There is one nefarious consequence of the Affordable Care Act, Obamacare to most, that is not mentioned as much as it should be: the damage to eyesight to anyone actually trying to read even a small portion of the act. For example, consider one relatively modest item under the act; reforms to the Medicare payment system. This entails moving from a fee-for-service reimbursement scheme to a bundled-payments reimbursement scheme. While fee-for-service is reasonably self-explanatory, try wrapping your head around the tantalizing concept of a bundled payment reimbursement scheme: the reimbursement of health-care providers on the basis of expected costs for clinically-defined episodes of care. Essentially, it is a middle ground between fee-for-service and lump-sum payments per patient treated. And those clinically defined episodes of care are usually complex and expensive procedures like heart surgery, obviously important in age-based schemes like Medicare.
The concept started in Texas apparently back in the mid 80’s and various projects since that time claim to have saved HMO’s money, did not cost hospitals money, and paid the surgeon and his or her crew, if you will, additional money. The question is, where did the savings come from? Or more precisely, who lost out on some of that cash? Into whose pocket were those systematic inefficiencies going that bundled payments miraculously moved to all the good guys? Did the insurance companies lose out? Between private insurance, HMO’s, PPO’s, specialists and staff, and patients themselves, not to forget attorneys and their litigation, the collection of players – each with their own strategies and often conflicting goals around literally life and death situations – means healthcare’s complexity is overwhelming and continually increasing. Oh, and that additional player not listed just now, the government. Imposing regulations, handing out subsidies to level a playing field that’s really a dense thicket of data, policy and regulations, and opinions.
Behind all this lurks the economic concept of pooling: Based on your predisposition to certain illnesses as well as your age and other health factors, an insurance company may price your risk and associated payments beyond any reasonable capability for you to pay. The opposing concept is moral hazard and the risk that people will take advantage of any subsidies and demand unnecessary treatments. And any trade-off between these two is essentially a political choice, aside from any real inefficiencies that are actually weeded out by, in this case, a bundled payments system. However, there is a third factor and that’s the ever-expanding technologies, including prescription drugs, that are coming on the market. On the market, meaning the billions, or trillions, spent on R&D have to be recouped. Does this factor get gamed as well? Undoubtedly, but making sure all have fair, (not even Obama’s policy advisers are quite going as far as suggesting equal, as of yet at least), access to healthcare still hits the wall of having to pay for the subsidies both to patients and sometimes to providers and others.
And that means asking how much bang for the buck is Obamacare producing? The CBO projects that over the next decade, Obamacare will increase insurance coverage by a net of around 27 million patients. The cost is projected to be around $ 2 trillion in total for the same time period. That’s slightly more than $74,000 per added patient over a decade. That’s a 2015 Ford F series truck plus a slightly used Toyota Corolla. Or a very nice downpayment on most homes between California and New York City. A not insubstantial amount. Is it worth it? For some, clearly yes. For others, it’s a further invasion of big government in their lives, whether they actually are forced to enter the scheme or merely have to pay for it through their taxes. And remember, we’re talking about a government office estimate. It could be better, or it could be a whole lot worse in 2025.
Mitch was mildly positive, Joni stuck to traditional values and refused to get into a dogfight over policy proposals, and Curt, as in Florida freshman Clawson, was relaxed and not a bit angry. Obama had headed to the podium practically bouncing on his toes and pumped and swinging, but the GOP – whether the elite, the new faces, or the rebels – seemed not to be taking the bait. While liberal commentators like Slate’s Josh Voorhees sneered at Joni Ernst’s lack of specific talking points on Obama’s proposals in her response, is that such a bad thing? Do we really need a detailed drag-em-out knuckle buster over statistics that might relate to a proposed law that goodness-knows-what it will look like when and if it survives Congress’ committees? Is the whole partisan process of arguing over how Washington should fix everyone’s lives the only noble response to the latest SOTU address?
As the constitution dictates, the president “shall from time to time give to the Congress information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.” There is no specific requirement that it be in the form a speech and for over a century it was in writing after Jefferson broke with Washington and sent a written report rather than speak before Congress the way Washington had in 1790. He felt the giving of a speech was too similar to a Speech from the Throne and the shackles of monarchy were still vivid in the nation’s collective imagination and certainly in Jefferson’s cautious avoidance of the trappings of monarchism. But the theatrical potential and the ritual proved too tempting, especially with radio offering new opportunities, so Woodrow Wilson brought back the speech in 1913. Whether the current practice of the SOTU address obliges a measure of accountability can be argued for and certainly against. In a representative democracy, the only real accountability -aside from the odd impeachment – comes on election night. So perhaps the real relevance of the State of the Union address is it can reveal the character of the president himself, and rarely the one hoped for by the Chief Executive. The policy pronouncements and their partisan details are soon forgotten, but the tone remains a little longer in the public memory, to the extent that people care about SOTU. Obama revealed that he really does know what’s best for the middle class and the rest of America, and he has a stack of taxpayer-subsidized plans to prove it, and a veto pen if you disagree with him. The GOP will need to formulate a core of clear policy proposals as they move towards 2016, but wonking back at the President over policy on a January night is a tactic they were right to avoid.
