Reality Friday in New England

It was almost ten years ago – a systems gig at Tufts University Medical Center smack in the middle of Boston, in the dead of winter. But that was the end of being a corporate road warrior, living out of hotels and getting home for one or two days once every two weeks. That’s nuts, and after a time it’s just hard to build up much enthusiasm for whiz-bang large scale systems that track and coordinate everything imaginable. Your eyes glaze over. And the crew of programmers and systems analysts who live and breathe such stuff after a time seem mighty odd. Almost all of them are brilliant, and eccentric in every flavor of eccentric you can imagine. Yes, systems management is like herding cats. But at least cats are elegant and dignified, and quite grounded – you can sense what they’re up to, you can understand them. It’s not that easy with the propeller-heads. All of it felt unreal.

But there was Boston and Cambridge and the steady snow and the sense of solidity in the air. It was the history. The crew might have spent each Saturday morning alone in their hotel rooms at their laptops coding something even more clever and complex that would make things wonderful come Monday morning, but an alternative was bundling up and walking north – there was the Old North Church, and Boston Commons, and finally Faneuil Hall. This was a real place, where the country was born, where Paul Revere was a silversmith and those guys dumped the tea in the harbor. Nothing was ephemeral. This wasn’t a Hollywood stage set, or some Styrofoam reinvention of the actual place at Disneyland, or in Las Vegas. It was solid – the real thing. And wonder of wonders, there were pipe shops. When you’re sitting quietly and contemplating the long arc of history, well, you should puff on a pipe. It’s scholarly or something. And there is something pleasant about slowly breaking in a new briar bulldog.

So the conflict was between what seemed long and old and ongoing and real, and the whiz-bang world of metadata about metadata and modules of code-snippets and subprograms and heurist routines that interlocked or bounced off each other and did something or other, somehow, that kept the hospital humming along. That’s cool, but some of us prefer what is more solid and real – history. We like reality. And of course Boston, and New England, favors that sort of thing. The region does not produce a lot of wild-eyed eccentrics with off-of-the-wall ideas. Think about Thornton Wilder’s Our Town – Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire, is where the solid reality of the ordinary and the pragmatic turn into the universal, with all its joy and tragedy and so on. It’s all about facing reality, and dealing with it. The plain facts are what matter. Henry David Thoreau went to nearby Walden Pond to get down to the basics. There’s something in the air there.

And damn, it got to Mitt Romney, as Reuters reports:

Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney broke with Republican orthodoxy on Friday by saying he believes that humans are responsible, at least to some extent, for climate change.

“I believe the world is getting warmer, and I believe that humans have contributed to that,” he told a crowd of about 200 at a town hall meeting in Manchester, New Hampshire.

“It’s important for us to reduce our emissions of pollutants and greenhouse gases that may be significant contributors.”

The former Massachusetts governor fielded questions on topics ranging from the debt ceiling to abortion on his first full day of campaigning for 2012 Republican primary nomination.

Oh my! See Ron Beasley with Romney Doesn’t Want To Be President:

Now how do you spell political suicide? This will not go over very well with either the corporate base or the knuckle dragging base of the Republican Party.

Jeff Dunetz offers Does Romney Support ANY Conservative Positions? It seems not. And Doug Ross offers Will the last person to leave Mitt Romney’s campaign headquarters please turn off the lights?

There is no – and I mean no – scientific evidence of anthropogenic global warming. Put simply, it’s a scam foisted upon America by the United Nations. … When both the far left World Rainforest Movement and the conservative American Enterprise Institute agree that “global warming” is a trillion-dollar bunko scam, I think we can safely assume that it is just that. Mitt Romney’s regurgitation of this Leftist tripe disqualifies him from office in my humble opinion. Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, Sarah Palin and Rick Santorum are the only legitimate candidates for the GOP presidential nomination in 2012 (and if Marco Rubio, Paul Ryan, or Allen West decides to leap into the fray, they’ll be welcomed with open arms).

But John Cole, who left that camp long not so long ago, offers this:

Mittens has now sided with science and hedonism and embraced reality, so with that mistake, Romneycare, and belonging to the wrong religious cult, that should pretty much be the end of him.

