Thursday, August 27, 2009

Dems Spin Kennedy's Death, Dissent Grows Anyways

Shortly after the Death of the Lion of the Senate, Democrats were already using him as a reason to back the President's health care reform:

Securing universal healthcare coverage for Americans was a decades-long quest that eluded Sen. Edward Kennedy. In the wake of his death, however, several key Democrats on Wednesday saw a chance to break this year's stalemate by invoking his legacy and last wishes.

``In his honor and as a tribute to his commitment to his ideals, let us stop the shouting and name calling and have a civilized debate on healthcare reform, which I hope, when legislation has been signed into law, will bear his name for his commitment to [ensuring] the health of every American,'' Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., said in a statement.

Absolutely shameless.

However, this kind of political pandering over Kennedy's passing still cannot dissuade the growing dissent that seems to be splitting into a choir of specialized interests:

Anti-abortion groups are gearing up for a battle in the fall over health-care legislation, another headache for Democrats who already face concerns about the measure's cost and reach.

Most versions of the Democratic health plan would create subsidies for lower-income people to buy private health insurance. If that insurance includes coverage for abortion, as many existing private plans do, it effectively means federal taxpayers are subsidizing abortion, critics of the legislation argue.

This just goes to show (1) how complicated this issue is; health care is an issue that covers a broad spectrum of philosophies, and some one is bound to be pissed off; and (2) this shows just how poorly the administration, congress, and the media have educated people about the plan. If the administration would have involved the public earlier with an education campaign (not a propaganda one mind you), or had the media been responsible and forthcoming with information about the plan, then there might not be as much vitriol coming from as many diverse groups.

Of course, when you try to slam through 1,100 or more pages (who the hell knows anymore) of legalese as fast as possible, most people in congress or the media are not going to have read the WHOLE bill (of course, that's what their staffers are for, but staffers don't go on CNN nor are they responsible to constituents).

Sorry guys, packaging and selling the death of a legend is not going to save you from amount of rancor coming from Americans. Not to mention that unless his seat is filled precipitously, a filibuster is now in the cards.

Like Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) said recently:

Sen. Russ Feingold has touched off a mini controversy over his comments last week that lawmakers are unlikely to pass a health care bill before the end of the year, if at all.

“Nobody is going to bring a bill before Christmas, and maybe not even then, if this ever happens,” Feingold said during a listening session in Iron County. “The divisions are so deep. I’ve never seen anything like that.”

Friday, August 21, 2009

Too Funny Not to Post

Rally Car Collides With Horse - Watch more Funny Videos

Ugh. Times are tough, I'm stressed. But this always makes me laugh.

Please, no comments from the PETA gallery.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Whats Going on in North Korea?

It seems that as of late, barring North Korea's missile launch, the country is making conciliatory efforts towards their southern counterparts and the West:

North Korea announced Thursday it will dispatch a high-level delegation to Seoul for two days to pay respects to the late former President Kim Dae-jung - a rare visit that raised hopes of improved relations between the two Koreas.


The trip is the latest in a series of conciliatory gestures made by North Korea in the past week, including the government's release of a South Korean detained for four months and the announcement it will allow some stalled cross-border projects to resume. On Thursday, Pyongyang sent a message to the South that it will lift border restrictions imposed in December, beginning Friday, the ministry spokeswoman said.

North Korea is sending some mixed messages as of late, but overall they seem to be making an attempt at reconciliation...little by little. Could this be a sign of detente between the communist nation and the West?

A delegation of North Korean diplomats told New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson that Pyongyang was prepared for expansive disarmament talks with the Obama administration, but wants to talk directly instead of in the multicountry format Washington prefers.

The comments made to Gov. Richardson Wednesday in New Mexico are the clearest signal yet from North Korean leader Kim Jong Il that his reclusive state is prepared to resume negotiations over its nuclear program following Pyongyang's May detonation of an atomic device and a string of missile launches that have rattled Northeast Asia. Gov. Richardson met two North Korean diplomats Wednesday at his office in Santa Fe.

