Sunday, July 27, 2014

Complex Problem, Simple Solution: Universal Basic Income

The way the system works: These guys have $100 billion. Does that make sense?

I've been thinking and writing about a universal basic income for a while now, so when it pops up elsewhere, I'm excited. David Atkins, at both Washington Monthly and Hullabalo, helped reignite discussion of it in the past week. Atkins links several articles together to buttress his case.

Atkins cited this WaPo article by Max Ehrenfreund, whose premise was that conservatives, one would think, would embrace the universal basic income because it would take the place of a slew of government programs.

Ehrenfreund offers a link to an earlier piece by Mike Konczal that makes the point that the UBI shouldn't be thought of as merely utopian but rather practical, as well. He highlights the aspects of American life that can be liberated from markets:
Another somewhat related focus of the left is the issue of decommodification, or whether certain goods should be provided through market logic. As Naomi Klein argued in "Reclaiming the Commons," one goal for the left is to oppose “the privatization of every aspect of life, and the transform­ation of every activity and value into a commodity.” This has a long history on the left; Daniel Rodgers argued that a major focus of early 20th century progressives was “to hold certain elements out of the market's processes, indeed to roll back those parts of the market whose social costs had proved too high.”
According to this line of thought, the goal isn’t to ensure a sufficient amount of market access and purchasing power, but instead to remove markets from the way people interface with certain goods, such as education or health care. As the welfare-state theorist Gøsta Esping-Andersen argued, decommodification is defined as a situation in which “a service is rendered as a matter of right, and when a person can maintain a livelihood without reliance on the market.” A UBI would delink survival and subsistence from the labor market, advancing this goal.
Another project is to expand the say workers have in their workplaces. This includes not only unionization, but also a more general project of democracy that doesn’t end once you walk through your employer’s door. As Century Foundation Senior Fellow Richard Kahlenberg and labor attorney Moshe Marvit have argued, labor organizing needs to be considered a basic civil right.
Much of this approach is already on display in European social democracies. The keys are removing certain commodities from markets that don't perform well, education and healthcare being two of them. We also have, in essence, commodified child-rearing and caring for the elderly. Since we don't get paid for that, many families choose to take the woman out of the labor force to deal with these necessities. Again, Europe deals a bit better with these issues, especially in Scandinavia. got into the act as Dylan Matthews, who's been writing about this issue for a while, had a good piece on what we've learned from controlled experiments with a UBI. Matthews references the Manitoba experiment -- which I had studied a while back -- but doesn't discuss it much. That's worth a deeper look.

David Atkins wrote about the UBI here, here and here.

I wrote about it here.

Congressman Paul Ryan, for some reason attracted attention this week by coming out with this new idea for treating the poor humanely:
  1. Take all the federal spending on safety nets and eliminate the huge federal safety-net bureaucracy by block-granting the money to the states.
  2. The fifty states create fifty bureaucracies, thus using the money more wisely.
  3. These fifty bureaucracies hold the recipients of their poverty programs accountable and take away benefits if they don't successfully follow the states' "life plan" by accessing training and getting a job.
  4. ????
  5. Jobs for all the poor!
Or we could follow Rick Santorum's prescription:
There is income inequality in America. There always has been and hopefully, and I do say that, there always will be. Why? Because people rise to different levels of success based on what they contribute to society and to the marketplace and that's as it should be.
Thanks for clearing that up, Rick. Left unsaid but clearly implied is that some portion of society ends up contributing nothing and the marketplace rewards them with nothing. And that's how it should be. How very American -- and Christian -- of you.

Yes, I Am Pro-Choice Because...

I am pro-women. Below see epic picture.

The biggest scandal, the biggest failing, in America is how we treat women. It starts when we men act like we own women's bodies. That sounds like a funny statement. Oddly, as you well know, it isn't.

A premise of Star Trek was that mankind had evolved to the point where we had become better stewards of our animal selves. Many in the U.S. sort of take that for granted, that we are becoming better, and that may well be true.

I find myself, in the end, when considering how women are treated -- and I'm not talking about Somalia, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, or any other 15th-century throwback -- I have to conclude that we have not transcended our animal nature. We men bigger, women watch out.


Saturday, July 26, 2014

Arizona Shows Us How to Execute People!

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer: Our execution sucked but it was "lawful."

I've long been against the death penalty, and since we've had two horrifically botched executions recently -- one in Oklahoma and, just this week, in Arizona -- the 8th Amendment has been making a comeback, at least in rational circles.

Murderers don't make for very sympathetic characters. I don't need to describe their crimes here to demonstrate why at least a few of us will rise up and say, "I'd throw the switch in a heartbeat!" A decent majority -- 60% -- still favor the death penalty in the U.S. That number has been slipping steadily for years, and, after the execution of Joseph R. Wood in which it took two hours -- two hours! -- for him to die by a barely lethal injection, it's sure to slip some more.

