Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

Is Progressive Idealism Self-Defeating?

Like many liberals, I am encouraged by the new energy of progressives and the growing political support for progressive causes.  But I also share the common worry that the idealism of progressives is in danger of becoming self-defeating (see, e.g., Judis and Edsall for two recent discussions).  That’s a problem, because the stakes are high and we don’t have much room for error.

As I see it, progressive idealism today has two manifestations, one political, one economic.  Political idealism manifests itself in a reluctance to acknowledge the scale of the political challenges progressives face, the scorched-earth opposition that awaits us, and the need to find potential allies among the not-so-progressive and to design policies and arguments that can win them over.

On the economic side, idealism makes progressives reluctant to take policy design seriously.  For example, there is a big gap between progressives and economists (including progressive economists) on carbon pricing and other aspects of climate policy.  There is also a gap on fiscal and budgetary policy, and on many other issues.  To some extent, this simply reflects the unavoidable fact that non-economists always find economics counter-intuitive – if they didn’t, we wouldn’t need economists.  But the problem today goes beyond this.  There is a strong tendency to rely on moralistic thinking, to assume that every wrong has an easy remedy and that good intentions can solve any problem.  This goes along with a resistance to thinking about tradeoffs, costs, and market-oriented solutions like carbon pricing, and a tendency to favor command-and-control policies and to ignore fiscal constraints.  I suspect that we have right-wing economists and politicians to thank for this state of affairs, but whatever its cause the rejection of careful economic thinking on the left is real.

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Rep Jayapal and Sen Sanders Have Introduced Medicare For All Bills: Part 2

Part 2 discusses why we must have the government issue payments to hospitals, clinics, etc. and also set the budgets for hospitals and this is how they are paid rather than billing multiple insurers and also patients. There is also only one payer. The later part is what I have been pounding on repeatedly. Forget prices and work with cost data. It is then we have a much clearer picture of the costs of healthcare and we can begin to control prices.

Rep Jayapal and Sen Sanders Have Introduced Medicare For All Bills: One Is a Lot Better Than the Other, Healthcare for All Minnesota, Kip Sullivan, May 8, 2019

What is an ACO and why is it a defect?

Congress included in the Affordable Care Act of 2010 (aka Obamacare) a section (Section 3022) requiring CMS to establish an ACO program within the traditional FFS Medicare program. It is not clear why Congress chose to use ACOs. Congress was warned in 2008 by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) that ACOs would not save money for Medicare. The simplest way to describe ACOs is to say they are HMOs in training. Like HMOs, they are corporations that own or contract with chains of hospitals and clinics; they have the equivalent of enrollees; they attempt to keep their “enrollees” from seeking care outside their networks; they bear insurance risk (that is, they are paid on a per-enrollee basis and in exchange are obligated to provide medically necessary services to their enrollees); and because they are risk-bearing organizations, they generate overhead costs similar to those created by traditional insurance companies.

More on ACOs and the absence of Single Payer budgets past the leap

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Two Chears for Nicholas Fandos

The standard rule that reporters cover both sides of a debate and find some source to contest lies rather than doing it in their own name (and the name of the newspaper) has not survived Mitch McConnell’s office.

In the New York Times, Nicholas Fandos notes that “A senior Republican aide in the Senate” lied on a very simple fact which is in the public record.

The aide, speaking on the condition of anonymity to detail internal strategy, argued that in doing so, the House had denied Mr. Trump proper due process rights afforded to Mr. Clinton, suggesting the current president was not given a chance to contest the House’s record.

The House invited Mr. Trump to mount a defense before the Judiciary Committee during its impeachment proceeding, including requesting witnesses and documents, but the president’s legal team declined, saying it would not dignify an inquiry it deemed illegitimate with a response.

So it is very good that the lie was clearly described as a lie. I accept the Grey Lady’s style which does not allow the use of the appropriate plain English words “lie” or “lied”. I think it would be better to have written that a source resorted to flat out lies when attempting to justify McConnell’s decision to break his work, without quoting the lie and just noting that the source lied. But I don’t expect to convince anyone.

However, I do not think that anonymity should be granted without the qualifier that the reporter will name the source if the reporter is convinced that the source lied.

I do not think anything is gained by allowing people to infect the discussion with flat out lies. Reporters will not recklessly burn sources in ambiguous cases, as that will be punished. Reporters will be punished for adding the qualifier. Therefore, I think it must be made a matter of policy that reporters are not allowed to hide the names of liars.

I note also that the justification for the grant of anonymity is based on another lie. The aid aims to convince the public with an argument. The claim that the deliberation was meant to be private is simply another lie. This shows the worthlessness of the rule that reporters must explain why they grant anonymity. The practice is to report a lie used to request anonymity as an un-contestable truth.

