Friday, April 24, 2015

Notes and Reflections -- 2008

My first assignment as a senior care-giver was as a "live-in" instead of the typical hourly shift. Except for eight-hour daytime Monday breaks, I lived two months with a client recovering from a broken ankle. I would not have accepted living with with someone in declining health and the ravages of old age, but this was an otherwise healthy man in his seventies recovering from a broken bone to resume living independently. He and his extended family made me feel like one of them, and all I had to do was fix meals, get the mail and help him with daily living activities until he recovered.

Quite by accident, those were also the days and weeks at the end of the 2008 election and the financial crisis of 2008.  I spent many hours following the news on both network reporting and C-SPAN. Like many others I had never heard of Nouriel Roubini, but after that crisis he became an investment rock star, having warned everyone well ahead of the crisis to move financial assets from equities to cash, a smart move for those who followed his advice.

I did not have access to my computer, so what follows was scribbled the old fashioned way in long hand, later transcribed to my blog. I'm copying it here verbatim, mostly for my own record, but also for anyone who might be interested.


Fall reflections, 2008

This shaggy-dog rambling was written a week before the election of Barack Obama. As the event grew near the outcome seemed obvious, but for some of us it seemed too good to be true. I only had forty-five years to wait to see a black American president. I cannot imagine what it is like for someone born black. And as the day approached I simply had to sit on my expectations. So often over the years I experienced dashed hopes and disappointments. Great progress has taken us far beyond the days of segregated schools, restrooms, and water fountains. But the facts of racial discrimination have remained stubbornly embedded, even in the black community itself, in the social fabric of America.

This "reflection" is more than it appears to be on the surface. It rehearses for me the origins and growth of how one high school kid got radicalized even before the Sixties became a benchmark decade. By the time I graduated in 1962 I was well on the way to being a life-long Liberal, even though I had no idea at the time what that was going to involve.


My sixty-fifth birthday is still half a year away but I can still recall my youth clearly enough to know that sometimes you simply have to squeeze a zit. "Back in the day," as the newer locution of "in the good old days" would have it, we saidpimple, not zit. But the morphing of language is a reflection of how views and values also tend to change. And I have been forced to watch helplessly since my political infancy as words and trends took on a life of their own over which I had little or no control. If the world says "zit" and I say "pimple" everyone will know how retrograde my thinking is. Whatever other ideas I hold come into question, like the polite but indelible racism of people who still refer to "colored people" when they should be referring simply to "people." So this morning I feel the need to squeeze a pimple, so to speak, to get a few things off my chest.

Having been away from blogging for two months now (except for a few softball posts) I realize how little I am needed at this keyboard except for my own edification. Traffic, to my satisfaction, has not dropped off as the result of my neglect, thanks to four years of material that still feeds into Google searches. I am expecting after next week to lose about half the number of hits because that one post that I put up almost two years ago, regarding Obama's religion, continues to get half or more of all visits. Surely that question will be moot after next week's election. We'll see.

In the meantime I am struggling to keep a lid on my excitement as next Tuesday approaches. I can hardly believe that after all these years a political candidate whom I endorse is actually getting this close to the finish line. Moreover, Obama's historic campaign is changing the dynamic of American presidential elections in a way that I never thought possible, bringing with it what for me is a long lost spirit of the past that was taken out by the killing of John F. Kennedy in 1963. If I allow myself to think too long about it it still makes tears come to my eyes.

Last week I was listening with half an ear as someone on a local Atlanta TV panel made reference to something she had read in Human Events magazine. I never thought someone reading Human Events would admit to it in public. In my mind it has about as much credibility as The National Enquirer. It has been a long time since I heard anyone refer to that publication and the mention of it triggered a flashback to my high school days. I am by no means a red-diaper baby but I was aimed in that direction as an adolescent as the result of circumstances in my life. My first exposure to Human Events Magazine was an important part of that development.

Here is the story.

Sometime during my high school days at Columbus High School in Columbus, Georgia, the school sponsored an event in the auditorium that was intended to emphasize the notion of brotherhood. I don't recall the official reason for the occasion, but there were three representative speakers from the three main faiths of the day, Protestant, Roman Catholic and Jewish. This is almost like a setup for a joke, but it really happened that way. As I remember, each had about fifteen minutes to talk about tolerance and brotherhood, with the preacher going first. His message was a generic Christian appeal to what Lincoln referred to as the "better angels of our nature" but years of habit would not allow him to let it go at that. He was compelled by the Great Commission to include at least one or two gentle but unmistakable references to Jesus Christ, stopping short of an altar call on the spot. The priest was somewhat less pointed, but there was no mistake about it, the Christian part of our Judeo-Christian heritage was clearly the more important of the two roots, and those with Christian ears would hear edifying words of encouragement.

