Saturday, November 30, 2013

Today's BIG Game Is At WWW.Healthcare.Gov

At the moment, was UP & Running. The verdict of the commentariat (and their Dumbo/Moron claque) is that the POTUS 44 has failed to carry out his duties as commander-in-chief of the U.S. economy. "Impeach the sumbitch," the claque cries from their chairs in front of their TV sets. Of course, as we all know, well-run web sites operate flawlessly ALL OF THE TIME. If you believe that, this blogger will sell you some great property with an ocean view in the Texas Panhandle (aka the Texas Riveriera). If this is a (fair & balanced) rejection of nonsensical expectations, so be it.

[x The New Yorker]
Heal Thyself
By Amy Davidson

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Last Tuesday, at a forum put together by the Wall Street Journal, President Barack Obama told a group of C.E.O.s that he was relatively sure that would be “functioning for the majority of people who are using it” by November 30th, two months after its disastrous launch. He acknowledged that the process had been “rough, to say the least,” and added that, once the site does work, “we’re going to have to obviously re-market and re-brand.”

That’s not all he’ll have to do. In a CBS News poll released the next day, the President’s approval rating fell to thirty-seven per cent, the lowest it has ever been. The flawed rollout has put the rest of his policy agenda at risk and, with it, progressive ideas about what government can attempt and what a President can achieve—at a moment when an unprecedented expansion of health-care coverage could validate them. According to a new Gallup poll, only forty-two per cent of Americans now agree that the government should guarantee access to health care. In 2006, the number was sixty-nine per cent. The technical inadequacies of may prove less of a burden than the political damage that has been done.

By November 2nd, fewer than twenty-seven thousand people had managed to sign up for plans through the federal exchange, while seventy-nine thousand had done so in the fourteen states that set up their own sites with federal funds. A week ago, at a press conference at the White House, reporters asked Obama if he had been less than honest with the American people about the readiness of the program. Even in the face of hostility, the President seemed to think, as he often does, that his intelligence vouchsafes his integrity. He replied, “You know, I’m accused of a lot of things, but I don’t think I’m stupid enough to go around saying, ‘This is going to be like shopping on Amazon or Travelocity,’ a week before the Web site opens, if I thought that it wasn’t going to work.”

But there were also the cancellation notices, sent out by insurance companies to hundreds of thousands of people who had heard the President repeatedly tell them, “If you like your plan, you can keep it.” His defense was that companies drop people every year; that the cancelled plans were shabby; and that, once people saw the great deals on, they wouldn’t want their old ones anyway. That just seemed to make people angrier, though he was no doubt right about the plans. He came as close as he ever has to losing the wholesale support of congressional Democrats, and was forced to devise something between a fix and an alibi, giving state insurance commissioners the power to choose whether people can hold on to existing plans for another year.

The problems with the rollout are alternately maddening and tragic. America’s health-care system has long been profoundly broken. It has shortened lives, distorted the economy, left families bankrupt after illnesses. The hundreds of bugs on the site—slapped-together code that has to draw on multiple agencies’ databases, some decades old, built by dozens of contractors—have obscured a pretty good law, one that finally protects people with preëxisting conditions and those who could never afford insurance. There are other benefits, too, such as cost controls and coverage for reproductive health. Obama doesn’t have to run for office again, but other Democrats do, and the big question for the 2014 midterms may be how each party handles Obamacare.

Not for the first time, Obama has been slow to realize the effect, at every stage, of his knockdown fight with the Republican Party over policy. The passage of the Affordable Care Act, in 2010, was followed by court challenges, dozens of votes to repeal or defund it, and a systematic state-by-state effort to impair it, using every tool in the political system and some outside of it. In 2012, when the Supreme Court upheld most of the law, it also allowed states to opt out of the Medicaid expansion. The federal government would have paid almost the entire cost. Who wouldn’t like such a plan? Republicans, as it happens: only four states with both a Republican governor and a Republican-led legislature took the money. (In all, twenty-five states did.) In Texas alone, this will leave a million people in a “coverage gap.” In a concerted effort facilitated by conservative interest groups—such as Generation Opportunity, funded by the Koch brothers—Republican-led states have undermined the law in ways that range from making it harder to enroll to declining to enforce rules when insurance companies break them. has been getting better; visitors are now generally able to log on and start an application. And by last week enrollment had more than doubled on the state-run Web sites, which continue to work reasonably well, notably in California and Kentucky. Where Obamacare is broadly available and unobstructed, it appears to be bearing out its promise. But there isn’t a lot of time: the deadline to sign up for plans that go into effect on January 1st is December 23rd, just three weeks after the November 30th target date to have the system repaired. Then money starts changing hands, in the form of premiums and subsidies. Henry Chao, the deputy chief information officer of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, testified last week that parts of the site that will be needed for that—“the back-office systems, the accounting systems, the payment systems”—have not even been built.

