Saturday, May 18, 2013

Real Time With Bill Maher: Counterpoints (5/17/13)

Tonight's show was a bit uneven at times because the panelists weren't that great. But there was some good discussion so let's get to the bits that should be addressed.

Bill Maher 1: The Republicans are the problem in Washington today. For example, they've voted to repeal Obamacare 30+ times.

There are actually legitimate questions and issues surrounding the government's deadline for the state healthcare exchanges and the reactions of employers to the law by cutting their employees' hours. Given the fact that one key provision of the ACA is almost certainly going to be repealed (the 2.3% tax on medical device sales revenue) before it takes effect, and the fact that many people are not going to like having their company provided health insurance being swapped for a government subsidized plan, it seems like the Republicans are merely operating 6 months ahead of schedule.

The broader issue about gridlock is a bit more muddled. One of the distinguishing features of a post-industrial democracy is that the sheer amount and depth of entrenched interests (across the spectrum) that really dislike change. As a result, it becomes impossible to gather the political support necessary to create the truly effective reform needed to fix the nation's various issues, because any meaningful change necessarily results in a fundamental realignment of various powerful interest groups. The political system nor the politicians are to blame. They simply follow the money and the polls, and right now the polls are inconclusive and the money is readily available. The end result is gridlock and the inexorable accumulation of regulation and tax loopholes designed to circumvent that regulation.

Richard Haass: The Bush Administration squandered the Clinton surpluses of the late 90s. 

Democrats and progressives love to point out the fact that, under Bush, the national debt almost doubled from 5.7 trillion to 9.2 trillion dollars (which is actually only an increase of ~61%). But as a share of GDP, which is the crucial measure, it only increased from 58% (in 2000) to 64% (2008). This was the fundamental reasoning behind Dick Cheney's infamous statement "Reagan proved that deficits don't matter". The fact of the matter is that they really don't matter so long as the economy is grows at the same rate that the deficit does. This was mostly the case under the Bush years. It has not been the case under the Obama Administration because of the so-called Great Recession. And before anybody starts thinking about it, no, the Great Recession wasn't caused by Bush. It was caused by a myriad of factors that had their origins in the 80s.

Michael Moore: The real crime in this country is the fact that these 501(c)(4) organizations are tax exempt. And the fact that companies like GE paid nothing in income taxes.

Longtime readers of this blog know where I stand on the issue of corporate taxes. But as for the reality on the ground, the issue is that although the IRS has a vested interest in making sure nobody is abusing the tax code, unfairly targeting a segment of these groups based on political affiliation is a huge blow to the rule of law and the equal protection clause.

If Republicans are smart, they won't frame this as a "who knew what when" argument. They'll frame it as part of their broader narrative that government is too powerful. And when the government is powerful, it necessarily becomes political because everybody outside of the government will clamor for their seat at the table. And when their politicians get into office, they're either going to want a return on their investment or to settle some scores. That is the nature of big government.

Maher 2: We don't really know why health care costs went down.

Actually we do. Employers are increasingly converting their employee health insurance plans to high deductible HSAs and individuals don't like paying out of pocket costs. The recession accelerated this trend. It's really that simple.

Zach Galifianakis: If more people knew where their food came from, this would be a bigger issue.

People don't care. And, to be honest, if you eat something and it doesn't give you food poisoning, in all likelihood it won't trigger some sort of sinister long-term deterioration of health unless your entire diet consisted of unhealthy foods in the first place. And GMO foodstuffs can be healthier than organic food if you only eat organic lard. It really comes down to the basic composition of your diet, which GMOs really have no effect on. In short, this isn't a bigger issue because people don't care where their food comes from. Or at least, the vast majority don't care enough to the point that they're willing to pay more for organic foods.

Maher, Moore, Andrew Sorkin: There should be a national gun registry. States register cars, why not guns?

Gun ownership has, for better or worse, become an incredibly political issue. Car ownership, so far, has not. Given the fact that, as SE Cupp pointed out (and the rest of the panel agreed with) that gun violence/homicide rates have declined in spite of less gun control, there is no need for a gun registry. And there is the very real presumption of guilt that goes behind the creation of one.

Maher 3: CO2 has surpassed 400 ppm in the atmosphere. We're all screwed!

I'm going to use the exact same argument that progressives use when they argue for higher deficit spending. It (inflation, in their case) hasn't happened yet and I don't think it will. So why not?

The global economy has grown by leaps and bounds over these past 20 years. And the ever increasing demand for cheap energy in the fastest growing regions of the world (China, India, certain parts of South America) is only going to put more pressure on energy prices. Despite all the doom and gloom of the climate change alarmists, things haven't really changed too much.

You can't be for CO2 reduction and against hydraulic fracturing for the extraction of natural gas. Because natural gas is just as cheap as coal but it only produces half as much CO2. That basic fact has actually led to a decrease in CO2 emissions in the US even as global CO2 emissions (to say nothing of "green" Europe) continue to rise.

Quick Observations:

1. Michael Moore's is a one trick pony. He can spout mindless rhetoric about class warfare and evil corporations. Plus he's fat. And mostly unlikeable. He's always been that way. Please keep him off the show.

2. SE Cupp is annoying, loud, attractive, and only occasionally makes a worthwhile point. If you want an attractive, intelligent semi-conservative on the show, please get somebody like Margaret Hoover.

3. The last bit on Prince Harry is something all Brits knew about 10 years ago. But the language it was couched in is just further proof that Game of Thrones is slowly taking over the world, and, at the very least, the indisputable flagship of HBO.

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