78 electoral votes): New Hampshire (+3.8); Ohio (+3.2); Iowa (+2.2); Nevada (+2.0); Florida (+1.4); North Carolina (+0.8)
Romney lead of less than 5 points (32 electoral votes): Arizona (+2.6); Missouri (+3.6); Indiana (+4.0)
Romney lead of 5-10 points (88 electoral votes): Tennessee (+5.2); South Carolina (+6.8); Georgia (+7.8); Kentucky (+8.0); Texas (+8.0); Montana (+8.3); North Dakota (+8.7)
Romney lead of 10+ points (71 electoral votes): South Dakota (+11.0); Mississippi (+12.0); Arkansas (+13.2); West Virginia (+13.3); Nebraska (+15.0); Louisiana (+16.0); Kansas (+17.0); Alaska (+21.5); Alabama (+22.0); Idaho (+25.3); Oklahoma (+31.3); Utah (+32.0); Wyoming (+32.3)

The big - and I mean BIG - caveat is that R-Money is currently still groping and fumbling his way to the nomination.  Once he gets there - either during the California primary or in Tampa - the party faithful will rally around him some.  Conservative leaning independents will come home, too.

On the other hand, R-Money is not unknown at this point.  He's been running for office for about 6 years now, for Pete's sake.  And people just don't dig Mitt Romney.  At all.

All the trendlines are favorable to Obama.  As long as unemployment continues to move downwards, as long as there are no more wars, as long as his administration remains the most scandal free in - perhaps - American history, those trendlines will favor him.  But that doesn't mean that things won't tighten up this summer when R-Money finally wraps things up.

But don't forget that Obama is an infinitely better candidate that the Etch-A-Sketch.  McCain seemed to draw even with Obama in August 2008.  How did that turn out?

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Yeah, I Got Nothing

Probably should have held off on those OK GO videos until today.

Thing One "crossed over" from Cub Scouts to Boy Scouts today.

Since Thing Two is still in Cubs, all it means to me is two different meetings to lug them to, but he's excited, so bless his little anarchic heart.

Watching Our Idiot Brother.  Laughed and smiled all the way through it.  Nice to have a comedy that isn't mean.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Your Pop Culture Moment

So, I'm sitting at home watching Zombieland and O Brother Where Art Thou and on both nets they are running a bunch of and eHarmony and Christian Singles ads.  Because it's Saturday night, that's why.

The Things and I saw John Carter today and two of the Martians are played by the guys who played Julius Caesar and Marc Antony in the HBO series Rome.  I notice I always see guys from Band of Brothers in the same shows, too.  There must be some sort of HBO mafia that forces people to hire these actors in package deals.

Anyway, just a bunch of fun OK GO videos from here:

This last one is cool and weird and all Pilobolusy.

Louisiana, America's Shitkicker

No need for sad faces.  Or creepy psychotic stares.

The Sweater Vest of the Blessed Virgin has won the state that screenwriters routinely set tales that are too absurd to take place anywhere else.

Once again, Metamorphomitt is denied his opportunity to turn over his Etch-A-Sketch.

In Which I Wade Tentatively Into Psychology

So I had a trifecta of run-ins with the topic of infidelity.

First, at dinner Wednesday with two groups of friends, we were discussing the AP reading.  Gentleman Jim, The Most Lovely and Foxy Wife and I had all been to the AP reading in our respective subjects and were talking with a fourth friend who was headed to her first reading this June.  Both Gentleman Jim and Most Lovely and Foxy Wife were ribbing her about the extramarital dalliances that occur at the reading.  Foxy Wife routinely tells the story of when she likely barged in on her roommate in flagrante.  Gentleman Jim notes that he has a posse of friends who keep him on the straight and narrow.

And I'm sitting there wondering if US Government and Environmental Science teachers are unusually salacious, or whether I'm completely clueless.  I've been going to the US History reading for four years and can't remember anything that seemed risque.  Some joking that might have risen to the level of chaste flirting, but the idea that the reading was somehow awash in sexual congress?  I just wasn't seeing it.

Of course, I can remember being fairly clueless about stuff like that when I was single, so maybe it's just me.

The next day I read a blood curdling piece in Esquire on "Why we cheat".  Click through only if you have a high tolerance for immoral behavior.

The piece was written by a young woman who apparently engages in all sorts of extramarital affairs, although she herself is not married.  She also talks to those who are married and cheat.