Since the rollout, Obama has treated it as a given that the Web site will be fixed, and that everyone will remember how bad the present system has been and how much better the new one is. “I am confident that, by the time we look back on this next year, that people are going to say this is working well, and it’s helping a lot of people,” he said at last week’s press conference. After five years in the White House, Obama still believes that he can go into a corner, tinker with something until it’s better, and win on the merits. The long view can serve him well, but it can also leave him unprepared when the other side won’t give up on an all-out battle. Health-care reform is the President’s signature legislative achievement, and a historic one. To preserve it, he needs to fight for it politically, state by state. This time, the Obama brand alone isn’t enough. Ω

[Amy Davidson is a senior editor at The New Yorker, having joined the magazine in 1995. She focuses on politics and international affairs. She edits profiles and features. Davidson attended Harvard University, graduating magna cum laude (Social Studies). After graduation she worked for about 18 months in Germany. Her editing contributions to The New Yorker have won the National Magazine Award and the George Polk Award. Davidson is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.]

Copyright © 2013 Condé Nast Digital

Creative Commons LicenseSapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves by Neil Sapper is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Based on a work at Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available here.

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Friday, November 29, 2013

On Black Friday 2013, The Deadline Poet Is Short & Unsweet

For Dumbos, Morons, and U.S. Retailers, greed is a bottomless pit. The poor wretches in garment factories in black holes like Bangladesh work for a pittance and their finished products sell at a huge profit in Big-Box stores across the USA. The disaster in Bangladesh has already faded from the news in this country. Read a refresher here. The deadliest garment-factory accident in history was ho-hum to U.S. major retailers. May they choke on their ill-gotten gains on Black Friday and ever after. If this is a (fair & balanced) rejection of unbridled avarice, so be it.

[x The Nation]
Double-Entry Bookkeeping
By The Deadline Poet (Calvin Trillin)

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U.S. Retailers Decline To Aid Factory Victims In Bangladesh
—Headline in The New York Times

Black Friday comes but once a year,
And bargains mean that sales are strong.
Refusing help to these folks is
A bargain lasting all year long. Ω

[Calvin Trillin began his career as a writer for Time magazine. Since July 2, 1990, as a columnist at The Nation, Trillin has written his weekly "Deadline Poet" column: humorous poems about current events. Trillin has written considerably more pieces for The Nation than any other single person. A native of Kansas City, MO, Trillin received his BA from Yale College in 1957. He served in the army, and then joined Time.]

Copyright © 2013 The Nation

Creative Commons LicenseSapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves by Neil Sapper is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Based on a work at Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available here.

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Thursday, November 28, 2013

Meet This Country's Best Genre Painter

The Dutch Republic of the 17th century was noted for artists who painted scenes of everyday life, even the humblest kind, that became known as genre painting. In this country during much of the 20th century, Norman Rockwell (1894 – 1978) was one of our great practitioners of genre painting. Much of his work appeared on more than 300 covers of The Saturday Evening Post. This blogger was exposed to Rockwell's art thanks to his maternal grandparents' faithful subscription to the Post during the blogger's childhood and youth. If this is (fair & balanced) nostalgia, so be it.

[x The Atlantic]
How Norman Rockwell Captured The Inner Life Of A Nation
By James Parker

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The boy sits cross-legged on the floor, pajama-fresh and waist-deep in torn wrapping paper. Above his head, on the tree, a weak galaxy of Christmas lights; to his right, the ruddy, old-timey radiations of a blazing hearth. But his face is otherwise illumined: out of the flat object he holds in his hands there rises a weird, disinterred glow, as if from some vault of alien bones. He gazes into it. It gazes into him. His lower lip hangs, blue-cold and glossy; his eyes have the luster of enchantment. Watching from the doorway—because there are always watchers in the picture, proxies for the artist—are his parents. Mom looks gratified; Dad looks worried. Title of painting: The iPad He’s Been Asking For.

What would Norman Rockwell be painting now, if he were with us and in his sad-eyed, penetrative prime? Gay weddings and hockey fights; piquant scenes at the Dunkin’ Donuts drive-through window; the signing into law of the Affordable Care Act, with particular attention to the round-faced child at the president’s elbow. Rockwell was as American as the Grateful Dead. He painted America, nothing but, and the fascination of his story—newly told by Deborah Solomon in American Mirror: The Life and Art of Norman Rockwell (2013)—lies in the genius by which this rather strange, marginal-feeling man contrived to represent the inner life of a mass audience. So complete was the transference, indeed, that the name Norman Rockwell remains to this day synonymous with the vanished health of the republic: youthful vim, family values, “a simpler time”—the kinds of thing that make Glenn Beck burst into tears.

