Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Is Larry Summers Really a Conservative?

Is Larry Summers Really a Conservative?


(At Swampland, Michael Scherer posts the wisdom of Larry Summers in the form of his exit address to the Economic Policy Institute, the transcript of which is well worth reading in full, and then after which the question is equally worth answering: Is Larry Summers a conservative or a liberal...Or is he something else? My commentary response to Scherer's applause follows.)

Michael Scherer:

So...no mention whatsoever of Larry Summers' disastrous advice with respect to dismantling New Deal banking industry regulations and deregulating credit derivatives ten years ago?


Isn't this sort of like having a person who, while in positions of power in government, strongly advocated (and ultimately accomplished) an invasion of Iraq --twice-- opine on today's foreign policy?

Why didn't you feel compelled, as a journalist, to mention Summers' role in the past decade's financial disaster, Michael Scherer? I assume you are aware of it...

As such, one could leave the criticism right there, but this

"He is approvingly quoting Daniel Patrick Moynihan's argument that increased government involvement in the health care sector is a risky idea."

really can't go without some kind of remedial examination --it just can't.

If you take Summers at his word, it is just incredible for its depth of denial.

Summers makes the fatuous pronouncement:

"every five years the share of GDP devoted to government spending on health care goes up by 1 percentage point"

, and one really wonders what kind of ideological hoops the guy has to jump through in order to leave the increases in private sector health care spending out of that analysis.

The thing that's particularly dishonest about Summers' orthodoxy is that he knows these data exist:


CMS (Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services), US Department of Health and Human Services

Projected National Health Expenditure, 2009-2019:

* Growth in NHE is expected to increase 5.7 percent in 2009 and average 6.1 percent per year over the projection period (2009-2019).

* The health share of GDP is projected to reach 17.3 percent in 2009 and 19.3 percent by 2019.

* Medicare spending is projected to grow 8.1% in 2009 and average 6.9% per year over the projection period.

* Medicaid spending is projected to grow 9.9% in 2009 and average 7.9% per year over the projection period.

* Private spending is projected to grow 3.0% in 2009 and average 5.2% per year over the projection period.

Summers is apparently just incapable of honesty when it comes to analysis that contradicts his favorite theories.

What other explanation is there for omitting the fact that it isn't only public spending on health care that will be wildly out of control over the next 10 years, but private health care prices that will outpace inflation, as well?

And this descent into political hackery:

"This is why the recent tax agreement concluded between the President and congressional leaders is so important. It averts what could have been a serious collapse in purchasing power and adds far more fiscal support than most observers thought politically possible through:

• An extension of unemployment insurance,

• A payroll tax holiday,

• Refundable tax credits and business expensing.

is equally disgusting, equally par for the course with Summers.

It's almost unimaginable, the effrontery with which this individual, so recently discredited by a "serious collapse" of far greater significance which they personally helped to bring about eleven years ago, speaks to the "necessity" of deal-making which serves to increase inherited wealth and privilege in the same breath as he effuses about the "middle class."

Does he really believe that serious people will fail to notice that he continues his jihad against New Deal policies that place reasonable restraints on the activities of the financier class ("We need non-traditional approaches.") at the same time as he venerates the "institutions" that he empowered to catastrophically fail the country?

His definition of American greatness as the product of its virtuous institutions --not its people-- pretty much says it all:

"our strength must come from establishing uniqueness, establishing that which is difficult to replicate, that which comes from more collective action.

Any idea or machine or even individual capacity can be transplanted. Far harder to transplant, imitate, or emulate are our great institutions – the national laboratories and the national parks and the national highway system, great universities and great cities and great technology clusters, a diverse culture, deep capital markets, and a tremendous ethic.

To Summers, the rabid, unrepentant ideologue, America's elite institutions are not the cause of its decline, but it's very identity as America!

Summers is America, in other words!

People are interchangeable, individuals (without great wealth) may be transplanted, but the combination of the force of the giant federal state, the expertise of "great universities" and the well-honed interests of "deep capital markets," on the other hand --that's what makes America uniquely wonderful in the world...at least according to Larry Summers' warped ideology.

No wonder he and his people think HAMP is a crashing success!

