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    • The End of the Rebels in the Ukraine and the Ukraine’s Future
      We’re down to street fighting in Donetsk.  The Russian leaders resigned in the last two weeks.  The rebels appear to be done, at least in terms of their conventional military phase (of course, I could be wrong depending on how much stomach Ukrainian troops have for house to house fighting).  It seems like that would [...]
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No need for apologetics

Oh, my!  Hillary has astounded the left blogosphere again.  She hasn’t backed off on her “war hawkishness” and for the first time in 6 years, she has actually defied the White House and admitted that their foreign policy was full of holes.  So, now all of the left’s assessment of her is proven true, TRUE, I say!  She would have taken us into a new war had she been president, she wouldn’t have stopped with earth, she would have declared it on the Martians and then where would we be?  I can almost see the caricature Hillarys filling the souvenir shelves in 2016, hair standing on end and eyes wild and terrifying like some older, plumper version of Galadriel on ring steroids.

Will you people get a grip?  You’re starting to remind me of the right.  Yeah, I went there.  Those people are black/white thinkers without nuance. The left’s absolutism when it comes to war and pacifism is starting to resemble that.  I’m not apologizing for Hillary.  You can go back to her senate days until the present and really read what she’s said to figure out where she stands.  She’s allowed to be wrong.  God knows, the left is extremely forgiving of other politicians who were much wronger than Hillary.  John Kerry and John Edwards were given free passes and they were clearly motivated by politics.  But she’s also allowed to be right and we have to look at the bigger picture of the globe and our unfortunate and damning dependence on oil to see what might be going on here.

In the last couple of weeks, I have wondered why it is that this region of the world is still so tribal, why authoritarian religion has such a grip on the inhabitants, why it hasn’t allowed them to evolve and who is behind all that religious hierarchy.  I mean, why is it concentrated so heavily in the area where oil is located and where there are global chokepoints to the flow of oil and other goods?  You’d think that living in such a strategic area of the world that these people would have a better standard of living than they do.  Why aren’t the best minds coming from the middle east?  Why are so many of them poor?  What is the connection of religion to power and which side is wielding it?  I’m sure there are papers on the subject. But it’s not my area and I’m dissatisfied and embarrassed by the shallowness of the discourse on the left when it comes to these questions.  All I ever hear is, “why are we there?”, “why are we spending money to bomb other countries?”, “when can we get out?”, “get out now!, Now!, Now!” and “See, that was a waste, they’re back to killing each other”.

Back in 2008, I tried to warn people over at DailyKos and here that getting out of Iraq wasn’t going to be easy and shouldn’t be rushed.  The Bushies went to Iraq to steal and experiment, and, in the course of that experimentation, trashed the place.  Pulling out was going to be destabilizing and we were probably going to have to stay longer whether we liked it or not.  And what happened?  The White House, ever in campaign mode, pulled out without stabilizing before the 2012 election and the place fell apart.  (See this Frontline episode on Losing Iraq.  The evidence damns the Bushies and the Obama administration.)

I keep coming back to responsibility.  We on the left seem to think that if we didn’t want a war and didn’t start one, we are not responsible for what happens when one happens despite our protests.  And that’s just not true.  Whether we like it or not, we will be forever associated with the other fellow bone headed, stupid, mean spirited Americans who were lead over a cliff by a bunch of greedy, selfish, destructive global “citizens”.  What you might consider “war hawkishness” might be responsibility to me.  And it sucks to be the more conscientious elder sibling.  It’s so much easier to take the easy way out and enjoy the credit, while it lasts, for making everyone happy temporarily by disassociating from the war as quickly, and as it turns out, as recklessly as possible.  But getting out quickly didn’t make things better, did it?  That high was timed to last a campaign season and very little thought was given to the morning after the party.

If anything, the Arab Spring, the collapse of Iraq and the civil war in Syria has confirmed my initial assessment of the two candidates in 2008.  Clinton was rehab and Obama was an enabler.

The latter won.

Addendum:  Some dirty hippies completely discredited themselves in the last couple of election cycles and need to take an old cold tater and wait.

 

SCOTUS vs ACA

Update VII: Well, he’s wrong about this:

Boehner: “What I’m concerned about is a law that’s driving up the cost of health care, and making it harder for employers to hire people.”