It was Rabbi Goodman whose message stuck in my memory, partly because of the image and story he chose, and partly because of the contrast it left in the context of the three presentations. He said that when he was a youngster someone did something to him that hurt him deeply. Some insult or mean-spirited remark gesture had sent him to his mother, seeking her advice as to how he could best get even with those who had been so ugly to him. Her advice to him was this: "Go out and find a mud puddle with sticky mud. Then put some of it into your mouth and go spit it on them! That will teach them not to mess with you." His point (as well as his mother's) was that there is no way to "get even" with someone else without getting a taste of ugliness yourself. "Getting even" is contrary to the spirit of brotherhood, even when someone has it coming.

As I left the auditorium I thought about the story and how obvious it was. But I also thought about how unintentionally careless the other two clergy had been by overlooking the fact that at Columbus High School there were a lot of Jewish students who might not hear their Christian message in the way they had intended. It was a well -known fact at that time in Columbus, Georgia, that practically every Jewish family in town sent their children to Columbus High School. Of the other two white high schools Baker was way to the other side of town, more transitory, in the shadow of Fort Benning, and no one from established families sent their kids there. The other school, somewhat snootily referred to as a "trade school," was actually called Jordan Vocational High School and everyone knew that Jews always sent their kids to college prep high schools if they couldn't afford a private school. (Outside the school community I sometimes heard nick-names like "Jew-Blue High School" or references to "Jew-lovers" aimed at CHS, but I learned to overlook those remarks as the indications of ignorance that they were. It was true, by the way. I recall that so many Jews were absent on a couple of Jewish holidays that we couldn't have a good band rehearsal because to many were out. Seems like half the brass and a third of clarinets went missing one time, but I can't say for sure.)

These early exposures to antisemitism were part of my growing up. Although I was not Jewish, I had many friends who were, and a few time I went to Friday night services at the synagogue just to see for myself how they worshiped. I was much impressed that following the service there was always a sumptuous reception in the social hall below the sanctuary spread with treats I had seen only a few fancy occasions in my own limited experience. Later, when I felt that my Southern Baptist peers were not on the side of the angels at the start of the civil rights movement I found a college home at Hillel, the Jewish students organization, as the only non-Jew in their midst. it was there that I learned to enjoy lox, bagels, cream cheese and danish, and later, potato latkes and applesauce.

(Can you believe all these memories were stirred by the mention of Human Events Magazine?)

About the same time, two local controversies were raging in Columbus, Georgia that got my attention. One was a very acrimonious debate about whether the local water supply should be treated with fluoride because it was found that in parts of the country where fluoride occurred naturally in the local water there was a marked decrease in the incidence of tooth decay. Something about fluoride seems to protect against cavities, hence those references on toothpaste labels. The other debate had to do with whether or not the city and county governments should be combined into a single administrative entity for the sake of consistency and economy. I think it was called "consolidated government."

I was not aware of politics at the time, so I had no way of knowing that Columbus, Georgia was (and probably still is) what we would call an extremely conservative place. There are a lot of reasons for this which others can explain, but at the start of the Sixties there was already an active local chapter of the John Birch Society, a group I didn't have any knowledge of, except that they seemed to be four-square opposed to both water fluoridation and consolidated government. Naive me, both proposals seemed to be eminently sensible and practical and I didn't see any problem with either. But this was the time when "Impeach Earl Warren" signs were all over the Southern countryside, George Wallace was soon to be standing in an Alabama schoolhouse door just a few miles away on the basis of "states rights," and there was a widespread and credible threat that Communists were just waiting to get control of everything we held dear.

It was in this milieu that none other that Robert Welch, founder of the John Birch Society, came to Columbus to speak to local supporters at the old Royal theatre. There was no charge for admission, and it was at that time that I, along with two other high school students, sat politely through the man's speech and then passed out leaflets to people as they left warning them that the John Birch Society was not what they thought it was. It was a simple, four-page typed flyer run off on a church mimeograph machine, that said, in part...

Just how so many Americans have been tricked into such Communist ruses as democracy, foreign aid, UNICEF, the United Nations, NATO, and national defense defies reason.
We, the Teen-Age Democratic Club are not indifferent to the John Birch Society; We are willing to take a positive stand. 
We fear the Birch as a demagogic (gaining political influence through social discontent) and fantastic (a program of strong centralization, severe nationalism, and suppression of opposition) group. In this opinion, we accept the following wild-eyed "commie" supporters: "Time" and "Life" magazines, and the Los Angeles Times; The New York Times, J.Edgar Hoover, and Attorney General Robert Kennedy.
A local flap ensued during which a local columnist suggested that the three of us had been manipulated by some unknown but sinister outside agitator. Who knows? I didn't write the leaflet and the guy who brought it was a preacher's kid who had used the copying machine at a local Methodist church to execute his subversive plan. But that's not the point. The point is that I agreed with what it said and I was willing, even at that young age, to take a stand for what I thought.

