America Wants Public Healthcare, Somebody Give It To Them

The early cut and thrust in the Obama administration’s push for public health care — or “socialized medicine”, as they adorably call it down there — has so far been pretty discouraging. Even the democratic congress is lining up to show how thoughtful they are by opposing what would admittedly be pretty radical change in the context of the U.S.A. But it appears that one of the fundamental perceived wisdoms that back up America’s idiosyncratic retro cling to private health care may no longer be true: U.S. citizens have lost their terror of publicizing health.

“But the Times/CBS poll found 85 percent of respondents wanted major healthcare reforms and most would be willing to pay higher taxes to ensure everyone had health insurance.”

Poll finds wide support for healthcare changes — Reuters

Why, hello comrade! I know that “major reforms” isn’t necessarily the same thing as public health care, but surely that’s what we’re talking about, right? Right? Furthermore, polls are dubious creatures as a species, and I’m afraid to pay too much attention to this one, but lord, 85 is a big number. Maybe the next time I work down there I won’t be paying a substantial portion of what would be my rent money to a dodgy insurance corporation, and getting a creepy walmart vibe every time I work up the financial nerve to go to my doctor’s office.

Update June 22nd: And this.

Bleeding Kansas

Somebody needs to make a movie set in Bleeding Kansas. Or maybe Winston County. Either one would make a nicely scaled proxy stage for the grand themes of the American civil war. And Bleeding Kansas is a great title.

Good Times or Bad for Local Radio?

I’m still subscribed to the internal email list at WCBN despite no longer being an Ann Arborite. The CBN dj’s have a lot to say to each other about music and such. (I also still listen to the station regularly–there’s a lot of killer community radio out there, especially in Canada, but WCBN really is one of the greats.)

A news story was posted to the list regarding enormous cutbacks at the Clear Channel corporate media empire. That article posits that commercial radio may get even more homogenous, as local content gets further replaced by centrally manufactured generic noise. Clear Channel pioneered the remote dj, and if they need to, they could probably supply every town in America with something like music using an .mp3 playlist tied to the Billboard Top 20, and a text-to-speech program plugged into an ID3 tag parser and a feed of the weather service. More homogenization? Shudder.

But Jesse Walker, Reason Magazine editor and current WCBN dj suggested this alternate gloss on the news:

“There’s another way to look at this: Corporate radio empires are tottering as their consolidation binge proves less sustainable than expected. In addition to these cutbacks, Clear Channel has been trying to offload hundreds of stations for the last few years, as have several other chains.

It’s a bad time for experimentation right now — ask the former fans of Indie 103 FM (RIP) in LA — but that could change if those companies get more desperate to sell off their excess outlets and station prices start coming way down. By that time, granted, most of the creative people who in past years might have wanted to buy the licenses may have given up on radio and migrated to the Web.”

I sure hope so. Anyone want to buy a commercial radio station with me? The time is ripe.

The 400 Bush Scandals

The overwhelming quantity of Bush administration policy horrors makes them difficult to think about in a coherent way, and it’s tempting just to turn to and forget about the whole debacle, now that we finally can. Which might be a healthy thing from a personal equanimity perspective, but we should probably be balancing that with an effort to learn from these mistakes.

Hugh (a different Hugh) has been compiling a list of the scandals of the Bush years. It’s not going to soothe your spirit, but I find it satisfying as an effort to throw up all the terrible things into one place where you can look at them, and have some kind of unified feel for the whole bloody mess. 

Bush Scandal List

It’s inevitably subjective. The bullet points range from specific (Harriet Meirs supreme court nomination) to relatively abstract (Marginalization of the UN). A number of the listed scandals strike me as debatable in content, and some of them are not principally the fault of the executive office, but overall the list generally seems to get things about right.

There’s a titles-only version here, and you can break it all down by category by clicking on the links on the right. For instance, I have this nagging feeling that the sub-list of environment-specific scandals is a little lacking, but that may be because a lot of the decisions the Bush administration made on environmental policy may still appear relatively inconsequential, and we’re only going to find out which ones were especially regrettable over a long painful period of reflection.

Steve Chu: We Don’t Know What Will Happen

Steven Chu, Obama’s pick for Secretary of Energy, hints at what I think is the most important point about climate change: yes we know it’s going to happen, but we don’t know what is going to happen, and that’s not a good thing.

And he just keeps talking about important stuff. Imagine an America where scientifically grounded ideas are sat down in the same room with capable politics.

If X Wins I’m Moving to Y

So the joke around the office is, with 3 back-to-back Conservative administrations in Canada, are Republicans threatening to move to Canada if Obama wins?