Like Josh Marshall, in this excellent piece on his TPM blog, I feel that we are seeing an end game emerging in the slow movement toward a nationwide ban, but like Marshall, I don't see it happening soon. But it will happen.

In the meantime, we'll see something that we've seen in policy differences brought on by regional politics: Blue states will increasingly block or ban executions, and red states will account for more and more of them as time goes by. This actually makes sense and is reasonably predictable, as rural and mountain states that favor guns and law-and-order will continue to embrace the death penalty. A pick-up truck owner with a gun rack in Montana is more likely to support the death penalty than a Prius driver in Berkeley, California.

Dahlia Lithwick of Slate puts it about right:
On Wednesday afternoon, in a ritual that has become increasingly—indeed almost numbingly—familiar, the state of Arizona administered a secret drug protocol that took almost two hours to kill a man. Joseph R. Wood III was sentenced to death in 1991 for shooting and killing his ex-girlfriend Debra Dietz and her father, Eugene. The murder was gruesome, and Wood was guilty. He shot his victims in the chest at close range. The only question that remains, as yet another state botches yet another execution, is whether the two hours of gasping and snorting by the accused before he finally died is excessive, or whether it sounds about right to us.
If it doesn't "sound about right" to you, then you might someday if not today join me in moving past barbarism and vengeance and say enough is enough. Ban the death penalty.

We'd have the extra pleasure of joining the rest of civilized society. The U.S. is the only country in the Western Hemisphere to employ the death penalty (Cuba hasn't executed anyone in 10 years), and Japan is an example of a civilized country also using the death penalty, which is commonly accepted in Asia.

Yeah, America, let's continue doing this.

Friday, July 25, 2014

This Is How We American Humans Roll on Fox News

Hannity, yesterday. Presented without comment, other than to assume that if a news host acted this way as often as Hannity does -- on just about any network I know -- he would be toast. With Fox, their decency meter, oh wait, they have no decency meter.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Conservative Bubble World: ACA Can't Help Anyone

In this article by Greg Sargent in WaPo, it's clear that conservatives and their Republican adherents broadly think Obamacare doesn't or can't help anyone. The funny thing about this is that even as millions of uninsured are getting insured, Republicans don't see this as happening or won't or can't acknowledge that such a thing might be a public good. Why?

One reason is that they live in Bubble World. (You know what I mean by that.) Another, equally likely reason is that, sure, they're being helped but in the wrong way, in that a government solution must be an evil by definition. Sounds right to me. Sargent:
Crucially, an astonishing 72 percent of Republicans, and 64 percent of conservatives, say the law hasn’t helped anyone. (Only one percent of Republicans say the law has helped them!) By contrast, 57 percent of moderates say the law has helped them or others. Independents are evenly divided.
Perhaps these numbers among Republicans and conservatives only capture generalized antipathy towards the law. Or perhaps they reflect the belief that Obamacare can’t be helping anyone, even its beneficiaries, since dependency on Big Gummint can only be self-destructive. Either way, the findings again underscore the degree to which Republicans and conservatives inhabit a separate intellectual universe about it.
Big Gummint. That's got to be it. I've always believed a huge headwind for ACA adoption is that Republicans would rather pay more for healthcare than go through the exchanges and get a good deal.

Quite likely so. Now, remember that Republicans are delighted that Big Gummint provides them with religious liberty, code words for making sluts pay for their birth control and making it darned near impossible for sluts to get abortions.  Now that's some goddam good Big Gummint!

Government providing healthcare? Bad! Government controlling sluts? Good!

But now comes bad news from Planned Parenthood: Huge numbers of Republican women, it turns out are sluts! Oh noes! Survey says:
Seven in 10 Republican women (72 percent) said that birth control should be included as preventive health care, covered without any out-of-pocket costs. - See more at:
Seven in 10 Republican women (72 percent) said that birth control should be included as preventive health care, covered without any out-of-pocket costs. - See more at:
Seven in 10 Republican women (72 percent) said that birth control should be included as preventive health care, covered without any out-of-pocket costs. - See more at:
Seven in 10 Republican women (72 percent) said that birth control should be included as preventive health care, covered without any out-of-pocket costs.
Of course, Republicans can deal with this news because it's all lies. Everybody knows that! And everybody knows Republican women are anti-abortion, right? Oops, up to 81 percent of Republican women are abortion sluts, too. Who knew? Republicans for Choice commissioned a poll to find out:
Ann Stone, National Chairman of Republicans For Choice who sponsored these questions on choice included in this national survey, said:
“There are two important conclusions to be drawn from this survey.  First, the majority of the GOP 71% (up to 81% with leaners) is solidly in favor of women having control over their reproductive decisions, or in other words, they are pro-choice.
Second, national pollsters need to stop using self-labeling to gauge true sentiment on the issue of choice. These labels ahve clearly lost their meaning. Clearly, 70% of people who call themselves pro-life are actually in favor of the woman making the decision on choice which in fact makes them pro-choice.
We challenge ALL national pollsters to start including this main question (Q1) in all of their surveys to test the validity of this outcome."
The question and its results are below (the pollster is the same one used commonly by the Washington Post):
Q1       Regardless of how you personally feel about the issue of abortion…who do you believe should have the right to make that decision regarding whether to have an abortion…Should the woman, her family and her doctor make the decision or should the government make the decision?
            1          Strongly the woman, her family and her doctor
            2          Not strongly the woman, her family and her doctor
            3          Not strongly the government
            4          Strongly the government
            9          Don’t know
            0          Refused
                                   GOP/ IND/ DEM
Strongly the woman 71% /80%/ 89%
Not strongly the woman 10%/ 6%/ 5%
Not strongly the government */ * /0%
Strongly the government 3% /2%/ 1%
Conclusion: the GOP is 71% pro-choice and up to 81% with leaners.
 That's some powerful sluts in the family, Republicans. What's up with that?

