Monday, October 06, 2008

Unsocialized Medicine

As Paul Krugman first pointed out (see ), the quotation from Ronald Reagan that Sarah Palin used at the end of the Vice Presidential debate was taken from a recording that Reagan made in the 1950s in opposition to the enactment of Medicare (aka, "socialized medicine"). I doubt the quotation was selected at random, or its relationship to the earlier health care debate was coincidental, because fear of the goverment has been a persistent theme of those opposed to government-paid health care.

This anti-goverment theme was explicit in Palin's criticism of Obama's plans for health care, which she described as a "universal government run program," adding that, "unless you're pleased with the way the federal government has been running anything lately, I don't think that it's going to be real pleasing for Americans to consider health care being taken over by the feds."

Of course, "lately" the government has been run by Republicans, but let's ignore that unintentional admission of Republican ineptitude because governmental incompetence is still a truism for many people. Except that we now have experience with government-run health care in the United States. It's called Medicare, and people like it. Independent surveys show that people are generally more satisfied with Medicare than with private health insurance. (See, for example, "Medicare v. Private Insurance: Rhetoric and Reality" at

Knee-jerk opposition to all things governmental overlooks the advantages of a government-run, bureaucratic system, one of which is that the elimination of the profit motive actually makes Medicare more efficient, and more consumer-friendly, than private insurance.

A private insurance company makes a profit by charging premiums in excess of the covered medical costs of its policyholders. One way for an insurer to increase profits would be to raise premium prices, but consumers can easily shop among insurance companies by comparing premium costs, so market pressures will keep premiums competitive. The other way to increase profits is by reducing the medical benefits paid. This can be done by screening out applicants who might incur higher than average medical costs (e.g., those with "pre-existing" conditisions) and by scrupulously denying claims for any benefits not absolutely required by the terms of the policy. And both screening applicants and screening claims requires more administrative oversight. (For that reason, a good way to shop among competing insurance companies is to look at both the costs of the premiums they charge and the percentage of the premiums paid in administrative costs compared to benefits paid. You're more likely to get value for your money from a company that pays a larger percentage of premiums back to its customers in the form of benefits.)

A government-run, bureaucratic system, by comparison, has no profit motive. There is therefore no incentive to screen applicants or claims more than is necessary to comply with the terms of the program. As a result, Medicare is much more efficient that private insurance companies. According to Paul Krugman (once again) in today's (10/6) column, for private insurance companies selling individual health plans, 29 percent of their total costs are administrative costs, and not medical benefits, while Medicare spends only 3 percent of its money on administration.

That's right, it is private industry that has bloated, inefficient bureaucracies, and not the government.

The other advantage to a government bureaucracy over a private bureaucracy is that the government bureaucrat doesn't really care whether he (or she) grants or denies your claim for benefits. It's not his money, so what does he care?

The private bureaucrat does care, because the profitability of his employer is at stake. In fact, investigation often find that private insurance companies provide implicit incentives for their employees to deny claims for benefits and disincentives to allowing claims. By constrast, government workers are often rated by the volume of claims processed without regard to whether the claim is allowed or denied. So a government bureaucrat may have an incentive to pay a large number of claims quickly, while a private bureaucrat has an incentive to pay fewer claims slowly.

Bottom line: We mustn't let soundbite appeals to knee-jerk ideologies obscure the reality that "socialized medicine" works in other countries and it works here too.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Looking Backwards

I just finished watching the vice-presidential debate between Joseph Biden and Sarah Palin, and the line that sticks in my mind is the one Palin recited (I don't give her any credit for any original thoughts) after Biden described McCain's voting history, because Palin said, "There you go again, looking backwards."

The biggest challenge of the McCain campaign is that is must distance itself from both the past and the present. The past is the record of the Republican party, which has controlled Congress for 10 0f the last 12 years, the record of John McCain, who has been in the Senate for the last 26 years, and the record of George W. Bush, who has been President for the last 7 years. The present is the platform of John McCain, which is a platform of increasing tax breaks for the wealthy, continued dependence on fossil fuels, and the continuation of a unilateral foreign policy based on military force.

