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Dysfunctional US Politics

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Gordo,

 

Democrats haven't been this upset since Republicans freed their slaves.  You will look back at this a year or two from now and realize how hysterical you were.

In the meantime:

Americans are the most hopeful they have been in more than a decade.

 

There is certainly something to be said for optimism - i.e. self-fulfilling prophecies.

 

The problem is when that optimism is based on an empty promise of things improving.

 

So far we've seen Trump back-pedalling on almost all his promises (locking up Hillary, torturing terrorists, withdrawing from Paris accord, disavowed alt-right etc.) - all good things in my book. In fact, good-ol' Kellyanne said:

 

"He [Trump] is thinking of many different things as he prepares to become President of the United States, and things that sound like the campaign aren't among them."

 

Ouch. How's that for a bait-and-switch to those who hoped he actually meant what he said?

 

I predict next he'll back off building the wall - heck, he's already scaled it back to a "fence" in many places. Plus he's already backed off the "deportation squad" promise, and he'll backpedal on his statement to "deport 2-3 million illegals" soon too, when he realizes how infeasible that is. We should all be glad, since over 50% of farm workers are undocumented immigrants, and without them, we privileged elites wouldn't be enjoying our precious fruits and vegetables. It Takes a Village...

 

I'm pretty surprised he's turning against his most enthusiastic base at such an amazing rate, much faster than I'd expected. I'm wondering how well they'll take it. The Breitbart crowd (writers and readers) are already fuming over the Hillary betrayal, which is gratifying to see. The comments expressing denial, outrage and betrayal on this and this Breitbart story are just precious. Trump's moron army is finally waking up to the fact that they've been duped. Hopefully they'll remain deluded until (Donald) Duck Dynasty distracts them and they forget about the whole thing. As long as they don't get enraged and take it out on vulnerable people in their communities...

 

But among hopeful signs that Trump really isn't the Fascist pig he played while on the campaign trail, there are very troubling clouds on the horizon...

 

It is pretty clear that his administration is shaping up to be a BIG bonanza for big business. If you believe in trickle-down economics, maybe you can retain optimism. But good luck with that, especially since Trump's past (e.g. Trump "university"), suggests that helping the little guy isn't a top priority for the man, despite what he promised on the campaign trail.

 

BTW, here is a good expose' on week #1 of our new Kleptocrat-in-chief strong-arming sycophants, undermining the press & robbing us blind. Here is another. Does this sound like a man who is going to do what's right for the country, or line his own pockets?

 

iuxQcKk.png

 

and this quote from his NY Times shakedown interview:

 

...the law is totally on my side, meaning, the president can’t have a conflict of interest. 

 

Welcome to the new dystopia. I hope the f*cking idiots who voted for him will remain mired in poverty, so as Tom says, they'll come crawling back to a progressive populist agenda that might actually have their interests in mind next election...

 

Sorry - I'm in a bit of a sour mood over this travesty, and felt like venting.

 

--Dean

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The fact that elections are nowhere near is the whole point. By the time elections are upon us, it's too late. You need to radicalize your voters starting NOW, not wait until the election. You formulate a radical agenda starting now - that's what the right did with theirs, they percolated those ideas over many years, they didn't spring them on their base only at election time. So too here. It takes time for ideas that seem radical to be accepted. If you proposed today to cut down military budgets by 75% people will look at you like you have two heads. It takes time to explain the math, how much we actually spend compared to the rest of the world, how much we actually need to defend ourselves (instead of having U.S. military engagement in 134 countries), it takes time to explain allocation of resources and how it will benefit our economy and competitive position to invest in education, science and infrastructure instead of building bombs and bombers. It takes time - so you better start now. The right wing didn't end up with fascism overnight either. They slowly pulled their whole voting coalition right. We need to do the same.

 

The problem with the Democrats developing policy is that they try for the nonexistent "middle ground". It's a myth. You talk to your BASE. Not to the other side, when developing policies - that's how you get a loser Hillary. The right doesn't try for the middle or to reach Democratic voters, when they propose massive tax cuts for the rich, and no abortion or rights for gay people. They talk to their base - that's it. And they win. That's why I'm opposed to reaching out - completely uselessly and never ever successfully - to the other side, such as rural voters or worrying that when we give white blue collar workers bjs, we're not cupping their balls tenderly enough (as that Quora idiot indicated). You talk to YOUR BASE. Period. Don't worry about the "deplorables" - that's the R's job. It's a new reality. Looking for the middle ground died under Newt Gingrich's assault in the 90's. Now it's all war all the time. Total War. Now the game is not reaching out to the other side, it's getting your base out. R's have been more successful with theirs. Hillary fumbled getting ours out. No more. WE'VE GOT THE NUMBERS ON OUR SIDE - it's just a matter of getting them out.

 

Same with leadership and deeper bench. Again, by the time the elections are upon us it's too late. You develop political talent and a deeper bench starting NOW. And that needs to be done particularly urgently for the D's because we have not overthrown our establishment the way the R's managed. We need to get fresh blood in pronto, or we'll lose millenials, people of color and everyone who needs a fighter not a republican lite, someone who will fight for you instead of trying to "reach" the other side.

 

So contrary to how you see the timetable - I see the fact that the elections are far away as all the more reason to use our time wisely, not sit complacent that elections are "far into the future". 

 

And the R's will help us. If we are wise, we'll accept their help, not try to clean up their mess. As the repubs inevitably rob everyone blind and crash the economy (maybe add a war or two), LET THE CHIPS FALL WHERE THEY MAY. You say people will get hurt. Well, duh - that's the point. We shouldn't be running over to patch up the wounds inflicted by the Republicans - we should be ready to pounce with our solutions when the day comes: the radical policies we've been developing all this time (if we use our time wisely). It'll be "dear voter - you want to eat, vote D, or try your luck with more empty R promises". 

