Posted tagged ‘Republican knavery’

Fiscal Conservatives

June 4, 2013

via TPM, this:

The states that declined to expand Medicaid will lose out on a total of $8 billion in federal funds, have millions more residents uninsured, and spend about a billion dollars more on uncompensated care as compared to states that accept the expansion.

That’s the conclusion of a new study in Health Affairs by two RAND Corporation scholars, who model the impacts on the first 14 states that opted out of Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion, which was made optional by the Supreme Court.

In total, mathematician Carter Price and economist Christine Eibner find, the 14 states that rejected the expansion will wind up with 3.6 million more uninsured people, $8.4 billion less in federal funds, and up to $1 billion more in spending on uncompensated care in 2016.

But, but, but…FREEDOM!

I’ll add only this editorial aside:  the number that really counts there are the 3.6 million more uninsured.


That’s a lot of human cost, suffering that should not happen.   That it comes at a significant dollar cost to the states that so choose to put their citizens in harm’s way is only icing on the cake.

Actually, I can’t resist one more bit of editorializing.  As I think about the in-your-face religiosity of a fair subset of those opposing Obamacare, I can’t help but think of what Albert Einstein said on being asked for his message to the German people in the second year of that conflict whose name should have retired the irony prize for all time, the “Great War”:

Honor your Master Jesus Christ not only in words and songs, but rather foremost by your deeds.

That is all.

Image:  Jan Steen, The Sick Woman, c. 1663-66

(PS:  I’m on the road with very sporadic internet for the next week+.  Given my highly sporadic approach to blogging, no one is likely to notice — but if you do, that’s why.)

The GOP War On Knowledge…or how the skids are being greased for America’s decline and fall.

February 25, 2010

I’ve got a backlog of stupid and dangerous ideas and claims out there I want to blog about — one of the nice things about being a self-selected watchdog for duplicity and useful ignorance on the web means I’ll never lack for targets — but I want to highlight a theme that links a lot of what I’m raging about these days.

That would be the escalation in the Republican and right wing’s Thirty Years War on the idea of knowledge and the significance of expertise in public life.  You can see it everywhere these days, and I’ll be blogging over the next several days about the latest forays in this from all the usual suspects in this, from the incomparable (and I don’t mean in a good way) George Will, to that genial tribute to mediocrity in high places, David Brooks.

Those tw0 — and many others — share this particular incoherence:  they stake their claim to authority through an assertion of a peculiar kind of expertise, in particular, the ability to interpret technical knowledge and to divine social patterns, while at the same time decrying the authority of the more specialized skills that produce facts and interpretations with which they disagree.

More simply:  no one knows anything except me.

The animating motive behind such bathos is not simply self-aggrandizement (though that is surely a feature and not a bug).  Rather it is aimed at discrediting genuine expertise, actual specialized knowledge and/or craft skills.  Both men (and many others) are actively and overtly trying to reclaim power for an aristocracy of birth, institutions, or certain interests, and hence find claims of authority independent of unearned descent or association a deep threat.

Simply:  as long as, say, Paul Krugman, exists to tell them they don’t know what they are talking about, then those who would rather accelerate the transfer of wealth from the middle to the top, have to find ways to deny his credibility, his authority-born-of-knowledge to label their stupid claims for the folly they are.

More broadly, the game now is to paint one side — the side that did not author our current disaster — as a hopelessly out of touch and inherently incapable group of impractical experts, folks who know only theory and have none of the so-called common sense needed to recognize that the succour of the rich and powerful is the alpha and omega of sound policy.  It’s Spiro Agnew updated for the digital age, with the pointed headed intellectuals now turned into mindless social engineers recrafting America to match some abstract (probably French) social theory.

A type specimen of this kind of “thought” (sic!) comes from one of the perennial suspects, Michael Barone, of Town Hall.  You know you are in for a familiar ride when  you get an invocation of both the patron (if more admired than read) saint of self-styled American conservatives, Edmund Burke…and a peculiar (given Burke’s essentially elitest bent) appeal to mass opinion.

In one of the more mindlessly dog-bites-man bits of analysis  he writes that the reason Democrats lost in Massachusetts, and will and should lose this fall, is because they are too slavishly antipathetic to Edmund Burke’s view of governance.  That’s right — according to this giant of the political idea wars, the reason the Democratic Party is in trouble is because it is still paryting like it’s 1789

…. they take the very un-Burkean view that those with elite educations can readily rearrange society to comport with their pet abstract theories. These often secular Americans have a quasi-religious faith in government’s ability to, in Barack Obama’s words to Joe the Plumber, “spread the wealth around” and to recalibrate the energy sector to protect against climate dangers they are absolutely sure are impending.