Do you actually take this rot seriously, Michael Scherer?

Can you not see this for what it is: a rigid, fanatical orthodoxy that sees both New Deal liberalism and market fundamentalism as its implacable foes, and is literally willing to sink the country rather than admit its obvious, profound failures?

"I believe that at this point the risks of deflation or stagnation in the United States exceed the risks of uncontrolled growth or high inflation. But unless we change our course, we are at risk of a profound demoralization of government.

That's why Bowles-Simpson so important.

, after proclamation

"be clear that compromises that were necessary with a weak economy in 2010 should be inconceivable as recovery accelerates in 2012."

, after proclamation

"I am not one who sees financial collapse on the imminent horizon. "

What kind of pathology allows an individual with a record of failure as great as Summers to make those kind of claims with no apparent shame?

Of course Larry Summers is not the one who sees financial collapse on any horizon! He didn't see the last financial collapse when it was staring him in the face! When has he ever successfully predicted anything?

It's more of the same high-theoretical garbage that put us in this ditch, isn't that clear?

Can't you see the ideology there, Michael Scherer?

Do you honestly believe that Larry Summers is some font of wisdom, simply because he's not a movement conservative, and he's not a movement liberal, and he says things that people at cocktail parties in your part of town all agree that Serious people should believe?

Summers is reiterating the same things that the Progressive Policy Institute has been saying for over fifteen years!

At some point, don't you think that your ethic as a journalist compels you to take a closer look at how what was prescribed decades ago is now being proclaimed again as the magical, theoretical cure-all for everything, Michael Scherer?

It doesn't disturb you that Summers' whole speech is taken right out of Progressive Policy Institute's papers from 1995 --even the bit about "orthodoxy?"

Will it never occur to you that the reason Fareed Zakaria and this guy sound exactly the same is not necessarily because they possess Merlin-like expertise and erudition about everything, but because they believe the same things?

And, if they believe the same things, what is the name of their preferred ideology? What is not rightist, but not leftist, either? What philosophy is chiefly concerned with the demoralization of big government and the empowerment of our "excellence" in the form of our "unique" financial system? What advocates "collective action" and Keynesian solutions, but worships elite institutions, venerates wealthy individuals, and finds "strength" in our "deep capital markets?"

What is that ideology called, Michael Scherer? What's its name?

Larry Summers is saying things that sound right to you and people like you, Michael Scherer, and for that, you are willing to grant him all sorts of objectively undeserved credibility...just like us rubes the voters out here do with our favorite huckster politicians.

Can you at least consider that possibility, Michael Scherer?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

For the Good of Fox News Democrats, Obama Must Resign...Today

For the Good of Fox News Democrats, Obama Must Resign...Today

(my response taken from Swampland commentary)


You write:

"When asked what he's going to do about the deficit, Obama should reply loud and clear and repeatedly that he will get Americans back to work and the economy booming again."

No, he mustn't do that!

No, no!

Obama should reply loud and clear that he welcomes business leaders, Republicans and Independents (all of the Republican-leaning ones) into the fold.

It sounds crazy, as if Obama were handing a loaded revolver to terrorists, and saying "Please, take me hostage, now," but it's the best political strategy possible.

I know this because aged Democratic consultant Pat Caddell (of Jimmy Carter re-election bid fame, I'm sure you've seen him often on Fox News) told me so in the pages of a Washington Post Op-Ed:


One and done: To be a great president, Obama should not seek reelection in 2012

By Douglas E. Schoen and Patrick H. Caddell

Sunday, November 14, 2010

President Obama must decide now how he wants to govern in the two years leading up to the 2012 presidential election.

It is clear that the president is still trying to reach a resolution in his own mind as to what he should do and how he should do it.

To that end, we believe Obama should announce immediately that he will not be a candidate for reelection in 2012.

Obama can restore the promise of the election by forging a government of national unity, welcoming business leaders, Republicans and independents into the fold.

But if he is to bring Democrats and Republicans together, the president cannot be seen as an advocate of a particular party, but as somebody who stands above politics, seeking to forge consensus. And yes, the United States will need nothing short of consensus if we are to reduce the deficit and get spending under control...