It's difficult to tell if she isn't engaged in some clever Swiftian satire, because she comes across as a sociopathic narcissist.  Her utter disregard for other people is frankly nauseating.  But isn't that sort of the point of infidelity?  That you wind up putting your own immediate needs above anything else?

And then, yesterday, I watched Young Adult.  It's a scathing portrait of a woman who returns to her hometown to break up her high school boyfriend's marriage and steal him away.  She's an author of young adult fiction, and it's pretty clear she never outgrew high school.  Clearly intelligent and beautiful (I mean, Charlize Theron, c'mon), she also has no moral core, no empathy and no sense of responsibility to others.  At times, it was just too painful to watch.  I took several breaks to do chores because - while it was scabrously funny - the character was just hard to watch as she destroyed herself in her desire to destroy a marriage.

I can't claim to have always been a "good boyfriend".  I was particularly poorly behaved (ie narcissistic and selfish) in high school.  I proposed on my 31st birthday.  By that time I had grown up (although, indeed, Most Lovely and Foxy Wife might disagree on that assertion).  I was no longer centered as much on self as I was on us.  At some point, the endless fascination that young people have with themselves gets tiresome.

This undoubtedly figures in to why people who get married at a young age tend to divorce.

Only two of "our friends" have gotten divorced as far as I can remember.  And the cause was not infidelity, but it was probably selfishness.  Which ultimately is the same thing.

Anyway, all this rumination on a depressing subject deserves an antidote.  Tom Junod - also at Esquire - has written some great stuff on marriage.

Like this.

Or this.

Friday, March 23, 2012

What Pierce Said

Read it all.  Here's an excerpt:

I am sick to death of people who celebrate "the family" making excuses about why other people's children are expendable. I am sick to death of politicians who are more concerned about protecting zygotes than about the teenagers on whom they seek to balance their budgets and advance their careers. (Barney Frank's line about conservatives's believing that life "begins at conception and ends at birth" was not entirely a joke, although it's always been treated as one.) I am sick to death of opportunistic yahoos who can look at this country's unhealthy attachment to firearms and declare that the actions of George Zimmerman, while unfortunate, were pretty much what the Founders had in mind. I am sick to death of the steady drip-drip-drip of all the topical anesthetics we mix up whenever something like this happens. Had Emmett Till been killed in 2012, there'd be at least three people sitting in the CNN Green Room right now — and probably 15 of them sitting offstage at Fox — waiting to explain how unfortunate it was that the lad so transgressed against local custom that circumstances dictated that he be beaten to a pulp and tossed into the river tied to a cotton-gin fan. I am sick to death about how we can argue about anything simply to argue about it, and then move along to the next argument, as though anything at all has been settled.

Read more:

Good Choice

President Obama just named the president of my alma mater as president of the World Bank.

Jim Yong Kim is a pretty impressive dude.  He started Partners In Health with Paul Farmer and has spent the last few years doing good work as the president of Dartmouth, which is not an easy job.  Most of his constituents - students, alums and so on - are kind of nuts about Dartmouth.  So he clearly has diplomatic chops.

It's also a great opportunity to take someone who has real experience dealing with developing world problems (in Haiti and Peru) and put them in charge of the World Bank.

These are the sort of small everyday things that Obama does that make a real difference but largely go unnoticed by the public at large.




Because I Have Nothing Better To Say Today

Of course, every time I say there's nothing to talk about, Rush Limbaugh decides to go full neanderthal or the House assembly in Nebraska begins issuing 15 day hunting licenses for ob/gyns that perform abortions.  So, I'm reticent...

Anyway, R-Money is locking this thing up, even as the Etch-A-Sketch comment is firmly cementing people's ideas of who he is (or isn't).  It seems like a Kinsey Gaffe (a gaffe that is damaging because it admits the truth).  I'm surprised Whatshisface still has a job.  I thought Mitt liked firing people?

Anyway, I'm going to try and avoid what all political writers do: go full horse race.  But first, let me go full horse race.

