Last night I saw Brian Wilson perform at the Palace Theater for his “Pet Sounds: The Final Performances” tour. It’s amazing enough that Wilson is touring given his history of mental illness, drug abuse and now, as he's approaching 75 years-old, physical decline, but he's still doing it. And doing it well.
His voice is still recognizably his voice. He's not like Bob Dylan or Tom Waits or someone who has had to become a fundamentally different kind of singer than he once was due to ravaged vocal cords. The same old tone and timbre of 1960s Brian Wilson is there. He may not tear into the second verse of "I'm waiting for the day" with that aggressive edge so evident on the album version, he doesn't sustain notes like he did when he was young and, yes, he occasionally hits a clunker, but he's still unmistakably Brian Wilson.
If anything, the flaws in his singing enhance the experience of seeing him live. He's not a jukebox full of oldies like some other artists are. And the mere act of him being on that stage singing those songs elevated his performance above that of his increasingly vanishing contemporaries and vanishingly few artistic peers.
I don't begrudge The Rolling Stones, the Who or Paul McCartney going on the road and playing concerts into their 70s. They're legends, people love them and their music, they put on great shows and, of course, they're more than entitled to make money off of the art they created. But there is something . . . off about it. There is something off about Mick Jagger singing about how he can't get satisfaction when we know he's rarely had anything but satisfaction for the past 50 years. There's something silly about Roger Daltrey singing that he hopes he dies before he gets old when he's already old. There's something downright creepy about a wrinkly-faced Paul McCartney telling us that we know what he means about that girl who's just 17.
One might think this problem would be even greater for Wilson doing "Pet Sounds," actually. The album he once famously called "a teenage symphony to God" is about young romance. About that moment when teenage love changes from butterflies in one's stomach to one's first feelings of melancholy. It evokes emotions common to anyone who has ever experienced love, but they're feelings unique to a certain time and place in our lives that we never again recapture. That's not the stuff one would expect to wear well when sung by a 70-something year old man. Despite his age, however, there is something poignant about Wilson singing from the point of view of his younger self that is absent when others do it.
Ideally art stands on its own, without the audience bringing their own knowledge about the artist with them, but that's next to impossible when it comes to Wilson. We know what his life was like at the time "Pet Sounds" was recorded. We know how much more difficult it would become in the two decades-plus after it came out and how damaged Wilson came out on the other end. Jagger, McCartney and Daltrey all had personal ups and downs of course, but compared to Wilson they've lived pretty happy and contented lives. In light of this, their taking to the road seems like a pleasant but somewhat superfluous and undoubtedly commercial act.
Wilson didn't have the same sort of happy and contended second and third public acts as those guys. He's never gotten the chance to connect with his old songs and his old fans in the same way they have. And given that his former bandmates Mike Love and Bruce Johnston have long toured as The Beach Boys, playing the biggest Beach Boys hits in theaters, state fairs and other venues with relatively low ticket prices, a lot of his old fans might not even care too much anymore. They've seen what they wanted to see for the most part. As such, Wilson's act of singing his old songs -- these particular old songs, which were never as commercially successful as the stuff Love and Johnston perform -- seems more personal to him. More important and significant.
While I'm likely projecting to some degree, as Wilson sang through "Pet Sounds," it seemed as if he was reaching back through time for something necessary. Something he didn't get to fully enjoy and explore at the time and something he finally can now as opposed to simply putting on a show. He may have played these songs or things like them over and over again in his home, but on this tour he's getting to play them with a full band -- he had ten backing musicians and singers, including original Beach Boy Al Jardine and one-time Beach Boy contributor Blondie Chaplin -- forming those harmonies he's on record as saying are his favorite parts of his songs.
It was a great show for us, but you can't help but feel it's a rewarding and perhaps necessary act for Wilson to play these songs. Necessary in ways it's simply not necessary for others to play their old songs. This may have been most evident in the opening and closing of the show when, as a warmup/encore, he played some of the more popular Beach Boys songs like "Help me Rhonda" and "California Girls," with Jardine doing an admirable job with the Mike Love vocals. They were fine, but somewhat rote. The crowd stood, cheered and sang along, but Wilson seemed to be going through the motions with them to some degree. The big hits don't seem particularly important to Wilson.
The "Pet Sounds" songs, which were played in order, in their entirety after an intermission, felt more moving and stirring. And not just because they’re better songs. It's because, with the possible exceptions of "Wouldn't it be nice?" and "Sloop John B," a lot of people don't know all the words to a lot of them. And even if they do, they're not exactly jukebox singalongs. They provided an opportunity for Wilson to sing and perform for us in ways that McCartney and the Stones can't without resorting to an obscure R&B cover. People know "Pet Sounds," of course, but it's not back-of-their-hand stuff like "Maybe I'm Amazed" or "Brown Sugar." Wilson was reacquainting many in the crowd with those songs just as he was revisiting them himself and the net effect of it was stirring.
Stirring in and of itself, but also stirring because the man singing the songs is, in 2017, still here. Against all odds, he's still here. Reaching back for something one gets the sense he loves and needs just as much if not more than any of us.
The past 36 hours have been interesting. A tweet and then a post I wrote about patriotism and flag-waving at sporting events went viral. And not in a good way.
This post over at NBC contains and explains my original tweet and otherwise speaks for itself, but certain elements of the conservative media decided to mischaracterize my comments as anti-American, anti-flag and anti-military. With the help of a few strategically-placed firehoses, my social media accounts have been flooded by thousands upon thousands doing the same. I've received multiple legitimate, specific death threats. People have told me that they hope I get cancer and that my loved ones die in accidents. The less odious among the mob merely wished that I'd leave the country never to return. I respectfully declined.
I'm a big boy and I -- and law enforcement, who I have contacted about the threats-- can handle that stuff. But I will not stand by and allow myself to be slandered in this fashion.
I come from a family which has served in foreign wars for the past three generations. My brother is a veteran of the first Gulf War who suffers from a disability and relies on V.A. benefits for his healthcare. My father served on board the U.S.S. Okinawa during the Cuban Missile Crisis. My maternal grandfather served in the U.S. Navy during World War II and my paternal grandfather was a tank sergeant under General Patton during the liberation of Western Europe. In light of that, to suggest, for one moment, that I do not respect the service of our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines is an insult and a lie. A knowing one for those who have read this.
I likewise consider myself a patriot and a proud American. One who understands that America is exceptional, not only in the freedoms and opportunity it provides, but for the dissent, protest and critique it allows. Just as an athlete must endure training to excel in competition and a writer must undergo editing and critique to improve, our country is stronger thanks in part to the efforts of those who have found fault with it at times and have worked to make it a better place. Our Constitution begins with a reference to a "more perfect union," anticipating that the work of the American Experiment is never done and establishing that any claims to American perfection are specious.
I have criticized and will always criticize that which I see from our government and in our society with which I take issue. I view that as part of my duty as an American. People don't often care for such criticism, obviously, and when one criticizes the country, the government or society, there will always be blowback. Like I said, though, I'm a big boy and I can take it.
I will not, however, sit idly by and allow people to mischaracterize that which I have said, that which I have written and that which I stand for. And I will certainly not allow them to lie about it.
This is delicious.
