Quotulatiousness

December 8, 2017

But what about “whataboutism”?

Filed under: Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Megan McArdle on the folks who automatically resort to “what about x”:

Last week, as you may have noticed, Republicans passed a tax bill. As you may also have noticed, Democrats were aghast. Passing a bill like that on straight party lines! Using a parliamentary maneuver to push through something that could never have survived a filibuster! How could Republicans be so brazen, so immoral, so fiscally irresponsible?

Those of us who remembered saying many of the same things during the passage of Obamacare had to beg them to stop. I mean, we could have been seriously hurt, laughing that hard.

But when I pointed this out, the good citizens of Twitter informed me over and over that this was mere “whataboutism.”

Whataboutism is defending some indefensible action by pointing to some equally indefensible action that was supported, or at least not condemned, by your opponents. (Whataboutism is usually defined as a version of the tu quoque fallacy, attacking the questioner rather than answering the question. It’s also a red herring.) After lobbing a few “What about you?” grenades, you use the resulting chaos to duck uncomfortable questions.

It is a favorite tactic of our president, whose campaign platform was “What about her emails?” Every time someone brings up the FBI investigation that is creeping closer to the highest echelons of his staff, he is fond of asking, apropos of nothing, why Hillary Clinton’s not in jail.

Final hurdle for US tax reform efforts

Filed under: Law, Politics, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Veronique de Rugy looks at the two differing tax bills passed by the Senate and the House of Representatives and what needs to be done to blend them into a single bill for the President to sign:

The House and Senate passed their own versions of a tax reform bill surprisingly fast. But now the hard work starts, as they need to turn those two bills into one. The trick is to produce a bill that can pass both chambers again, meaning a bill that appeases some powerful interest groups while still making the budget math work.

In some respects, this conference process may be easier than we think. Once lawmakers have come this far with such a big bill—when stakes are this high—it’s hard to imagine them not doing everything they can to cross the finish line. Helping in the process is the fact that their bills aren’t so vastly different in terms of philosophy and provisions that it makes reconciling differences impossible.

[…]

It’s worth considering some worst- and best-case scenarios resulting from this conference process. Worst-case scenario, the final bill would water down the investment provisions and entirely preserve many tax preferences currently targeted in both bills. It would also preserve the House version’s individual rates, including a 12 percent bubble rate for top income earners, which effectively would impose a marginal tax rate of 45.6 percent, as opposed to the current 39.6 percent.

It would expand the child tax credit value beyond the levels passed in the House ($1,600) and the Senate ($2,000). That change would remove a large number of taxpayers from the tax rolls, which would be problematic because Republicans also refuse to cut spending. This also would shift more burden to the top 10 percent (taxpayers making above $138,000), who already pay 70 percent of the total federal income tax. If members of Congress also were to expand the refundable part of the credit, it would dramatically increase government spending, too.

The cherry on a very unsavory tax cake would be if lawmakers adopted the House’s tax base erosion provisions, which include an idiotic excise tax that resembles the dreaded border adjustment tax, which was killed in recent months.

To finish on a positive note, allow me to dream a little. My best-case scenario would maintain the permanent 20 percent corporate tax rate. It would also delay the adoption of anti-tax avoidance provisions until lawmakers get to assess the full impact that cutting the corporate tax rate has on avoidance behaviors by companies. Congress would adopt the Senate version of the individual tax rates or even cut the top marginal rate further.

December 2, 2017

Reaching the limits of the “Burleigh effect”

Filed under: Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

ESR on the recent wave of news about sexual misdeeds of powerful politicians and prominent members of the media:

So, John Conyers now hints that members of Congress have been covering up widespread sexual assaults and workplace harassment from within their ranks for years, and that if he goes down lots of others will go down with him.

This is credible. We already know Congress has been paying out hush money to the tune of $17M to keep a lid on such allegations. That figure suggests that if there’s full disclosure, the carnage is going to be terrible.