The secret, clearly, is that Rockwell’s productions, his tableaux of American innocence, are not simple at all. If they were, we would have forgotten them by now. Instead they are loaded with unconscious energy, with nervous hum and erogenous gleam. The grotesque, like some goblin field of gravity, seems to bend and warp even his most conventional subjects. Shiny noses, stringy throats, eyes too avid or too dull; a freakish quiddity in his rendering of shoes, elbows, baskets, bricks. Which to us, post-Freudians that we all inevitably are, can mean only one thing: repression! Rockwell’s preference for the company of boy models and rugged apprentices over that of, say, women is a recurring note in Solomon’s book. (“Draws Boys Not Girls” was the headline of a 1923 Boston Globe article.) He married unhappily, twice, and more happily a third time. And although his demons were not very sulphurous, not very rock-and-roll, they were demons nonetheless: shame, awkwardness, a cyclical sense of his own artistic insufficiency, and an enormous, hellacious self-imposed pressure to get everything right. If he was gay, he was never—on the evidence currently available—actively so. Solomon’s point is more that he wasn’t gay, he wasn’t anything. He hovered fraughtly, jamming his canvases with inference. Of his habit of placing a dog, person, hatbox, or similar item in the foreground of his paintings, between the viewer and the action, she writes: “It is one of the tensions in Rockwell’s art. He paints objects with the kind of fastidious realism intended to bring you closer to the touchable, handleable world. But then he paints a barricade in the foreground to keep you from touching. He cannot allow himself to touch what he wants.”

Was Rockwell a realist? A hyper-realist? A fabulist? An artistic reactionary, or a commercial wizard whose success in self-branding and media manipulation anticipated Andy Warhol? Modernism, the bomb in the museum, went off at the beginning of his career, and he was forced to find his place among the fragments. In 1913, as Rockwell was painstakingly mastering his craft with the sober draftsmen of the Art Students League, on West 57th Street in New York City, the Armory Show arrived at 25th and Lexington: Picasso, Braque, Duchamp, the dissolution of the visual plane, the vanishing floor of the universe. Rockwell absorbed these advances, even allowing himself a wistful sojourn in radical Paris, and went the other way—in the direction of construction, compression, and cramming the frame with meaning. Jackson Pollock would be his art-historical Other, the Hyde to his Jekyll. Later in life, Rockwell would say that if he were young again he’d paint that way too.

But Rockwell was also from the future, in his way. There was something cutting-edge in Rockwell’s high-polish micro-anecdotes, his insanely overdeveloped sight gags—such as 1962’s The Connoisseur, in which a well-dressed gent, his back to us, stands like a pillar of salt before the orgasmic splatter of an abstract-expressionist painting. Inside modernism’s flying-apart was a countervailing impulse toward convergence and concentration: Ezra Pound, banging on about the Chinese ideogram, had sought a poetry that “presents an intellectual and emotional complex in an instant of time,” and Henri Cartier-Bresson had made “the decisive moment”—the sudden intersection of previously unrelated energies—part of the liturgy of photography. Rockwell’s decisive moments, by contrast, were fictional. He conceived them alone (Solomon writes that “the gestation of ideas was arduous”) and then fabricated them, with extraordinary care, from photographs, props, and paraphernalia, the chin of this model and the arm of that one. It was labor-intensive, to say the least. To render correctly the girl’s black eye in 1954’s The Shiner, Rockwell visited two hospitals, spoke with The Berkshire Eagle of his need for a “ripe” injury (“Several hundred people responded,” writes Solomon, “many of them prisoners”), and finally settled on a 2-year-old who had recently fallen down the stairs.

His element, his habitat, was the collective reverie that we now know as popular culture. He was a gifted propagandist: feast your eyes on 1943’s Rosie the Riveter—prizefighter shoulders, expression of insouciant triumph, foot crushing a copy of Mein Kampf—and thank God he wasn’t a Nazi. But the question of whether his illustrations are Art seems moot: they weren’t meant for the gallery wall; they were meant for the cover of The Saturday Evening Post, for the blank and primitive stare of the man about to buy a pack of gum at a bus station, and his preferred response to them was a quick bark of laughter. He didn’t want to perturb or ontologically confound. He wanted to be got, immediately.

Solomon’s will not be the last book on Rockwell. The man and his work are too rich a seam. His bottoms alone, his human bottoms, could be the subject of a nice monograph: Norman Rockwell’s American Asses. I’m quite serious. What do the baggy hindquarters of the Tattoo Artist, unreflectively shoved in our faces as he leans into the intricacies of his work—eyebrows raised, hair in frowsy spikes—tell us about the self-forgetfulness of creation? And what about the terrible shining smoothness and vulnerability of the boy’s half-exposed buttocks in Before the Shot? On the canvas they are mere inches (though the metal upright of a scale strictly intervenes) from the broad white-coated doctor who is preparing the syringe.

