Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Recipe: Eggplant Parmigiana

I haven’t posted one of my ineffable recipes lately, so… This one was adapted from a recipe in a food insert in our local paper, revised rather heavily. About the only part that survived was grilling the eggplant, which gives the dish a nice smoky flavor. It takes a bit of time and effort to make but, according to my wife, is very much worth it. (Easy for her to say.)

Eggplant Parmigiana
Two eggplants, peeled, sliced lengthwise ½” thick
Provolone cheese, sliced
24 oz, Marinara sauce
Parmesan, grated
2-4 cloves garlic, grushed or chopped fine
Italian seasoning to taste (plenty of Basil)
Olive oil, about ½ cup

Three eggplants if they're small. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Lightly salt eggplant and let sit five minutes or so. Pat dry with paper towels, then brush generously on both sides with a mixture of olive oil, garlic and Italian seasoning and cook on grill or under broiler until lightly browned on both sides. Set aside.

I add a little more garlic and Italian seasoning to the Marinara, which is optional. Be guided by the brand you buy and your taste.

Take an 8” x 11” baking dish and coat with cooking spray. Apply a layer of Marinara, then a layer of eggplant slices, and top with sliced Provolone. Repeat layers as needed, finishing with Marinara on top and a moderately heavy sprinkling of grated Parmesan.

Cover with foil and bake about 20 minutes, then remove the foil and bake uncovered another 10 minutes. Serves four.

Monday, July 30, 2012

New On The Blogroll

I've redone the blogroll, dropped some either because they quit writing or because they deteriorated into sheer silliness, and added a few new ones. New to me anyway.

Jobsanger: Individual blogger, and very active; writes usually several times a day. He's a bit more of a liberal than I am and somewhat more of an Obama loyalist, but by no means an unthinking one. We've had some interesting discussions.

Vast Left Wing Conspiracy: Liberal, but definitely as critical of the present political climate as I am, and presents his views in a unique and interesting way. Snark done right.

Cogitamus: The actual writers are moderately interesting, but quite a few people participate in the discussions, and they get very interesting at times. The commenters have very strong views, to say the least, and are a bit more liberal loyalist than I am but are open to contrary discussion without deteriorating into name calling or mud slinging. Usually, anyway.

Sic Semper Tyrannis: Run by a retired Army colonel, and a bunch of intelligence and military types hang out there. They are a very sharp bunch, and do not have a veil of political ideology pulled over their eyes.

Daniel Larison: Outstanding conservative writer, but a real conservative with a functioning brain, not a Teabagger. He is definitely no fan of Mitt Romney, and for some very sound reasons.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Busy Weekend

Well not really. I watched something at Indianapolis Motor Speedway; something that involved cars going fast, but which was not a race. I wanted to see, for one thing, how Danica Patrick would do when she returned to her "home track." She did not let me down; started 20th, advanced rearward to 24th, and was running 20th when she ran into the car in front of her and wrecked. Interviewed afterward she was "disappointed," but was "not sure what happened." Um, lady, you ran into the car in front of you. This is my chance to say a lot of snarky things about women drivers, but I have a wife, sister and adult nieces, so I'm going to skip that.

I watched the Olympics for a bit, incliding ping pong. They call it table tennis, but it looks like ping pong to me, and it's in the Olympics. Next thing I know they will be adding crapshooting and maybe Old Maid. It was actually kind of fun to watch, but as an Olympic sport?

Then I watched some fencing, which I've never watched before. Yikes, those people are fast! Anybody comes at me with one of those pig stickers, I'm going to assume they know how to use it and I'm going to run.

Women's basketball was up next, USA vs. Slovakia, and when the score was 6-0 after ten minutes I decided I had better things to do, like sweep the pine needles off of the porch. Better than soccor, though, where they score once every eight days.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Karl Rovian Liberals

The news that political discourse is deteriorating will not come as a shock to anyone here, of course, but I keep getting unpleasant surprises as to the degree to which that decline is accelerating. I find venues where people seem willing to make the discussion about policies and appear to share a concern about the future course of the nation, and then there appears a post on that venue that describes Romney like this,

This is an arrogant isolated prick. I don't think we have ever seen anyone receive a nomination for president who was less in touch with normal life -- his wealth, his privileged background, his religion -- yes, I'm going there -- his abstemiousness, his bullying prep school background, his vulture capitalist CEO life-style, and his complete lack of demonstrable empathy make him the oddest duck I've ever seen in the chase for the White House. He makes Richard Nixon seem like the guy next door. Obama -- despite his color, his name, and his seemingly exotic upbringing seems, in the end, far more normal than Romney.

Does that sound familiar? Yes it does, doesn’t it. It is almost word for word the campaigns against Al Gore and John Kerry, campaigns which got George W. Bush elected because he was “the guy you’d like to have a beer with.” Liberals were horrified not only with the outcome of those elections but with the abominable Karl Rovian tactics which were used to win them.

I guess it makes liberals feel good to call Romney “an arrogant isolated prick,” but what useful political purpose does it serve? It not only is not going to persuade me to vote for the candidate they support, it is not even persuasive in convincing me to vote against Romney.

Liberals despise the venom which conservatives spout in their unadorned hatred of Obama, holding some self righteous position of how such personal attacks are somehow unseemly in the political arena and Republicans are wrong to engage in the kind of ad hominem attack rhetoric that they tend to do, and then they come out and say something like this. Why?

I’m no fan of Mitt Romney, but what purpose does this serve, other than to show that liberals can get down in the mud and filth like conservatives?

Cheerleading A Civil War

CBS News provided another in its heartrending series on Syria last night, with its intrepid reporter having braved hellfire and brimstone to bring us actual videos provided by the fearless and brave “freedom fighters” themselves showing the devotees of democracy and justice being slaughtered by the engines of oppression and war.

The “popular uprising” which they portray is actually, of course, acknowledged by the rest of the world to be a civil war, considerably less bloody I might add, than the one this nation fought a couple centuries ago. The Syrian division is ethnic rather than geographic, and what CBS News fails to mention that part of what Assad is protecting is the Christian minority in Syria, which will be slaughtered en masse if he loses, which rather diminishes the nobility of the “freedom fighters” whom they glorify.

CNN has an article, rather typical of the US media, hyperventilating about the upcoming “massacre” in Aleppo. One has to suspect a plan here to foment US/NATO intervention under the “responsibility to protect” doctrine, invoking images of Libya’s Benghazi threats, but it doesn’t seem to be working very well.