Now, I understand that Pat Caddell hasn't been associated with a winning Presidential campaign since 1976, and was recently fired from Andrew Romanoff's Senate bid in Colorado, but I trust Pat Caddell's advice to the letter.

Want to know why I place my faith in quintuple loser (George McGovern in 1972, Jimmy Carter in 1980, Gary Hart in 1984, Joe Biden in 1988, and Jerry Brown in 1992) and Fox News Democrat Pat Caddell?

Because Barack Obama apparently trusts this clown's advice, too.

How do I know that?

Well, on November 14th of this year, the influential (in the Beltway) Washington Post prints the grand advice of Pat Caddell, and then only 8 days later, Barack Obama apparently runs with Caddell's "strategy"! It's true, at least according to Bloomberg Executive News:


Obama Is Preparing New Overtures to Counter Anti-Business Image

By Mike Dorning - Nov 22, 2010 12:01 AM ET

President Barack Obama is preparing new overtures to business that may start with a walk into the headquarters of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and a retreat with corporate chief executive officers, according to people familiar with his plans.

The Obama administration has been at odds with the Chamber, which fought Obama's health-care and financial regulatory overhauls and committed $75 million to political ads in the midterm congressional elections, mainly directed against Democrats. The CEO summit would be a way to address complaints from some executives the Democratic administration is anti- business...

How reassuring to me, as a Democrat!

Thank God that Barack Obama had the judgment to listen to the counsel of the savant Pat Caddell when he advised the President to begin "...welcoming business leaders...into the fold" (especially business leaders who had just spent $75 million dollars defeating Democrats)!

Thank God the President seems to be doing exactly what Serious Beltway publications inform him is politically necessary, "if we are to reduce the deficit and get spending under control."

Thank God the Administration has the wisdom to do the only thing that makes any sense in times of great, widespread economic suffering on the part of the American people --which, of course, is to immediately schedule "a retreat with corporate chief executive officers."

What political genius!

The only question left for me, as a voter, is whether Barack Obama has the unique foresight and leadership to take the next key step in governing. And no, I do not mean that weak half-measure suggested by Fox News' Pat Caddell. I do not mean that Barack Obama should immediately announce that he isn't going to run for re-election in 2012, as advised in the Washington Post.

No, since, as Pat Cadell points out "The president has almost no credibility left with Republicans," I'm suggesting that Barack Obama go that extra mile for bipartisanship, and step down as President, resigning effective today, November 23rd, 2010.

Wouldn't stepping down as President two years before an election in which --for the good of the nation-- he shouldn't compete send the ultimate signal of goodwill and pro-business intent on the part of the Administration?

Paltry symbolic gestures, like literally inviting corporate CEOs to run the government (from the Bloomberg piece)

To address corporate criticism, Obama is also contemplating bringing business leaders into his administration.

One possibility is retired Procter & Gamble Co. Chief Executive Officer Alan Lafley, who could be appointed to a high- level post as a Cabinet member or senior presidential adviser, said a person familiar with the deliberations.

Altman has defended the Obama administration against criticism that it is anti-business while also saying the administration has made mistakes in its approach.

Another open position that may be filled with a business executive is deputy Commerce secretary, said an administration official.

just won't cut it with either business leaders or Republicans or Republican-leaning independents (when those groups actually diverge, I mean), and so it's obviously time to do the right thing by them...I mean the country, to do the right thing by the country, and preemptively step down.

That way the President --I mean, soon-to-be-former President can't possibly "be seen as an advocate of a particular party," except maybe the Republican Party, which would be exactly what Americans are looking for in terms of Democratic leadership.

So, there it is:

At the very least, Barack Obama immediately resigns the office of the Presidency, and gets back to the task of attempting to "address both our national challenges and the serious threats to his credibility and stature," as Pat Caddell puts it, or his chances of re-election are finished.

Please, please do not demand that Barack Obama "get Americans back to work" and "reply loud and clear" to elite deficit-peacocks in the Beltway that his first concern is the people who elected him President.

He mustn't ever do that, because Pat Caddell is

...convinced that if Obama immediately declares his intention not to run for reelection, he will be able to unite the country, provide national and international leadership, escape the hold of the left, isolate the right and achieve results that would be otherwise unachievable.