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Another Republican Waterloo? (Hint: Immigration)

Obama may be dumb, but he's not stupid.

If Ron Brownstein's reporting is to be believed, Barack Obama is set to change the stakes of the immigration reform battle with an executive order protecting undocumented workers with children who are U.S. citizens from deportation. This could affect as much as 50 percent of the 12 million illegal immigrants living in the U.S. today.

Republicans will erupt in fury, but they do so at their peril:
Such a move would infuriate Republicans, both because the border crisis has deepened their conviction that any move toward legalization inspires more illegal migration and because the president would be bypassing Congress. They would likely challenge an Obama order through both legislation and litigation. Every 2016 GOP presidential contender could feel compelled to promise to repeal the order.
Those would be momentous choices for a party already struggling to attract Hispanics and Asian-Americans. Alfonso Aguilar, executive director of the Latino Partnership initiative at the conservative American Principles Project, warns that if Republicans "again fall for the trap" and try to overturn an Obama legalization plan without offering an alternative path to legal status, the party will condemn itself to another lopsided deficit among Hispanics—and to a likely defeat—in 2016. David Ayon, senior adviser to the polling firm Latino Decisions, says that if Republicans erupt against an Obama legalization initiative, it "could turn the Latino vote as ruggedly anti-Republican as the black vote."
On many fronts, Obama seems to be only reacting to events. But on immigration, as on other social issues such as gay rights and contraception, he is driving decisions that could shape the two parties for years—and cement the Democratic hold on the coalition of growing demographic groups that powered his two victories.
Oh yeah. Let the games begin.

The surge of child refugees may have delayed Obama, but it won't deter him.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Back to the Future: It's the Cold War All Over Again

Vladimir Putin: He'll sputter out just like the Soviet Union. Of course, it'll be messy.

I spotted this blog post by TPM's Josh Marshall, and I agree with his assessment: The shootdown of the Malaysia Airlines passenger jet over rebel-held eastern Ukraine is a game changer. Check the declining polls for Putin and Russia, before the shootdown. Imagine the polls now, especially as the rebels run roughshod over what should be a solemn duty to the dead and to the investigation of what caused this crime against humanity.

Though I don't respect California Senator Diane Feinstein as much as I did before she became such a mainstream centrist, I do agree with her that we've slipped back into full-on cold war with Russia. It certainly is back to the future on this one.

Commentators all over the map are fond of saying Russians are chess players, and so we should view Vladimir Putin's moves as carefully calculated. Yes, Putin may be playing well back on the Russian stage, but out in the world, Putin is single-handedly driving Russia's reputation into a ditch, one he won't easily extricate it from.

The world will soon accept that the state of things in eastern Ukraine are Putin's doing, and so is the fate of flight MH17. He as good as shot it down himself, he's that culpable. When you go around throwing bombs and one of them inadvertently causes death and mayhem, it's your show. Putin should know this by now.

I had imagined a few weeks back that he'd learned his lesson and backed off just in time. Then he thought, "Wait, I can get away with some more mischief before the West catches on." Trouble was, he was busted, and Obama slapped more sanctions on him, with the EU piling on just a little. Now, with the passenger-plane shootdown, Putin drowning in his own soup. He'll splash around for awhile, thinking he can play fast and loose when no one looking again, but that isn't going to work.

Why? The U.S. and Europe can ride out a bump in relations, but Russia can't. Its economy is dependent on Europe more than Europe is dependent on Russian oil, gas, and resources. Sure, Russia can make nice with China, but that only goes so far. Then it has to make nice with China, and  there can be high opportunity costs.

Undoubtedly, things won't go exactly the way I hope they will. Europe won't cut Russia off. But as things grow tougher in Russia, as they most certainly will, the Russian people may tire of Putin's counterproductive antics. He may then only get by with Stalinesque tactics. He may stay in power but lose the love of the people. Then he becomes a punk in the eyes of the world, including the Russian people.

Then it's only a matter of time. Putin -- and his brand of skinhead behavior -- will be on his way out, sooner or later.

You can lock up Pussy Riot, but you can't lock up your nation, forever.

Thanks to TPM's excellent reporting.