In the spirit of introspection, alluded to in my previous post, here are three thoughts on liberal landmines ranging from the trivial to the dead serious.
The Better Scandal
MSNBC spent the better part of the first two months of this year focused on one story: Bridgegate. Each prime-time show lead with some update on the New Jersey traffic snafu engineered by Chris Christie admin officials and appointees. At first they tried to make hay of the possibility that an elderly woman died because her ambulance got stuck in the traffic jam caused by a bogus “traffic study”. Unfortunately, almost immediately a relative of the deceased woman said she didn’t blame Christie for the death, so MSNBC had to drop that bit of melodrama. In the backdrop was the fact that Christie was the only potential 2016 Republican candidate who was giving Hillary Clinton a run for her money. The obvious attempt of the network to discredit Hillary’s only real opposition was transparent — and disappointing to me, a long time fan of the network for their left-leaning but fair reporting.
Contrast this with Fox which for the better part of the past 18 months focused on Benghazi. Say what you will of the merits of the Benghazi “scandal”, four dead Americans including an ambassador trumps an amateur hour traffic jam any day of the week. If liberal news networks are going to go after Republicans they better come up with juicier stuff than Bridgegate.
A Drag on the Family
When conservatives compare our country to “the family” it usually sounds like grade school oversimplification. The typical example is “why would you want your country in debt? You don’t want your family in debt do you?” I am pretty sure that many economists agree that a little debt is actually GOOD for a country while it may not be good for a family.
But I was thinking the other day about another country/family analogy and this one resonated a bit. Picture the family who is pretty normal except for that one loser who has never applied himself, never looked for a job and is always mooching off the other family members. The family either applies “tough love” and cuts him off or they go down the drain with him, constantly bailing him out.
I do not subscribe to the notion that all welfare recipients are lazy loafers, or in Paul-Ryan-speak, “takers”. But I am beginning to question whether the current welfare state discourages work. When I got laid off seven years ago, I did not apply for unemployment insurance because I wanted to start my own business and I assumed doing so would make me ineligible for assistance. When my wife applied for unemployment insurance after her layoff last year, one of my concerns was how this would affect her ability to earn money. From what I understand, she can make a small amount and still receive government assistance but a job that would pay only slightly more than the assistance we receive would make us ineligible. So living day-to-day, paycheck to paycheck, there is a disincentive to find at least a low paying job. In a sense you find yourself saying “I can’t afford to get a job”, as crazy as that may sound. And in this case we are talking about responsible people, my wife and I. If a hard-working person can’t afford to find a job imagine how a true loafer feels.
Welfare and unemployment insurance don’t allow you to live like a king (or the proverbial queen) so many conservative complaints about welfare recipients do not resonate with me. Welfare recipients don’t live in swank penthouse apartments. But it is worth considering how government aid creates an unintentional disincentive to work.
Two approaches that come immediately to mind are workfare (not new) and mandatory health care assistance. How about the government paying your salary at a company instead of handing you a check while you’re not working? Basically you “volunteer” at a company — they pay nothing — and the gov pays you to work there. Time limits could be applied while you find a company who will pay you to work. In the area of mandatory health care assistance, how about legislation that forces any company with a health benefit plan, to continue to provide that benefit to any employee fired without cause (e.g. layoff) for a period of two years while they search for employment.
The bottom line is liberals need to think outside the box, stop focusing on victimization of the poor, creating greater dependency, and find new creative ways to lift folks out of poverty. Creating a dependent class hurts those relegated to that class as well as the country that goes down the drain supporting them.
The New Jim Crow
“The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness” by Michelle Alexander is a book that I shall never read. I had the distinct misfortune of seeing the author discuss her premise and one phrase she used, yes — one phrase, left me so irritated that I will not give her book a chance. In discussing the plight of young minority men going to prison for longer terms than their white counterparts (the crack vs powdered cocaine dichotomy, to name one) she said (very close paraphrase), “these young men go to jail and are labeled criminals”.
NO NO NO. They are not labeled criminals. They ARE criminals. When you break the law you are a criminal. While it is perfectly correct to make the punishment fit the crime, isn’t our time better spent getting folks to STOP committing the crime in the first place? Words have meaning. When you say someone is “labeled a criminal” the implication is that forces beyond his control have created his condition. There are folks in the ghetto who would sooner die than break the law. This notion that ghetto life ipso facto creates criminals is the most counter-productive condescension imaginable.
