Sunday, March 29, 2009

Truth in advertising: Republicans are focused "on the harm health care reform might bring to private health insurers"

Pretty damn good article here by Slate's Timothy Noah, one of the few decent journos at Slate, in J's opinion. One might almost go so far as to call him a J-fave, but that would be stretching it perhaps. Or at least, giving credit on a sliding curve; he's not as left as I am, despite that seeming to be the logical conclusion from many of his articles (from my point of view, of course), but he's at least pretty consistently in the "Democratic wing of the Democratic party" to crib from Howard Dean.*

Anyway. Noah analyzes how the Republicans aren't even pretending to be for the average American anymore, instead fretting about private health insurers' profits. Noah:
Eschewing any pretense that their primary concern is for medical consumers and taxpayers, they focus on the harm health care reform might bring to private health insurers... The reasoning was (and remains) that holding the line on government spending is socialism. Letting the government pay in excess of the market price is capitalism. Surrendering to such Alice in Wonderland reasoning is insanity.

This follows a pretty good earlier column by Slater Christopher Beam -- who's somewhere below Noah but higher than average as far as Slaters in J's esteem -- about how Republicans are trying to use the language of "universal health care" to rebrand their same brand of "gee, if you have money, you can get access to it -- what's not universal about that?" Indeed, they refuse to define what universal even means to them, but Beam gives us a hint:
Under a [traditional] Republican plan, "universal access" means anyone can buy insurance if they want it, but they don't have to. The problem is, "access" is a slippery concept. George W. Bush famously said that "people have access to health care in America. After all, you just go to an emergency room." By that definition, "universal access" already exists.

It's worth noting that Noah also points out that Obama is not really seeming geared up to provide universal health care, in the article linked above, as well as in a month-old column here (first installment of Obama Soft-on-Health-care-watch here.

In news of something more completely different, Fire Mickey Kaus takes a brief jaunt from its primary, and quite laudable, goal (of firing Mickey Kaus), to ask WTF is up with Slate's XX Factor, a nominally female-perspective blog of various Slatesters. Suffice it to say, FMK is about as impressed with XX Factor as we here at Anekantavada are. (To be clear, that level of impressedness == not very. The best thing I can say about their average quality is that it allowed me to use the wonderful word "gormless" in context for the first time.

*To be clear, you don't have to be as Left as J to be a J-Fave, but left-liberal authors like Noah who are clearly smart enough to see the world as it is and who make trenchant criticisms of both parties yet still pretend that either party is an honest broker... I guess what I'm trying to say is, you have to be intellectually consistent, and Noah's points are so insightful and indicting of the current system sometimes, that I feel like it's a total cop-out for him to still back much of the mainstream system. Perhaps he's afraid to go farther within his own mind, for the sake of his job, or he really doesn't see what I perceive to be the gaping chasm between his analysis of US Politics and anything like even qualified support of the status quo, but, yeah... I feel like something's holding him back from truly revolutionary writing, as opposed to someone who really is completely consistent and logical within their own worldview. But that's just me, mayhaps.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Sound and fury, signifying nothing? Activism, Government, and Crowd-sourcing Schmrowd-sourcing

Interesting blog post from Jon Stahl here: "Chaotic, cacophonous, well meaning efforts that will inevitably add up to nothing" on crowd sourcing and the activism of the new generation, so to speak. Stahl and some people he quotes at length note the limitations of the "new" activism, Obama's millions-strong "constituency" and recommends some steps on real change -- including understanding that volunteerism, while laudable, will not alone make things better, and that philanthropy can't replace making the government work.

So interesting ideas. The post is a big old, but worth reading and ruminating on.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Clear-headed, sobering words on food

Fantastic interview with UK food policy researcher Tim Lang here from GRAIN's 2008 issue of Seedling. He says the world is "sleepwalking" its way through the food crisis, expresses his belief/analysis that the present crisis is not a "blip" as others were but rather presages long-term change for the worse (though in the short-term food prices may again lower for some brief period), lays out the 8 interconnected features under threat with today's "productionist" food system and politics, and expresses hopeful cynicism about the ability of humanity to change the system for the better before a dire and harsh shock to the system comes about in the form of even worse crises.
I used to think, until about five years ago, that an orderly transition was possible. I now wonder if we’ve missed the moment. I hope not. But events are now determining the room for manoeuvre. It’s more likely now that shock will change things. As a rationalist, I want that least. Shocks are messy with dire consequences. But certainly, it looks likely that we might be sleep-walking into a world in which blood flows, metaphorically and at times actually, due to mistakes over food policy. All of us need to raise our voices and our game to prevent those mistakes going unnoticed. Ultimately we have to side with food democracy over food control.