Also, I am not a lawyer, but I think that the senior aid slandered the House of Representatives and its Judiciary Committee. The claim is false. It is a matter of very public record that it is false. Needless to say the House of Representatives is as public a figure as there can be, and Senate aids are as close to having “speech or debate” immunity as is anyone who doesn’t actually have that immunity. Given those considerations, I think the aid is liable for slander. The statement was a damaging flat out lie. He or she must have known that it was a lie. The highest possible standard is very low compared to the level of the tort.

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For MLK Day: unemployment by race

For MLK Day: unemployment by race

In observance of Martin Luther King’s birthday, almost all US markets are closed and there is no economic data.

So on this day let’s see the extent to which economic opportunity in several neutral metrics has improved since the passage of the Civil Rights Acts in the 1960s.

Here in unemployment for African Americans (blue) vs. whites (red) since the former began to be measured in 1972 (white unemployment had been measured since the 1950s – interesting that black unemployment wasn’t even deemed worthy of being separately measured before the 1970s!):

Unemployment for whites made a 50 year low at 3.1% earlier in 2019. It was only lower, at 3.0%, in 1969 (not shown). African American unemployment made its all time low, at 5.4%, in August of last year.

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Further Followup On The Soleimani Assassination

Further Followup On The Soleimani Assassination

I wish to point out some matters not getting a lot of attention in the US media.

An important one of those was reported two days ago by Juan Cole. It is that apparently it has not been determined for certain that the initial attack that set off this current round of deaths when a militia in Iraq attacked an Iraqi military base in Kirkuk in which an American contractor was killed, almost certainly a matter of collateral damage although not recognized as such, was actually done by Kata’b Hezbollah, the group reported to have done it.  That group was commanded by al-Mushani, who was also assassinated with Soleimani, with whom he was allied.  But it is not certain that they did it.  As it is, the Kirkuk base is dominated by Kurdish Pesh Merga, with whom it is not at all obvious the pro-Iranian militias like the Kat’b Hezbollah have hostile differences.  This may have been cooked up to create an excuse for assassinating Soleimani.

Indeed, it has now been reported that seven months ago Trump had approved killing Soleimani essentially at the first instance there would be a good excuse for doing so.  In fact it is now reported that although Trump had not heard of Soleimani during th 2016 election, within five minutes of his inauguration he suggested killing Soleimani.  SecState Pompeo been encouraging and pushing this action, but it has been something Trump has been hot to do for some time.  Going up for an impeachment trial looks like a really good time.

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The 2020 Electoral College playing field expands for Democrats

The 2020 Electoral College playing field expands for Democrats

Polling firm Morning Consult has an interactive graph measuring Trump approval by State for each month since January 2016. You can visit it here.

The map has some interesting insights for the 2020 Presidential election race. In the first place, while it would be too cumbersome to show here, in general Trump’s disapproval has spread and intensified over the course of his term. As the latest map, for December, does not include reaction to his reckless warmongering with Iran, I am going to guess that January’s map will be worse for him.

Anyway, while there is obviously some variation from month to month, the latest two months shown below in chronological order, November and December, show – in shades from light pink to red – all of those States that the Democratic candidate has the most decent chance of carrying:

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Can The US Assassination Of Qasem Solemiani Be Justified?

Can The US Assassination Of Qasem Solemiani Be Justified?

We know from various Congressional folks that briefers of Congress have failed to produce any evidence of “imminent” plans to kill Americans Soleimani was involved with that would have made this a legal killing rather than an illegal assassination.  The public statements by administration figures have cited such things as the 1979 hostage crisis, the already dead contractor, and, oh, the need to “reestablish deterrence” after Trump did not follow through on previous threats he made.  None  of this looks remotely like “imminent plans,” not to mention that the Iraqi PM Abdul-Mahdi has reported that Soleimani was on the way to see him with a reply to a Saudi peace proposal.  What a threatening imminent plan!

As it is, despite the apparent lack of “imminent plans” to kill Americans, much of the supporting rhetoric for this assassination coming out of Trump supporters (with bragging about it having reportedly been put up on Trump’s reelection funding website) involves charges that Soleimani was “the world’s Number One terrorist” and was personally responsible for killing 603 Americans in Iraq.  Even as many commentators have noted the lack of any “imminent plans,” pretty much all American ones have prefaced these questions with assertions that Soleimani was unquestionable “evil” and “bad” and a generally no good guy who deserved to be offed, if not right at this time and in this way.  He was the central mastermind and boss of a massive international terror network that obeyed his orders and key to Iran’s reputed position as “the Number One state supporter of terrorism,” with Soleimani the key to all of that.

