Thursday, March 25, 2010

Anything Can Happen

The scariest part of the Bush presidency is that he really WAS in charge. He really DID call the shots. Sure, they fed him fake information and only told him what they wanted him to hear, but all the same, he really WAS the Decider. We know this is true. Watch "W" and you'll see exactly how they worked.  They had to convince Bush to do things.  He really was running the show.

America wasn't run by some shadowy cabal. Our lives were in the hands of that stupid stupid man. That's far scarier than any New World Order. People believe in gods and conspiracies because they're more comforting than the truth: Anything can happen, anyone can die, and no one's really in charge. Scary as it is, that's the truth. Crazy Muslims can crash your plane, a lone man can kill the president, and a man like Bush can become president. That's reality and there's nothing you can do about it.

Anti-government conspiracies are meant to bring order from chaos and make sense of the random events occurring around us. But there is no conspiracy. No one's really in control. This shit is real. And the best advice is to just get stoned and not worry too much about it, as there's really nothing you can do to fix it. Just roll with the punches and try not to get taken by surprise. That's the most you can hope for. Anything else is futile.
Oh yeah, and thank the stars we finally got a real president who understands what the hell's going on.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Bad Sources

One of the biggest problems we face right now is that too many people consider the internet to be an illegitimate source of information, while imagining television, radio, and print news to be properly fact checked.  And so you have people who repeat third-hand claims they got from Fox News, and who refuse to acknowledge any fact that came from the internet.  And even when you point out that blogs cite links to support their claims, while Fox News doesn't, you're still assured that blogs are unreliable and Fox News is properly fact checked.

And the oddest part of all: They trust chain-emails most of all, and truly believe that whatever expert purports to sign his name to the bottom of the email is truly the person who wrote the email, and that they're expertise is absolutely unquestionable.  So while Bill O'Reilly's claims trump anything you could read on a blog, emails attributed to Dr. Expert are the best sources of information.

Needless to say, this is all completely backwards, which explains why these people are so seriously misinformed.  And no, it doesn't help when I show them the ease it is to fact check a claim yourself.  They still prefer Fox News' mythical fact checkers over doing the work themselves.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Spring Break for Biobrain

Speaking to relatives, I discovered that the top reasons why Obama's healthcare reform is bad is because:

1) It forces poor people to get insurance they can't afford.
2) Poor people shouldn't get their insurance paid for.
3) People need to take responsibility and get insurance.
4) Socialized Medicine.

And somehow, they fail to see how the first three of these are mutually contradictory, while the fourth expresses a complete lack of knowledge on the issue at hand.  And you end up going round and round, with each of their questions answering the last, and then getting back to square one, and they still refuse to understand what you're talking about; and will insist that everyone should pay for insurance that they can't afford while retaining the choice of not having insurance at all.  And the only thing worse than allowing insurers to continue to screw us is allowing the government to protect us from the insurers.  Or...something like that.

And the best, the best are the ones who still insist that nobody understands the bill, even though I continue to explain it to them in detail.  And after I'm done, I'm told yet again that nobody understands the bill.  And it's still too soon.  The same people who said we were rushing things in August are still saying we're rushing things now.  And I point out that they said the same thing half a year ago, and ask them how much longer this needs to take; and am told that it's just going too fast.  They even remember that some of these provisions don't even start until 2014, yet still we're told it's too soon.

And it's obvious that they're completely out of material.  Fox News did them such a disservice by keeping them in the dark that they haven't the slightest clue as to where a valid criticism might possibly begin.  I'm trying to explain Insurance Exchanges to them, while they keep rattling off about Death Panels.  Death Panels?!  No, they didn't use the word, but they insisted that this was in the bill and all our care will be rationed, and illegal aliens don't have to pay taxes, and it's all happening too soon.

But it looks like the thing's going to pass, so I felt it was at least my duty to try to explain to them what it is that we're about to get.  And in a few years, they'll still be opposing a healthcare plan that never existed, while participating in a healthcare system that works better than anticipated.  And yes, this is what I do on Spring Break.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Why Progressives Should Embrace Reform

The biggest problem for healthcare reform advocates has been that there was no actual plan, as the whole thing was in flux and anything could change.  So we had nothing to defend.  Meanwhile, opponents could cite anything they wanted, from a vague passage being debated to something they invented in their fevered imaginations, and insist that this was a deal breaker that should stop the discussion immediately.

