Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Say It Ain't So!

New York Times columnist and economics Nobel laureate  Paul Krugman, who once was insistent on the need for a "public option" in any health reform bill, on Friday, December 18, 2009,  urged passage of a health bill everyone knows is a giveaway to the insurance and pharmaceutical industries, on the grounds that it will be easier to fix this 2,000-page hoax than start from scratch.  Krugman cited Social Security as a program that started with gaps and flaws and has been steadily improved since then.  But his comparison is wrong.  Social Security's counterpart in health is Medicare.  The expansion of Medicare to cover everyone would be the equivalent of closing gaps and loopholes in Social Security.  The Senate health 'deformation' more closely resembles a Social Security privatization scheme that would require people to put a certain percentage of their income in 401 Ks or some other mutual fund or private investment vehicle controlled by one of a small number of companies devoted to managing "pension" accounts.  Once it's in place, it will be nearly impossible to change.  This bill is garbage produced because Congress can't, as a lifeguard at a local pool says, manage to provide healthcare for all Americans.  That's really sad, he says.  Indeed.  I hope Obama is being cynical when he calls this bill, which meets none of his goals, a great achievemen.  It insures 30 million out of 47 million and climbing uninsured.  It does nothing to curb insurance policy increases; rather it rewards insurance and drug companies with massive infusions of government funds in the forms of subsidies.  It turns a fundamental human right--access to healthcare--into a legal mandate that everyone purchase insurance from a rapacious company. It cuts Medicare benefits.  Iit curbs the right of women to control their own bodies.

At this point, were I a Republican, I would simply step back and let the Democrats have the Senate deformation, since it will guarantee Republican victories and resounding Democratic defeats for at least another generation , no matter whom they run.

Were I a Democrat, I would scrap the House and Senate bills and introduce an expansion of Medicare.

Senator Bernie Sanders, Vermont's erstwhile democratic socialist, told the New York Times's Sheryl Gay Stolberg, when describing his own struggle over the Senate health 'deformation,' that he was certain the "insurance companies and the drug companies will be laughing all the way to the bank the day after this is passed."  It is hard to see how that can be called reform.

[revised to get out most of the gremlins, 12/30/2009.]

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Health Care Obamanation

-With the Senate's virtual abandonment of any "public option," even one of the most anemic sort, and its deep-sixing of the plan to allow people 55 to 64 to buy into Medicare if no private plans are available, healthcare reform has turned into a hoax disguised as fiasco with Joseph Lieberman, the putative independent from Connecticut  presiding and gobbling up all the attention he can get for being the paid lackey of the insurance industry.  He's ego tripping; he should be ejected from the Democratic caucus and ignored.  But the sad truth is that the Democrats, for the past 60 years a party of political cowardice, has now become a party of political cowards, although just what they fear, short of exposure of their own perfidy is hard to imagine. Note that I have called them "political" cowards, not personal cowards, since I'm sure many of them are quite brave physically.  But here they are preparing to pass a healthcare reform bill that no one in the public, except a few experts, perhaps, understands or supports because it does not include the one item a majority has consistently endorsed--some kind of  "robust" public option or the option to buy early into Medicare.

 To pander to and please Lieberman is to pass a bill only insurance companies and their paid representatives can love, but that exactly where these bills taking us.  The Democrats are so eager to claim a victory that they will pass a bill that will make things far worse for patients and institutions that serve the poor.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009


My plan for Afghanistan is direct and to the point.

Call in Taliban leaders and tell them they can have their rocks under two conditions:
1. Produce Osama bin Laden's head on a pike.
2. We will airlift from Afghanistan all women and children and non-corrupt males who choose not to live under Taliban brutality.

After that, they are welcome to each other.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

RIP Public Option

The public option in the bill the House of Representatives passed is a joke that might cover a fraction of the people in need; the one in the bill before the Senate is worse.  So why cling to them as if they will, as Obama keeps saying, level the playing field on insurance costs?  It's far better I'm thinking now--if the Congress can't even muster the courage for a vote on expanding Medicare--to dump the public option.  In its place, Congress should, as it is doing, mandate minimum coverage--access to the doctors of your choice, no penalty for pre-existing conditions or age or any other thing under the sun, no limitations on what is covered, implementation within one year--and it should forbid insurance companies from profiting from those policies.  The rule should be, if you want to write any other kind of high-end coverage, you must also offer the basic coverage. That high end coverage can only cover frills, like private hospital rooms; it cannot offer different levels of actual medical care.  Doctors cannot choose  to take only the high end policies.  If they take any insurance, they must take all insurance.  Simpler than what's on the table now.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Health Reform Deformed: Is the Best Option Being Ignored?:

Call me a pre-existing condition. Until seven years ago when I was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, I was the kind of physically fit, healthy person insurance companies love to enroll. Overnight I became someone to shun, damaged goods certain to need extra medical care and thus to erode a company's profits. I am currently covered under my wife's employer-provided insurance--these days that means that the employee picks up much to all of the extra cost of dependents, unless they have a better plan ass part of their employment agreement. Should my wife's coverage end for any reason, I am unlikely to find an affordable policy.

Given that reality and my belief that whatever its final shape, health care reform, if enacted, is going to affect us all, I have followed the current debate intently--my wife would say obsessively. I have done so with a growing sense of dismay, as it becomes clearer with each additional page that this reform will, as written to date, dump me and people like me into the backwash of Medicaid or some messy, expensive, buying combine.

Thus, I use “debate” advisedly because it is delusional for our elected officials to say they are seriously discussing health-care reform when the simplest, most practical and most comprehensive solution--a single-payer plan that provides all Americans with cradle to grave coverage--is not on the table. A bill expanding Medicare to cover all Americans has languished in a House committee years and was not even brought out for consideration this year.

Physicians for a National Health Plan, an advocacy group, estimates that a single-payer would save $350 billion a year that now goes to administrative costs of insurance companies and health-care providers. Such a plan would relieve people from worry over whether they can afford treatment. It would free employers from the continually rising cost of providing insurance for their employees, and it would give employees now working for insurance in jobs they dislike the opportunity to try something else. But we do not engage in that discussion.

Instead, what we see and hear of single payer in the media or from our fearful leaders are lame excuses: it will never fly, it is not possible in America, it is socialistic, the transition would prove too disruptive, Americans won't stand for it, with a reminder of the town hall incivilities of August.

