Moving on and closer to home, I for one am absolutely baffled by how/why more Atlantans aren't absolutely outraged by the extended middle finger being upwardly pointed in our direction by Liberty Media (the Denver-based owner of the Atlanta Braves) and our own mayor. For those of you in other places (and/or others not following this one at home) a couple of weeks ago the Braves announced that they were pulling up stakes and leaving the 16-year-old stadium (now known as "The Ted") given to them after the `96 Olympics for a new stadium in the Cobb County suburbs (subsidized, of course, by hapless Cobb Cty taxpayers). Then, only a day after he was re-elected (and only months after he semi-valiantly led a successful effort to give the Falcons a new $1Billion in-town stadium, itself to replace the perfectly serviceable 20-year-old Ga Dome), our feckless mayor could say only "I wish them [the Braves and their shady Cobb cohorts] well."
In doubtless futile response, I've joined with others hoping to do what we can to reverse this most-regrettable move http://SaveTheTed.org . For, this movement isn't really about a building or a baseball team; it's about the diminished soul of a once-great city. On a less abstract level, it's about a perhaps once-in-a-lifetime chance to address the chronic public transportation problems that vex our region. And, in the end, isn't that what "conservatism" is really all about?: i.e., conserving the best of the past and, then, building practical solutions to current problems upon them?
Speaking of "transportation", I'll close with VLOG links to the other two projects that I'm currently working: both involve Big Data in general and how it may be used, in one instance, to address urban traffic and safety; and, of course, I continue to, at least, daydream about how Big Data may impact healthcare consumerism as well.
`more about these project later...
The following is a Comment as extensive as it is thoughtful. Sigh...evidently, this platform places some [unknown] limit on Comments' length? If this problem reccurs, I suppsoe that I'll have to upgrade my account;-) But seriously, thanks to Stan for persevering (and sending this text via normal e-mail)
StartSelection:0000000199 EndSelection:0000005467 Use of the Internet as a catalyst to facilitate creative collaborations (serving evermore micro-specific gatherings of interest) has slowly started to bloom over the last few years to occupy a “middle kingdom” between the standard topical blog-site and the (soon to be passé IMHO) superficial/generic wading-pools of current social warehouse conglomerates (e.g., Wastebook <sic>, Pinterest, G+, Flickr, Cafemom, Meetup, etc., etc.,).
This new breed of more integrated & hybrid virtual communities can perhaps be given an expose’ via a site such as “Relaxed Machinery” (http://relaxedmachinery.ning.com/). Relaxed Machinery (RM) which is ostensibly a deconstructed virtual music & art community, unlike other sites that trumpet themselves as being an online village for like-minded people (and in the case of musicians can be represented by sites such as Bandcamp) -- RM goes beyond mere production-oriented and facilitation internetworking overlays (like the vastly deficient example of ‘LinkedIn’) to genuinely spawn a deep community that not only can play off of one another in real-time across technical, intellectual, artistic and ‘news’ related vectors, but can also serve as a living multi-dimensional stage for a subtle but meaningful transformation of Amazon’s valued manta of “…others who like that also like this…” - to - “…others who need or do that also need or do this…” proposition.
The RM site/community has served to initiate scores of musical collaborations across the globe that would never have happened otherwise, while providing relevant content ‘streams of consciousness’ (think of it like a much more focused “wisdom of crowds”) via hosting an on-going/constant music & art-related conversation that one can become ‘entangled-with’ at a number of levels – ranging from skimming ‘news du jour’ to actively joining virtual compositional or performance groups. Such a site, while structurally resembling an open-blog community, transcends mere blog-post collections. RM (while not perfect) can serve as a model for evolving venerable internet blogs such as: http://www.symmetrymagazine.org/breaking (which is fine Physics blog site, yet clearly stuck in a static presentation model of the internet's more monophonic past) by facilitating multiple levels of interaction among it community members, which can be both local and global – as well as serving to offer a rich-fringe of targeted ‘little data-infused’ cross-pollination of wide-ranging ideas/ideals…
One of the reasons the RM site/community has been effective is that, in-so-much as artists of all persuasions can sporadically be loners (and I am not talking about sham pop-culture automaton ‘artists’ like Gaga, Cyrus or JZ & the boyz), this organic community allows groups to form transparently in as large or small incarnations as makes sense (to the participants) while celebrating individuality and privacy. I can’t speak for other micro virtual communities that are spring-up (e.g., the micro-volunteering movement - http://www.volunteering.org.uk/component/gpb/virtual-volunteering), but I find myself, at least in regard to my own latent musical interests - given an ever-limited palette of time, turning to internet site/communities such as Relaxed Machinery for news, opportunities and inspiration (local and/or global)…
On a related topic to your post – I would love to hear Scott weigh-in on how the “Grand Camp” experiment has fared?