And so reform was easy to attack and impossible to defend.  But, that's just the nature of the beast, and no, it wouldn't have helped if Obama had brought down a plan from Mount Sinai and attempted to do whatever it is progressives think Bush did to strong-arm things when he was in office.  Because Bush spent all his political capital pushing popular bills through Congress, like war and taxcuts, while his unpopular privatization scheme completely derailed his presidency.  As it turns out, getting things done in Congress is difficult.

But now that we've got a good idea what we're getting and Obama's got something to sell, it really looks like we're going to get it.  I'm not sure how many comebacks Obama gets before people realize that he's really quite good at this sort of thing, but it's obvious the man has a bit more magic than his critics give him credit for and I can't figure out why anyone ever doubts him. 

Why Progressives Hate It

And yet, there are still reform holdouts on the liberal side.  And I've had the hardest time figuring out why, because they so rarely will explain why they're holding out.  They'd typically complain about the shittiness of the bill because it lacked a public option, and rarely articulated their specific complaints beyond the generic "It's a Republican bill that subsidizes bastard insurers," as if that was some self-evident point that settled everything.

And I finally found an opponent willing to lay it all out.  A Washington Monthly commenter named Tlaloc has been hasselling us reform supporters, insisting that we're all lying douchebags when we say that reform will end rescission, control premiums, end annual/lifetime caps, and prevent insurers from denying coverage for pre-existing conditions.  But he'd never explain why, though he imagined he did, because he'd complain about the lack of a public option.

Well, I finally got him to explain himself, in a comment you can read here.  But you needn't bother, as it's a long way of saying: These new regulations are worthless because there's no enforcement mechanism, and therefore, insurers will continue to do what they've always been doing, no matter what the regulations say.  Meanwhile, we'll all be forced to get insurance, so they'll get rich while we all get sicker.  So without a public option, this is worse than before.

And that's an awesome paraphrase and the guy could do no better than to quote that the next time he wants to complain about reform, as it's far superior to the "You're all lying douchebags" comments he usually hurls at us.  Because, for all of his complaining about how there are no new rules, his real complaint was that there was no way to enforce the new rules, so they didn't really count.  But...that's because he didn't understand one of the biggest pieces of the reform: Insurance Exchanges.

Insurance Exchanges

You see, insurance exchanges will change everything.  Because if the insurers break these rules, they don't get to sell in the exchange.  And people will only buy insurance that's sold in the exchanges, because it will always be better than anything they'd get outside of an exchange. 

After all, any insurer with a plan superior to what's in the exchange would surely want to be in the exchange, so nobody would be dumb enough to purchase a plan outside the exchange.  It's a self-fulfilling prophcy.  In other words, the entire face of insurance is changing, and people still don't seem to realize it.  But insurers realize it.  They don't want a regulated exchange.  They want the wild west.  But the wild west is over, if we get this reform. 

And so, yeah, sure, a public option would have been nice.  But...the free-for-all is over, and indivduals and small businsess are no longer at their mercy.  Not only will this be better for them than it is now, it'll be superior to what large businesses use now.  Yes, we're still working with the jerks who got us here, but we're no longer at their mercy.  And that's a huge difference that everyone should support.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Liberals vs. Progressives.

Because Republicans have decided to abstain from any actual debate with Democrats since Obama took office, preferring the Take Their Ball And Leave method of governing, Democrats have basically been stuck debating one another; with the key issue being whether compromise is a necessary evil to getting what we want or a deterrent which prevents us from getting what we want. 

And during this debate, I began using the terms "liberal" and "progressive" to differentiate between the two sides, as a sort of shorthand of letting readers know who I'm talking about.  And I recently had a commenter at Washington Monthly correct me on that, as she felt that there was nothing "progressive" about the uncompromising progressives, and would prefer to keep that term for ourselves.  So I outlined my definition of these two terms, in order to better clarify how it is I use them, and thought it might be helpful to give those defintions here.