The best the House could offer was a watered down public option, along with expansion of Medicaid, evisceration of Medicare, and a resounding declaration that women have no right to control their own bodies. The bill that Senate Majority leader Harry Reid, the worst majority leader in my memory, offers up a "public option" that never had guts in the first place. It would allow states to "opt out," which sounds more than vaguely like granting them the power to secede from the Union or decide not to abide by any civil rights legislation. The completely untested logic behind the public option is that a government run insurance program would compete with private insurers to hold prices down and, one hopes, quality up.

The aim of both House and proposed Senate bills is to create purchasing cooperatives that would provide small businesses and uninsured people an opportunity to purchase coverage at “affordable prices” whatever those are. No one could be denied insurance, and the government would help families buy plans. We are told that this approach would bring fiscal sanity to skyrocketing insurance rates.
That is hard to see in light of the fact that reform as it is shaping up would not meet Obama's fundamental goal of insuring the uninsured. Millions would remain uncovered, including illegal immigrants, who nonetheless would as a matter of law and medical ethics have to be covered should they appear at a hospital.

 A month ago private insurers said that unless everyone who is uninsured is forced to purchase insurance from them or pay hefty fines, they will have to raise premiums considerably. These are the same insurance companies that stand to collect tens of billions of dollars in new policy premiums should reform pass without a public option--or with an opt-out. As I read the Senate bill it would be possible for a big company in an opt-out state to pay a relatively modest fine, compared with what coverage would cost them, and dump all their employees into the combine or buying cooperative, where they would  have to buy private insurance.

The insurance industry has long declared that it would be unable to compete against a federal insurance provider in a truly free market. Because people would flock to the more economical “public option,” Private insurers argue that because consumers, given a choice, would flock to a publc option, it is little more than a stalking horse for the dread single payer. So be it, true believers in capitalism claim the market is never wrong, so they should embrace its decision the opportunity to let it decide.
Instead, the insurance industry wants to design the field, write the rules, and choose the referees. The Obama Administration meanwhile long ago negotiated away to no one in particular all its advantages.

As I have followed the debate, I have also talked to people about health care. A common incomprehension and an unexpected consensus have emerged from my conversations with trades people, mechanics, lawyers, doctors, architects, academics, business owners, shopkeepers, morning lap swimmers at the public pool, local politicians, and other writers of various ethnic, religious and political persuasions.

They find incomprehensible the convoluted, complicated bills currently or soon to be before them. That is largely because they accept that access to medical care is a fundamental right, as President Barack Obama seemed to recognize in his September 9 speech to Congress, and they agree that the government should guarantee that right through a universal, single player insurance plan, achieved, for example, through expansion of Medicare.

My informal survey participants find especially troublesome the way members of Congress and, with caveats, President Obama have managed to transform society's moral obligation to provide health care for all into a legal mandate that everyone buy health insurance or pay a fine. Absent a robust public option that means from one of the private insurers President Obama and his allies in Congress have spent months vilifying as rapacious and irresponsible.
No wonder people are alienated and disgusted. A Jamaican ironworker, who had come to install a wrought iron gate at the top of our stairs a month ago (October 31, 2009, posting), captured the attitude of most people I know when he looked at me and said, “Americans are crazy” because of our inability simply to provide health care for all.

Not long after, my internist, a rock-solid Republican, declared he would not vote for a Republican again because the party had offered not alternatives. Then, he said, "I beginning to thing that maybe there shouldn't be profit in healthcare."

I couldn't disagree. Some services like police and fire protection and health insurance are meant to protect and enhance all our lives, not to produce profits for a few and heartache for many. If that be socialism, then Call me Socialistic.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

A Modest Proposal

Were I a Republican strategist I would recommend to my delusional colleagues the following: Before the House and Senate take up their epic health measures, introduce a simple bill calling for the expansion of Medicare to include all Americans by the year 2020--cradle to grave coverage.  This measure would seem to violate core Republican principles, but when it works, they can claim that the profit principle should never have applied to such a fundamental right and in any case, Medicare is simply the insurer.  In any event, the success of this simple reform would make everyone forget the what we'll call the ideological diversion.  In that sense, this bill would be the Congressional Republican equivalent of Nixon, the great Red Baiter, opening relations with China.
The Republicans benefit in all regards: If the plan works, they take credit.  It it fails, they blame the Democrats.  If the Democrats don't allow a vote on this measure or vote it down, the Republicans can trash them as unimaginative obstructionists to true reform. 

More important, if the measure were to pass, we would all benefit.  But I am not a Republican strategist.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Gate

We commissioned a simple gate from a local ironworker from one of the Caribbean islands--IW, I'll call him-- to go at the top of the stairs and prevent the intrepid kelpie Katie, now lame with spondylosis, from charging  down to intercept some threat, real or imagined, like the Fed-Ex man, and taking a misstep into oblivion.  

IW is not anomalous in Miami--used here in the common sense for both the city and the county.  He's a craftsman who does much of his work off the books--for cash whenever possible.  Who can blame them?

We are devolving into a Third World city.  I know the word is in disrepute, but here it fits.  The city is one of the costliest in the world and one of the richest, according to City Mayors.  But increasingly here, you're rich or poor serving the rich or middle to upper middle class doing the same.

I'd like to make the gate a metaphor for all that's fucked up in the world, but I can't.  If you open the door into a house of bedlam, you get bedlam.  If you open a door out of a house of bedlam, you get insanity loose in the world.  The gate works in terms of the opening inward and outward, but it fails because unlike a door, which provides a solid barrier between those worlds, or states, if you will, the gate is permeable, allowing much of the lunacy to cross back and forth.  The solid door keeps everything out; the gate discriminates by design.

The 1990-page healthcare reform act of the House of Representatives is the same way--neither one thing nor the other, impressive for its size; lilliputian in its execution.

There, i've done it, anyway, which at the end of the day is all one can say of healthcare reform.  .  It promises a lot.  It might make some changes. but in the ned, the world's it dividies and uites are no long our own.  

