The Public Option Has a Problem…

…and no, it isn’t Joe Lieberman.

Slate Magazine has an article pointing out that the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has found that "[A] public plan paying negotiated rates … would typically have premiums that are somewhat higher than the average premiums for the private plans in the exchanges."

What? I thought the public option was good to go. Now, this quote will be all over the air waves and the blogosphere (it already is) which will put more pressure on Congressional and Senate weenies moderates to capitulate on this important and necessary aspect of healthcare reform.

But not all is lost. The CBO is also clear that a public option will be more efficient than the private sector and will force overall prices down. The trouble is that the insurance industry are experts at not paying premiums especially for those who are very sick. This is the time honored way to keep costs down and profits high. The government-run option will tend to take all comers and pay a higher benefits to a larger proportion of its members. Consequently, the public option will tend to attract the people with serious health risks and those who cannot afford to take a chance that Blue Cross will deny payments. This means that the pool of members in a public option will tend to have more expensive needs than the private industry, which will tend to drive up premiums. As premiums go up, those who are healthier will flock to private insurers exacerbating the problem.

The trouble then is not a flaw in the public option, but in the fact that congress is requiring that the public option run completely as an insurance group that will require no governmental help. If that is to work, the government needs to insure that the insurance companies take users with pre-existing conditions and pay out premiums to one and all.

…well, Joe Lieberman is still a problem.

I wonder if this will play as big as the ACORN videos?

I tend to doubt it. Find out more here.

Republicans support rape?

Jamie Leigh Jones was gang-raped [by company employees] in Baghdad in 2005 while working for Halliburton. Officials for the company locked her in a shipping container for 24 hours and warned her that she would be out of a job if she left Iraq to seek medical treatment. She had signed a contract stipulating that employees could not file sexual assault charges with police or governmental authorities.

Sen. Al Franken got an amendment to the Defense Appropriations bill passed that would withhold defense contracts from companies if they forced employees to sign contracts forbidding employees from taking sexual assault and battery cases to court.

From Franken’s speech:

The constitution gives everybody the right to due process of law … And today, defense contractors are using fine print in their contracts do deny women like Jamie Leigh Jones their day in court. … The victims of rape and discrimination deserve their day in court [and] Congress plainly has the constitutional power to make that happen.

I am glad that Franken’s amendment passed. What I find amazing is that fully three-fourths of the Republicans in the Senate voted against the measure. One Republican Senator argued that Franken’s bill was purely political and was directed against Halliburton as an attack on Bush, this despite the fact that his amendment is generic and does not mention Halliburton by name.

The Republican position is shear hypocrisy. Republicans supported a bill directed specifically against ACORN (by name) because ACORN was lax in vetting its volunteers, some of whom gave despicable advice to a [fake] pimp. But, at the same time they are against an amendment to a bill directed against any company that receives defense contracts that tries to coerce a women employee from seeking legal redress if raped–all because they think that the amendment is secretly directed towards one particular company–a company that illegally tried to cover up the real gang rape of an employee.

Republicans are missing the point, of course. Franken’s amendment exists because of Halliburton. That much is true. I am sure that Franken, like any decent person, was horrified by what some of Halliburton’s employees did. Franken would probably have liked to stick it to the company. But he didn’t. His actual amendment does not specifically attack Halliburton. His amendment is constitutionally and morally sound precisely because it does not single out Halliburton.

No, Republicans do not support rape any more than any other group. But they obviously can be blinded by their love of big corporations, even those that live off the government teat (provided that they are sufficiently supportive of conservative values).

But despite its inanity, I think Democrats should embrace the Republican argument. Point out that Franken’s amendment is constitutional, but gleefully admit that it was inspired by Halliburton–the corporation that locked a gang-raped women in a trunk for 24 hours and refused to let her seek legal redress. See how conservatives spin the fact that 75% of the Republicans in the Senate voted against the amendment. Let them explain why they really aren’t supporting rape.

Rachel Maddow on Obama Derangement Syndrome

Scalia is Clueless

In arguments at the Supreme Court this week, Scalia demonstrates yet again the gulf between what the right considers intellectual acumen and reality. The case, Buono v. Salazar, deals with the question of whether a Christian cross can be used as a WWI memorial on federal property. The ACLU lawyer argued reasonably that many non Christians might feel that they were not being honored for their service during that war. Scalia was incredulous and began an exchange with the ACLU lawyer:

“The cross doesn’t honor non-Christians who fought in the war?” Scalia asks, stunned.

“A cross is the predominant symbol of Christianity, and it signifies that Jesus is the son of God and died to redeem mankind for our sins,” replies Eliasberg, whose father and grandfather are both Jewish war veterans.

“It’s erected as a war memorial!” replies Scalia. “I assume it is erected in honor of all of the war dead. The cross is the most common symbol of … of … of the resting place of the dead.”

Eliasberg dares to correct him: “The cross is the most common symbol of the resting place of Christians. I have been in Jewish cemeteries. There is never a cross on a tombstone of a Jew.”

“I don’t think you can leap from that to the conclusion that the only war dead the cross honors are the Christian war dead,” thunders Scalia. “I think that’s an outrageous conclusion!”

Look, Scalia, either the cross is the central symbol of Christianity or it is not. Christians put crosses on graves (not to mention in their houses of worship) because they represents exactly what Eliasberg argues. It is the central focus of the Christian church. But Scalia’s argument is typical of many conservative Christians. They want Christian symbols to adorn public places because these symbols are central to their faith, but want to argue in court that these same symbols are nothing more than generic cultural artifacts.

