The Real Obamacare “Tax”

“It’s a TAX!”

I was watching Fox News yesterday as the SCOTUS ruling upholding Obamacare’s individual mandate came to light.  Commentary was all over the map for the first 30 minutes, but then began to rapidly zero-in on the accusation that this was now a tax on the middle-class. They had found their message, and from then on sang out in perfect harmony. It was kind of amazing.

“(Americans will) like it even less when they understand it’s a tax,” Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, told Fox News.

One curious element is that nothing related to the mandate is different today than it was last week—excepting the label. The notion that people’s view of the mandate will change as a result of a renaming is a blatant play to the ignorance of the audience.

Still, even if we accept the new label of “tax”, is it really a new financial burden on the middle class as conservatives are saying?

For those who are currently uninsured and financially able to afford healthcare, Obamacare will impose a new financial drain. Although, in return they get health insurance. We can call that a tax if you like.

But on the flip side, those who are currently insured are presently picking up the tab for the uninsured through higher insurance premiums and medical costs. Getting the uninsured into the pool lowers policy rates for the rest of us. This is even more true as other popular provisions of Obamacare, such as preventing coverage denial for pre-existing conditions, comes into force. The net result of this is a lowering of the financial burden on the currently insured, which is a significant majority of citizens.

If forcing the uninsured into the pool is a tax increase, then it only seems fair the reduced costs to the insured be considered a tax cut.  At worst, this is a wash. At best, the tax cuts for the majority will significantly outweigh the tax increase to the minority.

Will there be individuals who will pay more as a result of Obamacare? Sure. But many more of us will pay less. So it’s pretty hard to argue in aggregate that this is a tax increase on the middle class.

Atheism, homosexuality, and other reasons your neighbors look at you funny

atheismJune is LGBT Pride Month, and what better way to celebrate than to talk about how much easier it is to be gay now than to be an atheist. Would my parents feel better if I was gay instead of atheist? That’s not at all clear.  (But I’m pretty sure my fiancé prefers the latter.)

Ronald Lindsay’s essay does make the accurate point that the LGBT movement is farther up the acceptance curve than atheists are.  Sure, gays are only despised in many areas of the country, while atheists are a scourge throughout it.

Yet it’s pretty clear that equal rights and social equality for gays and lesbians is inevitable, even if they must first wait for all the Baby Boomers to die.  I think atheists will get there too, but that may take an additional generation.  Repeated studies have indicated that a Muslim Hispanic lesbian high school dropout with a kitten drowning fetish would be elected to the Oval Office long before anyone entrusts the nuclear codes to an Ivy League educated white male golf-playing baby-eating atheist.

Clearly, there are parallels between the groups, much as any of these freedom movements have parallels, but they are not the same.  One of Lindsay’s points of difference is that atheists, unlike homosexuals, make a choice.  I’m not so sure.

It wasn’t that long ago that the conventional wisdom was that homosexuality was a choice.  Genetic studies and other scientific evidence have since dispelled that myth.  I strongly believe that gays being born that way has contributed more than a little to their societal acceptance.

If you talk to a few gay people it becomes pretty clear there was no point in their life when they decided to be gay.  However, most do have a point where they stopped pretending to be heterosexual.  Those are not remotely the same things.

Science has yet to nail down a “god gene”, but there is work going on that does at least suggest a genetic origin for predisposition toward the spiritual.  I think discovery of such a DNA based origin for faith or the lack of it would go a long way toward making atheists less threatening.  However, I won’t be able to stop snickering at the delicious irony if it turns out religion was an evolutionary trait along.

I know for me personally, I could not choose to be religious. My brain is simply not wired that way. I could choose to act religious, but that’s not the same thing.  Especially in this country, the bar for appearing Christian is quite low in most communities.  Simply don’t talk about religion, wish everyone a Merry Christmas, and show up to church every Easter.  That clearly doesn’t make you religious, but you’d pass as a default Christian in the average American town.

This may be the real key difference between gays and atheists in society. Homosexuals are not asexual. If they were, they would have no desire for romantic attachment. As an asexual, it would be fairly easy to just keep your mouth shut and let everyone assume you were single and straight—much like the closeted atheist.

But homosexuals do have desires. They want to be in relationships, have families and all that social-centric stuff.  In religion terms, being gay is more like being Hindu than atheist.  They want to practice, just differently. It’s definitely easier to just decline to play rather than want to play, but by different rules.