Orrin Hatch wants more STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering, & Math – visas issued. In other words, the H1-B visas that are supposed to be for foreign skilled workers to fill gaps in the supply of needed high-skilled workers. There is a current cap, (it is unclear whether the cap includes the L1-A and L1-B visas for executives and employees with specialized knowledge), that is around 115,000 a year. Hatch, induced by tech firms like Cisco, Facebook, Microsoft and many others, wants that cap raised to about 200,000 a year. The big tech guns can’t get the talent they need in America, so the argument goes, and need a streamlined and expanded immigration program that fills their need. Hatch’s colleague Jeff Sessions, R-Alabama, disagrees. And studies seem to support the senator from Alabama: there are more than enough qualified Americans, even in the software field, even when grouped regionally as Bright.com – a San Francisco based firm – did in their study of the problem.
So the evidence suggests the shortage claimed by tech firms may not exist to the extent they claim it does, or at all. It is hardly a leap to conclude that wages is an important factor, as well as a natural tendency to work harder and smarter when you come from a relatively poor country. Oh wait, many H1-B workers had to be trained by their soon-to-be-laid-off American counterparts in order to actually be able to do the work. And it’s not just a question of where you were born that bothers tech owners. Facebook’s Zuckerberg in an interview stated “I want to stress the importance of being young and technical … Young people are just smarter… We may not own a car. We may not have a family. Simplicity allows you to focus on what’s important.” Are you in your late 30’s or older. Are you raising a family? Do you want to work at Facebook? Your chances do not look good, especially if you are born and bred in America. While the nature of working on code and it’s all-consuming demands on one’s time are part of the nature of the software industry, keeping costs down is a big part of their strategy as well.
So do tech firms in fact want an oversupply of labor to ensure wages remain stagnant? And whose business is it? Is it better to allow more H1-B holders and the less visible L holders in to ensure that Facebook doesn’t move it’s main operations to Bangalore, the one in Southern India, for example? The future of work is a fascinating and disturbing topic and is and will be debated by industry lobbyists, academics, and others for years to come, but right here and now it’s Senator Sessions who holds the best argument. You don’t have to come from India or China or Eastern Europe to be the best and brightest, although you might be the cheapest. They are right here in America, in places like Alabama, an enormously competitive and inviting jurisdiction for all sorts of businesses from auto to aerospace to set up shop, and even from Utah, where more than a few grads from say Brigham Young would be most willing to do a great job for companies like Facebook. Software has revolutionized the world, no question. But real people are still sitting at the keyboards and the industry’s push for higher caps on H1-B and L visas should not be a priority. It may be some years before skilled wages rise enough in places like India and China to retain more of their grads, but the US is under no obligation to act as a job placement center for them until that time finally comes.
The White House is worried they may offend Iran. As reported in Politico, Samantha Power, ambassador to the UN, stated “We in the administration believe that at this time, increasing sanctions would dramatically undermine our efforts to reach this shared goal.” The shared goal being the reduction of Iran’s nuclear capabilities. Samantha Power is the Irish-born, Harvard-educated human rights advocate who in the heat of the nomination battle called Hillary a “monster” in an interview with The Scotsman done in London, England. The self-righteous globe trotter has had a great deal of influence on Obama’s foreign policy outlook, having worked with him since his days as a freshman senator. She pulled the rookie into Darfur and argued for military action in Libya – which is good – but she also seems to be behind his current insistence on using the presidential veto against the Iran sanctions that Congress has put together – which is not so good.
The problem of negotiating with an adversary that uses violence and terror has been studied through the analytics of game theory for decades now, increasingly so since 9/11. One can quibble over whether the current regime in Iran is strictly terrorist. The fact is, however, that Iran has supported, financially and tactically, terrorist islamic organizations for decades. That means that in reaching a nuclear deal with Iran, you are dealing with a regime that has close ties to terrorism, whether the current top officials are part of the loop or not. How do you negotiate with such a regime on an issue as vital as nuclear capability? Terrorism and Game Theory, a paper by USC’s Todd Sandler and Rhodes College’s Daniel Arce, states that “each adversary acts on the beliefs of the opponents anticipated actions.” And uncertainty caused by power struggles between the moderate and fanatical factions within any terrorist organization lowers visibility on the part of the government negotiating with the terrorists. As well, in negotiation theory there is what is called the Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement, or BATNA. What this means is do you have a back-up plan if negotiations fail and is it credible? A BATNA is often used in fact as leverage in negotiations and not just a a safety net. Or as Senator Menendez put it, ” a credible threat of future sanctions will require Iran to cooperate and act in good faith at the negotiating table.”
It’s not as if sanctions are a new and radical policy change. Iran has had sanctions imposed on it by the EU, Canada and of course the USA for years now. The current bill would step up the pressure to another level, that’s all. So why is Obama so touchy on the issue? Does Samantha Power have his ear to such an extent that anything that doesn’t fit with Kennedy School of Government policy perspectives gets dismissed out of hand? The President needs to remember who he is dealing with in Tehran and what they have been and are capable of doing, and turn his ear away from his advisor’s whispers just a little.