Commenting recently upon the controversy over the name of our capital city's NFL franchise, Charles Krauthamer admonished his conservative readers on the important nuances freighted into the common meaning of some words. He laid out how and why, traditional connotations and etymologies notwithstanding, naming a team after an ethnic minority's skin color is just bad medicine. Words matter.
Two centuries before Krauthamer, in the heat of a debate over what did and didn't need to be spelled out in Constitutional prose, Thomas Jefferson famously said that "Gentlemen put in writing." Words matter, even more when written into binding legislation.
Previous posts have touched upon certain ironies and conflated key terms in the public discourse. Now's as good a time as any to drill down on one: the same semantic imprecision and frequent "conflation" of rights and entitlements that IMHO contributes mightily to the current controversy over healthcare policies.
As alluded to above [from the PC Run Amok post],...
"So, here's a bit of semi-delicious irony: among the Founding Fathers’ principle objectives in drafting our Constitution (now the world’s most successful and long-enduring) was a well-reasoned desire to obviate entitlements: i.e., they wanted to ensure that designated classes of individuals (in colonial times, aristocrats) never again felt “entitled” to special privileges or gifts from the public treasury merely because of who they are and how they were born. A “right”, by contrast, is a guarantee of freedom from discriminating constraint. Thus, when we say that someone has a “civil right” we’re not (or, at least, should not) be describing some special access to public assets or unusual protections; rather, it should serve to ensure that their access to services, occupations and other opportunities should be precisely the same as everyone else's. In other words, we all have a right to pursue [life, liberty and happiness]; but no one's entitled to it."
I'm not particularly interested in the intermittently-animated 2nd Amendment debate. But, ask yourself this: Does the right to `own and bear arms' translate to an entitlement? Should the government determine what kinds of guns meet its minimum standards, mandate universal heat, and subsidize folks that can't afford the firearm of an un-elected official's choice? Of course not! And it's at an almost as absurd a presumption that an important part of the Obamacare debate got lost.
Debbie Wasserman-Shultz (and many millions of like-minded others) is incredulous over other millions' reluctance to categorically accept healthcare as a "right." Bill Mahr (and many of the same millions as lil' Debbie's) is incredulous over how/why any would-be recipient, of swelling government subsidies, would voluntarily defer them (even, horror or horrors, vote Republican!). What many, even moderate, liberals fail to grasp here makes all the difference: i.e., the difference between the right, to whatever one can afford, vs. being entitled, to whatever their elected officials can wrangle. Many poor folks (especially the rural poor) remain nonetheless as proud as were their parents and grandparents; they're embarrassed to accept government-tendered relief and they want their own children to appreciate the importance of working to build their own opportunities.
I like to think that Americans are, and always have been, among the most generous on earth. Left to our own devices, we'll always find ways to help the truly needy get what they truly need. And in that now fast-fading environment, the truly needy needn't feel shame in accepting help from the more fortunate. But IMHO that's a far cry from a country where nearly half it's citizens have been led to become more-or-less reliant upon one kind of government assistance or another: some really need it, some others really earned it, but IMHO too many others merely feel entitled to it.
`lest I stray no further from this post's real point, let me put it in the form of a question: As Obamacare inevitably crashes and burns, and as we resume a more balanced debate on how best to provide more Americans with better care (or, at least, all Americans with adequate care), wouldn't that be a good place to start? In other words, setting aside ideologies for a moment, in favor of bit a pragmatism, shouldn't we first ask whether government should have a role in everyones health? Why, for example, don't we just expand Medicaid (to the demonstrably impoverished) leaving everyone else to manage their own risk as they see fit? Is it because we collectively suspect that we've already past the point of entitlement no return: i.e., have we become so afflicted with a different strain of Dutch Disease (the pathology that economists ascribe to the ill-effects of sudden unearned wealth) that we can no longer kick the habit of massive debt-financed consumption of...everything? Or have we become so diverse and un-trusting of one another that we suspect uncontrollable and wide-spread abuse (out-right fraud and/or mere irresponsible negligence in deferring purchase of whatever blend of health insurance meets our individual needs)?
