Monday, November 4, 2013

Carrot and Stick

I’m concerned about the fact there seems to be a war on the poor. That if you’re poor, somehow you’re shiftless and lazy. You know what? The very people who complain ought to ask their grandparents if they worked at the W.P.A.

-- John Kasich, Republican Governor of Ohio
The New York Times, 10-28-2013

The dual process of cutting both taxes and social programs involved, however, a striking difference in the assumptions of the motivations governing the behavior of the affluent and of the poor. For those in the upper brackets, and for those managing corporate decision-making processes, the underlying assumption of the tax cuts was that the creation of new tax incentives would encourage more work, more investment, and more savings, that the best way to achieve sought-after behavior is to reward it, in this case with lowered tax rates on corporations, savings, executive stock options, and estates. At the bottom of the scale, the dominant assumption behind social program cuts was precisely the opposite: the best way to achieve increased work is by making life tougher.

-- Thomas Byrne Edsall
The New Politics of Inequality (1984)

A shorter summary of the policy-set Edsall is describing: Carrots for the rich. Sticks for the poor.

This week's featured post: "The Filibuster and the War on Women"

This week everybody was talking about ObamaCare

The focus of Republican attacks shifted from to people whose policies got cancelled.

A lot of the media is reporting these cases without examining them. The few who do invariably notice the same things. Either
  • the cancelled policy is what Consumer Reports has called "junk insurance". A low annual cap or the insurance company's option to cancel if you actually get sick means that the policy really just provides the illusion of health insurance. In addition to the 50-million-or-so uninsured Americans pre-ObamaCare, about 25 million had insurance that would not have saved them from bankruptcy if they had a major health problem.
  • or, a better policy (typically, but not always) for less money is available on the ObamaCare exchanges.

There are exceptions, but here's the overall picture:

Nicholas Kristof reminds us of the real victims of our healthcare system: People who will die because they couldn't get affordable health insurance. They're not just abstract public-health statistics. They have names and stories. As Margaret Talbot writes in The New Yorker:
when it comes to evaluating the worth of Obamacare we may not remember the Web-site hiccups all that well. What we will remember, and what ultimately matters, is whether, in the next year, the A.C.A. fulfills its promise: to provide affordable health insurance to people who did not have it through an employer, could not afford it on their own, were denied it on the basis of preëxisting conditions, paid more for it than they should have because they were, say, women of child-bearing age, or could no longer get by because their insurance benefits had been capped.

A new poll shows why the "replace" part of the Republican slogan to "repeal and replace ObamaCare" will never happen: Republicans don't want a replacement. Among Republicans, repeal-and-don't-replace beats repeal-and-replace 42%-29%.

and the LAX shooting

Notice how closely the coverage tracks Juan Cole's 2012 "Top Ten Differences Between White Terrorists and Others". I don't want to make too much of the early hints that this guy is a right-wing wacko, but if he were a dark-skinned Muslim with similar hints of radical Islamist views, that would be the whole story.

and food stamp cuts

The Food Stamp program became less generous on November 1, when a benefit increase that was part of the 2009 stimulus program expired. Eligibility standards don't change, but families will get about 5% less help.

I have trouble getting excited about the expiration of a temporary program, but further food stamp cuts are on the docket. The current budget negotiations are supposed to reconcile the Senate's $4-billion-over-ten-years cut with the House's $40-billion-over-ten-years cut. About $76 billion was spent on food stamps this year.

The problem of scale: "Lawmakers could save millions by targeting food stamp fraud -- will they?" says the Fox News headline. Millions? Those who keep reading will find this acknowledgement: "The amount appears relatively small considering the government pays out roughly $70 billion in annual food stamps benefits."

Hmmm. I wonder if those "millions" are net savings, after accounting for the cost of implementing and enforcing whatever safeguards would prevent that relatively small amount of fraud. Fox doesn't link to the report the number comes from -- I think it's this one, although an automatic text search fails to find the $3.7 million figure in it -- but it looks like they're talking about gross savings, estimated by a suspiciously simplistic method.
The projected potential savings from fraud-cutting is detailed in the inspector general report, which found $3.7 million in questionable monthly payouts across 10 states. ... The $222 million figure was reached by multiplying the number by 12 to get an annual amount, then by five to get an estimate for all 50 states.

So on the bottom line, the headline "millions" in savings are probably considerably less than the article claims, and may even be negative.

and the NSA

Strangely, people who are OK with the NSA spying on you and me hit their limit when it was revealed that the NSA is spying on our allies.

and the Republican Civil War

The opening quote from Governor Kasich is a Republican-on-Republican attack, as Kasich struggles to govern in spite of his Republican legislature. Anybody who thinks President Obama could get along with the Right if he were only nicer to them should study Kasich, who was a Fox News host for six years.

People you never would have thought could be challenged from the Right are in danger of being challenged from the Right. The latest is Senator John Cornyn of Texas. A poll of Texas Republicans found that "a Tea Party candidate" beats Cornyn 46%-33%, though several specific challengers are less popular. (Cornyn beats Rep. Louis Gohmert 45%-20%.) You have to wonder about the poll, because the wording of some  questions seems biased, like "Do you support amnesty for illegal aliens?" But the horse-race questions look legit.