1.) The LAW doesn’t drive up the cost of health care.  Rather, it does absolutely nothing to rein costs in.  That’s what makes it such a bad law- it’s every Republican’s wet dream, including the opportunity to now call it a tax!  It will now become the new political football between the parties, replacing the abortion bugaboo that’s just about run its course.  You could say that like Roe v. Wade, the ACA is also one of those laws that is incomplete and doesn’t address the underlying issues but will be used as a proxy until we all cry uncle in 40 years.  Except for the individual mandate, it doesn’t follow any of the principles of good health care policy which would include increased competition and cost controls.

2.) Employers find it hard to hire people because employees insist on getting paid.  Many Republican politicians come from states that once didn’t pay people as a matter of principle.

Boehner: “The number one concern for families and small business people is the cost of health insurance, and the Republican health care reforms will in fact lower health care costs.”

HOW does that work, John?  You guys don’t have a plan that doesn’t leave every man, woman and child vulnerable to high cost insurance plans or no plan at all.  Come to think of it, this is what ACA does too, except now more people will have the opportunity to hand over their small personal fortunes and savings accounts to insurance companies.  What is it Republicans have to be angry about?  You’ve got nearly everything you ever wanted.  Was it because a plan than no one but a Republican could love was forced upon you?
I want to move to Micronesia.

Update VI: I find myself hating the ACA because of the individual mandate even though in principle, I know that universal coverage is needed for a health care policy to be effective.  The reason is that with the ACA, we have disincentivized competition and cost controls.  Without those two pieces in the policy, this thing is going to feel like an albatross around the neck for the consumer and the Democratic party.  Sure, you can go without a high cost policy but when you do end up going to the hospital for some emergency that could have been treated with a lower cost insurance plan, you’re going to get socked with a tax when you are least able to pay it.

The characteristics of good health care policy are not a mystery and yet, this president and his party has declined to implement them in this law.  (See this excellent Frontline episode on what those characteristics are and how our elected officials have completely f^*(ed us over with the ACA)

As Lambert says, you can’t buff a turd.  This is the worst of all worlds for the vast majority of people who are forced to buy insurance on the individual market.  You’re made to feel irresponsible if you don’t put paying your health insurance the very first priority among a long list of monthly expenses.  There is no public option, insurers are not required to offer a reasonably priced option, no Tricare, no Medicare for All, no mandatory expansion of Medicaid. And zero cost controls on hospitals or providers. You’re either a “have” or a “have-not” now.

Bottom line: Poor policy is no substitute for no policy, especially now that it has been “decided” and is “over”.

Thanks Dems.  You deserve everything that’s coming to you.

Can we have Hillary now?!

BTW, Lambert has a very insightful post on what the new socio-political landscape now looks like.

Update V:

Obama: For those who don’t currently have health insurance, “this law provides an array of quality affordable private health insurance plans to choose from.”

Define “affordable” and “quality”, or “array”.  For that matter, why can’t we have a public option?

Obama: “Today the Supreme Court also upheld the principle People who can afford health insurance should take the responsibility to buy health insurance”

Has he seen what individual policies cost in NJ where the “array” starts at about $1000/month for a basic, high deductible policy??  Who the hell can afford that?!

Update IV: Here’s a snippet of Democratic party reactions from a NYTimes summary of the impact of the ruling:

“This decision is a victory for the American people,” said Representative Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader in the House. “With this ruling, Americans will benefit from critical patient protections, lower costs for the middle class [Really?  That's not what my source in the health insurance business is saying.  She says more consolidation among big companies, less competition], more coverage for families and greater accountability for the insurance industry.”

Jim Kessler, the senior vice president of Third Way, a liberal research group in Washington, said the president’s campaign team and his Democratic allies now had a challenge ahead of them to explain the ruling.

“I think it’s a big win for Obama if they handle it right,” Mr. Kessler said. “What they need to be saying is to declare that the fight is now over. It’s been decided by Congress. It’s been decided by the courts. This is now over. It’s in the past.”

You gotta give the Democrats credit for utter cluelessness.  No one does it better.  Yes, let’s craft an expensive, inadequate bill that burdens average Americans with private sector insurance premiums at a premium or slap them with a tax when they don’t pay it, and “tell them tough titties if they don’t like it because it’s over, looooosers.  We’re done talking about conservative non-plans or medicare for all or public options.  Did you hear us, nation?  It’s OVER!  Get in line, let’s Unify.  “People all over the world, join hands, get on a LOVE train, LOVE train…”

(Karl Rove sits in a corner and smiles like a Cheshire Cat.)

