Healthcare Inequality and Shotgun Blasts to the Face

Dick CheneyWho is the man who would risk his neck for a brother man? Shaft! Who knows the evil that lurks in the heart of man? Shadow! And who shot his friend in the face with a shot gun 7 years ago today? Cheney!

Can you dig it?

The victim was Harry Whittington, who has his own Wikipedia page, mostly, it seems, because he was shot in the face by then Vice President Dick (some names are creepily fitting) Cheney. Some people get all the breaks! As Stephen Colbert said at the White House Correspondent’s Dinner that year, “To actually—to sit here at the same table with my hero, George W. Bush, to be this close to the man. I feel like I’m dreaming. Somebody pinch me. You know what? I’m a pretty sound sleeper; that may not be enough. Somebody shoot me in the face. Is [Dick Cheney] really not here tonight? Damn it! The one guy who could have helped. ”

What I find interesting is that Whittington will be 86 in a couple of weeks. Cheney is shockingly still alive at 72. In the case of these men and so many just as wealthy, America really does have the best healthcare system in the world. The problem is that if Cheney, with his bad original heart, had been just a regular guy, he would be long dead.

And that, my friends, is the paradox of life in America. It is safer to hang around a gun totting idiot like Dick Cheney than it is to live a nice quiet, normal life. Because if you are in a position to hang around the deadly Dick Cheney, then you must have access to the best healthcare in the world. It’s only prols like me who have to worry.

So congratulations Mr. Whittington! This is your seventh full year alive after being shot in the face. It sure is great to be rich in America!

Can you dig it?


This one goes out to my brother men Harry and Dick:

Outlook Ad for Thunderbird

My friend Will and I discuss computers a lot. This is mostly because Will is only really interested in computers (and for the last couple of months beer brewing). And one thing we discuss a lot is privacy and the fact that after the lives that we have led, we don’t worry about it all. We worry about it for our clients, of course. Some of their lives might be private. And that is why I really liked this new commercial from Microsoft:

My first wife[1] was a privacy freak. And as with most people who are really hung up on privacy, she had very little of interest to hide. Compare this to me—I have a public enough background that I can’t get a regular job. Oh well. You either embrace it or embrace it. I choose to embrace it.

Anyway, I think this ad works because it is true. Google does do that. In fact, they are constantly offering me opportunities to get my MBA—probably because I write a lot about economics. And the truth is, I used to be bothered by it. And I think more people probably should be bothered by it. Of course, there a much better (And free!) alternatives to Microsoft.

Think different. Not Apple, silly! Non-corporate!

[1] This is from The Girl’s On Fire:

She likes the marrying kind
She says that I’m not
She must be looking for someone
Who gets married a lot.

Matt Yglesias’ Public Shame

Neener Neener NeenerI can’t explain why I’m writing this article. Too much caffeine? Maybe. Feeling intellectually insecure? Always. Or is it just that people as brilliant as Matt Yglesias should be spanked publicly when providing the smallest of justification? Yep! I think that’s the one.

Yglesias is one of my very favorite bloggers because he writes on a lot of different topics and I find him by turns insightful and oafish. I very often disagree with him but he usually makes a pretty good argument and never has uninteresting opinions. And sometimes, very rarely, he makes a math error that allows me to pounce! Ha ha ha!

I’ll bet Mr. Yglesias didn’t think twice when he wrote this earlier this morning:

Maker’s Mark announced in an email to distributors over the weekend that it’s going to be decreasing the alcohol content of its bourbon by 3 percent. That turns out to have been a misstatement on the company’s part and they’re actually reducing it by three percentage points—from 45 percent by volume to 42 percent by volume—but it’s still a substantial change.

This is so delicious that it is hard to even write about it. Yglesias first notes the error that Maker’s Mark made: they didn’t know the difference between percent and percentage points. The fools!

I’m sure you know people who are grammar pedants. They tell you that “irregardless” isn’t a word. (It is.) Or that it is wrong to start a sentence with a conjunction. (It isn’t.) Well, there are also math pedants. And they will correct you if you use “percent” when you meant “percentage point.” It really doesn’t matter, although in writing, I try to get it right.