Whatever the right answers are, shouldn't we start with a more basic examination of what rights we still have as individuals vs. what rights we've ceded to the state (not to mention what rights the States have ceded to Washington). Have we already granted one another so many entitlements that a return to the kind of country framed by the Forefathers is no longer possible?...probably
My buddy F.Scott Schaefer (co-chair of the Boulder Cty GOP) is circulating a very interesting piece for comment. Drafted by David Horowitz, this white paper entitled Go For The Heart offers a prescription for "How Republicans Can Win" [the hearts and minds of minorities and young folks if not control of the Congress]. And, it's core thesis involves how regularly Democrats win the war of messaging, not on merit but more on style and technique: e.g., the current healthcare.gov debacle notwithstanding, many believe that the Dem's artful use of Big Data, in getting out the 2012 vote, was more instrumental in Obama's victory than anything that he has actually said or done.
Yesterday, I floated an indistinct solicitation on a parallel topic: i.e., how can Big Data be repurposed in the cause of bolstering specific communities' (cum individuals') resilience. And the specific area that I'm angling centers upon but one aspect of healthcare consumerism: e.g., how can families, faith-based organizations, local government/social service organizations, etc, better coordinate their efforts, with various health care providers, to accomplish better, cheaper, wider and more responsive Long Term Care (LTC) for our teeming seniors (and others). In other words, my thesis is that the future of LTC (and any number of other chronic conditions) may be rooted in back to the future approaches: i.e., a return to a time when we took better care of one another—only, now, using the panoply of mobile broadband/IT and other 21st-century tools at hand.
So, how can we begin to connect the dots—between and among healthcare consumerism, public policy & politics, Big Data and more participatory, and therefore more resilient, communities?
First, I'll have to admit that, unlike F.Scott, I'm beginning to lose interest in partisan politics: indeed, on an issue-by-issue basis, I'd side with Democrats as often as Republicans. That said, there is one overarching attitude that IMHO still seperates the GOP from its pseudo-populist adversaries: where Democrats hold fast to top-down beliefs of the state as an agent in the improvement of all its citizen's lives, Republicans rely materially more upon self-reliance, individual accountability and smaller, more localized, solutions. Thus, if for no other reason, I'm inclined to lean into Mr Horowitz' better "message" mission.
So, here's but one more idea...
Ever a sucker for double-entrende, how about a "Taking Back Our Future" message targeted straight at younger and minority voters: one itself rooted in their own communities, their own families and, most importantly, their own futures. Moreover, I believe that, with a little careful attention, conservative ideals can be shown as the shortest route to a better future wherein opportunity to excel is clear and clearly rewarded, where compassion and concern for friends, neighbors and families' well-being matter more than vague egalitarian goals...in short, despite some of their unfortunate rhetoric and extreme right-wing affiliations, Republican aims can be demonstrated as naturally more aligned with next-generation Americans' deeper ambitions, aspirations and subliminal attitudes.
`sound too ethereal or inaccessible for our youth? I don't think so. Young people are as energetic and idealistic as ever; but, where they're a bit different than their parents' generation is that they're seeing up close and personal what an ineffective big government looks like. In fact, a private worry I have is that, as they begin to get the joke on the inter-generational theft (that is, quite literally, robbing them of much their future), the kinds of protests that we waged against Vietnam or for Civil Rights, will seem like child's play. So, why shouldn't the GOP preemptively harness this latent energy? Why not put forward an unvarnished expose on how programs like Obamacare are built largely upon younger hard-working people subsidizing the consumption of other, often less-industrious or older and often more well-off, citizens?
Clearly, to make this work, Republicans would need to forcefully eschew divisive retrograde policies: e.g., find some way to de-fang their TEA-party wing and drop the dingy 20th-century social agenda (anti-abortion, anti-science, anti-immigration, etc) that weighs them down. If they can't do these things, they're lost anyway. Conservatism needs to return to its own more libertarian roots; because, when and if it does, the future could be ours.
Having strayed far too long (if not just far too far) from the advertised topic this BLOG—Semi-Idle Thoughts On The Participatory Web—I'd like now to return with two new posts: the first will touch poetically upon one of the more pervasive network themes of our time—i.e., Big Data; and the other (next post) will lapse back into some of the political implications of more participatory government policies at large.