Dan Amira in New York Magazine offers this:

Denying that human activity is making the Earth warmer, despite the opinion of people who spend their lives studying these things, was thought to be a precondition of being a serious, viable Republican presidential candidate. But earlier today, Mitt Romney proclaimed at a town hall in New Hampshire that “the world is getting warmer, and I believe that humans have contributed to that.” He added, “It’s important for us to reduce our emissions of pollutants and greenhouse gases that may be significant contributors.”

These are very limited opinions that shouldn’t be controversial at all. Romney didn’t advocate a cap-and-trade plan. He didn’t support an increase in the gas tax. He didn’t say we should run our cars on hemp and bong water. He just agreed with scientific consensus and then mentioned that it would be good if we found some way to not destroy the planet. Reasonable enough. So, obviously, his campaign is now over…

Most of the conservative right despises New England, of course, and here you have why – it’s their fondness for solid reality up there.

But Amira notes some of the comments on the conservative blog Weasel Zippers – “Thanks for playing. Please take your consolation prize (a year’s worth of car wax!) and leave the stage” – “Throw Mittens on the scrap heap with the rest of them, his Presidential campaign is over before it even started” – “Get lost loser. RINO’s like Romney can kiss both sides of my hairy ass.”

There are more, but you get the idea. Reality is a problem. It has a liberal bias, as Colbert once said. Ah well.

But there’s more, as the Republicans want to stop anyone from claiming that they want to end Medicare, and they’ll take legal action, as reported by Greg Sargent:

The National Republican Congressional Committee, which oversees House races for the GOP, has written a sharply-worded letter demanding that a New Hampshire TV station yank an ad making that claim. Whether the ad gets taken down could help set a precedent for whether other stations will air Dem TV ads making this argument, which is expected to be a central message for Dems in the 2012 elections.

The NRCC letter was provided to me by the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, which is airing the ad on WMUR against GOP Rep. Charlie Bass. The letter – which calls on Comcast Boston to take down the ad and is unusually detailed and emphatic – reflects how badly Republicans want a halt to these Dem attacks.

And Sargent cites the letter’s core argument:

The Budget Resolution as approved by the U.S. House of Representatives does NOT end Medicare. In fact, the Budget Resolution makes no changes at all to Medicare for current or near retirees, as none of the Medicare-related provisions in the Budget Resolution would even take effect until 2022. This fact makes the Advertisement especially misleading, as the woman featured in the Advertisement is a current Medicare beneficiary, and would not have her Medicare benefits ended, or even changed in any way, under the Budget Resolution…

Additionally, the Budget Resolution ensures that Americans aged 54 and younger will still have Medicare when they retire by implementing a new, sustainable model of Medicare. This new version of Medicare would actually REQUIRE insurance companies to GUARANTEE coverage for seniors.

Sargent notes that the letter argues that the claim that Republicans would “end Medicare” is “blatantly and wholly false, and has been deliberately crafted to mislead and frighten voters.” And it cites a recent Politifact analysis that said the assertion was “highly misleading.”

Sargent isn’t impressed:

But there are plenty of people making the opposite case: That the GOP plan does, in fact, end Medicare. The argument is that the GOP plan would do away with the current, single payer, government-run system that guarantees payment for your major health care costs as you move into retirement. The GOP proposal would replace this with a system in which government gives premium support – that could over time fall short of health care costs – to seniors to purchase their own private plans. In other words, the new plan does away with the program we now call “Medicare” and replaces it with a different program – and hence “ends” it.

Paul Krugman put it this way – “The plan would replace our current system, in which the government pays major health costs, with a voucher system, in which seniors would, in effect, be handed a coupon and told to go find private coverage.” So there’s nothing mysterious here. Matthew Yglesias put it this way – “There’s nothing even slightly misleading about calling this an effort to end Medicare” And Yglesias thinks that it’s “important for all progressives on the Internet to draw a line in the sand under this one.”

Sargent agrees:

The GOP demand that Comcast Boston yank may give progressives a chance to draw that line – but if the ad does get pulled it could become tougher for Dems to amplify the claim going forward. This is an important test case, and it’ll be interesting to see how this plays out.

