28 November 2011

Very incisive.

I like it. Especially the part about the more things stay the same.

I'd like to break down some points a little more.

1) ObamaCare. I've pretty well covered this back when it was an ongoing "debate". But basically my read on this is that
a) not much of importance actually changed under the bill. Either in terms of controlling health care costs or improving health care per dollar outcomes, or much of anything really.
b) repealing it would be fun. If, and only if, there were some actual intentions to seriously debate and reform health care systems in this country in order to better achieve either of those two goals.
Since it is pointed out that Republicans, both politicians and the conservative base, have long since caved on the points about providing medical care to people who cannot afford it, and also on a related point about pre-existing conditions, I think it is pretty clear that we are not actually interested in reforming health care systems or having space cleared out for intelligent debates in order to consider such debates. The in-the-weeds arguments that accepted both the need for some form of mandate and some form of public goods provision of health are a lot more interesting than the bullshit behavior that pretends that we don't need a public goods provision while overwhelmingly backing said public goods provision (and then refusing to fully fund it, or otherwise pretending that it doesn't cost money). Things like "France versus Singapore" models of health care present far more discussions and options, and at this point I would quite simply argue that both models are superior to ours. Either because health care outcomes are improved (there are sound arguments that there are diet and cultural reasons involved here too, but it's hard to argue that France or Singapore has a terrible health care delivery system either. The difference is largely in methods of financing) or because both models (will) cost less public money. Considerably less in the case of Singapore.

2/3. I'd agree that trade is a dead letter. There's still some residual anti-trade constituencies in the form of some protectionist displacement funding in "free" trade agreements, but overall we're far more accepting, finally, of (mostly) free trade. At least at the elite level. Early-post-NAFTA years were ugly and I've no wish to relive them. And I'm also in agreement that higher taxes are coming. But not so soon. If a super majority of Democratic Senators, Democratic House control, and Obama couldn't get the "Bush tax cuts" removed, at least on the rich, then I'd have to say they were never interested in doing so. All the rhetoric in the world about soaking the rich, by either side, doesn't make a lick of difference.

4) Immigration is very much an interesting topic, but I'd agree not much is happening on it. Unlike abortion, there are constituencies on both sides of the aisle that align their interests for or against immigration which prevent action. Note that I said for or against immigration, not just for or against "illegal immigration". I meant what I said. We have plenty of xenophobes who don't care if their silly and sloppy attempts to physically deport millions of people also oppresses, harasses, and defames millions more who have the misfortune to look like relatives (in many cases because they are), or who have the misfortune to live and work as Americans, legally, but look like Mexicans. Or Arabs. Or whoever. This suggests to me that these are people who are not merely anti-illegal immigrant, but anti-immigrant period. They do not want to share their states and towns with "non-Americans". Whatever that means. It's not a new story for our history. But it's always been a pathetic and sad one. Every. single. time. Since Franklin was railing about Germans, and the Prohibitionists were railing about Italians, and New Yorkers about the Irish, Californians about the Chinese (and later the Japanese or Koreans), and so on. It's gotten boring and tedious over the last 200+ years. If it weren't for human nature being what it is, good at forming in-group/out-group associations, I'd really wish we'd have grown out of our tiresome teenage spites against those people who have the temerity to listen to different music and eat or drink strange things and speak in some foreign tongue among themselves.

5) This line was the most incisive in the whole post. "A reversal of Roe vs. Wade, in my estimation, would destroy the pro-life movement. The chipping away strategy can work, but will happen regardless of who is in office." It points out several things at once. First. That liberals and in particular Democrats in office and in elite opinion circles are not defending abortion rights. Indeed, because the average person has a vague supposition that abortions are bad and to be avoided, the average voter has thus concluded that almost any restrictions designed to limit access to such actions are somehow innocuous and sensible. These two things do not automatically follow each logically, but the average voter is not presented with very many voices suggesting as much. With the exception of very extreme attempts to completely shut down access to abortions (as in South Dakota with explicit anti-abortion laws and with Mississippi and it's silly personhood amendment), most people do not get riled up enough to back Roe vs Wade. In either direction really. The second point is also extremely useful to consider. Let's say that Roe v Wade was somehow overturned (it won't be with this court, but suppose Kennedy were to retire, let's say, and was somehow replaced with a staunch conservative instead of a squishy quasi-libertarian conservative). What would be the result? A few hardline states would ban abortions through legislative initiatives. And most would not. This would be a confusing legal scenario and difficult to enforce. But the major point is that it would immediately defuse the primary rallying cry of pro-life groups (activist judges making legal abortions) and would confront them with the much larger task of convincing the general public that such actions should be made illegal more broadly. Without having a central flag to wave in order to curry favor and support (the federal court rulings). I'd agree this is a very unhappy result because it would not much advance the debate around abortions and birth control and other related topics, especially in states that seek to ban it. But it does have the delicious irony of resembling a dog chasing a car. If the dog succeeds, then what? The best pro-life groups can achieve by this is to ban abortions in their own states. They're not going to successfully ban it in most states. And definitely not in all states. Such a movement would deflate without a central point to organise around, with the comfortable successes of having established conservative enclaves. That sucks. But it's not the end of the world and it very likely ends up with abortion legal everywhere some generations hence as the argument turns back toward back alley illegal abortions and the costs born by teenage moms.