Let me explain with the Maker’s Mark example. If they had reduced the alcohol content by 3%, that would have reduced it by 0.03*45% or 1.35%. Instead, they reduced it by 3 percentage points: from 45% down to 42%. Percentage points are simple: no multiplication!

But this raising a question: what the hell was Yglesias getting at when he said that 3 percentage points was “still a substantial change”? He is implying that a 3% change would have been more! So he just embarrassed himself publicly! Feel the shame, Matt?

Neener neener neener!

Debt, Deficit, or Any Old Excuse

StopCan you locate the error?! This is from Glenn Thrush this morning:

Voters overwhelmingly say they want him to do more to deal with a deficit that is set to exceed $14 trillion by the end of the fiscal year.

If you said “$14 trillion” or “deficit” you win! What Thrush means is that the total gross public debt is set to exceed $14 trillion. And note: this is gross; if you take into account public reserves (like the Social Security Trust Fund), it is less: around $9 trillion.

People make this error all the time. The deficit is how much more we spend in a given year than we take in. The debt is the total result of our over-spending for the last 200+ years.

Matt Yglesias notes that it doesn’t really matter: “The people who are very upset about the ‘$14 trillion’ deficit aren’t going to become less upset about it when they realize it’s only $845 billion, anymore than the people worried about ‘out of control’ government spending become less worried when they learn that government spending has been flat for almost three years.” (Actually, government spending has decreased every one of the past three years.)

But I would counter: just because some people are perpetually freaked out about debt and deficits, doesn’t mean we should go along with it. After all, these were the same people who voted Ronald Reagan into office. You know how that went:

Whenever I hear people complaining about our out of control debt, I wonder, “If it’s out of control now, why were you also screaming in 1980 when it was only $2 trillion?” The truth is that these people will always be screaming and they are always doing it for the same reason: they hate government programs that help the poorer classes. They are just looking for a reason to justify it. The debt or the deficit? It doesn’t matter to them because it is just too damned big and we need to cut entitlements now!

Charlie to the Rescue!

Charlie SheenI don’t think that someone who goes on a killing spree is necessarily crazy. At least, I don’t think they are crazy as we normally define it. After all, we don’t call CEOs who destroy the lives of thousands of people crazy. They’re just evil. And so too are people who go around killing others. As a result, I have come to no particular conclusions about Christopher Dorner, the ex-LAPD officer who has apparently killed three people thus far. The man is clearly evil. If his beef is with the LAPD, why isn’t he killing them instead of bystanders? Anyway, bottom line: crazy? I needed more information.

I got that information this morning. Charlie Sheen provided a video to TMZ over the weekend. In it, he appeals to Dorner to call him, “Let’s figure out together how to end this thing.” I know that Sheen has a bad (and much deserved) reputation as a crazy guy. But you have to admit that he has a good heart. This, after all, is the guy who turned the police onto the producers of Flower of Flesh and Blood because he thought it depicted an actual on-screen murder. And now, he is trying to help out in this Dorner tragedy. I absolutely don’t believe that Sheen is doing this for publicity. He really cares and it is adorable.

You may ask, “Why is Charlie Sheen getting involved in this?” Because in his Facebook manifesto, Dorner wrote, “Charlie Sheen, you’re effin awesome.” And so now we know: Christopher Dorner is also crazy. Only crazy people think Charlie Sheen is awesome. Even when he’s “Winning!” Sheen is at best interesting in a clinical sense.

But you have to ask: where is Ellen Degeneres?! Where is Larry David?! Where are any of the other celebrities that Dorner praised. Not a peep from them! Only Charlie Sheen cares enough to look silly for our sins. Maybe he really is the second coming of the Chris. If so, that would be effin awesome!

