The End of a Scandalous Affair: Why a Liberal Loved and Left Ben Carson

carson

Prior to last night, I saw some great reasons to support Ben Carson as a candidate for the most significant public office in the world. As a political outsider, I thought there was a chance he could challenge establishment politics. His grassroots support, evidenced by the sheer number of his campaign donors, also gave me some hope that he would not just be another political puppet of corporate America. Even his calm demeanor did much to combat the stereotype I have of the angry, fear-mongering conservative. I thought, at the very least, the doctor will make it appear as if he acts based on reason rather than emotion. This was all enough to move me, an independent liberal voter, to consider Carson as a suitable second choice (behind Bernie Sanders) for President. And in the event of a Carson versus Clinton matchup in 2016, I was ready to vote for a Republican.

Five minutes into last night’s debate, that all changed.

In case you missed it, Neil Cavuto (debate moderator) led with a question regarding the minimum wage. Donald Trump said he would not raise it; the audience applauded. Carson was then asked about his proposal to have a starter wage for younger workers and a higher minimum wage for adult workers:

CAVUTO: You suggested one minimum wage does not fit all, and that perhaps we should offer a lower or starter wage for young people. Those protesters outside are looking for $15 and nothing less. Where are you?

CARSON: As far as the minimum wage is concerned, people need to be educated on the minimum wage. Every time we raise the minimum wage, the number of jobless people increases.

It’s particularly a problem in the black community. Only 19.8 percent of black teenagers have a job, who are looking for one. You know, that — and that’s because of those high wages. If you lower those wages, that comes down.

You know, I can remember, as a youngster — you know, my first job working in a laboratory as a lab assistant, and multiple other jobs. But I would not have gotten those jobs if someone had to pay me a large amount of money.

But what I did gain from those jobs is a tremendous amount of experience, and how to operate in the world and how to relate to different people, and how to become a responsible individual. And that’s what gave me what I needed to ascend the ladder of opportunity in this country.

That’s what we need to be thinking about. How do we allow people to ascend the ladder of opportunity, rather than how do we give them everything and keep them dependent?

At this point I was a bit frustrated that Dr. Carson failed to address the question, but Cavuto, feeling similar frustration, I assume, sought clarification:

CAVUTO: So, sir, just to be clear, you would not raise it?

CARSON: I would not raise it. I would not raise it, specifically because I’m interested in making sure that people are able to enter the job market and take advantage of opportunities.

More applause from the partisan audience.

And it was at that exact moment we witnessed a transformation. Dr. Carson the rational political outsider became Ben Carson the Washington politician before our very eyes. A supporter of the people became a supporter of the status quo. An independent thinker joined the herd.

One only has to go back a few weeks to see how drastically Carson’s ideology changed on what is perhaps becoming the key economic issue of this election. At the debate in California on September 16th, Carson was asked about the minimum wage:

TAPPER: Dr. Carson, Governor Walker didn’t really answer the question, but I’ll let you respond. He called raising the Federal Minimum Wage lame, what do you think of that?

CARSON: Well, first of all, let me say what I actually said about raising the minimum wage. I was asked should it be raised. I said, probably, or possibly. But, what I added, which I think is the most important thing, so, I said we need to get both sides of this issue to sit down, and talk about it. Negotiate a reasonable minimum wage, and index that so that we never have to have this conversation again in the history of America.

For a few reasons, Carson’s response in September was refreshingly brilliant. For one, his tone indicated a willingness to negotiate. In a two party system, negotiation was, is, and always will be America’s only hope at moving from gridlock to solutions. His answer was also unique. No other Republican candidate has offered anything other than a firm “no” when it comes to raising the minimum wage. Carson may have not have completely calculated the risk he was taking by veering away from conventional Republican thinking, but with a field of twelve (6 legitimate) candidates, it was nice to see one willing to offer at least some level of contrast on the issue. Most importantly, Carson’s response in September offered a logical solution to a relatively simple problem. His suggestion to “index” the minimum wage to inflation would indeed solve the issue at hand: that is the purchasing power of the wage, not the specific dollar figure. Note that while they don’t support an increase, even most of the Republican candidates tacitly support the concept of the minimum wage (save Jeb Bush and Carly Fiorina, who would like to see it abolished), so if they support the concept, Carson was correct to propose a compromised and indexed wage that would keep taxpayers from continuing to subsidize the working poor.