While the call to Islamic prayer will not be broadcast from the Methodist Church steeple at Duke University, it will resound in the quad outside the chapel where the 700 odd students of Muslim faith – about 5% of Duke’s student population – will pray. There has been some criticism and some reaction among Christians, but Duke’s associate dean for religious life, Christy Lohr Sapp, expressed a viewpoint that is hardly unique in today’s world. “The use of it as a minaret allows for the inter-religious reimaging of a university icon” she stated referring to the Church steeple. It may be infuriating to devout Christians, but it is hardly shocking. Relativism as an ideology and worldview, to use it’s very language, has been steadily increasing its influence among many of the political and cultural elites in the Western world for decades now. As outlined by Msgr. Angel Rodriguez LuÃ±o in his essay Relativism, Truth, and Faith, relativism’s view of faith is one that affirms that no single faith, or religious system in the language of relativism, “possesses an absolute value. All are relative to their historical moment and cultural context; hence their diversity and even mutual opposition. But within the ambit of this relativity, all are equally valid, insofar as they are different and complementary ways of approaching the same reality…”
In other words, under the ideology of Relativism, divine truth reduces to a cultural perspective. Morality reduces to ethics and ethics reduces to aesthetics. Faith, under this view, becomes an accessory to be changed like someone discarding yesterday’s fashions. Think Madonna and her pick-and-choose buffet of spirituality selections. All that remains standing is a quasi- socialist creed that we are all of equal value and our perspectives are all of equal value. And somehow tolerance will emerge from this babble of diversity. The Tower of Babel itself is now seen as a founding myth for linguistic diversity, rather than punishment for man’s hubris. But how tolerance will emerge from a diversity that values violent and regressive creeds equally to the wisdom of Christian and Jewish faiths that helped raise Western Civilization is unclear. Give them time, look at the Church in medieval times, is the response. To compare the Vatican’s policies towards, say, a Galileo with, for example, the Taliban’s reduction of Afghanistan to a near bronze-age society, is of course exactly the type of leveling that relativism engages in. But it’s creed continues and what was a steeple may someday become a tower of babble. Faith is built on divine truth. The Christian and Methodist faith that raised the steeple at Duke did not do so believing their faith was one view amongst many. Let civil rights and the constitution do the work of religious freedom that the founding fathers intended. And let the steeple at Duke University do the work of God that’s its builders intended.
The NFL as a league has tax-exempt status. Should it? Whether income earned at the team and player level is in fact taxed? When the commissioner earns $40 million? Most tax payers would say no, and some economists would say it doesn’t really matter anyway in terms of how it would affect the league’s finances. Major league Baseball’s change from tax-exempt to tax-paying status in 2007 was subsequently deemed tax-neutral by its executives. But that’s an insider’s view of the cost of a change in tax policy. The real question is the ethics portrayed by the league, both in terms of sports and in terms of economics. Cleary, the NFL is a for-profit league and should be taxed and should avail itself as it surely will of expensive counsel, legal and financial, to minimize that tax. But should it’s star players be sheltered when engaging in violent behavior?
While the average tax-paying fan is angry at the tax-exempt status of the NFL given the spoils divvied up among owners (arguably), players, management and expensive legal counsel as well as agents, they also want winning teams. Cheats are scorned, but losers are scorned even more. In professional sports, players and coaches and staff all get paid to win. It’s even an obvious statement to say that college football is essentially professional, if not profitable. And football is a violent game and players do get concussions which may affect their behavior. All true, so what should we expect from our team’s players, and staff? Should they display Olympian ideals, whatever that means nowadays? Or is the anger simply that the average taxpayer feels that the average NFL-er (or any other professional athlete) is overpaid? The NFL seems to be trying, belatedly, to discipline players that are violent, especially in domestic abuse situations, and that may help, but is the underlying issue really that the fan loves the game but is tired of the individual player? What is a good, but not outstanding, linebacker say really worth? Or a better-than-average QB? And how does the owners penchant for overpaying distort the market?
A Winner-Takes-All market is defined as one where the best performers reap an outsized share of the rewards available and the remaining competitors are left with very little of those rewards. The definition comes from Alan Krueger, Princeton economist and departing Obama advisor and his original solution was a progressive consumption tax that would hit luxury goods hard. That would not mean taxing professional football itself at high levels – pro football is hardly a luxury good. It would mean hitting, say, Jay Cutler’s purchase of, for example, a Lamborghini with a steep sales tax. Is that fair? Has Jay Cutler earned the right to buy as many toys as his enormous bank account will allow? Greg Mankiw at Harvard would say yes he has. The innovation that Cutler arguably brings to a national pastime means he’s worth every penny and should not be discouraged from innovating by prohibitive taxes. Sports is professional at his heart nowadays. Whatever pure passion for the game itself exists, and it clearly does, it is framed by the laws of economics. So choose your law, but do not expect amateurs or innocent ethics.
While it would be tempting to think that Republican voters angry with Boehner’s House leadership, would jump at the chance for direct democracy and let their representatives swing, politically, in the wind, to think that might be a mistake. A survey of comments across articles dealing with Boehner’s third term as Speaker reveals a few points in common and clearly one of them is that angry voters merely want their representatives to do their job after being elected, or re-elected, and not betray the promises made on the campaign trail. That simple. Live up to your obligations, live up to what you defended on the stump. And the anger outside the beltway and the actions within the beltway that provoke the anger, like Boehner’s apparent retaliation against those who voted against him as Speaker, boils down to anger over tactics that betray longer term strategic goals. The goals like revoking Obamacare and reversing amnesty for illegals, get promised but hard nosed legislative action to follow through is never as quick or complete as expected by conservative voters. And the self-justifying Congressional tactics are so tainted by evidence that it’s just insider power grabs that it can easily invoke detached skepticism in voters.
p>This is all ridiculously obvious, but it matters a lot. It matters because voters have the responsibility to remain committed to the causes that motivate them to take the time and trouble, and sometimes resources out of their own pocketbooks, to try and effect a change in how their society functions. You lose the anger, you lose the commitment, and nothing changes. So it is fascinating how, in an article published a little over a year ago in The Atlantic, Theda Skocpol breathlessly reveals to the magazine’s shocked readers how “at the grassroots, volunteer activists formed hundreds of local Tea Parties, meeting regularly to plot public protests against the Obama Administration and place steady pressure on GOP organizations and candidates at all levels.” For Skocpol, exercising your constitutional right, nay duty, to free expression in a public forum is conspiracy. The kind of expression that is political speech about ideas and laws and how your country is run. The best kind of expression. The headline of that article was Why the Tea Party isn’t Going Anywhere. It barely rises to the level of irony that what is denounced by Skocpol is, in fact, a great, and sometimes lacking, virtue of the American political system: ground-up, grassroots activism, whether you like their causes or not. Speaker Boehner is starting to understand how real that anger is.
Do you need a good, bracing debate to finish off 2014 and start 2015 in fighting form? One that includes everything from state rights,through the limits to federal government, the future of the global economy and America’s role in it, passing on to inequality, education, and even whether tests are accurate measures? Why then, look no further than Common Core … again. It seems that Common Core will be an almost-third-rail topic in the next elections, especially within the GOP. Touch it and your chances of winning the party leadership could die, but touch it you must at some point if only with an accusatory finger, crooked in condemnation at what started as a science project and has by now morphed into one mighty beast.
Jack Hassard, writing in the National Education Policy Center’s website, seems to come from a fairly liberal perspective, but his criticisms of, or his quoting of studies that criticize, the PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) results raise some interesting objections to Common Core and it’s obsession with American students’, especially 12th graders’, rankings. Quoting Iris Rotberg of George Washington University, Hassard points out the lack of strong statistical correlation between global competitiveness rankings and PISA results. Unsurprisingly, the US ranks far better in global competitiveness, and factors, as laid out by Rotberg, like incentives for innovation, tax rates, health care and retirement costs, government subsidies, protectionism, and intellectual-property rights, among others, matter far more than average science and math scores across America. No kidding. America is an enormous country in every sense of the word. Diverse, widespread, and seething with creativity. Very unlike top-ranked PISA star Singapore: a tidy relatively homogenous little island where freedoms are limited in many ways that Americans would find unacceptable. Science and math matter, a lot. But the best way to solve any reasonable failures, measured by far more than PISA rankings, is best not tailored in one standard straightjacket, made in D.C. Only the broadest guidelines should come from the federal government. Let each state be held accountable by its own voters on how well it handles education. Think about it. That means 50 fun debates on Common Core, and more importantly, 50 solutions to math and science shortcomings that might actually work. 50 solutions that will likely resemble each other far more than they differ. To ignore the problem of science and math under the guise of defending against an attack on state rights seems stubborn and short sighted. To use Common Core as a trojan horse for everything from imposed egalitarianism to politically correct cultural teachings is a frightening solution. Somewhere between those extremes, each state should help their students improve, reasonably and measurably, in science and math in the best way they see fit.
It’s interesting how closely linked the EPA is to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Do you want information on what constitutes a wetland, perhaps because you may just have one on your own property? Why the ACE has a Regional Supplement “which provides technical guidance and procedures for identifying and delineating wetlands that may be subject to regulatory jurisdiction under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act, or Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act.” That’s especially interesting seeing this coming April, just in time for spring flooding, the EPA will come out with updated rules that will define which specific waterways the agency can regulate, cleaning up the details, if you will, of a Supreme Court ruling that was left, perhaps intentionally, vague. While it might be a touch paranoid to expect to hear the rumblings of an ACE convoy coming up your driveway in order to disembark, identify and delineate a possible wetland lurking somewhere on the land that you bought and paid for, the rule changes do mean that the EPA, and it’s partner the ACE, will have the regulatory power to define, and enforce, how your land, or at least the wetter part of it, is to be managed. And that will mean resources to do all that delineating and accompanying paperwork, and a part of your taxes going to fund those resources and all that additional paperwork.
Rep Lamar Smith, R-Texas, raised the warnings last summer and seems to be leading the charge against the proposed rule changes and the additional paperwork and cost they would almost certainly impose on private property owners as well as businesses. A series of EPA maps – whether they are detailed enough is debated by EPA spokespeople – gave the game away according to Smith, who fears that property rights will become even more conditional and subject to further EPA regulations. Will the Government’s considerable surveillance systems be used to map out the nation’s waterways, including small streams and temporary wetlands? Spy satellite data bases being cross referenced to nail down whether your land should be ground surveyed by Army Corps Engineers? It seems exaggerated, but hardly impossible. And if the EPA rule changes do lead to a rush to further survey and classify private property across the USA, you can be sure that a rush of legal challenges will also follow, perhaps ending up again on the doorstep of the Supreme Court. Whatever challenges to the EPA’s authority that SCOTUS then takes up will be, yes, a watershed decision. That’s because any EPA rule changes that broadly define streams and wetlands will be a further step towards including private land in the public commons. Clean water matters a lot, but a power grab by bureaucrats is an expensive, aggressive, and inefficient way of achieving, and especially enforcing, measurable progress on clean water. Let’s hope, against hope perhaps, that the EPA rule changes coming this April are reasonable and flexible.
Wisconsin Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald’s father Steve, was Sheriff of Dodge county in Wisconsin, having moved his family from Chicago. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s father Llew Walker was a reverend, a Baptist Minister in fact, having moved his family from Colorado to Iowa, and finally Wisconsin. And yes, the sheriff’s son is not bothered at all by a potential shoot-out, that would be political and civic please, with unions and Democrats over right to work legislation in Wisconsin. The reverend’s son, however, with his hand on a potential FEC filing, wants to avoid unseemly conflicts and get good things done, like cutting taxes. How embarrassing that such internecine clashes would so quickly emerge.
Well, not really. As Senator Fitzgerald sees it, there is a limited legislative window available to get right to work legislation passed and assure employers that Wisconsin is an appealing jurisdiction to open or expand a business in. As Governor Walker sees it, tax cuts are a better way of achieving the same goal, without the noisy protests that will inevitably ensue, both inside and outside the state legislature. Both points of view make sense, but the suspicion that Walker may be preparing a bid for the GOP nomination casts doubt on the reasons for his approach. While a smooth legislative session that achieves measurable, if discrete, goals might be a way to avoid gridlock, sometimes gridlock is not only unavoidable but necessary. In a conflict as fundamental as right to work legislation vs. union rights, a legislative stalemate, (even if it is a manufactured one given the GOP majorities in Wisconsin), can be the precursor to more fundamental change. And change is always resisted by whatever groups or institutions feel threatened. It might not play well for Governor Walker’s supposed presidential ambitions to show his state in legislative turmoil, or at least engulfed in noisy protests, but it may pay off in the longer run in terms of added jobs, something most people in Wisconsin would support. Will the sheriff’s son have his way? That depends on how effectively the reverend’s son can convince his own party. Both want Wisconsin to work, in the broadest sense of the word. Let’s see if they can work something out.
Wishing a happy and healthy New Year to all. 2014 had been stuffed with political changes and dramas and a control shift in the Senate. Another year dusted and a new year with another whole round of changes. We hope 2015 is a good one!
The Spanish-American War lasted 13 days short of 4 months. The Teller Amendment passed the Senate a few days before the war began in April of 1898 by 7 votes, the same number as the number of conditions imposed by it’s legislative successor, the Platt Amendment, on Cuba 3 years later in 1901. Over a century later, what was attempted, and what was prohibited within Congress still affects America. As Obama seems to be readying the ground for another executive action on one of his favorite tactics, a quick military retreat from various spot around the world, in this case from Guantanamo Bay, or Gitmo, the ghosts of those actions over a century ago still live. The Teller Amendment placed the brakes on annexation of Cuba before the U.S. went to war. It may have been mainly motivated by Henry Teller’s defense of the beet sugar industry in his home state of Colorado against a feared avalanche of Cuban cane sugar should the island have indeed been annexed.
Both the Platt Amendment and the 2nd occupation of Cuba during the period 1903 – 1906, revolved around the American preoccupation over what direction a new Cuban government would take. Their worries about a revolutionary neighbor were well founded if a little premature, to say the least. It would take the Russian Revolution and the full emergence of the Soviet Union to create a worldwide framework in which a revolutionary Cuba would no longer be just a mid-sized Caribbean nation turning towards left-wing politics, but rather a key player in the strategic life and death struggles of the Cold War. Did Eisenhower, did the Kennedy brothers in October of 62, curse Henry Teller and his beloved beet sugar industry? Likely they did, but Cuba has never presented easy solutions to the US Congress and Executive, unlike Puerto Rico, which despite a few radicals and the bullets they fired inside the Capitol Buildings, seems to be perfectly comfortable with its status.
Cuba, unlike Hispaniola who asked to be annexed in the 19th century and arguably Puerto Rico, wanted their own government from the start. And boy did they get it. But from the start, the entanglements between American and Cuban interests were as dense as, well, a tropical sugar plantation. Batista’s coup, or golpe de estado, was planned, where else, in Florida in the 30’s after a half-dozen or so interventions earlier in the century by the US in the island’s chaotic affairs. If to John Quincy Adams, Cuba had represented an apple which would gravitate towards America once freed of the shackles of Spanish rule, to others it may have appeared at times like a forbidden fruit mistakenly savored by American business interests. which ended up owning a majority of the islands sugar industry by the 20’s, Teller’s worries notwithstanding. But the arms length dominance backfired in the late 50’s and what would have almost certainly never occurred under annexation, became a nightmarish reality: a communist, Soviet-backed nation 90 odd miles off the Florida coast.