The promise of the McCain-Palin campaign is that we didn't really mean what we did in the past, we don't mean what we say about the present, and we're going to do something different in the future. Just trust us.

And Joe Biden had the correct response, which is that the past is prologue.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Talking Points Salad

Listening to interviews and off-the-cuff statements by VP Republican candidate Sarah Palin, I get the feeling I'm listening to a talking-points salad. She takes the talking points she's been given by the McCain campaign, then chops them up and puts them together in a random way to create a kind of word salad.

To see and hear what I'm talking about, here's a montage of memorable moments to date, put together by Josh Marshall's Talking Points Memo.

Monday, September 29, 2008


Sorry, but this makes no sense whatsoever.

The follow are two consecutive sentences from a statement by John McCain on 9/29/2008:

"Senator Obama and his allies in Congress have infused unnecessary partisanship into the process. Now is not the time to fix the blame; now is the time to fix the problem."

If Senator McCain was not "fixing the blame," then what was he doing?

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Mythical McCain-Month

In "The Mythical Man-Month," software manager Frederick P. Brooks Jr. explained that adding workers to a software project that was behind schedule would only slow the project down, and not speed it up. This happens because adding new workers forces the existing workers to stop what they are doing to explain to the new workers what has been done, what needs to be done, and what is being done, as well as the increase in time needed for communications among a greater number of workers.

For similar reasons, John McCain's decision to suspend his campaign in order to travel to Washington to intervene in the Congressional efforts to fix the current mess in the nation's credit markets can only slow things down, and not speed things up.

McCain admits he knows nothing about economics, and has also admitted that, as of two days ago, he had not yet read Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson's three-page bailout proposal. It will therefore take a great deal of time to bring McCain current on the economic and political issues at stake, as well as the history and current state of the negotiations within Congress and between Congress and the executive branch.

Unfortunately, McCain can't tell the difference between leadership and showboating, which is why he will almost certainly make things worse instead of better.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Pit Bull with Lipstick

What scares me most about Sarah Palin is not her ignorance, inexperience, or ideology, but her inability to work with or even listen to anyone she doesn't already agree with. That, coupled with what has been described as her viciousness and vindictiveness, is frightening.

The messes made by Bush in Iraq, FEMA, the Dept. of Justice, and the U.S. economy came from his willingness to listen to (and reward with jobs) the people he liked and agreed with, while ignoring (or firing) the people he didn't like.

For Palin, Trooper-gate, the mass firings after she became mayor, and just about everything else I've read about her demonstrates that, given power, she would do the same as Bush did AND MORE.

She lacks not only the skills and experience to lead, but the temperament as well.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Which McCain to Vote For?

The McCain-Palin campaign is now offering the American people a variety of different John McCains to vote for.

You can vote for the McCain who promises to "change Washington," or you can vote for the McCain that has spent 26 years in the Senate in Washington and voted along with the Bush administration 90% of the time over the last eight years.

You can vote for the McCain who says that the Democratic nominee, Barack Obama, is not qualified to be President after only four years in the U.S. Senate, or you can vote for the McCain who says that his running mate, Sarah Palin, is qualified to be President after two years as the governor of the fourth-smallest state (by population).

You can vote for the McCain who is knowledgeable about foreign policy, or you can vote for the McCain who can't remember whether Iran is arming Sunni muslims or Shia muslims in Iraq.

You can vote for the McCain who wants to promote bipartisanship, or you can vote for the McCain who runs attack ads comparing Obama to Paris Hilton.

So many choices.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

A Dancing Queen in Go-Go Boots?

On July 30, 2008, Blender reported that presumptive Republican Presidential nominee John McCain's favorite song is "Dancing Queen" by ABBA.

And Alaska Governor Sarah Palin had previously told Vogue magazine that “I wish they’d stick with the issues instead of discussing my black go-go boots."

Obviously, you could never make this stuff up, and it's more than somewhat disturbing, because McCain obviously didn't pick Palin as his vice-presidential nominee for her presidential qualifications or her national campaign experience.