Best of all, the proof of his genius is testable. Sit for a while with a book of Norman Rockwell illustrations, then go out onto the streets of any American city. You will be amazed at the Rockwellian scenarios that present themselves, at the speed with which democratic urban randomness, the everyday sprawl of suggestion, resolves itself into a sequence of Rockwell visual punch lines. Those two women smoking outside their office building, one with her back to the wall, the other poised and statuesque, exhaling coolly like some deity of cigarettes. That buxom elderly lady leaving the department store, displaying to her husband the little outfit she has just bought for their grandchild; his evident uninterest, verging on disgust. Pure Rockwell. Quite a triumph for an artist, no? To have entered the American grain in this ineradicable way. To have bent reality—mildly but irreversibly—to his own rumpled will. Ω

[James Parker is a correspondent for The Atlantic and writes a weekly column for the “Ideas” section of the Boston Globe. He was a 2012 National Magazine Award Finalist in “Columns and Commentary”. He was formerly a staff writer for the Boston Phoenix. He is a graduate of Cambridge University.]

Copyright © 2013 The Atlantic Monthly Group

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Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Words, Words, The Musical Fruit... The More You Eat, The More You... Get A Good Lexical Workout?

Mark Bowden, today's writer in the barrel, describes himself as "an old English major." This blogger can describe himself as being "an old English minor." Through three college degrees, this blogger's minor field was English. Blame it on Beowulf. That epic poem in Old English separated this sheep from the English-major goats. I can still hear the chain-smoking English prof droning on and on about Grendel; this blogger's own mythic monster was Old English. However, this blogger reads on in a never-ending slog for this blog. If this is (fair & balanced) logophila, so be it.

[x The Atlantic]
In Praise Of Fancy Words
By Mark Bowden

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I have the old English major’s habit of never reading past a word I don’t know, and have worn out more than a few pocket dictionaries. There are certain kinds of books, generally high-toned novels, that you expect to give you a good lexical workout—Ford Madox Ford’s Parade’s End (1924... 1950), for example, which I read for the first time this year after watching the great HBO miniseries, or anything by William Faulkner.

Military history is not in this category. Accounts of battle have their own ways of confusing readers (troop movements and tactics, geographical fine points, jargon and acronyms), but they rarely display recondite vocabulary, which is why I was surprised by how many times Rick Atkinson, in his superb World War II Liberation Trilogy, stopped me cold.

Here are some of the puzzlers in The Guns at Last Light (2008), the trilogy’s final volume: bedizened, biffing, cozenage, bootless, jinking, maledictory, spavined, tintinnabulation, anabasis, flinders. Some in that list may be more familiar than others, but speaking as someone who has been reading and writing for four decades, if a word stops me, it’s going to stop most people.

Google Books’ Ngram Viewer, which charts how frequently a word or phrase appears in a sample of roughly 5.2 million books and 500 billion words, confirms the obscurity of these specimens. An Ngram score shows what percentage of the sample’s word count a particular word or phrase represents over a particular period of time. Take gutful, which makes up .0000005 percent of Ngram’s English-language sample from 2008 (when Last Light was published), as opposed to brave, its equivalent, which has a score of .001. Gutful is used three times in Last Light (pages 53, 167, and 346), which means that the author thrice chose a word 2,000 times less common than its perfectly suitable synonym.

Atkinson is an old newspaperman, as I am. In newsrooms there is little patience for the use of a difficult word where a simpler one will do. “Good prose is like a windowpane,” wrote George Orwell in his famous essay “Why I Write,” a rule that would seem to counsel against ever stopping a reader with an unfamiliar word. It’s good advice for beginners, but serious readers are also lovers of language. I find that the occasional obscure word, used correctly, spices prose.

“To be honest, I have never thought about it,” Atkinson told me, though he confessed to chafing at newspaper norms. He has a master’s degree in English language and literature, and said that he “feels no obligation to avoid sending a reader to the dictionary,” provided that the word in question is exactly the right one. Atkinson read a lot of British histories and memoirs in researching The Guns at Last Light, and was both infected and enchanted by British expressions. Biffing, a goofy word that just oozes Anglo slapstick, comes straight from the novelist Evelyn Waugh, who served as an officer in the Royal Marines during World War II.

“When I wrote flinders, I suppose I could have used splinters,” Atkinson told me. “But to me, flinders is so much more vivid. Even if it is obscure, in description one can intuit what it means; it means exactly what it sounds like it means.” The same goes for jinking, a word he picked up from American fighter pilots who described their aerial maneuvers to him.