Rasmussen, who has a pronounced and measured GOP "house effect", has Obama winning Virginia handily.  Yeah, yeah, seven months out, blah blah blah.  But I don't think it's complicated why Obama is winning Virginia.  First, he has a very mobilized African American community there.  Second, he has a LOT of government workers who have to be put off by the constant attacks on the government and its workers.  As a result, I have high hopes that not only will Obama win Virginia, but he will carry Kaine into the Senate to replace Webb.  National polls - which are even less predictive than state polls - have Obama up about 5-7 points on Romney, but still around 50%.  Technically, he needs to be over 50% as an incumbent. But when you go into the so-called battleground states, his numbers improve.  If Obama wins Ohio and Virginia, I don't see a path to 270 for Romney.  Given the states Obama pretty much has locked up, winning Ohio, Virginia and Pennsylvania gets him to 263.  If he wins Wisconsin he wins.  If he wins New Hampshire and Iowa, New  Mexico or Nevada he wins.  If he wins Colorado, he wins.  Needless to say if he wins Florida he wins.

Taking Virginia and Ohio makes it really easy for Obama to get those last seven electoral votes.

On a policy side, ACA is having its third birthday party today.

Over at Ezra Klein's House O' Wonk, Sarah Kliff walks through how ACA will make substantial changes in medical care in the US.  Medical expenses and the patchwork private system we were using was incredibly expensive and produced mediocre results in the aggregate.  Most of ACA will address how to bring costs down and improve care (which also brings costs down).

Here's a key segment:

The Affordable Care Act ultimately included 45 delivery system reforms. Fifteen of those change how Medicare doctors and hospitals are paid, according to an analysis by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.). The six that have rolled out thus far are largely voluntary, allowing those who think they can deliver more cost-efficient care to opt-in to new payment models.
But the remaining changes will be mandatory. Beginning in October, hospitals stand to lose 1 percent of their Medicare revenue if they can’t hit key metrics on “preventable readmissions” — patients who turn up at the hospital with a complication from an earlier procedure. That’s a big change from the current, volume-based system in which those readmissions generate additional revenue for a hospital.
Although it’s not fully implemented, some say the Affordable Care Act has already significantly catalyzedthe health-care system. Leaders know where Medicare wants to go, even if they didn’t chart an especially aggressive path for how it would get there. “Forever and a day, everybody had been saying we had to change the way we paid for health care,” Roades says. “Now, we have a sense of direction of where the country’s biggest payer is headed. And that provides cover for everybody else to move in that direction.”

And what does that movement look like?

Roades calls the past two years ones of “breathtaking change.” When the Advisory Board Co. surveyed 69 hospital executives in November, just 16 percent said they had bundled payments in place. But of those who didn’t, 75 percent expected to within two years. Two-thirds expected they would have such payment arrangements with Medicare.

To some degree, any change in the way we pay for health care has to be an improvement.

Running on baby steps isn't the best way to capitalize on this issue for the Obama campaign.  Contraception is working fine for now though.  But then again, Romney isn't the best GOP spokesman to attack Obama on ACA, either.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Take Fifteen Minutes, Watch This And Then Have A Cig

And he's probably lying about knowing the guy.

This is why the Etch-A-Sketch gaffe isn't going away.

The Obama campaign said that there was something weird about Mitt Romney and pundits said, "OMG!  He's going to go after the Mormon thing!"

But, no, what's weird about Romney is that he seems utterly incapable of NOT lying.  This is why everyone who gets to know him on the campaign trail comes to hate him.

As Maddow says in the report, "This is more than the normal amount of politician lying.  This bends the curve."

Think about that.  Mitt Romney makes politicians upset with the amount of lying he does.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

This About Sums It Up

In that spirit, let me say that the House of Representatives, under its current majority management, has degenerated into a complete madhouse, an asylum for nihilists and vandals who literally do not believe that the government of the United States has any legitimate function beyond organizing and training the military. There is no reason to mince words about these people any more. In 2010, the voters, in their infinite wisdom, visited upon the country the biggest bunch of fantasts, paranoids, and general whackaloons since the last time Glenn Beck dined alone. This is a legislative body that is not only an embarrassment to democratic self-government, but also an embarrassment to all human endeavor back to the Bronze Age. This isn't a Congress. This is a pre-school, the political equivalent of that Twilight Zone episode in which the little boy terrorizes all the adults and then turns one of them into a jack-in-the-box.

Read more:

Let The Saints Go Marching Out

Sean Payton banned for a year?  Mickey Loomis likely to lose his job?  The loss of two second round picks?

And there may be player suspensions coming !