Monday, July 28, 2008

The Timetable is Half Full

Much of the public discourse over the benefits/dangers of a "timetable" for withdrawal from Iraq try to paint a picture in black and white that is more a matter of perspective: Is a timetable for withdrawal a claim of victory or a concession of defeat? (I.e., is the glass half empty or half full?)

The establishment of a timetable for withdrawal is really nothing but a change of attitude. Under the Bush administration, the attitude has been that we intend to stay in Iraq until we need to leave. A timetable for withdrawal expresses the attitude that we intend to leave unless we need to stay.

And withdrawal is an attitude that American citizens and soldiers have grown to like.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Is Bush Naive?

As recently as May 15, John McCain said that that Barack Obama's willingness to talk to Iran demonstrated "naiveté and inexperience and lack of judgment."

Now, it's been learned that the Bush administration is sending a representative to talk to Iran about its nuclear program.

So, is McCain going to attack President Bush as "naive" and lacking judgment? Bush is naive and inexperienced (despite seven years in office) and lacks judgment, but that's beside the point. This is an opportunity for McCain to show how "tough" and independent he really is, and it would be a shame to pass that up.

McCain could take his cue from former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton, who described the planned talks as "further evidence of the administration’s complete intellectual collapse.” And Bolton was considered a neoconservative ally of the Bush administration, having served as Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security for four years before President Bush pushed him into position of ambassador to the U.N. through an interim appointment to avoid Democratic opposition in the Senate.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Antonin, Get Your Gun

The Supreme Court's recent decision in District of Columbia v. Heller, No. 07–290 (6/26/2008), has garnered a lot of attention as a confirmation of the 2nd Amendment's "right to keep and bear arms." But there is both less to the opinion, and more to the opinion, than first meets the eye.

The jurisprudential weaknesses of the majority opinion authored by Justice Antonin Scalia are beyond the scope of this blog posting (I may elaborate later), but the actual holding of the case, and the true effect of the opinion, need to be explained more fully than has been covered in the popular press to date.

Although the Supreme Court held that the Second Amendment's "right of the People to keep and bear arms" was an individual right and not a right of the states to maintain militias, and held that a ban on handguns violated the Second Amendment, the holding of the case was still relatively narrow because the law in question was an ordinance of the District of Columbia and not a statute enacted by one of the states.

The District of Columbia is a peculiar place, constitutionally speaking, because it is governed by Congress in accordance with Article I, Section 8, clause 17, of the Constitution, and is not a "state" (or a part of any state) within the meaning of the Constitution. That peculiarity is important because, technically speaking, the Bill of Rights (the first ten amendments to the Constitution, including the 2nd Amendment) are binding only on the federal government and not the states. The fundamental freedoms guaranteed by the Bill of Rights apply to the states only through the 14th Amendment's guarantee of due process of law. So (for example), a state law that violates the right to freedom speech is not, technically speaking a violation of the 1st Amendment, which only applies to the federal government, but is a violation of the 14th Amendment.

In the Heller case, Scalia's opinion specifically recognized that the question of whether 2nd Amendment rights were "incorporated" into the 14th Amendment (and so applicable to the states) was not before the court, and that the court had previously ruled that the 2nd Amendment did not apply to the states. This is explicit in footnote 23, discussing a statement in United States v. Cruikshank, 92 U. S. 542, 553 (1876) that stated that the 2nd Amendment only limited the power of Congress, and was not incorporated into the 14th Amendment:
With respect to Cruikshank’s continuing validity on incorporation, a question not presented by this case, we note that Cruikshank also said that the First Amendment did not apply against the States and did not engage in the sort of Fourteenth Amendment inquiry required by our later cases. Our later decisions in Presser v. Illinois, 116 U. S. 252, 265 (1886) and Miller v. Texas, 153 U. S. 535, 538 (1894), reaffirmed that the Second Amendment applies only to the Federal Government.
Slip Opinion, page 48, note 23 (emphasis added).

This footnote says (and suggests) several things.

First, the question of whether the 2nd Amendment applies to state legislation was not before the court in Heller and was not decided, and so remains an open question.

Second, the Supreme has in past decisions (Presser and Miller) affirmed that the 2nd Amendment applies only the federal government.

