Fuzzy little things that I find interesting.

Political musings from someone who thinks the S-D curve is more important to politics than politicians.

Month: June, 2017

You know you’re old when…

… You’re on a phone meeting with a bunch of developers and they start talking about how long they’ve been writing code–and give dates like “2008” or “2009”, and realize that you’ve been writing code professionally since 1988, before a couple of them were born.


Think of the starving children!

MacLean on Nutter and Buchanan on Universal Education

In yet another negative review of Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America, we get the following quote:

MacLean takes “cheaply and efficiently” to refer to the level of state support provided. Nutter and Buchanan clearly use that phrase to refer not to the level of state support per se, but to the ability of any system to use resources wisely to produce a given quality of education. Her reading makes it seem like Nutter and Buchanan think that “all that matters” is that state support be “cheap and efficient.” But what they are clearly arguing is “all that matters” is which system delivers the desired level of universal education using the fewest resources.

Nutter and Buchanan are using the economist’s notion of efficiency – how to generate a desired outcome at least cost – whereas MacLean can only think in terms of a supposed desire to spend a little as possible in and of itself.

(Emphasis in original.)

This is a subtle point that Professor MacLean (author of “Democracy in Chains”) misses in part because she is not an economist–and professes as such: “MacLean has, by her own admission, very little knowledge of economics.”

But it is also a subtle point many people seem to miss when reading through conservative arguments for or against certain policies.

The goal of economic efficiency is not to reduce cost–but to get the biggest bang for the buck. Efficiency is something we intuitively grasp when we wait for a sale before buying new shoes. But it is something we often miss when discussing public policy–as if there was an unlimited amount of cash floating around, and if we can only pry it from the greedy we can educate and feed our children.

The problem, of course, is that resources are not unlimited. I read somewhere that if you were to liquidate the private wealth of every single person in the United States, it would only fund the United States government for a few years. All the cash Apple is hoarding (all $200+ billion) would only fund the federal government’s $3.8 trillion dollar budget for around 20 days.

Another way to think of the limit on resources is to consider the percentage of people working directly or indirectly for the government. If we want the government to do more, that means more people will work for the government than for private industry–and that leaves us fewer people to build homes, make cell phones, grow food, work at hospitals to care for the sick, and ship goods to and from China.

So the question of just how much can we do given the limited resources we have available is a constant and pressing one–not just for individuals looking for sales on shoes, but for companies and countries alike.

One way to crystalize this question is the following observation: every dollar we spend on education is a dollar less we can spend feeding the poor. If we can figure out a better way to educate our children which saves a dollar, that’s a dollar more we can spend on the hungry.

And economic efficiency is the desire and exploration of ways we can educate the most children we can with the highest quality we can for the least number of dollars we can–so we can spend those dollars somewhere else, like with feeding the poor.

It’s a shame this subtle argument about economic efficiency gets reduced by the likes of Professor MacLean as the desire to spend the least regardless of the consequences. Because conflating the mean notion that we need to cut people off at the knees who need it with the desire to help the most people we can with the resources we have does some serious thinkers a huge disservice.

Though I suspect she doesn’t give a flying fuck. She has an axe to grind.

Today’s quote of the day

… Which stands to reason since libertarians and classical liberals are all about individual rights and view racism as a form of collectivism.

From a negative review of the reviews of the new book Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America: A Taxpayer-Funded Smear Job of Professor James Buchanan

A new species of glass frog was discovered that is so transparent you can see inside.


It’s transparent!

More here: A marvelous new glassfrog (Centrolenidae, Hyalinobatrachium) from Amazonian Ecuador. (Source)

So what do I think of the GOP health care insurance reform plan?

It’s more rearranging the deck chairs on the titanic.

First, you need to ignore the politicians and most of the talking heads on CNN. They came out with their predictions that the GOP health care plan would kill millions without ever having read the plan–since the plan had not been publicized or made available to anyone.

Second, you need to realize that the overall GOP plan to reform health care insurance in the United States is to be done in three phases. And like any plan of attack to any problem, the subsequent phases are always subject to revisal or revision. So the current plan is, by design, only 1/3rd of the solution–and the other 2/3rds may never happen or may be substantially changed.

It’s one reason why, while Obamacare (the PPACA as revised and passed to avoid requiring a single GOP vote) was nearly 1,000 pages–and so complex and pass so quickly it inadvertently left Congress without health care insurance (which they quickly fixed later)–the current GOP bill is 1/8th the length.

Third, the GOP bill (which only concentrates on short-term stabilization of the health care insurance market, which is on the verge of collapse in many areas) has some interesting features.

Specifically the Senate version seeks to reshape the curve to preserve the subsidies to the poor for affording health care. It also seeks to relax many of the onerous regulatory requirements which have made Medicaid a disaster to anyone actually stuck on it.

Fourth, and more importantly, the AHCA (the GOP plan to reform the PPACA) is ultimately fatally flawed–and flawed in precisely the same way the PPACA is flawed, in the way COBRA was flawed, in the same way the Clinton health care plan was flawed.

They are all addressing the demand side of the equation–who pays for health care, who receives health care, the limits on how people can receive health care–and do not One. Fucking. Iota. for the supply side of the equation: who provides health care, and how health care providers can be incentivized to innovate and compete.

Now this is not precisely correct: Obamacare did address the supply side. By decimating small family practices by forcing them into Accountable Care Organizations–essentially replacing smaller practices with gigantic health care monopolies. (It did this by requiring all medical services billed to insurance to bill through an accountable care organization–which is just a hop-skip-and-a-jump to forcing self-employed doctors to become employees of large hospital chains.)

Because we all love the competitive excellence of monopolies.</sarcasm>

But the AHCA, as far as I can tell, does fuck all to address the fundamental problem–a problem that has been going on since we started debating how health care is to be provided in this country since the AMA convinced people to see doctors instead of barbers in the mid 1800’s. We’ve been debating the skyrocketing price of health care since the 1930’s when the AMA invented insurance-funded health care out of whole cloth in the 1930’s in response to a New Deal proposal to socialize medicine.

(Insurance-funded health care, by the way, is NOT what we’d get with a “free market”–instead, it was the ACA’s way of providing socialized health care without government involvement, so the ACA could preserve its control over the health care market and preserve their notion of the country doctor with a private practice who made house calls. It’s why even today doctors are seen as the Manor Lord of the hospital–rather than simply as a specialized member of a team of specialists. This is the 100 year old legacy of the AMA, and it’s by design: so much of the back and forth in the supply of health care has been the story of doctors fighting politicians and insurance companies in providing care.)

The fatal flaw of all health care reform going back decades is that the players have fought tooth and nail against innovation in the health care space. Too many large entrenched interests do not want things to change–and if that means a few million people must die receiving substandard care, well, that’s the cost of keeping the current system as it is.

Price transparency, once seen as a cornerstone of Obamacare? Yeah, fuck you.

That’s because hospitals are required to tell the public only what they charge—not the rates that are actually paid by private insurers. Charge information is widely seen as less useful to consumers than data on the actual prices negotiated by insurance companies, especially because high-deductible health plans sharpen consumer interest in insurers’ negotiated rates. Typically, real hospital prices are undisclosed percentage discounts off their charge rates.

Increased competition, especially from retail clinics (such as Walgreens) which would allow walk-up urgent care–and potentially make first point of contact with health care for many ailments widely available, even in poorly serviced rural areas? Yeah, fuck you.

The AAFP opposes the expansion of the scope of services of retail clinics beyond minor acute illnesses and, in particular, opposes the management of chronic medical conditions in this setting. Protocol-based decision and diagnostic models are used in most non-physician led retail clinics, resulting in a missed opportunity to address more complex patient needs.

Translation: we don’t want you seeing a nurse practitioner if you have a chronic condition–and we don’t even want you going to Walgreens to get diagnosed, even if the diagnosis is to be bounced to a hospital which is better equipped to handle your case.

And that’s assuming, by the way, that the state where you live even allows you to receive care from a nurse practitioner and not a fully licensed doctor. Access to Care and Ongoing Battles Over Scope of Practice. (The states in red in the associated map? They have a lot of rural area–meaning if you get sick out in a rural town, you may have to drive for hours to reach someone who can help you.)

Until you address the multiple problems in the health care system which prevents innovation on the supply side–which Democrats have been historically blind to since denigrating Ronald Reagan’s “trickle-down economics”–we will continue to see sky high prices regardless of whatever sort of demand-side insurance reform we implement.

All we’re doing is rearranging who pays for health care, and who qualifies for subsidies. It’s rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic, assuming that by slight of hand we can allow 100 passengers to sit on 50 chairs at the same time–ignoring the fact that the fucking ship is sinking.

But then, Democrats repeatedly distrust markets–to be a progressive in this day and age requires an inherent and unthinking hatred of free markets. They distrust the chair maker–then wonder why we sailed without enough deck chairs in the first place.

