Saturday, September 5, 2009

The Real Death Panels

There's a disturbing story in the NYTimes today about how Wall Street is now buying and repackaging life insurance policies the way it did mortgages over the last decade. The author, Jenny Anderson, explores whether such financial products would similarly put investors at risk, and whether having such a market might entice the ailing and elderly to part with their potential payouts for too little in return.

But unseemly as the notion of Wall Street, fresh off its bailout, reprising a disastrous business model by again enticing the foolhardy to make bad financial decisions (buying a house you can't afford, or taking 40 cents on the dollar for your life insurance payout when you're likely to die soon), the author glosses over the far more sinister aspect:

Wall Street (and all its investors from pension funds to companies to individuals) will have an interest in seeing the sickly die.

This is because death triggers the payout, while extended life requires investors who bought the policy to pay in indefinitely. Anderson even touches on this peripherally in the piece:

A bond made up of life settlements would ideally have policies from people with a range of diseases — leukemia, lung cancer, heart disease, breast cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s. That is because if too many people with leukemia are in the securitization portfolio, and a cure is developed, the value of the bond would plummet.

So that means that hundreds of millions of dollars will be lost if cures for particular diseases are developed, thereby enabling people to live longer. Once an interest like that gets entrenched, it's lobbyists will do whatever they can to discourage medical innovation, healthy lifestyles and anything else that will devalue the investment. They will quite literally be profiting off of disease and death. And like our current health care industry (which helps create the world's 37th best outcomes at by far the greatest cost), it will fight and lie and do whatever it takes to perpetuate itself.

These are the real death panels - and they come not from the government but from a free market that's permitted to operate beyond the scope of its expertise and usefulness. In matters of sickness and health - and life and death - conscience rather than greed, should inform our policy.

Even if Wall Street hadn't destroyed our economy and profited from the bailout with such a similar scheme, this idea would be monstrous. That it's happening in the current environment is beyond nihilistic - it borders on a concept that one should not throw around loosely when talking about other human beings: evil.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Stating the Obvious

Paul Krugman's latest NY Times Op Ed sums up the difficulty of getting decent policy out of Washington pretty well. Of course, as I wrote in the comments - which incidentally got a lot of recommendations (which means far more people read it than they do this blog):

Everyone with half a brain and a conscience knows this, but how can we act on it?

This is really the problem - so many educated, intelligent people are completely aware of what's going on - with corporate dollars creating disastrously unsustainable and unhealthy policy, but are not organized to do anything about it.

Of course, one thing we must do is put massive pressure on the media, calling out reporters and "journalists" by name who shill for power rather than speak the truth. Here's the whole post:

Everyone with half a brain and a conscience knows this, but how can we act on it? For one, it's time to go to war against a compliant media that has become a spokesman for whoever's in power. Your op-eds and Frank Rich's are great - and Glenn Greenwald is probably the best and most relentless of all. But aside for a handful of people telling the truth, the Times and other publications are still doing the: "Cheney claims that Holder's investigation is purely political." How about: "Cheney, desperate to avoid being outed as the architect of our illegal, counterproductive and murderous war interrogation policy, claims Eric Holder's decision to investigate as politically motivated." Why is even the Times afraid to print the facts? What in the above is in dispute? That people died, that it was a recruiting tool for the enemy, that it violated the Geneva conventions? Op Ed is great, but why are we not also reporting facts? Why does the news not begin with the premise that we violated international law, and then discuss whether elected officials should be exempt from it. Why are we arguing about whether it worked?

The health care debate makes me sick - I'm too angry to read another word about it because the Times (and it's far from the worst) does not speak the truth. It reports claims from one side and claims from the other. You and Frank Rich should resign in protest - publish an independent blog until they report the facts, not just take dictation from both sides.

The entrenched interests are unassailable only because the MSM refuses to tell the truth. If we didn't report "Death Panel" claims but instead said: "Senator Grassley lied yesterday in claiming..." then it things would be different. Adam Nagourney wrote a column about Palin's prospects for higher office in the future, and not once did he mention that she's unqualified. At what point do you show your readers respect and stop worrying about offending the guys who stupidly and blindly root for "their team." If the Giants are beating the Jets 40-0 in the fourth quarter, should sportscasters analyze the Jets playcalling: "Good time for the play-action fake here, Bob." When it's 40-0, the play calling doesn't matter. When a candidate is beyond a joke, how can you analyze her chances as if that's even a remotely acceptable possibility. How can you give that credibility?

Seriously, I appreciate these columns and Frank Rich's, but most of the political "reporting" is a total joke - even at the Times. The Washington Post is a complete disgrace - it's a cancer on the republic.

