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Epistemic Closure: ACA Edition

[ 76 ] March 11, 2014 |

Julie Boonstra is one of the people peddling random anecdotes in political ads as part of the Republican campaign to deny non-wealthy people access to affordable health care. Her story was completely false — she claimed that the ACA would make her insurance “unaffordable” but in fact she’d save more than $1,000 a year. Her reaction is predictable:

When advised of the details of her Blues’ plan, Boonstra said the idea that it would be cheaper “can’t be true.”

“I personally do not believe that,” Boonstra said.

Obviously, I don’t blame Boonstra so much as the Republicans cynically exploiting her ignorance.

So how are Republicans responding to people debunking their homages to Betsy McCaughey? With every hack’s favorite non-sequitur, civility trolling:

Taking to the floor, Reid, who is no stranger to the gutter, tried to drag Boonstra and other Americans who have complained about their experience with Obamacare in there with him, asserting forcefully that the ad was “absolutely false” and every single one of the anecdotal “horror stories” was “untrue.”

Heavens to Betsy! Reid is taking us into the gutter! So surely there’s some evidence showing that Boonstra is right and he is wrong? Not so much:

It strains credibility to believe that every single story being told about the harmful impact of the Affordable Care Act is totally inaccurate. As usual, Reid blames those responsible for the message, the individual American citizens funding the effort against the progressive agenda whom the Nevada senator once again accuses of distorting the truth.

Since I’ve seen Republicans operate for decades, it would be hard to imagine anything that would place less strain on credibility than all of their anti-AVA random anecdotes being made up. And the fact that Roff has no actual defense of the accuracy Boonstra’s claim — empirical evidence is such Kantian nihilism! — means that Reid’s credibility is fully warmed up and ready to go.

Psychiatry in Russia

[ 3 ] March 11, 2014 |

I am no expert on psychiatry. I do however have a great interest in American visions of the Soviet Union. Albert Maysles’ 1955 film “Psychiatry in Russia” is a pretty interesting entry in that category.


The Aqueduct?

[ 206 ] March 11, 2014 |

Kevin Drum has a post relevant to the current debate on Democratic economic policy. I agree with some of the individual points, but don’t really agree with the general framing. “Democrats simply don’t consistently support concrete policies that help the broad working and middle classes,” he argues. Well, depending on how much work “consistently” is doing I’m not sure if I disagree but let’s take the points one by one:

Half of them voted for the bankruptcy bill of 2005

This isn’t an ideal example of a both-sides-do-it argument given that it passed with Republicans in control of the White House and both houses of Congress. But, still, it was terrible legislation, a lot of Democrats voted for it, and they didn’t filibuster it, so at least 3/4 of a point to Drum on this one.

They’ve done virtually nothing to stem the growth of monopolies

Neither Obama nor Clinton were very aggressive on antitrust, so fair enough.

next to nothing to improve consumer protection in visible ways

Uh, Democrats created a Bureau of Consumer Protection and Obama wanted to have Elizabeth Warren head it. Republicans are opposed to staffing it in principle. So both in absolute and relative terms I’m afraid I’m not buying this one.

They don’t do anything for labor.

Well, they appoint people to the NLRB who actually want to enforce labor law, which is far from trivial. But, yes, conservative Democrats have stopped card check and this is bad. So half point on absolute terms, zero points on relative terms (where are Democrats at the state level voting to take away collective bargaining rights?)

They’re soft on protecting Social Security.

Eh. I didn’t like Obama giving even nominal support for Chained CPI. But not only have Democrats protected Social Security when in office, but unified Democratic opposition was crucial to thwarting Bush’s plan (which, remember, was not merely to modestly cut benefits but to destroy the program altogether.) Anyway, Democratic support for Social Security could be stronger in absolute terms but relatively has been pretty good, and relatively there’s no comparison.

They bailed out the banks but refused to bail out underwater homeowners. Hell, they can’t even agree to kill the carried interest loophole, a populist favorite if ever there was one.

Both fair.