One thing we need to remember is that Kim Jung Il has not been well lately. Like Castro, there are rumors and speculation about his health and potential expiration date. While this may seem like an overly intrusive observation, the leader in question IS the country. In a personalist regime, especially one that cannot stand without complete authority and separation from the outside world, the loss of a leader can be the end of a whole society. Of course, there is speculation as to Kim's successor, but it is possible that North Korea is building up diplomatic capital for use in the future.

Critics of the White House have charged Mr. Obama risks rewarding North Korea's provocative actions by allowing such high-profile meetings between Democratic stalwarts and Pyongyang. Mr. Clinton's trip received particular attacks, as Kim Jong Il seemed to use the former U.S. leader's presence to enhance North Korea on the diplomatic stage.

Gov. Richardson Wednesday acknowledged Pyongyang was pursuing this tactic. "The North Koreans obviously used the journalists as a bargaining chip and now they want a gesture in return," the governor told CNN.

The question is, if they're building up capital, what do they plan to use it on?

Is the White House Leaving Congress Behind on Health Care?

While I wrote a bit ago about the "waffling" of the White House on the public option, it seems that it might just be a temporary situation. A mixture of town hall rancor, partisan finger pointing, and Obama's support plummeting at terminal velocity has stopped the Hope-mobile in its tracks. It's only natural that the White House would give a little ground before things get worse for the Democrats. But as Republicans get cocky about their temporary victory, it seems the White House may just go it alone:

President Barack Obama now realizes he probably will have to pass health reform with Democratic votes alone, White House officials say.

The admission is a monumental shift in Washington’s top fight of the year, with the energy now shifting to differences among Democrats, rather than efforts to lure a critical mass of Republicans.

Indeed, splits among Democrats in Congress are also dragging down the chances of successful health care reform, although the administration has held multiple meetings with blue dog democrats, who are concerned about not only the public option but most importantly how to pay for it. With inter- and intraparty conflict weighing down White House hopes of an expeditious bill passage, it the White House has focused on the "moral" side of healthcare:

With his health reform efforts on the ropes, President Barack Obama is courting the religious community with an unabashedly moral message that played little role in the White House’s earlier arguments for changing America’s health care system.

Speaking on a conference call Wednesday evening with what organizers estimated were 140,000 members of churches and religious groups, Obama also suggested that some critics of his health care
proposals were violating the Biblical commandment against lying.


In an odd bit of messaging, Obama urged the religious communities, many of which offer outreach and even sanctuary to illegal aliens, not to believe reports that health reform would cover foreigners in the U.S. illegally.

“That’s not true. It does not provide health insurance for those individuals,” Obama said.

Obama also insisted the plan would not provide government funding for abortion.

A couple interesting things to note: Obama, like most figures in American politics, is using a normative approach to his campaign when justification on empirical grounds has failed. Additionally, instead of making his moral approach universal, he's turning to religion. Like Bush, Obama is trying to whip up religious fervor in what he hopes will become another American moral crusade.

Secondly, Obama here is not trying to appeal to progressives. He is trying to focus on an interest group that contains a good deal of both conservatives and liberals, but tend to lean more towards the middle or right.

Lastly, what of the public option?

During the afternoon call, Obama did not address the hottest issues in the health reform debate at the moment: whether the White House-backed plan will include a government-run health plan open to all Americans, known as the “public option.”

Before Obama spoke, his domestic policy adviser, Melody Barnes, did get a question about the president’s stance. She did not answer it immediately, but later returned to the subject. She assured participants that Obama still supports a public option, though she said there might also be other ways to reduce costs and give Americans more choices.

Like I said, his backpedaling is only temporary. Could he be leaving Congress behind? It wouldn't surprise me if the White House distances itself from the finger-pointing and shouting in Congress while formulating a strategy to regroup successfully. But is this what he means by post-partisan or non-partisan politics? Clearly not. This is more indicative of what has been for at least 70 years an imperial presidency.

Monday, August 17, 2009

A Marshall Plan for Africa?