As a Falcons fan, let me just say that this is how I feel right now:

A Few Notes From The Horse Race

Multiple Choice Mitt won Illinois last night as everyone knew he would.

Once again we are treated to the delegate math.  The main difference between Romney's delegate math in 2012 and Obama's delegate math in 2008 is that the Democratic primaries and caucuses actually determined who got the delegates.  The GOP process is so weird that we really have no idea, for instance, who is getting the delegates out of Missouri.

The assumption has been that it would be better for Democrats if Newt were to drop out and throw his weight behind Santorum.  But it seems pretty clear that the best possible result for Democrats is if Romney is unable to lock up the nomination before Tampa.  ANY sort of floor fight, even if it only lasts a night, will help Democrats immensely.


Check this out.

The man who runs communications for the candidate Zander calls Metamorphomitt, admits that all the crap Mittens is saying now will be tossed out the window depending on the requirements of the general election.  But since the convention is in late August, Mitt would have to stay hard right if he does not have the nomination sewn up.  It's one thing to say something in April and another in September.  Even Metamorphomitt would have trouble pulling that off between August and September.

A fractured GOP base will require Mitt to spend the convention shoring up his base, not reaching out to the various groups that might be necessary to win the general.

Which groups might those be?

Well, women and Hispanics.  Mitt isn't going to win either of those demographics.  But he needs to stanch his bleeding amongst them.

Let's take Hispanics, the fastest growing demographic and essential for a candidate who wants to win in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada and California.  According to a Fox News poll, Hispanics give Obama high marks on the economy (58% approve) and health care (65.7% approve).  They give him only middling marks on immigration (44.5%/41%).  Overall, Obama has a 71.8% personal approval rating among Hispanics.  The Democratic Party has a 65.1% approval rating.

The Republican Party has a 24.9% approval rating.  Mitt Romney has a 23.8% approval rating.

How would they vote today?  Obama would get 69.6% of Hispanic votes, Romney would get 14.2%, most of that coming among the 7% of Hispanics who are Cuban and concentrated in Florida.

McCain won 31% of Hispanic votes.  Romney would win less than half that and there are more Hispanics voting this year than four years ago.

(Part of the mass fluctuations we are seeing polls is a problem of sampling, I think, and margins of error.  This far out, it's tough to tell what the electorate will look like in November.  But 70%?  That's a number beyond the margins of error.)

What about women?

Well, since ACA really isn't in effect yet, it's tough to explain to people how it might make their lives better.  We are starting to see some parts of it becoming popular - kids on parent's insurance until they are 25, most rates are falling some - but until it's really implemented, you can't point to what's good about it or point out that there really aren't any death panels and that liberty has somehow survived.

But because of the contraception fight, ACA can become a proxy for women who are concerned about the shift to Taliban style sexual politics in the GOP.  It won't be an issue of mandates or whether Romneycare and Obamacare are essentially identical.  It will be which candidate to you trust to keep people from sticking an ultrasound wand up your Hooha (to use the medical term).

So, Rick, Newt and you too Crazy Uncle Ron, please stay on the trail!  I hope the Sweater Vest of the Blessed Virgin wins Louisiana and Pennsylvania.  Keep dividing up those delegates.  Stay the course!  Keep hope alive!

The country needs you to.

Um, Yeah, I've Been Saying This...

If it wasn't for the Fifty Little Hoovers, we would be in a full recovery by now.

In Bush's 8 years in office, we had a cumulative loss of 913,000 private sector jobs.  During Obama's three years we've had a cumulative loss of 274,000 jobs, but that number goes down with each new jobs report.

In Bush's 8 years in office we had a cumulative addition of 900,000 government sector jobs.  In Obama's three, we've lost 590,000.

The moral of this story is that government jobs are only "real" jobs when a Republican is in the White House.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

House GOP To Commit Ritual Suicide

With Friends like these, ewwwww...

Well, Zombie Eyed Granny Starver Paul Ryan introduced his latest "big idea".  Basically, yes, it ends Medicare as we know it.

Since PolitiHack said that ending Medicare as we know it is not ending Medicare as we know it, expect this issue to be confused in the political press.

But this budget - which stands no chance of becoming law in 2012 - would end Medicare and replace it with private insurance that will only partially be covered with vouchers.

