Me on health care (again)

I was on our local PBS station discussing health care and the nuts at town hall meetings recently.  Here's the video.

UPDATE: I also just got the link for this week's appearance (there's less of me, I have to share with smarter people).  It's the health care reform video on this page.


Alternative Energy (just save it in the first place)

Foreign Policy had a really nice article recently on "The Seven Myths About Alternative Energy."   Not all that surprising upshot: alternative energy is far from a panacea.  Sure, it can do some, but we need to be smart about it and do realistic costs/benefit assessments.  Point five, "there is no silver bullet," is really important, and should really be labeled, "it's efficiency, stupid."  Far and away the best, most cost-effective way to address our long-term energy issues is to use the energy we have now much more efficiently.  The truth is, it isn't even that hard.  This is low-hanging fruit that we are largely just leaving sitting there.  Of course, that's one reasons something like cap and trade, which changes the incentive structure in energy use would really help.  From the article:

And one renewable energy resource is the cleanest, cheapest, and most
abundant of them all. It doesn't induce deforestation or require
elaborate security. It doesn't depend on the weather. And it won't take
years to build or bring to market; it's already universally available.

Efficiency isn't sexy, and the idea that we could use less energy
without much trouble hangs uneasily with today's more-is-better
culture. But the best way to ensure new power plants don't bankrupt us,
empower petrodictators, or imperil the planet is not to build them in
the first place. "Negawatts" saved by efficiency initiatives generally
cost 1 to 5 cents per kilowatt-hour versus projections ranging from 12
to 30 cents per kilowatt-hour from new nukes. That's because Americans
in particular and human beings in general waste amazing amounts of
energy. U.S. electricity plants fritter away enough to power Japan, and
American water heaters, industrial motors, and buildings are as
ridiculously inefficient as American cars. Only 4 percent of the energy
used to power a typical incandescent bulb produces light; the rest is
[emphasis mine] …

biggest obstacles to efficiency are the perverse incentives that face
most utilities; they make more money when they sell more power and have
to build new generating plants. But in California and the Pacific
Northwest, utility profits have been decoupled from electricity sales,
so utilities can help customers save energy without harming
shareholders. As a result, in that part of the country, per capita
power use has been flat for three decades — while skyrocketing 50
percent in the rest of the United States. If utilities around the world
could make money by helping their customers use less power, the U.S.
Department of Energy wouldn't be releasing such scary numbers.

So, sure, put in that CFL lightbulb, but if we really want to change, we need to change policies so that you have a truly strong incentive (other than my suggestion, of course), to put in some CFL light bulbs (and other actions, too, of course).  And while I'm at it, let me know if you are aware of any CFL light bulbs that will work in ceiling fans.

Ends, not means

Nice little post by Matt Yglesias on some notable examples of Ted Kennedy taking up the cause of deregulation.  When did he endorse deregulation?  When it served to meet progressive policy goals.  As I've argued before, I think Republicans get too hung up on the means and don't think enough about ends, e.g., "markets are always good," "more government is always bad."  In truth, markets are often great, but they are often really bad, too (hello, Credit Default Swaps).  Likewise, too much government can be a problem, but it can also serve to keep your car safe, your air clean, and keep you from eating rancid meat.  Context matters.  More than many Conservatives will admit, I believe.  You really don't see many liberals arguing that government is always better or that markets are always bad.  Anyway, Yglesias' nice summary point on Kennedy:

The moral of the story isn’t that “regulation is bad” but that
progressive politics at its best isn’t about bigger government but
about attacking privilege and power. At times that requires more
government and more regulation (right now we badly need more regulation
of polluters whose carbon dioxide emissions are threatening the
viability of the planet) but at times the forces of privilege and power
are using existing regulatory structures to re-enforce their own
position. Kennedy, rightly, saw no contradiction between his record as
a deregulator and his record as a champion of the little guy.

Moral values

Fascinating new research from some Dutch psychologists
further demonstrates just how flawed human reasoning is.  We don't
reason.  We know what we think and then look for reasons to back it up.

According to a paper recently published in the journal Psychological Science,
the brain takes a mere quarter of a second to react to statements that
contradict or challenge our ethical belief system. That nearly
instantaneous neural response colors the way the rest of the sentence —
and thus, the rest of the thought — is interpreted.

The research suggests that if you feel abortion is repugnant,
reading the statement "I think abortion is appropriate in some cases
because it means fewer unwanted, unloved children" is a two-stage
process. The phrase "I think abortion is appropriate" sets off neural
alarm bells in the brain, which may cause you to read the rest of the
sentence — which contains the reasons behind the belief — with an
attitude of skepticism or hostility…

The research has its limitations, including the fact that all
the study participants were men. But it provides evidence that our
unconscious reaction to statements challenging our beliefs occurs
literally in milliseconds. So if you're trying to influence someone's
opinion on a moral-values issue, it might be more effective to start
with neutral language and build up to the morally controversial

People will always disagree, but a sentence structured in such a way
to avoid an instantaneous negative response, such as, "Since we don't
want to add to the already too-large number of unwanted children, I
think abortion is appropriate," might be a better starting point for a

Better yet, forget about trying to influence someone's opinion on a moral values issue. 

Torture time

I haven't written much on torture lately, but is is still 1) evil and 2) stupid policy.  Kevin Drum's recent post in response to the latest revelations sums up my views quite well.  It's short, read the whole thing.  If not, I love the bottom line:

We managed to get through WWI, WWII, the Korean War, the Vietnam War,
the Gulf War, and a dozen smaller engagements without making the
torture of prisoners into official government policy.  We can get
through this one without selling our souls too.

The hidden costs of health care (your wages)

Great column (as pretty much always) by Dave Leonhardt today. Employers are actually the one's doing most of the shopping for health insurance policies, so why do they do such a poor job?

The bottom line: The cost of insurance comes mostly out of
employees’ paychecks. If insurance costs more, employees are generally
paid less. If insurance costs less, employees are paid more. The cost of insurance does not have a big effect on employers’ overall compensation costs.

That’s why no one should be surprised that employers don’t make for
good consumers of insurance. And it’s why insurers are not operating in
a very competitive marketplace.

And Ezra Klein hits the political impact:

Employees, in other words, don't worry too much about the cost of their
health insurance because they think their employer is picking up the
tab. Employers don't worry too much about the cost of health insurance
because they know employees are picking up the tab. And so there's no
real constituency for cost control. If either group were actually
experiencing the full cost of health insurance, the constituency for
reform would be a whole lot larger than it already is.


How Republicans get you a good night’s sleep


I love this cartoon:


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