(I know. Human Events. We're getting there.)

A couple of years later I was in Tallahassee, Florida getting involved with a student group calling itself, believe it or not, the "Liberal Forum." Can you imagine? The word liberal was not yet the completely reviled label that it has lately become, forcing today's liberals into apologizing for the word by calling themselves "progressive." A few people still refer to the word but they are careful to be prissy about it, specifying themselves as "classic" liberals, but I remain the un-reconstructed Sixties liberal that I was at that time, ashamed of the moral turpitude of the time but mostly pleased about how we stood on politics social issues.

Walking downtown one afternoon I went into a bookstore called "American Opinion," an outlet for conservative printed materials in general and John Birch Society publications in particular. I know well where I was, but I didn't leave. I wanted to stay and find out first hand what those people were saying, how they were saying it, and if there was anything there that might still appeal to me. Remember, I was still young and malleable. I was leaning into what would later become a Liberal direction, but I remained open to other ideas. I was still attending the Baptist Church there in Tallahassee, but by then I was informed that my home church in Columbus already had a deacons' meeting to discuss a contingency plan should any Negroes show up some Sunday to stir up trouble. They knew there was no way that Negroes coming to a white church would really be there to worship, so it was planned in advance how best not to admit them.

I remember the moment like it was yesterday. I was leafing through a copy of Human Events Magazine and it appeared to be a pretty well-done piece of work. No in-your-face extremism that I could find and articles that seemed to be of general interest. But I came across a piece by Westbrook Pegler making reference to Elanor Roosevelt that got my attention. In my innocence I knew that Elanor Roosevelt was an important political character and had a lot to do with black people. For all I knew she might have helped form the NAACP, but in those days when more extremist groups like CORE, SNCC and the SDS were all over the place, the NAACP was about as old-fashioned and harmless as a Black Baptist church. Besides, Columbus was right down the road from Warm Springs, FDR's Little White House, and the name of Roosevelt was well thought of in those parts. Pegler's description of Elanor Roosevelt was about as vile an expression of ad hominemattack as I had ever seen in print, making reference, I recall, to her "hooked nose" and other physical attributes having nothing to do with politics or principles. I put down the magazine and left the store. Many experiences of my college years have been lost in my memory, but that exposure to that issue of Human Events remained burned in my memory for the rest of my life.

I have been sitting at this keyboard now over two hours squeezing this pimple and I was about to put together a closing paragraph. Here we are over forty years after the fact and I decided to try a Google search to find if the exact article that I may have been reading in 1962 might be found on line. To my surprise I did a search just now for Westbrook Pegler Eleanor Roosevelt and got over fifteen hundred hits. [Now, in 2015, the number is fifteen thousand.]

But I found an even bigger surprise, appearing in the Wikipedia article about Pegler.
Interest in Pegler was revived when a line originally written by him appeared in Republican Vice-Presidential nominee Sarah Palin's acceptance speech at the 2008 Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minnesota. "We grow good people in our small towns, with honesty and sincerity and dignity", she said, attributing it to "a writer."The speech was written by Matthew Scully, a senior speech writer for George W. Bush.

I called it a "surprise," but after thinking about it for a moment, I may be disturbed, amazed, wowed or evendisappointed. But surprised? I think not. And I can think of no better ending to this reflection.

Later....April 17, 2009

I notice someone from Michigan has been reading this post. I had not thought about it since I wrote it and never imagined anyone else would be interested. Reading it now, half a year later, it reads pretty good. Messy and without much of a point, but okay reading.

