Thursday, April 27, 2017

Faso by phone

I just got off the phone with Faso's office.

He still doesn't have a position (or at least, not a position he's willing to inform his constituents about).

"There's talk of a vote tomorrow. Will he have a position by then?"

"Talk's talk. If you have information from the House leadership, please share it."

"Well, no, I'm not talking to Paul Ryan. But tell me this: will he vote on the bill if it comes up before the CBO has had a chance to score it?"

"We don't have an answer for that. He's examining the bill in its entirety."

"But this is a different question. It seem like it would be a bad idea to vote on something like this without having an outside analysis of it."

Still no answer as to whether he would vote on a bill that the CBO hadn't had a chance to score.

In the end, we parted less amicably than on other calls.

Sarcastically asking private citizens if they've got secret info from House leadership is not wonderful constituent relations.

(This is not my first go-round with Faso's office: see here, here, and here.)

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Open letter on health insurance, round 3

April 21, 2017

Dear Congressman Faso,

“The plan gets better and better and better, and it’s gotten really, really good, and a lot of people are liking it a lot.”

Those are the words of Donald Trump, and I'm wondering if you can help me interpret them.

Is he talking about the MacArthur Amendment to the AHCA?
Insurance Market Provisions 
The MacArthur Amendment would:
• Reinstate Essential Health Benefits as the federal standard
• Maintain the following provisions of the AHCA:
o Prohibition on denying coverage due to preexisting medical conditions
o Prohibition on discrimination based on gender
o Guaranteed issue of coverage to all applicants
o Guaranteed renewability of coverage
o Coverage of dependents on parents’ plan up to age 26
o Community Rating Rules, except for limited waivers
 It says, "Maintain the following provisions of the AHCA, but the things that follow are all part of the Affordable Care Act, aka, Obamacare. Is this a typo on Politico's part, or is Rep. MacArthur trying to imply that the original AHCA actually had all these things that, it turned out, people really liked about the ACA?

Monday, April 17, 2017

Easter caption contest

So this happened at the White House today:

And my first thought was,

Mr. Bunny! Blink twice if you need us to send the SWAT team!
What's your caption?

Saturday, April 15, 2017

The long history of denial

I'm rereading Barbara Tuchman's The guns of August, one of the books that drew me into near-compulsive reading of history as a teenager. And a passage leapt out at me as all too relevant to the psychology of how we respond to the issue of climate change.

The book is an account of the first month of World War I, with Germany racing through Belgium and across northern France faster than the French could have imagined, yet not fast enough to accomplish the knockout blow the Germans needed if  they were going to be able to move a large part of their army east to face the Russians.

By early September the German advance had been halted, but the French were too weakened to push them back out of the country, and so they settled down to the years of stalemated  trench warfare.

Tuchman sets the stage by describing the military planning of the major combatants during the early years of the 20th century, including most famously the Schlieffen Plan of the German general staff.

Germany was correct in expecting the French to attack due east into the provinces of Alsace and Lorraine, that they had lost after the Franco-Prussian War of 1870. Under the Schlieffen Plan, Germany would put just enough troops at that part of the front to slow down the French advance and keep it from advancing far into Germany, but the great bulk of the army would be further north and would come pouring through (neutral) Belgium into northern France, then turning south to seize Paris from the north and west. Having taken the capital, the German forces could continue eastward (in the direction of Germany), trapping the bulk of the French army between the defensive troops on the German frontier and the massive invasion force.

The vision - as in other countries - was of a quick war: conquer France in six weeks, deal with the Russians in some short period after that, and be done. But there was an inkling that things wouldn't be that tidy.

Friday, April 14, 2017

"Tsar Nicky" Syndrome

Somewhere way back in my days of reading Russian history, I came across a memorable characterization of Russian Tsar Nicholas II. (I guess it's redundant to say it was memorable, because it must have been close to 30 years ago, and here I am, remembering it. Anyway ...)

He was, by this account, an admirable family man: a doting husband, a loving father.

Not necessarily bright - well, almost certainly not very bright - and poorly trained up for the task of ruling a massive empire where the governing ideology was that all authority and legitimacy was to flow down from him.

But a nice man.

True, he was in charge of an empire that supported the frivolity of a few on the backs of tens of millions, a government that sent people to Siberia for choosing the wrong words in their expression of concern for those tens of millions. And to save that government in the face of the 1905 revolution, he granted a constitution and a legislature then spent the next two years undercutting the efficacy of that legislature in order to continue ruling as the autocrat that he felt it was his responsibility to be. He thus closed off a promising avenue of peaceful evolution, contributing to the cataclysm that 12 years later would destroy him and his lovely family - and his country.

