The Tennessee Waltz

I’ve never been a big Patti Page fan. But I admit, she does a good job with The Tennessee Waltz. The truth is that it’s an odd melody that most people mangle.

I much prefer this very unfaithful version by Otis Redding:

Or if I had to pick a more traditional version, I’ve always been partial to David Bromberg’s version. He sounds like he lived the experience:

Patti Page died yesterday. She was 85.

Eric Cantor as Iago

Eric CantorThis is interesting for two reasons. One is that there are “serious” rumors that John Boehner is going to step down as Speaker of the House. Boehner claims that this is not the case. I would love to see it, as I wrote earlier today. For one thing: it would be good for Boehner. It might turn him into into an actual human being.

What is more interesting is that Martin Bashir said, “House majority leader in typical honest Iago fashion voted against the speaker’s deal with the President.” Fuck yeah! We need more Shakespeare references on cable TV. First, here is the unimportant part from The Martin Bashir Show:

But here is the much more important clip from Orson Welles’ version of Othello with the great Irish actor Micheál MacLiammóir as Iago:

The truth is that Othello really should have been named Iago. Othello is a pretty boring character, but Iago is wonderfully evil! Just like Eric Cantor…

America’s Broken Healthcare System Calculator

David RosnickIn the past, I’ve written about little economic tools that the Wonk Blog people put up. They are fun and even enlightening. But they aren’t that great. For example, the Fiscal Cliff Calculator only allowed you to try discrete binary budget items: you repeal the defense sequester or you don’t. Of course, it is hard to create a web application that has too many options. This isn’t a question of computing power; it is a question of usability.

David Rosnick of the Center for Economic and Policy Research has created a great tool. It has many advantages over the usual Wonk Blog offerings. Foremost is the fact that it deals with something I care about a lot: the effect of healthcare costs on the US budget. But also: it shows how the budget would be affected directly (by changing revenues and expenditures) and by comparison with other countries’ healthcare expenditures.

It is a source of great frustration to me that the vast majority of the policy world is so focused on our supposed budget problems. To me, this is very simple: if we fix our over-priced healthcare system, we have no budget problem. And if we don’t fix our over-priced healthcare system, we will have much bigger problems to worry about than our federal budget.

What is most interesting about the results of Dr. Rosnick’s calculator is how it highlights Dean Baker’s oft stated observation, “If we paid the same amount per person for our care as people in other wealthy countries we would be looking at long-term surpluses, not deficits.” (Really, I wonder if he doesn’t have it programmed as a keyboard shortcut.) You really ought to go and play with the calculator, but I’ll provide a spoiler: all the other countries’ systems would lead to “long-term surpluses.” And the calculator provides life expectancies of each country so that you can see that everyone else not only pays less for healthcare, they live longer.

The other part of the calculator allows you to adjust revenues, healthcare expenditures, and other expenditures between the baseline and the CBO’s “Alternative Fiscal Scenario.” It isn’t as interesting. For one thing, you can create some very unrealistic assumptions like healthcare costs going way up with the economy tanking. But it does show that even under the best of circumstances, doing nothing is bad.

Again: the problem is not budgets. Our healthcare market is free enough to drive prices way up but not nearly free enough to drive them down. In a sense, we have the worst of all worlds. But when conservatives offer up answers, they only fiddle around the edges. This is especially true now that the great conservative idea of Romneycare has become the evil communist plot of Obamacare.

There are conservative solutions to our healthcare problems. One is to allow a free market: no more drug patents, no more DEA, no more limits on healthcare workers immigrating here. But Republicans (and pretty much everyone else who calls himself “conservative”) are against all these ideas. So our only option seems to be to head toward a more nationalized approach to the problem. As much as I hate the ACA, it is a step in the right direction. (That’s in the calculator too!)

Afterword

Check out all of Rosnick’s online calculators.

In Praise of Earmarks

Pork BarrelMatt Yglesias wrote an article yesterday that goes along with my long held beliefs, Why I Miss Pork-Barrel Politics. This really came to me several years ago when there was this explosion of media coverage saying that earmarks were a bad thing. Earmarks and pork are not bad things—at least not necessarily bad things.