, and five-time loser Pat Caddell is correct, at least about one thing:

This sort of "strategy" will, indeed, "achieve results that would be otherwise unachievable."

Thanks so much for reading and considering this, lauriefive.

Read more: http://swampland.blogs.time.com/2010/11/23/whipsawed/#ixzz168TrIAvx

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Is "Healthcare.gov" Worth $8.7 Million? Who's Asking?

by Stuart Zechman

At Swampland, Kate Pickert asks the commentariat for feedback on the value of the new government web site "Healthcare.gov":

The Health Care Number of the Day - $8.7 Million

Posted by Kate Pickert Wednesday, October 6, 2010 at 1:01 pm

I've praised the web site for being easy to use and for including a gigantic amount of information about private and public insurance plans which have, until now, not been accessible in one place online. The Department of Health and Human Services amassed and organized the data and factual information on healthcare.gov in about six months and no doubt spent a premium on outside contracts who could design the web site and gather data quickly. The site is, in some ways, a preview of what health insurance exchanges might look like when they are up and running by 2014.

What do you think, Swamplanders? Worth the investment?

, to which I respond in commentary, as reprinted (with some edits) below:

Kate Pickert,

Is it worth the investment, you ask?

That's a question dealing with the value of the web application. To people who would otherwise be spending money on insurance without knowing how badly they're actually screwed by those policies (if that denial rate information is accurate, for example), I'm sure it's worth it.

The question of its worth probably remains very much to be seen. Incomplete data, or data that's only accurate up until the point at which insurers are contacted, and then representatives say "the real rates are X, the real policies are Y" will destroy the value of that investment. I'm sure we've all been to sites that advertise a price or an available item, and then found out that "the web site wasn't updated" with the real story, for whatever reason.

Also, the real worth of the investment depends on consumers' ability to shop for meaningful benefits at competitive rates, Kate Pickert.

If the anti-trust exemptions for insurers remain in place, and they're allowed to share information and fix prices, unlike normal businesses, then what good does it do consumers to "shop around" for fixed prices?

Who cares if there's a lovely, well-designed web site that lays out all of the different policies, if, at the end of the day, the prices are what the insurance industry in that state all say they are together? If there's no competition between insurers because they're allowed by law to act like cartels, and legally collude with one another on pricing, then what this healthcare.gov really provides is an expensive, tax-payer funded web site that provides the illusion of competitive price-based consumer shopping, while the prices are fixed by the industry (and maybe HHS) as usual.

Let's hypothesize for a moment that the government passed a "computer sales reform bill," the UPACA --"User Protection, Affordable Computer Act."

Now let's assume that, unfortunately for individual computer purchasers, there were only state-based markets for computer resellers, so that Dell, HP-Compaq, Sony, Toshiba, ASUS, etc, had to have a separate company in each state, and didn't "compete" nationally. Also, a crazy, 1945 law declared that, unlike normally competitive companies, these state-based Dell, HP and Toshiba were allowed to share all of their information, and therefore fix prices together, to collude, in other words. This law allowed these computer companies to form trusts, state by state. That means these companies don't all try to compete with each other by lowering the price of their computers, or adding great new features. Dell just shares its pricing and retailing information for Kentucky with HP and Sony, and vice-versa, and they all come up with the same price for computers in Kentucky. It's easier for them than competing.

So, returning to that hypothetical "UPACA" act that our hypothetical Congress just passed, if part of the government's mission is to now provide a web application like "ComputerShopping.gov," and they then spend $8.7 million dollars making one available to consumers, what's still missing, Kate Pickert?

Well, you allude to it in your piece "Need Health Insurance? Click Here.", when you wrote "the number one thing people care about when shopping for insurance – price."

The reason people care about price when shopping for things like computers --or insurance-- is because they assume that prices are competitive, something that a big web site that looks like a market would allow ordinary folks to believe.

But, if ComputerShopping.gov makes consumers enter their zip code, and finds the computers for sale by the mini-Dell and mini-Toshiba in their state, where mini-Dell and mini-Toshiba are allowed to set the prices of computers un-competitively, and according to what they agree is best for both of them, then consumers aren't really price shopping, are they, Kate Pickert?

