Basic Human Rights

This morning before work I clicked on a link that took me to some commentary on NBC that went along with polling on the health care debate. I was not expecting it to be a video, but it was. (This was found on Chuck Todd’s twitter stream this morning.)

I largely ignored it until it came to the last guy who was white male skinny WASP type listed as a “Financial Analyst.” And what he said struck me. He’s not in favor of Health Care Reform because:

A. He doesn’t believe that health care is a basic human right.
B. It’s a “hand out” to “poor people” instead of a “hand up.”
C. Poor people can “go other places like to the Red Cross.”

Other than being incorrect on all three points, I was just floored by the comment that “basic health care is not a human right.” Where does this view come from? It’s not Christian (or Jewish or Muslim or Buddhist or…) It’s not liberal. It’s not even conservative. It’s just… selfishness for selfishness sake. From a purely conservative viewpoint, making health care a basic human right helps:

– People who are less afraid for their health work harder, create new business and generate more wealth;
– Families because healthy people stay together as a coherent unit and those with less financial strain hold together better;
– Communities because healthy people contribute more locally and are less of a strain on the local community’s economy including the local religious community;
– Local economies because fewer sick people move less sick around, more people go to work, productivity increases;
– Macro-economy because sick uninsured people are a drain on economic resources, spread disease, go to hospital emergency rooms anyway, push up prices all over the place, and reduce work.

We won’t even talk about the liberal viewpoint (everyone should have a right to see a doctor regardless of financial means) or religious viewpoint (Man should give up a little to help fellow Man to reduce suffering). From a purely conservative viewpoint of keeping up the status quo and generating wealth, calling basic health care as a “hand out” is bewildering. It seems to me that the “monied” class would want healthy people to generate them money!

Then I thought about that guy, the guy who played a pure classism card, who clearly believes that financial analysts who can afford $20K a year at a private University should be the only people allowed to see a doctor in the United States. Let’s say he’s — A. White, B. Male, and C. In the banking sector. Reading the statistics from the recession, the people getting laid off most are: A. White, B. Male, and C. In the banking sector. Should he lose his job, and should he not be able to find another one, should his COBRA (given to him by that socialist Teddy Kennedy) run out and he get sick, should we tell Mr. Douchebag that he shouldn’t get hand out and he should go to the Red Cross? My answer: Yes. And him. In particular.

I don’t know where to start with people like this except label them as douchebags. It’s okay to… what, if they can’t afford $100K or $200K in tuition then they should all die in the street? Die of tuberculosis? What precisely do they want?

The problem with the health care debate is that we’re letting these people a place at the table. I know it’s a democracy and everyone gets to have their voices heard but if we can’t even start at the point of basic human decency and agree that all human beings have a right to have a basic alleviation of suffering through simple modern medicine, then where do we go?

I’m not exactly thrilled with the sausage making in Congress and I don’t have huge amounts of hope for whatever legislation will end up being passed, but for God’s sake people. Look at yourself in a mirror.

Corporate Chutes and Ladders

Found on Andrew Sullivan’s Blog over on the Atlantic:

It starts with this Lovely Misogynistic Rant from Jack Welch about how there is no such thing as a “work-life balance” and mostly full of how women are stupid. (Hidden under a paywall for the most part but Andrew Sullivan quotes the good parts.)

Sullivan posts a big rebuttal to this nonsense at: Corporate Chutes and Ladders.

Basically what it comes down to is: if you are female, and you step off the corporate ladder for one second for any reason you will never in your lifetime have any capacity to lead big organizations. Because obviously you are weak. It’s up to the Big Strong MEN! Of course, if a man steps off the corporate ladder for any moment then it’s all good…

Gah.

Less a Movement and More an Industry

“This helps explain the broader problem with American conservatism right now. It is less a movement than an industry. From Fox News to talk radio to conservative publishing houses, it has created an alternate and lucrative media reality that is worth a fortune to those able to exploit it.”

I totally and completely agree with Andrew Sullivan:

I’m a celebrity – get me out of here..