In a bow to our unofficial poet laureate Stan Yeatts writings (often found in the Comments in this space), I'll begin with an open question to all. Aping Stan (and Ms Millay), how can we use the internet-amplified power of individuals: our idiosyncratic communities, states (in all senses of the word), individual ideas, family specific circumstances, etc.? In other words, one thing (perhaps the only thing) that we all have in common is our yearning to survive and thrive: how to make the "communities" that matter most more resilient, then, becomes perhaps the highest ambition of our internet age (as well as the burgeoning power of its Big Data progeny).
In a previous post, I referred to Taleb's intriguing Antifragile ideas; and, the notion that some things, some systems, some communities, some people...move beyond mere resilience when stressed—they actually go stronger! Could, then, Big Data switch hats and, instead of its big brother (NSA-like) connotations, could we use these same tools to, for example, help families deal with the care of their extended members better, cheaper and more widely (albeit within ore narrowly-defined contexts, geographies, causes, etc).
Anyway, I'll stop here (for now) in hopes that others may share their own ideas: on how the concepts of Big Data and the internet may be at the threshold of lessening our real/perceived need for big top-down government programs as more local, more resilient (if not more "Antifragile") communities begin to re-emerge.
Upon my return Sunday evening from a Hawaiian cruise (with very limited internet access) I was thrilled to see that this BLOG had been hit hundreds of times while I was gone...until I realized that it wasn't the good kind of viral internet proliferation—i.e., we've been spammed!
Hopefully, having now eliminated these unwanted Comments (and reporting the culprits as spamers), we can now return to the IMHO engaging dialog of a couple weeks back. Indeed, I'll make this post brief by returning to a couple of themes that IMHO were not fully explored previously.
One of the more curious ironies of our ostensibly-more-tolerant modern times involves how we, at the same time, seem to be increasingly intolerant. We seem to be once again retreating into tribes: e.g., political parties branding all others, and all others' positions, as not only wrong but evil. We make it all the worse by presuming more-or-less homgenous opinions within these overly-broad-labeled groups. In actuality, individual liberals and conservatives alike generally hold diverse individual views that, ironically, often cross one another's traditional party lines: e.g., on environmental issues most all liberals are stridently conservative just as, on most issues involving civil liberties, conservatives are often fanatically liberal. As a few options-trading friends of mine reflected at the close of our monthly meeting yesterday "If you take any of our individual views, on a series of individual topics, sharp conservative/liberal lines tend to fade quickly"...go figure.
So the finer point, the same one that I began drilling in earlier posts, starts at more personal individual-centric levels (though they often tragically expand outward to group-think patterns as well). Specifically, I'm referring to the tendency we have to take a disagreement on one issue and make it make us more disagreeable with everyone outside our "tribe" on most every other! We proceed then to burn in these same attitudes and stereotypes by tuning in to the media outlets that not only reconfirm the contours of our pre-existing perspectives but villainize others': conservatives turn on to Fox, CNBC and the pages of the Washington Times while liberals prefer CNN, MSNBC and the Washington Post. The days of a common Huntley & Brinkley denominator are distant memories to us older folks and utterly unknown to our kids.
But here's one more pesky "modern times" irony: one with which I'll close this post and invite your Comnent.
Call it PC Run Amok or just the product of a more evolved civilization, but we seem increasingly predisposed to deny our own nature these days. The same natural selection that enabled the Ascent of Man in the first place makes us naturally attracted to our own kinds and wary of others; we strive to achieve security and comfort for ourselves and loved ones; we default to caution in any new and/or unfamiliar situation; and, at some level, we still recognize that, beyond the erotic, sex plays a vital role in the survival of the species. Yet notwithstanding these entirely "natural" inclinations they're increasingly labeled with slur words like racist, greedy, hateful, homophobic, etc,...go figure
Previous comments and posts, spread out through FB as well as here and in Mike King's BLOG, have been opposed on the facts and in the substance—regarding certain criticisms on the DC status-quo. And that's a good thing: a very good thing! For, as Nassim Taleb points out in his most-excellent new book Antifragile (and as I think the exchanges alluded to above have also helped prove), most any truly good idea only gets better under challenge; better still upon surviving its testing in real-world disorder. In other words, inasmuch as I yearn for more of the dialectic tension brought to this BLOG by considerable intellects (of the likes of King, Yeatts, Schaefer and Shaughnessy), the following are mere off-the-cufff reflections upon what IMHO are several unforgivable failings in our current Administration: lapses in leadership that warrant (pardon the pun) Capital Punishment;-)
Without "regurgitating" all that's been said inter-alia here already, first I'll try to sharpen the point a bit on how/why the passage of the Patient Protection & Affordabilty of Care Act (a.k.a., ACA; a.k.a., Obamacare) is , in fact, "tainted." Then, I'll move from the Obama Administration's signature domestic policy to bookend its other: a hopelessly-tattered foreign policy.
