Saturday, April 25, 2015

Policy Perspective: The Democrats' Achilles' Heel? We Wanna Tax, We Wanna Spend.

Policy differences: Democrats would raise taxes to spend on helping the poor.

I remember a strange argument that I had with my conservative brother -- both my brothers are Rush Limbaugh Republicans, ain't that weird? -- in which he claimed that, as a Democrat, all I wanted to do was tax and spend. I said it wasn't a given. I wasn't against taxing and not spending.

We went on to something else, and then five minutes later, my brother blurted out, "That's ridiculous! You do want to tax AND spend!" He said this in utter disgust.

That was an argument ender if I ever encountered one. But my brother is right on one account: Although we Dems could tax and reduce the deficit if it were possible and/or necessary to do so, our inclination is to indeed spend. Taxing the wealthy who can afford it and transferring those dollars to the needy is our idea of the right thing to do.

Spending it on infrastructure, education, job training, and research is also appealing. It's what we do, there's no denying it.

If I have a point in bringing this up, it's that we not only shouldn't deny it, we should own it, and so should every smart Democrat running for office. Don't pussyfoot around. We want to spend money to help our country, and we're especially happy when we can get the rich to give us that money.

After all, the rich got rich from the infrastructure, education, job training, and research that created the foundation of their success. There are rare exceptions, but by and large, the rich need the rest of us to make them rich.

I'm happy to be a tax-and-spender. Proud to be one. It's no problem. It's only an Achilles' Heel if we try to run from it.

Krugman: 2016 Is the Election of the Living Dead

Carly Fiorina throws her hat in the ring.

Paul Krugman weighs in on the zombie apocalypse that is the Republican 2016 presidential primary.

...Leading me to wonder what part of the emerging GOP party platform is based on reality, and to wonder how many citizens will be successfully hoodwinked into buying it. It's a scary thought, as in President Walker, President Rubio, or even President Bush (Didn't we already have one, or two?).

Screaming "death to the zombies" seems counter-factual. Aren't they already dead? In the Tea Party, apparently not.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Policy Perspective: Which Party Went as Far as It Could to Block Gay Rights?

Yes, this is the civil-rights breakthrough of our time. Next, women...

Have you seen a pattern, that over time issues come to a boil, hit critical mass, and, boom, America is ready for a change? With acceptance of LGBT Americans, our country hesitated, hesitated, backtracked, and reconsidered the issue as headwinds swirled and opposition to it built -- and then collapsed.

What drove it? I'm straight, so my view is essentially as an outsider, but from what I saw the generation of millennials just said it was no big deal. Then the boomers, still part of the gay-sex-is-icky generation, thought, "Why?" Then they shrugged and concluded, "I don't know."

And, boom, opposition melted away. Except among the Republican conservative base, which is still large enough to cause mischief. Witness the little volcanoes of resistance as red state after red state tried to whip up a religious basis for discriminating against gays. It hasn't so far worked, which is another of those small tsunamis of cultural shift I didn't expect. I thought red states will be red states, but no, the business community rose up and said you can't do this. It's bad for business.


But my point about policy and party still stands. Bobby Jindal -- governor of Louisiana and unannounced charter-member of the 2016 GOP clown-car brigade -- now vows not to cave like the rest of the sissy GOP governors. He'll sign the Louisiana bill to discriminate against gays, godammit. For religious reasons of course. From TPM:
"If we, as conservatives, are to succeed in advancing the cause of freedom and free enterprise, the business community must stand shoulder to shoulder with those fighting for religious liberty," Jindal said. "The left-wing ideologues who oppose religious freedom are the same ones who seek to tax and regulate businesses out of existence. The same people who think that profit making is vulgar believe that religiosity is folly. The fight against this misguided, government-dictating ideology is one fight, not two. Conservative leaders cannot sit idly by and allow large corporations to rip our coalition in half."
Whether you agree with Jindal or not, no clearer statement has been made of how conservatives view this issue. They believe that citizens should have the right -- they believe founded in religious principle -- to discriminate against LGBT people.

If that's how you feel, vote for Republicans. They won't win, but they'll be up to mischief for a while more. Otherwise, vote for Democrats. I do for this reason, among others.

Bonus news today: ABC/WaPo have a poll out showing 61% of Americans now support same-sex marriage. The 35% who don't, by and large, are somewhere in that GOP base we call the tea party. You can take that to the bank.

I have a gay friend who's clearly a fiscal conservative, and I had the distinct feeling he'd like to support the GOP because of this. I don't know how he votes. But I would counsel him to vote Democratic and pressure his Dems to be more fiscally frugal. I suspect that's probably how members of his broader community handle political choices.

A final thought here: Our LGBT community has long been separate from the rest of us (surprisingly more integrated than many of us knew!), but those days are fleeting. We are us, all together. Don't you feel better? I do.

If Jindal and his Republican Neanderthals don't, fuck 'em. And don't vote for them.

Bobby's Alamo is the religious right to discriminate? That's so yesterday.

Bonus Update. David Cameron, in the middle of a fierce election in the UK, said he could not be turned in his support for LGBT rights, and he's the leader of the Conservative Party! Much in the opposite direction, Rand Paul has declared that he doesn't believe in gay rights. Ah, the inartful dodger...

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Why We Can't Put Dzokhar Tsarnaev to Death

He was barely a child when he did this horrible deed. Once he was picked up, his maturing stopped. He has matured enough since then that his go-to move is giving the finger.

Yeah, he should be put to death. Any rational society with an evidence-based inclination would agree.

Thanks, LBJ, for (Sort of) Ruining Healthcare for the Rest of Us

Voter disconnect: Yes, Medicare is government-operated healthcare.