 

They'll reap the whirlwind, and we'll be ready, however bad it gets. It's tough love time. Or per the Mencken quote: now is the time for the voters who voted for Trump to get their wishes - good and hard. So don't make it easier - that's self-defeating, and nobody will learn anything as we've seen over and over again. 

Edited by TomBAvoider

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I sincerely, from the heart, suggest those still upset about politics just unplug from it all for a while.  Do you really think following Trump's twitter feed is good for your health and well-being?

 

At any rate, hope you all have a good Thanksgiving.  If you want to be happier, avoid discussing politics at all cost ;)

 

Happy+Thanksgiving.jpg

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Yep, Happy Thanksgiving to all! Again - we should not make our political opponents into "enemies". I for one, will invite, as I do every Thanksgiving, my right wing friend to share some turkey. He voted for Trump this year. No reason to be unpleasant to him for his political expression. We're political opponents and real-life friends - and it's been this way for 25 years.

 

And disconnecting from politics for at least a while is good advice. 

 

Happy Thanksgiving to one and all!

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Tom,

 

If you haven't seen it, you'll appreciate this Washington Post article What will it take for Democrats to woo the white working class? on the challenges of creating a "big tent" in the Democratic party that can accommodate both the ethnically/racially diverse base they have now with the concerns of the "middle america" white voters they've so clearly lost.

 

This writer could be interpreted to favor your suggestion that Dems should "play to your base" - although it isn't clear to him it will be any more successful next time around.

 

--Dean

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Thanks, Dean. Actually, it nicely outlines the political landscape in the waning years of Obama. Good find.

 

There is a simple choice. You can't have it both ways. Trying to do so, merely makes you fall between two stools. You need to go all-in on one of the options. Either try to get back your white blue collar worker, or go completely toward the diversity coalition. I think the choice is a no-brainer. One - the first option is not realistic: the Democrats won over the blue collar worker vote starting under FDR and held onto it into the 60's. Then, they started losing it, and it was an unstoppable process, because the D's were interested in civil rights and economic justice for all Americans, which combined with the stresses of jobs moving up in education or out of the country, meant that the D's were at a perpetual disadvantage vs the R's platform. The R's platform was very straightforward: you are losing your white privilege, unwelcome change is coming - we can reverse those trends. You can't win over those voters unless you bend to that preference - and if you do, not only will you lose your Democratic coalition of people of color, but you actually will never match the R's only be a pale imitation. It's a nonstarter. Even if it's against their economic interests, those voters will vote R (as the article call is "compositional concerns"). Or as I put it "hate and fear over jobs and career". 

 

That means realistically you only got option two: go all-in on a diversity coalition. Jettison any appeals to the white blue collar worker and rural voters, value voters and generally the R base. Play to YOUR base, not the R base... duh! This is key. Turn out your base. Hillary reached out to R voters - the result, they ignored her overture (and came home to Trump), but meanwhile the D base was dispirited enough by this lack of spine and fighting spirit that they didn't turn up enough. That loss of enthusiasm was costly.

 

As to whether it will be "successful next time around": I believe so, yes. Why? Look at the numbers. Trump won by a bare handful of votes in f.ex. North Carolina - and a relative small margin in Florida. And that's by going balls to the wall to get out every single "deplorables" vote. In many red rural counties he was getting 85% - 90% votes, and 85% of the evangelicals. It doesn't get much better than that. There are not many more voters to be had there - that demographic is maxed out. AND HE STILL WOULD HAVE LOST, even so - had the D base turned out. And EVEN SO, without the D base turning out, Hillary won the popular vote by over 2 million votes. So why do I think the future belongs to us? Demographic changes all favor the D coalition. The minority Hispanic and Asian vote grows every election cycle, while the percentage of white votes shrinks. Whites vote overwhelmingly R. But they are shrinking. Even better, older people (conservatives - voting R) are dying. Younger people are leaning ever more away from R.

 

What are the challenges? First, while younger voters are leaning away from R, they are not necessarily leaning D. Why? Because of the problem I've been screaming about: the D's are not appealing to their base! That's why my prescription is to radicalize your voters and oust the D establishment (the way R's energized their party by ousting their establishment with the Tea Party surge). The second challenge is that the R's don't have to sit still. They too can make a play for the Hispanic and Asian vote. In some ways the R's problem with the People Of Color (POC) vote is self-inflicted. There is no objective reason why 90+% of f.ex. African-American voters should vote D - the conservative/liberal voter numbers are roughly the same across racial groups. There are Hispanic "family values", religious and evangelical voters, there are plenty of Asian economic-conservative voters. They can easily be swayed to the R side. If only R's stopped pushing them away. Remember the history: once upon a time the Irish were not considered fully white - and now they're the accepted mainstream, and make up a sturdy part of the R's base. Same with Italians and Eastern Europeans - once upon a time rejected, today a big part of the R's base. Fortunately for the D's the R's racism is keeping a cap on how many POC can drift over to R. If the D's were smart, they'd solidify their POC vote by strongly pulling left on immigration and other economic justice issues which would naturally cause the R's nativism to be inflamed in response, and when the R's spew racism, they lose the POC vote and the D's win it. So keep radicalizing the policies of D's. Go for immigration. Go for minority rights, gay rights, women's rights - the whole diversity coalition, as much to win the POC vote as to inflame the R racists (who will push the POC vote to D's thank to their hate-filled rhetoric and policies).