The article is very colorful, but weakens its case for civilian massacre when it points out the 18 of the 22 rebel brigades are located in Aleppo, which makes a government massed attack rather reasonable. This is a civil war, after all, and civil wars are not pretty.

And the bombardment of Aleppo as they describe it sounds quite similar to that inflicted by the Northern forces on Vicksburg during our Civil War; an action, I hasten to add, which was entirely justified against a city occupied by enemy forces which decline to surrender.

Juan Cole meanwhile, who should really know better, is implying that the Assad regime is headed for oblivion because “dozens of one-star generals” and several members of the governing elite have defected. That, too, is what happens in civil wars. In our Civil War the man who was probably the best general our Army had fought for the South. Large numbers of the governing elite went with the South along with entire brigades of the Army, and the North still won.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

My opinion exactly

My opinion exactly
You might get the idea that I don't eat yogurt. You would be correct. I also can never understand why my wife checks the expiration date on sour cream. Um, it's sour cream. It is by definition expired.

NASCAR At The Brickyard

Because the Sprint Cup cars on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway are not boring enough, NASCAR decided to bring the Nationwide series there on Saturday as well, which will be the first time ever for that series on that track. Just to enhance the festivities even further, I noticed this little tidbit in a news release today,

During the Nationwide Series pre-race show, ABC journalist Katie Couric will interview Danica Patrick in a pre-produced feature as the centerpiece of the program.

I am near as dammit speechless. If there is anyone as witless as Danica Patrick, it would probably be Katie Couric, who had a failed evening news gig, was widely applauded for the astonishing feat of embarrassing Sarah Palin, and has never in her entire life been within twenty miles of a motor car race. So of course we want her to interview a driver who has precisely one finish in the top ten this year and has achieved a dazzling average finishing position of 20th; an interview which will be the centerpiece of the pre-race show.

I sincerely hope that she asks Danica what she reads.

Update, Thursday, 1:00pm: And then I come across this in a recent interview in the Indianapolis Star,

Q: Are you at the track more as a NASCAR driver?

Patrick: "No, actually I'm not (laughing). In fact, I am there a lot less. Sometimes I fly in the day of (the race), like I did in Daytona. I didn't have to be at the track until 2:30, and I flew in that morning. And I don't have to be (at the track) the day before like I did in IndyCar."

So, not only does Danica not participate in setting up and preparing her car prior to the race, but, unlike drivers with twenty times her experience and vastly superior records of success in actual races, she does not feel the need to practice. That explains a lot.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Great Lines

By Stanley Pottinger in the novel A Slow Burning, and bear in mind that I come from a long line of Deep Southerners.

"If the South had fought with bullshit instead of bullets, New York would be eating grits instead of bagels."

Paul Krugman Is A Genius

Compared to Tom Friedman, at least. Actually, compared to Tom Friedman my little Calico cat, who still thinks that thing in the mirror is a different cat which needs to be attacked, is something of a genius. She at least knows how to find her food dish.

According to Tom Friedman, America in Iraq was “a well-armed external midwife, whom everyone on the ground both feared and trusted to manage the transition” as he put it “from Saddam to Switzerland.” No, I’m not kidding, he actually wrote that, and the New York Times actually printed it.

Note the “feared and trusted” part. Only Tom Friedman would think that an entity can be feared and at the same time be trusted. Most people would think that those two sentiments are mutually exclusive, but Friedman is not most people. Which may be one of the world’s great understatements.

He’s talking about Syria and, as you might imagine, he wants us to give Syria the same wonderful gift of freedom and democracy that we gave Iraq. (Wait a minute, my keyboard just exploded and I had to get a new one.) Doing that will be, he admits, harder than the “low-cost, remote-control, U.S./NATO midwifery that ousted Qaddafi and gave birth to a new Libya.” Delivering babies with 1000# laser-guided bombs is not without a certain amount of hazard to mother and baby, of course, and he does not go on to describe what the “new Libya” looks like.

He then goes on to deliver such pearls of genius as to suggest that “U.S., Turkish and Saudi intelligence officers on the ground” go in and foment an alliance between Sunni militias and the Alawites and Christian minorities who “supported the Assads out of fear.” I'm trying to picture those three intelligence agencies acting in concert, but the mind simply boggles. And the fear to which he refers, of course, was and still is that they will be slaughtered by Sunni militias, so such an alliance will strike any person who has an IQ of higher than two digits as highly unlikely, but we must recall that we are dealing with a guy here who my cat could probably defeat in a battle of wits.

If, that is, she was motivated by the prospect of some crunchy cat treats.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Google is Obtuse

I've been using the Google browser, but lately it has been crashing any time the page contains any item which uses Shockwave Flash, as a very large percentage of web pages do. Some are film clips, but most are advertisements, which makes the whole issue all the more annoying.

So I go to the Google forum and I find that about ten million people are complaining of the same issue. It is explained to us that the problem is that most browsers use an add-on Adobe Flash player which is updated avery time Adobe updates its Flash program, but the Google browser has its own internal Flash player. No one at Google says why that is the case, of course, and so far nothing in the forum from the Google administrators on how to solve the problem.

Then I came across an article elsewhere that explained how to fix the problem but, wouldn't you know it, the page has Shockwave Flash on it, crashes in Google, and for some reason won't fully display in Firefox.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Reductio Ad Absurdio

It seems sportswriters are now reduced to writing about Danica Patrick in terms of what book she is reading. I guess that's as good a topic as any, given where she finished this past weekend. She was running in 17th place and finished 14th because three cars ahead of her wrecked just before the end of the race.

Several things occurred to me as I was reading that piece. One is that I've read a lot of books and I really can't tell you how many pages any of them had. That's just not one of the ways I evaluate a book. The other is that I've never commented to a friend regarding a book how happy I was that I knew what all the words meant. It occurs to me that we are, perhaps, not dealing with a towering intellect here.

Weekend Activity

stock carsNo posts over the weekend (not that I think you care) because I was up north at Perris Speedway watching stock car races on the high banked, half mile dirt track. Ate the biggest freaking hot dog I've ever seen, and will probably be hard of hearing for a week. Not from the hot dog; those race cars don't have mufflers.

In the Street Stock class #15 was near the front when he got spun out and sent to the back. He was on a mission after that and was picking off positions every lap. With one lap to go he was third. In the last turn 1st went high in the turn, 2nd went low, #15 when through the middle and took the win. Hot damn.

The major league may have gotten boring, but the local short tracks still have fun. Good racing and lots of nice people. Worth the trip. If I was up to it I'd do it a lot more often.

Economic Equality/Recovery

I’ve been enjoying a new (to me) site named Jobsanger lately. He’s a bit more liberal than I am, and a bit less critical of our present government, but that’s not an altogether bad thing, and his writing is worth reading. He had a piece Sunday about economic inequality with a list of things we need to do to restore equality.

I’m not sure about restoring equality, I’m not as convinced of the importance of the “wealth gap” as some people are, but most of the list has a lot to do with simply restoring our economy. This is his list and my comments.

We need to strengthen unions (which was the driving force in building the middle class). Unionism had some political power that I’m not sure needs restoration, but I certainly agree with the need to restore collective bargaining. I’m not sure it was the driving force; I think the GI Bill might have played an equal if not larger role, but I’m glad to see this first on his list.

We need to tax the rich more (because they are taxed now at the lowest level since WWII). Actually, I think we need to tax everybody more, returning to the Clinton tax rates. This assumes that middle class incomes can be restored, but if some other items on the list are successful it will be.

We need to tax all income at the same rate as earned income (with no special rate for capital gains). I think that long term gains from the appreciation of assets, held five years or more, should be taxed at a lower rate. Our problem now is that we tax short term gains at a lower rate, and we classify fees on financial manipulation as capital gains which is absolutely nonsensical.

We need to remove unneeded corporate subsidies and make sure corporations pay their fair share of taxes. I’m not crazy about “fair share,” which is not actually a definition, and remember that this is a tax on income that goes to people who pay tax on that income. There is much to be said for the Subchapter S approach, which doesn’t tax the business at all, but passes that income on to the owners of the business, who then pay regular income tax on that money.

We need to raise the minimum wage to its 1967 buying power. I’m not sure what is so magical about 1967 but, yes, we need to raise it.

We need to create more good jobs in this country, and stop sending American jobs to other low-wage countries. Robert Reich wrote an interesting piece on this. It’s not that simple. We need to create an infrastructure of both human and physical resources that will make it both feasible and profitable for not only US business but foreign business to create jobs in this country. Elizabeth Warren uses the pitch that when you build a business in this country you build it using highways and such that the nation provided, and we have been deficient in providing both physical infrastructure and proper education for decades.

We need to put more money into K-12 education, and make it less expensive for students to attend college (because education has always been the best path up the economic ladder). Yes. See the preceding point. This is part of what Reich is talking about.

We need to create a single-payer government-run health system for all Americans (like Medicare) -- lowering benefit costs for businesses and allowing them to compete on a level playing field with other countries. Again yes, not to mention providing better healthcare to the people of this nation at vastly lower cost.

We need to re-regulate banks and Wall Street, and prohibit them from gambling in the stock market with depositor money. Not to mention punishing and, more importantly, removing from the financial system those who committed the crimes which caused the economy to collapse.

We need to put more money into social programs to help Americans that have been left behind and are hurting. More importantly, we need to make sure that the social safety net becomes a temporary measure, and that when people are left behind the safety net is a measure which allows them to catch back up rather than an alternative universe because there is nothing to catch back up to.

We need to make huge cuts to the military budget (because there's simply no justification for spending nearly half of the entire world's military spending, and this money can be spent better helping Americans). And not merely the military, but the entire “national security” gravy train.

We need to eliminate the cap on FICA taxes, and make those who are rich pay the same percentage as workers currently pay. “Those who are rich” is a measure of wealth, not income, and the tax is not merely only on income but is specifically only on income produced from work. Income from investment is exempt. But, yes, we should ditch the cap.

As a final note, America has traditionally been a nation which admired success. Obama is pushing hard on his “tax the rich” thing, which I think is divisive and is creating a sense that “the rich” are somehow the enemy. I certainly favor a tax structure which is more progressive, but I believe it should be presented as a new tax structure from top to bottom and not merely as “raise taxes on the rich.” The difference is semantic, but semantics matter.

Friday, July 20, 2012

The Death of Due Process

Noam Chomsky has an interesting read on the “Shredding of Our Fundamental Rights” and more. He tends at be a little pedantic at times, but this is eminently readable, and it addresses some important issues.

Eight centuries ago the people of England stood up to their king and established a principle that free men could not be summarily killed by their ruler; not without something called “due process of law” which involved a jury of their peers. It was called the “Magna Carta” and was a charter of liberties. It was later “enriched,” as Noam Chomsky phrases it, by the addition of the Habeas Corpus Act.

The people of this nation have allowed that principle to be reduced to essential meaninglessness, because when Eric Holder said publicly that “due process” could be met by the internal and secret deliberations of the executive, there was a complete absence of public outcry in objection.

There are a number of constitutional bans to the summary execution of American citizens, including the fifth and sixth amendments and, when the charge is treason, Section 3 of Article III of the constitution itself. Yet when the chief executive claims the power to waive those constitutional protections and execute citizens based on parameters which it will not reveal, not Congress, the Judiciary nor public outcry is raised to prevent it. Indeed, such action is praised in the name of “keeping us safe.”

What did the citizens of England have eight hundred years ago that we do not have today? Those people stood up to a king who, at the time, had unlimited power, and said to him, “We will not allow you to kill us.” The citizens of this nation today watch a fellow citizen being summarily executed without the process of law guaranteed to all of us by the constitution of our nation and, cowering in our foxholes, say “Thank you
for keeping us safe.”

The news media is hyperventilating about a dictator in Syria who is “murdering his own people,” but says nothing about the lawless killing of American citizens by this nation’s chief executive which is, apparently, not murder. The reasons why it is not murder are “state secrets” which the executive will not reveal, but the decision to do it was, according to sources close to him, “easy for him to make.”

But, of course, he got “health care reform” passed, so…

Thursday, July 19, 2012

It's A Small World

I sometimes think that Robert Reich is a bit of a nut, but in this article he explains perfectly what globalization is all about. The corporations we call “American” are not anything of the sort, they just happen to have their headquarters here. They are, like companies headquartered in Europe and Asia, global corporations and they operate globally for reasons which often have nothing whatever to do with labor cost.

We think that we can stand above that globalization thing, using it only to our advantage by sort of pushing the rest of the world around and making demands as to what we expect other nations to do or not do. We have been such an economic power for so long that we don’t believe we have to be part of the global economy but can somehow “stand above the fray” and thrive even when Europe heads into recession and Asia declines.