And while I wrote that in what I'd call a blind rage, and still agree with every word of it, I'm aware that just naming names and expressing our anger isn't enough. There must be some wider organization - campaigns to depose our current leaders who serve their corporate patrons instead of us, boycotts of businesses, voting for sustainable and uncorrupt ones every day with our dollars, etc. We must use every weapon in our arsenal to unravel our democracy from these insidious forces.

This is the "clash of civilizations" that must actually take place before peace and prosperity can be restored. Not some stupid, bigoted religious war against Muslims halfway across the world, but a war against the corruption in our own societies. We need to do our part here - forget about Iraq and Afghanistan. The way to keep us healthy and safe is to make good policy, and hold those who lie to and steal from the people in proper account - let alone the war criminals who greatly multiplied our enemies' numbers. Charles Grassley, Dick Cheney, Jim DeMint, Kent Conrad, Dianne Feinstein, etc. You are the more dangerous enemy, and you must be publicly discredited, ostracized and permanently and irrevocably barred from what you shamelessly call "public service".

Monday, August 24, 2009

Why Abandoning the Rule of Law to Avoid a "Political Food Fight" is the Height of Cowardice

Initially, I thought President Obama should stay away from prosecuting Bush administration torturers because of the predictable way the media would portray it - as a partisan move that would distract from healthcare, getting the economy back on track and other important national priorities. But after reading Glenn Greenwald's blog over the past year or so, I've come around to his view that the rule of law cannot ever be subservient to political expedience lest the exception overwhelm the rule. If Bush admin officials committed war crimes, but should be let off the hook for political reasons, then by that same argument no one with sufficient power or popularity should ever be charged with a crime. The rule of law then applies only in cases where the accused is sufficiently powerless that few will be inconvenienced should he be brought to justice.

Aside from the transparent hypocrisy and immorality of this view, it also has long-term political ramifications. By refusing to endure the political discomfort brought about by prosecuting the powerful when they have broken the law, we will encourage increasing lawlessness by the politically connected until the system breaks. This is much like what happened in the financial industry after Enron collapsed - by not reforming the rules after corporations defrauded investors out of billions, we permitted the banks to defraud the taxpayers out of trillions. So even leaving aside the obvious moral argument, the Chuck Todd, avoid-political-food-fight politics is a long-term loser on its own terms.

But even if one is unconvinced letting the powerful off the hook for crimes will eventually lead to even more severe abuses - and we assume, as Todd does, that no matter how strong the moral case is for holding torturers accountable it pales in comparison to the likely political fallout - the question then is where does one draw the line?

Because in 1860, abolishing slavery required more than a political food fight. It was a fight with bullets and bayonets and one in which more American soldiers died than in any before or since. So if high-ranking officials should be allowed to torture and murder the innocent and guilty alike without consequences merely because of a potential political food fight, then slave owners should surely have been allowed to deprive their fellow man of even the most basic freedoms if the consequence of challenging that was our nation's bloodiest war.

When you think about it, Todd's dreaded political food fight - which might or might not happen and if it did to what extent it would actually derail our national priorities is pure speculation - is kindergarten stuff compared to the Civil War. But how many educated, thoughtful people, regardless of political affiliation, would rather we not have fought it? For Todd then (and perhaps Obama) to be willing to abandon the rule of law for fear of a food fight is cowardice beyond belief. If Chuck Todd were practicing what now passes for journalism in the 1850s, what are the chances he'd be for the abolition of slavery when the fallout would be a crippling Civil War? If Obama is unwilling to see justice done and human rights respected for fear the political fallout would be unpleasant, why even bother with the pretense of viewing Abraham Lincoln as a historical role model?

I instinctively trust Obama and believe he's a good man. But his refusal to fight for what is transparently right and just to anyone with even a quarter of his knowledge of constitutional law is deeply troubling. I hope that he's somehow still playing what Andrew Sullivan called "the long game", but the evidence for that is diminishing.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Why Fear of "Health Care Rationing" is Stupid and Disingenuous

I can't think of a more disingenuous argument against the public option than that it will result in rationing. The idea is that the government's plan will only cover certain procedures and not others, (based on what some bureaucrats believe is necessary, cost-effective, etc.), and so some procedures will not be available. But that's false - every procedure will be available - it just won't be paid for by the government. In which case you have four options: (1) Buy a private plan instead that does cover the desired procedures; (2) Buy a smaller and cheaper private plan that is merely supplemental to your government one (of course, private insurance will look to fill any key gaps in the public one); (3) pay for non-covered procedures out of pocket or (4) don't get those procedures.

The idea that we don't want to government to take over because of rationing is contradictory. Either you think the government should ensure affordable health insurance, or it shouldn't. If it's the latter, then what do you care about rationing - as the government's supposed to pay for nothing anyway. Why would you then get worked up over it paying for less than everything?