In a way, this concretizes (is that a word?) all of the worst aspects of insurance into law. There will be no competition.  Sure, the insurance companies will gripe about not being able to deny coverage mercilessly but they’ll get over it.

{{damn}}  I was really hoping for Tricare.

Update III: IANAL but this tweet by Dave Dayan concerns me greatly:

SCOTUSBlog: “rejection of Commerce Clause and Nec. and Proper Clause… a major blow to Congress’s authority to pass social welfare laws”

Is there a poison pill slipped into this ruling?

Update II:  Ok, I think I see how this is going to play out on Fox:

Supreme Court Rules that Obamacare Tax is Legal.

Well, that didn’t take long:

Obama lied to the American people. Again. He said it wasn’t a tax. Obama lies; freedom dies.

Update: The ruling came down a couple of minutes ago.  The NYTimes editors are reading it now.  You can follow it at the Elections 2012 page.  Also, follow coverage live at SCOTUSblog.

Andy Carvin tweets:

SCOTUSblog: “The individual mandate survives as a tax.” Does that mean the commerce clause version is dead, but a tax version conceivable?

Yes, this makes sense to me.  In a way, we are all forced to pay into the medicare system even if we can’t use it until we get older.  We pay for it with payroll taxes.  So, if the universal mandate is to stand, it has to be through a similar tax.  Otherwise, the ACA would force people to purchase insurance at whatever price the market would bear, which is what is happening now.  So, would this push us *closer* to medicare for all?? What are the chances that this SCOTUS would actually do something positive for the public?

Or, are they anticipating a firestorm from the private sector and libertarians, as Digby has suggested?  This might actually put Obama in more of a pickle this year if the answer is to raise taxes and spurn the free market.  No one would be happy except the uninsured.

And who cares about them, right?

{{sneaky bastards}}

Other questions:

1.) If you don’t have a job, how can you pay the tax?

2.) Would there be a mechanism to pay the tax at time of service?

3.) Would this make it more or less likely that employer provided health insurance benefits would continue?

Amy Howe of SCOTUSblog sums it up this way:

In Plain English: The Affordable Care Act, including its individual mandate that virtually all Americans buy health insurance, is constitutional. There were not five votes to uphold it on the ground that Congress could use its power to regulate commerce between the states to require everyone to buy health insurance. However, five Justices agreed that the penalty that someone must pay if he refuses to buy insurance is a kind of tax that Congress can impose using its taxing power. That is all that matters. Because the mandate survives, the Court did not need to decide what other parts of the statute were constitutional, except for a provision that required states to comply with new eligibility requirements for Medicaid or risk losing their funding. On that question, the Court held that the provision is constitutional as long as states would only lose new funds if they didn’t comply with the new requirements, rather than all of their funding.

Soooo, is this a win for Romney?  Or Obama?  Does this mean that we still have to pay through the nose?  Because that would be a loss for all of us, unless we get to pay a tax at the point of service, which wouldn’t be so bad if you set aside funds to cover it, I guess.  But what kind of money are we talking about here?

*******************************

The ruling should be out sometime this morning and, presumably, all hell will break loose.  If it stays intact, Romney will have to figure out a way of condemning pretty much the same healthcare bill he signed into law in Massachusetts.  If it is rejected, in whole or in part, Obama is going to have to figure out how to run on a new “accomplishment”.

Either way, we’re stuck with outrageous health insurance bills.

So, to the poll:

What’s that you say, Bernie?  Medicare for all?  It’s short, it’s got a good beat, you can dance to it:

And the military has socialized medicine.  {{snort!}}  Yep, pretty much.  I was raised on socialized medicine.

Jeffrey Toobin weighs in.  He thinks the individual mandate is in jeopardy based on oral arguments.

2000 year old mystery solved

Jesus at the first General Assembly on the Mount teaching the Beatitudes

I’m not religious, as anyone who has ever read my blog knows.  But that doesn’t mean I’m not astonished by the power of Christianity.  And by power I mean that after 2000 years, a poor peasant from Gallilee was able to transform the world.  How the heck did he do it?