A far right political action committee, Club for Growth, is running an ad targeting Pat Tiberi for "standing in the way" of Obamacare repeal. Watch:
The best part of this, of course, is that not only did Tiberi support the failed bill which would've repealed Obamacare, he was one of its biggest champions. Paul Ryan called him the "Quarterback of Obamacare Repeal." On a recent visit to central Ohio Vice President Pence personally thanked Tiberi for his efforts to repeal the ACA and his attempt to enact AHCA.
Yet here Tiberi is, getting attacked by conservatives who want what he wants. It's one thing to not pass a bill you wanted to pass, but it's another thing to fail so miserably in doing so that you get attacked for being an impediment to it passing. Not an easy trick!
Of course, Pat Tiberi could stand up to this ad and call it out for its disingenuousness. He could issue a loud, clear and unambiguous statement saying just how hard he worked to pass the AHCA. He could likewise give a full-throated endorsement to the AHCA itself and vow not to rest until it passes.
But he can't. He can't because the AHCA is a bad bill, his constituents hate it and he knows it. His support of Obamacare repeal and the AHCA is political poison. Poison he thought he could survive if he swallowed it quickly, but he couldn't and now he's stuck. His district hates the AHCA and will pound him if he tries again to pass it. The conservative PACs hate that it didn't pass before and will pound him if it doesn't sometime soon.
This all could've been avoided, of course. All Pat Tiberi would've had to do was listen to the people in his district and ask us what we wanted. To address the real issues with the ACA and work to fix it. To work for us instead of for Paul Ryan and Donald Trump. He didn't do that. He hitched his wagon to a couple of guys who do not have the best interests of the people of this district in mind and now he's getting hammered.
I'm not sure what political pundits call whatever it is Pat Tiberi did to get himself into this mess, but it's certainly not leadership.
James Thompson came within five points of winning a Kansas congressional seat in a district that went for Trump by 27 points. He did so by getting almost no support from the national Democratic establishment. His success -- and given the odds stacked against him, the success was considerable -- was based on him articulating a clear message in support of policies that would help the people in his district and against policies which would harm them.
In this interview with ThinkProgress, he implores the Democratic establishment not to ignore Democratic candidates in seemingly safe Republican districts because every district -- every single one -- can be won by a strong candidate sending a clear message.
The district in which I live, currently represented by Pat Tiberi, was seemingly tailor made for him and is likely considered "safe" for Republicans. But Donald Trump certainly did not win the 12th by 27 points and Pat Tiberi has decided that falling in with Trump's agenda is, somehow, a great idea. He has decided to promote policies which are bad for people in his district. Policies which will do them harm.
Pat Tiberi can be beat. Any congressman in any district, no matter how seemingly safe the district is, can be beat. Do not write their challengers off and do not let the Democratic Party do so either.
As everyone knows by now, a man was dragged off of a United Airlines flight by police yesterday and was injured in the process. The reason: United wanted to place a couple of its employees on the flight and kick off paying passengers to do it. I wasn't aware that a private business had the right to manhandle you when they messed up, but here we are.
While the condemnation of United over this event has been considerable, today the media has decided that the victim of this act of excessive force is the one owed scrutiny.
From the Louisville Courier-Journal:
From a news anchor at WJLA TV in Washington D.C.:
From the gossip site TMZ
Some of this might've been relevant if anything Dr. Dao did contributed to yesterday's incident. If he had been an unruly passenger or if he had assaulted someone or if he had broken some law. Looking at the past of someone who commits a transgression is often instructive and illuminating. It makes sense to do that sometimes.
But, of course, Dao committed no transgression here. He was roughed up in the name of bad corporate policy made worse by it being carried out incompetently. His past is of no consequence or relevance to what happened yesterday. So why is the media digging into it so eagerly?
Part of it is mere sensationalism. The United story has captured the attention of the nation and anything that can keep it going is in the best interests of certain segments of the media. If it bleeds, it leads, and Dao bled. If there's sex or drugs or a crime involved, all the better. One may have to dig years into Dao's past to find that, and it may not have anything to do with the news story itself, but beggars can't be choosers as they chase ratings and page views, so whatever dirt anyone can find on the guy is, apparently, fair game. This sort of muckraking is a story as old as newspapers themselves.
There's a deeper motivation at work here, however. It may be an unconscious motive on the part of any one member of the media pushing this kind of smear job, but it's a motive aimed at giving us something we, as a society, crave in these sorts of situations. The need to believe that a person who had something bad happen to him had it coming to him. And that, in turn, nothing bad like this could ever happen to us.
In the past 24 hours I've seen countless people -- otherwise disinterested individuals, -- rush to United's defense to talk about the fine print on tickets or the need to overbook flights or how, in general, people forfeit their rights once they get on a plane. People coming, almost reflexively, to the defense of authority, lest anyone suggest that authority was abused. If you're the sort of person who doesn't feel comfortable challenging the status quo and take much greater comfort in defending it, this line of reasoning is tailor made for you.
Not everyone is like that, of course. Some people are super upset with what United did regardless of the underlying policy but are desperate to minimize the ugliness of the incident because confronting ugliness is not a pleasant thing for many. To that end we see the media dig into Dao's past which will, almost certainly, result in Dao being considered "controversial" or worse by the public, causing them to see his ejection from the United plane in a more ambiguous, less ugly light. "Sure, he was roughed up," they'll say, "but he's no angel."
It's all about people wanting to feel better about the incident. To make them believe that it was not as arbitrary as it seemed. To make them think this was a special case, in which the victim was partially to blame. To make them less likely to question how and why it happened. To make them less likely to ask themselves whether they have ever done something, actively or passively, to enable this particular sort of horror. If a truly innocent man has something terrible happen to him, it shakes our faith in the system. If a sketchy individual with a sordid past does, well, everything is just fine. And maybe he even had it coming.
We all sleep better if we think the world is just. The world is more just if the people who do bad things have bad things happen to them and the people who have bad things happen to them turn out to be bad. We all want to sleep better, so sometimes we'll work extra hard to make sure that state of affairs exists.
Even if we have to delude ourselves into believing it does. Even if we have to smear a victim to make it so.
Today the president's son told reporters that last week's decision to fire 59 missiles at a Syrian air base was influenced by a "heartbroken and outraged" Ivanka Trump. "Ivanka is a mother of three kids and she has influence," Eric Trump said, "I'm sure she said, 'Listen, this is horrible stuff.' My father will act in times like that."
Eric Trump added, "If there was anything that the strike on Syria did, it was to validate the fact that there is no Russia tie."
Perhaps Eric Trump is completely deluded and knows not of what he speaks, but I think it's at least worth inquiring whether our president committed an act of war to assuage his daughter's feelings and to cover up a political scandal.
If we had a Congress that cared about anything apart from cutting taxes for rich people and gutting the social safety net, there would at least be a couple of hearings about it.
Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times has the latest of what seems like dozens of stories in which people who supported Trump find themselves in trouble precisely because of the policies Trump plans to enact.
There are a lot of things that can be said about these "Trump remorse" articles. The first impulse of many is to point and laugh or to call the subjects of these stories "suckers." I understand why that is, but I can't get on board with that. Sadness and suffering is sadness and suffering even if it's self-inflicted and it's nothing I want to celebrate.
My takeaway: this is a result of politics' transformation into team sports and base tribalism.