Ordinary Americans, even in Massachusetts, may not have heard of Edmund Burke, but they share his skepticism that self-appointed experts can reengineer institutions in accordance with abstract theories.*

That is:  a party that seeks to return the regulation of the financial markets to the American norm of about 1988, say…and to introduce into oligopolic structure of the American health insurance market just a smidgeon of quality control and the possibility (not the certainty) of price competition in certain areas, not to mention access for those increasingly pushed out of a shrinking employer-provided health care system…and to construct a market structure for pricing known externalities of energy use has gone all Rousseau and Robespierre on us, instead of presenting what is barely distinguishable from a plausible Republican party platform from the 1950s through at least the candidacy of Gerald Ford.

Of course it’s nonsense, and I’d even wager that Barone in some lizard brain moment of intellection might realize that while what he spouts are words, they lack any meaningful connection to the reality he purports to document.

But that’s the point.  It’s not that what my party wants to do is so dangerous, in fact.  It’s that the existence of an alternative claim on reality  — or rather, reality itself — is unacceptable…so instead of engaging in an argument one might lose,  the real mission is to make sure that the whole idea an argument is possible (much less a loss) gets destroyed.

So, despite the fact that the right is exercising a near monopoly on abstract theories (tax cuts raise revenues, e.g.) that engineer institutions (think, for example an explicitly anti-market Medicare drug benefit, and/or a non-regulating financial regulatory apparatus) to produce through massive transfers of both wealth and power from the middle and poor to the rich…it’s imperative to ensure that folks who actually know stuff in detail about the critical decisions we are in fact making don’t actually get a place at the table.

Because we know what happens when they do.  Folks like the ones Barone wants to see in power get their heads handed to them.

This is what is going to make today’s farrago so fascinating, by the way.

Here’s hoping for a massacree.

PS:  As an extra special bonus, how about a little reality check on what today’s faux Burkeans are actually asking us to accept, in the words of the great man  himself.

Burke gets a lot of props, and not just from self-styled conservatives, for his writing on the American Revolution, his support for the idea that Englishmen abroad, or their descendents, safely Protestant ones, at least, should be able to exercise the rights Englishmen at home enjoyed.  And there is a lot that he writes that can be assimilated into a plausible modern political philosophy, if one is willing to do the historical heavy lifting of investigated the world as Burke experienced it within the specific context of the working out of the political implications of the last successful foreign invasion of England — by William of Orange, way back in 1688 — neatly spun as “the Glorious Revolution.”**

But Burke did not cease to write or think come 1783.  He had the French Revolution to chew on too, and in his Reflections on the Revolution on France he delineated the limits of his willingness to cede power to different conceptions of “the people.”

He wrote (via that ever reliable source…Wikipedia):

“We fear God, we look up with awe to kings; with affection to parliaments; with duty to magistrates; with reverence to priests; and with respect to nobility. Why? Because when such ideas are brought before our minds, it is natural to be so affected”

This is no reflexive “that which governs least, governs best,” conservatism of the kind invoked (as they undermine it, usually) by its very priests and preachers.  Rather it is what it seems:  a deference to authority.  That’s the key:  it’s not that self-styled Burkeans want to deny a privileged decision making status — the right to engineer society — to everyone.  They just want to make sure, as the powerful and their sycophants always have, that only the right people have access to the tools needed.

It’s worth listening to the source again to understand what is required to reserve such power for those who should be undisturbed in its exercise:

Burke defended prejudice on the grounds that it is “the general bank and capital of nations, and of ages” and superior to individual reason, which is small in comparison. “Prejudice”, Burke claimed, “is of ready application in the emergency; it previously engages the mind in a steady course of wisdom and virtue, and does not leave the man hesitating in the moment of decision, skeptical, puzzled, and unresolved. Prejudice renders a man’s virtue his habit”.

Prejudice:  that which is known without questioning the means of its knowing, and which serves to reinforce truths that thus need not be tested against reality at the moment of decision.

This is the kind of approach that asserts, despite all evidence and experience to the contrary that, say, the correct response to the near destruction of our financial system in 2008 is increased power and decreased regulation of the actors who brought about the disaster in the first place.  Because it is known, rather than investigated, that markets never fail, then the failure of a market can only be due to its deviation from the Platonic ideal of Marketness.  And as we know this, we have incorporated it into our body of prejudice, now, at the moment we must choose, we know what to do:  Free the Banksters!