Third, that Cruikshank (and perhaps later decisions) did not interpret the 14th Amendment in the same way that later decisions interpreted that amendment.

The third point, combined with Scalia's citations to statements made in Congress during the debates over the 14th Amendment that the 2nd Amendment represented a "fundamental right" enjoyed by American citizens (see pages 41-47), are clear signals that Scalia believes the 2nd Amendment does apply to the states, and is just waiting for right case in which to make that decision.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Boumediene "Worst Decision"?

Last Thursday, the Supreme Court announced its decision in Boumediene v. Bush, which allows detainees at the U.S. Naval Air Station at Guantanamo Bay to have access to federal courts in order to challenge the legality of their detentions. On Friday morning, speaking at a "town-hall style" meeting in New Jersey, presumptive Republican presidential nominee John McCain referred to the decision as “one of the worst decisions in the history of this country.” That is ridiculous hyperbole even from a conservative Republican point of view.

Let's put the decision in perspective:
  • The decision affects only about 280 people held at Guantanamo Bay. The majority opinion clearly states that the military base at Guantanamo Bay is unique because it is not, technically speaking, part of the United States, and yet it is under the complete control of the United States. The decision will never be applied to detainees held in prisons in Iraq or Afghanistan.
  • The decision does not set anyone free. The decision only allows them access to federal courts for purposes of challenging the legality of their detentions. If the Bush administration can demonstrate to the courts that the detentions are legal under U.S. law or international law, then the detentions will continue.
From the point of view of a conservative, the Boumediene decision has got to be small potatoes compared to decisions like Roe v. Wade, which has lead to the deaths of innocent fetuses by abortion, or Miranda v. Arizona, which required that warnings be given before police can interrogate suspects and which has resulted in thousands of admittedly guilty criminals going free, or even Lawrence v. Kansas, which gave homosexuality some constitutional protection.

So why the hyperbole? In the grand scheme of things, why should a conservative care whether or not a handful of detainees have been granted access to federal courts?

Two possible reasons:
  1. It's better to be on offense than defense. McCain is going to have a difficult time defending the record of the Bush administration (and McCain's voting record) on domestic and foreign policy issues, so it's better to be on the attack against the decisions of the Supreme Court than trying to defend the decisions of the Bush administration and the Republican party over the last 7 years.
  2. The fear game. What has won elections for Republicans over the last several decades is fear. Fear of desegregated schools (i.e., blacks and liberal judges), fear of crime (i.e, blacks and liberal judges), fear of affirmative action (i.e., blacks and liberal judges), fear of loss of jobs (i.e., Hispanics and blacks and liberal judges), fear of gay marriage (i.e., fear of homosexuals and liberal judges), and fear of terrorism (i.e., fear of Arabs and blacks). Attacking the Supreme Court as "soft on terrorism" effectively combines the most important elements of almost every traditional conservative fear, because it combines traditional white xenophobia with traditional conservative antipathy to the court system.
Look for more of "the fear game" as the McCain campaign continues.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Florida, Michigan, and Zimbabwe

Hillary Clinton's comments comparing the primaries in Florida and Michigan with the elections in Zimbabwe were half right. She was right that there is something wrong with changing the rules of an election when you don't like the result, but she was wrong to think that she is different from Robert Mugabe.

People went to the polls in Zimbabwe thinking that their votes would count. But then Mugabe saw that the results weren't what he wanted, so he changed the rules and the results didn't count.

In Florida and Michigan, people went to the polls thinking that their votes would not count. But then Clinton saw that the results weren't what she wanted nationally if Florida and Michigan didn't count, so she tried to change to the rules to make the results count.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Campaigning in June

Hillary Clinton's remark about Robert Kennedy's assassination in June after the California primary has been widely commented upon, and I don't want to attribute any dark motives to what she said, but it's worth looking at the comment in the context of what she says she meant, which is that it is not unusual for candidates to be competing in primaries in June.

She first referred to her husband's 1992 primary contests, and how he did not "wrap up" the Democratic nomination until he won the California primary. That is only half true. Bill Clinton swept the "Super Tuesday" primaries in March (not February) and was considered the nominee apparent after that. Paul Tsongas withdrew from the race later that month, leaving only one other candidate still campaigning, Jerry Brown.