The business of policy and governance has, over the past decade or two, been turned into an exercise in self-image, group identification and, above all else, a grand loyalty test. Them or us. Our side and the other side, defined in the most superficial ways, dealing with attitudes and fashion more than substance. The defining of one's tribe by contrasting it with those one opposes for the broadest and, ultimately, least consequential of reasons. People aren't voting against their interests as such. With respect to government, their very interests have been transformed from those dealing with policies and outcomes to basic fandom and a base disposition to be conservative or liberal as a matter of style as opposed to politics.
It boils down to team colors. Just as I still watch the Atlanta Braves even if they suck and do things I hate, an alarmingly large number of people support their party -- or their rogue offshoot of their party -- regardless of what it means for governance. "Hey, Trump may enact policies which will ruin my life, but at least he's not a libtard or a social justice warrior!" And yes, there are similar examples on the left -- many dealing with labor -- though they're less obvious now that Democrats are out of power.
This cycle will continue until people stop looking at politicians and parties as personal avatars or lifestyle brands and begin looking at them as merely the means via which a bundle of policy choices are implemented. I'm not sure how we get to that place, but until we do, we'll see more and more stories like these.
Congressman Pat Tiberi endorsed his old boss John Kasich last year, but he jumped aboard the Trump Train with glee on November 8th and doesn't seem to want to get off.
Yesterday Tiberi's committee -- the House Ways and Means Committee -- rejected a measure to direct the Treasury department to provide the House with Trump's tax returns and other financial information.
This is nothing new for Tiberi, of course. Five Thirty Eight has been tracking how often congressmen vote with or against Trump. A Republican in this district, which leaned Trump, but not as strongly as some other Republican districts, could be expected to vote with Trump 91.3% of the time. So far Tiberi has voted with Trump 100% of the time. And, of course, strongly supported Trump's position on the AHCA which never came to a vote.
The people of Ohio's 12th District voted for Pat Tiberi in far greater numbers than they voted for the president, suggesting that they do not want a congressman who is a rubber stamp for Trump. Tiberi doesn't seem to understand that. Or he does and does not care.
Maybe it's time to let him know.
There's a good article from Nate Silver over at Five Thirty Eight today explaining the reasons why the AHCA was an abysmal failure.
While Silver explains the many specific reasons having to do with the bill itself and the various coalitions supporting it and opposing it, he likewise points to a larger lesson to be gained: despite electing Trump, America has no interest in the agenda of Paul Ryan, my own congressman, Pat Tiberi, and the rest of the congressional Republicans. The agenda which is characterized by (a) cutting taxes for the wealthy; (b) slashing government programs and services which benefit the poor and middle class; and (c) claiming, contrary to nearly 40 years of objective evidence, that doing so will make life better for everyone.
Silver explains it in terms of the mandate one can assume a president has based on how many seats his own party gained in Congress when he was elected. On that score Trump has no mandate. In addition to his popular vote loss, Republicans actually lost seats in both the House and Senate. But it should be obvious separate and apart from those sorts of metrics.
Trump ran against a bunch of Paul Ryan-Pat Tiberi types in the Republican primary. Guys like Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio who share their Congressional agenda. Guys like Bobby Jindal, who actually implemented such an agenda as governor of Louisiana, which led to fiscal and civic ruin. He whupped 'em all. He didn't whup them because he's charming -- Trump is repugnant -- he whupped them because his message was about rebuilding and investing in America and in aiding the middle and lower classes, not the rich. Now, I don't think Trump believes that message himself and I don't believe he wants to or is able to deliver on it, but that's what he ran and and that's what voters responded to and it's understandable that they did.
Outside of conservative think tanks, Wall Street investment banks and a narrow class of ultra-wealthy people, there is no constituency in this country for slashing the taxes of millionaires and taking services away from the poor and middle class. None. People don't want it. When they saw it in the from of the AHCA, they recoiled. When they see it in the coming congressional Republican tax and budget proposals, they'll recoil even more.
Americans do not want to giveaways to the wealthy, they want investments in the country and in its people. They know that government is often inefficient and wasteful, but they do not consider it their mortal enemy and do not want representatives who have no ideas apart from starving it and the people it serves.
Donald Trump gave lip service to helping ordinary Americans, but has no idea how to make that happen. Paul Ryan, Pat Tiberi and the rest of the Republicans in Congress don't seem to give a lick about helping ordinary Americans and, obviously, nothing about their agenda suggests that they'll try.
Which means it's time for Americans to pick some different representatives.
As I've noted at least a couple of times recently, Paul Ryan has called Pat Tiberi the "quarterback" of ACA repeal and implementation of the AHCA.
A few minutes ago Ryan announced that there will be no vote today on the AHCA because the GOP doesn't have the votes to pass their wildly unpopular and horribly conceived bill.
Any comment, quarterback Tiberi?
Figured as much.
In other news, yesterday press secretary Sean Spicer said that Donald Trump is "the closer," and would rally the troops to get AHCA passed.
Any comment, closer Trump?
Guys: you may want to leave the sports metaphors to the experts. The governing too. You're terrible at both of them.
Some time in the next few days or weeks you're going to start hearing about President Trump's infrastructure plan. It will be sold as a $1 trillion investment in rebuilding America. It will be sold as a jobs program. It will be sold as a boon for the working man.
Don't believe a word of it.
To be clear, we could desperately use a large and meaningful commitment to rebuilding America's infrastructure. Years of tax cuts, service cuts and neglect have led to a degradation of our highways, railways, airports, bridges, tunnels, waterworks, sewers, the energy grid, our schools and our hospitals. The very bones of America are cracking and calcifying and they require a heavy investment in order to bring them back to strength.
The fact that doing so could provide employment for hundreds of thousands of people is, obviously, an added benefit. The official unemployment rate is low, but it's deceiving. Thousands of people of working age have simply left the workforce and a large number of people still nominally in it are underemployed and are receiving far lower wages and far worse benefits -- if they get any -- than they have in the past. We're a wealthy country, but that wealth is concentrated in the hands of fewer and fewer people while an entire class of people and the communities in which they live are atrophying or even dying.
While an investment in infrastructure and the men and women who would build it would be expensive, there is virtually no downside, in the long term, to making said investment. From the building of our railways to New Deal public works projects to the war effort to the interstate highway system to the space race, we've seen how putting our nation to work in order to build its infrastructure and industrial and technical capacity has benefitted America over and over again.
But that's not what Trump will propose. Rather, he'll be proposing a welfare program for banks, venture capitalists and corporations. Yet another giveaway to the rich that will do little if anything to help the country or its workers.
As is evidenced by the only document on infrastructure his campaign or administration has released, Trump will propose a grand expansion of "public-private partnership" projects in which private companies will be offered tax and financial incentives to bankroll various projects. Tax breaks to private investors who want to finance toll roads, toll bridges, or other projects that generate their own revenue streams which the private companies will collect, in whole or in part.
While such public-private partnerships have been successful in Canada and Australia, the results here have been spotty at best. According to the Congressional Budget Office, there have been 36 PPP programs in the U.S. since 1991. Fourteen of them are complete. Three have declared bankruptcy. One required a public buyout. The rest are still in construction stage. It's a relatively untested and thus far uneven method for addressing our infrastructure needs.