This goes back to my argument Bipartisan Consensus Can Bite Me. Representatives are supposed to do what is best for their constituencies. I expect my local officials to do what is best for my area. Of course, this does mean looking out for the nation and even the world as a whole. But a great deal of it is local. This is why traditionally, even without gerrymandering, House seats are safer than Senate seats. But as Yglesias points out, with earmarks and similar ways to allow politicians to grant favors to their constituencies, there is nothing left but ideology.

The current situation didn’t come about in a vacuum, of course. There was real corruption (especially under the Republicans):

In response to this wave of sleaze, the new Democratic majority elected in 2006 imposed some tough new ethics rules. When Republicans retook the House in 2010, they aimed to symbolize a clean break with DeLay-era practices by adopting a blanket ban on earmarks. And by and large it worked. Nothing’s perfect, but today’s Congress is remarkably free of corruption—whether of the formally illegal kind or just unseemly horse trading.

And that is precisely the problem. It turns out that a Congress full of highly principled men and women, fired-up by genuine idealism about America’s future, is a place where nothing gets done.

I think it is worse than this. Ideology is toxic in a political system like our own. If we had a parliamentary system, it might be different; but we don’t. We now have a large part of the political system thinking that the other side is invalid. And this kind of ideology leads to nihilism. This is where we get the almost explicit belief among conservatives that it is better to destroy the government than to let it fall into the hands of those communists, the Democrats.

It isn’t like this is new. The “better dead than red” slogan is a good example of this. (Interestingly, according to Wikipedia, the phrase is of German origin, probably from Joseph Goebbels himself.) But it doesn’t too much matter what the freaks on the edge think. When it comes to government, we need to get back to horse trading. I would rather see a whole lot more corruption in Washington than the systemic threats that “reform” has brought us these last two years.

Boehner’s Choice

What Will John Boehner Do?Why did he do it? Why did John Boehner allow a vote on the Diving Off The Fiscal Cliff deal? And then vote for it himself?! There isn’t much reporting on this issue, because few people other than me thought much about Boehner’s upcoming Speaker of the House vote. All I have is speculation.

Those who follow my writings closely will probably know that I have a certain fondness for the Speaker. I’ve even discussed having drinks with him. So I’d like to think that Boehner has simply moved past all the bullshit. One thing is for sure, the pressure is getting to him.

Politico reported this morning of a confrontation between the speaker and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid last Friday. Reid had just said on the Senate floor that Boehner was running the House like a dictatorship. Afterwards, when they met in the lobby of the White House, Boehner told Reid, “Go fuck yourself!” Reid was confused and replied, “What are you talking about?” So to be clear, Boehner repeated himself, “Go fuck yourself!”

What does this mean? Is Boehner past all the bullshit of his caucus or all the bullshit he has to do to support his caucus? It’s very hard to say. And maybe it is both. But Boehner has been around a long time. He understands that politics is about horse trading. God knows that when he had the advantage, he pushed it for all it was worth. Now that the Democrats have the advantage, can he really think they are wrong to push their advantage?

My hunch is that this little confrontation came about because Reid hit a nerve. Boehner doesn’t like the idea that he is running the House like a dictatorship. After all, he criticized Nancy Pelosi for exactly this. Yet, he has run the House that way. The truth does indeed hurt.

The fact that Boehner voted for deal tends to indicated that he wanted to see it voted on. This is the paradox of power. But this isn’t the only issue that he faces. Boehner put off a vote on Sandy recovery funds. This has Republican Representative Peter King hoping mad. So it isn’t just the crazy Republicans who are mad at him. Maybe he’s just given up.

Or maybe not. Maybe he knows that he will be re-elected Speaker of the House. The word is that he is still the favorite. Eric Cantor might be preferred by the crazies, but Boehner is likely the only consensus candidate.

I think it is best for the country that Boehner remains Speaker. This is not because I like him in the post. What’s more, after a major defeat, he might become an interesting politician or even an apostate. But I fear what a Cantor (or similar) speakership would look like.

Regardless, Boehner must think that the vote yesterday doesn’t matter to his future plans. And we will soon know what that future is.