It also ends Medicaid as a federal program, turning it into block grants to the states.  I'm sure all the women in Texas or Virginia or Idaho are not at all worried about turning over health care to the states.  I mean the states are the laboratories of freakshow religious mandates freedom.

Needless to say, there are NO defense cuts in this budget.

There is instead a MASSIVE amount of tax cutting for the rich.  It would completely end the Alternative Minimum Tax, a flawed way to make sure people like Mitt Romney pay at least SOME taxes.

He cuts the top tax rate from 35% to 25%.  Just marinate in that for a minute.  Basically, you will either pay 10% or 25% rate in income tax.  To help cover the ENORMOUS hole he just blew in fiscal sanity, he would propose ending almost all tax credits and deductions.  

This "budget" is a cruel joke.  It's more triumph of ideology over common sense.  It seeks to "balance the budget" by effectively ending all social spending, while not touching defense spending or taxing the wealthy.

In a sane world, this would be the effective end of the GOP.  First of all, anyone who says they are voting for the GOP because they are more responsible with the budget should be laughed at until their heads explode.  This is a mockery of fiscal discipline.  This is what Ayn Rand would do if she were dictator.  

Let's hope that - for once - the Democratic Party knows a political winner when it bites them in the donkey.

UPDATE: From the Pierce piece linked above:
Paul Ryan doesn't propose a budget like this because he's concerned about The Deficit. It is senseless to talk about this budget in that context, although even some liberal wonks like to give him the benefit of a prodigious doubt on that score. (This blog declines to do so on the basis of its fundamental economic philosophy: Fk The Deficit. People Got No Jobs. People Got No Money.) If he were concerned about The Deficit, he wouldn't have voted to finance two off-the-books wars and the Medicare expansion that the previous administation pushed through. Paul Ryan proposes a budget like this because he believes that the programs he is working to demolish — food stamps, Medicare, Medicaid, and on and on — are not legitimate functions of the federal government. He does not believe that the Constitution's requirement that it promote the general welfare means that the government may make the lives of the poor and the sick a litte easier, or that it should embark on programs that help create and maintain a viable middle-class. That's the job of The Market, even though The Market has shown itself, time and time again, to be uninterested in doing anything of the sort. Economic inequality is the inevitable byproduct of the truest kind of freedom. (That 72-year old woman with the 75-year old demented husband? Free as bird!) A society permanently stratified between the very rich and everyone else is precisely what the Founders had in mind. This budget may function as a campaign document and a statement of political purpose, but its source is an ideology that borders on the theological.

Update 2: Ezra Klein goes into the weeds.

Over the next decade, Ryan would spend 30 percent less than the White House on “income security” programs for the poor — that’s everything from food stamps to housing assistance to the earned-income tax credit. (Ryan’s budget would spend $4.8 trillion over this timeframe; the White House’s would spend $6.8 trillion.) Compared with Obama, Ryan would spend 38 percent less on transportation and 24 percent less on veterans. He’d spend 20 percent less on “General science, space, and basic technology.” And, compared with the White House, he’d cut “Education, training, employment, and social services” by a full 44 percent.

And what, pray tell, would that look like?

So how would this lower spending play out? Let’s take transportation as an example. Right now, the United States is facing a number of pressing infrastructure challenges. The National Highway System, first built in the 1950s, is reaching the end of its natural lifespan. Our air-traffic control system is outdated, causing airport delays around the country. About one-quarter of the country’s bridges are either “structurally deficient” or inadequate to today’s traffic needs, according to the GAO.
A variety of non-partisan think tanks and analysts have pegged the cost of fully repairing and upgrading our transportation networks at somewhere between $200 billion and $262 billion per year over the next decade. The White House’s budget envisions spending an average of about $120 billion per year. Ryan’s budget, meanwhile, allocates about $78 billion per year. In his summary, Ryan claims he can meet the country’s needs by cutting back on “imprudent, irresponsible, and downright wasteful spending,” though it’s not clear what waste Ryan has in mind, much less whether it would make up the large gap.
Alternatively, we can look at what specific cuts might ensue in the near future. Third Way, for instance, has tried to estimate the effects of the deficit-deal “trigger” that’s supposed to take effect over the next few years. Those immediate cuts would lead to fewer food inspectors, fewer air-traffic controllers, and so forth. And that would mean more delays and cases of food poisoning, and so forth. And Ryan’s budget, for its part, goes even deeper than the trigger.
So I asked Third Way’s budget expert David Kendall to run a few numbers for Ryan’s budget. For instance, under Ryan’s plan, spending on transportation would be 26.1 percent lower in 2014 than it is today. If that size cut was applied to, say, air-traffic control programs, Kendall notes, “there would be 3,092 more flight cancellations and 68,683 delays annually. At the U.S. average of 49 passengers per flight, that’s enough to strand 151,503 more people at the gate and make 3,365,685 more people late every year.”

