Tuesday, April 30, 2013

A severed wasp: Democrats and the sequester

When Democrats voted last Friday to jigger the rules of sequestration to allow the FAA to ease flight delays, the conviction took hold on the left that Democrats have lost on sequestration, as Ezra Klein declared.  If that's true, it means that the budget battle that began when Republicans retook the House is over, and Republicans have won.  The ten-year vice grip on discretionary spending is closing.  Since spring 2011, Obama has agreed to some $3 trillion in spending cuts over ten years, while securing just $600 billion in new revenue. 

You could say no one has won -- Klein again -- as Republicans have failed to cut entitlements and acceded (so far) to huge defense cuts.  But they've achieved their more nihilist (and perhaps dominant) ends -- foreclosing on the kinds of long-term investments Obama has urged throughout his presidency, and crimping the economic recovery for which Obama would get the principal credit.

For progressive writers, realization has dawned in agonizing stages. I'm reminded a bit of George Orwell's account of  "a rather cruel trick I once played on a wasp. He was sucking jam on my plate, and I cut him in half. He paid no attention, merely went on with his meal, while a tiny stream of jam trickled out of his severed Å“sophagus. Only when he tried to fly away did he grasp the dreadful thing that had happened to him.”

Progressives have consistently underestimated the capacity of Obama and the Democrats to fold -- at the fiscal cliff, at the passage of continuing resolutions implementing the first tranche of the sequester through FY 2013, and at the FAA kerfuffle. Let's flash back a bit and watch awareness unfold, first that Republicans were going to focus their efforts on sequestration, then that they were going to let it happen, and then that they could induce Democrats to help cram the budget into the sequestration strait jacket.

Monday, April 29, 2013

A different path for education reform

Recent readings about education reform and conversations with teachers have convinced me that the current emphasis on high-stakes testing is misguided, and that education reform as we know it is more about enriching for-profit educational testing and curriculum companies and privileged charter school networks than about strengthening public education. That's not to say that national standards for what children should know are a bad thing, but that the current punitive improve-scores-or-die regime creates all kinds of perverse incentives for a system ill-equipped to meet those standards.

An article in the current issues of Foreign Affairs, Why American Education Fails and How Lessons from Abroad Could Improve It, by Jal Mehta of Harvard, charts an alternate course that's in line with my longstanding sense, based in part on my experience as a parent, of what's wrong with our current system. While I have some caveats, three of Mehta's core premises seem to me to get at the heart of the problem:

1) You can't 'raise the bar' for students without first raising it for prospective teachers:

From what planet comes this one?

This headline, that is, or rather large caption to a front-page photo in today's Wall Street Journal (not onine):

Shooting Mars Swearing-in Ceremony

The photo [scroll down] is of a man lying flat with a gun pointed at his head. I did wonder whether someone was shooting an action movie set on the red planet. Its sandwiching between two gerunds (or a gerund and a gerund phrase, or whatever) added to the red fog.

Add this to my collection of headlines in which it's hard to pluck the verb from a dense mesh of (often monosyllabic) ambidextrous verb-nouns:

Verbal noun mashup dazes headline reader
Newspaper taxes readers' decoding chops
Five noun run spurs brain freeze

Friday, April 26, 2013

The Obamaquester

As the deadline for the sequestration cuts to take effect loomed last March, Republicans used that label to try to pin them on Obama. The sequester was his idea, they said. They were willing to substitute more intelligent, targeted cuts, but he insisted on new revenue, and "he already got his revenue" in January.

On one level, this argument was absurd.  The administration only "proposed" the sequester because Republicans threatened to let the country default on its debt if Obama did not agree to cut a dollar of spending for every dollar the debt ceiling was raised. Sequestration was a device designed to give the Democrats a later negotiating opportunity to replace some of those cuts with revenue. Obama was willing to compromise to prevent the meat ax from coming down; Republicans were not.  Obama does not want to cut spending by the amount stipulated in the sequester; Republicans do.

