Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Political cleanup - Obamacare, religion in politics, and more...

Finishing up a series of four political postings, let me this time offer some thought-provoking snippets.

Number one on the list? Something so simple, yet no American journalist seems to be interested in mentioning it. Have any of you noticed - at all - the fact that Republicans have stopped mentioning “Obamacare”?

AFFORDABLE-CARE-ACTOh, there’s an occasional arm-waved generality from the Tea Party, but almost nothing from the GOP politicians or media. Now why would that be?

Perhaps because - just like Supply Side “Economics,” not one doomcasting forecast about the Affordable Care Act has come true. The rate of rise of medical costs has gone way down instead of up. Millions are now insured, getting preventive care and staying out of Emergency Rooms, while very few others have been much inconvenienced and the general quality of average policies has improved.

"Expanding the number of young adults with health insurance appears to have improved their health and saved them money, according to a new study that is among the first to measure the effect of the healthcare law that President Obama signed four years ago," reports the LA Times.

Even a "flaw" of the ACA - the fact that millions of new insurance purchasers are choosing policies with high deductibles - is having an unexpected effect that believers in capitalism should like. It has meant that these newly insured citizens are very careful and choosy, when it comes to paying that first $2000 or so of medical bills.  They are seeking price transparency, shopping for the cheapest MRI, for example. It's a bloody nuisance and far from ideal. But it has applied hard, downward pressure on prices for many medical services. 

Of course all that may change! The ACA was far from my own first choice - in fact, I dislike its blatant kowtowing to insurance companies. Indeed, it was designed by the Heritage Foundation for Newt Gingrich, adopted for years as the GOP's top platform plank, and implemented in his state by Mitt Romney, before President Obama decided to co-opt and adopt the Republicans’ own  plan…

... whereupon the GOP declared “Ew! Obama likes it! Our plan must have cooties!” And yes, that's what it boils down to.

But watch, if the good news keeps coming you will witness startling agility! You will start to hear crowing on the right, that “Of course it worked! It was our own plan, all along!”

== When is a person’s faith relevant in politics? ==

Religion generally should not be a topic in politics. But here is a simple test for you Americans, to check whether you might be on the wrong side in this civil war.

book-revelation"Does my side include tens of millions of folks who pray daily for events that would kill most of their neighbors, consigning them to eternal torment? Events that would bring to an end all science and ambition and terminate both democracy and the United States of America?”

“If that pretty much describes my fellow partisans… could it be that I am on the wrong side, after all?"

I draw the line when a politician admits to praying daily for the Book of Revelation (BoR) scenario for Armageddon to come true as soon as possible, relishing a global holocaust-war that will result in the slaughtering of most of his/her fellow citizens, ending (forever) all traces of individual liberty and the nation the politician wants to lead.

Whose-raptureDo recall that the BoR was barely voted into the Christian canon, over stiff objections by the best minds of the day. Martin Luther despised its bood-thirsty, vengeful spirit, which runs diametrically opposite to that of the Sermon on the Mount. The recent veer in emphasis, among American fundamentalists, away from the teachings of Jesus toward obsession with BoR ravings, is symptomatic of their bitter resentment of the future — their frantic wish that it - and their disturbing neighbors - would just go away, as soon and as painfully as possible.

And yes, such venomous yearnings are their privilege in a free country! One in which, ironically, no central authority can punish you for your beliefs.

Only there is this. To my mind, anyone who avows to openly — or implicitly — praying for such an event to take place has thereby made his/her religious views pertinent to voters in an election. Voters have a right to take into account the scenario -- and outcomes -- that a candidate relishes. And whether a person who actively seeks those outcomes should be trusted with America's sovereign power.  Or our nuclear weapons.

See what these folks actively yearn for, with amazing art by Patrick Farley.

Clearly, we Americans have been passing through what Robert Heinlein forecast as "The Crazy Years."

== The real SkyNet ==

TransactionFeeTerminateHas High Frequency Trading (HFT) started to fade? Because of Michael Lewis’s book FLASH BOYS: A Wall Street Revolt? Because of SEC investigations? Or something that came earlier — my warning that HFT might result in Terminator? Is there hope? As much as two-thirds of all stock trades in the U.S. from 2008 to 2011 were executed by high-frequency firms; today it’s about half. In 2009, high-frequency traders moved about 3.25 billion shares a day. In 2012, it was 1.6 billion a day. But excuse my cynicism. I will betcha the nerd algorithm wizards have simply moved on to something else that is terribly clever, secret and almost certain to be regrettable.

== Snippets ==

“The idea of the future being different from the present is so repugnant to our conventional modes of thought and behaviour that we, most of us, offer a great resistance to acting on it in practice.”  — John Maynard Keynes. "Some economic consequences of a declining population." 1937.

"The hope is that, in not too many years, human brains and computing machines will be coupled together very tightly, and that the resulting partnership will think as no human brain has ever thought and process data in a way not approached by the information-handling machines we know today.”  — J. C. R. Licklider, Man-Computer Symbiosis 

Femen, the World's Most Provocative Activist Group, can only happen when there are zones of real civilization from which shelter and support can be drawn. The tactics - provocative - are those of challenge… courageous and important, while reciprocally reliant on the parts of civilization that “get” and dig what they are doing, and can help protect them from the parts that want the heroes dead.

nd when they are equally effective, the open/individual/market solution is always to be preferred. Moreover, logically, the capitalist alternative that applies to many forms of government paternalism is... insurance.

(Indeed, that was the basis for the GOP's Gingrich-Romneycare health proposal, which president Obama embraced and the GOP then denounced, because he wanted it. Again... cooties!)