If you're rich enough you'll always get great medical care. If you're not, you won't get everything you want. No matter what system we adopt, that will always be true.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Obama, Game Theory, Right, Wrong and Justice

It seems the method to Obama's conciliatory style is basic Game Theory. According to Game Theory, compromises often provide the best net outcome for both parties even though the compromised outcome is never the optimal one for either. One example is the game of chicken, i.e., where you drive your car toward your opponent's car, and whoever swerves loses. Best case scenario, you go straight, your opponent swerves. Second best, you both swerve. Third best, you swerve first. Worst, neither of you swerve, and you both die in the crash.

To achieve the optimal outcome, you cannot swerve. Of course, by doing so, you risk the worst one. Obama's tack is to persuade people to settle for the second-best case scenario. By contrast the Bush administration seemed to want to step on the gas and convince its opponents that the steering wheel was broken, and swerving was not an option. Therefore its opponents would be left only with option three or option four. Of course, that only works when the opponent can be easily cowed like the congressional democrats. When dealing with Islamic militants, many of whom would prefer a cathartic crash, we were assured the worst - or second worst if we realized they were more committed than us and backed down in time.

But Obama will necessarily disappoint people who hoped for their optimal outcome. Overall, we can see why this is a good strategy because the outcome on average will likely be better than ones where everyone is dead set on winning. But what makes Obama's tack hard to take is not its outcomes but that compromise seems to proceed irrespective of right, wrong or justice. In other words, Obama will choose option 2, even if his side is absolutely right, and the other side is absolutely wrong. A good (if trivial) example is the Henry Gates incident with the Cambridge police officer.

When Gates, a black Harvard professor, was having trouble getting into his upscale home, a neighbor called the police to report a possible break-in. When the white police officer, Sgt. Crowley, arrived and questioned him, Gates became angry and insulted the officer. The officer ascertained Gates was indeed the owner of the house, but after Gates verbally got after him some more, Crowley cuffed Gates and brought him to the police station.

When asked about the incident, Obama said he didn't know all the details but that the Cambridge police acted stupidly in arresting a man in his own house for yelling at the cop who questioned him. This caused a major uproar, but what Obama said was true - irrespective of the other facts, if a cop arrests a man who's not a danger in his own home, that's stupid.

Due to the uproar, Obama later conceded that "stupid" was an unfortunate choice of words and called the officer to invite him for a beer at the White House. While settling for outcome 2 - both Obama and the Cambridge police swerve - is better than Obama and the police "crashing" into each other, it's unsettling that Obama made this compromise despite characterizing the interaction correctly.

This incident is so trivial that how he handled it does not trouble me too much, and the compromise can easily be filed under "you have to pick your battles." But it's indicative of a larger pattern whereby Obama will shoot for the best average outcome irrespective of what side is right or wrong. The concern here is the loss of justice. To take a far less trivial example, the Obama administration has so far refused to push for an investigation of Bush officials for possible war crimes even though there's ample evidence they violated the Geneva conventions and took part in torture. Again, letting that slide, "looking forward not back" might be less risky and damaging in the short run, but can we really settle for the second best option - no prosecutions, no political fallout - when the best option - justice, accountability, rule of law - is the right thing to do? In other words, at what point does Obama's conciliatory Game Theory optimization yield to bigger, universal truths?

The other side of the coin is this - and I've experienced this in my personal life with various girlfriends and even friends and colleagues: (1) just because you think you're right (or even are sure you're right) doesn't mean your adversary doesn't believe he's just as right; and (2) even if you are in fact right, it's often worth conceding to keep the peace, i.e., just because one is right doesn't mean insisting on one's rightness is the optimal course of conduct.

The hope is Obama's Game Theory tack operates only as a means to achieve optimal ends and not as an end in itself. In other words, one might have to settle for a suboptimal outcome in many battles, but only to ensure ultimately that justice triumphs in the overall war. Perhaps this is what he means when he quotes Martin Luther King, saying "the arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice." If not, then settling for the second-best outcome is not a sustainable strategy for achieving our most important priorities.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The Emperor Has No Clothes

This post at The Anonymous Liberal sums up the Palin phenomenon to a tee.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

The Other Reason the Old Media is Dying

It's well known that the web has eaten into print circulation and advertising for newspapers and that cable news channels and the web have given consumers far more choices for news than the network options. But that's only part of the equation. The other is that the mainstream media just isn't very good at its job. Let's take a relatively benign example.

In Saturday's New York Times, writer Adam Nagourney writes an article entitled: "If White House Is Her Goal, Palin’s Route Is Risky". The purpose of the article was to assess Palin's chances of being elected president now that she's resigned from being Governor of Alaska.