We still have not caught on to the simple fact that the rest of the world has caught up with us. As Robert Reich points out, we need to offer corporations, our own and others, a reason to want to use our resources, human and other, and we don't have those reasons. If a company builds a product here, for instance, there is no adequate infrastructure to economically facilitate the transport of that product to overseas shipping.

Rather than demonizing corporations and “the rich” we would do better, as Robert Reich points out, to work on creating resources in this country, human resources and infrastructure, that would invite not only American corporations but foreign ones as well to become more active in our portion of the global economy.

Reich then, of course, misses the point completely in saying that “Romney’s so-called ‘business experience’ is irrelevant to the real problems facing most Americans.” There are certainly other problems with Romney’s “sales pitch,” but trying to debunk the relevance of his business experience is just a little bit silly.

What is truly “irrelevant to the real problems facing most Americans” is expanding military bases in the Pacific, killing people throughout the world with drone strikes, imprisoning people in Bagram without habeas corpus, threatening to go to war with Iran over a weapons program they don’t have…

I am no Romney supporter, but I’d say his “business experience” is closer to being relevant than is Obama’s obsession with reducing the deficit, killing people who may or may not be terrorists, and preserving state secrets.

Self Interest Rules

There was a statement in a local news item the other night that sort of sums up America today, I think. I don't remember what the item was about, nothing important, but it said that Mayor Sanders could not be reached for comment because he was in Washington "meeting with federal officials in an effort to head off military spending cuts" which could cost jobs here.

Because San Diego is so much more important, you know, than the nation as a whole, and people throughout the entire nation should pay more taxes so that people in our little city can have jobs.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012


CBS News did a piece last night on South Africa’s celebration of Nelson Mandela’s 94th birthday. This world has few truly great men, these days, and that man is certainly one of them. It reminded me of watching the movie Invictus. Revenge may be sweet, but it is short lived and forgiveness is so much more powerful, and does so much more good.

Compare the tenor of governance portrayed in that movie with that which we experience in the “seat of democracy and freedom” today. This is a country of little men, prating about trivia.

Channeling FDR?

It is being suggested that Obama is showing how “tough” he is by attacking not only Romney but the wealthy as a class. It’s even been alleged that he is channeling FDR’s “I welcome their hatred” thing, which is stretching imagination pretty far.

Even if all of this is the case, and it sounds pretty weak to me, the problem with it is that he’s not really offering anything as an offset for his “anti-other” rhetoric. FDR ranted against the wealthy bankers and offered the “New Deal” programs to help the middle class. Obama is ranting against “the rich” but is offering nothing for the middle class but tax cuts which they already have and which the Republicans are also vowing to renew.

Would FDR have won without having the “New Deal” to offer? Would nothing more than “I welcome their hatred” have carried him to the White House? On a similar note is the idea that he has nothing much to offer the middle class but is going to “sock it to” the rich be enough to get Barack Obama reelected? I guess we’ll find out.

What Obama has going for him is that Romney has pretty much nothing for anybody and is not even going to penalize the rich, so…

I think this is going to be an election where it is not a case of electing the lesser of two evils, but rather where we elect the least inept campaigner.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Corrupt Media

Glenn Greenwald has a piece today, titled “Inept Stenographers,” about journalists who not only limit themselves to writing what is given to them by the people they write about, but allow those people to review and edit the quotes before publication. One commenter added a note about how “the need to publish it fast is more important than the need to get it right,” which I think is also a point which is worthy of attention. An additional point is editorializing by selective reporting.

CBS News reports every evening on its “news” program about the civil war in Syria, reporting only from one side of course, that being the “freedom fighters.” They get it wrong more often than they get it right, and I have no doubt that they do so on purpose much of the time. Last month they were reporting a massacre as having been perpetrated by “government supported militias,” while German, British and French media were reporting that it was an ethnic massacre carried out by Sunni militias which are with the rebels.

This past week they were reporting another massacre which “could not be confirmed” but was reported “by sources which are usually reliable.” My thought at the time was that if they could not confirm it they should not report it until they were able to do so and, sure enough, it turned out that the casualties were actually the result of a pitched battle between government and rebel forces.

Our news media is hell-bent to shame our government into active intervention in Syria, preferably military intervention, and legitimate reporting is not going to do that, so…

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Protecting The Vote

My father was born in Texas, but he always pointed out it was in the border town of Texarkana and tried to imply that he was born on the Arkansas side. Sadly, when pressed, he would have to admit the truth. He was not a big fan of Texas. He nonetheless had two children born there, me not being one of them. The military doesn't always provide choices.

Texas is now passing a law requiring a picture ID in order to vote, apparently because of the terrible scourge of voter fraud it has experienced continuously for the past ten years, including voting being done by corpses and such. It seems they have discovered no fewer than 62 cases in the past ten years, during which some 39 million votes have been cast.

I decided to see what percentage of votes were fraudulent, but my calculator sort of freaked out. It could not handle a number that small, apparently and printed 1.589743589e-6. That means, I believe, that you are supposed to put six zeroes in front of the decimal, so let’s just say the percentage is somewhat less than overwhelming.

I think Texas is now considering a law to prevent Martians from voting.

Politics of Personal Attack

Paul Krugman displays today the degree to which he a partisan political hack by writing a lengthy screed in which he advocates for the ad hominem attack politics that the Obama campaign is presently engaged in with respect to Romney’s purported record at Bain Capital. He even finishes by saying that, “the Obama campaign would be doing the American people a disservice if it didn’t make the most of Bain.”

I’m not going to get into whether or not Romney left Bain as he claimed or when the Democrats claimed, or what the implications are in either case, because I don’t care. I’m not an advocate for Romney. My point is the issue of attacking the person himself rather than that person's policies.

Krugman says that we can’t limit the debate to policy because, in part, that we can’t “rely on the news media to get the essentials of the policy debate across to the public.” Well, certainly not when politicians are providing such colorful and salacious personal attacks for them to quote, no, we can’t. A politician feels that the press is not giving him enough attention when he talks about policy, so he says that John McCain fathered a black baby, and we’re supposed to be okay with that merely because we can’t “rely on the news media to get the essentials of the policy debate across to the public.”

Liberals were highly upset when the media misquoted Al Gore, saying that he claimed to have invented the Internet and to have discovered Love Canal, correctly asserting that these misquotes were a personal attack and had nothing to do with policy. Democrats were furious at Republican claims that John Kerry did not actually serve as claimed in Vietnam and had not actually earned the medals which he displayed.

