Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for September 5th, 2017

In Huge Surprise, Study Confirms That Cutting Obamacare Advertising Will Cut Obamacare Enrollment

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When talking about the GOP, it’s difficult to avoid the word “evil.” Kevin Drum has a post worth reading in full. From that post:

. . . That’s a drop of 14 percent, which is huge. But this might still understate the problem. Trump is planning to stop advertising and outreach at the same time he’s shortening the open enrollment period. A lot of people who think they can wait to enroll until the end of December—or even the end of January—are going to be unpleasantly surprised when they head over to healthcare.gov on December 27th and discover that they’ve missed the brand new deadline of December 15. I wouldn’t be surprised if this ended up affecting half a million people or more, who find themselves unexpectedly unable to buy health insurance for 2018.

The remarkable thing about all this isn’t just how callous it is, but how obviouslycallous it is. The cutbacks will save a little over $100 million, which is a pittance for a $100 billion program. There’s plainly no reason to eliminate this spending except as a way of deliberately trying to undermine the program and keep poor people from signing up. But Republicans don’t care if everyone knows it. Voters probably won’t figure it out, after all. . .

Written by LeisureGuy

5 September 2017 at 9:06 pm

The smartphone has destroyed a generation

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Cultural norms and structures are fragile: just the interruption of one generation is enough to seriously weaken if not kill them.  has an intriguing article in the Atlantic. From the article:

. . . Around 2012, I noticed abrupt shifts in teen behaviors and emotional states. The gentle slopes of the line graphs became steep mountains and sheer cliffs, and many of the distinctive characteristics of the Millennial generation began to disappear. In all my analyses of generational data—some reaching back to the 1930s—I had never seen anything like it.

At first I presumed these might be blips, but the trends persisted, across several years and a series of national surveys. The changes weren’t just in degree, but in kind. The biggest difference between the Millennials and their predecessors was in how they viewed the world; teens today differ from the Millennials not just in their views but in how they spend their time. The experiences they have every day are radically different from those of the generation that came of age just a few years before them.

What happened in 2012 to cause such dramatic shifts in behavior? It was after the Great Recession, which officially lasted from 2007 to 2009 and had a starker effect on Millennials trying to find a place in a sputtering economy. But it was exactly the moment when the proportion of Americans who owned a smartphone surpassed 50 percent. . .

Written by LeisureGuy

5 September 2017 at 8:08 pm

The Real Reason the U.S. Has Employer-Sponsored Health Insurance

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Aaron Carroll writes in the NY Times:

The basic structure of the American health care system, in which most people have private insurance through their jobs, might seem historically inevitable, consistent with the capitalistic, individualist ethos of the nation.

In truth, it was hardly preordained. In fact, the system is largely a result of one event, World War II, and the wage freezes and tax policy that emerged because of it. Unfortunately, what made sense then may not make as much right now.

Well into the 20th century, there just wasn’t much need for health insurance. There wasn’t much health care to buy. But as doctors and hospitals learned how to do more, there was real money to be made. In 1929, a bunch of hospitals in Texas joined up and formed an insurance plan called Blue Cross to help people buy their services. Doctors didn’t like the idea of hospitals being in charge, so some in California created their own plan in 1939, which they called Blue Shield. As the plans spread, many would purchase Blue Cross for hospital services, and Blue Shield for physician services, until they merged to form Blue Cross and Blue Shield in 1982.

Most insurance in the first half of the 20th century was bought privately, but few people wanted it. Things changed during World War II.

In 1942, with so many eligible workers diverted to military service, the nation was facing a severe labor shortage. Economists feared that businesses would keep raising salaries to compete for workers, and that inflation would spiral out of control as the country came out of the Depression. To prevent this, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9250, establishing the Office of Economic Stabilization.

This froze wages. Businesses were not allowed to raise pay to attract workers.

Businesses were smart, though, and instead they began to use benefits to compete. Specifically, to offer more, and more generous, health care insurance.

Then, in 1943, the Internal Revenue Service decided that employer-based health insurance should be exempt from taxation. This made it cheaper to get health insurance through a job than by other means.

