A Brief History of Obamacare

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By their own admission, Republicans in Congress made keeping Obama to one term their primary agenda: not jobs, not fixing the housing situation, not getting the economy under control. No it was stopping Obama. So any legislative victory had to be prevented, even when the legislation was a gift to Republicans.

That’s why passing healthcare reform was such a struggle. Of course, let’s not forget that Obama and the Democrats were fairly tepid about the fight---they completely eschewed the public option---and once the Affordable Care Act did pass, Democrats ran away from it as quickly as possible, because the Republicans had made it toxic with their non-stop mantra of Socialism, Communism, and Death Panels (regardless of how much sense their “argument” made). And because the Democrats were too scared to explain the new law---much less promote it---health care reform lingered as a problem in the public’s mind.

Which made it all the more infuriating, because when you actually talk about the specifics about the evil scary Obamacare, it turns out that Americans largely like what’s in it. (Which is probably why the Republicans wanted to prevent any type of rational conversation.)

So I’m glad to see that Democrats are finally starting to embrace the pejorative “Obamacare” label. Because for all its faults, the Affordable Care Act is a huge leap forward for America. And twenty years from now, when we’re fighting the next progressive battle, we’ll need to (again) remind people that it was Democrats, not Republicans, who have been looking out for their interests.

Flashback: Dear Mr. President...

Let's face it, the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. "Obamacare") is a far cry from the public option for universal health care, and its provisions are practically straight out of the 1993 Republican playbook (how it went from "the conservative alternative" to "socialism" is beyond me), but it's a good day when more people can get health care. So in (modest) celebration of today's ruling, here's a little gem from 2010.

Burning Question

Burning Question Click to enlarge.

The phenomenon of climate change is well established within the scientific community. Unfortunately, the science is not what you see in the popular media. At one extreme, you have people denying that climate change is real. At the other extreme, you have movies like The Day After Tomorrow showing widespread planetary destruction.

You wouldn't trust a politician, a pundit, a corporation, or a Hollywood director with your health issues; you'd ask someone trained in the study of human anatomy, like a doctor.  Why do you listen to these people when it comes to climate change?

By the way, I use the term "climate change" rather than "global warming" because although the globe is warming, that terminology leads people to think that snow somehow disproves the science. In fact, large snow storms are completely predicted by global warming. Some areas of the globe will get much less water (drought), but that water has to go somewhere. If it is winter time, that water will show up has harsher snowstorms.

Political Advantage

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Do you think Congress seems aloof to the needs of average Americans? Perhaps it has something to do with all their political advantages:

  • The average member of Congress makes $174,000 per year. The average American is lucky to reach $50,000.1
  • Members get an automatic cost of living increase.2 I’ll bet you had to ask for your raise.
  • Members get a taxpayer-paid per diem, or more likely, they get wined and dined by a lobbyist. You probably paid for your own sandwich.
  • Most members get a guaranteed pension in addition to Social Security. You probably don’t have a pension (if you’re lucky, you have a 401K), and you may even have been fooled into thinking Social Security should be privatized.
  • Members who lose their job (by being voted out---they are never "downsized") typically have an even more lucrative lobbying job waiting in the wings. You'll have to search the want ads.

So unlike the average American, Congress's major concern is tax cuts. What more pressing problem could there be?

Of course, Congress can do the right thing when their own interests are at stake. After the financial accounting scandals of Enron, WorldCom, and the like, Congress moved quickly and unanimously (522-13 in favor) to implement financial regulations like Sarbanes-Oxley.3 And why? Because Members own stock portfolios, and they wanted to make sure they could trust the financial information they were getting. In other words, they were covering their own asse(t)s.

With this bit of recent history in mind, it seems to me that the way to make Congress care about the little guy is to make them a little guy, too. Here’s a few suggestions:

  • Members’ salary cannot exceed the national average. I’ll bet that raises the minimum wage.
  • Members cannot have better health care than the average American. Boom: universal, single payer.

When Members stop being millionaires, they may start to govern for the rest of us.


