Friday, May 26, 2017

The Rough Beast is a Piss-Ant

Above all else, Donald Trump  will be remembered for his smallness.  Not the hands nonsense, but the petty, petulant, puerility of his time on the world stage. Send not to know for whom the baby monitor tolls.  We have elected a puling nonentity and sent him out to represent us at the big-boy table.  Shame on us.  Shame on the Republican Party for having so little to offer.  But mostly, shame on us as a nation.

Vladimir Putin is popular in Russia.  People say it's because he suppresses information about his flaws, but I don't believe that's so.  I think he is popular because a classy leader is a luxury that the Russians have not been able to afford, ever.  Gorbachev might have been such a leader, but the fact that he has been supplanted by a fascist thug says something about the kleptocratic soil in which Russia grows its leaders.

Trump is living proof that the US can no longer afford the luxury of a quality President.  The GOP gerrymandered the Congress into a feckless mess with an approval rating of 19%, every missing 81 points of which are the other guys' fault.  They aren't to be pitied - they thought they were putting party over country - but there is a delicious irony to their having hoist themselves on their own petard.  When swing voters don't matter, cooler heads have no reason to prevail.  Instead, morons get elected, Congress becomes a swamp, sixteen Tweedle-dees run for the Presidency, and an abomination slouches toward Washington to be born.

Read some Gibbon.  Read Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar."  And then read Yeats:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The party cannot hear the ward leader;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
The Tea Party is loosed upon the world,
The heartless tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of compromise is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Or something like that.  I'm quoting from memory.

Watching President Trump lecture the NATO chiefs on their obligations to the US was really, really painful.  The US has every right to pressure its allies into paying their "fair share" toward the defense of their own soil, but the idea of hectoring them in public should make any American's skin crawl.  With so much going on in the world, so many points to make in a public speech, our guy kvetches about who ordered the lobster.  And yet, an astounding and sobering number of self-styled "Americans" actually think this bozo is a better leader than Hillary Clinton.  Or John Kasich or JEB Bush.

Like Willie Loman, when this many voters talk, attention must be paid.  We must take another look at Germany in the late 1920's and see why Hitler's, er, quirks, were overlooked.  If stupid people are empowered to vote, they don't suddenly become smart.  Rather, they just vote for stupid things - solutions that sound good fast, because no one else is offering any solutions at all.  So, no, Mr. Eliot, the way the world ends is not with a bang or a whimper.  It's with a snivel.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Or, in the alternative, I had every right to...

To paraphrase Voltaire, if the high-five did not exist, the Russians would have to invent it.

The famous (among lawyers) example of arguing "in the alternative" goes like this:
My dog doesn't bite. Or, in the alternative, my dog was tied up that night. Or, in the alternative, you were not bitten. Or, in the alternative, my dog was provoked.  Or, in the alternative, I don't have a dog. 

That's pretty much how the Trump administration addresses the Orange Peril's blunders.  Why was Comey fired? Because he was unfair to Hillary. Or, in the alternative, because this thing about Trump and Russia is a Hillary-sponsored hoax.  Did Trump leak classified information to the Russians last night?  Well, the formerly respected H.R. McMaster says he was in the room where it happened, and it didn't happen.  Or, tweets the leader of the free world, in the alternative, I had every right to do it.

The Russians have won the Powerball, and they've taken their winnings as an annuity payable over the political life of Donald Trump.  One can only pray that it is short, and that it ends non-violently.  I'll stop typing now, as this is probably already old news...

Sunday, May 7, 2017

It's Only Money (Healthcare Edition)

Is there anything seriously wrong with either Obamacare or the GOP House bill that money couldn't cure?  What are the gripes about Obamacare?  It forces you to buy insurance you don't want.  Would a sufficient subsidy not cure that?  Insurance companies can't make money, so they withdraw from state exchanges.  Would a sufficient subsidy not cure that?

And the GOP bill that lets states set up high-risk pools for people who are very sick.  The Dems' only objection is that such funds have historically been underfunded.  Would a sufficient subsidy not cure that?

Topology fans - yes, there are topology fans - there must be - are fond of pointing to the torus - a solid object with a hole in it.  Like a bagel, or a teacup.  To the topologist, these are the same thing.  (How different is a meatball pizza from a cheeseburger, really?)  Well, any healthcare system that covers the poor and covers sick people after they get sick - when else would they be covered? - is going to be like any other at heart.  The risk has already been socialized, and the only question is whether there will be enough money delivered to providers to get them to deliver enough care.  Everything else is a detail.

Socialized benefits are paid for by taxes, broadly understood as an economic hit imposed to cover the cost of mutual benefits bought by the collective.  Buying insurance you don't want is a tax (just ask Justice Roberts), and inflation is a tax.  Price controls act as a tax.  Export tariffs on drugs sold at a higher price here than abroad impose a tax.  And, of course, explicit taxation is a tax.  But it's all the same to us topologists.  Everyone is getting healthcare, and, as a consequence, we are taxing whomever should be taxed, and in whatever way, as our politics determines.

I have my preferences regarding tax policy, but that's for another day.  For now, it's sufficient to note that any politically acceptable U.S. healthcare system post-Obama will require a lot of public money to pay for people who cannot afford the care they need.  Any legislative scheme that does not come up with that money will fail.  The murderers in Congress killed Obamacare by underfunding it.  The House Bill grossly underfunds the state pools without creating large enough subsidies to entice private companies.  Governors are in a bind: their constituents won't be able to buy coverage from insurers who are not there or afford coverage from pools that are underfunded.

No, the House Bill is not law, nor will it be.  But no new law will work unless it adequately subsidizes the cost of care.  Of course, that gives the government a big stake in cost control - e.g., the aforementioned export tariff on drugs sold to public health systems abroad - but that is a detail to be worked out.  The important thing is that no system that is underfunded can work.  Unfortunately, our pols don't much care whether a plan works; they just care who will get credit if it does, or - what may be a more valuable prize - blame if it doesn't.