Friday, October 09, 2009


The Norwegian Nobel Committee says that it awarded the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize to the singularity that is Barack Obama because of his work the past nine months to reach out to the rest of the world and emphasize diplomacy and international cooperation over unilateral declarations of war.  But one can't help but think that the Norwegians, whose mythological heritage is not given to a hopeful end game--i.e., the bad guys win--have opted for "hope" that he will fulfill his promise to make the world a safer place.  It is the promise of Obama that has long been his strong suit.  It is his inability to deliver on that promise--or to deliver decisively programs and policies that make a difference, or at least match in ambition his soaring rhetoric--that increasingly is dragging his presidency toward mediocrity.  We can only hope that this Prize will strengthen and embolden him.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

"The" Demotion

When Barack Obama began his improbable campaign to become president of the United States, I began referring to him as "the Obama."  He was sui generis, a singularity, a figure unique in American politics, and when against all odds, the Obama became the first African American, and one of the few intellectuals, to be elected president, he sealed the case.  His oratorical powers were superb.  He seemed to have the temperament for the monumental tasks confronting him.  I was even willing to grant that we weren't going to get much in terms of sound progressive policies, although each time I thought the moderate Democrat in him would win out, he proved me wrong--a moderate Democrat in 2009 is politically on a par with the 1968 vintage Richard Nixon--think about it.   Then came healthcare, and his abject surrender of a "public option" for health insurance, coupled with his embrace of the notion that people must be made to purchase private health insurance, a proposition antithetical to the notion that access to decent healthcare is a fundamental right. What makes this surrender so cowardly are the polls, like the one the New York Times reports on today, showing that close to two-thirds of the American people support a public option. He's got the people behind him; all he has to do is rally them.

Diehard Obamans will claim that he continues to support a "public option," but there is scant proof of that.  He has basically left the House of Representatives out to dry by declaring that although he personally would prefer a "public option," its absence will not trigger an automatic veto.  Obama's equivocation on this one issue, which, denials to the contrary, is essential to any successful health industry reform--and then only if it involves true coverage, say through expansion of Medicare--has confused the public precisely because it is so illogical.  Whether  Obama really wants to beef up the private insurance industry or for all his high rhetoric does not understand healthcare or is willing to settle for anything so he can claim success, I can't say.  I can say his wavering has earned him "the" demotion. He will not easily reclaim it.

There are times in the world's history when leaders emerge to meet a pressing need.  The time is now; the need is present and pressing;t the leader is awol.  We can only hope he returns.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Dog Bytes has moved

Dog Bytes has relocated to redirect yourself.

The Story Line

The most interesting and disturbing thing about the "Baucus healthcare reform" proposals is the way the main stream media has closed ranks on the story line that it is the bill with best chance of advancing.  That the Baucus mark is the only one, apparently, without a public option should give them pause but does not for two reasons: 1. The Obamans have for weeks been signalling that the vaunted 'public option' was a ruse, a stalking horse to keep progressives at the table until they couldn't easily leave; and 2. The Obamans long ago declared that nothing would disrupt their drive for and ability to claim success in reform, even if they must redefine the universe in order to do so.  The Obamans and press toe the line, building each story around the same checklist--cost containment, efficiency, no exclusion for pre-existing conditions, individual mandates, electronic medical records, and so on.  In that way, the public option becomes just one of what Obama calls ideas or ways to get to the end of "universal coverage," a term that must henceforth be used advisedly.  The cost to the federal government is weighed.  Lost is any assessment of what it means to individuals beyond elaborate and frightening costs that government subsidies are to help meet.  Not included is any serious investigation of these insurance coops, which appear to be largely imaginative extensions from a small scale to one never tried before and thus are more experimental, more of a grafting of an alien life form onto the American healthcare system than would be expansion of Medicare to cover everyone. Why, for example, does it make any sense to subsidize people to purchase overpriced private insurance policies when it would be cheaper to have them buy directly into Medicare--employers would pay, as well?  Oh, but that would be "new" taxes!

As result, the Baucus bill is deemed to have the best chance of passage because it has dropped all of that nonsense about government programs and embraced the insurance industry.  It is too big and too powerful to fight, we're told, which should be all the more reason to smash it, except the world we inhabit is one is in which giant corporations are deemed too big to fail and bailed out at huge cost to the public treasure, while individuals are allowed to suffer.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Obama's Big Surrender, or the Making of a Pop Song Presidency

It appears from accounts of this morning's talk shows that Barack Obama tried to put the face of a tough, practical leader on his abject surrender on healthcare reform. Sure, he tried to spin his self-administered defeat into victory and although people may accept his argument, the reality on the ground will be much different. After dismissing single-payer national medical  insurance--does he know the history of Medicare or what it is--apparently not since he's not even appointed an administrator for Medicare and Medicaid--saying he wasn't aiming "to graft" one onto America's dysfunctional healthcare system, he meekly tossed his 'public option' into the trash bin after it.  He did all of that by once again embracing the notion that people should be required to buy health insurance from private insurers either directly or from  insurance combines or coops, unless their employers provide it.  The signal point here is that Obama--'the' is hereby formally dropped because he has proved himself nothing more than a moderate Democrat--put the lie to his soaring rhetoric about the nation having a moral obligation to provide for its citizens' health.  Society's moral obligation will under Obama's medical revision become an individual's legal duty.  Not only that but we will have to buy from one of the insurance companies Obama and his forces correctly identified as the culprits.  Obama has bought the line that progressives will fall in line behind him as he marches into the void because the rightwingnuts have left no room for them to maneuver.  That line worked during the general election, just like it worked for Bill Clinton, and it appears to be working now, but they all should think seriously before signing on to this Baucus gift to the insurance industry.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


Well Max Baucus of Montana has produced a joke of a healthcare bill, a massive gift to the insurance industry.  A bill at this stage is called a mark, but we are the marks if this thing slimes through the Congress.  Still, the Obama endorsed combines in his speech, so let him chew on this one.

Expanding Medicare is clearly the simplest, cleanest, most noncontroversial and comprehensive approach,  as George McGovern suggested in the Washington Post on Sunday.  What he neglected to say is that the rightwingnuts have worked themselves into a place from which they can't oppose such an expansion.  Reading the polls that say people are worried about cuts in Medicare, they position themselves as Medicare's great defenders, although they hate it.  Excellent, the numbers say the way to shore up Medicare and insure everyone equitably is to bring everyone into it, as originally conceived.  The rightwingnuts themselves believe that Medicare is not a government program, so they have no grounds to object to its expansion as a government take over of healthcare.