Glenn Hubbard at Foreign Policy Magazine has an interesting solution for Africa:

The Marshall Plan made loans to European businesses, which repaid them to their local governments, which in turn used that revenue for commercial infrastructure -- ports, roads, railways -- to serve those same businesses. Aid to Africa has instead funded government and NGO development projects, without any involvement of the local business sector. The Marshall Plan worked. Aid to Africa has not. An African Marshall Plan is long, long overdue

Quite true. Foreign aid and development loans have possibly made Africa even poorer, since most of that money is skimmed off the top at every level of corrupt bureaucracy, leaving projects empty handed and Africans struggling to repay the debt. There are many objections and challenges to such a pro-business plan, but Mr. Hubbard has it all covered:

"The Market Failed in Africa."

But take a look at the World Bank's annual report, "Doing Business," and you'll realize that many African economies have never had a business market to fail -- thanks to their governments' dense, unnavigable regulations.


The Marshall Plan in Europe came with conditions: Each country had to adopt policies that allowed its businesses to operate normally. It made the same offer to all of them, and those that refused got no aid. The offer went out to all Europe, but the Eastern bloc, under Soviet threat, declined. Some African countries will also decline. That means they don't get the aid.

"Strong Businesses in Africa Will Be the New Colonialists."

This argument flies in the race of reality. First, Africa was poor before colonialism, and for many countries, colonialism may well have made Africa richer. There were some exceptions, such as the Belgian Congo in the early 20th century, where forced labor for rubber extraction made the people poorer. But overall, Africans in 1960 were healthier, lived longer, and had higher incomes than Africans in 1900.


What has not made Africans richer, however, are their countries' own governments, which have cut off that prosperity in favor of government and NGO assistance and foreign investment that benefits only the elite.

"Infrastructure Must Come Before Business."

In all rich countries, the development of a thriving business sector came before physical and social infrastructure. In fact, the Marshall Plan worked because it made loans to European businesses first, which then paid money back into a national pot to fund commercial infrastructure.


Besides, businesses that have a stake in the maintenance and viability of a given project are bound to be far more apt at building and maintaining infrastructure than aid agencies, which have been trying to do it and failing for the past 40 years.

"Democracy Must Come First."

The real question is not how to promote free elections -- which are certainly a good thing -- but how to promote lasting democracy. For that, the answer is very old and common across the globe: a middle class, created by local business. That's how it worked in Europe, the United States, and in every other enduring democracy on Earth.

"Microfinance Is Enough."

The "Doing Business" rankings show that most poor countries put up huge barriers of red tape that prevent citizens from starting small businesses and getting credit for them. Microfinance goes to unregistered businesses, so it stays under the radar. Yet small and medium businesses are the long-term answer to poverty -- as they have been in developed countries -- and microfinance cannot help them.

"Anti-Corruption Measures Will Make Aid Programs Work Better."

In Africa today, anti-corruption programs are doomed to failure because they leave the anti-business economic system intact. That economic system is based on aid, where the basic unit is government or NGO projects, rather than local businesses, as it is in prosperous countries. Anti-corruption measures do nothing to correct this flawed equation; in fact, they reinforce it. And no amount of transparency will yield economic growth until the structure of the African economy changes.

I don't have much to say about this article except that I absolutely love it. I've felt for a long time that aid to Africa has been deleterious to prosperity and democracy and Glenn has it absolutely correct. I don't care what the socialist and liberal sympathizers say, the reality is unavoidable. I believe such a plan could work, but only under certain conditions, as the original author stated above. I'm almost certain that the plan would fail in some countries, but I really think it could work more often and more powerfully than not.

And if we can help a handful of countries in Africa, the spillover effects could completely transform the entire region.

The Word of the Day is Waffle

Much like his Democratic predecessor Bill Clinton, it looks like Obama's public option has hit the proverbial fan. A President of big aspirations and a big mouth has finally succumbed to political reality:

Bowing to Republican pressure and offering political cover to fiscally conservative Democrats, Obama's administration signaled on Sunday that it is ready to abandon the idea of giving Americans the option of government-run insurance.

While H.R. 3200 is still on the table, and while much of the talk on Sunday was rather vague, the political realities are striking. Obama's support for health care reform has plummeted, and without some kind of compromise on what is the most complicated and emotional issues in American politics, Obama could see his "mandate" turn into irrelevance (much like when Bush tried his hand at Social Security reform).