In my thinking, liberals are people who get things done, while progressives are people who shout that nothing's getting done. FDR and JFK being prototypical liberals who are best known for the things they did in office, while progressives can range from professional politicians like Dennis Kucinich, to professional protesters like Ralph Nader; neither of whom are known for much beyond shouting about how more needs to be done  This isn't strictly an ideological test, as liberals can be further to the left than progressives; but merely about their willingness to compromise in order to get things done.

And both sides are needed, as progressives help push the agenda when we're out of power, while liberals implement the agenda while in power. The only problem is when we get power and the progressives start shouting at us too; which is to be expected, as that's all they really know how to do. It's their equivalent of a liberal setting up a thinktank when out of power, which are usually as inoffensive as they are ineffective.

And you can tell which side you're on based upon your compromise-to-shout ratio. Anything above 100 and you're a centrist. Anything below .01 and you're Ralph Nader. Most of us are somewhere in between.  And in our current debate, the litmus test would be Obama's healthcare plan.  If you think it's a necessary compromise that's better than nothing, you're a liberal.  And if you think it's a Republican trick to get us to subsidize insurance companies and worse than doing nothing, you're a progressive.  It all comes down to your willingness to accept compromise and acknowledge when something is better than nothing.

And of course, it should be stressed that liberals do not believe that all compromise is good, though they'll be hardpressed to convince any progressive of that.  Likewise, liberals mock progressives for having a really lousy track record of getting anything done, as they're more interested in symbolic votes and principles than in actually doing things.  And if you'd prefer your congressman to vote with Republicans in order to teach Democrats not to compromise, you're a progressive.

American Nihilism Update

Just wanted to point my loyal readers to two great nihilist posts I made at American Nihilism.

The first is dedicated to Jihad Jane, the blonde-haired, blue-eyed hottie stealing everyone's heart: Jihottie of the Day

And here's an older one I failed to mention, regarding two Satanic Nihilists who took it upon themselves to teach God a lesson, one burned church at a time: The Face of Nihilism


News Break: Powerful People Like Power

I've got a surprise for you: When people devote their lives to gain power, they're generally reluctant to lose it.  Yes, I know you're shocked, but it's true.  And just as the CEO of Exxon didn't take the job just so he could be ordered around, people don't devote time, money, and energy to get into Congress just so they can be told how to vote and what to say.  Not unless they're well compensated for it, anyway.  But the rest of them want power so they can exert power, not so they can hand it over to somebody else.

But of course, that's not a surprise at all.  I'm not sure how much you've ever considered how thoroughly life-changing a job in Congress would be, but you've got to imagine they're not doing it for fun.  They do it so they can change the world, or feel powerful, or take bribes, or whatever; but they're not doing it just so they can warm a seat and take orders.  Such a thought is absurd.  Yet all the same, many progressives are insistent that there's something inherently wrong when Obama can't flex his muscle and force Congressional Dems to do his bidding.and vote the way he wants them to vote.

And for as much as some progressives could point to a few Congressmen who insisted they wanted Obama to take the lead on healthcare reform, we're now seeing exactly what should be expected: Congressmen who are telling Obama to back-off because they don't like him telling them what to do.  And well, duh.  Obama's not even supposed to be writing legislation, and we're to imagine that these powerful men are going to be cool with him strong-arming them into passing a risky bill on an issue many of them would rather not even be discussing?

And sure, some of these people wanted Obama to take the lead.  But others want to be given lip service, as a sign of respect for their power.  And still others truly want to do the right thing and give us a bill that supports their worldview.  And without any doubt, these second two groups would most certainly have pushed back against Obama had he taken the heavy-handed tactics many progressives wanted.  They would have had no choice.  Nobody likes a bully and for Obama to have stepped in immediately and told them what to do would have been an insult to them. 

It Was the Boldness, Stupid

And so Obama gave Democrats a year to get their act together, got a really good idea of what they'd find acceptable, and is softly strong-arming them into accepting something they were forced into admitting that they'd accept.  And this really was for the best.  For as much as progressives insist that the 1994 election disaster was caused because Clinton wasn't bold enough, it's closer to say that his problem was that he tried to force them to accept something they didn't want to accept.  In other words, Clinton was too bold and it bit him in the butt.  Yet progressives use that lesson to insist that Obama be more bold.  Brilliant.

Had Obama given us this exact piece of legislation a year ago and twisted arms to get it passed, he would have been soundly rejected; not only destroying our chances of getting any bill, but making him toxic to other Democrats.  Just like what we saw with Clinton.  But by spending a full year deferring to Congress and removing the most politically risky provisions from the bill, we're now closer than ever to getting a decent bill passed. 

And for as much as progressives complain that the bill doesn't do what the bill actually does, I think the sausage Obama is getting out of Congress is pretty f-ing awesome.  Hell, I'm not sure you can get a simple majority of liberals at the average messageboard to agree to any particular piece of legislation, and we're just a bunch of like-minded bozos with no more power than our ability to type.  So getting reluctant Congressmen to support a groundbreaking bill is simply amazing.  Hell, even Bush had to use reconcilation to get a second round of taxcuts passed, and taxcuts are popular.  And for as popular as healthcare reform is, the devil's in the details and getting any plan out of Congress would have been difficult.

Congressmen aren't sheep.  They're powerful people who devoted their lives to gaining power, so getting them to relinquish it by supporting something they might not have wanted is a difficult task.  And unless we want Obama to get into the Rovian/Nixonian world of bribes, kickbacks, and blackmail to getting things done, I think this is the best we can expect.  Democracy works because we all agree to share power.  That's a feature; not a bug.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Bush: Flawed by Design

The wanker Mark Halperin has a piece titled How Obama Is Making the Same Mistakes as Bush, and I just can't decide which aspect of it I disagree with more: His assessment of what he imagines Obama is doing wrong or what he thinks Bush's mistakes were.  Because his points are as follows:

Neither had a famous treasury secretary
Neither were effective at pushing good polices
Neither attacked Congress enough
Neither had strong domestic cabinet members

And the basis for these claims is that Clinton had a famous treasury secretary, Bush and Obama didn't do more to attack Congress, and that's it.  He offers meaningless examples of two of his criticisms, and merely asserts that the other two are valid.  And yes, the first and fourth ones are essentially the same, seeing as how the Secretary of Treasury is part of the cabinet; which is probably why he put such distance between them, hoping you wouldn't remember his first point by the time you got to his last..

Bush as Obama

And really, I suppose his view of Bush is the worse of the two.  Because yeah, I guess it can be argued that Obama could have hired more vocal cabinet members, done more to push good policies, and attacked Congress more; only in the way that these things are possible.  Similarly, I could just as easily imagine reading a Halperin piece in which he bemoaned Obama's over-reaching cabinet, technocratic ways, and attacks on Congress.  But at least these things could make sense, even if they don't make sense in any meaningful way.

But this view of Bush as a great, but flawed leader is a total joke.  Yes, his cabinet members were weak, but that was by design.  Similarly, Bush's focus on politics over policy was by design.  And finally, as much as Bush was aligned with Congress, it was because he owned them and they did his bidding; with the examples Halperin gives of bad legislation they pushed being Bush policies, not policies they forced on Bush.  So again, that was by design. 

These weren't flaws that marred an otherwise good president.  This is who Bush was.  He reigned as a dictator who hired hypemen to support him, and if you didn't support him, he'd replace you with someone who would.  And that's not just a failing of Bush; it's the Republican model of the presidency.  They want a strong, decisive leader who commands from above, and these are the sort of mistakes we'll get regardless of what the Repubican's name is.

It's sad that important dopes like Halperin still have this fantasy Bush fetish, in which they regard him as an Obama-like figure who happened to make a few mistakes that ruined everything he touched.  So now we're stuck with historical revisionism, in which the Bush deficits were something forced upon him by his out-of-control Congress and Rove didn't push for the Medicare drug plan.  I suppose once we get around to learning that the Iraq War was caused by anti-war peaceniks, everything should be complete.

Obama's Healthcare Offensive

One annoying thing about the anti-Obama progressives is their utter insistence that we're on an eternal slippery slope.  Any misstep by Obama on any issue is ground that we can never recover.  If Obama doesn't get us a public option now, we'll never get a public option; so it's better to shoot down this plan than ever consider fixing it.  If Obama doesn't hammer Republicans with every speech, he'll never be able to hammer them.  And so we have to go all-out all the time, or we lose every inch we don't nail down to the ground.