What a difference seven weeks makes.

Carson’s answer last night regarding raising the minimum wage came with no acknowledgement of his previous position, which is in itself disturbing. Did he think no one would notice his change? Either way, this flip-flop is especially troubling because it tells us one of two things: either Carson pulled a “Hillary” by shifting dramatically on a critical policy stance because he realized (or was told—à la the Rubio to Bush burn) it was not politically expedient, or Carson himself became “educated” on the minimum wage sometime over the last seven weeks and decided that his original solution would cause joblessness.

If Carson changed his answer to stay in line with the party, he is no longer the political outsider that he and his current supporters might like to think he is. If he changed his answer because he only recently adopted a new position due to new information, then concerns regarding his lack of knowledge regarding policy matters have been clearly validated. Either way, I can no longer support him, and neither should anyone else who was wooed by the pre-November candidate.

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In Today’s SCOTUS Decision, Sanity Towards Obamacare Won

Obama-healthcare

In the past year or so the King v Burwell lawsuit has dominated health care reform discussions, both because of the novelty of the argument, the surprise success it attained in reaching the Supreme Court in the first place, and because the practical implications of a win for the plaintiffs would’ve threatened insurance subsidies for up to 6.4 million Americans in an ensuing market death spiral within states that utilized federal insurance marketplaces. Many, many thousands of words have been written about this subject, but to be brief King advocates argued that four words alone in the Affordable Care Act’s legislation — irrespective of whatever else the law intended — meant that residents of a state that did not establish its own exchange could not receive financial assistance to purchase insurance policy through Healthcare.gov.

Today the Supreme Court, in a 6-3 decision for the government, disagreed. In my understanding of how this has all played out: moral and judicial sanity walked up to the cliff, took a glimpse downward at the bone-strewn chasm of taking a really silly and inhumane idea seriously, and effectively replied “Nah, not today.” Read the rest of this entry

Southern Apologists Take Note: Your Confederate Flag Was Always Racist

In relatively small numbers, people like Ben Jones are speaking out publicly to defend the confederate flag. Such defenses typically rest on the grounds that the flag represents southern heritage as opposed to racism, and if you talk to a defender of the flag long enough, you are likely to hear an explanation that the original purpose of the flag and the confederacy it represented was not racist—or at least, not primarily racist. This premise is  necessary for establishing some kind of positive virtue behind the controversial symbol.

But even the fathers of the confederacy publicly admitted their racist intentions in starting their new country and ultimately fighting their old one. This was no secret then, and it shouldn’t be discounted today.

Those who attempt to deny slavery as the primary cause of the Civil War (and typically by extension, the racist symbolism of the Confederate flag) , need to digest the words of the Vice President of the Confederate States of America as given in a speech just three weeks before the start of the war:

“The new [Confederate] constitution has put at rest, forever, all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institution — African slavery as it exists amongst us — the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization. This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution. Jefferson in his forecast, had anticipated this, as the “rock upon which the old Union would split.” He was right. What was conjecture with him, is now a realized fact….[Our new government’s] foundations are laid, its corner- stone rests upon the great truth, that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery — subordination to the superior race — is his natural and normal condition. [Applause.] This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.”

Some white southerners’ misinterpretations of American history directly contradict those damning statements—especially when their misinterpretations produce nonsensical statements like “The Civil War wasn’t caused by slavery.” (I have heard these statements first-hand from otherwise fairly reasonable people.) While it’s understandable for southerners to desire a more palatable history of their beloved homeland and/or ancestors, the fabrication and acceptance of a fictional history only serves to ensure they won’t learn from others’ past mistakes.

Certainly, not every southerner who fought in the war did so because they shared Alexander Stephens’ racist beliefs, and there were plenty of factors both directly and indirectly related to slavery that led to the first shots fired at Fort Sumter, but a denial of slavery as the primary cause of the Civil War and the subsequent denial of the confederate flag as a racist symbol makes the modern-day southern apologist even more ignorant than the leaders of the confederacy 150 years ago.