Read the rest of the insightful interview here; and if you're in the upstate New York area in a couple weeks, come see him give the Plenary talk at Visible Warnings: The World Food Crisis in Perspective, April 3 & 4 at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Government's "Angry-come-lately" on AIG

A seemingly good article by Steven Pearlstein at the WaPo on various ways we could've avoided paying the AIG bonuses without causing a crisis in the rule of law, as has been implied or even said by Wall Street, various members of the O Administration, and the media. The thing that gets me about this whole deal is that it obviously wasn't an unanticipated problem -- they (AIG) knew about the bonuses beforehand, and had to have known how it would play, and various articles have pointed to commentary from within the government with various officials having said things to the effect of "we knew about it earlier, but we couldn't really do anything so we didn't." Pearlstein makes some very commonsense articles that it was within both the government and AIG's power to take some reasonable steps much earlier to have avoided this whole shennanigan. For one thing, since the US Gov helped stop AIG from going into bankruptcy, Pearlstein points out:
Call me a cockeyed optimist, but I suspect that when confronted with the prospect of a bankruptcy and a prolonged and public investigation, the sharpies in London and Connecticut might have been receptive to the idea of renegotiating those bonuses in favor of new contracts -- contracts that increased their base pay but tied their bonuses to success in reducing future taxpayer liabilities at AIG. Unfortunately, none of this seems to have occurred to Eddie "Good Hands" Liddy, the former Allstate executive who was supposedly brought in to dismantle AIG and sell it off in pieces for the benefit of the taxpayers and creditors. So far, all Eddie seems to have served up is a litany of complaints about what a bad hand he was dealt.

Read on the rest of "Wall Street's Dangerous Refusal to Learn" here.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Thomas Friedman's Dipshittery, Explained in 8 Panels


Go here. A pithy summary of Thomas "My evidence is that it makes sense to me" Friedman. The cartoon is for this article which similarly disses Friedman, in a more effective-than not manner. I think Taibbi could've done better, and I don't know that that much snark is all that useful, but it's still damned funny, and damned accurate, in places.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

What part of self-evident doesn't Scalia understand, aka We hold this important shit to be obvious, you Wackaloon

Mad good post over at PhysioProf on "Constitutional Originalism, Natural Law, and The Ninth Amendment." Now, J is not a fan of Natural Law when it is taken literally, as is believed by some libertarians -- that some rights somehow derive from the very status and being of human beings and the universe, such as right to property. I firmly believe rights are human-made and thus human-determined; that doesn't mean I believe they're arbitrary per se. There are rights that we have come to recognize as fundamental for dignified human life, and I do believe these are fundamental, based on the sort common-sense humanism of them (the right against arbitrary/unreasonable search and seizure, freedom of religion, freedom of press, the right to food security/food sovereignty, unreasonable restrictions of movement, etc. etc., such as one might see in our Bill of Rights, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the 1966 International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, still not ratified by the US Congress, btw).

Anyway. Read on, read PhysioProf -- I don't think he even swears in this one.

Conservative legal theorists spend a lot of time talking about how the text of the Constitution should be construed only as it was understood at the time of the Founding and Ratification. Building on this idea, they rail against “judicial activism” and the “creation of new rights” that are not “found in the text” of the Constitution. This provides a theoretical basis for conservative claims that there is no Constitutionally protected right to many things they despise: gay marriage, abortion, health care, housing, food, etc.

As I will describe below, this textual originalism is bad history and bad law. Furthermore, this theory only has any jurisprudential legs at all because of an unfortunate happenstance of 20th Century Supreme Court jurisprudence.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Republicans: Saving the economy ruins the economy (seriously?)

There's been a meme that's been getting bigger and bigger, much to my profound annoyance; that of the right/Republicans claiming that not only did FDR's New Deal not help end the Great Depression, but rather helped prolong it. The Heritage Foundation, some kooky hyper-libertarian on Colbert a couple months ago, Ron Paul on Bill Maher's Real Time with Bill Maher. (Not that Ron Paul isn't a kooky hyper-libertarian.)

David Sirota wrote at Salon two months ago about this, as part of a larger analysis of Obama's stimulus package.

[Obama rejected] conservatives' increasingly loud claims that the New Deal "prolonged the Great Depression" - claims that are demonstrably false. As Census data shows, the pre-WWII New Deal spending and regulatory agenda resulted both in robust GDP growth rates and the single biggest decline in the unemployment rate in American history. Unbelievably, conservative think tanks have resorted to quite literally lying about government data, claiming, as the Heritage Foundation has, that the "New Deal never drove unemployment below 20 percent." As you can see from the Census Bureau's verifiable data from 1936 and 1937, that claim is a patent lie - and it's great that Obama and his economic team seems to understand that.

Sirota also points out how raising taxes does not hurt productivity or GDP growth, according to, you know, research rather than rhetoric, and according to a Republican's analysis, GDP growth is larger from infrastructure building than from tax cuts. Of course, I myself could give a shit about GDP growth, for nine reasons from Sunday, but once again the work/blog balance calls out, and work, I must go to her.