In another sense, though, the sequester does belong to Obama.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Two assessments of the Bush presidency

By any normal human reckoning, you would have to call President Obama's selective precis of the George W. Bush presidency, delivered at the dedication of the Bush Library, generous and gracious, First he paid tribute to the man:
So we know President Bush the man.  And what President Clinton said is absolutely true -- to know the man is to like the man, because he’s comfortable in his own skin.  He knows who he is.  He doesn’t put on any pretenses.  He takes his job seriously, but he doesn’t take himself too seriously.  He is a good man.
Then, to an edited version of his record: 

But we also know something about George Bush the leader.  As we walk through this library, obviously we’re reminded of the incredible strength and resolve that came through that bullhorn as he stood amid the rubble and the ruins of Ground Zero, promising to deliver justice to those who had sought to destroy our way of life...

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Obama on kinks in the arc of history

One passage in Peter Beinart's stirring ode to Obama's gun control efforts set me thinking again about how Obama views (and frames) U.S. history:
Republicans often describe America as a country that was once pure—at its founding, before the New Deal, or before the 1960s—was sullied and now must now be redeemed. Obama, by contrast, describes America as a protracted struggle to honor our best ideals by overcoming our evil past, a struggle in which heroes often die without ever seeing their labors bear fruit. It’s no coincidence that a month after Newtown, he swore his inaugural oath on the bibles of Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, and spoke of “the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls and Selma and Stonewall.” It’s no coincidence that he so often quotes King (who was himself quoting the abolitionist Theodore Parker) as saying, “Even though the arc of the moral universe is long, it bends toward justice.”
I would slightly edit this acute observation, altering "overcoming our evil past" to "overcoming the evils in our past" or "overcoming our more limited past."  Due in part perhaps to political necessity, Obama puts a relentlessly positive spin on the national historical saga, casting it as a tale of continual progress toward a more perfect union.  The circle of those included in the "all are created equal" widens in concentric historical ripples, "through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall." It's a presentation of American history modeled on Lincoln's concept of what Garry Wills tagged in Lincoln at Gettysburg as "continual approximation" of the ideals embedded in the Declaration of Independence.  Wills cites Lincoln setting forth that concept in the Lincoln-Douglas debates:

Monday, April 22, 2013

In which Alyssa Rosenberg scolds like it's 1562

[reposted]

Alyssa Rosenberg* does not find Romeo and Juliet dramatically satisfying or morally wholesome:
Romeo and Juliet—a play about children—is full of terrible, deeply childish ideas about love. And as much as I want to see more interracial couples in pop culture and more diverse casts on stage and screen, I don’t want to see them cast in material that is so horribly depressing.  

Romeo and Juliet itself hasn’t aged well. The story follows Juliet Capulet, who is 13 when she meets Romeo Montague at a party, falls head over heels in love with him, and marries him within a day of meeting him. Romeo's age isn't specified in the play, but the quickness with which he throws over a former flame for Juliet doesn’t suggest a particularly mature man. ..

..the vision of Romeo and Juliet's deaths uniting their families is an adolescent fantasy of death solving all problems, a "won't they miss me when I'm gone" pout. There's a reason that, in the best modern riff on Romeo and Juliet, West Side Story, Maria lives after Tony's death to shame the Sharks and the Jets, her survival a seal on the truce between them. Dying is easy. Living to survive the consequences of your actions and to do the actual work of reconciliation is the hard part.
Perhaps inadvertently, Rosenberg has reproduced the moral judgment first leveled by the author of Shakespeare's source story, Arthur Brooke, whose Tragicall Historye of Romeus and Juliet, published in 1562, begins with a preemptive strike against any reader tempted to identify with the star-crossed lovers: 

Friday, April 19, 2013

In which Paul Krugman gets cutesy with causality


ICYMI, this week serious questions were raised about a controversial and influential paper by Harvard economists Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff that purported to show -- or at least has been taken to show -- that when a country's national debt reaches about 90% of GDP, that debt acts as a significant drag on growth.  On April 15, Thomas Herndon, Michael Ash and Robert Polin published a paper alleging that Reinhart and Rogoff's paper contained, along with various methodological errors, a coding error in an Excel spread sheet. In response,  Reinhart and Rogoff acknowledge the error, but defend their methodology and  maintain that the error does not materially affect their conclusions. They also claim that they never stated categorically that higher debt caused lower growth. It's that question of how a politically freighted point is communicated and received that interests me here.