Nagourney quotes a political strategist, a former White House political director and a former McCain adviser (among others) to analyze her prospects. Some think it's possible she can regroup, some think it'll be hard for her to expand her base, but nowhere in the article is there any mention that this woman *should not be* and *should never have been* a serious candidate for any government office. That is not merely my view; it's a fact. Whether I am qualified to play the oboe in the London Philharmonic or quarterback for the New York Jets is not merely a matter of opinion. Even if many people believe I would be great at both, it's simply, factually untrue. Andrew Sullivan has exhaustively documented why that's the case, and Palin herself validated Sullivan's views with this resignation speech, though they hardly required validating following the distastrous Katie Couric interview last fall.

But my point isn't to talk about Palin, but about how a New York Times front page article can analyze Palin's chances for the presidency without ever mentioning how disastrous it would be. It's like commenting on a football team's play calling when it's down 35 points in the fourth quarter. "It's second and six, and I think you'll see a little play action here, with the defense expecting a run." It's 35-0 - no one cares what kind of play they call! Analyzing the strategy without acknowledging the absurd context reveals you have no idea what's going on. I'll assume that Nagourney does realize what Palin is, but feels he must pretend she might one day be a legitimate presidential hopeful so as not to seem overly partisan or to inject his opinion into it. But by pretending that, he badly insults the intelligence of his readers. NFL announcers, many of whom are not particularly good at their jobs, either, would never analyze the play calling in that way during the fourth quarter of a blowout game. Even the worst of them have more respect than that for the audience. If there's a blowout going on, that fact is not somehow ignored because fans of the team will be upset if it were acknowledged.

As a result, newspapers and news channels which also operate under this policy of pretending obvious facts that make moot their whole analysis don't exist, are not offering compelling content. You can't stop technological progress, and you can't make some people pay for a print product that's available for free online, but you can offer useful content. And you can also communicate implicitly to your readers what you think of them. Writing columns about Palin's chances of a future run at the White House without acknowledging how wrong she is for the job, is horribly patronizing.

The crisis in the news business is not just one of solvency, but one of legitimacy. How can we possibly be expected to tune into sources that refuse to acknowledge the most pertinent facts? Until the MSM stops being afraid to offend or be criticized, they'll lose readers not only to new technologies, but also because most people really, desperately want to be told the truth.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Letter to Dianne Feinstein

Copy of an email they probably won't read which I sent to their office:

Senator Feinstein:

If you do not support the public option for healthcare which a majority of Americans support and an even wider majority of the democratic constituents who elected you, I promise you no amount of health-care industry money will save your seat. And no amount of repentance will save your permanently and irrevocably tarnished legacy. I'm sorry to be harsh, but this is your job - to get a working health care system in place. Congress has not done it all these years, but with a democratic majority and Obama in the White House, there are no longer any excuses.

Americans like me do our jobs every day. That our government has this kind of fiscal deficit, but we're 37th in health care quality is nothing short of a disgrace. If you're not willing to take responsibility for fixing it, we will elect someone who will. It's a sad state of affairs where citizens like me have to write our senators just to get them to do their jobs. But make no mistake, we will do whatever it takes to make sure our deadbeat legislatures start representing us and not their corporate patrons.

I'm cc'ing my 23,500 blog readers on this as well and encouraging them to pass it on. (Okay, I exaggerated by 23,495 or so).

Very Truly Yours,

Christopher P. Liss
Independent Voter who volunteered for and donated to Barack Obama

What annoys me most about our elected representatives is they think being a senator is prestigious, something that makes you a big success, person of status, someone above the people. When in reality it should be just the opposite - you are now an employee of the people, a public servant. We pay your salary and, ironically, your health care expenses. I think it's important we continually remind them of the proper balance this relationship should have.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Debunking Arguments Against the Necessity and Efficacy of the Government Health Plan

Before we get to the actual substantive arguments, I'd like to call attention to an often-used tactic, in this case by the shameless Diane Feinstein, who opined today that criticism from the left on healthcare "doesn't move me one whit" and who also has taken campaign contributions from the healthcare industry (though in fairness not nearly as much as some of her democratic colleagues in Congress. Feinstein said on CNN, “I don’t know that [Obama] has the votes right now. I think there’s a lot of concern in the Democratic caucus.” And that controlling costs of the new system is a “difficult subject.”

The idea is to convince us that the ship has already sailed, that though a a majority of Americans support the option of a public plan (and an even larger majority of her democratic constituents), the effort has already failed. You see this tactic used all the time. In the primaries, the Clintons tried to convince people that Obama would never win enough white male votes to get elected, so Hillary was the only option. Yes, we know you want Obama, but he's already lost. No use pining for what you can't have... So, here's Feinstein trying to portray the situation as something that's already failed because then there's nothing she could or should do about it. Ordinarily I'd do my job, but the task before me is impossible, or in any case, highly improbable, so you see, there's no point in getting upset about it. Of course, the left (and not merely the left), are upset about it. So Feinstein has a choice - either acknowledge the clearly-expressed will of her constituents, or like Ayatollah Khameni, declare the protesters insignificant. One wonders how disconnected a public servant is from her central mission when the public will is something to be dismissed.