Lyndon Johnson is to be praised for taking his ability to work with Congress and guiding through bills like the one that established Medicare before Democrats lost the South for good.

It's only speculation, of course, that Johnson could have succeeded in passing universal single-payer for all. But deciding not to and settling for protecting seniors -- the single most impoverished group at the time -- had the effect of locking in Medicare and locking out single-payer for the rest of us.

It's also likely that he couldn't have foreseen some of the cultural and economic changes, like the loss of defined-benefit pensions, that would add to the stress of growing old in America.

But these changes came, and here we are. Now, the single block with the greatest need for healthcare has it -- seniors -- and they quite naturally fear that giving the same benefits to younger people will come at their expense. Whether that's true or not, there are reasons to believe it. From a Thomas B. Edsall op-ed:
[...] The combination of longer lives and unreliable pension benefits increases retirees’ dependence “on transfers from the working population for living expenses, including large consumption of medical care,” Eggleston and Fuchs note.
Adding to the financial pressures on the elderly, Munnell et al. found that in the 27 years from 1983 to 2010, health care costs under Medicare Part B rose from 6.8 percent of the average 1983 Social Security benefit to 17.0 percent of the 2010 benefit. The decline in interest rates since 2008 has reduced the rate of return on retirement savings, another factor leading to anxiety among seniors.
The Kaiser Family Foundation has data (see chart 2) that shows how even with Medicare, out-of-pocket health costs are larger for over-65 households – both in dollar terms and as a percentage of income – than for younger households.
In other words, the data suggest that the elderly are right to be worried.
Here's how I think it scans: The elderly won't support expanding healthcare to the young for fear of reducing their own benefits. This may also apply to expanding Social Security. And the young won't support -- or pay for -- expanding healthcare for themselves because they think they're healthy and don't need it. As for Social Security, enough young people doubt they'll ever see it, so why should they support expanding it?

Now, I'm not saying Obamacare won't win over the nation -- even its seniors -- eventually. The latest tracking poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation shows Obamacare finally achieving a plurality of positive support. But I fear that it'll be a cold day in hell before enough support -- from voters, like seniors, who can influence politicians -- to morph into the single-payer kind of government program favored by the rest of the civilized world.

LBJ pulled the trigger. I'm glad he did, but I'm afraid it hasn't accrued to our advantage.

The I've-got-mine-you-can't-take-it generation?

Mind you, I'm on Medicare and am happy with it. I just want everyone to have it, too.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

What Animates Our Policy Debate: How About the Apocalypse?

Michele Bachmann: Gone girl. Really, really gone.

Yes, it was fun when Michele Bachmann was actually in Congress and said the kinds of things she used to say. And I'm sure you're wondering why I bring her up in a policy debate, one that I hope to carry on through the entire 2016 (endless) election cycle.

Why Bachmann? It's because she makes a strong case for party-line voting. Decide the party of the crazy and then don't vote for any of them. First, let's establish Michele Bachmann's Republican bonafides. She was elected, then reelected three times, to Congress with an R-Minn. after her name. What did she represent? This:
“Barack Obama is intent, it is his number one goal, to ensure that Iran has a nuclear weapon," [Bachmann] said. "Why? Why would you put the nuclear weapon in the hands of madmen who are Islamic radicals?"
Bachmann, however, then seemed to approve of the President moving mankind into "the midnight hour."
"We get to be living in the most exciting time in history," she said, urging fellow Christians to "rejoice."
"Jesus Christ is coming back. We, in our lifetimes potentially, could see Jesus Christ returning to Earth, the Rapture of the Church."
"These are wonderful times," she concluded.
Bachmann made similar remarks on Markell's show last week.
“We have very little time, in my opinion, left before the second return of Christ. That’s good news."
Now, when you try to decide which party you should support based on its policies, based on its philosophic and religious underpinnings, do you want to support the party where Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin found a happy home or the party where Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren (and Oprah Winfrey, for that matter) feel comfortable. Just saying.

It's unfair to blame the Republican Party for Sarah Palin,
unless it was that whole vice-presidential candidate thing.

"Missing" Black Men in America? Yes, and It's a Tragedy

Insult to injury: Black men are safer in prison than on the street.

Sometimes a report is released that defies imagination. The worst thing about the report in the New York Times this morning may be how unsurprising it is, despite how heart-wrenching it is.
They [black men] are missing, largely because of early deaths or because they are behind bars. Remarkably, black women who are 25 to 54 and not in jail outnumber black men in that category by 1.5 million, according to an Upshot analysis. For every 100 black women in this age group living outside of jail, there are only 83 black men. Among whites, the equivalent number is 99, nearly parity.
African-American men have long been more likely to be locked up and more likely to die young, but the scale of the combined toll is nonetheless jarring. It is a measure of the deep disparities that continue to afflict black men — disparities being debated after a recent spate of killings by the police — and the gender gap is itself a further cause of social ills, leaving many communities without enough men to be fathers and husbands.
Perhaps the starkest description of the situation is this: More than one out of every six black men who today should be between 25 and 54 years old have disappeared from daily life.
 A snapshot in time that shows that 17% of black men have been disappeared from the population compared to 1% of white men is jarring, scandalous.

Benghazi is a scandal? Complete bullshit. This is scandalous. Of course, because we're not racist here in America, we don't have to -- and mostly won't -- do anything about it.

One city among the worst in America for this "missing" effect? Feguson, MO, which now has at least one more missing, Michael Brown. It doesn't matter whether his hands were up before he was shot. What matters is he lived in a world where he was likely to be disappeared. And he was.

Policy note. If you think that Democrats are more likely to do something about this -- however slight the difference -- than Republicans are, then this is a reason to support the Democrats. Just saying.