On his blog, Paul Krugman cried "casuistry" on that last point:
And the everyone hyping Reinhart-Rogoff very much included Reinhart and Rogoff themselves. Matt O’Brien has the goods. It’s true that their papers never said outright that the relationship was causal, but they weren’t anywhere near that scrupulous in op-eds and other media presentations. And the truth is that the papers may not have stated causation flatly, but it was clearly insinuated. By trying to claim now that they never meant to imply such a thing, R-R are falling down seriously in the menschhood test.

Today, Krugman, austerity's most stalwart enemy, devoted a whole column to the kerfuffle. And while I'm happy to see him hammer away at the foundations of the case for austerity, I must say that he replicates the alleged rhetorical error. That is, he gets cutesy with causality. The whole essay is set up to convey a conclusion that he somewhat airily dismisses in the final sentence.

The opening paragraph poses a pretty grandiose premise: 

Thursday, April 18, 2013

"They deserve a vote," cont.

Five long days ago, when the Senate broke a filibuster to allow debate on the Manchin-Toomey bill extending background checks on gun sales to gun shows and the internet, I wondered whether public shaming was not a better response to filibuster-everything obstructionism in the Senate than rule changes ending or sharply curtailing the filibuster.

Naive hope, at least in the short term. But Obama shares it. Last night, responding to the successful filibuster of the actual bill, he turned the spotlight not only on the moral cowardice of senators who voted to block the bill, but on Senate dysfunction:

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Obama calls out the cowardice caucus

Rarely will you hear a president, or any elected official, accuse those who oppose a piece of legislation of moral failure as starkly Obama did this evening, reacting to the successful Senate filibuster of legislation that would have expanded background checks to gun shows and internet sales (full video here).  Flanked by parents and siblings of Sandy Hook victims, along with Gabby Giffords and Joe Biden, he accused the bill's opponents of lying, caving, and failing in their duty. A sampling of the direct rebukes:
  • Families that know unspeakable grief summoned the courage to petition their elected leaders –- not just to honor the memory of their children, but to protect the lives of all our children. And a few minutes ago, a minority in the United States Senate decided it wasn’t worth it.

  •  But instead of supporting this compromise, the gun lobby and its allies willfully lied about the bill.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Peace at Antietam, Carnage in Copley Square

On this just-past beautiful spring Sunday, my wife and I took our first visit to Duke Farms, the 2600 acre Jersey estate of the tobacco heiress, philanthropist and passionate horticulturalist Doris Duke. The foundation has just launched a free bike share program, and we spent three happy hours tooling around the meadows, wooded ridges, and huge network of man-made, landscaped lakes, all in perfect 60-degree sunshine.

At the heart of the estate is a house that was never built - preserved foundations at the top of a low bluff, with grand marble stairs leading down to a large circular meadow.  At about 5:30 I took a short solo walk down the giant stairs, which felt like something out of Narnia, into the meadow, where you're flanked with grasses maybe two or three feet high.  There, in the late afternoon sun, I flashed back to the battlefield at Antietam, which includes a cornfield you can traverse, and which we also visited on a still, sunny afternoon.

At Antietam you are at pains to imagine unspeakable carnage, and what struck me late in the afternoon sun there, and came back to me this past Sunday, was the sense of deep domestic peace in the ensuing 150 years, and what  a rare blessing that is.  I know that peace is marred by a further hundred years of peonage for African Americans in the south, and almost equally brutal discrimination in the north, and to this day by urban war zones, and a brutal criminal justice system, and a thousand other social ills and injustices. But human social well-being is relative, and the peace for most of us is real, and an accomplishment and a blessing.

I gather that a similar sense of felicity and festivity was in the air in Boston yesterday, until 2:50 p.m.:

Saturday, April 13, 2013

"They deserve a vote"

The lede to this Hill article dredged up a thought that had flitted half-noticed through the ol' necktop a day or two ago:
The White House has tilted the gun control debate in its favor by centering its public relations effort around one pivotal message: the legislation deserves a vote.
The thought: maybe the best response to the Senate's galloping filibusteritis is not new rulemaking, but public shaming.

