The Jane Addams Model and I Agree with David Brooks on This One

It happens and it has happened again. I find myself agreeing with…David Brooks!

The very short opinion piece linked here (yes, even charter school kids can get through it) is simple, smart, and reassuring. I like it.

Jane Addams, 1913

Jane Addams, 1913

I like, for example, how Brooks criticizes today’s philanthropy for its “doer’s arrogance and intellectual laziness”. That’s a pretty clean assessment and it is mischievously funny because I think Brooks is talking about pundit intellectuals like the Minnesota native everyone here in Minnesota loves to love, Thomas Friedman, whose simple solution to damn near EVERY problem in the world today is “learn to code.” If poking a hole in vapid quasi-intellectualism like that is Brooks’s intention — which I think is precisely what it is — then I agree with him that much more.

Only twenty-four hours ago, I thought about becoming active in the Skyway Avoidance Society, but now I see that perhaps starting up a Jane Addams Society (to counter all those annoying TED talks, among other things) is a better way to go. Could I owe this to David Brooks?

Take a look!

Alan Simpson Explaining Partisanship on CNN with Smerconish

I got a kick out of listening to Alan Simpson explain the rise of extreme partisanship in Congress with Michael Smerconish on CNN Friday.
He had a point about decades of Democrat leadership in Congress, but quickly lost it thereafter when he tried to frame this as a bi-partisan issue…a favorite cover taken by the right.
All of this starts in the early 80s when Republicans began to embrace redlines — eventually achieving Gingrich’s “Contract with America” and Norquist’s tax pledge — and continues a rightward march with the Tea Party caucuses and worse.
What Simpson might think is partisanship matching conservative extremism is simply a response to irresponsible and intellectually lazy policy positions on the right. To quote a man who was once a conservative saint, Barry Goldwater, “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.”
The problem is the fact that the right has gone so far right that it has fallen off the rails and now runs counter to the interests of the country and the vast majority of its citizens.
Take a look at the GOP healthcare plan, right? Bad plan, they couldn’t pass it, and if they had passed it would have made things worse, not better. Is there a better example of Republican failure to govern on sound policy? (Not yet.)
The objectives of today’s conservative majorities in Congress and across the country put Democrats in a position where if they were to move to the right in an effort to compromise, it wouldn’t be much different than negotiating with an assassin…do you want me to shoot you now or will you work with me a little so I can kill you tomorrow? Not much of a compromise, is it?
Democratic “intransigence” has become the smart option in many cases and not some bi-partisan tug-of-war on a rubber band where, as both sides pull, they pull further apart.

GOP Existential Crisis: “Lazy Nostrums” or Something Else?

Paul Ryan and Donald Trump congressional address

Doug Mills/New York Times

In today’s New York Times, Corey Robin muses about what it means to Republican identity and goals now that they are in power and are finding that power hard to manage.  He seems to pace around the issue, however, rather than dive in and further unpack the catastrophe of incompetence and demagoguery that binds the party to its ideological base.  In short, he seems to suggest that Republicans have no force or focus if they don’t have a struggle.  This would define conservativism as a heroic identity without which it does not possess agency or the will to act.

Indeed, Robin suggests that American conservativism has “[softened] into lazy nostrums or hardened into rigid dogmas”.  I’ll give him that, but he wants to say this is so because when Republicans regained the “keys to the castle” they became “joyful” and as a result “no longer control or set the terms of political debate”.  Significantly, they no longer reach out — compromise and cajole — to expand their base.  The movement becomes inert.

In this analysis, it is the “no longer” part that I quibble with, otherwise I think Corey Robin is more or less on the mark.  I think Republicans did — and do — take their victory for granted; however, rather than being lazy about their nostrums and dogmas, they are smug about them.