It's just that the web site the government spent big bucks on gives the appearance of shopping, since consumers can "look up their choices" and "see what's available." The prices they will end up paying will be whatever they're set at by the companies in their state, not what occur naturally in a market in which those companies have to compete with each other based on differences in price.

As Robert Gibbs put it so well at the beginning of this year, just prior to the President signing the PPACA into law:

[T]oday the President announced the administration’s strong support for repealing the antitrust exemption currently enjoyed by health insurers. At its core, health reform is all about ensuring that American families and businesses have more choices, benefit from more competition, and have greater control over their own health care. Repealing this exemption is an important part of that effort.

Today there are no rules outlawing bid rigging, price fixing, and other insurance company practices that will drive up health care costs, and often drive up their own profits as well.

So, is "ComputerShopping.gov" worth the $8.7 million dollar expense of making it?

Well, that depends on who's asking the question, doesn't it?

If the federal agency in charge finds it useful to temporarily provide voters with the illusion that they're shopping for deals, then yes, it's probably worth it.

If you're a consumer who will ultimately pay at the end of the day whatever HP and Dell have agreed you will pay in your state, then maybe it's not that wonderful of a deal.

Is it worth the investment?

Is a big web site in which you shop for cable TV from the one monopoly that provides your area with service worth the investment? Yes for them, maybe not so much for you.

Is it worth the investment to have a government web site in which mandated-by-federal-law consumers can look up the only price-fixed health insurance plans available to them in the state in which they happen to be trapped with their un-sellable, bottom-dropped-out value homes?

You tell us, Kate Pickert.

Monday, September 27, 2010

In which I ask Michael Crowley if he remembers Canditate Obama's health care plan

by Stuart Zechman

At Swampland, Michael Crowley casually makes the case for the PPACA, and I respond in commentary, as reprinted below:

Michael Crowley,

You write:

"The ongoing publicity around those new measures--and the tangible changes in many Americans' lives-- might warm the public to Obamacare."

What many of us movement liberals particularly resent is the tiny population of beneficiaries being trotted out like public relations hostages by the Administration and this policy's (mostly partisan) supporters, with the message being "See? Vote for Democrats, or these poor, sick folks get it!"

Health care reform was never supposed to be about charity, about welfare, about all of us middle-class people putting aside our selfish concerns and donating to the unfortunate, worst-case scenario victims of the system that doesn't work for any of us (except the wealthiest).

Moving the goal-posts in Bush/Iraq fashion only serves to underscore the failure of this policy; we're not so completely stupid out here that we don't recognize a public relations strategy when we see it.

We also happen to have memories that are longer than mosquitoes' and the political press corps', Michael Crowley.

We remember when the President campaigned against the individual mandate he then advocated and signed into law, declaring:

OBAMA: "Let’s break down what she really means by a mandate. What’s meant by a mandate is that the government is forcing people to buy health insurance and so she’s suggesting a parent is not going to buy health insurance for themselves if they can afford it. Now, my belief is that most parents will choose to get health care for themselves and we make it affordable.

Here’s the concern. If you haven’t made it affordable, how are you going to enforce a mandate. I mean, if a mandate was the solution, we can try that to solve homelessness by mandating everybody to buy a house. The reason they don’t buy a house is they don’t have the money. And so, our focus has been on reducing costs, making it available. I am confident if people have a chance to buy high-quality health care that is affordable, they will do so."

Do you, Michael Crowley? Does your profession remember? We do.

We also remember when the President campaigned on giving people a choice between the broken, expensive, denial-based system in which they're currently trapped, and a new, parallel system that didn't share the same incentives as the stock-price driven, for-profit private insurance cartels:
Specifically, the Obama plan will: (1) establish a new public insurance program, available to Americans who neither qualify for Medicaid or SCHIP nor have access to insurance through their employers, as well as to small businesses that want to offer insurance to their employees; (2) create a National Health Insurance Exchange to help Americans and businesses that want to purchase private health insurance directly...