Friday, April 12, 2013

We are the 34%!

who "like" or "love" doing our taxes, according to Pew:
When asked why they like doing their income taxes, 29% say that they are getting a refund, while 17% say they just don’t mind it or they are good at it; 13% say doing their taxes gives them a sense of control, while the same percentage cites a feeling of obligation – that it is their duty to pay their fair share.
"Like" is a bit strong for me. But I do get some satisfaction out of the process, disfigured a bit by anxiety over the possibility of owing more money than I thought (I pay quarterly estimates).  Here's what I do like:

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Alyssa Rosenberg thinks Romeo and Juliet "hasn't aged well," but her complaints are ageless

[reposted, with postscript]:

Alyssa Rosenberg* does not find Romeo & Juliet dramatically satisfying or morally wholesome:
Romeo and Juliet—a play about children—is full of terrible, deeply childish ideas about love. And as much as I want to see more interracial couples in pop culture and more diverse casts on stage and screen, I don’t want to see them cast in material that is so horribly depressing.  

Romeo and Juliet itself hasn’t aged well. The story follows Juliet Capulet, who is 13 when she meets Romeo Montague at a party, falls head over heels in love with him, and marries him within a day of meeting him. Romeo's age isn't specified in the play, but the quickness with which he throws over a former flame for Juliet doesn’t suggest a particularly mature man. ..

..the vision of Romeo and Juliet's deaths uniting their families is an adolescent fantasy of death solving all problems, a "won't they miss me when I'm gone" pout. There's a reason that, in the best modern riff on Romeo and Juliet, West Side Story, Maria lives after Tony's death to shame the Sharks and the Jets, her survival a seal on the truce between them. Dying is easy. Living to survive the consequences of your actions and to do the actual work of reconciliation is the hard part.
Perhaps inadvertently, Rosenberg has reproduced the moral judgment first leveled by the author of Shakespeare's source story, Arthur Brooke, whose Tragicall Historye of Romeus and Juliet, published in 1562, begins with a preemptive strike against any reader tempted to identify with the star-crossed lovers: 

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The perceptual alchemy wrought by chained-CPI

As I noted once before, Obama is getting a lot of rhetorical mileage (for whatever that's worth) out of adding chained-CPI to his 2014 budget. Here's Damian Paletta's lede in the Wall Street Journal's account of the unveiling:
WASHINGTON—President Barack Obama's $3.778 trillion spending proposal for next year incorporates for the first time a number of measures to slow the growth of spending on Social Security, Medicare and other federal benefits, hoping to draw Senate Republicans to the table for negotiations.
Obama's 2013 budget contained virtually all these "measures to slow...growth" except chained-CPI. But apparently, the grab-bag of nips and tucks to Medicare, Medicaid, federal employee benefits and other mandatory spending did not qualify as "a number of measures" until chained-CPI alchemized them.

To boost the impression of a sea change, Paletta cites one entitlement cut that's been significantly boosted over last year's budget proposal:
The White House also proposed about $370 billion in cuts over 10 years to Medicare, the health-care program for close to 50 million seniors. Almost half of these reductions would come from lower payments to drug companies, but the budget would raise $50 billion through higher premiums for some recipients over 10 years, much more than previously proposed. 
Last year's budget included about $350 billion in cuts to government healthcare spending, most of them from Medicare.  And it proposed $28 billion in higher Medicare Parts B and D premiums for wealthier benefits. The boost this year to $50 billion is substantial, but hardly game-changing.

Compare the 2014 premium boost:

The three-quarters GOP win on offer

It seems to me that in sketching out possible budget battle endgames, Greg Sargent is missing the middle ground. Or call it three-quarters ground, since Obama continues to move the goalposts in the GOP's direction.