The historians have looked at the archaeology and the limited historical records and the culture of the time and proposed some interesting facts about Jesus.  They fill in a lot of the missing gaps that the religious leave out, like the details of the social class that Jesus was from and the Israel he lived in and the reign of Herod.  But the facts were missing something intangible.  They were missing a narrative that would explain why the movement became so popular.  It had to be more than the Roman roads.

The religious have the Niceaen Creed, that was put together several centuries after Jesus’ death.  It emerged after a battle between the various sects of Christianity over the divinity of the Christ and how many pieces of God there actually were and other esoterica.  But they came to a consensus eventually, after they threw out all of the Gnostics and other heretics.  They adopted four gospels and some other books.  Why on earth they decided to throw in Revelations we will never really understand.  Maybe they thought fear would make Christians behave.  But their spin on Christianity never made a lot of sense to me either and I’ve seen even the most dedicated and eloquent pastors twist themselves into knots over the transubstantiation.  And the sacrifice to redeem us for our sins?  Ummmm, what?  I know a lot of people believe it and if it makes them feel safe, then who am I to argue.  I’m not saying the resurrection never happened because anything is possible.  But the symbolism just never made much sense to me.

It’s not eschatology.  Eschatology predated Jesus and existed in other Jewish sects after his death.  It wasn’t the treatment of the poor.  The Buddha understood suffering and ignorance long before Jesus came along.  And it wasn’t gnosis because the Greeks had that nailed down.  So, what was it that made this carpenter so powerful?

It wasn’t until this week that I finally got it.  When the pieces came together, I had a “oh, Wow!” moment.  Suddenly, I saw Christianity in a whole new way, one that even most Christians wouldn’t recognize, but would be completely familiar to the original apostles.

Let’s start with an empire.

The Romans were wealthy, militaristic and oppressive.  They bought up client kings in the provinces they conquered or intended to conquer. Their rule was law.  Peasants of client states paid their taxes.  They had a limited number of rights because they weren’t really citizens.  Most people were poor.  The fact that John the Baptist, prophet and eschatologist, had such a thriving ministry is a testament to the feeling of hopelessness among the poor.  Life in Judea could be nasty, brutish and short if you were born into the wrong class and people were generally unsympathetic to their plight.  The lower class, because there was no middle class, put its hopes in divine purification of the evils of the world. The average Jew lived in a country that was not his own and was barely tolerated by the Roman aristocracy and its army. This is the world that Jesus came from.

The story we have is that:

He preached to the poor.  He counselled them.  He was a great teacher.  He told parables and made his listeners think in new ways.  He fed them.  He celebrated with them.  He gave a sermon to end all sermons about peace, mercy, mourning, fulfillment, hunger and persecution.  He condemned the rich and arrogant.  He pissed a lot of people off.  The Pharisees got tired of him making Pharisees out of them.  His teachings made him famous.  He went to Jerusalem with a following planning an act of civil disobedience.  He and his closest friends pooled their money and had one last dinner where he told his friends that the day after next, they probably wouldn’t see each other again.   He goes to the Temple during a religious holiday where people from all over the country are using the place as a giant bank and he throws out the money changers who are collaborating with the Romans.  The Temple priests already overworked on a Jewish holiday and with Rome keeping an eye on them, are worried about this troublemaker his apostles making a ruckus and a mess and disturbing the peace.  So, they reported him into the local police.  He and his followers made camp in a garden and tried to stay up all night.  They were all scared, especially the head troublemaker because he knew he had broken one rule too many.  The Romans came in the middle of the night to break up the camp and arrest him. He tells his followers not to resist because they’re supposed to be all about peace.  His followers scattered.  He is thrown into jail, humiliated and beaten.

There’s some debate in the accounts of what happens next.  Did the Temple priest want him dead or just out of his hair?  Well, whoever turned him in probably knew what was going to happen next but if the Temple hadn’t turned him in, the money changers would have and business would be satisfied.  Better get ahead of the problem. The Roman governor condemned him  and nailed him up to be a lesson to all other future troublemakers.  He was killed.  His followers were disorganized and confused.  But got themselves together after some miracles and spread the word.

How strange.

Here we are in the 21st century and what do we see?

An empire, wealthy, militaristic and brutal.  It has no problem taking what it wants.  The wealthy buy the people they want to do their bidding.  The citizens live in a downwardly mobile world.  They pay their taxes but are at risk of losing everything in a poor economy.  Their votes are meaningless.  People who are poor or become poor through no fault of their own are shown no sympathy.  Eschatology thrives.