But, at least the rebels are losing…again.

Smiles in Moscow and Beijing

All foreign and domestic policy rest upon an underlying “self interest” economic framework. The elite classes in most powerful countries support governments which follow policies which in turn steer more money towards these corporations and individuals. The quid pro quo is that in return for this economic favoritism, the elite class will employ the masses and will support the government. Hmmm.

From this perspective, one must attempt to view the global political world as a complex set of interactions driven by each nation’s economic self interests.

World leaders almost never, however, frame issues in these terms preferring instead to talk about growing their economy, developing other less well off countries, or bringing “freedom” to a repressed nation. When push comes to real fighting, many other causes are summoned, mostly around nationalistic values.

The world stands today at a dangerous fork in the road. Neither path is glamorous but one of the paths is likely to be more dangerous.

Who would have thought a tired old marketing plan (from the middle ages), delivered by an insurgent Muslim absolutist group, could pose such a threat? ISIS represents the bogeyman and is portrayed as a world terrorist threat. So worrisome is this group, estimated as large ad 30,000 irregulars, that a coalition of Western and Middle East countries have pledged to “destroy” ISIS.

Oh, but there is a catch. None of these countries wants to commit ground forces. Hmmm.

Yesterday, the Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, testified before Congress that under certain circumstances, he would recommend to the President the use of US ground personnel. This has been widely interpreted as the precursor to a US military return to Iraq and probably an invasion of Syria. Hmmm.

His Congressional testimony has also provoke a range of reactions. Sensing the uncertainty of the American public (in an election year), Congress members are careful in their response. One sane position has been to call for a vote on authorizing military action while repealing the two previous authorizations (2002 and 2003) which provided authority for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The simplest reason for a new authorization is that sooner or later Americans will be killed in action and Congress needs to be held accountable.

Lost in this paranoia about ISIS is that the entire Middle East is economically insignificant and with its religious, educational, and gender handicaps, unlikely to become important for generations. Middle East problems need the help of Middle East countries to resolve.

More important for the US, is the need to be cooly watching and reacting to Moscow and Beijing’s global initiatives and their relationship to our national interests. The US perspective ought be wide enough to comprehend the well being of the Americas as well as for the US alone. Can you imagine the US reaction if one day we woke up to a Chinese military base being welcomed by the Honduran Government?

There is of course no prescription for how to make relations between the US, Russia, and China better. And using military force against these nations should be not even a consideration. This post’s point, rather, lies in the folly which results from over concern about the Middle East and taking ones eye off the real targets.

With the potential that Washington is gradually slipping back into a middle ages fight with inconsequential forces, there must be joy in Moscow and Beijing, at least in the Board rooms of their biggest companies.

Too Much Talk

The NATO summit held the past few days in Wales presented a confusing picture. The 24 member meeting had a jam packed schedule dealing with what seems like an unprecedented number of world hotspots. From the Middle East to the Ukraine to Afghanistan and points in between, the leaders had to deal with issues where “let’s study it” seemed too little, to late.

The Middle East, specifically the radical group ISIS, seem to require the most energy and immediacy even though Russia meddling in the Ukraine present a much closer threat to Europe. Afghanistan was almost an after thought.

ISIS, however, drew attention based upon the combined (potential) domestic and foreign threat fears. Most member countries worry that some of their Muslim minorities might try to imitate ISIS.

Theatrically, the NATO response was wonderful. Holding hands, NATO leaders announced (almost reminiscent of D-day) a coordinated effort “to destroy” ISIS. With that promise, the world was expected to relax now knowing that ISIS would soon disappear. Oh, if the world were that simple.

ISIS, however, represents two distinct things. First, ISIS is a composite of real people, real weapons, and occupiers of real real estate. Second, and much more important, ISIS is the fulfillment of a dark marketing plan.

There should be no surprise that a modern Army, possessing airpower and a well equipped ground component, could easily eliminate the smaller, newly formed ISIS insurgents. It is the ISIS marketing plan that should get more attention.

Reintroduced by Osama ben Laden, a Caliphate rebirth, has given the world the following similar organizations; al Qaeda, the Taliban, ISIS, al Shabaab, and boko Haram, all of which have followed the same basic plan. “Tell the population that you are hear to save them but they must submit to a strict interpretation of the Koran. Kill anyone who does not join.”

The scheme has tremendous advantages for the male leaders. Women are reserved for sex and children (new soldier) rearing. The young and strong men become foot soldiers and many get to become martyrs.

The marketing plan also calls for designing an enemy coupled with a support appeal to Arab deep pockets. It almost seems as if “it was good enough for the dark ages, it is good enough for today”.

The defect which NATO has baked into its response should be obvious. NATO is raising ISIS to a status consistent with a legitimate organization possessing legitimate grievances. In the 21st century, there is no place for stone-ings, forced conversions, or beheadings.

It would have been far better for NATO (representing its member countries) to have just said it found ISIS behavior incompatible with human rights. Then quietly, without big press announcements carried out what ever military actions it supposedly has planned. Instead, NATO has advertised the “destruction of ISIS” and regardless if that happens militarily, ISIS will now live on and become the poster child for any Muslim minority group, any where in the world.

Picking My Pocket

I remember receiving an unsolicited letter offering me a chance to become a “Bush Ranger”. The letter gushed at all the benefits that would come later including chances to meet with the hopeful Presidential candidate. My potential “ranger” status came with a price, a six figure donations with the first figure “3” or higher. Hmmm.

I viewed this solicitation as over the top, not to mention discriminatory. Who could support such large donations and were these donors likely to have the average person in mind? I had no trouble saying “no thanks” to my ranger offer.

Fast forward to 2014. Now I receive daily upwards of a dozen email campaign donation requests. These requests do not come from the GOP but instead come from National and State Democratic candidates. These requests start low, $3 or maybe $5 will do, although each request has an option to give more.

Interestingly, the messages all vary around a certain style. “Look what Speaker Boehner has said or done.” Or, “House Republicans want to impeach President Obama”. They are direct from the literary school of religious donation requests which prey upon the elderly. “If you don’t give now, this poor child will go hungry”.

The DCCC (Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee) is shamelessly using mailing lists compiled using voting patterns and previous donation history and beating the same drum as often as it can. The DCCC apparently sells its list to any other Democratic hopeful (who can afford it) and the emails keep coming.

This unseemly effort to bilk the public is probably no different than the ranger offer. If one side gains a donation advantage, there is little left for the other side to do than innovate and collect more money. Thanks to the Supreme Court, really wealthy donors can give to PACs which in turn enjoy “free speech” and can pretty much say what they want, true or not.

Stop the train! Where is this madness going?

Like the old team building exercise called “war”, how does one disarm this process which requires continually building larger and larger campaign war chests?

The business of running campaigns is huge. Full time careers await those who can be strategists, speech writers, organizers, and communication experts. And maybe the choicest job awaits the clever person who can create the most effective method of generating campaign donations.

All of this has virtually nothing to do with good governance. There is also no evidence that the quality of elected public servant today is any brighter, any more interested in the public’s well being, or any more honest than what was produced by “machine politicians”.

It is relatively easy to understand why the news media (radio, print, and television) do not rise up and decry this wasteful spending. Most think tanks decry the money spent by those who express opposing views.

In the game of war, opponents must build trust so that each side disarms equally. The most effective way to build that trust is to begin with a common shared goal. Unfortunately, in today’s world, our elected officials seem to be able to cooperate only when there is a crisis.

What does a crisis look like if you are a conservative and believe a progressive is unfit to govern?

I wonder whether both sides could agree to a “black out” period of say six months. Within this period, campaigns would be limited to a finite amount of money (for example 20% of what was spent in 2012) which they could get from any domestic source they chose. Before the black out period, “issues groups” could spend what ever they wished thereby expressing their free speech freedoms. Considering a total of $6 billion was spent upon the 2012 presidential and congressional election, 20% would still be a lot of money to spend.

Thinking of the $6 billion, however, did you get your money’s worth?

Superstitions and Other Beliefs

There was an article in a recent newspaper about someone who professed to be proud of being a jihadist. His rationale was that if he was killed, he would go straight to heaven, no waiting. What could make someone think that way?

The willingness to die for ones country or ones cause is not unusual. Most countries honor those armed service members who paid to protect their country with their life. Today we willingly honor our war dead on Memorial Day.

Dying in armed combat for the rights of Palestinian or Iraqi territories under most circumstances would seem either patriotic or at least duty bound. Dying because one had swallowed the recruiting lines of gaining 7 virgins or simply entry into heaven violates “truth in advertising”, I would think.

Islam, however, does not have the monopoly on superstitions. All the major religions have some whopper of a tale they want their followers to believe. And if one reviews, even quickly, history, one will find that many a soul has made his/her earth visit much shorter by following the superstition of the day.

And even more tragic are those who lost their lives because some other superstition believer felt they had priority in following their superstitions even if killing someone else resulted.

Of course many, if not most superstitions have a “self interest” component. “I believe in this superstition because life is better for me.” As Pascal famously wagered, “if I lead a good life and there is a god, I am on the right side of eternity (and eternity is a long, long time), if I lead a bad life, however, the penalties will be unendingly severe” (paraphrased).

Two huge superstitions have emerge around the world, (1) there is a supreme force, and (2) there is eternal life after death which resembles life on earth. Neither one is provable and both offer the purveyor of these myths a chance to collect “tribute” for leading the way.

Interestingly these two superstitions are so powerful and useful that competing claims of exclusivity have arisen. “Follow me because I am the only right one” Hmmm.

It would seem to me that if there were a god and a heaven (life after earth death) existed, those who thought of these superstitions would have formulated a doctrine with no reliance upon forcing their beliefs on others (money-wise, not as good a business model as forcing your superstitions on others).

Rather, this new spiritual group would rejoice that they had discovered (or even made up) a way of living which was open to anyone, no strings attached, and would not interfere with any other group or individuals. In other words, these mystics had discovered sliced bread and they were willing to share it without any conditions attached.

This benevolent act would not eliminate the chance that some enterprising person, group, or country might see an opportunity for gain and hijack these superstitions. If so, it would be that group who tarnished the myth.

These superstitions, if true, are, however, really alluring and with the right “branding”, could make money for the purveyor. History tells of victory and victory by followers of these superstitions. Interestingly, each victory is associated with treasures going from one hand to another. History tends not to dwell on who was on the other side of these victories (as if they did not count).

So why exactly would a loving and just god allow someone who would kill others, or in the extreme blow themselves up (and kill others) gain access to the good life of heaven?

Why would this spirit allow someone to cut in line?

The point of this post is not to debate theology. Rather it is to ask rational people (who may be also believers) how one can condone the practice of forcing any superstition upon others?

What say Hobby Lobby?

Indiana set to expand Medicaid (sort of)

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This has been in the works for awhile now but yesterday Indiana Gov. Mike Pence released the details of a new proposal to expand insurance coverage to low income Hoosiers through the states existing Healthy Indiana Plan (HIP). The program, dubbed HIP 2.0, if approved by Health and Human Services would serve as an alternative to the Medicaid expansion contained in the ACA. The new plan would still extend coverage to everyone with annual incomes up to 138 percent of the Federal Poverty Line (just under $22,000 for a family of 2 this year ), but use the existing structure of HIP as a framework for coverage. Right now HIP covers a limited number of low-income uninsured while requiring monthly premiums, copayments, a high deductible, and contributions to a Health Savings Account.

Some of that would change under HIP 2.0, most of which reflect concessions to receive waiver approval from HHS. Read the rest of this entry

Where Accountability Really Lies

Within the management school of “penny wise, pound foolish”, there is a course on “demand more, get more”. Proponents believe that everyone and every group can produce more if it is simply demanded. Often early results support this hypothesis. Therefore it should be no mystery then that if some “demand” worked, then a “lot more demand” should work even better. Hmmm.

Looking at Phoenix and Philadelphia, one might detect a hole in this argument.

In Philadelphia, five teachers have just been charged with fraud in rigging elementary school test scores so their individual schools could look better when compared to others. What were they thinking? Why would a large sophisticated school systems, operated by intelligent people, fall prey to the temptation of fraud?

Events like test rigging are systemic problem. It involves everyone from top to bottom, some by commission, others by omission. Violation of public trust should be expected when the organization is asked to perform tasks for which it is not designed. Demanding higher test scores, with penalties accruing to the test givers (teachers) if the test results are not meeting some goal, is ready made for undesirable results.