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Republics and the war-making power

Republics and the war-making power

In view of the militry carrying out Trump’s order to kill an Iranian general, I thought I would weigh in on the issue of the war-making power historically by republics.

I don’t have much to add to the substance of the immediate debate. Killing an Iranian general was certainly an act of war. It was also a big escalation on the US side. At the same time, the US’s economic blockade of Iran, which it has been attempting to enforce against third parties as well, has been if not an act of war itself, at least tiptoeing up to the very line. Similarly, Iran’s conducting of low-grade hostilities by proxies against the US has also really been an act of war. So I’m not sure that the line-crossing is as bright as it may appear at first blush.

That being said, it seems obvious that the consequences of the strike were not well-thought out, and there almost certainly is no strategic follow-up plan.

Additionally – and what I want to focus on here – is that also almost certainly, there was no imminent emergency requiring immediate action by the President rather than consultation with an approval by the Congress, as mandated by, you know, the Constitution. This event has been at least equal to the most blatant usurpation of Congress’s power in decades (Reagan’s reprisals against Libya and George HW Bush’s capture of Noriega in Panama were probably in the same league).

This got me to thinking: how historically have republics vested their war making power? Since recently I’ve read two books on the Roman Republic, histories of medieval Venice and Genoa, and am now reading about the Dutch Republic, that’s something I can contribute — because their systems had a common theme.

 

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The criminalization of homelessness

Poverty is the worst form of violence.  Mahatma Gandhi

This particular Baltimore Sun commentary goes hand in hand with Paul Krugman’s commentary on making life more difficult for the <less than 138% FPL  using Medicaid. The motive of the Trumpians. Trump, and Republicans is to punish people for things impacting them through no fault of their own. Trumps plays to a crowd who believe others less fortunate are getting something for nothing. It is an old ploy to establish a class lower than the next level so they believe they have a her level of existence.

Imagine if sleeping were to get you thrown in jail. Or sitting and lying down in public. Or camping. Or snoozing in your car.

In cities across the country, that is exactly what is happening to homeless people who engage in these activities. In an effort to clean up their cities and make residents and visitors more comfortable, lawmakers have taken an inhumane approach to homelessness and made all these actions illegal.

Civil liberties advocates have challenged these laws arguing, arguing they violate the 8th Amendment against cruel and unusual punishment. This month, they were handed a victory from the Supreme Court, which declined to review a lower court ruling that allowed people to sleep in public when shelters are full. The justices made their decision with no comment or dissent in the case, which stemmed from a lawsuit filed by homeless people in Boise, Idaho, who were ticketed for sleeping outside.

We hope the high court’s decision will make other cities think twice about adopting such laws, which punishes people for their predicament. A study released last week by the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty found the number of cities with such regulations is growing rapidly. In 2019, 83% of 187 cities had at least one law that restricted begging in public. Fifty-five percent of these cities have one or more laws prohibiting sitting or lying down in public and 51% had at least one law restricting sleeping in public. Currently, 72% of the cities have at least one law restricting camping in public. There are even laws that prohibit people from sleeping in their cars.

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Paul Krugman: The cruelty of a Trump Christmas Medicaid, Work Reqmts, and Food Stamps Edition

This sets the tone in Michigan as the richest Republican controlled County of Livingston continues its attack on women along with the State of Michigan House and Senate using a petition to pass a veto-proof law limiting abortion without putting it forward on a ballot initiative. A tyranny of a minority imposing its will upon others.

“By Trump-era standards, Ebenezer Scrooge was a nice guy.

It’s common, especially around this time of year, to describe conservative politicians who cut off aid to the poor as Scrooges; I’ve done it myself. But if you think about it, this is deeply unfair to Scrooge.

For while Dickens portrays Scrooge as a miser, he’s notably lacking in malice. True, he’s heartless until visited by various ghosts. But his heartlessness consists merely of unwillingness to help those in need. He’s never shown taking pleasure in others’ suffering, or spending money to make the lives of the poor worse.

These are things you can’t say about the modern American right. In fact, many conservative politicians only pretend to be Scrooges, when they’re actually much worse–not mere misers, but actively cruel. This was true long before Donald Trump moved into the White House. What’s new about the Trump era is that the cruelty is more open, not just on Trump’s part, but throughout his party.

The conventional wisdom about today’s Republicans is that they are Scrooge-like. The story is that they want to serve the interests of the rich (which is true), and that the reason they want to slash aid to the poor is to free up money for plutocrat-friendly tax cuts.

But is that really why the right is so determined to cut programs like food stamps and unemployment benefits?

(more by Krugman)

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