I don’t think this is a new phenomenon manifesting itself as a result of Republican electoral success in 2016 or emerging from under the pall of Donald Trump.  On the contrary, this approach to “governing” — or at least to setting policy priorities and agendas — has been on a complacent march from the early 1980s; Reagan, Gingrich, that crowd.  Perhaps, as Robin suggests, conservativism once “progressed” as he tells us Friedrich Hayek said free markets progressed, that is  when they are “on the defensive.”  That makes sense to some extent, at least in the early years of conservative revolt against government and the state apparatus of public goods and services.  But the so-called defensive stance congealed into an offensive one and adopted strongly divisive strategies in its attack.  It has been a long time since conservativism was about building and sustaining growing coalitions.

Therefore, what we have now is more of a conservative event horizon than a lull in conservative dynamism.  They have gotten what they were striving for and now cannot pull back.  Health care reform is a perfect example of this displayed in practice.  It is one thing to say you will do X, Y, and Z when saying so will advance an ideological battle.  It is another thing altogether to enact those plans when those plans will have real consequences.

If you are a conservative, what are you going to do?  Your entire identity and the momentum behind it is built on a discourse that wins (at least with some) in the abstract, but creates problems in practice.  Back to health care reform, even if we ignore the bill proposed and withdrawn by the Republicans, we can see the problems this extreme right wing abstraction creates when put into practice by the very fact that it caused real divisions within in a party that is otherwise known to march pretty much in lockstep.

Back to health care reform…even if we ignore the bill proposed and withdrawn by the Republicans this month, we can see the problems this extreme right wing abstraction creates when it is put into practice.  Look no further than the very fact that it caused real divisions within a party that was otherwise known to march pretty much in lockstep.  It was an opportunity for Republicans to come together under one of their defining tropes — less government — and deliver on perhaps THE signature campaign promise since 2010, the repeal of Obamacare.  And they couldn’t do it.  The bungle that was their healthcare bill is really an afterthought in this analysis.  It’s irrelevant.  They cannot deliver.

So it isn’t just a problem of having the keys to the castle and not knowing what to do with that castle now that they have it, it is a problem of overselling the abstract and having to own that.  Over the years we have expected less and less concrete policy from conservatives — they had 7+ years to draft an alternative to Obamacare and look at what we got — and more and more rhetoric, increasingly detached from fact or reason.  Fantasy proselytizing is going to cause problems, as we see now.  For Republicans, it painted them into a corner.  You said you were going to do this, now do it.  But if you cannot, how do you escape?  How do you escape your rhetoric and retain your staunchly discursive identity?

Perhaps the biggest pitfall of winning for conservatives is now having to govern and produce results.  That requires a different stance from taking defensive positions against an opponent and, in this regard, Corey Robin is absolutely right.  But if being in power is the problem defining conservativism today, one should ask whether conservatives ever really expected to have to govern.  Now there you have an existential crisis.  Namely, what is the point of American conservativism today?

Healthcare Freeloader Control Act

I have an idea!  (And it is a good one.)  I call it — without having done anything more than come up with the half-baked (but good) idea — the Healthcare Freeloader Control Act.  Let me know what you think.

It works like this:

We give people the option to be free and not buy any health insurance if they choose not to.  They can opt out of health insurance altogether just as they can now, but if they opt out, they opt out for life.  Thereafter it is all pay-in-full in advance and cash only, unless they can find charity…to pay in full in advance and cash only.

Otherwise, if you’re a young inevitable and you get in a horrible car wreck and no one comes to haul off your broken body, society will put you out of your misery.  If you are old and sick and broke, we’ll wheel you out onto a burning barge and set you adrift on the ocean.  For everything else in between, we strongly recommend a course in first aid and WebMD.com.  In short, unless you are there to pick up the trash, your shadow never crosses the threshold of a hospital or medical clinic.  Ever.

Swell idea, right?  What do you think?