 

Anyhow, good article - thanks for finding it!

Edited by TomBAvoider

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Hey Gordo. Happy (non-)Turkey day to you too!

 

And speaking of thankful - guess what? Our secret collaboration just got its first bloom today!

 

--Dean

AWESOME!!  I have stories to tell about mine.  Its really gotten big, but looks a little "funky", I need to research more about what is going on.  I moved it into a new location this week, built this elaborate mini-greenhouse with mirrors on 4 sides... its near where I sleep and a little light escapes.  The weird pinkish light from it actually entered into my dream the other day when the timer kicked on at 6AM, pretty funny.  I'm intrigued actually by how the human brain integrates outside stimuli into dreams (something I've experimented with extensively in the past) - but that's a whole other topic for another time...

Edited by Gordo

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Not quite my perspective (too pollyannish) - but a sincere attempt by a well-known mathematician to understand the election, and an appeal for unity of all Americans red and blue - one for this Thanksgiving season:

 

 

And here's one for you Dean:

 

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/11/161122080756.htm

Edited by Dean Pomerleau
Changed Youtube link to embed video

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Gordo wrote (regarding our secret joint-project):

AWESOME!!  I have stories to tell about mine.  Its really gotten big, but looks a little "funky", I need to research more about what is going on.

 

I'm sending you a DM to discuss - but I confirm, mine looks "funky" too. I'll share pics.

 

Tom,

 

I like Vi Hart and her math videos. But I'm skeptical about her "young vs. old" explanation for Trumpism. In fact, I'm skeptical of any simple narrative to explain what happened in the election. Things are almost always more complicated than any simple explanation. This article provides a different simple(listic) explanation - it's level of education, stupid.

 

And I agree with you - Vi seems pretty pollyanne-ish with her hopeful perspective that "better inter-generational communication will solve our divide". I fear the two perspectives (conservatives vs. progressives) may be incommensurate.

 

But perhaps I'm being too pessimistic. Maybe the Trump win was simply a signal that a substantial fraction of the country believes that things were moving ahead too fast, that progressives tried to overreach socially under Obama, and that technology & "global perspective" may be moving too fast as well, tearing down social institutions and conventions which have served us pretty well for a long time, and replacing them with shallow interactions and relationships, like weak & distributed network of Facebook "friends".

 

Maybe it was healthy signal that we need to slow down our headlong rush towards what progressives consider a "better future", and make sure everyone benefits from judicious, manageable progress on social and technological fronts.

 

Maybe we can find a happy medium, where we make progress, just at a slower rate than many progressives would prefer.

 

Or maybe not, and the following analogy from self-driving cars holds:

 

Our country seems to have taken an unexpected and unprecedented swerve to the right. We appear to be headed for the weeds and have no idea how to recover, since we've got no prior "training data" showing us how to respond. Personally I'm quite concerned we're going to crash and burn...
 
Time will tell...
 
Tom wrote:

And here's one for you Dean:

 

 

Thanks Tom! Yes - evaluating truth claims is a very hard problem, and only getting harder given all the sources of so-called "news" that we are bombarded with. Here was a tweet I sent out this morning on the topic, for any machine learning geeks:

 

Insight: Fake news problem ≈ GAN generator/critic pair. Fakers taking it to next level: faking full newspaper sites.

VQ0yzOi.png

 
In more common parlance "a GAN generator/critic pair" is the machine learning equivalent of an arms race. In this case, just as web giants like Google and Facebook attempt to remove (obviously) fake news, the generators of fake news "step up their game" and start generating whole fake but credible looking local newspaper websites, complete with weather reports and obituaries, in order to continue fooling both unsuspecting readers and the Google/Facebook algorithms into thinking the fake news they embed on their website is true, or at least not obviously bogus. One could argue Breitbart.com is similar, but I won't go there...
 
I still  think this article on "crony beliefs" goes even further, and has a better explanation for why people chose to "endorse" beliefs, despite knowing them to be false. It's not just that we have trouble evaluating truth claims, we actively adopt sometimes even the most crazy ideas as a form of social signalling - i.e. "I'm going to share this (obviously false story) to signal I'm a proud member of Trump's team".
 
For you health & nutrition geeks, you might appreciate this other tweet of mine from earlier today:
 
If Hillary were a food, she'd be soy. Some say soy is good for you; others say it's toxic crap. Science supports the former. 
 
I then linked to this new Dr. Greger soy video with some good insights on the intricacies of soy and it's benefits. If I cared more about health topics these days, I'd post it with commentary to one of the other "rooms" of this CR Forum mansion of ours...
 
--Dean

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Gordo,

 

You will look back at this a year or two from now and realize how hysterical you were.

In the meantime:
 

Americans are the most hopeful they have been in more than a decade.

 

I hope you and the rest of America remain hopeful.

 

Trump's pick to head the Dept. of Health & Human Services (Tom Price) doesn't give me much confidence, particularly regarding issues many folks around here care about - e.g. health & longevity research. Price is the Chairman of the House Budget Committee, and is a well-known budget hawk.

 

Not only has he been one of the strongest opponents of the Affordable Care Act, he's also vowed to stop the bi-partisan 21st Century Cures Act which was basically how longevity research advocates were hoping to advance the field through federal funding of cutting-edge research:

 

 The 21st Century Cures Act would establish in the U.S. Treasury an NIH and Cures Innovation Fund endowed with $1.86 billion in mandatory funds per year for FY2016 through FY2020 to be disbursed across the following initiatives: biomedical research, cures development, an accelerating advancement program, high-risk high-payoff research, and special funding support for early career researchers. The fund offers encouragement to researchers seeking assurance that lack of money will not represent a prominent roadblock to advancement of their lines of inquiry.