But…Democrats will get hurt a lot worse than Republicans.

Why do I say this? Because Republicans have already been through a media hostility filter. The same J. Random Reporter (and Reporterette) that will manufacture chin-tugging excuses for the likes of Bill Clinton or Al Franken positively slavers at the thought of catching some old white conservative dude with his pants down. It is therefore likely that the really egregious Republican cases are already over.

Democrats, on the other hand, have been protected by what I’ll call the Burleigh effect. You remember Nina Burleigh, who said in public she’d give Bill Clinton a blowjob if it would protect abortion rights? Yeah, that.

The sewage the press has been not covering (Cokie Roberts said every female reporter in DC knew not to get on an elevator with Conyers) is likely to bust loose now. Especially because the hard-left faction of the Democrats obviously sees this as a way to purge the Clintonites.

I predict it’s going to be a grim time to be a Democrat in the next three months. Republicans will doubtless try to prolong the agony into the 2018 election season, and might succeed. In any case their campaign to stop the odious Ray Moore is looking pretty doomed,

November 23, 2017

If you think your taxes are too low, you can easily give the government more of your money

Filed under: Government, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

As discussed fairly recently, the government requires you to pay taxes up to a certain point, but there’s nothing stopping you from paying more than they ask. For Canadian federal taxes, Her Majesty in right of Canada would be delighted to accept any additional money you wish to donate. I’m sure your provincial or territorial government has a similar mechanism set up. Equivalent schemes are definitely available in the UK and probably other Commonwealth countries.

In the US, the tax rates are in the news again and the usual (ultra-wealthy) suspects are lining up to demand that the government not lower their taxes:

There’s an amusing ritual that takes place in Washington every time there’s a big debate about tax policy. A bunch of rich leftists will sign a letter or hold a press conference to announce that they should be paying higher taxes rather than lower taxes.

I’ve debated some of these people in the past, pointing out that they are “neurotic” and “guilt-ridden.”

But they apparently didn’t take my criticisms seriously and go into therapy, They’re now back and the Washington Post provides very favorable coverage to their latest exercise in masochism.

    More than 400 American millionaires and billionaires are sending a letter to Congress this week urging Republican lawmakers not to cut their taxes. The wealthy Americans — including doctors, lawyers, entrepreneurs and chief executive — say the GOP is making a mistake by reducing taxes on the richest families… Instead of petitioning tax cuts for the wealthy, the letter tells Congress to raises taxes on rich people like them. …The letter was put together by Responsible Wealth, a group that advocates progressive causes. Signers include Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream founders Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, fashion designer Eileen Fisher, billionaire hedge fund manager George Soros… Most of the signers of the letter come from California, New York and Massachusetts.

Earlier in the month, I would have told these “limousine liberals” not to worry because I was pessimistic about the chances of a tax bill getting enacted. But then the Senate GOP unveiled a better-than-expected plan and I’m now semi-hopeful that something will make its way through the process.

That doesn’t mean, however, that these rich leftists should be despondent.

Because I’m a nice guy, today’s column is going to let them know that they don’t have to accept a tax cut. The Treasury Department has a website that they can use to voluntarily send extra money to Washington. It’s called “gifts to reduce the public debt,” and people like George Soros can have their accountants and lawyers calculate the value of any tax cut and then use this form to send that amount of money to D.C.

November 21, 2017

Scaling back the Imperial Presidency

Filed under: Government, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

The US government was explicitly set up with clear separation of powers, to ensure that too many powers are not drawn together to create a potential tyranny. For over 100 years, the office of the President has been granted, or taken without challenge, more and more of the powers that the founders had intended to be kept separate. Many Democrats were horrified to discover just over a year ago that those powers could be inherited by a man they believed totally unfit for the job (and even some Republicans agreed). However, Donald Trump may be the first president in living memory to actually devolve power back to Congress:

Donald Trump did not campaign for president as the guy who would reverse the mostly unbroken, century-old trend of the executive power assuming more and more power in the face of an increasingly self-marginalizing Congress. If anything, the imperial presidency looked set to increase given Trump’s braggadocious personality and cavalier approach to constitutional restraints. “Nobody knows the system better than me,” he famously said during his worryingly authoritarian Republican National Convention speech, “which is why I alone can fix it.”