But before I go, I got on to all of this by reading this article on The Root about the racism that barred the New Deal from helping Blacks anything remotely near as much as it helped Whites, the need for African-Americans today to vocally and forcefully act and support the stimulus, and its spending in the "blackest" states, like Louisiana and Mississippi, whose governors have threatened not to spend stimulus money sent to the state to provide aid to the unemployed and other programs to help the economically disadvantaged, despite the fact that "in two of the blackest states, both with governors threatening to reject the aid, Mississippi and Louisiana, the rate [of unemployment] is three times that of whites". So yeah, go read Michael Dawson's article, too.

So here are your talking points/marching orders/background information sources to go out there and fight the conservative unreality-based-community, because seriously, yo, this shit about the New Deal prolonging the Great Depression -- pending some SERIOUSLY stronger and more mainstream analyses -- is getting on my last mother-lovin' nerve.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Interesting and hopeful

An interesting and hopeful post by Hofstra political scientist David Michael Green here (h/t Counterpunch) on how the most significant achievements of a successful Obama presidency could potentially not be substantive policy change (though that would certainly be one element), but rather substantive changes in US's political culture to be intolerant of rampant military spending, empire, foreign adventurism, antipathy towards all things government and embracing of all things market, flippant standards for presidency like "who you might want to have a beer with" and admiring presidents who "decide from the guy", making big progress in healing the weeping wound that is US race relations, and more.

It seems wildly hopeful and vaguely unlikely to me, but I don't think Green is arguing it will all come true even if Obama's successful, but rather that one or more of these are possible, if not likely outcomes of a successful presidency. (I really only skimmed his article, but I think he's defining successful as essentially "popular" (well-liked) by the end of his term, re-elected, and effective enough to lead us in a direction of real recovery of jobs; he explicitly says that Obama's policies may end up being liberal or centrist, but that the real important long-term effects, the real hallmarks of the Obama age, could be changes in attitudes of the American electorate. I guess I posted this because I agree that these are possibilities, they would be incredibly important breakthroughs, and I see them as rather more likely than substantive progressive policy change from Obama, though if we get universal health care, I will definitely give it up for the big "O". Though if we get single-payer health care, I will give him mad props, big ups, and eat my hat. With some hot sauce perhaps. But I would eat it gladly.)

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Lobbyists, Obama, Gender politics, and Blue Penis

"Full of country goodness and green pea-ness."
--"Orson Welles", on Fox's The Critic

Great, if short post here on The American Prospect (h/t to Matthew Yglesias) on the -gasp- full blueal penis of Dr. Manhattan in the new movie, The Watchmen. (Which is getting consistent "mehs" it seems, somewhat disappointing to this comic book fan, but it was directed by the godforsaken director of 300, for god's sake.) In the post, Phoebe Connely does a brilliant job quickly summing up the double standards of today's gender politics, where female nudity is a matter of course, but some consistent Quantum Guy Junk warrants mentioning by every reviewer everywhere, apparently. It reminds of hearing of people complaining about Brokeback Mountain (which I still haven't seen, sadly) and "too much gay sex" when, from what I understand, there was more and more explicit straight sex. Apparently, it's always "too much" when it's not targeted towards your team, so to speak.

There's a lot to unpack there (heh... package), but I really don't feel like it, so discuss amongst yourselves: Dr. Manhattan's full frontal nudity was neither full nor frontal nor nudity: Discuss.

In other news, Matthew Yglesias makes a compelling argument that Obama's "no lobbyist on staff" policy does more harm than good, because
well-qualified individuals who registered as lobbyists while working for progressive non-profits find themselves shut out of jobs, and the administration finds itself understaffed.

The problem here has always been that the lobbyist/non-lobbyist distinction doesn’t track any meaningful goals. Goldman Sachs’ lawyer, for example, is not a lobbyist, and therefore not banned from office. A “lobbyist” is just someone who talks to members of congress about legislation. You can be a corrupt special interest and not be a lobbyist, and you can be a lobbyist who only works for good causes.

But dumb as the pledge was, it’s dumber still to stick with it. Flip-flopping will look bad, but nobody will care in 2012 about an old flip-flop. By contrast, lots of people will care by 2012 if we’re in the midst of a prolonged depression...

I'm loathe to agree that lobbyists aren't inherently bad, but that's because I think of lobbyists as inherently being for private interests. And I don't suppose he could just ban all lobbyists for private interests? Of course what's worse is that Obama made exceptions for this at first (and apparently every Democrat he has ever known has freaking tax problems) but, as far as I know, is holding to it now, despite the problems outlined by Yglesias. But I haven't been closely following the news recently; maybe I'm wrong? (Except: D'oh.)


(postscript: even this seemingly insightful review equates Watchmen's director's missteps in screen translation with not properly dressing Big Blue; I don't know that a codpiece really represents the artistic problems of the film, but that may just be me -- and that I haven't seen the film)