Everyone gets something; all get healthcare at an affordable price,  but is anyone listening in the Obama White House?

Monday, September 14, 2009

The Single-Payer Plan

It is nice to see George McGovern lay out clearly and forcefully the case for expanding Medicare to cover all Americans in Sunday's Washington Post.  The Obama said he was willing to listen to all good ideas, but so far he has ignored the one that best meets the 'moral obligation,' as he calls it, to provide healthcare for all.  The Obama and many of the dead white guys running the healthcare fiasco don't seem to understand or even to care enough to try  to understand that forcing people to buy health insurance, especially from certifiably rapacious corporations is not equivalent to--in fact, is antithetical to--meeting that moral obligation.  The rightwingnuts crying over government interference in their Medicare or their lives don't seem to have thought for even a nanosecond that the far greater intrusion of government into their lives is the dictate that they purchase health insurance from a rapacious insurance company or face a steep fine--a plan backed by many of their own rightwingnut leaders and commentators.  The plans being put forth are needlessly complex because they are attempts to fix a busted system that increasingly exists to pad insurance company, not to guarantee a fundamental right or overhaul a dysfunctional system.  Distilled into another example of big bad government, that confusion feeds the racism of many of the opponents of the Obama.  Moreover, the Obama's failure to follow the inevitable logic of his own oratorical brilliance transforms him in the eyes even of his own supporters into an ordinary politician--bombastic, imperious, out of touch, and unntrustworthy.  And why not?  The Obama is basically backing an idea, insurance coops, that is on its face doomed to disaster, unless you're an insurance company. On the talk shows Sunday morning, the 'public option' in the form of a new government run health program took a beating as it should.   The real point, as George McGovern says, is simply to provide Medicare for all.  Ain't hard. It's what the creators of Medicare hoped to do all along.

Friday, September 11, 2009

option that public

Reterieverman makes a good point in his comments on the last post to the effect that a public option were one to be included in any healthcare overhaul emerging from the current scrum would be full of holes, equipped with a trigger that can't be pulled and generally inadequate.  Indeed, such an option would probably be designed to fail or at least dysfunctional enough to set the cause of true reform back a generation, and if the Republicans were smart,  rather than infantile, they would work to make sure that happened.  

For now, the best Republican proposal, which the Obama has ignored, is to roll back the clock and start over with a clean slate.  I like that because the most economical plan stands a far better chance of being enacted than it does under current circumstances.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Surprise--Sort Of

The Obama never ceases to amaze me with the power of his oratory if not the boldness of his programs.  He gave the speech I had thought he should give--me and an army of others, which is to say that I have no fantasies that the Obama's web crawlers detected, retrieved, and shared anything from this blog--with that one glaring exception.  He could not voice the inevitable conclusion--that a single-payer program is the only reasonable solution to this mess....  I think he knows that insurance combines, coops, or whatnots won't work because the insurance companies are not going to reform, not going to change their ways and offer simple, affordable comprehensive health insurance when they can get together and offer scores of plans with suites of options and prices longer and more complex than the great chain of being or an airline reservation system.  I think the Obama has made the calculation that the system has to be given one last chance at self-reform before Congress will vote for a single-payer plan.

In any event, whether he anticipates it or not, that's likely to happen. Let's hope that it happens before the insurance industry can inflict too much more harm on people.

For now I'll just admire the speech. He turned the tables on the Republican lunatics.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

ain't complicated

Jackie Calmes is reporting in the New York Times that the veterans of the Clinton healthcare fiasco have convinced themselves and the Obamans that doing nothing is worse than creating something half-assed.  That just goes to show why the Obamans are in the sorry state they're in.  The Clintonoids made healthcare reform difficult and complex, just as the Obamans have today because they refuse to recognize how easy it is--in five easy pieces:

  1. state the fundamental principle--everyone deserves healthcare, and it is our obligation to provide it for ourselves, our families and our fellow citizens.
  2. review the current state of affairs--dismal, we pay too much for too little and too many of us have nothing at all.  we face full system failure and bankruptcy.  insurance, when available, is too expensive and inadequate to the task at hand.  We are lucky if half of every dollar paid and insurance company actually goes to a doctor for providing medical care.  We have rationing.
  3.  present the solution--insure everyone through expanded medicare.
  4.  demonstrate why that is good--lower costs, everyone receives quality care.  present the comparative numbers.
  5. lay down the challenge to anyone who can do the same or better for less to present their plan.  They can't they won't.
  6. the time is now.  seize the time.
ain't complicated. ain't hard. just takes some cajones.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

The Obama's Bomb

The  New York Times is reporting on-line that the Obama's vaunted public option is DOA, and that is in the context of his speech to Congress next Wednesday.  That would be wonderful political theatre, for sure: The Obama, the candidate of hope and aspiration, crawls to Capitol Hill and tells a joint session of Congress, "I wasn't really serious about that public option stuff.  We can leave it to the insurance companies who have driven us to this sorry state to drive us out again--as long we are nice to them and provide them with guidelines we'll let them write.   In the meantime, we'll cut Medicare spending through technology. " 

I've been muttering for a few weeks that the Obama is an inspiration, not a leader. Without pleasure, I can say it increasingly appears I was right.  He still has the ability to surprise, to deliver a forceful, clear statement of principle: Everyone is entitled to healthcare.  A bold, simple, comprehensive program: Here's how we will expand Medicare to cover all.  A guarantee of treatment.  A cost comparison to prove the economy of his program.  And then say, if the Republicans have a better plan in all regards, let them put it forward now, knowing full well that they don't have a plan and won't.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Public Option--fear vs. hope

Reading through wrap-ups of the Sunday gab shows, featuring the usual array of pontificating politicians and prognosticators, I am struck by the admission finally that they fear the "public option" because it will provide more for less than private insurers and as a result will become insurer of first resort.  That is an elaborate way of saying that the "public option" is the backdoor to a single-payer national health plan.  "Progressives," as Paul Krugman calls them, backed the Obama's convoluted plan only because it contained a "public option" they hoped would become a single-payer national plan.  Thus, Republican fears are Progressives' hopes, and therein lies a real problem.  If the Obama, who ran on hope, drops the "public option" to please reactionary Republicans, he chooses fear over hope and in a real sense betrays all he has stood for.  He betrays all those who took him at his word and chose to hope.