The Revolution Will Be Twittered

It’s funny, watching a stodgy old regime lose power. The more power they lose, the more hard-line the regime in power becomes. The further they are willing to go. The more atrocities they are willing to commit. But, like Gordon Brown said this morning in response to the Supreme Leader’s sermon blaming the Iranian problems on Britain, there won’t be another Rwanda, there won’t be another massacre hidden in the dark. You can bring out the guns. You can bring out the tanks. But the Revolution will be Twittered and everyone will know. Instantly.

Like everyone else, I have been staring at the net trying to follow the little drips and drabs of information coming out of Iran. No one knows where this is going to go, or how it is going to end up. An election was stolen in the most hamfisted, 19th century manner and who knows how many elections until now have, themselves, been rigged. No national election can ever go forward there now, not ever again, not without people knowing absolutely that the system is rigged (unlike here where everyone just thinks it.) One thinks, at least they could have looked up on Wikipedia ways to steal an election before staging one so brazenly but this is a regime who is anti-technology, anti-modernity, and is sticking its heels in the ground and refusing to move forward into the 21st century. It was a poor attempt at a coup to change a nominal republic into a military junta with the veneer of a theocracy to make the pill go down easier.

In normal times, before The Internets, the regime could make a polite fiction of the electoral system and murder anyone who disagreed. But in a society full of cellphones with cameras, no atrocity goes without showing up on YouTube. Everyone who is subscribed to the right channels knows instantly. Polite fictions become ugly truths fast.

What has entertained me, as I insert myself into the story, is the cat and mouse game between the attempts to cut off communication to the global community and the clear and obvious leaks of information getting out. The world is full of groups quietly getting around their government’s oppressive filters to get to the outside. There was an entertaining op-ed piece from Nick Kristof in the NYTimes yesterday about how the Iranians are flooding servers set up exclusively for the Falun Gong. The Chinese are trying to keep the servers up, but there is a huge difference between 12 Chinese dissidents sending a few emails and 400,000 Iranians twittering. The servers don’t have capacity.

How do we, as a Free Society who wants to encourage Democracy, set up the equivalent of a Free Internet for those who need to get out? How do we ensure that people who need encrypted email and encrypted connections can get out to news and services on the outside? Information needs to get out, so how to make it happen? What to do? (If I had a server, I would have put up a proxy box by now…)

As of this morning, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s speech, which boiled down to “we hate foreigners who are doing this to us and my candidate won and if you don’t like it, my goons will beat you up,” was what was predicted he would say. In the face of cities full of protesters and rioters, and having to cling to a poor decision to save face or else admit his complacency in the coup, he could do no other. And now the protesters will be back in the streets. More twitter proxy servers than ever are out there up and humming and it will escalate. My fear is that this will all end in Tiananmen Square Redeux, that the hard-liners will have no choice but to make it clear this was a military coup and the republic part of “Islamic Republic” will be forever over, but that will be twittered and on Youtube, too, in all its glory. Where it will then be run on cable news…

And where that goes, no one knows. Welcome to the 21st century. We have beanies with propellers.

On Judge Sonia Sotomayor

Hispanic!
Woman!
Poverty!
Projects!
Raised by Single Mother!
Appointed by George H.W. Bush!

Everything I have skimmed at the Usual Suspects — some which are suspiciously right-leaning even — have said conventional left-of-center judge, qualified, not too rocking of the boat, essentially a one-for-one swap.

What is fascinating me is the GOP response. They really ought to lay low, say (as John McCain did) “Elections have consequences,” and wait for the next one, since there undoubtedly will be a next one. This pick is an electoral minefield and with 59 Democrats in the Senate, she is going to get confirmed.

But will they lay low? Nah. What fun is that?

Moving Goal Posts

Because I am a junky, I have been watching this “Arlen Spector Defects to the Democrats” thing. I think it’s interesting, not because I think he’ll ever vote differently than he has in the past, but because he stayed still politically but the goalposts of where the Republicans end and the Democrats begin moved.