And of course, that's horseshit.  You can't unburn a bridge, but you can always act firm to someone you were being nice to.  And that's what we're seeing now, as Obama continues his healthcare reform offensive by saying many of the things progressives were acting like he could no longer say.  And that's why they got all this backwards: Had Obama gone balls-out and demanded single-payer healthcare while defying any Republican to dare oppose him, they would have laughed in his face while taking potshots at the giant target he had put on himself.  Obama would be painted into a corner that mainstream Democrats in Congress would have been forced to hold the can for.

And worst of all, he would have made all those scare stories of the government taking away your healthcare true.  I'm not sure why that keeps getting lost in all this, but for as much as Democrats marvel at the depth of Republican lies on healthcare, many of those lies would have been trues, had Obama listened to progressives.  Because many of these people DO have a radical agenda, which even I have serious issues about.  They want a serious overhaul of our system, and that's just not something I'm on-board with. 

And yes, single-payer is fairly radical; though not nearly as radical as some of the plans they have in mind.  Of course, when these people discuss single-payer, they don't have an actual plan in mind; merely a vague concept.  And it's a guarantee that, were the current reform plan single-payer, these people would be entirely pissed at how Obama bungled it; no matter what he did.  For as much as they imagine they have a firm line in the sand, that line will always be an undeterminable distance from wherever the rest of the Democrats are.  That's their purpose in life: To be to the left of everyone else.

A Decent Solution

Were we crafting a perfect solution from scratch, yeah, I'd seriously consider many of these options.  But that's not the case.  We're trying to craft a decent solution mid-stream, while also keeping politics into consideration, and that's really not the time to get experimental.  And for as much as I'm fine with these people having their opinions, I'll be damned if I let them cow me into submission simply because I disagree with them.  Because for as much as they bitch about being ignored, their real problem is that we're not all obeying their orders.  And in that respect, they're really not much different from Republicans.

And does it need to be pointed out that all these political and policy experts are loudly denouncing Obama for not following their orders, even though he was clever enough to become president, while his progressive critics couldn't even win a spot on their local school board?  For as much as they insist that all voters want is a bold leader who takes an action, these people seem completely incapable of putting that simple rule into effect. 

So instead, they'll scream at Obama from the comfort of their keyboards, because he hasn't taken the dictatorial powers that they imagine they deserve.  Yet as we all know, things would be a lot easier in a dicatorship, just as long as you're the dictator.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Republicans: Their Own Worst Enemy

Carpetbagger has the hilarious story of an RNC strategy presentation that a Democrat found in a hotel which (surprise surprise) announces their campaign strategy of trying to scare people about Obama and "save the country from trending toward socialism."  And I just wanted to point out that this is the exact strategy I said they'd run with heading into the mid-terms. 

For as much as progressives worry that Republicans will point to their Democratic opponents and accuse them of being part of a "Do Nothing" Congress, it should have been obvious that Republicans would do the heavy lifting for us and proudly declare that they're the reason Obama's Congress didn't get as much done as they should have.  Their strategy wasn't to stop Obama so they could feign outrage that Obama got stopped.  They were stopping Obama because they thought people would hate Obama and reward them for stopping his agenda. 

And as much as that made them more popular with the base, it worked.  But anyone who would be outraged because Democrats got nothing done will be reminded repeatedly by Republicans where the blame lies.  Democrats could have commercials in which they merely show their opponent's ad on the TV behind them and say "See, that's why you need to send me to Congress, to make sure freaks like that can't keep stopping progress."

Obama as Enemy

Essentially, Republicans are so high on their own supply that they're going to be running against themselves this year; choosing attacks that help them with the base but offend everyone else.  They're going for a re-do of the 2008 election, apparently unaware that the lead villian in their campaign is still the most popular politician in country.

Yes, it would have been effective had Republicans chosen to attack Obama's Congress for not getting anything done, but fortunately for us, they never positioned themselves in a way that would allow them to do it, or even understood why it would be necessary.  When they claim that America supports them and is angry at Obama, they really mean it; all evidence to the contrary.  This wasn't double-reverse ju-jitsu. This was a thug acting like a thug.  And so all the people who insist that Obama should be acting like a thug completely miss the boat.  Obama's now seen as the good guy who's trying to make the best of a bad situation, while Republicans loudly advertise that they're the cause of the bad situation.  Guess who's going to come out on top of that battle?