With the debate stripped down to essentials, the House and Senate should scuttle their unnecessarily long, complex, and needlessly obfuscatory and costly legislation and write a simple expansion of Medicare into the nation's insurer.  The Obamans will be able to articulate a clear principle--the right to health care--and offer a concrete solution that is comprehensive and comprehensible.  They will also be in a position to challenge each Republican and insurance company lie as soon as it oozes into the light.

Right!  Some days I still imagine that I live in a rational society whose leaders care enough and are intelligent and informed enough to write and pass decent legislation.  Then I wake up.  

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

An Interesting Footnote

While the Obama decides what he stands for in the healthcare debate he started, here is a curious little footnote, pulled from statistics compiled by the Tax Foundation for the 2003-2004 fiscal year. For every dollar of federal tax money received from the good people of North Dakota, the federal government spent $1.73, making it the 5th ranking national welfare state. Montana received $1.58, for 9th place. New Mexico was first at $2.00. Senators Kent Conrad from North Dakota, Max Baucus from Montana and Jeff Bingaman from New Mexico are the three Democrats in the Senate Finance Committee group negotiating healthcare reform while refusing to consider a public option. The three Republicans--Charles Grassley of Iowa, Olympia Snowe of Maine, and Mike Enzi or Wyoming--also represent states that receive more than they give. A large chunk of the money for Montana and North Dakota is in the form of agricultural and insurance subsidies. You've got to love the inconsistency--or should we say 'hypocrisy'--of the 'gang of six.'

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Health Reform: What'sTo Like

The headlines today say it all: The New York Times--Obamans ready to ditch public option in favor of insurance cooperatives, a system the Office of Technology Assessment found in the mid-1990s would save not money, and health debate fails to ignite Obama base. Ignite? The Obama has correctly identified the insurance companies as a large part of the problem, proclaimed that they are 'holding America hostage.' But rather than take the next logical step and demand a system that does not permit that, rather than go on to articulate the basic right of everyone to health care and work to see that become real, he tells people that his reform will require them to purchase health insurance from those same companies. The only sop he threw to his base was a 'public option," which diehard Obamans hoped or persuaded themselves would, as insurance companies feared, win any cost competition. Now that is probably gone.

Commenting on my last entry, Retrieverman said he believes that Obama in his "heart of hearts" supports and wants a single payer national health insurance plan but doesn't think he can get there from here. Retrieverman also points out that the anti-reform campaign has been noteworthy for its vileness. That all true. But if the Obama had listened to what people told him he couldn't do, he wouldn't be where he is today. That he seems to have forgotten how to challenge and beat the odds is sad enough; that he has done so with the stakes so high is tragic.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Government Blues Again

That a sizable number of Americans appear to believe that government is so vile that it can't even run its own programs--Medicare and Social Security in particular--can justly be called a legacy of Reaganism, which for nearly 30 years has drummed into people the notion that government is the problem even when you are the government, but more precisely it is a legacy of rabid, kneejerk anti-Communism, which while predating the Cold War reached its full flowering under MAD's mushroom cloud.

Questions of geneology aside, this rabid outpouring of right wingnut fear and loathing over a "reform" that, like the banking reform that led to the just blown financial/real-estate bubble, favors corporate medicine, including the insurance companies, bespeaks something profoundly sad about America's educational system--that it is a monumental failure, as seriously in need of reform as healthcare but less likely to undergo it. How else is one to explain citizen comments like this one: "Keep the government out of my Medicare."

The Obama and the Democrats are as caught up in the fog as the right wingnuts, which is why reform is bogged down. Rather than articulate from the start that everyone is entitled to health from conception to grave and then figuring how to best pay for the thing--and the studies that address these questions exist. The late, lamented Office of Technology Assessment studied the issue repeatedly in the 199os, including Understanding Estimates of National Health Expenditures Under Health Reform from May 1994 (Princeton has all OTA reports on line.) In that report they concluded that despite difficulty in coming up with hard figures, economists estimated savings of various significant size were the country to move to a single-payer national health plan while purchasing pools for buying private insurance could be expected to save precious little to zero. That's right, purchasing pools of the sort that seem the darling of the conservatives.

So here is the legacy of anti-communism as filtered through Reaganism for the Obama and his fellow Democrats: Unable to discuss the right of all Americans to health, much less of developing a single-payer plan that would recognize that and solve the current crisis, they are forced to forced to defend legislation that would force Americans to purchsae insurance from companies they have repeatedly condemned as rapciaous money suckers. Unable to defend their healthcare non-reform, the Obamans and Democrats are let to argue that the right wingnuts are simply trying to destroy his presidency and so to save his Presidency, we must support whatever healthcare package he accepts. Whether the Democrats win or lose, we will all lose in this great health non-reform.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Open Letter to Barack Obama

I have a bunch of junk waiting to be turned into serviceable prose few will read, but rather than pursue that or try to write the President directly--he only is given to read a certain number of messages from the people a day after all--I decided to write this open letter to:

President Barack Obama--

I'll keep it short and sweet. The health care bills working their ways through Congress are overly complicated--meaning no one can understand them--expensive, give something to everyone and everything to no one exercises in special interest lobbying that are dragging your poll numbers in general and on what should be your signature initiative into the gutter. You know it, and you know the way out does not lie in negotiating even more convoluted plans doomed to failure or a compromise that will see your public option trashed. You have repeatedly stated the case for universal coverage. Now is the time to act, to tell Congress that it has labored mightily but produced bills that serve no one, that, in fact, are major leaps backward.

What I suggest is that you call on the economists who have repeatedly studied the issues and crunched the numbers, the doctors, and the people who care to stand firm with you. Then you say in your own eloquent way the following:

We need to reconceptualize the entire 'healthcare debate.' We need to go back to basics and put forward clearly that every American has the right to health, to cradle to grave medical care. That right is inviolate, yet as a nation we have failed to honor it. [Clearly, to recognize the right to healthcare is to reject the notion that individuals must be forced to buy insurance if their employers don't buy it for them.]