Parties end. Parties die. The Whig party didn’t survive even though it had some pretty stalwart luminaries among its number — Daniel Webster, Zachary Taylor, Abraham Lincoln. When the Whigs ran up against the ugly wall of slavery, many of its leaders changed parties to Republican (ie, Lincoln) or dropped out of politics entirely. The Whig party became more and more insular until it dried up and died. And it happened quickly.

Sometimes I feel like the credit crisis is taking our modern GOP with it. As several core views have been repudiated — removing regulation of the markets, starving the Government while forcing unfunded mandates, trying to fuse religion with state issues, etc. — the inner core has become more insular and less interested in reality. It feels like the GOP was heavily in debt and over-leveraged in all their policy-based investments and they, too, have discovered that too much debt is not, at the end of the day, a good thing and all their risk models were wrong. But the old model worked in the past, so much like the banks, they are clinging to them for all their worth and not realizing that they are totally insolvent. “Cut taxes!” doesn’t do you any good when people aren’t working and not paying taxes. Cut what taxes?

It becomes this inward deflationary political cycle. People flee and they join this weird new faction called the “Conservative Democrat” or cling to their Independent registrations. Primaries in most States are closed so the GOP is forced to put up crazier and crazier candidates to get that hard right cranky white guy core to vote just so the candidate can get trounced by those new Is and Conservative Ds in the general. I can’t see this getting better. Only 20% of registered voters now identify as a Republican. I’m pretty sure they all live in Utah.

The GOP is trotting out a “rebranding” effort. I want to shake them and scream, “It’s not about branding.”

This sort of brings it around to Arlen Spector who was, no doubt, told by the GOP kneebreakers to get in line or leave. He took a good hard look at this totally wackjob Club for Growth guy and the GOP kneebreakers and the slow dissolution of his Party and he did what the Whigs did in 1856-1860 — took a good, hard look at what was going on and said, “Nah, that’s okay. You can keep your wackjob, GOP. I’m good. Thanks.”

Anyone Have a Primer on Protesting?

It’s been so long since the Conservatives in this country have really gotten up a good protest that they’ve gotten out of practice. I want to be 100% clear:

* You named your protest Tea Bagging without putting it into, say, google, just to check.

* Your protested what you felt was about wasteful spending by buying one million teabags. Did you plan on drinking one million cups of tea? At $4.97 for 100 Lipton tea bags, that’s $50K on not even consumed tea.

* You protested the government running up debt and selling it to China by buying tea bags made from tea (dust)… from China.

* When you went to actually protest by dumping 1,000,000 tea bags in DC it turned out you didn’t have a park permit to protest and thus you were put down by the Man in the form of the US Park Service. (What happened to the 1M tea bags?)

* … and you protested taxation with representation by pretending you were being taxed without representation. Sometimes even dressing up! You didn’t even look up the Boston Tea Party on Wikipedia did you.

Okay, guys? I am seriously not against you protesting at all. Don’t think that I am. I’m good with you venting this way. But I think you need to go back, socialize a bit, run a few web searches, and try this again. Maybe try a few groups on Meetup? Meet at a coffee shop? Start small?

AIG Bonuses

Everyone is putting up their 2 cents about the AIGFP bonuses. So here is my little 2 cents — 1 cent, really, since I don’t have time to pontificate:

– It is pretty bad because these CDOs and credit default swaps are going to destroy the world economy and AIG was the primary peddler of these little toys. There is also a huge scam going on right now with the secondary recipients that makes me cringe.
– However, these were contractually given their bonuses.
– It is explicitly unconstitutional in the United States for Congress or any legislative body to levy an punitive tax to a specific group.
– They should have their bonuses.
– But nothing says the names and size of reward cannot be published on the front page of the Washington Post.
– I agree with Planet Money — the Administration has bigger issues. They should not even give lip service to any issue less than, say, $10 billion right now. $100 million is a tiny drop in an enormous river. Let it go, let the talking heads have outrage, move on.

Stimulus Nattering

I know the stimulus bill argument is over and done and Obama is signing it in Colorado today, but I was struck by a question that I really had no answer to and it was — how are tax cuts stimulative right now at all?  This makes no sense to me but I am looking at recovery.org and it lists $228B in tax cuts.

