February 5, 2018

NYTimes Picks

Medicaid Work Requirements Are Yet Another Burden for Trans Workers (20180205)

Work is not a place known for authenticity. Most every last one of us hides who we are among friends and family from our employers and even from our co-workers. This is America, so at work we pretend to be authentic: smiling and glad-handing is the American way. But of course we are not. Authenticity has a huge price tag most of us quite reasonably are unwilling to pay: myself and my ego versus food, shelter, medical care, a vacation now and then. We swallow our pride, lie and deceive, and take the money on the table. While I sympathize with the distinctive circumstances of the transgender, they are, all in all, really not so exceptional in this respect.

Medicaid Work Requirements Are Yet Another Burden for Trans Workers (20180205)

States deciding differently how to allocate, for example, water resources, is a good thing, for water resources and needs vary with geography, business sectors, and demography. States deciding to restrict the rights of American citizens differently, not so good a thing. It rapidly runs afoul of the notion that "all men are created equal." One would be hard-pressed to justify that citizens of one state should, by law, have less access to health care than citizens of another; or that gender-identity should be a liability in some states and not in others.

The Jell-O President and the Shutdown (20180122)

"There's good reason to worry that this will be no different in three weeks..."

True enough, but there will be one big difference. CHIP won't be a bargaining chip. It just got funded. That's safely off the table.

Republicans used CHIP as bait to set a trap. But Schumer, at whom "progressives" are childishly screaming, showed he was willing and capable of holding Democrats together for a shutdown, extracted a promise it will be hard for McConnell to break without focusing the nation's ire exactly where it belongs, and he got CHIP funded. And he prevented his red-state and red-district Democrats from taking too much heat. Basically Schumer approached the trap, calmly ate the cheese, and got away to fight again for DACA in just a few short weeks.

Politics in a democracy is not like business, where one can fire employees and never see them again. Politics in a democracy is not like politics in an authoritarian state, where one can jail or execute one's enemies and never see them again. In a democracy, win or lose, the same players keep returning to the game. Though adversaries on issues, they are also one's fellow citizens. It's good that we have such old trap-wise rats around like Schumer and McConnell when everyone else is yelling "Off with their heads" as if we weren't all doomed to go on living together.

Trump Administration Says States May Impose Work Requirements for Medicaid (20180111)

The assumption is that work opportunities exist for those who are not already working. That assumption is false.

Employment varies greatly by state, region, city and locale, with the state of the economy. And it is contingent upon market demand for the labor Medicaid recipients can offer, not solely upon their willingness to work. The greatest demand for Medicaid comes precisely in times of economic downturn when there are the fewest jobs available.

There is no law requiring employers to create flexible and accommodating jobs for those partially disabled, physically, mentally or emotionally, nor requiring employers to hire those they simply find unqualified. Ask yourself, would you hire from the bottom of the barrel at any price? Many "able-bodied" Medicaid recipients are just that: they are unemployed because unemployable for a variety of reasons, among them that many are just too dense and confused and broken to follow even simple workplace rules and procedures reliably. It's a population distribution, not a moral distribution: for all those supremely capable at the top, there is some proportion at the bottom for whom no practical remediation is possible.

Absent readily available and accommodating paid employment, the "community service" option becomes a prescription for indentured servitude, the equivalent of debtors prison and the work house, without even the quasi-benefit of food and shelter, the chain-gang without the visible chains. Health insurance slavery.

Trump Administration Takes Step That Could Threaten Marijuana Legalization Movement (20180104)

What makes this move a particularly noxious ideological gesture, if carried through, primarily destructive of the rule of law and an affront to the will of voters, is that there already exists a well-established, highly efficient black market in marijuana everywhere. Raids on dispensaries will not significantly reduce marijuana consumption, only restore levels of underground, untaxed, unregulated, unsafe, organized crime feeding commerce, which does not entirely disappear in any event.

Al Franken Issues Apology After Accusation of Forcible Kissing and Groping (20171116)

To those who think Senator Franken should step down or offer a fuller apology, in what world are you living? At the rate this is going, indiscriminately jumbling together stupid male jokes (yes, they are funny only to men) and gross presumption (taking advantage of a scripted kiss) with child molestation and bragging about grabbing women by their genitals, any competent PR professional would tell Franken to sit tight on his apology, because 20 other prominent men are going to be in the spotlight for their past misdeeds within the next 30 days. We are even dragging out Bill Clinton for another round of the same thrashing he's had many times before. If there is no sense of proportion in coverage and outrage, just a leaping from one sensational headline to the next, this laudable change in our "national conversation" will just get dissipated whenever, eventually, the press and public get tired out from hyperventilating. And nothing will change. The wolves will slip away as we run in every direction chasing dogs.

Trump's Tax Plan Cuts Rates for Individuals and Corporations and Eliminates Many Deductions (20170927)

If you are self-employed, beware! A 25% tax rate on "pass through" income represents a huge tax cut for higher earners, taxed in upper brackets. But for lower income, self-employed people operating as sole proprietorships, reporting income on Schedule C -- the so-called "gig economy" -- a flat 25% rate represents a huge 67% tax hike for those currently taxed in the 15% tax bracket, which extends up to $75,900 for married couples. Talk about reverse Robin Hood, this is literally stealing from the poor to pay to the rich.

(The published "framework" made available after I posted this comment refers to a maximum rate on pass through income of 25%, not a flat rate, but without specifying what rates might be under this cap, if it proves a cap in any final legislation. I remain concerned and convinced a careful eye must be kept on this area of the framework as it wends its way through a GOP-controlled Congress. The central problem the GOP confronts, and the reason the "framework" is deliberately vague, is that Republicans no longer have available the Obamacare and Medicaid pot of gold they intended to grab and divvy up among their wealthy constituencies. Instead, the GOP must raise elsewhere the revenue necessary at least to dampen the massive deficit balloon this tax giveaway to the wealthy will bring on. The GOP's inclination to flatten tax rates to advantage the wealthy is well established; indeed, exemplified in this proposal in spades. Where the majority of small businesses using pass throughs are paying less than 25% now, the temptation to nip at them to fund the giveaway to those comparatively few paying more will be great. An issue to watch.)

Russian-American Lobbyist Attended Meeting Organized by Trump's Son (20170714)

Liars who, when caught lying, simply lie some more. And when those lies are found out, lie some more and lie to blame someone else. Why do we keep granting the Trumps the benefit of the doubt we would not grant the most mendacious child? And since when did immature, compulsive moral depravity become exculpatory? If they are lying it is not because they can't help it; they are lying because they did something, perhaps many things, they know very well will get them in big, big trouble.

The North Korea-Trump Nightmare (20170421)

I'm unsure how younger Americans feel, who have not lived through this before, but I distinctly don't appreciate waking up every morning wondering if my country's leaders are mad enough or sufficiently belligerent and incompetent to precipitate a nuclear war or. short of that, simultaneous conventional wars on the top of ones we are already fighting without Constitutional authorization.

Neither do I appreciate having to wonder whether the President, Vice President, U.N. Ambassador, the Cabinet, and the U.S. military and military command are all on the same page, in the face of evidence that they decidedly are not. It is very disturbing that Captain Wrongway Peachfuzz seems in command of Trump's "armada" or that Trump himself is the orange-haired reincarnation of that Rocky & Bullwinkle Show Cold War cartoon character.

One did not have to agree with President Obama to rest assured that, at least, someone was in control who was appropriately cognizant of the risks in foreign policy and military action. Neither did one have to agree with President Bush to rest assured that someone (Vice President Cheney; Secretaries Rice, Rumsfeld, Powell) was in control who was appropriately cognizant of the risks in foreign policy and military action. If American citizens must worry, our allies must be worried. And that is even more worrisome.

Agree or not - and we can't know with whom or with what we are agreeing or not - this administration is failing in fundamental, dangerous respects.

Manhood in the Age of Trump (20170402)

Good column, though the usual focus on Hollywood misses the mark. You are a bit unfair to the male stars you cite, all of whom have made efforts to play less cliched macho roles. Just to mention two: Dwayne Johnson is at root a comedian, a thoroughly ironic muscleman; and Ryan Gosling is where he is today for an on-point performance in "Crazy, Stupid, Love" as a pick-up artist in full emotional meltdown in bed with a woman he can't just take as another conquest. Hollywood contributes but fairly cravenly serves a market for extreme gendered roles that preexists.

Your memories of high school, particularly physical education and athletics, are more on target. High school is the crucible in which the Man Box (and girls' adulation for its walls) is forged. There we take adolescents at their most sexually insecure and rigorously separate them for "education" specific to their physicality, while turning on the full power of peer on peer pressure. One doesn't have to be a gay man to remember that the P.E. locker room was the most humiliating and dangerous place to be "less than a manly man." High school football and high school dances are often apiece, organized and scheduled as a concerted effort to make "young men and young women."

This is where the current transgender bathroom issue is a very good thing, despite the grotesque cliches the transgendered typically take for the gender they are. It forces on schools a nut they cannot crack with the same old pernicious machinery.

House Republicans Unveil Plan to Replace Health Law (20170306)

The provision that creates a 30% barrier to reentry into the health insurance market virtually guarantees that, over time, with vicissitudes of employment and unexpected expenses, fewer and fewer people will have insurance and that those who do will be sicker and sicker. In other words, it legislates a death spiral in the individual market, at the same time that eliminating the requirement that large employers offer coverage to full-time employees forces more people on to it. It would be hard to devise anything more certain to reduce coverage and still call it a national health care plan. It will be interesting to see if major insurers remain silent or speak up against this planned rapid, destructive contraction of their industry.

First, Sex Ed. Then Death Ed. (20170219)

Before adding Death Ed. to Sex Ed., how about reviving Civics Ed., before we lose both and Science Ed. in the bargain.


August 2, 2000

Baja, San Quintin

Baja, San Quintin To the left is VANITY...
And her name is MARGARITA.

She's the reason I have very few pictures from a recent camping trip to Baja California, to San Quintin, except that she's in them. I planned to photograph the place, the people, the wildlife, the incredible Baja sea and landscape. But every time I went for the camera, there she was. She pleaded. She insisted. She demanded. She jumped up and ran to get in the way. She stamped her feet and got very, very angry. It's just that, from her perspective, any use of film other than on herself seemed an outrageous waste of time, money, and opportunity--her time, her money, her opportunity. She's working on a set of photo albums for when she's 80. So she can't stand the idea of missing a chance, any chance, to see then what she looked like right now, and right now, and right now, and right now. Beauty fades with each passing minute....

Margarita is my wife, so I'm in no position to argue. Besides, there's no arguing with Russian women once they're set. "No" is meaningless, just an empty sign of some vast, vague and entirely irrelevant male conspiracy against all things that really matter, especially personal vanity, its endless accoutrements and attendant privileges. And since she's also my venture capitalist, supporting me in whybother.org and other web adventures, who am I to say she can't have a page or two of flattering photos of herself? Believe me, just starting to post these photos is already making my life much easier.

Three of us took a week off and drove down to San Quintin on a whim...Margarita's whim, needless to say. Our friend Lucio (more recently "One must imagine Sisyphus happy" at My12Steps.com) had been traveling back and forth to Baja for some time, staying in various places and basically enjoying solitude, meditation, his books, and his writing. But as he was about to start another hermit stint, he made the mistake of hinting that Margarita might want to come along. She leapt for it, or maybe it was her hint in the first place. In any event, it would be a chance to realize her favorite English phrase since arriving in America nine years ago. "Let's go... let's go... let's go." Somehow I suspect that's her favorite phrase in any language.

Baja, San Quintin

Of course, there were complications. Lucio confessed he had second thoughts, half-wishing he hadn't offered to take Margarita, assuming he ever really did. There was simply no way that going down to Baja with Ms. Letsgo was going to be either simple or peaceful. But there was no backing out. And so I had to go, too, for full measure and to serve as a buffer between Lucio's dream of solitude and Margarita's urge to go on and on and on. Nice solution all around, but before we came up with it we made the mistake of trying to talk her out of going, telling her there'd be absolutely nothing to do where we were going, that Lucio just wanted to play hermit, that she'd be bored. Of course, she didn't believe any of it and got furious and hurt and furious again.

Continue reading Baja, San Quintin

February 24, 2017

GOP Healthcare and the Social Contract

Republican harping on God and Freedom, representing Government as a fairly unabashed evil, would have us forget the fundamental analysis of the Social Contract theorists that undergirded our founding generation's political understanding.

The fault of perfect Liberty is that it is unenjoyable, incommensurate with Life and the pursuit of Happiness, in the State of Nature. God may endow these unalienable Rights, but it is men who must secure them by banding together, consenting to renounce perfect Liberty to institute Governments.

This understanding is inscribed right in the Declaration of Independence:

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. -- That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed."

Republicans would have us remember the first part and forget the dash-bound second part. The absolute Freedom for each to choose and tailor their own healthcare is incommensurate with Life and the pursuit Happiness for all. Such a heedless absolute Freedom is nothing to which all would consent as a legitimating end of government. Republican healthcare would cast us back toward the State of Nature, which Thomas Hobbes represented as a "war of every man against every man,' wherein human life is "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short."

(Comment on Paul Krugman, "Death and Tax Cuts" https://nyti.ms/2mfD97f)


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