 

The 21st Century Cures Act authorizes annual increases in NIH’s overall budget from $3.1 billion in 2016 to $3.4 billion by 2018, while directing the agency to target resources, through a “strategic plan,” which it is directed to develop to broaden its mission beyond its stronghold in crucial biomedical research and identify contributions to improving U.S. public health through biomedical research.

 

With Price as head of HHS, which oversees both the NIH & FDA, we're pretty much hosed when it comes to health and longevity research funding. It seems unlikely now the 21st Century Cure Act will pass, or get past Trump, and if it does, Price isn't a forward thinker. So much for an anti-aging moonshot...

 

Gordo, is that the kind of thing you were hoping from Trump?

 

More generally, I'm curious Gordo, are you still optimistic Trump will shake things up in a good way, and I'll "look back at this a year or two from now and realize how hysterical you were."

 

--Dean

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Republicans are generally anti-science. Not surprising, given that they are big on pushing religion and promoting prejudice (unexamined fears, judging with no evidence), hostility to higher education, making post high school education unaffordable for anyone who is not rich, underfunding undergrad schools, and filling textbooks with ahistorical propaganda and anti-science creationism. But it's not about an individual Republican voter here or there. It's about their legislative history. By and large they like to cut science budgets, certainly in the last few decades (Nixon was OK in that respect). Look at what Reagan did immediately after getting elected - made sure to set us back in energy research and continue reliance on fossil fuels. Medical research - fought tooth and nail to slow it down with bans and limitations (such as fetal stem cell) based on insane religious beliefs from thousands of years ago. The only research budgets they support are military ones where they can waste billions/trillions on systems that don't work, but which line the pockets of their buddies in various corporations (see: star wars nonsense under Reagan). I was talking about supporting science with my right-wing Republican friend, and he explained to me that it can all be done by private industry, so as far as he's concerned they should cut the science budget down to zero. I didn't bother to argue with him, as he has so little historical knowledge (typical, I find, with Republicans) about how much science was only possible through public funding.

 

Bottom line, the GOP, never a champion of science, has increasingly been moving away from using facts and evidence at all, since it conflicts with their view of the world. Reality is out with them. Welcome to the world dominated by religion and superstition. Maybe under Trump they can implement their dream of "drowning the government in the bathtub", diminish or abolish all agencies that deal with the promotion of standards and science, the department of education, the FDA, the EPA, the USDA, NASA, NIH, etc., etc., etc. Then we can all live in Jesusland where we put our future in the hands of unseen gods and swindling businessmen.

 

Let's face it, scientists, educators and university faculties - in overwhelming numbers atheists and liberals - are not a GOP constituency, quite the opposite. Even Silicon Valley is mostly liberal/D or libertarian. No reason for the Republicans to cater to them - and Trump's feuds with Silicon Valley and anyone who doesn't support him, point to a very clear picture of the future of publicly funded science in the Trump presidency. Vital time will be lost, and we'll all suffer for it in lost opportunities and paths not taken. Thanks, Republicans - always looking to the past - an ideal party if you want the Dark Ages back. 

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Speaking of assaults on democracy, whatever happened to:

hillarydontquestionelection.jpg

 

Sorry, I can't help but mess with you guys just a little  :rolleyes:   You act as though we've never had a Republican president, and yet its flipped back and forth between parties almost like clockwork for nearly 200 years.  Why does this seem unexpected to you?

 

At any rate, speaking of budget cuts, we have a $20 trillion debt now, what, if anything, would you cut?  And at what point does the debt become a problem?  I see a real disconnect between people's health and retirement expectations and what the government can currently provide (including steep end of life care and treatment of chronic conditions, not to mention social security which is supposed to be inflation adjusted, and a looming pension debacle).  The current situation reminds me of the dragon tyrant, "unproductive" spending by the US Government is out of control and is preventing better use of capital.  I'm not at all confident either party will address this, but it grew completely out of hand during the Obama years (note that I don't blame Obama as the president does not set budgets or spending) with the debt doubling and exceeding all debt accumulated under every previous administration combined (at least in nominal terms).  If the same happens during the Trump era, we end up with $40 trillion in debt.  Good luck with that.

 

Regarding college tuition (or cost of education) - I think the best thing that could happen as far as driving down costs would be the establishment of a highly reputable, accredited, possibly government funded, online university, where they recruit the best teachers in the world to develop lectures and teaching materials and use deep learning and data mining for continuous improvement.  Kids who needed special tutoring could pay for that on their own using the competitive global market.  There is already a network of testing centers across the country that could be used to prevent fraud, etc (used for example in obtaining many industry certifications, I have used them personally many times).  I'm kind of surprised this hasn't been done yet to the extent I envision.  I know many reputable schools including ivy league schools have online programs, but since the idea is so scalable and cost effective, I want to see it done "big league" ;)  The key is highly productive spending, and this is just one example of what that could look like.

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Debt never seems to bother Republicans when it happens due to their actions. After all, they were the original party of "Cheney: Reagan proved deficits don't matter" under the ever popular fraud of trickle down economics Reagan exploded the debt with massive tax cuts for the rich and expansion of the military budget. Clinton brought it under control a bit - actually showing budgetary surpluses for the first time and a prospect of debt reduction. And that's when the GOP under GWB really went to town exploding the debt not just in the present, but through tax cuts on top of unfunded wars managed to assure massive debt for decades into the future as the trillion dollar bills for the unfunded wars come a'callin'. 