It reminds me of a battle I fought in the comments section of another blog where a woman said she “found herself pregnant”. Mind you, she was not raped. She was not the victim of incest. She got pregnant through unprotected consensual sexual intercourse. She willingly actively engaged in behavior that, on occasion, results in a pregnancy. Yet she “found herself pregnant” as though no action on her part was involved. A total surprise — the sperm genie visited her while she was sleeping. Puhleeeze.
The same goes for this “labeled a criminal”. Brotha didn’t do a damn thing and our terrible racist society “labeled” him a criminal. Bull crap. Liberals use language to abdicate responsibility for behavior. It is always someone else’s fault. Frankly I’m sick of it. There is this thing in business called “root cause analysis”. When you “find yourself pregnant” or get “labeled a criminal” by some evil third-party, you are not getting at the root cause. Stop unprotected screwing! Stop buying, selling and using illegal drugs! Those are the root causes of the problem.
The question that remains is, are liberals well-meaning in this obfuscation or actually more odious than the “cold-hearted conservatives” whom they regularly attack? The jury is out for me on that one. But I can tell you this much– libs need to change their language and their perspective on the “down-trodden”. Some folks get screwed over because they screwed themselves over. That is not a problem we can fix by demonizing rich white men.
I’ve had a longer post in mind that I just haven’t been able to focus enough to commit to paper.
For the time being, let me say this. I’ve been famous for making prescriptions for what ails Republicans. I attended a professional webinar two days ago where I was reminded “you can’t change other people’s behavior, you can only change yourself.” In that spirit, what can I prescribe to cure what ails liberals?
Whether or not you find it sincere, GOP Chairman Reince Priebus, Rand Paul, Chris Christie and Bobby Jindal have all called for Republicans to reconsider their tactics in achieving their strategic goals. It’s called introspection.
I’ve noticed lately that the one thing liberals lack is introspection. There is a self-righteous belief in their moral superiority. It’s assumed. It’s ironic because that is the very thing we accuse of Republicans. I’ve watched MSNBC morph from a liberal biased network that tried to be fair to the bizarro-world twin of Fox News.
In a mid-term election year where Democrats stand to get an ass-whupping their strategy is still how evil Republicans are. Where is the introspection? Where is the effort to find ways to be more effective?
Over the next few posts I’m going to try some political introspection. The posts will be less frequent. Introspection is hard.
The CBO Findings-A Window into Party Perception
Let me start by saying I haven’t read the CBO report which states the ACA’s impact on future employment. All I’ve heard is the spin from both sides and it’s the spin that fascinates me.
Liberals say the CBO finding is good news. It means people will no longer be shackled to jobs they hate for fear of losing their health insurance. Conservatives say the ACA will provide yet another nanny state disincentive to work, proven by the CBO projections. I ask what is the more realistic and optimistic view?
Let’s talk reality. To afford even a heavily subsidized insurance premium people will have to work. This notion of folks just sitting back and not working doesn’t jibe with the realities of day to day life. But let’s also consider the optimistic vs pessimistic view of the American people. For all their patriotic screams of his-boom-ba, conservatives seem to view the American people as shiftless lazy loafers who will use any excuse not to work. What else could explain their reaction to the CBO report?
We WANT an economy in which number of jobs exceeds number of job seekers. It leads to lower unemployment and greater incentive for companies to make jobs more attractive to an employment pool that can now afford to be choosy. What could possibly be bad about a population that works for the joy of it and not because their health insurance is not portable?
I have to ask my conservative friends when we talk about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, what about that last one do you not understand?
The Limits of Executive Power
Conservative leaders recently said they were reticent about going forward on immigration reform because they couldn’t trust the President to execute the law as passed. Normally I’d dismiss this as Republican excuse making but this time it made me stop and think. Obama has been explicit in his intent to do as much without Congress as possible. This makes any constitutionalist rightfully quake in their boots.
Here’s the catch. I believe our founders envisioned a Congress where matters were debated and progress coupled with compromise was achieved. I don’t believe they imagined the Boehner House, the least productive in recent history or the McConnell minority in the Senate making unprecedented use of the filibuster to stall legislation. What would they say is the obligation of the executive faced with the abject failure of the legislative?
I don’t share the sky is falling view of my more conservative friends. If Obama’s acts truly violate the constitution to a criminal extent then by all means he should be impeached. I believe in the long haul justice prevails. In fact a trial of Obama would be intersecting from this perspective.
From what I understand charges against Andrew Johnson were largely trumped up. Nixon faced impeachment for covering up a burglary. Clinton was tried for covering up a blow job. A trial of Obama would put to the test the true limits of executive power not involving petty crime and sexual scandal.