You Know It's A Slow News Week

Next up on Crazy People News...

Ah, Newt.  The Disgraced Former Speaker and now Mayor of Grievance Town has found a bone.  And by God, he will chew that bone.

Apparently, Robert DeNiro made a completely inappropriate joke that is the worst thing since 9/11 times infinity.  Just take a moment to consider what this awful, awful joke might be.  A joke so awful, President Obama must not only rebuke, disavow and censure Mr. DeNiro, but also revoke his Oscars and send him into exile with Roman Polanski.

Here's the joke.  Please, I apologize if your delicate sensibilities are about to be offended.

"Callista Gingrich, Karen Santorum, Ann Romney.  Now, do you really think America is ready for a white First Lady?"

Are you still conscious?

First of all, Callista might be the whitest person on the planet.  I've seen copier paper with more pigment.

Second, it's pretty clear what's going on here.  Newt, as a the arbiter of what the media can and cannot do, has been waiting for a chance to change the subject from Rush Limbaugh. They tried with Bill Maher, but for whatever reason, that never really had traction.  Maybe because Maher is so patently a full-service asshole that it was hard to make him stick to the Democrats.  But DeNiro is a longtime liberal fundraiser and icon.  (And I think his girlfriend is, you know... darker hued.)

The contraception/Limbaugh thing is really hurting Republicans.  Newt is a thundering asshole with an overinflated reputation for brains, but he can read poll numbers.  There is no way the GOP can be competitive if women break too heavily for the Democrats.  And that's what is and will happen.

Finally, this fits perfectly into the psychology of the Right.

Despite being very white and relatively wealthy, the GOP is latched on to its victim status like a barnacle to a pier.  I can't possibly go through every example, but let's just run down how HARD it is to be a wealthy, white man in America today.

-Christmas and Christians are under attack, constantly.  You can't say "Merry Christmas" anymore and sharia law is on its way.
-Helping people buy private health insurance is the greatest assault on liberty in this country since Cornwallis left.
-ACORN is stealing votes and busing in people to rig elections.
-OWS is raping white girls.
-Raising taxes on the wealthy is right out of the Marxist-Leninist playbook.
-Feminists are trying to cut your balls off and hang them from the rearview mirrors of their Subarus like fuzzy dice.
-My guess that as I write this, a poutrage is starting about how Peyton Manning took Tim Tebow's job because Christians can't get a fair shake in this country.

To the people whom Newt Gingrich communicates with through the antenna in their tinfoil hats, DeNiro's joke is just another example of how the MSM holds conservatives to a higher standard than they do liberals.  Because DeNiro's joke is just as bad as calling a woman a slut.

Don't believe me?  Ask Newt.

Rest In Peace

Our neighbor, Carol, died this weekend.  She was elderly, I'm guessing around 80.  She had lymphoma that spread to her heart.  The doctors could do nothing.

She elected to go into hospice about a week and a half before she died.  There, her family came and was with her as the staff made her as comfortable as possible.  She was both given the opportunity to say goodbye while also not lingering in that horrible stated of suspension between life and death that typifies the state of much of our end of life care.

She was one of those grand old New England ladies.  Her voice sounded like a cross between Katherine Hepburn and recent Jeff Bridges.  It had both lilt and gravel.  I most often saw her tooling around her immense lawn in a John Deere tractor that looked to be about 30 years old.  My wife recounts how she would see Carol jogging along at 6AM come rain or shine.  Once, Carol - who let us use her pool at our pleasure - asked her not to come down to the pool early in the morning because she tended to skinny dip then.

She was not especially fond of our dogs.  Our late chocolate lab tended to deposit waste materials on her lawn.  Luckily, the Hound of the Basketcase is a lady and evacuates her bowel deep in the woods.  But Carol once left a bag of feces on our porch with a note asked us to clean up after our dog.  I had to explain to her that the bag of feces was that of the neighborhood fox, given the large quantities of beetle carapaces and seed husks to be found within.  It was the only time I saw her blush.