After World War II, Europe was devastated. As countries began to regroup and decide how they might provide health care to their citizens, often government was the only entity capable of doing so, with businesses and economies in ruin. The United States was in a completely different situation. Its economy was . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 September 2017 at 7:37 pm

Apparently, it’s illegal to laugh at Jeff Sessions

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A seething column by Dana Milbank in the Washington Post.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 September 2017 at 7:02 pm

Yuval Noah Harari (author of “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind”) answers some interesting questions

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Andrew Anthony writes in the Guardian:

Last week, on his Radio 2 breakfast show, Chris Evans read out the first page of Sapiens, the book by the Israeli historian Yuval Noah Harari. Given that radio audiences at that time in the morning are not known for their appetite for intellectual engagement – the previous segment had dealt with Gary Barlow’s new tour – it was an unusual gesture. But as Evans said, “the first page is the most stunning first page of any book”.

If DJs are prone to mindless hyperbole, this was an honourable exception. The subtitle of Sapiens, in an echo of Stephen Hawking’s great work, is A Brief Historyof Humankind. In grippingly lucid prose, Harari sets out on that first page a condensed history of the universe, followed by a summary of the book’s thesis: how the cognitive revolution, the agricultural revolution and the scientific revolution have affected humans and their fellow organisms.

It is a dazzlingly bold introduction, which the remainder of the book lives up to on almost every page. Although Sapiens has been widely and loudly praised, some critics have suggested that it is too sweeping. Perhaps, but it is an intellectual joy to be swept along.

It’s one of those books that can’t help but make you feel smarter for having read it. Barack Obama and Bill Gates have undergone that experience, as have many others in the Davos crowd and Silicon Valley. The irony, perhaps, is that one of the book’s warnings is that we are in danger of becoming an elite-dominated global society.

At the centre of the book is the contention that what made Homo sapiens the most successful human being, supplanting rivals such as Neanderthals, was our ability to believe in shared fictions. Religions, nations and money, Harari argues, are all human fictions that have enabled collaboration and organisation on a massive scale.

Originally published in Hebrew in 2011, the book was translated into English three years later and became an international bestseller. It ranges across a multitude of disciplines with seemingly effortless scholarship, bringing together a keen understanding of history, anthropology, zoology, linguistics, philosophy, theology, economics, psychology, neuroscience and much else besides.

Yet the author of this accomplished and far-reaching book is a young Israeli historian whose career, up until that point, had been devoted to the relative academic backwater of medieval military history. Apparently, Sapiens is based on an introductory course to world history that Harari had to teach, after senior colleagues dodged the task. The story goes that the major Israeli publishers weren’t interested. No one saw international stardom beckoning.

Last year, Harari’s follow-up, Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow,was published in the UK, becoming another bestseller. It develops many of the themes explored in Sapiens, and in particular examines the possible impact of biotechnological and artificial intelligence innovation on Homo sapiens, heralding perhaps the beginning of a new bionic or semi-computerised form of human.

Again, it’s an exhilarating book that takes the reader deep into questions of identity, consciousness and intelligence, grappling with what kinds of choices and dilemmas a fully automated world will present us with.

Now 41, Harari grew up in a secular Jewish family in Haifa. He studied history at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and completed his doctorate at Oxford. He is a vegan and he meditates for two hours a day, often going on extended retreats. He says it helps him focus on the issues that really matter. He lives with his husband on a moshav, an agricultural co-operative, outside Jerusalem. Being gay, he says, helped him to question received opinions. “Nothing should be taken for granted,” he has said, “even if everybody believes it.”

One of the pleasures of reading his books is that he continually calls on readers, both explicitly and implicitly, to think about what we know and what we think we know. And he has little time for fashionable stances.

He writes and speaks like a man who is not excessively troubled by doubt. If that makes him sound arrogant, let me clarify: he arrives at his conclusions after a great deal of research and contemplation. However, once he’s persuaded himself – and he says he always leaves it to the evidence to decide his thinking – he doesn’t hold back in his efforts to persuade the reader. It makes for what Jared Diamond called “unforgettably vivid language”.

Harari is a naturally gifted explainer, invariably ready with the telling anecdote or memorable analogy. As a result, it’s tempting to see him less as a historian than as some kind of all-purpose sage. We asked public figures and readers to pose questions for Harari, and many of these ( below) were of a moral or ethical nature, seeking answers about what should be done, rather than about what has happened. But the Israeli seems used to the role, and perfectly happy to give his best shot at replying. A historian of the distant past and the near future, he has carved out a whole new discipline of his own. It’s a singular achievement by an impressively multiple-minded man.

We are living through a fantastically rapid globalisation. Will there be one global culture in the future or will we maintain some sort of deliberate artificial tribal groupings?
Helen Czerski, physicist
I’m not sure if it will be deliberate but I do think we’ll probably have just one system, and in this sense we’ll have just one civilisation. In a way this is already the case. All over the world the political system of the state is roughly identical. All over the world capitalism is the dominant economic system, and all over the world the scientific method or worldview is the basic worldview through which people understand nature, disease, biology, physics and so forth. There are no longer any fundamental civilisational differences.