For all his love of arcane words, Atkinson said he hates crossword puzzles and word games. “My wife and children whip me at Words With Friends every time.”


[Mark Bowden is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and — since 2010 — Writer-in-Residence at the University of Delaware at Newark. His book Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern War (1999)—an international bestseller that spent more than a year on the New York Times bestseller list—was a finalist for the National Book Award. Bowden also worked on the screenplay for "Black Hawk Down," a film adaptation of the book, directed by Ridley Scott. Bowden is also the author of the international bestseller Killing Pablo: The Hunt for the World's Greatest Outlaw (2001), which tells the story of the hunt for Colombian cocaine billionaire Pablo Escobar. Killing Pablo won the Overseas Press Club's Cornelius Ryan Award as the best book in 2001 and is currently being adapted for film, with Bowden again writing the screenplay. He is also the author of Doctor Dealer (1987), Bringing the Heat (1994), Our Finest Day (2002), Finders Keepers (2002), and The Best Game Ever (2008), about the 1958 NFL championship game. His most recent book is The Finish: The Killing of Osama bin Laden (2012). Bowden was an adjunct professor at Loyola College of Maryland (2001-2010), where he taught creative writing and journalism. He graduated from Loyola College of Maryland with a B.A. in English Literature.]

Copyright © 2013 The Atlantic Monthly Group

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Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves by Neil Sapper is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Based on a work at Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available here.

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Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Today, Lindy Hops All Over The Fairy Tale Of The Golden Age Of Bromance On The Potomac

Ah, the good ol' days seem warm and fuzzy. Talking heads like Chris Matthews on MSNBC will wax romantically about the bromance between St. Dutch and Thomas "Tip" O'Neill when St. Dutch (R-CA) was the POTUS 40 (1981-1989) and O'Neill (D-MA) was the Speaker of the House (1977-1987). As Matthews tells the tale (from his vantage point as an O'Neill staffer at the time), the Dumbo and the Donkey were frequent drinkin' buddies after the close of business. As a result, Matthews bemoans today's climate in the U.S. government as a defilement of the grand tradition of St. Dutch and Tip. If this is a (fair & balanced) delusion, so be it.

[x Salon]
Stop Whining, Centrists: Bipartisanship Is A Myth That’s Never Existed
By Michael Lind

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One of the greatest myths about American politics is that there was once a golden age of bipartisanship in which responsible, enlightened statesmen set aside partisan differences in order to collaborate with their colleagues on the other side. This understanding of history underlies constant calls for “grand bargains” among left and right on the budget and other issues. It also permits figures like Ross Perot and Michael Bloomberg to pose as practical problem-solvers superior to petty partisan politicians.

Like most historical myths, the myth of bipartisanship is a poor guide to historical understanding and contemporary action.

Yes, bipartisanship was much higher in the mid-twentieth century than it is now. A new graphic provides a striking illustration of the ideological fissioning of Democrats and Republicans in the U.S. Senate.

But while partisan polarization was lower in the past, ideological polarization—disagreements on the basis of philosophy and values—has always been high. Back in the bipartisan Fifties, there were plenty of conservatives who thought that liberals were communists and plenty of liberals who thought of conservatives as fascists.

The difference between 2013 and 1963 is that in the earlier period liberals and conservatives were found in both of the two parties, which still reflected the geographic realignment that had produced the Civil War. The Democrats, still based in the South, had their conservative Southern and Midwestern members, while the Republicans, still the northern party of Lincoln, had many liberal members.

Thanks largely to the political realignment caused by the Civil Rights revolution a century after Appomattox, the Civil War party system has been replaced by our present pattern, in which the Democrats are a largely urban and nonwhite party strongest in the North, while the GOP is dominated by white Southerners. As a result of the post-Sixties realignment, conservatives are no longer divided into two parties by memories of the Civil War and progressives have regrouped into a single party, the Democrats.

But the shift is less dramatic when we look at ideology rather than partisanship. Half a century ago, conservatives and liberals were at odds, just as they are today. The only difference is that each camp frequently collaborated with their philosophical soulmates in the other party.

For example, between the mid-term elections of 1938 and the late 1950s, a “conservative coalition” of right-wing Democrats and conservative Republicans dominated Congress, rolling back some New Deal reforms and blocking further liberal advances.

Liberals, too, worked with each other across party lines. For example, many Northern progressive Republicans voted alongside liberal Democrats for civil rights laws that were opposed by many conservative Southern Democrats.

This kind of bipartisanship among politicians who share the same ideology would be pointless today, now that the left is in one party and the right is in another.