Or perhaps a more homely***  example will do:  it is Burkean, if one wanted to push the words quoted above not that far beyond the limit of their plain meaning, to extend the prejudice that rendered African men three/fifths of human being at the political settlement of the revolution that Burke endorsed to an unconsidered belief that it remains illegitimate for an African-American man today to claim supreme executive authority today.

Hence, while it remains on the fringes (but sadly, not beyond them) of respectability to assert that President Obama is a foreign born agent of foreign powers, or simply a lesser human (think the witch doctor images and so on), how could any Burkean condemn such sentiments as anything more than an expression of what that foundational prophet of conservatism would have applauded as benign–nay beneficient — prejudice.

And yes, I know that I am quote-picking here.  And I’m not suggesting a Burke thinking and writing in the 21st century would have found Obama’s rise to power illegitimate.  (Though I do think the 18th century Burke would have been unable to imagine an Obama’s presidency — remember:  the past is a different country).  What I am saying that dressing oneself now in the cloak of Burkean virtue is a tricky business — and that’s putting it nicely.

*This post isn’t about that, but while it’s fair to say that anti-incumbent sentiment and some populist resentment played a significant role in Brown’s victory — it’s worth noting that Brown was exceedingly fortunate in his opponent.  I’ve volunteered on Democratic campaigns in MA since 1976, and nothing has approached Coakley’s for shambolic ineptitude…and I speak as one who made calls for some pretty clueless folks in my day.  Counterfactuals are odious, but I find it hard to believe that if Mike Capuano had been the Democratic candidate the Brown campaign would ever have been given their open playing field.  That said — Brown certainly ran a very good campaign, which he would have done against anyone.  But if you actually pay attention to what happened on the ground here in MA, it is absurd to read in the results of this special election a grand philosophical revelation, and those who do are either or both deluding themselves and trying to argue for something that they cannot otherwise defend.

**To be fair, one can just as well term the conflict a civil war — though that overstates the degree to which the Stuart side mounted anything like an active defense — or, perhaps better, as a coup with Parliamentary interests aligned with those of major magnates and against an erratic and totalizing monarchy.  It was revolutionary only in the most limited sense.  It did alter the succession of the monarchy, and it certainly shifted the balance of power between Parliament and the hereditary executive.  But for all that William III was in some sense the first English monarch to be hired as a kind of proto civil servant, the decapitation of the Stuart monarchy and the expansion of Parliamentary control of governance was as evolutionary as it was transformative.

**In every sense of the word.

Image:  Dósa Géza “Gábor Bethlen among his Scholars” 1870.

Dog Bites Man (Woman): Palin is Lying Again/Basic Arithmetic edition

October 4, 2008

Amazingly enough, when Sarah Palin got her Couric do-over in the friendly confines of Fox News, all of sudden she remembered some stuff she “forgot” when talking to someone who actually asked follow up questions.

Her court case nonesense is probably better eviscerated by someone who actually knows something of the law, but I want to take a whack at her claim that, oh yes, she does read the newspapers…or as she put it:

CAMERON: Well, what do you read?

PALIN: I read the same things that other people across the country read, including the “New York Times” and the “Wall Street Journal” and “The Economist” and some of these publications that we’ve recently even been interviewed through up there in Alaska.

Oh yeah?

Think Progress has already questioned the probability of Palin reading The Economist.  But the idiocy goes deeper than the mere likelihood that Palin was simply parroting a list of approved elite-friendly titles a leader of the free world would be expected to read.

Think about this with an eye toward real life.  In Palin you have a governor of a state who also happens to have five children still at home.  She is a moderately busy person.

She also has a certain media list she needs to monitor. She has a direct political and governance interest in reading local newspapers, especially that or those of record for her state; she would also, being a skilled thoroughly modern politician, have her eye and ear on local political TV and radio.

She is also a human animal, subject to the same physical constraints that anyone with this basic biology must face.  In this context, that means she is subject to the same limits on reading speed that anyone faces.  The reading speed for comprehension has a range of 200-400 words per minute; skimming can be accomplished at rates as fast as 700 words per minute.

So let’s confront The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.  What follows is a mix of real data and inferences; the idea is to get a broad sense of the scale of the task Palin has set herself without spending half a day on the analysis.  It’s a first order “does this make sense” pass, nothing more.