Previously, I broke the ACA's "tortured history" down into three parts: its enduring unpopularity among the electorate; its artificial-resuscitation by the elected that disfigured it in-utero; and finally the unclean, and ultimately unworkable, bill-of-dubious-health tattooed upon it in by our imperious Supreme Court. True enough, as M.Rex (our most-esteemed "King" of professional journalism;-) points out, technically speaking the ACA did squeak through the latter two—legislative and judicial—branches albeit mangled along the way. That said, and I'll say it again, major changes in public policy absolutely require some level of bipartisan support—in order to be successfully implemented. The ACA had none of it! And while no one could really expect more from its inept foster parents—space-queen-Pellosi and "dingy Harry"—the President's men should have known better (i.e., than to rely upon the continuing abuse of a technicality known as "Budget Reconciliation")—as a substitute for minimal consensus. The whole affair was tantamount to aggravated child endangerment (albeit, perhaps, a crime of unwitting liberals' passion;-).
Anyway, these back-room methods may be forgivable for run-of-the-mill appropriations and some other bills, but not the overhaul of our entire healthcare system! As it is, there are now more states than not that are exercising their Constitutional power—to obstruct implementation; and, with this altogether-legal and IMHO proper opposition, more and more of Obamacare's other congenital defects are coming to light.
As every grade-school-level civic scholar knows, Congress relies upon an iterative joint-committee gestation process (to prune and groom a Bill into a viable concensus). But, pursuant to the above Budget Recon' abortion, the ACA never had this chance; thus, the ACA Obamination (another unpardonable pun?) should have been still-born, but it wasn't. Thus, denied even basic reform school opportunities, Obamacare will now suffer both the semi-benign neglect of the States, as well as its own utterly "unworkable" menagerie of unpopular regulation, all to an agonizingly-timely crib death.
America's alternative healthcare reimbursement schemas are extraordinarily complex (and the ACA has no material impact upon either the incremental costs nor the nature of medicine itself, only access to it); a complete discussion of the Obamcare's glaring "congenital defects", therefore, would occupy more space than fits into a single BLOG post. Moreover, lists of the problems attached to this flawed act seem to grow daily. Near the top my own short list would be these:
Doubtless, you're as weary of reading rants on Obamacare as I am becoming tired of writting on them. So, let's shift gears for a moment to an entirely different topic: America's beleaguered foreign policy.
With the notable exception of its first-term Secretary of State, the Obama administration seems to comprise decent people; they're not particularly good at managing something as ungainly as the US government, but then not many are. There are a few things however where futility can't be tolerated.
For an assortment of inter-related economic and security reasons, our role in the Mideast region is vital—to the U.S. and the world at large! Moreover, the demonstrable reality of America's (not ot be confused with Americans') exceptionalism is key to global stability. Sadly, it doesn't take a detailed review of the Clinton/Obama record to "demonstrate" how abysmally ham-handed our policy in the Region has been. A little Russian diplomatic jujitsu has shown not just the Syrians how easily we can be played; with no clear pre-existing policy, Obama's bluff is already being called in both subtle and embarrassing ways elsewhere as well.
A little less hubris and a bit more precautionary checking around—with key international allies, Congress, Democrats, etc—may have kept our strategic options open. It may have also spared our President the humiliation of being snubbed by yet another second-rate dictator. Not unlike an unrequited smile to a less-than-the-prettiest-girl in a middle school hallway, Iran's Mullah cum President demured from our guy's advances; and with but one non-action, he also reduced the leader-of-the-free-world's overtures to an in-camera phone call. Then, adding insult to injury to us all, Obama's coquettish call is now being billed by Democratic sycophants (e.g., George Stephenopolis) as a "breakthrough." That's like saying that all should be forgiven as we rejoice in a pyromaniacal child mumbling through the still-locked door in reluctant willingness to discuss how he may someday give up the matches and gasoline kept in his bedroom. Ditto Syria, only in that case, it's his juvenile delinquent buddy that's doing the talking. Who's kidding who? Russians making hollow promises on behalf of their autocratic clients? Iranians that have suffered years of sanctions in pursuit of strategic nuclear weapons only to suddenly decry WMD evils? Give me a break! Has there ever been a more transparent play? Maybe the good Ayatolah has a bridge to sell us?