Regardless of how the existing projects pan out and regardless of the theoretical promise of such programs, the idea of incentivizing private, profit-driven investment in infrastructure has at least four big problems:
The first problem: A huge portion of our infrastructure are not profit-generating, nor is it intended to be. No one is going to make a fast buck getting lead-poisoned water system rebuilt. You can't profit from repairing an existing road or bridge that is part of a non-toll road. You're not going to get private industry jazzed to build a public school, a public hospital or a levee along the Mississippi. Those things do not represent a profit opportunity for private industry and no amount of tax breaks are going to cause companies to pursue them. They'll just build for-profit private schools and hospitals and a parallel toll road and bridge system that serves to economically segregate people who want to pay to get to work from those who can't.
The second problem: The sorts of projects that do present profit opportunities already have ample incentive: THE PROFITS. There's a lot of money to be made in energy generation, for example. And a lot of companies in that business already. Adding that sort of thing to an infrastructure bill is only going to serve as a tax money giveaway to companies doing things the're already doing. It will also incentivize those who might've started projects in 2017 to delay them until a bill is passed to make sure they lock in those goodies from America's taxpayers.
The third problem: As it stands, most of the major public-private projects already in existence are financed with bonds purchased by giant investment funds like pension funds, worker's comp funds, public endowments and sovereign wealth funds. These investors already have zero or minimal tax liability, so the new tax incentive-fueled partnerships will do nothing to attract them. Many of the new players Trump's plan would potentially incentivize don't have the capital to take advantage of the opportunities and the calculus will not change for those that already do.
The fourth problem: All of this will be sold with the argument that the tax breaks being offered will pay for themselves many times over. Specifically, that hundreds of billions of tax breaks to corporations and investments will generate the equivalent of a trillion dollars in projects. This is a classic trickle down, supply-side argument which has proven to be an abject failure over and over again for the past 35 years. It never works that way in practice and experts do not believe it will work here. What happens is that the tax breaks are gobbled up, the benefits don't pan out as expected and tax payers end up paying for a huge part of it all anyway.
While there is some use for public-private partnerships in infrastructure projects, they seem best-suited to smaller projects in which the public and the private sector's interests are congruent. Trump's plan, in contrast, is likely to be a giveaway to developers, real estate moguls, venture capitalists, fund managers, tax lawyers, CEOs and starry-eyed entrepreneurs cum dreamers like Elon Musk. All of whom, not surprisingly, have been invited to the few meetings Trump has had regarding infrastructure since he took office. The idea is to benefit America's businessmen, not its workingmen, and to hope, somehow, that some good things spin out of it.
It doesn't have to be this way.
America faced a far greater crisis of infrastructure -- and a far greater crisis of unemployment and underemployment among the working class -- once before. In the wake of the Great Depression we were a nation close to ruin. A quarter of the population was out of work and, as opposed to crumbling, our infrastructure was virtually non-existent. We were a 20th century nation living in a 19th century country.
The response: The New Deal, which included multiple employment and public works programs. Some of them -- mostly via the Works Progress Administration, or WPA -- were immediate, so-called shovel-ready projects that put laborers and unskilled people to work quickly via direct government investment. People building small buildings, planting trees and clearing recreation trails and the like. It's the sort stuff most of us think about when we think of the New Deal. They were, obviously, critically important to our recovery from The Great Depression and their impact still resonates today.
But these quick, direct, job creation-focused projects were not the only part of the equation. Indeed, a much more significant program -- with more significance to the current infrastructure conversation -- was the Public Works Administration (PWA). It focused on large, complex long-term projects like dams, bridges, hospitals, schools and transportation infrastructure. It gave us stuff like airports, the Lincoln Tunnel and the Grand Coulee Dam.
If you squint super hard, I suppose the PWA could be seen as something at least roughly akin to public-private partnerships in that the federal government did not mount these projects directly or unilaterally with big signs at each job site advertising them as part of FDR's America. Rather, funding was given to states which, in conjunction with the PWA, devised projects and hired construction firms which, in turn, hired their own workers. I suspect, when Trump's plan is rolled out, some will make comparisons to the PWA for this reason. But there are huge differences between how the PWA operated and how Trump's infrastructure plan will operate, both structurally and philosophically.
Most obviously, the PWA and state governments decided what the projects were, prioritized them and put them out for bid. They did not create tax incentives and then just hoped that the free market would get the job done. Our public officials, agencies, commissions and citizens groups have a clear, day-to-day understanding of the needs of our communities. Developers and contractors are not in the business of gauging those needs. They're in the business of doing what they're hired and paid to do. Letting them, as opposed to the people, both as citizens and through their government, make those decisions is to have the tail wag the dog.
Likewise, the PWA featured active management and oversight by the government. Trump's plans, in contrast, will almost certainly feature all manner of middle men -- investors, financiers and management companies -- handling projects on a day-to-day basis, taking cuts and fees in ways they'd never be allowed to under a well-regulated public project. Indeed, they're already preparing for this. Now, to be sure, there is obviously a danger of inefficiency and graft in ANY project, but taking these projects completely out of the hands of those in a position to police it and institutionalizing and laundering the graft via fees and payments to financiers guarantees it. Every dollar that goes to one of these middle men is diverted away from bricks, mortar and the paychecks of people who work for a living.
There was no prioritization of profit-generating projects in the PWA and no requirement, as Trump's plans will almost certainly set, that projects be "deficit-neutral." As stated above, there are vast swaths of public infrastructure that are not intended to be profit-generating -- quick, how much money did the Interstate Highway System make last year? -- and should not be viewed through that lens. They are, by definition, projects to serve the public, and asking whether private industry can make a buck off of any given project is the wrong question to ask.
As for "deficit-neutral," sure, we all want to keep the deficit down, but it costs money to do things and pretending that it does not is what caused our infrastructure to be neglected in the first place. The first inquiry for any project should be "is this needed?" The second should be "is this feasible?" When it comes to "can we afford it?" the answer should include both the costs of the project and and inquiry as to whether it's possible to raise additional revenue to support it if necessary. America was not built without taxes and without the expenditure of public funds. It will not be rebuilt without them either. As my friends on the right enjoy reminding me, there is no such thing as a free lunch. As I enjoy reminding them, government is not the enemy. It is the means of administering a civilization.
So what do we do?
The specifics of any infrastructure plan will be subject to a lot of messy negotiation and legislation, all of which will be informed by outside interests and the usual political wrangling that surrounds any large scale government project. I'm not an expert in these matters and cannot say if $X billion should go to roads while $Y billion should go to water systems.
But I can point to some general principles that can and should guide our country's approach to a much-needed infrastructure initiative:
The final principle is not one that can be enforced via legislation, but it is one that is nonetheless important philosophically speaking: Infrastructure should be understood as an investment, not merely an expense.
Politicians and commentators are great at talking about the cost of things but poor at talking about their value. We should endeavor, however, as we take on the task of rebuilding America's infrastructure, to focus on what these projects will bring us over 10, 20, 50 and 100 years, not just on what they'll cost to build.
As we do so, we should look at the Timberline Lodge on Mount Hood and at the Riverwalk in San Antonio. We should look at LaGuardia Airport in New York and the Fort Peck Dam in Montana. The Triborough Bridge and the Blue Ridge Parkway. The Overseas Highway of the Florida Keys, the Lincoln Tunnel and the Hoover Dam. We should know that, today, as we enjoy some of these things and merely utilize others, they are all part of the essential fabric of America. They, and countless other projects and engineering feats are the foundation upon which America's greatness was built. They are its very bones.