A bunch of people see that what has happened to less fortunate countries at the hands of that empire is starting to happen to them.  They decide to take matters into their own hands.  They don’t have a leader but they have a Jewish prophetess who preaches a Sermon in the Park.  But really, anyone could do this.  She just happens to be particularly memorable and moderately well known and she’s good at it.

Naomi Klein gives a sermon in the park

They feed the poor, counsel the troubled, comfort the persecuted.  They come to the great city and set up their camp near the money changers.  They try to turn the money changers out.  The money changers appeal to the police.  The authorities decide that their behavior is setting a bad example of non-compliance and is disturbing to business people.  The police raid their park and arrest them.

They must have seen that coming.

They continue to sacrifice themselves.  The number of their followers starts to swell when the people see how much they are willing to give of themselves to uphold a moral movement.

Now there are a probably a lot of people out there who are rolling their eyes and thinking this is a metaphor stretched too far.  But for me, the pieces of this puzzle finally fit.  The reason why Christianity succeeded was not because Jesus was so important.  In fact, he was just there for the beginning of what was a very long struggle.  It was so successful because it started off as a moral response to an oligarchical rule and the way it went about its actions affected so many people that by the time Jesus was made a sacrifice and an example by the Romans, his followers had reached a critical mass to keep the movement going.  He had laid out a framework of actions and behaviors that anyone could follow.  The apostles didn’t need a leader anymore because they *were* the leaders.  Of course, a miracle story is a good ice breaker but if you are a Christian because of the Christmas story and the Resurrection, you may be missing the point of the movement. It is what the early Christians did in their own communities that made the movement resiliant.  For centuries, they practiced civil disobedience, took care of one another, expanded their membership to include the gentiles and Samaritans (the other 99%), travelled from place to place, gave up what they had to minister to the poor, stayed with wealthy widows like Priscilla, and more modest followers like Mary and Martha, and sacrificed themselves over and over again until they were so popular in the empire that the Emperor himself gave in. By that time, the Christians already didn’t resemble what they started out as.  And that is a danger that a look back through history can help us avoid.

The Jesus movement is the one to emulate, not that it was the original intention of Occupy Wall Street.  It may be that successful grassroot movements have the same things in common.  Conditions for success have to be present, there has to be a tipping point and some of the other factors may not be easy to copy.   Many have tried.  But it takes more than a good communication route.  It isn’t enough to get people together at conferences to discuss politics.  It can’t be directed by a small group of people with money working behind the scenes.  The reason why MoveOn and Netroots Nation and the Tea Party have failed to move the public where Occupy Wall Street has succeeded is that the latter is a moral movement with a simple message and the people in it are willing to make personal sacrifices because they have nothing left to lose.  And the recent brutal crackdown by the authorities is a demonstration of the power of that morality.

Today, we have the benefit of hindsight.  We also know from our own personal experiences that a moral movement does not need a religion in order to succeed even if the religious decide to join it.  A moral movement also knows that it doesn’t need to have a political flavor.  It’s purpose is to lead people to a new way of thinking, new values and set of behaviors, new rules of acceptance and condemnation. When you change the way you think and behave, you become a new person, isn’t that right, Christians?  And a country full of new people becomes a new country.  The closest we have had in this country to such a movement was the Civil Rights movement of the 50’s and 60’s, lead by Martin Luther King Jr. who also made a personal sacrifice.

The tactics that this movement uses is a mix of the highly technical and the primitive.  Anyone with an iphone can record the events, and anyone with a voice can become a leader.  Anyone with a clever and amusing idea can capture the attention of thousands.  The message and tactics combined make this movement accessible to everyone while the images of sacrifice broadcast on the new Roman road can both anger and inspire.

This week, the current movement made its most significant sacrifice to date.  But there will be others.  As the prophetess said, we need to show each other kindness and take care of each other because we have chosen to challenge the most powerful forces on the planet.  And it will be hard.  It will be much easier to conquer each other.  Wise words. But in our lifetime, we may see a new generation of that movement from 2000 years ago.  That rebirth has happened before.  This time, the scale is global and echoes the economic and cultural atmosphere of the originators.  But with perseverance, it shouldn’t take 400 years to gain the upper hand.

Hold hands, look both ways before you cross the street and watch out for each other.

Look around.  You are part of a global uprising.  Don’t be afraid.  Love.  We are winning.

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