Archive

January 20th, 2016

Health Reform Realities

    Health reform is the signature achievement of the Obama presidency. It was the biggest expansion of the social safety net since Medicare was established in the 1960s. It more or less achieves a goal — access to health insurance for all Americans — that progressives have been trying to reach for three generations. And it is producing dramatic results, with the percentage of uninsured Americans falling to record lows.

    Obamacare is, however, what engineers would call a kludge: a somewhat awkward, clumsy device with lots of moving parts. This makes it more expensive than it should be, and will probably always cause a significant number of people to fall through the cracks.

    The question for progressives — a question that is now central to the Democratic primary — is whether these failings mean that they should re-litigate their own biggest political success in almost half a century, and try for something better.

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Health care in the election: Politics and policy

    When they're running for president, health care politics apparently makes Democratic candidates say strange things. Remember back in 2008 when candidates Obama and Hillary Clinton were fighting over mandates?:

    Enforcing a mandate will require some sort of penalty, such as fines, to ensure compliance, [Obama] said. "And that, I don't think, is helping those without health insurance."

    I suspect the president recognized that mandates with penalties might be needed to ensure a viable risk pool, especially as he made sure they were ultimately built into Obamacare. But Sen. Clinton had a mandate, so he didn't.

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GOP and the Apocalypse

    Last week I suffered through another dust-dry Republican debate in which a slimmed-down roster of seven candidates leveled many of the same attacks and regurgitated many of the same staid pitches.

    There were a few flashes of life that caught my attention or made me chuckle:

    Ted Cruz debuting some entertaining lines of attack to rebuff the questions the real estate developer keeps raising about whether Cruz is indeed a “natural born citizen” and able to become president. The real estate developer managed a surprisingly maudlin moment when he rebuked, quite successfully, Cruz for his outrageous us-against-them comments about “New York values.” Jeb Bush calling the perpetual squabbling between Marco Rubio and Cruz a “back and forth between two senators — backbench senators.”

    But what struck me most about the debate was just how unremittingly bleak the tone of it was.

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Some Inconvenient Gun Facts for Liberals

    For those of us who argue in favor of gun safety laws, there are a few inconvenient facts.

    We liberals are sometimes glib about equating guns and danger. In fact, it’s complicated: The number of guns in America has increased by more than 50 percent since 1993, and in that same period the gun homicide rate in the United States has dropped by half.

    Then there are the policies that liberals fought for, starting with the assault weapons ban. A 113-page study found no clear indication that it reduced shooting deaths for the 10 years it was in effect. That’s because the ban was poorly drafted and because even before the ban, assault weapons accounted for only 2 percent of guns used in crimes.

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Reigning Cats and Dogs

    After running as a man last time around, Hillary Clinton is now running as a woman.

    Matthew Dowd, the former W. strategist who became an independent, says Hillary got it backward: She should have run as a woman in 2008, when she was beating back a feminized anti-war candidate. And she should have run as a man this time, when Americans feel beleaguered and scared and yearn for something “big and masculine and strong,” as Dowd put it.

    Despite the deafening dearth of excitement among younger women, Hillary has cast herself as Groundbreaking Granny.

    She’s campaigning with Lena Dunham, Katy Perry and Demi Lovato and is selling T-shirt pantsuits on her website. And she showed up last week on Lifetime, sharing a white couch with Amanda de Cadenet, who hosts a cozy chat show with women. Hillary shared the childhood woe of being told by boys in her neighborhood that she couldn’t play with them because she was a girl.

    She told Rachel Maddow she wouldn’t rule out an all-estrogen ticket by choosing a female running mate.

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Donald Trump’s Existential Pickle

    If your very candidacy and identity rest on your supposed talent for victory, can you survive a defeat?

    Can you continue to call yourself a winner if you’ve been a loser — and if “loser” is your favorite way of closing the book on someone, your final word, the workhorse in your brimming lexicon of slurs, exiting your mouth so reflexively that it’s essentially your exhalation, your carbon dioxide: “loser,” “loser,” “loser.”

    Donald Trump has a problem that the other candidates for the Republican nomination don’t. He’s put an obstacle in his path that they haven’t. He doesn’t merely assert dominance. He claims something close to omnipotence. (Remember that laughable physician’s report?)

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Hillary and Bernie, Punching

    There’s a Democratic debate Sunday night! The party honchos scheduled it in the middle of a three-day weekend, obviously in a bid to ensure maximum attention. The American public, perky from eight straight hours of football playoffs, will totally be in the mood for a serious policy dialogue.

    So far, the Democratic encounters have been mildly informative but not riveting. We don’t wait expectantly for Bernie Sanders to snap, “You already had your chance, Hillary, and you blew it,” the way Chris Christie did to Marco Rubio in the Republican debate Thursday. But tensions are mounting.

    Clinton and Sanders had generally been taking the high road. This is in part because they have a basic level of respect for each other. (It’s very likely that they respect Martin O’Malley, too, although no one’s keeping track.)

    Also, there was a widespread feeling that the outcome was preordained. You cannot believe how gracious that can make people.

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Giving Obama His Due

    I still hold onto a couple of magazine covers and newspaper front pages, despite their preservation in the digital afterlife, marking the moment when a nation that had embraced African-American slavery chose a black man to be its president.

    Barack Obama’s election in 2008 swept “away the last racial barrier in American politics with ease,” The New York Times reported. The New Yorker, with its cover of a glowing Lincoln Memorial, heralded “the resurgence of America’s ability to astonish and inspire.” They sensed “the beginning of a new era.”

    You couldn’t help thinking of these trumpets of hope while watching the graying head of the president on Tuesday night. As he walked to the exit, he turned to soak in the scene of his final State of the Union address. “Let me take one more look at this thing,” he said.

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January 19th

Sean Penn meets God

    Ever since reading Sean Penn's article for Rolling Stone about his meeting with El Chapo, I have been unable to get his writing style out of my head. It was like he was being held at knife point by a band of drunk thesauruses.

    Fortunately, Sean Penn had other people he wanted to meet and write about for free, and was generous enough to let me run the following.

    - - -

    "In the end it's not the years in your life that count. It's the life in your years." - Abraham Lincoln, probably

    - - -

    What's the point of this? Two words: God. I'm meeting Him - anytime now. I'm meeting the Man Upstairs.

    It could be a paragraph away. It could be 80. It's the journey, not the destination, as Nietzsche so famously said. I've read Nietzsche. It is important that I tell you this.

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The odds of a Kasich miracle

    Two facts stand out about the constituency that has rallied to Donald Trump. His supporters are angry, and they come overwhelmingly from the less affluent reaches of the Republican Party. Ohio Gov. John Kasich is betting on the aspirations of these voters over their anger, and it's just possible he's onto something his opponents are missing.

     For the angry vote, there is a lot of competition. The main dynamic of last Thursday's Republican debate was the clawing and jabbing between Sen. Ted Cruz and Trump. Cruz channels exasperation as well as Trump does and is the more consistent conservative.

    Sen. Marco Rubio has benched his trademark optimism for now to compete directly with Cruz and Trump for the ballots of the enraged. The upside: Rubio is currently positioned as the only Republican other than Trump and Cruz who could come in at least third in Iowa on Feb. 1 and then finish at least second in New Hampshire on Feb. 9. There are a lot of furious GOP voters to go around.

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