Choose Your Dialect of Dewey Defeats Truman

The LA Times has an exhaustive list of election night coverage by the television networks:

Where to tune in on election night

For example,

ABC: The trio of Charles Gibson, Diane Sawyer and George Stephanopoulos kick off coverage at 4 p.m., followed by a special edition of “Nightline” at 11:35 p.m.

CBS: Anchor Katie Couric, along with Bob Schieffer and Jeff Greenfield, report on the results beginning at 4 p.m., followed by a live webcast on at 11 p.m.

My favourite:

Current: Beginning at 4 p.m., the network will deliver a real-time stream of election updates, Digg stories and Twitter posts, along with live music sets by DJ Diplo.

Anchor Diplo, please adjust your tie.

Robert McNamara for President!

In Seed Magazine’s endorsement of Barack Obama, they make this rather startling claim:

“Far more important is this: Science is a way of governing, not just something to be governed. Science offers a methodology and philosophy rooted in evidence, kept in check by persistent inquiry, and bounded by the constraints of a self-critical and rigorous method. Science is a lens through which we can and should visualize and solve complex problems, organize government and multilateral bodies, establish international alliances, inspire national pride, restore positive feelings about America around the globe, embolden democracy, and ultimately, lead the world. More than anything, what this lens offers the next administration is a limitless capacity to handle all that comes its way, no matter how complex or unanticipated.”

I suppose the “methodology and philosophy” of science (whatever that may be) may serve as a productive metaphor for some aspects of governance. In particular, routine and rigorous assessment of the outcomes of policies and subsequent adjustments of those policies seems like a good idea that roughly corresponds with “the scientific method” of doing things. There is also a tradition of adhering to the observable truth, without regard to personal or institutional consequences, which is expressed to a remarkable, albeit incomplete degree in scientific institutions. Politics could hugely benefit from adopting such a valuation of truth.

But governance is about so much more than facts. It’s about values. It’s all mixed up with equity, and justice, and consent, and consensus, and the lack of consensus, and figuring out just what the hell our goals for our society are anyway. I’m not sure exactly what “science” is, but I’m pretty certain it is not a way of governing human communities. I think it’s strange that the Seed editors would even make such a claim. Robert McNamara for president!

Speaking of Technology

We don’t have anything like this in Canada.

If Only The Economy Were Allowed to Stop Failing

Greenspan Concedes to `Flaw’ in His Market Ideology — Bloomberg (2nd Term)

‘”If we are right 60 percent of the time in forecasting, we are doing exceptionally well; that means we are wrong 40 percent of the time,” Greenspan said. “Forecasting never gets to the point where it is 100 percent accurate.”‘

Yes, that follows. And when the consequences of bad outcomes are catastrophic and prediction of good outcomes can’t be certain, you have to have policies which are robust to failure. What Greenspan seems to have been suggesting, and what he still seems to be defending, is that when prediction cannot be 100%, it is acceptable or even inevitable to forge ahead as if the outcome was sure to be uniformly positive.

‘Today, the former Fed chairman asked: “What went wrong with global economic policies that had worked so effectively for nearly four decades?”

Greenspan reiterated his “shocked disbelief” that financial companies failed to execute sufficient “surveillance” on their trading counterparties to prevent surging losses.’

So how many catastrophic market failures do we have to have before we get past shocked disbelief when there’s another? Sure, each one is different in specific character than the last, but the insistence that this time we’ve got it all figured out is practically childish when repeated ad infinitum. Marketeers seem capable of convincing themselves that, because they are personally familiar with the mechanisms at play at the level of individuals, they can therefore know what behaviour will emerge at the level of the system. It’s not that neoliberal market theorists don’t believe in emergence, by contrast they are devoted to the elegant efficiencies that they see when markets aggregate information and action. They just don’t seem to want to believe that complex systems (including the ultra-complex systems Wall St. financiers are capable of cooking up) are capable of negative outcomes too.

It comes back to John Kenneth Galbraith’s position that market collapses don’t happen because of unpredictable shocks from somewhere outside of the lines that economists draw around “the economy”, they happen because of the most fundamental rules of capitalist economies. And they will again, particularly if we don’t exercise cautious oversight.

update: See also this interesting and convincing chunk of quotes from the same testimony:

Greenspan: Bad data hurt Wall Street computer models — NYT

‘Business decisions by financial services firms were based on “the best insights of mathematicians and finance experts, supported by major advances in computer and communications technology,” Greenspan told the committee. “The whole intellectual edifice, however, collapsed in the summer of last year because the data inputted into the risk management models generally covered only the past two decades a period of euphoria.”

He added that if the risk models also had been built to include “historic periods of stress, capital requirements would have been much higher and the financial world would be in far better shape today, in my judgment.”‘

We live and learn. Especially about using models to make serious decisions.

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