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Thoughts about politics [Apr. 23rd, 2016|12:47 pm]
So, I saw this long article on Vox about how us EEEEVIL Libruls (in the US, naturally - but I know that "liberal" in the US is often pretty darn conservative in a lot of other parts of the world) are so, so SMUG and condescending and awful.

And I can't deny there's a bit of that. I see people at Trump rallies, and I know some of them are foolish and wrongheaded. Do I feel smugly superior to a lot of them, thinking I know what's better for them, than they do?

Shrug. Yes, I do. Guilty as charged, but I want to point out there are mitigating factors.

A lot of doctors would want me to go low-fat vegetarian. They can feel smug about how I'm a durn fool eating so much meat, and so few fruits and such a restricted range of vegetables. And they're allowed to - they are doctors! (I eat low carb instead - because my blood sugar is wonky and I am frequently depressed/fatigued/not-all-there, it's vital that I protect my blood sugar first and foremost. I could be wrong! But this is my informed choice.)

Okay, but: I'm not a political scientist, I'm not an economist, I'm not a "job creator" - by what grounds can I say that I know better than ordinary working class people?

Ah... that's not quite what I said, is it? I didn't say "I know better than ordinary working class people what's best for them" - I spoke of a particular subset - those at Trump rallies. And I'll expand that to Cruz rallies and Kasich rallies and those that sent big bucks to Carson (Ben, not Johnny), and so forth.

And the problem isn't so much the people - it's a complicated set of things - messaging, and messaging strategy, and the media, and the difficulty in staying informed and... sigh.

See, the modern day Republican party is messaged by some of the world's best bullshit artists. And if you're a Republican, and you don't recognize that, okay, yes, there's bullshit artistry going on here, either now, or at the end of my posting here, then we probably can't discuss this very productively.

Let me cite an example: The Affordable Care Act has a provision saying that employers must pay for employee's health insurance, or, pay them enough that they can buy on the exchange without subsidies, or, pay a fee to help pay for the subsidies their employees are getting. So: if Wal-Mart doesn't eventually offer a health plan, and doesn't pay employees enough to get them over the right multiple of the poverty line, they'll have to pay the government a fee to help cover their employee's health insurance.

Of course, this only applies to FULL TIME workers. If you work at Wal-Mart for 10 hours a week, the government can hardly demand that they pay for your health insurance! So: the ACA designates a full time employee as one who is expected to work 30 or more hours a week.

The Republican party, after the 2014 midterms, wanted to change that. They wanted to bump up the number of hours needed before an employee was classified as a full time worker. In fact, they want to make it set at 40 hours.

Pause for a moment here. A common method of setting hours is to set an 8 hour work day with a a half hour lunch, total work time: 37.5 hours. "And if you can't finish your job in the time allotted, we'll be glad to find someone who can!" So there'd be a stupid-easy way to keep a huge majority of your employees from clocking 40 hours a week, if someone wanted to do that.

So: this would allow almost any employer to dodge the costs of having to provide health insurance for their employees, pay them enough they can afford it, or pay a fine.

What did they call this? What did they say they were going to do, now that they had their Congressional majorities?

They were going to "restore the 40 hour work week".

Now, I hate that, but I also have to admire the messaging. It sounds like someone is attacking the 40 hour work week - and they want to protect it or restore it. They can even say that it's a way to make sure that if you're a FULL TIME worker, you by-gosh-and-golly get 40 full hours of paid work - not just 30! They can say that they're rewriting an "intrusive government regulation" to "avoid destroying jobs".

It also explicitly weakens the ability of workers to get health care from their employers, and reduces funding available to provide it. But they don't make it sound like they're harming workers - no, they're "restoring the 40 hour work week!"

Republican messaging has been amazingly powerful because they have developed a great many ways of saying things that let them do what they want while making it sound like it's good stuff.

They want "lower taxes". Now: any good bullshit detector should peg here. "Lower than WHAT?" should be the first thought that crosses your mind, but the answer is simply, "lower". They always want tax cuts.

They also want "smaller government" - again, "smaller than WHAT?" is a damn good question, but there's a secondary issue here, too.

Consider this: what if the US government always provided unemployment insurance, and nothing else, and it's done it in a well-defined, structured way. This is the one thing it does. I have no idea if http://www.multpl.com/united-states-population/table is correct, but let's pretend it is. In 2000, there were 282 million citizens. Let's assume the working-age ratio is close to the same - not a perfect assumption, because baby-boomers are retiring a bit faster than millenials are joining the workforce, but let's assume.

In 2016, the population is now 322 million. That's 40 million more, an increase of around 15%. Let's also assume that inflation was just about enough to make another 15% increase - or rather, to make the two numbers just magically hit a double-increase of 15%.

If government just provided unemployment insurance, we'd expect the federal goverment to be spending almost a third again as much as it did in 2000 - partly for the increase in workers, and partly for the increase in the costs of everything. That's assuming *perfect* efficiency, by the way. There's always overhead, and it wouldn't be unreasonable to hope that the overhead stayed constant (through finding more cost-effective ways of doing things) but we'd still expect to see a more-than-30% increase in raw dollars, or a 15% increase in constant-value dollars.

If you're a "small government" Republican, you can say that you want cuts - you want to "reduce the size of government".

One could argue "but government hasn't *increased* - the costs of doing the exact same job it's done for the past 15+ years has increased! But the size is just the same - it's doing (in our ridiculous example) one single, well-defined task, no more!"

One could argue that - but one would get no press coverage; it's far simpler, shorter, and sweeter to say "I believe in smaller government. And we want to give those in need a hand UP, not a hand OUT!"

