I've noticed that on the "how old are you" thread and in other places, the old folks on the Vine (like me) often seem a little embarrassed about saying exactly how old they are. Usually they just describe themselves as "more than twice your age" or something like that. Sometimes it seems like there's only a few of us in an ocean of teenagers, which can make it feel like we're old fogeys crashing a youngster's game.
But hey, we like comics too. Nothing to be ashamed of, fellow ancient ones!
So, here's a thread for old folks to represent! Be proud! Come out of your old-age closet!
When did you start reading comics? How do you feel about being an old guy with all these youngsters around (what with their horseless carriages and all)?
Myself, I just turned 40 today, and I'm proud to be a firmly middle-aged man who loves comics. I've been reading off and on since the 80s, but I've probably never read as much as I do right now. I'm in a happy, comics-laden phase of my life, and I think it's actually a lot of fun to mix it up with people of all ages here.
Today's theme is the 99%. By which I mean that Obama is basically out to help the average person, and the underprivileged, the minorities, the powerless. He's doing this economically, but also through a lot of other means. I think this is honestly one of the most important things government can do.
Here's a basic list:
The Consumer Protection Bureau has already come out with several major decisions and investigations that have helped everyday people protect themselves against corporate giants that normally take advantage of them. For whatever reason, the Republicans think this agency has TOO MUCH power. How is it possible for consumers to have too much power to protect themselves against mega-corporations?
Obama has helped the gay community by appointing more openly-gay people to the government than ever before, by repealing don't-ask-don't-tell, by endorsing gay marriage, by giving benefits to same-sex government employees, and by no longer arguing for DOMA in court.
Obama has helped women by passing the Lilly Ledbetter act, which helps women finally attain pay disparity (and which again is really important for everyone, because there are a lot of families headed by single women, so an increase in their salaries leads to an improvement in the lives of their kids), by expanding the availability of contraceptives and woman-centric health care, by increasing the funding for the Violence Against Women Act, and by promoting women throughout the government, including the Supreme Court.
Obama has regulated various companies that have taken advantage of normal people in the past, including banks, the real estate industry, health insurance companies, and polluters. By regulating pollution and other climate-change issues, he has helped everyone in the world.
Obama has helped immigrants by focusing on deporting criminals rather than otherwise innocent people.
Obama has helped veterans by improving the VA and all kinds of post-military programs.
Obama has vastly improved government transparency, putting up websites that let you track the stimulus and the budget in general, as well as releasing records of government visitors.
Obama has helped low-income people go to college by increasing Pell Grants, and made student loans cheaper by getting rid of the middlemen and making loans directly to the students.
Obama has increased funding for people with disabilities.
Basically Obama has worked hard to make life easier and less oppressive for everyday people who don't have a lot of power for themselves, who are often-discriminated-against minorities, and who need a leg up to make it in a world that is stacked against them. He lived the life of the underprivileged himself, as a biracial son of a single mom with a foreign dad, who lived in a third-world country (Indonesia) for a while as a kid, who quit a job working on Wall Street to be a community organizer in Chicago. I think he understands and empathizes with everyday, hardworking people in a way that his opponent can't even conceive. He stands for the 99%.
Today's theme is, yes, the economy. The economy which a lot of people think is Obama's greatest weakness, but in fact is one of his strengths.
Please don't show up and just make a comment like "but the economy sucks right now" without reading the rest of this.
How the Recession Started
The Housing Bubble and the Investment Banks
First, let's recall the story of the economy leading up to Obama's election. The housing market was in a bubble, meaning that it was making tons of wealth for tons of people because housing prices kept going up. Everyone knew this was a bubble, and that it would break sometime soon. Every real estate person and every economist said it would. But while it was going on, it was great. Everyone was making money hand over fist. In many ways, it was like the internet bubble under Clinton, except even more intense and even more widespread, in the sense that not everyone had internet stocks, but almost everyone with a house saw their assessment rise.
This bubble was enabled in part by mortgages that were given to people who could not pay for them. The banks who gave these mortgages certainly knew the mortgage-holders were going to default eventually, and certainly some of the mortgage-holders knew that too. Some other people were essentially tricked into taking the mortgages and told they would be fine. I believe both the banks and some of the people were to blame for this. However, this was not the biggest problem.
Investment banks took these mortgages and bundled them into investments that people could buy and trade. Then they took those investments and bundled them together. And then they bundled them together. This went on until the people at the investment banks literally didn't understand what they were selling any more. They were enormously risky investments, because they were built on mortgages that would eventually default, but barely anyone realized the extent to which that was true. The stock market kept going higher.
Then, eventually, the mortgages started to default, and the investments started to tank. The stock market tanked, and huge banks like Lehman Brothers went bankrupt. The economy basically crumbled. The banks had put way too much money in these investments, and lost it all, and had nothing left, and in fact they were massively in debt. But, we still need these banks in order to keep our modern economy running, so when they went down, so did the economy. Plus, housing prices all tanked at the same time. This meant that not only was our economic infrastructure down, but all the individual everyday members of the economy lost a ton of money too. Many people who thought they were doing great were in huge debt within a week. Tons of businesses went under, and tons of people lost their jobs.
I can offer a personal story here. I was trying to sell a house at the beginning of the housing recession. It took two years to sell it. It was basically a $100,000 house, and I lost $50,000 on it before I sold it. And compared to a lot of people, I got lucky.
Now, why did this happen and what lesson can we learn from it? Basically the mortgage banks and the investment banks screwed up--they took too much risk. And they did this because in America its the law that any publicly held company has to maximize its profits, which leads to risk taking. They are in a sense required to take risks. The only ethical standards they are kept to, in terms of their customers or the other people they affect, come from government regulations. Both of these industries were highly unregulated at the time. This is because the Republicans controlled the government for most of the preceding years, and they are ideologically against regulation. They believe the free market should be free, not regulated. However, when something is not regulated, it does not necessarily act responsibly or ethically. It may make more money, but it won't be better for the people of the country. This is what happened to the mortgage and investment banks. The mortgage banks made mortgages they knew were bad mortgages. The investment banks made investments they knew were bad investments. But because they were not required to take anything into account other than their bottom line, they were allowed to do this.
So, the economy crashed essentially due to a lack of regulations, and due to the presence of risk-taking incentives, on the mortgage and investment banks.