Obama's new budget includes about $800 billion in new revenue over ten years and $800 billion in spending cuts, not counting savings from chained-CPI, to replace the sequestration cuts. The chained-CPI method of inflation calculation, which reduces Social Security spending and also boosts revenue (by slowing the upward adjustment of income tax brackets for inflation), is included as a concession to Republicans demanding the Obama propose "entitlement cuts" (Obama cut $716 billion over ten years in Medicare spending in the ACA and last year proposed another $400 billion in federal Medicare spending reductions, but never mind). Chained-CPI, with Obama's offsets for low-income seniors, saves a projected $130 billion over ten years. Sargent, trying to scope out administration intentions in light of Obama's new budget, writes:
Senior administration officials who briefed a number of us late yesterday repeatedly insisted that the White House will not move any further in the GOP’s direction if Republicans try to pocket the entitlement cuts while refusing to make any concessions. The officials say that without new revenues, no deal is possible.
And then, assessing the import of Obama's chained-CPI "concession" (which he had already put on the table, publicly, in December):
It’s welcome that the White House is vowing not to budge off its current offer, but only the White House can ensure that this promise holds over time.
The White House has not vowed not to budge off its current offer. It has vowed not to deal if Republicans put no revenue on the table. As his been true since the 2011 negotiations, Republicans can clean Obama's clock by offering some revenue.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

When the public supports the president's position...then what?

I have learned from political scientists including Brendhan Nyhan and Jonathan Bernstein that presidents generally can't sway public opinion via appeals from the bully pulpit.  National Journal report George Condon, relaying the thoughts of political scientist George C. Edwards III, encapsulates the accepted wisdom:
“It is true for all presidents. They virtually never move public opinion in their direction,” Edwards tells National Journal. Citing polling numbers for six decades and multiple presidents, he says, “It happened for Ronald Reagan. It happened for FDR. It happens all the time. You should anticipate failure if you’re trying to change people’s minds. The data is overwhelming.” What Edwards learned is that presidents succeed in rallying the public when the public already agrees with them.
With regard to Obama, however, Edwards' cited examples do not fit his categories. His analysis -- perhaps sharply abbreviated by Condon -- glides over the ambiguities involved in "rallying the public when the public already agrees":

Monday, April 08, 2013

How binding is Justice Roberts' finding that the ACA's individual mandate exceeds Congress's Commerce Clause authority? - update

Last July, I posed the question in the title in the post below, prompting a bit of a lawyer's debate in the comments. Ratman, an acute critic of the reasoning accepted by Chief Justice Roberts on this question, has just rejoined that debate after a nine month hiatus-- prompting me to wonder whether the question has been addressed in legal literature.

So, attorneys: What do you think of Ratman's argument below?  Has "the Supreme Court ruled" that Congress can't regulate inactivity, or can't mandate a purchase in the unique case posed by insurance?

A quick question of law
Thursday, July 05, 2012

How many of Chief Justice Roberts' brethren signed onto his finding that "the individual mandate is not a valid exercise of Congress’s power under the Commerce Clause and the Necessary and Proper Clause"?  None.

Justice Ginsburg, writing for the four liberal justices with regard to the mandate, concurred with Roberts' finding that the mandate was a constitutional exercise of Congress's taxing power, but dissented strongly on the Commerce Clause question. Justices Alito, Kennedy, Scalia and Thomas officially concurred with no part of Roberts' decision, though their reasoning with regard to the Commerce Clause mirrored his.  And of course, the Chief Justice's own finding that the mandate is constitutional rendered his Commerce Clause judgment moot with respect to the fate of the individual mandate.

A question, then, for legal scholars: does the finding that Congress cannot regulate inactivity have any force of law for future cases?

Sunday, April 07, 2013

Abraham Lincoln: African Americans secured their own liberation

I am no Civil War historian, so I will just share the remarkable discourse below attributed to Abraham Lincoln without comment. This conversation must be well known to historians, as it appears in the biography by Lincoln's secretaries Hay and Nicolay (long the definitive Lincoln biography). While the imperative Lincoln expresses to use emancipation as a weapon of war was familiar to me, his categoric assertions below brought me up short and made me want to hit the 'share' button.

This conversation took place (assuming it is relayed accurately) in the dark days of August 1864, when Grant's assault on Lee's army was stalled with appalling slaughter, Sherman had not yet taken Atlanta, and a wave of war weariness was overcoming the electorate.  Lincoln's honest parsing of personal ambition and love of country at the outset is itself remarkable, if characteristic, but his read on the military/political/economic forces at work is even more remarkable -- at least to this moderately informed reader. The source below is Hay's short version of the ten-volume biography he wrote with Nicolay. I don't know whether the ellipses appear in the full biography.
Mr. Lincoln realized to the full the tremendous issues of the campaign. Asked in August by a friend who noted his worn looks, if he could not go away for a fortnight's rest, he replied: "I cannot fly from my thoughts—my solicitude for this great country follows me wherever I go. I do not think it is personal vanity or ambition, though I am not free from these infirmities, but I cannot but feel that the weal or woe of this great nation will be decided in November. There is no program offered by any wing of the Democratic party, but that must result in the permanent destruction of the Union."