You wouldn’t know it from viewing policy through the prism of the president’s Twitter feed, which is filled with cajoling and insult toward the legislative branch, but Trump has on multiple occasions taken an executive-branch power-grab and kicked the issue back to Congress, where it belongs. As detailed here last month, the president has taken this approach on Iran sanctions, Obamacare subsidies, and the Deferred Action Against Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), at minimum. And notably, his one Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch, was most famous pre-appointment for rejecting the deference that courts have in recent decades given to executive-branch regulatory agencies interpreting the statutory language of legislators.

Are there any other examples? Sure — the 15 regulatory nullifications this year via the Congressional Review Act (14 more than all previous presidents combined) are definitionally power-transfers from the executive to legislative. And certainly, the sharp decreases in the enactment, proposal, and even page-count of regulations amount to the administration declining to exercise as much power as its predecessors.

Josh Blackman also looks at this unexpected phenomenon:

Our Constitution carefully separates the legislative, executive, and judicial powers into three separate branches of government: Congress enacts laws, which the president enforces and the courts review. However, when all of these powers are accumulated “in the same hands,” James Madison warned in Federalist No. 47, the government “may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.” The rise of the administrative state over the last century has pushed us closer and closer to the brink. Today, Congress enacts vague laws, the executive branch aggrandizes unbounded discretion, and the courts defer to those dictates. For decades, presidents of both parties have celebrated this ongoing distortion of our constitutional order because it promotes their agenda. The Trump administration, however, is poised to disrupt this status quo.

In a series of significant speeches at the Federalist Society’s national convention, the president’s lawyers have begun to articulate a framework for restoring the separation of powers: First, Congress should cease delegating its legislative power to the executive branch; second, the executive branch will stop using informal “guidance documents” that deprive people of the due process of law without fair notice; and third, courts should stop rubber-stamping diktats that lack the force of law.

Executive power is often described as a one-way ratchet: Each president, Democrat or Republican, augments the authority his predecessor aggrandized. These three planks of the Trumpian Constitution — delegation, due process, and deference — are remarkable, because they do the exact opposite by ratcheting down the president’s authority. If Congress passes more precise statues, the president has less discretion. If federal agencies comply with the cumbersome regulatory process, the president has less latitude. If judges become more engaged and scrutinize federal regulations, the president receives less deference. Each of these actions would weaken the White House but strengthen the rule of law. To the extent that President Trump follows through with this platform, he can accomplish what few (myself included) thought possible: The inexorable creep of the administrative leviathan can be slowed down, if not forced into retreat.

October 19, 2017

America’s third-world air traffic control system

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Government, Technology, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

In City Journal, John Tierney says there’s hope for improvement, but the crony capitalists might yet manage to keep the crappy system in its current state anyway:

Members of Congress are about to face a tough choice: should they vote to replace America’s scandalously antiquated air-traffic control system with one that would be safer and cheaper, reduce the federal deficit, conserve fuel, ease congestion in the skies, and speed travel for tens of millions of airline passengers? Or should they maintain the status quo to please the lobbyists representing owners of corporate jets?

If that choice doesn’t sound difficult, then you don’t know the power that corporate jet-setters wield in Congress. They’re the consummate Washington crony capitalists: shameless enough to demand that their private flights be subsidized by the masses who fly coach, savvy enough to stymie reforms backed by Democratic and Republican administrations.

While the rest of the industrialized world has been modernizing air-traffic control, the United States remains mired in technology from the mid-twentieth century. Controllers and pilots rely on ground-based radar and radio beacons instead of GPS satellites. They communicate by voice over crowded radio channels because the federal government still hasn’t figured out how to use text messaging. The computers in control towers are so primitive that controllers track planes by passing around slips of paper.