7) I disagree rather strongly I should think on whether the right in particular has learned any humbling lessons about its foreign policy adventurism. Indeed, I'm not even sure one could say that the Democrats have learned those lessons (given Libya as exhibit A, but older examples like Somalia, Bosnia, Kosovo, Sudan, would also do). One should hardly expect Republicans to have learned much if their opposition has advanced many of its arguments surrounding executive power and foreign policy, or surrounding arbitrary foreign adventures in regime change. And a cursory glance at the GOP foreign policy debates suggests that elite opinion must not have shifted much either. Hawkishness on Iran, from suggesting physical attacks on nuclear facilities (even my FP homeboy up there Huntsman did this, much to my chagrin) to suggesting that we should have encouraged "regime change" or interacted more strongly during the "Persian spring" (again, thanks for nothing Jon), do not impress upon me the idea that Republicans have been disabused from the notion that neoconservative policies do not work very well in practice. The advocacy surrounding torture isn't very promising either (at least he got this one right). Despite that. The conclusive point to draw would be that not much would likely change on foreign policy. And on that point I would agree. I'm just doubtful that "not much would change" would mean that we're going to be fighting fewer wars.

8) This point also was excellent. Reform of entitlements is a popular talking point. But it has no real constituencies. People my age are not agitating for it, and if anything want to see them continue to their own time of retirement. People our grandparents age are the closest to actually opposing current policies as unsustainable. At best we will be nibbling on the edges here for some time. Actual reforms will not be happening. Consider, as a related problem, the amount of fuss and annoyance that surrounds medical evidence suggesting lots of pre-cancerous screening to be at best counterproductive and worrying, or at worst, actively harmful to the general public. People still insist on these screens and tests even in the face of evidence that they are mostly just expensive ways to waste money and to generate useless worrying. If the general public is this ignorant of sound medical practices, it is not about to spend a lot of time fussing that it's public provisions of health care are actually delivering sound medical practices either. It is far more important to appear to be concerned than to actually improve people's lives. Far more.


10) "No one cares about the deficit". Correct. If they did, they would have been agitated about it under Bush. Or Reagan. And be more excited about Clinton in historical terms. More exercised about entitlements (see point 8). More interested in what the federal (or state) budget actually looks like... and so on.

11) Just depressing. I indeed find it unpleasant. And I indeed recognize it won't matter. Ron Paul or Gary Johnson aren't going to be candidates for President. Dennis Kucinich isn't either. Russ Feingold won't be. And this isn't because there aren't elites agitating against civil liberties abuses. It is because the general public so rarely cares about such issues. It needs more pepper spray it seems. Government agents fondling unwilling people at airports aside, this isn't a dog most people want to bark. They want the security theater. They want puppets telling them that they are vigilant against attacks and that the latest youtube video of a cop beating/tasing/pepper spraying a suspect, or shooting a dog, or of a TSA agent groping a woman or leaving "hilarious" notes about her, shall we say, personal effects contained in luggage, are either aberrations to be dealt with rather than systemic errors (as they are more likely) or were necessary for our safety and security. All while offering no evidence to this effect because they will not be required to produce said evidence. Let's just move on. I feel like I need to throw up.

12-13) Probably a little too optimistic on marijuana decriminalisation. Probably not optimistic enough about gay marriage. Demographic trends on that are highly favorable to be almost every state in 10 years though. Marijuana is a 50% issue over the longer term. It will need to be much higher to actually shift elite opinion, but it is getting there. Most likely a state will attempt (and pass) a law legalising pot within the next 2 election cycles. And that will force a court battle with the federal courts which eventually the feds will cave in from as more states pile on. That would make it de facto legal in a few states (as it already is in a few more). The sky won't fall, and then most will follow in some form. I don't see a path where large majorities of lots of states pass decriminalisation or legalisation reforms. Not yet anyway. If California couldn't pass one, we're not getting it through in most any other place.




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