I drilled further in to the Pegler/Palin links and came up with the article mentioned. (WSJ op-ed) This fleshes out the story somewhat. Thomas Frank's The GOP Loves the Heartland To Death is a treasure. I'm grabbing the whole thing because too many times archived links go nowhere.
It tells us something about Sarah Palin's homage to small-town America, delivered to an enthusiastic GOP convention last week, that she chose to fire it up with an unsourced quotation from the all-time champion of fake populism, the belligerent right-wing columnist Westbrook Pegler. 
"We grow good people in our small towns, with honesty and sincerity and dignity," the vice-presidential candidate said, quoting an anonymous "writer," which is to say, Pegler, who must have penned that mellifluous line when not writing his more controversial stuff. As the New York Times pointed out in its obituary of him in 1969, Pegler once lamented that a would-be assassin "hit the wrong man" when gunning for Franklin Roosevelt. 
There's no evidence that Mrs. Palin shares the trademark Pegler bloodlust -- except maybe when it comes to moose and wolves. Nevertheless, the red-state myth that Mrs. Palin reiterated for her adoring audience owes far more to the venomous spirit of Pegler than it does to Norman Rockwell. 
Small town people, Mrs. Palin went on, are "the ones who do some of the hardest work in America, who grow our food and run our factories and fight our wars." They are authentic; they are noble, and they are her own: "I grew up with those people."
But what really defines them in Mrs. Palin's telling is their enemies, the people who supposedly "look down" on them. The opposite of the heartland is the loathsome array of snobs and fakers, "reporters and commentators," lobbyists and others who make up "the Washington elite." 
Presumably the various elite Washington lobbyists who have guided John McCain's presidential campaign were exempt from Mrs. Palin's criticism. As would be former House Speaker Dennis Hastert, now a "senior adviser" to the Dickstein Shapiro lobby firm, who hymned the "Sarah Palin part of the party" thus: "Their kids aren't going to go to Ivy League schools. Their sons leave high school and join the military to serve our country. Their husbands and wives work two jobs to make sure the family is sustained." 
Generally speaking, though, when husbands and wives work two jobs each it is not merely because they are virtuous but because working one job doesn't earn them enough to get by. The two-job workers in Middle America aren't spurning the Ivy League and joining the military straight out of high school just because they're people of principle, although many of them are. It is because they can't afford to do otherwise. 
Leave the fantasy land of convention rhetoric, and you will find that small-town America, this legendary place of honesty and sincerity and dignity, is not doing very well. If you drive west from Kansas City, Mo., you will find towns where Main Street is largely boarded up. You will see closed schools and hospitals. You will hear about depleted groundwater and massive depopulation. 
And eventually you will ask yourself, how did this happen? Did Hollywood do this? Was it those "reporters and commentators" with their fancy college degrees who wrecked Main Street, U.S.A.? 
No. For decades now we have been electing people like Sarah Palin who claimed to love and respect the folksy conservatism of small towns, and yet who have unfailingly enacted laws to aid the small town's mortal enemies. 
Without raising an antitrust finger they have permitted fantastic concentration in the various industries that buy the farmer's crops. They have undone the New Deal system of agricultural price supports in favor of schemes called "Freedom to Farm" and loan deficiency payments -- each reform apparently designed to secure just one thing out of small town America: cheap commodities for the big food processors. Richard Nixon's Agriculture Secretary Earl Butz put the conservative attitude toward small farmers most bluntly back in the 1970s when he warned, "Get big or get out." 
A few days ago I talked politics with Donn Teske, the president of the Kansas Farmers Union and a former Republican. Barack Obama may come from a big city, he admits, but the Farmers Union gives him a 100% rating for his votes in Congress. John McCain gets a 0%. "If any farmer in the Plains States looked at McCain's voting record on ag issues," Mr. Teske says, "no one would vote for him." 
Now, Mr. McCain is known for his straight talk with industrial workers, telling them their jobs are never coming back, that the almighty market took them away for good, and that retraining is their only hope. 
But he seems to think that small-town people can be easily played. Just choose a running mate who knows how to skin a moose and all will be forgiven. Drive them off the land, shutter their towns, toss their life chances into the grinders of big agriculture . . . and praise their values. The TV eminences will coo in appreciation of your in-touch authenticity, and the carnival will move on.

My mind got infected at an early age. Too bad. Now, forty-odd years later when I see or hear reference to Sarah Palin it invokes memories of Westbrook Pegler, Human Events Magazine, The John Birch Society, Robert Welch (who I saw and didn't like) and now journalist Thomas Frank (whom I've never seen or heard of but like very much). I hope she finds enough happiness and fulfillment in Alaska to make her want to remain there. But I fear that sometime between now and 2012 she's gonna get the urge to relocate to the lower forty-eight.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Social Security Links

When I looked for this I ran into two or three attempts to sell it behind a subscription, so I'm collecting it here for my own future reference. When I personally recall a few key words I don't believe it's fair to charge me to see the rest of a piece if that's all I'm looking for. The commercialization of the Web is like an invasive species -- virus, plant or animal. 
Molly Ivins January 24 1999

AUSTIN, Texas — Well, see, you live long enough, and sooner or later, you end up agreeing with Alan Greenspan. How right he is, that clever Mr. Greenspan — investing Social Security funds in the stock market is a truly bad idea.