 

Budgetary cuts - what to cut? You can't cut mandatory spending, such as the interest on the debt - we're obligated to pay out the bonds. That leaves discretionary spending.

 

Guess what is the biggest part of discretionary spending - well over 50% of all discretionary spending by the U.S. government? That's right -  the most unproductive - indeed counterproductive budget expenditures of all - the military budget. Take that and "intelligence" budgets - cut by 75%-90% respectively and you're not only ahead fiscally, but reduce the temptation to go to war all over the world and to meddle in other countries affairs.

 

Do you realize the insanity of spending over 54% of all your discretionary money on the military - which has further knock on effects of causing more expenditures down the road, including mandatory spending, when you have to pay off bonds we issue to raise money for unfunded wars, and then pay massive amounts for veteran benefits which all come ON TOP of military budgets? It's like some form of madness. That's how empires die - militarily overextended, bankrupting the economy and taking the whole system down. 

 

The money is there, you just have to have the political will to cut the biggest . Neither the D's nor the R' have it, but if one looks at the politics of it, I certainly have more faith in the D's ability to cut the military and raise taxes than the R's who love nothing more than expanding military budgets (see Trump's promises!) and then love to start new wars that will be not only a source of never-ending expenditures, but thanks to causing instability (like the Iraq invasion destroying the whole Middle East) guarantee further involvment of the military in ever more and never-ending wars.

 

The military budgets are like punching giant holes in the bottom of our ship of state. The water is gushing in, and the GOP is looking for more ways to enlarge the holes, while some folks are walking about and asking "gee, what can we do to have less water coming in - looks like we are sinking". That's how I see questions like "At any rate, speaking of budget cuts, we have a $20 trillion debt now, what, if anything, would you cut?" - gee, I don't know... how about the most obvious of all - the 55% of discretionary budget going to totally anti-productive spending of the military-security complex?

 

All we need is a very basic military about 10% of the current size - we spend more on the military than several next contries combined. We have nukes - nobody is going to take over our country. Even cutting the military budget by 75% would leave us more than safe. There is literally no need to spend so much on the military - what it does is draws us into more wars that we wouldn't be involved in if we didn't feel like we have to justify such a gigantic military. If we didn't go to wars people might start asking "why are we spending over 50% of our discretionary buget on a military in peace-time?" So we have to start wars (such as Iraq) to give an excuse for more and more and more military spending. 

 

You want to cut the budget? There's a fat target right there - and re-allocating the money from the total waste of the military to productive expenditures that invest in education, science and infrastructure and make our economy stronger. Easy choice.

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Here are more facts on discretionary spending:

https://www.thebalance.com/current-us-discretionary-federal-budget-and-spending-3306308

Even with extreme cuts that very few Americans would support (and pretty much no one in congress), at most you are going to end up with 500 billion in savings.  But under Obama we've averaged over $1 trillion in new debt per year!   Massively higher taxes?  Inevitable.  But how much would you like to pay as a percentage of your income?  Inflation?  Also inevitable, but may be extremely difficult for the country.

 

Regarding the smug "the other side is stupid" rhetoric (which was addressed in the above posted video 'A Mathematician's Perspective'), it really hasn't helped much, I'd suggest a different approach.  Plus when these supposed intellectual giants got trounced in the chess game of politics by a joke of a candidate with one hand tied behind his back (massively outspent by his opponent), the whole premise seems pretty laughable, no?

Edited by Gordo

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That's a good link, Gordo. As it explains plainly, the biggest discretionary spending chunk is the military - by far. So a combination of a massive - and I mean massive cut to the military, combined with a drastic raising of taxes, could certainly get us there. And one of the reasons is that military spending is uniquely unproductive. Spend a dollar on building a bridge or educating a young person, or pouring it into innovative science and you get massive economic returns. Spend a dollar building a bomb, and you got no return except future possible expenses. It is not just about the money wasted on military spending - it is about the opportunity cost of that capital being misspent, and the energy and talent drain on unproductive activities. It handicaps the economy. Thus, moving money away from the military is a double whammy - cutting the military budget to the bone is an imperative, and will result in a bigger and stronger economy that will have a better chance to pay off the debt - a win-win. Investing in science, education and infrastructure will result in a massively expanded economy. Pouring money into the military that merely sets us up for more unproductive war-related expenses down the road is a way to ruin the economy. Every empire in history has had to learn that grim lesson. How high should the taxes be? Conservatives love to bring back the 50's and all practices of the past, but strangely not the marginal tax rates during that golden era of prosperity and rise of the middle class. Of course the world was different back then, and effective tax rates were not quite as dramatic as the 90+% marginal rates, but we can certainly raise taxes from the present dismal levels engineered by decades of Republican trickle down scams. Highly developed countries all have higher taxes than the third world hell-holes... it's not a coincidence. The lowest taxes are to be found in places like Somalia, and in some of the most advanced and wealthy countries you have the highest taxes - civilization costs money. More taxes means more productivity (up to a point) - there is an optimal level of taxation, higher than the U.S. today, but not confiscatory.

 

Alas you are also correct in that the political will does not exist to do these cuts. Wrongly, as I argue, because the Democratic establishment is quite OK with the military-industrial-security complex. Which is why I argue for progressive tea-partying that establishment, and radicalizing the grass roots on the D side. Exactly as the R's did with theirs. At which point, the political will can materialize - just as extreme right wing policies took hold of the radicalized tea-party GOP. We can do the same on the other side - and the heck with the opposing voters (just as the R base has said the heck with the D voters). Then it will come down to the numbers - who can get out their voters better. This time - barely - the R's had better electoral numbers. But the trends are against them, and when the D's come back into power they should be ready to yank things hard in the other direction - but that can only happen if the D's are radicalized.