So it makes sense that we continue to refuse to look at the supply side–to consider moves that would, for example, permit Silicon Valley to start innovating in new ways to provide medicine, new and cheaper diagnostic equipment, or to rethink the organization of the health care system as a whole. This leaves us stuck with a model invented nearly a hundred years out of whole cloth to prevent the government from socializing medical care.

Address the fatal flaw, or watch as health care costs continue to rise–predictably–and as health care shortages continue to grow–again, predictably.

The GOP plan? It does fuck all to address this fatal flaw. But so did Obamacare, which makes the GOP plan par for the course.

Thinking of visiting Australia.

And now I’m trying to sort out the logistics of visiting a place so large.

So of course we’re probably going to fly in to Sydney, which is a city of roughly 5.5 million people. Now I’m not a fan of big cities; of course we’ll spend some time in Sydney (because after such a long plane flight I kinda don’t want to go anywhere for a day or two), but I’m a big fan of seeing the small towns and villages.

But the logistics is… interesting.

See, if you superimpose an image of Australia onto the United States:


Sydney is roughly where Orlando, Florida is located.

One web site lists the time it takes to drive between different cities, and even two cities that seem on the map to be “on top of each other” (Sydney and Canberra) is roughly 4 hours. Sydney to Melbourne is 9 hours, and that’s just a straight line haul assuming no stops or sight seeing along the way.

By way of contrast, 9 hours is how long it takes to drive from Barcelona, Spain to Genoa, Italy–passing through the length of the French Riviera and half of the Italian Riviera, as well as part of the Spanish Costa Brava.

Distances in Australia are larger than you think.

The Great Barrier Reef? A 20 hour drive–roughly where Toronto, Canada is located in the map above. Visit the Quokka in Perth? A 40 hour drive–roughly in northern Baja California. And that’s 40 hours with no stops.


(Who doesn’t want to visit with the Quokka?)

So I suspect we’re going to pick a spot to fly to outside Sydney and fly there for the second half of the vacation. Even if it’s just Melbourne, I think I’d rather fly than drive, unless there is stuff to see along the way.

We’ll figure out the logistics, I’m sure. But Australia, you’re huge.

And I’m saying that as an American who is used to telling Europeans that no, you can’t just hop in a car in Chicago and pop on down to Los Angeles in an afternoon.

If Russia bought Trump the Presidency, they bought a pig in a poke.

Trump’s Renewed Russia Sanctions Look A Lot Like Obama’s

The sanctions target 38 new individuals and organizations U.S. officials say are responsible for tightening the Kremlin’s grip over eastern Ukraine as Washington and its European allies push for a diplomatic solution to the country’s three year-long conflict. They’re designed to “maintain pressure on Russia to work toward a diplomatic solution,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement on Tuesday.

The whole “Trump is actively working with Russia to win the election” meme started with an off-hand comment made by Trump about Hillary Clinton’s e-mail leaks and the missing e-mails.

When reports came out that Hillary Clinton had deleted a series of 30,000 e-mails on a server which many believed had already been compromised by the Russians (thus, inadvertently feeding sensitive data to the Russians), Donald Trump quipped “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.”

It was clear in context he was referring to the fact that Russia already had the e-mails Clinton claimed were lost.

But from that off-hand comment (intended to make light of the fact that Russia had been able to tap into Clinton’s private e-mail server and steal U.S. secrets), the Democrats have launched an entire industry within the Federal Government seeking to find some supposed link between Russia and Trump.

I suspect that President Trump is engaged in a rope-a-dope strategy: permitting the Press and the Democrats and a special prosecutor to continue to spin their wheels salivating at the prospect of a Trump/Russian tie (even going so far as not to release the details of his IRS filings in the same way President Obama was slow to release the details of his birth certificate) in order to allow the Democrats and the Press (but I repeat myself) to expend a tremendous amount of energy over nothing.

Think of it. Now that the special prosecutor has found no evidence of ties they’ve gone on a fishing expedition through Trump’s financial records, and start investigating Trump’s relatives. And you know damned good and well at some point some of those records will leak.

And each time the Press and the Democrats salivate at the possibility of a Trump impeachment–treating impeachment as if it were a political question rather than a legal one–they look even more unhinged. And unlike other Presidents who would rather lose gracefully than win dirty, Trump just doesn’t care.

Which is why Republicans voted for him.