I’m not sure if Obama is overstepping his bounds. I am sure that Congress by neglect of their own duties has opened the door to greater executive authority. If they want to stop Obama they need to positively legislate, not simply oppose.
Why I’m (Almost) Through With MSNBC
Ahh I miss the old thrill I would get from a self righteous Keith Olbermannn speech. He could cover so much ground and scorch all the conservative patches of it. His only true obsession besides sports was his nemesis Bill O’Reilly. To watch primetime MSNBC the past few weeks you’d think the most vital issue in America today was New Jersey Bridgegate.
My conservative friends laugh at me and mock me because I considered MSNBC a fair source of commentary especially when compared to Fox News. Now they have every right to jeer. This Christie coverage is a transparent attempt to discredit the only credible rival to a Hillary Clinton 2016 candidacy. I’m not saying Christie’s record should not be scrutinized but the MSNBC coverage is way over the top.
Sadly, the network no longer stirs the fires in my political loins. I watch it now more for pure entertainment and by habit. There are nights when I’d just as soon watch the Food Network.
Enough About Hate Crimes
Let’s start with a simple thought experiment.
A black man is deliberately killed by a white man who hates black people.
A black man is deliberately killed by a white member of the NAACP.
Which black man is more dead?
This past week I heard yet another conjecture about whether the recent murder of a black man was a “hate crime”. I don’t remember the details and it doesn’t matter. The whole concept is absurd. It is based on the nutty liberal concept that you can legislate people into loving and accepting each other.
The surest way to turn a bigot into a bigger bigot is to self righteously lecture him about his beliefs. Hearts and minds don’t change via punishment. The hate crime distinction is actually counter productive in changing hearts and minds.
Intentional murder is intentional murder. Punish the crime. For the hate, you just have to wait for the bigots to die off and the younger generation to come along. We see examples of that progress every day.
It is July 22, 2009 and President Obama is holding a press conference on health care reform. As the press conference nears its end, reporter Lynn Sweet of the Chicago Sun-Times asks the president what he thinks about the arrest of Professor Henry Louis “Skip” Gates outside of his own home in Cambridge MA.
Obama replies, “Lynn, first of all we’re here discussing health care reform so what’s with the off topic question? Second do I look like the friggin Mayor of Cambridge to you? Or even the Governor of Massachusetts? I’m the president of the United States. I don’t spend my time worrying about local issues. Or maybe you think you get to ask me my opinion on anything black? Is that it, Lynn? Stupid question, next.”
Sadly that is not how it went down. Obama answered the question and inserted himself into a local issue he didn’t belong in.
My preferred answer would have come from Chris Christie. Folks call Christie a bully but he calls out stupid when he sees stupid whether from a reporter or a potential voter.
“Bridgegate” will be hard for Christie to overcome if for no other reason then it shows his incompetence if not outright dishonesty. That’s a rotten shame because I would love to see a straight talking president who actually does inspire some fear in our enemies and even our Congress.
I LIKE the fact that Christie intimidates people. Perhaps he can overcome the bridge fiasco and we can get a much needed bully in the White House.
Here are my predictions for 2014.
Good Samaritans will continue to selflessly help others without ulterior motives or agenda.
Psychotic young men will continue go out and kill as many people as possible in as short a time as possible and then most likely kill themselves.
Politicians will work toward noble goals regardless of ideology.
Men and women will pursue politics as a craven dash towards self promotion.
Children will be born and have a loving home with biological or adoptive parents.
Children will not get a chance to be born because their parents lacked the responsibility to do proper family planning and then lacked the courage to give that child the chance to find a loving home through adoption.
Employers will find creative ways to thrive and save the jobs of their employees whom they treat like family, like human beings.
Employers will lay people off with abandon pursuing the bottom line and pleasing the stockholders. Employees are just a “resource”, a cog in the wheel. Disposable.
Men and women of faith will follow the greatest teachings of their creed and will work toward the good of all people.
Men and women of faith will use their religion as an excuse to sow hatred, destruction and death.
I could go on but you get the picture. My prediction for 2014 is that nothing will change. Good will live alongside evil. One will win one day and one will win the next.
To my readers: may 2014 bring more happy tidings than sad. Thank you for taking a bit of time out of your life to read what I write. I truly appreciate it.
I have a running joke with myself (and those few who share my sense of humor) about the perfect selections for hold music on a suicide hotline. Just the notion of being put on hold on a suicide hotline makes me chuckle. In any case, I settled on such gems as “Dust in the Wind”, “Alone Again, Naturally” and “Don’t Fear the Reaper”. In recent months, however, I have discovered another resource not part of my sick imagination but very real that the clinically depressed should steer clear of. It is the PBS series “Moyers and Company“.
