Basic Rights

Everyone has the right to have access to ­health care services, including reproductive health care.

— the Bill of Rights of the Constitution of South Africa

This week’s featured posts: “Rooting for Your Country to Fail is Unpatriotic” and “The Procrustean Sainthood of Nelson Mandela“.

This week everybody was talking about Nelson Mandela

Mandela died Thursday at the age of 95.

I discuss our tendency to let our pre-conceptions about sainthood overwhelm the actual lives of the people we want to canonize in “The Procrustean Sainthood of Nelson Mandela“.

and improvements in Healthcare.gov

29,000 people signed up for ObamaCare last Sunday and Monday, the first two days after the administration’s self-imposed deadline for getting the web site fixed. That’s more than signed up during the entire month of October. The best evidence we have about how well the ObamaCare web site is performing now is that Republicans are shifting to other attacks.


The latest lie about ObamaCare is that 80-100 million people who get their insurance through their jobs will have their plans “cancelled”. Ezra Klein points out that this is only true if you stretch “cancelled” to mean “changed in any way at all”, including the ways your plan already changes from year to year without you noticing.


Another new lie is that ObamaCare has expanded access to abortion coverage for Congress and its staff. ThinkProgress explains.


CNN explains what most news stories about Medicaid expansion miss: States (like mine) that refuse the expansion aren’t just opting for the pre-ObamaCare status quo. The Affordable Care Act lowered the federal subsidy to hospitals that treat uninsured people who can’t pay, because there weren’t supposed to be so many uninsured people who can’t pay. But conservatives on the Supreme Court allowed conservatives in state government to opt out of Medicaid expansion. And the result is that hospitals are closing.

You could imagine a sane Congress working some kind of a fix to keep those hospitals afloat. That would benefit red states, so it could be lumped together with some fixes that Democrats want, and everybody would be better off. But the Republican majority in the House refuses any fixes that improve ObamaCare. They’ll only back poison pills that sabotage the system or outright repeals. Improvements? No. Erick Erickson says it outright:

The website they can fix. We must deny them the opportunity to fix the law itself. Let the American people see big government in all its glory. Then offer a repeal.

This kind of sabotage is what I’m talking about in “Rooting for Your Country to Fail is Unpatriotic“.

and inequality

President Obama gave a speech on “economic mobility” Wednesday. In general it was good a good diagnosis: Over the last several decades, economic inequality is up, economic mobility is down, and this not only makes our individual households insecure, it makes our economy more vulnerable to recessions.

I wish he would say more about one structural cause of the problem: lax enforcement of antitrust laws and the resulting monopolistic bottlenecks in the economy, which I talked about here.

and the War of Christmas

Every year, the Christmas Empire expands. The once-independent celebration of Thanksgiving has become Christmas’ puppet holiday, Black Friday Eve. Only the popular Halloween prevents Christmas from rolling all the way to the Fourth of July. (Columbus Day? Labor Day? They’ll fall like dominoes if the Halloween Line is ever breached.)

And yet somehow, the Christmas propaganda machine always manages to portray the aggressor as the victim. There is a War ON Christmas. Christmas was just standing there minding its own business when people attacked it for no reason with their battle cry of “Happy Holidays”. Without constant vigilance, Santa and his mighty elves will be stabbed in the back by Jews and atheists, and Christmas will be lost.

Jon Stewart calls out this year’s propaganda: “How can I enjoy my Christmas, when I know that somewhere a little Jewish boy isn’t being forced to sing ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem’?”

and bringing automation to your doorstep

Amazon says it’s working on drone delivery copters. (And Rock City Times, “Arkansas’ 2nd most unreliable news source”, claims Walmart is installing surface-to-air missiles at its stores.) Google might “have one of the robots hop off an automated Google Car and race to your doorstep to deliver a package”.

I am reminded of a possibly apocryphal conversation between Henry Ford II and union president Walter Reuther as they toured a new Ford factory with advanced-for-the-times automation. “How are you going to get those robots to pay your union dues?” Ford gibed. And Reuther parried: “How are you going to get them to buy your cars?”

Maybe Amazon and Google should start working on an automated consumer.

and you also might be interested in …

It’s time for your annual dose of intellectual humility: The New York Times has put out its “100 Notable Books of 2013” list. I confess to having read exactly zero of them, though one is sitting on my bookshelf and I was already thinking about reading a handful of the others. (A few will have to wait: The publication of Thomas Pynchon’s The Bleeding Edge reminded me that I still haven’t finished Mason and Dixon. And Stephen King’s Doctor Sleep is a sequel to The Shining, which maybe I really should look at.)

Slate’s “The Overlooked Books of 2013” list — another zero for me — is somewhat less intimidating, both because it’s shorter and because the title suggests that other intelligent people might have missed these books too.


I just want to say that I am creeped out by how popular the Confederate cause still is in parts of the South. In Florida, there’s currently a push to put up a monument to the Union soldiers who died at the Battle of Olustee, partially balancing the three existing monuments to the Confederate soldiers. You might think this would be uncontroversial, but no, it is.

So the soldiers at Olustee who died fighting for the United States of America and against slavery should go unremembered. That’s seriously the position people are taking.


The NYT reports that big oil companies are starting to plan around the assumption that at some point there will be a price on carbon, either through a direct carbon tax or some kind of cap-and-trade system. Exxon-Mobil, for example, is shifting to be more a natural-gas company. (They’ve also stopped being the deep pockets behind climate-change denying pseudo-science. These days the Koch brothers fill that role.)

This follows reports that insurance companies are adjusting their risk models to allow for the effects of global warming. As one industry think-tank put it:

In the non-stationary environment caused by ocean warming, traditional approaches, which are solely based on analyzing historical data, increasingly fail to estimate today’s hazard probabilities. A paradigm shift from historic to predictive risk assessment methods is necessary.

The NYT comments:

Both supporters and opponents of action to fight global warming say the development is significant because businesses that chart a financial course to make money in a carbon-constrained future could be more inclined to support policies that address climate change.

Or at least they might be less inclined to throw their considerable weight behind political monkey-wrenching.


Andy Borowitz reports that the Hubble telescope has stopped looking out into space and is instead taking selfies to post on Instagram.


A mis-worded Republican tweet about Rosa Parks “role in ending racism” led to the hashtag #RacismEndedWhen. Some of the more amusing tweets are “#RacismEndedWhen The Jeffersons moved on up.” and “#racismendedwhen the iphone was available in both black and white.”

and for Advent, let’s end with a nativity scene

How minimal can you go and still have a nativity? This color nativity might be the limit. (Hat tip to whyismarko’s “the 50 worst and weirdest nativity sets“.)

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