The result: an enormous amount of time wasted by passengers, especially those traveling in the busy airspace of the Northeast. Because the system is so imprecise, planes have to be kept far apart, which limits the number of planes in the air — leaving passengers stranded at terminals listening to the dread announcements about “air traffic delays.” When they do finally take off, they’re often delayed further because the pilot must fly a zig-zag course following radio beacons instead of saving time and fuel by taking a direct route.

Surprisingly, the Canadian air traffic control system is the model to emulate:

The Trump administration is pushing Congress this month to turn over the air-traffic control system to a not-for-profit corporation supported by user fees instead of tax dollars. It would resemble Nav Canada, which has won high praise from the aviation community for modernizing Canada’s system while reducing costs. Nav Canada’s controllers use GPS technology and text messaging, as do the controllers at the corporation that has taken over the United Kingdom’s system.

October 2, 2017

Is it becoming time to let the NFL’s “chips fall where they may”?

Filed under: Business, Football, Law, Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

The modern NFL as we know it enjoys a legal privilege through an act of Congress, allowing the league to negotiate TV rights as a single organization and sharing the revenue equally among all the constituent teams. In City Journal, Steven Malanga recounts the history of how that privilege was granted:

Many sports fans know that Major League Baseball has a unique exemption from the nation’s antitrust laws, thanks to a 1922 Supreme Court decision, which perplexingly ruled that baseball teams do not engage in interstate commerce. Less well understood, however, is that the National Football League retains its own federal exemption through legislation that has allowed the league’s teams to cooperate on television contracts — a gift from Washington that has been crucial to the development of the modern NFL. Over the years, the exemption has proved controversial, though bipartisan calls to revoke or narrow it have never gained much traction. The exemption deserves a fresh look with the players’ extreme politicization of the league, in which they have been aided and abetted by the owners, who have allowed and even taken part in unprecedented partisan posturing — broadcast to the nation via Congress-approved TV deals.

According to NFL mythology, the league’s success is the result of the vision of its mid-1950s and 1960s leadership, including the marketing savvy of former commissioner Pete Rozelle. But the real cornerstone of the NFL’s rise was successful Washington lobbying by league leadership, after a court ruled in 1961 that NFL teams could not negotiate broadcasting rights as a group, because such power would violate antitrust laws against monopolization. Rozelle got a New York congressman, Emanuel Cellar, who chaired the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Anti-Trust and Monopoly, to introduce what’s become known as the Sports Broadcasting Act of 1961, which provided limited antitrust exemption, allowing teams to pool their efforts for the sake of negotiating TV deals. When President Kennedy signed the legislation, it permitted a $4.65 million broadcast deal that the NFL had crafted with CBS for the rights to televise football games. The price of broadcasting packages quickly accelerated, especially after the merger of the NFL and the old AFL, and the antitrust exemption allowed for such singular NFL successes as Monday Night Football, introduced in 1970.

Though the act also applies to professional baseball, hockey, and basketball teams, its significance to the NFL came to outweigh the benefits to other leagues, because pro football—with many fewer games per season—exclusively and collectively sells all its TV rights through monopoly pooling, then distributes the revenues to teams equally. Without this exemption, each team would have to negotiate its television contracts individually, which would be fine for powerful teams like the Dallas Cowboys that could probably arrange to have all their games broadcast nationally, but less advantageous for weak teams such as the Cleveland Browns, which might struggle even for local coverage.

[…] The majority of companies in America would not, and do not, allow demonstrations at work by individual employees on political issues unrelated to their employment — just the sort of demonstrations begun last year by former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, and carried on through this weekend by more than 200 players. That the owners have tolerated and lately even encouraged such protests over an issue — charges of police brutality — that divides many Americans is a business risk that they seem willing to take. But the league’s use of its platform — created by its federal antitrust exemption — to broadcast its message across the country is more than a simple business matter. It represents an improper use of resources made available to the NFL by special federal legislation. It’s past time to revoke the Sports Broadcasting Act — and let the “chips fall where they may.”