This particular lemon is the pet project of Wall Street, which stands to make a killing from it, and of conservative Republicans. That President Clinton should embrace this barmy notion is a typically Clintonian political play. He really wants to do something about Social Security, and opening up the stock market option as well as individual savings accounts should get the R's, who have been pushing both ideas, excited enough to try to work out a deal.

Of course, putting Social Security money into the stock market is not solely the intellectual province of such folks as Martin Feldstein, chairman of Ronald Reagan's Council of Economic Advisers. Sen. Patrick Moynihan and some other liberal lights are for some variation of the plan.

And not all Republicans favor it: Rep. Bill Archer, chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, said: "We can save Social Security without making the government an owner of private markets. The proposal will lead to mischief, political favoritism and less money for Social Security recipients. It's a very bad idea." Sen. Phil Gramm added his own cordial condemnation and allowed that he doesn't think they'll get far on Social Security this term — maybe next year.

Since Clinton has proposed the ideas, some Republicans are now backpedaling, on the theory that anything advocated by the man they regard as Beelzebub must be wrong. Several congressmen have decried Clinton's idea that the government should invest the funds.

"The decisions will be made by government bureaucrats instead of professional money managers," cried one. Right — professional money managers like Michael Milken, Ivan Boesky, Charles Keating, Nick Leeson (the guy who brought down Baring's, the old bank in Britain) and John Meriwether (the hedge fund genius who had to be bailed out to the tune of $3.6 billion). Yes, we certainly want those professional money managers involved.

I'm all for letting people make their own decisions, but can you feature a zillion senior citizens, many of whom have Alzheimer's or are getting vague from old age, many of whom never learned a thing about stocks in their whole lives, suddenly put in charge of investing their Social Security money? They'd be sitting ducks for every con man in America.

Some would fall for phony preachers; some would listen to their son-in-law the dentist; others would hear that some people were getting a guaranteed 20 percent a year and believe it.

This seems to me the equivalent of the equally daffy idea that we can solve Social Security's problems by extending the retirement age to 70. The first idea shows how out of touch Washington is with the intellectual realities of old age, and the other shows how out of touch it is with the physical realities of old age.

Of course, if you're a congressman, you can go on voting and bloviating until you're as old as Strom Thurmond without any difficulty. But have you ever looked at the feet of an old waitress? Do you know what it's like to do heavy lifting all day in your 60s?

A more hilarious Republican reaction is that Clinton's program is actually ... socialism! Rather than privatizing Social Security, Michael Farr, president of the financial consulting firm Farr, Miller and Washington, declared it "the de-privatization of corporate America."

You must admit that there is evidence for the concern about whether government money managers might take political correctness into account when making investment decisions. In fact, a certain very large state I know well recently decided to pull $43 million in its permanent school fund out of the Walt Disney Co. because fundamentalist Christians on the State Board of Education were upset about Disney's support of gay people.

The one country that has carried out privatization of its social security system is Chile, during the reign of Augusto Pinochet and under the influence of Milton Friedman. The results have been awful. And Britain's partial privatization from the Thatcher era is an unqualified disaster. If you have not read a serious account of what has happened in these two places, I recommend that you do so.

I noticed some ill-informed commentary to the effect that Clinton's proposals "come from the left." Not only are they right-wing Republican ideas, but anyone familiar with the left knows that our thinking on Social Security is that there is no problem.

Wall Street has been telling us that the sky is falling to panic us into precisely the kind of dumb moves that Clinton recommended. The fact is that Social Security projections are based on extremely pessimistic economic assumptions: a growth rate of just 1.8 percent during the next 20 years (a lower rate than any comparable period in American history), with more low growth after that. The July 1998 issue of The Atlantic Monthly carried an important article debunking much of the hysteria over Social Security; I highly recommend it.

Molly Ivins is a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. To find out more about Molly Ivins and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at


Thursday, April 9, 2015

Nudge as Politics

Now that Cass Sunstein has published three or four books on his idea of the nudge, I asked Connor Kilpatrick for some...
Posted by Corey Robin on Wednesday, April 8, 2015

This post by Corey Robin reminds me of an old blog post I put together when Sunstein left the Obama administration two and a half years ago. The comments thread is more cute than informative. That was back in my Newshogger days which unfortunately have mostly vanished in the Web equivalent of a landfill, the place where broken links and lost thoughts go when they die. I was able to retrieve this much from Mr. Google