Notes:

1. Congressional data for 2011-2012. Here is a source of info on Congressional salaries and benefits. Average personal income is highly variable, depending on how you slice the data: education, race, and age make big differences in the final number. And really, economists say you should look at the median (the number that falls in the middle) rather than the average income. For 2010, that amount was about $27,000.

2. In the past, Congress had to vote for the pay increase, but they realized that doing so year after year really made them look bad. So they changed the law to make it automatic. Now they have to vote NOT to get a pay increase, which surprisingly hasn't happened.

3. Yes, the law could have been much stricter, but still: how often do you see Republicans vote in favor of regulation?

Privacy? Please...

In honor of Google’s new worrisome privacy policy and the news that the FBI may be using FaceBook and other social media to spy on Americans: Click to enlarge

In the Information age, data is power, and it should be no surprise that governments and companies want as much access to your personal information as possible. Because once you understand and can track someone’s behavior, you can keep tabs on them and/or sell directly to them. (I’m not sure which I fear more.)

Companies work hard to get a hold of your information. And while you may be willing to share some secrets in exchange for a product or service, you have no control over what is ultimately done with that information or who gets it.

It’s true that organizations are now required to disclose their privacy policies. But that doesn’t mean much, because if you actually read those policies, you’ll see that your rights are pretty limited. “Opting out” is always tricky or cumbersome. And even the most ethical company can change owners (and policies) at the drop of a hat.

But why should they have all the power? We’ve seen how far companies will go to protect their intellectual property. People need to start protecting their own intellectual property. In a world where data equals dollars, shouldn’t you be the one who decides how to buy and sell your info? I’m quite serious: I want a Constitutional Amendment guaranteeing the right to privacy. But barring that, I want to require companies to get my express written permission to use my information—every time they want to use it. More than that, I want a dollar every time someone downloads my data. If iTunes can do it, I should be able to as well.

They Just Don't Get It

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We (the human species) worked out a long time ago how best to get by in the world. And the theory is tantalizingly simple. It's the practice that's a bitch.

We can quibble over who really said what (and when), but all the major religions and schools of ethical thought (and many of the minor ones) have come to a similar conclusion about the best way to live. Unfortunately, most of them didn't stop at the Golden Rule, but instead tacked on a lot of other junk about diet, fashion, and hygiene; because, let's face it, it's so much easier to dress correctly than it is to be empathetic to another human being.

There are some who have suggested that the propensity to think of others helped to spur human evolution. And there's certainly a case to be made that those who practice kindness were more likely to survive (and thus pass on that trait). It's an interesting hypothesis, but it seems a bit of a stretch to me, since we are one of the few species who kill and abuse our own kind. Animals (at least within their own species) don't really seem to have a need for the golden rule. In any case, humans probably did recognize early on that constant retaliation rarely solved anything in the long run.

Of course, there is certainly room for debate as to whether being "good to others" really is a rational strategy. And in our current geo-political climate, we're not likely to agree anytime soon. But interestingly enough, even game theory suggests that the best way to "get along" is to lead with kindness and then respond in direct proportion to how the other "player" reacts. Of course this strategy can still lead to a spiral of violence, for which game theory suggests that a re-set can be advantageous. That is, try leading with kindness again. You can sometimes catch your opponent off guard.*

For those you you who may not know, my depiction of Mohammed in shadow is not intended as a slight. Orthodox Muslims consider it sacrilegious to display images of the prophet Mohammed. (Hey, it's no crazier than that thing you believe.) And it seems to me if I’m going to be admonishing people about the golden rule, I should probably “do unto others…” myself.

* Game Theory is useful to understand even for everyday (non-game) interactions. For an excellent and reader-friendly book on the subject, check out Rock, Paper, Scissors: Game Theory in Everyday Life by Len Fisher.

Intelligent Design

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Intelligent Design  is a crock. It's a way to sneak Creationism into public schools and public discourse.