Guantanamo existed, in that context, as a suddenly vital outpost, because of the close connections almost immediately established by Castro and Guevara with the Soviets. The Soviet Union is gone, precisely because of America’s commitment to a military presence around the world, as well as the unsustainability of a command and control marxist economy over the longer run. Russia nowadays is far from an ally, but is no longer committed to supporting left wing insurgencies around the globe. And Cuba remains marxist, remains under the grip of the Castros, remains denying even basic freedoms to the overwhelming majority of its citizens. So a retreat from Guantanamo is a victory for the Cuban regime, which will be played as a glorious vindication of Fidel and Raul’s policies and applauded by sympathizers in academia and the media and elsewhere from the comfort of their democratic, first world abodes. And the average citizen of Cuba will still be waiting for something better. Whether they say it out loud or not.
While Fox New’s Greg Gutfeld is obviously right about the media’s sensationalizing the police protests, it is not a trivial issue and is one that needs to be covered. While BBC World and other international, as well as local and domestic media head to any protest with an andrenaline-charged glee as if they were heroically uncovering a dark truth, there is a problem and it is especially a problem because police are dying. The point is not merely to place the issue in context, although inflaming an issue does tragcially endanger law enforcement and other first responder’s lives is irresponsible to say the least. The problem is the perception among parts of the African American community that they are being targeted is a reality, and needs to be covered, even if the perception is not always accurate and encourages the breakdown of law and order. How to do that in a way that does not justify the looting is not easy, but saying the issue should take a back seat to Ebola or ISIS does not solve what is a real problem.
In a nation of over 300 million, that a policeman has to shoot to defend himself, or herself, is statistically inevitable, perhaps even on a daily basis. It’s what happens afterwards that causes the real problems. Don’t like a grand jury ruling? Go shoot a police officer seems to be the sickening response. That it is a few lone psychotic, violent individuals that actually pull the trigger seems not to matter at this point. The evidence, for example, seems clearly to suggest that Michael Brown charged the officer and had fought with him, trying to gain control of his firearm. That does not matter to his rioting defenders. What is being indicted on the streets is the rule of law. And the violence entrenches opposing sides, with police logically more reluctant to respond to calls and protesters looking for any excuse to trash and burn, and lone wolf crazies, looking to shoot the men and women who place their lives on the line to uphold the law. In order to avoid sensationalizing the issue, should we, for example, ignore the lives of the two police officers in New York who were gunned down as they ate lunch in their squad car?
Greg Gutfeld would never say that of course. So it seems a little late to quibble about media bias. Of course there is bias, much of it anti-police. Of course it endangers lives of first responders. Of course it can have dangerous implications. Moving forward, enacting police reforms that do not shackle their ability to do a dangerous, often thankless job will be necessary, whether it seems an impossible task at the current time or not. The other part of the solution is making rioters understand that the rule of law is the only way forward and that rioting and looting will be punished. That, of course, is already being done. And inbetween the gleeful sensationalism, those stories also have to be told. I’m sure that Gutfeld would say that’s exactly what he’s doing, but he knows that freedom of the press comes with the risk of excess. The best answer to sensationalism, especially dangerous sensationalism, is to take on the same story being sensationalized and tell it in a better way.
The holiday season brings thoughts of joy and gratitude, and there’s no better time to express our thanks and sincere appreciation to the Political Derby Community for your amazing dedication and contributions.
We wish everyone and their families a very happy and safe holiday.
It’s good to know that Sony Entertainment is following Japan’s pacifist policies in swiftly obliging North Korean interests and canceling the release of The Interview, the comedy about assassinating the Stalinist state’s leader. Nice move. North Korean cyber terrorists are clearly behind the hacking of Sony Entertainment and the 9/11 style threats to any theatre that showed the film, an impossible threat to carry out according to security experts, convinced the corporation to run for cover. It’s main stars Seth Franco and James Rogen are practically in hiding, and the First Amendment Rights so valued by Hollywood, especially in matters like explicit sex and on-screen violence, are somehow missing in action from the quick retreat. It is hard not to sympathize with the perhaps irrational fear that Rogen and Franco must be feeling, but if you are going to do a brutal comedy about North Korea, you would be silly not to expect some sort of screeching response from the regime.
As a post-modern exercise in the absurd, the script when we actually get to see it might be amusing, but as a political fact that produces reactions, it is something more real, more sweaty and in your face. Hopefully Franco, Rogen, and others associated with the film will change their minds and stand up for their creation, whatever its artistic merits. If they don’t they will raise the suspicion that their film was an adolescent prank that blew up in their faces, an awkward turn of phrase given the admittedly absurd threats. Freedom of thought carries, or should carry, the burden of responsibility, and hopefully that responsibility leads the thinker to certain limits on their expression. And if the thinker chooses to stretch those limits, they also bear the responsibility for at least being conscious of the effects their thought, expressed in speech or art or any other form, produces in society at large. It is seems to be common currency for the last few decades to label that burden of responsibility as self-censorship or repression, or some form of archaic taboos. The creators of The Interview should bear that responsibility with enthusiasm and spunk in the face of yet another seemingly psychotic threat from the regime in Pyonyang.
