Sunday, November 28, 2010

Labels don't matter sometimes

Libertarian Congressman Ron Paul has recently called Fed chairman Ben Bernanke a socialist. A letter writer to The Los Angeles Times objects , saying Bernanke is a fascist, not a socialist. I would argue that this disagreement is irrelevant. These words, along with the term racist, have become so overused as to be meaningless. I notice that there is never a definition given to them when they are used—forcing me to the conclusion that the people using them have no actual idea what they mean. My proposal: a moratorium on these emotionally charged words. Let's discuss the issues on their merits, not on whether they fit some dubious label.

Friday, November 26, 2010

My health care 101 lecture to a conservative letter writer

I respond to another of the tired and tedious "Obama's health care is socialism " conservative letters. The writer had compared Obama's health care plan with that of Britain's.
My response:

Valerie Wanket's letter on Nov. 18 said the recent health care law would mirror Britain's system if not repealed. This is a typical, but misguided, conservative analysis of the health care bill. Actually, the two systems have almost nothing in common.

The recent law passed in America provides for an expansion of private insurance through subsidies and an individual mandate requiring Americans to carry private health insurance. It is very different than the British system, which provides universal coverage through government control of doctors, drug companies and hospitals. There is no role for private insurance companies in this system. Such a system has almost no chance of becoming law in America, for good or bad, due to the influence of the insurance and drug companies in our political campaigns.

Ms. Wanket and her fellow conservative letter writers can breathe easy — American health insurance companies are doing fine, even after the passage of the supposedly socialistic "Obamacare." Aetna said its third-quarter net income jumped 53 percent over the same period last year, to $497.6 million. See "Health insurers sit pretty at their customers' expense," by David Lazarus, Nov. 9,, for more good news for the insurance industry. (I personally don't understand why conservatives and libertarians are so concerned about their welfare, but I'll leave that question for another time).

Jack Davis

Her paragraph that I objected to:

If the health care bill is not repealed, it will mirror the United Kingdom's health care and all of its problems. Be assured President Obama, Pelosi and Harry Reid will not have the same care. When Obama said in one of his speeches that he preferred a single-payer plan, was Ms. Landis listening?

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Are we on the road to socialism? My two cents

That's a frequent question asked by Tea Party members, many of whom are family members. I can give them some comfort in this answer: absolutely not. See page 5 from The Wall Street Journal, November 24: Company Profits Rise to Record Annual Rate. Not long ago, The Los Angeles Times reported that health insurance companies are making more money now than ever before. Let's also not forget that the Supreme Court not too long ago allowed unlimited corporate expenditures on political campaigns. If President Obama wants to turn America into a socialist country (which I do not believe) he's failing pretty miserably.

In fact, I would argue the opposite: America is moving to the right (granted nowhere as far as some Tea Party members would like). The recently created bipartisan debt commission is calling for tax reform that would simplify the tax code and lower the top rate to 23%. Whatever one thinks of this proposal (I favor it with some misgivings), this is probably not what Karl Marx had in mind when he wrote the Communist Manifesto. The Federal Reserve is getting heat from conservatives and even a few liberals on their recent QE actions. (I'm too lazy to explain in any more detail). Ben Bernanke and the Fed will be questioned like never before when Ron Paul becomes a subcommittee chairman. It's hard to see how America is on the verge of socialism, let alone Communism.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

You can't do this, but I understand the sentiment

A quote from Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) caught my attention:

There's a little bug inside of me which wants to get the FCC to say to Fox and to MSNBC, "Out. Off. End. Goodbye." It would be a big favor to political discourse, to our ability to do our work here in Congress and to the American people, to be able to talk with each other and have some faith in their government and, more importantly, in their future.

I know, The First Amendment, free speech, blah, blah,blah. No, the FCC can't and shouldn't ban FOX and MSNBC. But I can sympathize with Rockefeller's thinking. Those channels add nothing of value to American political discourse. They exist simply because of the psychological principle called the confirmation bias. That says that people value information that agrees with their preconceived notions of the world much more than information from another side. For example, liberals watch Keith Olbermann because he agrees with them on every issue; conservatives like Sean Hannity because he agrees with them on every issue.

This principle came up in a recent conversation. A conservative family member who loves FOX tried to convince me she watchs it because she wants the truth. My response: "No you don't. No one watches Sean Hannity for the truth. You watch it because it reflects your view of the world." Political ideologues, like all fundamentalists, don't really want to know the truth. As Jack Nicholson says in a great scene from the movie A Few Good Men: You can't handle the truth!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

My (rare)defense of Fox News

Every five years or so, I feel obligated to defend Fox News. I'm not sure why. Don't expect it too often! But Rachel Maddow made such an inaccurate statement in her interview of Jon Stewart, I feel obliged to speak up. She said "Fox never criticized George Bush." That's manifestly untrue. On Fox, Bush was criticized for his support of "amnesty" for illegal aliens, for his attempted nomination of the unquailifed Harriet Miers, and even (less often) on his conduct of the Iraq war.

On a slightly related note, Washington Post reporter Dana Milbank made a good point on Howard Kurtz's show today. He said that it's ok for MSNBC and Fox to have a partisan or ideological agenda, but that they should come clean about it. I agree 100%. It drives me crazy that those networks continue to pretend to be objective. They're not. Disclosure is always a good thing in politics.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Where Jon Stewart goes wrong

Jon Stewart's interview Thursday night with liberal talk show host Rachel Maddow of MSNBC went on a little too long, but there was some interesting dialogue. As I see it, Stewart made two main arguments:

1. There is as much unfairness and irresponsibility on the left as on the right, and

2. The real division in the country is not between left and right but between sense and nonsense, or extremism and moderation.

Point No.1 is hard to prove either way. It's almost impossible to quantify irresponsible behavior. I'll remain undecided on that point and focus on argument No.2, which I think is (mostly) wrong.

Stewart says early in the interview that left/right disputes are really irrelevant, and blames this division of the 24 hour media cycle. He's a thoughtful,intelligent man but I think he's way off here. There's a lot of things about the media that I don't like, but they did not create ideological divisions among the American population. There are issues such as health care, abortion, affirmative action, etc.. that liberals and conservatives sincerely disagree on. Those divisions would continue even if CNN, FOX, and MSNBC went off the air tomorrow. Stewart would like to ignore these disagreements and call for a restoration of "sanity" or "moderation." To be sure, Stewart has a legitimate point when he says we should not demonize people who disagree with us, and he's certainly right that there's been a lot of overheated rhetoric on both sides on the political spectrum.

However, there remains a huge problem with his argument. His call for "sanity" or "moderation" really doesn't mean anything coherent. It's meaningless, feel-good rhetoric. Who's running for office in 2012 on a platform of insanity.I'm curious, John: What is the "sane" position on health care? What is the "sane" position on climate change? For most Americans, it's the position we personally hold. Sanity and moderation are in the eyes of the beholder. Many of you may remember the platform of Steve Forbes for President in 1996? He was for "hope, growth, and opportunity!" Of course—who could be against hope and growth? Stewart's movement is at the same level of discourse. Empty slogans make for poor arguments.