August 27, 2017

Why The Rich Like High Taxes

Filed under: Business, Economics, Government, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 16 Aug 2017

When politicians raise taxes on the rich, what do the rich do to protect their $$$? This Prof. shows how high taxes actually made America less equal.

The Myth of Equality in the 1950s (video): Another myth of the 1950s is that there was economic equality. Prof. Brian Domitrovic explains why this is a myth. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wLl9wOivHdc
How Cronyism is Hurting the Economy (video): Prof. Jason Brennan explains why cronyism, like the tax cuts for certain businesses in the 1950s, is bad for the economy and argues why limiting the government’s power would help solve the problem. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gSgUENZ9O94
The Good Ol’ Days: When Tax Rates Were 90 Percent (article): Andrew Syrios compares the tax rates in the 1950s to those of the 1980s and today https://mises.org/library/good-ol-days-when-tax-rates-were-90-percent

TRANSCRIPT:
For a full transcript please visit: http://www.learnliberty.org/videos/why-the-rich-like-high-taxes/

June 12, 2017

QotD: The reality of political limitations

Filed under: Government, Politics, Quotations, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

The main obstacle to getting what [the Republicans] want is not the lack of leaders who are willing to fight; the main obstacle to getting what they want is that what they want is well outside the ZOPA [zone of possible agreement]. I’m not saying this to taunt my conservative friends; I agree with many of the things they want. But I recognize that there is a wide gap between what I (we) want, and what can be foisted upon the American public by its elected representatives. If I want outcomes closer to my preferences, then the primary problem is not the folks in office, but the preferences of the average American voter. Focusing your attention on politicians, instead of the hearts and minds of your fellow citizens, is like attempting to fix a faulty car engine by swapping out the dashboard gauges.

Megan McArdle, “Let’s See What Republicans Learn From Losing Boehner”, Bloomberg View, 2015-09-25.

May 1, 2017

QotD: How to negotiate badly (unless you’re in a movie)

Filed under: Europe, Government, Media, Politics, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Does the [Republican congressional] caucus nominate a leader who will be itching for more such fights? This would be bad for America’s already dilapidated political institutions and civil society. It would also, I must point out, be bad for the Republican Party, which still shows lingering signs of infection by the dreaded “Ask for the Stars, You’ll Get the Moon” bargaining strategy. (Ever notice that’s so beloved by Hollywood, and by almost no one who actually has to negotiate deals for a living?)

The idea behind this is that you will eventually settle for something about halfway between your initial demands, and what the other side is asking for. The winning strategy is therefore to ask for enormous concessions, include unrealistic demands as bargaining chips, and convince the other side that you’re just crazy enough to walk away if they won’t make a deal.

As it happens, we have just had a demonstration of this technique — a live drama, no Hollywood effects: Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras tried it with the EU. This strategy worked so well that he ended up with a worse deal than the original offer, plus a banking crisis that is still unspooling. Somehow, this never happens in Hollywood movies.

It’s easy to see why Hollywood loves this strategy: It’s really easy to explain without chewing up screen time, and it’s dramatic. Why don’t real-world negotiators more often do this?

Megan McArdle, “Let’s See What Republicans Learn From Losing Boehner”, Bloomberg View, 2015-09-25.

April 14, 2017

QotD: How to negotiate

Filed under: Business, Politics, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

All negotiations are defined by something called the ZOPA: the Zone of Possible Agreement. The boundaries of that zone are defined by another buzzword, the BATNA: the best alternative to negotiated agreement.