If school administrators were serious about improving education outcomes, there would be far more investigation of the education process (involving all stakeholders) and determining what was working and what was not.

Simply saying “teach better” and by the way, if these test scores do not show improvement, there will be consequences, is both poor leadership and a prescription for failure.

But schools are not the only place this top down pressure can be seen.

The news this week, features the Phoenix Veterans Administration Hospital. Charges have been raised that many veterans did not receive medical attention in a timely manner, some actually died during the wait period. News reports charge that the Phoenix VA Hospital kept a secret log where the unofficial back logged patients names were kept. If the patient died, the veteran’s name was removed (as if he/she had never been waiting for service) and the Phoenix facility received a better performance appraisal than it really should have.

How and why could this have happened?

Not too surprisingly, the VA had been trying to improve its service performance in face of a huge surge in new patients. The VA mandate was to treat more patients sooner, in other words, “work harder”. VA’s top management chose to measure performance by certain types of “tests”, like how long was the waiting list. There was no increase in resources and no change in management practices. Result… fraud.

There is no absolute reason why demanding more must lead to fraud. While it is true that some people will always seek to short cut the process, there seems to have been no effort to determine the root cause of poor service.

The attitude seemed to be, “why do the hard work of determining the causes of backlogs and attempt to convince higher management that more resources are needed”, when “go along, get along” attitude would be just fine.

The underlying issues with school test cheating and with the Phoenix VA fraud lay with top management and each layer in between the top and those who cheated. This does not exonerate the “cheaters” but to assume these problems were about “a few bad apples” misunderstands the real problem cause.

Managing complex systems well is a difficult task. Senior management are in their positions for the purpose of “leading” the rest of the organization towards challenging goals, but goals which lie within the appropriate legal and ethical boundaries.

I wonder what would have happened had the Superintendent of the Philadelphia School District or the Phoenix VA Hospital top administrator gone to City Counsel or Congress, and said I can not meet these test scores or service this many patients with the resources you have provided?

Do you think they had the courage to say, “I tender my resignation”?

How much is too much for saving lives with health care reform?

 

Obama-healthcare

This week a team of researchers released a study on the change in mortality rates during health care reform enacted in Massachusetts under Governor Mitt Romney, which eventually served as a template for the Affordable Care Act. They estimate that between 2007 and 2010 the overall rate declined significantly, and that the portion considered “amenable to health care” amounting to about 1 saved life per 830 that had gained insurance coverage. This estimated effect was particularly prevalent in low-income counties with higher rates of uninsured.

There’s been a lot written so far about this study. I would recommend Adrianna McIntyre’s summary and Austin Frakt’s editorial to catch up. In another excellent post Harold Pollack roughly extends the math to imagine similar consequences under the ACA, which “implies that ACA will prevent something like 24,000 deaths every year. That’s almost the number of Americans who die in auto crashes. It’s more than the number who die of AIDS or the number who are murdered every year.” As Pollack goes on to write, though, it’s a crude assumption and one the study authors don’t even attempt to guess.

Yet while I think it’s sensible to believe that expanding affordable access to health care would save some lives, it’s often folded into the broader and infinitely more debatable questions like “does health insurance improve health” or “is health insurance worth it?” Of course while this question of mortality fulfills the former (living, after all, is a health improvement over dying), it’s not enough to answer the former. As several folks have mentioned health insurance provides many essential benefits beyond giving people a greater chance of living. But whenever the application of that inquiry applies to public funding of coverage for those that can’t afford it conservatives often reply “No,” whether it’s mortality, financial security, mental health, etc. That was largely the response to one of the Oregon Medicaid studies, for instance, though some of the response to the MA results are more tempered.

I won’t attempt to litigate that perennial response here. Instead I’ll point to Michael Cannon of the libertarian Cato Institute, who writes that the implicated per-person cost of increasing coverage — between three and four million dollars — technically fails the World Health Organization’s definition of “cost-effective,” and that there might very well be better ways to increase coverage and save lives.

It’s a good question and response. How much is too much for reducing mortality with health care reform? Is there a better way? Read the rest of this entry

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