On average the Journal is 96 pages long. A single broadsheet page of a newspaper, even in its modern, slightly shrunken form, can deliver roughly 3,000 words (actually more — the page used for this number is the Times’ op-ed, which typically runs three – four pieces c. 800 word pieces with some art).   Clearly art (in the newspaper sense) and advertising cut into the news hole available for words — and lets be conservative here too; say only one quarter of the average issue actually contains words to be read.

That would leave someone reading the WSJ cover to cover with something like 24*3000= 72,000 words to take in.  Give it another hair cut to acknowledge the ongoing constraints of print journalism.  So two national newspapers today could offer a dedicated reader 100,000 words (and quite possibly much more).  At 400 words per minute — fast for comprehension, slow for skimming, that many words would occupy someone for 250 minutes, or just over four hours every day.

Give it another haircut.  Throw out half the paper. Sarah Palin does not need to read the company news pages of the Journal or the New York Region report in the Times.  We’re still talking two hours (and we haven’t even touched the drag on the day that The Economist hits her in-tray.

In other words…all this is nonsense.  Palin does not read these papers in any meaningful way. Nor should she, in fact.

She’s the governor of Alaska, not of New York.  She needs to read her local stuff, and her staff should be flagging what she needs to get from the national media; certainly it would make sense if someone in Juneau prepared a digest of stories relevant to state-state issues and those national ones that impinge on her decision-space.

Palin could have said something like this during the Couric interview; she could have made this basic point to Fox — that she stays up on the information most relevant to her job, and relies on her staff to make sure nothing slips through the cracks.  The moment would have passed unnoticed.

Instead, she committed herself to an impossibility; that she as governor and mother still finds the time to read the papers for several hours per day.

Two last points:  First:  Once again we see in Palin someone willing to lie at any moment to reinforce the image she or her handlers think she needs to display.  I know that what you have just read is overkill — but there is something about the contempt in which Palin and her keepers hold their audience that makes me want to stomp each moment of stupidity until its cries “uncle.”

Second:  The running scream of this blog is that simple quantification exercises are essential for making sense of the world around us.  Journalists and everyone need to count.  I know that Fox News is not a journalistic enterprise; it’s Pravda with better graphics.  But as I hope the above back of the envelope exercise suggests, it would help the rest of us a great deal if we turned the niggling feeling, “but-does-it-make-sense,” into a reflex animated by a habit of quantification, approximation and inquiry.  Here the lesson endeth.

Image:  Johnny Automatic Children Reading Newspaper.  Source:

Credit Where Credit’s Due: Marc Ambinder edition

September 27, 2008

Readers of this blog know that I have taken off after the Atlantic’s Marc Ambinder on regular occasions.  You can find a recent example a few posts below — but I’m not linking there because now I come to praise Marc, not to bury him.

This post on Obama’s argument last night that he and McCain advisor Henry Kissinger agree on talking to Iran — and McCain himself is on the wrong side of this question — is right on point, exactly the kind of thing you hope to read in a political blog.

It’s especially significant because Kissinger is out and about these days saying he supports McCain’s position, not Obama’s.

Marc does the research to show (a) that Kissinger’s assurance is exceptionally carefully worded — too clever by half, some might say — and (b) it thus succeeds in conveying a false impression, if it does not cross the line into overt falsehood.  Kissinger and Obama do agree on the basic idea, and, as Obama stated last night, McCain is the odd man out.

So, kudos to Marc.  Go read the post.

Update (great minds think alike division): DeLong, another frequent critic of Ambinder (and kind republisher of my complaints) more or less simultaneously praised the same piece that caught my eye.

Image:  Nicolas Gosse, “Napoleon I receiving  Baron Vincent, the Austrian Ambassador, at Erfurt, 1808,” 19th c.  Source:  Wikimedia Commons.

More on the Offshore Drilling Bait-and-Switch

July 23, 2008

Much more informed and more rigorous info on the issue I blogged here, outsourced to Wilco 278.

Cherry picking data is one of the oldest tricks in the book. As TJ warned: eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.

Keep this in mind if the hurricane lets McCain make his scheduled emulation of Don Quixote tomorrow.

Update: It won’t.

(BTW: thanks, Wilco. Real knowledge is a wondrous thing.)

Image: Lourdes Cardenal, Group of windmills at Campo de Criptana in La Mancha, 2004. Licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License, ver. 1.2 or later. Source: Wikimedia Commons.