The ultimate deal has to be better for both sides than their BATNA. Anything that either side considers worse than no deal at all is outside of the ZOPA, and no amount of strategery is going to get you there. Getting rid of Social Security and Medicare: outside of the ZOPA. Raising tax rates to Danish levels: outside of the ZOPA. Single-payer health care: outside of the ZOPA. Defunding Planned Parenthood: outside of the current ZOPA.

Is the ZOPA fixed? Nope. If a Republican president were in the White House, and a few more Republicans were in the Senate, defunding Planned Parenthood might well be feasible. The massacre at Newtown moved the ZOPA on gun control leftward. The financial crisis made all sorts of previously unthinkable things — like TARP and a nearly $900 billion stimulus bill — eminently feasible. The ZOPA moves all the time, which is why we’re no longer debating the free and unlimited coinage of silver at a ratio of 16 to 1.

But note that these movements didn’t come from some sort of deft negotiation strategy. They came from external events that changed the BATNA of one side or the other. Note too that even though the ZOPA had shifted in his favor, President Obama lost on gun control because he included an assault weapons ban in his list of demands as a bargaining chip, and the other side decided to walk away instead of negotiating a deal.

How did this happen? Because the bargaining chips you include send signals about your intent, and how serious you are about negotiating — and they can therefore change the facts on the ground in ways that hurt you rather than help you.

Imagine that you tried negotiating for a car by announcing that you intended to pay no more than $2,400 for a fully-loaded new truck. Would this improve your bargaining position? Of course not; the salesman would decide that you were wasting his time, and go find another customer. Similarly, if the car salesman announced that he wanted $100,000 for a well-used Camry, that wouldn’t make you more willing to pay $30,000 for it; it would make you go seek a dealer who wasn’t obviously crazy.

Megan McArdle, “Let’s See What Republicans Learn From Losing Boehner”, Bloomberg View, 2015-09-25.

March 31, 2017

“You can’t buy my internet data. You can’t buy your internet data. That’s not how this works

Filed under: Government, Liberty, Technology, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

At Techdirt, Mike Masnick bravely attempts to tamp down the hysteria over this week’s vote in Congress to kill broadband privacy protections (which, as he notes, hadn’t yet come into effect anyway):

People are rightfully angry and upset about this. The privacy protections were fairly simple, and would have been helpful in stopping truly egregious behavior by some dominant ISPs who have few competitors, and thus little reason to treat people right. But misleading and misinforming people isn’t helpful either.

[…]

But here’s the real problem: you can’t buy Congress’ internet data. You can’t buy my internet data. You can’t buy your internet data. That’s not how this works. It’s a common misconception. We even saw this in Congress four years ago, where Rep. Louis Gohmert went on a smug but totally ignorant rant, asking why Google won’t sell the government all the data it has on people. As we explained at the time, that’s not how it works*. Advertisers aren’t buying your browsing data, and ISPs and other internet companies aren’t selling your data in a neat little package. It doesn’t help anyone to blatantly misrepresent what’s going on.

When ISPs or online services have your data and “sell” it, it doesn’t mean that you can go to, say, AT&T and offer to buy “all of Louis Gohmert’s browsing history.” Instead, what happens is that these companies collect that data for themselves and then sell targeting. That is, when Gohmert goes to visit his favorite publication, that website will cast out to various marketplaces for bids on what ads to show. Thanks to information tracking, it may throw up some demographic and interest data to the marketplace. So, it may say that it has a page being viewed by a male from Texas, who was recently visiting webpages about boardgames and cow farming (to randomly choose some items). Then, from that marketplace, some advertisers’ computerized algorithms will more or less say “well, I’m selling boardgames about cows in Texas, and therefore, this person’s attention is worth 1/10th of a penny more to me than some other company that’s selling boardgames about moose.” And then the webpage will display the ad about cow boardgames. All this happens in a split second, before the page has fully loaded.

At no point does the ad exchange or any of the advertisers know that this is “Louis Gohmert, Congressional Rep.” Nor do they get any other info. They just know that if they are willing to spend the required amount to get the ad shown via the marketplace bidding mechanism, it will show up in front of someone who is somewhat more likely to be interested in the content.

That’s it.

* Amusingly, Rep. Gohmert voted to repeal the privacy protections, which makes no sense if he actually believed what he was saying in that hearing a few years ago…

H/T to Amy Alkon for the link.

On a related note, LifeHacker posted a recommendation for “The Laziest, Cheapest Way to Circumvent Your Snooping ISP“. (Spoiler: it’s Opera). I use Opera, but not exclusively … I also use Brave, Chrome, and Firefox on a daily basis.

March 14, 2017

“Most policy ideas are bad” (especially in US healthcare)

Filed under: Government, Health, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Megan McArdle says that the best plan the Republicans could come up with to deal with Obamacare is to do nothing, at least in the short-term:

For a policy columnist, “Don’t do that” is the easiest column to write. Most policy ideas are bad. If you simply blindly oppose everything that anyone ever puts forward, you’ll end up being right most of the time.

However, that’s not very useful for politicians. If they just sit around Congress playing tiddlywinks all day, voters will get cranky. Congress is supposed to do things. So, having spent a few days saying unkind things about the Republican health-care plan, it probably behooves me to state what I think they should do.

Well, boy, that’s a hard question. Here’s the thing: For all the unkind words I’ve said, I get the forces that have brought Republicans to this point. As I wrote Thursday, Democrats built a shoddy and unworkable structure out of the political equivalent of concrete: nearly impossible to repair or renovate, and darned expensive to demolish. The task is made even harder by the fact that Democrats currently control just enough votes in the Senate to keep Republicans from passing any sort of clean, comprehensive bill.

[…]

What would I do in this situation? Well, the first thing I’d do is accept, deep in my heart, that there are no great outcomes possible at this point. The second thing I’d do is remember that nothing is always a policy option: If you can’t do something better than the status quo, don’t do anything. It’s what I said to Democrats in 2009, and it’s what I’m saying to Republicans now.

So what would I do to minimize the damage, within the constraints of political reality? Well, I foresee two potential futures for the current status quo. One, the exchanges where individuals buy policies could fail, leaving people unable to buy insurance. Or two, the exchanges don’t fail, and we’re left with an unsatisfactory but still operational system.

In either case, the Republicans’ best option is to wait. Why? Because what they can do now — hastily, without touching the underlying regulations that have destabilized the individual market — is worse than either of those outcomes. The partial-reform structure they think they’ll be able to get through the Senate is likely to make the problems in the individual market worse, not better. And the fact that they’ve tinkered with the program means that Republicans will take 100 percent of the blame.

She also re-iterates her own ideal solution (which she admits wouldn’t fly with the American public):

Longtime readers of my column know that my pet proposal is a radical overhaul of the whole system in which we zero out all the existing subsidies and just have the government pick up 100 percent of the tab for medical expenses that exceed 15 or 20 percent of a family’s adjusted gross income: basically, a single-payer catastrophic-care system for expenses that no one can realistically save for. Let people buy insurance for expenses below that, or, if it’s not too expensive taxwise, let people set aside more money tax-free in Health Savings Accounts. And make some more generous provisions for people closer to the poverty line, such as prefunding Health Savings Accounts for them. That’s the whole program. It fits on a postcard, though the finer details — like which cancer treatments we’re actually willing to pay for — obviously aren’t.

However, this is completely politically infeasible, because voters don’t want genuine insurance, by which I mean a pool that provides financial assistance for genuinely unforeseeable and unmanageable expenses. Voters want comprehensive coverage that kicks in at close to the first dollar of spending, no restrictions on treatments or their ability to see a doctor, nice American-style facilities, and so forth. They are also fond of their health-care professionals and do not wish to see provider incomes slashed and hospitals closed, nor do they want their taxes to go up, or to pay 10 percent of their annual income in premiums. This conflicting set of deeply held views is one major reason that Obamacare — and American health-care policy more generally — has the problems it does.