And even at the height of cross-party coalitions, liberals and conservatives battled, just as they do today. While like-minded Republicans and Democrats often voted together, the kind of “grand bargain” or “compromise” dreamed of by today’s pundits—deals among liberals and conservatives, of any party—have always been extremely rare.

Even at its peak, then, bipartisanship was never an alternative to ideological conflict. And it was a temporary aberration, which came to an end with the ideological sorting of the two parties in the last generation. The replacement of two highly divided parties by two more consistent parties is a return to the norm in American history, when national parties have often disagreed about most issues.

Among other things, the demise of bipartisanship means a return to the typical pattern of political change in the U.S. Major reforms have never emerged from split-the-difference compromises among the major parties. Usually one party pushes through a major reform, over the opposition of the rival party but sometimes with the help of some rival-party politicians. The defeated party rails against the innovation for years or decades, but eventually accepts it.

Before the Civil War, the Jacksonian Democrats, supporting a smaller federal government, didn’t compromise with Whig proponents of a strong, active federal government. They defeated the Whigs and destroyed the Second Bank of the United States. The Whig party collapsed.

Following the Civil War, the dominant Republicans did not hesitate to demonize the Democrats as the party of secessionist traitors, as they rammed through their agenda of permanently abolishing slavery, federal support for railroads and high tariffs to protect American industry.

We are now in such a period again. The Affordable Care Act was inspired by conservative proposals, including “Romneycare” in Massachusetts and the right-wing Heritage Foundation’s health care plan of the 1990s. Nevertheless, it was overwhelmingly opposed by Republicans in Congress, who having failed to stop it have sought to repeal or sabotage it.

As well they should, if they believe their own ideology. Today’s conservative Republicans live in a different intellectual universe than today’s progressive Democrats. In the alternate reality of conservatives, cutting taxes on the rich should magically generate full employment; cutting benefits for the poor doesn’t hurt them but makes them more self-reliant and successful; and the best way to supply every American with adequate, inexpensive health care and retirement security is to abolish Social Security and Medicare and give Americans vouchers to shop among competing, for-profit corporations.

Where is the room for bipartisan, cross-ideological compromise? I don’t see it.

Progressives want to preserve and even expand Social Security and Medicare. Conservatives want to destroy them and replace them with vouchers.

Progressives would prefer that social programs be federal, rather than partly or wholly state-based. Conservatives want to send most programs to the statehouses, where they can be whittled down or destroyed.

Progressives want to raise taxes on the rich and fund a more generous safety net. Conservatives want to cut taxes on the rich, cut spending on the poor and shred the safety net.

Even if we had the party system of 1950 or 1960, there would still be no agreement among the left and right. The only difference would be that some of the liberals who support raising taxes on the rich would be liberal Republicans, while some of the conservatives who want to destroy Social Security and Medicare would be Democrats.

So let’s not waste any more time on nostalgia for the supposed golden age of bipartisanship. Politics is not a dinner party. Politics is civil war by bloodless means—ballots rather than bullets. For one side to win, the other side has to lose. And for one side to win, it needs to mobilize enough support to roll over a bitter and determined opposition if necessary.

That’s how most major change has come about throughout American history, and that’s how it is likely to come about in the years ahead. Cope with it. Ω

[Michael Lind is Policy Director of the New America Foundation's Economic Growth Program and — most recently — the author of Land of Promise: An Economic History of the United States (2012). Lind holds a B.A. from The University of Texas-Austin, an M.A. from Yale University, and a J.D. from The UT-Austin School of Law.]

Copyright © 2013 Salon Media Group

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Monday, November 25, 2013

Today: The Perils Of MiddleCare

The poor POTUS 44 is catching flak from all sides. Tom Tomorrow, this blog's artist-in-residence, brings back MiddleMan and a new character in spandex — Dissatisfied Leftist — to colloquy with MiddleMan. If this is (fair & balanced) drollery about web site glitches, so be it.

[x This Modern World]
Middle-Man Besieged!
By Tom Tomorrow (Dan Perkins)

Tom Tomorrow/Dan Perkins

[Dan Perkins is an editorial cartoonist better known by the pen name "Tom Tomorrow". His weekly comic strip, "This Modern World," which comments on current events from a strong liberal perspective, appears regularly in approximately 150 papers across the U.S., as well as on Daily Kos. The strip debuted in 1990 in SF Weekly. Perkins, a long time resident of Brooklyn, New York, currently lives in Connecticut. He received the Robert F. Kennedy Award for Excellence in Journalism in both 1998 and 2002. When he is not working on projects related to his comic strip, Perkins writes a daily political weblog, also entitled "This Modern World," which he began in December 2001. Earlier this year, Dan Perkins, pen name Tom Tomorrow, was named the winner of the 2013 Herblock Prize for editorial cartooning.]