 

But I also agree that D's have shown themselves to be worthless political operatives - and Hillary's dismal campaign was proof. R's outplayed them at every turn. Instead of playing hardball, Hillary kept hopelessly reaching out to Repub voters and alienating her own D base. D's like nothing better than bringing a wet noodle to a gun fight. The R's are always dead serious and play for keeps. Time for the D's to get a clue and fight fire with fire... which is exactly what I keep advocating - we need more polarization, not less. 

 

The present economic set up is unsustainable. We're going broke with a gigantic military and starved productive government investments. If Trump goes through with his insane tax cuts while at the same time expanding the military, maybe he can indeed kill the American Empire, in which case all we'll be arguing over is the ashes. All empires die after all, so perhaps it's our time and Trump will be our Nero :) twittering while the Republic burns down. Oh well, we had a good run all things considering - and I don't see who exactly is going to assume the dominant power position (I'm not as gung-ho about China as most analysts seem to be - China has their own massive weaknesses). I suspect, somehow we'll muddle on, diminished and impoverished, but hey, low taxes! 

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And now Trump saves 1000 jobs Carrier deciding not to move a plant to Mexico. How could the Democrats be so f---ing stupid! I have watched the manufacturing die in small towns arpund here for decades. Ford City for example lost Elger and PPG plants. Over 2000 workers. Hell that is a tremendous setback for a small community. It has been happening all over America and not a peep from the likes of Bill and Hilary. Corporations ditching the USA and neither party getting upset about that. INCREDIBLE! Trump, just may have hit on something here and he could end up being as popular as Reagan-who knows? Do I trust him-hell no of course not. But still if he is perceived as a savior of American Jobs and willing to take on giant corporations WOW! those stupid dems never peeped and forgot their traditional base of support and the likes of Hilary and Donna Brazille kept talking Bout demographics, what a bunch of idiots!

Edited by mikeccolella

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This is a complete tangent, having little to do with U.S. politics, but I just found it so fascinating, I thought others might be interested. As I wrote in my last post, I am a bit of a China skeptic - i.e. while I acknowledge that the U.S. will decline (indeed, it has been in relative decline since the 60's as a percentage of the world economy), the decline of the U.S. will not usher in (IMHO) a competitor who will take over as world leader. Rather, I think, it will be like what happened after the fall of Rome - a period during which the old order fell apart without a new empire replacing it, instead, it ushered in the Dark Ages (of course, it happens slowly enough for most people not to necessarily notice during one lifetime). Why not China? Because China is really rather different. It's not just about the size of the economy or military power. It is about cultural leadership and the promotion of ideas and ideology. China is lacking in all these. To get a feel for what China is really like, you need to live there. There are these couple of young guys (a Brit and an American) married to Chinese women who live permanently in China, and they travel all over on their motorcycles and try to explain China to the Westerners. Here is a fascinating episode called "Why is Everything in China Falling Apart":

 

https://youtu.be/o9eXi3RL8q4

 

So contrary to Dean :), I don't see us turning the keys over to China, hoping they'll do better. No, they won't. We'll just have to decline quite on our own, and I don't see anybody on the horizon picking up the baton for humanity :) 

Edited by TomBAvoider

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Wow Tom,

 

What an eye-opening video you shared. Here it is embedded for anyone who wants to watch it:

 

 

I highly recommend it for anyone who harbors the romantic idea that China has got its sh*t together culturally and economically.

 

Talk about dysfunctional - that is both shocking & very sad. If what is depicted in that video reflects a pervasive attitude and state of affairs in China, I was totally naive, and have to agree with you Tom. That doesn't look like a culture that is better prepared than ours to lead the world towards a brighter future.

 

I'm not sure what socio-economic and/or cultural forces have led to the level of neglect of the "commons" in China that is depicted in that video, but I wonder if it has implications for UBI.

 

Could it be that when people are given a subsistence income and come to expect the government to take care of everything, they become apathetic and complacent - e.g. unwilling to replace a light bulb in a shared elevator, or even pitch in a measly $20 of their own money to help get an elevator installed in their high-rise building?

 

The UBI optimists (like Scott Santens) think implementing a basic income can't do anything but help a society, and that people will step up and become more responsible and socially engaged if their basic needs are met. I'm not an expert and I'm all for conducting experiments to test out the impact of UBI on a large group of people. But evidence like that in China just serves to increase my skepticism of the idea that UBI would naturally and inevitably be an unmitigated success; a panacea for what is ailing our society. 

 

Obviously I could be wrong. Clearly the Chinese economy is pretty far from what people like Scott have in mind when they advocate for a universal basic income for the US. Yes, maybe the opposite of what that video depicts would happen in the US as a result of a UBI.

 

Perhaps when people are given money by the government for doing nothing, people will step up and be more charitable and conscience, rather than less. But at the very least, it looks to me like that part of China is a chilling example of how things can go off the rails when you don't get socioeconomic incentives right...

 

--Dean

 

P.S. I've learned (recently) to trust little of what I see, read and hear. The above video appears to paint a pretty dismal picture of parts of Chinese society, and a tragic lack of a sense of personal responsibility for the common good. I can't vouch for how accurate the commentary is in the video, but the squalid conditions depicted, and the apparent willingness of people to let things fall apart - even things that are (or should be) culturally important to them (like temples), seems hard to deny given the scenes in the video, regardless of how much of an 'agenda' the narrators might have.