Now Democrats find an apparent discrepancy between a report filed with a federal agency and Romney’s statements about his tenure at Bain and they are not only calling him a liar, but a felon. This is perfectly okay, because it is Democrats doing it. It’s only slimy to make personal attacks on your opponent when it is a Republican making such attacks on a Democratic opponent.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Incivility Abounds

I am now looking for a new barber. The one I have been using gave a decent haircut, nothing special, but I only get haircuts to keep my wife from nagging me so I’m not all that fussy. He just raised his price from $12 to $16, but that’s fine. The increase is a little steep, but even at the new price that’s a reasonable rate for a haircut, and I don’t mind paying it.

My problem with him started when, as he began cutting my hair, he launched into a discussion of how Obama is a socialist and Obamacare is “the biggest tax increase in history.” People who read me regularly know that I am by no means an Obamabot and am certainly no fan of “health care reform,” but his claim about the “biggest tax increase in history” is a profoundly ignorant and inaccurate claim, and is made only by partisan political hacks. It is just plain stupid to be engaging in that kind of discussion in a retail marketing setting.

The final straw was when another customer sat down in the next chair and announced that he was lucky because he had enrolled in a yoga class where the rest of the class was all women and “they are all hookers.” A boisterous and crude discussion ensued, including the guy cutting my hair, on how to “get” and treat women that might have been worthy of 14-year-olds, but only if they were high school dropouts and stoned on drugs.

What’s frightening is, these guys vote in national elections.

On Being Important

Paul Krugman wrote an editorial in the New York Times yesterday which had nothing whatever to do with economics; supposedly his area of expertise. It was purely a lecture on why we should loathe and despise the rich, and specifically Mitt Romney, whose name is mentioned several times and who is cited as an example more than once.

So let's just let go of the idea that Paul Krugman is presenting any sort of independent economic theories with his various pronouncements about what kind of spending we should or should not be doing. Just bookmark this piece, and come back and read it any time you think that he is not simply a partisan ideological hack.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

When To Spike The Ball

Nate Silver issued a forecast which showed Obama winning the election in November, which is still some five months away. Nothing is going to happen between now and then which might change the game, of course, so Obama supporters are cheering wildly and running victory laps in ecstasy.

I suggested on one blog that the conversation reminded me of a San Diego Chargers running back who was so elated over scoring a touchdown that he spiked the ball at the five yard line, where it was recovered by the opposing team, and pointed out just a couple of the many things that might happen that would cause Nate Silver to change his tune. "Cross the goal line, people," I advised, "before you start the victory dance."

The next post but one was "Comments for this thread have been closed." Yikes, I guess I really spoiled the party. Reality sucks.

Magneto Trouble?

Paul Krugman is baffled, he says, by Jeff Sachs. Of course he is, he’s baffled by anyone who disagrees with him. We can’t know what the specifics of the bafflement are because Paul links to an article in Financial Times which is behind a subscription wall. I guess he assumes that anyone who reads his blog is a fellow economist who subscribes to Financial Times, which is sort of contrary to the purpose of a blog, but then we’re dealing with the mind of Paul Krugman. I’m sure he is baffled by the idea that anyone might not subscribe to the Financial Times when it costs a mere $199 per year to do so.

His issue with Jeff Sachs apparently has to do with dead cars and magnetos, which indicates that he may not be entirely up to date with respect to cars, and is baffled by automotive engineering, since they don’t have magnetos any more. It’s beginning to appear that Paul Krugman is rather easily baffled, although some of us have known that for years.

Reading on, it seems that Paul’s car has a systemic electrical problem, bad brakes, a bad transmission and a dead battery. No mention of a magneto, which restores some hope for sanity, but leaves us wondering where the hell the title for the piece came from.

Judging from the context, Jeff Sachs appears to be critical of the “economic stimulus” theory of “let’s buy a new battery and drive the car with bad brakes and a bad transmission and hope the electrical problem doesn’t make the engine die in the middle of freeway traffic.” I’m inclined to agree with him, thinking that you’ve merely wasted the cost of a new battery.

Krugman posits that he is “not denying that the car may have other problems, even bad ones,” but that is just a rhetorical gambit to counter Jeff Sachs’ allegory, because he does not and has never admitted that there is anything wrong with our economic system. So his “what sense can it possibly make to say that therefore you shouldn’t start by replacing that dead battery?” will be followed, after the battery is replaced, by saying, “See, the car is running so we don’t need to do anything else.” That’s what Keynesians always do.

And, just as it did in 1958, 1960, 1969, 1973, 1980, 1981, 1990, 2001 and 2007, the car will have its engine quit in freeway traffic because all we did was buy a new battery.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Competence Is Not In Abundance

Sometimes I find myself seriously unimpressed by the San Diego Police Department. About six months ago they had a major freeway closed for the entire time while they engaged in a four-hour armed standoff with what turned out to be an empty car. I certainly can understand exercising a degree of caution, but four hours? What made the whole thing utterly bizarre was that the car had been pulled over beside a concrete wall, and how the miscreant escaped unseen was never explained.
Traffic nightmare
Then last night they had another freeway closed for nine hours while they talked to this guy sitting on a freeway overpass sign, finally persuading him to climb down on his own. They are, as you can see, no more than ten feet away from him, have determined that he is not armed, and still apparently cannot figure out how to just physically remove him, so the freeway is closed at 5:00pm and remains closed until the early hours of the morning. Seriously, failing anything else, put a net underneath and just give the idiot a push. Takes twenty minutes. What is the matter with you people?

Bring Back The Draft?

Thomas Ricks proposes a return to the draft and suggests that doing so would “make Americans think more carefully before going to war.” Daniel Larison doesn’t think that the form of draft that Ricks suggests would do anything of the sort, and I am inclined to agree with Larison. That doesn’t mean that I think that a requirement for national service is a bad idea. There is, I believe, some merit in the thought.

Ricks refers to a “three tiered system” but actually only describes two tiers. The first is military service in a non-combat role, short term and at lower pay than the “volunteer” forces, and working in support functions. The second is civilian service, as teachers on impoverished city areas, rebuilding infrastructure and such. Both tiers would not pay well but would offer benefits, including tuition and such.

What he calls the “third tier” is to opt out of national service, in which case one would receive no benefits from the national government, including no Social Security, Medicare, etc. “Those who want minimal government,” he says, “can have it.” I’m not sure how he thinks that could actually be accomplished. Do we paint them with a red “x” or something, so that terrorists can kill them, but not people who the federal government is “keeping safe from terrorists” and other dangers?

“Hey al-Queda, the ones with red x’s are fair game. Go for it.”

And, like Larison, I’m not sure how Ricks thinks such a plan would deter engagement in war. Draftees would not be faced with any prospect of combat, so why would they or their families care whether we are engaged in war or not? Besides which our government does such a sales pitch on the case for war beforehand that support for it is all but universal anyway. Iraq was sold as both necessary and easy to such a degree that it received overwhelming public support, as was the first Gulf War.

What the plan Ricks proposes does remind me of is a novel by Robert Heinlein published in 1959; Starship Troopers. It posited a society in which only people who had completed a term of national service were allowed to vote, and in which that privilege was quite highly valued. People who had not served envied those who had, and citizens were willing to go to great difficulty and risk to earn the right to vote in national elections.

In a discussion within the story, there is mockery of a society which was so insane as to allow everyone to vote, and of how that society had failed miserably. A teacher asks rhetorically if anyone knows why the present system is in place and answers, “Because it works, and everything before this has failed.” It was an interesting discussion, which was integral to the story itself, and it was written more than half a century ago. I sometimes wonder what Heinlein would write if he saw our political landscape today.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

You Have To Be Kidding Me

Penn State received more contributions this year than last, beating every school record except one for contributions. The school reports that there was "a slight uptick in the number of alumni" contributing to the school, "reversing two years of declines."

Apparently the alumni of Penn State don't care about the football program harboring coaches who rape young boys, so long as the team wins games.

High Speed Rail Update

San Diego County, it turns out, will get about $100 million of the newly approved high speed rail funding. It will be used to upgrade our trolley system under the rather absurd concept that the trolley will eventually be absorbed into the high speed rail system.

So the tracks in the middle of our downtown streets, which currently have trolley trains rumbling down them at about 15 mph, will someday have bullet trains flying down them at 200 mph. Hopefully, I will not be driving my car downtown by then.

Changing the Subject

President Obama is, according to CBS News last night, trying to “talk about something more favorable for him than jobs.” Indeed; when you are losing the argument, change the subject.

Obama says that we should raise the tax rates for “the rich” back to the rates that existed when “Bill Clinton was in office and they were doing very well.” He does not explain why we should not raise the rates for the middle class back to that same era, when the middle class were also “doing very well” and were spending money like it was water from a bottomless well. It wasn’t until Bush was in office that the great debt explosion began.

I love politicians who keep talking about what they want to talk about, about things that will make them look good, instead of what people care about. The real problem is not about the tax rates being paid by people who have jobs, it’s about the zero tax rate being paid by people who are jobless, and the big problem which needs to be addressed is jobs. But talking about tax cuts makes him look better and gives him a better chance to get reelected.

The man does have his priorities, you know.

Monday, July 09, 2012

Is It a Tax?

Is the "individual mandate" a tax increase? My answer: I don't care. It may be un-American or something, but I don't think tax increases, even on the middle class, are necessarily a bad thing.

And even after 3+ years in office, Obama has offered no comprehensive tax policy of his own. He has temporary patchwork tax cuts to "stimulate the economy" and is still talking about tinkering with various parts of the Bush tax cuts. I cannot remember a president in my lifetime who has not even tried to promote some sort of overall tax policy.

California High Speed Rail

The California legislature approved the first leg of our $98 billion high speed rail project, allocating $4.5 billion for construction of the segment from Bakersfield to Madera. It’s claimed that it will reduce the three-hour trip to one hour, but why that is of value has not been determined. It’s also questionable, since the distance is only 131 miles and Amtrak schedules show trains presently making the trip in 2 hours and 20 minutes.

Madera is in the northeastern portion of the San Joauquin Valley and is noted primarily for “the notable and historic Madera water tower and the city's fully operational drive-in movie theater,” according to Wikipedia. It is 25 miles north of Fresno, and 40 miles south of Merced on Highway 99. That’s state highway 99.

Bakersfield doesn’t have much, but it does have several movie theaters, with air conditioning even, and however historic Madera’s water tower is, I doubt anyone is going to travel even an hour to see it more than once. If I was in Bakersfield, I would certainly leave as soon as possible, but I damn well would not be going to Madera.

I’m not opposed to high speed rail, but I do not think that you should be taking money away from schools, colleges, and health care for the indigent elderly in order to build it, which is what California is doing. All of these services are being cut, with threats of yet further cuts if voters don't agree to raise taxes in November, so now is not an ideal time to be adding $228 million per year in bond payments to build high speed rail in the least populated portion of the state.

And, if you’re going to spend enormous sums building high speed rail, you should at least build it where people might ride it, not in the area of the state which is about as far as you can get away from the major population centers. They’re building it there because only a tiny portion can be built with the money allocated, and land is cheaper out there in the empty desert, which allows more miles of right-of-way to be obtained. The stupidity of that argument simply defies description.

The argument is made that it will provide jobs, and certainly I applaud that, but the logic of eliminating permanent state jobs which provide needed services to the people of the state while borrowing money to provide temporary jobs which… Well, what purpose do they serve when they create 131 miles of 200 mph trains which connect cities of less than 1% of the state’s population?

Claiming to reduce a three-hour trip which actually only takes 2 hours and 20 minutes is fairly typical of claims made by the high speed rail authority. Virtually every claim it has made for ridership and pricing has been thoroughly debunked, some of them even by itself when it has been forced to admit that its numbers were “overly optimistic.” The initiative passed by the voters two years ago required that the project be able to operate entirely on ridership fees. No study has shown that it can even come close to doing that, and the initial cost of the project is now more than triple what was approved by the voters. Yet our legislature moves ahead, undaunted.

If a homeowner who could not meet his monthly mortgage payment went out and borrowed money to buy a new Rolls Royce, you would say that he was irresponsible, at best, or perhaps insane. California cannot pay its present bills, and our legislature is indulging itself in a $98 billion fantasy called high speed rail.

Friday, July 06, 2012

Negative Campaigning

Paul Krugman began a column on July 4th with a statement advising the Obama campaign to “go after” the Bain Capital performance of Romney. It’s an interesting statement.

It appears that the Obama campaign has decided to ignore the queasiness of Democrats with Wall Street ties, and go after Mitt Romney’s record at Bain. And rightly so!