None of these were built with an eye toward lowering the taxes of a developer or giving a tax break to a Wall Street financier. And none of the great works in our future should be either.
Republicans have had seven years to draft and pass a repeal/replacement bill for the Affordable Care Act. For almost all of that time, they drafted nothing.
Then, last month, they came up with a hastily-drafted bill that would leave 24 million more Americans uninsured than if they just left the ACA in place and which would make health insurance completely unattainable for millions and millions of seniors. But it's not just the substance that was bad. The process of getting there was laughably amateurish:
Health care is one of the most important issues facing our nation today. It is at or near the top of the list of top concerns in virtually every poll taken. And the Republicans are attempting to ram through a wildly unpopular bill in the most reckless and thoughtless way imaginable.
The most reasonable conclusion to draw: they don't care about health care. They only care about being able to say "we got rid of Obamacare." No matter how costly the results are and no matter how many people are harmed in the process.
Even if you give them the benefit of the doubt on this and accept that they care, this is the most carelessly drafted bill with the most slipshod implementation I have ever seen. Certainly for something as important as this.
It's amateur hour.
As I wrote last month, my congressman, Pat Tiberi, has been called the "quarterback" of the efforts to repeal of the Affordable Care Act and replace it with the AHCA.
Based on how the game is going so far, it looks like it's time for the quarterback to ride some pine.
According to a HuffPost/YouGov poll released on Friday, the public opposes the Tiberi/Paul Ryan/Donald Trump-backed bill by a 21-point margin ― 45 percent to 24 percent. Perhaps more notable is the intensity of the public's hatred of the bill, with just 5 percent strongly favoring the bill, and 32 percent strongly opposed. Yes, that's right: more people passionately oppose the bill than even generically support it.
This makes sense, of course, as the AHCA would leave 24 million more people without insurance than the Affordable Care Act would. Fourteen million of those people would be Medicaid recipients, the poorest and most vulnerable Americans, which demonstrates just how cruel the AHCA is. As I've noted in the past, the Affordable Care Act is not perfect, but we could easily make it better if we wanted to. The AHCA is designed to be terrible and would create a public health catastrophe if enacted. Pat Tiberi, Paul Ryan and Donald Trump don't care about this, however. They just want to give hundreds of billions of dollars away to rich people.
Regardless of where you come down on all of that, one thing is clear: Pat Tiberi was given the job of quarterbacking the repeal of Obamacare and the enactment of the AHCA. We're not even midway through the first quarter of that contest and he's been picked off and sacked multiple times and now he's forced to scramble. He's also got his team in a deep hole early and it's clear he lacks the ability and the confidence to mount a comeback.
Any coach worth a damn would bench a quarterback with results like that. Paul Ryan is the coach right now, however, and he seems content to let him flail. As such, its time for us to bench Pat Tiberi.
Beginning with the candidacy of Barry Goldwater in 1964 -- and certainly since Ronald Regan was elected in 1980 -- a campaign has been mounted by conservatives to shrink the government and reduce its role in society. Based solely on the size of the federal budget it has not been a terribly successful campaign. The government, quite obviously, remains large and continues to spend trillions of dollars a year.
The campaign has been quite successful, however, in changing Americans' attitudes about government. Indeed, for most of my lifetime, it has been accepted, almost as gospel, that government, to use Reagan's word, is the problem.
However overbroad this all was -- the problems facing America in 1981 were many and disparate and not all of our own making -- there was a good deal of truth to Reagan's critique. There was mismanagement and bureaucracy and all manner of mission creep in government by the 1970s which often caused government agencies to lose the plot and which prevented them from doing their jobs efficiently. Reagan and those who followed him -- many of them Democrats, who eventually realized that Reagan's message had the confidence of most of the nation -- did a good deal to address those inefficiencies. Or, at the very least, to pay lip service to them in an effort to avoid an accusation of being a "Big Government Liberal," which has proven to be an electoral liability for the past 33 years or so.
Yes, blaming big government for our problems turned out to be a very successful campaign. It was so successful that, for years, one need not even make much of an effort to shrink the size of government to proclaim oneself a Reagan-style conservative. Merely voicing anti-government sentiment and proposing modest overhauls here and there has been enough. People still think Reagan himself shrunk the government and reduced the federal deficit when he did exactly the opposite. Same with George W. Bush. In reality, the government has not shrunk overall in the past several decades, even if politicians still style themselves as budget-cutters as a matter of image and personal brand. Dime store Reagans, the lot of them.
In recent years, however, going after the government has not been a matter of mere rhetoric. It's increasingly becoming a concrete policy objective. The idea of government being the problem has morphed into the notion of government being the enemy. Rather than address the government's flaws and govern more efficiently, the goal of conservatives has been to dismantle the government. Or at the very least to severely hobble it.
This is evident from places where far right, Tea Party conservatives have taken power such as Kansas, where Sam Brownback and the Republican controlled legislature have run the state into the ground, essentially by design, via tax cuts and the elimination of government services. It is likewise evident in the budget outline offered by Donald Trump on Wednesday evening, which appears calculated to carry out the nihilistic fever dreams of his chief strategist, Stephen Bannon to effect the “deconstruction of the administrative state.” The budget outline represents a wholesale slashing of domestic programs, and will likely be followed up by proposed tax cuts and increases in military spending which will starve all government agencies -- apart from the Pentagon -- even further.
Ronald Reagan talked a big game about slashing government, but until recently there was an acknowledgement by those in power that there are a range of state functions that are legitimate and, in many cases, preferable, for governments to deliver. Trump and those who would fall in with him are rejecting that idea. They have bought the idea that government is the enemy. Some shadowy monster in the fog, to use a friend's phrase, that must be slain.
This is madness. The government is not our enemy. The government is, by definition, us. It is an instrument of the people and a manifestation of our will. And it is controlled by the people, even if we forget that from time to time.
The government is a means to a host of valuable ends. At least if one agrees that the well-being of the nation and the well-being of its citizens is desirable. If one grants that we want our environment to be healthy and clean. If one agrees that people should not go hungry in the richest country in the world and that people should not die because they cannot afford necessary medical treatment. If one agrees that we want our children to be educated and our workforce prepared for the challenges of the present and the future. If one agrees that our workplaces should be safe. If one agrees that our economy should be vibrant. That the rich should not be permitted to take advantage of the poor and the strong should not be able to take advantage of the weak.
When I've voiced this sentiment in the past, many conservatives have responded by saying that, while those are all laudable ends, they are not the business or the responsibility of the government. Rather, they are the responsibility of individual citizens, who must pull themselves up by their bootstraps. That, when they cannot, it should fall to charities, churches, foundations and the private sector to aid them. The market, I am told, and the goodness of people who wish to help their fellow man, should, can and will help those in need.
Anyone with even a passing knowledge of history knows that this is ideological nonsense. We've tried such an approach before -- think of the 19th century and the free market dominated runup to the Great Depression -- and it simply did not work.