But I digress - as the point of this post was to debunk bad arguments against the public health option. So above - we can't have a government option because it's too hard to pass is false. That's a determination to be made after the fact, not as an excuse for inaction beforehand. Everyone has challenges at work. This is your job, Senator Feinstein. Shut up and do it. Or as a friend of mine likes to say: "I don't want to hear about the pain - just show me the baby."

Second, the argument that the government can't run anything as competently as private for-profit industry. This is also patently false. Medicare's administrative costs amount to three percent of its budget - private insurance's more than 27 percent. Moreover, private insurers need to make a profit, the government just needs to break even. Our system of for profit insurance has resulted in the 37th best care in the world at the highest cost. Almost every country ahead of us, including the very top ones on the list, have some form of socialized care that costs less than ours and has far better outcomes.

Third, if we socialize healthcare, we'll become socialist. False. Our police and fire departments are socialized; so is our criminal justice system and our water supply. That doesn't mean you can't hire a security guard or buy bottled water. It does mean that many of our essential services are run by the government. Health care is an essential service.

Fourth, the free market is more efficient at setting prices for care than the government. This is false for two reasons (1) because one who needs an essential medical treatment isn't in a good position to bargain for a good price; and (2) because in many cases one lacks the expertise to determine whether a particular medical procedure is necessary. If the buyer has no choice but to buy no matter the cost, the market cannot possibly be efficient. And if the buyer lacks a proper basis to make an informed purchase, he's put in the position of trusting the seller to decide whether and how much he should buy. How anyone could possibly think such a system would be anything but disastrous to the American consumer is mind boggling. Health care is not like the latest electronic device where you are perfectly free to buy it or not buy it based on your financial situation and your personal priorities. You can also pretty easily grasp the pros and cons of owning that device on your own. In cases like that, the free market works perfectly well. Not so with healthcare.

Fifth, if the government's running health care, it'll put private health insurers out business. Might be true, might be false. Who cares? If it puts them out of business, then it proves the point that the government plan was a better deal. If it doesn't put them out of business, then it's false. Either way, it's not a serious objection. In fact, it's actually the point of the public plan - either to demonstrate the raw deal we're getting or to force the private insurers to come up with a fair one.

Sixth, turning insurance over to government and cutting costs will stifle innovation, e.g,, life-saving medical devices and drugs. Maybe, maybe not. Some of the biggest "innovations," e.g,, cholesterol lowering drugs, make a ton of money for the pharmaceutical companies, but do not significantly reduce the risk of heart disease. When profit is the chief motive for medical researchers, then they will do what most reliably yields a profit. Marketing drugs as life saving based on what they can do (lower cholesterol) is easier than to make drugs that actually save lives. Real innovation in any field is difficult. You can't just throw a billion dollars at Jerry Bruckheimer and expect him to make art with it. What you usually get is product, commerce. Something that can be marketed and sold. While it's not impossible for creative breakthroughs to happen while chasing the money (Fyodor Dostoevsky wrote many of his novels to pay off his gambling debts), it's the exception rather than the rule, and it's unclear that researchers motivated by smaller profits and something as pathetic as the good of mankind would fare worse.

Seventh, we can't afford it. This is the stupidest argument of all. First off, the current for profit system is what no one can seem to afford, least of all the federal government for which it's the biggest long-term liability. Second, if people don't get care, and remain sick, they'll continue to fill emergency rooms, costing more money than if they received timely treatment. Third, chronically sick people are unproductive in the workforce and drain otherwise productive family members who need to speed time caring for them. The cost in GDP of having substandard care for a substantial number of American workers must also be taken into account.

Never mind that treating the sick - rather than squeezing every last penny out of them and their families - is also the right thing to do.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Who Socialized the Water Supply?

How are Arrowhead and Poland Spring expected to compete?

Obama is a Conservative

When you get past the social issues that go in and out of favor with different parties (abortion being legal is actually an example of limited government and was not always anathema to conservatives) and consider conservatism as a posture toward governing, Obama is more conservative than his predecessor.

For starters, Obama believes in incremental rather than radical change. Even though he believes that single payer government run healthcare is how we'd do it if we started from scratch, he's going to work within our current system because he's sensitive to the impact dismantling the healthcare industry, however corrupt and incompetent, would have on the economy.

Even though the banks and the car companies were inept and reckless, he opted to bail them out because he did not want radical disturbances to ripple through the economy. On Iran, he showed restraint in not siding with one presidential candidate over another, but merely condemned the violence against peaceful protesters. In other words, he didn't not meddle or involve the United States in a conflict that on this occasion had nothing to do with us.

It would seem that being conservative (in its most positive sense) is to be humble and restrained. You are rightfully wary of radical change because you can't possibly know the outcome (unlike the neocons who arrogantly and wrongly assumed things would go smoothly after they invaded Iraq and dismantled its army). You act only out of necessity (as when the financial system nearly collapsed), but not out of choice. You regulate financial markets to ensure they serve their function - to grease the wheels of commerce, and so they don't devolve into casinos that produce short-term revenue but ultimately destroy long-term wealth creation.

Changing the health care system is also a move of necessity with long-term costs threatening to destroy our fiscal outlook and already bankrupting millions of citizens. Moreover, our outcomes are among the worst in the civilized world and our costs are the highest. To do so without starting from scratch is the conservative way to go about it.

There are times I wish he were far more radical and willing to take the hammer to the crooks in health insurance, banking and other corrupt industries that have stolen from the public for decades. I'd like to see him prosecute the Bush administration for torture and take on the corn lobby that helps poison our food supply. But if Obama were that guy, he would probably not have been elected president. And even though a more radical approach that emphasized instant justice would be more satisfying, its side effects and potential backlash are impossible to know.

Monday, June 8, 2009

If You Kill the Government Health Care Option I Will Make it My Mission in Life to Run You Out of Government

Let me start by saying my health care plan sucks. It's a joke. For example, I need to have ankle surgery, but it doesn't cover rehab. Of course, anyone who has surgery needs rehab, but it's not covered. Moreover, the surgeon recommended trying rehab first, which I did, but stopped when I found out it wasn't covered.

The reason I have such a terrible plan is twofold: (1) It's cheap, and (2) I didn't have a better choice. Let me explain. For five years, I saw a doctor in his late 70s as my primary care physician. He was a decent man who genuinely cared about his patients, but in retrospect, I believe he was getting slightly senile. (He retired a couple years ago). I believe this doctor (in retrospect) was a bit panicky about certain harmless symptoms I had and wanted to put me on statins and other harmful medications I didn't need, which I refused. Except that when I went to change to a more comprehensive plan, they downgraded my status to Tier 4, based largely on that doctor's diagnoses. I appealed and lost, and so I had the choice of paying $500 a month for myself (I was 36 at the time with no known health problems other than torn ligaments in my ankle), or $79 dollars for a terrible plan (Tier 1 price). I chose the former, as I didn't want to give up my tier 1 status.

Now that I have a few other health problems, thyroid, adrenal glands, pre-diabetes, and still the chronically sprained ankle for which I am going to shell out $6000 in out of pocket costs for the surgery, I realize how meager the scope of my coverage is.

While there are many factors as to why health insurance is a joke in this country (from drug company lobbyists, to our poisonous food supply to the lack of preventative care), there's little doubt that the bloated infrastructure and big CEO paychecks of health insurance companies are a major one. If one is sick, one needs someone with knowledge (a doctor or nurse) and the best materials/medicine/technology for treatment. The costs of those two things are unavoidable. Throw in the rent for the doctor's office, the salary of the receptionists - that's all fine.

But why the fuck are we paying the salaries of the incompetent health care customer service, their office overhead, their marketing and advertising costs, their adjusters, their lawyers, their lobbyists, their management, including their wealthy CEOs? How did this slippery middleman weasel and connive his way into a huge piece of our paychecks in an area we have but no choice in?

It is quite easy to find doctors online. One does not need Blue Shield of California to provide a directory of doctors these days - one merely needs a bank of sorts, a pooler of risk that charges a very small vig for administration and processing.

That is why we need a government option - one that simply costs some taxpayer money and the only function of which is to pool risk, so that those with financially catastrophic problems are covered.

And if one wants still to keep his piece of shit private insurance, that's fine - keep it and continue as you were. Being foolish in your financial choices should always remain legal. But let's see how well these useless and outdated middlemen fare when they are no longer the only choice we really have. We will see the costs of insurance go down dramatically.

But the spineless "Blue Dog" democrats are now opposing the government option saying they will only support it if and after insurers fail to meet a particular set of goals. In other words, they will delay any real reform until after the insurance companies - the same ones under whom health costs have skyrocketed - get another chance to meet some benchmarks, which no doubt they are currently lobbying to set low. Only then should we consider giving people another option these "Blue Dog" dems argue.

Sorry, the time for those companies to provide a solution for us was in the last 15 years, and they have not. They had their chance, and the state and cost of health care have gotten substantially more expensive, more complex and arcane and flat-out worse. No one fucking likes our health care system. Not the patients, not the doctors and certainly not anyone with an eye on our long-term fiscal situation. It's over.