I remember during last winter's snowmageddon her difficulty backing out of her long driveway.  Twice I had to dig and push her out.  Several weeks later she stopped by with a six pack of Stella Artois.  Every Christmas, we got a plate of cookies.

About our third year in the house, we were gone for the month of August.  When we got back it was still steamy and Things One and Two were yelling and screaming in the backyard as they fought over the hose.  She walked over and said, "Oh, I missed those sounds."  And she wasn't being ironic.  What to us had become the grating soundtrack of non-stop sibling combat was to her the exuberant noise of youth.

She outlived her first husband and the father of her children.  She remarried a doctor who is a nice guy and was also very generous.  They both let us dump our leaves and downed tree limbs on the back reaches of their lot.  Our property line is right off the back deck and they were always very solicitous of the baseball games and hammocks that crept over that line over the years.  If Dwight should sell the house, it could be tough, as we have been blessed with very generous neighbors.  In your life, you get to pick your friends, your spouse and to some degree you pick your co-workers, if you have some choice in where you work.  But you rarely pick your neighbors.  And by the time you get to know them, it's too late to do anything about it anyway.

Carol lived a long, rich life.  She had many grandchildren, she taught the cello until very recently.  She served on the historical district.  She rode that old John Deere tractor like a cowgirl riding the range.

I hope her last hours were filled with grace and love.  I hope all of ours are.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Walking Dead Season Finale

Halfway through and we've already racked up quite the body count.  Of course, these were the members of Herschel's family without a great deal of speaking parts.  Kind of like the guys in red shirts on Star Trek.

I'm guessing they are setting us up for a scattering of the group.  Will the show become scattered following each sub-group?  That might be tricky to pull off.


Glenn has a funny sense of romantic timing.

Well, no, not scattered.  But Andrea being alone could be an interesting storyline.

Twenty minutes left.  You figure there has to be a cliffhanger coming.  Not a ton of time to set it up.


So, first take is that Andrea will be OK on her own.

Finally learned Jenner's secret.  Of course, I knew that already, because... graphic novels.  Speaking of which, will they stumble upon the prison before the episode ends?

Looks like the breakdown between Rick and Lori could be an interesting take.  We've sort of walked Rick through the process of adjusting to the new way of things, but Lori hasn't really had to walk that walk yet.


Wow! Michonne makes her appearance most impressively.

Rick goes... um... dark.  Looks like the killing of Shane has pushed him over the edge.

And there's the prison!

Sunday Morning Coming Down

The weather is warm.  Combat between the Things is hot.  The paint is wet.  The political fires are cool.

That pretty much ends my Hemingway phase.

Instead, let me give you this for Sunday.

UPDATE: Apparently this song makes me sound depressed.  This is not true, I simply liked the song.  Therefore let me offer up some more optimistic fare:

Saturday, March 17, 2012

You Need To Read This

 We Can't Protect Ourselves Forever

by BooMan
Sat Mar 17th, 2012 at 03:11:16 PM EST
I've been thinking along the same lines as Rick Perlstein lately. It's not that conservatives are getting crazier; it's that they're getting more powerful. But I don't think Perlstein is all that convincing in his rebuttal. All we have to do is change the terms. The Republican Party has become almost uniformly conservative. Therefore, the GOP has gone completely insane. Whether Perlstein means to reassure us or he wants to give us fair warning, the truth is still the same. One of our two viable political parties has lost its mind and we're in big trouble as a result. We can't win elections forever. Sooner or later, the Republicans will win the trifecta of holding the House, the Senate, and the presidency. And when that happens, we are going to be in a world of hurt. The whole world will be in a world of hurt.Things are bad enough as it is. Look at any state that has the Republican trifecta right now and witness what the Republicans have been doing to unions, to public service employees, to women's rights, to voter registration laws, and on immigration. Our organizations and constituencies are under sustained and merciless attack. You can see the corpse of ACORN, the congressional condemnation of, the right-to-work status of Indiana, the disenfranchisement of minorities, the defunding of Planned Parenthood, the loss of collective bargaining rights for public unions...
You can see what this would mean on the national stage. But listen to their foreign policy rhetoric on Israel and Iran and Syria and many other hot spots. Listen to what they say about the United Nations and Europe and international organizations in general. If they were to seize power in this country, world peace and the whole international order would be imperiled.
Conservatism cannot be allowed to become ascendant. The Republican Party needs to heal itself or it must be replaced by another party. I don't know how to fix the GOP. All I know how to do is to try to keep them at bay. But I know that we can't keep them at bay forever.
So, what can be done?