The potential alternative? Well, it looks like there is much talk about "co-ops" at the moment:

Under a proposal by Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., consumer-owned nonprofit cooperatives would sell insurance in competition with private industry, not unlike the way electric and agriculture co-ops operate, especially in rural states such as his own.

With $3 billion to $4 billion in initial support from the government, the co-ops would operate under a national structure with state affiliates, but independent of the government. They would be required to maintain the type of financial reserves that private companies are required to keep in case of unexpectedly high claims.

Not quite sure what this is supposed to mean yet, or how such a "co-op" is to be organized:

The government would offer start-up money -- Conrad said $6 billion would be needed -- in loans and grants to help doctors, hospitals, businesses and other groups form nonprofit cooperative networks to obtain and provide healthcare.

The cooperatives could be formed at the national, state and local levels. A temporary government board would help get things started. Conrad said only about 25,000 members would be needed to make a cooperative financially viable. But in order to negotiate competitive rates with health providers, a cooperative would need at least 500,000 members, he said.

Co-op membership would be offered through state insurance exchanges where small businesses and individuals without employer-sponsored plans would shop for health coverage.

The co-ops would function as a mutual insurance company where policyholders would have some ownership rights. Conrad said co-ops could quickly bring health insurance to some 12 million people, which would make this the third-largest insurer in the country.

Co-ops are less likely to bring down health care prices as much as a public option (though we will be paying the difference in taxes), but I'm all for competition. However, there still remain huge obstacles to the price problem which are not addressed as of yet in H.R. 3200. Some possible issues with co-ops?

Many Democrats worry that co-ops would be too weak to provide any real competition to the private insurance industry. Public plan advocate Senator John Rockefeller points out that healthcare cooperatives have been tried in the past to provide medical care to rural areas. Thousands were formed and almost all of them failed.

Conservative critics argue that the co-operatives would just be another form of government-run insurance because of the role the government would play in setting them up and overseeing their operations.

I agree with both. Like I said before, there is much more to be done about lowering the price of health care. Hopefully, with the public option out of the arena, more attention will be paid to cost reduction, competition, and consumer choice.

Health care needs to be private, individual (not tied to employment), portable, and deregulated. There is also an inherent problem with the insurance system in the first place which has driven up prices as demand for gratuitous services has spiked.

One thing is for certain: I'm glad that Obama has been stopped in his tracks for now, so we can have more time to research our options and discuss alternatives, instead of steam-rolling "reform" over a confused and unwilling American populace. However, with Obama and the Democrats waffling, and the balance of power leaving credence in the hands of Republicans, it is unclear where the debate will go from here and how far back the administration is willing to backpedal.

Friday, August 14, 2009

An Interesting Solution to the Insurance Problem

John Cochrane from the Wall Street Journal has his say:

There is only one way to reduce costs in such a business: intense competition for every customer. The idea that the federal government can reduce costs by negotiating harder or telling businesses what to do is a triumph of hope over centuries of experience.


A truly effective insurance policy would combine coverage for this year's expenses with the right to buy insurance in the future at a set price.


A "guaranteed renewable" individual insurance contract is the simplest way to deliver both. Once you sign up, you can keep insurance for life, and your premiums do not rise if you get sicker.

Cochran is talking about covering pre-existing conditions. Certainly, the goal of the federal government is universal coverage, but there are many economic problems that are involved which need to be addressed. Certainly access to health care is one problem, and renewable life contracts would help bring people in at a younger age while securing them from being dropped in the future.

The right to future insurance could be transferrable to another company, for example, if you move. You could have the right that your company will pay a lump sum, so that a new insurer will take you, with no change in your premiums.

The mobility of coverage is also a problem. This includes things such as changing working conditions, interstate transferability, and mobility between different hospitals and the providers they will accept.

How do we get to a competitive market? The tax deduction for employer-provided group insurance, which has nearly destroyed the individual insurance market, is a central culprit. If we don't have the will to remove it, the deduction could be structured to enhance competition and the right to future insurance. We could restrict the tax deduction to individual, portable, long-term insurance and to the high-deductible plans that people choose with their own money.