So, I think it is harder being gay in society than atheist.  And I think the ease of ignoring or hiding one’s atheism is also why getting atheists to come out of the closet will always be more problematic. Hence,the reason the movement toward atheist’s rights will progress slowly… glacially even.  We’ll get there, but probably not in my lifetime.

My mother always said I could grow up to be President.  It turns out that’s not so true.

IPv6, Vonage, and why I’m smiling…

I bitch a fair bit about tech support, and in my defense, it’s not totally unjustified. My family can attest to the 7 calls and 5 hours it took me to get my mom’s new Tracfone activated recently.  (To Agent #1, yes, I do think it’s reasonable to expect to be able to use a mobile phone when I’m not at home.  And to Agent #2, reading me the scripted response slower and with enhanced diction does not make what you are saying any more correct.)

I’ve worked in tech support. I get the challenges, and I get the cost pressures companies are under. And I know why the person I’m talking to lives in Argentina, just started last week, and is armed with all the knowledge that three days of crash courses and access to a cobbled together database can provide.  That doesn’t mean I have to like it.

But once in a while, you get that special and exceptional experience that cements your loyalty to a company.  This is the holy grail of customer support.  It’s what it’s all about. And today, Vonage nailed it. I want to recognize them for that.

I’ve been a Vonage phone service customer since the company was in its infancy 10 years ago. I’ve always had good phone service with them, and on the rare occasion I’ve needed support, they’ve always been helpful and good to deal with.  But today was completely unexpected.

You see, June 6th was IPv6 launch day.  A brand new Internet addressing scheme was turned on and left on for the first time. There’s no need to panic. The old IPv4 scheme will still work in parallel for years. And the vast majority of users won’t ever know the difference.  Most of the changes will happen with your ISP, but some older home networking routers and such may need to be upgraded or replaced.

Anyway, I’m currently running a Vonage provided wireless router which is not IPv6 compatible. So on a whim, I drop Vonage an email asking what their upgrade plans are. I specifically said this wasn’t a problem now, but wanted to know if they had a plan and what the timing was. I completely expected to get a canned response explaining they were working on it and I should just be patient.

Instead, a few hours later I received a personal response saying that my existing router was, in fact, not IPv6 compliant. They have an IPv6 compliant single-port device they’d be happy to send me at no cost to me. Then they went on to offer that they recognized this means I would now need to buy my own wireless router in my home, so they were issuing me a $50 credit toward that purchase.  All I needed to do was confirm my shipping address.

Well confirm it I did, and they promptly responded that they upgraded me to overnight shipping since I was such a long-time customer. And oh by the way, the old (perfectly good for several years) router was of no use to them, so I could just keep that too.

Frickin’ awesome.  Above and beyond.  I’ve been debating lately whether or not to keep the home phone service at all as I mostly just use it for conference calls at work.  But I’m committed now.  I’m keeping ’em. Hell, I’m hoping they launch a cell phone service, a line of refrigerators, designer tube socks… whatever, sign me up!

And that, my young Padawans, is what customer service is supposed to feel like.

The GOP Needs to Be Born Again

The Republican need to go down in flames so they can remake themselves by rising from their own ashes.

Yesterday’s post elicited a response reading in part:

If we gave the Democrats power next year, you know what they would have? A mandate. That’s all we would hear about until the next election, which they would lose, because they thought they had a mandate. It’s like watching a tennis match and rooting for the guy without the ball.
Maybe the Republicans made it tough on Obama. Maybe Obama wasn’t leader enough to overcome it. Did the GOP fail to vote in Obama’s FOMC appointee’s? Yes. Did Obama make recess appointments which were within his power? No. Obama is not a victim, he’s the president. If the other guys played the system better to get what they want, than well played.
Ezra says that this is the logical conclusion of a system biased toward gridlock. The system is broken. Let’s fix the system instead of kickin the can down the road.

I certainly agree the system is broken.  My preference would be to fix that. However, we have repeatedly failed to fix those problems. It would be great to see substantive campaign finance reform, have the Fed refocused on NGDP goals, revise Senate rules so that a super-majority isn’t required for everything, institute lobbying controls so legislation wasn’t ghost-written by special interests… I could go on.  But the likelihood of any of those being addressed this year is vanishingly small.  Not that we should give up on those reforms, but that there remain practical short term things we can fix in the meanwhile.

I’m also an independent. I’ve voted for Republicans in the past, and I’d like to do so again. But the current incarnation of the party has gone beyond the pale, and until they find their way back to sanity, I will not vote on the GOP line. They have not only lost any willingness to compromise, they have lost the ability to agree to their own positions when the other side agrees with them.  They lost the election in ’08, and have yet to acknowledge the legitimacy of the people we elected.  Win or lose, there’s still a country to run. And they are refusing unless they are put back into power.

I’m not claiming Obama is the greatest, or that the Democrats are above playing politics or fighting for their policy positions.  But they have not engaged in the extreme intransigence of the GOP.  If given full control of the government, would they eventually yield to the same sort of behavior the GOP is showing? Very probably. But that won’t happen overnight. Policy-wise, Obama is far closer to Reagan than Romney. There is almost no chance the Democrats would take a mandate and run to the extreme left. It’s much more likely they will stick to their current centrist proposals.  Meanwhile, the GOP gets to go lick its wounds, expunge its extremists, and return to the center-right position of its roots. Hopefully, to again balance the system out in 2014 or 2016; before the pendulum swings too far the other way.

I don’t want a permanent Democratic majority. I want a functional two-party system with give and take from both sides resulting in actual governance that works in aggregate for the betterment of the citizenry.  We do not have that now. And we don’t because one party has checked out of the game. The notion that “both sides do it” is a false equivalence. The Republican party has abdicated its responsibility to govern or even functionally participate in any government it does not control.  It has pretty much given up on appealing to (or even tolerating) anyone other than white Christian males.  It needs to remake itself or yield to a new party that will fill the void it leaves behind.  The only way it will get that message is if it is resoundingly defeated.  And not just at the Presidential level.  If the GOP does okay at the federal and state level excepting Romney, it will read that as a failure to go with somebody more radical like Santorum. It only gets the message if it goes down in flames. And to be clear, the only reason I want it to go down in flames is so its old moderate reasonable self rises from the ashes.

I want the Republican party back.  I don’t know what the hell that thing is hiding behind the elephant right now. But I’m not voting for it.

The GOP Hostage Situation

Photo by Parachutegurl, cropped by Gridge

Ezra Klein makes the somewhat disturbing argument that even if you disagree with every one of Mitt Romney’s policies, there’s a chance he’s still the best candidate to lift the economy in 2013.

The essential thesis is that what Romney will do in the short term isn’t much different than what Obama has already proposed.  However, Obama is being stonewalled by the GOP controlled House, and it is unlikely the Democrats will retake the House even if Obama is reelected.  Meanwhile, it’s very likely that a Romney win will be accompanied by Republicans retaining the House and very possibly getting a Senate majority to boot.  The reasonable bet is that the GOP would rally around policies offered by a Republican President, while they would continue the blockade against substantively those same policies when offered by Obama.

What Klein seems to be trying hard not to say is that the GOP is holding the economy hostage right now.  Elect Romney and they’ll let it live.  Reelect Obama, and they’ll let it fall off the looming fiscal cliff.

What’s disturbing is, I don’t think Klein is wrong.  Still the notion of rewarding the GOP for this sort of behavior remains unthinkable.  As much as I want the economy to recover, I cannot and will not support the sort of politics that says either I’m winning or I will exist to destroy you.  The Republicans need to be taught a lesson here.  They need to know that there are times they will be in the majority and times they will not be.  But in all those cases, we the people expect them to do their goddamned jobs and work in our best interests.

The only way that lesson is learned is if the GOP gets severely spanked in 2012 at the state and federal levels.  Yes, the time may come some years down the road when the Dems need to be similarly spanked, but that is not the case now.  All things are not equal. Yes, there is still too much special interest money in politics. Yes, there are problems with the Fed, the banking industry, the filibuster, and other intractable issues.  But none of that changes the elemental reality that one of the parties is currently holding the system hostage until it is put back in power.  This is something we can fix. Now. And easily.

And just maybe, should we succeed in giving the Democrats control of the government, they can enact the same economy saving short term policies without rewarding the GOP for putting a gun to our heads.  Wouldn’t that be just a little satisfying?