We remember, because we were so enthused about the prospect of real change coming to compete with a health care system whose incentives are so at odds with consumers' interests. We were enthused because the Obama plan was so specific in its promised actions:

1. OBAMA’S PLAN TO COVER THE UNINSURED. Obama will make available a new national health plan which will give individuals the choice to buy affordable health coverage that is similar to the plan available to federal employees.The new public plan will be open to individuals without access to group coverage through their workplace or current public programs. It will also be available to people who are self-employed and small businesses that want to offer insurance to their employees.

The plan will have the following features:

-- Comprehensive benefits. The benefit package will be similar to that offered through the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHBP), the program through which Members of Congress get their own health care. The new public plan will include coverage of all essential medical services...

-- Subsidies. Individuals and families who do not qualify for Medicaid or SCHIP but still need assistance will receive income-related federal subsidies to keep health insurance premiums affordable. They can use the subsidy to buy into the new public plan or purchase a private health care plan.

-- Easy enrollment. The new public plan will be simple to enroll in and provide ready access to coverage.

-- Portability and choice. Participants in the new public plan and the National Health Insurance Exchange (see below) will be able to move from job to job without changing or jeopardizing their health care coverage.

-- Quality and efficiency. Participating hospitals and providers that participate in the new public plan will be required to collect and report data to ensure that standards for health care quality, health information technology and administration are being met.

The whole idea was to construct for the benefit of everyone a new system designed to compete at a national level with the old, broken one, not to hand out medical welfare with one hand, and guaranteed profits with the other.

Do you remember, Michael Crowley? Has your profession forgotten? We haven't.

Remember the pre-campaign speeches against lobbyist access, secret deals and corrupting negotiations with powerful interests?
TOPIC: Ethics & Lobbying Reform, January 26, 2006

Lobbying Reform Summit, National Press Club Washington, DC

OBAMA: ...people shouldn't lump together those of us who have to raise funds to run campaigns but do so in a legal and ethical way with those who invite lobbyists in to write bad legislation. Those aren't equivalent, and we're not being partisan by pointing that out.

...when big oil companies are invited into the White House for secret energy meetings, it's no wonder they end up with billions...

When a Committee Chairman negotiates a Medicare bill at the same time he's negotiating for a job as the drug industry's lobbyist, it's hardly a surprise when that industry gets taxpayer-funded giveaways in the same bill that forbids seniors from bargaining for better drug prices.

In 2004, over $2.1 billion was spent lobbying Congress. That amounts to over $4.8 million per Member of Congress. $4.8 million per member so that oil companies can still run our energy policy and pharmaceutical companies can still raise our drug prices and special interests can still waste our tax dollars on pet projects.

See, one of the reasons why lobbyists...and their allies in Congress have been able to manipulate the system is because most of their backroom deals are done in secret. Just the other day, we heard that because of pressure from health care industry lobbyists, Republican negotiators met behind closed doors and changed a budget bill to provide a $22 billion giveaway to HMOs...

This is an outrage...

Do you remember, Michael Crowley? Can your profession contrast this kind of campaigning with the corrupt process that actually transpired? We can.

Based on these fabricated claims, Michael Crowley, most movement liberals had very little idea that the system overhaul proposed by Obama would turn into a Third Way think tank's dream legislation.

We remember this broken promise in particular:
Remarks of Senator Barack Obama: A Change We Can Believe In

Spartanburg, SC | November 03, 2007

...this is also a moment of great promise. It's a chance to turn the page by offering the American people a fundamentally different choice in 2008 - not just in the policies we offer, but in the kind of leadership we offer. It's a chance to come together and finally solve the challenges that were made worse by George Bush, but existed long before he took office - challenges like health care...

That's how I'll pass a universal health care bill that allows every American to get the same kind of health care that members of Congress get for themselves and cuts every family's premiums by up to $2500.

That is the change that's possible in this election. That is the moment I want to seize as President. And I ask you all to join me in this journey. Thank you.

Well, Michael Crowley?

Do you remember the President campaigning on an openly-negotiated, transparently-constructed, parallel health care system that lowers prices through national economies of scale, that allows every American to get the same benefits that Congress enjoys, and cuts every family's yearly premiums by $2500?

Do you remember a liberal health care policy being campaigned upon by this President, Michael Crowley?

The kind of system we movement liberals propose would do exactly those things, because we're not devoted to a political ideology that says we can't look to Germany or France, Canada or Japan --all the countries in the First World who do health care better and cheaper than we do-- for solutions. We're neither ideologically devoted to a "uniquely American solution," nor to guaranteeing private profits, unlike the President who appeared to us in office after the 2008 campaign was over.

The kind of system we got was the DLC's long-proposed "reforms", not liberal policy:

DLC | Key Document | August 1, 2000
The Hyde Park Declaration: A Statement of Principles and a Policy Agenda for the 21st Century

3. Promote Universal Access and Quality in Health Care

That more than 40 million Americans lack health insurance is one of our society's most glaring inequities. Lack of insurance jeopardizes the health of disadvantaged Americans and also imposes high costs on everyone else when the uninsured lack preventive care and get treatment from emergency rooms. Washington provides a tax subsidy for insurance for Americans who get coverage from their employers but offers nothing to workers who don't have job-based coverage.

Markets alone cannot assure universal access to health coverage. Government should enable all low-income families to buy health insurance. Individuals must take responsibility for insuring themselves and their families whether or not they qualify for public assistance.

Finally, to help promote higher quality in health care for all Americans, we need reliable information on the quality of health care delivered by health plans and providers; a "patient's bill of rights" that ensures access to medically necessary care; and a system in which private health plans compete on the basis of quality as well as cost.

Goals for 2010

# Reduce the number of uninsured Americans by two-thirds through tax credits, purchasing pools, and other means.

# Create a system of reliable "report cards" on the quality of care delivered by health plans and providers.

Public disappointment with the legislation currently being re-sold to us is not merely about the obviously false claims about what the new system would do, it's about what kind of new system we would have.

So, we remember, Michael Crowley, we remember the new system, the change that was held out to us, the promise of something fundamentally better than what we know is going to hell beneath our feet.

It's why we're offended when images of health care hostages are waved in our faces as a defense against the indefensible, indisputable fact that we were sold a counterfeit bill of goods in 2008. It's not that we didn't "get everything we wanted," it's that we got something we know won't work, and now we're being told that these unfortunate, sick people will die, if we try to hold those responsible accountable for their promises and claims. It's disgusting, it's cynical, and it certainly isn't change we can believe in --or that even works.

Does your profession remember? Is it capable of memories not provided for it by professional public relations campaigns?

Do you remember, Michael Crowley?

We do.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Imagine, if you will....

Imagine, if you will....

by Stuart Zechman

Imagine, if you will, that the only food that people have to eat comes
from McDonald's.

Now imagine that a strange phenomenon occurs, in which it is noticed (but, oddly, not widely reported) that Americans on the Canadian border seem to stream across into Canada to buy their Big Macs

It is discovered, and the information spreads through word of mouth on the internet, that a Big Mac in Grand Forks, North Dakota costs $7.40, but --incredibly-- McDonald's sells that same Big Mac in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada for $3.90.

Many people continue not to notice this strange situation. After all, most people get their information about McDonald's from the television commercials McDonald's airs, and they don't advertise their Canadian prices during Meet The Press, they advertise their "6 Dollar Menu!" specials. A huge population of Americans don't live near the Canadian border, and so remain unaware that they pay so much more than Canadians for the same sandwich. And, again, somehow these disturbing facts don't regularly make it into newspapers, magazines and television shows that depend on McDonald's for the advertising dollars for which they're starting to starve.

But, more and more, word spreads via new communications technologies that this is the case. Economic data that previously sat in dusty reports waiting for reporters to notice, and publishers to publish, is instantaneously available to anyone online. It is by this new channel that the shocking information starts to come out: the price that McDonald's charges for Big Macs in the United States is almost twice that of every other country that has McDonald's restaurants

The data shows that it's not just Canada. A Big Mac in Switzerland costs $4.41, in France it's $3.61, in Germany it's $3.58, in the UK it's $2.99, in Italy it's $2.68, in Spain it's $2.67, and --unbelievably-- in Japan it's only $2.58 for the same Big Mac.

What's different about these countries?