Saturday, April 06, 2013

In which Obama publicly negotiates with himself

It's become a cliche that Obama is a poor negotiator because he "negotiates with himself." In his weekly address, he makes it literal. Here's what he says about the budget he's releasing on Wednesday:
This is the compromise I offered the Speaker of the House at the end of last year.  While it’s not my ideal plan to further reduce the deficit, it’s a compromise I’m willing to accept in order to move beyond a cycle of short-term, crisis-driven decision-making, and focus on growing our economy and our middle class for the long run.  It includes ideas many Republicans have said they could accept as well.  It’s a way we can make progress together.
Of course he's willing to accept this compromise, because he proposed it. The Republicans, however, didn't accept it. Putting it on offer now signals that he's willing to accept a new compromise further to the right.

Friday, April 05, 2013

In which Alyssa Rosenberg scolds like it's 1562

Alyssa Rosenberg* does not find Romeo & Juliet dramatically satisfying or morally wholesome:
Romeo and Juliet—a play about children—is full of terrible, deeply childish ideas about love. And as much as I want to see more interracial couples in pop culture and more diverse casts on stage and screen, I don’t want to see them cast in material that is so horribly depressing.  

Romeo and Juliet itself hasn’t aged well. The story follows Juliet Capulet, who is 13 when she meets Romeo Montague at a party, falls head over heels in love with him, and marries him within a day of meeting him. Romeo's age isn't specified in the play, but the quickness with which he throws over a former flame for Juliet doesn’t suggest a particularly mature man. ..

..the vision of Romeo and Juliet's deaths uniting their families is an adolescent fantasy of death solving all problems, a "won't they miss me when I'm gone" pout. There's a reason that, in the best modern riff on Romeo and Juliet, West Side Story, Maria lives after Tony's death to shame the Sharks and the Jets, her survival a seal on the truce between them. Dying is easy. Living to survive the consequences of your actions and to do the actual work of reconciliation is the hard part.
Perhaps inadvertently, Rosenberg has reproduced the moral judgment first leveled by the author of Shakespeare's source story, Arthur Brooke, whose Tragicall Historye of Romeus and Juliet, published in 1562, begins with a preemptive strike against any reader tempted to identify with the star-crossed lovers: 

Here comes Obama's new centrist budget...much like his old centrist budget

To progressives, President Obama's inclusion of chained-CPI in his 2014 budget looks like another case of Obama moving the goalposts on his opponents' behalf. Yesterday, Jared Bernstein offered this forlorn hope:

No chained CPI!  No $100 billion more in NDD (non-discretionary spending) cuts!  These were both Obama offers to Rep Boehner in a grand bargainy sort of deal during the fiscal cliff squabble in December.  Neither should be on the table in the budget.  To put them there would be to meet the R’s way too far on their side of the field for no good reason.

I think I understand the strategy that says “don’t worry, progressives…we won’t enact either of these measures unless we get significant revenues.  And that’s unlikely.”

Tru dat.  But my game theory says keep your offers off the table until you’ve got their offers.  The problem doing it the other way is that you’re allowing the negotiations to start where you want them to end.  There’s the risk that the bargaining starts with with the stuff you’ve put on the table and goes down from there.  So the R’s say, “OK, we’re willing to nudge on revenues, but we’re going to need more cuts—beyond what you’ve already given us in the budget.”

 You could tell when you read that that Bernstein knew that Obama was going to do it.

If, however, the political goal is to make it look like Obama is moving far further in Republicans' direction than he has actually moved -- in effect leveraging their caricature of him as someone unwilling to reform Medicare and Social Security -- then he is getting a lot of rhetorical bang for the buck. " “Now THIS is a real budget. … THAT’S a real budget … exciting … a place to start.”

