Monday, November 15, 2010

Macy's Veteran's Day Program

Macy's 4th Grade class (with some help from other classes) put on a Veteran's Day program at her school.  Enjoy!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Now The Tea Party Comes To The Hard Part

The Tea Party has gone through many iterations in its relatively short lifespan: in the beginning it was called inconsequential, utterly incapable of being anything more than a novelty. Certainly it could not be expected to become a force in politics capable of turning an election. When this description failed to take hold, a new narrative emerged: since the Party seemed to be growing it must be an astroturf effort funded by the Republican Party. While this view was popular with the left -- which had its own issues with astroturfing at the time -- it didn't survive long. Arms of the movement were popping up all over the country, and established Republican politicians were increasingly on the receiving end of the Party's wrath.

Next were two conflicting pictures of what a typical "tea partier" looked like. On one hand, a Tea Partier was a disaffected upper class white male, railing against having to pay his fair share. On the other a member was poor white trash, ignorantly rabble-rousing the under-educated to rise up in armed conflict against the government. These disparate views surfaced at roughly the same time and jockeyed for position, each one taking the fore depending on the context of the describer. The unifying thread between these two oppposite views was that Tea Party members were uniformly white and racist. That there were more people of color at a single Tea Party event in, say, Ohio, than in anything John Stewart ever presided over is lost.

Once it became clear that charges of racism and backwardness were only playing well to the far left, the Tea Party was accused of shilling for Republicans. Despite the fact that the Party endorsed some Democratic candidates, this description has shown the most staying power. The stories in the wake of the midterm elections paint a picture of a Tea Party that swept Republicans in and Democrats out. This is certainly true in a strict sense; the new balance of power in Congress shows this. However, this description posits that the Party is all about electing Republicans rather than electing small government, small deficit candidates of any political stripe. The truth in this view is weak at best in 2010. The Republican establishment has had little success in co-opting the Party. How that changes in advance of the 2012 election will go a long way in determining its legacy.

The Party defies a single descriptor. This is because it is a large, organic, amorphous thing. It means different things to different people. There are certainly some unifying principles behind it: goverment is too big; it spends too much money, and largely doesn't spend it well; it is slowly working to erode the everyday freedoms people should be able to take for granted. There are certainly other principles involved. You can go to a Tea Party rally and see Birthers. You can find a racist, a closed-border advocate, someone who wants to erase the line between church and state. To argue that the views of people like these define the movement is ludicrous, however.

In regards to the 2010 midterm elections, none of these descriptions matter. The plain truth of the matter is that the Tea Party influenced many races and won surprising victories over the types of politicians it opposed. The next two years will be the real test of the Party's staying power. Harnessing anger to achieve short term goals is relatively easy, especially in an economy like the one we face today. Keeping that anger focused over the long term is a much harder prospect. Many dangers lurk, not the least of which is co-option by the Republican Party apparatus. But lethargy, fatigue, and complacency are also real dangers. I'll be very interested to see what descriptions people come up with for the Tea Party over the next couple of years, and I'll be even more interested in what description it writes for itself.

(Cross-posted at Say Anything)

Monday, November 1, 2010

Republicans Better Remember What Got Them Elected

Tomorrow is November 2nd, 2010, a day which is supposed to live in infamy for Democrats. Many long-time incumbents with the letter 'D' after their names are expected to be looking for work soon. Many pundits who have put more thought into the whys are out there, and I encourage you to look them up and read what they have to say. For myself, I am looking forward to what I hope are election wins for North Dakotans Rick Berg (running for the U.S. House of Representatives) and John Hoeven (for U.S. Senate). If those two do win tomorrow, it will mark the end of the long and distinguished careers of Earl Pomeroy and Byron Dorgan, respectively (note that Dorgan decided not to run for re-election and so his time in the Senate is coming to an end regardless).

Pomeroy and Dorgan have served North Dakota honorably. I certainly didn't agree with all their policies over the years I've lived here, but I believe that they believed they were doing what was best for the state. In particular their support for farm subsidies, which I think needs to be reconsidered -- in light of the current economic situation -- now more than ever, was understandable in a state with such a large farming community.

What confirmed my vote for their opponents was their support for the healthcare bill. This was a clear case of politicians voting their allegiance to the party leadership rather than the wishes of their constituency. The bill was not popular in North Dakota. These men knew this, and publically denounced various bits and pieces of the bill, attempting to deflect criticism and promote the idea that they would not support it. But when push came to shove they voted with the party and it's going to cost them, I think.

But if the expected Republican wave does come ashore tomorrow, it won't leave behind any kind of Republican mandate, nor will it usher in any kind of permanent Republican majority. This election is less about restoring Republicans to Congress and more about punishing Democrats who made the mistake of thinking the election of Barack Obama gave them a blank check. The elections 2006 and 2008 weren't repudiations of conservatism; they were repudiations of the ways in which Republicans had mangled it.

Make no mistake: the Bush years were a lesson in how Republicans can be just as bad as Democrats when it comes to growing government and (not) controlling spending. Now that the electorate seems to regret turning things completely over to the Democrats, Republicans better remember that their sudden embrace of fiscal responsibility is what is getting them elected. Once in office, lip service isn't going to cut it. I, for one, will be watching.

Why Price Controls Don't Work

If this doesn't put you off of government-run healthcare, nothing will.
The problem for a government price controller is that he can never know when the price structure is “right.” He can know when physicians are unhappy with their prices because they will complain, but that does not necessarily mean that those prices should be raised. He cannot know when prices are too high, because physicians benefiting from that mistaken generosity will not complain. The bias is always to raise prices, not lower them.

Medicare tries to solve that problem by limiting how much average prices may rise using the infamous sustainable growth rate (SGR) formula. That formula sets an arbitrary limit, unrelated to conditions in the market for physician services, on year-to-year increases in physician payment rates. Just as the price controller cannot know the “right” structure of relative prices, he also cannot know the “right” average price or its rate of growth. Again, the only signals come from those who want more, not less.

The inevitable result is that Congress breaks its own price control rules. In an annual rite of political contrition, Congress overrides the cuts in Medicare physician payment called for by the SGR. To maintain the fiction that someday we will take those reductions, they are pushed off to the next year—compounding both the amount to be cut and the political problem. As a result, Medicare is scheduled to reduce physician fees by 23 percent on December 1, and another 6.5 percent on January 1. Cuts of that magnitude are political suicide, and if imposed would cause millions of senior citizens to lose needed care.
Using one inadequate formula to make up for another, a built-in bias to inflating prices, no way to know when prices are "right"; what's not to love?