August 4, 2012

Buh-Bye, Nudger-in-Chief

Cass Sunstein is leaving his role as administator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, otherwise know as the Regulatory Czar.
[He] came to Washington to test his theories of human behavior and economic efficiency in the laboratory of the federal government. Now he is departing with a record that left many business interests disappointed and environmental, health and consumer advocates even more unhappy. 
Mr. Sunstein, 57, who projected an air of disheveled academic detachment while becoming one of the Obama administration’s most provocative figures, announced Friday that he was leaving government to return to Harvard Law School.
Applying a cost-benefit analysis to his reviews of proposed rules, he said his goal was simply to make the nation’s regulatory system “as sensible as possible.”
His critics saw it differently. 
“Cass Sunstein is the most well-connected and smartest guy who’s ever held the job,” said Rena Steinzor, president of the Center for Progressive Reform and a professor at the University of Maryland Carey School of Law. “But he’s also done untold damage.”
Since we haven't heard much about him and he appears to have pissed off allies and opponents alike he must have done a pretty good job. I put together a post about the guy a couple years ago and nothing in his leaving comes as any surprise to me. He and the boss are reported to be long-time friends and the "nudge" approach has been a hallmark of this administration's management style from the start. Except for a few targeted assassinations, most people would agree that kicking ass isn't the president's strong suit. Nudging is not the same as letting others step on you. Think wrestling. Graeco-Roman has an array of straqtegic moves but Sumo takes nudging to an art form.

Two examples of how nudging works come to mind...

The phrase leading from behind has never before, to my knowledge, been applied to a president or anyone else in a position of leadership. But that phrase has popped up repeatedly over the last two or three years, most prominently regarding Libya

And just yesterday Maggie Mahar put together a great summary of how the impact of PPACA is already being felt and how that "aircraft carrier" is starting to turn. [Even during his campaign Obama used the "aircraft carrier" image to illustrate how tough it is to change the direction of any government policy.]

The evidence is building: As we move toward making the Affordable Care Act a reality, Medicare spending in slowing, and even in the private sector, for the first time in more than a decade, insurers are focusing on reining in health care costs .

The passage of reform legislation two years ago prompted a change in how both health care providers and payers think about care. The ACA told insurers that they would no longer be able to shun the sick by refusing to cover those suffering from pre-existing conditions. They also won’t be allowed to cap how much ithey will pay out to an desperately ill patient over the course of a year –or a lifetime. Perhaps most importantly, going forward, insurance companies selling policies to individuals and small companies will have to reimburse for all of the “essential benefits” outlined in the ACA–benefits that are not now covered by most policies. This means that, if they hope to stay in business, they will have to find a way to ”manage” the cost of care–but they won’t be able to do it by denying needed care.

That's a subject for another post if I get around to it. (Maggie trimmed this down to a mere 3000+ words.) But the point is that nudging has started a process of long-overdue change. I sensed as much a couple months ago when I posted this.
The word unsustainable is more than a political nostrum. The train is leaving the station. The political types with their polls, weathervanes and double-talk will eventually figure out what needs to be done. But improvements to the system are already happening, with or without Obamacare.
That's what I call nudging in action.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Easter Sunday, 2015

Garrison Keillor reminds us at his Writer's Almanac of the origin of the word Easter, the Easter bunny and the custom of decorating Easter eggs.

And on television one of the Christian Zionist channels shows an image of the president speaking at Georgetown University, making a point to report how he refused to speak unless they covered up the cross behind the lectern.  This, of course, is all the evidence needed to once again underscore how duplicitous and un-Christian the man is. But having got in that swipe they moved on to a less political message.

I checked the backstory and sure enough something like that did happen in 2009, six years ago.  It was not on Easter, which in 2009 was two days earlier. This is from and half the links no longer work, but enough are still active (including NBC) to validate their explanation.
This mini-controversy bubbled up shortly after President Obama gave a speech on the economy on April 14 in Georgetown University’s Gaston Hall. Numerous media outlets reported on it, all of them saying virtually the same thing. But we’re still getting several queries from readers about it. 
The monogram "IHS" – a symbol for Jesus – that appeared behind the podium where Obama spoke at Georgetown was covered up with a piece of black-painted plywood. This led to speculation that the White House had asked that all religious imagery in the hall be covered or removed, as our reader notes. But Georgetown University and the White House have said this was not a case of any kind of religious cover-up. (Cybercast News Service, which says it aims to counter a liberal bias in the media) was one of the first to cover the story, and it reported that Julie Green Bataille, associate vice president for communications at the university, said that all university signs were covered to accommodate a presidential backdrop: 
Georgetown University spokeswoman Julie Green Bataille: In coordinating the logistical arrangements for yesterday’s event, Georgetown honored the White House staff’s request to cover all of the Georgetown University signage and symbols behind Gaston Hall stage. 
The White House wanted a simple backdrop of flags and pipe and drape for the speech, consistent with what they’ve done for other policy speeches. Frankly, the pipe and drape wasn’t high enough by itself to fully cover the IHS and cross above the GU seal and it seemed most respectful to have them covered so as not to be seen out of context.
Bataille’s statement has been repeated in other news accounts. A White House spokesman also told news organizations following the story that the only motivation behind the request was to create a presidential image for TV. "Decisions made about the backdrop for the speech were made to have a consistent background of American flags, which is standard for many presidential events. Any suggestions to the contrary are simply false,” spokesman Shin Inouye told ABC News, the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times noted that while the "IHS" behind the president’s podium wasn’t visible, "the letters ‘IHS’ are posted elsewhere around the hall approximately 26 times" and that Obama mentioned Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in his remarks. There are also religious paintings visible high above Obama’s head in MSNBC’s video of the speech.
And so in the midst of the RFRA flap  Easter Sunday becomes more than the sacred occasion celebrated by Christians for centuries. This year they also launch anointed scud Mediamissiles (defensive, you know) in an ongoing War Against Religion.  Just as diplomatic efforts to resolve Middle East conflicts become evidence of weakness, attempts on my part to bring reason to an emotional argument are met with indifference.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Censorship and Tolerance Notes

