Saturday, April 19, 2014

Obamacare Is Working. Is Saying It Isn't Good Politics?

Barack Obama is, generally, a happy man. Have you noticed that?

A reason to be happy is that the PPACA, aka Obamacare, is working. In fact, it's working in just about all the ways one could hope a plan like it would work. (I wanted single-payer, but it wasn't going to happen in an "exceptional country" like the U.S.A.)
Conservatives were sure at every turn that Obamacare would fail, but as the numbers roll in, those convictions are looking increasingly ideological.

First they said nobody would enroll. Then they said first-year premiums would be through the roof. And later, they warned of a "death spiral," wherein premiums would go up uncontrollably. My colleague Sam Baker has written an excellent analysis of the situation, the upshot of which is that Obamacare is on a winning streak.
The next great frontier of conservative hyperbole concerns premiums for 2015, with critics warning that costs will double or even triple next year.
As of this week, we have good evidence to the contrary. Health insurance premium rates are expected go up just 7 percent—a rate of increase much lower than what critics were predicting. And the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office is predicting that premium hikes will be relatively modest.
None of this is surprising to rational people, aka people who don't watch Fox News. What troubles me -- and those who just want good outcomes for their fellow citizens -- is that the GOP and its propaganda machine at Fox will hang on tooth and nail to the "obamacare is killing kids, mothers, and seniors," in spite of the fact that none of the bad things and most of the good things are happening as the rollout of the healthcare system known as Obamacare proceeds.

Hopefully, the country will outlive the GOP noise machine's attempt to lie all the way to the 2014 elections. It just might work, and that's depressing.

Conservatives: We Love Free Markets Except When We Don't

If we add enough solar panels to the mix, we might solve
energy shortages and global warming. Better not do that!

Oklahoma has been making its mark in hypocrisy lately. Maybe Sooners were jealous of Rand Paul getting all the attention. They've certainly switched eyeballs to their state.

I just reported Thursday that Gov. Mary Fallin had signed a bill banning wage and benefit improvements in her state. The bill only prevents lower-level entities like counties and municipalities from raising the minimum wage and benefits, but since the state is entirely unlikely to make any moves, it effectively bans any improvement for labor.

It's startling that this represents conservatives blocking free markets from setting minimum wages and benefits. If you love free markets for capital but not for labor, then you're not being honest, or you're really choosing sides.

Next, Oklahoma doubles down in the hypocrisy department with a bill advancing to the governor's desk that adds fees payable to utility companies when individuals install their own solar panels. If you're going to distribute power back to the grid, there's a price you'll pay, but only for this new class: private individuals. Everyone else is grandfathered in to the fee-free era. The fee makes no sense, especially because utilities gain when private operators send electricity to the grid in peak usage hours:
But distributed energy sources also provide a clear value to utility companies. Solar generates during peak hours, when a utility has to provide electricity to more people than at other times during the day and energy costs are at their highest. Solar panels actually feed excess energy back to the grid, helping to alleviate the pressure during peak demand. In addition, because less electricity is being transmitted to customers through transmission lines, it saves utilities on the wear and tear to the lines and cost of replacing them with new ones.
With solar power coming down in price to levels that make it truly practical for individuals to lower their costs and their demand, it makes no sense to tax individuals for helping to put a real dent in greenhouse gases. Again, Oklahoma loves free markets, except the one where the utility companies want to get their slice. Oklahoma hates taxes except when it doesn't.

In contrast, California has reversed itself and is cancelling a payoff to the utility companies. Costs for installing new systems, including connect fees to the utilities, were as high as $3700, putting a real crimp in new system installations. Solar City, the state's largest installer, had all but stopped new applications. Not good, and not called for:
Grid operators and utilities worry that the rise of battery storage and distributed generation like solar will cause more and more customers to simply defect from the grid entirely. In a blog post on SolarCity’s website, Rive attempted to allay those fears, pointing out that the spread of batteries at the residential, commercial, and utility level could work to grid operators’ advantage if properly harnessed.
“In this scenario, grid operators are suddenly empowered to store and discharge solar energy where and when it’s needed most, smoothing out peaks and ramps, while powering more of the total grid consumption with clean and renewable sources,” Rive wrote. “Additionally, utilizing storage to unlock massive benefits in the areas of frequency and voltage support can further lower grid costs. Many of these capabilities are available now through distributed resources, even without storage, and we should work together to put them into the hands of utilities for the benefit of the ratepayers.”
The way is cleared for new projects to proceed. BTW, The Week has a new article decrying Oklahoma's move. It's aptly titled, The world's dumbest idea: Taxing solar energy.