California was one of the last primaries and Brown had won only three states, New Hampshire, Colorado, and Connecticut, so he had virtually no chance at the nomination. (Clinton won 39 states, including California, and Paul Tsongas won 6.) Brown apparently thought that, if he could win California (his home state, in which he had served as governor) by a large margin, he might be able to deny Clinton a first-ballot victory and perhaps play the role of spoiler.

In trying to justify her continued campaign by reference to the 1992 primaries, Hillary is comparing herself to Jerry Brown, the spoiler, and not Bill Clinton, the eventual nominee. And California was (and is) a big state, with lots of delegates at stake, and was Brown's home state, which he had a reasonable expectation of winning (although he did not). How does that justify Hillary Clinton continuing to campaign in Puerto Rico, Montana, and South Dakota?

The reference to Robert Kennedy campaigning in California in June of 1968 is even more of a reach. The eventual party nominee was Hubert Humphrey, who declared his candidacy only after President Johnson made the surprise announcement in March of 1968 that he would not seek reelection. Entering the race so late, Humphrey was not able to register for any of the primaries, and so he did not win any primaries at all. Becoming the nominee of the party without winning a single primary was possible then because the majority of Democratic delegates were what we would now call "superdelegates" chosen by political leaders and not by primaries or caucuses. It was only after the Democratic party changed its rules during the 1968 convention itself that the primary system began to have real political importance.

In the 1968 primary campaigns, Robert Kennedy (and Eugene McCarthy) were trying to do what John Kennedy had done in 1960, which was to use the primary system as a springboard to challenge the political establishment. But Hillary Clinton is the political establishment. She is now hoping to use the last few primary contests to challenge the candidate (Barack Obama) who has proven to be the more popular candidate, winning more total votes than she received in the contests in which they competed.

So where does that leave Hillary Clinton? It leaves here exactly where she is now, continuing to compete in a race she can't really win and looking for some justification other than her own personal ambitions.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Good News from Basra

If good news can come from people shooting and killing each other, then there was good news from Basra last week.

Briefly, for those who weren't paying attention: The official government of Iraq, lead by Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, a Shiite, attempted to take control of Basra, the second-largest city in Iraq, which has actually been controlled by Shiite militias, and not the government, for quite some time. After several days of fighting (and more than several desertions from the Iraqi forces), a cease-fire was negotiated between al-Maliki and Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr, who told his followers to stop fighting, and they stopped fighting. (Mostly. There is still some fighting going on in Sadr City, outside Baghdad.)

This is good news for several reasons:

1. It means that we finally have a clearly defined civil war, with organized forces lead by identifiable leaders. In the past, attempts to describe the war in Iraq as a "civil war" were rejected by many who claimed that the violence was too disorganized and too chaotic to be a civil war. At least in Basra, the violence is now organized enough to be recognizable as a civil war.

2. It demonstrates once again (if additional demonstrations were needed) that "the surge" accomplished very little beyond policing Baghdad, and that there is no military solution to the problems in Iraq, which are ultimately political.

3. It demonstrates that negotiated political solutions are possible. It has been said that politics is the art of the possible. If the Maliki government can now see that there is no possible military solution to Basra, but a political solution is possible, it may have no choice but to take the political solution.

Faced with these truths, there is only one possible conclusion: It's time for us to leave. Our continuing military presence in Iraq can do nothing to change the long-term prospects for a stable Iraq, and perpetuates the illusion of an Iraqi government that is not really governing and might never be able to govern in the way we expected.

Some politicians (such as Sen. Joseph Biden) and some commentators have suggested that Iraq might have to be broken up into semi-autonomous regions under a rather weak central government that will exist mainly to administer oil revenues and provide national security. In fact, that is what is already happening, with Kurds controlling northern Iraq, Sunni chiefs controlling western Iraq, and Shiite militias (as we have now seen) controlling southern Iraq. Only Baghdad, in the middle, remains problematical.

This is obviously not the Iraq that the Bush administration wants, but right now what the administration wants is last on my list of priorities.