So we’ve established that the Democrats are suboptimal, not a controversial claim. But what about the positive achievements? Unlike Reed, he doesn’t simply ignore them, but he does yadda yadda them:

Sure, Democrats do plenty for the poor. They support increases in the EITC and the minimum wage. They support Medicaid expansion. They passed Obamacare. They support pre-K for vulnerable populations. They expanded CHIP. But virtually none of this really benefits the working or middle classes except at the margins.

First of all, a lot of this — especially the ACA — is far from marginal in its impact. And second, there seems to be sort of a shell game going on here where the imprecise terms “working” and “middle” class are used to dismiss the impact of Democratic Party achievements. (Drum also leaves out unemployment insurance, which is highly relevant to both the lower and middle classes.) Note, too, that to the extent that the Medicaid expansion has had a more marginal impact on the working poor than it might have, this was because of a Supreme Court decision by a Republican-dominated Court that Drum was inexplicably fine with despite its very thin textual and precedential justification. And, speaking of the Supreme Court, for middle class issues like consumer protection and workplace discrimination who controls the Supreme Court matters a great deal, with Democratic nominees predictably being far better.

So while I think Drum makes some fair points, his bottom line is overstated.

60 years ago this week

[ 43 ] March 11, 2014 |


Three months later to the

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R.I.P. Joe McGinniss

[ 20 ] March 11, 2014 |

When I was teaching The Selling of the President 1968, I sent McGinniss an email asking if I could ask him questions. He responded that he’d be more than happy to answer any I had, as well as any my students might have, which led to a series of exchanges between him, me and my kids.

People that generous with their time are rare, and should and will be missed.

Did the Left Get More Out of Nixon Than Obama? (SPOILER: No.)

[ 126 ] March 11, 2014 |

There are a depressing number of howlers in Thomas Frank’s interview with Adolph Reed.  Much of the content repeats arguments made in his earlier pieces, so I won’t add to what to what I’ve already written.  But Reed’s defense of Nader does not get off to a good start:

My response to them was, the vitriol was a signal that they were looking for a scapegoat because their flawed candidate couldn’t even carry his home state. I mean, if he could have carried his home state he would have won the presidency.

I’m amazed that people keep repeating such abject nonsense with a straight face. I’ll take it seriously as soon as someone can point to anyone making that argument urging the Republicans in 2012 to throw tons of money into Massachusetts and Michigan. But I suppose it makes this inevitable:

That any public figure, especially a politician or a figure in a movement, is going to be like a hologram that’s created by the array of forces that he or she feels the need to respond to. That’s how it was that we got more out of Richard Nixon from the left than we’ve gotten from either Clinton or Obama.

The first sentence is actually pretty much right. But the second, as Erik noted recently, is wrong even on its own terms. Reed’s version is better because at least he doesn’t suggest that Nixon was a liberal. But the argument that he was forced to be a liberal is still wrong. The Clean Air Act and the National Environmental Policy Act passed not merely with veto-proof majorities but with unanimity or near-unanimity in each house of Congress. They weren’t laws that the environmental movement “got out of Nixon”; he didn’t get push them through a closely divided Congress or something. He wasn’t particularly relevant to their passage and couldn’t have stopped them if he wanted to.

But even if we assume that this liberal legislation that passed while Nixon is in office represents more for the left than the ACA, ARRA, the repeal of DADT, etc. — which I think is absurd, and in none of these pieces does Reed bother to try to defend his assertion that no law signed by Obama represents an accomplishment the left can like — one also has to consider what the right got out of Nixon. Where’s the Rehnquist or Burger or Powell Obama appointed to the Supreme Court? What important liberal bill did Obama veto? Taking an appropriately broad view, the idea that the left got more out of Nixon is indefensible, and seems to rely on the tautological argument that if Barack Obama supports it can’t be “left” (and the fact that this doesn’t apply to Republican presidents is instructive indeed.)

And as a coda, my jaw duly dropped at this question from Frank:

The two-party system is so frustrating for someone like me. I often wonder why the Republicans don’t ever make a play for disaffected Democrats. They certainly could have in 2012 and they had almost no interest in that.