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I'm not sure if there are immediate implications about UBI from the Chinese experience. Culture and cultural attitudes are shaped by history. For many decades, China was a highly repressive - totalitarian - communist regime. This informed the attitudes of the population - nobody cared about the commons, because the commons literally belonged to no one rather than to everyone, as you'd think would be the case under Communism. So doing anything at all for the commons was doing it for no one - a 100% waste. You don't get over such ingrained attitudes very quickly - plus, China is still a repressive regime with no security and arbitrary things happen - so don't get too attached to something that doesn't even belong to you.

 

But I'll illustrate the contrast - when people believe the commons belongs to everyone rather than no one. I've been lucky in my life to live in many countries for spans of years and really get to know the cultures. This was my experience of Scandinavia - people were very accepting of super high taxes, because "it's all for the common good", levels of taxation that would make the average U.S. citizen faint. Satisfaction and levels of happiness were always at the top of the rankings in countries. I have personally witnessed situations like "honor system" cafes in Denmark - where you'd put the money into a box after your order and nobody would check that you paid in full. And they stayed in business with no problems. I lost my wallet in Stockholm, and it was returned to me, with all the cash still there. People cared and shared. Welfare paid as much as work. And yet people worked, and unemployment was very low. BUT. That was back in the 80's. Then, they opened the immigration spigot for humanitarian reasons. It was not always a 100% good experience. Immigration sometimes brought in people whose cultures had different values, and those values did not mesh well with traditional Scandinavian values. Women started getting harrassed in the street - I personally witnessed that when I walked with my girlfriend down the street and a recent immigrant grabbed her breasts, just passing by. This is the type of stuff I'm talking about. Tons of people got on welfare rather than work, and they really did work the system. This started having an effect on all - even young native Scandinavians. Crime and fraud levels exploded. The assimilation had not been as successful as one could hope for. Maybe more time is needed for adjustment, but by the time I left, Scandinavia of the old was fading away - including the feeling of "we're all in this together". It was replaced by more selfish and self-protective behavior, suspicion of strangers, turning inward and toward family and friends and away from "the crowd", cars and homes started getting locked. The commonality was impaired. However, my point is that however it ended - at least up to this point, and one hopes it'll get better in the future - it does show that at least it certainly is possible to have a society where people value each other and work toward the common good, and don't take advantage of state generosity.

 

Of course, for this you need a high level of development, and that is not likely to come from countries whose culture is born of trauma and ideology that is shaped by authoritarianism and repression. China is not the right model for that.  

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I'm all for far lower military spending (wouldn't mind seeing a 75% cut even though it isn't going to happen).  But I think the following is a bigger issue: 

US health care tab hits $3.2T; fastest growth in 8 years

"The growth of 5.8 percent in 2015 boosted total health care spending to $3.2 trillion. That's an average of $9,990 per person, although the vast share of that money is spent caring for the sickest patients."

 

"In a milestone for data-watchers, the report found that the federal government became the largest payer for health care in 2015. Washington accounted for 29 percent of overall spending. "

 

According to this the Federal government is spending $1 trillion on healthcare currently and this is only going to get worse with the proliferation of drugs, slightly longer lives, and a deluge of chronic conditions especially with boomers.  Average annual spend of $9990 per person means $40k a year just for health care for a family of 4 if we actually spread the true cost out to everyone equally.  This is completely out of control and will divert virtually all funds to essentially "non-productive" use.  This is far worse than even the obscene military spending.

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No question, U.S. healthcare system is a shambles. We spend far more as a percentage of GDP on healthcare than anybody else in the world, yet our outcomes are far worse than the top performers. And our demographic burden (old people and boomers) is far smaller than f.ex. Japan, where the percentage of old and retired people vs productive and working people is far higher. 

 

In short, the U.S. system is a disaster - high cost, low return.

 

And yet - it could've been even worse, had we not passed Obamacare. Not that Obamacare is some kind of miracle - no, it too is a shambles and disaster. But what we had before was even worse - and much costlier. Obamacare (ACA) - has saved us boatloads of money now and into the future (right up until the Republicans undermine it shortly). Here is a brief write up in that Communist publication, Fortune from June of this year:

 

U.S. Will Spend $2.6 Trillion Less on Health Care Than Previously Estimated

 

“A critical factor in the reduced spending projections over time was the historic slowdown in health spending growth that began in 2008,” the researchers wrote in the report. “This slower growth clearly lowered the level of spending on which later forecasts were based and therefore contributed to reduced spending projections.”

 

"The slower health care spending also means that the ACA is expected to cost the U.S. government much less than previously estimated. The Congressional Budget Office estimated in 2010, after the passage of the ACA, that the gross cost of all ACA coverage provisions from 2014 to 2019 would cost $938 billion. That forecast has now dropped to $686 billion in the 2015 forecast, a reduction of 26.9%."

 

Had we not passed ACA, we'd have been not only in far worse shape financially, we'd have millions upon millions more people who are not covered. People who are not covered are not merely a tragedy for those people - they are costly to us financially, because now all their "care" happens in the emergency rooms, which was already bankrupting state and county hospitals across the nation, and driving up costs for the rest of us. Health care costs were skyrocketing until 2008 at a rate that would make the present uptick look like a joke, and without the ACA, our boomers would have completely destroyed any hope for coverage for the vast majority of people who are not incredibly rich. So the ACA has been an godsend fiscally and medically through providing coverage for millions who never had it before. We saved a ton of money with the ACA.