Left to themselves, the Iraqis might be able to figure out how to govern themselves and make a federal government work. The continuing presence of American forces can only slow the process down, and possibly distort it, by obscuring the true powers in Iraq.

So it's time to leave.

Saturday, March 29, 2008


The divergences (shall we say) between Hillary Clinton's descriptions of her trip to Bosnia and what actually happened are now well documented. See, for example, the video compilation at And there is talk now that the incident has "blown over."

But has it?

There are also problems with her claims of having been "instrumental" in the peace process in Northern Ireland, a claim that has been refuted by just about everyone who was actually involved in the peace talks.

As a result of these and other statements by Clinton, the non-partisan Annenberg Public Policy Center's "" has described her claims of foreign policy experience as "exaggerated."

What might that mean for the general election?

During the 2000 election, Al Gore was repeatedly held up to ridicule because he had claimed to have "invented the Internet," and had claimed that he and his wife were the models for the central characters in Erich Segal's Love Story, even though Al Gore did not make those claims.

During the 2004 election, John Kerry came under attack by the "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth" for allegedly lying on the military reports that resulted in military citations and medals during his service in Vietnam 40 years before. The stories told by the "Swift Boat Veterans" were politically motivated and were eventually found to be not credible, but not before political damage was done.

That's what Republicans and conservatives have done when they have had to fabricate in order to create the appearance of dishonesty in a Democratic candidate. What is going to happen when they have recent and well-documented evidence of what appears to be dishonesty?

It's going to a long campaign for Hillary Clinton in the fall if she is forced to spend most of her time explaining that she "mis-spoke" repeatedly during her primary campaign.

Sunday, March 02, 2008


There are an increasing number of "solutions" that Republicans and conservatives seem to want to apply regardless of the problem.

Tax cuts are one. If the economy is going well, tax cuts are needed to sustain economic growth. If the economy falters, tax cuts are needed to stimulate the economy. If the federal deficit gets too big, then tax cuts are needed to stimulate the economy in order to produce higher tax revenues. Tax cuts are the remedy to every economic problem.

Keeping our troops in Iraq is also the conclusion no matter what happens. If things are going badly, then we need to maintain troop levels in order to avoid losing. If things improve, we still need to maintain troop levels because we're winning. No matter what happens in Iraq, the solution is military.

Imprisonment is also a "solution" that seems to have gotten out of control. We now have 1% of our population in prison, which is the highest incarceration rate in our history and the highest incarceration rate in the world. Imprisonment is applied not just to violent crimes but to social crimes such as drug addiction, gambling, and prostitution. And if people who are released from prison commit another crime, make the prison sentences longer. It doesn't make any difference what the crime was, or whether crime rates are going up even as prison terms are getting longer, the solution is still to make the prison sentences longer still.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

The Establishment Candidate

The "establishment candidate" usually has a number of advantages over candidates without the same political connections. With political experience usually comes better political connections, and that means better fund-raising, better organizations in local vote-getting efforts, and better campaign management. So why is Barack Obama looking like the establishment candidate while Hillary Clinton is looking like the clumsy newbie?

Obama has been better at fund-raising and better at grass-roots organizing, with more campaign operatives in more states producing more votes. And there is growing evidence that Obama has run a more cost-effective campaign, getting more bang for its campaign buck.

The one area in which Clinton still seems to have an edge is in the votes of the "super delegates," but let's hope it doesn't come to that. It's not going to be good for the Democratic Party if Obama comes into the convention with more delegates, more votes, and more energy, but then loses because of the votes of non-elected delegates.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Getting Tough

Following some of Hillary Clinton's recent primary losses, there were reports (and observations) that she would be "taking off the gloves" to drive home her message that she is better qualified than Barack Obama to be President.

This is more likely to be annoying than effective.

In this and other recent events I am reminded of something "Miss Manners" (Judith Martin) wrote many years ago about the etiquette of participating in public political discourse:
If people do not agree with you, it is not necessarily because they do not understand your position. The reason that the same few people use most of the time at any given meeting is that they entertain this erroneous assumption. Stating your position louder after each statement of opposition occasionally wears down a few of the weaker souls, who drift off down the block, but it does not win the hearts and votes of the majority.
Judith Martin, Miss Manners' Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior (Warner Books 1982), page 252.