Proponents of Intelligent Design (or "I.D." as it is often known) use "sciency" sounding terminology and sleight-of-hand obfuscation to confuse people who are not up to speed on evolution. And they have been pretty successful---not because they have proved their position (they can't), but because they've tricked enough people into wanting to "play fair."

IDers want Intelligent Design presented alongside evolution as an alternate version of how life developed. As if one could simply pick the truth one prefers. But ID fails on the most basic level: it does not follow the Scientific Method (observe, hypothesize, predict, test, conclude). Any position that doesn't follow the scientific method is de facto not science.

Evolution is based on 150 years of evidence, observation, and testing. Its predictions and conclusions have been shown to be true over and over again.

ID is based on fantasy and fast talk.

The two are not equivalent. And putting them side by side is an insult to your intelligence. And that IS by design.

Male anatomy is a perfect example of evolution. No rational engineer (or Creator) would design an organism with its delicate reproductive organs in a vulnerable spot. And yet, for some reason, men's balls (testes) are fairly exposed.

That reason is because evolution can only build on what came before. Human beings evolved not through some divine plan, but through minute changes over millions of generations.

When our early ancestors were cold-blooded reptilians, it made sense to have testes on the inside of the body, because sperm develops best at about 93° Fahrenheit. But as our lineage became more warm-blooded (98.6° F), the testes moved outside the body to stay cooler. Thus, evolution improvised, using the infrastructure that was available at the time. It was a trade off: balls were more exposed, but the scrotum provided better temperature regulation.

It's a bad design, because it wasn't designed.

Celebrate Earth Day

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Celebrate Earth Day the old fashion way: do nothing.

Global climate change is here. It’s not about preventing it anymore. We’ve pumped so much CO2 and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere that even if we were to stop burning all fossil fuels today (which we won’t), we’d still be looking at a half century worth of the consequences.

The question now is NOT “how do we stop climate change”; the question now is “how are we going to deal with the effects of climate change?”

Because even if you live in an area relatively safe from flooding, drought, or hurricanes, it’s highly likely that that you count on the food, resources, or taxes supplied by areas that are affected.

Natural disasters are not isolated events; they have economic and humanitarian ramifications far beyond the local region. Poor areas of the globe are likely screwed; but the capacity of even the wealthiest nations will be strained in our HOT new world.

It's time to start thinking about how we will cope.

Comic originally presented in a slightly different format April 2008.

Your Guide to the Budget

Your Guide to the BudgetClick to enlarge.

With all the talk of a government shutdown, you may be confused as to why tax breaks for millionaires are good for the economy, while funding the services necessary for a functioning society is bad.

The answer is: you get what you pay for. And by that I mean, if you can afford your own congressman, you too can funnel public funds into your own coffers.

Please note how, in all the talk of budgets, one idea never gets mentioned: raising taxes .* That's because we can't afford to piss off our betters.

Sure, ending the Bush tax cuts last year would have made the now eviscerated social services affordable, but that would have required having a Liberal in the White House (or at least a Democrat). Obama is unable or unwilling to stand up to even the most egregious money grabs. And given how far he's bent over to accommodate the Republicans, I can only imagine what happens with Social Security and Medicare.

*or cutting the bloated defense budget.

Comic originally published (in a slightly different format) Feb. 2010.

"Celebrating" the Anniversary of the Iraq War

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As of March 20, it's been eight years since we went into Iraq.

You may have missed the celebration, because the U.S. was busy getting involved in yet another conflict in the Middle East.

After trillions of dollars and thousands of American lives (and likely ten times that many lives of others), it's difficult to say what we've gained. I was not a supporter of the war. Bush's claims of WMDs seemed dubious at best; and linking Iraq and 9/11 was the height of crass manipulation. Saddam, while certainly evil, was also contained, and in no way a threat to Americans.

Yet there we are, and despite "the end of combat operations," it looks as if we'll be there for years to come. There's no real exit strategy, because we can't leave when things are going badly, and we can't leave when things are finally starting to get better.

On the plus side, it's a great time to be a defense contractor or an oil services company (or both if you are KBR)!


Cartoon originally published Sep. 5, 2005.