There is something in the Bible about living in glass houses and throwing stones but, while Obama professes to be a Christian, I don’t think Krugman does, so that may not to be applicable to the advice that Krugman dispenses. There’s a certain lack of wisdom in that practice as well, but I’m not sure it applies in politics, where the public pays very little attention to much of anything beyond the immediately spoken word. Krugman may, therefor, be entirely comfortable advising that Obama ignore the role played by his own Treasury Secretary in the economic collapse of 2008 and attack Romney’s role in that debacle.

There’s also something in the Bible about “casting out the mote in one’s own eye” before poking someone else in the eye, or something like that, which would hint that maybe Obama should notice Krugman’s “Democrats with Wall Street ties” before he starts taking really major swings at any form of capitalism. Americans in this Christian nation only read the parts of the bible than ban homosexuality, though, so they don’t even know what a “mote” is and certainly would not recognize one in the President’s eye.

Since Krugman put the word “queasiness” in there, though, I suspect he is not saying that Obama should ignore the fact that many Democrats have Wall Street ties; I’m pretty sure that Democrats having ties to Wall Street is completely unremarkable to Krugman. I suspect he’s saying that Obama should ignore the fact that his attacks on Bain Capital are making those Democrats queasy.

I don’t know why he thinks Obama needs that advice, because Obama has pretty much made a career of pissing off his fellow Democrats, such as by making a deal with Republicans to extend the Bush tax cuts for two full years with telling them in advance, and by saying of the “public option” that it “would be nice to have” instead of actually supporting it. When it comes to securing his own advantage, he will throw the Democrats and liberalism under the bus in a heartbeat.

And his present campaign is a case in point. In his first campaign for president he was filled with noble ideals of eschewing the negativity of “attack politics” and insisted on campaigning purely on a positive message of “hope and change.” He clearly recognizes that principles like that are going to get him nowhere this time around, so has adopted the more traditional “attack dog” role to win a coveted second term.

Principles are all very well; but power is a whole lot more satisfying.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Penalty or Tax

Ben LaBolt, President Obama’s 2012 campaign Press Secretary, says that Obama disagrees with the Supreme Court on the issue of the payment for failure to comply with the individual insurance mandate, and that it is a “penalty” and not a “tax.” He goes on to insist that the entire Obama administration has never considered or referred to it as a tax, and has always called it a penalty.

When asked by the interviewer whether or not the administration argued before the Supreme Court that the mandate could be upheld as a tax, LaBolt claimed that they did not, but transcripts clearly show that “U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli very clearly indicated the individual mandate could be viewed as constitutional under Congress' powers of taxation.”

It’s called “having your cake and eating it too,” and Obama does it quite frequently. Here he argues in court that it is a tax because the argument is legally convenient, but speaks of it publicly as a “penalty” because the tax argument is politically toxic.

In court he claims that the drone program is so secret that not only can court proceedings regarding it not be considered, but the government cannot even admit (or deny) that the program even exists. The same week, he issues a press release that a “top Al Queda leader” has been killed by a drone, which is part of a program that is apparently no secret at all.

There are lots of other examples. Arresting and imprisoning Bradley Manning, for instance, while not pursuing whoever released details of the presidential “Tuesday kill meetings” which reveal what masterful control he maintains over the assassination program.

It doesn’t surprise me, I guess, that he does this. Politicians always want to make themselves look good and Obama is nothing more or less than our usual politician. What astounds me is the horde of Obama supporters who are decrying the degree to which Romney “lies and distorts truth” and who utterly ignore the doublespeak that Obama regularly employs. Sure, Romney may be worse, but that does not make it okay to absolutely ignore the “lesser evil” of your own. A lesser evil is still evil.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

236 Years

Sadly, I'm not flying my flag today. If I did, I would fly it upside down.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Saving Teaching Jobs

San Diego Unified School District has been facing major budget cuts for months, which has much to do with California’s multi-billion budget shortfall, and all of the talk, every word of the talk, is about the loss of teachers’ jobs. Unbeknownst to any of us, the purpose of our school system changed from education of the young to provision of employment for school teachers.

Last week the school district “reached agreement with the teachers’ union” and the resulting headline was “1500 Teachers Jobs Saved.”

I have to confess to you that the fact that 1500 teachers are keeping their jobs does not, in itself, delight me at all, because I do not support taxation for the purpose of providing jobs for teachers. I do support taxation for the purpose of providing a quality education for the youth of my community and the employment of teachers is secondary to that purpose. If children can be educated with 1500 fewer teachers, then I’m all for that.

If, on the other hand, the loss of those 1500 teachers reduces the quality of education provided for our youth, then I would oppose losing those teachers. That is not, however, what the discussion has been about or what the headline reads. If the discussion had been about the quality of education and the headline read, “Quality of education preserved by retaining 1500 teachers,” then I would cheer lustily.

This is another reflection, I think, on the part of teachers and the NEA, of “it’s all about me.”

Interesting Omission

The LA Times is reporting that Pakistan has reopened roads to traffic into Afghanistan because the United States issued an apology for the attack on a Pakistani outpost which killed 24 of its soldiers and, apparently, the two nations reached agreement that no fees would be charged for the traffic.

That’s all just peachy, but earlier reports about the issue have said that Pakistan was demanding an end to the American drone strikes in its country as a condition of reopening roads for traffic, and we were refusing to consider doing that. The article, like all the other articles that I have read on this news, does not mention drone strikes, implying by omission that they were never an issue in the negotiations. That’s rather interesting, isn’t it?

Above Self Interest

Getting married was one of the best things that ever happened to me, and I’m not thinking about the obvious reasons for the purpose of this post. They apply, I certainly enjoy being married, but I’m using that relationship to discuss something different.

Being married gives me an almost daily exercise in being part of something bigger than myself. It lends a sense of responsibility, and a deeper sense of purpose. Decisions are no longer about what serves me, or what feels good to me, but are about what is best for the marriage.

In reading and participating in political discussion, I sense a lack of the larger perspective in our national dialog. “Health care reform is good,” I read, “because I spent many years without insurance.” Or we vote for a politician who proposes to lower taxes because, “I don’t want to pay taxes.” We claim we are selfless and thinking of others by saying that we support Social Security because, “My mother depends on it to live.”

If everyone had that perception no person would ever join the military and go in harm’s way in defense of his nation, but the number of people willing to do that is down to less than one percent. Barely half of us even vote.