On a broader basis, look at where insurance companies are still pro-active and competitive (e.g. fire insurance). There you will find them behaving "paternalistically" in demanding clients take active care to mitigate risk. The lesson? Our pablum simplistic dogmas are not suited to problem-solving in the real world.

== More snippets ==

ending-poverty This graphic from The World Bank shows the world making great progress at reducing "extreme poverty" around the world. Though there are recalcitrant areas… and "extreme" is measured so generously -- at $1.25 income per day -- that your sense of satisfaction should be brief. That threshold, if earned by all of a family's adults, should, in most places, allow their children to attend school. But little more than that.  I have my doubts. A real yin-yang graphic that should have a twin effect…

…to encourage us that solving poverty is possible and so is a better world… using both social and market methods… and that complacency is just as bad as despair.

See my article: Laughing at Laffer. Please. When an “economics” theory has not one successful prediction (ever) to point to, are you smart enough to say: “maybe Adam Smith was right about this… and I was wrong.”

And finally... I spoke many times about the Great Big War on Smartypants?  Or war on expertise in any form?  That is being waged by unlikely allies... the very far left and the entire-right?  Dig this: "Why are conservatives so annoyed by Neil DeGrasse Tyson? Because, you know, science..."


Acacia H. said...

And fitting in with the political commentary, Stonekettle has an interesting blog post currently up concerning the potential impeachment of President Barack Obama. He suggests that Boehner and other Republicans saying "Impeachment isn't on the table" are in fact trying to downplay the fact it is. But Republicans are waiting and hoping to win the Senate in 2014... at which point the very first order will be impeachment proceedings to remove Obama from office. (My suspicion is that the second would be immediately afterward to impeach Biden, so that a power vacuum exists and they can immediately put a Republican in office.)

Of course, there is one thing to consider: even if Republicans won the Senate, are they going to commit political suicide by casting Obama out of office? What's the very first thing that will happen?

Riots. You will see massive demonstrations of a huge portion of the black voting population. It would get violent very quickly. And it would also motivate the moderates to move away from the Republicans... and even in safe districts in 2016 to get out and vote against any Republican in office, be it on the Federal, State, or local level.

Because if they oust Obama, it's a power play. Most people will see it through cynical eyes and say "Republicans have overreached. It's time to get these corrupt bastards out of office."

Playing the "what-if" game further, this is when the Diebold Machines are used to keep Republicans in office. And if you just have one or two people who whistleblow... then the previous riots when Obama got out of office will be nothing compared to what happens next.

Hopefully we'll see at least 50 Democrats in the Senate at the end of the 2014 election. Without a majority, they'd not dare impeach Obama.

Rob H.

David Brin said...

DOesn't Senate removal of the President require a 2/3 vote? This is just nonsense aimed at stirring culture war hotter.

Tony Fisk said...

Not mentioning Obamacare?

Republicans have just voted to sue him over it.

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin:

DOesn't Senate removal of the President require a 2/3 vote?

Yes, and that's not going to happen.

Tony Fisk:

Not mentioning Obamacare?

Republicans have just voted to sue him over it.

They're suing him over his use of executive power to tweak provisions of the law. I believe Dr Brin meant that they are no longer running a campaign based upon continual vilification of "Obamacare" by name.

LarryHart said...


(My suspicion is that the second would be immediately afterward to impeach Biden, so that a power vacuum exists and they can immediately put a Republican in office.)

On what grounds could they possibly impeach Biden? Not that they wouldn't consider it, but how could they imagine such a strategy would work?

Anonymous said...

According to Flash Boys, the HFT involves a sort of man-in-the-middle: A trade request is intercepted, the faster machine makes the trade first and then changes the price to satisfy the intercepted request. I recently heard that all trading volume is markedly down; as I heard quoted, "For a trade to take place, people have to disagree."

Tony Fisk said...

I wonder what happens if you go to buy stock and then cancel the trade leaving the HFT holding the stock they don't actually want. (I also think it's no big issue to ID who you agree to buy from before agreeing to buy from... who are you?)

David Brin said...

Alabama Utility Regulator Asks Citizens to Pray for Coal Power Plants

matthew said...

In counterpoint, with nice biblical quotes, "Religious Leaders: Carbon Pollution is an Affront to God."

matthew said...

And a little on our omnipresent "Why Can't Johnny Code? conversations. The makers of Scratch have now come up with ScratchJr, aiming it squarely at kids in the 5-7 year old range. Interesting. I think I'll give it to my 3 year old and see what she does with it.

Acacia H. said...

Brief aside with science:

The Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project finished work recovering analog photographs taken by Lunar Orbiters 1-5 back in the 60s. They have recovered 2,000 high resolution pictures of the Earth and moon from lunar orbit.

Rob H.

Matt G said...

Anonymous wrote:

According to Flash Boys, the HFT involves a sort of man-in-the-middle

They don't need to intercept and re-write a transaction to do damage -- There are actually many exchanges that handle transactions in and around Wall Street. All they need to do is see a large order on one exchange and then be there just ahead of its sister order on the other exchanges.

AJ Snook said...

The future with less poverty is probably coming, but war seems to not be going away like some people such as Stephen Pinker suggest it is. And in Asia, the most peaceful region after North America, it could just be beginning to brew. That could put a monkey wrench in the whole thing. Knock on cheap IKEA wood. Hope that still counts.

David Brin said...

AJ Snook, Pinker's point is that per capita average levels of violence are declining. Fewer wars, overall and fewer of those involve the wholesale death of WWI, WWII or Vietnam. Our news coverage makes us painfully aware of the ones that do occur. Ironically, that gives us a violent impression while propelling us to strive to limit them.

But yes, it all could spiral back into devastation at any point. Read this:

David Brin said...