So, you may be asking, what do these different dimensions of incompetence have to do with one another? And why bring them up together now?
Well, just as Putin dubiously saved Obama's bacon in Syria, the ironic ACA end-game could/should well come in the form of obstreperous Republicans giving him a way out: a way to re-cook the ACA without some its the more toxic ingredients. But, how much more of this faux luck can we count on? And, finally, is it really too soon to start manning the ramparts against the wickedly self-absorbed Mrs Clinton's all-but-certain assault on the White House? Is another eight years of 1st-person possessive plural pronouns what we want to hear in the approaching age of neo-Clintonionism?
Most all of us were proud to live in a country where a candidate from a historically-downtrodden minority could be elected its leader. And, IMHO Obama's election had less to do with PC running amok than our collective perception of his abilities. Alas, many of us have been disappointed to learn that extraordinary charisma alone does not translate into sound governing; what looked like misguided priorities in this Administration's first term more resemble a beached whale in its second.
One of the several critical jobs a Chief Executive has is to manage key constituents: in the case of our President, that entails care and skill in fashioning important legislative agenda. Another, arguably more critical Presidential requisite involves the ongoing management and maintenance of America's influence over critical global events. And while we can argue about what a great guy he is, President Obama has blown it: Health Reform (by neglecting its the formation into a workable plan) is, at best, a missed opportunity; and, IMHO he may have also been indirectly playing artless domestic politics (employing Godfather tactics of `keeping his enemies closer') in turning foreign affairs over to a paranoid power-mongering egomanic—i.e., just to get her out of his way.
As much as I abhor ad hominem attacks on individuals, IMHO we've seen enough of Mrs. Clinton through the years not to ignore the shallow depth of her leadership skills (if not her questionable character): begining with serious breaches of ethics in her law practice; to her own even-more bungled Hillarycare domestic policy debacle; to her singularly undistinguished Senatorial record; to the more-recently botched Mideast policies alluded to above and hallmarked by her clear complicity, and duplicity, pursuant to the Benghazi fiasco. Sorry, but pounding on the table defiantly shouting "What difference does it make?" (in response to entirely-appropriate questioning into the cause of four American's deaths) betrays an, at least, reckless irascibility. `seems to me all-too-reminiscent of her recalcitrant rants against Congressional inquiries into her hubby's proven perjury—all, as she'd have had us believe, were mere products of "a vast right-wing conspiracy."
I wish for some confidence that, before 2016, the Republicans will be able to identify a better candidate; I'm already confident, however, that they can hardly do worse than the evil former first lady; even the Democrats' class clown Biden would IMHO be a better choice. In all events, elections do have consequences (witness Obamacare, Libya, Syria and Iran); and they can't all be retroactively fixed through judicial review, misguided rebudgeting tricks or threats of government shut-downs. If any/all the above seems over the top or smacks of a rhetorical drive-by shooting, I plead guilty as charged. I would, however, throw my self at the mercy of the court, indeed claiming it all as an attempted political mercy killing;-) While we're at it, a few extemists to our right may need to be gunned-down (Oops! yet another indelicate pun?;-) as well.
All societies, civilizations and political regimes alike ultimately turn upon prevailing public opinion. How's that for a blinding statement of the obvious? More conspicuous still is the relentless persuading, proselytizing, cajoling and would-be-convincing-arguments offered by all sides, all in hopes of moving the collective zeitgeist, or world view, their way. What's not as clear, however, are the obstacles that inhibit these hoped-for shifts in popular opinion: obtacles to workable consensus and cripplers to progress!
Previous posts have touched upon The Tragedy of Broken Trust and the problems that the lack of a "workable consensus" bring to a Dwindling Democracy. I've used the divided views (and botched political process) of Obamacare to illustrate these points in the past and will again below. But first, I'd like to briefly explore a common interpersonal communications breakdown: one that IMHO underpins a good portion of these often unconstructive "divisions."
Sound policy and position-building requires us to distinguish between facts, perceptions and personalities; in a free country, every person has the prerogative to form their own opinion on their own perceptions on the facts as presented. But, as Democrat hero Senator Daniel Patrick Moyanhan once said while "Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, they are not entitled to their own facts." And, in my own opinion, no one should presume that other's perceptions on a given issue are necessarily linked to their personality, integrity, character...in short, others' value. In other words, the mutual villification of individuals, simply upon a percieved diasagreement on one (or more) issues, too often results in general diagreement on all of them (not to mention generaly diagreeable relations all along the way).
Turn back now back to Obamacare (for illuminous illustration via a mangled measure;-). The eponymous nature of the name itself demonstrates my point: i.e., The Affordable Care Act (ACA), for better or worse, has become joined at the hip with our standing President. Consequently, many that support his party's particular approach to healthcare reform hold their position mainly because they perceive it as, in fact, Obama's signature domestic policy piece; doubtless there are others who hate it just because they hate him! Sadly, Senator Moynahan notwithstanding, perceptions sometimes carry the weight of fact even when there are abundantly ample, clear and concrete facts upon which either side could make legitimate (non-Obama based and certainly non-racially bent) cases.
Rather than any recap any of the mountainous "cases" (for or against) Obamacare here, I'll try to make but two IMHO heretofore less-vetted points: the first involves an unfortunate slur word that Republicans have coined to denigrate a necessary component of any healthcare reform scheme; and the second comprises an attempt to redress the revisionist history against which Democrats claim statutory authenticity.
First the "Slur word." While most of us could dismiss the likes of Michelle Bachmann's rantings over death panels, mainstream Republicans' echoing of this same distorting reference is IMHO unforgivable. Some form of rationing (to regulate consumption of scarce resources) is essential. Would anyone really prefer that a message go out across the land (to the mid-level bureaucrats that will, ultimately, administer whatever form of public health that we end up with) "you can sanction most any and every treatment or tonic that anyone wants?" Of course not. Indeed, one could argue that one of the main reasons that U.S. healthcare costs are so badly out of whack is that America lacks for enough folks with buying/paying power, and the will, to say enough is enough: not everyone can have all the Botox, ED drugs and hip replacements that they want and have them paid for by their neighbors (or the presumably limitless supply of rich folks across town). That said, does anyone feel good about mid-level bureaucrats making the countless day-to-day covered/not-covered decisions implied by a national health plan? A pragmatist could, in fact, point to this as perhaps the most intractable of Obamacare's congential defects: i.e., does anyone really think that goverment is going to be better at "saying no" to its constituents than insurance companies have? How many elected officials can/will stand up to super-angry parents' (and/or parents' caring childrens') outrage over their loved one not getting the care that some doctor somewhere says might help relieve their suffering or even save their life? Call `em what you will, so long as we have third-party payers, we'll have to have other third-party panels that must, more often than we'd often like, say no. Characterizing them as death panelists is, therefore, reckless and irresponsible.
On to the ACA's tortured Congressional history. The President himself has now gone to "personalizing" persistent opposition to the edge of narcissism: e.g., last week he chided Republicans, telling his ever-fawning followers that "they [Republicans] are not focused on you; they only want to mess with me." True enough, I suppose, that not everyone in Congress admires the President as much as some; but, personal animus is not the prime mover of their positioning. Ironically, it's just the opposite [of Presidents Obama's own rants]; many Republicans in Congress fear that our representative Democracy might actually work as advertised: i.e., that disgruntled ACA-hating constituents might "primary" certain elected representatives right out of office if they don't remain steadfast in their word to oppose this clearly-flawed program!
And it's the "revisonist history" that "disgruntles" many most.
How many more times must we hear that Obamacare was "duly passed by congress (presumably at the will of the people), upheld by the Supreme Court and then re-ratified in the 2012 election"? I submit none of this actually happend, at least not to the extent implied by the Administration's proponents! Here's a more accurte chain of events...
In summary, the contention that, somehow, Obamacare reflects the "duly-passed will of the people" doesn't hold water. Those saying otherwise are either national health plan ideologues (willing/able to bend facts to their own perceptions, occasionally demonizing those with different perspectives) or they've just not been paying much attention. But, stranger (arguably worse) things have happened in America's past, and we'll get through this too. But, isn't it time that we begin a more honest debate leaving unhelpful words and phrases like "death panels" and "duly-passed, confirmed and re-confirmed" assertions behind?
Shortly before his death in late 2011, Christopher Hitchens responded to a question, on what qualities he admires most in others, with this: "A fine appreciation of irony." And, whiIe I'm nowhere near his intellectual equal, I do share Hitchens' view on insights that are often detectable within dialectic tensions—especially those within seemingly conflicting positions, expectations and outcomes.