The bootstraps, the charities, the churches, the foundations and the good hearts of the wealthy, taken together, proved to be an abject failure in the face of the challenges of the industrialized world and an utter disaster once the calamity of the Depression struck. With the private sector and the philanthropy of industrialists and churches as the bulwark, we had child labor, abhorrent levels of infant mortality and polluted waterways, streets and skies. We had poorhouses and debtors prisons. We had public health crises and wholesale crop failures. We had a brand of unfettered capitalism that led to depressions, recessions and corruption.
Conservatives often accuse liberals of being starry-eyed idealists, but the level of fantasy and delusion it takes to believe that we can address the problems faced by a nation of 300 million people by returning to the approach we took to such matters at the turn of the 20th century, when our population was far smaller and our economy and our challenges far less complex, is off the charts.
We still must deliver prosperity, health, safety and all of the other desirable ends upon which civilized people agree. We cannot, however, depend on some fantasy version of a government-free society to provide it. We've tried that before. It did not work then and it will not work now. While I want to believe in the goodness of my fellow man, people, when given a choice, will not be charitable enough en masse to address these societal problems. To meet challenges that impact an entire nation, it takes the mobilization of the entire nation. It's simply a matter of complexity and scale.
Does this mean socialism? Communism?! Of course not. It merely means searching for the appropriate balance between public and private efforts while acknowledging that both public and private efforts are legitimate and effective when properly supported and properly deployed. It means that it is time to stop pretending that government is the enemy and acknowledge that government, in many cases, is the most effective means of delivering the ends we all desire. Mostly because, as we have seen, the private sector has no interest in delivering many of them.
As it stands, the hard turn to toward the private sector we've taken as a country since 1980 -- first rhetorically, and now in practice -- has led to suffering and inequality on a level not seen since before the New Deal and is quickly exacerbating the problems we face as a nation. It is time to restore some of the balance we saw when America was, without question, the leader of the world in prosperity and freedom.
In the coming days and weeks, I'll be writing more about where, exactly, I believe that balance to be and how I believe we can achieve it.
Back in 2008, Joe Biden gave a speech in which he said "show me your budget and I'll show you what you value." Last night Donald Trump released an outline of his budget -- his “deconstruction of the administrative state,” in the words of his chief strategist, Stephen Bannon -- and it certainly does that.
Trump's apparent values: nihilism and cruelty:
No federal program, however well-intentioned, perfectly and efficiently carries out its stated mission. Any of us could go line-by-line down the federal budget and find fat and waste.
And, to be sure, this is just an outline. The so-called "skinny budget" that presidents release in advance of more substantive proposals down the line. Congress is the branch of government in charge of budgeting and it will, at best, nod at all of this as it does what it intends to do. Some in Congress have already declared this a "dead letter," so the chances that any of these cuts and changes actually come into effect are uncertain at best and highly unlikely in many cases.
But it is not a useless document. It, as Joe Biden said in 2008, tells us what Trump values. And what he does not value.
Even if Trump doesn't get anything he wants in his first budget as president, he has already signaled who he is. Ask yourself if his values are your values.
I was sitting in an airport last night, waiting for my connection, refreshing Twitter over and over again on my phone, riveted to what was unfolding with respect to Donald Trump's tax returns. But I wasn't excited about the news itself. I was flummoxed at how desperately people seemed to need the impending report of them to contain a bombshell.
The report did not contain a bombshell. We learned that Trump earned $150 million and paid $38 million in income taxes in 2005. This may be interesting and may lead to later, more interesting reporting about Trump's financial dealings, but it is not the sort of thing that will damage Donald Trump in and of itself. Indeed, I question whether any given revelation regarding Trump's curiously withheld taxes will ever be as exciting as people want them to be. After all, it's not like there's a line on your 1040 that says "Shady payments received from Russian oligarchs $_____" and Trump is unlikely to have included a 1099-MISC from "PutinCorp" in his 2014 return.
It's also worth noting that, as far as bombshells go, Trump has survived far greater ones. This is a man who, weeks before the election, was caught on tape bragging about committing sexual assault. This is a man who has mocked the disabled. This is a man who has proudly insulted war heroes and families of fallen soldiers. These and many other missteps and mini-scandals would have ended the political careers of almost anyone who came before him, but they did not stop Donald Trump. If we've learned anything in the past year, we have learned that a scandal only stops a politician if the politician consents to being ruined via the operation of a basic human sense of shame. That's something Trump never has and never will possess.
All of which is to say that, contrary to the palpable and in some cases desperate hope of the people I saw waiting for last night's non-revelation, there is no magic bullet that will bring down Donald Trump. Waiting for one to do so will result in nothing but disappointment.
Part of this is due to Trump's shamelessness, but only part. A much bigger part of it has to do with Trump's appeal. He's an odd sort of populist, but he's a populist, following the basic populist playbook. He has found a wound common to many. He has told his supporters that he knows they are wounded. He has found others to blame for these wounds and he has demonized them. What's more, he has told his wounded supporters that some of the evil ones who have helped inflict these wounds will come after him because they are jealous haters and losers who peddle fake information. And last night, as they have so many times before, they came for him. Rachel Maddow could've held up a signed and notarized 1040 form that had "I, Donald Trump, did 9/11!!" scrawled on it in red crayon, and would not force the sort of end game of Trump's power that so many seem to want set into motion.
We know this because the politics of personal discreditation have never worked against populist despots. As Andrés Miguel Rondón wrote in the Washington Post back in January, the Venezuelan opposition tried this with Hugo Chávez for years. They attempted to point out Chávez's villainy and repugnance, believing that his supporters would see the light, but they didn't. They tried a campaign based on personal contempt, but it fell on deaf ears. Eventually they tried boycotts and coups, all of which, in their own way, are magic bullet strategies similar to those which people opposed to Trump hope will end his madness, even if they are more extreme. They never worked there and they will not work here.
They'll never work because human beings -- especially ones primed with a populist message like Trump's -- are conditioned to fight off enemies, perceived or otherwise. If you are coming at them or if you are coming after someone they love, they will assume a defensive posture and do whatever it takes to repel the attack. It's a totally understandable response with millions of years of selection behind it. No matter how sophisticated we think we are, we are all still basically tribal beings and we will ignore the faults and failings of the members of our own tribe when they are subject to external attack. Even if it's a modern day, high-tech attack conducted over cable television or the Internet.
None of which is to say that defeating Trump is hopeless. It's simply to say that the opposition will not prevail by defeating Trump himself, especially via the workings of some magic bullet. We will prevail by defeating his agenda and his policies.
We will prevail by persuasion. Basic political persuasion, effected not by theoretical or philosophical argument or by the claim, implicit or otherwise, that his supporters are stupid or have been duped, but by the simple marshaling of facts and data which demonstrate that Trump's policies are bankrupt and will harm those who he claims to be serving in concrete and quantifiable ways. We will prevail, not by casting ourselves as righteous and those who disagree with us as wicked, but making and supporting a claim that some policy outcomes are good and some are bad, why that is so, and that Trump's will lead to more bad outcomes.
We will prevail, not by defeating a tribe or, in Trump, a tribal leader, but by demonstrating, in both our words and our deeds, that we are not from different tribes at all. By showing that there is not "The Regime" and "The Resistance" and that there is not a "Real America" and whatever the name is for the fictional locale non-Trump voters are presumed to inhabit. That we are all a part of the same tribe -- the same nation -- and that defeating Trump's agenda is not a matter of civil war or hostile takeover but a matter of basic family business. That Trump is not the only choice available for tribal leader.