In a way, conservatives touting the freedom excuse for gutting the Affordable Care Act are arguing to sustain the opposite of my Freeloader Control Act and that hardly seems fair.  Republicans embrace the status quo which tolerates free riders, people who know they will get health care that they don’t make plans to cover.  Then they complain about it.  Pay attention to the repeal and replace rhetoric and this is clear.  Republican Anti-ACA arguments really don’t address the poor, they rant against the non-poor being forced to buy insurance and pay taxes to bolster our struggling and sparse healthcare system, especially care that covers those who cannot care for themselves.  They cite specific examples of people being forced to buy insurance for care they don’t want or won’t need.  And when they remove penalties connected to mandates, they in essence protect free loaders in the process.

Allowing Republicans to indulge in their selfish logic of independence and freedom does not obligate the rest of us to pick them up when they fail, does it?  If it does, why?  If they want to stand apart from the community of civilized society, let them.

Of course I am not serious, but perhaps only because the idea isn’t a practical one and not because I give a damn about people who game the system in order to break it.

When it Comes to Making America Great Again…Priorities Say a Lot

In an effort to make America great again, Trump wants to cut 90% of the EPA funding that goes to the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, a program that has succeeded in cleaning and protecting one of our most important ecological and economic assets. The cuts would total about $290 million.

Meanwhile, Trump, in just his first month in office, already spent over $30 million on personal Donald Trump Golfingtravel, mostly to Mar-a-Lago. If that pace keeps up, he will spend more on personal travel than we collectively spend to protect and restore the Great Lakes. These numbers, by the way, do not include the millions spent maintaining a second home (or is that the third?) in Manhattan.

Of course, this hypocrisy goes well beyond dollars and sense, this is Trump after all. Donald incessantly criticized President Barak Obama‘s travel — and his golf. However, Trump is on track to far surpass President Obama in both measures in just one year. Trump is on the golf course several times a week. No one is missing that hypocrisy, right? And what did the United States government pay for Barak Obama’s personal trips? $97 million…over all 8 years! (Trump $30 million in one month, Barak Obama $97 million over the course of 8 years…you see that, right?)

But I digress.

I’m guessing a lot of Trump voters would love to fly first class to Florida for golf on the weekends. But most can’t. And when setting priorities, wouldn’t you rather keep the Great Lakes clean than pay for Donald Trump’s weekend golf junkets to Florida anyway?

Then there are nickel-and-dime cuts for the Arts, Education, Energy, Justice, NASA, National Parks…all on the chopping block, too.

Take a look at what the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative does! It looks a hell of a lot better than a fat old man shanking his balls on a Florida golf course. It is better for you, too!

My First Take on the Republican American Health Care Act

(My apologies, but this is a copy of a Facebook post I published a short time ago.  It’s from the hip and I am sharing it as such.  I welcome comments, corrections, and debate.)

If you don’t like politics, you don’t have to read this post. However, below is a release from Paul Ryan and the GOP introducing their health care plan. This misleading BS cannot be left unchallenged. (Sandy, excuse the typos…I’m not editing it.)

Let’s take a look!

First, the claims that the Affordable Care Act (ACA, which is also known as Obamacare) is responsible for driving up health insurance premiums is at best a misleading claim. In fact, health insurance premiums have been increasing annually for decades. Indeed, the rise of overall costs slowed since 2010, not increased. The law did eliminate a class of insurance plans that were high deductible, low benefit plans. People were “forced” off of those and the plans left generally were more expensive. True. However, lower income people who were on those crappy plans often qualified for subsidies to help pay for the better plans which reduced the out-of-pocket increase they actually paid. Many, in net, paid less. This is true because people who could afford quality insurance or had it from an employer were not buying the crappy plans in the first place…unless they were young. And more about that in a moment.

The GOP argues that 1/3 of counties in the United States have one insurance provider on the state exchanges and a third of doctors do not accept Obamacare. This is a problem TO FIX in the existing law, not a reason to dump it. However, for many of the people who face these limits, having some insurance versus no insurance is not a bad thing. (Ask one of the 20+ million Americans who got insurance through ACA about this.)