The craziest name suggested as a Cornyn challenger is fake historian David Barton. Barton's latest book, The Jefferson Lies, was withdrawn by the publisher, because "There were historical details — matters of fact, not matters of opinion, that were not supported at all." Barton's misrepresentations of American history figure prominently in Chris Rodda's debunking book Liars for Jesus.

And here's a future civil-war battleground:

and the filibuster and court rulings about abortion and contraception

I covered this in "The Filibuster and the War on Women".

and you also might be interested in ...

Nature giveth and nature taketh away.

You know who couldn't get a Texas voter ID on his first try? Former Speaker of the House Jim Wright. His driver's license had expired (which is probably a good thing, given that he's 90) and his faculty ID from TCU isn't one of the forms of ID accepted. (If he'd had a gun license, though, he'd have been fine. Let's hope that's expired too.) Fortunately, he could go home and find his birth certificate, which not all 90-year-olds can do.

The point of the law isn't to verify who you are -- Wright did that the first time -- it's to make it harder to vote. There's no evidence of a voter-impersonation problem in Texas or anywhere else. And there's really no evidence for a forged-ID-to-enable-voter-impersonation problem.

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) announced Thursday that Syria
has completed the functional destruction of critical equipment for all of its declared chemical weapons production facilities and mixing/filling plants, rendering them inoperable.

... The next milestone for the mission will be 15 November, by which time the Executive Council must approve a detailed plan of destruction submitted by Syria to eliminate its chemical weapons stockpile.

I still can't decide whether I want to see the Ender's Game movie. But there's no denying how far Orson Scott Card has gone off the rails. It's not just the gay-marriage-justifies-revolution screed ("when government is the enemy of marriage, then the people who are actually creating successful marriages have no choice but to change governments, by whatever means is made possible or necessary. ... Biological imperatives trump laws."), it's this "plausible" scenario for Obama making himself dictator-for-life.

Interesting re-interpretation of the novel on Salon: It's not really about war or genocide, it's "an imaginative portrait of the inner life of an abused child, a fledgling psyche trying to reconcile the unbearable contradiction in receiving both love and gratuitous pain from the same source."

Abstract ideas have consequences. According to Scientific American, believing in Satan and the existence of pure evil affects views on a number of political issues.
BPE [belief in pure evil] predicts such effects as: harsher punishments for crimes (e.g. murder, assault, theft), stronger reported support for the death penalty, and decreased support for criminal rehabilitation. Follow-up studies corroborate these findings, showing that BPE also predicts the degree to which participants perceive the world to be dangerous and vile, the perceived need for preemptive military aggression to solve conflicts, and reported support for torture.

I'd love to see research on my hypothesis connecting BPE to conspiracy theories. This is from the 2010 Weekly Sift article "Propaganda Lessons from the Religious Right":
The Devil is the ultimate sinister conspirator, motivated by pure evil. Once you have a Devil, it follows without evidence that there is a conspiracy against anything true and good and right. How could there not be? The Devil is against it, and unless he has suddenly lost his innate cleverness and his characteristic ability to lie and tempt and cajole, he will have followers.

So if you are arguing in front of a Devil-postulating audience, you don’t have prove that there is a conspiracy against the Good — of course there is — you only have to identify that conspiracy. The Manichean frame (God/Devil, Good/Evil) is sitting there, waiting for you to connect yourself with Light and your opponent with Darkness.

This is the kind of thing that gives Congress a bad image: Part of the deal to end the shutdown/debt-ceiling standoff was to have a later vote on a "resolution to disapprove" of the debt-ceiling hike. That resolution was voted on in the Senate Tuesday, and lost on a party-line vote.

Here's the ridiculous part: 27 Republican senators who voted to "disapprove" also voted for the deal they're disapproving of. So, did the Devil make them cast that vote?

In five years, copyrights from the 1920s will start expiring, as they would have long ago if Disney and other copyright-owning corporations didn't keep lobbying for extensions.

Extending copyrights on existing works is a pure corruption issue: There's no public interest whatsoever in preventing Mickey Mouse and Batman from entering the public domain the way older cultural icons like Sherlock Holmes and Scrooge did long ago. Copyrights are supposed to be incentives for creators, but as Lawrence Lessig puts it: "No matter what the US Congress does with current law, George Gershwin is not going to produce anything more."

The big money is already gearing up to buy another act of Congress. But there's an internet and a blogosphere this time around, so they'll have to buy their legislation in full public view.

American neighborhoods are getting more economically stratified.
Using U.S. Census data from 1970-2000 and American Community Survey data from 2005-2011, Cornell's Kendra Bischoff and Stanford's Sean F. Reardon found that more people are living in extremely high income areas or low income areas, while fewer are living in areas characterized as middle-income.
Kevin Drum annotates the chart:
This is yet another sign of the collapse of the American middle class, and it's a bad omen for the American political system. We increasingly lack a shared culture or shared experiences, and that makes democracy a tough act to pull off. The well-off have less and less interaction with the poor outside of the market economy, and less and less empathy for how they live their lives. For too many of us, the "general welfare" these days is just an academic abstraction, not a lived experience.

and finally, something too good not to use

Miley Cyrus and Robin Thicke get Attenborrowed.

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