Demonstrating that more people will suffer via a given policy decision may be less exiting than gathering around our TVs, computers and phones waiting for a big, shocking reveal. Doing the legwork to show that a given law or regulation is less preferable than another is far less thrilling than the anticipation we get for a press conference from a U.S. attorney, the Director of the FBI or some producer or starlet who has decade-old dish on Donald Trump. Reaffirming our values, stating our goals and charting the best practical course to honor and achieve them may be mundane business, but that stuff will discredit Trump and get us out of this mess far more quickly and effectively than breaking (!), exclusive (!) investigatory reports from some Anti-Trump I-Team.
Part of me hopes that some damning fact or startling revelation will spark something in either the populace or in the conscious of Donald Trump that will stop the madness into which our country seems to have descended and, obviously, any information we learn about Trump and his dealings is relevant and potentially important. But I am not holding my breath. Magic bullets are, by definition, magic, and actual magic is pretty damn rare. I'd much rather place my faith in hard work and the people who do it than waiting for some kind of miracle.
I just filed my federal and state tax returns. It's a chore I dread every year. I don't much like paperwork and I especially don't like financial paperwork, so tax time is a double whammy. No, it's a triple whammy, because I likewise don't like parting ways with my hard earned money. Who does?
No one likes doing their taxes and no one likes paying their taxes, but you gotta do it, right? So I do it, and I grumble my way through the process, like just every other American. Seriously: if you find someone who enjoys all of this, steer clear of that person. They're probably messed up in a lot of other ways as well.
What I don't do, however, is look at the amount of money I pay in taxes and become resentful or filled with rage. I don't think to start a political crusade based on the idea of ending or severely limiting my tax burden as a matter of principle.
Part of this is because I'm old enough to remember and have read enough to know that tax rates used to be way higher than they are now. From a purely selfish perspective, I know that I am paying far less in taxes at my income level than I would've been at almost any time since the Great Depression. To act like my current marginal taxation rate is akin to tyranny is selfish, ahistorical nonsense. And don't even get me started on the tax rates people pay in some other countries.
But my relative sanguinity in the face of the dreariness of tax time is not simply a matter of me saying "it could be worse." It's a matter of understanding that my taxes are not some penalty leveled or punishment exacted. Taxes are -- to use an often-cited and often-misattributed phrase -- the price we pay for a civilized society.
Taxes make a peaceful existence possible by funding the armed forces which defend us from our enemies and the police officers and fire fighters who defend us from perils at home. Taxes help keep our drinking water safe. Taxes help create standardized systems and regulations which allow business to be more easily conducted. Taxes pay for the roads over which we travel and ship our goods and the schools which educate our populace. They help pay for health care and medicine. They help us respond to and provide relief from disasters, natural or man made.
Which isn't to say the more taxes the better. Taxes should be leveled wisely and tax revenues should be spent carefully. Like any other expenditure of money -- in the case of taxes, the people's money -- close attention must be paid to where the money is going and hard questions must be asked as to whether the expenditure is truly necessary. No one gets a blank check in this world, the government included.
But it is to say that taxes are not, like many on the right would have you believe, some evil confiscatory scheme. We, as a society, are buying things with that money. Things that individuals cannot buy on their own like a military, a police force and a space program. Things that, if we left it to the operation of the market alone, we would not have at all, like clean water, safe workplaces and assistance to the old, the sick and the poor. If you don't believe that, go look at what America was like a hundred years ago and ask yourself why the market didn't provide for those things then. Ask yourself if you'd choose to live in that world if you did not know before you chose whether you'd be a have or a have-not.
Everyone would love to pay lower taxes, but arguing in favor of cutting taxes for its own sake is inherently deceptive and dishonest. If you're cutting taxes, you're necessarily buying fewer of those collective goods, and you thus have an obligation to explain (a) what we should be buying less of; and (b) why it's OK to have less of it. We rarely get that explanation from those who promise lower taxes. We're sold lower taxes as an end unto themselves, with a side-helping of demonization of the government or, increasingly, a demonization of the people who benefit from government services. We get craven dishonesty, like that we're seeing in the current healthcare debate, in which politicians blatantly lie about what their programs will accomplish because they are afraid to admit that they're not interested in actually using tax dollars to help those who need it. They'll happily shout about lower taxes in a vacuum, however.
I hate doing my taxes. And I don't much like paying them. But I get something for my money. I get the benefits of what I believe to be the best country in the world, no matter what is currently ailing it. It's not the best because God or the universe deemed it so. It's the best because it was built to be the best. And just as it costs money to build something, it costs money to maintain it. And so, each spring, I fill out that 1040. And for the rest of the year I do the best I can to make sure that my money is well spent.
The coal mines are not going to reopen. The textile mills are not going to come back. Deindustrialization of the Midwest is not going to be reversed. At least not completely. While outsourcing gets most of the attention -- and while Donald Trump and the Republicans blame immigration and outsourcing for the decimation of job prospects in once-thriving industries -- it is the obsolescence of some industries, such as fossil fuel extraction, and the automation of others, such as manufacturing, which has been the biggest factor in unemployment and underemployment of the working class.
It is important for leaders, entrepreneurs and workers in areas hit hard by automation and obsolescence in legacy industries -- places like Ohio -- to stop looking to the past for economic prosperity. It is time for us to look toward the future. A huge part of the future will be -- and must be -- about energy. About increasing our energy independence and about making energy systems smarter, more economical, and more efficient. It's also about grasping the economic potential of new, clean, modern energy sources.
This is not about environmentalism, even if clean energy will, obviously, provide environmental benefits. It's about bringing Ohio fully and squarely into the advanced energy economy. It's about creating good jobs with good benefits in an industrial sector that is large, still growing and diversified.
According to a recent study (via Vox) the advanced energy industry brought in $1.4 trillion in revenue last year, globally. That's nearly twice the size of the airline industry, as large as the apparel industry, and close to global spending on media, including newspapers, movies and video games. It brought in $200 billion in the United States alone, which is nearly double that of beer sales, the same as domestic pharmaceutical manufacturing, and approaching revenues realized by wholesale consumer electronics.
While that may surprise you, know that we're not just talking about some small business building solar panels in some office park. The advanced energy industry includes:
You can read the breakdowns of each of these sectors and the current trends here.
The advanced energy industry is not just huge, but it's growing. In fact, it's growing much faster than the world economy overall (7 percent vs. 3.1 percent). In the United States advanced energy is up 28 percent since 2010 and the industry now supports 3.3 million jobs here at home. To give some perspective: the solar power industry alone accounts for 260,077 jobs. Coal mining, coal transportation, and coal-fired power plant combustion account for about 174,000 jobs combined.
Donald Trump and the Republican party don't want to talk about the advanced energy industry and none of their proposals seem geared toward supporting it or incentivizing its growth. Quite the opposite, actually. They view it as a fad at best, a liberal conspiracy at worst, lumping it in with social issues and the greater culture war. Hippie stuff they only care about in Berkeley, Austin or Ann Arbor. Indeed, they seem to take as some sort of personal affront to American values.