Maybe we should just replace the cross with a Jewish star of David. After all, it is outrageous to argue that a star of David only honors the Jewish war dead.

Conservative Bible Project

Conservapedia has launched a new project called the Conservative Bible Project (CBP). At first glance, it seems almost laughable. A group of evangelical, literalists are going to analyze the Bible, using some of the hated analysis tools used by liberal theologians, to set the Bible right. They are going to tackle major theological questions such as Socialism:

“For example, the conservative word “volunteer” is mentioned only once in the ESV, yet the socialistic word “comrade” is used three times, “laborer(s)” is used 13 times, “labored” 15 times, and “fellow” (as in “fellow worker”) is used 55 times.”

At the same time, they will look to strip popular (though apparently liberal) passages such as the famous adulteress passage in John. They are also attacking the passage in Luke where Jesus says “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

But, on closer analysis, I say, more power to them. As much as I like the passage in John concerning adultery (it has done no small thing to mitigate some historical Christian misogyny,) the conservatives are probably correct (as are many liberal theologians). The passage is a late addition to John. This is also true of the passage in Luke. It too is a late addition. The trouble is that the NT is filled with late additions. The whole of the Gospel stories, as well as the letters from Paul and others were more than likely edited many times over the first several centuries to support this or that particular theological position.

Let’s look at Luke. The CBP points out that the disputed passage in Luke does not appear in the earliest manuscripts. This is true, but I wonder which manuscripts they mean. The trouble is that there are no clear records of Luke, in it present form, existing before the last few decades of the second century. We do know that an early version of Luke, based on some of Mark and possibly an early work called the Ur Lukas, made its first appearance in the hands of an early proto-gnostic named Marcion. He was a early to mid-second century Christian Bishop and later heretic who had the support of an estimated one-third of the Christian population. He had gone to Rome with a large donation to make peace with the burgeoning, and increasingly hostile, Catholics. He also had with him the first proposed cannon. Marcion’s cannon consisted of his short version of Luke and the currently accepted letters of Paul (who was not popular at this time.) Marcion had the theory that Jesus was the Son of the true God (not Yahweh) and that the original disciples were too stupid to see this (look at how brutal Mark–the earliest gospel–is to the twelve). In Marcion’s theory, Jesus approached a new apostle, Paul, to lead the early church. The Catholic Church of the second century would not buy this at all and excommunicated Marcion. The Catholics eventually brought out a revision of Marcion’s gospel and a “history” we call the book of Acts. Luke is the modified Marcion’s cannon. The same author probably wrote Acts as a means of engulfing the huge Paulian faction in Christendom by making the heretic Paul more Peter like and Peter more Paul like. This explains the similarity of language between Luke and Acts. The Church claimed that Marcion had shortened Luke, but there is no real good evidence that Luke existed before the middle of the second century.

But I look forward to what the CBP does here. I doubt they will break away from their usual apologetics (which holds that all the gospels were written before 60AD.) But we will see.

The Dark Side of Mitigating the Prisoner’s Dilemma

Individuals and groups have dealt with the problem of defection (reneging on agreements) in several ways. When people enter into agreements where there is no inherent trust, both sides typically make the transaction more transparent (at least to the parties involved.) The PD requires that the parties not know what the other will choose. Transparency removes this obstacle. Another, is of course, to raise children to highly value cooperation and to apply some legal coercion for those who tend to defect anyway. But this leads to a dark side. The study of the prisoners dilemma tells us that while defection often leads to a “bad” situation, it is not due to irrationality or evil; it is an inevitable and rational part of our interactions in society. We live in a society, but act individually. The prisoner’s dilemma tells us that we can act in our truly best interest and still hurt ourselves collectively.

It is much more efficient for a nation’s leaders to get citizens to cooperate out of habit than it is to convince them to do so out of reason or logic. It is easier for us too when we can do it out of habit. To an extent, this is the only way to get cooperation. If defecting gives a person more than cooperating, many won’t cooperate no matter how reasonable the argument is. To get a large proportion of our society to cooperate with minimal coercion, we need to instill in people the notion that the act of cooperation is always a value. We need citizens to do it without much thinking. But when cooperation is done as a blind habit, we lose something that is necessary for a strong democracy. We also lose sight of the fact that not all defections are part of a prisoner’s dilemma scenario. Some defections not only provide the individual greater benefit, but also the group.

I think criticism of Bush’s war in Iraq was a proper defection. It is not a PD scenario despite what Bush and Cheney argued. (1)  If we would have all defected (or enough to defeat Bush in 2000,) we would be much better off. On the other hand, I think in the case of health care we do face a prisoner’s dilemma on a nationwide scale. I think the desire to defect that many people have is rational in that it is better for them in some sense. But I think the hurt we face collectively because we lack a national health care system outweighs the minimal inconvenience individuals might face. But Obama is not God (and despite what some conservatives think, no liberal thinks he is). I think criticism of the president is fine. That is part of what our nation is all about. I do not want people to blindly follow Obama or any person. My one concern is that many of the leaders advocating that we defect against Obama (mostly metaphorically speaking) are simultaneously calling for their own obedience (cooperation). They want to return to a “pristine” America where we mindlessly cooperated with the will of our religious and political leaders before we had the messy chaos of civil rights, feminism, labor movement, or collective social services.

(1) Bush and Cheney did not of course analyze the war in PD terms. But they did sometimes sound like they believed that our natural tendency to defect and not support a war when we are not immediately threatened would inevitably lead to less security for the US. This is true to an extent, but there were other relevant factors involved that mitigated the supposed benefit of invading Iraq that keeps it from being a true PD scenario.