Andrew Anthony: Are you saying that the much-maligned Francis Fukuyama was correct in his analysis of the end of history?
It depends how you understand the end of history. If you mean the end of ideological clashes, then no, but if you mean the creation of a single civilisation which encompasses the whole world, then I think he was largely correct.

What is the biggest misconception humanity has about itself?
Lucy Prebble, playwright
Maybe it is that by gaining more power over the world, over the environment, we will be able to make ourselves happier and more satisfied with life. Looking again from a perspective of thousands of years, we have gained enormous power over the world and it doesn’t seem to make people significantly more satisfied than in the stone age.

Is there a real possibility that environmental degradation will halt technological progress?
TheWatchingPlace, posted online
I think it will be just the opposite – that, as the ecological crisis intensifies, the pressure for technological development will increase, not decrease. I think that the ecological crisis in the 21st century will be analogous to the two world wars in the 20th century in serving to accelerate technological progress.

As long as things are OK, people would be very careful in developing or experimenting in genetic engineering on humans or giving artificial intelligence control of weapon systems. But if you have a serious crisis, caused for example by ecological degradation, then people will be tempted to try all kinds of high-risk, high-gain technologies in the hope of solving the problem, and you’ll have something like the Manhattan Project in the second world war.

What role does morality play in a future world of artificial intelligence, artificial life and immortality? Will an aspiration to do what is good and right still motivate much of the race?
Andrew Solomon, writer . . .

Continue reading.

The “fictions” Harari talks about are memes by another name. Their meme character is evident from his descriptions. And I like the picture he draws of those who are so caught up in memes that they ignore the non-meme world (i.e., physical reality). As you might expect, this does the persons no good at all. They’re trapped in the meme equivalent of a Venus flytrap.

I’m not sure he sees how memes evolve independently of us.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 September 2017 at 5:31 pm

James Fallows: Why the Republican Party Will Come to Regret Rolling Back DACA

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James Fallows writes in the Atlantic:

I’ve followed the politics and reality of immigration for a long time. In the mid-1980s, I traveled around the country for several months on a big reporting project for The Atlantic about that era’s new migrants. I went and learned about the Haitians and Cubans of South Florida, the Vietnamese of Arkansas and the Gulf Coast, the Central Americans of Houston, the Hmong of Fresno, the Mexicans of the greater Southwest, the Puerto Ricans and Dominicans of greater New York, the Lebanese of Detroit—and the native-born members of the communities they were changing.

What I found and argued then was that the process of short-term disruption and longer-term adaptation through which the U.S. opened itself to immigration still prevailed.

That is, immigration has always been disruptive, from the time of the Germans and Irish in the mid-1800s to the groups I was seeing a century-plus later, or their counterparts today. And periodically this disruption led to political and legal responses that looked bad (and racially driven) in retrospect, from the Chinese Exclusion Act of the 1850s to the nativist restrictions that essentially shut down most immigration for almost a generation after World War I.

Before that war, the U.S. was open to a surge of immigrants from eastern and southern Europe. Greeks, Italians, and Poles; Russians and Serbs; Swedes and Danes; Jews, Turks, and Arabs, plus others arrived, in addition to the ongoing flow of English, Irish, and Germans. All of my wife’s forebears came as children from Bohemia in this turn-of-the-century wave; so did one of my grandmothers, from Germany. “Race-decline” theories gained enormous intellectual and political traction in response, through popular books like The Passing of the Great Race and articles in this very magazine during its nativist phase a century ago. The race-war arguments were an important part of the “national origins” immigration system that prevailed from the 1920s through the early 1960s, with a strong preference for immigrants from Western Europe and tight limits on those from anywhere else.

But—I argued 30 years ago in The Atlantic, and have come to believe more strongly over the years—the United States differed from most other societies in its more powerful absorptive ability, and the resulting imperfectly open society enjoyed powerful economic, cultural, creative, diplomatic, actuarial, and simple human benefits from becoming a nation-of-nations.

So that’s my starting point. E pluribus unum is a real thing, and it is thefundamental American advantage.

Now we have an American president fobbing off onto his attorney general the task of announcing an end to the DACA program. Some 800,000 people who have mainly grown up in the United States may ultimately face expulsion. One of those 800,000 is a well-liked, well-educated, and widely respected young municipal official in Dodge City, Kansas, named Ernestor de la Rosa. I wrote about him last year. The idea of forcing him out of the country where he has grown up, thrived, and made an important mark will seem crazy in retrospect and is just plain cruel now.