This is a repost from my old blog, December 2005.
An arabian blogger's defense of censorship

Now this is an interesting read.

"Nomaadic" writing at a secret blog from arabia  [link no longer active] tells why he doesn't object too much when he runs into blocked internet sites. To those of us for whom a completely unrestricted internet is a model of freedom in the highest form, this is more than alien, it can be downright offensive. But the arguments are pretty straightforward. If they make sense to this writer, they are not too far off the charts for many others who do not express themselves as openly. The comment thread bears out this observation. Those who disagree with the writer do not treat him as anything close to an extremist or a madman.

As I read this post, I couldn't help thinking how many conservative Americans would be able to understand and agree with his thinking -- if only he were advancing their agenda rather than that of a conservative and concerned Muslim.

Most people surfing the web from within the borders of the UAE may have at least once in their travels come across this blue and red proxy banner asking for your apology. The official line being, that the website you had been trying to access is blocked as a result of its content going against the ‘ethical, religious and cultural values’ of this country. While some label this block as an intrusion into the private lives of individuals and a restriction of personal liberty, others view it as an essential instrument to help maintain some kind of social order (or at least the illusion of order) in a country that is still rapidly evolving from traditional Muslim conservatism to Western liberalism. 
Evidently, the camps between being ‘pro-proxy’ and ‘anti proxy’ can be sharply defined along the lines of cultural differences. Typically, those who are against the proxy are Western liberals based here and abroad and who have been witness to a history of fighting for the freedom of speech and the application of universal ‘democratic’ rights. Conversely, those who are pro-proxy are usually Local, Arabs and others from a Muslim background. 
...we should remember that the West has had years to evolve to the level of liberalism and freedom of expression that it practices today. On the other hand, the UAE is still a young country and lifting the block here is the equivalent of placing your child in front of the TV, giving her a remote control and a selection of pornographic DVDs to watch.From an Islamic point of view, the argument against the removal of a proxy is even more potent. As Islam is not a token religion, to block pornographic websites and simular material is viewed as a highly positive thing to do. As the UAE is officially an 'Islamic' country then Etisalat has every right to exercise levels of censorship. 
...I find it ironic that many offensive (and inoffensive websites) are blocked to protect the integrity of this society, but I can still turn on MTV at 1pm in the afternoon and watch two women simulate lesb!an sex in the latest pop video. There should either be censorship of material that is deemed anti-Islamic across all the media or no censorship at all. I prefer the former. What we don’t need is a vague one sided application of censorship that appears to be based on arbitrary reasoning, instead of a genuine concern for the fabric and well being of this society.
It's an eye-opener, folks. This doesn't strike me as any fire-bleathing extremist. Make of it what you will. I think it may be an example of what an ordinary man on the street could be thinking in many parts of the Arab world.

That on phrase, "Islam is not a token religion" jumped off the page at me. I immediately thought of Stephen Carter's book, The Culture of Disbelief, sub-titled How American Law and Politics Trivialize Religious Devotion. In it are page after page of the many ways that what we like to think of as liberal democracy have eaten away at core values of many faiths.
When the Supreme Court of the United States, ostensibly the final refuge of religious freedom, struck down a Connecticut statute requiring employers to make efforts to allow their employees to observe the sabbath, one Justice observed that the sabbath should not be singled out because all employees would like to have "the right to select the day of the week in which to refrain from labor." Sounds good, except that, as one scholar noted, "It would come as some surprise to a devout Jew to find that he has 'selected the day of the week in which to refrain from labor,' since the Jewish people have been under the impression for some 3,000 years that this choice was made by God." If the Sabbath is just another day off, then religious choice is essentially arbitrary and unimportant, so if one sabbath day is inconvenient, the religiously devout employee can just choose another.  [LINK]
In America, of course, where there is a multiplicity of faiths and a long (if blood-stained, bigoted and uneven) history of tolerance, we aim to make space for as many differences of faith as possible, by treating those variations more as differences of opinion than variations on truth. The result is, as Carter points out, that "the religiously devout come to treat their faith communities as simple interest groups, involved in a general competition for secular power [so] it should come as no surprise if everybody else looks at them the same way."