President Bush then signed the TARP law which bailed out the banks and essentially saved the economy from even further collapse. No one wanted to do this but the banks were so inextricably tied into the rest of the economy that if they tanked, there would have been no credit in the system and literally almost no financial transactions could have taken place. So it was a good thing to do pragmatically, however distasteful to everyone. This money has mostly been recouped, incidentally.
Obama Takes Office
In January Obama took office. He passed a stimulus bill made up of about one-third tax cuts and the rest was investment-based spending, including a lot on infrastructure--which the country needs whether or not it's part of a stimulus bill, since our roads and bridges usually get rated D or F by the engineers.
The stimulus bill worked pretty well, contrary to most people's belief. Here's just one analysis. It's an interesting bill, because the vast majority of every-day people think it didn't create any jobs, while the vast majority of economists think it did create millions of jobs. Was it perfect? No. But it did a pretty good job at what it was supposed to do, considering the context.
When Obama took office, we were losing a staggering number of jobs per month. We kept losing jobs for a while, but we lost less each month, and eventually began gaining jobs each month. Have we gained as much as we'd like? No. For three reasons, essentially: one, the Republicans have blocked pretty much every other one of Obama's attempts to fix the economy because they wanted to be able to say Obama failed. Essentially they preferred a political victory to fixing the country. This is not something they really deny, they make the case that the short-term loss during Obama's term will be offset by later gains under a GOP president.
Two, the economy can't really be fixed until the housing market has been dealt with, and this has been a real bear to do. Partly because the Republicans have blocked pretty much every attempt to do so, first because they don't want Obama to have any success, and second because they are ideologically against regulation, and it would take regulation to do it. Obama did get some regulation through, and that has worked to some extent, but not enough. This is also partly due to the banks' recalcitrance. Obama hoped that the banks, having destroyed the economy, would accept some responsibility for it and make it easier to fix the housing market. They have not, and it has ended up being a real problem. Now I do actually think Obama could have done more here, partly to force the banks to act, and partly to make house refinancing easier; I believe the process is too complicated (which I say as someone who has recently refinanced his house). But, it was a super-complex situation and nobody was going to get it perfect.
Three, Obama has been trying to put the economy back on a non-bubble path. No more internet bubbles, like the 90s, and no more real estate bubbles, like the 00s. This means slower, but more solid growth.
Eventually the stimulus money ran out, which was unfortunate. The now-Republican-controlled congress wouldn't accept another round of stimulus, because they were too focused on the long-term debt, which was not a real issue, and were ideologically against spending (although they weren't when they were in control of congress).
What's interesting is that you can actually track the effect of the stimulus by the schedule for when it ran out of money. Essentially, as it ran out of money, the growth of the economy slowed. It still grew, but not as fast. There's a pretty direct correlation between the stimulus and economic growth. A lot of the stimulus went to the states, and when they stopped getting the federal money, they started really having financial problems. The states, unlike the federal government, can't have a budget deficit, so they had to cut their budgets like crazy. This meant firing a lot of people. Now Obama tried to pass a jobs bill that would provide money to rehire a lot of these people, but the Republicans blocked it, so the decrease in the unemployment rate slowed down. Actually, if you just rehired all the government workers, like teachers, cops, and firefighters, that lost their jobs due to state budget cuts over the last few years, the unemployment would go down by about a full percentage point, which is another argument for more stimulus.
False Republican Arguments
Now Republicans currently argue against the stimulus for two reasons: that it increased the deficit, and that government doesn't create jobs.
The deficit is an issue, but it is a long term issue and pretty much every serious economist says that the first job is to improve the economy in the short term, so that the economy is healthy enough to deal with the deficit later. Obama has solid, moderate plans for dealing with the debt that includes both spending cuts and raising revenue. Pretty much every economist agrees that you need both to deal with the debt. If you just cut spending, the economy will tank. If you just raise revenue, you won't get enough money. Obama has the most responsible plan here.
Incidentally, when it comes to the debt, Obama has not added nearly as much as many people believe:
The charge that government doesn't create jobs is silly. Government creates jobs by hiring teachers, fire fighters, and police. It creates jobs by starting building projects for roads, bridges, and energy infrastructure that wouldn't happen unless the government paid for it. It creates jobs through the military and the defense industry. It creates jobs by running the national parks. It creates jobs in scientific research and development, both directly and by giving grants to other entities. The list goes on and on. Some of these are state jobs, but they only exist because the federal government gives the states the money so they can hire the teachers, etc.
Of course, they had a hard time arguing against the part of the stimulus that was tax cuts, because the entire Republican economic plan is based on tax cuts, so they partly tried to pretend they weren't in there. But they also said that the tax cuts that were in the bill were the wrong kind. The tax cuts in the bill basically went to everyday people and small businesses. Almost every economist will tell you this is exactly where you want tax cuts to go for a stimulant effect, because when a relatively poor person gets a tax cut, they spend it right away, and it goes back out into the economy. Poor/middle class people spend the money right away because ether don't have a choice--they are continually spending all their money just to take care of basic stuff like housing and food and college and whatnot. Whereas when the rich get tax cuts, they are much less likely to spend it. They save it instead, because they can. So it has no stimulative effect. Yet the Republicans thought the rich and the big businesses should get the tax cuts. They like to call the rich and big business the "job creators," but in reality they're just not the start of the job-creation train. They can't create jobs until there's demand, and there's no demand unless everyday people can afford to buy stuff. And they can't afford to buy stuff unless they get jobs, or they get tax cuts like the ones in the stimulus.
Now the Republicans used to believe this too. Bush worked his way out of the far-smaller recession in the early 00s through tax cuts. Economically speaking, tax cuts and spending are fairly similar. They both put money out into the economy. There's some benefit to spending because it doesn't last forever, while tax cuts are hard to get rid of once the emergency is over. There's also some advantage to tax cuts because they get into the hands of consumers immediately. Both of these techniques are part of what's called Keynesian economics. Basically the idea is that if you put more money out there, it stimulates the economy. So both the early Bush tax cuts and Obama's stimulus are Keynesian, and essentially the same economically. But now many Republicans are suddenly anti-Keynesian, and just don't believe government can do anything about the economy. Which is strange because the government certainly affected the economy when Bush tried it, and also in the New Deal, etc. It's pretty much obvious that it works. So this is another absurd reason why they are against it, even though it goes against almost all modern economic theory, not to mention almost all of the Republicans' actual history in congress.
Other Economic Strategies
Now one difference between the Bush and Obama tax cuts was how they gave the money back. Bush sent everyone a check, whereas Obama just took less money out of everyone's pay check each week. This was because a recent branch of economics called behavioral economics said it would work better--basically if you get a little bit of extra money each week, you'll spend it on essentials, whereas if you get one big check, you'll buy something random like a new TV. This makes a lot of sense. But unfortunately it also means that no one realized they were getting a tax cut, because they didn't look at the details of their paycheck. So tons of everyday people got a lot of money back--a family with an income of $50,000 got $3600 in cuts--and it helped the economy, but the stimulus bill didn't get the credit for all the positive effect it was having.
Another important tactic was the car company bailout. This saved General Motors and Chrysler, and in the process saved millions of jobs--not just the ones for the car companies themselves, but all the auto businesses that are related to it. They've gotten most of the money back from this, and it was a huge success. The companies are doing better than ever, which is great for American manufacturing and industry in general. This was originally portrayed as controversial, but now it's acknowledged as a great move on Obama's part.
Obama has also been trying to close the gap between the rich and the poor. The gap is far larger than it has ever been before. This causes a huge amount of social friction, but also means that the economy is less dynamic. This is partly due to the stagnant wages people get; people have not had true wage increases in some time, due to Republican blocking of any bills that attempt to fix that, because Republicans are against regulating the free market. Of course, when the free market gets the chance, it does what happens in any power system: the powerful take advantage of the powerless, and the everyday people get screwed. The free market is rarely good for everyday people. Unions, on the other hand, which Obama has supported--although not blindly--are basically responsible for all the improvements the modern worker has over his counterpart a hundred years ago--decent hours, decent pay, decent working conditions.
The gap between rich and poor has increased for a variety of reasons, but deregulation of corporations, leading to increased CEO salaries, and huge tax cuts for the rich, are certainly part of it. The tax rate for the rich used to be much, much higher in the recent past, as you can see below.
Taking this into consideration, it's ridiculous that the GOP is trying to say that increasing the rates on the top tier from the mid-thirties to the high-thirties is going to somehow hurt the economy. There is all kinds of data that shows that high taxes don't hurt the economy, and can actually help it. See here for a very in-depth look.
This gap is hard to close, but making the tax code more fair, trying to create higher-paying jobs in areas like energy and science, supporting unions, and raising the minimum wage are all things that he's been working on, and which are often antithetical to the GOP, which talks a good game when it comes to the education needed for high-tech jobs, but actually spends most of its time cutting education budgets and attacking science as a discipline. Obama has also created the Consumer Protection Bureau, which I'll talk about more tomorrow, which has already helped many many people against predatory lenders and credit card companies, which helps the finances of ordinary Americans. By working to improve the health care system, he's also reducing the amount most Americans will spend on this expensive part of everyone's budget. He's even signed a financial reform law that allows shareholders to vote on CEO pay, which was unheard of before.
He has also been working to make this a non-bubble economy, as I said before. A big part of this is his push for green energy. Green energy is clearly the long-term future for energy. It may become the majority of energy in 10 years, or 20, or 50, but eventually it's going to take over. We need to be on the ground floor of this if we want to take the lead in its production and science patenting in the future. It will not only help our position in the energy market, which is very important, but it will also help make jobs that are here in the US. Energy is a bubble that doesn't break; it's not like we'll ever need less energy. He's also tried to put an emphasis on infrastructure improvement, as in the stimulus. Our roads, internet communication pathways, and energy lines are all substandard compared to the past and to other countries. High speed rail is just one of the examples of something that can really improve this country's transportation, and which the GOP is against for god-knows-why. All of this investment is a place where government involvement is really needed, and the Republicans are ideologically against such investment. In fact, by putting in place new fuel efficiency standards for cars, the average family will save $8200 in gas over the life of a car!
I should point out that in general, Democrats have a better record for creating jobs than Republicans. In fact, Obama has created more jobs than Bush's entire 8 years (net). Here's a chart, and check out here for more info.
In the long run, Obama has done as much with the current economy as anyone could. He approaches the economy by dealing with experienced, pragmatic experts, not ideologues who just advocate random tax cuts whether the economy is doing well or poorly. He greatly increased job growth from what it was when he started, he has gotten the economy out of recession, he has improved the real estate market and car companies, he has regulated the mortgage banks and investment banks so they don't cause such havoc again, he has invested in the future of our energy and physical infrastructure, and tried to make the country's tax policies more fair. On top of that he's made it easier for women to get paid equally with men, which helps entire families out, not just women in particular.
In terms of Romney, let me just quote this week's Doonesbury: "You know, it just amazes me that only a few years after the economy was brought to its knees by a gang of predatory Wall Street plutocrats, that the GOP would nominate a predatory Wall Street plutocrat!" I mean, this is a guy whose entire job that he's basing his run for the presidency for was based on buying companies, then firing a bunch of people in order to make more money for the CEOs and shareholders. This is a guy who is somehow going to help get people jobs?
Anyway. Obama has done a very solid job with this economy. I know it's not great yet, but it is much better than it was, much better than it might have been under other hands, and it is clearly going in the right direction. If he gets another term, he can stop fixing Bush's problems and actually move us in the direction of a long-term, non-bubble prosperity with well-paying jobs and a reasonably-regulated financial system.
EDIT: I should also point out that Obama was just endorsed by the Financial Times, which is probably the most-respected financial media outlet, as well as by Michael Bloomberg, who is also very well respected for his economic knowledge.
Today's theme is the Supreme Court. It's a little different from the last few, because this is one where "reasonable people can disagree," as they say, depending on your view of the Court's philosophy.
The Supreme Court has a huge effect on the nation's laws and culture, and the presidents who select its members have a huge effect on the Supreme Court.
Right now, the court is composed of 5 conservative members and 4 liberal members. One of the conservative members, Kennedy, is known as a swing-vote justice, and sometimes votes with the liberal members, but generally he votes on the conservative side, as in the health care case.
The members of the court are fairly old and it is reasonable to believe that one or more may retire during the next presidential term. From youngest to oldest, they are (L or C indicates liberal or conservative):
Elena Kagan, 52, L
John Roberts, 57, C
Sonia Sotomayor, 58, L
Samuel Alito, 62, C
Clarence Thomas, 64, C
Stephen Breyer, 74, L
Antonin Scalia, 76, C
Anthony Kennedy, 76, C
Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 79, L
Supreme Court Justices serve until they choose to retire, sometimes lasting for over 30 years, so any appointment can have a lasting influence on the country. For instance, Scalia and Kennedy were appointed by Ronald Reagan!
Ginsburg is generally understood to be considering retirement in the next term, especially if Obama is elected. Kennedy and Scalia may also retire soon, but probably wouldn't under an Obama administration unless they really had to for health reasons. But depending on what happens, the next president may pick one to three new justices. If a liberal justice retires under a liberal president, or a conservative justice retires under a conservative president, there's no real net change, but if a liberal retires under a conservative or vice versa, that president would have the opportunity to reshape the balance of the court, since it is so closely split.
Recent cases have included a handgun ban in Chicago, the healthcare law, censorship on TV, early voting in Ohio, campaign finance (Citizens United), and Arizona immigration enforcement.
Upcoming cases may/will include DOMA and gay marriage, more issues related to healthcare, abortion, affirmative action in university admissions, the trials of arrested terrorists, immigration, the Voting Rights act, and challenges to wiretapping.
To give an example of how the Supreme Court can influence the country, one obvious example is the health care case. I don't think I really need to explain why this was important, whether you are in favor of the ACA or not. Another case that has been extremely influential is the Citizens United case. In this, the Supreme Court basically said that groups can donate unlimited amounts of money to political campaigns. This led to the current SuperPACs that are making most of the political ads you see today. These groups are largely unregulated, largely anonymous, and since they don't report to the candidate, largely irresponsible. These groups used to be illegal and now they are some of the main funders of political ads, especially for the Republicans (they have just recently become factors for the Democrats in the last few weeks). So this is a great example of how the court has hugely impacted your everyday life (by creating an environment where you see so many of these ads) as well as the political landscape (since political advertising is now so unregulated and anonymous), which in turn could affect your life by electing presidents based on that advertising--not just now, but for the foreseeable future.
If issues like abortion, gun control, immigration, surveillance, war crimes trials, gay marriage, and anything else mentioned above (plus a host of other things) are important to you, you should make sure to vote for the candidate that represents those views, because the president that gets elected will probably get to influence them by his choice for the next couple Supreme Court Justices.
Personally, I believe in abortion rights, in moderate gun control, in immigration policies that don't involve the harassment of innocent people, in gay marriage, in the continuance of the Voting Rights act, and in limitations on wiretapping and surveillance, so I am in favor of the kinds of Justices that President Obama has chosen so far. You may disagree here. I'm not going to even get into the philosophy behind liberal and conservative interpretations of the Constitution in the abstract, because that could take a long time. I tend to have a view half-way between the liberal and conservative interpretations.
I believe that the Justices Obama has chosen so far (Sotomayor and Kagan) are, while liberal, also somewhat moderate and pragmatic in their liberalism, so they don't vote predictably in every situation, while the Justices that conservatives tend to demand their Presidents choose are more ideological and radical in their approach to the constitution. Alito, Thomas, and Scalia are all believers in radical constitution theories that had almost no hold in the court before they became members, and if they got a stronger majority would truly change the country by negating much of our past legal and governmental structures. Roberts is not quite so ideological, and Kennedy is much less so. Ginsburg is an example of strong ideology on the left, which I am not a huge fan of either, but in general the left-leaning Justices right now are no so extreme to the left as the right-leaning Justices are extreme to the right.
Of course, Obama has also made a mark on the court by appointing two women, one of whom is Hispanic. This may not seem important to everyone, but I think it is, for a host of reasons, from acting as examples to young kids thinking about joining the legal profession to the greater breadth of viewpoints that come from a greater breadth of kinds of life experiences. (Just as an aside, Obama has also appointed more openly gay people to his administration than anyone else.) (Also as an aside, the court is currently comprised of six Catholic and three Jewish Justices, which is a fairly unrepresentative sample of American religions, and they all have an Ivy League degree of some kind, which is hardly an example of diversity, so the court could in many ways use some more demographic shaking-up.)
In the end, I trust Obama to make good choices to the Supreme Court. He was a lawyer and taught constitutional law, and I think he has important insights into what qualities a Justice should have. I trust him to select people that are pragmatic and respectful of the Constitution and American jurisprudence.
Obamacare, or the Affordable Care Act, has obviously been an extremely polarizing topic. A lot of the reason for the controversy around it has been due to the Republicans' extensive misinformation campaign about it. "Death panels," anyone? To see the effect of bad publicity on the ACA, consider this simple fact: when people are surveyed about the act itself, they are often against it. But when they are surveyed about its individual components, they are usually very in favor of it.
The act itself is really not that radical. I'm going to describe its basic components, then go over some of the standard complaints about it.
First and foremost, I see the ACA as a consumer rights bill. I don't understand how anyone can be against this idea. Basically what it does is keep the insurance companies from screwing you over. For anyone who thinks this is not a big deal, you really need to look up how the insurance companies have acted in the past. It has been a widespread practice of the insurance companies to drop people from their plans whenever the people end up having some major medical problem. Basically they're happy to take people's premiums every month, then when it's time to pay out for an expensive, long term hospital bill, they drop the people. They look for technicalities in how the forms were filled out, they say it was a pre-existing condition, they do anything they can. They often just make stuff up. It has been an incredible abuse of power and there is an extensive track record of it. It's the kind of thing you'd think was made up until you read the stories. I personally know multiple people who have been treated like this.
So the ACA says that the companies can't do this any more. No more randomly dropping people. This is incredibly important to consumers, and would NEVER happen unless it was made into law.
It also allows people to stay on their parents' insurance plans until they're 26. This is very important because many people don't have the money to pay for insurance until they're older. Myself, I didn't have health insurance between the time I graduated college until I was 29. Because health care in this country is basically dependent on having a salaried job (which is dumb in the first place), lots of people have to wait a long time before they get it. This helps close that donut hole of no insurance for many people in their 20s.
It also requires the companies to no longer have annual or lifetime limits for coverage. Right now, companies can say that once they pay out a certain amount of money to you per year, or over your lifetime, you can no longer get any more coverage. They won't pay for anything else. You're out of luck. The law makes this practice illegal--they must continue to pay for your health care over your lifetime no matter how expensive it is.
It also has a few other general benefits:
It requires the companies to say how much of your monthly premiums go to actual health care, and how much to random stuff like CEO salaries and profits. If the insurance companies don't spend 80% of their money on health care, they have to send you some of your money back! This has already started to happen--over 12 million people's plans required rebates this year.
It gets rid of the Medicaid Prescription Drug Program's donut hole, which was very costly to many seniors.
It also expands Medicaid to people whose incomes are up to 133% of the federal poverty level. This is important because right now, the states get to decide what percentage of the poverty level you have to be at to get Medicaid. For some states, it's 133%, or about $26,000 for a family. For other states, you can't get Medicaid if you make more than just $5000 for your whole family! Ironically, the states that use the lowest percentages are almost all traditionally Republican, so the people who would get the most benefit from this provision are largely Republicans. Here are more details.
In terms of cost-control, it has a few different mechanisms.
The first is the requirement that everyone has to get health insurance or pay a fine. The basic reason for this is that since more people will have health insurance, the insurance companies will have a greater overall pool of money, and they will be able to more easily pay off their payments to sick people. Right now, many people only get health insurance when they are already sick, or in a risky age etc. This means that the people the companies currently cover are more likely to cost the companies money. When more healthy people get insurance, there is more money in general, but less payouts as a percentage. So the system is more financially stable.
Second, the way a lot of people pay for their medical issues right now is emergency rooms. It is the law that emergency rooms have to cover people in trouble. So people go in, and they get help. But emergency rooms are about the most expensive form of health care, and also many of the people who go there can't pay, and default, raising the costs for the hospitals even more. So, by getting these people health insurance, they will go to actual doctors and not emergency rooms, and their overall medical costs will go down, and the hospitals won't lose a lot of defaulted bills.
Third, the bill creates places ("exchanges") where self-employed people can check out a bunch of insurance plans at once and compare them to each other easily. They're basically pools made for making it easy to compare and select plans. This creates competition and will lower costs for people who are self-employed, who right now have the highest costs. The pools are also required to charge no more than 9.5% of your annual salary in premiums.
Fourth, the bill puts a lot of emphasis on free preventative care. This means that doctors will try to get you help for small things before they become large things. They will do this for a lot more people than they used to, because there will be more people who are insured. Studies have shown that preventative care dramatically lowers the long term costs for an individual, because even though there are some small costs up front, they prevent the big expensive things down the road.
Fifth, there will a board of medical experts who study the use of health care and will make decisions about what kinds of care is unnecessary. This is one of the most demonized parts of the plan and is often described as rationing health care. This is not the case. One of the biggest reasons health care today is so expensive is that many people actually get more care than they need. Basically many doctors require all sorts of tests that medical experts know they don't need, they buy equipment that doesn't help, etc. Essentially, a lot of health care money goes to stuff that doesn't actually improve people's health. It's a huge problem. See here for details.
The bill also provides tax credits for small businesses so that they can afford to get the health care plans for their employees. Remember that not all companies need to get their employees a plan, only those with 50 or more workers, so super-small companies don't have to deal with the costs. People who work for these super-small companies get their insurance through the insurance pools described above. The people also get tax credits to do so.
There are a few arguments that people make against the ACA.
First is that it is a government takeover of health care. This is simply not true at all. The government will not be taking over the actual health care industry or doctors or hospitals or anything like that. The law mostly just controls the insurance companies and makes them act in a more civilized fashion. It doesn't do anything to affect your doctor or hospital. So it is not in any way, shape, or form a government take over of health care. It will just protect you from abuse by the health care insurance industry, and will lower prices (it could go farther in this department, which will hopefully be addressed in the future).
The second incorrect argument is that middle class people will now be paying for the health care of poor people. This is not true either. By making everyone get insurance plans, there will be more people paying for health care, and more people not using emergency rooms, which will actually lower premiums for everyone.
Another complaint is that people just don't like being forced to get health care insurance. Honestly, is this really an issue? Most people already have insurance, so it won't affect them at all. For those who don't, I just can't see the problem. Sorry to force you to be covered against possible catastrophic loses. This is pretty much exactly the same issue as seat belts. We make everyone wear seat belts because if they don't, then the people who get in accidents while not wearing them incur huge emergency and medical costs, which are then passed along to the rest of us via our insurance premiums. People used to think it was an important thing to be "free" to not wear a seatbelt because it didn't hurt anyone else, but it does--when you end up in the hospital, it costs everyone else money. The same is true for health care insurance.
Another manufactured complaint is that many people will lose their plans. In actuality, almost no one will lose their plans, and for the small minority that do, it's only because you will be getting a better plan. Some of the existing plans don't live up to the law's requirements, so they will be phased out and replaced by ones that do live up to the law. I can't see this as a problem.
There are often assertions that the ACA will add to the deficit. Actually, it will reduce the deficit; the exact numbers depend on how many states accept the Medicaid expansion.
Romney has said he'll repeal the ACA, although he has also said that he would keep almost every aspect of it, because they're all very popular, except for the mandate. Now first of all, the mandate is mostly what pays for it, so if you keep all the benefits but cut the mandate, it's not financially viable. Second, he was perfectly happy to include the mandate in his Massachusetts version of the law, so what's the problem now? Third, when the Republicans wrote a healthcare bill to act as a contrast to the one Hillary Clinton proposed in the early 90s, what they wrote was pretty much exactly the same as Romney's Massachusetts bill and Obamacare, including the mandate. So it is utterly absurd for them to be against it now. They invented it!
Basically, I think the ACA is a huge benefit to the country. It protects us from the insurance companies, which are otherwise overwhelmingly powerful and have screwed over millions of people. It lowers costs. And it's paid for. I'm incredibly glad it's happening, and am incredibly fearful as to what would happen if they tried to repeal it. Do the Republicans honestly want people to be vulnerable to insurance companies again? On this issue, it's clear that we need to re-elect Obama and the Democrats in Congress if we want to avoid the horrors of the past when it comes to health care.
Here's the basic thing. Obama is at heart a pragmatist. He does things because he believes they will work in a particular circumstance.
The Republican party, at the moment, is ultra-ideological. They do things because they believe in their ideology, and they apply that ideology in all cases no matter the circumstances, and no matter whether that ideology has been proven not to work in the past.
The Democratic party as a whole is probably in-between here. Today I'm just focusing on Obama and not the Democrats as a whole.
Obama's basic decision-making process is to get a bunch of experts together. He intentionally gets ones who don't agree with each other. Then he has them all make an argument for their position, and rebut each other's position. After hashing it out for a long time, and asking them many questions, he comes to an answer that he believes is the most effective of all the available options. This decision-making process of his has been reported in multiple news sources.
The Republicans right now base their approach to government on a philosophical stance that is both extreme (in relation to the previous stances of the Republican party--it has been said by many current moderate Republicans that the Republicans of just 20-30 years ago wouldn't even understand the party's current incarnation, and that the actual policies of Reagan, who is idolized by the current party, wouldn't pass in a current Republican congress) and pure, in the sense that it is supposed to be applied in all situations.
By this I mean that they believe in minimizing government, balancing the budget and cutting taxes. They have actually almost all signed a pledge to a lobbyist named Grover Norquist to never raise taxes. These are not necessarily bad goals, but their worth depends on the context. For instance, the federal government is supposed to be able to run on a deficit. State governments can't, but there are times when it is helpful to the country that the feds can borrow money and spend it for stimulus reasons. Administrations of both parties have done this for decades to beneficial effect for the country. When it comes to the size of the government, how small is too small? They don't really provide an answer, but it seems like the answer is, when we cut all the things that help poor people, but don't cut the things that help large companies. When it comes to taxes, are there no circumstances when we should raise them? The problem is they see the country's budget needs as a zero sum game. But If we are attacked, or have to engage in a war, or deal with a hurricane, don't we need to raise extra funds? According to the Republicans, and in contrast to previous US policy, no, because it's against their ideology--circumstances don't matter.
If the economy is good, their prescription is lower taxes, and if it's bad, their prescription is lower taxes. According to them, the lower the taxes, the better the economy. So with zero taxes we'd have an infinitely strong economy? And never mind the fact that studies show that there is almost no correlation between low taxes and economic growth, or that history has shown that economic growth has been stronger under Democratic presidents than Republican ones. For Republicans, the facts don't matter, only the philosophy behind their economic theory matters.
Whereas Obama picks and chooses economic policies based on studies and facts about what has worked best in the past.
Another economic example was the debt ceiling. Every administration and congress has always raised the debt ceiling. It's got nothing to do with overspending, it's just a standard process. But because so many of the new Republican congressmen were so ideological (and so economically uneducated), they forced a needless showdown on it, which ended up downgrading the US bond rating. Even the older Republicans didn't think this made sense, but the ideological wing is in charge now.
On immigration, Obama has tried to get support for practical solutions that make it harder for undocumented immigrants to one in, and deports those who cause trouble, but finds a path to citizenship for those willing to join the army or pay a fine first. This is a plan many Republicans used to support, but now they are following a purist philosophy that says the only way to deal with them is make sure they can't get in--an impossible task. But since they are ruled by ideogical thinking, they can't bend, no matter how practical the alternative is.
In fact, they are now ideologically against compromise in general. It used to be that the minority party would oppose the majority's plans in order to get a better bargaining position, then compromise. Now they believe it's their way or the highway. Compromise, once the very hallmark of American government, is now seen as evil by them. Meanwhile Obama and the Democrats stand waiting and willing to compromise, and have altered many of their bills in order to get bipartisan support. But the Republicans won't do it.
The same goes for many social issues. These examples could also have gone under my "republicans don't support/know science" blog, but they'll work here too. This year two Republicans have made absurd statements about rape, because they are ideologically against it in all circumstances, and aren't willing to compromise and just have common sense restrictions on it, as most Americans believe there should be. No, they are so stuck in their ideologically- driven mindset that they have ignored all reality and scientific fact and believe that women who are raped can somehow not get pregnant, and that there is no such thing as a pregnancy that can threaten the life of the mother, even though such things unfortunately happen all too often. But the Republicans can't see past their ideology to see the medical facts.
This effect may partly come from demographics. There is a theory that this election, or maybe the next election, are the last ones the Republicans can win, simply because of demographics. The percentage of the voters that is female and ethnic minorities is getting larger and larger. Soon, if the Republicans continue to rely on the white male vote as their main demographic, they simply won't have enough votes to win. What studies have found is that when an ideological is near extinction, or has its back against the wall, it flares up and becomes temporarily more extreme before it fades away. We may be seeing this right now with the Republicans' nativist, hyper-individualist, anti-federal, anti-tax, culturally conservative ideologies (as seen n the neo-cons under bush and the Tea Party now). Whereas the democrats in general, and especially the last two Democratic presidents, tend to be very open to whatever solutions work, and have especially done a lot of economic triangulation. Democratic economic policies actually look a lot like moderate Republican policies from a few decades ago.
Basically the Republicans see everything as black or white, right or wrong. Whereas Obama sees things as shades of gray.
Myself, I want leadership that sees shades of gray, that can find a middle ground, that will use whatever solution works, instead of always trying the same solution no matter what it's track record is. I believe in compromise, if for no other reason than the fact that endless hardball stalemating degrades civility and stops the day-to-day governance of the country. Now, I can believe that some people think the all-or-nothing approach is the way to go—the Republicans admit to pretty much everything I’ve said here, they just think it’s a good thing. But me, I'm a pragmatist.
What about you--do you prefer pragmatists or ideology-driven government?
This is the second in my daily series of arguments about why you should vote for Obama and the Democrats.
Each day will have a different theme. Today's theme is science. (Yesterday's was the Republicans' cynical strategy, which would be awful to make into a successful precedent.)
Basically, science is tremendously important in today's world, and only one of the two parties supports it on a consistent basis. The key with science is that it is itself consistent. If you believe science has led us to be able to make ships that fly into space and bombs that blow up cities and medicine that eradicates polio, then you also have to believe what it says about evolution, climate change, and everything else.
Science is basically observation, measurement, prediction, and testing. It's not subjective, it's not wishful thinking. It's a description of the real world.
Democrats consistently support science. They support evolution science, which is one of the most strongly-proven theories in science. They support climate change science, which is also among the most strongly-proven theories in science. They support research into new energy sources and pure research in general. They also support stem cell research, vaccines, and many other aspects of medical science. In doing so, they pave the way for a general improvement of American life and health, and for our leadership in the world economy.
Republicans, unfortunately, let religion and commerce get in the way. They selectively don't believe in some theories (or at least say they don't), even though it is impossible to just pick and choose which theories you want to believe. Science is not like religion. In religion, you can pick and choose what religion you want to believe in. Once you pick a religion, you can decide which sect you want to belong to. Basically, you can chose your religious ideas based on what feels right to you. In science, you either believe in all of it, or none of it, and if you believe in none of it, you have to explain why observation, prediction, and testing doesn't work as a process.
For instance with evolution, we control the evolutionary processes in various microscopic organisms (bacteria, viruses, etc.) as we manipulate them into medicines and vaccines. Republicans take medicine when they're sick, just like anyone else, but somehow don't believe that the evolutionary processes involved in bacteria are the same as they are in humans. Democrats do not engage in this kind of selective-science hypocrisy.
Evolution is extraordinarily important because when Republicans try to block its teaching in schools, they are replacing science--something objective--with religion--something personal and, from the point of view of many, false. Evolution is the foundation for all of modern biology. The rest of the world understands and accepts evolutionary science. When we hold our kids back from understanding it, we are holding them back from understanding biology in general, and thus holding our entire country back from creating the new leading scientists in this field, and biology will continue to be a very important field of science in the future. We really need new scientists in order to push our country into the future. Scientists create entire new industries. They affect the health of the country. Their research leads to our tools and communications systems and our transportation. If we don't have scientists, we will lose any chance of having a first-rate economy. It's simple: Democrats are the party that is helping to keep us on track to lead the world in science. They work to make sure our schools are serious when it comes to science, and don't let religion sidetrack our students. They are constantly trying to invest money in education in general, while Republicans are trying to cut the Department of Education. Democrats are trying to invest in general pure research in science, while Republicans don't even believe in federal spending in the abstract anymore. We got where we are today because we invested in pure science, and we need the Democrats to keep us in this race.
Climate change is probably the most important issue in the world today. If it continues to get worse, it will kill enormous numbers of people from famine and floods, and will ruin our food production, our air, our infrastructure. The fact that there is climate change, and that it is caused by humans, has almost universal support among scientists, but Republicans routinely call it a myth. Climate change has been getting worse. Previously, it was assumed that it might not have real effects for another couple decades. However, it is becoming more and more of a consensus that it is happening now. It is true that we cannot tell if any particular storm, etc., is caused by climate change. But we CAN tell that changes in overall weather patterns are caused by climate change. There is no doubt that the ice is melting faster than expected, that storms are becoming worse and more unpredictable. It is having an effect on food production, plant cycles, animal migration and all kinds of things NOW. Democrats understand this and are trying to do something about it. Republicans are trying to block it.
Romney has said, inaccurately, that there is no scientific consensus on the human involvement in climate change. Both he and Paul Ryan have said they would roll back EPA regulations intended to slow climate change.
Why? This time it's not about religion, it's about commerce. Republicans are huge allies of the fossil fuel industry. They won't do anything that has to do with cutting or regulating it. And this has to be done. They also believe in "personal freedom," which they define as "no one should be able to tell you what to do unless you're hurting someone else." The thing is, we ARE hurting someone else--we are all hurting EVERYONE by our actions. We need to all take action and sacrifice, or we are all screwed. The Democrats understand this. The Republicans are opposed to this kind of action on principle. So not only do they say they are against changing the fuel industry, they deny the science behind climate change. They just do not see science as an objective thing that can be tested.
This ties into alternative energy. Democrats support and put an emphasis on research into green energy, and also support the government funding companies that are doing it. The Republicans say this is "picking winners and losers." Honestly, the government has always picked winners and losers, and it should. The winners should be the companies that make energy that isn't going to kill us and our kids. That shouldn't be all that controversial. We have ALWAYS funded companies that do things that we see as being in the national interest. Republicans say they're for clean energy in theory, but they put no money into it, and keep making excuses about how it's fine and all, but this just isn't the time to do it. They just don't support science.
This all boils down to two things:
1) Republicans deny the objectivity of science.
2) Republicans don't support real investing in science, without which our economy has no chance of continuing the be a world leader.
Meanwhile, Obama has done things like appointing the first national Chief Technology Officer to oversee the country's tech policies, repealing the stem cell restrictions, put $18 billion of stimulus money into nondefense R&D, invested in private space flight research, invested in science education, included a Nobel-winning physicist in his Cabinet, invested in clean energy, and made sure the Affordable Care Act made insurance companies make their decisions based on health science.
If it's important to you that government respects the objectivity of science, that we as a country invest in research in order to keep our place in the world of science and our place in the world economy, that we put an emphasis on real science education instead of science that has been watered down by religion and business concerns, then you need to vote for Obama and the Democrats, because they are the ones who are going to deliver those priorities.
Finally, I'd like to point out, as I did yesterday, that I was a registered Republican for 15 years and am now an independent (partly because of the reasons above), and I've happily voted for Republicans, Democrats, and various third party candidates for years. But it is completely clear to me that if I want science to be respected and valued, the Democrats are the only game in town.
Every day for the next seven days I'm going to present one reason why you should vote for Obama and the Democrats in Congress.
Today, I'm going to talk about why you should vote AGAINST the Republicans. The next six days will all be reasons to vote FOR the Democrats.
The reason you shouldn't vote Republican is that for the past four years they have pursued the one of the most cynical Congressional strategies of all time. Simultaneously, Mitt Romney has pursued one of the most cynical Presidential campaign strategies of all time.
In Congress, the Republicans have basically voted No on every possible bill or item that has come up. In the House, they've voted No. In the Senate, they've filibustered first, then voted No. Since the Democrats only had a filibuster-proof majority for a couple months, the result is that almost nothing has been done.
To casual political watchers, this might seem like what the minority party always does, but it's not. The minority party usually blocks SOME things, and pushes back hard against many others, but usually the goal is to get the majority party to compromise and move their policies somewhat towards the minority's position. This way the necessary work of governing gets done, and the minority gets it done at least a little their way. This is the way Democrats and Republicans have done it for decades. Even the Republican congress under Bill Clinton did it this way.
For the last 4 years, however, the Republicans have tried to block EVERYTHING. This was an all-new approach, spearheaded by Eric Cantor. The entire point of this, and this is where the cynicism comes in, was to be able to say that Obama didn't get anything done during his term, and that it was Obama's fault. They INTENTIONALLY did things that they knew would hurt the American people in order to complete their strategy.No Congress has done this to this extent.
Not only did they do this in general, they did it at a time of economic crisis, when the country really needed the government's help. But they put their political goals above the crisis.
They blocked stuff that they were against, but they also blocked stuff that they used to be in favor of! The most obvious example is the health care bill. Not only was it the same as Romney's bill in Massachusetts, it was the same as a bill that the Republicans in Congress wrote in the 90s. This happened again and again--they voted against things they used to be for, just to say Obama wasn't doing anything.
They even blocked the confirmation of judges that were of such low level that Congress usually confirms unanimously--no one ever bothers to block this kind of judge--just to make it look worse for Obama. It's important to understand that when Obama came into office, there was already a judicial crisis because of how few judges were sitting on the bench. This is something that conservative Chief Justice John Roberts has talked about. But the Republicans have made the crisis worse.
They did this assuming that most of the American people don't pay attention to the everyday details of Congress until election time, and so they would get a free pass---they could act worse than any Congress ever, but if no one noticed, then they would get the result they wanted (saying Obama didn't do anything) and so they would do well in the elections.
Even more cynically, they kept putting out press releases saying it was Obama that wouldn't compromise, even though he was sending them bills that had tons of Republican ideas in them already. They knew that since one of Obama's strongest points was his willingness to be bipartisan, then if they said he wasn't doing it (even if he was), that most people wouldn't bother to check the details and would assume that what they said was true.
That's what I mean when I say this is the most cynical Congressional strategy of all time. If they win, it will reinforce the idea that this kind of behavior is perfectly acceptable and effective. It will become standard operating procedure. For the sake of basic governance, we can't let this happen.
Mitt Romney, meanwhile, was running in the primary against the most right-wing slate of Republican candidates that there has been in decades. To win, he had to make himself look even more right-wing than them. So he said all kinds of crazy stuff that made him seem like a super-extremist. If you're more extreme than Gingrich, Perry, or Bachman, you are insanely extreme.
But then, as his campaign manager famously said, he shook up the etch-a-sketch and turned into a super-moderate when it came time for the debates. He said things that were 180 degrees from what he said before, and completely denied that he said those previous things, even though they were right there on Youtube.
Again, part-time political watchers may think this is standard. People in both parties do tack to the left or right during the primary, and back towards the center during the main election. BUT, no one ever has done it to such an extreme, and so obviously, as Romney. He just totally ignores everything he is on the record saying.
This is the most cynical Presidential candidacy strategy I've ever seen. I'm not even talking about his actual policies. His strategy of saying whatever people want to hear is unheard of to this degree. Just as with the Republicans in Congress, if he wins, then that will reinforce the idea that this is totally fine and it will become standard operating procedure for everyone in the future.
To sum up
Republicans in Congress have blocked everything, even stuff they used to be in favor of, and even stuff they know would help the economy in crisis, solely in order to say that Obama has done nothing. They have done this because they assume that no one pays attention to Congress on a daily basis. If they win, they will keep doing it. This would be a horrible precedent for basic governance.
Romney has shape-shifted to an extreme degree, saying what Republicans wanted to hear to a ridiculous extent in the primary, and then becoming ultra-moderate, contradicting everything he said before, in the assumption that no one pays attention to the primaries. If he wins, everyone else will do this too, and political races will become even less honest than they were before. Politics has always played fast and loose with the truth, but never like this. His policies may or may not be scary to you, but to not even being able to know what he really believes should be really scary.
So I am asking you to show Romney and the Republicans that we have been paying attention. Don't reward their incredibly cynical strategies. Don't make these cynical strategies the way of the future. Vote for the Democrats or vote for the third party of your choice.
Finally, I'd like to point out that I was a registered Republican for 15 years and am now an independent (partly because of the reasons above), so I'm not saying this as a Democratic loyalist or partisan. I've happily voted for Republicans, Democrats, and various third party candidates for years. But right now, I think the Democrats are the best option by far.
Tomorrow's rant will be on Obama and the Democrats' obvious advantage when it comes to the role of science.
I think we all have comics that we really want, but we can't find them, or can't afford them. What one (or a few) do you really want, but you can't find it or afford it? What's your Holy Grail?
Also, I'm curious, when you're looking for back issues, where do you look? Back issue bins at local stores, do you buy them digitally, or do you an online service like Comic Collectors Live to buy the physical issues? I just started using CCL, and I have to say I could see this taking my comics addiction to all new (and scary) levels. I used to only look in the bins at local stores, as a way to limit myself, but now that theoretically almost any comic is available to me through CCL, it's hard to avoid just buying, buying, and buying some more. Which will obviously bankrupt me at some point!
So now I have actually bought a lot of the issues I have been looking for for some time. But four that I really want, and have never seen over a period of decades looking for them, are the original four appearances of Grendel:
They are Comico Primer #2, and the 1983 volume of Grendel, #1-3. I'm a big Grendel fan, but these were super-limited runs from before Comico or Matt Wagner had any success, so they're almost impossible to find, and would be super-expensive if I could find them.
Anyway, what is your comic book heart's desire?
[edited from my original post last year, on my first vineversary]
This (2013) is my second Vineversary. Over the past two years I've continued to enjoy the two main things that drew me to the site when I first joined, which are the wiki and the battle forum. I've especially enjoyed putting my creativity into making battles. As of today I've made 200 battles: 113 in my first year and 87 this year (I'm slowing down a bit but at least they average out nicely!). You can find them all compressed under the spoilers sections below.
If you want to celebrate my second Vineversary, then please bump one of my battles, especially one of the lesser-discussed ones!
As you can easily see if you browse through, I may be unintentionally winning the "most battles with the least comments" award, which probably has more than a little to do with my tendency to use less-than-prominent characters in an attempt to give them some deserved time in the spotlight.
It's been a lot of fun to talk with all of you over the past two years, and I'm looking forward to many more years on the Vine. Thanks to everyone who has participated in my threads!
EDIT: the spoiler block works correctly if you see this directly through my blog, but if you see it through the forums, it's a little off: you have to click the Spoilers line, then that brings up a second Spoilers line, and you have to click that one too. Then it will show all the battles.