The fact that people are not voting for Hillary Clinton does not mean that they have not heard her, or do not understand her position, but that they do not agree with her. For her to restate her position more loudly, more emphatically, and perhaps more shrilly, is not going to win the hearts and votes of the majority.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Change and Experience

The polls are saying that Americans want "change," and Hillary Clinton is responding to those polls with two messages: that she will work for change, and that she has the advantage of experience and will "know what to do" on the first day in office. Ignoring for the moment the issues of whether Clinton really has any experience comparable to being President, whether her experiences in the past are likely to be applicable to future circumstances, and whether she has actually learned anything from her experiences, there are at least two things wrong with those two messages of her campaign.

The first problem is that the two messages are contradictory. A call for "change" is not a call for a particular solution, because if the voters knew exactly what solution they wanted they would vote for the candidate advocating that solution. A call for "change" is instead a call for a new and different perspective, a creative search for a "third way" that is not apparent at the moment. To a voter looking for that kind of new direction, the claim that Clinton already knows what to do the first day in office is not appealing.

The other problem is that the messages of the Clinton campaign are all about the ends and not about the means, about substance and not style, and the desire for change seems to be a desire not just for different results but for a different way of getting those results. Specifically, many voters seem to be tired of partisan animosity and the bickering and acrimony that goes along with it. They don't want to beat Republicans so much as they want to convince them to help advance the common goals shared by most Americans. Barack Obama's message of unity is therefore going to be more appealing to voters looking for change than Clinton's message that her experience in fighting Republicans will make her more effective in fighting them in the future. In touting her credentials of divisiveness, and conducting a campaign of divisiveness, Clinton has completely overlooked what might be the most important kind of change, which is a change in the way we think about politics.

Voting is usually more intuitive than intellectual, and I think that the majority of Democratic voters feel uneasy about the messages about Clinton campaign even if they don't (or can't) explain exactly why they are uneasy. Which is why I expect Obama to win a majority of the delegates elected to the Democratic convention.

Whether that majority will be enough to win the nomination is, unfortunately, a different story.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

"Winning" Florida

Yesterday, Hillary Clinton's campaign website blared that she had "won" in Florida, and she has publicly claimed victory, and also stated that she will work to seat the Florida (and Michigan) delegates at the Democratic national convention.

All of which turns my stomach.

When the Democratic National Committee decided to strip Michigan and Florida of their delegates to the convention, because they has scheduled their primaries earlier than allowed by DNC rules, all of the candidates (including Hillary) pledged not to campaign in those states. But Clinton's pledge came when she was leading in the polls.

Then she lost the Iowa caucuses to Barack Obama. Still, she insisted while campaigning in New Hampshire that Michigan and Florida were "meaningless."

Then Clinton "won" Michigan, with 55.4% of the vote. That sounds good, except that neither Obama nor John Edwards were on the ballot. In fact, the only other name on the ballot was Dennis Kucinich, who got 4% of the vote. Where did the other 40% of the votes go? To "Uncommitted," meaning "anyone but Hillary.

Then Clinton lost South Carolina. Badly. Obama out-polled her by two-to-one. Then, all of a sudden, Florida starts to look better to Clinton, and she starts talking about "listening" to Florida and using her delegates to seat delegates from Michigan (which she had already won) and Florida (where she was leading in the polls).

And then, just two days before the "meaningless" Florida primary, and nine days before "Super Tuesday," when hundreds of delegates will be at stake, Clinton takes the time to go to Florida, making stops in Sarasota and Miami. The events are "private," so she hasn't broken her pledge, but it gave her a chance to maintain her support among local political leaders, and put her name in the Florida newspapers.

Florida voters go to the polls, and Clinton gets a plurality of the vote, 49.7% to Obama's 33%. What does that mean? It means that a majority of Florida Democrats voted against Clinton. It also means that, in states in which Obama does not campaign, Clinton may be able to get more votes, if for no other reason than simple name recognition.

And then Clinton claimed victory, and stated again that she wanted Michigan and Florida delegates seated at the convention.

To call this "opportunistic" is perhaps an understatement. I think it is dishonorable. Clinton may have adhered to the letter of her pledge, but not it's spirit, and she seems to have no compunctions against using Obama's adherence to the pledge against him.

Fed Rates Redux

Fearing recession, the Federal Reserve Board has dramatically lowered interest rates in order to make it easier to borrow (and spend) money.

One of the causes of the feared recession is the bursting of the housing bubble, which was caused by low interest rates leading to excessive borrowing (and spending) on housing.

So the current problem is caused by too much borrowing, and the "solution" offered by the Fed is to encourage more borrowing?

Does anyone else see a possible problem here?

Friday, January 18, 2008


The real Bush legacy (not the one he imagines) can be summed up in one word: Squandered.

At the beginning of Bush's first term, the United States had a balanced budget, moderate debt, healthy and well-equipped armed forces, and a dominant leadership position in the world community. And, after the 9/11 attacks, there was unity within the United States and sympathy from abroad.

What did Bush do with all those assets? He squandered them.

Bush's tax cuts for the wealthy has driven up our national debt to record levels.

The invasion of Iraq and the resulting pressure on our armed forces (while also trying to fight a ground war in Afghanistan) has stretched our military to the breaking point and has depleted so much equipment and morale that it would take years to recover even if the war ended tomorrow.

Our continuing use of violence and threats of violence as a solution to all problems, both on an individual level (Guantanamo Bay, secret prisons, "extraordinary rendition," and the use of what the world considers torture) and a national level (Bush now talks openly of using military power against Iran) has completely negated whatever international goodwill that existed after 9/11, and has undermined our role as a moral and diplomatic world leader.

And, the unity that arose after 9/11 was effectively killed by the realization that we'd been manipulated at best (lied to at worst) in Bush's rush to invade Iraq.

Now we're facing real threats, both in a looming recession and continuing fall in the value of the dollar, and in the rise of the power of the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and we've got nothing to fall back on. Bush squandered the economic and military resources we should have kept for emergencies.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Gouging the Uninsured

Every time I get a medical bill, I am shocked at the difference between the price of medical services and the cost of medical services.

I paid a bill this morning for a medical procedure and, according to the bill, the price of the procedure was $1,300. However, because I am insured, there was a $862 "adjustment," reducing the cost of the procedure to only $438.

This "adjustment" was not a payment by the insurance company, but reflected a price agreement negotiated between the insurance company and the doctors. The insurance company has said to the doctors, "You can quote whatever price you want, but we're only going to pay $438 for that procedure." And the doctors agreed.

What is most shocking is not just that doctors routinely bill prices that are 66% more than what they are really willing to accept as payment, but the implications of what this means for the 40% of our population that are uninsured. If you're uninsured, no one has negotiated a lower price for you, and no one will, and you're probably in no position to bargain, being in an emergency room with a serious medical problem and a poor credit history.

So if you're uninsured, you get gouged.

Remember that the next time you hear about some astronomically large medical bill that was run up by an uninsured person, or when you hear about the high cost of medical care, because what you may be hearing about is inflated prices.

Monday, January 07, 2008

The "Moment"

Several times on the news tonight, I saw "the moment," when Hillary Clinton talked about her deep-felt concerns for America, and appeared to choke up, and come close to tears.

I thought it was quite good. Viewed in the context of the question that was asked, it showed that she was capable of passion, and cared deeply about the issues in the campaign.

But viewed in the context of the campaign as a whole, it raises some awkward questions. For example, if Hillary was capable of passion, where was it up until now?

Initially, her campaign was about "inevitability," meaning that she had pulled the sword from the stone and was destined to be the Democratic candidate so the voters should stop worrying about it.

Then, she was the candidate of "experience."

Now, suddenly, the day before the New Hampshire primary, she discovers that she believes passionately about the welfare of Americans.

It's all too neat, and too convenient.

She has shown that she is capable of laughing on cue. Is she also capable of choking up with emotion on cue, when her advisers have told her that its a wining strategy? My guess is: yes.