 

That said, ACA is still a disaster. It's a bandaid on a cancer. Sure, it would be worse without ACA, but the ACA is still ridiculously inadequate, thanks to a ridiculously byzantine rube-goldbergesque structure, which we got because there was literally 100% obstructionism from the Republicans (not a single R vote for ACA), and blue dog Democrats. We ended up with a bandaid. It is not good enough by far. It needs radical reform - for inspiration, see nations that spend a fraction of the costs, and yet have a system that not only has higher satisfaction from the people, but far better outcomes. It can be done badly - and there are examples the world over, and it can be done far better, also see examples across the world. And you don't even have to abolish private doctors and private insurance, and doctors can still make a ton of money - see France for example. The U.S. can find their own way, if rational economists and medical representatives were allowed to construct a workable system. But it will not happen here, because there is too much money riding on it in this country, and too many moneyed interests making fortunes off holding everybody hostage. And the Republicans, always champions of the hostage-takers, are now in charge, so good luck. When the profit motive enters decisions about your health, both your health and your pocket will suffer. There is a reason why we don't make certain areas of life dependent upon profit: the judicial system and policing for example. You wouldn't want the judge or the police to answer to the highest payer, would you? Yet, once upon a time that was true in ancient Europe (and still is in some parts of the world!) - and we had such a terrible experience with it, civilization said "no more, ever", and we would regard the attempt to monetize policing and justice as like something out of the Dark Ages, together with serfdom and slavery. But it's the same with healthcare. You can be 100% sure that one day we'll come to regard our present practices with the same disbelief - "can you believe, that once upon a time, whether you got medical help or not depended on whether you had enough wealth or not?". 

 

The present U.S. healthcare system (including the ACA) is unsustainable. We can fix it, so that it coveres everyone, and costs a fraction of what it costs us today - there are examples the world over. But it depends on being able to keep moneyed interests at bay - how optimitistic are we that in the present climate and political power, it will happen here? Exactly. Which is why right after the election, my call to friends and family (and on this board) was: "it's every man for himself time, so take good care of yourself, and the best of luck, cause you're gonna need it". 

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Tom,

 

I agree with you about our Rube Goldberg healthcare system now. The ACA was a halfway step towards comprehensive healthcare, which is floundering because it didn't go far enough. As someone who buys healthcare from from the ACA "marketplace" without subsidy, it is a real pain, and getting more expensive for healthy people as the pool of young healthy people participating in the program dwindles. 

 

It will be interesting to see what if anything the Republicans can do to improve upon it it when they "repeal and replace" (or more likely "repeal and delay") it. Needless to say, I'm not optimistic.

 

I'll tell you one thing, I'm glad we had the ACA. I lost count at around $500K when I once tried tallying all the hospital bills associated with my son's 10-month illness a couple years ago. We ended up paying something like $5K out of pocket until we hit our high-deductible limit.

 

Obviously it's ethically debatable whether that was the optimal way to spend limited healthcare dollars, but when in the thick of such a tragedy, one doesn't pose such questions, at least not for long.

 

--Dean

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Obviously it's ethically debatable whether that was the optimal way to spend limited healthcare dollars, but when in the thick of such a tragedy, one doesn't pose such questions, at least not for long.

 

The whole mess is of a piece. It's all interconnected. If we had real medical research budgets, the need for drug companies and their pricing power would shrink drastically. Government funded research into life-saving (or enhancing) drugs and treatments is too small to meet population healthcare needs. So drug companies step in and then have the power to demand the moon for their drugs and treatments because they hold you hostage. If those drugs or treatments were government funded, you wouldn't have to bear the cost of having to make drug companies incredibly rich. Nor would you have perverse incentives, where drugs and treatments are prioritized as revenue generators rather than focused on cures and prevention, because it's more profitable to continue treating and continue the medical/drug/treatment involvement. And guess who lobbies to starve government funding for medical research, for regulatory agencies such as the FDA and standards bodies? That's right - the very same drug companies that exist because of the inadequacies of the government funded medical research. And money continues to distort healthcare in multiple ways - a researcher often finds themselves lured away to private companies, because there's not enough money for government funded research and besides they'll get paid a lot more in private industry. Thus sapping the strength of state funded research. Don't forget how - often state funded - university medical research works, where the focus is on patenting and monetizing, rather than the public good for publicly funded results. The incredible amounts of money to be made seriously distorts the entire healthcare system.

 

My point being, is that while you ask whether your son's treatments were an optimal way to spend limited healthcare dollars, I ask why were the treatments so expensive in the first place. Prioritization of scarce resources will always be an ever-present necessity, including in healthcare. But before we even get to prioritization, we should ask what drives the cost of healthcare in the first place. Like I mentioned elsewhere, I have been lucky in being able to live in various countries around the world for extended periods of time. I can tell you, that the very same treatments in advanced developed countries cost a fraction of what they cost absurdly here in the U.S. - and that is accounting for the cost and incentives of innovation. The go-to explanation by right-wingers I keep hearing is that the U.S. is funding the world's innovations in healthcare, but it simply isn't true. If you want to know the nuts and bolts of who is funding innovation and structuring incentives, you should google one day the story of hip/knee joint replacement technologies in the U.S. vs Europe. Eye opening, and a perfect illustration of the perverse incentives that drive crazy level of costs here for treatment modalities that are frequently actually inferior in medical outcomes (see the recent J&J court setbacks related to hip joint treatments). 

 

Money is poisoning our healthcare system. People talk about the necessity of taking money out of politics, but taking it out of medicine affects our lives just as much. Unless we publicly fund research and restructure to remove perverse incentives, we will remain in a death spiral of costs and outcomes. Here's an idea: divert some of the military spending to medical research - I promise you, it will be win-win-win, in saving lives instead of destroying them and diminishing future costs, instead of stacking them up higher. Will it happen? I'm not super optimistic - certainly not in the short to medium term (my lifetime).

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