We intend to join the ranks of civilized nations and design a system that provides that healthcare. This system will be administered by the Federal government as an expansion of a reformed Medicare--i.e. one that serves people's needs, not the special interests of pharmaceutical companies. Rather this Medicare would operate like its legislative sponsors imagined--guanteeing that all Americans will be able to choose their own doctor, subject, of course, to their doctor's ability to see them., and that people will receive the treatment they need, as determined by their doctors, not by insurance managers who know next to nothing about medicine. In other words, if you need a doctor, you go see a doctor.

How do we pay for this. Well individuals and businesses should expect to pay an increased Medicare assessment. You will have numbers, but it is important to emphasize that the demise of private insurers will turn 30 percent to 60 percent of money currently paid to private insurers back to medical care or back to the people who paid it. That is not chump change, and it should make the bill more than manageable.

The point is that hopelessly complex bills that if enacted are bound to lead to all kinds of trickery by health insurers gaming the system and not provide either 'reform' or anything close to universal care. You must stick to the fundamental principle that healthcare is a right subsumed under 'life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" if nothing else, and that the government can best provide--that is unless you want to create an independent national insurer. Then send your forces out and prepare for the barrages of lies that will rain upon you.

I can imagine what your advisers will say to this plan, and all I can say is that you've listened to them and the polls too much on this one. If you had done the same when deciding to run, you wouldn't be where you are.

Best Wishes,

Monday, July 20, 2009

Mired in Muck; Mucking in Mire

I've always believed that the key to climbing while running, cycling, or walking lies in allowing the hill itself, the thing I have to surmount, to pull me up, and I do that by focusing on breathing and the rhythm or cadence and, when hoofing it, my stride. But occasionally, the solidity I trust is under my feet proves to be a morass and no matter my form or effort I end up going nowhere but down--kicking and screaming against the irresistible pull of gravity. It is as if the mountain I've been climbing for hours and am about to summit turns to muck beneath my feet, pulling me downward with each additional step upward.

I find those days occurring more frequently now, and it's not just because we're charging full bore into the dog days of what has become a brutally hot dry summer after the biblical floods of June. I feel like there is a tragicomic--perhaps, it is simply cosmic or karmic, but I don't plan to go there--disconnect between the realities of the Great Depression Due and the behavior of politicians and business leaders alike, as if all that needs to be done is get people spending again thereby averting deflation. Really, wasn't a chief cause of the current meltdown people and businesses spending too much money they didn't have on overpriced goods. Now that they no longer have the cash cow of ever escalating home values to cash in on , consumers have no money to spend on overinflated goods. Prices have to come down if goods are to move, but we all know that's only part of it. As badly as the U.S. needs to bring the troops home, it needs to bring the jobs home from off-shore; otherwise, we will end up with two societies, separate and decidedly unequal--underpaid women occupying all fields and under or unemployed males. If that be protectionism bring it on, but I prefer to think of it as the result of an industrial policy intended to create a better society.

A new health care policy would make bringing those jobs home more possible than any other single act. Or it should. As I look at the plans making their ways through the Houlse and Senate I see a fiasco of monumental proportions in the making. The programs these various bills propose, if passed, will spelll disaster, based, as they are, on the notion that the profit of private insurers--the 30 to 50 percent they regularly suck out of the system for themselves. That's money that doesn't go to healthcare for anyone. Get rid of it, and the whole thing becomes affordable. Keep it and healthcare becomes the Obama's disaster.

Here are a few of the problems:
1. the way the public options are being written, they will not compete in price against private insurers, insuring that everyone will pay too much and by underwriting coverage for the poor, the government will be giving an indirect subsidies to private insurers.

2. existence of a public option means that employers will at the least dump dependents of their workers. If the penalty for not covering employees is less than the cost of covering them, they too will be dumped on the public option.

Both those outcomes would be acceptable were the public plan universal and fair to people and doctors, not insurers. Instead, in addition to the high cost, the public option would have grades, like gasoline, basic, medium, and premium. That's absurd, of course. If access to healthcare is a fundamental right--and arguably it is--then it should not come in grades, like gasoline or meat; rather, it must be equally available to all.

It gets paid for by taxing everyone, including businesses that no longer will be paying for insurance, at a truly graduated level. With that 30 to 50 percent of nonmedical cost wrung out of the system, it will be cheaper than you think.

But sanity doesn't rule. For all his high rhetoric and noble intentions, the Obama is just a moderate Democrat, and his counterparts in Congress with his blessing seem intent on passing a healthcare program notworthy for its complexity and abject surrender to the insurance industry. The dying stakeholder society will drive a stake through our hearts before it expires.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Health Care Redux

I've been playing with this one too long, especially considering there is nothing complicated about the current health care "debate." The Obama presidency may come down to whether he can once again confound the forces of reaction and install an efficient, equitable, economical in the truest sense, and universal health insurance system. By now the only people who don't understand that such a program must operate under a broad public mandate--indeed, will ultimately have to take the form of a single payer plan--are, sadly, the antediluvian eejits who run the Congress and benefit largely from the largess of health insurance companies. Witness the Democratic Senator from Montana, Max Baucus, who boldly and forcefully told the advocates of a single-payer plan that he was wrong not to include them in hearings on health care reform but not to get in a huff about it because it is now to late in the legislative process to even consider such a novel idea, according the Dan Eggen in today's Washington Post.

This position is ultimately pinned to the Obama, who is said to have ruled out pushing for single-payer on the grounds that it is politically impossible. The Obama being the Obama continues to push for a public insurance plan that would compete against private insurers. They know full well that in an equal competition with a solid, well designed public health plan, they would soon go under or transform themselves into boutique additional insurers for the rich. That's why they were in Congress a month ago, when I started this blog, claiming that they needed a "level playing field." Well, you have to admire their corporate cajones, but really, does anyone other than a member of Congress or a distempered Republican believe for even a nanosecond that private insurers serve their clients and are good in any way, shape, form, or fantasy for health care?

This non-debate is being carried out against GD2 [Great Depression Due], wth thousands of people a day losing jobs and what pathetic insurance they did have. Had Congress the courage to act for the good of he nation and its citizens rather than the profit of insurers--the most significant figures are the 60 to 70 percent hhe current insurance driven health care bureaucracy keeps for itself, meaning that no more than 40 cents of every health dollar actually goes to patient care, and that is probably optimistic--it would immediately vote for a single payer plan, recognizing that currently overtaxed Medicare keeps only 2 to 3 cents of every dollar for administration. We can't afford not to go down that road, but here we are, clinging to the hope that the Obama can get a good public option on the playing field, knowing that if he does there will be no contest.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Torture for What End

The floodgates appear to have opened on the torture chamber that was the Bush Administration's war on "terrior"--and not to the pleasure of the Bushies and their minions. The news reports pouring out on an hourly basis are disgraceful, disturbing, and sometimes insanely surreal, not to mention thoroughly contradictory. If waterboarding drew from case hardened "terriorists" such stellar information, why did it have to be repeated 183 times in March 2003, on Kahlid Shaikh Mohammad, and 83 times in August 2003 on Abu Zubaydah--(is there something magical in the number 83?) The number of repetitions hardly bespeaks a successful technique; rather, it suggests something deeply punitive, vengeful, and sadistic, born of fear approaching utter panic that "terriorists" might once again successfully attack the U.S., the 'homeland." Filled with guilt for failing to connect large and abundant "dots" that effectively forewarned them of an impending attack prior to September 11, 2001, the Bushies demanded complete plans and plots. They believed that among their captives were "evildoers" with full knowledge of impending attacks, who were taunting them by refusing to provide imformation through standard interrogation. The Bushies wanted the dots connected by their captives, even if they were imaginary dots. Indeed, the Bushies repeatedly say the tortures provided information that helped them thwart planned attacks, without offering details.

I accept the arguments of dozens of people, including former interrogators for the FBI, that the tortures produced nothing of merit that could not have been, and often had not already been, obtained through standard interrogation. But that argument misses the point--just for one example, by traditional intelligence methods, the feds had by the August of 2001 obtained enough information, including the partial name and cell phone number of one of the 9/11 conspirators, to know that something was coming down sooner than later. The attack succeeded not because American officials lacked information or the ability to gain more quickly through friendly governments but because those officials lacked the ability to digest and act upon what was before them. That could be considered harsh and unfair were 9/11 an aberration, but it was merely the first of a string of failures of leadership in the run-up to disasters and in response to those disasters, most notably Hurricane Katrina and the global financial meltdown. Viewed through this prism, the torture of prisoners appears motivated by guilt and fear not only of another attack but also of their failures prior to the first attack being fully disclosed.

But debates over the value of the information and the motivations of the leaders who ordered torture are irrelevant, as are moral condemnations of the acts. What trumps them all is the Law. The "rule of law" is a bedrock principle of this nation that cannot be ignored because it is temporarily inconvenient. By nearly all accounts but their own, the Bushies violated the law and their oaths of office when they ordered the torture of prisoners. They must be investigated, indicted, if that's where the evidence leads, tried and if convicted sentenced to hard time befitting their crimes.

The Bushies and their minions who claim their actions were legal and justified should welcome such an investigation as a way to clear their names and reputations. Why fear the truth?

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Torture My Waterboard

The New York Times posted the .pdf of the Justice Department Torture Memos from the years following the September 11, 2001, attacks, laying out chapter and verse what the CIA planned to do and did to select prisoners. What is interesting about them are the gyrations government lawyers go through to justify torture, to defend what is indefensible. The Obama's decision to release the memos is laudable, his attempt to pardon the CIA torturers before the fact of their trials lamentable. Shield torturers at home and lose the international prestige and moral authority you need to run to ground torturers from other countries.

Granted, politically, the Obama probably could not pursue a prosecution of anyone without risking violent reaction, so convinced are many people that the tortured prisoners had vital information they would have divulged no other way, and obtaining that information allowed the government to thwart new attacks on the Homeland Uber Alles...oops, that's a no-no in America. It is still acceptable to trash someone up and down as a communist, a leftist pinko coward but absolutely do not call a Nazi fruitcake a Nazi fruitcake. Call him a right leaning Republican, as if there were any other kind--or ignore the prohibitions and call him a Nazi and listen to the sound of late 20th century market capitalism deflating. Order the investigations and approve the war crimes trials of everyone through George W. Bush. That is the only way to begin to establish globally the rule of law.

The business about global terrior communications matching or exceeding pre 9/11 levels stricks me as particularly self-serving, trotted out to justify the request for and issuing of the memos. It's a bureaucratic dodge that has the added benefit of shielding the Bush from his full responsibility for the tragic fiasco of that dayl

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

The Obama Road Show

A quick prediction, which I made months ago but am only now recording: The Arab capital the Obama plans to visit for his major speech is Damascus, and I don't think that's much of a secret. We'll see.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Bail,Bail, Bail Me Out..

It should be clear to even the dimmest bulb by now that sizable chunks of corporate America are using the financial crisis to line their own pockets. From banks to insolvent car companies, executives and money managers discovered the bounty of the bailout and they want more and more and their investors want more and more; meanwhile, their institutions hurtle toward oblivion. The situation has become so deranged that the government must seize the banks--take them from current management and investors--stabilize them, break them up and sell them back to the public under strict supervision or keep them, as the case may be. As to the rest--protect the workers and grant microloans to people with ideas and drive and products that work and that people need. You can only do that if you recognize that at this juncture in the world's history what is good for General Motors is bad for the country and the world. They are going down no matter how much money is slung at them, so let them go and save the money for more useful things, like health care reform, which will help more people than any mortgage bailout. I should say it will help only if it is a properly designed single-payer health care plan.

Is there hope, someone asked me recently. A week ago I couldn't guess. Now I think it is clear that the Obama is, as I said during the election, a moderate Democrat, and thus incapable of bold moves--whether seizing banks or fixing health care. We're going to end up in an economic hole with a mountain of debt.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009


"This country does not torture!"  The Obama and full cry and you sit there muttering, yeah, bring it, Baby, bring it on!  Fight the power!   But wait, he is the power, and for now he's basking the adulation of people hungry for the kind of leadership he is displaying.  

I'll back up  to the beginning and say that I just finished the Obama's speech to Congress, and all crusty me can say is 'fucking A."  The man might not walk on water--and it's not clear that he gets health care, but he sure as hell knows how to speak and inspire, and the way he lasooed, hogtied, duct-taped and trivialized the remnants of the Republican party was masterful--beyond Muhammed Ali at his best.  He neutralized the opposition becaause he conveyed to people his understanding of the situation--financial, emotional, physical, existential, you name it--and his desire to get done what needs to get done.  If the Obama walks his talk then what follows in this post is rendered foolish.  I run it because  miracle that the Obama is, I've still not seen him master health care, which is tougher than walking on water. 