So you cowardly, unprincipled piece of shit representatives who have taken so much money from the health care industry

Jason Altmire: $405,279

Michael Arcuri: $103,547

Joe Baca: $159,250

Marion Berry: $536,917

Sanford Bishop: $356,496

Leonard Boswell: $304,680

Chris Carney: $167,664

Ben Chandler: $223,300

Jim Cooper: $894,414

Jane Harman: $292,694

Stephanie Herseth Sandlin: $323,924

Tim Holden: $386,278

Frank Kratovil: $86,556

Mike Ross: $833,670

Loretta Sanchez: $183,162

Adam Schiff: $380,708

Zach Space: $144,125

Charlie Wilson: $138,724

Mike Thompson: $631, 532 (His take from the health care industry, was second only to beer/wine/liquor business, which gave him $1,009,370)

if you stand in the way of an alternative to the status quo, I will make it my fucking mission in life to be absolutely sure you are removed from office and never work anywhere ever again until you repent and do something useful rather than destroy the well being of the very people whom you purport to represent.

And by the way, the next phase of health care reform will be to go after the drug company-funded studies that skew the results and help them sell billions of dollars worth of useless and often harmful drugs. There needs to be a truly independent board that puts the kibosh on that deeply corrupt and harmful practice. And finally, it needs to be made illegal - to the point of sanctions and the threat of losing one's medical license - for doctors to accept lunches and paid trips by these drug companies. Every doctor should take the time at least a few times a year to read up independently on new developments in his or her field (just like everyone does at every other job) and not rely on for profit salespeople to tell them what the latest and greatest medicines they're selling are while bribing them with gifts, meals and travel. It's a fucking disgrace that a person whose job it is to help other people heal from illnesses would ever be involved in that kind of transparently obvious corruption. But far from being the exception this is now the norm - as even doctors on the Harvard Medical School faculty are being paid to turn their students into pushers of product.

The bottom line, our current medical establishment is by and large as morally bankrupt and grossly incompetent as we recently discovered our financial one to be. The reason for the corruption is the same - that greed and short-term profit have caused systemic blindness to the facts and a callous indifference to the damage it does to the citizen that lives with it. While the financial sector, with a massive assist from the banking lobby which corrupted government, first created a great disparity in wealth between the rich and poor, then destroyed the pensions, home equity and the job security of millions while saddling everyone with a massive debt, the health care lobby is destroying what little we have left while giving us inferior and unaffordable treatment, resulting in avoidable illness and death. It, too, is our greatest long-term fiscal liability.

So getting a government option is mandatory now. And if you people on this list - you who purport to represent us - stand in the way, I will personally see to it that you're finished in government and that your reputation is permanently and irrevocably destroyed

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Good Summary of the Obama-Cheney Debate

Ann Telnaes hits the nail on the head in the Washington Post.

America's Detoxification Requires Patience and Perseverance

I want to begin by saying I'm an enormous fan of Glenn Greenwald and that I wish everyone in Washington would read his blog. I cannot imagine someone doing a better job of speaking truth to power and calling out the sycophantic public relations people that pose as journalists in our mainstream media.

That said, I disagree with him that Obama is transforming "right-wing dogma into... bipartisan consensus" by permitting military commissions, failing to release photos and keeping detainees deemed dangerous locked up for the time being.

There are a couple issues here:

(1) If there is a sound basis for deeming a detainee dangerous, but because the Bush admin tortured him or otherwise didn't gather enough evidence of an actual crime, e.g., let's assume he was picked up on the battlefield in Afghanistan, surrendered, but during his stay in Guantanamo has vowed jihad on the US thousands of times, then what other choice does Obama have? If we try him, there's no way to convict, and if we release him, the man will immediately resume his aggression toward the US. I suppose Greenwald would have us try the man, and upon acquittal, deport him back to Afghanistan or elsewhere where he'd join up with the Taliban and fight our soldiers or plot against the US. I suppose this happens all the time in our civilian law enforcement when they have to release a suspect they're pretty sure is guilty because they don't have enough evidence to hold him. Except what would happen that suspect kept saying he would kill the sons and daughters of the police officers if they let him go? Would they still release him in that case? And should they?

(2) It's dangerous to detoxify too quickly or radically - the process of cleaning up the Bush admin mess (and our country's resultant disease) must be gradual.

Here's an analogy: if you have mercury poisoning (as I do), you have to chelate (take chemicals that bind to mercury and carry it out of the body). But if you take too big a dose, you will get much sicker because your body can't handle the mobilization of so much mercury at once. So you start off with very small doses, and carry bits of it out gradually - and your body, while still sick, can tolerate that amount of mobilization. As some of the mercury is removed, you can start to up your dose as you're less sick and more able to tolerate larger mobilizations without debilitating side effects. Finally, you're able to tolerate high doses of the chelator and clean out the rest.

