Some of the interesting things I read and brief thoughts from this first week in the New Year.
Slate explores the question of why people in Canada and the US consistently and dramatically over report religious attendance. I’m at a loss myself why people over report here. I’ve never felt any particular cultural pressure that I ought to be at church (or a service for whichever religion I might have been exploring at times in my past). Absent such pressure, I’m not sure why someone would misrepresent their level of attendance. I’m sure in most cases it was subconscious, not a conscious and deliberate lie. We often tell ourselves that this is how we normally are (even if we aren’t at the moment) and answer questions from that ideal image of ourselves. I understand that dynamic. I’m just not sure why the ideal self-image of so many Americans incorporates the idea of frequent church attendance.
This is an interesting op-ed piece on the Senate filibuster rules. Generally it takes extreme abuse of a tactic to build a backlash against it. In the past four years (and especially in the last two), Republicans have used the threat of a filibuster to block legislation at a rate that far outstrips any other period in our history. The Senate web site tracks the actual motions themselves and, even though it only tracks the instances where it was actually invoked (as opposed to the times when the threat prevented legislation from being brought to the floor), it shows that it has more than doubled over the last two sessions. I think it’s unlikely that we’ll return to the mythical (and they were more myth than reality) days of Senate collegiality anytime soon. The rules need to be fixed. I would actually be fine with a return to the requirement that in order to filibuster, you actually have to stand and keep speaking continuously. Force those who would use the technique to actually publicly demonstrate their opposition to popular bills like the Dream Act, emergency extensions of unemployment benefits, and the health care benefits for 9/11 first responders. Right now there is very little price exacted for invoking the rules as they stand. If you want to make a principled stand against the majority, especially when most of the nation supports the majority view, I believe there should be a cost. If you’re going to be a jerk, you should have to be one publicly and visibly. Especially in the Senate, where elections are statewide, that requirement would make a filibuster a more serious decision than it now is. A rule that would allow debate to be closed after some minimum period of time by a simple majority would also work. Clearly something needs to be done, though. I also think the House suffers from a problem that each of its members “represent” far too many people. If you read the discussions behind the populist purpose of the House in the 18th century, you’ll see debates about whether 30,000 people were too many for a single person to represent or if it should be 20,000. The size of the House was adjusted as our population grew until the early 20th century. I think the fact that we have stopped adjusting its size has seriously damaged its ability to function as intended. Given modern technology, I think each member could represent 75,000 to 100,000 people, but the size of most districts far exceed that today. Rather than changing the size once, I think this time we should amend the constitution to set a limit on the number of people a single representative could represent and require that the size of the House be reapportioned after every census. Among other things, such a move would virtually eliminate the sort of gerrymandering we see today and it would open the door to alternative parties. I think both of those would be benefits. It also limits the scope of a district and means that any given district is going to share some community of interest.
The FCC has a good working paper on IPv4 exhaustion and IPv6 transition.
This article explores the various unemployment and underemployment numbers. It focuses on those for whom unemployment insurance has run out.
It seems Scalia would like them womenfolk barefoot, pregnant, and back in the kitchen where they belong. That’s hyperbole, of course, but the court will be much improved when he’s no longer on it. It’s possible, of course, that another person as bad as him could be appointed and confirmed, but I like to think it’s unlikely. As this longer article points out in its early sections, Scalia is also a bald-faced hypocrite. He can shed his “principles” any time they are inconvenient, as he has done repeatedly over the years. Two good examples are Bush v. Gore where his ruling directly contradicted his statements about the 14th amendment today and in Citizens United v. FEC where it’s certainly clear the Founding Fathers did not consider corporations “persons” when writing the First Amendment. (For those who are unaware of history, they were wary of the power of corporations within the British Empire and strictly limited corporations to business interests that were considered in the public good. The relatively few corporations that were allowed were strictly forbidden from attempting to influence elections and public policy — and could have their charter revoked if they did. How’s that for “original intent?”) We’ve had bad Supreme Courts before and for a period of time in our history, the Court was widely held in pretty low regard. We’ve had mostly good Courts over the past century — especially during the heyday of the Civil Rights era. I think we’ve become a little complacent about it.
That study linking autism to the MMR vaccine? A fraud. It did at least prompt other studies over the years — all of which confirmed that there was no linkage. A lot of first world people have forgotten just how deadly and dangerous those diseases were. There’s a reason we developed vaccines in the first place.
A sensible post from LaVonne Neff on end of life planning.
This is a good post from Richard Beck on the psychology of the ways we actually sabotage ourselves when seeking happiness.
Robert Reich has two really good opinion pieces this week. The first exposes the rampant lies and distortions in the shameless Republican on public employees. I think his conclusion about the underlying reasons behind their ongoing campaign is also accurate. The second discusses the ironic position in which Republicans have placed themselves when it comes to health care. For decades there has been a basic dispute between Republicans and Democrats on the framework for health care reform. In an attempt to move past that deadlock and enact some form of meaningful reform, the Democrats actually adopted the long-standing Republican model in the health care reform act. I’ve paid attention to this issue for many years now and I do think the Democrat’s model — which we see in social security, medicare, and medicaid — is a better fit for the culture of our country and somewhat less subject to abuse and profiteering than the Republican private model. However, the Swiss and some other countries have been able to make the private model work really well. With tweaks and improvements along the way, I believe we could do the same, so I’ve found the health care reform act an acceptable compromise and a reasonable way to move forward — something we should have done long ago. If the Republicans successfully undermine the health care reform approach, it is indeed very possible that the Democrat’s model would ultimately win out. Of course, these days politicians rarely think past the next election, so I don’t find it particularly surprising that they would be so short-sighted.
Paul Krugman does as good a job as anyone at outlining the blatant Republican hypocrisy on deficit spending. They are against it except for anything they want to pass. Tax cuts? Don’t need to be offset. Repealing health care reform? The $230 billion dollar cost of the repeal doesn’t need to be offset. Hypocrisy doesn’t surprise me. It does surprise me that a sizable minority of our citizens seem to actually believe them when they hardly even try to hide it. I guess it shouldn’t surprise me. I’m all too aware of our capacity for self-deception and delusion.