Sometimes these apparent divergences are as subtle as they are rewarding (or, as the French say, their`truth is found in nuance); others are more obvious. And, I can't think of a more important or dramatic, if not delicious, irony than the one playing out between the U.S and Russia over exceptionalism. For it wasn't very long ago that the two nations (or their leaders at least) could be found in opposite places!
Shortly after his inauguration, Obama famously suggested that American Exceptionalism is largely a self-perceived phenomenon: he said that "I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism." Fair enough. But, as Henry Kissinger once defiantly replied to barbed comments on his shuttle diplomacy at a Congressional hearing, "That's vehhy inturestin' Zennatuh; unfortunately it lacks de added value of accuracy."
American exceptionalism is more than a mere article of faith: our 200+year-old Constitutional Democracy (which elevated and enshrined individual and civil rights everywhere), our commitment to the rule of law and faith in free market capitalism (which reduced communism and many other sublimely socialist governments to mostly failed states) and, finally, our long-standing humanitarian record (which comprised unparalleled and uncompensated contributions of both blood and treasure to others) are all unmatched in civilized history. None of this is to say that Americans themselves are in any way superior; we're not. As Putin points out, all humans were created more-or-less equal. That said, geopolitical and economic circumstances of the past three centuries have brought the U.S. to a unique position in the world.
I'll come back to that in a minute. Meanwhile, Putin's suddenly egalitarian "plea for caution" seems curiously oblivious to his country's poor record on all the above (as well as, perhaps, a deserved post-Soviet inferiority complex). Thus, America's current foreign policy bungling, so extreme as to at least temporarily reverse our real and perceived standing with the Russians, is truly mind boggling.
It's also quite dangerous; why follows below. But first, we need to return to more contemporary "nuances" on American Exceptionalism.
Eloquently articulated in the late 1990's by Republican neo-cons, The Project For a New American Century telegraphed how/why our "unparalleled" economic, political and military power brings with it certain daunting responsibilities: i.e., world-wide problems that can only be addressed by its lone super-power must be [addressed by its lone super-power]. Following this logic, Wolfowitz, Kristol, Kagan et.al deduced that the world's greatest forward-looking threat was rooted in radical Islam extremism; and, they reasoned, its only known antidote would involve installing Western-styled democracies within the more unstable of the volatile mid-east countries. Thus, they exhorted President Clinton to begin the process by deposing Saddam Hussien. He demurred. But post 9/11 history is...history. And how ironic is that?: Republican-inspired exceptionalism, first ignored, later decried as a/the cause of our Afghanistan/Iraq misadventures by Democrats, only to be adopted and emulated under Obama, coming full circle as a/the rationale to strike Syria...go figure.
So, where does that leave us? Was/is American Exceptionalism a failed concept. I don't think so. The world needs a strong, sometimes muscular, US: now as much as it did when Nazis marched on Europe and, later, when the U.S.S.R threatened the west from the eastern side of the iron cutain. Again, the irony...
But, again, where are we now? In a mess! I'm not sure exactly what Obama/Kerry could have done different (though I am reasonably sure the whole thing could have been managed better than Kerry's predecessor). In all events, even if we were to once again say `to hell with the rest of the world' (even though isolationist policies of the past have generally proved disastrous), and even if we could somehow cure the debilitating distrust that's been fostered at home and abroad over the past few decades (even though materially aggravated by the current administration: read IRS, NAS, Benghazi, Red Lines, etc.) now's not the time to retreat from the mideast nor yield it to Russian dominance. Pending our full escape from the irrational clutches of our own environmental extremists, the American economy (and by association the world's) remains perilously over-exposed to the free flow of oil through the Persian Gulf. More problematic still is the Iranian's steady march toward nuclear arms. `talk about nightmare scenarios... Even if Russia had the motivation (not at all clear that they do) they can't unilaterally do much about either of these global-scale threats. Thus, it still falls to US.
So, once again, what should President Obama do now? `beats the shit out of me! One thing we shouldn't, however, is to presume the administration's continuing ineptitude; good judgment is, after all, the product of bad experience. More specifically, we shouldn't follow the mindless rants of the far right, or the left, and mindlessly obstruct the President and his mens' attempts to find a better way out. They are, I think, at least as smart as Putin's; and hey, for the next three years, at least, they're all we've got. Who's to say, in the best traditions of Mad Magazine, maybe there's Spy vs. Spy reversal of fortunes right around the corner;-)