Bill Moyers, a participant in and observer of Washington since the days of LBJ is every liberal’s dream documentary host. He wears his heart on his sleeve as he shines a light on various flavors of American injustice. I enjoy him. I find him intelligent and genuinely curious about the world around him. When you watch him interview a guest, you get the feeling he is learning something new right along with you. The problem with “Moyers and Company” is it is long on problems and rather short on solutions. At the conclusion of each installment I find myself shaking my head in despair. Just a sample of episode titles is enough to send you to a shrink: “America’s Political Breakdown”, “How Dollarocracy is Destroying America”, “Zombie Politics and Casino Capitalism” and the recent rebroadcast of “America’s Gilded Capital”.
In “America’s Gilded Capital”, Moyers interviews Mark Leibovich, the author of the Washington expose This Town. In the book (which I haven’t read) and the interview (which I did watch) Leibovich describes a Washington D.C. dedicated to job security. On every Congressman and Senator’s mind is first and foremost how to turn their time in government into some type of permanent gig, whether it be in government via reelection or outside of government in the private sector. The favorite private sector pastime of our elected officials is lobbying. Obama swore he would stop the “revolving door” of folks moving back and forth between government and lobbying firms, but his frequent exceptions have made the promise null and void. Leibovich describes a conversation he had with then Democratic Senator Chris Dodd who insisted he would never join a lobbying firm but ended up heading up the MPAA which has a strong lobbying entity. Then there is the story of Evan Bayh who left the Senate fed up with Washington dysfunction only to whore himself out to the Chamber of Commerce. And if you thought bipartisanship in D.C. was dead, think again. It breathes deep where there is money to be made, case in point liberal pundit Steve McMahon of MSNBC and conservative mouthpiece Alex Castellanos of CNN who together worked for a company called Purple Strategies and made lots of money helping BP repair its reputation after the infamous oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
This installment ended the way most episodes of “Moyers” end. This is just the way it is but we’ve done you a service by telling you about it. Word to the wise, watch this show with a stiff drink in one hand and a bottle of Prozac in the other.
A few random thoughts: Some of my more loyal readers who disagree with everything I write had some fun with an old post of mine recently. The post was from 2008 and was entitled “America Says Enough”. It was written in the immediate afterglow of Barack Obama’s election. The RL Blog “regulars” have had some fun mocking the piece in light of the 20/20 hindsight that shows Obama to be a bit in over his head, as demonstrated by his inability to shake off scandals, real and imagined, that have plagued him. Clearly the most recent example of gross incompetence is the botched technical roll-out of the ACA. Add to that the used car salesman rhetoric of “keeping your insurance and your doctor if you want to” and you have a beleaguered presidency that penetrates even the most rose-colored glasses.
With that said, I don’t take back a single word of what I wrote back in 2008. Back then Obama was a blank canvas upon which the right and left painted their worst nightmares and highest hopes respectively. But one thing I wrote in particular will never be sullied by Obama’s lackluster performance:
I can now look at my beautiful black daughter and tell her that she can be anything she wants to be, without exception, without caveat.
It cannot be underestimated just how many blacks like me never thought a dark-skinned man would be elected President in our lifetime. As much as I loved my country, I felt there were barriers that would not be breached for years, if not decades, to come. For anyone not to understand the emotion attached to seeing this barrier broken is to not understand the human condition. As moved as I was back then, I still felt that if Barack Obama had been Barry Johnson, great-grandson of slaves, he would not have been nominated much less elected. The very exotic nature of Obama (which has ironically fueled the birther movement) made him acceptable to those who might otherwise have dismissed him. Nevertheless the cosmetics of this half-white, half-first-generation-American of immediate African descent, evoked a visceral reaction in many, including me, and I don’t apologize for it.
Cosmetics do not a great President make. With a four-year record to look back on, I wrote a very different piece in November of 2012. In my piece “Three Open Letters”, I offer the President advice rooted in the reality of his reelection and the imperfections of his administration. The piece in 2008 and the piece in 2012 were informed by the facts on the ground at that time and the accompanying emotions. I stand by both pieces.
What I know about the problems in the Ukraine could fill not much more than this sentence but just on the surface, it is interesting to see a country whose leadership looks to “the dark side” (Russia) while its citizens want to align with the West. I’m just throwing darts here but could it be that social media and the democratization of information access makes it harder for a government to sell its agenda to its people?