* How does patching the AMT hole keep people from paying AMT when they aren’t rolling over their stock options and taking out enough in profit to pay AMT?  I asked H&R Block about AMT, since I am starting to get concerned about paying it, and they gave me a handy little ‘your introduction to AMT’ thing which basically said if you cash out your stock options, it will bite you.  But if everyone is taking a 40% bath on their stock options, is anyone cashing them out and thus avoiding AMT?

* How does fixing the rate of capital gains taxes at 15% help… anyone?  If no one is making money from capital gains because all their stocks and funds took a huge bath, how does that get money into the economy?

* If small businesses are falling over one after another after another, and the banks won’t lend to start new ones or keep revolving credit for existing ones, how does giving tax cuts to small businesses help any small businesses?  How does some $100 a week or even a $1000 a week help if what the business needs is $50K in revolving credit?

* How does a tax cut to me — which I will not see because I make too much money — giving essentially me $30 a paycheck — do anything?

These are real questions.  I am not trying to be facetious.  I just don’t understand how tax cuts on $0 moves money around the economy.  The problems are so much fundamental that sloshing pennies around just doesn’t do anything.

I am generally in favor of direct Keynesian stimulus because hey, a job at least gets a paycheck into someone’s pocket, even if it is short-lived, and at the end of the day someone gets a road or a train out of it.  But realistically, I don’t think it will work, either, not without coupled with some seismic shift in understanding:

– How the credit crisis works
– How we got into this mess
– What it means when there is oversupply
– Why retail is massively overbuilt
– etc.

The system has shown cracks that painting over and patching with some spackle is not going to help.  In the last 10 years everything in the world changed and we were busy having two wars and spending ourselves into the grave.

The days when someone can graduate from high school, get a factory job, go buy a house and be content until retirement are very much over.  But how do you tell that to the 45 year old autoworker at GM?  What do you do?

Warning: Politics and Football Metaphors Ahead

Watching the brand shiny new Obama White House is like watching Michigan Football before it started to Drastically Suck beyond All Comprehension: two fruitless runs up the middle and then OH hand off to the half-back in the back field. Two fruitless runs up the middle and then OH we decide to pass and hey that sometimes works. Two fruitless runs up the middle and then check this out it’s the Option.

This generally makes me want to throw things at the TV. Here we are at 3rd and 8 again for the 42nd time this game! Are they going to do something now?

I am picking up the same frustrating vibe. Sure, yeah, they’ll eventually drive down the field but look at all the messing around first. The newest incarnation is the complete so-called “Geitner Plan” that was “released” yesterday. There’s no plan. It’s the political incarnation of running up the middle for maybe a yard. We have a banking crisis, the banks are refusing to lend (still), foreclosures are still hoovering capital out of the market, banks are turning into capital-eating zombies, and the entire system needs a good, solid audit from the top down. We have lots of bankers who are out of work who I bet would like a paycheck to become government auditors.

What are we going to do? Not what Geitner and Larry Summers recommended to Japan (which they eventually did) or the Sweden plan of lopping off heads of zombies. Oh no. We’re going to do… what? Sort of bad bank? Sort of not? Sort of be very nice to banks and half-privatize, half-nationalize and not really bother with audits or try to figure out what we wrong and force the banks to suck up their bad risk and bad bets and close the doors on the ones that are clear failures? Because we most certainly have zombies running around going “Oh give us 6 months and our assets will be worth something OH give us 6 more months and we’ll have it figured out OH just 6 more months really…”

And now Team Obama, who clearly plays by the Big 10 Playbook, will be forced to sort of try another run up the middle and will get roundly thunked for it and then come around and go oh I guess we should come up with something real if we’re going to make the down.

Gah. I still love Obama for his Incredibly Wonky Ways and his ability to craft an actual sentence but come on guys. I’d rather you take an extra two weeks and present something real than whatever nonsense is being picked off the bottom of your shoes.