And this goes to the heart of a major failing too many people make: Don't obsess on your biggest weakness and imagine that your opponent's going to hit you there.  Instead, get inside the mind of your opponent and figure out what they're trying to do; not based upon what you know of your weaknesses, but on how they're doing things. 

Republicans made it abundantly clear that their strategy was no deeper than repeating the Obama is Evil mantra.  Anyone seeing any more plans than that were merely shadow boxing themselves.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

The New Democrat, Further Right Than the Old Democrat

If there's one thing that both progressives and far-righties have in common, it's their insistence that America wants exactly what they want, if only they weren't too stupid to realize it.  And they're absolutely convinced that if voters were allowed to have someone like them on the ballot, the person would not only win, but would be able to make all the changes needed to fix this country.

And who's preventing this from happening?  The party establishment, of course.  And we're assured by both sides that their party's establishment cares more about money than about winning, and if only they'd stop forcing mainstream candidates on us, we'd get the candidates everyone really wants.  It's all a big conspiracy of party elders destroying our country for their own personal benefit.

But of course, that's nonsense.  The parties want winners, period.  They want candidates who make their jobs easier, and the whole reason they prefer mainstream candidates is because it's easier to sell a mainstream candidate than one on either extreme.  That's the definition of mainstream.  And while I definitely agree that a safe Democratic seat should go to someone Democrats would really love, Red/Purple state seats should go to someone who can win that seat.  And let's face it, that's what democracy is all about.  We elect people to represent us in Congress; not our political party.

And so we see the progressive nemesis Evan Bayh dropping out, and likely to be replaced with a Democrat who's even more conservative than Bayh.  And of course that's what should happen.  Indiana deserves a Senator who represents Indiana; not one to satisfy progressives elsewhere.  That's how our system should function.  And if anything, the problems we're suffering right now are because Republicans are more willing to serve their party's interests over their constituent's.  And the progressive solution is to damn any conservative Democrat and make things even easier for Republicans.

For as much as progressives insist that our two-party system is a drag, it's obvious that they're the ones who prefer party discipline over anything else.  They're not interested in democracy.  They're just looking for a gang war.  And anyone who gets in the way of that war is more of an enemy than the people they're at war with.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Free Tax Software

Oh, and speaking of taxes, just wanted to remind folks that they can do their taxes free online, if they meet certain requirements.  Here's the IRS's link on that. No point in paying for something you can get for free.

Why Taxes Are Complicated

I'll admit it: I ran into a tax problem today that really threw me for a loop.  I just spent the last hour trying to figure out why my tax software was insisting that one of my clients didn't owe as much in taxes as I thought they would.  And I drilled down, looking through the tax worksheets, and then worked them out manually.  And then I got it: Capital Gains are taxed at a much lower rate than other forms of income and this guy sold a bunch of assets and therefore had a ton of Capital Gains.  Yet, when looking at his Taxable Income, I was thinking of the standard tax rate; not the Capital Gains rate.

And so, yeah, sure, the tax code can be complicated, even for us professionals.  But the problem here isn't that the IRS is evil, but because tax rules are written by politicians and politicians have different interests in mind than making things logical.  Plus, it's written with a lawyer-mentality, to make sure people can't abuse the system by intentionally misinterpreting the rules.  And the people who complain the most about the complexity of our tax code are the very reason why they're so complex: Because these bozos are looking for any loophole they can find, and then get frustrated when they can't find any that help them.

And in the end: The tax software knew what to do, so it really wasn't complicated.  While I'll never accept the software's judgment when I don't understand what it's doing; I've found that most discrepencies are human error.  And while I've had a few exceptions when the software wasn't capable of handling a specific incident, forcing me to fight with it to figure out how to get something entered; those are always the rare events that software developers couldn't have anticipated.  Anyone who runs into these sort of problems should hire a professional anyway, while most people don't need one.

And of course, that's why taxes are so complicated.  As with most things in life, 5% of people create 95% of the work.  For as much as people rant against the size of the tax code, most of it won't ever apply to these people.  But our economy is complex enough that we need all those rules anyway.  Thank god for the tax software.