This is the kind of thing that happens when you see the two parties, in a time in which there’s an unusually large gap between them (and not just because the Republicans inexorably march to the right), as largely indistinguishable branches of “neoliberalism.” You speculate about why a party that is far, far to the right of even mainstream Democrats on most important issues (economic as well as cultural) has no interest in making a play for the small minority of Democrats who see Obama as the soulmate of Reagan and Thatcher. Personally, I’m inclined to think the question answers itself…

Because knowing which dinosaurs Noah brought on the ark is more important than math

[ 260 ] March 11, 2014 |


The Real Management™ wrote this article it thinks you would enjoy.

Now it is off to write about the True Detective finale, as well as finish editing — and then posting — a few Game of Thrones podcasts.

Hey a Book!

[ 2 ] March 11, 2014 |

Grounded, now available in hardcover from Amazon.  Also at your local bookstore, if you happen to be incredibly fortunate.

Will be ratcheting down the non-stop book PR over the next few days, although will continue to update this page. Also recall the FDL Book Salon this Saturday, 5pm.

A Message to Rahm

[ 33 ] March 11, 2014 |

I wouldn’t exactly call myself a fan of spoken word performance art. I am however a fan of grassroots protests against Rahm Emanuel and his policies of making the poor poorer and the rich richer.


[ 23 ] March 10, 2014 |

I suppose tonight’s all-nighter pulled by Senate Democrats on climate change is a good thing but it also shows the limits of political theater because really, who cares. Which is a good argument as well against spoken filibusters. Everyone just waits for them to be done, forgets about it, and moves on.

New American Manufacturing and the Crushing of the American Working Class

[ 106 ] March 10, 2014 |

Lydia DePillis has a typically great story on conditions within the Nissan plant in Smyrna, Tennessee. Nissan now subcontracts a majority of its employees. Those employees make half as much money as Nissan employees doing the same work and do not qualify for benefits. Workers are forced to toil seven days a week during periods of peak production and are so tired they crash their cars on the way home.

What’s really happened here is that decades of capital mobility has undermined American unions to the point of inability to resist these problems. The methods companies use in their factories in the world’s poor nations to maximize profit and minimize liability are imported back to the United States, bringing working conditions in the United States down towards those of Mexico, Vietnam, and Bangladesh. Even the talk of unionism brings out the specter of capital mobility as a threat. Says Mike Sparks, who represents Smyrna in the Tennessee legislature, “If UAW gets a foothold, they’ll go to Alabama, they’ll go to Georgia, they’ll go to Mississippi.”

Once again, capital mobility is the single biggest factor in the undermining of the American working class because not only does it lead to jobs disappearing, but what jobs are left (or return) are worse because capital mobility also sabotages the institutions American workers created to fight for equity and a fair slice of the capitalist pie. Without some restriction on capital mobility, becomes nearly impossible for industrial workers to unionize and without those unions, it becomes nearly impossible to enact legislation that would improve the lives of the American working class. It’s a terrible situation and it isn’t getting better.

Malaysia Air

[ 116 ] March 10, 2014 |

I know nothing about aviation, but how is it possible in this day and age for a huge commercial jetliner to disappear over a very heavily trafficked body of water like the Gulf of Thailand, with still no clue regarding what happened 80 hours later?

The only rough parallel seems to be Air France 447, but per wiki:

An Air France spokesperson stated on 3 June that “the aircraft sent a series of electronic messages over a three-minute period, which represented about a minute of information. “[32][33][Note 2] These messages, sent from an onboard monitoring system via the Aircraft Communication Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS), were made public on 4 June 2009.[34] The transcripts indicate that between 02:10 UTC and 02:14 UTC, 6 failure reports (FLR) and 19 warnings (WRN) were transmitted.[35] The messages resulted from equipment failure data, captured by a built-in system for testing and reporting, and cockpit warnings also posted to ACARS.

Isn’t Major Kong a commercial pilot? Other LGMers?

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