CBS News has a “formula” for the news item that they follow virtually every time. They give the headline, and then they bring it down to one individual. “The East Coast is experiencing major floods,” they say, and then the camera shows a woman on the street. “Jane Doe has lived in her home for seventeen years…” An entire coast is underwater, and they are making it about one person.

If nothing else, the formula has become trite, but one person is not a national concern. In focusing on the “human interest,” they do not show the scope of the widespread disaster unfolding and affecting entire states.

I think we should have universal health care, but not because of anything to do with me. I believe we should have it because it would strengthen our economy if it was implemented without the government borrowing money. For that reason, my taxes should be raised to pay for it.

Furthermore, because of the current state of government finances, I intend to vote against anyone who promises to cut my taxes at this point. How many liberals have similar thoughts, especially the part about taxes?

Monday, July 02, 2012

Prescient Public?

The USA Today headline today reads, “Tiger Woods win Sunday sends TV rating soaring.” More on that in a minute, after we look at another headline on a stock car racing online website that was similar; “Dale Earnhardt win sends television ratings sky high.”

So, how many people knew on Saturday that those wins were going to happen and therefor tuned in on Sunday to watch them?

The Woods win has some basis in fact, since he was within one stroke of the lead on Saturday, but he had to gain two strokes to win, so it was no certainty that anyone tuning in to the match was going to be watching a Tiger Woods victory. A headline reading “Tiger Woods Saturday challenge for win sends Sunday ratings soaring” might be accurate, but ratings do not go up after a golfer wins a golf match.

And the race won by Dale Earnhardt Junior was his first win in several years. Anyone tuning in to the race expecting to see him win, as opposed to wanting to see him win, needs to have their head examined. The idea that the television viewing audience for that race was larger because Dale Earnhardt Jr. won it is absurd.

Mandate and Enforcement

I have seen a couple of arguments that, in ruling “Obamacare’s” individual mandate’s penalty a “tax,” the Supreme Court actually rendered its own ruling invalid, because it is well established law that no tax can be challenged in court until someone has actually paid that tax. Therefor, the reasoning goes, if the mandate is a tax the Court should have delayed ruling until someone was charged the tax, paid it and then brought suit.

Happily, very few have made this argument, because they are wrong.

The Supreme Court did not rule that the tax itself was constitutional, merely that the law was constitutional because it was imposing a tax, which Congress is empowered by the constitution to do. After the law goes into effect and someone pays what the Court has declared to be a tax, the constitutionality of the tax itself can still be challenged; probably will be.

That suit might get complicated though, by the clause in the law which says that no one who has the penalty tax imposed upon them and who refuses to pay the penalty tax, can be punished for not paying it, nor can any efforts be made to collect it.

Needless to say, the mandate was controversial during the ”health care reform” debate, and the idiots in Congress who wanted it did all sorts of game playing to get it included over the objections of the various idiots who did not want it. Calling it a penalty rather than a tax was one of those ploys, and a significant battle was waged over that wording, which the Supreme Court rendered moot in a matter of a few minutes.

Another way to get it included was to make it a very small penalty, tax, whatever. The thinking was that they didn’t want to punish people for not having insurance, but were willing to bow to the inevitable if the punishment wasn’t too severe. They overlooked the probability that if the penalty was sufficiently less than the cost of insurance, then anyone of intelligence would just pay the penalty and forgo insurance until they got sick, but…

Not satisfied with having whittled the penalty, which it still was at the time because the Supreme Court had not yet entered the picture, the anti-mandate idiots went one step further and managed to insert language which prevented the penalty, small as it was, from being enforced. This made everybody happy. The Congressional idiots who wanted a mandate could say they had one, and the idiots who didn’t could say, “Yeah, there's a mandate, but so what because it’s meaningless.”

Which has to make me wonder what the fuss is all about.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Spurious Argument

Democrats are, as mentioned here before, delighted that “Obamacare” was upheld by the Supreme Court, but Obama can’t really use that in his reelection campaign, because the majority of Americans wanted the keystone of the legislation (the individual mandate) to be overturned. I, of course, am less concerned about trivia such as that than I am about palming off health insurance extension as “health care reform,” but liberals call me dirty names whenever I bring that up. Their defenses range from nonsensical to illogical.

The main defense seems to be, “Well I spent several years without health insurance and being sick was terrible, so how can you say that the ACA is a bad thing?”

Well, first of all, I didn’t say it was a bad thing, I said that it wasn’t what we needed to do. I argued that we needed to fix a broken system, not merely include more people in the system and leave it broken. Further, I spent some 18 years without health insurance myself, but I don’t think that my personal needs should be the determinant for national policy; not everything is about me.

The common welfare and the sum of individual welfares are not the same thing. Ideally, we would put an armed guard in front of every house in every city 24/365 and assure that no one is ever murdered in their sleep. That is the maximum assurance of individual welfares. Can any city, can the nation afford to do that? Of course not.

So a story of one person who, in my case, had an unhealed splintered fracture of the fibula for eight years which caused serious pain when walking is not a matter of national concern. It simply cannot be. It concerned me for eight years, but I did not, and do not, expect that Congress or the President of The United States should give one single thought to my stupid fibula.

The other argument is that it’s perfectly okay to pass mediocre legislation because it is a beginning that will be built up over time into the perfect program, just as Social Security and Medicare were.

Sadly, no. Those two programs were passed with very limited coverage and over time the coverage has been expanded, but the programs’ natures have not been changed in any significant way. The numbers have changed to accommodate the economy, but the functionality of both programs is precisely the same today as they were when initially passed, and the only change is that eligibility has been expanded to cover many more people.

The ACA is already designed to be universal and, while some people will slip through the cracks, the entire population is covered by it in the form in which it was initially passed. Proponents are claiming not that it will expand, as Social Security and Medicare have, but that it will automatically morph into different functionality, which is by no means certain.

If you have a wildfire which is covering a small area, you can assume that it will spread to cover a larger area. There is a natural impetus for it to do so. But the argument that ACA will become what it should be is more like saying that one has installed an automatic fertilization system which covers his entire garden and is hoping that it will gradually, over time, become an automatic irrigation system. There is no natural impetus for it to do that.

My argument is not that we should not have done the ACA; my question is why did we settle for this action without even trying to do anything better first? This as a second choice after we tried to do something better and failed, sure, but why settle for this first?

"Because," you say, "something better would not have passed." How do we know that when we did not even make the attempt?