A "real budget" indeed: Pretty much the same as Obama's last budget, with the exception of chained-CPI, which everyone knows Obama put on the table last December. More subtle than Scarborough's displayed ignorance is Jackie Calmes' rhetorical merger of old proposed entitlement cuts with new (formally) proposed entitlement cuts:

Thursday, April 04, 2013

Chait all wet on high-stakes testing

Jonathan Chait has been a critic of the perverse incentives that distort our healthcare delivery system.  But he is willfully oblivious to the perverse incentives created by overemphasis on high-stakes testing in public school systems. 

Here's his reaction to the Atlanta cheating scandal, in which former Superintendent Beverly Hall and 34 other 34 teachers, principals and administrators were indicted on allegations that they “conspired to either cheat, conceal cheating or retaliate against whistle-blowers in an effort to bolster C.R.C.T. scores for the benefit of financial rewards associated with high test scores”:
[Eugene Robinson's] factual premise — that connecting teacher and principal incentives to student achievement leads to more cheating — is probably true. Is this a reason to get rid of incentives? No, it isn’t.

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Back to basics with gay marriage

I've been allergic all my life, and for the last 15 years or so plagued by nasal polyps. A couple of months ago I started taking Nasonex and for the first time since I can remember I've been consistently breathing clear through my nose. I enjoy this immensely. I lie down in bed on my back, close my mouth and fill up my lungs. Breathing has become a thing.

I also enjoy being married -- happy to come home in the evening when my wife is home, happy to spend every weekend together, etc. And with gay marriage filling the headlines, I notice the pleasure and privilege of it a bit more.  Marriage has become a thing.

Gay activists, or simply the rising visibility of gay couples, have made marriage cool again. They've raised its value in my eyes, or rather made me a little more conscious of its value, which is pretty much the same thing.  And I think that the drive for gay marriage has raised the institution's value materially by making the whole society think hard about what it's really about.

The west has valorized marriage for true love, as the free choice of two people who decide they're right for each other, for more than a century. That ideal was getting a little worn around the edges, pecked at by perspectives from biology, and psychology, and probability, and economics, and political ideology -- and by postmodern skepticism generally. In real terms, too, the institution as we knew it has eroded, thanks first to divorce and then to the advancing tide of out-of-wedlock births.

Gay marriage is not going to change that, or arrest change in this ever-changing but indestructible human institution. But it has made the enduring reality of individual choice and the eternal viability of lifelong commitment and the value and utility of two-parent families a bit clearer.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

David Frum raises a crucial non-issue for Democrats

I love David Frum's diagnoses of what's wrong with the Republican party (for many years now, he's had the no doubt unsettling experience of being admired more by his political adversaries than by his putative allies). But as he now takes a turn at prescribing a healthy political evolution for Democrats, he's spinning his wheels.

Frum warns (or concern-trolls) Democrats that if they simply anoint Hillary Clinton in 2016, they'll miss a revivifying debate on core elements of the party's future direction, defined thus:
* Were President Obama's counter-terrorism policies effective and necessary? Or did they over-reach and violate important liberties?

* Is Obamacare a charter for regulated competition among private health insurers? Or is it a deeply flawed half-way step on the way to Medicare for all?

Monday, April 01, 2013

HHS guidelines for privatized Medicaid expansion

The Department of Health and Human Services issued a FAQ on Friday regarding its receptivity to state proposals, like the one floated by Arkansas, to use the federal funds for Medicaid expansion through the ACA to offer private insurance through the ACA exchanges to Medicaid-eligibles.

HHS points out that outside the ACA expansion, states already can use Medicaid funds to buy private coverage  (mostly through private group health plans) for Medicaid recipients, provided that the plans are deemed "cost effective" -- that is, "that Medicaid’s premium payment to private plans plus the cost of additional services and cost sharing assistance that would be required would be comparable to what it would otherwise pay for the same services."

The new departure would be using federal money to buy qualified health plans on the new ACA exchanges for those covered by the ACA's Medicaid expansion. It's important to note the context in which HHS will consider "demonstration projects" of this sort: it will do so to "inform policy for the State Innovation Waivers that start in 2017."  In 2017, states can apply to "pursue their own innovative strategies to ensure their residents have access to high quality, affordable health insurance" providing the proposed plan

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