So it's not just a cost-benefit analysis - is it worth unjustly imprisoning people to avoid unpleasant political consequences (Greenwald's framing of how Obama sees it), but you can actually jeopardize the whole chelation program by overdoing it too quickly. We were a very poisoned country, and our media and many elected pols (and a large number of misinformed citizens) can't handle a massive mobilization just yet. But as the body politic grows healthier, the tolerance will go up, eventually culminating in justice. But you have to be very careful not to push too fast, and Obama understands this because he's been "chelating" in communities for years and knows how to calibrate the pace of change and overcome resistance.

Greenwald's not so much interested in that because it's not his job to be. It's his job to keep the pressure on the administration to bring the country in line with the constitution. And to that extent he's correct to push for our ultimate and complete detoxification. Those who would argue that we should just move forward without accountability are like ill-informed doctors who think any suffering from mercury mobilization is too much for the fragile patient, i.e, that the patient is far too sick to chelate and should just treat his symptoms going forward. However, this will lead to all kinds of chronic degenerative diseases, so it is imperative to suffer a tolerable amount of discomfort and chelate at low doses immediately.

So the sick body-politic must tread a middle ground between too rapidly exposing itself to all of its existing toxins at once and not moving forward with Greenwald's ultimate goal - to realign the nation with the rule of law and the constitution.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

CIA's Weak Arguments Against Interrogation Memo Disclosure

Curious Wall Street Journal article on the CIA interrogation memo release debate.

Among the CIA's arguments to withhold the memos:

Intelligence officials also believe that making the techniques public would give al Qaeda a propaganda tool just as the administration is stepping up its fight against the terrorist group in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

If they tortured, then it's not a *propaganda* tool for al Qaeda, it's actually based in fact. Propaganda implies they're making up falsehoods about us. And since everyone believes that torture took place - otherwise why not release the memos - then the CIA is essentially admitting it was abetting al Qaeda recruiters through its misguided policy.

That's why they also argue:

But top CIA officials and some in the White House argue that disclosing such secrets will undermine the agency's credibility with foreign intelligence services.

Yes, it already has. But you can't embarrass and harm the interests of your country, then argue when called to account that doing so would embarrass and harm the country's interests.

You shouldn't be able to use a crisis of your own creation to excuse yourself from justice.

It is strikingly similar to what the banks did, though isn't it - they lobbied for changes in the law to make bad practices legal, damaged our economic security and claimed we had to spare them their natural reckoning because of the crisis they created.

The difference is that we know what banking laws and regulations were stripped. What agreed-upon protections and international safeguards were stripped by the CIA?

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Terrible Washington Post Column

In a piece entitled Obama's New Tack: Blaming Bush the writer Scott Wilson passes along the GOP talking point that Obama's statement of the obvious - that he inherited a fiscal disaster - somehow violates his pledge to move beyond recriminations.

Let's leave aside that a key Republican talking point is to try preposterously to pin our financial problems on Obama rather than Bush, and Obama is merely responding to that. In other words, that he's merely responding to lies. The more pertinent point that the column totally misses is that Obama is merely stating a fact when he says he inherited this disaster. To say that Bernie Madoff swindled people out of their money and caused many to have personal financial disasters is also a fact and not the type of recrimination that Obama pledged to avoid.

Obama pledged to move beyond recriminations based on political philosophy - matters of *opinion*. We should not be recriminating the other side merely for disagreeing with us. That was the point. Not to stop pointing out facts, misdeeds, mismanagement and crimes. That Wilson completely misses this distinction is incompetent at best and corrupt at worst. Or maybe it's the other way around.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Best Award Speech Ever

Too bad this would never happen at the Oscars.

One Benefit of the Financial Crisis

A couple years ago, at the height of the market, some new companies entered into my industry (the fantasy sports industry). They were funded by investment (I think venture capital money), and they spent a whole bunch of it hiring people and marketing themselves. They made a nice splash at the conventions because they'd sponsor events and they'd spend money on advertising with other companies. Sure, they had a business plan of sorts, but not a realistic one given the amount of people they hired and the amount of money they were burning through.

Having seen a number of these outfits come and go, it occurred to me that in a good economy, one where there's plenty of extra money lying around, all it really all it takes is someone who is good at pitching investors to create these pseudo businesses. They raise money, throw it around, act like big shots, spend their way into a modicum of market share, then, if the economy's still good, ask for more money; if it isn't, they fold.

One beneficial side effect of a bad market is the elimination of these kinds of entities. It might seem like an industry is losing jobs or productivity, but it's not. I wonder how much of the loss in GDP in a recession is really just the elimination of this kind of bogus activity.