I just saw a kid (David Taylor) from Penn State tech fall a guy in the finals of the NCAA Wrestling tournament.

A tech fall.

That's like a team winning the NCAA basketball championships by 40 points.

Just A Thought

The Democratic nominating process in 2008 was somewhat messy (think Texas).

But it wasn't as pathetic as the GOP nominating process has been in terms of process.

We should get rid of caucuses.  There a serious WTF moment.

The GOP Licks The Third Rail

Jim DeMint and Lindsey Graham from the Confederate State of South Carolina have come up with a great new plan to end Medicare.  While I'm sure the folks at PoltiHack will say that it's still called Medicare, and therefore doesn't end it, the reality is that the GOP leadership in the Senate Teatard Caucus has come with with a plan to end Medicare and throw everyone into private insurance policies.

Typically, the authors of the plan (including likely GOP VP nominee Rand Paul) say that it will reduce Medicare expenditures by $1 Trillion.  What they fail to note, is that Medicare will save this money by transferring costs to seniors.

If you take away the spending on something, you will reduce the costs.  Of course, you will also reduce the ability of the program to function as it was designed to.

Also, there is zero, and I mean ZERO evidence that private insurance plans are more efficient than public insurance plans.  They tend to deny coverage while funneling money to compensation and profits.

This is, once again, the triumph of ideology over evidence.

In the GOP telling, Medicare creates people who aren't free, because it gives them something.  It's also inherently wrong, because it is the government doing something rather than the market.

The reality is that Medicare, by removing the oldest and therefore sickest members of the population from the insurance pool, transfers the most expensive category of medical patient to the public rolls.  There simply isn't any way that private insurance can provide what Medicare can at the costs that Medicare has.

In fact, the entire history of private versus public insurance in the developed world is that public insurance provides better coverage at lower costs.

What the Four Horsemen of the Medicare Apocalypse are proposing is to strip Seniors of comprehensive coverage and put them at the mercy of the private insurance market.  People like Medicare because it is incredibly patient friendly.

I can't help but wonder if the guys who came up with this plan are thinking one of two things.

First, they might be attacking ACA from the Left.  That is to say they are making the point that everyone else is at mercy of the private market under the mandate, why not seniors, too.

Second, they might be realizing that the eventual end point of ACA will be a public option and likely a single payer system.  It might take several decades to get there, but it might also happen sooner if the stars align next November.  But if they destroy Medicare, they will be ending the most popular public option available.

This strikes me as perhaps a bigger act of folly than the fight over contraception.  So, you know, thanks Tea Party.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Pat Robertson, Voice Of Reason And Compassion?

Rick Santorum's view of a San Francisco family... 
 I know.  It's disturbing.

The Sweater Vest of the Blessed Virgin is off again.

Shortly after telling Puerto Ricans that they needed to learn English in order to become a state (Hey, Rick, they've voted frequently on the issue of statehood.  They don't really want it.), he decides to double down on the dumb.

The SVotBV has declared a war on pornography.  I am sure that a war on pornography will be just as successful as the War on Alcohol (1918-1933), the War on Drugs (1972-present) and the War on Terra (2001-the end of time).

Of course, there is this chart that suggests the real problem.  The chart shows that in rock-ribbed Red states like Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas you have more internet searches for "free gay porn" than for "God".  Although to be fair, who uses the internet to find God?  That's what peyote is for.

Santorum's moral busybodiness has perhaps reached its apex.  Declaring war on porn is like declaring war on bad weather.  Hopefully for him, however, the reflexive hypocrisy of the average GOP voter will allow them to cheer on Santorum's anti-porn jihad, vote for him, then go home and look up "free gay porn" on Google.

How weird is it getting out there?  We're fighting about the morality of freaking contraception?  About the legality of porn?

But it gets weirder still.

Here is Pat Robertson saying we should decriminalize marijuana.

And here is Pat Robertson saying oral sex is OK within the confines of marriage.

Bong hits and BJs for Jesus!