Update (12 Februrary 2013 11:15 am)

The Young Turks discusses the issue. I agree with Cenk. I think Anna is wrong:

The Real Republican Reform

Marco Rubio Time Magazine CoverMarco Rubio represents the old Republican Party. Not in the Richard Nixon sense of being kind of a social liberal, because Rubio is anything but. No. He represents the old Republican Party in the Richard Nixon sense of the Southern Strategy: getting enough people who totally disagree with your policies to vote for you, which in combination with those whom you truly represent will put you in power. Unfortunately for Mr. Rubio, this is not the way forward for the Republican Party.

Jonathan Chait has an interesting article this morning that discusses the evolution of the party, White Republican Debate Continues to Rage. But unlike most discussions, this one is actually useful. Normally, people talk about the Republican Party as though it were an institution trying to change by being more in line with what the electorate wants. This is ridiculous just on its face. If Republicans wanted to be anything near to appealing, they would become Democrats. So the question now and forever is: how does the Republican Party take power without changing.

Chait and others offer us the example of John C. Calhoun, the big South Carolina slavery proponent from Amistad. But more to the point, in the later part of his career, Calhoun was basically a royalist. That is to say, he didn’t believe in majoritarianism. The people are too stupid (or whatever) to be trusted to run the country. This is now the primary philosophical basis of the Republican Party. (Remember Glenn Beck pushing for the repeal of the 17th Amendment, which made senators directly elected? Can’t trust the people now can we?!)

In the late 1960s, the Republicans figured out a way to win majority support: racism! “Those Democrats are taking from you deserving white folk and giving to those undeserving coloreds!” And as an electoral tool, that was the Energizer Fucking Bunny. It just kept going and going and going. But it was always a short term solution. Those brown folk were were multiplying like, well, bunnies. What’s more, the young ‘ons increasing disliked the Republicans, and young people enter the country all the time!

And that’s where Mr. Calhoun comes in. Why be a popular party when you can get power by other means? Chait sums it up nicely:

It’s only since about 2008 that Republicans have turned to the methods I describe—massively expanding the power of the Senate minority, widespread voter suppression and other schemes to rig the vote, obstructing nominees to block laws they can’t overturn, using the Courts to enforce economic policies they can’t win through legislative channels. Republicans have turned to these techniques because the party’s identity as that of white people, once the cornerstone of its political dominance, has turned into a trap from which it is wriggling to escape.

But remember, Republicans must know that even this is a short term tactic. They are figuring that they will be able to find something like the old Southern Strategy that will allow them to get enough people who fundamentally disagree with them to vote for them anyway. I would like to think this isn’t so, but history indicates otherwise. This is the biggest reason why liberals cannot depend upon demographics. And anyway, politics is a strange business and Marco Rubio could actually be our next president.

Update (11 February 2013 12:33 pm)

Sam Tanenhaus article in The New Republic, Original Sin: Why the GOP Is and Will Continue to be the Party of White People is excellent. I suggest reading all 6000 words of it, but here is a taste:

Denial has always been the basis of a nullifying politics. Calhoun, too, knew he was on the losing side. The arithmetic he studied most closely was the growing tally of new free territories. Eventually, they would become states, and there would be sufficient “absolute” numbers in Congress to abolish slavery. A century later, history pushed forward again. Nonetheless, conservatives, giving birth to their movement, chose to ignore these realities and to side with “the South.”

Race will always be a complex issue in America. There is no total cleansing of an original sin. But the old polarizing politics is a spent force. The image of the “angry black man” still purveyed by sensationalists such as Ann Coulter and Dinesh D’Souza is anachronistic today, when blacks and even Muslims, the most conspicuous of “outsider” groups, profess optimism about America and their place in it. A politics of frustration and rage remains, but it is most evident within the GOP’s dwindling base—its insurgents and anti-government crusaders, its “middle-aged white guys.” They now form the party’s one solid bloc, its agitated concurrent voice, struggling not only against the facts of demography, but also with the country’s developing ideas of democracy and governance. We are left with the profound historical irony that the party of Lincoln—of the Gettysburg Address, with its reiteration of the Declaration’s assertion of equality and its vision of a “new birth of freedom”—has found sustenance in Lincoln’s principal intellectual and moral antagonist. It has become the party of Calhoun.