Lots of things, but one thing they also have in common is that their governments have special ministries set up to negotiate the price of a Big Mac with McDonald's every few years for the entire nation of tens and tens of millions of people.

The reason that the price of a Big Mac in Japan is so low is that their government has decided how much a Big Mac should cost, and told McDonald's that, if they don't like it, the Japanese government will fund a project to make their own McDonald's, complete with Golden Arches and Special Sauce, and that they're pretty confident they can make Big Macs, if they had to. Plus, they don't really respect McDonald's "worldwide patents" on Big Macs. They just don't care. So McDonald's takes the deal, otherwise they'll lose the money, and they know that the Japanese are not f*cking around.

So now it comes time in the United States to deal with the fact that McDonald's expenditures are taking up, like over 16% of the nation's wealth, because we're overpaying for Big Macs, and as the price stays low in other countries, McDonald's keeps raising the prices here to compensate and make more profits. Gradually, and then suddenly, it's getting ridiculous...and scary.  Nobody can continue to bankrupt themselves paying for Big Macs, and so something must be done. The Federal government's "Medi-Mac" program, which feeds people over 65, is going broke in ten years at a desperate pace.

What does the government of the United States do?

Well, they ask economists. The economists put up big, long, complex math equations with Greek letters in them up on white boards and Power Point presentations, and they explain what the symbols mean to government officials.

One of these symbols is for the price of Big Macs, one is for the number of people who need Big Macs, and one is for the number of Big Macs. Then they draw a graph of what that equation looks like, just like kids are forced to do in algebra class. The graph radically curves upwards, like the trajectory if you shot a balloon out of a cannon.

These economists come from different schools of economic theory, so some economists say "Set the price of Big Macs lower, then run the equation!" Unfortunately, the government officials say "We can't do that! That's off the table! You're fired. Somebody shut them up!"

Other economists, though, say "Set the number of people lower! Now run the equation.", and the officials say "Sure. Now the graph looks like a cannon shot of a balloon that's got a slow leak. Great!".

The problem is that the government officials are trying to make a new Federal program called "Fast Food Reform" that actually increases the amount of people who can buy Big Macs a little bit, because those poor folks are going to get a tax break at the end of the year for all of the Big Macs they buy.

So these officials go back to the economists, and say "We've got a problem here. How do we get that number of people who need Big Macs lower again, so the graph doesn't go back to exploding?" These helpful economists say "Well, why don't you tax some of the people who buy Big Macs now? Then the resulting decrease will offset the increase you're planning by a bit. That will keep the people who need Big Macs number more or less the same!"

Did you get that?

These economists can "bend the cost curve" on that graph of Big Mac spending, if they can offset the number of new Big Mac buyers with those who are taxed, and therefore can buy less. How much will the graph change? Not much, but enough so that that the government officials can say that it's "historic legislation".

Everybody in Washington goes home happy, job well done, live to fight another day. The economists, in particular, are pleased with their equations and graphs. Science! $700,000 in US Dept. of Health and Human Services research money! Science.

Meanwhile, back in Grand Forks, North Dakota, people hear grand statements about "bending the cost curve" and "historic" and "31 million people now able to buy Big Macs", and get increasingly irritated --and desperate. They still have to go to Winnipeg to buy low-cost Big Macs, and they don't understand why they can't just go to Walmart, and get them cheap there.

They also know that, in addition to having to go to Canada to get McDonald's food, they're also paying taxes to supply revenue for the government's "Medi-Mac" program, and they know that the Feds aren't paying Canadian prices for that, so they're getting soaked no matter what. They hate the political party in charge of Washington that did this to them. Their incumbent Senator from that party actually declines to run for office again. This scenario plays out similarly in many other states, just with different degrees of anger and disappointment. The price of a Big Mac in the United States begins to climb skyward to $8.00, $9.50, $15.90, $21.20, just like a cannon shooting a leaky hot-air balloon at the horizon.

Many middle class people who used to be able to afford a Big Mac start to starve.

That's the story of this Health Care Reform legislation, if it were about Big Macs instead of health care, and McDonald's instead of Pfizer.

I hope that you all enjoyed this little novella. 18 and over,
entertainment purposes only.