Did I just blame the media? Well, they can't deny responsibility entirely - but no. The world is too big, too complicated, and a short, snappy message will almost always beat out a longer, more complicated one.

Plus: if you were to dig into a Republican's positions on things like this, and present them in a way that makes the position look bad, you'd be taking sides - you wouldn't be objectively reporting, and whoo, boy, is there a good media-bashing audience out there today! The bigger story would shift from "Republican politician claims to love working class, but cuts their benefits and protections at every turn" to "vicious, partisan media hack insults your intelligence by ignoring common sense Republican views!"

Finally: the world *is* complicated. A lot of liberal folks didn't like cap-and-trade to reduce emissions causing acid rain. They wanted regulated limits NOW NOW NOW. And they were wrong. By phasing in limits, and letting people sell credits to companies slower to make cuts, there was a lot of interest in finding the best, most efficient methods of doing this - find a cheap way faster than anyone else, and you'll have a salable asset that might be worth more than the costs of the reduction! Or take a money-hit and let some other people do the R&D and testing and once the competition has produced a good method, buy your method off the shelf, and possibly make bigger cuts, cheaper, than you ever would have managed in response to a regulation. A phased limit, with "salable indulgences" ended up providing better results than an immediate hard limit.

A short snappy message of "End Acid Rain Now!" really wasn't as good as phasing in the fix.

So: yeah, it's the media, and the world, and so forth. But that's all a reason why bullshit artistry works.

So: let's continue:

Lower (than what?) taxes.
Smaller (than what?) government.
Less regulation - because government is always the problem! In fact, you remember that fertilizer plant in Texas that blew up?

Wikipedia isn't perfect, but: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/West_Fertilizer_Company_explosion. Please see "Investigation" and "Regulatory Changes".

The Republicans oppose minimum wage increases, citing supply and demand: Increase the cost of labor, you'll see less labor. Isn't that just ECON 101?

No. ECON 101 is quite clear: if *nothing else* changes, and you increase price, you reduce demand, that's true. But if minimum wage goes up, something else has changed - the amount of money people are earning.

Ah, but short and snappy beats out complicated explanation, every time.

See how smug I am? But let me hit you with the ultimate in smugness.

Back in the George W. Bush administration, a man had a wife in a persistent vegetative state. He tried to let her go without medical treatment - but her birth family objected, so he allowed treatment to commence. But he then asked the Florida courts to stand in and make a decision: given all evidence brought forward, what can be said of Terri Schiavo's thoughts and desires?

(Remember that in Florida, both oral and written requests about end of life matter - and for those of you who think only written orders should count, ask yourself how you'd feel if you had reason to change your mind on the way to the hospital, when creating written documents was briefly unavailable.)

His family brought forth witnesses and it's good to read the initial court order to understand the judges opinion. They changed their testimony between deposition and testimony; they gave self-serving reasons for why they made the change; they simply did not appear believable. Michael Schiavo's witnesses had the same testimony in deposition and testimony, and freely admitted to facts that would tend to weaken their case. In short: they came across as people trying to provide information to the court, in as honest and forthright a manner as possible.

The judge found, to a very high standard of evidence (clear and convincing - this is just below "beyond a reasonable doubt") that Terri had made statements that she didn't want her life simply prolonged via medical treatment, when there was no hope of meaningful recovery. He then stated that Terri's desires were to end medical treatment.

The despicable question of "Why do liberals what Terri to die?" was... well, despicable. Her husband had every right to make the decision as next of kin, but he deferred to the courts, which gave the birth family their say, and they had their say, and they struck out, and the courts are pretty damn sure that Terri didn't want treatments that would do no more than keep the meat machine functioning. I never heard anyone, liberal or conservative, who wanted her to DIE. But I did see a whole boatload of people who wanted her wishes carried out, and wanted the government - remember, the government that should be "smaller" - to butt out of making special laws intended to affect her situation because of a heart-rendingly sad story.

(Mind you: I'd have been very happy if the legislature had held a hearing about the issue - and investigated the court case, questioned the judge, studied the relevant law, and then said "the law has been followed, and is actually working pretty much the way we'd want it to. Her wishes and rights have been well protected.")

As this hideous spectacle played out, with posturing players on the national stage trying to make a big fuss over this, you had some of the most horrifying thoughts and ideas going around.

You had folks with physical disabilities who'd been led to believe that Terri was being allowed to die because of her injuries - rather than in accordance with the best evidence we can come up with, regarding her own wishes.

You had people horrified that her rights had been ignored, by twenty different judges, from all levels of the state, through all levels of the federal, courts, even though this was completely false.

You had an MD claim, on the US Congressional floor, that a woman couldn't be in a PVS, in spite of never having examined her, and in spite of CAT scans showing that most of her "human" brain - the sections that make us "human" not "animal" - was simply *gone*, dead and broken down and removed by the body.

You had some of the most hideous, filthy, malicious, bald-faced lies told and spread by people who sure-as-shooting knew better, and those lies are still widely believed today. No one has paid a price for these lies, and no shame has been attached to anyone for having stood against the truth; and against a man who seems, by his actions, to have been a decent man, who loved his wife, and respected justice; and against a woman who was quite helpless to give her consent to be used as a political prop.

So: yes, I say that I consider that I know better than the people who continue to follow the wretches who allow and encourage this kind of spectacle; people who weren't so sickened that their leaders would do this, and then skate on it, not even facing the need to admit wrongdoing. That they could be bamboozled by fancy talk and truly shameless lies told by people who insist that they're the good guys, fighting back against those evil liberals. Yeah. I think I know better - I think they've been misinformed.

I'm just so fucking *smug* that way.