Before we jump to quick judgement of this blogger's point of view, we might reflect on whether the alternative has resulted in unmitigated blessings.

[Footnote: I haven't read a lot of Stephen Carter, but he seems to be well-represented  was once represented by a series of columns in Christianity Today...which I also have not read. I am impressed by what I read in the book cited, as well as another called simply Integrity. Carter is another very smart man. You don't get on staff at Yale by being anything less.]

Thursday, April 2, 2015

RFRA Reflections

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 is finding new applications on the part of religious fundamentalists to advance political and social agendas against abortion, contraceptives, LBGT rights and marriage equality. The Hobby Lobby case (Burwell) seems to have been the whirlwind that is turning into a tornado.  My Facebook life has become an exercise in ironing out twisted logic.

This is from March 30...

Christians are abandoning their faith in record numbers supporting legislation crafted to discriminate against others. I suppose lessons about loving enemies, not throwing the first stone and aiding the Samaritan stranger are being shelved to make hair shirts less irritating. Religious Freedom Restoration Acts for these Christians are like the Confederate Flag to the Sons of Confederate Veterans. Like open-carry laws for gun owners, all are symbolic that some lines will never be crossed and anybody who is offended can just get over it.

I dislike the term "culture war" because the word "culture" has no more to do with real culture than the word "war" has to do with real war. Real culture means reaching a level of refinement that rules out attitudes and behaviors degrading others. This reflection is prompted by something from CNN on line. I will leave the link in a comment.  [Here is that link from which the following quote is lifted.]
It all started when World Vision...announced a change to its hiring policy allowing people in same-sex marriages to work in its U.S. offices.
In response, conservative evangelicals rallied, and within 72 hours, more than 10,000 children had lost their financial support from canceled World Vision sponsorships.
...the CEO of World Vision announced the charity would reverse its decision and return to its old policies discriminating against gay and lesbian employees.
It had worked. Using wells and hospitals and child sponsorships as bargaining chips in the culture wars had actually worked. 
And here is the complete post and comments thread.

Christians are abandoning their faith in record numbers supporting legislation crafted to discriminate against others. I...
Posted by John Ballard on Monday, March 30, 2015
This came out in one of the comments threads and I have used it several times elsewhere.

The thought came to me that had this RFRA preceded the Civil Rights Act, it might very well have blocked passage of that legislation. That key section compelling desegregation was opposed by many on religious grounds alone. Millions of white people based their support of segregation on their faith. To them it was a matter of biblical truth that races must be kept apart. They truly believed that integrating people of different races was a violation of God's plan for mankind, and had there been this RFRA at that time they would have been standing on solid legal ground. I know this to be true because my own family was in that camp. I had many long arguments with them about this very point.

Long forgotten now is that the original RFRA signed into federal law by President Clinton was passed to protect certain minority groups, principally Native Americans, for whom the use of hallucinogenic drugs were part of their religious tradition. An interesting spin-off would also be the protection of beards, hair styles and head coverings of Sikhs, Jews and even Muslims. Only recently did opponents of marriage equality, contraceptives and abortion find a fresh, if unintended application for this law.

History has shown how readily people of faith are willing to take up arms when they believe their faith is being attacked, or even disrespected. We need look no further than the Middle East to see military manifestations of various faiths -- including, I might add, a few Christian militias in Nigeria and Syria. And don't forget that Israel was built on a religious foundation that precludes any version of democracy that threatens that basis.

America is not to the point of armed conflict, but that development is not as far-fetched as it seems. The president's slip of the tongue about guns and religion (during his first campaign) was not something he made up. It was based on uncomfortable facts. Defenders of RFRA are literally playing with fire.

Here is a post by Deborah White in which I included that argument. 


Here is another Facebook post and comments thread illustrating how difficult to argue facts when beliefs stand in the way.
The comments thread is a study in incoherent thinking and my vain attempt to overcome it.

RFRA is mostly a red herring.The real challenge is that gays, etc. are not considered a legally "protected class."
Posted by John Ballard on Saturday, April 4, 2015