This strategy of going after Trump (and looking like a bunch of unhinged idiots in the process) hasn’t exactly helped. In the special elections in Georgia and South Carolina–both seen as an opportunity for Democrats to repudiate Trump–didn’t go as well for Democrats as hoped. Both in Georgia and South Carolina, the anti-Trump sentiment Democrats were hoping to capitalize on failed to materialize.

In Aesop’s fable The Boy Who Cried Wolf, over time, after having the boy cry “wolf, wolf!” repeatedly when there was no wolf–the villagers grew to ignore the boy.

In some ways what we’re seeing amongst the Press is the same thing: we’ve been reminded for more than a generation that Bush is Hitler, that various GOP members are racist, sexist hate mongers–and if left to their devices the GOP would lead to the nightmarish destruction of the country. This charge goes back years and years and years and years.

And at some point the “blah blah blah blah” just becomes background noise.

Remember: at the end of Aesop’s fable, a real wolf shows up, the villagers ignore the cry, and the boy is eaten.

The lesson: if you cash out the trust people have in you in order to advocate your own agenda–eventually you run out of trust, and people will ignore you. Even in the face of an honest-to-God disaster.

Just think of the LGBTQIA protesters as Democrat shock troops and you won’t be far off.

Q&A With The ‘Sassy’ Teacher Of The Year About That Fan And Going Viral

What was President Trump’s reaction to the fan? Did he say anything?

Oh, he loved it! I popped it open when I walked into the office because I’m a very sassy person. And [President] Trump complimented it right away. He said, “I love the fan!” And he told me I had great style. Then, when I was ushered in for my private photo with the president and Melania [Trump] I was told I should put it away. So I just folded it up and held it at my side. But when it came time for the photo, I just asked the president, “Do you mind if I use the fan for the photo?” He said, “Absolutely go for it.” So I popped my fan and did my pose.

Making policy is like making sausage: you really really don’t want to know what goes into it.

But on a personal level it’s pretty clear that President Donald Trump is the most pro-gay President we have had since James Buchanan, the 15th President, a life-long bachelor who lived with his Vice President for more than a decade prior to being President. (The rumor was President Buchanan was gay, with Andrew Jackson referring to him and his “partner” as “Miss Nancy and Aunt Fancy”)

So all the attacks by the LGBTQIA community against a “homophobic Donald Trump” is bullshit concocted in order to make the gay community–who, now that gay marriage has been legalized has little to galvanize them nationally except fear–vote Democrat.

Posting this article for one–and only one–reason: to comment on the blatant fucking stupidity behind the underlying assumption made in this article.

Impeaching Trump is a Heavy Lift

Suppose most Americans were to conclude that President Trump is unfit for office. How long would it take to remove him? If President Nixon’s example provides any guidance, the answer is: a long time—if ever.

Consider the first chart, which shows Nixon’s approval ratings throughout his truncated second term, and also Trump’s approval ratings so far. (All of the approval numbers cited here are from Gallup’s Presidential Job Approval Center.) Nixon’s second-term approval started strong, in the high sixties, but plummeted as Watergate revelations emerged. By the time the Senate Watergate hearings began, in May of 1973, his ratings were under 50 percent. By the time of the Saturday Night Massacre, in October of 1973, his approval was mired in the mid-twenties, never to recover.

Do you see the incredibly fucking stupid assumption underlying this article yet?

Do you need a hint? (Try Article II, Section 4 and Article I, Section 3 of the United States Constitution.)

The absolutely fucking stupid assumption behind the article I liked to is this:

It is treating impeachment as a political question, rather than as a legal one.

You simply cannot impeach a sitting President because you don’t like him.

And that’s the underlying assumption behind this article: it is treating impeachment as if it were simply a matter of gaining enough Democratic seats in the Senate.

What frightens the holy mother-fucking hell out of me is that many Democrats see it as simply a matter of gaining enough votes in the Senate–that as long as we observe the form required by the Constitution, we don’t have to worry about the law.

As if we’re now a nation of men, rather than a nation of laws.

When this happens, buy a gun and some ammo. Because culture, codes and legal rights no longer protect you. All that protects you is the ability to blow someone else’s brains all over the wall before they do the same to you.

Remember: free market competition does not mean making the lives of large corporations cozy and comfortable. That’s called “oligarchy”–and has nothing to do with free markets.

Wall Street Still Annoyed That Competition Forced Wireless Carriers To Bring Back Unlimited Data Plans

Ahhh, poor babies! Being forced to produce a better product for a lower price so you can retain customers, because if you don’t, others will.

Cry me a fucking river.