Whether it’s real or not

I know a lot of cynics will say it’s a political ploy, but this is a pretty powerful message: https://www.good.is/articles/lifelong-gop-likes-aca

Regardless of whether this guy is telling the truth, or if it’s a clever bit of political marketing, I know that the ACA helped a good friend of ours – perhaps even saved her life. Before, her pre-existing condition prevented her from getting insurance and the surgery she needed, and she was pretty much wasting away. It’s definitely not perfect, and our system’s still basically screwed up, but it’s a little less screwed up now that people who need help can get it.
What we need now is not a repeal, but a strengthening of the law, improvements in the ways insurance raise premiums, in the way data can and must be shared among providers, and in the way that states provide Medicaid expansion.

Meet the new boss

To summarize: the members of Obama’s Transition Economic Advisory Board are too old, too uninspiring and too much part of the problem to deliver the change America needs and to keep alive the hope that Obama may have inspired through his election. A wasted opportunity.

(From FT.com | Willem Buiter’s Maverecon.) That sucks, but I can’t say I’m surprised. I’m prepared for more of the same in other political arenas, albeit with a flashier presentation than we’re used to. Buiter does overstep a bit in dismissing all lawyers outright, but in general he’s right that there aren’t enough serious economists on the team – especially given the significance of today’s crisis. And the number of protectionists on the board seems at odds with a need for a Bretton Woods III, as John B. Judis puts it. (I highly recommend this last article; it puts aspects of global economics of the last century into sharp perspective.)

RFK Jr. as Possible EPA Chief?

I’ve railed against RFK, Jr.’s conspiracy-theorist, anti-science, anti-vaccine ways before, as have many others. I only hope someone on Obama’s team is reading some science blogs out there. According to the WSJ, RFK Jr. is one of the names being considered for new EPA Chief (thanks to Orac for the heads-up):

So who’s on the short list? Plenty of names, starting with environmental lawyer and activist Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., according to Politico. That doesn’t have too many environmental types very happy—beyond Mr. Kennedy’s prior adventures in linking vaccines and autism, or opposing offshore wind power, many fear he doesn’t have the managerial expertise to handle a sprawling agency that will only get bigger.

As the WSJ suggests, an RFK, Jr. appointment would be a big mistake, and certainly wouldn’t indicate ‘change’ from a previous administration that was decidedly anti-science and anti-evdience. I’ll join Orac’s call to drop a line to Obama’s team and let them know you oppose this appointment.

On decision-making and framing

This essay is focused on political decision-making, specifically with regards to how the Obama campaign should frame McCain, but I find its arguments applicable in general:

But post-Palin, the Obama-Biden campaign seems to have become the Gore-Kerry-Hillary campaign. They are running on 18th Century theory of Enlightenment reason: If you just tell people the facts, they will follow their self-interest and reason to the right conclusion. What contemporary cognitive scientists have discovered (See my new book, The Political Mind: Why You Can’t Understand 21st Century Politics with an 18th Century Brain), and what Republican marketers have known for decades, is that the Enlightenment theory of reason doesn’t describe how people actually work. People think primarily in terms of cultural narratives, stereotypes, frames, and metaphors. That is real reason.

For me, these insights offer a potential way through stubborn beliefs many hold regarding health, medicine and science. I think there are a lot of lessons to be learned from the political successes of Republicans in the last couple of decades – and especially in the last eight years.

There’s more good stuff here:

Taxation is not an affliction. Tax cuts will not create jobs. These are facts, but stating them as we just did just reinforces conservative frames. The right framing for the truth must be available and used for the truth be heard.

If the truth doesn’t fit the existing frame, the frame will stay in place and the truth will dissipate.

It takes time and a lot of repetition for frames to become entrenched in the very synapses of people’s brains. Moreover, they have to fit together in an overall coherent way for them to make sense.

Effective framing on a single issue must be both right and sensible. That is, it must fit into a system of frames (to be sensible) and must fit one’s moral worldview (to be right).

(Thanks to homunculus.)

Obama and Ethanol

Obama Camp Closely Linked With Ethanol – NYTimes.com

Not long after arriving in the Senate, Mr. Obama himself briefly provoked a controversy by flying at subsidized rates on corporate airplanes, including twice on jets owned by Archer Daniels Midland, which is the nation’s largest ethanol producer and is based in his home state.

No big surprise he won Iowa. E85 as a solution to our fuel crisis is a red herring. If Obama hasn’t heard this yet, it’s because he has corn-money stuffed in his hears. If he’s elected, keep an eye on his energy policy to see if he’s making good decisions free from political influence. Our food prices and environment depend on E85 getting shot down, as it should.

Our next President will most likely be stupid

Orac has a nice rejoinder to David Kirby’s recent article, which contained the following disheartening, if not unsurprising news:

Senator Hillary Clinton, in response to a questionnaire from the autism activist group A-CHAMP, wrote that she was “Committed to make investments to find the causes of autism, including possible environmental causes like vaccines.” And when asked if she would support a study of vaccinated vs. unvaccinated children, she said: “Yes. We don’t know what, if any, kind of link there is between vaccines and autism – but we should find out.”And now, yesterday, at a rally in Pennsylvania, Barack Obama had this rather surprising thing to say:

“We’ve seen just a skyrocketing autism rate. Some people are suspicious that it’s connected to the vaccines. This person included. The science right now is inconclusive, but we have to research it.”

(Note: The Washington Post reports that when Obama said “this person,” he pointed to someone who had asked an autism question).

Orac contends (and I agree) that the problem isn’t the answers themselves, but rather that they answered at all (his notes and links, not mine):

In essence, both candidates accepted some of the major pillars of the mercury militia’s fantasies as being true. These include claims that:

  • there is an autism “epidemic.” (Arguably, there is very likely not.)
  • there is a scientific controversy over whether vaccines cause autism. (There really isn’t; it’s a so-called manufactured controversy. There is no good evidence that vaccines cause autism, David Kirby’s bloviations and pontifications otherwise notwithstanding. Multiple large epidemiological studies have failed to find even a hint of a convincing link, and the publicizing of the Hannah Poling case as some sort of “smoking gun” by antivaccinationists is nothing more than a rebranding of autism and more evidence of the incredibly shrinking vaccine claim.)
  • that vaccines are somehow unsafe or that children are “overvaccinated” and eceive too many vaccines. (Again, there is no good evidence that either of these is the case.)

And of course, John McCain is even worse.

Obama’s Speech on the Economy

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It’s like a brief history of US economics, a nice refresher course for those of us who have forgotten a lot since college. I do like that he opened with a quote from Alexander Hamilton and speaks in-depth with apparent subject knowledge, rather than superficially with sound bites (though he does throw in a few one-liners for good measure – he’s a politician, not a professor, after all). I feel I may be warming up to this Obama fellow; still, rhetoric is one thing, and policy decisions are another.

The great task before our founders was putting into practice the ideal that government could simultaneously serve liberty and advance the common good. For Alexander Hamilton, the young secretary of the treasury, that task was bound to the vigor of the American economy. Hamilton had a strong belief in the power of the market, but he balanced that belief with a conviction that human enterprise, and I quote, “may be beneficially stimulated by prudent aids and encouragements on the part of the government.” Government, he believed, had an important role to play in advancing our common prosperity. So he nationalized the state Revolutionary War debts, weaving together the economies of the states and creating an American system of credit and capital markets.

You can watch the video of the speech here, or read the transcript here.