He's right. Coverage tied to employment is one of the biggest issues in the arena. It has removed the individual freedom to purchase one's own healthcare in favor of tying people to a particular job which, as experience tells us, is not tenable. Americans change jobs at least a handful of times in their lives, and god forbid downsizing or a recession hit. Leave it in our hands, and give the deductions to us, possibly on a progressive scale tied to income.

More importantly, health care and insurance are overly protected and regulated businesses. We need to allow the same innovation, entry, and competition that has slashed costs elsewhere in our economy. For example, we need to remove regulations such as the ban on cross-state insurance. Think about it. What else aren't we allowed to purchase in another state?

Regulation certainly is a problem:

A far more accurate “bottom-up” approach suggests that the total cost of health services regulation exceeds $339.2 billion.


Moreover, this approach allows for a calculation of some important tangible benefits of regulation. Yet even after subtracting $170.1 billion in benefits, the net burden of health services regulation is considerable, amounting to $169.1 billion annually.

In other words, the costs of health services regulation outweigh benefits by two-to-one and cost the average household over $1,500 per year.


Moreover, 4,000 more Americans die every year from costs associated with health services regulation (22,000) than from lack of health insurance (18,000).

Possibly more to come on the specifics of health care regulation and other issues. You can download a PDF of the Cato report at the hyperlink provided above.

From the ACLU:

Since 2000, it has been the policy of the federal government not to use such technology. But the OMB is now seeking to change that policy and is considering the use of cookies for tracking web visitors across multiple sessions and storing their unique preferences and surfing habits.

I'll be the first one to say that this does not necessarily mean that the Government will be taking a 180 on privacy policy, but I wouldn't be surprised if it did.

The Office of Management and Budget responded on the 11th on the White House blog:

Over the past two weeks, during the public comment period on OMB’s cookie policy, we have received significant feedback and suggested revisions to the current policy. These comments reflect individual opinions on all sides of the issue.

Our main goal in revisiting the ban on using persistent cookies on Federal websites is to bring the federal government into the 21st century.

Yeah, like wiretapping? Or public cameras in the UK (now they actually have some in citizens' homes)? What an excuse! Bringing federal government into the 21st century does not explain a damned thing. The issue here is obviously to facilitate the enforcement of federal laws, from national security issues to child pornography, et cetera. Of course it would come from the OMB then. However, we have significantly trampled on privacy rights in the past 8 years, and anyone who thinks Obama is going to do anything to reverse the shift towards information mining on American citizens is delusional.

At this point, there's no need to be an alarmist; and hey, at least were not the UK...yet.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Obama Drumming Up Support on Healthcare Reform in His Own "Town Hall" Format

Obama took to the states this week in an effort to dissuade what has become ravenous dissent and disinformation from conservative groups stacking town hall meetings with rancor and discord:

Obama assailed "wild misrepresentations" of his health care plan Tuesday during a town hall-style meeting in Portsmouth, N.H., taking on the role of fact-checker-in-chief for his top domestic priority. It's a strategy he will employ at two more town halls this week in Montana and Colorado, and on the White House Web site.
Just goes to show that the Campaigner-in-Chief has never stopped campaigning. Of course, when you are up against a majority of the nation, 44% of which strongly oppose the measures, it takes a lot of propaganda to push one of the most controversial reforms (other than SS benefits) in the past few decades.

A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey shows that opposition to the plan has increased to 53%, up nine points since late June.

More significantly, 44% of voters strongly oppose the health care reform effort versus 26% who strongly favor it. Intensity has been stronger among opponents of the plan since the debate began.

Now, I'll be the first to point out that the disinformation goes both ways; Democrats have been overly vague and optimistic about the reform proposals, while Republicans and conservatives have done little more than pick up their anti-socialism pitchforks. One problem is that much of the conversation has centered around the CBO estimates (which the White House is not too happy about) which place the cost of H.R. 3200 at approximately $1 trillion over 10 years. Another problem is that the media has also placed too much emphasis on rationing, and the scare of "Death Panels." All in all, not too many people are aware of exactly what H.R. 3200 actually stands for.