* * *

But you’d expect me to say that. I’ll try to separate my opinion that this is a needless and destructive decision from my observation of how it fits in the flow of U.S. handling of such issues. To take the players and issues in order:

Jeff Sessions

In a way, he is the most honorable participant in this entire spectacle. The decision he announced is in total, consistent harmony with his long career in public life. He announced the DACA decision in language that was either consciously crafted or instinctively chosen to appeal to an anti-immigrant (and anti-Obama) base. Sessions went out of his way to call DACA entrants like Ernestor de la Rosa “illegal immigrants” who were here because of an “unconstitutional” overreach by Obama. On the merits of the “unconstitutional” claim, please check out this rebuttal by Ian Millhiser. Still, there’s no doubt that Sessions believes what he is saying and considers this a good day for him, his people, and the causes to which he has devoted his life.

Donald Trump

I won’t call him the least honorable participant, since there’s such competition for that title. But in leaving this announcement to the same attorney general he was trying to ridicule into quitting only six weeks ago, a man who usually prefers center stage was acting out of character, to say the least. Was he suddenly camera-shy because he had so often promised not to do what Sessions just announced? Was he edging toward what we’ve come to know as the “Jared and Ivanka hand-wring” posture, in which he wants it known that he is “troubled” by the very step that his administration is about to take? Was he unclear (as the latest New York Times account suggests) about what this new policy would actually mean? . . .

Continue reading. Later in the column is a very interesting history of how the Dream Act came about and the tradeoffs involved.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 September 2017 at 4:51 pm

Garrison Keillor: When a red state gets the blues

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Garrison Keillor writes in the Washington Post:

The Republic of Texas believes in self-reliance and is suspicious of Washington sticking its big nose in your business. “Government is not the answer. You are not doing anyone a favor by creating dependency, destroying individual responsibility.” So said Sen. Ted Cruz (R), though not last week. Sunday on Fox News, Gov. Greg Abbott (R) said Texas would need upward of $150 billion in federal aid for damage inflicted by Harvey. The stories out of Houston have all been about neighborliness and helping hands and people donating to relief funds, but you don’t raise $150 billion by holding bake sales. This is almost as much as the annual budget of the U.S. Army. I’m just saying.

I’m all in favor of pouring money into Texas, but I am a bleeding-heart liberal who favors single-payer health care. How is being struck by a hurricane so different from being hit by cancer? I’m only asking.

Houstonians chose to settle on a swampy flood plain barely 50 feetabove sea level. The risks of doing so are fairly clear. If you chose to live in a tree and the branch your hammock was attached to fell down, you wouldn’t ask for a government subsidy to hang your hammock in a different tree.

President Ronald Reagan said that government isn’t the answer, it is the problem, and conservatives have found that line very resonant over the years. In Cruz’s run for president last year, he called for the abolition of the Internal Revenue Service. He did not mention this last week. It would be hard to raise an extra $150 billion without the progressive income tax unless you could persuade Mexico to foot the bill.

Similarly, if a desert state such as Arizona expects the feds to solve its water shortage, as Sen. Jeff Flake (R) suggested recently, by guaranteeing Arizona first dibs on Lake Mead, this strikes me as a departure from conservative principles. Lake Mead, and Boulder Dam, which created it, were not built by Lake Mead Inc., but by the federal government. The residents of Phoenix decided freely to settle in an arid valley, and they have used federal water supplies to keep their lawns green. Why should we Minnesotans, who chose to live near water, subsidize golf courses on the desert? You like sunshine? Fine. Take responsibility for your decision and work out a deal with Perrier to keep yourselves hydrated.

Arizona is populated by folks who dread winter and hate having to shovel snow. In Minnesota, we recognize that snow is a form of water and that it’s snowmelt that replenishes the aquifers. So we make a rational decision to live here. A warm, dry winter is a sort of disaster for us, but we don’t apply to Washington for hankies. If we made a decision to live underwater on a coral reef off Hawaii, we wouldn’t expect the feds to provide us with Aqua-Lungs. If we chose to fly to the moon and play among the stars and spend spring on Jupiter and Mars and we got lost out there, we wouldn’t expect NASA to come rescue us. Get my drift here?

I was brought up by fundamentalists who believed it was dead wrong to get tangled up in politics. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 September 2017 at 4:29 pm

Posted in Daily life, GOP, Government

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