The GOP release continues to harp on the “disastrous” and “failing” health care law. Reduced costs and higher numbers of American insured hardly seems like a failure. Plus, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that ACA saves billions annually, a number that will strengthen as more Americans are healthier. The Kaiser Family Foundation is another solid source of stats and information about health care in the United States.

You see, healthy people are good for you whether you get sick or not because sick people — especially those without health insurance — are very, very expensive.

(As an aside, I noticed a laugher in this release. The GOP says something about this plan containing “reforms President Trump laid out.” Hahaha! What the hell were those reforms? When did he lay them out? Tweet. Tweet.)

Next: “Dismantle the Obamacare Taxes.” Did you know that these taxes were written in negotiations with lobbyists from the for-profit health care industry? They called them paybacks. Because Obamacare was going to increase patients — i.e., increase customers — the health care industry saw a windfall coming. Of course they didn’t volunteer to give up money, but they did see what was good for business and played along. If there was going to be health care reform, they were not going to be left out. Something like that. So the taxes the ACA introduced were not the product of an imperial presidency unilaterally picking on free enterprise.

Next: “Eliminate the individual and employer mandate penalties, which forced millions of workers, families, and job creators into expensive, inadequate Obamacare plans that they don’t want and cannot afford.” This could easily be called a lie, but let’s be generous. For some people, rates did increase and that has been addressed above.

One might complain that thirtysomethings being forced to either be insured or pay a penalty is an overreach, but it really is how insurance works. If thirtysomethings don’t really need insurance, they will wait until they are more likely to need it (when they age) to buy it. So the law pushes healthier, younger people into the insurance market to spread risk. If you don’t think this is a good idea, then you won’t like this part of the law. But it does have a long-term benefit for everyone, including today’s younger, healthier Americans.

Also implied here — but not specifically stated — is the ruse that Obamacare was a job killer. It did not turn out that way. In fact, it fits the economy rather well. Perhaps that’s why this release only nods at this complaint indirectly. Facts can be uncomfortable things.

Ok…next the release highlights all the positive things in Obamacare that the GOP says it will keep because people will be so angry if they are taken away. (How they’ll pay for it? They literally say they are working on that part.)

Next: “Empower families and individuals.” This is the Health Savings Account (HSA) gimmick. I mean…where do you start?…think about this, the GOP is going to double the amount you can save in a health savings account. Well, what if you couldn’t save even a quarter of the old limit?? “Hey, guess what Edith, we can now save $13,000 a year in our HSA!” Edith might remind Archie that they only make double that in a year…how will they save it all for medical bills? What problem would that solve if they could? Exactly how does that “empower” anyone who does not have money to pay for health care in the first place?

The truth is Americans had been “empowered” by this pay-it-alone approach for decades and many millions could not afford care and many thousands died each year because of it. That’s empowerment! That’s freedom.

But let’s move on because it looks like the GOP has a solution…

Next: “Help Americans access affordable, quality health care by providing a monthly tax credit.” Jesus! WTF…I am so tongue-tied I could spit! They offer a tax credit of something between $2000 and $4,000 a year. (The details here are being “worked out”.) On the face of it, this seems like a good idea. You get the credit and you go shopping. However…well, it isn’t likely to work. Certainly the for-profit insurance market will adjust to the newly found money and rates will adjust accordingly. Indeed, there is nothing in here that talks about cost controls…and I doubt you will ever see it from the GOP. The so-called “free market” and competition will keep costs down. Well, that hasn’t done much to control costs so far, has it? In fact, do you know what has helped control costs? Obamacare, damn it! And, unlike the GOP plan, it is paid for.

All right, that’s all that I have for you now. I’m going to download the bill next. It is only 123 pages of large double-spaced print so it shouldn’t be that bad…or have much to say. I am eager to find out.

Check back here for updates. And whatever you do…for Pete’s sake and mine, pay attention!