On Thursday’s installment of “The Daily Show”, Jon Stewart once again proves why he deserves every cent he earns. His take-down of Fox News’ war on Christmas coverage is classic in its humor and its truth. The Fox News coverage is so absurd that it is all Stewart can do to fit all the insanity into one segment. The ten minute segment can be found here and here and is worth a view.
Two unsettling things that Fox’s Megyn Kelly should remember: Santa Claus as we currently celebrate him, is neither white nor black — he doesn’t exist. Second, as Jon says, Jesus wasn’t born in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Jesus looked more like Mohamed Atta than a latter-day version of the Door’s Jim Morrison.
In the wake of the debacle known as the rollout of the Affordable Care Act (ACA aka Obamacare), everyone has a criticism but folks seem short on solutions. Time for me to write my own legislation. I won’t profess that these ideas are particularly original but they seem to be the right combination of things to cure what ails us, without the complicated big bang blow up of Obamacare. I hereby present the Lawson Insurance Act of 2014.
What should be our goals up front?
- Quality of health insurance
The first element of the plan is the establishment of the Health Insurance Oversight Commission, a government body modeled after the FDA and the FCC that audits and approves all insurance policies issued in the US. Most of us are thankful or take for granted that we have government entities that enforce minimum standards on the food we eat and the drugs we take and the publicly available communications that we consume. The HIOC would serve this purpose in the health insurance realm. Such popular provisions in Obamacare such as no disqualification due to pre-existing conditions would be enforced by the HIOC. The HIOC would also disapprove so-called junk insurance policies.
Some right wing zealots say we should be “free” to buy junk insurance policies if we so choose. This of course flies in the face of the widely accepted role of government in consumer protection. The only one who profits from a junk insurance policy is the insurance company. The folks who buy them, probably because they can’t afford better, don’t understand they are throwing their money away and are not protected from bankruptcy in the event of a serious illness. It is a proper role of government to keep these folks from being played for suckers.
Indeed Obamacare has attempted to do that with the horrific result that millions of folks are being summarily dropped from their substandard insurance policies and offered alternatives that are double or triple the premium. This is the very definition of the road to hell being paved with good intentions. So let’s move on to affordability.
Medicaid, not Medicare, For All
Medicaid is associated with the poor. I would submit the definition of poor in this country has changed. With so much wealth shifted to the top 1% of this country, we now have a whole new class of working poor who live paycheck to paycheck. I suggest that a needs based Medicaid expansion take place with the precise goal of bridging the gap between what people are charged for insurance premiums and what they can afford. With these supplements, we allow people to pay what they can truly afford for health insurance without placing downward pressure on the profit motive of the insurance companies. Call it a socialist buttress to capitalism. The supplements could be handled in either of two ways. We could pay these supplements to individuals who would file their insurance premium bills much as a businessman might file an expense report and then get reimbursed a certain amount based on need. The other method would be to pay insurance companies directly some sensibly calculated stipend which would allow them to pass reduced cost on to their customers. In this way the insurance company basically has two customers — the government who pays them to keep premiums affordable — and the policy holder who pays the affordable premium. Of course, insurance companies who not meet the minimum standards of the HIOC would not qualify for supplements at all.
Stop Protecting Insurance Companies From True Capitalism
Since health insurance is not a brick and mortar consumer item there is no reason for there to be a geographic constraint on its sale. All insurance companies should be required to accept policy holders from anywhere in the country. There should also be a push for a purely private insurance industry with employment-based insurance being completely phased out. There is no Earthly reason why affording health care should be attached to employment at any particular employer. Insurance companies should be exposed to the same risks and rewards of any other company competing in the capitalistic marketplace. We should be seeing health insurance commercials with Anthem battling it out with United Health Care to offer consumers the best quality for the most competitive price.
Did anyone notice I didn’t list universal coverage as a goal? It wasn’t an oversight on my part. I’m beginning to think that it is THAT goal that has sunk the ACA rollout. You can’t believe in capitalism and in the same breath say that EVERYONE can buy (or must buy) a particular product. Unless you go complete socialist on this and demand Medicare for all, then you must give up the universal coverage goal. The goal should be for government to put a bit of juice into the system so that the vast majority of people can afford quality health insurance. The goal should be to exploit the greatest virtues of capitalism (for example, competitive downward price pressure) to get as many folks insured as possible.
OK, the details are a bit fuzzy. I’ll admit that. I’m not a policy wonk or a legislator. I suggest that the above ideas are simpler and more understandable than Obamacare. Now it’s your turn to tweak this, tear it apart, reconstruct it. But there are two things you DON’T get to do.
You don’t get to trash it without your own solution.
You don’t get to settle for the status quo.