Nothing like an English Conservative Euroskeptic MEP – that would be member of the European Parliament – to advise the GOP on how to gain Latino voters. Nothing like an English Conservative Euroskeptic MEP who was born and raised in Peru to advise the GOP. And there’s really nothing like an English Conservative Euroskeptic MEP from Lima Peru to tell the GOP that Canada has the answers when it comes to the future of Latino voters in the US. Daniel Hannan in an effervescent piece in the Washington Examiner, relates how the Conservative party of Canada has managed to improve its image amongst immigrant voters there and that they, especially former minister of citizenship Jason Kenney, now minister of employment and social development, managed to change the party’s image among immigrant voters by providing early contact, if you will, through various initiatives that brought recent immigrants into contact with the party and helped dispel negative images that the Liberal party had actively encouraged.
Does any of this help the GOP? Does Canada have over 200,000 illegal immigrants (a proportionately similar amount) mostly from a neighboring country that has had a confrontational history with Canada and is currently being ripped apart by drug wars? Does Canada have to maintain an armed vigil over any of it’s borders to ensure that an endless stream of refugees willing to break the law do not overwhelm its ability to secure its borders? The answer is no, and in fact the Conservatives main appeal among immigrant groups is among Chinese immigrants to Canada, many of whom do not arrive “penniless” in the words of Hannan, but rather are successful investors and businessmen who have accumulated considerable wealth in China and subsequently parked a portion of it in cities like Vancouver and Toronto. The GOP needs to be clear on what its policy is regarding illegal immigration, and it is clear that however that policy is articulated in the new congress, it will annoy the great majority of immigrants, illegal and otherwise, from Mexico. Can a grassroots campaign help? Perhaps, but if applying the rule of law is seen as an affront by those who deem it their right to enter the US by any means they can, then getting close to Mexican immigrants may be of little use. Latino voters are, of course, a broader group, and here maybe the GOP can and should spend some effort. But a panicky courting of Latinos due to demographic fears seems the wrong way for the GOP to try and get re-elected.
It’s good to know that worker health and safety advocates are looking out for porn industry actors. A Los Angeles county law that requires actors in X-rated films to wear condoms was promoted by the Aids Healthcare Foundation and its president Michael Weinstein hoped that, in the case of a further appeal by Vivid Entertainment, which lost a challenge in the lower courts, that the courts would “rule once again in favor of worker safety.” In other words, the issue is one of health and safety regulations essentially, and obscenity is for all intents and purposes irrelevant. There are limits to the First Amendment of course, but they are being pushed and stretched and broken with each passing decade, under the banner of “community standards.” The Miller test from the Supreme Courts’ 1973 case seems quaint today: “the average person, applying community standards, would find the work as a whole appeals to the prurient interest.” Give me a break. The porn industry exists because it caters to the prurient interest. The second part that assures the work does not depict offensive acts against state laws still carries weight but the third clause that the work lacks serious artistic, as well as literary, political, and scientific value is laughable. You rent, buy, or download porn for prurient reasons. There is no other value, nor is there intended to be.
But the overwhelming preoccupation with preserving free speech trumps all when it comes to porn. Even laws that attempt to defend children from the horrors of child pornography have to ensure they do not offend the free-speech absolutists: as in Ashcroft vs The Free Speech Coalition, which invalidated the Child Pornography Prevention Act, because it allowed prohibition of child pornography that did not depict an actual child. Think about it. For it to be prohibited you must have a small child, defenseless and under the power of very sick adults in some sort of sexual situation or a depiction of such a situation. An absolutist defender of all forms of free speech is an idiot and a dangerous idiot. Society’s wisdom should consist in choosing where to defend free expression and where to censure. We do so with hate crimes, with discrimination in its many guises, and with defamation, with far too much concern on the latter. But when it comes to pornography, the defenders of absolute free speech see themselves as knights-errant in a Manichean struggle of well, absolutes. But they are mistaken, delirious in their self-appointed struggle. Placing limits on pornography does not mean the Taliban is around the corner in Los Angeles or Nevada, or Texas or New Jersey, or any state. It means a considered choice by society, made through the legal system, to place limits on something that can be both degrading and dangerous. I suspect the founding fathers would recoil at how the legal machinery they set in motion has arrived at rulings like Ashcroft vs. The Free Speech Coalition. But we have no choice but to use and turn that machinery towards something more just, more protective of families and children and to keep clear limits on X-rated entertainment for consenting adults. Because it never stops at consenting adults. Within the industry, and within society at large, porn is, in the words of Martin Amis, an attack on love and a repudiation of the significance of sex. The industry exploits women, drug use is a problem, and AIDS can and does infect the participants. And that’s just in the adult world. Daddy on the laptop viewing hard core porn. Young teens using the language of pornography, both physical and verbal. And worse. There is no liberation, no freedom from Victorian constraints, only instant gratification and alienation from real, nurturing relationships, and degradation in small and large degrees. Someday we will have justices that realize and advocate this.