Copyright © 2013 Tom Tomorrow (Dan Perkins)

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Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves by Neil Sapper is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Based on a work at Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available here.

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Sunday, November 24, 2013

Welcome To The Bay Of Glitches

Late last week, Joe Nocera offered a NY Fishwrap Op-Ed essay that picked the Bay of Pigs (1961) as a metaphor for the early failure of the Affordable Care Act web site; the subtext was that JFK learned from the Bay of Pigs disaster and applied that experience to a more successful resolution of the Cuban Missile Crisis (1962) and Nocera expressed hope that the POTUS 44 would profit from JFK's example. The essay prompted 250 (mostly negative) comments from NY Fishwrap readers. One of the best was written by Rob Z of Central Massachusetts:

Yet another in an endless parade of critiques about the ACA website by people who know very little about building websites. Yes, it should function quickly and effectively, but how could Obama possibly control the design, code and performance of a website? As the owner of a advertising and marketing firm, I can assure you all websites have their unique challenges and sometimes simply do not work. Few realize you have to design a site that appears and functions identically on a variety of platforms and browsers. This particular site was huge undertaking. Yes, they should have tested the site before the launch. However, comparisons to the Bay of Pigs invasion is more than an ridiculous stretch. How about a column on how the GOP is undermining the rollout at every turn as a matter of policy? There is something seriously awry when a political party has the stated goal to fascilitate failure.

Amen, Brother Rob. If the failure of the ACA web site is our Cuban Missile Crisis, then the Dumbos/Morons are the equivalent of the Nikita Khruschev's Soviet Politburo. Delicious as the irony would be, Nikita Khruschev is a more preferable adversary than the Dumbos/Morons. He was an adversary and the Dumbos/Morons are traitors, who — though native-born — seek to destroy the government of the United States of America by "drowning it like a baby in the bathtub" (according to Grover Norquist). Final note: a brief visit to the web site produced positive results while randomly clicking on tabs and links (like "Learn what we're doing to improve"). In the meantime, the Dumbos/Morons continue to chant malevolent incantations that will bring about the impeachment and removal of the POTUS 44. If this is a (fair & balanced) illustration that history doesn't repeat itself, so be it.

[x NY Fishwrap]
Obama’s Bay Of Pigs
By Joe Nocera

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Copyright © 2013 Rob Rogers/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

This week, when we are remembering John F. Kennedy, I’d like to touch briefly on the greatest fiasco of his presidency: the Bay of Pigs invasion. No sooner had Kennedy taken the oath of office than he discovered that the Pentagon and C.I.A. were preparing to send 1,500 Cuban exiles to invade Cuba. Though they would be greatly outnumbered by Cuban troops, the American military and the C.I.A. assumed that once the attack began, the Cuban people would rise up and overthrow Fidel Castro.

Kennedy was privately skeptical, but he didn’t yet have the confidence in his own judgment to override the experts he was surrounded by. So he gave the go-ahead — only to discover that the experts didn’t know what they were talking about. The exiles were quickly routed, America was humiliated and Kennedy was left to take the blame.

So far, at least, the implementation of the Affordable Care Act has been President Obama’s Bay of Pigs. Led to believe that the preparation for Obamacare was on track, Obama was blindsided when that turned out not to be the case. The website where people are supposed to enroll,, is a train wreck. People with individual policies saw that they were set to be canceled — and then couldn’t enroll in Obamacare because the website had collapsed. In other cases, people discovered that even the least expensive plan available to them under Obamacare cost more than their old plan. And on and on.

There are two primary reasons Obamacare has gotten off to such a terrible start. The first is that it is one of the most complicated things that the federal government has ever tried to do; it was inevitable that there would be problems.

An insurance executive friend says that the systems Obamacare required were an order of magnitude more complex than even the most complicated insurance company systems. That complexity, says Drew Altman, the president of the Kaiser Family Foundation, was necessitated by the many compromises that were required to pass the bill into law. Ted Marmor, a former Yale professor and an expert on entitlement programs, says that it has to coexist within the extraordinarily complicated “patchwork” that is the American health care system.

Marmor was a young special assistant in the old Department of Health, Education and Welfare when Medicare rolled out in 1966 — a rollout that was as smooth as Obamacare’s has been rocky. (“Our biggest worry was getting Southern hospitals to treat black people,” Marmor told me.) Partly that was because Medicare was a relatively straightforward program. But Marmor also believes that it was because the men in charge of the new Medicare program were seasoned pros who knew how to get the job done.

Thus the second reason the Obamacare rollout has been so awful. “They put amateurs in charge,” says Marmor. Obama would have been much better served if, for instance, he had called upon his friend Jeffrey Immelt, the chief executive of General Electric, to choose a team of specialists to lead the effort.