"There's a bright golden haze on the meadow."
 Don't trap any of it with solar panels!

Friday, April 18, 2014

Princeton Study: American Democracy Is Dead Already

I loved the hustle and bustle of Tokyo life. Economic opportunity for ex-pats now?

This is not surprising. A study just released shows that our democracy has died and is already being replaced by oligarchy. Who knew? Most voters don't, yet.

The most interesting -- or obvious -- fact is that it isn't a result of Citizens United or McCutcheon decisions, since the current situation has roots back to the beginning of the eighties.

I recall reading toward the end of the Reagan administration that 80% of the wealth created under his watch has gone to the wealthy, that a rising tide was not lifting all boats as had happened in previous expansions. I was angry with that, especially since I was in my thirties and felt that my opportunities were squeezed, and I had had to be quite crafty to get by. It turns out it wasn't just me. The money was even then not flowing to the middle class.

What was my reaction? I left for a few years in Japan, where they threw money at me. When I came home, I had, if not a fortune, at least enough money to have options. By the way, while I was in Japan, I met ex-pats from all over the English-speaking world (I spent most, but not all, of my time working in an English language school for Japanese), and all of them were there for very much the same reasons I had come: in search of opportunity that had eluded them at home. We were quite the crew, and some of my best memories are of my days in Japan.

That was just before the real-estate bubble popped in Japan, from which they have yet to truly emerge.

So, as I often do, I've personalized my take of what's happening in our culture. We're shaped by our experiences. So, if I had advice to the young today -- who've seen their opportunity shrink to very paltry levels -- it wouldn't be to go abroad in search of opportunity. It's quite sucky everywhere, at least in the young-adult employment area.

Sorry, kids. Stay home and fight the oligarchy. It's an uphill battle, and we'll need all the bodies -- and minds -- we can find.

Link to the Princeton study here.

I found more than economic opportunity in Tokyo... Wish I could recommend it now.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Reality of Inequality

Paul Krugman participated in a panel discussion after a talk by Thomas Piketty at the CUNY Graduate Center (Piketty is of late quite famous for his Capital in the 21st Century). Krugman's notes on it in his blog are tantalizing and enlightening. Here's a taste:
This brings me to my second point about Piketty, which is that his work greatly reinforces the notion that we may face a political-economy spiral of inequality, in which great wealth brings great power, which is used to reinforce the concentration of wealth. That was a concern even when we thought we were facing a one-generation dispersion of economic success. But it becomes much more of a concern when one realizes that we’re talking about creating an environment favorable to “patrimonial capitalism”, of sustained dominance by family dynasties.
And let me say that while the core of Piketty’s work is his economic analysis, his discussion of the political economy of dynastic wealth is a major additional highlight. I was especially struck by the somewhat paradoxical contrast between Belle Epoque France and Gilded Age America: a notionally egalitarian society in which anything that might challenge the privileges of inherited wealth was beyond the pale, versus a society that celebrated financial success but in which it was considered reasonable and respectable to advocate high taxation for the explicit purpose of reducing inequality. It seems to me that we want some real scholarship — from political scientists, not (or not just) economists — to figure out that contrast, and learn lessons that might help us break the cycle of rising dynastic power we face today.
When the vastly wealthy can control the political dynamics, it's game over for the masses. And that division -- between capital and labor -- is just another of the divisions that rive our society today.

Note. I've had a bit of an epiphany about division in our society and its implications and multiple iterations. It will be a theme of mine for some time to come. Piketty's explication of income inequality will be a powerful part of what I've discovered -- or believe to have discovered. Stay tuned.

Speaking of tuned, you will be able to tune in to the Piketty talk when the CUNY Graduate Center posts its YouTube of it. You'll find a link to it in the upper right corner of this page. I'll be watching and waiting and then watching, too. (As of now, it's not there yet...)

OKLA's Mary Fallin: Hell No You Can't Raise the Minimum Wage in My State!

Gov. Mary Fallin: No more money or benefits to low-wage workers on my watch!

Atrios noticed an Alex Pareene article on Susana Martinez that basically showed that she, like many governors, are just the state-level asshole we the people tend to elect based on the notion that, yeah, maybe they're jerks but they'll kick asses -- especially the asses of the unclean, undeserving that mess with Your Tax Dollars®.

That got me thinking of the asshole governors around the country, yeah, from my perspective mostly Republican governors, but New York's Andrew Cuomo is the Democratic asshole that proves the rule. And Oklahoma's Republican Gov. Mary Fallin shouldn't be allowed to pass under our radar. Don't know much about her, but this recent move in signing a bill that outlaws raising the minimum wage anywhere in Oklahoma on the local or municipal level. I guess on the state level is Oklahoma OK!, but that's not going to happen on her watch! The bill also limits increases in benefits, sick days, and vacations. Well, that makes sense. Don't want OKLA cities going all random and improving workers' lives.

Municipalities have independently raised minimum wage levels, by the way. An example out where I live is San Francisco, which has a higher minimum wage than that mandated by both the state and the federal governments. Also, it has had a citywide healthcare plan with better benefits than surrounding cities. This makes a lot of sense because the cost of living is higher in SF than in other cities and regions in California.

In any event, Mary Fallin and her Republican legislature proves what we can call either the Atrios rule or the Alex Pareene rule: She may be an asshole, but she's our asshole! Good on ya, Oklahomans, for reminding me why I'm glad I live in blue California, where we don't fuck each other over, at least to the extent you do in the Sooner state.

Oh what a beautiful morning without an increase in the minimum wage!

Update. Just found Charles Blow's latest op-ed in the NY Times. It's about the minimum wage and Oklahoma's new move. Worth a read.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Does the Federal Government Manage Any Western Land?

I haven't thought about it much, not until Cliven Bundy, rancher and Federal Government Denier®, started wagging his crafty little tongue. So I found this at Daily Kos:

(click image to make even bigger)

A lot of Nevada is managed by the federal government and its jack-booted thugs at the Bureau of Land Management. BTW, the BLM is an offshoot of the General Land Office, established back in 1812 (as in "1812 Overture," that far back). Most of our Founding Fathers were still alive then, BTW, so you patriots who think this is some new Obama "lawlessness" better think again, assuming you can think beyond this comment I found on a random web thread:
Re: Clive Bundy: moocher, taker, law breaker, welfare cowboy

In my opinion in a LAND dispute.   States have rights over Federal Govt.  
The States are the owners of the land.  The Federal Govt should not be buying land because we are the taxpayers. The Federal Govt should only be allowed to lease land from the states.
If Nevada gives up it's land rights to the Federal Govt than it's actually not a state.
The Federal Govt is not real so it should even be able to purchase land in our states only lease or rent.
Why would the states have border rights?  The Federal Govt is an agency to protect our borders from enemy's not purchase and manage land in other states.

Wow. You see what we're dealing with here?

Patriots Who Hate Their Country Are Not Patriots

Cliven Bundy: Sucking on the federal teat and
proud of it. Where is the conservative outrage?

Krystal Ball makes a clear, concise statement about patriotism:

(h/t Daily Kos)

The tag "Welfare Cowboy" is apt for Cliven Bundy. He's a patriot. Of what country, I don't know. He doesn't recognize the federal government.

Here's the #BundyRanch twitter thread.

Here's the Inagist #BundyRanch thread.

BTW, remember David Koresh? Timothy McVeigh? Why does this happen in Democratic presidential terms? I'm not paranoid, just askin'.

Fun fact: Koresh and McVeigh both died at 33. I wonder why Sean Hannity hasn't speculated about the federal government rounding up all 33-year-old men. Hannity may yet. After all, he's a patriot.

(h/t Crooks&Liars)