Here it is:  This post one has been in the works for over a month, while I've finished my book, started teaching a graduate course in scientific writing, and taught my intensive week long seminar on Dogs of the World in Santa Rosa, California, at what is now Bergin University of Canine Studies.  Among the things I think I know for sure are that the interwebs are changing forever the way information and most art are created and delivered, that no one has a viable economic model for dealing with that change in such a way that the creators can earn a living---well, maybe they can declare themselves banks and request bailouts--that the current economic situation is a fiasco that is fast beccoming a disaster, and that the Obama, for all of his brilliance and genuine humanity, does not have a clue about the health care crisis in this country.  If he did understand, he would move immediately to create a single-payer national health plan, with Medicare at its base, and in the processs he would repair the nearly mortal damage the Bushies did to Medicare itself.  That would go a very long way to restoring American vitality.  

Before my hiatus, I swore off keeping an anachronism, a blog, as just another of my wastes of time that produced no money.  But rather than tweeting or flashing mirrors at the sun or twittering dithering docking digital haikus or video self-mashes about the ways of my days, I continue in large measure because I know full well that were I to make such a switch I would disappoint the dwindling band of readers of this blog.  I know that continuing simply proves that I am what I keep--an eccentric anachronim wihout even the brains to take advertising to add a few pennies to my negative income.  Then I thought, sheet, why not just declare myself a financial institution--the First National Bank of Me--too small too fail and get me some of that free-bail out money.  That was when I started his blog in early January, before the Obama's inauguration and little has changed since in terms of the free falling economy.

Logic has never been my strong suite, but I do know that economics is called the "dismal science" because when it comes to predictive success--the chief measure for science is whether a  theory accurately predicts an event or events consistently--"dismal" is too kind a descriptive --the imprimatur of the Nobel committee not withstanding; indeed, the Nobel Prize in Economics should be renamed the the Nobel Inanity. That is being demonstrated again in the current financial crisis, which has produced near unanimity among economists that massive government intervention is necessary to shore up the financial system and thereby avert a full-blown global depression that will make the Great Depression look like a period of great weallth.  Well they don' go quite that far--most of them.

The US government alone has already shelled out more than one-trillion dollars to arrest the financial free fall to no avail. The financial sector is resolute in wanting to be bailed out and out and out again, riding this new bailout bubble for as long as it can, falling back when necessaryon the mantra that its major components are each too big too fail, so you better keep that money coming. But if something is too big too fail, the opposite must also be true, especially if it is failing--it is "too big to succeed." In effect the financial system is collapsing under the weight of its monstrous international, under-regulated banks, and their energetics are too screwed up for them to survive. They are evolutionary dead ends, with no where to go but extinction.

But if extinction, failure, is not an option because obsolete though they are, corrupt though they are, they are too crucial to the world economy to be allowed to fail, then sound business logic would dictate that the government of a particular nation or the governments of all nations so deciding would assume control of the megabanks, since their current leaders clearly are incapable of keeping them from failure. The last thing you do is throw money at the same gang of corporate pillagers who got us here in the first place.. That's not even sane enough to be irrational. It's simply creating a bubble of free coin from the realm. For proof consider that $18.4 billion the captains of larceny awarded themselves in early January along with the $3 or $4 billion executives of the disaster known as Merrill Lynch had previously awarded themselves or the hundreds of millions more, they've paid themselves in salaries just for the past several years. I'm not even touching for now GM and Chrysler threatening to go under and force all of these workers out of jobs unless they receive tens of billions of dollars and then using that money to fire workers.  Say what?  No wonder people are pissed?

But what's incredible is the faith that people have in the Obama--faith based on his rhetoric, his integrity and intelligence--and the sheer improbability that his success represents. The odds he beat to become president were deemed by most people so astronomical as to be incalculable--the odds of bookmakers not withstanding--not only because he was African-American but also because he was an intellectual and, according to one Wall Street Journal writer, too thin to be president. Now, polls are showing that 80 percent of the populace believes--and even skeptics among us hope--that the Obama is right, that the mess can be cleaned up and sanely fixed. The only way I see to do that is to recognize that late 20th century market capitalism is bankrupt in nearly all regards and then to nationalize financial institutions and all other corporations too "big to fail" and transform them into multiple, smaller, more efficient and directed corporations. Then, create civilian versions of DARPA and the Office of Naval Research, beef up NIH, NASA, and other civilian agencies , including those for domestic development, for issuing grants and micro-loans to promote promising technologies and developments in specific fields. Implement a single-payer national health plan through Medicare as envisioned in the beginning--that Medicare would be the first step toward national health care--the only thing that will cure the current crisis, brought on and exccerbated by insurance companies and the medical structure to support them that togetgher care--i.e insurance crisis--we have made the risks inherent in life so expensive to guard against that we have rendered life unaffordable. That's why deflation--the horror of horror to econonists is welcome to nonexperts as a proper corrective.  This country was living a fiction clothed in cheap goods.  It was the throw away culture that has now stuck itself in the garbage as well and the question now is whether it can pull itelf out before it hits the compressor.

I'll quit now and post the bloody thing, errors and all, so at least you'll know I'm still kicking and screaming--and doing lefthand double typing

Monday, January 05, 2009

Great Plunder Plunges US into Great Depression II

Ever the optimist, Paul Krugman, frets in his column in today's New York Times that Congressional delay in passing the Obama stimulus package will pretty much guarantee that the economy will bottom out in Great Depression II. It's hard to argue with the man on that score. What's appalling, given that scenario, is the blundering of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who 'hopes' to have something before he and his colleagues take a break in mid-February--hopes? You don't need to be a Nobel-prize winning economist to know the economy is in free fall and gathering momentum rapidly enough that the laws of inertia will soon decree that only a direct splat at bottom will arrest it. Forget about a reversal, no matter how much money is thrown into the attempt. Given the situation, how can Congress refuse to take dramaatic action now? Perhaps, House and Senate travel and living allowances should be cut until they take care of business. Or, put another way, why is Harry Reid Senate Majority Leader, if he's not working hard on the Obama's agenda? It's past time for Congress to act.