Oddly enough Comcast finally rebuffed the Republican demand and will continue running the ad – although the local television station is still thinking things over. They don’t want to get sued.

But Jed Lewison sees it this way:

According to the GOP’s logic, if they had proposed eliminating the fire department and replaced it with a program giving you vouchers to purchase firefighting services from a private company, it would unfair to say they had proposed getting rid of the fire department. As if that weren’t crazy enough, they want television broadcasters to censor anyone who disagrees with them.

Yes, reality is such a problem. But Krugman is quite clear:

This is important – because if they can get away with this, it will amount to a serious infringement of free speech, preventing people from running truthful ads.

Because the fact is that Republicans are trying to end Medicare. The program we now call Medicare is one in which the government acts as your insurer, paying your major medical bills; coverage is guaranteed to all seniors. The program Republicans want gives you vouchers and tells you to go buy your own insurance, if you can. That’s not at all the same thing.

Oh, they’re also trying to stop anyone from calling it a voucher plan – but that’s what it is.

They do prefer you call it “premium support” and not a voucher. Some of us prefer to call it a coupon.

But Krugman notes there’s more to it:

What about the claim that the Ryan plan actually does guarantee coverage, because it says that insurers can’t turn you down? That’s based on word games. What the plan says is that you can’t be turned down because of medical history – it imposes community rating. But it says nothing about requiring that insurers sell coverage at a price you can afford. And the Congressional Budget Office analysis of the Ryan plan makes it clear that it would put insurance coverage beyond the financial reach of many seniors.

So you can call the new thing Medicare; you could also call an onion a rose.

Ah, more battles about reality in New England. But Steve Benen in this item notes that while Democrats use the word “end” these days, the verb was first used to describe the Republican plan by Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal – they were giddy and triumphant that Medicare would finally end. And Benen notes that “if Republicans can throw a big enough tantrum, and get stations to block campaign speech that uses the ‘e’ word, then it might provide the GOP a layer of protection.” So they had to try.

But Benen is not impressed:

The problem, of course, is that the Republican argument is ridiculous. I realize that semantics debates can get pretty tiresome, but this need not be complicated. If there’s a government program, and it’s replaced with a different program, proponents brought an end to the original program. That’s what the verb means.

Medicare is a single-payer health care system offering guaranteed benefits to seniors. The House Republican plan intends to do away with the existing system and replace it with vouchers. It would still be called “Medicare,” but it wouldn’t be Medicare.

But are Democrats just trying to scare people, unfairly? As Paul Krugman recently explained – “Republicans are proposing to destroy Medicare; saying that clearly isn’t scare tactics, it’s simply pointing out the truth.”

There is only one thing for Democrats to say now. You want the truth? You can’t handle the truth!

Yes, it seemed to be Reality Friday in New England. And it was capped off by Sarah Palin who brought her “One Nation” bus tour to Boston and visited the historic Old North Church. And there she offered her own unique understanding of Paul Revere and his role in American history:

He who warned, uh, the British that they weren’t gonna be takin’ away our arms, uh, by ringin’ those bells and, um, makin’ sure as he’s ridin’ his horse through town to send those warning shots and bells that, uh, we were gonna be secure and we were gonna be free. And we were gonna be armed.

See Steven Benen:

For the record, Palin did not appear to be kidding.

And he cites Tim Murphy explaining that this is actually the opposite of everything Paul Revere did:

He wasn’t sending any messages to the British soldiers who were about to move on the patriots’ weapons stockpiles and arrest key leaders. According to history, Revere was warning the Minutemen that the Brits were coming so these militia members could prepare. He did not ring any bells. He instructed a friend to put either one or two lights in the tower of the Old North Church (“one if by land, two if by sea”). He did not fire any warning shots. His ride at the time was no act of symbolism; it was a stealth operation in support of a local resistance movement whose goals at that point remained largely undefined.


A couple of months ago, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) told New Hampshire voters, “You’re the state where the shot was heard around the world in Lexington and Concord.” It was one of the more absurd comments about colonial history from a prominent, national figure in quite a while. Palin’s quote, it seems to me, is much worse.

Perhaps Republicans should just stay away from New England. There’s just something in the air there that trips them up. You could call it reality. And it really is a bother.

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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