Still, in person he was apparently a nice man.

But the part of the characterization that really stuck was about his beliefs.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Snark of the week award

A Canadian commenter on Daily Kos opines:
America showed up late for two world wars and seem to have decided no one gets to start one without you ever again.
 Golf clap.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Recess grading period

Dear Congressman Faso,

Thank you for your reply to my rather long letter of March 29th.

I note, however, that it is almost identical to the letter I was responding to, the one your office sent to another constituent of yours.

In other words, it’s your standard letter on health insurance, completely unresponsive to the points I made.

You acted according to the practices of your profession, which means that a letter only gets an individualized response if the letter writer is in a position to make a donation of five figures or more.

I understand that your office must receive a large volume of mail, making it impossible to answer each letter individually. Nonetheless, as a constituent I find this frustrating, and so I am responding to your response according to the practices of my profession. I have graded your letter and am sending you the mark-up as an enclosure [see below].

In light of the fact that your letter is an essentially unrevised resubmission, I have not gone into as much detail on this version as on the original.

Perhaps in the future when a constituent writes with concerns about health insurance, the “standard letter” that your office sends back will reflect the realities of how markets and health insurance interact.

Thank you for your time.


Karl Seeley
Associate Professor and Department Chair
Department of Economics
Hartwick College

(next health insurance letter here)
Click to enlarge

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Dystopian sci-fi as bad conscience

Some time when I was home on break from college, my parents and I watched a documentary about Stalin. What I recall most about it, more vividly than the few stray facts that have clung on for those roughly 30 years, was my shock at being shocked.

I was a history major in college, with a focus on eastern Europe. I knew the outlines of Stalinism and many of the salient horrible facts, like the relocations of entire ethnic groups, or the famine in Ukraine created by policy. So I went in already knowing that Stalinism was really bad.

And yet the documentary was able to shock me with the explanation that Stalin was really bad. It's as if my mind can't really hold onto horror, and so something about a horrific situation makes a fresh impression every time I encounter it, even if the facts are familiar. I don't know whether that's a general human trait or if it has something to do with my fortunate reality of never having been directly exposed to that awful side of humanity. Whichever, for decades now I've been aware of this tendency in myself.

And I have the same relationship to slavery.

It's not like the situation of Richard Cohen, who by his own description seems to have learned early in life that slavery was "a benign institution in which mostly benevolent whites owned innocent and grateful blacks."

While it's tricky to be too sure of what one learned while still in single digits, I'm pretty sure my first impression of slavery was as a deeply unfair wrong in which pretty bad things happened to black people, for the benefit of white people. And as I got older, more graphic details got filled in.

And yet I still have the capacity to be shocked when I revisit the issue in detail, as I'm doing now, reading  The half has never been told, by Edward E. Baptist. I'm perfectly capable of going into the book knowing that slavery was violent, cruel, inhumane, and marked by sadism, and nonetheless find myself reeling from the evidence that slavery was violent, cruel, inhumane, and marked by sadism.

Baptist's thesis has two core parts.

First, he contests the notions that slavery was a static, backwards relic of feudal times, and that it was inherently less economically efficient than free labor and was therefore fated to wither away.

Baptist documents how slavery changed in the early 1800s as it expanded from the Old South to what was then the Southwest of the United States, in the lower watershed of the Mississippi. It started as a cruel, unjust, and inhumane institution, but in developing the cotton fields of the Southwest it shed what traces of humanity it had left and became worse.

And it turns out it was economically efficient (more on that below).

Saturday, April 1, 2017

More palatable delusions

At Real Clear Health, James C. Capretta has an article suggesting that the GOP should regroup and work with the Democrats on health-care reform.

He's pretty good in his analysis of why the proposed American Health Care Act failed ("repeal and delay" was a non-starter, and then they had to do too many contortions to fit a "repeal and sort-of replace" into the confines of a bill that could fit the requirements of "reconciliation").

And he starts off making sense on the way forward:
To produce such a plan [that might actually pass and can work], Republicans need to adjust their thinking. To begin with, the party should accept as a premise that everyone in the United States should be enrolled in health insurance that pays for major medical expenses. A plan that results in an increase of 15, 20, or 25 million uninsured Americans is not acceptable and would result in a political backlash.
But then the first sign of trouble: