Thursday, October 17, 2013

Quote of the Day

Republicans Lose in Route

Well, it's a bad day for the Tea Party.  I think all sides can agree that this whole thing has not worked out well for them.  Not only did they get nothing in terms of concessions with the shut down strategy.  They now have The Chamber of Commerce and other business groups ready to resist them.  Still, as I explained in my prior post, there's a logic to this madness.  Obama Care success is a catastrophe for them.  They'll lash out wildly to stop it, even harming the small businesses they pretend to care about in order to stop it.  So sure, this was a hail Mary pass, and they probably understood early that this was a long shot, but they had to try something.  They've been saying, as Rich Lowry mentions here, that after Oct 1 Obama Care is going to be virtually unrepealable.  That's true because it will be an improvement.  People that previously had few options now have options.  They aren't going to want to give them up.

I'd written my Congressman and I just want to post that here to preserve it.  I start with his initial response to something I wrote to him on his website, which I don't have a copy of.  My reply to that is further down.  Whatever you think of Obama Care, I think you have to be unimpressed with my tea party Congressman as he bases his actions on totally misleading and bad arguments.  He complains that Obama Care leaves too many people without coverage.  He complains that under Obama Care health care costs are going up.  And so he actually voted against this recent bill that re-opened government on this basis, even though the system he fights for leaves more people uninsured, costs more, and raises the deficit even more.  It's really quite bizarre.  He needs a few facts injected in his mind, so I thought I'd help.  Perhaps this will further entrench him in his Tea Party ways, as this research indicates often happens.  But as also indicated at that link, truth in the face of repeated error can have an effect eventually.  I'll do my part.

Dear (Jon)
Thank you for taking the time to contact me, and for sharing your concerns over the government shut-down. We need to keep the government open.  I have voted “yes” on two different continuing resolutions to fund the government for the upcoming fiscal year.
Fortunately, all members of Congress from both parties did come together in agreement that no matter what happens, our service members must receive their paychecks—shut-down or no. That is why the House of Representatives unanimously voted in favor of the Pay Our Troops Act. This bill is a free-standing measure promising military members, some federal civilian personnel, and some federal contractors their pay even if funds for other government operations expire. Our soldiers, sailors, and airmen are not political pawns to be toyed with between the House, Senate, and White House.
That said, the main point of contention between the House and Senate is the implementation of ObamaCare. The bottom line is, no matter what any politician from either party will say about the other, the only way a shut-down can occur is if neither side is willing to compromise—or, one side won’t compromise and the other side won’t entirely give in.  And in this respect, the President and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid have both made clear that no compromise is acceptable to them.  “I will not negotiate on anything,” the President said.
That is unreasonable.
Unfortunately, Obama’s Affordable Care Act won’t get anywhere near granting universal insurance coverage to every American. In fact, the Congressional Budget Office has estimated that after full implementation, 30 million of our fellow citizens will still be without insurance. In both the for-profit and non-profit sectors, we are seeing people lose their coverage. Recently UPS announced that they would no longer offer spousal insurance to their employees and the University of Virginia declared major changes to their healthcare benefits. Both explicitly cited the healthcare reform law as the reason for these changes. Other companies from Home Depot to Sea World to Trader Joes are doing the same. Employees in all sectors of our society are seeing their insurance be changed for the worse because of Obamacare.
Moreover, news outlets recently reported that the Affordable Care Act’s program to help those with preexisting conditions has failed. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has announced that it has run out of money to enroll any more individuals in the program. In response, it is blocking states from accepting any more applications to help those who need it. The White House has yet to offer a solution to this problem. Moreover, the technology that is needed for ObamaCare to function properly is still not ready to go.
This year, the Government Accountability Office reported that the healthcare bill adds $6.2 trillion to our long-term deficits. The additional personal costs to every American citizen are even more startling. President Obama promised a reduction of the average family premium by $2,500. The reality of the past two years is this: In 2010, the Kaiser Health Foundation reported the average family’s premium to be $13,770. In 2012, the number went to $15,745, almost a $2,000 increase. The Wall Street Journal has reported that Michiganders should expect their premiums to increase between 35% and 65%.
The American people want change. I am ready to work with any member of Congress who is looking for solutions to out-of-control costs that keep America at the cutting edge of medical innovation. I also do not want to shut down the government. That is why I have supported two different continuing resolutions to fund the government.
Thank you again for sharing your thoughts with me regarding the debate over the continuing resolution and the government shut-down. Please contact me about this or any other issue as it develops.  It is an honor to represent Michigan’s 11th district in Congress.
Kerry Bentivolio
Member of Congress

Mr Bentivolio,
Your response is very disappointing because it expresses several very misleading rhetorical points.  I’m not saying this is your doing.  I’m sure these are ideas that are expressed in strategy meetings, but if we look closely at the claims we can see how unreasonable they are.
The key is to recognize that this is a choice between alternatives.  So for instance you point out that Obama Care increases the deficit.  What you fail to mention is that the prior system, the system you are fighting to save, increases the deficit even more, which is why repealing Obama Care increases the deficit.  You say that Obama Care leaves 30 million without insurance.  The prior system left nearly 50 million without insurance.  You say under Obama Care health care costs are up $2,000 in 2012.  What amount would they have gone up under the prior system?  We all know they’ve been going up astronomically and unsustainably prior to Obama Care.  Kaiser, the same source you cite regarding costs, further points out that this increase is modest as compared to the last 10 years.  Meaning costs are lower than they would have been without Obama Care.  I think it’s highly misleading to portray these as negatives when they are all reflecting much better results than the system you are fighting for.
I’m glad you think military personnel should be paid, but what about people at our national parks?  What about scientists doing research.  What about NASA workers?  Don’t they also have families and bills that need to be paid?  I am an engineer and I have contact with former NASA employees.  Brilliant people who take reduced wages because of the passion for the work.  We’re sticking it to them, all to return to a health care system that is nothing to get excited about.  It would be one thing if you were fighting for a system that cost half as much and produced better outcomes, like the systems that exist throughout the rest of the industrialized world.  But instead you’re fighting for a system that costs twice as much per capita and leaves the poor with few options.  The ones the end up pursuing (ER visits) are about as inefficient as you can get.
I understand that in politics people use whatever methods they have available to them.  Republicans can refuse to pass a budget.  That’s a tool in their tool kit.  But it seems the strategy is to cause so much pain that Obama and the Democrats will finally become so disgusted they’ll back down on duly passed laws that they regard as their signature achievement.  Do you think this reflects well on you and your party?  This is hurting small businesses, such as small restaurants and shops that operate near National Parks.  We’ve lost monitoring capability for our environment, which is now prey to people that might pollute to save money and improve profit.  People that work in the public sector maybe can’t pay their bills, and this threatens an economy in recovery.  This is happening because Republicans have been unable to win through the electoral process.  Passing laws.  Their last resort is pain for everyone.  This makes sense to you?  If Obama Care is as terrible as you believe it will be then you’ll get voters to support you in the future and repeal it.  The pain and harm being done here is not worth a return to our prior system.  Even if you think Obama Care is bad and our prior system is better, you can’t regard it as so much better that it’s worth this much misery.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Results of slightly more than one year of Chinese study

I've been meaning to record myself in a Chinese conversation, and I finally did a recording successfully about a week ago.  I started studying right around August 30 of 2012.  So right now it's 13 1/2 months later.  This gives you a sense of what I've managed to accomplish in that time.  This is a totally unscripted discussion on Skype with a woman who lives in China, with English text added.

I think it's pretty good.  There's plenty of mistakes happening here.  It's a bit cringe inducing as I go through it myself after the fact, transcribing it, because I see spots where we're talking past each other or I listen as I pretty much butcher the tones throughout.  But that's just part of the process of course.  There's no other way to learn but to make mistakes over and over again.

Some people have accomplished a lot more in 13 months.  Others have done a lot less.  My feeling is it's all about doing the work.  Work more than me and you'll be better than me, work less and you'll be worse.  Generally speaking.

My method, if you're curious, was the following.  I started with Pimsleur, which was free at my library.  That took about 3.5 months.  Then I did a program called Assimil.  That took about 4 or 5 months.  I thought both were quite good, but other methods might work better.

Throughout the process I spoke to Chinese people whenever I had the opportunity, trying out the things I'd learned.  I've had so much fun with that.  You might think people get annoyed or don't want to be bothered.  With rare exceptions the opposite is true.  Chinese people are happy to see you trying to learn their language and very willing to help.  Part of what has been enjoyable about this is not just getting better, but meeting such great people.

After Assimil I tried to increase my spoken use of the language.  I joined a local meetup group.  That has been great, not just because of the learning but also the friendships.  I have tried to do more of the Skype exchanges.  How they work is you spend half the time on the language you are interested in and half the time teaching English to your partner.  That's also been fun.  If you prefer you can pay a teacher and spend the entire time learning your target language, which I've also done.  For me it's been something like $9 an hour.

I continue working my way through a new program post Assmil, now using an online service called FluentU.  I can't say enough good things about it.  They take native content, like commercials, movie clips, music videos, all found on YouTube, transcribe it for you as it plays, then create a quiz that exposes you to the new words and tests you to make sure you understand the dialogue or message.  This is a paid service.  It was free when I started because it was in beta, but now it's something like $15 a month.  Highly recommended if you are interested and the money isn't problematic.

My tentative plan is to continue studying Chinese until I reach what is called a B2 spoken level.  Sometimes that's called Upper Intermediate.  You can read at Wikipedia what that means.  For me I mean that in the sense of the spoken ability, not written.  I'm not doing much with writing at this point, though that may change.  Then I want to start studying Spanish.  These are two languages I'd love to understand.

Let me know what you think.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The Rich and Empathy

A long time ago, possibly over a year, I read a random story on Reddit of a guy and his few experiences when he was stranded on the side of the road.  He was struck by the fact that over and over again he'd watch people blow past him, unwilling to help, until finally someone did.  Who was it every time?  A Mexican immigrant.  It's an interesting and brief read.  Check it out here.

Since reading that I have made extra effort to stop and help stranded people when I can.  Maybe just one opportunity has arisen since then, but I try to keep my eye open.  I've also done it in the past as well.

It struck me as true that the rich are less empathetic.  There is research that indicates that this is trueThis author in discussing this research talks about his own experience in Hyde Park in Chicago, and area that has a good mix of poor and rich.  He says that when he walks home with loads of groceries it's always African Americans that go out of their way to help, and never the more wealthy people who he passes on the sidewalk.

Just an observation.  If you are one of the lucky people with more money than average, try to be a different kind of richer person.

Edit: As food for thought, check David Koch's treatment of laborers that loaded his vans for his getaways he's involved in every weekend.  Also Wal-Mart heiress and billionaire Alice Walton's treatment of the widower to the woman she struck and killed with her Porsche.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Republicans Aren't Insane

On the surface it seems crazy.  Suppose Democrats in the Senate decided they didn't like some past bill that was made law.  Maybe the tax cuts for the rich that Bush passed.  Imagine if they just said their going to shut down the government if the Republican controlled house didn't agree to go along on a repeal of all the Bush tax cuts.  And what if they further threatened to refuse to raise the debt ceiling and put the entire world's economic system in crisis.  Well, that seems pretty crazy.  It doesn't matter if you don't like certain laws that were passed, you don't put a gun to your own head and everybody elses and overturn duly passed laws.

I mean, let's think about what we're dealing with here.  This is a law passed two years ago.  Not only was it passed, it was challenged in the Supreme Court and upheld.  Then we had a subsequent election where the party that ran on their record of passing this health care package and they won.  They won the Presidency, the Senate, and more people voted for Democratic Congressmen than Republican Congressmen.  The only reason Republicans control Congress is because they gerrymander their way into a majority.  Obviously there's no mandate for Republicans to undo this.  And yet they are taking the most drastic of measures.  Not to end spying, end droning, end wars started without the consent of congress.  No, on the fear of overspending.  This despite the fact that our deficit is falling faster than it has fallen in 60 years.  Overspending supposedly would harm the economy (despite the lack of evidence for this claim) so we're going to pull the rug out from under currently employed government workers and risk stalling the economic recovery.  Because we're concerned about the economy.  And even though repealing Obama Care would increase the deficit.

They've voted to repeal Obama Care something like 43 times.  Apparently it costs $1.5 million to have a single vote in Congress.  This is a complete waste of time.  Though it passes in the House it's a certainty the Senate won't likewise pass it, and even if they did Obama would veto it.  This is going nowhere, but this is what they've been doing.

So what's up?  My theory is that their worst fear is that it will actually work.  Cut the deficit and improve people's lives?  That's a catastrophe.  If it works those that benefit from it will be very grateful, and they will clearly see that the Republicans are just not interested in helping them or serving them.  In fact Republicans have been lying like crazy.  They can't be trusted to tell the truth or to do what is best, both for our deficit and our people.  Let's remember that right now 45,000 people die every year because they don't have access to health care.  If terrorism is a real concern, and it has killed far fewer Americans comparatively, then what about this health care system?  There's a lot to not like about it.  But is the alternative so much better that it's worth going nuclear?  For them maybe it is, because the real issue is their credibility.  They fear they may come out of this with none.

I frankly wonder what rank and file Republicans think.  OK, I know they don't like Obama Care.  But they can't be too thrilled with the prior system either, the system their leadership is fighting tooth and nail for.  Maybe the people think the prior system is better, but how much better?  So much better that it's worth shutting the government down?  Don't pay military personnel?  Don't go to the national parks?  Risk having people that can't pay their mortgages?  I have to think Republican leadership is losing their own supporters on this one, except for the most extremist tea party types that think NASA and the EPA are bad things.