But it's not personal, it's strictly business. The business of energy generation, management, transportation and storage. The business of electric vehicles and electric vehicle fueling stations. The business of smart engineering and smart construction, from I-beams to HVAC units to security systems. It's about all of the allied and support industries which create and support these technologies. It's about tech workers, office workers, tradesmen and laborers. About white collar and blue collar, all working for a greener future, both environmentally and economically speaking.
Why would anyone say no to that? And why isn't anyone in Columbus or in Washington saying yes to it?
I wrote earlier that the Republicans' new health care proposal is an immoral tax cut gambit and little more. Which is not shocking, because it seems fairly clear to me that the Republicans have no interest in fixing the problems with the Affordable Care Act specifically or doing anything to help more people get health insurance in general. They simply want to cut taxes, almost exclusively for the wealthy, and to claim that they ended Obamacare as a matter of politics.
This should not be a controversial point. Despite the talking points about making a "better" health care system or covering more people, the simple, undeniable fact of a government-assisted health care scheme is that the less money the government spends on it, the fewer people will have coverage. Sure, there can and should be arguments about how money is spent, or whether it's all being spent efficiently, but that's tinkering at the edges. If you want to help more people have or purchase a thing, you have to pay for it or otherwise incentivize its purchase in a real way. Slashes to those payments and incentives will, by economic necessity, cut the number of people purchasing the thing. This is an immutable tenet of economics. The current Republican plan cuts money put toward health care coverage and guts or eliminates incentives for people to purchase it in myriad ways and will, without question, cut the number of people who have health care.
There's another option, of course: making the argument that government has no business helping people get health insurance or health care whatsoever. I don't subscribe to it -- I think it's a moral and ethical imperative for a wealthy and advanced society to care for its people -- but it's a philosophically consistent position for a certain sort of person. This sort of person. For those people who do not subscribe to it -- or who at least pretend not to, like every Republican lawmaker who claims to want to "fix" or "replace" the Affordable Care Act -- basic intellectual coherence demands that they admit that the proposed bill makes things worse, not better.
They can't do that, though, because they have determined, likely correctly, that it is politically untenable for them to do so. People want health care. They even like the ACA on balance, at least when it's not being referred to as "Obamacare," which creates a visceral, negative reaction. And they do not want their health care coverage taken away. As such, Republicans must appear to care about people getting health care. They must create the illusion that no one is going to lose their coverage until after the next election, which is exactly what the proposed law does via delaying most impacts until 2019. But they cannot simply come out and say that they want fewer people covered, insurance companies protected and taxes cut for the wealthy. Even if that's exactly what is happening.
How might this all play out if they were not invested in creating this illusion? How would it look if lawmakers actually did want to fix the problems in the ACA -- and there are problems -- and make it so that more people would have insurance coverage rather than just slash taxes? Many of you may believe such a thing is fantasy and that if there were easy fixes to the ACA they would've been done already. That's simply not true, though. Insurance markets are not new and similar problems like those faced by the ACA now have existed in the past and have been fixed in the past. Indeed, the last time it happened was a short time ago. And it was fixed by Republicans.
The fundamental problem with the ACA at the moment is that premiums are rising dramatically and insurers are dropping out of the market, giving subscribers fewer options. These things are related, of course, as basic economics dictate that fewer providers of a good, in the face of consistent demand, will lead to higher prices.
Why are the insurers dropping out and the prices rising? Because the number of enrollees, the type of enrollees and the costs of providing those enrollees health care are not what insurers expected. A big problem is that the ACA marketplace plans attracted more older people than the Obama administration projected and older people simply cost more to insure for obvious reasons. Another one is that the ACA anticipated that states would expand their Medicaid programs with the federal funds it provided. A lot of governors refused to do this for political reasons. As a result, in those states, poorer and sicker people who would otherwise be Medicaid-eligible were forced into marketplace plans.
Insurance is not super complicated, economically speaking. It's all a matter of group liability and shared risk. The healthy people help pay for the sick people. If insurers attract too few consumers attract too few healthy people and too many sick ones, costs outstrip premiums. When that happens insurance companies exit the market. When they exit the market the the costs go up for consumers and the choices become fewer. Over time, people just stop buying insurance altogether, exacerbating the problem.
As I said, we've seen this problem before. We saw it with Medicare. Specifically, the Medicare Advantage program, which is the private plan version of Medicare. In the late 1990s and early 2000s insurers dropped out of the program because premiums and government subsidies to premiums weren't keeping up with costs. With fewer providers, premiums went up and participants dropped out, just like we're seeing with the ACA now.
So what did President Bush and the GOP-controlled Congress do? They passed the 2003 Medicare Modernization Act. That law did a lot of things -- a lot of them bad -- but one thing it certainly did was increase the subsidies to policyholders and insurers, ratcheting up the financial incentives for the former to obtain insurance and the latter to stay in the market. It also provided for an aggressive marketing and awareness campaign aimed at signing up as many people as possible which, again, increased the size of the pool of insured people, which is a good thing for insured people. It's also worth noting that old line Medicare -- a public option of straight government-supplied health insurance -- remained. That gave people more choices and provided more competition, which is good for consumers.
Quite simply, the Medicare Modernization Act paid more more money in order to obtain more of a good. Just like anyone else would do for any other good. The result: more people got coverage, costs came down and the market stabilized. Just as any freshman economics student could predict.
There is no reason these lessons -- and basic economic laws -- could not be applied to the ACA. There is no reason not to subsidize policies more. There is no reason not to find ways to incentivize consumers to purchase more policies and insurers to provide more. I'd add that there is no reason not to offer a public healthcare option like straight Medicare for everyone, but that's another essay. The point is that there are ways to address the problems with the ACA as it's currently constructed that will insure more people and bring costs down for them.
Will it cost the government more? Sure it will. But I'm told by the supporters of the new health care bill that they want more coverage and better coverage first and foremost. I'm told that the new bill isn't about cutting taxes, but about improving health care. I'm told that they agree with the nation as a whole that health care and its costs are one of the most important problems in America today.
Well, is it? If it is, you have a road map on how to do what you claim you want to do, Republicans. And you've done it before. The only reason you won't use it is if -- heaven forbid -- you're not being genuine about all of this and, in reality, all you care about are the tax cuts.
You'll hear a lot about the GOP's new health plan in the coming days. Here are the things you really need to know, though:
1. It gives insurance companies a tax break on CEO salaries over $500,000;
2. It cuts taxes a minimum of $346 billion over 10 years, with every cent of that tax cut going to people earning more than $200,000 per year or $250,000 for couples.
3. It will, by its very terms and by the clear incentives it creates, cause millions to lose coverage, primarily the poor; and
4. It will give no person coverage who does not already have access to it via the Affordable Care Act.
Given that it reduces the amount of and access to health care services for every single person who uses or would use it, calling this a "health care" law is the most cynical and obscene thing I have seen from Congress in my lifetime.
Cutting taxes for the wealthy and allowing insurance companies to save money and pay their executives more was the only goal here. That and being able to say "we got rid of Obamacare!" in campaign ads.
The proposed law is morally indefensible. Any lawmaker -- like my lawmaker, Pat Tiberi -- who supports it is declaring that tax cuts for the wealthy are more important to them than the health and lives of human beings. Their support for this law is a declaration of their unfitness for office.