This has led to the well intentioned, but poorly managed, town hall maelstroms that congresspersons have been dealing with lately. Of course, when you're the President, you don't have to deal with the average local; why not just stack the "town hall" meeting?

Even some in the White House press corps are upset about it:
It’s fair enough for Presidents to hold Town Hall meetings and to pretend that he’s taking questions from something other than an infomercial audience. But it is phony, the stuff of campaign commercials. The White House press corps is right to challenge the pretense that a legitimate give-and-take represented as a news event is being held when it’s a sham.
Whether or not this will work is uncertain. However, even if Obama's "town halls" are crap, they still are likely to get great press coverage, and positive at that since he won't have to endure the inconvenience of public dissent.

The HealthCare Maelstrom: A Short Explanation

With all of the bullshit being espoused by the media and by politicians, it's pretty hard to get ANY real information out there. Hopefully, this brief explanation will help.

The one sponsored in the House by Democrats (HR 3200):

"The measure would require everyone to have health care and prohibit insurance companies to deny coverage to people with preexisting conditions. Companies with payroll over $250,000 will be required to provide health insurance to their employees or face a tax penalty. Existing employer based insurance can be grand-fathered into the new system and must meet minimum federal requirements.

People who do not have employer health care, and do not qualify for Medicaid, will be required to purchase it from a pool of providers regulated by the Health Insurance Exchange that will include private plans and potentially a government run program. People who are not insured will also face a tax penalty. The whole plan, if passed, will begin in year 2013. There is no guarantee of it passing."

LOL I love how they're passing it on until 2013, that way they don't have to deal with it when it finally goes to shit a few years later.

According to the bill, the public option has to meet the same benefit requirements and comply with the same insurance market reforms as private plans. The public option is also required to become financially self-sustaining and build up its own start up costs and contingency funds into its premium rates. In other words, while Medicare funds will likely help launch this program,the public option won’t be Medicare, and, to the chagrin of some on the left, won’t be able to use Medicare’s purchasing power with prescription drugs and other health care products to bring down costs.

I highly doubt it will be self-sustaining, although it looks like it may eventually be extirpated from the bill once it gets to the Senate, thanks to some blue dog democrats.

H.R. 3200 mandates that employers provide a certain level of benefits established by a Health Benefits Advisory Committee, created by the bill, or be subject to a tax of up to 8% of payroll. All employers with payroll over $250,000 will be required to offer health care insurance to their workers. Also, employers that offer health care but fail to meet minimum health coverage requirements would be subject to a tax of $100 per day for each employee to whom the failure applied. Employers with payroll below $250,000 will be exempt from health care requirements.

I can hear the sound of either 1) the doors of small businesses slamming shut, or 2) the sound of employees being laid off so that employers can drop below the $250,000 requirement level.

Individuals, regardless of income or employment, would be required to have health care or face a financial penalty of 2.5% of their annual income. The penalty, proponents argue, is to discourage mostly healthy and young folks from going without a plan. The idea behind it is that the more people who buy into the plan, especially healthier people, the more prices will be driven down for everyone.

Thank you Democrats, I've always dreamed of being penalized for being healthier and younger than other people. Is this not a tax on being well? Is this not age discrimination? Don't you DARE fucking look to me to support your Big Mac habit. HELL NO.

People earning under 133% of the poverty rate, or under $14,400 a year for an individual, will become eligible for their state run Medicaid system—which is free.

For people earning between 133% and 400% of the federal poverty line (400% is 43,320 for an individual or $88,200 for a family of four) will be eligible for “affordability credits” offered at a sliding scale rate based on income. While exact numbers still need to be worked out, an individual earning 133% of the federal poverty level will pay 1.5 percent of their income for health care: about $216 a year. An individual earning near 400% of the federal poverty line will pay 11% of their income for health care: $4,765 a year.

First of all, nothing is free. It's us healthy and young folk, as well as the taxpayer that'll pay for that shit. Additionally, it looks like people are being penalized just for having higher incomes. This just looks way too bureaucratic. And expensive. Not to mention other things. They are hardly even concerned with why Health Care costs are high in the first place. Perhaps I will write a blog on that one later.

Dave is pissed.