March 13, 2017

“It’s not really a debate over Obamacare, it’s a debate over Medicaid”

Filed under: Government, Health, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Robert Tracinski explains why the Republicans are having such a hard time with their oft-promised “repeal” of Obamacare:

House Republicans have released their proposed measure to “repeal and replace” Obamacare, and the whole enterprise is already losing steam right out of the gate. The measure is too small and incremental, less a repeal of Obamacare and more of a repair of it, keeping numerous basic features intact.

If you want to know why Republicans have bogged down, notice one peculiar thing about the Obamacare debate so far. It’s not really a debate over Obamacare, it’s a debate over Medicaid. That’s because Obamacare mostly turned out to be a big expansion of Medicaid. The health insurance exchanges that were supposed to provide affordable private health insurance (under a government aegis) never really delivered. They were launched in a state of chaos and incompetence, and ended up mostly offering plans that are expensive yet still have high deductibles. Rather than massively expanding the number of people with private insurance, a lot of the effect of Obamacare was to wreck people’s existing health care plans and push them into new exchange plans.

Ah, but what about all those people the Democrats are claiming were newly covered under Obamacare? A lot of them — up to two-thirds, by some estimates — are people who were made newly eligible for a government health-care entitlement, Medicaid. But shoving people onto Medicaid is not exactly a great achievement, since it is widely acknowledged to be a lousy program.

Conservative health care wonk Avik Roy explains why: “[T]he program’s dysfunctional 1965 design makes it impossible for states to manage their Medicaid budgets without ratcheting down what they pay doctors to care for Medicaid enrollees. That, in turn, has led many doctors to stop accepting Medicaid patients, such that Medicaid enrollees don’t get the care they need.” Partly as a result, a test in Oregon found no difference in health outcomes between those with access to Medicaid and those without.

March 3, 2017

The key difference between written and oral communication

Filed under: Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Megan McArdle, discussing the uproar over the Attorney General Jeff Sessions “did he or didn’t he lie to congress” debate, took time to clarify why we don’t (and can’t) parse spoken communications in the same way we do with written work:

If you read the latter part of this exchange extremely strictly, chopping off the preamble, then you can argue that Sessions was technically untruthful. The problem is that this is not how verbal communication works. The left is attempting to hold the attorney general to a standard of precision that is appropriate for written communication, where we can reflect on preceding context and choose exactly the right word.

Oral language is much looser, because it’s real time. Real time means that we don’t have 20 minutes to puzzle over the exact phrasing that will best communicate our meaning. (For example: Reading this column aloud will take you perhaps five minutes. It took me nearly that many hours to write.) On the other hand, our audience is right there, and can ask for clarification if they are confused.1

Demanding extreme clarity from an oral exchange is unreasonable. Moreover, everyone understands that this is unreasonable — except, possibly, for the chattering classes, who spend their lives so thoroughly marinated in the written word that they come to think that the two spheres are supposed to be identical. Most ordinary people understand very well that there’s a big difference between talking and writing (which is why most people, even those who are dazzling in conversation, have a hard time producing fluid and lively prose).

That’s not to say that it’s wrong to investigate the Trump administration’s ties to Russia. Investigate away! If the Trump campaign knew about, or colluded with, the hack on the DNC, then Trump should be impeached. But at the moment, we have no evidence that Sessions committed a crime, much less attempted to cover it up. The court of public opinion is probably going to require somewhat better facts to convict.

    1. One reason that we writers spend so much time thinking about precise wording, and larding our prose with extra paragraphs meant to clarify exactly what we’re talking about, is that language is rife with ambiguity. This is why, at one time, Annapolis cadets were required to take a class in which they would write orders, and their fellow cadets would tear them apart looking for ways that a simple order could be misunderstood. It’s also one reason so many people get into so much trouble on Twitter: they write like they talk, but stripped of cues like context and facial expression, what they say is very easily taken the wrong way.

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