Making headlines, a 14-year old teenager, shot and killed one of 2 home invaders. The boy was at his grandmother’s house visiting, when they heard someone trying to enter the house. There were two suspects, and the boy shot and killed one of them and the other ran off. The police have confirmed they arrested the second suspect.
This young boy quite possibly saved his grandmother’s life. It’s an unfortunate incident, but he did the right thing to stand his ground and protect his own. It’s an example where we can be grateful for the 2nd Amendment and to have a brave boy in the community. Sadly, the grandparents’ home has been burglarized before, and this teenager has had to deal with gun violence before.
It was reported that his father was gunned down outside his automotive shop back in 2008. The community is rallying around this family as they deal with another violent crime, but fortunately this time none of them were hurt.
The suspect killed was 18 years old, and the suspect now in police custody is 22 years old. It’s a tragic event, but also incredible for this young boy to protect his family. Amazing.
Without the nefarious nine, FOIA may never have seen the light of day. In other words, without the 9 exemptions, especially nasty number 5, the Freedom of Information Act, passed into law on July 4,1966 by a reluctant President Johnson, might have instead been vetoed or died in some committee. In 1974, a willing President Ford was convinced instead to veto that year’s Privacy Act, (which contained amendments that strengthened FOIA), by chief of staff Rumsfeld and deputy Cheney with legal advice from government lawyer A. Scalia. Congress overrode the veto and the act became law. And as we end the year with a Senate approved bill to reform FOIA now waiting for House approval, the blushing bride in this case is Boehner, prudishly reluctant to expose government secrets that may prove difficult for, well, government. At least that’s the rumor.
Is this reluctance, whether on the part of LBJ, Rumsfeld et al, or any politician or more likely bureaucrat nowadays, merely vested self-interest? The current proposal is hardly radical. It would bring to an end exemption number 5 which is so broad as to allow any government official a handy excuse not to comply with any request for information they choose not to, for whatever reason. So the question is who decides how necessary secrecy with respect to government produced documents and other information is? The tendency is for possessive, bureaucratic ownership of any information they, or any particular government agency, may have had a hand in creating. As anti-secrecy crusader Steven Aftergood states, “the secrecy system does not exist in some kind of abstract isolation. It is an ordinary bureaucratic artifact that is subject to pressure on many levels.” That means the usual foibles of human nature which can and usually do lead to power and greed fueling corruption of various kinds. The quite liberal Aftergood also suggests the boundary between secrecy and transparency is constantly shifting due to changing national security priorities. This does make sense. When combined with U of Chicago’s Geoffrey Stone’s assertion that government secrecy should be presumptively illegitimate, and only authorized when there is a clear and overriding justification, it clearly makes the proposed reforms of the FOIA more than justifiable. The reforms seem modest and do not involve endangering national security as can be argued was the case with Julian Assange. They should be passed.
In Fox News’ Gregg Jarrett’s opinion piece on the Columbia University Law Exam Delay, alongside his admonition to grow up and get a spine he states, “if you don’t like the system, go out and change it.” Unfortunately, with their demand that their exams be delayed, the Columbia Law School Coalition of Concerned Students of Color, is doing exactly that. They are asking for preferential treatment based on their self-proclaimed identity. This is group rights in action and it will be only a matter of time before other students group themselves into self-identified collectivities and demand preferential treatment or some other action, positive or negative, on the part of terrified College administrators. This means that in the central legal and political debate of whether individual or collective rights should predominate in the USA, and elsewhere, this has in fact set a precedent in favor of collective rights. It can be seen as part of affirmative action, and one that leads into the minefield of academic performance and social and ethnic class.
That prods and dangles the ghost of guilt, white and often liberal, in order to gain preferential treatment. But even that will be defined away. It will no longer be preferential treatment, but something more like “equalizing opportunity” in the words, and title, of an essay by Luke Charles Harris and Uma Narayan. As they write, “an array of factors that contribute to institutional discrimination – such as class, race, gender, and sexual orientation – should be taken into account. When several factors intersect and contribute to a process of discrimination, as in the case of a working class, Black woman, each factor should be considered.” In other words, a great matrix of group identities will in the future define you, a radical sociologist’s paradise. In the perfect world for people like the CLSCCSC, (with it’s soviet sounding acronym), or Harris and Narayan, you will be graded, employed, and treated in court depending on where you fit in this great matrix. And the guardians of this great matrix will be those who are best able to claim victimization and advocate on behalf of it’s alleged victimized groups.
It is impossible to deny the brutal injustices of the past regarding race. It is vital, however, to debate which way forward respects the principles of the US Constitution. While Jarrett’s advice to stop the whining and show some spine makes a lot of sense in today’s legal world, if groups like the CLSCCSC continue to be successful in their advocacy for collective rights, today’s legal, academic, and job market worlds will be radically different within a generation. Far more than they already are today. Collective rights cannot be ignored. But they must be framed, in the best possible sense of the word, with wisdom and restraint.