To even think that thought, however, requires management skills that this president has never shown. Nor has his initial reaction done much to instill faith. Calling on insurance companies to allow people to keep their old insurance plans — even after they’ve been canceled — is untenable. Even if state boards of insurance would allow such a move, it still wreaks havoc with the calculations upon which premiums are set.

Obama also announced a deadline of Nov. 30 for fixing the problems with But what will that really accomplish? It is an arbitrary deadline that will almost surely not be met — and will sow even more mistrust.

With each day’s stories about the troubled rollout of Obamacare, it is easy to believe that it is doomed. But it’s not — not by a long shot. “We’ll know a lot more when we see what the roughly 15 million to 16 million people who are expected to get coverage that first year think,” says Altman. “And they won’t know themselves what they think about Obamacare until they start getting services.”

Jonathan Gruber, the M.I.T. economist who helped devise the Massachusetts health plan upon which Obamacare is modeled, says the deadline that matters is March 31, 2014. That’s when the individual mandate comes into play — meaning that people will either have signed up for health insurance or pay a fine. “It’s way too early to panic,” he says.

Eighteen months after the Bay of Pigs, President Kennedy was confronted with the Cuban missile crisis. Once again, the generals in the Pentagon wanted him to respond militarily, a route that was likely to lead to war with the Soviet Union. But this time, he trusted his own judgment, took a different path and defused the crisis. He had applied the lessons he had learned from the Bay of Pigs to the Cuban missile crisis.

As President Obama tries to turn Obamacare around, that is the looming question: Can he learn? Ω

[Joseph "Joe" Nocera is a business columnist and an opinion columnist for The New York Times. Nocera is also a business commentator for NPR’s Weekend Edition. Before joining the Times in 2005, Nocera held editorial positions with the Washington Monthly, Newsweek, the New England Monthly and Texas Monthly. His 1994 book, A Piece of the Action: How the Middle Class Joined the Money Class, won the New York Public Library's 1995 Helen Bernstein Award for best non-fiction book of the year. Nocera also won three Gerald Loeb Awards (1993, 1996, 2008) and three John Hancock Awards (1983, 1984, 1991). And he was a 2007 finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Commentary. Nocera has also written Good Guys and Bad Guys: Behind the Scenes with the Saints and Scoundrels of American Business (and Everything in Between) (2008), and (with Bethany McLean) All the Devils Are Here: The Hidden History of the Financial Crisis (2010).Joe Nocera earned a B.S. in journalism from Boston University.]

Copyright © 2013 The New York Times Company

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Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves by Neil Sapper is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Based on a work at Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available here.

Copyright © 2013 Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves

Saturday, November 23, 2013

"Bird" Has Multiple Meanings In Jackson Hole, WY: "Duck!"

Today, this blog's poet-in-residence, Calvin Trillin, provides a bird-related homonym: in one sense, "bird" is the slang reference to the traditional Thanksgiving main dish and in the other, "the bird," is an obscene gesture that means "f*ck you." The Dickster deserves all of the familial disharmony that life can bestow and his daughters Elizabeth Lynne (Liz) Cheney Perry (the elder sib) and her younger sister, Mary Claire Cheney are the stars of the family drama of 2013. Liz Cheney is married to a DC-lawyer, Phillip Perry and is the mother of 5 children. Mary Cheney is married to Heather Poe and is the mother of 2 children. In both latter cases, Mary Cheney was the birth mother; the identity of the sperm donors has never been disclosed. The Cheney sisters are at odds over same-sex marriage: Liz against it for the sake of votes in the upcoming senatorial primary in Wyoming and Mary for it (as well living in a same-sex relationship). The Dickster always has presided over a traditional Cheney Thanksgiving in the family compound in Jackson Hole, WY. This year's gathering may be a little tense with a lot of birds flying around. If this is a (fair & balanced) fowl/foul situation, so be it.

[x Nation]
Cheney Sisters In Public Feud Over Marriage
By The Deadline Poet (Calvin Trillin)

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Copyright © 2013 Steve Sack — Star-Tribune

© 2013 Adam Zyglis — The Buffalo News

New York Times’ Headline

Yes, Liz and Mary now are fighting.
Thanksgiving there should be exciting.
On Turkey Day, we may get word
On who was first to flip the bird. Ω

[Calvin Trillin began his career as a writer for Time magazine. Since July 2, 1990, as a columnist at The Nation, Trillin has written his weekly "Deadline Poet" column: humorous poems about current events. Trillin has written considerably more pieces for The Nation than any other single person. A native of Kansas City, MO, Trillin received his BA from Yale College in 1957. He served in the army, and then joined Time.]

Copyright © 2013 The Nation

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Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves by Neil Sapper is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Based on a work at Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available here.

Copyright © 2013 Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves